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Why God Of War III Is Not As Familiar As They Claim...

(I'd firstly like to preface this blog post by saying this is not a reaction to Ryan's review of the game, I appreciate his opinion and think he gave the game an excellent score, despite disagreeing with some of his criticisms on a personal level).
I've seen some worrying comments on the forums. Presumably people who haven't played God Of War III yet pulling the ol' "God Of War in HD" comment. Nope, God Of War in HD was the God Of War Collection. Let's talk about why God Of War III is not as familiar as people claim, and also why the final iteration is the best in the franchise:

  • Combat. Watch someone play God Of War III and it looks the same. Play God Of War III yourself and it feels the same. But actually analyse it next to the previous two iterations and you'll notice it's balanced close-to perfection. The way the enemies are laid out, the way the specific arenas are constructed, the way the moves and enemy AI is perfectly tuned is staggering. Despite looking the same on surface value, God Of War III's combat is so much more refined. As is an overlooked tradition for the God Of War games, each iteration has better tuned the combat, and while it's not immediately noticable (it absolutely looks the same), fans of the franchise will notice that it "feels" better. And that's because it's been refined to perfection.
  • Difficulty. God Of War I & II had impossible difficulty spikes, particularly on the higher difficulties. God Of War III's difficulty is extremely tough on Titan difficulty, but it never spikes. It's been hand balanced to make it consistent - obviously challenging - but possible. I personally think that's awesome.
  • Pacing. The God Of War games have always had fantastic pacing. The transition between combat, puzzle, platform and adventure has always been spot-on. With God Of War III though, I feel like it's again, that combination perfected. I honestly felt like there was a bit less fighting in God Of War III, but I assume that's because the game is so good at driving me through different objectives. I mean, let's be honest, if you hate everything about God Of War III, the level design is just outrageous. Yes it's largely scripted, but I love that almost "Metroid" feeling you get from seeing a ledge very early on and not being able to reach it, only to come full-circle with a new ability five hours later when you can finally get there. I think this game does that better than any other in the franchise.
  • Puzzles. There are less puzzles in God Of War III. But what I felt was, when you get to a puzzle, it's a bigger, more "important" and challenging puzzle to complete. Without spoiling the game, the puzzle on perspective is outrageously satisfying. It's a decent chunk of a puzzle too - rather than just being a quick "press this switch" objective that were so obvious in previous games.
  • Controls. God Of War has often had some quite complex control mechanics, simply because Kratos has so many abilities. I feel like God Of War III cuts down on the number of inputs and provides a more simplistic control scheme that makes all of Kratos' abilities more instantly-accessible.
  • Weapons. For the first time in the franchise, I feel God Of War III provides weapons that I want to use. I can see where the "Blades Of Chaos" comparisons come in, the weapons handle similarly, but I feel that they are also different enough to feel both functional and refreshing.
  • Scale. The obvious one really. Anyone who has played God Of War III will know that its scale goes above and beyond anything ever seen on a video game ever before. It's outrageous. One boss battle in particular is probably the best I've ever played in a video game. I don't want to go into details because it would be unfair on those yet to experience it, but know that it's amazing. That scale is pretty consistent right the way through, but it's juxta-posed by really up-close and personal sections which make you appreciate the scale even more when it comes. I think those contrasts are something new to God Of War III, and enhance the experience.
  • Style. God Of War III is much more stylish than its predecessors. Despite being gritty and gory, I felt the ending in particular (no spoilers) was really stylish and well considered. It felt completely fitting for the end of the franchise (or Kratos) at least, and wrapped things up in a surprisingly stylish way.
  • Considered QTEs. God Of War III has a lot less QTEs in it. When they come, they are lot more considerate in previous games, rarely getting in the way of the action, and not frequent enough to pull you out of the experience.
Yup, I think that's it. Agree, disagree, "cool story bro"?

I Sat My Dad Down With God Of War III...

My Dad played about half of God Of War II. He loves video games but has a lot of difficulty with controls, namely the 3D aspect of games. He just can't get his head around operating the character movement with one stick and the camera with another. In essence - he banes the existence of the DualShock.
I recommended he play God Of War II a few years back now, simply because the game has a fixed camera and the combat is pretty accessible on lower difficulties. He really enjoyed the game but eventually gave up about 3/4s of the way through, the puzzles causing him trouble.
Despite giving up, he's maintained a lot of love for the franchise, quoting Kratos in normal speech and humming the tune. It's probably the only franchise aside from Shenmue and Zelda (he uses guides for both) that he has an active interest in. So naturally we were both very excited when my God Of War III review code arrived.
Having played through the first hour while he was at work, I decided he absolutely had to play the section. I mean, it's just bonkers amazing. So I put it on easy, reminded him of the controls and he sat down to watch the opening.
Now, if you've been reading this far you're probably going to be disappointed with the crux of my story, but here's the bit I've been building up to. At the start of God Of War III there's a brief story cut-scene before the camera pulls into the action, but what was hilarious was, my Dad sat there for a good 10 seconds. "Has it crashed?" he asked, expecting the next portion of cut-scene. I looked over at what he was doing and exclaimed "Move!" as a skeleton neared on his position, "This is in-game." 
A testament to the quality of God Of War III, and next-generation visuals indeed, he had absolutely no idea that the camera had pulled out of a cut-scene and into gameplay. It reminded me of some portions in Uncharted 2, where I couldn't believe I was actually in the game, and thought I was still in a cut-scene.
Has anyone else found themself move the analogue stick and go "oooooh SHIT this is in-game!??", simply because the transition from cut-scene to gameplay has been so startling?
If my story was boring, then allow me to be the first to say, "cool story, bro."


Mini Ninjas Is Pretty Lovely Isn't It?

Talk about a pleasant surprise. Well apart from that last boss, he was pretty shitty. But yeah, hello y'all. I beat Mini Ninjas yesterday and it's pretty darn lovely.

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Mini Ninjas is essentially one of those strange type of games that nobody seems to care about at all. Perhaps it's because it's new IP, or cute and cuddly or just had bad marketing. I don't really know. I can say it bopped me on the head Itchy & Scratchy style though.
There's nothing particularly all that endearing about Mini Ninjas' gameplay. It falls under a number of cliches to be perfectly honest. There's basic platforming, basic combat, basic exploration. It doesn't really do anything badly, that's the type of game it is. Solid. But there are some lovely ideas that elevate it above that. Take protagonist Hiro's hat for instance -- it's not just a hat; it's a boat too. It's also a tobaggon. Simple, but charming, and Mini Ninjas is packed with stuff like that. It also does the thing that all kids entertainment should - be juvenile and simple on the surface, yet have many layers. Mini Ninjas is a bit like that.
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But what most brings it to life are the graphics. They're beautiful. There are some surprisingly rough textures here and there, and the environments look a little flat, but get above that and what you have are some lovely environments. Most refreshingly, the game is extremely varied too, so while you might have only seen the lush plains from the demo, there's actually a lot more to Mini Ninja's design including a snow-top mountain and some film-noir elements.
In fact, despite being such an overlooked title, when trying to think up bad things about Mini Ninjas I can only rest on the dodgy QTE boss battles which are painfully simple.
It all goes to show really; you can release new IP, make a kiddy looking game and have it completely overlooked -- but it doesn't make it bad. Because honestly Mini Ninjas is rather good and certainly deserving of a trickle more attention.

Look What Sony Sent Me Today...

Sorry about the crappy webcam. I've never had a good camera. You get the idea though...

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Please, I'd appreciate no questions on the game. I'm scared of breaking embargo. Thought this was worth showing you guys though. There's a missive pullout inside with an Abraham Lincoln quote and a render of the city scape too.

"Let's Drink & Get Drunk Because It's What We're Supposed To Do."

Growing up through high-school, one thing always managed to piss me off.

"Hello. I'm a teenager. Popular culture told me drinking was 'cool' so let's all go and get drunk. We don't really enjoy alcohol, we don't really know why we're bothering, but we're doing it because we're cool."

Let's be clear here - no one adheres to drinking 'rules'. That's cool. I haven't a problem with 16 year olds drinking - going by my own experience I was mature enough to drink then. If I wanted to.

I simply can't stand this culture that we should drink because we have to. Myself and a majority of my peers are closing in on 21 now, we've been legal drinkers for 3 years, and still they (read: not I) "get pissed" because they have to. We as a society of young adults must spend our childhood getting pissed because that's what our friends do. A lovely vicious circle unnoticed by those within it.

I never did. Great, let's all be a statistic because it's what we're supposed to do. It's what my friend does, it's what I have to do. I have to get pissed for the "lolz". It's so funny. I'm so cool.

Let's go get pissed. There's nothing social about it. There's nothing cool about it. Still -- our peers are watching us. We gotta adhere to the "rules".

Let's go get pissed.


I Have Absolutely No Work Ethic At All

It used to be that when I was in my earlier teens at school, I'd work damned hard. At the age of 16, we sit GCSE's here in the UK, they determine whether you get into college or sixth-form. They're not terribly important but, if you're going straight into employment after them then you're going to need a few good grades or whatnot - just to show you at least demonstrate basic skills. Anyway -- at that time of my life I worked really hard. I loved school, I loved achieving things and I knew exactly what I wanted in life. In terms of work ethic -- I wasn't a geek studying all the time but I got the job done and got good grades.

Moving into sixth form, my work ethic went down the pan. Two years of sitting doing nothing, never doing any work, and managing to pull good grades out of my ass without really trying for them. I'll never know how I got good grades in sixth form, but crisis averted -- I got into university.

And it's now that my lack of work ethic from those years is hurting me the most. I sit here typing this with a massive amount of programming to be handed in next month. I know I should be doing it, but whenever I hit a wall I don't have the patience for it. I don't have the patience for anything. I'm 20 years old, and I have absolutely no passion for anything anymore. I like playing games -- that's a cool hobby. I like listening to music -- that's a cool hobby. Other than that, I sit, vegetate, am unable to retain information and I'm generally unattached from everything. Why do I want to sit here and answer 58 questions of bollocks? I'm meant to be "learning" -- then why do I feel so left in the dark, unable to garner enough information to complete the tasks to an adequate level. I'm questioning myself -- is it because I didn't take the information in first-time it was told to me? And the answer is probably yes.

But the point is this. I sit here knowing how lucky I am, a degree a few years down the line, and yet, even then, even when I know I can't get a job in the real-world, EVEN THEN, I have no desire AT ALL to do even the minute amount of work that's been issued to me to get a bare minimum pass.

Growing up has been unkind to me, and I'm one of the "well off" ones. I pray for energy all the time, but I just get more tired.


Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists Of Plastic on Playstation 3 Review

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As a parody of classic kung fu movies, Rag Doll Kung Fu nails the ridiculous nature of the timeless cinema genre. However as a video game, it’s severely let down by iffy controls.

What’s It All About?

Originally developed for the PC by Mark Healey, the co-founder of Media Molecule, Rag Doll Kung Fu is a parody of classic kung fu movies. The game is a simple arena based beat ‘em up, akin to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., where up to four players select an action-figure protagonist and battle it out on a purposely cliche stage.

Rag Doll Kung Fu has a competitive four-player multiplayer mode and a challenge section. Player’s achievements are rewarded with body parts which can be used to create new characters (and yes, Sackboy is in there).

What We Liked:

  • The presentation. Rag Doll Kung Fu maintains a really fantastic look. The available action figure fighters have a suitably plastic look to them, which complements the toy-like arenas they fight in. The animation is also brilliant, with characters flailing arms around the screen, before the elastic snaps them back into their default position. It’s a very charming kind of presentation, that not only parodies the kung fu genre, but also develops a unique look for itself. The music and sound effects are all also suitably relevant and equally hilarious. We’d actually pay for the theme tune so we hope that it ends up for download on the Playstation Store at some point.
  • The multiplayer modes. The standard multiplayer mode can be played with up to four-friends locally or with AI, and offers a few different modes across a range of stages. The standard Deathmath mode has players competing to take out the other three opponents as many times as possible in a certain time limit. King Of The Hill requires you to control the uppermost platform of a specific stage, whereas Capture The Fish asks you to place fish in a bowl (the opponents trying to block you), and Dodgeball has you scoring points by hitting opponents with a large ball. The latter two modes offered most enjoyment for us, but we’ve no doubt they’re all interesting after a shot of vodka or two. The simple pick-up and play button bashing mechanics only add to this.
  • Physics. Like LittleBigPlanet, Rag Doll Kung Fu has some really interesting physics to play with. Characters are suitably “floaty” and “bouncy”, as they flop around the stage mimicking the “doll” element of the title. While the physics don’t exactly present the sturdiest platform for a competitive brawler, they do make for an inviting time-waster.
  • Challenge mode. The Challenge Mode is quite a fun introduction to Rag Doll Kung Fu’s mechanics, providing the player with a “beat the score” type scenario where you must, for example, capture fish, swing from platform to platform or juggle a static opponent.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Controls. Before we get into Rag Doll Kung Fu’s disappointing motion controls, we’d just quickly like to talk about the basic controls. Essentially, players can get by using the Square and Triangle buttons, which operate punch and kick respectively. Looking past its basic mechanics though, Rag Doll Kung Fu has much more depth, and the controls become clunky because of it. R1 allows you to pick up objects. Depending on the object you’ll have to learn a wide variety of control mechanics (the right-stick operating batons, L2 and R2 nunchucks, etc) which is really overwhelming. You’re also able to throw objects you’ve picked up by aiming with the left-stick and press Square; a mechanic which is impossible to get right due to your character moving in the direction you’re aiming and subsequently putting your initial shot-placement out of line.
  • Motion controls. As if the controls couldn’t get complicated enough, Rag Doll Kung Fu also introduces some Sixaxis motion attacks, which, to be honest, don’t work very well. The Firefly attack attempts to mimic those massive flying kicks you see in Kung Fu movies. The mechanic itself is quite fun, but the execution is not so. In order to pull off a Firefly attack you’ll have to point in a direction with the left-stick, hold the Square button and physically thrust the controller forward. It’s awkward to use, unresponsive and just not worth the hassle. Likewise the Fireball attack requires you to shake the controller to create a charge, before you can direct with the left-stick and press Square to fire. Finally, the meditation mechanic, which recovers health, requires you to turn the controller upside down. Why? What’s the point? It’s just clunky and annoying.
  • No online. Rag Doll Kung Fu is pretty good fun in local multiplayer, but that’s only good for when you have a nearby friend. Without offering any kind of online multiplayer, Rag Doll Kung Fu seriously limits its appeal. We understand that a game of this type is super enjoyable while spending time with mates, and we agree, but a multiplayer mode could have really lifted the experience and made the asking price a little more reasonable.


The Godfather II on Playstation 3 Review

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By mixing just about every video game genre imaginable, The Godfather II achieves its overall aim by making you feel like the head of a mafia family. While the general gameplay can be too easy, when you take the experience as the sum of its parts, it’s fun regardless.

What’s It All About?

Obviously taking license from the incredibly successful 1974 movie, The Godfather II is the follow-up video game to 2006’s mixed success sandbox adventure. Deviating sacrilegiously (but necessarily) from some areas of the original movie’s plot, you play as Dominic, a soldier under the previous game’s protagonist Aldo Trapani. After a brief encounter in Cuba, Aldo is killed by rebels, leaving you as the new Don of New York. It’s not all parties and fireworks though, as New York has been influenced by the Carmine family. It’s up to you to win back your turf.

The Godfather II spans three locations - New York, Florida and Cuba - in its 12-hour single player campaign. There is also a full multiplayer mode.

What We Liked:

  • Evident depth. After overcoming the introductory section in Cuba, you’re quickly placed into the action in New York. It’s from here that you start to build up a family of henchman, obliterating all of the enemy families that stand in your way. Buried deep within The Godfather II’s obviously-GTA influenced sandbox gameplay is a lot of unexpected depth. In order to control the game, you’ll have to obtain business’. Business’ can be secured by simple gunfights and bribery, but it’s holding onto the business’ where The Godfather II becomes interesting. Opposing families will not stand back and watch you exploit the loot from rackets they once owned, thus you’ll have to employ guards. Naturally guards cost money so you’ll need to check your daily monetary balance to ensure you can afford a decent number of guards. Not only do you have to manage your finances, but also your family of henchmen. Each henchman has a unique ability, allowing you to conquer the enemy in numerous ways. Demolition men can bring buildings to the ground, technicians can cut the power, medics can revive your team and so on. In fact there’s tons more we could say about The Godfather’s depth but it’s best explored for yourself as you develop your own playing style.
  • Sense of achievement. The Godfather II has a good sense of pacing. The game offers you a bit of leeway everytime the experience warrants something fresh. A new family member with a different ability opens up new possibilities and reignites a sense of reward. Not only that, but as you see your empire slowly grow, you really begin to feel the smug satisfaction that real Don’s must experience. Sure, your ever expanding bank balance is useless aside from buying needless upgrades for your family but who cares? You earned dat six figure bwank balance, babe.
  • Tackle things the way you want. A good sandbox game should allow the player to experience the game however they see fit. And while The Godfather II isn’t exactly filled with the kind of side-quests and sub-games you’d expect from a Grand Theft Auto, you’re still free to achieve the overall aim - to run the three available cities - whichever way you please. Naturally the game does have signposts to keep you from getting lost, but it’s up to you which business’ you exploit and when you take them.
  • The Don’s View. In order to keep you in control of the action, The Godfather II incorporates a tidy-map system known as The Don’s View. This keeps you up to date on your growing empire, the activity of rival families and the development of your own.
  • Music. Keeping in tradition with the 50’s/60’s American mafia theme, The Godfather’s soundtrack is suitably “classic jazz” - music which is no doubt forgettable to the casual-rock elitist, but something we’d happily spin in the PushSquare office.

What We Didn’t Like:

  • At times, overwhelming. There are a few moments early on in The Godfather II where you’ll be a little overwhelmed by the wealth choice available. The game does a decent job of signposting you but the information all comes a little too fast early on. There’s no doubt that simple perseverance will get you through these early moments, but it’s a downer none the less.
  • Kill conditions. In order to take out rival family members permanently, you’ll have to meet the demands of certain kill objectives; otherwise the enemies will recover. At times these kill conditions can be unbearably vague, wasting your time as you wait for them to recover due to an inevitable mistake.
  • Too easy. Everything about The Godfather II is too easy. Gunplay is far too simple due to aim assist and powerful weapons, which only gets easier as you obtain bonuses and level up your family. This makes obtaining, defending and generally beating the game quite simple; thankfully the wealth of depth still keeps the experience quite long.
  • Dark, clunky graphics. Given the scale of The Godfather II’s sandbox gameplay, it achieves its presentation with mixed effect. The game is littered with technical glitches, none of which break the experience but are disappointing nonetheless. Dropped weapons float inches off the ground and scenery drops into view directly in front of you. The game is also needlessly dark, even when the gamma settings are turned right the way up.

The Godfather II has a full online multiplayer component which we will cover in more detail as soon as we’ve spent more time with it.