(Brief) Rambling On: Arma: Tactics

Title: Arma: Tactics
Genre: Turn-Based, ‘Tactical’ Shooter
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Platforms: PC, IOS
Release Date: May 2013

So, Arma: Tactics. Being part of the Arma franchise, which most people only know due to it being the game which spawned Day Z and, arguably, this latest craze in apocalyptical ‘horror’ survival games, (zombies optional), I expected a super realistic version of a genre I know well, the turn-based, tactical shooter. The most recent notable example of this genre was the reboot of the classic XCOM series, XCOM Enemy Unknown. And so, with a certain amount of ill-fated optimism, I went into this title expecting something of a similar standard.

arma_tactics_logo

Yeah, that didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, it IS a good enough title, but it brings the dullness of Arma to the genre, whilst removing the best aspects of the franchise. Arma is a ‘realistic’ shooter series, with open maps which almost beg the player to execute a style of strategy which, despite being compromised of basic manoeuvres, feels as though you are nothing less than a modern-day Sun-Tzu. In Tactics, however, the maps are small and relatively linear, making each mission more of a trudge than an enjoyable experience.

It also suffers from the same problem that every other title in this genre seems to struggle with. In order to hit an opponent with a main weapon, the game offers you a percentage to hit based on the weapon, your character, their positioning, the enemy’s position etc. However, it seems to be quite off at times. I had one character stand a few feet away from an enemy, and open fire with an 82% chance to hit. It must have been like that scene from Pulp Fiction, and the terrorist was comprised of both Travolta and Sam Jackson. Every single bullet missed, before the enemy turned around and cut my character down before he could even make a joke about what the French call a Quarter-Pounder with cheese.

Sometimes, when you move a character, it will go into a third-person, over the shoulder camera which, not only is there no point to it, seeing as your characters cannot move far enough for the camera to last for more than an a second or two, but is also sickeningly jarring. It made my eyes hurt just to watch the camera bounce jerkily with the character’s step.

Basically, Arma: Tactics is not a good game. It isn’t a particularly great example of the genre either, which is a qualification I have added to certain titles in the past, for the most part, to soften my dislike. I can’t recommend it to lover’s of the genre either, simply because it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as, for the sake of argument, XCOM.

(Brief) First Impressions On… The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable was a game I had never really researched. Despite the constant Steam advertisements, and even the odd occasion I have heard it discussed in conversation, but it wasn’t until I read Robin Valentine’s review, (I’d actually recommend giving his stuff a read, he’s a damn talented writer!), of the title a few days ago, that I decided to actually give the game a try.

I elected to try out the demo first, seeing as I had never even seen any gameplay and I am certainly glad I did. Rather than a mere trial of the title, the demo was a wholly new experience. In fact, I hadn’t even finished the demo before I had decided to download the full game. You see, narrative and character are amongst two of my favourite aspects in any form of media but they are often lacking in video games.

Stanley_parable_cover

Therefore, the idea of a Narrator as a genuine character, rather than merely a means of advancing the narrative, is one which I find quite amazing. I imagined a GLaDOS-like character, an obsessive enemy who controls the environment you are trapped in down to the tiniest of Pixels. Therefore, I was more than amazed to discover the Narrator has gone beyond GLaDOS and any other character I have ever met in a game.

The Stanley Parable is, perhaps, the first game I would be completely comfortable with giving the definition of ‘Art’ to. Certainly, the gameplay is kept to a minimum, instead a great reliance being placed upon the character of the Narrator, the narrative he unfolds for you and, of course, the sheer amount of choice or, alternatively, the lack of choice, which the title offers you.

Stanley-Poster-2-v2

TSP is the cleverest, wittiest and most thought-provoking game I have ever played, or Artwork I have ever viewed, whatever definition you would give it. Every other sentence the Narrator utters sends thoughts racing throughout my brain and, after two hours of solid playing, I think I have managed to view every ending. That may not seem like much content, and I am certainly hungry for more, but it is better to have less of a title like this, than offer any dialogue that is not perfect.

I am not going to do any kind of review on this title, for at least another few weeks. Partially through my desire not to ruin the experience for anyone else, but also because I feel as though I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the title.

Retro Rambling On… Conker: Live & Reloaded

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platforming, Third-Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox
Release Date: June 24, 2005

I am well aware that this title is a remake of the classic Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and so this should probably be taken as a Ramblings On that, due to my lack of mentioning the fairly dull Multiplayer, which I basically see as Team Fortress with Animals.

For me, at least, Conker: Live & Reloaded came at the perfect time. My parents, whom up to that point had been content to let me play pretty much whatever I wanted, were becoming concerned at all the negativity aimed at the Video Games Industry. Therefore, when they resolved to make me play less volatile, less gruesome or complicated games, they were delighted to see me playing a title which looked as though it was designed for someone several years younger than I. That may make me sound like, even as a child, I was permanently stuffed with Werther’s Originals, Battenberg Cake and Tweed Jackets with leather patches on their elbows, but it was the way I thought.

conker_live_and_reloaded_conker_live_and_reloaded_jpg_289_450__Du76FXh9_sized

The art-direction in this title is the only reason that my parents were under the belief that this was an ‘acceptable’ game, for someone of my age. An overly-cartoonish world, where you play as a Squirrel called Conker, was their idea of ‘acceptable’. Of course, it was purely by luck that they entered the room a few minutes into the game and not either at the title’s start or even a few moments after they left.

The game starts with the player struggling to guide the unbelievably hung-over Conker back to his house after a night drinking in some seedy bar with those of your friends whom are leaving for the Army. Of course, even the idea of the war seemed cute, had they have paid attention to that particular plot point. An army of Squirrels versus an army of Teddy-bears? I don’t know a single parent whom would not approve of that level of violence. At worst, the child might see a little bit of fluff escaping from a ragged hole in a cuddly-toys leg, that can’t make them violent surely?

imagescgtb

Obviously, the idea of games making people violent is complete and utter horse-shit, if you will excuse my language, but that is how my parents thought, and I’m sure, many other people’s did. Despite everything in this game looking cute and cuddly, it was certainly not ‘acceptable’, by their definition of the word.

A drugged up, drunken scarecrow spouting obscenities, a sunflower with a chest big enough for your character to use as a trampoline, Scouse Dung-beetles throwing balls of filth at you, and one of the first bosses was a character made entirely out of ‘poo’ were the basis of the comedy that I found hilarious at the time and, on occasion, still do, making me wonder whether the game actually was aimed at people my age. In addition, mixed in with these hilarious characters and situations, were some actually genuinely interesting ideas. Context sensitive buttons, Conker talking to the camera and a Gargoyle talking directly about the player were some of my first introductions into what I would, somewhat hesitantly, call ‘Post-modern Gaming’ and have left somewhat of a lasting impression on me. I don’t know why, but I still actually crack-up at the thought of Conker and a Drunken Scarecrow explaining the meaning of Context Sensitivity to a much younger version of myself, and then actually using that as a mechanic within the game was somewhat of a revelation, though I doubt I knew what the word revelation even meant.

062505_conker_06

Even the gameplay, shifting about from one genre to the next as it did, still sticks with me. Most of the title was spent in a kind of Third-person, Action-Adventure/Puzzle style (it was one of those, the ones you struggle to explain without the other person having played the game), but in several areas the format of the game would shift. There were FPS sections, including a section were you become involved, against your character’s will, in the war between the Squirrels and Teddy Bears, whom are actually robots. It had flight sections, where you had to play as an over-sized squirrel/bat, and a Third-Person shooting mission which was highly reminiscent of a certain Keanu Reeves film. Here’s a hint; sunglasses, black trench coats, slow-motion, and a bomb going through a security scanner.

Conker was a brilliant character, funny and sarcastic, vain and selfish and seemingly the only person in the world whom could use his brain effectively. He is one of the few protagonists that knew they were the star of a game and, as a result, became arrogant and conceited, whilst maintaining a likeability that is present in very few characters, whatever other positive or, indeed, negative qualities they happen to possess.

Conker_Roundtable_Image

The over-arching narrative in the game was, as far as I can remember anyway, basically non-existent. But, in a rare turn of events for me, I didn’t really care. I had fun with the game, I laughed and struggled and grinned every time that the Scarecrow appeared or Conker turned to camera and rolled his eyes as though we shared an unspoken bond at how stupid the situation we found ourselves in, actually was.

Conker: Live & Reloaded is one of those games that has stuck with me over the past few years. It has remained in my conscience when other titles have faded, despite its forgettable narrative, as an example of what is possible to create. It may be more of a niche title than, say, Call of Duty or Battlefield would be, but it feels as though it is the Gaming equivalent of something like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, as compared to the Call of Duty’s, A Detailed Study of the Manor-Houses of 19th Century England.

Ramblings On… Alien Rage

Alien Rage is one of those types of games that you instantly know everything about. A simple glance at the artwork can tell you all you need to know. Your character, Generic Space Marine Number 12m (or some variation thereof), blasts away with an over-sized rifle into the stomach of some robotic-alien horror, so terrifying in fact, that it looks like every other enemy in every other game of this genre.

2549833-box_arage
Doesn’t this front-cover just scream innovation?

It even has that strange kind of art-direction that I associate with modern sci-fi shooters but, mostly, with the Gears of War series and the comparisons certainly don’t end there. Right from the start, it feels like a game designed for a horde mode, or some kind of multiplayer survival mode at the least. The game is split into chapters, but within each chapter, every room feels as though it is its own level, with a certain number of enemies spawning in a certain order.  In fact, today’s top-tip, is that the game is a lot easier to play if you simply rush in, learn where everyone spawns, die, and then replay the room with that prior knowledge. I imagine the chest high-walls, which are spread around the game like used needles in a crack-addict’s bedsit, would be more useful if you actually had any kind of cover system. The trouble is; if a cover system was in the game, Alien Rage would simply become Budget Gears of War. The biggest downside to this lack of sticky cover is, in fact, that the act of taking cover rarely works. Most chest high-walls are at such a height that your character’s head must simply stick over the edge, whilst your camera remains firmly behind the blue-tinted metal. That is the only reason I can think of why enemies seem able to headshot you, when it appears that you are firmly behind cover.

fgxxcvb
Soulless, but very pretty. Sounds like (insert popular music reference here).

Perhaps a series more relatable to AR is that of Quake. It seems as though, judging by the ‘humour’ and characters inherent in the game, that CI Games have taken those things that made the over-the-top masculinity of Gears of War fun, the Lancers, the intense multiplayer and every character being so hyped-up on steroids that it starts to resemble something closer to an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike competition, and then simply removed them. Instead of chainsaws, we are back to a variety of under-slung grenade launchers, and in place of Mulchers, we are back to basic Mini-guns.

alien-rage-02-670x377
Oh yeah, it even has an Announcer telling you when you get headshots or double-kills. No game has EVER done that before!

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the game isn’t enjoyable, but it is enjoyment of the kind you actually feel guilty about enjoying. There are some forms of media, B-movies in particular, that become so terrible that they are actually enjoyable. The worst part about this game, is that the gameplay is, surprisingly, pretty solid. It is not terrible enough to find something to love, like Alice Cooper’s acting in Monster Dog, but it feels as though there isn’t anything there. The game offers nothing in terms of either innovation, or an engaging narrative, but the gameplay is just solid enough to feel that it hasn’t been finished. It feels like the bare bones of a game, before some other mechanic has been introduced which would make the title stand out. With XBLA/Downloadable Games starting to become more interesting than retail titles, with examples like State of Decay, Wolf Among Us and Minecraft showing us how smaller titles can often be done with a much higher level of quality than larger projects, Alien Rage just feels as though it has traded any kind of soul it could have had for high-quality graphics and a general air of mediocrity.

I would definitely recommend at least downloading the demo, just so you see what I mean about how very standard this title is. I could not, in all honesty, recommend buying the title though, unless you thought Quake IV and Aliens: Colonial Marines to be the best examples of FPS.
I doubt the game will warrant a sequel, but if it does, I can guarantee it will be called Alien Rage: Resurrection. Resurrection, I have no doubt, being spelt with a Z. It’s that type of game.

First Impressions On… The Wolf Among Us

I am always wary when anyone, including myself, describes a game as ‘stylised’. Often times, this translates a game is either of such a design style that there isn’t a positive lexical choice to be summoned from the depths of the Oxford English Dictionary, or it has such a lack of other qualities that the art direction is the only positive word to be said about it.

wolf_among_us_0_cinema_640_0

Games that rely too much on their art direction tend, at least in my mind, to have little else to fall back on. Which is one of the reasons I went into The Wolf Among Us with a certain amount of trepidation (not least because of the nagging feeling that I can’t help but think it should be The Wolf Amongst Us). And then I saw the Telltale Games, and almost immediately had utter confidence in the game.

If you have any sense, you will know that The Walking Dead, (that is, the WD title produced by Telltale), is one of the best exercises in video game narrative. The title’s only downfall, and even then, a minor one, was its lack of what I would call standard gameplay. It had enough in the dialogue options, but besides that it was all but a linear pathway filled with periods of investigating rooms at a snail’s pace, and engaging in that scourge of gaming, Quick-Time Events.

Well, The Wolf takes a similar approach, although in Episode 1 at least, there is more of a drive towards dialogue than general investigation. Which I completely support, though when we take into account the fact that the protagonist of this title, Sheriff Bigby Wolf, is a detective, it kind of makes less sense to have less investigative periods than The Walking Dead.

But with a cast comprising, even in only the first episode, of Snow White, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Mr. Toad, The Woodsman and, obviously, the Big Bad Wolf himself, the narrative is kicked off to an amazing start. I finished the first episode, (the only one to have been released so far), a few moments ago and I am already looking forward to the next instalment.

wolfrev1

The title is a unique take on Grimm’s Fables, much less a reimagining of them, but rather offering an adapted truth behind the tales, and what the lives of these characters became when they were forced into the modern world. No more hiding in age old manor’s in the country-side for Toad, now he’s living in a rundown apartment building, too poor to afford the simple spell of concealment, the ‘Glamour’, that allows these Fables to walk amongst the ‘Mundys’.

I am genuinely excited for the next instalment, and can only hope they are released at a faster pace than The Walking Dead was, which always drove me to the edge of insanity between releases. If you enjoyed TWD, I would definitely recommend this title. Though I imagine it will remain hard to match the level of intensity which dogged Lee and Clementine, The Wolf Among Us is off to an incredible start!

Retro Ramblings On… Final Fantasy Part 1 – Series

Final Fantasy, as a series, hasn’t changed much over the years. It is a collection of Japanese-RPG’s, without the often incredibly complex and irritating mechanics contained in them. It has, almost certainly, been aimed towards a western audience, over the years, whereas many other such titles have not even left Japan.

Final_Fantasy_Update_by_paulthegreat103
As you can see, over the years, the cast has become pretty varied.

And, again, it is a series that I used to love, before it became a disappointing shadow of all that I thought it once was. There have been several amazing games from this series, despite the often predictability of certain aspects of the narrative, the gameplay which has barely changed in years and, when the developers did change said gameplay, they changed it for the worse, and the sheer length of the games made the constant grinding less of a pleasure and more like a torturous adventure to see how far you could stretch your patience.

Of course, one of the things that Final Fantasy, as a whole, have typically done well, are creating iconic characters, who stick in the mind long after you’ve moved on to another title. What person, who thinks to call themselves a Gamer, doesn’t know, at least, Cloud or Sephiroth, Aeris or Tifa?

Whether these are simply another example of characters being exposed to us for so long that we believe they are well-written, like Master Chief, or are simply a remnant of the ever-looming threat of nostalgia, from which most Gamers suffer, or, even more simply, are actually varied and interesting enough to be worthy of remaining in the minds of those who followed their journey, it is truly difficult to say.

The main problem with writing anything on a game which can, even ironically, be called ‘Retro’, is particularly difficult when it is a game you played yourself which, in a way, makes a mockery of my whole shtick. I imagine, if I played FFVII now, that it would not have such a lasting effect on me as it did when I was a child, that those characters would not sink their teeth into my soul and refuse to loosen their jaws.

But, ignoring my doubts, when the title went on sale on Steam, I felt compelled to dive on the opportunity. I mean, I still have the game (two copies actually, from when one of the four disks broke) on the Playstation 1, but now I can play it between lectures. Obviously, this isn’t a good idea. To start with, it has that delightful (and increasingly archaic) feature where you could only save your progress at save points which if you’ve ever played a game like that, plays absolute hell with portability.

Secondly, it is far too long. I’ll happily lug my laptop around to play the game, but when I can only play a few minutes here and there, even playing save point to save point, it is going to take me weeks to make a sizeable dent in the narrative! I have yet to even reach the point where I would have to swap disks on the original version, and I have been playing it for a fair amount of time this past week, (when I wasn’t home on GTA that is).

sephi
Bells, Frogs, Rings, Cherries,
Jingle Bells, Magic Cheese,
SEPHIROTH!
It may not sound like much now, but that theme tune was one of the scariest things to hear, when I was a lad!

This week, I actually missed a lecture in my desperate search for a save point, swearing to myself that I remembered one being just around this next corner. No, wait, I meant the next one. Whoops, wrong again, maybe the next one? And before I knew it half an hour had passed and I was still sat in the Library.

All in all, Final Fantasy has had great commercial success but, in my eyes, VII was the peaking moments of the franchise. The earlier games were great, and even FF IX would rank amongst my top-hundred, but since then the series has stagnated, becoming either convoluted and unnecessary, more of a cinematic experience than a game (I’m looking at YOU XII!), or simply, like the spin-off of X, X-II, nothing more than a piece of fan service.

Retro Ramblings On… Baldur’s Gate

Baldur’s Gate has a lure to it. It was one of the first RPG’s I ever played and is amongst the greatest products ever to be set in the Dungeon’s & Dragons universe, (though, admittedly, a lot of crap has emerged from the franchise over the years, remember that god awful film with Jeremy Irons?), in fact, it is almost certainly placed alongside Neverwinter Nights in my nostalgic affection.

If you have ever played a D&D title, (or, in fact, most RPG’s these days), you will be familiar with how the character creation works. You choose your gender, race, basic class, starting abilities and appearance, before being thrown into the world. A world which, though it is easily a rival to both Warhammer and Middle Earth as THE stereotypical fantasy setting, is rich and diverse, with more races of monsters than you can shake a +3 Scimitar of Ice and Bone at.

Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Humans and Half-Elves form the playable classes, but arrayed against your small group of up to six characters, we have Kobolds, Goblins, Ogres, Vampires, Were-wolves, Beholders, Demons and creatures of every shape and size. The world is certainly not ungenerous when it comes to throwing them against you.

One aspect I had forgotten about, in my starry-eyed nostalgia, was exactly how unforgiving this game is. When I went back to play this game, in order to refresh my memory for this very retro-review, I had lost half my group before I even reached a dungeon, simply from hired Assassins, Bandits, Wolves and Gnolls. Worse than the simple act of losing characters, is the fact that their image remains locked to the side of your screen, even in death, so you simply see one of your characters greyed out. It is galling to have no way of resurrecting them, whereas if the game were a more recent title, I have no doubt I would be able to find a simple enough way of bringing them back from the great beyond.

Dem graphics! Let’s see Elder Scrolls beat that!

The gameplay is simple enough, a top-down RPG in the style of the original Fallout’s, Diablo’s and any other RPG you can name from that period, though perhaps it is more accurate to say that they are modelled after the style of Baldur’s Gate.

The world is particularly generous, almost on a scale I rarely see anymore, especially in the amount of weapons, enemies, locations and quests but, (and this is one of the few reasons the D&D universe, though one I thoroughly enjoy, has never captured my attention as much as other Fantasy settings), it does not feel as though it is a living world. Every problem in the game is there for you to solve, every Demon to be banished, every Bandit to be slaughtered and helpless villager to be rescued, has been placed in for YOUR enjoyment. Though I used to think this is a good thing, I find myself thinking that this makes the game feel as though it is only there for YOUR enjoyment.

Yes, that may have been the same point but from opposite sides of the argument but it IS how I feel. I enjoy stepping in to ‘living worlds’, worlds where you feel as though it would continue whether you were there or not. Each and every NPC is simply waiting for your party to come traipsing through, swords swinging, arrows spitting and Magic Missile flying from outstretched hand. In addition to this, the trope of your character being the ‘Chosen One’, or some variation of the same, has never really done anything to endear a game to me. It was one of the few problems I had with the narrative of Skyrim and the Dovahkiin.

All that colour customisation!
You don’t get this level of in-depth character design anymore!

All in all, it was good to head back into the game, and I even picked up a few additional titles from the same series which I had never played before, namely Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment so, for a few days at least, I have no doubt I’ll be reliving the enjoyment of my childhood. But the re-buying of the game was worth my reaction as I chose my Half-Elven Mage’s first two spells, the nostalgia burning in my eyes as I saw Magic Missile and Identify on the list giving me a condensed version of all the enjoyment I had with the title, when I was younger.