Game Review

This game is not necessarily new, but I’ve played it fairly recently. Heck, even that may not be true – just assume that I HAVE played the game…

Dragon Age: Inquisition poster

Lemme hear you say “Nooooope!”

Taking place one year after it’s predecessor, ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ begins with the country of Orlais enduring civil war which is threatening the entire land of Thedas. Templars oppressed the magicians until they fought back in a bid for independence. Succumbing to desperation, a ‘Divine Conclave’ is brought together; a peace summit between the higher ups of the Mages and Templars to negotiate a compromise and, ultimately, stop the war.

A new and more deadly threat rears it’s ugly head however, as the peace summit is interrupted by a huge explosion, killing every attendee on impact and tearing a hole in the sky dubbed ‘The Breach’. The tear allows loose demons to enter the world to wreak havoc. Enter Player Protagonist!

Surviving the onslaught and discovering you are the only one that wields a mark that can close the rifts that spawn reigning chaos all over, you are inducted into the ‘Inquisition’. This is a reborn organisation sanctioned by the Divine who called the peace summit. Their goal? Restore order to the land of Thedas.

Simply put, the Inquisition aim to,

  • Put a halt to the rifts that are spawning all over, threatening all in their way (that only YOU can close).
  • Crack down on the civil war, creating level ground between both sides to rise against the bigger more important task at hand (that only YOU can stop)
  • Once completing these two “simple” tasks, you will finally close ‘The Breach’ – the reason you set out on this quest (that only YOU ca- okay you get the point)

Create your Inquisitor from multiple races, different classes that aim to hone different weapons, gain allies and bring peace back to Thedas. Good luck ‘Herald of Andraste’.
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The games perfectly kept the tone of the comics rather than taking the bad route that the TV series took…

I went into Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead expecting it to be good. Everyone who’s played it (with the exception of very stupid people) have said that it is an absolute joy and a truly engaging, emotional roller-coaster and whatever else IGN recycles when talking about a game that can easily make you cry. The thing is, The Walking Dead shocked me by being, for want of a better phrase, an engaging, emotional roller-coaster. That is to say, I was thoroughly engaged and invested in the characters and events of the plot, and the story took me through so many emotional states (anger, misery, happiness, hysterics and genuine sadness) that I think it easily constitutes a roller-coaster metaphor.

But comparing The Walking Dead to any old “good” and emotionally investing game would do it a disservice. The Walking Dead is… well, you know how I feel about it. I voted it as my favourite game of 2012 after only playing the first two episodes. By episode three, I was certain I had made the right decision but as I moved into episode four, I got worried. Luckily, the ending of episode four and the whole of episode five more than made up for a rocky middle. So in essence, The Walking Dead is so good, that the only real complaints about it I have are for a slightly shaky section just over halfway through. And THAT is a recommendation.

I know what you’re thinking: but it’s not a game! It’s just a series of cut-scenes strung together by an uninteresting point and click adventure game from yesteryear. To reach this conclusion please assume that you’re the predetermined idiot I’ve already mentioned, but for arguments sake, let us assume that that is what it is. The “cut-scenes” form the main moral choice sections of the game while the adventure game puzzles make sure you’re still paying attention and force you to admit that it is, in fact, still a game. Fair enough. The puzzles are usually simple enough, require a bit of trial and error until you get the hang of things and generally make sense. The “cut-scenes” or “little cartoons between puzzles” or “Herp! Derp! Where’s the shooting?” contain some of the most genuinely difficult moral choices that I’ve encountered in a video game. They’re forced me to actually think before I say something – a skill I should probably start applying to real life.

The truth is, The Walking Dead doesn’t have cut-scenes. There is no part of the game where you are forced to sit back and allow other characters to make the decisions for you. Your opinion is always noted and will often be referred back to later. And that’s probably the most glorious thing about the game; the player really has a strong control over the path that the story takes. In the first episode, Clementine (the young girl you’re forced to protect) says that the barn you’re sleeping in smells of… and before she says anything else, the choice came up to cut her off with a suggestion of your own. I opted to say it smelled of manure. In the next game, we found ourselves in another barn with a different character about to hazard a a guess as to what the smell was. Before they had a chance to, however, Clementine chimed in with “manure”. That was it. That was the moment when I knew that this game was really going somewhere. Rewind a few minutes into that episode and I was forced to chop a random strangers leg off. That was the moment I knew that the game had balls. But no amount of balls and direction could have prepared me for the ending.

It’s a zombie game, so you already pretty much know how it’s going to end. The chances are that the ending will not be a happy one. And that’s good. It’s good that the game not only recognises this, but embraces it. Characters die within the blink of an eye with little to no justification because the setting allows that. By the end of episode three, you understand that any of the remaining characters can be snatched from you at a moments notice and it’s not always down to your decisions. Which is good, because episode four really hammers that point home. So if I was understanding of the sad ending from early on, how was it still a sad ending? Because the characters were so damn believable and supportable; their struggle against overwhelming odds was commendable and I not only wanted them to succeed, but I knew I would feel sad if they didn’t just because they had the tenacity to try.

I’d like to hold up The Walking Dead next to my favourite game of all time to say this is it: this is how you make great characters and mould my emotions in whatever way you want. While The Walking Dead would still come in second, that’s because my absolute favourite game is just something I had more fun with. But The Walking Dead pushed the boundaries for what a game is and what it can do. It showed me that gameplay and story can genuinely be knitted together to create the beautiful jumper that is a great gaming experience. The Walking Dead is good to the point where I am at a loss for words. Oh, and the first episode is free on Xbox Live at the moment.

I still don’t know who the bloke with the bandana or the chick are…

So I’m barely three minutes past the glorious ending to Max Payne three at time of writing and one thought definitely dominates all – that game is more traumatic for the player than it could be even for the protagonist. I’ve witnessed more half burned dudes desperately crawling away from the angry foreigner brandishing a gun than should be allowed in any modern media but it’s okay; they shot at me first!

Max Payne 3 follows on from Max Payne 2. You don’t need to be Cole Phelps to work this shit out. For those of you that remember the tag line “The Fall of Max Payne” desperately following the ambiguous name for the previous game might hazard a guess that Max isn’t doing too well in this new sequel. And why should he? I haven’t played the previous games in the series, but from number 3, I’m convinced that being in a bad way is just Max’s main characterisation.

Oh yes. Mr. Payne will spend most of his time grumbling as you dive through windows and over furniture to carefully place a bullet where an enemy would rather you didn’t – probably because he doesn’t agree with your tactics. It seems that by hyping the bullet time mechanics in all the trailers and promotional material for the game, Rockstar put me in the wrong frame of mind while playing. Yes you can dive off a balcony, shoot three dudes in the face, land on your stomach, not give a fuck, and proceed to murder everyone else in the room; if you take this approach though, you will end up riddled with bullets before you’ve even leapt off the balcony in the first place. Dear old Max will be forced to spend a lot of time in cover, using all that juicy Slow Mo saved up for when a bad guy decides to poke his stupid head out of cover for more than a brief second.

That said, when you finally do get a chance to leap through the air an blow some holes into whoever pissed you off on this occasion, it is beautifully gracefully considering all the blood and death around you. The game gets very brutal very quickly – killing the final enemy in a room will enter you into a forced slow motion observation of your bullet shattering his scull and throwing his hopes and dreams of retirement all over the wall behind him. Similarly, when you take enough bullets and finally fall, having a small bottle of painkillers will draw you into a falling revenge mode. From this, you have until your bloodied carcass hits the floor to shoot whoever shot you and you are rewarded by being allowed to get back up and continue. Don’t rely on this though – I soon found out that if you get killed by some unseen jerk behind you, Max will continue facing whichever way he was previously looking before hitting the ground. He will outright refuse to turn around (it being rather difficult when you are literally taking a nose dive of death and have nothing but the air around you to push off) and you will therefore have to watch with utter frustration as Max bleeds to death in mid air while the prick that shot you laughs and makes “you mum” jokes behind your back.

I was finding it hard to engage with poor old Payne at first – he was so wrapped up in self loathing that he was completely unlikeable. He spends the first act in a constant hang-over practically asking each armed thug to end his misery. Fortunately, after the scarily horrific second act, Max has something to live for – he is going to kill these bastards or die trying. Yes, that death wish is still on his lips by the final mission, but it seems more an attempt of his to keep up appearances. You get the feeling that Max has finally decided to man-up  and finish things before any hostages get murdered. Dan Houser and the whole writing team really excelled with this narrative – it may not be Red Dead Redemption, but then nothing is. Hidden metaphors add extra intrigue and Max’s grizzled narration connects you to the character in a way that just hearing him scream insults would never have done. At the beginning of the game, cutscenes are rather heavy, but interesting and bleed into and out of gameplay seamlessly. It can really be a wonder to behold.

The game has some incredibly memorable moments. My favourite was the final mission: as the music kicked in and I marched my way through an airport gunning down anyone who stood in my way, getting the perfect balance between cover, slowmotion headshots and desperate dives to blend into some violent ballet of bullets. I finally felt ready for the game to end – both Max and I were ready. The game did not outstay it’s welcome but also provided plenty of great gameplay. While I haven’t really tackled the multiplayer yet, it does have some of the general visceral action of the main game – but nothing to rival the balls-to-the-wall explosive finale of act three.

The game ends on a perfect weather forecast – “It’s dark in some places, but sunny everywhere else.” As I watched Max walk off into the sunset, I felt glad that the ‘third time lucky’ rule had applied to Rockstar’s protagonists and allowed Max to actually walk away from this at the end. He kind of deserved it in the end.

Even the poster seems childishly like a school badge.

Saints Row: The Third is one of those games that makes me very unhappy: either the publishers decided they found the perfect formula (Dildo swords + Zombies – Clothes = Profit) or I really need to party with the guys at THQ; their “inspiration” could tranquillise a Blue Whale for a month.

“Less is more” is almost certainly an expression The Third is not familiar with. It unfortunately discovers that more is in fact less after a few brief, heavily scripted missions yield you an attack helicopter, tank, predator missile, penthouse suite, personal airline company, private island, oil company and enough money to fund the saviour of the Euro. The only thing standing between the protagonist and being Emperor of the Universe are some fetishistic accountants, a bunch of neon teenagers and Mexico’s entire supply of Lucha Libre Wrestlers.

That’s not to say the game doesn’t have a difficulty curve – your character doesn’t have the same bullet proof teeth as in previous games. Or perhaps his/her opponents have simply developed anti-douchebag bullets. That is to say, the enemies start to hit harder later on in the game opening up an upgrade system so you can upgrade yourself to fight better and die less.

Allow me to explain why the protagonist is a douchebag – they are from Neptune. Now that’s not me being racist towards Neptunians; your character has no connection to sentient thought what-so-ever. While Niko Bellic (you knew it was coming) could whine for his country as if his Turgid Serbian Warrior was caught in a vice, Douchey McBag from Saints Row has slowly moved from being a silent protagonist to me wanting him to just shut the hell up.

While referencing Mr Bellic might suggest that there is a comparison to Grand Theft Auto be found in The Third, unfortunately, this over used idea is false. Once upon a time, children, a company called Rockstar Games created a franchise called Race and Chase Grand Theft Auto. This criminal romanticism became many gamers’ guilty pleasure. It was a gleeful romp through real life cities at easily definable points in recent history with the beautiful, Swedish, blonde, twin supermodels, Action and Comedy, hand-in-hand flying jet-packs, firing rocket launchers and making witty jokes about whatever was topical in the chosen setting. Then, an evil wizard called The Forth Console Generation split Grand Theft Auto into two games: GTA IV and Saints Row. The tragedy caused GTA IV to be an angry, cynical bastard while Saints Row simply wanted to be it’s uncle San Andreas. Years past; as GTA IV realised it could keep it’s clever, cynical take on the real world and bring back parachutes AND re-invent DLC into what we know it as today, Saints Row struck off on it’s own, desperately trying to make people laugh just so they’d notice it.

If the original Grand Theft Auto‘s were golden age James Bond, then GTA IV has become 2006’s Casino Royal, while Saints Row: The Third is an amateur dramatic parody of the 1967 spoof Casino Royal filmed on a camera phone. And a shit one at that.