Journey – Playing in the sand

So Christmas has been and gone and with it, like many of you, I was given a couple of game related items, the most notable being a PlayStation 3. I have submitted to the dark side but who would have thought it would have brought me to a game as pure and original as Journey. Having made a very late return to the Sony ecosystem I probably wouldn’t have even heard of this game if it wasn’t for Journey being receiving a VGA for PlayStation Game of the Year. With my interest piqued and a PS3 inbound I started doing a little research and found the entire internet gushing salty ‘praise’ all over this game’s face from their virtual wang’s. One site going as far as to say it goes beyond the boundaries of a game and transcends to that of an artistic masterpiece.

journey-game-screenshot-1-b

Anyway with the hardware dropped off by a rather garishly dressed bearded gentleman the first thing I did was purchase Journey and fire it up whereby I was immediately taken aback by what my eyeballs were dealt. The desert vistas that my nomad traverses were simplistic yet somehow also quite intricate, with a shimmer seemingly coming from each grain of sand really bringing the whole environment to life in way that easily rivaled many of the other big budget open world titles. I think I almost prefer the aesthetics of Journey over say Skyrim which admittedly are both very different creations, however they both endeavor to conjure ajourney2 sense of wonderment and discovery. Journey does not use a powerful magic staff held by a great old wizard to do so, but instead accomplishes it using a humble set of tools deftly handled by little known artisan craftsmen. As overly verbose as this analogy is I am basically saying I am more impressed by the accomplishment of just fourteen developers fraught with money troubles than that of one hundred developers sat within Bethesda’s Great Keep and its adjoining treasury.

The game-play itself was a particularly intriguing experience for me given that Journey is the polar opposite to the eye bleedingly frenetic FPS genre which I can usually be found playing, controller trembling between my white knuckles. If I were to use another rather unnecessary analogy to compare the two I would say if the FPS genre was a type of music it would probably be akin to Speed Garage whereas Journey is runs much more in the Enya bracket, I swear it actually slowed down my heart rate at times as it was such a relaxing experience. You tread, glide and fly around in such an elegant and soothing journey puzzlemanner that you sometimes forget about the point of the game – which is to solve a puzzle and progress to the next area. I wouldn’t really call it a puzzle game as the ‘puzzles’ are for the most part totally common sense rather than brain teasers only requiring one of the two buttons you press to be solved. I don’t think it’s a big deal that the puzzles don’t bamboozle you though as Journey is not about the puzzles – oh Jesus I actually am about to type this – it’s about the journey. Cheese aside the game-play is secondary to the journey you are on, think of it more as an interactive story I guess, loosely similar to The Walking Dead game (also a VGA winner) but with little to no mess.

So what’s it all about…well you take on the role of a desert dwelling mute on some kind of spiritual journey toward a mountain where some kind of godly power is present, with each cut scene telling a little piece of how you and your people came to be. But it isn’t just the cinematics that tell the story the highly revered musical score helps shape the story as much as visuals as you progress. The music subtly reacts to every step you take and makes the whole experience just that much more marvelous.

What really clinches this game for me as one of the best games I have had the fortune to play is the multiplayer aspect. I have always been a very social gamer and Journey takes a very unique stance with regards to player interaction. As you go through the game you will encounter other random players, you don’t know who they are and communication is notJourney title screen possible unless you count the little note noises you can make in-game, because of this the whole potential for trolling another player is eliminated and all is left is the drive to aid each other in order progress. I felt quite a strong bond with the my little buddy as we trekked through the each environment, which actually turned out to be six different people when I found out who my companions were at the end of the game. It was this addition of a silent side-kick that made game that much richer.

Overall I found Journey to be totally immersive, full of fun aspects with some poignant moments and an amazingly touching game. It may only be a couple of hours long but much the same as the first Portal it is perfectly formed in every way. So if you are want more than just identikit machismo heroes that saturate main stream titles and levels that merely require you to be quick on the trigger please try this game, it is a true diamond in the rough and it might even make you re-evaluate what creativity in the games industry really means.

-The Quim Ninja

Hey, 343. You’re alright.

After a little over a month’s hiatus I’m now ready to write about Halo 4.  I’ve had plenty of time to fully immerse myself in 343’s franchise debut.  Sip it like a fine glass of Scotch, and inhale it like a finely rolled…cigar…  I’ve also taken in what others have had to say, from the mainstream gaming journalists on high, to my fellow plebeian scribes here in the underverse.

I have chimed in and discussed the game in great detail on my (shameless bump) podcast: PGCR.  In that particular episode I joined my rapier wit, with that of my co-host Evander, laying waste to Halo 4’s campaign in true “Devils Advocacy”.  But as many listeners are aware I simply enjoy frazzling another certain co-host who shall remain un-named but obvious.  So without further delay allow me to offer my true Impressions on Halo 4.

I should start by saying that this is not a review.  I find myself despising game reviews these days finding them more of a smarmy pissing contest, offering plenty of douchey commentary, but little constructive feedback about a game.  And at the end of the day, after the hype is pulled away, and the fanboy giddiness subsides Halo 4 is merely another game.  It’s only fair that I keep this in mind when critiquing any title.

Multiplayer

Leading up to the games release I had always predicted that there would be little to no problems with Halo 4’s multiplayer.  I (along with many community members) collectively agreed that it was time for change, and 343 delivered in a way that couldn’t have been better executed, nor at a better time in the franchises lifeline.

I’ve always been more of a campaign geek, but suffice to say that for the first time since H2 I have been deeply drawn into the online landscape and its various playlists, and modes and keep going back for more.  It still has that classic Halo feel, but it’s almost as though 343 locked Halo, Call of Duty, Crysis, and Battlefield in a honeymoon suite with unlimited champagne and other FPS aphrodisiacs.  Halo 4 is the streamlined love child of these other industry giants, resulting in a refreshed and revitalized online presence.

Spartan Ops:

The new co-operative frag-fest which has kicked the beloved game-mode firefight to the curb like a used up hooker is ironically my biggest disappointment with Halo 4.  Don’t get me wrong, it tells a fairly well delivered story with plenty of intrigue…via the cutscenes.  In game play application it’s little more than a rehash of campaign moments, lightly dotted with some nods to multiplayer, and RVB.

I would have liked to see more diversity in gaming environments.  Requiem is a massive artificial world, so it makes little sense to use copy/paste play-spaces from the campaign.  It feels like a continuation of the campaign, but many of the scenarios play like redundant encounters like:  “flip this switch, or destroy this objective.”  in a cramped arcade-ish locale.  In fact, it kind of contradicts 343’s supposed development formula of not re-using campaign play-spaces in Multiplayer…  Too bad it never carried over to Spartan Ops.  I  can only hope that 343 pour some more creativity and tailor some new and exciting level designs into S-Ops.

Campaign:

Halo 4’s campaign was a roller-coaster ride for a long time fan like myself.  Chock full of shocking revelations, hard truths, honestly emotional twists, and turns.  But like any intense thrill ride, Halo 4 definitely has its ups AND downs.

Take Halo 4’s audio design for example.  Lead composer Neil Davidge has created a lovely soundtrack that stands apart independently from the work of Marty O’Donnell.  Sometimes H4’s musical background is recognizable as Halo, and at times it’s like Mass Effect and Tron had a sexy baby.  (As awkward as that may read.)  But this is a good thing.  The MUSIC, is a triumph.

The sound effects on the other hand are an entirely new “Up and Down” all their own.  The guns primarily sound absolutely succulent.  The warthog on the other-hand is an alienating mess.  When I first hammered down on the Warthog I literally slammed on the brakes as the horrid sound of a late 90’s racing game, or monster truck rally filled my ears.  I can say with confidence that, it there’s one thing I hate about Halo 4, it is the sound of the Warthog.

Even the covenant seem to suffer.  The grunts sound like nasally Steve Urkel ghouls, and without the ever classic “FEET DON’T FAIL ME NOW” dialogue they feel odd.  The covies do however play well, and on Heroic or Legendary show their true ravenous and oft devious nature on the battlefield.

The story itself, starts off great, the characters are easily at their best.  The facial animations, and voice acting are top-notch.  I won’t bother going into great detail on Halo 4’s graphical delivery – but suffice to say it is the best looking 360 game I’ve seen since Crysis 2/3.

Where the story really hits snags for me, is gaps that may have been better left void, and newly opened gaps that simply leave me scratching my head.  For instance, let’s just segue right into the new kids on the chief’s galactic block:  The Prometheans.

The story behind them is definitely intriguing, and at the same time tragic.  The terminals do a stellar job (no pun intended) of delivering a juicy new slice of Halo’s Forerunner story which began with Greg Bear’s recent literature.  But fighting them at times felt like a Spray & Pray gong show which turned Halo’s original 30 seconds of fun formula into 4-5 minutes of pure monotonous bullshit.  

Maybe it’s because I (admittedly) have not read Mr. Bear’s series yet, that I am so baffled…if not OVERWHELMED with the flood (pun intended) of information the player gets literally water-boarded with during the campaign, and terminals.

343 did take something away from Halo which I loved, and replaced it with a complex and sometimes baffling saga.  For me, the feeling of humility, and humbling mystery behind the forerunners is what made them so interesting.  A vanished and superior race which created ring-worlds, dyson spheres, and shield worlds, and there was nothing left of them.  We didn’t even know they had six fingers on each hand yet.  (wtf?)

Not knowing, for me was what made Halo so amazing.  And in my opinion, shedding light on all these things so suddenly has taken that mystery, and sense of awe, and replaced it with a sensation akin to:  “Oh.  So that’s what that is…”

It felt…perhaps not “bad”..but after learning all this, the big mystery felt sullied and unfulfilled.  Is it wrong that I’m not compelled to delve into Bear’s series?  A big part of me didn’t want to know every last detail behind the forerunners.

Cortana really did steal the show, the ever lovely Mrs. Taylor really delivering her best material yet in this series.  Her long developed on-mic interaction with Steve Downes was apparent, and pairing them in the same studio was a superb move for 343.  Their performance was epic.

To wrap things up, I can safely say that Halo 4 was a great game.  It is also a firm handshake from 343 ensuring their confidence, and dedication to developing a new and exciting direction for this series.  It simply begs the question:  Where are we headed now?

Bungie’s contributions to Halo are in a league of their own, but 343’s product is solid and obviously is a labor of love.  From here on its their baby.  Let’s all hope they can handle the lil’ tyke because it’s a handful.

-SK1LLZ

The War Z – Pages from a recovered journal. Part 1

Artifact No. 1895663

Journal written by persons unknown, recovered by cleansing team Gamma approximately 32 miles due west of Boulder, CO. The document was found within a satchel containing some tinned goods, a bottle of water and an empty handgun. No sign of the author or indeed any other survivor in the immediate vicinity.

———————————————————————————————————————

part-1-page-1

part-1-page-2——————————————————————————————————————–

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed writing it, the concept of how people would react if the Zombie Apocalypse did come I find quite fascinating, on the one hand I think that people would work together but in reality I think most people would be forced to be overly hostile to protect what little they have. This reality I think The War Z touches on and stimulates pretty well and I will try to explore a bit further in future journal entries. Please comment and/or subscribe as any constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. Alternatively if you play War Z and you don’t want to kill and rob me and my clan mates then get in touch.

-The Quim Ninja

Ready, Jet Set, Go

276205sega.logo

Ever since the death of thier final console the Dreamcast Sega have been rebuilding themselves as one of the top dogs in publishing bringing out a plethora of new IPs but also bringing back old titles that we gamers had once thought of as long dead. XBLA and PSN releases are one thing but more recently our old friends have been breathing life back into old classics on various mobile devices. One game I never expected Sega to resurect was the Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in the US) series, a quirky, design heavy, fast paced and unique title though it was I had never realised just what a huge following this game had gathered over the years.

Jet-Set-Radio-jet-set-radio-future-23279882-1000-1049-300x314

If you don’t like bright colours, this game is not for you

Having picked up (with great difficulty) a Japanese imported version of the original Dreamcast title in Y2K I instantly fell for this game. A cell-shaded style which was at the time totally unique and an insane J-pop/Hip-hop soundtrack (some of the tracks still get stuck in my head to this day) for some reason really drew me in despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing or what was going on due to being unable to understand a word of Japanese. As a result I could never really get that far with the original title due to the objectives of later levels being something of a mystery to me. Later I picked up the sequel Jet Set Radio future for the original Xbox and that is where my love affair with this series really began.

jet-set-radio-iOS

Imagine my delight then to find out mere days ago that I would be able to rock out to ‘Oldie but a Goodie’ once more while covering the walls, cars and buses of Tokyo-To with tags all the while being able to actually understand what was going on ….. all this for the bargain price of £2.99 for my android device… yes please Sega … gimmie!

Installing this game plus the initial game set up is a bit of a monumental effort for my little HTC but it made it eventually and the results are something delightful. Sega America have managed to pack pretty much everything from the original into our little devices and that is an achievement to be respected. Imagine the future possibilities, a Dreamcast in my pocket? God yes give me that right now. How does it stack up against the original? Fairly well really, it does have a slightly laggier nature due to a heavily lowered framerate (something that might be less obvious on a tablet rather than a smartphone) and the directional stick leaves a little to be desired but I find this to be the case in almost all smartphone games. Apart from these very minor flaws this game is well worth the price tag. A full on gang battle/adventure through the neo-Tokyo streets avoiding the fuzz while raising the fame and increasing the territories of your in-line skating punk gang the “GG’s” is still a lot of fun and the tunes are easily as catchy as ever.

BeatJSRBeat knew cucumbers worked just as well as Lenses

You start out as Beat guided by Professor K (the host of the pirate radio broadcast station Jet Set Radio) who keeps the plot ticking over with little interludes not unlike D.J from the movie the Warriors. You must first defend your own turf from rival gangs before sweeping into their side of town and taking your revenge by leaving your mark on any flat surface you can find and avoiding the cities increasingly psychotic police force led by the bumbling Captain Onishima. Seriously these guys are nutjobs who take real pleasure in harming innocent young inline skaters, they’ll run you over doing wheelies on police bikes, they’ll chase you with machine guns and tear gas they even call in the attack helicopters at one point. Luckily for you they are about as well trained as the henchmen in an Arnie movie.

Jet-Set-Radio_4It’s tricky but soon enough you’ll be pulling tricks and spraying graff like a pro

Playing the game on a phone screen isn’t ideal, comboing tricks and grinds was never easy in JSR but the small size mixed with the lack of responsiveness from the control stick and some mammoth lag makes things trickier than ever here but it never renders things unplayable. The games mechanic for spraying your graffiti translates pretty well onto a touch screen however I cant help but feel they could have done a little more to integrate this input method into the game, the responsiveness is often not quite what you would hope for and you end up having to try your tags more than once before achieving painted perfection. That said it isn’t too far removed from the original stick input so you shouldn’t have any real trouble painting the town red or blue or whatever. All in all JSR is still great fun and it’s style still looks great Tokyo-To feels alive and vibrant and getting to those difficult to reach tag spots is as frustrating and rewarding as ever. Sega it seems are finally realising just how much love people still have for their old DC titles and I for one am hoping for many more revivals, if they ever manage to get Shenmue onto a phone I think i might just cry with delight. So get over to the google play/ App store now and pick it up it’s not a featured game and needs to have as much support as possible folks if the Dreamcast is going to continue to have the respect it deserves.

tumblr_mau330nCZz1r03fmso1_1280Buy this game or I’ll haunt your dreams bitches

Break out your roller blades, get out your headphones crank up your volume and roll with the GG’s.

– eremenko