Tuesday, 17 October 2017

My Usual Spiel - Minecraft Story Mode Season 1: More fun then a point and click adventure

Release date: October 13, 2015
Genre: Graphic adventure
Publisher: Telltale Games, Mojang
Developer: Telltale Games, Mojang
Platforms: Windows, macOS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Modes: Singleplayer Only

I for one, have been playing Minecraft for a long time, almost since the start actually, if I can recall it was the Alpha 1.2.3_04 version from late 2010 and in case you’ve been living under a rock it’s gotten bigger and more popular than ever becoming a franchise with apparel/toys/home and office supplies and gadgets and other merchandise. It’s become so big in fact that the franchise has now qualified for a Telltale game. For those of your who don’t know Telltale Games  are a game design company that focuses on episodic gaming and digital distribution and is well known for their game series’ that are based on TV shows such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, they have also brought their own style of game to other game worlds such as Tales from the Borderlands which is based in the Borderlands universe. As you can probably guess Telltale game focus heavily on storytelling with most of the player interaction comes from Quick Time Events and Dialogue wheels though simple movement like walking around and investigating an area is still allowed albeit with limited control and within a small area. This type of gameplay is often referred to as Interactive movies, the Dreamcast game Shenmue one of the first game to feature this type of gameplay and also Heavy Rain which was a launch title for the PS3.

The main menu, it all looks very clean.
When Telltale released Minecraft Story Mode on Steam I was at first not very interested as it seemed like it was for kids, then a bit later I looked at a playthrough of its and was impressed at the design but scoffed at its limited playability, then I decided in the end I might actually give it a go partially because it was on sale and partially because anything Minecraft I’ll try out. So I did, and I was pleasantly entertained, the visuals were great, who knew they could make a game with blocks look so good and not specifically the graphics just the designs they created in the game itself there was lots of thought put into every scene and it looked amazing. I found myself constantly thinking of how long each area would take to build in the original game though of course with mods like Worldbuilder large-scale projects are made much easier. I purchased the base game and also the Adventure Pass so I could access all 8 chapters of the story though though technically the first four episodes are one story the next 4 are a different story though with the same characters and setting. Most of the lore and the areas used are based on the main game, you even explore areas such as the Far Lands which is a name given to the supposed “edge” of the Minecraft worlds, though there are no traditional Villages all of the people, houses, towns and communities are created new for the series.

The Temple of the Order of the Stone
So we’ll start at the beginning, Minecraft Story Mode tells the story of the The Order of the Stone which is also the name of the first episode, the 4 members are Gabriel the Warrior, Ellegaard the Redstone Engineer, Magnus the Rogue, and Soren the Architect. The order were famous for defeating the infamous Ender Dragon and then faded into legend. You then get to create your character with limited options, I just went with the default white male character as it didn’t really matter to me, you also had options to different skin colours or a female character. You are then introduced to Jesse, a fan of Gabriel the Warrior and a poster collector who is preparing for the EnderCon Building Competition alongside their friends, Axel, a griefer, and Olivia, a redstonist, and Jesse’s pig Reuben. First off there is a brief scene in the friends treehouse where you are introduced to the characters and the dialogue wheel which is actually kind of stressful as you have a limited amount of time to reply and if you don’t someone takes it upon themselves to answer for you, in contrast to The Old Republic where you could stand around for hours staring at each other before needing to press anything and even press escape to re-do the conversation if you didn’t like how it turned out. 

You can view all of the episodes from the start, this is the screen from the first one showing most of the main characters including (from left to right) Lukas, Jesse, Olivia, Axel, Reuben and Petra
 You were then able to freely walk around and look and interact with things inside the treehouse, yes that’s pretty much the degree of control you have, walking around and looking at things in a smallish area. throughout the game you can interact with other characters while doing this of course and there are also parts of the game where you can look around multiple areas and rooms. ‘Jesse’ also has an inventory where you can place various items beginning with a humble wooden sword but can be a variety of things from old favourites from the base game like Flint and Steel to new special items acquired on the journey like the Eversource Crown. Unlike the original game you cannot ‘equip’ these items or use them at any time, they require a special circumstances often involving a quick decision and a bit of fumbling around trying to find the inventory key.

The scene is from episode five where the group are investigating Sky City , you can see the quicktime keypress prompts and the scene where you can control Jesse and walk around investigating.

Jesse and his friends then get caught up with a scheme by the (then) bad guy Ivor who creates a Wither with an intent to control it but it soon gets out of control becoming the Wither Storm and sucks up Gabriel along with hundreds of other blocks and becomes gigantic and the gang adventure to the Nether in order to find the Temple of the Order of the Stone. After this it was time for Episode 2: "Assembly Required" the main focus of the story goes to finding the remaining members of the Order of the Stone where you meet Magnus the Rogue and Ellegaard the Redstone Engineer, you had a choice during this episode to either go to Redstonia to find Ellegaard or Boom Town to find Magnus, I’m kind of regretting going to Redstonia though now found that the choices you make determine even what content you will see as well as changes in the story which was both cool and annoying as it means I might have to play it again sometime hah.

The Wither Storm split into 3
Now I’m not going to go through the whole story but basically you find Soren the Architect who is doing experiments with Endermen in Episode 3: The Last Place You Look and then set out to stop the Wither storm in Episode 4: A Block and a Hard Place and I gotta admit the last episode in that storyline was pretty epic. The next 4 episodes revolve around Jesse and his friends Petra, Lukas and the now semi- good-guy Ivor exploring an ancient temple then getting lost in a hallway of portals and needing to find the way home. This series was especially good as it focused on Minecraft culture and themes, Episode 5: "Order Up!" focused on the Skyblock mod for Minecraft where the gang is trapped on an island in the sky and discover a city with limited resources and where building is illegal. Episode 6: "A Portal to Mystery" is based on  a murder/mystery movie and features cameos from various Minecraft Youtube personalities including CaptainSparklez, LDShadowLady, Stampy Cat, Stacy Plays and DanTDM. Episode 7: "Access Denied" is mostly about Redstone engineering and malevolent ai, and the final episode, Episode 8: "A Journey's End?" features Spleef and is where they discover The Old Builders.

PAMA from the Access Denied episode
The end of the "A Portal to Mystery" Episode with youtubers DanTDM and Stampy Cat
What can I say about the graphics well they are probably the best part of the game, the scenery, the characters and the shading effects. I only recently started using shaders with Minecraft but it’s amazing what they can do, they just make the world much more realistic and atmospheric, you can really tell the time of day and what the weather is like. I spent most of my time marveling at the creations inside the game stuff that would take me months to do though technically even with just another 2 people it speeds things up greatly. Looking at the things I’ve seen on the culture section from minecraft.net and from the many servers I’ve visited I can come to the conclusion that more people = more epic things and besides someone developed the whole of Skyrim and other games of equal epic scope didn’t they? and that wasn’t made of blocks. So It’s simply the more people working at it the easier it is, I think it’s because I just keep thinking of how long it would take me on my own to build. The game isn’t completely true to Minecraft obviously and there are a few creative liberties taken especially with the characters which you would expect.

There were some pretty epic shots in the game.
As we all know your character in the original Minecraft has very limited body movement swinging his (or her) arms and legs apparently without any elbows or knees (or feet for that matter) and has no facial expressions whatsoever, so it’s obvious there would need to be a change. The character models have been modified to have working facial features including eyebrows eyes, and mouth which is no longer a flat surface and elbow and knee joints. The characters still looked pretty funny when moving but this was all part of the game.The soundtrack was pretty damn good there was a mix of ambient music similar to the original Minecraft music then there is the orchestral soundtrack plus a bit of custom intro music it was overall pretty good, I didn’t concentrate too hard on which music was already in Minecraft and which music wasn’t and also which sounds were new etc, it all sounded good with nothing out of the ordinary thrown in, not much else to say hah

I like this intro, the scene and music work well, you can also see how the characters move and speak.

It’s easy to tell the game is made primarily for kids, whole story and interactions never include any type of adult themes, nope no violence, sex or drug use here though it’s been done already in the base game thanks to zealous modders. You can almost play the entire game with one hand (cue wank jokes) and I admit I got a bit bored just watching the cutscenes and there were quite a lot of cringeworthy scenes. I felt compelled to interact with everything I could though this meant longer gameplay time. I found after a while I was counting down the episode till I finished but this was ok, the conversation choices were fun the quicktime events were easy as usual and failing in any way put you right back to the last decision or failed keypress. This is probably the advice for all Telltale games if you like good storyline and don’t mind dialogue wheels and quicktime events then this game is fine. Almost every biome, creature, item and block makes an appearance in Story mode and it’s great to see that Telltale and the Mojang team that worked with them have made this possible. I heartily enjoyed Minecraft story mode which was my first telltale game and will be back for the second season, I may even think about watching it again.

Had to include this awesome scene of the gang riding through the nether in minecarts


Things I liked:
  • Great graphics, smooth overall design
  • Entertaining story
  • Knowledge of subject area, items, lore etc

Things I didn’t like:
  • Some cringeworthy dialogue and scenes.
  • Needed more combat with other weapons, bows etc


That's right, here is all of the trailers for episode 1-7

RIP Reuben

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Past and Times of Yore - Saints Row 2 (PC): A mediocre console port made better by the modding community

Release date: October 10, 2008 (Console)
February 3, 2009 (Windows) 
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition Inc, CD Projekt (Windows)
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Modes: Singleplayer Only

Saints Row, I cannot seem to get enough of it, it was a a while ago now that I saw the whole series on Steam sale and thought “Why not”? I enjoyed the Third installment, why not play the 4th and the rest of them legit? and so I did, albeit out of order. After playing the excellent Saints Row The Third and the insane Saints Row IV I was ready for more Saints Row but instead of going to Gat out of Hell I thought I would go back to the beginning. Though technically I couldn’t exactly go directly back to the beginning, the original Saints Row was on Xbox only, and although I do have access to an Xbox I really couldn’t be bothered buying the disc. So I decided to play Saints Row 2 which was apparently supposed to be the best one of the series and I admit I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t at all blown away either.

Just runnin' down the hood with my shotty
The first thing I noticed about the game as it was similar to Saints Row 3, creating your character in Saints Row 2 was supposed to be better than 3 but it wasn’t really there was about the same level of customization, I made my character pretty basic as usual, I don’t go all crazy as it looks ridiculous and having a fitting protagonist works much better then someone dressed as Ronald Mcdonald. Saints Row 3 had 4 different male voices for the protagonist, a white, black, hispanic and of course Nolan North with his cockney British accent, He is the only one named for some reason possibly because he’s a famous voice actor who has portrayed characters such as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, Desmond Miles from the Assassin's Creed series, in Saints Row 3 he put on a cockney British accent not that I played the whole game with it I used the base white male voice which had an American accent which I think suited much better. Saints Row 2 had only Nolan North as the supposed white male voice actor so I couldn’t have the voice I had for Saints Row 3 and 4, though this wasn’t too bad as it was fun to hear ‘Nolan’ cockney mouth his way through the film.

"The Siege" mission where you take down the brotherhood

The picks up a few years after the original Saints Row left off, During this time, the 3rd Street Saints disband, and their legacy is soon forgotten.[2] With Julius missing and the Saints gone, a power vacuum in Stilwater allowed three new gangs to take over: The Brotherhood, The Sons of Samedi, and The Ronin. You the protagonist and the exiled leader of the Saints are in prison in a coma in the fictional city of Stilwater after being blown off a yacht at the finale of the first game. Together with the wannabe gangster Carlos Mendoza you break out of prison and head for the mainland and shack up in this ratty old basement of the Red Light district and man it is bad, of course you do have the option of sprucing it up a bit which is pretty cool. There are various Cribs in the game similar to Saints Row 3 and these can all be upgraded, your first crib has 3 overall styles ‘cheap’, ‘classy’ and ‘pimp’ which gives each crib a makeover, The classy style was nice for the time being having turned the basement into the best thing it could be for a basement with carpet and painted walls and pictures to make the place look nice and homely.

My first crib, the Red Light Loft, looking better then before
Second Crib the Penthouse Loft, oh yehhh
When out looking for clothes I went pretty basic dressing up in normal jeans and sneakers with a basic tee and a basketball jersey over the top with a 13 on the back, nice and practical, I also added a bandana and a gold necklace for some flair as well as some rings and a knuckle duster and a watch. All of the clothes apart from the jeans and jewelry were coloured purple of course, I was pretty happy with the result.

You talking to me?
 After rescuing the infamous Johnny Gat from custody you all then start rebuilding the 3rd Street Saints gang gaining members and fining a new hideout. The Saints new hideout is an interesting place being an abandoned hotel in an underground area of the city called Old Stilwater only accessible by going down into the basement, Johnny explains that an earthquake destroyed part of the city, and that the wreckage was built over so there’s a whole section of street with shops and traffic lights and a rail car from the time the earthquake hit in the 50’s. This is pretty cool and looks awesome though the area is overrun with bums and Samedi gang Members and you basically just slaughter everyone and claim the place to yourself. You then recruit old (or new) faces such as Pierce, and Shaundi and then basically the progression and gameplay turns into the Saints Row 3 and 4 style where you have the option of doing main missions and side missions and other activities slowly taking over the city.

The "Good D" mission from the Ronin where they attack the Saints underground hideout.

I wasn’t exactly sure which mob to start with so I started with the Ronin Missions. The Ronin were basically were a Yakuza-style gang, as it seems all gangs have a particular colour, this gang’s colour is yellow. I’m not going to spoil the story but this one had a fairly significant event in Johnny Gat’s life that you replay in Saints Row 4 and boy did I love the Katana battles, there’s a few of them in there too and interestingly you side with a Chinese ally. I then battled the Sons of Samedi which are a bunch of African Voodoo dudes who sell drugs, who you choose Shaundi to investigate as per her drug addictions and knowledge of her ex, the DJ Veteran child who is working with the Samedi. Then finally you take on the The Brotherhood‎ where you get very personal with their Leader Maero. The last part of the story revolves around the Ultor Corporation and the young executive Dane Vogel who becomes the game’s final antagonist, by defeating him and forming an alliance with Ultor the Saints become the prominent power in Stilwater hence the references in Saints Row the Third.

The Ronin "Kanto Connection" mission, I get my Samurai on. I like that shot at the start as I realise Pierce also wears a 13 on his shirt.

The activities were pretty usual of the series you had Heli Assault and Insurance Fraud and Escort that I’ve seen before but there was also new ones such as Crowd Control where you are a bodyguard to celebrity and protect them from crazy fans and Septic Avenger where you devalue real estate by driving around in a waste truck and spraying shit on everything, I enjoyed doing the Snatch mission again where you steal hookers from abusive pimps and escort then back to supposedly a better life. A new one I really liked was the FUZZ missions which was like some sensationalistic version of the Cops TV series where you bashed and murdered random criminals from drug addicts to prostitutes and were encouraged to use increasingly brutal weapons such as the chainsaw, as you can probably guess the game had its flair even back then. There were races as well which were fun but overall the extra activities were pretty much like the other games. By doing these activities you can gain more unlockables which include abilities, weapons, homies, discounts and vehicles, I was happy with gaining them as I went along doing missions but as I went on I soon looked at getting particular abilities such as more health or infinite ammo for certain guns and maybe even a certain vehicle I wanted, though there were always lots of vehicles around.\

The FUZZ where you play as a Cop on a  TV show, it's as ridiculous as it looks if the NSW Police weren't happy about the Police Mod then they certainly wouldn't like this.

Speaking of vehicles It was good to get to use them again after playing Saints Row IV for the second time around, for those of you who don’t know there is basically no point in driving vehicles in Saints Row IV. I used my fair share of them and even found a nice Harley-Style bike called the Melbourne and I also added a (Motorcycle) chopper and a Coupe which I thought was pretty cool and I painted them in the gang colours of course. Once you open up the main underground Saints Row crib you can customize what style of clothing your crew wears and also what cars they drive which was fun as you can choose pretty ludicrous things my current setup includes a saints Halberd, Attrazione and Compton all of which are automatically pimped to the saints colours. As you go through the missions you gain vehicles and outfits for both your crew and yourself and other unlockables, specifically when you finish all the missions for a particular gang i.e. the Ronin you get access to their vehicles like the Kaneda for your Garage and the Ninja style gang customization.

The Saints Gang Car version of the Halberd, looks pretty cool heh
Of course as being an open-world game there are dozens of other things you can do apart from the main missions and activities, most of which I didn’t really touch. You can do stunt jumps, you can collect CD’s?, you can fly planes through tight spaces, you can do the classic Taxi, Ho-ing missions and Tow truck missions, you play mini-games like Blackjack and also rob stores and mug people or even play an entertaining zombie uprising minigame, it’s up to you, I actually just did the races if I can remember correctly. There’s also this thing called Respect and Style, respect you gain from killing gang members, completing missions, doing dangerous stunts such as wheelies and driving on the wrong side of the road, there is just so many ways to get it, you pretty much just do anything. Style affects how much respect you get when you gain Respect for example better clothes, upgrading your cars and owning more cribs grants you more style.

Drug Trafficking mission complete, with the respect gained and style bonus
Gameplay is basically the same as in Saints Row the Third but nowhere near as refined, from early on I could smell a console port as there was no mouse support for the main menu so I quickly knew this was going to be a bit wonky for the PC, and wonky it was, it was badly optimized with poor frame rates and jerky movement, it really didn’t play very well. The cars handled awfully and were very hard to control at first, I was wondering why I had such a sore thumb then I realized it was because almost whenever I turned a corner I used spacebar for the handbrake because it worked all the time no matter how fast you were going. I remember I went back to play GTA5 online at one point and tried to drive the same way and boy it did not work at all heh. The controls were simple enough and I managed fine as the movement and shooting was bearable.

Yes that is Shaundi and Carlos hanging from the helicopter landing legs.
Everything is very arcade-like as in the other Saints Row games I’ve played, even the helicopters were easy as you just had buttons for up and down then you pointed them in the direction you wanted to go. The heli assault missions were pretty nuts, you had to blow up enemy vans so your homies could do drug deals. What more was that they could run out of gas then you had to pick them up which was incredibly difficult so I was glad the chopper controls were relatively simple I spent a lot of my time in motorcycles then finished with The General’s Bulldog which is customized with a gun turret on the top which you can freely control, this made doing missions much easier as you were always being chased by an endless supply of gang cars and having the turret there helped immensely as you didn’t have to lean out of the car to shoot all of the time. Of course there were some limitations, the thing was huge and it had a terrible turning circle and wasn’t that fast, but was a choice vehicle for pretty much anything towards the end of the game where you were fighting huge amounts of heavily armed enemies so the durability really came in handy.

Customizing and driving the Military Bulldog, this thing was a beast.

The graphics for this game were not that remarkable and worse than the previous Saints Row games I have played but of course this is an earlier game from 2008 so what do you expect? Yeh some parts looked pretty bad, the terrain in the off-road areas particularly as it seemed like they were just a bunch of brown mush, the character models weren’t too good, some of the cars and explosion effects looked weird. But of course it doesn’t really matter, you don’t play a game like Saints Row to go “AWR LOOKIT DEM GREPHICS!” you play it for the gameplay and the general craziness, Saints Row isn’t exactly famous for its graphics compared to the likes of say Far Cry. As far as music and sound goes it’s got the same radio station setup as Saints Row 3, in fact I think all of the games have the same setup of radio stations for a number of different genres from techno to classical same as Saints Row 3 and 4, I far as music I love the games original soundtrack with its banging hiphop beats you can’t beat the Saints for epic rap, I just don’t know how to explain it, it’s like a blockbuster movie style the whole intro to the game and in the main menu and it sounds great.

On the whole graphics weren't the best but it was the soundtrack that made it
Ultimately if you liked Saints Row 3 then you will like 2, if you liked 2 then you’ll like 1 etc. My only regret was that I played it without realizing there was one particularly huge mod that was made for the PC game titled Gentleman of the Row. This mod added a ton of new features to the game mostly clothes, vehicles, cribs and customization options similar to a Skyrim mod, though it also added new walking animations and taunts. Not only that it added and optional first person mode, increased FOV and an option to remove the HUD for screenshots. I was kinda annoyed that I didn’t play it with this mod but meh it was still good anyway and I had fun with it, next up in the Saints Row agenda is Gat out of Hell which I may play with a friend as it has CO-OP.

I like this shot, it's got all the main players in it except for Johnny Gat
 I’ve found I’ve forgotten to do the score and the “things I like and didn’t like” for the games I review so I’ll start that again now.

Things I liked:
  • General Saints Row craziness
  • Always Entertaining story
  • Vehicle design and customization
  • Character customization
  • Entertaining side activities

Things I didn’t like:
  • Poorly developed console port
  • Poorly optimized gameplay and graphics with jerky movement
  • Odd handling on vehicles jerky movement



Saints Row 2 Game Trailer

If this were a TV show I’d watch it

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

My Usual Spiel - Verdun, Finally some proper trench warfare

Release date: April 28, 2015
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: M2H, Blackmill Games
Developer: M2H, Blackmill Games
Engine: Unity
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Modes: Multiplayer Only

Verdun, one of the bloodiest battles of The Great War and an appropriate name for the most realistic WW1 shooter out today. It was my housemate Brok that first introduced me to it, the game was curiously released in the shadow of Battlefield 1 yes even a year before it came out there was a lot of talk about the new Battlefield game would be going to the World War 1 front. When I first saw game known as Verdun I realized that this was actually a much more realistic first person shooter then Battlefield will ever be and decided to give it a go.

The treacherous Front lines
Verdun is set in the midst of the First World War and as the title says specifically the western front from 1914 to 1918, it features many of the famous battlegrounds of the time including Battle of Champagne, The Meuse-Argonne Offensive and Fort Douaumont itself. The game has a heavy squad focus rewarding you for teamwork and especially rewarding players who play in the same squad regularly, it features Realistic World War 1 gameplay: Authentic weaponry with realistic bullet physics, skill based weapon handling, gore, poisonous gas with a claustrophobic gas mask experience, realistic gore and artillery barrages. The “Frontlines” game mode is true trench warfare that forces you to attack or defend in tandem with the enemy. Each side fights over a turn-based frontline map that consists of multiple sectors that can be captured by either side. Staying true to the typical attrition warfare of that time, both sides attack and counter-attack each other in turn, so you will be forced to defend each captured sector of trenches. The goal is to capture the enemy‘s HQ sector in order to win the game.

The trenches of Argonne, I think I had HDR on at that point.
Verdun it looks the part too right when you load the game you’re in a trench with some classic WW1-era music playing on the stereo and the whole setting feels very true to the era. Though the menu is a bit confusing in the way you choose your gamemode first i.e. the most prominent mode: Frontlines. You need to join a squad first and then it loads you into whatever map that squad is in, and then you also have the option of “Playing Now” which is bloody annoying cause I keep accidentally pressing it twice and it jumps into the first available squad which wouldn’t be a problem apart from the times it dumps you into servers with no players. There are various other modes including: Attrition which is basically team deathmatch with a ticket bleed and Rifle Deathmatch which is pretty self explanatory. The only offline mode is “Squad defense” which pits you against waves of NPC opponents that are pretty damn stupid, they often run right past you then all crowd at the objective and whoever was lucky enough to go the machinegunner class gets to mow them all down, it was all quite ludicrous but anyway we didn’t play that mode much.

The Game mode screen with the map of the western front
In Verdun the main game is Frontlines, and you join a squad in either the Western Powers or the Entente, you have a role within the squads themselves which are in the nation’s language so are often hard to decipher. The squad roles are called various different things depending on which military you are fighting for but usually encompass a Sharpshooter who has access to Sniper Rifles, a Bombardier who has access to grenades, traps and other explosive devices, a Machinegunner and an Officer. The officer is different as he usually only carries a pistol but has various abilities including being able to issue attack and defend commands and the ability to be a forward spawn point for the team. Officers also have special abilities such as the ability launch artillery strikes, mustard gas and recon planes to reveal enemy locations. Playing Frontlines restricts the areas that you can move around as when you are defending you are forbidden from running forward of the trench area and when you are attacking and there are obviously edges of the map you cannot go like every other game. In all of the maps there are capture points and capturing these within a certain time allows you to move forward and eventually capture the enemies main base and in turn the enemy can “gain a foothold” and capture the area back if they have enough soldiers in the area similar to  the tug of war trench warfare of WW1 with a shifting frontline.

A basic display of how the Frontlines mode works, one side attacks, the other defends and the rest is hotsory :D

Verdun seems to focus a lot on Squads which are based on historical units such as the British Tommies and the German StoƟtrupp, the squad levelling system is quite confusing as you can only level up the type of squad you are in. So for example the Canadians are an Assault type squad therefore have more assault type weapons and the officers can launch gas attacks at the enemy whereas the French Chasseur Alpins are a Recon type squad with sniper rifles and espionage abilities and officers have the recon plane ability. Additionally to this the squads have Abilities and Progression trees which are sort of like a tech tree in a game like Age of Empires, as you level up you gain additional abilities such as better sprint time, reload times, spawn times, weapon efficiency etc and also the officer abilities are upgraded from more lethal types of gas to bigger artillery rounds. Playing the same type of squad regularly with the same people is the best way to level your squad abilities but sadly if you play on your own this is almost impossible as there are 7 types of squads and you’re always playing with different people.

The Squad Ability Tree
Confused yet? So now we get to your personal progression system. In the past you obtained new weapons and equipment by levelling up your specified squad role in order to obtain more equipment i.e. rifleman role would unlock the scoped rifles. But now as per this post by the developers , everything is done through the ‘Career system’ In this mode you have a personal career level with 77 as the max level and you obtain 2 career points per level so as per the diagram below you can use your career points to open up the different types of loadouts for your squad role. These new unlocks are not inherently better (i.e. tier 3 may not be better then tier 2) they just give more options of equipment for your role.

Picking your squad Specialisation
Once you have all this stuff worked out it’s time to actually play the game! It’s pretty self-intuitive, it’s your regular WASD keys to move and you can also crouch, prone and sprint, and the shift key also allows you to hold your breath when aiming which is quite useful when trying to shoot enemies from afar and I keep forgetting to do it. There is also keys for grenades and your gas mask, and yes you can jump. When playing the game it’s very important to play the objective and help your squad by performing your squad role correctly, the abilities of your class may give you the chance to earn additional points. For example the machinegunner will get more points for assists and the sniper more points for longshots and of course running ahead in a gung-ho approach really does not work. When attacking yes you have to move forward but your best tactic is to conserve your sprint power and run between cover and shell holes and inch your way to the front, this is especially true with the Officer class as you can act as a forward spawn point right near the capture point.

Playing as an Officer and Machinegunner on Artois with my friends Brok (Ya Gramps) and Tyler (The Barron) towards the end we encounter mustard gas unfortuantely.

The fighting in this game true to real life is brutal, almost every rifle and machinegun in the game can kill a player with one shot to the chest or head, so everyone is running around with the itchiest trigger fingers ever. A split second could be the difference between you seeing and shooting your opponent to them doing the same and damn is it alternately gratifiying and infuriating if you make the shot or fall face first into the mud and fall you will, successfully getting a bullet into someone while they run through the dirt and watching their body slump onto the ground is one of the most satisfying sights ever in contrast to the Battlefield series where you have to riddle them with bullets or get a headshot before they go down. What makes things worse is that all of the colours blend into each other with the gritty realistic scheme and environment and the character models look very similar so often you don’t know it’s an enemy until it’s too late especially when you are changing factions with different uniforms all of the time so thank god for friendly fire being off as more than once I’ve fired at a random shadow in the darkness then realizing it was a teammate. Some of the best moments I’ve had are as the machinegunner and racking up lots of kills with the rapid fire.

I try out sharpshooting on the Picardie map, I swear I had a scope on but the movie oddly doesn't show it.

The environment and setting of Verdun are all top-notch, all the locations have that gritty WW1 feel and the attention to detail is incredible. I actually only realized after a while that I had the gore turned off by default, and when I turned it on boy was there a change, there were body parts being blown off and soldiers screaming and writhing on the ground and oh that was more like it. The various historical maps looked great too, from the barren trench laden Argonne to the heavily wooden Aisne. Some of my favourites included Vosges which was set in a sparse rocky pinewood forest and Champagne which was the only night map and prime example of heavily entrenched forces, with that map you had two choices, run through the deep trenches as they wind around or risk running along the top where there is a high chance of being shot or getting tangled in the barbed wire and boy is there a lot of it. Flanders  is probably one of the hardest maps to move forward as it’s caked in mud and water and there is barely any cover. Moving through these environments feels great and you really feel like you are part of something compared with other FPS games where you are in a team but it’s still every man for himself.

Playing the night map 'Champagne' with my friend Brok, there were only a few players in this game.

The graphics in Verdun are very crisp and realistic looking, there is so much detail in the player models and the maps, the trees the branches the leaves the rough terrain, everything is modelled true to the era, I can run the game at ultra setting with no problem so it’s very optimized as well, even when it’s raining. I play everything on Ultra but leave off the fancy features such as “High dynamic range” “Depth of Field” “Ambient Occlusion” and all that stuff that’s supposed to make the game look better but just downs your FPS, High Dynamic range actually look pretty cool but it makes the sky to bright and the dark bits too dark, I still leave anti-aliasing on though I know have a 1440p monitor now. The sounds are good, rifle shots sound great and so do the explosions and the whistles from the officers, there isn’t really any music apart from the excellent authentic tunes coming from the radio In the menu screen and the squad intro music when you join a squad depending on which type of army you are in .

I try out Sniping in the Wooded Vosges map
 If you were to ask me which game I enjoy better between Verdun and Battlefield 1 it’d be a hard choice, Battlefield 1 has many more features and classes and of course vehicles but that’s not what this game is about, It would be nice to be able to be a medic in the game though. Of course BF1 is a bit arcade or generic FPS and has arguably been the same game since Battlefield 3 just with a different skin. Verdun you can tell has been made specifically to be as accurate as possible to the trench warfare of WW1, the kills are so much more satisfying then BF1 and you congratulate yourself on each one. Playing Verdun with friends is great especially if you play regularly, there is enough content in there including maps, weapons and classes to keep you busy for a while. Verdun is the best modern WW1 game out there that I know of and fills a void that is missing from Battlefield 1 which glosses over trench warfare in its entirety and If you’re a fan of first person shooters at all then you should give it a go at least once. When I’m sick of all the constant explosions and planes and tanks rumbling all over the place I know where to go to


Verdun official trailer

I’m happy in my hole.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Past and Times of Yore - Banjo Kazooie, Rare shows it's platforming excellence on the Nintendo 64

Release date: July 17, 1998
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Rareware
Platforms: Nintendo 64
Players: 1

My first experience with Rareware came with Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest which being spectacular games in themselves set the bar quite high for future Rare games I would play. Though I actually never owned a Nintendo 64 myself which has led to my housemate Bro suggesting few to try including Diddy Kong Racing, Star Wars Rogue Squadron and Conkers Bad Fur Day to name of a few, all of which I haven’t quite finished yet. It’s always a hard choice whether to play these games on the original console with the original graphics and controller the way they were intended, or on PC via emulator with much sharper albeit flawed graphics with a Logitech Playstation style controller. The latter now being my preferred choice as it allows you to save anytime, anywhere, which as you can probably guess, makes difficult sections much, much easier. But anyway no matter where you played or what with you had high expectations as Rare was held in very high esteem.

Kazooie and Banjo
I have now fully completed Banjo Kazooie, and I experienced it both on Nintendo 64 and emulator and I’m glad I have. This was one of the most popular Nintendo 64 games of its time along with all of the Rare classics including Diddy Kong Racing, GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and Conker's Bad Fur Day. A sequel titled Banjo-Tooie was created immediately after the first game and is also critically acclaimed. Previously being a staunch Playstation supporter with its excellent Spyro the Dragon platformer being my favorite I didn’t really have much interest in the N64 platformers, especially since I did actually have a go of Super Mario 64 at one point but just couldn’t get into it, I don’t know I just found it a bit dark and soulless and empty (what am I? an emo?) But anyway I decided to try out Banjo-Kazooie and it actually turned out to be quite a good platformer despite my usual distaste of the Nintendo 64 controller.

Banjo's Sister Tooty in Spiral Mountain with Gruntilda's lair in the background. How they can live there with that thing looming over them I wouldn't know.
Banjo-Kazooie tell the story of Banjo a lovable kind-hearted straight-arrow bear and his friend Kazooie a sassy, foulmouthed, wise-cracking red-crested bird of somesort who lives in Banjo’s backpack, why? I will never know. So Banjo has a sister called Tooty and this witch Gruntilda kidnaps her to steal her ‘beauty’ and so you gotta do all this crap to save her and that pretty much sums up the story. Expanding on that a little when you start off in Spiral Mountain where Banjo’s house is located Banjo can’t really do much, most of the moves you can do apart from Banjo’s punching and rolling are done by Kazooie

Banjo's roll move which I used quite a bit
 In order to learn these moves you speak to Bottles the Mole who Kazooie has some problem with and you learn all these different abilities such as the Beak Barge where Kazooie attacks an enemy with her beak and the useful Talon Trot where Kazooie pops her limbs out of the backpack and runs along with Banjo on her back and gives the duo the ability to tackle steep slopes which Banjo cannot jump up. Some abilities require items or level features to use such as the Shock Spring Jump needing the Shock Jump Pads and the Wonderwing ability requiring Golden Feathers to use. Running around Spiral Mountain and learning moves from Bottles was fun as I always like the basic starting areas, controlling Banjo and Kazooie is pretty easy to get used to with a small challenge of remembering the button combinations of each move.

Banjo and Kazooie using a shock jump pad
Having finished learning all of the basic movies available on Spiral Mountain you soon enter Gruntilda’s Lair, a confusing mass of caves and tunnels leading to different areas. Grunty’s Lair is actually the main hub of the game and you access all of the other worlds from this central location. This is also where you receive your first Jiggy, jiggies are Jigsaw puzzle pieces that you can use to complete world puzzle paintings in order to enter them though it seems that it doesn’t matter what size or shape they are any jiggies can be used to finish a jigsaw painting of a certain world. Then once you collect enough Jiggies to finish the painting you need to find the world portal in a different area which is often confusing navigating your way around. You need to collect Jiggies from both Grunty’s Lair and the worlds themselves but this is only one of the collectibles you need, I had a bit of trouble getting my head around all these things you needed to collect so I’ll make a list of them here:

Jiggy’s: Jigsaw puzzle pieces gained from completing challenges in a world, used for completing world portraits and gaining entry to that world.
Musical Notes: which are needed to open up Note Doors to progress through Grunty’s Lair
Jinjos: Imprisoned by Grunty throughout each of the worlds who actually help you in the final battle, collecting all 5 Jinjo’s on a level also gives you a Jiggy
Mumbo Tokens: Given to Mumbo Jumbo in order to be transformed into various creatures related to each world usually required for completing the level and collecting all the items.
Honeycombs: There are two of these on each level and are used to extend Banjo and Kazooie’s health meter.
Witch switches: You find these hidden inside the worlds and you need to hit them in order to uncover the Jiggies inside Gruntilda’s Lair
Extra lives:  Gives you an extra life obviously

A yellow Jinjo in Bubblegoop swamp
So I entered the first main world Mumbo's Mountain and spent awhile playing through the level learning different moves and doing challenges for Jiggies as well as looking for musical notes and other secret including extra lives and Mumbo tokens etc, it was fun doing the Talon Trot and turning myself into a termite in order to infiltrate the termite mound, I’ll admit I had to turn to a gamespot guide in order to %100 the level. The more I explored Grunty’s lair the more intriguing and confusing it became making my way through the caves adorned paintings and statues with Grunty’s likeliness, the world portraits and entrances themselves are in different places so you might get a certain way ahead then have to backtrack and sometimes you need to exit the level as a Crocodile or whatever morph Mumbo has you turn into in order to progress further into the lair or collect extra items or jiggies. As you run around her lair Grunty taunts you with her rhyme-speak but you occasionally run into Brentilda, Grunty’s much nicer sister who is reminiscent of the Fairy Godmother from “The Wizard of Oz”. She tells you various facts about Grunty which you need for one of the final levels and also restores your health.

Mumbo's Mountain level and Grunty's Lair

I began to notice that the world entrances were set in a ‘themed’ area which was a nice touch. For example to warp to Treasure Trove Cove you go through this Pirates of the Caribbean’ themed cave and jump into a treasure chest and the Mad Monster Mansion entrance is appropriately in the middle of a Graveyard. Another nice touch is that the same tunes plays throughout Grunty’s lair but changes slightly depending on when you are i.e. underwater or a level themed area the tune will change slightly to match that area, cool huh? Anyway the rest of the worlds are great to look at with all of your usual themes including a Egyptian level, a snow level and a swamp level though there was one level I particularly liked called Clanker's Cavern which is sort of “sewer pipe” themed level where you run into one of the weirdest and most unsettling of all the creatures I’ve seen in a cutesy platformer. Clanker appears to be this large metal whale with sharp teeth though he doesn’t seem to be mechanical his body looks like a mix of flesh and rusty metal as you can see some flesh showing on the side of his body like he’s cut up or something and you can go inside of him and there’s all these fleshy bits and metal and razors and blergh it’s like what the hell is he doing in this game but it’s fun nonetheless. The level is in this big room filled with water and there are pipes leading everywhere in and out of the water and you get the crap scared out of you by these goddamn monsters which burst out of the pipes.

Clanker himself, it was kinda hard to get a wide shot and the field of view is quite

I enjoyed the levels where you had free reign to fly around like Gobi's Valley and I loved all the activities you did in Mad Monster Mansion as they all seemed really well done. Click Clock Wood was another interesting one as you visit the same large tree 4 times in each season and things are different each time.

The Mad Monster Mansion Organ Room, these were some of my favourite Jiggy activities

Banjo Kazooie is pleasantly challenging, there are easy bits, there are hard bits, man that Jiggy challenge in Bubblegloop Swamp where you compete with Mr. Vile as a crocodile to eat more apples had me sweating, but most of the time the challenges weren’t too hard to complete once you knew what to do, there wasn’t too many times when I wanted to throw my controller hah. Learning the moves and pulling them off correctly was also very satisfying, probably one of the most difficult things to do was swimming underwater, using Banjo you kicked through the water very slowly but could maneuver easily then you could use Kazooie to dart much faster though the camera often faced the wrong way so you were swimming blind sometimes, not to mention that you had limited oxygen so it was always a bit nerve wracking. Controlling Banjo is fine with the N64 controller as long as you have a good one, it’s basically just running and jumping and then remembering which button combinations do what but it works so well.

Swimming is sometimes challenging to maneuver correctly.
One of my few of frustration in this game was dying, your health is listed as Golden Honeycombs that you can gain from defeating enemies, breaking down beehives or simply finding them around the levels, when you lose them all you are transported back to the start of the level retaining the Jiggies you have obtained thank god but you lose all of the musical notes and Jinjo’s you have acquired. This was annoying but bearable, it was actually around the time I go to Rusty Bucket Bay the most challenging level yet and was trying to do the Jiggy in the engine room, this Jiggy is rumored to be the hardest in the game involving jumping and running across moving platforms and an abyss down below. Needless to say I died a lot of times and thinking about what lies ahead I decided to cut my losses and go through the game again on Emulator where I could save whenever I wanted to, and also humorously speed up the gameplay at will.

The engine room of the Rusty Bucket and yes if you fell down you died immediately.
Another thing about playing on emulator is that the 3d graphics look so much better, crisper sharper, much higher resolution, that’s not to say the Nintendo 64 graphics were bad, they just don’t work well with modern TV’s. on emulator the screen is smaller obviously but oh man did it look much better, I could also now use my Logitech Playstation gamepad which you can use absolutely fine with N64 games by the way. Anyway the game’s graphics look great for their time, they are the usual bright and happy Rare style that works so well, the levels look and are almost *ahem* comparable to Spyro from rolling green hills in Spiral Mountain to the rough metal deck and oily water of Rusty Bucket Bay to the magnificent tree in Click Clock Wood it’s all very beautiful. 

Click Clock Wood in the Summer
One of the main things that drew my attention was the sound and music, there is no dialogue in the game the characters all make their distinctive sounds and then their dialogue comes up as text on the screen. It’s hard to explain you’ll just have to watch one of the videos though it kind of works really as cartridges don’t have the best audio reproduction, the other sound effects in the game are fine with all the jumpin’ and the flappin’ and the rollin’ and the slappin’.

Banjo-Kazooie intro video featurin all the talkin' and the squawkin' etc

The music is probably my favourite thing about the game, right from the starting tune with Banjo and the cast jammin’ on their instruments though as I mentioned before the best thing is the way the music changes depending on where you are and what you are doing. When in Grunty’s lair (which has excellent music by the way) the music starts off with a basic tune but when you approach a different area the music changes slightly for example when near the Treasure Trove Cove painting or portal area the music takes a more ‘seafaring’ tone and when in the snowy area of Freezezy Peak it’s suitably more Christmas themed. In fact the music changed even when you were near things for example it changed when you were near the Gorilla in Mumbo’s mountain or when you were near the Sphinx in Gobi’s Valley, it also changed when you dove underwater for a more gentle under-the-sea tone. Another of my favourites was the Gobi’s Valley Egyptian themed music which I could never get sick of, in fact I don’t think I ever got sick of any of the soundtracks even if I was on the level for a while.

The Gobi's Valley Level

 Overall I enjoyed Banjo Kazooie despite the frustration, though that’s just the way games were back then, and I can take heart in the fact that I almost finished it entirely on the Nintendo 64, it was a good experience playing a Nintendo 64 platformer all the way through and I think one day I might actually get all of the way through Mario 64 or even the sequel Banjo-Tooie though I won’t be playing you-know-what anytime soon. I’ve yet to experience the others but the original Banjo-Kazoooie stands as one of the best Rare has to offer.


Banjo Kazooie Original 1997 Trailer