Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mortal Kombat Review

When Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe was released in 2008, one of the main criticisms which was levelled of it was the violence - there was nowhere near enough of it. As I said in my Batman: Arkham City review, it seems the developers were reluctant to portray Batman and co. involved in any significant level of violence. Fatalities, a trademark of the Mortal Kombat series, were significantly nerfed, and the game lost much of its fun value as a result. In Mortal Kombat, NetheRealm Studios have made up for this, and then some.

The level of violence in this game is absolutely ridiculous. If you haven't played the game, try checking out the Top 10 Most Violent Fatalities list elsewhere on this blog to see some of them, after ensuring there are no Conservatives within a 25-mile radius so as not to get the game banned, every copy burned to cinders and buried in a desert somewhere. Blood flies everywhere throughout fights and stays in the arena until the end. The new X-Ray moves mechanic allows characters to use a special move, which, if successful, treats viewers to a 5-10 seconds of gore in violence-o-matic x-ray vision. The fatalities, overly-violent finishing moves, cause limbs, blood and organs to fly in every direction. If you don't like violence, whatever you do, don't play this game.

For everyone else, though, I highly recommend it. It's arguably the best fighting game of this console generation, with a substantial character roster made up of characters from the first three Mortal Kombat games, now in HD. There are a vast number of special moves and combos for each fighter, which can be viewed at any time during a match, and range from the classic Mortal Kombat uppercut, to Sub Zero's ice projectile, to Scorpion's "Get over here!" spike-to-the-face attack. Each character has at least one alternate costume, and other characters can be downloaded, including Freddy Krueger, for some reason.

There are a number of different modes, the main modes being Ladder, the standard mode in which the player must fight through 10 progressively difficult fighters to reach the end, and Story mode. The story is an alternate universe re-telling of the plot of the first three games. Shao Kahn and the Outworlders challenge the fighters of Earthrealm, or Earth, as it's more commonly known, to Mortal Kombat, a fighting tournament. If the Outworlders win, Shao Kahn gets to take over the Earth. For a fighting game, the story is quite well-written, the interactions between the characters and good-quality voice acting making the story mode more than just a way of connecting a few fights together, and towards the end I started to actually like some of the characters. This does, however, mean that one cutscene involving Sindel will annoy a lot of players, without wishing to spoil the story.

It is a fighting game, though, and as a result, there is plenty of fighting in the Story mode. This leads to some quite daft moments where characters fight in violent, bone-shattering fights for the most contrived of reasons, such as when Johnny Cage kicks the crap out of a woman because she won't let him help her, or when Jax breaks Cage's spine because he makes fun of the fact that he's friends with a woman, after which Cage gets up and apologises. This doesn't make the game worse though - it makes it funnier. It doesn desensitise the player to the violence after the eighth time something like this happens, but fatalities make up for this.

Being a compilation of the stories of three different games, each of which ends in a boss fight, the difficulty is slightly inconsistent. It's mostly fine, but towards the end of each third of the game there are one or two extremely difficult fights to represent the boss fights in the original game, after which the difficulty goes back to a reasonable level.

Other modes include Tag Ladder, like Ladder with two characters, playable in single-player or offline co-op, and Challenge Tower - 500 challenges which the player can complete, hich range from defeating two enemies to defeating an enemy after your fighter's arms have detached. The challenges are quite varied and don't repeat themselves as much as one might think, there being 500 of them. There is also Test Your Luck mode, which adds a number of game-changing, often genuinely funny special effects to a match. This is especially fun in multiplayer.

Multiplayer can be played with up to 4 people offline, and is brilliant. Defeating a friend by punching their head into liquid can be a source of much fun, laughter and smugness. There's also online multiplayer, but Mortal Kombat is designed to be played with people in the same room, so you can laugh in their faces after a flawless victory.

There's not much wrong with the game, really. Some of the modes are unnecessary, such as Test Your Sight, which don't seem to have any reason to be on there other than to add a couple of associated challenges to Challenge Tower. Also, online multiplayer is only available to those who buy the game new. Finally, Shao Kahn, the main villain, is an extremely cheap fighter, but not on the level of Street Fighter IV's Seth.

Mortal Kombat is one of the best fighting games available for any console. It's excessevely violent to the point of ludicrousness, and should provide many hours of gory laughs. In single-player or multiplayer, it's an excellent game.

Rating: 4.5/5

Batman: Arkham City Review

From 1999's critically-crushed Superman 64, to the more recent Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, games based on comic books are usually viewed as mediocre at best. Usually, developers are unwilling to take risks with the licenses for fear of alienating fans of the comics. This is why in the aforementioned fighting game, rather than seeing Baraka tear The Flash's head off and eat it, we had Batman and Shang Tsung resolve their differences with a game of Monopoly (or something like that - I try to forget the fatalities in that game). That all changed with Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game released two years ago, based on the similarly-titled graphic novel (thankfully without the disturbing scene involving Maxie Zeus), in which Batman roamed the halls of an inmate-controlled asylum, breaking the teeth of jabbering mental patients and using an extremely well-designed stealth mechanic to pick off armed henchmen one by one. The game received phenomenal amounts of praise and won multiple Game of The Year awards. The sequel, Batman Arkham City is here now after months of anticipation and hype. How does it compare to its excellemnt predecessor?

As usual, I'll start with the plot. Some months of the first game, Quincy Sharp, the warden of Arkham Asylum in, well, Arkham Asylum, is now the mayor of Gotham City, and has resolved to clean up crime in the best way possible: section off a large chunk of the city and turn it into Arkham City, a mega-prison in which the prisoners are free to roam around, fighting and killing one another. Sharp appoints reccuring weirdo Hugo Strange as warden of the facility. At the start of the game, Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter-ego, suspects a conspiracy and gets himself arrested by going to the prison and speaking out against it. Presumably, he also kills several thousand people while there, because he is immediately thrown into the prison without so much as a trial. That, or the legal system in Gotham City makes about as much sense as a neon-filled whale, as Strange is apparently to throw people in prison just because they annoy him.

Despite the questionable introduction, this does allow for an excellent first sequence in which the player, as Wayne, must fight through a corridor of bloodthirsty inmates before encountering The Penguin, now a cockney for some reason, and punching his face in, followed by an escape to a nearby roof to retreive Wayne's batgear. This part of the game is highly cinematic and sets up the rest of the game well.

Gameplay in Batman: Arkham City is solid, and mostly revolves around three elements: exploration, combat and stealth. Combat is simple and works incredibly well. Press X to punch, kick and generally assault the nearest enemy, while Y counters, B stuns enemies and A allows you to vault over enemies. The four buttons can be combined to create some satisfying combos as Batman leaps around a room, knocking out enemies and hearing their bones loudly being cunched into dust. Batman, as in the comics and movies, has a number of gadgets, many of which are unlocked from the start, some unlocked later on via an RPG-style XP system. They can be used in combat, or used for exploration, such as the Line Launcher, which allows Batman to traverse gaps in terrain.

They can also be used in the fantastic stealth parts of the game, during which Batman must silently makes his way around an enclosed area, silently taking out enemies one by one. The high-quality enemy AI and numerous ways of approaching these challenges, such as hanging from a gargoyle and grabbing enemies from above, taking out enemies from within grates in the floor, and even punching through walls to knock foes out make these sections great fun.

Variations of both the combat and stealth sections can be played in the additional Challenge mode, in which the player can either take out enemies in combat while avoiding taking damage for the most points possible, or eliminate henchmen in a stealth section in the shortest time possible. Buy the game new rather than pre-owned and get the ability to play as Catwoman, who plays similarly to Batman, with some different weapons and the ability to hang from ceilings. New challenges can be unlocked in Story mode, including a cool 2.5D combat challenge set on a moving train. Purchasers of the Robin Edition also get to play as Robin, who, again, plays similarly to Batman, with different weapons. To be honest, the Robin Edition, in my opinion, is somewhat of a rip-off.

One of the major additions to Batman: Arkham City is the fact that the game map is now open-world, set in a sunstantial area, which, while nowhere near the level of Just Cause 2, is expansive and offers plenty of scope for exploration. There are a number of side-missions, such s tracking down a serial killer and rescuing hostages from The Riddler, as well as approximately 400 Riddler challenges, around double the number found in Arkham Asylum. These challenges involve finding things hidden around the game world, though this often requires the completion of a puzzle, preventing this element of the game from becoming just a boring scavenger hunt. Combat is also intergrated into these challenges, as they can be found on the map by interrogating The Riddler's henchmen. As a side note, these interrogations are often hilarious, as Batman promises not to harm the criminal as long they gives up information, at which point they invariably do, and Batman punches them in the face, fracturing their skulls into pieces.

The problem with Arkham City being open-world, though is that it's less focused. In Arkham Asylum there was always a sense of urgency about getting to the next objective, and the best parts of the game were the sections with Scarecrow in them, largely as they could occur at any time without warning. There is nothing like this in Arkham City; when it's up to the player to move the story along, this effect disappears, and the villains pose far less of a threat. Much of the tension of Arkham Asylum is gone.

Boss fights have been siginificantly improved since Arkham Asylum, especially the fight set in a surreal, somewhat Oddworld-like desert. They are quite easy, though, and can almost all be completed in one try without too much difficulty. The final boss fight seems a bit incongruous, featuring a villain who doesn't appear until right at the very end, who can be taken out incredibly easily considering it's the final boss fight. I personally only died once during this fight, and the hint which appeared as a result gave away how to win the fight. After that, it was a walk in the proverbial park.

There are a huge number of villains in Arkham City, some expected, some less so. The Penguin, The Joker and Two-Face are at war over turf in the prison, and this leads to some quite interesting plot points. However, it too removes some of the threat posed by the villains of the game, as they are no longer united against Batman as they were in Arkham Asylum. The vast number of villains also means that some get hardly more screen time than Scarecro in The Dark Knight. Some of these are quite disproportionate - fan favourite Two-Face only appears twice in the whole game for around 2 to 5 minutes at a time, calls Catwoman a bitch, gets effortlessly dispatched and then disappears. Meanwhile, The Penguin is around for about an hour, maybe more, despite arguably being the least interesting main villain in the game. This also applies to other characters, such as Robin, who literally only appears in the Story mode for around a minute before leaving. This also goes for the character of Vicki Vale, who shows up for one brief mssion and then is nowhere to be seen afterwards.

Batman: Arkham City is not entirely without faults, and in fact, is arguably not as good as its predecessor. However, it's still a great game which I highly recommend. The combat and stealth sections are even better than they were in Arkham Asylum, the graphics are great and the story is pretty good. If you only play the story missions, it should provide about 10 hours, with dozens more afterwards for everyone else. Arkham City is a great game for fans of the Batman franchise and action games alike.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Minecraft Review

After being in the beta testing phase for an extremely long time, Minecraft has finally been officially released. Even before its release, Minecraft has become immensely popular with PC gamers due to the vast amount of freedom it offers players and Youtube videos of things people have used it to make, going as far as a recreation of Earth itself.

Minecraft is a difficult game to review. Unlike most games there is no specified objective, and no story. The player wakes up on an island somewhere where everything is in retro-style 8 bit graphics, albeit in 3D. The environment is made up of lego-like blocks of things such as sand, dirt or stone which the player can pick up and re-arrange into structures. This also things like trees and objects which can be found on the ground. At the start of the game, it's a good idea to build a shelter by either digging into a wall, or arranging blocks to create a building and living inside it.

There are other ways to get blocks and items. For example, punching a sheep to death may get you a block of wool. This is one of the ways in which crafting comes into the game, as certain blocks and be crafted, or combined, to create items. For example, combine wood in the right way, and boom. Wooden pickaxe. Get some eggs from chickens and some other materials, and get a cake. These items may be purely aesthetic, or they may help you out in the game. Pickaxes can be used to mine stones, getting you more material with which to build structures. Swords help you defend against hostile creatures which appear every in-game night, Pikmin-style. These monsters help make the game more interesting, and come in a number of varieties, including creepers, who look upon the solid gold castle you spent hours building with contempt as they charge into it and blow it up; zombies, who chase the player around trying to kill them, and spiders, whose sole purpose seems to be to roam around letting out a screech specifically designed to scare the crap out of anyone wearing headphones.

Minecraft's sandbox nature and wide variety of blocks and craftable items means there's a lot of scope for exploration and freedom. There is no real point to the game: just build what you like, be it a shelter with which to defend yourself, a multi-roomed castle, or a 90-feet tall, diamond statue of Snoop Dogg. There are a number of different modes in Minecraft, depending on how you want to play it. There's Survival mode, which is the standard mode in which you gather resources to buld things and fend off monsters; Hardcore mode, where the player has only one life and every hostile creature kills in a couple of attacks; and Creative mode, which gives the player unlimited blocks of all types, unlimited items of all types, and the ability to fly through the game world. It's also possible to switch off hostile creatures, in case you just want to build without worrying about dying.

I recommend Minecraft. There's no clear objective, so if you're looking for a game with increasing difficulty or a well-written story, it's not for you. For those of you who want near-endless customisation and the chance to be creative, Minecraft is ideal. Download it and see what all the hype is about.

Rating: 4/5


There has been a slight change to the way games are rated on this site: ".5" scores may be now be used, such as 3.5 or 2.5, so as to make reviews more precise.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Review

This review contains spoilers.

In the two years since Modern Warfare 2's release, the combined sales of it and Call of Duty: Black Ops's combined sales have reached 47 million. According to the internet, that's one copy for approximately every single person in the Ukraine. It seems the formula of intense gunfighting, linear corridors, vast multiplayer and sequences wherein the spends 5 minutes watching a black-and-white aerial shot of an area, possibly dropping bombs on the place and blowing up enemies like ants in a microwave is consistently popular enough to keep this video game giant afloat and eliminate any competition from the many brown and grey FPSes on the market. Modern Warfare 3 has already sold so many copies that every member of Activision  can buy a solid gold house whose bricks are stuffed with money, but, after playing Modern Warfare 3, the possibility of this formula sustaining the series for much longer is called into question, and changes will have to be made to the next game to keep the money coming in.

First, the campaign. I would explain the story so far, but if you're reading this, it means you are a sentient lifeform and therefore have played Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare 3's story picks up directly after the ending to that tangled narrative mess and sees the player control Derek "Frost" Westbrook as he wakes up from (apparently) sleeping in the road of New York City as it is being bombarded by Russian forces, who invaded the US in Modern Warfare 2. The player then fights through the streets of the city, using some new gear such as the XM25, a weapon so over-powered Frost may as well just have a big button to press which reads "Kill Everything", moving through damaged buildings, including the New York Stock Exchange, followed by a dramatic helicopter dogfight. It's a standard Call of Duty mission: dramatic, linear, fast-paced fun. The rest of Frost's missions involve him taking a sight-seeing tour around Europe, battling Russian forces who are taking over the continent.

The reason for the invasion of Europe is never fully explained. I understand why Russia invaded the USA in Modern Warfare 2, but there doesn't seem to be any justification for this invasion other than for the developers to include another attempt to increase sales by portraying some civillians being killed, this time on their holiday to London. This scene is considerably less shocking than the "No Russian" mission in Modern Warfare 2, possibly so The Daily Mail don't firebomb Infinity Ward's headquarters. As well as the premise for World War III being virtually non-existent, towards the end of the game the war just ends for what seems like no reason as well. Russia ecides to chill out and leave other countries alone as long as they forget that they just murdered millions of people and go back to normal life. One more thing which doesn't seem to make sense is that in the last mission with the US forces, Frost is nowhere to be found. He's in one mission and then nowhere to be found during the next one, with no explanation given.

The other narrative thread in Modern Warfare 3 follows recurring protagonists "Soap" MacTavish and Captain John Price as they attempt to clear their name while tracking down and killing Makarov, killing as many poor people as possible. They are joined by Yuri, an ex-Spetznaz agent. Soap and Price are two of the few characters in the series with any actual depth, so their story is enjoyable, as well as being more varied gameplay-wise than the US side of the campaign. There are a couple of the old stealth missions and fans of the first Modern Warfare game will be pleased to see Captain Macmillan make a couple of cameos, having last being seen in the excellent Pripyat mission in Call of Duty 4.

In summary, the capaign is basically what you'd expect: a lot of action-packed shooting sequences broken up by vehicle sections and stealth missions. The writing, while better than Modern Warfare 2's, still has flaws. The gameplay is a lot of fun, but, on normal difficulty, lasts for less than 6 hours, making it completely insubstantial.,

Also included, as in Modern Warfare 2, is Special Ops mode, a number of bonus missions which can be played alone or in co-op, on or offline. These involve a variety of objectives such as sneaking around guards to find the Russian president, completing a training course, and even playing as a Russian terrorist during the hijacking of an aeroplane. There's also a Survival mode, in which the player must survive waves of enemies, unlocking new weapons and bonuses the longer they stay alive. These modes add an extra couple of hours or so to the gameplay and are quite fun.

Lastly, there's multiplayer - the main reason most people bought the game. There are a number of game modes: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and the like, with new modes Kill Confirmed and Team Leader adding slight variations to Team Deathmatch while not being particularly groundbreaking. The maps are standard Modern Warfare maps: mostly war-torn cities and corridor-filled industrial areas. Again, nothing too different from Modern Warfare 2. There are a number of new weapons, as well as a new Pointstreak system which allows players to keep killstreaks even after being killed, useful for noobs. The killstreaks themsleves are mostly the same as in Modern Warfare 2, with a few new additions such as a remote-control sentry gun. Fortunatley, while there is an equivalent of the Tactical Nuke from Modern Warfare 3, it no longer ends the game and helps balance out the multiplayer. Overall, the multiplayer is fun and may provide another few hours of gameplay. However, it's incredibly similar to the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 2. The guns, the maps, even the menus - they're almost identical, and the few changes Modern Warfare 3 brings adds little. If you haven't played Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer, this won't be a problem and the multiplayer will be great fun, but to the rest of you who buy the game for the multiplayer there isn't enough new content to justify spending £45 on what is little more than a large map pack.

In summary, Modern Warfare 3 is fun. It's action-packed and intense, but the campaign is far too short and the multiplayer adds very little more than some generic maps and some new weapons and killstreaks. I advise renting it for the campaign, and to try out the multiplayer for a while before it stops being fun. After that, stick with Modern Warfare 2 and/or Black Ops. There's no need to pay full-price for this game.

Rating: 3/5