Red Dead Redemption for Playstation 3 – True Grit

Red Dead Redemption for Playstation 3 – True Grit

A plot full of betrayal and back-stabbing means the storyline of this game has as many twists and turns as the dust tracks one must navigate on horseback. The broad range of environments is matched only by the scope of human emotions this game deals with. Lines are blurred and waters muddied (and sometimes bloodied) in this Western epic from Rockstar Games.

This recent playthrough marks my second attempt at this game. I gave up the first time shortly after having reached Armadillo, sick of being blasted in the face by seemingly every NPC in the game. Since then, having watched and loved the HBO TV series Westworld, I decided it was time to saddle up once more.

My version of John Marston conducted himself with honour, helping those in need and dealing out swift justice to those who would do others harm. Likes included playing Horseshoes, picking flowers, and hunting treasure and grizzly bears. Dislikes: cougars.

There are still some issues with this game. I mainly disliked the combat system here, similar to GTA V, with the white dot which snaps to the target. I tried turning the aim assist off but it makes firing your weapon on horseback near on impossible – for me at least. Also, the difficulty curve once you enter Mexico and Act II of the game was, I felt, much too steep. In particular, the missions involving trains seemed to be ridiculously difficult, only managing to complete them once I had died multiple times and had memorised where the enemies would appear.

However, things I liked about Red Dead far outweighed my dislikes. Stand-out missions such as ‘Hanging Bonnie MacFarlane’ and ‘The Last Enemy That Shall Be Destroyed’ got my heart pumping in ways I had not felt in a video game for many years. The characters were another excellent feature of this game. Rockstar has a way of creating the most vivid, funny and vile characters, that are often in their own way very likeable, Irish being a notable example.

Red Dead Redemption, like almost every character in the game, is flawed yet lovable. It is guaranteed to make you laugh, get your heart thumping and, if it’s doing it’s job right, will probably make you angry at some point. It’ll even bring a tear to your eye, but not in a sentimental way as this is the Wild West, everyone has their own motives and agenda, but even in this desolate land, flowers can still bloom.

Trophy cabinet:
The Gunslinger” this silver trophy is earned simply by changing the targeting mode to extreme and scoring a single headshot.

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Devil May Cry 2 – Hack-and-shoot

Devil May Cry 2 – Hack-and-shoot

So we are back again in the signature red coat. As before we don’t know when and we don’t know where, but it’s chock full of nasties wanting to do us harm. We’ve got our guns and our sword – as well as the aforementioned red coat – and it’s time to chew up some bad guys.

The combat system here is simplified from the first game, with less button combros. This makes fighting more fluid, chaining easier and achieving the coveted ‘S-grades’ more readily. The linear level designs also follow this trend, meaning less back-tracking and re-visiting old areas to put object A into it’s corresponding slot – something I did not like much about the first game.

Ultimately, Devil May Cry us truer to it’s hack-and-slash nature, and less like the early Resident Evil games. Here, you throw yourself into a room full of monkey-boys or magic-men, start swinging your sword, popping off a few shots and add in a couple of cool wall flips and soon you’re having yourself a pretty good time.

Weapons are less varied than the first game. Instead of a variety of swords and even fists-of-fury to choose from, the sequel features ‘sword’, ‘thicker sword’ and ‘thinner sword’. Thankfully, the variety of guns is preserved, meaning that play style is primarily determined by your firearm rather that your main man. Weapons can be levelled up and elemental damage is determined by customisation of the devil trigger.

Some may disagree, but I thought that the bosses were more varied than the first game. Yes, there are some real stinkers such as ‘helicopter-with-eye’ and ‘floating magic heads’ but overall they did a not-bad job. The dude with balls-and-chains for arms was always fun to fight, it was nice to see old spider-bro make a return and even fighting the gorilla had it’s good moments.

I don’t think I enjoyed Devil May Cry 2 more than the first game, but I did die a whole lot less, even managing to complete the game on Normal (a task I found impossible in the first game). I appreciated many of the changes made to the sequel, but found that it lacked the depth and character of the first. The uncomplicated (albeit confusing) storyline and a straightforward play style make this a good hack-and-slash game to play while sipping on a cold one or listening to some talk radio. I also appreciated the subtle (not subtle) anti-capitalist message.

Oh, and you can play as different characters, that’s new too. You can also wear jeans.

What it’s all about

Hi, I’m Lefthumstick. Join me as I wander through the vast back-catalogue of video games. I’ll share with you some of the games that I have been enjoying and the reasons why I like them. Perhaps we can compare notes on particular games, or even introduce each other to some games that we would not have found on our own.

I love video games and that is not an overstatement. I love playing them, talking about them, watching videos of people playing them and even talking about watching videos of people playing them. All that matters to me is that the game I am playing has been made with a little bit of love and some imagination.

So. let’s get started.

Half-Life for PC – Know Your Enemy

Half-Life for PC – Know Your Enemy

Half-Life is a first-person shooter set in a H.P. Lovecraft meets Arthur C. Clarke fantasy world. You play as Gordon Freeman, the survivor of a malfunction at the Black Mesa Research Facility, and it’s your job to put things right again. But there are those that seek to stop you, a vast cast in fact of nightmarish creatures and vengeful military personnel stand in your way. Here is a run down of the enemies in Half-Life.

The Headcrab
Reminiscent of the facehugger in Ridley Scott’s Alien, the headcrab can be found throughout Half-Life. It’s infant-like cooing and slow movement speed lure you into a false sense of security until they leap ten feet through the air and bite you on the face. One of these blighters will be waiting for you around almost every corner of the Black Mesa Research Facility, and if they aren’t it’s best to check anyway, just in case.

It may look harmless, but it'll try to eat your head in the blink of an eye

It may look harmless, but it’ll try to eat your head in the blink of an eye

The headcrab can be taken out relatively easily. I found that waiting for it to pounce before dodging to the left and giving it the old ‘one-two’ with the crowbar did the job pretty well, however, they like to hang out in groups, and they like to sneak up on you too. The best method for getting rid of them is a double-tap with the pistol from a safe distance. If you thought that was bad enough, you should see what happens when one gets a hold of an unsuspecting scientist:

2

The Houndeye
At first glance, these cute little yappers present no threat as they come bounding up to you. Then they blink a few times and fire out a white-hot shock-wave that drains big chunks of your life energy. They will go down fairly easily, with a single blast from the shotgun usually enough to finish them off, but their tendency for hunting in packs means that if you have to reload at any time you’re pretty much toast.

Down boy!

Down boy!

If it wasn’t for the fact that they try to kill you, I’d bet these would make pretty good pets.

Vortigaunt
When one of these is near, it’s a good idea to find some cover. The vortigaunts are human-like in statue and they make this gabbling noise that suggests they are intelligent – they seem to be the foot-soldiers of this whole fiasco. But, get too close and you’ll get a bolt of green electricity straight in the face.

Et tu, Brute?

Et tu, Brute?

The vortigaunt teleports in without a moments notice, and they usually bring their buddies along for the ride. Often they beam in behind you and at other times they come in swarms, making for some pretty interesting set-pieces during the game. Their green beams are pretty easy to get out the way of as they have quite a long wind-up, and a close quarters blast to the head with the shotgun will for the most part send them packing.

The Alien Grunt
or Pineapple guys as I call them owing to their unique ability late in the game to emerge from large pineapple-like pods whenever something hits them. The Alien Grunts are dangerous enemies, their right arms shoot out several buzzing flies which are able to pursue you even around corners.

Alien gruntThey’re big too, and able to absorb a lot of firepower. The Gluon gun or some kind of explosive seemed to be the best way to deal with them, other than that, running away seemed to be the best option for the majority.

The Barnacle
These guys are great. They hang from the ceiling, dangling their tongues to the floor and ensnaring the uninitiated. By the amount of human remains contained in each of these monsters, I’d say that they are to blame for the majority of deaths in the facility. Their tongues blend in well with the various wires and cables hanging around in the now dilapidated research centre, and Gordon often finds himself moving mysteriously skyward as a barnacle reels in the bait. It doesn’t take much to kill one of these, providing you have the range, and it’s best to clear the room of them before entering – that is if you are able to spot them of course.

Barnacle

The Tentacle
These formidable beasts are encountered only a few times in the game, but their appearances are memorable. Apparently noise-sensitive, you have to either sneak past them, or distract their attention with a grenade – and make sure you do, as one hit is often enough to knock you for six.

Forget the Sarlaac

Forget the Sarlaac

The only time you actually kill these guys is with the aid of a blast from a rocket-engine – hardy doesn’t even begin to describe them, so save your ammo for something more squishy.

The Snark
Speaking of squishy, the Snark can be either your best friend, or your worst enemy. Quicker on their feet and smaller than the headcrabs, the snarks are a nightmare to deal with in close quarters. They will swarm you in seconds and start taking chunks off you from all directions. It doesn’t take much to kill them, but you have to get them in your sights first.

SnarkFortunately, you can also use them as a weapon should you happen across one of their nests. Just make sure you are close enough to your enemy before you release them or they will turn back on you. After they run around for a while squeaking, the snark will explode in a plume of green gloop.

The Bullsquid
There’s a cold slapping sound as a ball of green mucus slams into the wall just above your head, you look around to see where it has come from and then you spot one of these in the distance:
BullsquidThe sniper of the alien world, the Bullsquid shoots high-speed phlegm missiles from long range. Combine this with a resilience against almost anything besides the magnum pistol and you have got one tricky customer.

HECU Marines
As if all these gruesome aliens were not enough, you also have to contend against numerous human enemies. Encountered most frequently are the Hazardous Environment Combat Units, or HECU Marines. They come in different varieties from the squad leaders with red berets to the foot soldiers. Most of the time they lie in wait for Gordon around corners and on ledges. From there they pelt you with painfully accurate fire from their MP-5s, chucking in a grenade or two for good measure.
HECUWhere there’s one you know there’s a whole load more waiting around the corner. The best strategy is to find some good cover, lay some trip mines and wait for them to come to you. HECUs often get into fire fights with the aliens in Black Mesa, so a lot of the time you can just sit back and watch the fire fight before moving in to mop up whatever is left.

Black Ops
Several times in the game you will encounter the black ops units. Operating in small groups, the black ops units use hit and run tactics to devastating effect. You’ll definitely hear them coming, but its unlikely that you will see them until its too late and they are already firing at you with their powerful handguns.
Black opsThey’re fast, so you’re going to want to find a good spot to dig in as they are no match for your firepower.

Icthyosaur
Unfortunately, I don’t have any screen-grabs of this particular beast as any time there is water in video games I lose all composure. Prime examples of this are the lake sequence in Resident Evil 4 and the sunken corridors of Big Shell you have to navigate in Metal Gear Solid 2, if there’s water I’m not going to do well. I now have another experience to add to my list with the inclusion of the Icthyosaur in Half-Life. The only weapon that seems to fire underwater is the tranquilizer gun and it takes so many darts to put this thing to sleep, especially in the panic caused by running out of oxygen and the guttural growling of the Icthyosaur which I will no doubt hear in a nightmare in the not too distant future. Thanks Valve.

The Gargantua
There are only a few of these giant aliens wandering around the Black Mesa Facility, but you’ll soon know when one is near. The gargantua are immune to conventional weapons as far as I can tell, and their plasma shock-wave attacks hurt.

HAL anyone?

HAL anyone?

The cold red stare of the gargantua is enough to make you turn tail and run, which is precisely what you should do if you encounter one.

The Alien Controllers
Whereas the shrieks which emanate from the alien controllers are enough to put your teeth on edge.

What are you screaming about?

What are you screaming about?

Good luck trying to get close enough to one of these fellas for a kill-shot as they fly about in all directions shrieking and hurling balls of light at you. The magnum is your best bet here with it’s fast, powerful hits and good range.

Warning: Spoilers

The Nihilanth
The Nihilanth is the main boss of Half-Life. Not only does it shoot incredibly powerful balls of white light at you, but it also shoots out portals which whisk you away to infuriating puzzle rooms. And when you’re not being teleported away, it is teleporting in back-up to kick your butt.
NihilanthIt took a lot of attempts to beat this guy, even after I had to resort to a walkthrough to find out how exactly to finish it off. The Nihilanth is one tough customer, who will absorb everything you have to throw at him. To beat it, you have to get inside its head.

Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Ever since I played Pokémon Red as a boy all those years ago I have been searching for a way to make the Pokémon experience more realistic. Apparently, people don’t take too kindly to Pokémon battles between actual animals, so I have had to restrict myself to the video games that are on offer. In terms of a realistic experience, the main series of Pokémon games peaked with Pokémon Soul Silver. The ability to have your favourite Pokémon follow you around in the game world for all NPCs to see and then to carry them around on your belt for all the IRL NPCs to see with the Pokéwalker was the pinnacle in Pokémon vanity. As both functions were then scrapped in Pokémon Black and White I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many other avenues to explore with all the spin-off Pokémon games. I had dabbled with Pokémon Ranger in the past, but didn’t really enjoy the experience, and Pokémon Coliseum looked good, but renting Pokémon didn’t appeal to my purist needs. Enter Pokémon Conquest.

Pokémon Conquest is a cross-over between Pokémon and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series of games developed by Koei (later to become Tecmo Koei, most famous for the Dynasty Warriors franchise). It keeps elements of Pokémon such as the capture and raising of familiar Pokémon and introduces several new factors such as grid-based strategy battles and area capture. The goal of the game is to gain control of the entire Ransei region through strategic Pokémon battles over various terrains. The main campaign should last upwards of 15 hours, depending on how much time you want to invest in your warriors. There are no difficulty settings on the main campaign, however when you complete it you will gain access to new stories with various degrees of difficulty.

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

There are several tweaks made to familiar elements of the original games in Pokémon Conquest, it is these which most appealed to me whilst on my search for a realistic Pokémon experience:


Evolution

In the main series of Pokémon games it is the case that the most highly evolved Pokémon will be the strongest Pokémon, especially within a particular evolutionary line. For example, a level 100 Blastoise will always be stronger than a level 100 Squirtle. Therefore, even if you much prefer the way Squirtle looks to the way Blastoise looks, you will be at a disadvantage in battle if you do not evolve it. This is not the case in Pokémon Conquest. In PQ, each warrior has one particular Pokémon that they have the potential to create a 100% bond with. This doesn’t mean one particular evolutionary line either, it means one Pokémon within the evolutionary line. Meaning that whereas the warrior has a 100% bond with Squirtle, they may only have a 90 or 80% bond with Blastoise (I discovered this with a great amount of guilt when I evolved Oichi’s Jigglypuff and found that she no longer had a 100% bond with it – I’m sorry again, Oichi!). Therefore in Pokémon Conquest, there is the potential for a Squirtle to be better than a Blastoise, and the need to evolve Pokémon to make them stronger is not so important. The need to evolve Pokémon is further tempered by the fact that some top-level evolutions come with a price, for example, Rhyperior has a strong attack, but he cannot use it two turns in a row.

Bonding
There is a mechanic in the Pokémon games for bonding. Winning battles, feeding certain berries to your Pokémon, having them get massages and haircuts all increase the amount that they like you. The move Return ties into this mechanic, as the more your Pokémon likes you the greater the strength of the move, also certain Pokémon will not evolve unless the bond between you is at maximum level. However, in Pokémon games, it is almost impossible not to have Pokémon like you over time, and the only real effort you need to put in is if you are trying to get them to like you more quickly. In Pokémon Conquest, bonds take centre stage. Instead of raising the level of your Pokémon, you raise the bond percentage between you, this, in turn, raises the Pokémon’s attack and can lead to evolution. However, the fact that each warrior only  has one Pokémon with which they can form a perfect bond makes the whole experience much more personal and therefore rewarding. This one-to-one interaction with a Pokémon as friend and ally, is something I have had to add into the original games with my imagination, but in PQ it takes on physical form, and takes me a step closer to finding a realistic Pokémon experience.

For me, finding a realistic Pokémon experience is about immersion. It’s difficult to get immersed in a handheld Pokémon game compared to a console game. Despite also being a handheld game, Pokémon Conquest has – to a certain extent – taken me further than the original games in experiencing what it would be like to be a Pokémon trainer. Ever since that first game over a decade ago I have been waiting for a console quality Pokémon game that will allow me to truly feel what it would be like to interact with Pokémon. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this game hasn’t been made yet. The new Pokémon games on the 3DS are but a small part in a much wider change in gaming towards more immersive and realistic interaction. Maybe one day we will all know the excitement of actually throwing a Pokéball and waiting to see whether our dream Pokémon has been caught. Until then, I will occupy my time with the handheld games

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for PSP – A Shining Star

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for PSP – A Shining Star

A couple of years ago I was faced with a choice. I wanted to buy a handheld console, but I didn’t know whether to get a Nintendo DS or a Playstation Portable. The DS had the Pokemon games and the PSP had Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Back then I chose the DS purely because it had more games, but recently I have had a bit more pocket money and so I bought a PSP and I played Crisis Core. Even though I still think I made the right choice back then, Crisis Core was well worth the wait.

Crisis Core Cover Art

Crisis Core Cover Art

Crisis Core is a prequel to the much-loved game Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation. Its main character is Zack Fair, whose presence is felt throughout the original game, even though he is never directly encountered. Those who have played Final Fantasy VII will come to this game with a pit in their stomachs as they take control of the fated Zack. The game is only part of a world that exists around Final Fantasy VII. Other parts include the excellent Advent Children feature film, and the enjoyable Playstation 2 game, Dirge of Cerberus. Each addition to the series throws new light onto the events depicted in Final Fantasy VII, and works to flesh out the world featured in that game. Crisis Core is perhaps the most relevant of these as it depicts events that are directly represented in the original game.

Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game. I find the characters charming, the story inspiring and the setting beautiful. What is essentially a story about revenge goes on to become a thoughtful narrative on what it means to exist. It also explores how the characters as moral agents react to the threat posed to the world by the heavily industrialised Shinra Corporation. In Final Fantasy VII, Shinra are the bad guys, from experimenting on people to literally draining the life out of the planet, they are universally despised by all right-thinking people. This is why Crisis Core is such an interested game, as in it you play as a Shinra employee.

Shinra is not yet the evil organisation in Crisis Core that it will later become, but it’s still pretty shady. As Zack, you play a member of SOLDIER, the elite fighting force at the beck and call of the Shinra big wigs. Zack’s innocent demeanour and joie de vivre at the beginning of the game are in stark contrast to what I thought I knew about Shinra, and throughout the game I constantly asked myself: am I the bad guy? What was more disturbing than that however, were several scenes in which Zack and Sephiroth interact. Sephiroth is depicted as the epitome of evil in Final Fantasy VII and yet here he seems to be an all right guy. It is here that the finesse of Crisis Core is most apparent as characters and organisations we thought of simply as ‘the bad guys’ take on a new dimension.

Crisis Core is impressive in lots of other ways too. The action/RPG genres are seamlessly blended in a fluid and poised battle system, with a control scheme that is simultaneously easy to use in a real-time action environment and reminiscent of the traditional RPG command-based system. The score is sublime: a mix of new and old that both invokes fond memories of the original and yet entertains with several new additions.

The game isn’t perfect though, there are several segments (pretty much mandatory mini-games) which seem to be there for little else than the sake of having them there. For example, there is a point in the game where you travel to Banora and for one reason or another someone is spraying the town in splatter-gun fashion with missiles. Your job is to destroy the incoming missiles by pressing the attack button at just the right time to cut them in half. This probably sounds much cooler than it actually is for in reality it’s a pointless endeavour, unlike another part of the game in which you are required to build a flower wagon for Aeries, which neither sounds nor is fun. Crisis Core has several other flaws besides, but so did the original game, and they didn’t make me love it any less.

For me, the materia system in Final Fantasy VII is the best of all the Final Fantasy games. It is the only system that allows you to give each character their individual and personal set-up, compared to say Final Fantasy X where after a certain point in the game all characters can use exactly the same spells and skills as one another. It is also the only system which rewards grinding for AP, unlike Final Fantasy VIII in which you will find relatively early in the game that you have maxed out the abilities available to you. With Final Fantasy VII however, even after 60 hours of gameplay you still have not mastered all of your materia. I was glad to discover that Crisis Core keeps the materia system relatively intact, with the addition of a new feature that allows you to fuse materia together for some interesting results. As materia cannot be levelled directly in Crisis Core (instead seemingly relying on chance with the introduction of a fruit machine mechanic called the DMW) this new system adds a new layer to character customisation.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a real blend of new and old. It manages to strike a balance between honouring the original game and creating a space for itself. Although a prequel, it manages to resist being absorbed into the original narrative, instead creating a new and equally memorable story of its own. The developers of Crisis Core have made it a meaty enough game that you would not need to have played the original to enjoy it. Just as Crisis Core throws light on to Final Fantasy VII, so too does Final Fantasy VII throw light back onto Crisis Core. What is even more impressive is that this also holds true of Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus as all four link into each other. Each element stands out on its own and at the same time lends light to the others. But in this constellation of stars, Crisis Core shines out as one of the brightest.

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny for Playstation 2 – A Game with Real Character

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny for Playstation 2 – A Game with Real Character

Story-line, game-play and characters: the three main elements of any great game. For me Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny’s greatest strength lies in its characters. The incredibly life-like (by Playstation 2 standards) character designs add a sense of realism to the game, despite the fact that most of your time will be spent fighting demons. The strong voice acting and well-made character models help to gloss over many of the story-line and game-play issues – of which there are a couple, most notable being that you are forced to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick for movement. This wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the large number of spiral staircases which need to be navigated in the game, and which are infuriatingly difficult to get up with the D-pad alone.

Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny box art

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny box art

Jubei Yagyu is the main character of this story: a samurai whose village is destroyed during the opening sequence of the game. This event brings about the revelation of Jubei’s destiny as heir to the ancient clan of demon-slayers, the Oni. Jubei is modelled on the Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda who died in 1989, twenty three years before this game was released. Straight away a sense of reality is conferred onto this game, and, more specifically, its characters.

Jubei and the other excellent character designs are exhibited throughout the game in spectacular cut-scenes. There are numerous different channels that the story can take, affecting which cut-scenes are shown. This is based on a ‘friendship’ system that I did not realize existed until much too late in the game. Early on, Jubei finds his way to a village. In this village are four different characters to interact with. Gifts can then be given to each of these characters, and they all have very different personalities and tastes, from the refined Magoichi who is interested in history books, to the less refined monk, Ekei, who lists women, good food and alcohol among his interests.

The friendships Jubei forges during this stage will affect the rest of the game, as those you please most will help you out later on. For me, the fact that it was not made explicitly clear that this mechanic existed made the whole process seem more organic. Because of the choices I made for Jubei, my path through the game will be different to another person’s. For example, in my game Ekei seemed to be everywhere, Magoichi remained a distant and aloof figure, whilst the ninja Kotaro was just some weirdo that jumped off the roof of a horse’s stable to warn me about a beautiful woman and then was never heard from again. It’s this mechanic that made me feel as though I was having a unique experience, and it makes me want to leave the game at just one play-through because of it.

Onimusha 2 exemplifies what makes video games special to me as an artistic medium. Paintings, books and films are exactly the same for every person that sees or reads them. They may have different interpretations about what they have experienced, but the subject matter remains essentially the same. With video games, however, you are given a certain amount of freedom, and it is within this space that you forge your own unique experience of a game. Even with the most linear of games, your experience of it will differ from the next person.

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

I’d love to hear about your version of Onimusha 2, so why not leave a comment?