Reviews by BelowTheSun
A Good Omen For Season 2BelowTheSun | July 10, 2013 | Review of The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Season 1 of The Walking Dead succeeded on the strength of its characters. Everyone in the game felt fleshed out, real, and most importantly, relatable. The success of season 2 will equally depend on the writing and characters, so this piece of DLC can be looked at as a 'preview' of sorts, an indication of whether Telltale can create more original characters - and it seems that they can.
400 Days is a single episode made up of five short stories, all standing on their own until they come together in a epilogue. Each focuses on a different, brand new character as they try to survive in the world of The Walking Dead. The gameplay is identical to the parent game - simple point-and-click adventuring, dialogue choices and quick-time events. It all works, and the art style is wonderfully immersive and reminiscent of the comic books it's based on, rather than the TV show.
Some of the stories have more impact than others, and it is very short, but overall 400 Days is a resounding success, and a good sign that the full second season of this surprisingly fantastic game will live up to its predecessor.
The Most Complex Total War Game YetBelowTheSun | July 5, 2013 | Review of Empire: Total War
Empire: Total War is absolutely huge. So many factions, so many units, so many ways to play. Almost too many - starting a game can be very intimidating. Which units do I recruit first? What do I build? Who do I ally myself with? These are the kinds of questions that have been asked in every Total War game, but in Empire getting it right really, really matters.
If you're familiar with the Total War games, you'll know the basic gameplay and structure of Empire. Strategic maneuvers take place on the campaign map, on which you move around armies, fleets, and lay siege to settlements. The campaign map here is huge. Divided into three sections, you can take the fight to Europe, as usual, and now America and India. Each region has its strengths and weaknesses, and the decisions you make early on in where to take your armies could make or break the campaign. India is extremely wealthy, so you might want to attack the continent early on - but you'll face a long, hard battle with the native factions. The strategic play has always been a highlight of the Total War series, and Empire is no exception.
The battles in Empire have moved away from the melee-based battles of Rome and Medieval. Gone are the days when you could just throw several units armed with swords at each other and watched the big blob of men fight - now, most of your troops will be armed with guns, placing a greater emphasis on troop placement and movement. It's undeniably more complicated than ever before, which may put some off, but once you nail the tactics down it's immensely rewarding.
This review has barely scratched the surface of Empire: Total War. Other new features include well-implemented naval battles and an increased emphasis on trade as a way of making money (including trade regions on the campaign map). Such is the emphasis on trade a perfectly viable tactic is to forsake building an army for constructing a huge fleet and effectively becoming a pacifist trade force, relying on the allies you make to assist you in homeland defence. The plethora of possible games with each faction make Empire: Total War extraordinarily replayable and rewarding.
A Gaming Experience Not To Be MissedBelowTheSun | July 2, 2013 | Review of The Walking Dead
Telltale has struck gold here, pure and simple. The Walking Dead is the most involving, emotional, and satisfying game I have ever played. I've seen a lot of debate online about whether this actually qualifies as a game (which it does), since the gameplay is minimal, but I'll ignore all that, and focus on the game itself.
The Walking Dead dumps you in the shoes of Lee Everett, in the back of a police car on the way to jail, when the zombie apocalypse happens. Saying much more other than Lee finds himself looking after an orphaned young girl and joins with a group of other survivors would spoil the joy of The Walking Dead - the story.
The gameplay is incredibly basic. You point and click at things. Zombie encounters take the form of quick-time events, and conversations have a Bioware-style choice of several options. But choose what to say quickly - take too long and Lee simply won't say anything, and the characters in-game will react to that as a valid dialogue choice. These conversations are definately the focus of the game. They're well-scripted and well acted. Every character has multiple layers, they're all interesting in their own right. If you have a soul you'll become attatched to these characters emotionally - personally, the ending of this game is one of the most emotionally devastating things I have ever seen. I can't stress enough how good the writing is in this game. Anyone that likes anything good will like this game.
Graphically, The Walking Dead takes most of its inspiration from the comic books of the same name. Other than small cameos, the story does not focus on characters from the comics or tv series - instead, Telltale have created a group of new characters that fit seamlessly into The Walking Dead's world. This is a very pretty game. It doesn't have the huge, realistic worlds of an Elder Scrolls game, but the art is excellent and fitting to the overall mood. This is not a game to be missed.
Arkham Asylum Gets Everything RightBelowTheSun | July 2, 2013 | Review of Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year
In Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady absolutely nail Batman. The tone, the story, the combat, everything, it's all stellar. Rocksteady know where the fun lies in Batman, and they bring it to the fore - kicking thug ass, playing with a variety of toys, and all without sacrificing any of the intelligence Batman is famous for. He is 'the World's Greatest Detective', after all.
The opening of Asylum sets the tone perfectly. Unusually, it seems to start at the end of a previous story - Batman is bringing Joker back in to the Asylum. I guess we'll never know what scheme Batman has just foiled, but it doesn't matter anyway, because before long Joker is free and running the place. Rocksteady were so smart to get Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in to voice Batman and Joker respectively - their work in animated movies and the famous series defined Batman and Joker for a generation, and they get it spot on here again, especially Hamill's deliciously unhinged Joker.
The combat is exceedingly simple. You press a button, Batman kicks ass. You press a few buttons in combination, Batman kicks ass in a more badass way, or uses one of his many gadgets to assist him in the ass-kicking. You always have so many options in combat it's almost intimidating. I often found myself remembering a gadget that would have been useful to use after the fight had finished. You can march straight in and punch everything, you can find a vantage point and drop in, taking out at least one enemy before the fight has started, you can use your environment, your gadgets, pretty much anything. The combat is so fantastically varied it gives Asylum a huge amount of replayability, and of course the challenge maps are always available for those that just want to indulge in a bit of violence.
The other key component is stealth. Batman isn't bulletproof like Superman, if he gets shot he feels it. So when you stumble into a room full of thugs armed with assault rifles, the only way to go is up into the shadows and stalk your prey, taking them down one-by-one. Again, there's a lot of variation here - inverted takedowns, glide kicks, you can move undetected through shafts and take your enemies out from below, again - all this variation adds a huge amount of replayability. Plus, you always have the satisfaction of watching the thugs below start to panic as it becomes clear the Batman is somewhere in the room with them.
So, the story is great, the combat satisfying, and the stealth involving. It looks good, sounds good, and feels good. Is there anything wrong with Asylum? Well, not really. The game world is a little small, and you often end up revisiting locations, although the game does a good job of making those times feel less repetitive. Other than the main quest and various Riddler trophies, there's not a huge amount to do in the single player campaign. If you're after all the achievements you'll spend a lot of time scouring every corner of the map for trophies and things you can scan in detective mode, which isn't really everyone's idea of a good time. Nonetheless, what there is in Arkham Asylum it tight and exciting, and will please Batman fans and general gamers alike.
Rocksteady Reach Lofty HeightsBelowTheSun | July 2, 2013 | Review of Batman Arkham City: Game of the Year
Arkham City is a fantastic game. There's not a huge amount more to say about it, but I'll try to soldier on. Everything that was so good about the first game in the series, Arkham Asylum, is still here, and while none of the gameplay has been radically altered, the few changes made are improvements across the board.
The focus of the game is, of course, the combat. Arkham Asylum did a great job of making Batman 'feel' like Batman, the ultimate badass. Arkham City gets this spot on too - there's nothing more satisfying than taking down a room of goons without any of them landing a punch on you, throwing Batarangs to keep your combo going, breaking arms and legs with special takedowns, and pulling thugs into a clothesline punch with the Batclaw. It's just sublime stuff.
The stealth aspect is equally good, if a touch less present. There are still plenty of times in Arkham City when you'll be required to take down a room of armed thugs from the rooftop one at a time, but the more open spaces of City means this is a less regular occurrence than in the enclosed spaces of Asylum. Nonetheless, these sections are smooth and immensely satisfying.
As for the story, there's plenty to do in Arkham City. The main quest is a meaty one, full of twists, turns, cameos and unexpected allies. The boss fights are generally a step up from those in Asylum - the highlight being a particularly frosty encounter. Pursuing side quests will bring you into contact with even more of Batman's famed rogue gallery, from Deadshot to the Mad Hatter. And of course, there are hundreds of Riddler's trophies and challenges all over the map, waiting for a completionist to seek them out.
This GOTY edition comes with a small extra campaign, set after the events of the main quest, in which you play as Robin (Tim Drake), the boy (man, in this case?) wonder. This is a good little epilogue, and playing as Robin is fun. The combat isn't changed for either of the playable characters other than Batman (Catwoman and Robin), but Rocksteady did an excellent job of still making both characters feel unique, with different moves and gadgets. A third playable character (Nightwing) is added to the challenge maps, so there's plenty of bang for your buck in this edition of Arkham City. A fantastic gaming experience.