Reviews by Rhoobarb

90

Shoot, Loot and Shoot Some More

Rhoobarb | Jan. 1, 2014 | Review of Borderlands Game of the Year Edition

Borderlands is an action/rpg, first person shooter, set in a space western universe. The game in particular focuses on a frontier planet called Pandora. Pandora is a planet with civilisation on a steep decline as bandits, murderers, and generally bad people slowly take over the scattering of towns and industrial areas from the good hard working folks. In between these decrepit signs of life, are all manner of alien monsters and beasts who are more than a little willing to feast on whoever is unlucky and unprepared enough, passing through their territory. Generally speaking, Pandora is not a holiday destination.

Pandora has one last attraction though. Universally renowned for being the location of the "Vault", a campfire story based mythical alien place where, supposedly, loot and riches beyond the wildest dreams of the greediest of people are kept. Like prospectors of the old west, Vault Hunters flock to Pandora in search of fame and fortune as the one who finds the Vault, and its contents.

You are one of these vault hunters, from a choice of 4 dissimilar characters: Brick – The hard hitting bruiser. Close combat brawling are the order of the day. Roland – A no-nonsense soldier, who prefers heavy fire from a variety of weapons. Mordecai – A hunter of sorts who’s preference is sniper rifles and pistols for long and short range attacks, ably assisted by his pet ‘Bloodwing’. Lillith – A ‘Siren’, one of only six mystical females in the universe at any one time, Lilith has a range of psychic style abilities.

While each character has a wide range of traits, strengths, and weaknesses that can be upgraded as characters progress, Borderlands main focus is on guns. Lots of them. Most of the combat is done using guns from six different classes; pistol, shotgun, sniper, smg, assault rifle and rocket launcher. All the weapons have a variety of stats and rarity values, with some having special abilities. What this means is that Borderlands has 3 million possible gun combinations. Most dispatched enemies drop weapons, add to that the limited storage space in your backpack. You will find a lot of your time taken up comparing guns to pick the one that is slightly better, or more suitable, than the one you are using. This is a heavily looting focused game after all! The rest you can sell at one of many vending machines to turn a nice profit.

The story is incredibly simple and done well enough, but nothing special or surprising. There are plenty of characters to meet or fight while in your search for the vault. The characters are decent, with a couple that shine out (CL4P-TP for one) and add to the experience. Boss fights are fairly varied, ranging from bandit leaders to some particularly nasty local fauna, most of which can be replayed to help on your leveling quest. Generally the nastier the enemy, the better the loot from its still warm corpse.

The game is meant to be played co-op with up to 4 people. The difficulty level and quality of loot increases the more people you have playing. There is plenty of playing time within the base game alone, with hundreds of small side missions hidden among the main story quests. But if you are still thirsty for more, the 4 DLC’s included in the GOTY edition also add a hefty amount to the game.

The cartoony cel shading visual style used, reminiscent of the last gen shooter XIII, makes a welcome change to gritty realistic graphics. The gore flies in nice high contrasting colours, set against some very pretty backdrops of the desolate alien landscape that is Pandora.

Now the bad bits.

The game tries to cover up some seriously repetitive grinding to unnecessarily pad out play time. One instance would be receive a mission that involves collecting pieces from certain fallen enemies. Bring those pieces back to the mission start, the follow up mission is then to collect more of the same pieces from the same, but slightly harder, enemies. After a few repeats you find you are collecting whole scrap yards of useless junk over, and over again. Considering the game is quite big without this repetition, I would assume it is for the benefit of those who like grinding their way as much as they can early on, to make the later missions slightly easier.

99% of the enemies appear to have been pumped out by the Acme High Speed Cloning Machine. In a single battle you could fight over 10 duplicate enemies, with exactly the same appearance and catchphrases. It would have been nice to have some variation of their appearance as it just smacks of being a little lazy in the design process not to include some interchangeable clothes and heads.

To me the good far outweighs the bad as I enjoy a little grind.

To round up, if you do not like grinding, then this is not the game for you.

However, if you would like something other than the current string of realistic war shooters. If you are looking for something with a lot of enemies to kill, and don’t mind a few stats modifications or endless comparing of weapons just to get +2 on a damage, then Borderlands may just what you are looking for.

97

Sci-Fi Fan? Not Got Mass Effect? Why?

Rhoobarb | Dec. 31, 2013 | Review of Mass Effect Trilogy

In my 28 years of gaming, the Mass Effect Trilogy ranks as my top gaming series so far, that is not to say that the games are without fault.

There are games that are more fun or challenging out there. It is fairly linear and story based, so the re-playability once completed is limited to playing it all again with a slightly different character. Occasionally it can be frustrating, and at other times too easy.

So why do I consider this to be the top gaming franchise then? Because I have never had a game, or games, provide me with such entertainment from start to end. This is the gaming equivalent of the Star Wars Saga with a large dose of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

It is an epic story that follows Commander Shepard and his efforts to prove the worth of humanity to a wide range of alien races who are, at best, indifferent to humans and their relatively recent exploration and colonisation of the galaxy.

The story starts while on a mission to assess Comander Shepards suitability in becoming the first human Spectre, a top level covert agent sanctioned to work under the high council of alien races. The mission goes badly wrong at the hands of a fellow Spectre, an alien called Saren. Vowing to investigate and stop Saren, he recruits a motley crew of alien races to help him with many of the obstacles for which he may face. Over time Shepard gleans that Saren is a very small part of a much bigger threat, that could be the end to all sentient life in the universe.

The story progresses through all 3 games, with the path followed dictated by the choices and decisions you make throughout. As an RPG game, there is a certain amount of stats fiddling and character leveling, but nothing too intensive. There are two major elements to Mass Effect, the first being that Mass Effect is very much a 'talkie' with a lot of dialogue for all the main characters. Talking is also where most of the major progression choices are made, from reactions and responses toward other characters, to making story critical choices. The characters and voice acting are very well done (with a few well known voices among them), and provide a wide range of emotions and responses to various situations. The amount of time you spend interacting with Shepard and the world of characters around him, you actually begin to feel for them. You want them to succeed in their mission.

The second element being that Mass Effect is a squad based shooter. For nearly every mission you are accompanied by two recruits of your choice. Each of the characters has a range of strengths and weaknesses, picking the right squad members can make things a lot easier. The battles can be exciting and intense, with the AI generally doing well on both sides, aside from a little predictability. The choice of weaponry, aside from upgrades, is down to your choice of main character, and of those you take on the mission with you.

The graphics are not amazing in ME1, but we are talking about a game that was released in 2007, things certainly improve from 2 and into 3. The sounds are top notch throughout, with a lot of gunfire, a lot of background fx aiding to a very atmospheric audio experience. The soundtrack is brilliant, Jack Wall And Sam Hulick have created a huge, amazing collection of tracks that accompany the series perfectly. Orchestral with electronic undertones, the music ranges from blissful and chilled, to fast paced and action orientated. A collection of the best video game soundtracks ever.

The gameplay is just right, the shooting sections of the games are accentuated with cut scenes and dialogue that actually keep the flow of the story going rather than stopping it like a barrier until you complete them. There are many non-combat areas to explore, hundreds of characters to meet and help, or be helped by, all of it contributing in whatever small way to the scale of the game. There are also a lot nice touches that add a lot to the experience as a whole. It all feels like you are playing a movie.

There are some areas that I felt were a bit too much of a grind, the planet scanning and resource gathering was a particularly boring necessity. Driving the Mako is erratic at best. And some of the 'go here and do that' missions seemed more like busy work than contributory to the goal of the story.

Other than those minor irks, a truly amazing game series!

DLC is not something I would normally mention. But in the case of Mass Effect Trilogy, aside from the armour and weapons, the DLC adds quite a lot to an already expansive game universe, to the point I would say you are missing out by not having it, and for some reason that rests a little uneasy with me. Most of the DLC adds a large amount in the way of either the lore, current story, or extra characters. All of which develops your game towards your end goal. The bad news being the DLC is only really available from BioWare themselves, is not exactly cheap, and very rarely goes on sale. If you can afford it I would get it, as it really does add to the experience.

If you are a Sci-Fi fan, and are not scared off from some light RPG duties, then I would get the trilogy, no question.

Like any book, the story needs to be played from beginning, through middle, to end.

82

Suprisingly Good......

Rhoobarb | Nov. 12, 2013 | Review of Poker Night 2

....but not without one or two issues.

Poker Night 2 is the sequel to 'Poker Night at the Inventory' and rests firmly in the 'entertainment' end of poker video games.

Like the original, you are the silent player, a high stakes poker player invited to play at The Inventory. A secret club with a few characters from various multimedia franchises, some well known, others a little more obscure.

The bare bones of the game is playing either Texas Hold'em, or Omaha Hold'em poker against 4 other A.I. players.

The four other players being; Claptrap (Borderlands), Sam (Sam & Max), Brock Samson (The Venture Brothers) and Ash Williams (The Evil Dead). A support role as the dealer is filled by the sinister, and ever sarcastic GLaDOS (Portal).

The club has a supporting cast of characters too, notably Moxxi (Borderlands), Max (Sam & Max), Reginald Van Winslow (Tales of Monkey Island) and Steve (Borderlands).

The back and forth between the characters is the games biggest selling point, but also the biggest flaw. With any game that has long periods of time with characters talking, eventually you will start hearing repeats. Thankfully despite the size of the game, other than a few short reaction one liners (Hey Ash, is that enough money for you and Wendy to fix up the Oldsmobile? Are you sure??), the repeats are not too often, but here is where it gets a little frustrating. Some of the banter sequences can be quite long, with some actually stopping the flow of the game so they can play out. The first couple of times this is entertaining, but it soon gets tiring as you cannot skip them.

Despite this, the game has a few bonuses to keep it from going stale. There are unlockables which allow you to change the card design, table surface and chips, based on each characters background. This in turn opens up more dialogue, and as such mixes things up a little.

Now, to me, the core of poker is about what cards the opponent has, so a big part of playing is bluffing and interpreting a players reactions to their cards, however slight. In this game you can buy your fellow players a round of drinks to loosen up those poker faces a little, increasing your chances of noticing any 'tells' they may have. Personally, I am a complete failure at reading facial cues and body language, even the exaggerated movements of the game characters were of no help, so as far as I was concerned I was out of pocket and no better off. Despite my lack of visual perception, the other players are at a distinct disadvantage in that I have no physical presence within the game, so cannot be 'read'. To redress the balance, the developers seem to have given them a little boost of luck. 'Sure thing' hands are all too often obliterated by last cards played at incredible odds. Many times I was well over 90% chance of winning only to lose by just the right card being dealt. Some may say 'that's poker!', but I just felt it happened a little too often.

Another slight irk with me is the AI. It is a little too predictable in that most of the time they play it safe, and very rarely try anything crazy. So keeping a fairly steady amount of wins is a bit too easy to what I would like. The unlockables were all bought up after a few match wins, without many losses, and I already have most of the achievements, even though I have not been playing it that long.

I think any serious poker player would quickly give up on the slow pace, stop-start nature and predictable opponents. If you are not a serious poker player though, I highly recommend it as an entertainment title, especially at the prices it has been down to recently. It is funny and entertaining with some decent character interactions. (Anyone else think Steve is great?)

92

Driving with a twist.

Rhoobarb | Nov. 7, 2013 | Review of Driver San Francisco

Why this game gets a bad reaction from some people is beyond me.

It is an open world arcade driving game, in a similar vein to Burnout Paradise and TDU, not a sandbox game, but enough freedom that you do not feel restricted or led by the nose. It has a large map to explore with many optional side missions and bonuses, but these are linked with the main story path i.e. completion of a story mission opens up more side missions, and a bigger chunk of map, but the story missions cannot continue until x amount of side missions have been completed, and so on.

The story is great for a driving game, the characters are good, the whole premise is interesting and the 'twist' is quickly established so there is no doubt, suspicions or lame '..it was all just a dream' ending. You find out what the twist is soon into the game, the rest of the game is spent trying to deal with that.

What the twist does do is open up a load of possibilities that have not been tried before. It brings a whole new dimension to the genre.

Basically, Tanner (you) can leave his body and 'shift' into other drivers bodies, taking control of their vehicle, while Tanners' body goes on autopilot. This means not only can you help other people in their situations, but they (you) can help you! An example of helping other drivers could be an early mission that has you 'shift' into a learner driver who is being bullied by his instructor. The tables are turned when you pull off a series of stunts, high speed maneuvers and handbrake turns to get revenge on the bully. Or how about 'shifting' into a rookie cop to allow them to take down a high speed pursuit? An example of other drivers helping you could be you 'shift' into a side mission of someone starting a street race with the goal of winning. As you are racing you 'shift' into a truck-trailer further down the road, coming the opposite way. Turn the truck into the path of a rival racer and BANG! One less racer to worry about.

It's that kind thinking towards different approaches to situations that raises this game way over the competition.

My only gripe with this game would be the controls. I found them way too fiddly and sensitive on a keyboard. I highly recommend a gamepad (preferably with analogue sticks, and lots of buttons)

85

Great Fun!

Rhoobarb | Nov. 6, 2013 | Review of POSTAL 2 Complete

This game ticks quite a few 'isms' boxes, so any PC gamer (and by that I mean Politically Correct) who is sensitive to any issues regarding race, sexuality, religion, politics, etc. might as well stop reading now.

Postal was a darkly humoured, shallow, isometric shooter that was catapulted into headlines for the games premise and content, during a period where ‘corrupting video game violence’ was being picked up by the mainstream media. The game relied heavily on its controversial content to push sales, as the game itself was nothing special.

Postal 2 not only went in a 3D FPS direction, they ramped up the offensiveness.

Postal 2 is crass, low brow, toilet humour, deliberately intended to offend the more sensitive types. A middle fingered F.U. by RWS to those blinkered souls that blame society’s ills on video games and try to ban them.

It is the video game equivalent of an 80’s low budget, shock/exploitation movie, not just pushing boundaries, but walking all over them. Once you peel away the shock factor though, what you have is a very average game, with very little substance, that adds nothing new to the table.

However…. Who needs substance? As with the movies, it does what it aims to do well. If you find extreme, over the top, immature gutter humour the likes of South Park, Brickleberry or Drawn Together funny, then this is the game for you. In no other game I have seen can you pour petrol over people, flick matches at them to light it, then as they crawl on the floor burnt to a crisp, unzip your fly and urinate on them to put the flames out. Or decapitate a passer by with a spade and play golf with their head. Or even stun gunning someone until they urinate themselves. There are many moments in Postal 2 when I was said to myself ‘Did they actually put that in?’

None of it is done in a serious way as it is far too over the top, it is not gritty, or gloomy, or oppressive in any way, it pokes fun at itself!

Age hasn’t been too kind to the game. The graphics are very stiff and the level design isn’t great, especially the loading segments in-between. But this is a 10 year old game, so you can forgive a few limitations.

I think this is a great game, but not a favourite. It is the kind of game you have a laugh about with your mates.