Monday, 6 June 2016

[PlayStation Vita Game Review] Call Of Duty - Black Ops: Declassified

Platform: PlayStation Vita
Released: November 13th, 2012
Genre: FPS
Developer: Nihilistic
Publisher: Activision

Call of Duty has always had a bit of a rocky reputation on handheld consoles. The only title released on PSP was the critically panned "Roads To Victory" and the two games on the Nintendo DS were technically impressive for the system but hindered by awkward controls on a system that wasn't really meant for FPS games. The Vita was in many ways a new chance for Activision to prove they could release a good portable Call of Duty experience, as the Vita was heralded by many as a handheld PS3 and a powerhouse for console-quality games on the go. Sadly Black Ops: Declassified doesn't really live up to this standard, and let's discuss why.

As always, the game has a campaign mode although instead of following a linear narrative, the campaign is split into multiple "Operations", which act as missions to play through. To be perfectly honest the story isn't at all interesting and I barely remember anything of it other than going places, doing shit for some reason and blowing shit up. Which is par for the course for most CoD games but with games like Ghosts and the more recent Black Ops 3 offering really memorable narratives, it feels like a bit of a letdown and like a lot of older CoD games, the game seems a lot more centered on political black operations and agendas than exploring personalities. Similar to Black Ops you play as Frank Woods and Alex Mason during the Vietnam era, sent to complete varying missions or some shit here and there. It all doesn't really conclude in anything and the whole campaign can be finished in under an hour, which is laughably short, even for a handheld game. True, you can replay missions for achievements or to beat them on higher difficulties, but in the end, while the campaign is servicable, compared to the other titles in the series, it comes off as a joke. The nail in the coffin for me is the lack of checkpoints. You HAVE to play an entire mission from start to finish without dying, even on Veteran difficulty. While the missions are short, starting the entire mission over each time you die is a fucking disaster and just ends up being extremely frustrating. There's a REASON they added mid-level saves to the Killzone: Mercenary missions...

There are also two other single player modes. The first is Time Trial, which sends you onto a course where you shoot cardboard enemies with various weapons and you're scored for your time and efficiency. This mode feels a bit like some sort of training mode and isn't really all that fun unless you enjoy shooting cardboard enemies.
The second mode is Hostiles which acts basically as a horde mode where you fight increasingly difficult waves of enemies. It's the same mode as in Modern Warfare 3 basically and while it's fun if you're offline and just wanna play some simple multiplayer maps with bots, it tends to get very repetitive. The care packages you get between waves also only offer 3 different killstreaks which is pretty dull.

Multiplayer is also a bit of a letdown with a very limited weapon selection, an outdated loadout system, no calling cards or emblems, and while challenges are there, they offer no long lasting reward such as cool skins or calling cards. By outdated loadout system I mean it uses the old pick primary, secondary and 3 perks system and you can't use a slot system like in Black Ops 2 (which ironically came out around the same time), meaning you can't have multiple perks, you can't specialize in a weapon and you are pretty limited in loadout selections.
The weapon selection is alright, with a list of fairly standard weapons that all don't really look or feel all that special or memorable but function nicely. The FAMAS assault rifle is pretty cool looking though. What i miss the most is the akimbo attachment which is nowhere to be seen, a huge letdown as I am a huge fan of akimbo in Call of Duty games.
Surprisingly there are still a lot of people playing the multiplayer, though I've had tons of problems with disconnections and lag during matches, and a lot of players seem to be cheating, either hitting with perfect aim or running around with god mode, soaking up bullets like a bloody sponge. Thankfully those players have been few but they have been there and it's always annoying, especially on a console.
Some of the maps are ridicilously small, even smaller than Nuketown (in this game you have Nukehouse instead which is just a single building) and you often end up spawning right next to an enemy. On the larger maps this issue isn't all that prevalent but on the smaller maps it happens frequently so be prepared to fire as soon as you spawn.
While the multiplayer is perfectly servicable like most things in this game, it just doesn't feel rewarding to play and gets very repetitive quickly.

Graphically the game looks... okay. While nowhere near the quality of Killzone: Mercenary or even Resistance: Burning Skies, it looks okay though it suffers from a very drab colour palette, boring weapon skins, extremely simple lighting and at times resembles a PS2 game.
Models and textures are decent though and from what I hear they got so much flak during an E3 presentation of the game they worked on the game a bit extra to sharpen up the graphics. Shame it still kinda looks like crap.
Sound-wise it's alright as well. Weapons sound like they lack punch, music is forgetable and boring and all in all, not a very memorable experience.

All in all, this is far from the Call of Duty I wanted on Vita. Hoping for more of a Black Ops 2 experience on the go, to say this game is disappointing is putting it lightly. To this day it remains one of the most critically panned Call of Dutys and it's easy to see why, given how little value you get for your money. If you can get it on a sale, I'd say it's worth picking up as the multiplayer is still active and it's worth at least one playthrough if you're desperate for a Vita FPS that isn't Borderlands 2, Resistance or Killzone. But if you haven't played Killzone or Resistance first, I'd say grab those instead of this. Hopefully one day we'll get a Vita CoD game that's good but I won't hold my breath given the reception to this.

STORY: 5/10
Not that memorable, very short and not worth replaying much.

Tight controls, good ADS snapon but hindered by a pretty bad AI that at times has absolute perfect accuracy, which is highly annoying on higher difficulties where the lack of checkpoints really makes the game a frustrating mess. Multiplayer is servicable but a bit of a letdown compared to other games in the series.

Drab colors, uninspired weapon skins and bad lighting makes this game kind of horrible looking, especially compared to Killzone: Mercenary or even Resistance: Burning Skies which came out before it.

SOUND: 6/10
No big complaints really but can't say there was any of it I particurarily enjoyed. Weapons seem to sound weak and not that satisfying.


Monday, 14 March 2016

[PC Game Review] Undertale

Platform: PC
Released: September 15th, 2015
Genre: RPG
Developer/Publisher: Toby Fox

Before my complete review of Undertale, I want to recount my experience with this game...

It was... I don't remember what day it was. Thadeus had bought me a game he loved. Undertale it was called. For a while, I didn't really want to play it. I mean, the graphics seemed... not that impressive and all I knew about it was that it was influenced by Mother/Earthbound, which granted are some of my favourite RPG's, but for some reason, I held off on playing the game.

I sat down one day, Thadeus eagerly sitting on Steam chat, awaiting my reaction. I fired up the game, commented how I could tell it was made in Game Maker, cause of the collision detection. Commented how I wish the music wouldn't constantly change styles. I kinda half-ass played it, not really paying full attention. I met Flowey, he of course was creepy as all hell, letting me know it was "kill or be killed". I killed some enemies. That's what you do in RPG's, right? I earned some EXP and felt pretty good. This character Toriel took me in, she seemed very nice. I liked her. In fact... I started to enjoy her company. Then I wanted to leave her place and move on. She blocked my way, said she was going to test if I was ready.

Then I killed her.

Realizing what I'd done, realizing I had killed a character who was friendly, I panicked. What happened? In other games, friendly NPC's wouldn't die if you fought them. They would stop, not let you kill them, something would keep it from happening. Yet here I sat, watching Toriel vaporize in front of me after the most blood chilling speech I've ever seen from someone friendly.

I cried, I felt rotten. I felt ashamed. I reloaded the game so I could get her back. The next fight the game told me I thought of letting Toriel know I watched her die, and she said she felt like a ghost when I looked at her. Finally figuring out how to spare her I moved on. Then... Flowey appeared again. He let me know he was aware I had reloaded to try and save Toriel. I felt a chill down my spine unlike anything I've ever felt in any game. I knew it was possible for game characters to break the fourth wall but this felt like Flowey was speaking directly to me. Not the sprite on the screen, but the player controlling the sprite. Instantly I felt like I couldn't play anymore. I was scared, way out of my comfort zone. I had just played a game that held me directly responsible for taking the life of a friendly character. I shut down the game and didn't touch it again for a long time...

I deleted my save file... manually... complete reset of the game... then I went back one day. Thadeus urged me to go back to it, struggling not to spoil it for me.

I had an experience that changed my entire view on games. What games can do to you, how they can impact you. Undertale takes every trope, every preconception you might have about games and turn them entirely on their heads. Instead of killing everything, you are urged NOT to kill, but to use non-violent solutions. The game has no limits on who you can kill. You can kill everyone if you so desire. It is up to you if you want to kill everyone or make friends. So on my second playthrough, scarred by my initial experience, I didn't hurt anyone. And the rest of the game was honestly one of the most unforgetable experiences I've had in gaming ever, something that will truly stick with me forever.

Undertale proves that 8bit sprites on a computer screen can feel as real as you and me, it proves that killing is a horrible thing and holds nothing back to push that point home. It proves that in the end, the only thing that matters is what you choose.

So choose wisely...

STORY: 10/10
While I don't want to spoil everything, the gist of the game (told in an opening narration that seems amazingly influenced by Mother) is that the world once was ruled by humans and monsters, but a war broke out and the humans sealed the monsters underground behind a magic barrier. But one day in our time, a human child falls down into Mt. Ebbot, seemingly the only way down to the monsters anymore. After waking up you are confronted by Flowey, a seemingly innocent flower who is a lot more than he seems to be. You quickly learn he's actually trying to kill you and are saved by a female goat named Toriel, who takes care of you and functions as a literal tutorial guide, teaching you the basic gameplay mechanics. However, you quickly learn that in order to get back home, you have to cross the magical barrier, and in order to do so, defeat Asgore. After a test of your willpower, you leave Toriel behind and set out on a journey to reach Asgore. How you go through this journey is up to you.
The character you play as is intentionally left nameless and gender neutral, allowing the player to completely immerse themselves into the game by projecting onto the character. Whether you're a young kid or an adult, anyone can play this game and feel immersed in it which I think is amazing. It uses very simple old tricks but they work wonders.

The game is split into two different levels. The overworld where you explore, talk to NPCs and do the main path of the game, and the combat system which occurs whenever you encounter a monster or an NPC initiates a battle. The overworld gameplay relies mostly on simply puzzle solving, character interaction and exploration so there's really not much to say about it. It feels very similar to Mother in that you have a menu with items, stats and a phone (which you can use for a lot of things).
The battle system is where things start to get really interesting though and where the game shines as very unique. While you have a Fight button you can use to hurt and even kill both enemies and friendly NPC's alike (which does have pretty huge consequences I might add), you also have an Act button which opens up the non-violent solutions to a battle. Each battle is basically like a puzzle and choosing the right actions in the Act menu is essential to solving the puzzle and giving the monster some kind of resolution so that it gives up and you can choose the Mercy option and spare it (at the start of the battle, the Spare option won't be available). You can also use the Item menu to access your inventory. Between each action you make, the monster will attack you in a style reminiscent of bullet hell shooters, although it relies mostly on you dodging the attacks.
What the game does very brilliantly is making EACH battle, even with minor monsters feel memorable and meaningful, and each battle has slight variations on the mechanics so the game never feels repetitive or stale, you never know what to expect and it keeps the game interesting and fresh all the way through.

The controls are fairly simple, you move with the arrow keys and use Z, X, and C for different things. Z is the general action key, X is for cancelling usually, and C is for bringing up the menu during gameplay.

Undertale mixes a lot of different styles together, but for the most part has a very limited 8bit influenced color palette, giving it a retro style that's still pretty charming. The character sprites are all drawn with a ton of personality and small details that are fun to pick up on. The HUD during battle is very well defined and some of the backgrounds are downright gorgeous. The graphics aren't really the focus of the game though, as their limited range almost makes your imagination kick in more than it would with something more realistic looking.

Undertale has a rather remarkable sound design. While a lot of the sounds are very 8bit and 16bit sounding, the soundtrack ranges in styles from 8bit, 16bit to very orchestrated themes. While I kind of wish the soundtrack stuck to one style, it's only a minor complaint. The themes are all really good and function well for their intended purposes and I'm still humming most of them on occasion.


This is a game I urge everyone to play all the way through. It's one of the most memorable games made in ages and holds its place as one of the most important games ever made. It reminds us that games don't have to be about mindless murder, but can be about something very beautiful and emotional, something that can leave us with a feeling we'll never forget...

Reseting the game has never been this difficult.