Tag Archives: Shooter

Review – Cuphead

If you’ve heard anything about Cuphead, you’ve probably heard that it’s hard. And this is very much true. It’s a couple of hours of content that took me ten hours to beat – and that was without obsessing over the end-of-level rankings, which slap an exam-style grade on your performance. (Mine were mostly B+, which I guess would constitute a pass.) There are two difficulty settings available from the start: “Simple” and “Regular”. The former doesn’t make the game any easier; it just removes bits from it. The latter is the intended experience, and seems designed to break people’s spirits and controllers. There’s certainly nothing regular about it, and you should keep that in mind. Cuphead might not be for you. In fact, it probably won’t be.

All of this is intentional. Cuphead is a fusion of archaic animation and archaic game design. It blends the grainy, rhythmic animation of the 1930s and the simple but exacting demands of 2D side-scrolling shooters. It’s supposed to be hard; as a game comprised almost entirely of boss fights, it wouldn’t be worth playing if it wasn’t. But – and this is crucial – it’s almost always fair. Aside from a couple of late-game encounters that are crippled by an unreasonable amount of randomness, this is an experience that promotes learning by ensuring that success is always just there, a little out of reach, but only one more attempt away. Rarely is that true, of course, but the belief is all you need to keep playing.

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Review – Gears of War 4

What’s this?

I don’t want to alarm you, but despite quite clearly having the numeral “4” on the end of the title, Gears of War 4 is actually the fifth game in the respectable Gears of War franchise. And when I say “respectable” I’m not even being my usual, sarcastic, devilishly-handsome self. The first game was critically beloved, a commercial success by every possible metric, exceedingly well-designed, and became a rubric for cover-based third-person shooting to such an extent that the industry’s continued – and continuing – milking of the series’ saggy teats has led most people to retroactively taint the Gears games themselves. A shame, really, because they’re all pretty great. Except this one, as it happens. This one is merely fine, just in quite a tired, predictable, faintly desperate way.

Oh, no. We’re not doing the Halo thing, are we?

Not quite, although the business parallels are undeniably similar. Epic Games didn’t want to make Gears of War games anymore, much like how Bungie didn’t want to make Halo games anymore, and so in both instances Microsoft invented a developer with the specific mandate of making more games in those respective franchises. In Halo’s case, the property was handed over to 343 Industries, a phenomenally inept pack of corporate stooges who bastardized Halo’s core gameplay, plot and characters, and slapped them back together in a Call of Duty clone wearing Master Chief’s helmet.

Gears of War 4 has, admittedly, fared slightly better. Its developers, The Coalition, at least had the good sense to leave the fundamentals of a Gears experience largely unchanged. The problem is that they left them so unchanged that the whole thing feels like a knockoff, second-hand Gears experience without any of the creative verve that gave the original trilogy its unique appeal.

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“Memory Trouble” – On 007: Blood Stone

My review-writing process when it comes to video games has remained largely unchanged for as long as I can remember. It’s a simple system that I assume a lot of other writers use; it isn’t particularly imaginative, but it works for me and that’s all that matters.

First, I play the game. As I do so, I keep a notepad or a scrap of paper handy and scrawl rough shorthand notes with a pencil – not a pen, because I can’t remember the last time a pen didn’t run out on me when I needed it the most. When I’m done with the game, I type these barely-legible doodles into a Notepad file and expand them until I have a coherent summary of my experience. Then, I write the review. The lion’s share of what you’re reading in the finished piece is a final expansion of those initial, hastily-pencilled impressions.

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“Blood on the Sand” – On Spec Ops: The Line

I didn’t really know that I liked Spec Ops: The Line until the moment it ended. Often, the closing credits of a video game bring me a sense of relief. The names scroll upwards and I imagine them lifting the weight of the experience away with them. Sometimes I’m glad to be rid of it (I play a lot of bad games). More often, I just see it as the end. A conclusion. Another thing I’ve finished or completed or achieved – whatever you want to call it.

It wasn’t quite like that with this oneAs the assorted names of the Yager development team rolled away off the top of the television, I sat in a stunned silence and thought about everything that had led me to that point. I thought about life and death, about war and peace, about right and wrong. It occurred to me these are all themes that games tackle often; that my real life almost never does. Then, when the names had all but disappeared, and the final chords of Jimi Hendrix’s “A Merman I Should Be” rang out with finality, I realized there was more. The true end of the story laid beyond one more obstacle. That was the moment I realized how much I like this game.

To understand that moment, we should go back to the beginning.

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Completionist – Harm’s Way

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I’ve never met anyone who played Harm’s Way for more than an hour or two, and even that’s pushing it. In a way this is hardly surprising; the game’s an arcade racer that only has four drivable vehicles, three very similar post-apocalyptic tracks, and a single three-race event to compete in. But it is surprising for a couple of reasons. The first is that Harm’s Way is a completely free release on Xbox Live’s marketplace, which is a combination of words I’ve very rarely been able to use. And secondly, Harm’s Way is quite a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a game that’s going to change your life. It’s just a simple arcade title that feels fresher than it has any right to by conjoining two well-worn concepts (off-road racing and emplaced turret sequences) into a surprisingly complementary whole. Players can either barrel around the desert courses in buggies and buses or hop into a roadside turret to blast their rival drivers with high-powered weaponry. Written down (and, indeed, in action) it feels like an idea dreamt up by a crazy kid, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. In a sense, Harm’s Way gets to something fundamental about games; that a lot of the very best are as silly as they are fun, and better for it. This brings me back to my original point, though. What is it, outside of the scarce options, which stops people coming back to this game?

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Completionist – Terminator Salvation

[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]

I often think that when the world’s machines inevitably gain sentience and rise up to enslave the human race, part of our punishment will be to repeatedly play video games like this. It makes sense. Not only does Terminator Salvation give artificial intelligence a bad name pretty much across the board, it would only take a couple of playthroughs to have us all begging our new overlords for the mercy of a quick death.

Perhaps that’s not entirely fair. At the very least Salvation has the decency to only last about four hours, and if you’re feeling particularly charitable you can at least describe it as functional. As a startlingly generic cover-based third-person shooter, it sort of works. A lot of emphasis is placed on flanking around enemies and firing a tiny pile of unimaginative, unsatisfying weapons at their obligatory glowing weak spot. There are scripted sequences on emplaced gun turrets and, of course, moments which have you defend a given location against several waves of murderous robots. There’s even a co-op mode.

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Review – 007: Quantum of Solace

As a gaming franchise the Bond series is still arguably clinging to the coattails of Goldeneye 64, which to this day is regarded not only as one of the best first-person shooters of all time, but as the title which almost single-handedly popularized competitive multiplayer. Of course you’ll have to take my word for all of this, because Goldeneye has aged beyond horribly and the idea of sitting around a TV, squashed up on the couch with your buddies and staring at a small quarter of the screen is as ludicrous now as seamless online gameplay probably was then. But, this is how things used to be, kids.

Anyway, Quantum of Solace is developed by Treyarch and runs on the Call of Duty 4 engine, which is about as good of a start as we could reasonably expect. It also has the distinct advantages of having a recognisable, current star at the helm, and being based on a film (two films, actually) released recently enough that people are probably still interested in them. Luckily Treyarch realized that Quantum of Solace alone was far too boring and worthless to function as the sole basis for anything, so a lot of the game is built around scenes pinched from the vastly superior Casino Royale. So far, so good.

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