Monday 31 March 2008

Bully: Scholarship Edition

Very few of you may have noticed that this post is just a wee bit late. The rest of you wont give a toss. I'd like to apologise for that, I've been busy setting up my new TV, loosing control of it to my brother and his girfriend and having no internet access. There's also the eating of chocolate between shifts at work. Trust me, it has absolutely nothing to do with the length of Bully: Scholarship Edition keeping me away from daylight, or the warm glow of a PC monitor.

Enough of my F1 driver excuses, let's get down to the business of Rockstar's latest attempt at stalling the gaming community from burning down their offices in anticipation for Grand Theft Auto IV (or "Grand Theft Auto Eye-Vee" as half the bastards who come into my shop call it, immediately before asking if they can preorder it for the Playstation 2). Speaking of which, if you ever wanted me to give a decent reason for not liking the PS3, it would be the fact that it's the only reason the best looking game of the year isn't fucking out yet.

Bully: Scholarship Edition is a remake of Bully / Canis Canem Edit (depending on which country you're from) which came out for PS2 in October 2006. Interestingly enough, there are some pants in my room I've not worn between the initial Bully and the remake, but hell, there are plenty of people out there with too much money or too much respect for their Gamerscore. I ask those of you confused about the name if I can join you for a picnic of cup of tea some time, because for a quite obvious reason, the BBFC or some gang of protesting mothers decided "Bully" was a really bad name for a game set in a school by the people who make the fantastic role model that is the Grand Theft Auto. I'd personally have to agree with the move, as it's the dumbest way imaginable to condemn the theory that violent video games are made for children and they're the reason people die. Why they were able to release it as "Bully" two years later just by using the word "scholarship" in the title is an insult to logic in the same manner that insult to fine cuisine is a 3 year old can of Irn Bru being used in a pasta recipie.

Admitting that it's a remake of a PS2 game on the Xbox 360, Rockstar decided that the best way for this to not matter was to whitewash the back of the case with the word "enhanced" in a similar manner one would find in their inbox regarding herbal viagra. There are also some extra minigames, but I personally have never decided that a good reason to part with £35 was because I wanted two minute intervals of entertainment. There are plenty of people suffering from that condition, and they don't have to pay £35 for it - unless they happen to be driving around slowly in the middle of the night. I can't help but think the game was just the original game revised for the Wii and awkwardly shoved onto a 360 disc in the process, because when I finally decided to try the "enhanced gameplay" (ahem, the minigames), I found myself crippled by a lack of Wii Remote.

So, with that argument, we are left with a port of a PS2 game on the Xbox 360 (and Wii) which promises enhanced graphics and gameplay. The good news is that the frame rate is really good, which isn't that bloody suprising seeing as how the PS2 is almost a decade old now, while the 360 is somewhere around it's second year. And it fires out enough heat to ensure a Greenpeace protest, should you get carried away playing games all night long to soothe your aching social life. I can't really say much about choppy edges easily spotted on most PS2 games these days, because I've just managed to afford a new uber-penis-extension-TV by calling in a few debts.

I guess it would also would have been a good idea to have played the original game beforehand, but screw it, it looked like a bad idea when it came out in the first place. Either way I doubt the frame rate would have been that good on the PS2. Sadly, that's the only improvement I can imagine the new version has over the old, so let's ignore the fact it's actually a game that's about a year old, and start looking at it like a new game, seeing as that's what Rockstar's marketing department really want us to. OK, OK, I don't like doing what marketing pricks want, but it's the best way I can think of reviewing this game.

And so we follow the delightfuly and charming adventures of that little scamp, Jimmy Hopkins, as he begins his life at apparently the worst boarding school in the world. Before anything else I'd like to drag the question everyone else seems to have pushed into the corner of the room and slapped around a bit. If Bullworth Academy is the worst school in the world, why are there rich kids (all of which seem to be in their 20's, by the way) attending the school? Surely there's no amount of inbreeding that constitues picking the worst school in the world and paying a great deal of your expendable income to send your children to it.

As we, or rather I, because I doubt any of you will bother putting yourself through what I did after you read this, discover immediately, Jimmy is pretty much the exact kind of child that parents blame Rockstar for existing in the first place, only veiled with a layer of irony so thin, I doubt if it was rolled up and grated, it wouldn't even make enough to sprinkle on your morning coffee, should you be one of the sane people who doesn't believe it's necessary to own your own coffee chocolate sprinkler. While the irony behind the boy is bloody transparent, in stark contrast his motives are about as clear as mud stuck up the arse of a cat recently mowed down by a gritter truck.

Being the badass who's been expelled from pretty much every other school in America, you're encouraged to beat up everyone with glasses, shove them in lockers or bins, wedgie them and set fireworks off up their arses; while also having to do exactly the same to everyone else in the school because they didn't find it all that funny; and yet Jimmy doesn't want to get expelled again. There's some bollocks about taking over the school, but Rockstar's been flogging that idea of controlling everything since Vice City. We're promised something more intelligent in GTA IV, but only time will tell.

Should you be able to ignore the plot hole similar in size to the entire of Rocky Balboa (the newest Rocky film, but I wont call it the last because Rocky V was the last Rocky film as far as I'm concerned), we can move onto the gameplay itself. The game follows the tried and tested format of free roaming and starting missions as and when you please throughout the day, but somehow manages to clutter the radar up something rotten, and generally cock up a navigation system that's worked pretty well for Rockstar for about the last 8 years. I guess the simple reason is because all missions start with identical gold stars, and lead to the nearest door to the building they're found in, or the nearest exit if you're inside. It wouldn't be so bad if the map was more friendly, rather than being zoomed out to about 3000 miles in the pause menu and zoomed in so you can plot the best route between the hairs of you head should you be brave enough to press A when looking at it.

By now we don't know where we are, vaguely know what we're doing, but have no idea why we're doing it. Not exactly a good start. To top it all off, there's an attempt at realism being shoved into the game, which fits about as well as a golfer's glove being hastily forced onto a blue whale's face. You'll more than likely notice it's the glove is there, but still be able to see it's a whale you're looking at and wonder why the hell anyone bothered trying to put a golf glove on the bloody thing. You may also be wondering why there's a whale in your living room and how someone got a glove on it at all, but that's your own fault for living on the coast. The realism I speak of is of course that Jimmy is a 15 year old boy, and as such can't stay awake all night long, so you have to cart his sorry arse to bed every night. Which doesn't at all break up gameplay, what with the days being about 18 minutes long.

The missions themselves are basically the exaggerated antics of American school life, I imagine, which for me did little else that make me think I perhaps wasted my school life attending classes for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for 13 years, rather than starting fights with everyone who liked the movie Grease perhaps a bit too much.

Just when I'd given up all hope for Bully and the poor cocky little shit that is Jimmy Hopkins, I managed to get him kicked in the bollocks by a girl he'd just annoyed, which gave me quite a giggle. Sadly, not nearly enough to save the game. Especailly considering that the game decided that it wanted me to repeat a part of a mission I'd just finished and watched the finishing cutscene. At this point I'd had enough and stopped playing.

You may think that this does not bode well for Grand Theft Auto IV, and I would agree had I never played State of Emergency. You see, I'm pretty certain the team who made the latter were the ones who made Bully, you know, the useless interns used just to keep making some quick money without being able to make a decent game, while the real talent work hard on their flagship GTA game and don't get to see the light of day until it's finished. I can support this with the fact the game starts by saying it is presented by Rockstar Games, but made by Rockstar Vancouver. Presumably their way of saying "it wasn't us".

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Frontlines: Fuel of War

This week, I thought I'd try sticking to reviews of more recent games, so I decided on Saturday morning that I'd have a go of Army of Two. Unfortunately, by the end of Saturday, my source of Army of Two had dried out, so I thought I'd try Turok instead. Then I remembered it's been out for about a month now so I just grabbed a copy of Frontlines: Fuel of War. I'm not sure why I tried avoiding it so much, people have been telling me good things about it. It could just be my highly evolved urge to hate my fellow man that causes me to blindly disagree with people.

And so, here we are, Frontlines. For those of you who don't know, the story is - hang on, a game with a story? Sweet merciful Christ, thank you! There's been sod all recently that's had any trace of a story, whatsoever. Right, the story:

The upcoming summer was/is/will be/is going to have been really hot, there were some blackouts and things generally went downhill until the present/future/fictional/definitely not past day in 2024, at which time the earth has all but run out of oil. Rather than removing the human rights of top physicists until they come up with a new form of fuel, two "nations" have formed, by the names of "The Western Coalition" and "The Red Star Alliance" and starting killing each other, like you do. In the single player campaign, you play as a soldier for the Coalition and it's your job to win the war.

Now, strip away all the Mad Max bollocks and you get the typical idea of America didn't piss off China and Russia, but they pissed America off, so America retaliates against those commy bastards, bringing with it any poor voice acting that gets in the way. Remarkably, despite the world being the proud owner of a single barrel of oil, most of the combat involves big, smelly, diesel-powered vehicles, and really big explosions, typically involving other explosive barrels. Surprisingly, no one seems to care that you're arbitrarily wasting more precious fuel. So much for the Greenpeace initiative.

Now, I'm just being mean. It's not Frontline's fault that it was given a story that is only going to contradict the gameplay - as it stands, oil doesn't seem to be an issue, if they used futuristic super weapons, they wouldn't need oil at all - because it really is actually quite fun to play. The weapons seem mostly solid, up until the point when you try to melee someone and it feels like you're swinging a kite around, the enemies seem to shoot like they weren't put there just to write their name on your testicles from 500yds with a machine gun, they can actually miss! The last time I played a shooting game that didn't feature multi-award winning marksman talent was, well, the last time I played a game with some form of half decent story.

I even had great fun just playing with the slightly dodgy physics engine; watching rag dolls fall at inappropriate speeds onto jagged rocks, making their helmets bounce several stories in the air and generally watching corpses bounce off walls in a similar fashion to the characters from Family Guy.

I may have said Frontlines had some fun features, but I didn't actually say anything about unique features. If you want to have fun with physics, go play multiplayer Halo 3 without the update (which, in theory, is supposed to fix the glitch that sends corpses hurtling across the map when melee'd to death). Some of you will right now be thinking "Hang on, what about the equipment and drones etc?", while the rest of you will be thinking "Who the hell ever thinks the word 'etc'?". Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but we've had toys like that since Mario Kart. I mean, yeah, it was a lot more basic, but if you want a modern example, try Halo 3 (again). The only real difference is you can control some of them, but as most people who've played a GTA game since the PS2 was launched, you'll know that's not that unique either. It was a good idea, but I don't think I'll ever understand how a little remote control car can yield more explosive force than a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher.

Speaking of balance issues... let me just put it this way, I spent 90% of the game using the assault rifle, the other 10% mostly being spent in tanks. It just seemed to be the right weapon for every occasion, aside from when some heavy duty explosives needed to be called in. Actually, I lie, there aren't any heavy duty explosives. The biggest blast radius you're going to find is about 4m. Sure, an immensely useful assault rifle means you have more fun in single player, but I have the feeling that being constantly mauled down by a stream of bullets will put a damper on things in multiplayer when everyone else will have the same idea. Not that I'd know, seeing as how I can't get any frigging access to Xbox Live at the minute.

The single player campaign is short. I'm thinking Call of Duty 4 short, only a little shorter. A had a quick go on Sunday night, and I finished a few hours ago. So, not such a good game without online access. Don't dare think I've been devoting time to it, I've had other work to do. The cutscenes seem to have been rendered mostly using ye olde Xbox technology, and always end with some cheesy as hell disaster. I quote, "Holy crap, they've just nuked us". Pardon me, but if you're in a situation to say that, you're going to be more concerned with the fact that in the slim chance you're going to survive, you'd better enjoy company, because you're going to grow another three heads.

Even on Medium difficulty, the game seemed determined to let me win by giving me a character that could (and did on many occasions) survive a direct hit by a rocket in the face. It even let me fire a whole two bullets to remove the pest that had left me with a smoking head, before I had to move on and take over some more objectives.

Now this brings me to my biggest problem. The only thing I bothered to pay attention to about the game before I got hold of it was that it revolves around capturing objectives to push the front line forward - hence the name, Frontlines. Clever, right? Wrong. It works in more or less the same way Star Wars Battlefront works. The most significant difference being that you can't even hold just one command point and pick off the set number of reinforcements to win. In fact, I much prefer Battlefront because the enemy is actually intelligent enough to tack back command points, rather than keep running off back towards their front line only to finally arrive with a few hundred bullets in their spine. OK, on one mission, a pair of Red Star soldiers tried taking back an objective, but they sure as hell didn't succeed, and it never happened again. What? It's a war game. Deserters should be shot, and with me in charge, they all were.

The box promises you can "fly, drive and shoot 60 weapons and vehicles in an open world". I'm not sure about the 60 thing, I'd probably count about 20 (with a corresponding 20 for the Red Star, but they're going to be exactly the same things, just looking a little different). The "open world" bit, now I'm not going to argue with that, the maps are very open and I'm pretty certain you can get to anywhere you can see. That is, however, if you enjoy being shouted at constantly by some faceless General telling you to get your cowardly arse back in the battlefield.

I'm not too sure whether the game was trying to imply that my character was really really, super-manly soldier man, or "just another soldier", because even though I could leap off the top of sniper towers and carry on by doing little more than gritting my teeth, then go on to punch Russians to death, it seems that grenades of the future will be made from a random cocktail or super heavy leads, resulting in the average soldier being able to just about drop them at his feet, run off, and hope someone was chasing him at a particularly unfortunate distance.

My last word on this game is it's pretty fun to play, but there are games out there that are better and far cheaper. I'd recommend Star Wars Battlefront II over Frontlines, but what the hell, you're all going to give Frontlines a go anyway.

Monday 17 March 2008

Who's this about then?

For those of you who don't know me, here's a little bio of the smart arse blogger who'll probably end up offending you at some point in the future if you read this blog regularly enough.

Name: Phill Orr
Active Console(s): Xbox 360
Gamertag: Reklaimer
Gamerzone thing: Fuck you, I just play
Occupation: Sales assistant at a games shop / Half-arsed student
D.O.B.: 22/02/1989
Height: Around 6ft
Hobbies: Being a smartarse, playing games and health-freakiness
Politcal views: "Talk to me like a bitch and I'll slap you like one"
Why he's even here: I've spent 14 years in full-time education now, had an early morning job, a late night, disgusting job and currently have to smile at stupid people for minimum wage. Now I've decided I'm going to make an honest shot at cracking into the games industry so I can get paid to talk about games because it's what I'm best at. And maths, but I hate maths.
So he's a lazy, money grabber then?: No, I'm not after stupid amounts of cash for no effort. I just want to live somewhere quite nice and get by just enough so I don't have to worry about cash.
Why is he lazy: Fine, lazy. It's because at 18 my parents decided they'd be happier in a retirement home, which meant I had no home while at university, just a flat at uni and a room at my brother's flat.
Heroes: Still haven't watched it. Oh sorry, you want to know my heroes! Ask Marvel
Influences: Yahtzee Croshaw, Dominik Diamond, Jeremy Clarkson and a sock that started talking to me after I forgot to wash it for a few weeks.
Musical Taste: If you ever got hold of my iPod, a) I'd be very upset b) you'll find a selection of heavier rock and some baffling snippets including an old MoS annual
Pirates or Ninjas: It's apparent I've started scraping the bottom of my interview barrel, so I'll end this here before we get onto those chain letter quizzes

1. Name:
Oh sweet merciful lord...

2. Without looking, who's you're friend at #3?

What possibly none of you are thinking

Due to the stonking success of my last assignment blog, a friend agreed to let me post my reviews on his website where, at least in theory, more people could see them and give me some useful feedback. As you can see, it's going swimmingly, but seeing as the assignment for the old blog is due to be finished soon, I've decided to make my own personal blog for my reviews and other bile-fuelled shenanigans.

As such, I've recently concluded that today's games can be classified into a very small number of groups, rather than the forever pigeon-holing genres popping up only to be inevitably regarded as "action adventure" anyway. I admit that sounds like a bit of a pessimistic rant, but trust me, my system is very simple. "Simple" also being the first word that comes to mind when presented with the word "Neanderthal", shortly followed by "sportsman".

These simple categories are as follows:
Gripping: Any game that has a good story, and will keep me amused for hours, oblivious to the fact my number of friends has been diminishing exponentially.
Ooh-ahh: A game which relies heavily on it's noticeable technical merit... alright, that means any game that looks really sweet (any modern racing game), has some awesome sound (I'll come back to you when I have a decent example) or has some other really cool effects that make you go, all together now, "ooh... ahh..." (much like the fancy physics bollocks showcased in Star Wars: Force Unleashed).
Twitch-tastic: A game riddled with really annoying issues, like pad-snappingly confusing controls, a really annoying character(s), a camera that makes you eventually fall out of your window following ridiculous leaning on your half in some futile attempt to bring super-advanced 3D effects to you TV, monitor etc. In a nutshell, these are games with some serious flaws that leave the gamer twitchy involuntarily, having being pissed right off to the point of mental breakdown. See Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
Awesome: The rare pedigree of games that make their respective developers very proud by being good for a change. Some of these are usually let down only by uber-hype. A good example would have to be Crackdown in my eyes. Those gamers out there who disagree should just feck off and take up a sport where they can satisfy their repressed urges suffer pain for no apparent reason by being trampled into the ground by a team of very large men. It'll make everyone much happier.

And so, here we have the new home of my game reviews, and now they wont suffer the restraints of being shown to two or more FUCKING university tutors, who decide whether I pass a module or not. From this week, my reviews will no longer be available here, but instead will only appear here and here (that's not a broken link, I mean this blog, jackass). The other reason I've changed the name is that I also intend on putting up other gamer-related parodies as well as my reviews.

Something tells me that wont go to well either. Prove me wrong!