Julius

Your 2020 Gaming Diary

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Finished Uncharted 2, still an amazingly fun game. Combat is much, much improved than last time, with plenty of viable stealthy areas (but, apart from the intro, never required). And being able to "lose" the guards and move behind them while they're still focused on where you were helps a lot.

It focuses a lot on set pieces, creating a lot of variety in the fighting, keeping it feeling fresh throughout the entire time. On top of that, there are also plenty of long puzzle/platform/explore sections to break them up.

The train level also still looks stunning. 

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Been a while since I've posted on here. Been mainly playing Final Fantasy VII Remake and Magic The Gathering Arena. The latter has taken time out of the former admittedly so I'm still on Chapter 14 of FFVIIR but had a marathon play session to get to that point today.

 

Man Chapter 11 was kind of unexpected and the music in that area is fantastic. Chapter 12 meanwhile... EPIC. I will say no more.

 

Most of my time with Arena has been set trying to collect some of the new set, Ikoria. I had several deck ideas I wanted to craft my Wildcards for... but then realised I should probably prioritise the new lands first... and also that one of the decks I want to build has cards from a set that will be rotating... a Dinosaur deck of all things.

 

But now I'm thinking my priorities will be to refine my existing decks with missing cards.

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Posted (edited)

Monthly update time! I managed to finish a bunch of games this time so that's at least something. :p

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider (PC)

Yes, it's done! What a series, despite a few niggles this has become one of my favourite series on PC. I already had quite some nostalgia feelings for Tomb Raider, so I'm just happy to see the series got a proper reboot and treatment. Seeing Lara develop from the young naive girl in Tomb Raider 2013 to the hardened grave robber she is in the original Tomb Raider from 1996 is a joy. Yes it's strange she quickly adapts to her role as serial killer, and still has these emotionally weak moments as they try to give her some sort of depth but I can imagine that it is difficult to get this balance right over 3 games regarding character development. It at least is not something that bothered me while playing. The side characters didn't have much of a lasting impression on me though.

Gameplay-wise I really enjoyed having the bow as a weapon throughout the series, and I hardly used anything else. Combat was okay, but I would have liked if stealth was a bit better implemented. I almost never managed to finish of whole areas with stealth, and it somehow almost always ended in a shoot-out. Even though SOTTR added stuff like dragging enemies in the water, hiding against overgrown walls and hoisting enemies in trees I still never really felt in control over a stealthy situation.

Luckily the graphics and the tombs made up for this. Some of the areas are extremely impressive and I just loved gawking at the environments. Tombs were often clever, and also graphically impressive.

I'm really curious to see what they are going to do with the series from here on. I wouldn't mind if they revisit some of the old areas like Area 51, the jungle from TRIII, or Tibet. If any I think the reboot trilogy leaned too much on human enemies and I would like to see them go back to more "fantasy"-themed foes like before: dinosaurs, living statues, you name it.

Ori and the Blind Forest (PC)

For the N-E Café PodPals/Video Game Club I played and finished Ori and the Blind Forest. Not going to talk about it again but I put my thoughts here: 

Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch)

I don't know what it is but this game kept being on the back of my mind. For closure I decided to buy one of the DLC packs that was heavily discounted and finish all the side missions. 

The DLC pack granted me a lot of new pilots, ships and weapons. New pilots meant getting a bunch of new powers to experiment with, while ships are basically extra lives. More and different types of weapons meant I could unlock a lot more secrets throughout Starlink. It did help making my progress through the side missions a lot more convenient.

So most missions I still had to tackle were from the free Crimson Moon update, and they included a couple of race tracks, arena battles, and a longer quest where you have to round up a bunch of space gangsters. For a free update it was quite substantial and kudos for Ubisoft to put that out after the game bombed so hard. 

I really enjoyed my time with Starlink and I'm almost sad that it's over now. I like the universe, the travelling between planets and space battles are always a good idea. The only real thing I could still do is by the Starfox DLC as that adds a side mission for Peppy, Slippy and Falco but it's supposed to be quite short and I haven't seen that discounted yet.

So for now I'm done with Starlink although I can still gaze at the Arwing that is sitting on my shelf. Too bad this bombed for Ubisoft, I think they are one of the better big publishers around these days and I hope their next experiment will be a bit more succesful.

Pikuniku (Switch)

It was cheap, it was short and it got quite a good review from Ashley so I got this on a whim. I finished it in a couple of hours and for the €1 it cost me it was fun. Gameplay wise it is easy and only once or twice there was a little bit of a challenge, but for the rest it is mostly walking around, talking to NPCs and winding up in quirky situations.

It feels like a love project where they just threw all ideas they had in a big blender, and for some reason it worked out okay. What's most interesting is that my girlfriend who normally doesn't bother with games was laughing at me playing this game, especially when I was struggling to get rocks up a hill or when I put on a silly hat. So I guess points for team Pikuniku. 

Not much more to add besides if you want to play a laid-back, silly and funny game get this the next time it is discounted.

Duke Nukem Forever (PC)

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Now this is a weird one. I started this game years ago as one of the first games since I got a PC again. It still sat there in my Steam library, and as you can now organize games in collections Duke Nukem Forever was resting in my The Backlog collection. I decided to reinstall it to see if it had cloud saves and yep, I could pick up were I left it some years ago, and I knew it was close to the end.

So I plowed through the remaining 1,5 hours of the game and finally finished it. Yay, now I can move it from The Backlog to Finished! Case closed, FOREVER! Because this is not a very good game. Maybe back in the days it was quite decent, but apparently I already struggled to finish it back then. But now, as in the meantime I played games like Doom 2016 it just shows how mediocre Duke Nukem Forever is. Where Doom and Wolfenstein got the reboots a 90s FPS deserved, I think it is game over for the Duke. Guess with Trump in the white house we are just not in need of a macho, cursing, woman-unfriendly American stereotype. :p 

World War Z (PC)

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Every week I claim my free games on the Epic Games Store, and it's become quite a collection. I was browsing through it and noticed World War Z. As it got announced for Switch I decided to give it a go to see what the game is about.

If you have played Left 4 Dead (2), you basically have the blueprints for WWZ. It is a four-player co-op FPS, and it involves zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. Normal ones and some special ones (like lurkers and tanks, also "borrowed" from L4D). Although none of the cast of the movie makes an appearance, there are links to it as you visit the same cities like Jerusalem, New York and Moscow. Also the towers of zombies climbing on top of each other to breach walls can be found in the game.

There are four different campaigns to play, each consisting of 3 or 4 chapters. You can choose one of four characters, and a role to play (that isn't tied to the character so everyone can be every role). These roles determine your original loadout and special skills. You have medics, techs, explosive experts, alrounders etc. All in all about 9 classes to choose from.

It plays solid, although I struggle to get a full party going most of the times, despite the game being on both PC and XBox. There are a bunch of weapons you can find, including silenced one to pick off zombies without disturbing them. Of course in practice this doesn't work, as there is always a teammate there going in all guns blazing. You have a primary and secondary weapon, and a consumable fitting your class (bombs, medikit, stimpacks etc). You can also find heavy weapons like flamethrowers and chainsaws. In almost every mission you will also find a spot that will be swarmed with zombies. Before you usually get a few minutes to prep, and you can find defenses like barbed wire, electric fences and mortars you can set up. 

Those are the best parts of the game, when an inevitable swarm of zombies is coming up. There can be hundreds of zombies onscreen at the same time and trying to keep your grounds can get intense. For the rest the missions are quite bare. Go here, go there, search bodies for keys, push buttons. But in the hectic times it is great. I've been playing on the easiest difficulty and that sometimes provides a challenge already. So on higher difficulty you are really going to need a team that works together which will be hard to come by playing with randoms. And if you're done there is also "normal" multiplayer which has stuff like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag Vaccine.

It's good (for a game I got for free :P). I like the style of Left 4 Dead better, but this is a fun game to play as inbetweener. If you got it for free or find a good discount (or maybe it is on XBox game pass as well?) give it a whirl. I'm really curious to see how they get this running on Switch though, and what price they are going to ask for it. Can't imagine this running great.

Edited by Vileplume2000
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Keep meaning to post in here, but time.
So, while I have a little here’s a list of what I’ve finished this year so far. If you want my thoughts on a particular game, ask away.


1. Axiom Verge done. January
2. Super Punch-Out!!
3. Bomb Chicken
4. Namco Museum (Rolling Thunder, Rolling Thunder 2, Splatterhouse, PacMan, PacMan Vs, Galaga, Galaga ‘88, Dig Dug, The Tower of Druaga, Sky Kid & Tank Force)
5. Batman - The Telltale Series
6. Cave Story +
7. SuperHot
8. Light Fall
9. MegaMan
10. Hypercharge: Unboxed February
11. Timber man Vs
12. Kirby’s DreamLand 3
13. Wargroove: Double Trouble
14. Transistor
15. Pokemon Shield done March
16. Hotline Miami
17. Mother Russia Bleeds
18. Hotline Miami 2
19. Old Man’s Journey
20. Crimsonland
21. Drawful 2
22. Serial Cleaner
23. Pikuniku
24. Ring Fit Adventure April
25. Bulletstorm: Duke of Switch Edition
26. Kuukiyomi: Consider It
27. Mega Man 2
28. Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise
29. Mega Man 3
30. Mechstermination Force
31. Ori & the Blind Forest
32. Nirvana Pilot Yume
33. Ships
34. Virtua Racing
35. Toki Tori
36. GRID: Autosport

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Playing even more of Final Fantasy VII Remake. I think I'm getting towards the end, I'm on Chapter 16 right now.

 

It's kind of funny really, I got the game over a week before it actually came out and yet I'm going to finish it well after many other people who've been playing since launch day. My sister is probably going to finish the game before me as she's only focusing on the main storyline while the reason it's taken me a bit of time to play this game is that I really want to explore everything. All the side areas for items and to do all the sidequests. I wanted to be able summon Bahamut... but it looks like I may not be able to since I've gone past a point where Aerith is playable and I really don't know if you can get her back in the party in this game.

 

Also, not really a bad thing to be taking this long to finish a game right? One of the problems I've had with new games in the internet age is a desire to finish brand new games as soon as possible so that they won't be spoiled online.

 

Spoiler

So to be more precise, I have currently just defeated Hojo's Pet specimen in Shira HQ on the 65th floor. For some reason, the game doesn't let me summon Leviathan in this battle even when Barrett had two full ATB gauges.

 

I started watching a Longplay of the original to compare to the remake and interestingly this battle is Red XIII's debut battle in the original game... but they've moved it forward by the looks of it. I heard Red XIII isn't playable in this game but I guess I'm not too far off the party meeting him.

 

I was also really worried that the soundtrack would only be remixes of the original music and not much else... boy was I wrong about that. There's just so many good new tunes as there are remixes of old ones. Fires of Resistance and Ghoul are really impressive tunes, Undercity Sins, High Five, A Trap Is Sprung, Train Graveyard, the Sewer battle theme, High Five's field variation, the new theme for Wall Market... they really went all out for this game.

 

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Last Friday, i was watching a PlayStation Access stream of Uncharted 4.  Which got me in the mood to play said game, and as of yesterday i finished.  I'm still amazed at how great this game looks and how much detail went into everything, right down to the mud graphics.  Played it with headphones so i enjoyed the sounds and audio in more detail than i did before, and i honestly can't fault it.  Naughty Dog went all in on this one, and i thank them for it.

Most likely will replay LA Noire this evening onwards.  I'm still taking an Assassin's Creed break, tried to get back into Odyssey (might just play the story and a few side-quests as the game feels overwhelming at times).  Don't get me wrong, i love the setting and Kassandra is a great character.  But after Origins, this feels more padded out than prior entries.

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I’ve been really lazy with writing up stuff over the last few months, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been lazy about playing games!  Let’s right this wrong!

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Yes, again.  But this time I played through it on Hard mode and with Lecarde.  Game is still great, you can pretty much just read my previous writeup about the game and it all applies… Ok, this writeup is pretty lazy so far… fine! I’ll offer some new deets then.

The level design does a good job of making use of Lecarde’s unique moveset; with his high jump allowing for lots of neat skips and shortcuts in vertically orientated stages.  He’s a lot of fun to play as, and is probably the easier character of the two to play through the game with; not all that dissimilar from Maria in Rondo of Blood, though certainly nowhere near THAT overpowered!  There are also some unique branching paths that separate the two characters throughout a few of the stages, but these are far and few in-between.  You’ll largely be playing through the same stages for the most part, which is a bit of a step down from Rondo of Blood and Dracula’s Curse.

Overall though, Lecarde is a great character that shakes up the gameplay nicely; making for a fun way to revisit the game.  He also has one of the most ridiculous death animations of the 16-bit era where he stabs himself for absolutely no reason, which is always a bonus.

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Sadly censored in the PAL version

 

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Ok, no more lazy copy/pasting content! Time to offer you guys something new!

Order of Ecclesia was the last of the Metroid-style Castlevania games and would be Igarashi’s (affectionately Iga) final contribution to the genre until its spiritual successor, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, hit the scene last year.  Now, astute gaming fans will no doubt have noticed that Konami were absolutely pumping out handheld Castlevania titles throughout the mid 2000s, with no less than 6 titles released between 2001-2008 (and that’s not even counting the PS2/Xbox titles).  As a producer, Iga was quite frank about the severe timeframe and budgetary limitations that his Castlevania titles had to contend with.  Konami simply never gave him the time and budget that he really needed, and they wanted games out quick, quick, quick!

Quite how his team managed to pump out so many great games during this time? Well, it comes down to a bit of witchcraft and a lot of very smart cost-saving & production trickery.  His games would famously re-use sprites dating all the way back to 1993’s Rondo of Blood, they’d reuse the same game engine, reuse music and also cut corners wherever possible with the production.  This was a team under extraordinary time and budget constraints, and they had mostly done a great job with the handheld titles thus far.

But fans were starting to grow tired of the Metroidvania formula by this time, and many were asking for a return to a more classic style of gameplay that resembled the 8bit and 16bit titles.  So what could Iga do in this situation? Why, he’d go for the Best-Of-Both-Worlds approach of course!

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This map isn’t just for show this time

 

Order of Eccelsia is not a pure Metroidvania like Iga’s other titles, instead, it’s actually a linear game that is split up into stages, not unlike the classic 8bit and 16bit titles.  Indeed, it isn’t until the very end of the game (past the point of the fake ending even!) that you finally get to see Dracula’s Castle, where the game suddenly turns into a Metroidvania title, complete with wide open map and open exploration!

This game had an extended development timeframe compared to the previous handheld titles, as Iga managed to successfully lobby Konami for an additional 6 months development time over previous titles.  Would this extra time be enough for Iga to ensure that the game could receive the additional polish, time and care that it needed to reach its lofty goals?  Unfortunately the answer is that it still wasn’t really quite long enough to escape the hallmarks of a condensed development timeframe…

Let’s talk about the good.  This game has a great variety of stages, as you travel the countryside surrounding Wygol Village.  It also has a really fun new gravity flinging mechanic that is always a highlight whenever you come across a chance to use it.  The core gameplay is as good as ever, now augmented with the new Glyph system; which, while very similar to the excellent Soul system from Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, differentiated itself by greatly reducing the number of skills available and allowing the player to combine glyphs together for combined effects.  It’s a bit like the approach that HAL took with Kirby’s Dreamland 3 and Kirby 64, though nowhere near that varied and deep.  It’s a decent idea and it is fun to play around with, but it ends up being let down by a lack of core weapon variety; as most of the weapon glyphs end up playing very similarly and you’ll inevitably gravitate towards the one that deals the most damage… however! There is a twist! New to this game is a Weakness/Resistance system that determines whether enemies are vulnerable to certain types of weapons, be they blunt attacks, piercing attacks, magic attacks and whatnot.  This system only really comes into play in the latter stage of the game, but it does a good job of forcing the player to make use of a better variety of weapons than they otherwise would’ve; and helps to add a bit of spice to the combat.

Speaking of the combat… the boss battles are sensational! In typical Castlevania fashion, the boss battles are a real highlight; and its quite surprising how many get saved for Dracula’s Castle in the last stretch of the game too.

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Though I don’t blame you for needing an FAQ to get past this one

Now why did I spend so much time of this writeup talking about the lack of budget and production issues that Konami had constantly lumped Iga’s team with? You can probably guess… Yup, they end up being a big issue here.

Sadly, each of the different linear stages end up feeling a bit undercooked; with some stages literally being an entirely flat path with some enemies thrown along the way!  And the copy/pasting… oh God the copy/pasting! If you hated the latter half of Portrait of Ruin, you’re gonna be getting some real PTSD flashbacks here, as you’ll see the same level formations appear time and time again; sometimes with some cheeky palette swapping, sometimes not even with that!

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This room in particular appears no less than 8 times throughout the game! That bloody spider and rock formation will be burnt into your brain by the end!

 

The game also suffers from another problem, as its Best-Of-Both-Worlds approach also brings the Worst of Both along with it.  You see, the Metroidvania movement and combat mechanics of the Iga titles doesn’t actually necessarily gel all that well with more linear stage design, as it lacks the mechanical depth in its core gameplay to make the most of this form of gameplay.  As a result, the mook combat and level traversal feels rather unsatisfying; meaning that classicvania fans may feel let down.  On the flip-side, Dracula’s Castle at the end of the game also feels simplified and watered down in its exploration and level design compared to previous Metroidvania Castlevania titles; meaning the Metroidvania fans may feel let down.  Ultimately, for all the game does well, I feel that it doesn’t fully satisfy either side of the fanbase.

The repetition of assets and even entire chunks of level design become a real stain on the game as a whole; but I can’t really put the blame on the developer when they were working under such tight time and budgetary constraints… However, what I can fault the developers for is for trying to do too much with too little.  It’s still a good game that is worth your time, but coming back to it, I feel that it is the weakest of the three DS titles; simply because it spreads itself too thin over too much bread.  While I applaud the ambition on display here, it doesn’t quite nail the landing.

 

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Did you know that there is an absolutely AMAZING mod of Super Mario 64 that allows you to play the entire game in splitscreen co-op with a friend? Did you know that it actually runs on real N64 hardware with an Everdrive? Well now you do!

I played this incredible mod with @Glen-i and we absolutely blitzed through the entire game, 100% in a couple of hours or so and it was an absolute blast from start to finish!

You don’t need any introduction to Super Mario 64, so lets just talk about what this mod brings to the table.  Here’s a video that shows a playthrough running on real N64 hardware to help illustrate what I’m about to say…

 

First off the bat, the game runs in splitscreen throughout the entire game; it runs with a bit of slowdown here and there, but actually runs amazingly well on original N64 hardware considering that it was never designed to be able to render Super Mario 64 twice! (do note that if you want to run this mod on a real N64 with an Everdrive, you will need the Expansion Pak).

Second thing you’ll notice? The mad lads behind this mod have actually redubbed the cutscenes with Peach! She actually has new dialogue referencing Luigi! It’s this attention to detail that really makes this mod look and feel like the real deal!

Third? There are all new gameplay mechanics to accommodate the two player action.  Luigi actually plays differently from Mario, complete with the high jump and slidey physics that you’ve come to expect.  There’s also a new team-up move where you can launch your bro high into the air to get access to areas you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.  Question blocks now grant two of every item when struck, stars are numbered and it’s even possible to collect two stars at the same time with some well co-ordinated collecting!  Best of all though? There’s even a new Bubble mechanic that has been lifted straight out of New Super Mario Bros Wii/U! When one bro kicks the bucket, they’re brought back in bubble form, allowing the other bro to bring them back from the brink; if both bros go though? It’s back out of the level for both of you; just like in NSMB Wii/U.

Finally, there are almost no restrictions as to where each bro can go.  As long as you are both within the same loading zone, you can go anywhere and do whatever you want within the confines of that loading zone; if a bro triggers a loading zone, the other bro gets zapped to their location.  Simple, and exploitable!

What an absolutely amazing way to replay a classic! This was SO much fun! We absolutely loved it to pieces! It’s just so incredibly well done, it’s hard to believe that it isn’t an official product! From scamming Koopa The Quick and beating him in zero seconds (thanks to a cheating bro waiting by the flagpole from the start), to cheating Bowser by standing either side of him; it was just so much fun tag-teaming this game!  If you ever get the chance to try it for yourself, I can’t recommend this mod enough!

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And this is just the icing on the cake.  So good.

 

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Speaking of mods… here’s another amazing one that looks and feels like an official product.  It’s the colourised version of Super Mario Land 2 that we never got!  The mod is completely bug free and works flawlessly on real Gameboy Advance/Color hardware! (It even shows a This Game Can Only Be Played On Game Boy Color screen if you try to play it on an original brick DMG Game Boy! Once again, the attention to detail is spot on.)

The entire game has been given a lick of paint and it looks great! It looks and feels like a real GBC game that Nintendo would’ve put out in 1998 and everything has just the right shade of colour.  Another neat addition to the original comes in the form of playable Luigi, now selectable from the file select screen or with a quick press of the Select button on the world map.  He plays just as you’d expect, with a high jump and a long slide.  Ultimately, I don’t feel that Luigi adds much to the game, given SML2’s generally boxed in level design, but it’s a nice extra nonetheless.

As for my thoughts on the core game itself? I find myself growing more fond of Super Mario Land 2 over time, and revisiting the game again only reaffirms those feelings.  It’s a smaller, more compact game than its bigger console brothers and that’s not a bad thing.  It feels perfectly suited to the Game Boy’s small screen and the larger & more detailed sprites necessitate a slower more methodological feel to the gameplay that is fun in its own right.  Looking back on the game, it does feel more like a prototype Wario Land game than a Mario title; and its clear that Nintendo R&D1 had their own vision in mind for the kind of game they wanted to make.  The lineage is clear as day, as Wario makes his debut in this title (albeit looking pretty off model, even at this point!), and its clear to see how the Wario Land series’ brand of gameplay, pace and humour began here.  Even the music (especially the boss battle music!) feels like it could’ve come from straight out of one of the later Wario Land titles.

Overall, it’s a great Wario game; and this colourisation mod was a great way to revisit Wario’s debut.  Strongly recommend giving this mod a go if you ever get the chance!

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Though nothing can save this Wario sprite from looking proper dodge it seems

 

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Well it seemed sensible to try out the other Game Boy Mario colourisation mod after the excellent SML2DX, so here it is!

Given the overall simpler look of the original Super Mario Land though, the colourisation is inevitably going to be a lot less striking overall; but its still very well done.  The colour choice feels natural and it all runs without a hitch on real Game Boy Color/Advance hardware.

Once again we return to Super Mario Land, a game that aligns itself far more closely with its console brethren in terms of gameplay.  However, it too comes with its own unique wrinkles and coocoo bananas elements that make it stand out on its own.

This is the second homebrew project I’ve played in the last few months related to Super Mario Land now, after I played the amazing SNES remake at the tail end of last year! And while this project obviously isn’t as impressive as that one, its still a great way to revisit the original SML that looks and feels like an official Nintendo product.  Another strong recommendation if ever you have the chance.

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And hey! Daisy actually looks like Daisy now!

 

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Moving away from homebrew mods for a bit (though don’t worry, there are plenty of cool Banjo Kazooie mods out there I’m trying out!), I could resist the allure of the Bear and Bird no longer! After their tearjerking return in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, I knew it would not be long until I would have to return to the lair of the witch.

And yes, the Bear and Bird’s initial outing is still a classic in every sense of the word.

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This game gets the Banjo Seal of Approval

People love to compare this game to Super Mario 64, but the truth is that this game is actually more of an Action Adventure title with platforming elements than a pure 3D platformer.  Banjo Kazooie level design actually abandons the obstacle course esc design of its popular comparator and instead opts for a naturalistic world design that is open-ended and focused on exploration.  When Super Mario Odyssey came out in 2017, I originally noted that the game actually played more like Banjo Kazooie than Super Mario 64 (See, I did say that!) but ultimately I felt that Super Mario Odyssey didn’t quite capture the same magic that the Bear & Bird’s outings did.  Going back to Banjo Kazooie, this sentiment has only become stronger in my mind.

Unlike in Super Mario Odyssey, all of the collectables in Banjo Kazooie have meaning.  Nothing is just given to you on a plate, nor left out in the open for seemingly no reason.  Notes are placed in such a way as to guide the player towards exploring every nook and cranny of each world, Jiggies are all rewards for solving puzzles, completing minigames and overcoming platforming challenges, and the Golden Honeycomb expansions are all rewards for players who crack the code of each world and seek out the most secretive of all secrets.

Every world is also loaded with personality, memorable characters and classic British humour that makes for an unforgettable experience that you immediately associate with Rare’s Golden Era.  This game was a joy to revisit and clock 100% yet again; the sheer amount of secrets and mysteries this game held back in the day is just bonkers.  The lineage of the DKC trilogy is clear in Banjo Kazooie in that regard.

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I could tell you what Stop N’ Swap was actually all about… but then I’d have to kill you; and sadly this is a family friendly post.

That’s not to say that Banjo Kazooie isn’t a good platformer per-say; its platforming mechanics are actually very good, though not as deep as the likes of Super Mario 64.  Rather, the platforming mechanics take a backseat to the adventure gameplay and serve to enhance the exploration and to provide mechanics that serve the game’s various challenges.  There’s an enormous amount of variety to the gameplay that really is perhaps best compared to the Legend of Zelda series (and perhaps that’s not terribly surprising when you consider that Banjo Kazooie actually started life as Project Dream; itself a Zelda-like Action Adventure game).  From racing as a walrus, to spelling out words on a ouija board, to a literal endgame quiz that tests your knowledge on everything you’ve seen throughout the game! Banjo Kazooie is jam packed with great ideas that are superbly executed seamlessly with the core gameplay of a 3D platformer.  It’s a huge achievement that would only really be surpassed by its own sequel; and subsequently never really seen again.

 

If there’s any complaint I can lodge against the game, coming back to it, it’s probably the harsh requirement for actually completing the game.  While I knew I wanted to 100% complete the game and find/do everything, I was reminded about something I had completely forgotten… There’s actually very little difference between a low % (ignoring glitches) and 100% completion of the game! In order to face off against ol’ Winkybunion herself, you actually need to collect a staggering 94/100 Jiggies and a whopping 810/900 Notes! You need to collect a minimum of 94% of items in order to actually complete the game! That’s nuts! (By contrast, Super Mario 64 only required the player to collect 58% of stars to fight its final boss).

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Your biggest childhood nightmare, forever taunting you

 

It kind of works against the element of freedom that the game’s structure was going for, when you basically have to complete almost everything anyway.

 

But otherwise, this game is amazing.  The Bear & Bird’s first outing is every bit as legendary now as it was almost 22 years ago.

 

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Here’s one that most of you probably haven’t played before.  Before Pokémon, Game Freak were known for developing quite a few good action games; and Pulseman represents the culmination of all of that experience.  Released at the tail end of the Mega Drive’s life, this game sadly never saw a western release outside of the US only SEGA Channel service… until it hit the Wii Virtual Console in 2009!

 

Part Mega Man, part Kirby’s Dreamland, part Pinball, all electrifying! Pulseman is a classic action game with a mixture of straightforward and somewhat more open level design.  You run, you jump, you attack and you electrical spark your way through 7 stages of action packed gameplay.  What separates this game from others in the genre though is its unique electricity focused gameplay.  You see, your Power Ranger wannabe hero seems to be built out of your nan’s old carpet; because he loves to build up static electricity! When you manage to build up an electrical charge, you are granted an expanded moveset that allows you to unleash your charge in a number of ways; you can use it to fire off a bolt of electricity, you can choose to use an Alien Soldier esc dash attack move, or you can choose to unleash the mighty Volt Tackle attack (yes, this is where Pikachu got the move from).  This system makes for a considered approach to tackling each stage, as you need to figure out the best way to get through the myriad of challenges that make use of these unique mechanics…

 

And oh boy do they make the most of these mechanics!  Each stage is jam packed with interesting ideas that you won’t find in any other game; and the level design is clever enough to weave in some light puzzle solving and interesting traversal without bogging down the action focused gameplay.  It’s good stuff, and any action game fan will no doubt love what’s on offer here; it’s also hard as balls!

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Watch out! Team Galactic's gonna getcha!

You’ve probably already noticed that the game is a looker (and the more astute of you have probably noticed Ken Sugamori’s signature visual look that would go on to inspire the Pokémon series’ art) but you probably haven’t noticed the sound.  This game has a brilliant sound track that will likely remind you of some of the later games in the Pokémon series.  But equally as impressive is something that was very unusual for a Mega Drive game of this era… the game is almost entirely fully voice acted in English!  Granted, the game doesn’t have an awful lot of dialogue (it IS an action game after all), but it’s still enormously impressive all the same!

Translator’s Note: Water can destroy Pulseman

This is a great game that deserves much more recognition than it gets.  It’s a real shame that it never originally got a western release and it’s a real shame that it didn’t make the cut on the Mega Drive Mini in any region.  It’s one of the Mega Drive’s very best, if only you could get the chance to play it…

 

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This may shock you… but I had never played the original Shinobi before! I’ve played through its various Mega Drive sequels (including the excellent Shadow Dancer), but the original? Nope.  Never.

So with the game now being on Switch as part of the SEGA AGES series, it was time to rectify this!

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Insert the Ninja Attack sound from Super Mario Maker 2 here

I ploughed through this game like a true ninja, on the original Arcade difficulty with no save states and no assistance (didn’t pull off a 1cc though, I’m not that much of a ninja!) and yeah, I can see why this game was so beloved on launch.  It’s a good time.

This game has an almost Castlevania like flow to it, with a more methodological pace that requires the player to think about how they tackle each foe and rescue each hostage.  The platforming elements are minimal, but the level designs are nicely varied and (mostly) introduce interesting wrinkles that keep things interesting all throughout.  Despite being an arcade title that makes use of 1-hit-and-you’re-dead gameplay, the game feels surprisingly fair and well balanced (for the most part).

Joe Musashi’s moveset is simple but effective here; he gets a jump, a ranged shuriken attack, a close-range melee katana attack and a screen-clearing ninja magic attack.  The scoring system actually rewards the player for not making use of either ninja magic or their shurikens; the latter of which is basically essential, meaning that only the most utterly masochistic of ninjas dare apply for this challenge! But the original game suffered from an annoying problem for those attempting a no shuriken challenge, as the game originally only made use of two buttons; with the choice of shuriken or katana being subject to a rather finicky and unreliable context-sensitive use of the attack button that decided which attack to use based on your distance from the enemy.  Thankfullly, M2 have rectified this problem with this SEGA AGES release and now grant you the option of having separate shuriken and katana attack buttons; making it much more fun and much more viable to actually complete a stage without using your shurikens.

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Though I'd reckon you'd have a tough time beating the bonus stage without any shurikens...

Not all shines bright with the original Shinobi however, as the game actually suffers a bit of a slump in the middle portion of the game.  While the initial and latter stages all have great stage and enemy variety, the middle part does not.  The game appears to run out of ideas and starts recycling enemies ad-nauseum (especially the blue ninjas; who I like about as much as seeing an EA logo), and seemingly stops introducing new level concepts.  As such, I find that the middle portion of the game is a bit of a drag… its also accompanied by one of the cheapest and most infuriating bosses I’ve ever seen; the dickhead shogun at the end of Mission 4! He basically kills you immediately as soon as the fight starts and I can’t imagine how utterly infuriated and ripped off I would’ve felt if my credit came afoul of him at an actual arcade cabinet.  Thankfully, the subsequent mission is a blinder, as the game gets back its mojo and reconvenes with introducing new ideas and enemies.

So yeah, the original Shinobi rightfully earns its place as a SEGA classic.  It’s just a shame that the middle part of the game clearly didn’t get as much TLC in development as the beginning and end portions of the game.

 

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Taking a pretty big side step, I felt like returning to Shantae’s big comeback on the DSi! After an 8 year hiatus and several cancelled attempts to pitch the game to various publishers, Wayforward finally brought back the half genie girl in a big way; as digital distribution finally gave the developer the chance to self-publish at long last!

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She's clearly happy about it

Originally pitched to the public as an episodic release in three parts, the idea of an episodic release was eventually scrapped and the game was turned into a single release in the same vein as the original GBC game.  Like its predecessor, this is a metroidvania title that bares more than a passing resemblance to SEGA and Westone’s Wonderboy/Monster World series.  You have an overworld to explore, quests to complete, dungeons to conquer, characters to meet and music to rock out to!  For those that aren’t familiar with Wonderboy/Monster World, the game is perhaps most similar to Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link; but with the top-down overworld replaced with a Metroid-esc seamless map.

Long story short, I had a great time coming back to this gem.  I love the core gameplay, the characters, the music, the transformations and neat gameplay ideas, the humour; pretty much everything about it.  However, this game feels like it was cut short in development; with only two full sized dungeons and a Battle Tower that feels like it takes the place of what was supposed to be a proper dungeon.  The game also feels a bit lacking when it comes to enemy variety as well, with a lot of the same enemies showing up from start to finish.  Part of this could be down to the DSiWare service’s filesize limit, part of it could come down to the game’s switch from episodic to single release.  Either way, it’s a bit of a shame, as the game feels a bit unfinished as a result.  What’s here is absolutely great, but it feels like it was originally going to be so much more…

… which perhaps explains why its 3DS sequel ended up getting 3-4 years’ worth of development and ended up becoming the best game that Wayforward ever made!  But this game is good too.  Cool twist at the end too, that ties in neatly with the 3DS followup.

 

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I’ll spare you the lame “it’s an arcade port… PSYCHE!” jokes that literally everyone makes with this game, because you all know the drill by now.  Eternally locked in an epic struggle with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the coveted title of Best Original Game Boy Game Ever Made; Donkey Kong 94 is the epic revival of the classic Donkey Kong series, beating Donkey Kong Country to the punch by a few months.

Now sporting a puzzle platformer focus with its gameplay and hugely expanding the scope of the classic Donkey Kong gameplay, Donkey Kong 94 represents the absolute best in classic Game Boy gaming.  Endlessly inventive, astoundingly clever level design and utterly sublime platforming gameplay that was so good that Super Mario 64 would go on to nick this game’s moveset wholesale.  Donkey Kong 94 is the full package.

Coming back to revisit this masterpiece, its every bit as good as I remember it being.  If ever I have a complaint to make about this game however? It’s that its music is perhaps nowhere near as special as its gameplay.  The soundtrack certainly isn’t bad by any means, but you’re probably not all that likely to find yourself humming the game’s music and chucking it onto your phone’s playlist.

The music is OK, but this is one area where Link’s Awakening clearly pulls ahead

Phew! That’ll do for now I reckon.

Spoiler

Castlevania Bloodlines – Lecarde Hard Mode

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Super Mario 64… Splitscreen Co-Op

Super Mario Land 2 DX

Super Mario Land DX

Banjo Kazooie

Pulseman

Shinobi (System 16)

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge

Donkey Kong 94

Edited by Dcubed
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Great read, @Dcubed.

Reading through your thoughts on OoE reminds me that I really need to get through the DS trilogy of games that I bought last year. I started Dawn of Sorrow but stopped after a few hours. I think I was burnt out from playing all the Castlevania GBA games back to back.

The Super Mario Land colour mods are something that i've looked at before. I don't usually like or agree with mods but there have been a few times where I was close to picking up a copy of each of the games on eBay. They even came with proper cases and instruction manuals. Just goes to show how easy it is to knock up a fake product these days.

Pulseman is a game i've yet to play. I purchased it during the great Wii Shopping Channel spree just before the thing closed down but I never did get around to play it.

I was shocked to read you've never played the original Shinobi game before. I'm not a big fan of the series but I do have fond memories of playing through the Game Gear version. I always wanted to play the PS2 reboot. I thought it looked great but for whatever reason I never purchased it.

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Posted (edited)
49 minutes ago, Hero-of-Time said:

Great read, @Dcubed.

Reading through your thoughts on OoE reminds me that I really need to get through the DS trilogy of games that I bought last year. I started Dawn of Sorrow but stopped after a few hours. I think I was burnt out from playing all the Castlevania GBA games back to back.

The Super Mario Land colour mods are something that i've looked at before. I don't usually like or agree with mods but there have been a few times where I was close to picking up a copy of each of the games on eBay. They even came with proper cases and instruction manuals. Just goes to show how easy it is to knock up a fake product these days.

Pulseman is a game i've yet to play. I purchased it during the great Wii Shopping Channel spree just before the thing closed down but I never did get around to play it.

I was shocked to read you've never played the original Shinobi game before. I'm not a big fan of the series but I do have fond memories of playing through the Game Gear version. I always wanted to play the PS2 reboot. I thought it looked great but for whatever reason I never purchased it.

The PS2 Shinobi is a good game.  It's quite a bit like Ninja Gaiden Xbox; even though it lacks the scope and polish of Tecmo's game, I quite enjoyed the PS2 Shinobi (I haven't played the sequel, Nightshade, yet though.  That's one for the future).

Glad you grabbed Pulseman while you could.  It's a great game!

Edited by Dcubed

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6 hours ago, Dcubed said:

qxfDBh_cm2FpZNK_yU0ExEcI8vNGNWPw8p0SafHb

Sadly censored in the PAL version

 

They replaced something naughty with a series of random letters? How creative.

6 hours ago, Dcubed said:

If ever I have a complaint to make about this game however? It’s that its music is perhaps nowhere near as special as its gameplay.  The soundtrack certainly isn’t bad by any means, but you’re probably not all that likely to find yourself humming the game’s music and chucking it onto your phone’s playlist.

It does have a couple of great tunes, like 9-8 here

 

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I thought the stages on Pulseman were a bit empty. Game was quite hard though.

The stage music is the Pokémon Red/Blue battle music slowed down.

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32 minutes ago, Jonnas said:

They replaced something naughty with a series of random letters? How creative.

It does have a couple of great tunes, like 9-8 here

 

If you told me that Tim Folin guest composed that one tune, I'd believe you!

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I've seen the credits roll on Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a DS title that came out some time. Not sure when, I'm typing this while I have no internet connection.

It's one of those Metroidvania-style Castlevania games. You play as Soma Cruz, who has to stop this cult from reviving a "Dark Lord". It's probably Dracula. Soma has to travel to their evil lair and prevent ol' Draccy from coming back again and maybe then, I'll finally be able to pull off that 9.9 Simon route on Smash Ultimate.

The general gist of this kind of Castlevania game is to explore a big area, killing all kinds of demons and gaining sweet experience points to level up and not die as quickly. There's also all sorts of equipment to find and a variety of different weapon styles to suit your playstyle. I liked the Katana, because it was quick.

Like the Metroid part of it's genre namesake, there's also a number of abilities that you get from bosses to help traversal and open up new areas to explore. But these abilities aren't just from bosses. Upon beating an enemy, there's a chance that you'll absorb their soul, and when you do, you get a new ability based on the enemy you got it from. There's more than 100 of them, so there's loads of room for experimentation. Keep in mind though, that most of these soul abilites use up MP, so you can't spam them.

Being a DS game, Dawn of Sorrow has surprisingly little touch screen utilisation. What is there is really superfluous. The main use is drawing magic seals at the end of boss fights to seal them away. It adds nothing, yet I still enjoyed drawing those symbols. Felt strangely satisfying. The game would probably be better without them, but I don't care. It appeals to the childish part of me.

The bosses are a lot of fun, apart from two certain bosses that I think are weirdly out of place, considering how difficult they are. Good ol' memorisation through failure until you get it right.

Graphics are nice enough, Soma has a ridiculous power walk like any good Castlevania protagonist. He even leaves afterimages for some reason. He's not remotely fast, so it kinda looks silly.

Soundtrack is pretty good too. Some catchy tunes. There's also some voice clips for certain bosses, which suffer from what I like to call "Eggman Syndrome" They serve to give a heads up that a certain attack is coming your way, but end being unnaturally repetitive. Dario's laugh is a particularly funny case because it doesn't really sound like a laugh.

So yeah, this is the first Castlevania game I've beaten (I never bothered with the True Ending of Aria of Sorrow because of the RNG involved) and I certainly enjoyed it, might have to play more in the future.

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Glen-i said:

Soundtrack is pretty good too. Some catchy tunes. There's also some voice clips for certain bosses, which suffer from what I like to call "Eggman Syndrome" They serve to give a heads up that a certain attack is coming your way, but end being unnaturally repetitive. Dario's laugh is a particularly funny case because it doesn't really sound like a laugh.

HA HA HA HA HA!

HA HA HA HA HA!

HA HA HA HA HA!

 

Oh just you wait until Portrait of Ruin... I guarantee you that you will waste your first hour of playing the game on making yourself hear two very specific voice clips over and over...

Edited by Dcubed
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25 minutes ago, Glen-i said:

I've seen the credits roll on Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow,

(...)

So yeah, this is the first Castlevania game I've beaten (I never bothered with the True Ending of Aria of Sorrow because of the RNG involved) and I certainly enjoyed it, might have to play more in the future.

...So, did you get the true ending on Dawn? It doesn't involve RNG, but your description of events was unclear.

And perhaps more importantly, did you get the first bad ending? As opposed to the second bad ending? :heh:

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21 minutes ago, Jonnas said:

...So, did you get the true ending on Dawn? It doesn't involve RNG, but your description of events was unclear.

And perhaps more importantly, did you get the first bad ending? As opposed to the second bad ending? :heh:

He never got past the fake ending because he couldn't be bothered to farm for the souls you need to get past that moment.

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13 minutes ago, Dcubed said:

He never got past the fake ending because he couldn't be bothered to farm for the souls you need to get past that moment.

That's Aria, I get it, you need specific souls for that true ending, but you don't need to farm souls to get past Dawn's fake ending.

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I have now officially finished Final Fantasy VII Remake. I had heard the ending was somewhat controversial and had been changed which made it harder to lead into what has come before... full thoughts on the ending in the spoiler window below.

 

Spoiler

The actual ending I don't think I fully grasped what it was implying until after I'd seen the credits roll but... well, the fact that the plot completely shatters the fourth wall with the idea that the characters are trying to change the events of the original game while the ghosts represent people that are trying to keep it the same is... a very clear and obvious influence from Nomura which has me cautious about the rest of the remake series. Because if they are going to completely change how the game plays out from here then that is a serious issue when you've got someone at the helm who creates plot twists for the sake of plot twists and ends up with a convulted mess at the end of it which is only given mild justification to define all of it. And yes, I did think that the boss before Sephiroth was pretty much something straight out of Kingdom Hearts. Also, Zack is alive now? But in an alternative dimension? Um, what? And Sephiroth and Aerith are from the future having time travelled back in order to try and change the events of the original game? OK... The funny thing is... remaking a game from the series golden era proves how well the stories from that era hold up when compared to the stories in modern Square Enix games (sans Nier Automata) but an ending is what people will remember about any piece of media the most so to end of that note is going to leave an uncomfortable feeling in many people...

I must admit though the gameplay was fantastic and felt exactly like what a modern Final Fantasy game should be. They managed to create an action game but also proving why the ATB system never should have been dropped in the first place. It was the most solid system that had been created for these games and to me that made them far more interesting to play than a standard turn based system. OK, maybe I don't normally play such systems with having to scroll through the menus to pick out the correct option in time but the fact that it allows for dynamic battles where you have to time your attacks in turn based combat is what made Final Fantasy's gameplay super engaging in the first place. This new game seems like it is a simple button masher but they managed to make a game where you actually have to target your opponent's weaknesses and use more advanced moves other than spamming your basic attack.

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15 hours ago, Jonnas said:

...So, did you get the true ending on Dawn? It doesn't involve RNG, but your description of events was unclear.

And perhaps more importantly, did you get the first bad ending? As opposed to the second bad ending? :heh:

I got the true ending. Everyone is happy. Except for the bad guys. They mostly dead. Not Dario though, he gets the last unconvincing laugh.

As for your second question, I got both. When I fail, I fail hard.

I seriously hate that mirror boss.

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Posted (edited)

Time for my April update.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE | 2020

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In 1997, a game largely responsible for the explosion in popularity of JRPGs in the West arrived, seeing players take up the Buster Sword as Cloud Strife for the first time, alongside a now beloved cast of characters, as players fought to save the planet from the wicked Shinra Corporation, who take advantage of and make profit from the world’s natural energies. In 2015, the promise was made that we would once again return to that legendary story and fabled world to once again save the planet.

And, in 2020, the long-awaited reunion is finally at hand.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is an ambitious remake by Square Enix of Final Fantasy VII, and is a retelling of the first part of the journey players first went on some 23 years ago in the city of Midgar. With many returning names from the original game such as artist-turned-director Tetsuya Nomura, amongst many others, and overseen by Yoshinori Kitase, the cyberpunk City of Mako is gloriously realised with breath-taking assets, detailed character models, quality sound design, and a strong art direction, which contributes to an incredible sense of immersion. There is a sheer sense of scale and a passionate level of detail to the world (whether it be advertisements, road signs, or even train schedules) on show in this game which literally left my jaw agape at times, and whether you are speeding through in a motorbike chase, visiting the dirt-infested Slums, or dancing around in Wall Market, it is an incredible achievement that the world feels as unified as it does – it is rare that anything feels out of place. It is a fascinating location to explore, and it begs you to check out everything it has to offer.

That isn’t to say that wandering Midgar is without flaws, though. For much of the game, it ran very smoothly, though there were numerous instances of egregious texture pop-in, and you can tell that the game has been somewhat limited in its design by being made for this generation of consoles, most noticeable in how many small gaps you will find yourself scraping through to allow for the next area to load, and this can sometimes hurt its pacing. There was a moment when I was crawling through an airduct and looked down through a vent only for the game to freeze, but I haven’t been able to recreate that issue, though I do think that it’s mentioning as I have seen a few others mention the game freezing and having to back out and restart the game. I feel it is worth mentioning at this point that I played the game a week before its intended release, like many others here, due to early shipments as a result of COVID-19, though as far as I’m aware, a patch still hasn’t been released for the game; it’s also worth mentioning that I played on a base PS4 model, though I know plenty of people have had issues with texture pop-in on Pro consoles too.

I would also say that Moogle Medals, clearly inspired by Dragon Quest’s Mini Medals, are a poor reward for searching through every nook and cranny, and it feels like a whole unnecessary addition to the game, as it doesn’t really add much to the adventure. What’s more, there is another set of collectibles in this game that are much better in almost every way – those are the collectible music discs found dotted around the game, each one a remix of a track from the original game (even certain tracks which don’t make It into this game, based on the story not progressing to that point). They range from chirpy tunes to jazzy blowouts, and they’re first heard just by wandering around the game’s world and most often obtained by just locating the source of the music. These tracks can then be played in jukeboxes around Midgar, and it’s generally just a delightful and respectful nod to the original game. I hope they return next time around (and that Moogle Medals are never seen again).

Of course, one of the main reasons that the original game is so widely adored is its diverse and loveable main cast, and I’m over the moon that they absolutely nailed these characters, and quite prominently, their interactions with one another. Cloud’s snarky back and forth with Barrett, Aerith’s teasing of Cloud, and Tifa’s concern for just about everyone around her, and Cloud’s opening up to her, are small details which go a long way to fleshing out these characters and making them feel whole. They are every bit as loveable as they were in the original – if not more so – and that is an incredible feat which the game’s writers and localisation team deserve plenty of praise for. With the game taking place entirely in Midgar, it also gave them the opportunity to flesh out plenty of characters from the original game, such as the other main members of AVALANCHE: Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. The localisation team deserve widespread recognition for their work on this game, because it’s pretty much perfect. Again, they fleshed out these characters in a way which naturally benefitted the story, giving them much more history, and seeing their chemistry and genuine care for one another throughout the game never failed to put a smile on my face. And Marlene is absolutely adorable.

There are some recurring characters who are new to this game (and others fleshed out completely from almost nothing in the original game) who do pretty well to blend into the world for the most part, though some of their designs do seem a little closer to Kingdom Hearts or the modern Final Fantasy character designs we’ve seen more recently than the original Final Fantasy VII character design philosophy. Unfortunately, one of the characters that I found myself not loving as much as in the original was Sephiroth. I think that Square Enix just weren’t looking to make him the same chaotic force in the shadows that he was in the original this time around, a nightmarish phantom we were always two steps behind, but then it makes me question some of their cinematography and direction choices at times, such as showing his full face before they, later in the same scene, focus purely on his lips and lower half of his face – as if they hadn’t just revealed his face? It feels like at times they were stuck in the middle on how he was utilised as a character, but for the most part, I think he is still realised in a very effective manner throughout the game’s story, serving more as a manipulative and overwhelming force of nature.

I don't have any experience with the modern Final Fantasy games, but from what I've read, heard and seen of XV, VII Remake's battle system seems to be a step above in every regard. It's fluid and dynamic, requires your full attention at all times, and the ATB gauge adds a dimension of strategy to combat that I think most turn-based fans will be pleased with. It reminds me a lot of Chrono Trigger, in a great way, with curated sets of enemies to be found and engaged, and seamless transitions in and out of battle. Getting your materia and weapon set-up just right is pleasing (though I do wish that there was an easier way to transfer sets between characters, or save them for later use, such as with a loadout). Boss battles are epic, as are there soundtracks, and I don't think there was a single one that I didn't love. The game is also very generous on the odd occasion when you do lose a battle, giving you the option to either back out to the last checkpoint or, much more likely, just retry from the last battle. All-in-all, I can’t wait for the next game to see how the combat system is further evolved, and what changes and additions the team decides to make.

Spoiler

My favourite boss battle was easily the battle against Dreamweaver Jenova. It comes pretty much out of nowhere, bringing a lot of unique ideas to the battle when compared with many of the other boss battles in the game, and has a killer reimagining of J-E-N-O-V-A to back it up. The classic, otherworldly alien beat kicking in for the last phase of the fight from the start of the original song sent shivers down my spine. It was incredible.

 

It's worth mentioning though that were a number of times where battles were a little frustrating, in that some enemies have extremely good targeting and are guaranteed to hit you almost regardless of what you do, and you can actually be knocked out of using your Limit Break/a spell/ability if hit by an enemy in the small amount of time between selecting to use it and the animation starting. It still spending your Limit meter/MP/ATB bars as though you'd used it when being knocked out of the animation is never welcome. The camera can also be a little hard to control at times in battles, and while the sense of scale in the battles are spot on for the most part, there were some occasions where you practically just end up in the face of a boss, which makes it difficult to read the battle on the scale that they want you to. Until you ground them, flying enemies can also cause this issue with the camera, and it didn’t feel nearly as well thought out as some of the other battle mechanics.

Going into this game, and especially after having played the demo three times after that released, I must admit, I was a little concerned about the game’s soundtrack; my main concern was that they would lean too heavily into a generic orchestral soundtrack which might grow stale by the end of the game. Was also a bit concerned that they were going to rely too heavily on One Winged Angel and toss aside Those Chosen By The Planet, and honestly, I still think that concern was somewhat justified based on the game’s intro and what we got to experience in the demo.

But boy was I wrong. That teaches me for doubting a Final Fantasy OST.

This game’s soundtrack is nothing short of incredible – new tracks fit into the world of Midgar seamlessly, and every track from the original game is reimagined in a way that is fresh and thrilling. Humming and whistling along to Wall Market’s The City That Never Sleeps which seamlessly transitions from that upbeat theme, to an Eastern Asian-styled one, to a whistling, chocobo barn tune based on the part of Wall Market that you’re in was awesome. The Turks Theme is so moody and patronising. Those Chosen By The Planet starts out with an unnerving, fragmented distortion which leads into its impending sense of dread. Characters themes and the main theme are incredible, as they were always going to be. Some tracks are just stunningly beautiful, and I think that is best heard with Flowers Blooming in the ChurchI’m getting goosebumps and tearing up even now just listening to it. Kudos to Masashi Hamauza and Mituto Suzuki for their new arrangements of Uematsu’s original, and their original compositions, they did a great job.

I’ve touched on it a bit already, but I feel the need to talk about the game’s story a bit more. I feel like it does a great job overall of capturing the essence of the original game, and the major story beats are still excellently executed. The Remake nails this and almost always manages to evoke the feeling that they’re going for, whether it be despair, jubilation, or absolute disgust and hatred for the actions of certain characters in this game. I had a smile on my face almost all the way through, and it made me nostalgic for a time before I was born.

That being said, the story does have some issues, as was always going to be the case when adapting a game opening which is at most 8 hours long, to a 30+ hour modernisation. While side quests do offer an optional change of pace, and are a great way to gain some experience in what I would describe as being a “contextualised grind”, they are of extremely varying quality: some of them are actually really fun, but others do just feel like padding to stretch out the experience. Certain chapters do feel a bit drawn out, and many are of varying lengths, and there are certain chapters which I thought really damaged the story flow and pace of the game. I’ll also use this opportunity to to talk about the ending of the game.

Spoiler

The pacing issues I mentioned I think are most apparent in Chapter 11 and Chapter 17.

Chapter 11 deals with the infamous Train Graveyard from the original game, and though I thought the experience as a whole was quite enjoyable, the context that the group is rushing to the tower to aid AVALANCHE and save their friends makes the placement and timing of this segment so…odd. I don’t think it’s helped by Chapter 10 before it being a similar case of “get from here to there so we can tell everyone the plate is going to collapse!”, and ultimately, I think that this chapter could have been moved elsewhere or cut entirely to help with the pacing of the game.

I think that Chapter 17 is perhaps the worst offender, though. Hojo and his sinister deeds and intentions were brilliantly captured in the game, sure, but having the game come to a screeching halt as the party is split up in the penultimate chapter of the game just really hurt the pacing of it all, and exploring his lab and trying to escape it just felt so out of touch with the final charge that the game was before the start of this chapter, and that the game becomes after we finally get out of there.

Just briefly want to shoutout to the presentation in the Shinra Building on the Ancients, by the way. That was incredible.

As soon as Aerith started explaining the Watchers of Fate and I realised that we weren’t getting locked up this time around, I was a bit concerned. The trail of blood being a trail of dark goop wasn’t too bad, but the scene that followed - and the fakeout of Sephiroth killing Barrett just so that they had an excuse to get us down to three party members for the showdown with Dreamweaver Jenova, awesome as that battle was - just didn’t feel as tight as or as well executed as it did in the original game. Though I’ve since come around to the ending of the game having sat on it for a while, and am extremely excited to see where they go next, I do think that their handling of fate in this game was very heavy-handed, what with the final two battles against the Arbiters and Sephiroth (which in my opinion weren’t nearly as good as some of the earlier boss battles) being so bombastic and feeling very out of touch with the scale of the rest of the game to this point (though it fits in well enough with the original game’s story and ideas). I think there were better ways they could have gone about handling those themes and similar ideas, and it did feel like it got a bit too much at times.

Also, I wasn’t a fan of it when we first heard it in one of the trailers, but having played the full game and given how the game ends, I now love the game’s credits song, Hollow.

I think the biggest problem is that it is by all means a sequel to the original game, which could ostracise a lot of newcomers, and I’m not surprised that some fans are mad after waiting for a faithful remake for so long. That being said, I do have massive respect for Square Enix for allowing the team to take the project in this direction, and am very excited for what comes next.

In the end, I think that Final Fantasy VII Remake is an ambitious reimagining of the original Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar, and although there are one or two missteps along the way, it is an incredible experience which I look forward to revisiting in the future, and I have faith in Square Enix’s vision for this project.

A new promise has been made. I can’t wait to hit Continue.

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After a beautiful showcase of current hardware realising an old classic, I figured that it was finally time that I started playing through another widely praised series which in recent years has somewhat faded into the back of the casuals gamer's mind, and has seemingly been completely tossed aside by its developer. Another game widely recognised as a classic, released just one year after Final Fantasy VII; another title for the PlayStation 1. I'm talking about...

METAL GEAR SOLID | 1998

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In early 2005, Shadow Moses, a remote island off the coast of Alaska, was the setting of a revolt staged by the Next-Generation Special Forces, led by members of the formidable elite black ops unit known as FOXHOUND, in which they successfully captured a secret nuclear weapons facility. They demanded that the US Government returned the body of Big Boss, the greatest soldier who ever lived, and that if their demand was not met, that they would launch a nuclear weapon. Backed by a support team led by Colonel Roy Campbell and data analyst Mei Ling by Codec (an advanced radio developed by Mei Ling herself), former FOXHOUND agent Solid Snake is pulled out of retirement and despatched to the scene with only two objectives: save the hostages, and if the enemy do have the means to launch a nuclear strike as they threaten that they do, to stop them.

Directed by Hideo Kojima and developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, Metal Gear Solid is a stealth action game originally released on the PlayStation 1 which is often cited as one of the most pivotal video games in the industry, taking heavy influence from Kojima’s love of cinema. This was my first time playing this game.

As Solid Snake, you infiltrate Shadow Moses, doing your best to make your way through without being detected, whether that be by ducking or hiding around walls, crawling out of sight, or using noise to distract the enemy. This is especially important early on, as emphasis is placed on on-site procurement (i.e. you’re sent in without weapons, so you’ll need to find some), which I found to be an interesting and smart design decision to promote players to be less violent in their approach to the game, as setting off alarms after being spotted (and waiting for the signal to go out that I hadn’t been spotted) often results in being surrounded by a number of guards who are pretty trigger happy often carrying superior weaponry to you. That’s not to say that you won’t have weapons (you’ll get access to a range of weapons throughout the game, from pistols and rifles to rocket launchers and grenades), but it gives you a strong impression of the type of mission you’re about to head out on, and gives you the opportunity to adjust your playstyle accordingly from the get-go.

Armed with a plethora of gadgets, Snake can also make use of another system developed by Mei Ling called the Soliton Radar, which allows players to see surrounding enemies and their cone of vision; honestly, this is a very welcome addition which I think is one of many decisions helped this game hold up to this day, and I can’t imagine this game without it. The Codec is another example of this which is used for simple game things, like saving for instance (shoutout to Mei Ling and her many words of wisdom), but also works as a sort of in-game guide. Calling members of your support team outside of cutscene-specific scenarios, during which they often call you, allows you to get advice on how to best handle a situation, such as giving you hints on possible weaknesses when facing down against a boss, or lets them remind you what you need to do next. There’s also the matter of a Continue just taking you to the last checkpoint, which is more often than not the last time you loaded into a new area, which I found surprisingly generous; this game is much more about the experience of learning from your mistakes than penalising you for them, which I have found to be the case in all of the Metal Gear Solid games that I have played so far, and it’s something that I really appreciate. In addition to this, when starting the game back up for another session, you’re given the option for a recap of a short paragraph or two recapping the most recent events in the game, paired with some beautiful art from Yoji Shinkawa (and his art style is really well translated in this game, perhaps more so than any other Metal Gear Solid game that I’ve played to this point, I suppose in large part thanks to the technical limitations at the time). It’s decisions like these which I think have managed to futureproof many of the game’s mechanics, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the game still holds up.

Throughout the game, themes such as genetics and purpose are brought to the forefront, as are questions which remain very important to this day about the use and storage of nuclear weaponry. They are explored from a number of perspectives, whether it be Snake’s, your support team’s, or even from the members of FOXHOUND after your battles with them. I think the most interesting perspectives, though, are from Meryl, an operative you meet on-site who also happens to be the Colonel’s niece, and Hal Emmerich, otherwise known as the big fan of anime who attends otaku conventions: Otacon. Meryl is interesting as she comes from a family who have strong ties to the military, but questions why she’s doing what she’s doing, and often feels out of place in attempting to realise her purpose. Otacon comes from a family which is tied to the tragedy of nuclear arms, and has a lot of questions and opinions about fate and love. Both seem out of their depth when you first meet them, but prove themselves to be worthy allies by the end of the game.

Speaking of which, a lot of the boss battles in this game remain fun and challenging to this day, whether you’re taking on a tank in a snowy field, a chopper from a rooftop, having a sniper duel or running from bullets being bounced off of walls. A lot of the boss battles remain unique to this day, and there are multiple ways to go around each encounter (as if the case with much of the game), but I think a special mention has to go to Psycho Mantis. Him “reading your mind” (referring to your progress in the game to that point, such as determining that you’re careful if you frequently save), taunting you to put your controller on the floor so that he can show off his psychic strength, or even that you can change controller ports to stop him from reading your mind during your fight (something I learned after the fact) are clever ways to break the fourth wall while still totally keeping you immersed in the game.

As much as I enjoyed this game, I do think there are certain points where it does show its age. This is most noticeable with its top-down camera perspective: though it does give you a wide view of what’s going on around you, there are certain times where the camera angle awkwardly shifts, or even worse, doesn’t shift ahead to show you the next area at all, meaning that you can’t see what’s up ahead at all on the odd occasion. At those times, the game feels more like an arcade experience, where a well-timed run between a bunch of guards is a better choice than the slower paced espionage the early parts of the game place such an emphasis on. Another one of the few complaints which I would levy at this game is to do with backtracking damaging its pacing. There is a certain point in the game, around the halfway mark, where you are forced to backtrack across most of Shadow Moses up to that point, and there is a similar issue towards the ending of the game which I found really hurt the endgame’s pacing, as you backtracked through most of the second half of the game changing the temperature of a keycard, a cool concept which I think was poorly executed – I was expecting to use some items on hand to be used to do this, and was surprised when I found that wasn’t the case.

I also think that there are certain bosses in the game – namely the fights against Ninja, Metal Gear REX, and Liquid – which just don’t hold up that well. Ninja’s fight could have been fun if he didn’t go on a random rampage around the room when you fully drained his health in what can be quite a drawn-out fight, shocking everything nearby when he does so, which is frustrating to experience. The camera against Metal Gear REX puts what could be an epic fight to bed into the same category as the final boss of Shadow of the Colossus for me: potentially awesome, but let down by the camera and some frustrating mechanics; it felt like sheer luck at times, and being sent to the start of the fight if you die in the second phase – after a cutscene – just felt so out of touch with how the rest of the game handled things like that. Finally, the fight against Liquid was epic, but it felt like a bit of a coin toss as to what was going to go down between him and Snake as opposed to my skill level. The final chase sequence to close out the game was also surprisingly frustrating too, thanks to the camera (even with first-person), but I’m not sure if that’s a case of my expectations for a chase sequence in a video game not matching a chase sequence which is now over 20 years old.

That being said, the end of this game is great, and it has an extremely satisfying conclusion. I just think that these little wrinkles do diminish somewhat from the experience, at least for me, as someone playing through the game for the first time.

The music for this game is superb, with the composers creating a haunting and tense atmosphere on Shadow Moses with tracks like Cavern and Blast Furnace. Tracks like Enclosure make this game’s twists and turns stab into you like nails, perfectly capturing that sense of harrowing sorrow that I think they were going for. And the game’s end title song, The Best is Yet to Come,  is both a promise of what’s in store for this series from that point, and a great opportunity to look back at what you’ve accomplished throughout the game. That being said, I don’t think there’s any hesitation in my mind that the best piece of music in this game is the Main Theme:

Besides a few times where this game shows its age in ways that couldn’t have possibly been predicted, Metal Gear Solid is undisputedly a classic title which stands the test of time and deserves just as much praise looking back on it now as it did when it was first released, and its compelling story, strong characters, and the themes explored throughout show that, yes, love can bloom, even on a battlefield.

After playing through Metal Gear Solid for the first time, I thought that a change of pace would be nice. Different style, different world, different music, and I didn't want to be saving the world after doing that for a few games in a row. A complete change of pace. 

MAFIA II | 2010

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Developed by 2K Czech, Mafia II is a game about loyalty and friendship in a world of gangsters. Set in the fictional city of Empire Bay, largely inspired by New York, you play as Sicilian immigrant Vito Scaletta, who finds himself in 1943 with a simple choice to make after a robbery gone wrong: jail or war time. Deciding that he'd rather be anywhere but behind bars, Vito becomes a war veteran back in his homeland in the dying days of World War II, until he is given leave to return home months before the war ends. While back in Empire Bay, Scaletta reunites with his best friend Joe Barbaro, who quickly comes up with counterfeit papers to keep Vito around, and after finding that his father died with debts left to a loan shark, Vito dives headfirst into the seedy underbelly of the world of organised crime. 

What follows is a good but pretty by-the-books mafioso story, hitting just about every story beat and trope you'd expect from a story centred around the mafia and gangsters. Although the story doesn't really have many unexpected twists for fans of the genre, except maybe one, it's easily one of the strongest parts of this game, having a strong enough cast of characters that you'll want to see it through to the end. Set in two distinct eras - the mid-1940s and early-1950s - you see Vito climb his way up through the families. There's no real sense of direction and goal to his character other than staying around his friend Joe: there's no lofty goal of making it to the top of the ladder, or jumping ship once he's made enough cash. It goes friends, family, money, cars, and women for him, in that order. 

The most unfortunate thing about this game is without a doubt its lacklustre gameplay. It's about as run-of-the-mill as a third-person shooter could get, with some frustratingly inconsistent AI with some taking cover, others having the sense to just walk up to you with a shotgun in the middle of a massive firefight, and cover is seriously bad in this game (for example, you can't blindly fire from cover, despite the fact that your enemies often can). Heck, the shotguns aren't even fun. Set in an open world, it is as chaotic as a GTA game (carjacking included) - which detracts from the immersion intensely when you are just driving around the city carefully and slowly turn a corner only to mow someone down, especially as someone in organised crime - but without much else to do besides the story: there aren't any side quests or many side activities to keep yourself busy with. It really is an open world game just for the sake of it, and I think that this feeling was best captured by my realisation that this game wouldn't be much without its cutscenes, and it might as well have been submitted as a film or television script. In fact, I think this game could have potentially been made better by being a purely linear experience cut down to half of its length and thus doing away with the open world.

Or, at least, that's what I'd say if this didn't capture the era's look and sound perfectly, which undoubtedly puts this game in a really weird spot. Cars and buildings look like they're from the era, and you can customise your look and cars throughout the game (though be prepared to lose them...not just once, but twice). But what steals the spotlight in this game is its radio and licensed soundtrack. Tune into Empire Central, Empire Classic, or Delta, and find yourself transported into the background of a Scorsese film. Seriously, this game's probably got the best licensed soundtrack (linked for your listening pleasure) of any game I've ever played. You want to know what really drives this point home, that they nailed the feeling of a Scorsese soundtrack? The fact that I watched The Irishman, directed by Scorsese and released towards the end of last year, not too long before playing this game and heard The Five Satins' In The Still of the Night in both. Seriously, whoever arranged this soundtrack deserves some recognition. It's S-tier. 

There are also some serious technical issues with this game, namely a lot of screen tearing and almost amusing framerate dips, and perhaps one of the most frustrating things in this game is that you cannot manually save. Yes, you read that right; no, I'm not joking. There's an auto-save at the start of most cutscenes and all chapters, but there are certain chapters which open up with a lot of driving around the map from A to B to C...all the while there's the chance that something could go terribly wrong, like crashing in a high speed chase, and your progress will be reset to where that last auto-save occurred. I often found myself pushing through to the end of a chapter just to ensure that my progress wouldn't be lost. Easily the most frustrating save system I've come across in a video game. 

Mafia II is a good story with an excellent soundtrack, and it being a video game unfortunately gets in the way of that. I can't think of anything remotely important that would have been lost by this being presented in almost any other medium, and I think it's pretty damning to say that about a video game. 

Fortunately, that trainwreck of an attempt at a change of pace (which also apparently meant quality) wasn't the last game that I completed in April. That was...

METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY | 2001

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Two years after the Shadow Moses Incident, Metal Gear Solid 2 sees the return of Solid Snake and Otacon, this time working as Philanthropy, a non-governmental organisation hellbent on opposing the manufacturing and production of the superweapons known as Metal Gears. As Snake boards a tanker on the Hudson River believed to be transporting a new type of Metal Gear, the ship is seized by Russian mercenaries led by Revolver Ocelot as they attempt to steal the weapon for themselves. 

The Tanker Incident serves as something of a prologue for the game, and allows players the opportunity to get familiar with many of the new mechanics in this game. The first person view aiming mode introduced in this game allows for more nuanced and varied tactics than was previously possible, such as by aiming specifically at an enemy's head after sneaking up on them to hold them up, or taking aim at particular objects in the environment, such as fire extinguishers, to give yourself the upper hand, and is a part of this game which still holds up very strongly today; I'd actually go so far as to say that the first person view holds up much better than the third person perspective used throughout most of the game, a camera I often found myself fighting against, whether it be not being able to see around a corner after climbing a flight of stairs and immediately being spotted by an enemy guard, or when trying to use the returning corner-press move which allows you to see around corners - this involves pushing up against a surface and sliding yourself alongside it, but there were far too many frustrating instances where the camera would snap to another perspective and I found myself struggling to keep behind cover as a result, making firing from cover a rarity during my playthrough. The increasing tension in the depths of the Tanker was exhilarating, even if I think that a certain shootout down there left much to be desired. Sneaking pictures of RAY against the clock was fun too. 

The other major development with this game was a more advanced AI for guards, who you will now find working in squads, using radios to check in on each other, and calling in a strike squad and trying to cut off your escape route in the event that they spot you. Strike squads carry riot shields and wear body armour, placing an emphasis on trying to avoid being spotted as was the case before, and due to the potential to become easily overpowered in any event when the strike team turns up, it's well worth sticking to the shadows. I was also pleased to see that non-lethal weaponry such as tranquilizer guns and stun grenades were added this time around, and when combined with melee attacks, it's possible to complete this game without killing anyone - including bosses. For an action game, I think that's nuts, and though it's something I'd probably never attempt myself, that you can even attempt a non-lethal run in this game is something which I think Kojima and Konami deserve a lot of respect for, especially at that time in the industry when, having a quick flick through, action games heavily relied on lethal actions. Options on playstyle are always important in games in my opinion, and this is just an additional way to approach a situation which can already be handled in a myriad of other ways. 

Given the trailers that I had watched in anticipation of playing this and the intro cinematic for the game, despite the whispers I had heard elsewhere about someone other than Solid Snake being a playable character in this game, I was still shocked when the Tanker Incident came to a close, and found myself taking control of Raiden (I can't begin to imagine how such a decision would be received today), a new FOXHOUND operative on his first assignment after years of training in virtual reality (much like you could optionally do in the first game): infiltrate the offshore cleanup facility known as the Big Shell, built in the same location as the Tanker Incident which took place just two years prior, and neutralise the terrorist faction who have forcefully gained control of the facility calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, led by the members of Dead Cell, a former special forces unit specialising in counter-terrorism. Quickly finding himself out of his depth, with his loved one, Rose, and The Colonel on the Codec, Raiden is given a hand by a familiar looking face, who introduces himself as Pliskin, and another hand by a familiar-looking cybernetic ninja. 

I found that the first half of my time as Raiden was riddled with pacing issues, namely the incessant backtracking throughout the Big Shell facility, another tutorial (although this is contextualised through this being his first assignment, it's just a poor decision from a gameplay pacing perspective), and just overall feeling like it was so similar to the original game throughout my time with it. Events mirroring events from four years prior. Certain boss battles feeling familiar in design, or similar characters with similar roles turning up. Something just felt...off, which I was certainly concerned by, but knowing that this was a conscious design decision as I pondered that it might be during my playthrough after having completed the game, the pacing of the game makes a lot more sense, and that unnerving sense of something feeling off had a huge payout from a storytelling and gameplay perspective. 

The second half of my time as Raiden was leaps and bounds better than the first: the best character moments and interactions, the strongest story beats, and the best gameplay moments in my opinion all come in that second half. It was just much more focused. The boss battles in this part of the game are superbly executed. Running around nude during an infiltration mission is absolutely hilarious, and slicing down foes through slashing around the right analog stick with a sword put a massive grin in my face, especially with Pliskin at my side. I think that my favourite boss battle would easily be the one against the Metal Gear RAYs - after having such a frustrating experience with REX in the last game, this felt much more refined, and left a much stronger impression as a result. There's also a certain character in this second half whom I quickly warmed to after meeting them, and having that character die hit me really hard, as did the reaction of some of our allies. And then there was that beautiful sunset. 

Norihiko Hibino returned once again, playing a big part in this game's soundtrack, once again capturing that overwhelming tension which could be found in the first game's atmosphere. However, this time around, Harry Gregson-Williams, a Hollywood film composer who had worked at Hans Zimmer's studio to that point, was chosen to compose many of the more narrative driven pieces of music found in the game's cutscenes. The two did a splendid job with this game, and it has a much more diverse soundtrack than its predecessor, with Fortune capturing a melancholic jazz, the pained key strokes and strings found towards the end of Comradeship (which took me too long to locate, meaning that it's probably criminally underrated when compared with the rest of the soundtrack), and the enlightened sorrow of Who Am I Really? (which cheekily sneaks in a bit of the Main Theme at the start of the piano there, which I love). The end credits song, Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday, is a song as tragic as it is hopeful, hauntingly beautiful, perfectly capping off the game's ending, written and produced by Rika Muranaka with vocals from the late and great Carla White. But the piece of music that in my opinion undoubtedly steals the show, once again, is the Main Theme, this time rearranged and re-composed by Gregson-Williams, an exciting reimagining of the track from the previous game, which hypes you up every time you boot up the game as backing to the intro cinematic (found below, which I urge you to listen to the end of - linked here - as we enter my final thoughts). 

Once again, Hideo Kojima's cinematography and forward thinking resulted in a story which really to this day is like very few others, and the final third of this game is mindbogglingly good, and impossible to peel your eyes away from. The exploration of themes such as identity, free will, and perhaps most importantly memetic engineering (the theory that ideas, beliefs, and thoughts can be controlled and isolated through taking advantage of societal constructs and the manipulation of information, and the flow and freedom of said information) are relevant today perhaps more so than ever before. Ultimately, some pacing and camera issues aside, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was a game years ahead of its time, an eye-opening example of a great game married to ambitious storytelling, and what the industry is capable of at its very best.

Edited by Julius
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Posted (edited)

Brilliant read @Julius Great stuff! :peace:

MGS2 was disturbingly nostadamus-like with its predictions wasn't it?

It's interesting that you caught how similar the first half of MGS2 was to MGS1... Since it actually turns out to be a plot point in of itself!

When I went back to MGS2 fairly recently though, I was shocked at how little actual gameplay sequences were in the game (and how many of the gameplay sequences that are actually there weren't focused on stealth).  There probably are actually more cutscenes than gameplay here (Something that would be taken to absolute comical extremes in MGS4); and its clear to see how MGS3 would take that critisism on board.  It's a shame, because the gameplay that is actually there IS really fun; but there really isn't a lot of it.

Edited by Dcubed
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I started Metal Gear Solid 2 years ago when I got it with my PS2 but I didn't get very far into the game. I was also not keen on stealth games at the time. However, my opinion I am willing to change on that after I realised that most games have stealth sections anyway, so an entire game about stealth isn't actually that big of a deal.

 

Started watching a playthrough on Youtube to remind myself of what happened before I jump back into the game. I need something to play now that I've finished FF7 Remake and reading this thread has encouraged me to finally finish my PS2 backlog.

 

Mainly playing a lot of Magic Arena though. I've got 64 of the Rares and Mythic Rares from the new Ikoria set so far, but still missing quite a few of the cards I was looking for to build certain decks on the game.

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After watching a Let's Play of the game up to the point I got to previously in the game, I dusted off my PS2, plugged it back in and resumed Metal Gear Solid 2 for the first time in about 11 years. I don't really think it grabbed enough of my attention back when I got it as I only had one play session and after dying about 30 times after booting the game up because I couldn't see the field of vision on the radar. There was a good reason for that, I forgot that you need to get map data for areas in order to be able to see the enemies on the radar and I lacked that.

 

I now feel quite comfortable with the controls for the game after repeated Game Overs and have just disarmed the bomb in Strut A. The timed mission took me many attempts... I was still getting caught in certain situations. But familiarity with the enviroments through repeated failure is definitely helping.

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Had a marathon of a session on Metal Gear Solid 2 (PS2) and have now gotten up to the point where I have defeated Vamp and done the first part of rescuing Emma.

 

Vamp gave me a lot of difficulty and I was forced to seek help online where I found an incredibly cheesy strategy that allowed me to defeat him with ease without using a single ration. I was struggling a lot on the final phase.

 

I can see this game isn't really afraid to go places...

 

There's one section where you have to dodge a guard peeing over the edge, the President checks Raiden's gender by... grabbing the crotch... and I know from having unintentionally seen spoilers from before that there's a section where Raiden's entirely naked so... yeah.

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Having seen credits roll for three games since the start of the month, and with me unlikely to return to my office for work anytime soon, I'm going to try to make entries into my Gaming Diary a bit more frequently than I have been so far this year, mainly to keep on top of it. 

METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER | 2004

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At the height of the Cold War in 1964, America's greatest agent, known only as The Boss, defects to the Soviet Union. At the same time, GRU Colonel Volgin fires an American-made portable nuclear missile launcher in Soviet airspace, which sparks an international incident. In order to clear America's name and steer the world away from World War III, The Boss' last apprentice, code-named Naked Snake, is dispatched by the special forces unit FOX into the heart of Soviet Russia. His orders are to rescue Russian rocket scientist Dr Nikolai Sokolov; take down his former mentor, The Boss, and her Cobra Unit; eliminate Colonel Volgin;  and put an end to the threat posed by the nuclear-armed Shagohod, a mobile tank capable of great speeds and with a range great enough to reach the United States.

Once this mission, known as Operation Snake Eater, is under way, the intro cinematic for the game is finally introduced when booting up the game, a wonderful audio and visual experience largely inspired by the introductions to a number of James Bond films. It sets the scene and tone for this game perfectly. 

As was the case in previous games, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater focuses on players stealthily infiltrating hostile territory in an enemy-filled environment, this time in the fictional Virgin Cliffs of Tselinoyarsk, a placed with varied topography and nature including jungle swamps, forests, mountains, and canyons, and home to an incredibly and diverse array of flora and fauna. In large part thanks to the great variety of landscapes on show, camouflage is introduced as a new mechanic in this game, and plays a key role in Snake's ability to infiltrate enemy lines; referred to as the "camouflage index" and ranging from negative values (highly visible) to 100% (practically invisible), you must switch between different camouflage uniforms and face paints to blend into your immediate environment. Not only does this contextually make sense as a mechanic in the game, something I'm always a big fan of, but it allows for a wider range of options to approach certain scenarios and environments, such as infiltrating a lab dressed as a scientist or an enemy fortress as an officer - the funny thing here is that the scientists aren't nearly as mindless as the soldiers, and if you stick around them for too long, they'll quickly realise that you're not a member of their team and pull the alarm. Finally, for the first time in the series, the game could be played from a third-person perspective and can be switched to a fixed camera perspective, a welcome change which made my approaches to situations feel much more under my control than during my experiences with previous entries.  

Another new mechanic introduced in this game is how this game keeps track of injuries, and your ability to treat them in a number of different ways. For instance, a bullet wound gained from a firefight needs to be removed with a knife, cleaned thoroughly, and sewn back up, whereas a broken rib from a fistfight requires support from a splint. These injuries can impact the speed at which you move and recover your health, so it is important to take care of them swiftly. In addition, while the life bar from previous games returns, a stamina bar is also introduced, which depletes during traversal of the world and when injuries are picked up, bringing in the need to hunt the local fauna, ranging from small frogs and rabbits to poisonous snakes and scorpions, and gather flora and packaged goods (such as packets of noodles or rations) to assist in recuperating your stamina. Failure to do so can impact Snake's ability to aim accurately and steadily, and can also make his stomach rumble, which can alert nearby enemies to his position. While food can be stored in your backpack, caught animals and gathered plants and mushrooms can go rotten after sitting in there for a while, and consuming them can result in a stomach ache, which in turn causes the stamina bar to deplete faster, so be sure to have that digestive medicine to hand.

A lot of mechanics from previous games make a return this time around, too. Basic combat from previous games is this time fleshed out and heavily refined into Close Quarters Combat, or CQC. Beyond the basic need to kick and punch your way out of certain situations, when unarmed or carrying a one-handed weapon such as a knife or small gun, Snake can quickly grab opponents and place them in a chokehold, after which a number of actions can be taken such as choking them unconscious, slitting their throat, or interrogating them. The actions taken are determined by the pressure applied to buttons and the direction of the analog stick, and though it takes some time to adjust to, it quickly becomes a helpful asset which proves itself throughout much of the game. Other returning mechanics, such as the Soliton Radar or items like mine detectors and night-vision goggles from previous games, are this time either traded in for era-corresponding items, or found to be battery powered, recharging when not in use. The Codec is in turn replaced with an audio headset, with a small screen for flipping through photos but no live feed, and tuning into certain frequencies gained by interrogating guards gives you some music from the era to listen into. 

This feeds into the game's pace perfectly, forcing you at certain points to slow down and approach scenarios and environments more meticulously, having to comb over enemy rations and supplies in their camps in order to stock up on items and weapons. Combined with many of the other features that I've mentioned previously, this makes the game a joy to figure out. The way that you can approach certain boss battles is also largely influenced by this, and there are multiple ways to take them on as a result. In particular, I feel the need to highlight the boss battle against The End, a member of The Boss' Cobra Unit who is over 100 years old, who is a sniper and saving the last remnants of his energy for his battles. The battle is massive, taking place over a few adjacent areas in the game including a deep rainforest and small clifftops and waterfalls. This battle can be approached as a sniper battle, sure, but how I found myself approaching the battle was by chasing the old man around, following his relatively smaller footsteps with my thermal goggles and blasting him with my M37 shotgun. As I've learned from other forum members in the relevant thread is that there are also two other wildly different ways to approach The End which do away with the need to even fight him directly, both of which made me chuckle. This battle comes after facing The Pain and The Fury in relatively quick succession, and although I was chasing The End around, it was still a long, drawn out battle, shortly after the end of which we learn that we need to head upwards towards the mountains to continue the good fight. 

We make our way into a cave, which we quickly find out is an old tunnel, at the end of which is a ladder. So much has happened by this point in the game, and so much has to be going on in Snake's head. There are questions surrounding EVA, an ally agent who quickly becomes a love interest - what is she in this for? The fights against The Boss' Cobra Unit - how do we feel about having their blood on our hands, knowing that they played a large part in bringing an end to World War II? The Boss' defecting to the Soviet Union - why would she betray her country at the height of the Cold War? We start climbing the ladder, slowly ascending to the mountaintops, and an a cappella version of the song from the intro cinematic, Snake Eater, starts to echo out around us. 

Climbing up the ladder in the Krasnogorje Tunnel is one of my favourite scenes in a video game. It was an extremely cathartic experience, and I had goosebumps and was tearing up by the time that I had reached the top. It was a much-needed change of pace from the intensity of running through three bosses in a pretty short window, the intensity of the rainforest, and was the perfect chance to reflect on everything the game had put you through to this point. It was a perfect blend of cinema and gameplay. 

Metal Gear Solid 3 has an epic narrative which gets rolling from the very start, and is easily the most narrative focused of the Metal Gear Solid games that I have played so far. It's pacing is pretty much flawless, and unlike in previous games, I didn't find myself having to awkwardly backtrack through previous areas to continue moving forwards - this game rarely does anything but move you forwards and into new locations. This game also has my favourite video game chase sequence, when you inevitably take on the Shagohod, but I think it's worth mentioning here that switching from the third-person perspective to the fixed camera perspective should probably be mandatory for this sequence, because it's almost unplayable and very confusing to try from a third-person perspective, and means you won't get to enjoy some of the excellent cinematography on show at this point - besides that, my only other problem with the game is framerate dips which I found to be most noticeable when using certain weapons, such as the M37 shotgun. The chase sequence is so long and cinematic, it's an absolute pleasure to shoot your way through. 

But even with a great world, narrative, gameplay, and mechanics, the highlight of this game is easily the characters. EVA, even with her Bond girl charm and femme fatale skills aside, has a pleasantly surprising level of depth to her. Seeing a younger Ocelot in this game was at times hilarious, and where I found him quite bothersome in previous games, seeing his budding rivalry with Snake was a pleasure throughout. Volgin as the main antagonist in the game felt like a rare occasion in games where the actions that he took - whether against Naked Snake, or just about anyone else - warranted the warnings of his cruelty, often bordering on sadism, by many characters throughout the game. The Boss is a truly tragic character, and where she and Naked Snake end up by the end of the game is heartbreaking. Naked Snake has the most meaningful arc of any of the playable characters that I've experienced as part of the Metal Gear Solid games so far. Although to begin with it is clear that he is as lost at times as Solid was in the first game, the twists and turns he overcomes throughout the game give him the clarity and conviction he needs by the game's end. I think overcoming the members of the Cobra Unit, and taking his and their code-names into account, paints a clear picture of his journey: starting out "naked", all of his flaws and qualities on show but often turned against him, the washing away of his pain, overcoming his fears (and the inevitability of having an end), learning to conceal his fury, doing away with his sorrow, and killing his joy. He is "naked" once again by the end of the game, all of his flaws and qualities once again on show, but this time all that remains is this empty shell of a man. Playing as the man who would become the greatest soldier of all time mentioned in previous games, Big Boss, was a fascinating experience. 

Norihiko Hibino and Harry Gregson-Williams both made a return to score the game's soundtrack, the latter this time composing both material for the game's cutscenes and for gameplay sections. As was brilliantly executed in the previous games, the tension married to the music in certain situations throughout the game as we infiltrate Soviet Russia is astounding, with the high tempo, Bond-like espionage and at times slower, more methodical piece captured in Battle in the Base being a standout example of this. The main theme is heard throughout the game a number of times, with a Western-inspired, more upbeat version of the main theme in someone's office in Old Metal Gear is as incredibly charming as it is amusing, whereas a track like Life's End flawlessly incorporates the main theme into a bone-chilling, reflective, yet ultimately hopeful melody. Snake Eater, written by Hibino, marries Cynthia Harrell's extraordinary voice with a distinctly Bond-like track, and married to the visuals of the intro cinematic is without a doubt one of my favourite opening songs to entertainment in any medium. Rika Muranaka once again returned to write and produce one of the ending credits songs, Don't Be Afraid, and like his song contributed to the credits in the last game, there's this hope and tragedy to this jazzy and brass-filled song which are perfectly balanced by the beauty of Elisa Fiorillo's voice. The other ending credits song, Way to Fall, is a break from tradition in that it isn't an in-house production, a remorseful but splendid song by Starsailor which manages to take this game's ending to another level, and it's hard to believe that this song wasn't written for the ending, considering that it frames it so perfectly. Once again, though, I do think that the strongest track in this game is the Main Theme, and it manages to somehow transcend its epic nature from Metal Gear Solid 2 altogether, kicking in at the perfect time during the showdown with the Shagohod, all while being a much more nuanced and varied track than its predecessors.

Hideo Kojima's cinematography and directorial style come to the fore throughout, a game which to this day remains a treat to play, and remains just as great a narrative to experience, with a stellar soundtrack, stunning locations, and a terrific cast. This game speaks to the importance of the circumstances you find yourself in, the "scene" in which your life and events takes place, and how the world around us impacts the events which take place before our very eyes. It deals heavily with cultural relativism, the idea that concepts such as right or wrong, enemy or ally, are not absolute, but instead are personal and open to change, shaped by our cultures and by the times we live in, an idea which is just as important today as it has ever been before, in a world filled with so much unnecessary noise, hatred, and chaos - an idea highlighted in one of the last scenes of the game, when the dramatically ironic point, at the height of the Cold War, is posed that America and Russia could be allies by the 21st century. A meditation on the Cold War and mankind's weakness to being blinded by the culture and ideas that immediately surround us, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a game with a resounding message contextualised by great gameplay and a cinematic narrative which was years ahead of its time. A masterpiece in every sense of the word. 

After experiencing what has quickly become one of my favourite games for the very first time, I decided it was finally time for me to dive into a pair of games which I hoped would provide a welcome change of pace, and a return to one of my favourite entertainment franchises.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED | 2008

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Developed and published by LucasArts, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed bridges the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. 

Leading an Imperial invasion of the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk, in the first level - which serves as something of an intuitive tutorial - you take control of Darth Vader as you slaughter your way through herds of Wookiees on the hunt for the Jedi Knight Kento Marek. Upon finding and defeating Marek, you discover his son, Galen, and Vader takes him as his apprentice. 

Years later, you take control of a now adult Galen Marek, known now as Starkiller, a deadly assassin strong with the dark side of the Force, Vader's secret apprentice, and are sent by Vader to wipe out a select group of the remaining Jedi throughout the galaxy, before attempting to realise his ultimate goal: assassinating the Emperor so that you and Vader can rule the galaxy. Along the way you form a bond with Juno Eclipse, the pilot of your personal ship, the Rogue Shadow, as well as PROXY, your training droid, and a drunken Jedi Master called Rahm Kota. As the game goes on, your allegiance is called into question, and the side of the Force you stand on slowly transitions. 

The Force Unleashed is a third-person hack-and-slash third-person action game which empowers you with both use of the Force and a lightsaber. Lightsaber throws to Force lightning and Force pushes to grips, you can string together a combination of lightsaber slashes and Force powers to make your way through levels, which are also home to some destructible environments. There are a range of enemies in this game, from stormtroopers to rebels and Rancors to Jedi, and you receive experience points for defeating them, which can then be invested to increase Starkiller's powers and traits.

Unfortunately, though the game can be fun at times, there are difficulty spikes noticeable throughout, many of which don't even take place during boss battles. A lot of the time, an increase in difficulty is associated with simply throwing more enemies into the room with you, with more sub-bosses like AT-STs to hand. It's an ultimately uninspired way to increase the game's difficulty, at times becoming laughably frustrating. For instance, you are introduced to fighting a single Rancor, and not very long after, you will find yourself taking on herds of enemies and three Rancors all at once in a large, mostly empty space. Though the design philosophy of worlds and characters is in line with that of the films and shows, the level design in this game is very often a simple "go from A to B" with very little inspiration or interest shown in its design, and the map, though largely passable, can be the source of some instances of intense frustration, with multiple levels of a world illustrated on the same two-dimensional map. The game's controls don't feel as tight as they perhaps should be, and getting knocked off a ledge or out of an animation to find yourself stuck as a defenceless victim in an enemy's attack animation just adds to it. Even with a large and diverse cast of enemies to take on, the approach rarely changes from trying to do what you can with the Force and then, if that's not an option, following through with your lightsaber. In cases where the enemy can be attacked with the Force and close-range combat with the lightsaber isn't really a lightsaber, you find yourself running around like a headless chicken waiting for the Force meter to refill. Checkpoints can be far and few between, too, only adding to a lot of the frustration I've already outlined. The light puzzle mechanics are pretty bad. And there are SO many QTEs!

The strength of Star Wars has always been in its soundtrack, characters, and story. Well, the soundtrack largely just grabs John Williams' work from the films, sometimes in ways which don't really match to the gameplay moment, and is really poorly mixed when transitioning from one track to another at the end of a cutscene or fight, and there were times where it felt like the music literally paused in the middle of a piece, the CD changed, and the next track played. There's one instance with one boss towards the end of the game that is so far out of left field where, I'll admit, the music did give me goosebumps, but other than that, I think Williams' soundtrack was poorly utilised throughout much of the game. Original music, such as Starkiller's Theme, just sounds as generic a Williams-inspired piece as I can think of. The characters in this game are objectively poorly written, and I think are objectively worse than in the prequel trilogy. Of course Starkiller and Eclipse fall in love, because they're the opposite gender; it comes out of absolutely nowhere, with very little build-up, and falls flat. For a game which ultimately tries to make you make a "good or bad" decision, the characters are incredibly one-note and dull, and align with one side very, very clearly. And the story reads like fan fiction. Laughably bad fan fiction. I really can't believe this was considered canon at one point. 

The game is also filled to the brim with technical problems, from screen-tearing to framerate dips which literally resulted in the game stopping on quite a few occasions. And the camera isn't great either. There's also weird and abrupt transitions between cutscenes and levels at times. 

Honestly, the best parts of this game are the boss fights (changing camera perspective from third-person to a fixed one aside) and the opening level with Vader in particular. I played the Ultimate Sith Edition of the game, so played through the DLC too just to see how that weighs up when compared with the rest of the game. The first DLC, the Jedi Temple Mission, is par for the course, and plays out like every standard level from the rest of the game for the most part, but there are one or two ideas here which perhaps could have been put to better use more widely in the main game, such as their puzzles being added for greater variety. The second DLC, the Tatooine Mission, however, is a large departure, with its own opening crawl, and presents the "What If?" scenario of Starkiller being sent after the droids at the start of A New Hope. Honestly, this was a lot of fun! Very few puzzles, a large focus on combat within smaller spaces, shocking Jawas, taking out Tusken Raiders, and facing off against Jabba's Rancor in his Palace, Boba Fett, and Ben Kenobi was honestly a treat. The third and final piece of DLC, the Hoth Mission, continues this "What If?" scenario with its own crawl, and sees Starkiller despatched to Hoth at the start of The Empire Strikes Back to hunt down and capture Rebel General Luke Skywalker. Slicing through wampas and rebels in Echo Base with very few puzzles was a treat, as was seeing how this scenario played out. 

All-in-all, my experience with The Force Unleashed was that it is a mess of a game which doesn't really hold up that well, with poor characters and a weak story contributing to an overall disappointing experience salvaged only by its final two pieces of DLC. 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED II | 2010

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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II sees you take control of a clone of Starkiller, the playable character from the first game. After escaping from Vader's clutches in the cloning facility on the stormy planet of Kamino, you embark on a quest of identity and to find Juno Eclipse, the original Starkiller's love interest, but are quickly caught in the emerging Galactic Civil War between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. 

I'll keep it short, because honestly a lot of my problems with the first game are still found in this one, but there are some gives and takes in other areas. For example, the gameplay is much tighter than it was in the original game, but then adversely, there is way less enemy variety. The story isn't great, and for the most part characters are just as they were in the first, but honestly, given how the first game played out, I think that was an almost impossible thing to ask for. The highlight of the main game this time around is Sam Witwer's performance as Starkiller's clone - his voice and likeness, I'm guessing with some motion-capture work thrown in. Honestly, his performance was almost over-the-top and maybe even funny at times in the first game, but this time around, he gives a much more reserved and understandable performance as a clone trying to figure out his place in the galaxy. It's not hard to see how he got the role of Maul in The Clone Wars after this game, honestly, and knowing that he's a big Star Wars fan makes me genuinely happy for him given how both of these games were received (and how his performance was so much improved in this game). The game seriously looks great in cutscenes, too. Honestly, I think it's probably a stronger game on the whole, though having less bosses is a bit of a letdown too, and the final boss battle is very long and drawn out. It's never a good boss battle, let alone a final one, if text at the bottom of the screen is telling me what to do that late into the game.

That being said, again, the best part of the game is probably the DLC, because it's just a tighter and more focused experience. There's a standalone piece of DLC this time around, the Endor Mission, which sees the "What If?" scenario come to an end on the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Like in the main game, unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of enemy variety, but shocking Ewoks and throwing them around is kind of fun, and the final showdown with Leia (who took on Luke's role as a Jedi in the Rebel Alliance, and really interestingly has a lightsaber matching Rey's from the end of The Rise of Skywalker in colour and shares some serious similarities with Rey in her Jedi costume design) is pretty fun too. 

Edited by Julius
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