30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 6

Day 6 – Most annoying character

They say familiarity breeds contempt and this is demonstrated by my nomination for most annoying character.

Fallout 3 is possibly one of the best games ever made, but boy is it a big game. A huge game. A lose your wife, family and friends where the hell did that 100 hours of my life go, game!

For that reason, you meet certain characters over and over again and there is one character who, because you meet her early on in the game and because she runs a supply store in one of the first towns you came to in the game, you meet her…. a helluva lot!

The most annoying character I’ve ever come across is Moira Brown, the Craterside Supply Store owner in Megaton!

She does nothing wrong per se, in fact she’s very helpful, especially early on with his sub-tasks and supplies which help boost your character, but the problem is you visit her a lot and whilst Fallout 3 is massive, Moira’s vocabulary is not.

‘Hey don’t mind the smoke. It’s perfectly safe to breathe. Really!’ is funny the first time, maybe the 3rd or 4th time, but by the 20th time of hearing it, I just want to launch my joypad. Get a decent extraction system in place then, (or just open the freakin’ door!).

‘Huh. Did you know the human body can survive without the stomach or spleen? Oh, what’s up?’. What’s up? Probably the fact this is the 80th time I’ve heard this ‘fun’ fact, arrrgggggh! Learn some new blooming facts will you? After all, I did spend 10 hours collating a freakin’ book for you! *launches joypad*

But the phrase that grinds my gears is ‘Good Hunting!’. I conservatively estimate she has said that to me around 200 times, just say ‘Bye’ or even better, nothing at all!

Sorry Moira, it’s not you, it’s me, I can’t do routines and the same old thing day after day and after hearing your inane chatter for the millionth time, I find you the most annoying character of all time!

Thanks for the Wasteland Survival Guide though….


30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 5

Day 5 – Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).

I feel I am most like Taneo from the game Incredible Crisis.

Incredible Crisis is a bunch of mini-games held together by the story of Taneo and his family trying to get home for his grandma’s birthday. As they try to get home, various obstacles and challenges get in the way and the aim is to beat these to get back to grandma.

Now it’s lucky I don’t work in the marketing department for a games studio, because I probably have not sold this game very well, but believe me it’s a lot of fun.

Apart from the fact we both wear glasses, are roughly the same height and have faces only our mothers could love, I relate a lot to Taneo.

For instance, we start the game with Taneo half asleep at his desk and if anyone happens to venture past my desk at 9.05am, a similar sight will greet them. He gets woken up and looks confused by an alarm going off, and again if you stand by my desk at 10am every Wednesday morning, you will see a similar sight thanks to our fire alarm test, (although my version usually ends with an expletive!). Then Taneo’s manager forces him and his colleagues to dance, OK, maybe that’s where the work similarity ends…..

But from this moment, I feel like I am controlling a character who’s very similar to me. The dancing turns into a dance moves mini-game, (think Just Dance but with a joypad) and when you mess up the moves, Taneo get’s a little frustrated, (measured by a silhouette of a head, filling up to the point where steam comes out of the ears!). It’s not the end of the world, (or indeed the mini-game), if you mess up 1 or 2 moves, but it annoys Taneo, very much like it annoys me.

And that’s the theme of the game, Taneo gets a little annoyed by things going wrong until it builds up and steam comes out of his ears. It’s like they took my life and put it into an unrealistic quirky Japanese video game!

But Taneo’s frustration comes from the fact that he is trying to do something nice, (get home for his Grandma’s birthday), but keeps getting things thrown at him, (literally, in some mini-games!) and that’s usually how I feel. I’m just trying to do all the good stuff, but life just seems to get in the way. Very deep, I know! 🙂

If you’re unfamiliar with Incredible Crisis, give it a go, it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the music is fantastic, (performed by the brilliantly named Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra) and it’s one of these games you can pick up if you only have 20 minutes to spare and can keep coming back to.

However, when you get to the Ferris Wheel mini-game, unless you are alone, my advise is to turn down or mute the sound as it’s a bit, well, fruity shall we say!

30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 3

Day 3 – A game that is underrated

The problem with Saints Row is that it’s always compared to Grand Theft Auto, which as the series has moved on, is unfair.

OK, so the original Saints Row looks and feels like GTA4, however, SR was released 2 years BEFORE GTA4. If you want to do a fair comparison, you need to compare against GTA3 or the subsequent San Andreas / Vice City releases and that’s when SR starts to stand out.

SR looks better that GTA3, the city is bigger and there are more missions and more to explore. SR also has a better shooting system than GTA3, (although in fairness the game designers could have given you a blancmange as a gun and it would have felt better than the awful shooting mechanics of GTA3) and at least you get killed in SR because rival gangs outflank you rather than the fact the crosshair has a mind of its own and starts pointing at the sky, the road, the buildings, anything, anywhere except at the person you are trying to blooming shoot, (yes, that was my GTA3 launches joypad moment!).

Stilwater, the city in SR, feels so much more like a city with crowds and lots of traffic, GTA3, I’m afraid, does not. Honestly, go back to GTA3, have a drive around and tell me it does not feel sparse and more like a city which has been evacuated after a mad man has gone on the rampage with sawn off blancmange!

SR2, on the other hand, was released just after GTA4 and yes, it doesn’t hold a candle to it, although it’s still a decent game which looks more polished and resolved some of the repetitive issues of SR.

SR3 marked a watershed moment as the makers cranked up the humour in an attempt to stand out. However, despite a different city, (Steelport), visually it was not enough to stop it looking like a GTA game.

Then Saints Row 4 came out and everything went mad……

SR4 is just a funny, silly, action packed game that does not take itself seriously and looks, feels and acts in no way like GTA5, which unfortunately this game is often compared to. I’m sorry, but you just can’t compare the 2, it’s lazy, Volition, (the developers), took the game in a different direction.

They thought, ‘How can we make this different to GTA?’, someone said, ‘How about aliens invade?’, the coders replied ‘Hold my beer’.

The end result is the protagonist is kidnapped by aliens, dumped into a virtual reality version of Steelport and tries to beat the aliens using special powers such as super strength, lightning fast running speeds and leaping over buildings. Does this sound like GTA5? Of course not, the 2 franchises have moved so far apart, they only see each other at weddings or funerals.

People bemoan the fact that SR4 is easy and yeah, compared to GTA5, (which you shouldn’t!), it is easy, but do you know what? Sometimes, I just want a game I can pick up, not be too concerned about plots, sub-plots and character exploration and just enjoy myself.

GTA5 is brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but it takes itself too seriously sometimes, which dulls the clever humour and spot on social observations which are the backbone of the genre.

SR4 mission statement is ‘have fun’ and it delivers in abundance, the virtual world opens up the game to things such as a genuinely funny ‘Streets of Rage’ stage, a ‘Tron’ inspired mission and a ‘Metal Gear Solid’ section, (complete with cardboard box hiding).

So for me, Saints Row 4 is underrated because of the comparison of the earlier games with the GTA series. Yes, that was fair comment back then, but today it has its own style, look and gameplay. I just wish it was no longer viewed as GTA’s poorer relation, but as the humorous, daft, action packed, individual game which it is today.

Altered Beast

‘Rise from your grave’

In the early 90’s, on our way to school, we would pop into our local Sports Centre and play on the arcade machines.  The machine which stands out for me is Sega’s Mega-Tech, which was essentially a Mega Drive in an arcade case with around 8 different games to choose from.  The difference from other arcade games was that credits bought you time, rather than lives and so even if you were completely crap at games, you were still guaranteed x amount of mins of game time for 30p

The other good thing was that if you didn’t particularly like a game you could swap over to another game, providing you still had some minutes left.  I can’t remember the entire list, but I believe there was Golden Axe, The Revenge of Shinobi, Space Harrier 2 and a game which, for some reason, stood out for me and became a fast firm favourite, Altered Beast.

Around 1991, I finally had enough pennies to buy a Sega Mega Drive and off course, I had to buy the bundle which included that game I loved, Altered Beast.  Whilst I wasn’t disappointed with the game, (it looked and felt pretty much like the arcade version), it wasn’t long before the game made me launch my joypad!  Why?  I’ll come onto that.

The protagonist of Altered Beast is a Greek centurion who was happily resting by being dead, but is brought back to life by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena, (who used to sell posters) from an evil demon called Neff.  Zeus mutters the immortal lines, ‘Rise from your grave’, and the game begins…..

‘Power up’

Your character essentially has to fight the undead and creatures over 5 levels in an attempt to get back Athena.  These include skeletons, large snakes, creatures who look suspiciously like the cockatrice in Golden Axe, purple jellies and mutated running wasps with their sting between their legs which looks rather rude.

You also have to kill a bluish grey wolf, which due to the 16-bit graphics looks more like a dog, which then makes the game a bit disturbing; but you do get rewarded with a bluish orb which ‘powers up’ your character, so that’s good.

There are 3 orbs per level in total.  The first one makes your character a bit muscular and rips your shirt, the second turns you into John Cena and the 3rd turns you into a beast.  The type of beast, depends on which level, but there is a wolf, a cuddly bear and another wolf because by level 5 it appears the game writers ran out of ideas.

It’s getting these blooming orbs which makes me launch my joypad.  No matter how hard you mash the kick or punch button, these wolves have an annoying habit of ignoring the fact they’ve been punched hard in the face by a bloke who clearly does not miss arms day at the gym and they just bump into you and knock you over.  It’s so annoying!

Sometimes they jump of a platform onto you, no problem, you can crouch and aim a kick upwards.  Well, no, that doesn’t work because they just drop through the kick and knock you over onto your arse.  C’mon game, play fair!

Altered Beast is not a difficult game, in fact it can be completed comfortably in under an hour, but if you don’t get all 3 orbs before the end boss turns up, you have to replay the level again.  If you don’t get them by the time you reach the boss again, you have to replay the level again and so on.  Arrrgghh!

‘Welcome to your doom!’

The bosses are so easy in the game, that, do you know what, let me take my chance on him as a 6 stone weakling.  Honestly in level 2 the beast you become is a dragon who can emit electricity and the demon boss is a plant which fires eyeballs at you, (they smoked the good stuff in the 90’s), you just fly into the plant, emit electricity for 5 seconds and the boss is defeated.

The hard part should not be kicking an orb out of a dog!

Apart from that, the game remains a firm favourite of mine today.  It was one of the first games I can remember which had an actual human voice, (admittedly a bit grainy, but better than Populous’s, ‘Welcome to Populous’ which sounded like it was recorded on a wax cylinder chewed up by a dog who refused to give you his blue orb), it was easy and so one of the few games I actually completed and visually it was arcade quality or at least it was as good as that Mega-Tech machine in the Sports Centre.

I recently discovered Sega Forever, a collection of old Sega games relaunched by Sega that can be played for free on your smart phone / tablet.  Altered Beast is one of those games and that is good news as it keeps this classic game going for new generations to enjoy, (and for me to reminisce).

Not that perfect game I’m searching for, but damn fun still after all these years and with a price tag of ‘free’, well there’s no excuse to not ‘rise from your grave’ and to try it out.

Dead Rising 4: (Part Two)

Welcome to part 2 of my blog for Dead Rising 4. At the end of part 1, I commented on how excited I was as DR4 is set in Willamette as per DR1 and that the protagonist from DR1 is back, the fantastic Frank West! Except he’s not, well, not in my mind.

Frank may be back, but he looks nothing like he did in the original and his voice has completely changed, (for reasons, unknown, Capcom decided to use a totally different voice actor). They’ve also hammed up the character so that instead of the occasional one-liners uttered in the first game, he is now a constant stream of corny gags.

Capcom, it appears, have tried to make the game funny and this has backfired massively.

I was already worried that the game was moving away from being a survival horror game, with some humour, to an out and out humour game, with some survival horror thrown in. Unfortunately DR4 has completely thrown out the survival horror element and constantly throws gag after gag at you, with varying degrees of success.

Gone is the countdown timer from the previous 3 games and that has removed a massive amount of jeopardy and excitement from the game. Knowing that I can complete the story whenever I damn well feel like it took away any sense of urgency and after racking up 20 hours of boring exploration for various collectables and trying to up my PP, (Prestige Points), I realised I’d hardly made a dent into the actual story.

In the end I ended up mindlessly searching around the mall, constantly being knocked into by brain dead zombies and not really enjoying myself. I could have gone to my town centre on any Saturday afternoon if I had really wanted that experience!

The collectibles are pretty lame and involve photographing ‘zombie tags’, (a spray painted drawing of a zombie), blueprints so that you can make more combination weapons or vehicles, (which seem to have lost their imagination and humour from previous DRs) and various audio clips to flesh out the story, (which is needed as the plot is thinner than a Poundland bin liner).

It’s a long way from the ‘Tragic Endings’ collectibles from DR3, which had dark humour, sadness and gave some humanity to the situation. I know most games are guilty of this, but it feels like they serve no purpose other than to pad out a game which, to be honest, could be completed in under 10 hours.

However, was there actually anything which made me launch my joypad? Oh yes!

It is by far and away the buggiest DR game I have ever played. The controls are awful and unresponsive. Jumping seems to take 50 hits of the button before Frank actually decides to jump, (and of course by then a zombie has munched away your health). The camera angles are atrocious, which is really frustrating with the bosses as you desperately try to get the camera behind you again so that you can take aim at the boss, but then you move and the camera goes round so it now faces you instead of the boss, so you correct it again only this time it goes too far and your character actually disappears and now you are being pummelled by bullets from the bosses cohorts, so you move the camera again, get off a couple of shots but oops, there it goes again and you are now facing the camera and now you’re getting hit again and now arrrrrrrggggghhhhhhh! *launches joypad*.

Other bugs like zombies walking in mid-air or just falling over for no reason or getting stuck to the top of your car so that they end up car surfing as you speed off down the road are funny, but the camera angles bug is so annoying, that it just ends up zapping any fun out of the game.

Now I guess I should say at this point that I actually still liked the game. It has some fun, the humour works when it lands, (like when Frank is trying to subtly escape a building from the games version of the FBI, by throwing a chair at a window and the chair rebounds back of it. Frank’s response of ‘I honestly thought that’d work’ is pretty funny at the time) and there are lots and lots of zombies to kill, with only your imagination limiting you.

However, make no mistake, this is a disappointing addition to the DR family.

I just hope DR5 learns from these mistakes, brings back the timer, puts back the survival horror element and tones down the humour a bit so that there are funny moments, but not so many as to distract from the actual game itself.

Otherwise I fear the franchise will die and no amount of Zombrex will prevent it……

Life is Strange (PS4)

We kick off my quest to find a game which does not frustrate me to the point of launching my joypad across the room, with a nice, gentle, point and click adventure; Life is Strange.

Life is Strange follows the story of student photographer Max Caulfield.  Max discovers that she has a special power; the ability to rewind time.  Unfortunately she doesn’t buy a Sports Almanac, she doesn’t make millions from winning bets and she doesn’t marry Marty’s mum.  Instead she decides to try to save the fictional town of Arcadia Bay from a tornado, (how selfish!).

When Max witnesses the killing of her childhood friend, Chloe, she realises she has the chance to put right what once went wrong and hopes each time that her next leap, will be the leap home.  Max rewinds time and saves Chloe, however, with history altered the butterfly effect takes full swing and Max realises that each time she changes the past, she is unintentionally destroying the future.

Well it’s something like that, I’ll be honest the cut scenes are so long that I usually glaze over with an ‘Out to Lunch’ look.  Either that or I get so bored I put the kettle on, make a sandwich, make a cup of tea, eat the sandwich, drink the tea, wash up and then launch my joypad across the room because OMG, can we please go back to being able to play the game already!

Life is Strange centres on the story and fair enough, it’s actually a good story and some of the cliff hangers at the end of the episodes genuinely made me want to delve into the next episode to see how it all pans out.  Max herself is a likeable character and you do find yourself caring about her and wanting her to succeed.

I like the dynamic between Max and Chloe and the twists and turns along the way shows how strong their bond is and you do want a happy ending for them both.

But the gameplay itself is laughably easy and probably only accounts for about 30% of game time.  If you have a padlock you don’t have the key for and a jemmy resting about 2 feet away, then it’s bleeding obvious what it is you are supposed to do. 

There are ‘photo challenges’ along the way and these can be a little tricky as you get a black and white drawing of what you need to photograph, but it’s not always obvious what it is.  Sometimes it’s just a clue as to what to photograph and so it can involve a bit of thinking.

But at the end of the day, it really does feel like you are just streaming a movie and occasionally hitting the rewind button, the only difference being that you get a slightly different film going forward, (I wish this function had been available for Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Pehew, what a stinker!).

If you like Telltale Games such as The Walking Dead, (no, you cried at the end of season 1) or Game of Thrones, then Life is Strange is probably for you.  However, if you want high paced action, adventure and button mashing, then this won’t hit the spot.

A prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm has just been released and Life is Strange 2 is in the pipeline.  I don’t know though, I still can’t decide whether to play these games or just wait for someone to upload the ‘game play’ to YouTube…….

Life is Strange Episodes 1-5 are available in the Xbox Store, PS Store and on Steam and Episode 1, at the time of writing, is free on all formats.

Fifa International Soccer – Slag’s Goal

Sometime in late 1993, I was playing Fifa International Soccer with a friend on my Sega Mega Drive, (Genesis to our US friends). Now I’m not bad at this game, I can more than hold my own against the likes of Brazil, Germany and of course San Marino. I would regularly rack up scorelines of 11-0 and would be thoroughly disappointed if I did not break into double figures of goals scored.

So how did I achieve such footballing prowess? Was it hours of gaming dedication? Was it a natural talent? Or was it a combination of both? It was actually neither, you see I learnt from quite early on that if you move your player to the wing, run up the wing and then shoot as soon as the goal comes into view, then you would score; EVERY SINGLE TIME!

Yep, I was good because I’d found a cheat! And we called this cheat ‘Slag’s goal’.

Now, the computer did not know this cheat and so never used it against me, hence why I could wrack up a decent score. However, my friends knew this cheat as it’s quite hard to conceal what you are doing when you blatantly ignore passing and just bomb up the wing as soon as you kick off again and again. This of course created a problem in that when I played against my friends I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.

You see the other thing about ‘Slag’s goal’ is that when you run up the wing it is really difficult to tackle the player for some reason. No matter how hard you mashed the running button, once on the wing you somehow become jet propelled and covered in Teflon and you just can not get the ball back or take out the player.

Fifa International Soccer ended up being based not on passing, tactics or skill, but by how many ‘Slag’s goals’ you could score.

It was one evening when I was on the losing end of a 5-0 drubbing that I realised I had a condition called Gamer Rage. I kicked off, promptly ran towards the wing only to be tackled before I got there for the sixth time in a row and my mate proceeded to run towards the wing himself. I’m pounding the run button for all it’s worth, but it’s no use, he’s off down the path to ‘Slag’s goal’ inevitability. And then a strange thing happened, I gave up.

Well I say gave up, what I actually did was shout very loudly, ‘Oh what’s the f***ing point’ and then proceeded to launch my joypad across the room. My joypad met my wall at high speed and shattered into many sharp plastic pieces.

Of course joypads in those days were wired and connected directly into the Mega Drive. The other effect of my Gamer Rage was that as my joypad went on its violent last journey, it took the Mega Drive with it, hoisting it 2 feet into the air and hitting the floor with a horrific thud sound. The game crashed and my beating was over.

I maintain I didn’t technically lose as we never finished the match, but that’s another story.

That was the first time I can remember launching my joypad because a game has become so frustratingly annoying, that I flipped. Unfortunately it was not the last:

When I get killed by a Koopa on World 1-1 in ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘Argh!’ *launches joypad*

When no matter what you do, survivors will not follow you back to the Safe House in ‘Dead Rising’ and get killed, ‘Argh!’ *launches joypad*

When Ellie gets killed for the 100th time by David in that stupidly difficult boss fight in which you are armed only with a pen knife vs David’s gun, strength and bat like hearing, ‘Argh! *launches joypad*

It recently became obvious to me that there’s not been a single game I’ve played in the 20 odd years since that fateful Fifa night, in which at some point the game has frustrated me so much, that I’ve sworn loudly and launched my joypad. Surely this is not right?

So I realised I had 2 choices, calm down, take a deep breath and stop taking gaming so seriously or find a game out there that is perfect and does not make me want to launch my joypad.

Of course I chose the latter and so my impossible search for a game that doesn’t make me go ‘Argh!’ *launches joypad* has begun…..