Shadow of WTF

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

When we last left the story of the Ranger Talion in Shadow of Mordor, he’d started his day being murdered by the forces of Sauron and then things just kept getting worse. Given a strange sort of half-life by being fused with the spirit of Celebrimbor, the legendary elven smith who had forged the Rings of Power with Sauron, we followed their journeys together as they began their guerilla war against Sauron, using the power to control orcs’ minds to turn the Dark Lord’s forces against him.

All this Grand Theft Mordor shenanigans was fun enough, but whilst the original Shadow of Mordor was like the Saint’s Row of Middle-Earth, Shadow of War is its Saint’s Row 2: it takes the gameplay of the original and injects it with a hefty dose of absolutely bizarre nonsense that makes a farcical cartoon of the whole thing.

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A Good Game, Or At Least An Incredible Simulation Of One

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The general rule that even-numbered Saint’s Row games are much better than their odd-numbered counterparts remains true. For both the first and third games, developers Volition cooked up entire new cities to play with and seemed to rush the rest of the content, leaving game 1 feeling like a generic Grand Theft Auto clone with better character customisation and game 3 feeling like it was trying way too hard to play up the comedic aspects and over-the-top disregard for realism that had spiced up Saint’s Row 2.

The second game, of course, had the advantage that by setting the action in the same city as the first game they could get away with just giving the map a light update and concentrate more on stuffing the game with interesting content that gave a fresh spin on the concept. The fourth game repeats the trick by reusing the map of Steelport from the the third game and adding a whole new dimension to the game.

Specifically, it gives you superpowers.

Continue reading “A Good Game, Or At Least An Incredible Simulation Of One”

One Does Not Simply Parkour Into Mordor… Oh, Wait, You Totally Can

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that shouldn’t work. First off, it’s yet another release based off the Peter Jackson movies – an IP with a patchy track record at best as far as videogame adaptations go – but at the same time it bears a generic Middle Earth title, as though it hasn’t quite proved worthy of displaying the more valuable trademarks of Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Secondly, the plot is utterly ludicrous – a badass ranger of Gondor is wronged by the forces of Mordor, so he simply walks into Mordor and starts hacking up orcs like it’s some sort of misorcist equivalent of Hatred.

Being as I am a man whose disposable income occasionally allows me to drop money on being among the first to get in on a bad joke, I actually bought Shadows based on the plot. I figured that if the game were as desperately silly and tonally inappropriate as it looked, I’d have something amusing to report back to you all, and if it turned out to be an unexpected delight then all the better. Somehow, it ended up being both.

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We’re Gonna Have a Pirate Party Tonight (Well Alright!)

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I had a lot of trouble getting into the first Assassin’s Creed game. Aside from the more unforgiving approach to parkour murder simulation it offered, I also found the plot actively irritating. You have a conflict of Assassin vs. Templar in which as much of Islam is excised from the Assassin faction as is possible and the protagonist is made an ethnic and cultural blank slate as much as he can be, which all sorts of offensive (“don’t worry America, we wouldn’t actually expect you to play a terrorist person from terrorism land with a terrorist religion and a terrorist skin colour!”). This is joined at the hip with an utterly unwanted modern day plotline which regularly interrupted your fun, immersive historical murder funfest to remind you that you aren’t actually playing this character, you are playing some guy who is playing this character through a virtual reality genetic ancestral memory plot device, and to make absolutely sure you don’t have too much fun in history the game is going to regularly drag you into the modern day for a drab, overlong, unasked-for, unwanted, worthless, bullshitty, slow as fuck first person segment.

The modern say stuff in the Assassin’s Creed games particularly bug me because they never quite let you forget it, right down to having interface elements in the game designed to aesthetically remind us of the VR simulation aspect. Sure, perhaps some person somewhere likes this shit, but if it had never been included in the games would it really be missed? Would we be playing our entirely historical games and think to ourselves “what this really needs is a modern day cyberpunk genetic virtual reality twist”? Of course we fucking wouldn’t. But now they’ve been in the games long enough that I fear people will now expext them, and I will continue pining for an Assassin’s Creed game with just one plotline which is good, rather than two plotlines which are both utter trash.

Continue reading “We’re Gonna Have a Pirate Party Tonight (Well Alright!)”

Two Steps Forward, One Grope Back

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

As you might remember from my review, I wasn’t impressed with Grand Theft Auto IV. Gameplay innovations like play-dates with your buddies were irritatingly intrusive, not to mention disconnected from the sort of mayhem you actually want to be involved with when you play your average sandbox criminal sociopath simulator. The plot was simplistic and the writing created an irritating dissonance between the main character’s motivations and observed behaviour in cut scenes on the one hand and the sort of activities you actually get up to on the other. In particular, the writers cast you as a career criminal who wanted to stop living a life of violence and bloodshed – in other words, he wanted to stop doing any of the activities people actually enjoy in these games – but he stuck around anyway with thin justification other than the fact that if he actually quit there’d be no game. The sandbox play of previous games in which the player was allowed to come up with their own way of concluding a mission was replaced with railroaded missions in which you weren’t allowed to blow up someone’s car or kill someone unless and until the game allowed you to, resulting in ridiculousness like me shooting an NPC in the last mission in the head with a rocket launcher to absolutely no effect.

Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t completely depart from the approach of its predecessor, but in between that game and this Rockstar seem to have remembered what people actually like about the series – and on top of that they’ve actually pulled off a gameplay experiment that actually works.

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Undercover Police Work is Serious Business

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Regular readers may recall that one of the reasons I liked Saint’s Row 2 more than Grand Theft Auto IV was that the latter game presented you with a character and a story more or less at odds with what you as a player actually wanted to get up to in a third person open world crime simulator. Nico, despite having an interesting background, was notable mainly for his constant grousing about how he didn’t really want to be embroiled in criminal activity, but since there’s nothing to do in GTA IV which doesn’t involve that unless you are satisfied with spending all your time sat in your apartment watching TV and occasionally going bowling with your idiot cousin you’re going to get him mired in criminality anyway, and then he’s going to moan a lot about doing all this stuff you were excited about doing in the first place.

Conversely, your protagonist in the Saint’s Row games is a violent sociopath who doesn’t give much of a fuck about anything, which supports the player’s natural inclination to run around causing mayhem to an admirable extent. In fact, it succeeds so well that it left me wondering whether it’s even possible to tell a serious story in a GTA-alike.

Sleeping Dogs, I’m happy to say, has proved that you can. It’s a spiritual sequel and, depending on how important you consider little things like legality, the actual sequel to the True Crime series; originally developed by United Front as the third game in the series, it was cancelled by Activision, their publishers, and looked dead. However, Square Enix at this point swooped in to rescue the project, but didn’t fancy buying out the True Crime trademark, so the game was duly renamed.

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Professor Genki’s Empty and Overplayed Joke

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

A while back I loudly sang the praises of Saints Row 2, proclaiming it to be a hilarious and ultraviolent joy of a sandbox game which put the dour and uninspiring Grand Theft Auto IV to shame. The customisation on offer, the sheer amount of things to do in the game, the way the plot was constructed to provide opportunities for gleefully stupid violence, the little surprises to be found simply through exploring Stilwater, its setting. As a result of all this I was quite looking forward to Saints Row: The Third, the sequel which promised to shake things up by taking the action to the all-new city of Steelport, and on balance I’m not sorry I gave it a try – but at the same time, I should probably have rented the thing rather than purchasing.

Having destroyed all the rival gangs and beaten the evil Ultor Corporation in Saints Row 2, the Third Street Saints have become pop cultural icons and live a life of international celebrity – to the point where during the tutorial mission, in which you and the other lead Saints rob a bank, the customers get all excited and ask for your autograph. However, they’ve also ended up on the radar of the Syndicate, a major international crime organisation headquartered in Steelport. After a botched attempt to kidnap and neutralise the Saints’ leaders sees Johnny Gat dead and the Saints’ chief (the PC) loose on the streets of Steelport, the Saints swing into action to take control of the city and get revenge on the three major gangs of the Syndicate – the Morningstar, who are completely bland and don’t really have much of a schtick, the Luchadores who are, er, luchadores, and the Deckers, who are cybergoth hackers. Things get all the more complicated when the escalating gang violence prompts the government to send in S.T.A.G., an elite anti-gang unit, with orders to neutralise all of the gangs – even if it requires the imposition of martial law to do it.

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