Pawn’s Playtime

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.

Dragon’s Dogma was developed by a Japanese team at Capcom, which might turn off RPG fans used to the typical differences in design philosophy between Japanese CRPGs and their Western counterparts. That would be an enormous mistake; Dogma is, if anything, a slap to the face to the notion that JRPGs and Western CRPGs must necessarily be separate traditions worked on by separate developers. For the most part, the game resembles an action RPG take on Dragon Age or Skyrim, with the player free to explore the game world as they wish and with plentiful activities to do alongside the main plot, with a main character who is highly customisable. At the same time, it shares with JRPGs an emphasis on apparent endings that aren’t actually endings, eccentric cosmologies, a main plot which is essentially linear (though some major features, like the identity of your love interest, are variable), and a “New Game Plus” option to replay the game after completing it with new challenges and features.

Dragon’s Dogma casts a magnificently customisable “you” (wide range of body shapes and ethnicities can be realised here) as a simple peasant resident of the fishing village Cassardis. One day, your peaceful life is disrupted when the town is attacked by the terrifying dragon Grigori. Foolhardy sort that you are, you dare to stand and face the dragon, who delicately cuts out your heart and swallows it as you watch for your trouble.

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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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Silent Hill’s Sequel Nightmare

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.

In my restless dreams, I see that town: Silent Hill. Konami promised they’d take us there again some day, but they never did – at least, not in the company of Team Silent, the tour guides fans of the series had become accustomed to over the course of the first four games of the series. There’s been four new additions to the main series (where I define main series as “games which have seen release on home consoles rather than being mobile gaming or handheld exclusives”) since the demise of Team Silent in the muddled mess of The Room, and none of them have really won over the hearts and minds of fans. Is this a case of fandom being too hostile to the idea of new developers refreshing and putting a new spin on the series, or is this a genuine problem Konami are having with finding a safe pair of hands to bring the series forwards? Nothing for it but to ignore the warnings of others (because what sort of shitty horror protagonist would I be if I heeded warnings?) and head back to town.

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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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My Demon Cock Has Gone All Limp

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.

So, a while back I played and enjoyed The Darkness – it’s an ugly old game for sure, and I’d advise renting or borrowing it over buying it, but it has some fun mechanics. (Like I said in the last article, I liked the hilariously phallic and hideously overpowered demon tentacle power.) To summarise the premise briefly: young man who looks like Steven Seagal gets demonic possession as his special 21st birthday present from destiny, his girlfriend Jenny dies, he mopes.

As of the end of the previous game, our hero Jackie (who now looks and sounds somewhat less like Steven Seagal) is the kingpin of the crime family, and still mourns the death of Jenny. He has, however, reigned in the Darkness a little bit – in fact, he hasn’t used it for quite some time. However, when Jackie is attacked on a visit to his favoured family-backed restaurant, he is forced to unleash his Darkness powers to survive.

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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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Review: SPESS MARIEN

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.

Relic Entertainment already have the confidence and goodwill of the Warhammer 40000 fanbase due to the Dawn of War series of real-time strategy games, which demonstrated both an understanding of and love for the setting. Great things were therefore expected of Space Marine, their console-focused action game. The game is, sadly, not an adaptation of the Ian Watson’s novel of the same name, so anyone hoping to brand Fist emblems onto submissive boys’ buttocks in a videogame will have to wait for the next version of We Dare. It is, however, one of the better 40K videogame adaptations, but to explain why I’m going to have to get spoilery, though that said if you’re after unexpected plot twists and dramatic revelations you’re not going to find any here. Brief one-line review for those who won’t face down a spoiler in the name of the Emperor: Space Marine is the manliest game in the world, which makes you feel like an unstoppable god when you play it – but at the same time it achieves this without being contemptuous towards women or lesser mortals in the way God of War sometimes blunders into being.

Right, now that the spoiler-averse are gone: Space Marine puts you in the role of Captain Titus, a member of the Ultramarines (the most vanilla of Adeptus Astartes chapters) who along with his comrades Veteran Sergeant Sidonus and Battle-Brother Leandros is dispatched to the world of Graia. Graia is one of the forge worlds of the Adeptus Mechanicus – a planet whose entire economy is devoted to supporting the tech-priests of Mars in the manufacture of technological wonders for the Imperium of mankind – in particular, it excels in the manufacture of Titans, gargantuan war machines which are the Warhammer 40000 equivalent of mecha. It’s this resource which makes the planet valuable to the Imperium – and which has also attracted an invasion of Orks, intent on looting the Titans for their own use. Titus and his battle-brothers are here to perform reconnaisance and prepare the way for the liberation fleet, but naturally there’s mysterious goings-on behind the scenes and the experiments of the mysterious Inquisitor Drogan soon result in even greater problems for Graia – problems the Space Marines cannot afford to ignore.

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