Sunday, 22 February 2009

Killzone 2 Single Player Review

Overall verdict
Ladies, if you have a boyfriend with a PS3, expect little or no love from him when the 27th of February 2009 arrives. If he has any sense, he’ll have a copy of KZ2 slammed into the PS3 and he’ll be engaging with Helghast instead of engaging with you. The bad news is that this lack of personal engagement might last quite some time … you might want to find a new boy friend with a Wii or Xbox360 because never before has war or any console game looked so depressingly beautiful. If I had to compare the entire game to a film, it would be best described by the opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (complete with naff story and suspect dialogue). KZ2 is an in your face, relentlessly grim, non-stop, gory, violent and adrenaline filled ride of a game that’s huge fun to play. It sucks you in, spits you out, gets you hooked and I really struggled to stop playing it long enough to write this review. In short, buy it, play it and enjoy it! Get some!

Developed by Guerrilla Games (a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment), KZ2 sends players hurtling into the midst of an ultra-realistic ongoing battle between the Helghast and the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA). How did we get here? Erm, I’m not sure. I played KZ1 when it first came out and I can’t remember. One of my niggles about KZ2 is that I’m not sure what is going on – a good story is one that engages you and has a beginning, a middle and an end and this is one aspect I wish the developers had spent a little more time on - making me care more about the characters and the ongoing battle. It actually took me a while to realise I was playing as Sergeant Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko - a war hardened veteran leading the assault on Helghast central. Call of Duty 4 managed to do this well building up the characters and making us care about them. It’s a small niggle as the game is so damn fine, but with a little more history, I think the game could have had a greater emotional connection with the player. My other niggle is with the dialogue. It’s corny, clichéd and, with the exception of the rhetoric spewed out by Emperor Scolar Visari and Colonel Radec, utter crap (not to mention their daft accents). So, we have an invasion, the grim reality of war, heavy losses on both sides … not like real life on Planet Earth then? Hmmm see why I think Guerrilla Games could have made a better connection with the gamer? There are real echoes with the current state of the World – something that COD 4 capitalises on.

A bleak, post apocalyptic world has never been so ball achingly good. KZ2 is jaw droppingly beautiful and sets a new standard for console games – not just first person shooters. The most remarkable aspect of the graphics is that they are so well done and so ‘realistic’ you almost don’t notice them – very high praise indeed. And all that beauty is in the detail, the small things that you almost miss the first time you play the game. I took more time the second time round to savour the details and finally realised why it has taken so long to develop KZ2. Guerrilla Games should be applauded for the lengths they have gone to make Helghan seem so convincing. Everything from the dust blowing across a barren waste, to the destructible environments to the way Helghans die … all poetry in motion. You will have more than a few ‘holy shit!’ moments throughout the whole game.

Game play
Graphics can suck you in and make you coo with delight but if the game play blows, you won’t play for very long. KZ2 is an assault on the senses and overall the game play is solid. I found the default control settings counterintuitive and needed to be changed (I use Alternate 2) and once I tweaked the sensitivity I was a happy little bunny. KZ2 also includes a cover system that works for the most part. The use of the cover system is integral to the surviving the game. You cannot just run at the Helghast shooting from the hip – they will obliterate you in a heart beat. A couple of times now the cover system has failed me and wouldn’t let me fire my weapon. I just moved along a bit and all was fine so it’s not a major criticism in single player mode – but in multi-player online, it has the potential to irritate me if it costs me my life.

Speaking of enemies, there are 14 different class of Helghast all of whom fight in different ways and carry different weapons (one class do a nifty little forward roll too and are as nimble as ninja warriors). They are also seemingly intelligent. Not your usual AI fodder at all. These Helghast work in packs like wolves. They retreat if they’re on the back foot and advance if they have you pinned down. They run away from grenades and will flank you if you give them the chance. It’s amazing to see in action. This makes me wonder why the buddy AI is so poor by comparison. Damn fools kept getting in the way at times and then complaining that I shot them! Pah! “Get out of the way you moron”, I found myself shouting at the screen a few times. It doesn’t break the game play but is does stand out against the exceptional enemy AI.

Weapons are varied and fun to use. Using the knife reminded me of Counter strike Source – which is a good thing. Other weapons, from the Bolt Gun to the Electricity Gun made me smile. The flame thrower made me feel really guilty – all that screaming and flailing around and the sniper felt solid and good in my hands. I’ll be using that online. A lot.

Replay Value
I’m on my third run through already collecting all the trophies. The single player mode is engaging enough for you to want to run through it a few times but, I suspect, it’s the multiplayer mode (not yet tested by me) where KZ2 will really shine. Criticisms have been levelled at the game for a lack of co-op but seriously, with such a well developed and considerable multiplayer mode available, who cares? Not me.

It’s a must have for the PS3 owner and, if you don’t have a PS3, you should seriously consider getting one. It’s not perfect but then no game ever is. People will tell you it’s not revolutionary, that it doesn’t do anything new. Maybe there is a modicum of truth in that but, KZ2 is huge fun so don’t let those petty arguments distract you from what is a solid, beautiful game well worth the wait and one that meets its very high expectations.

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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Behold the future of cinema!

How best to convey what I took from my recent viewing of "My Bloody Valentine"? A full review, giving it the time and effort deserving of an endeavour undertaken by many talented people? No. Perhaps some impressions, a quick run down of key plot points and emotions evoked by the work? Hmm maybe. But I know, first, how about a quick visit to thesaurus .com? Ok, here we go, typing s-t-u-p-i-d.. ok, ah yes, you see I knew it! behold! A review of My bloody Valentine! Now, if I simply type, "My bloody Valentine is... and copy that, and paste this, et voila! A fully functional and perfectly succinct review that misses out no salient point! here it is:

My Bloody Valentine is: brainless, dazed, deficient, dense, dim, doltish, dopey*, dull, dumb, dummy*, foolish, futile, gullible, half-baked*, half-witted*, idiotic, ill-advised, imbecilic, inane, indiscreet, insensate, irrelevant, laughable, loser*, ludicrous, meaningless, mindless, moronic, naive, nonsensical, obtuse, out to lunch, pointless, puerile, rash, senseless, shortsighted, simple, simpleminded, slow, sluggish, stolid, stupefied, thick, thick-headed, trivial, unintelligent, unthinking, witless

Ok so some of those don't work, not sure what dummy and loser are doing in there, and "out to lunch"? Must be an American thing? Perhaps you think I'm being harsh? But I'm really not. I'm offended by this film. I'm offended that such a steaming turd can be plopped in our laps and we're supposed to gobble it down grinning a shit stained leer at our gracious feeders. What a waste of time. What a waste of money. Do you really want to know the plot? It's pretty pointless? It's a remake of an 80's slasher film. No I hadn't seen it either. Ok come with me, mind the shit..

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Sunday, 15 February 2009

More Impressions: Killzone 2

Another Killzone 2 post? What's the Tree house come to? S1n's already given his demo impressions, but I recently had a chance to play the full game, or at least the first act, so it would be remiss of me not to add in my 2 cents. I played for a good 4 hours or so on normal mode, reaching the 2nd act and taking in a boss fight or two. So this is not a review, which will be along shortly once we've properly digested all it has to offer. Bear in mind, I'm the resident Xbot in this outfit, which should convince you my words are objective when you see how nice I am..

So what's good?

Visuals. Stunning. We're looking at the peak of video gaming visuals for sure, animation and lighting and sheer attention to detail are second to none. Motion of enemies is fluid and varied, and very realistic. Smoke and dust kick up and whirl to create a very convincing environment that's toxic and nasty. Colour palette is not an issue, I saw plenty of other colours in there besides grey. Although it is not, of course, visually up to what we were shown back in 2005, (but I think we knew that by now didn't we?) all the elements shown in that trailer are all largely intact, albeit in a "this is as good as technology really is so far" kind of way.

Sound. Up there, although lacking a surround sound setup is a bummer. Guns give meaty register, and close up shotgun blasts produce sloppy gibbage. Tasty. The wind whistles, and explosions thunder. Not sure why the Helghast are all cockney geezers though.

Environments. Are very solid with lots of nice interaction, which is at the level when you get disappointed that you can't do something else, like blow holes in walls, because the types you have seen are so good. Explosive gas cans litter the place and produce satisfying asplosions with much gusto. Kablooey. There's also some terrific set pieces in which shit really gets blown up.

Level design. So far, linear, but appropriately so. Just interesting enough to keep from being completely derivative, despite not (yet) showing us anything remotely new. Helghan kind of reminds me of that city I invaded in COD4? Missions are broken into sub objectives as usual, and keep the action chugging along nicely. The first act sees you defending a convoy along its path to the centre of the city, but it's all fairly incidental. Missions boil down to blow up that building, secure that turret, lower that bridge and so forth. Come to think of it, that is kinda derivative isn't it?

Weapons. Varied and fun, again if unoriginal. A few decent rifles to choose from, the standard grunt rifle being very similar to one from COD4 with its square iron sights. The bolt gun is a lot of fun, and the sniper rifle, always a good measure of a designers smarts, is spot on, if quite hard to master. Turrets are boss. It also features a top notch flamethrower with which you may guiltily toast your screaming enemies. There's generally a lot of each gun lying about the place too, so you can chop and change and try out a good selection without fear of reprimand. It's very generous with the rockets too. The short fused grenades are essential in beating back flanking Helghast, and provide a satisfying treat when they find their target. There's also a nice tank that you're disappointingly not allowed to drive anywhere. Maybe they're saving that for later?

Enemy AI. Is very convincing and generally challenging. They charge, they flank, they retreat when you shoot them in the face. They seemingly talk to each other and coordinate. They show intelligence beyond your expectation, sneaky little buggers. And they come for you when you're on the back foot. Scary stuff. Oh and they're also really tough, especially the big fat ones.

Sixaxis integration. Really nice touches! Set charges and turn valves with turns of the pad. I love this sort of thing when implemented well, and here it doesn't seem forced or gimmicky. Wonder what else you get to twist later on?

So far so great, so what's bad? Proper bad? Not a lot! But there are some niggles:

Script. Not high on my list of expectations, but steel yourself cos the script is dross. Cookie cutter marines lifted from Gears of War, Aliens, Starship Troopers, take your pick, shout ooh ra and expletives at each other. After 4 hours of playing I still wasn't 100% on which one I even was! The one with the daft haircut I think. They're all equally bland and foul mouthed, and weirdly ugly with it, in a "my face isn't
actually very well designed" kind of way - perhaps the game's only visual failing. In the first act at least, there is no plot to speak of. We're invading the planet, they're not happy about it. I guess we really don't need much more than that. Some semi decent dialogue would be nice for a change, but then again I guess marines are never going to be chatting about the architecture.

Controls. Pretty solid for the most part, but the default settings are crippled. Surely everyone agrees the left trigger to aim and right to fire is a convention we can all embrace? So where does Guerrilla get off mucking about with it? But seriously, I'm personally so familiar with it it's a no brainer. Fortunately it's available as an alternate setup, but as a result some of the other design choices, it can cause problems at times, which brings me to ..

The cover system. Not a total negative, as this worked well for the most part, but it took some getting used to. Approach a wall or corner and hit L2 to attach to it as cover. You can then pop out by pushing the L stick, but you can also pop out with iron sights L1, meaning you are holding down 3 buttons just to pop out before you're even firing. If however, like me you're using the alternate (re normal fps) control setup, this can put you in situations where you run out of fingers. Specifically with the sniper rifle, you'll find you're a finger short to change the zoom level when sniping from cover. A minor niggle. More annoying is the lack of auto reload when in cover, you have to pull back to reload or you just stand there like a numpty. Probably a good idea to get in cover to reload anyway, but maybe I like reloading while upright?

Invisible walls. A necessity, granted, but some more work could have been done to justify and hide them. Take Fallout 3 where you may be clambering up a huge pile of rubble in downtown DC before you give up and realise there's no way through to that landmark on the map. It gave you a good crack though huh? Here a 2 foot wall
or small pool of water is enough to block your path.

Friendly AI. While the enemies are smart and fearsome, your team is dull and stupid, and frequently wander into your sights then bitch about getting shot. I had to pull a Christian Bale at one point. Then I remembered he can't hear me, not being real and all.

I'm very short? Seriously, we couldn't pinpoint it at first, a sense that we had slightly constricted view of the world, an odd sensation of claustrophobia? Then it clicked. We're tiny. I had to check we didn't have crouch on. In a quiet moment, get next to your buddy, level off your sights, and see where you come up to. You're a midget. Even the scientist lady towers over you. Suddenly I feel very vulnerable..

No Co-op? Boo! With AI this good we need human backup. Surely this should be standard from here on in? Split screen multiplayer would be nice too.

So that's it. On the whole, very impressive. Possibly the best looking game to date on any system anywhere, which is almost a shame as it's all so ghastly. The enemies are tough and smart, and the gun play is the most satisfying since COD4, which has clearly been a strong influence. Of course we couldn't test it yet, but with such well put together weapons and physics, its clear that multiplayer is going to be a ton of fun, and will no doubt create a massive community and fan base.

It's not revolutionary by any means, treading well worn paths with frequent nods to it's forbears and a pretty safe approach to design, it is nonetheless a highly competent if not essential shooter. I do want to finish the fight now though..

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Saturday, 14 February 2009

Full Fat Half Life

Goddamn there are some talented people about. Take a look at this ridiculously impressive Half Life inspired short, apparently made on a next to nothing budget, and shot between periods of hiding from security. Wisely steering clear of everyones favourite bearded mute, who is essentially impossible to bring to the screen as a character (he's a mute! And if he isn't a mute, he isn't Gordon!) , this centres around a pair of rebels fleeing town at the start of episode 1. Sure the actual acting is slightly ropey, but to my mind this proves a Half Life film could totally work as a blockbuster; look at those gunships! And that strider explosion is freaking amazing! Hell even their logo is impressive. Maybe we could just see Gordon doing something heroic from a distance now and again, you know, like Jesus in Ben Hur? Nice crowbar action in there too.

This is going to have legs mark my words. Valve have already flown the responsible pair out to their HQ for a chat, and we know they have a history of backing and nurturing talented types. It really makes me want to get myself a Mac and learn to use after effects. It also makes me want to go and blow the crap out of City 17 for the 17th time.

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Friday, 13 February 2009

"Death is in my blood ..."

Those are the wonderful words that almost set off a reaction from me of orgasmic proportions! My body shivered, my spine tingled, my jaw dropped, my eyes seared with the beautiful imagery flashing before them. The smooth framerates, the blood, the (many) enemies, the cyclops ... the word 'epic' will simply not be adequate to describe this game when it's released. Kratos will be with us soon and, in his own wise words, "in the end there will be only chaos". Woooo-hooo! With bigger bosses, more enemies, new fighting mechanics - can any game of this genre get any better?

I feel like a giddy school girl with a crush - in other words, I'm smitten and deeply happy but I don't wear a skirt. Not in public anyway. GOWIII is scheduled for release on 25/09/2009. It simply can't come quick enough.

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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Twilight Review - Me Love You Long Time – Sucky sucky!

First things first, I should point out that I have not read the popular book this film is based on, so this is a review of the film alone.

I’m a huge fan of vampire (or vampyre) movies and books but Twilight is not a vampire film in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a love story between vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) born in 1901 and is frozen in his perfectly brooding 17-year-old body and Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) a genuinely 17 year old girl who moves to Forks to live with her father. (Technically, he's a dirty old man)

The vampires in this film are positively anaemic. They have no fangs, can walk in daylight, have reflections and perfect hair. In fact, they’re so perfect, their skin sparkles in direct sunlight. I quickly realised this is a film targeting young women/teens who still believe in undying love and older women who are single and still want true love to exist. That probably explains why I struggled to prevent hysterical giggles from escaping my lips at times. This is a seriously cheesy movie. So cheesy in fact I could feel my arteries clogging with unhealthy doses of clichéd and clunky dialogue constantly declaring undying love and showing torturous scenes of endless eye gazing. Pass me a sick bag. Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I must declare my enjoyment of many ‘chick-flicks’ – I have a quite a few in my movie collection. And I’m not afraid to admit it. But Twilight is just too much even for me to stomach. I love a good weepy. A beautiful romance. But this film has little going for it. - it simply doesn't flow. The lines are delivered as sound bites. Here’s a good example: Edward Cullen: “Are you afraid?” Bella Swan: “I'm only afraid of losing you.” Oh purlease.

Twilight had great potential. A different twist on the vampire theme, of love, of living and the meaning of life itself and it fails to deliver on all counts. In short, and pun intended, it sucks and totally lacks any bite. Avoid unless you’re a girl, a single woman or a guy who has a new girlfriend and wants to impress and bed her.

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Friday, 6 February 2009

Where you gonna run to?

Exciting times at the Treehouse, it gives me great pleasure to welcome aboard a new contributor, S1nnerman. A seasoned gamer and generally well rounded human being, S1nner will be offering his views on games, films, tv, photography, public transport, tupperware and animal trapping, and his arrival ushers in a great new era for the Treehouse, which I'm certain will be updated on a much more regular basis with the formation of a "crew". Innit.

As you may surmise, S1nner leans towards a more PS3-y outlook on gaming, a field sorely lacking attention round here, mainly cos I ain't got one. So I look forward to lots of lively debate about why a version of a game is "teh suck" on the other's console of choice, and why one platform exclusive is far superior over the others and probably sounds the death knell for their respective, inferior, console. That said, we both have wiis.

Game on!

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Killzone 2 Demo Impressions

In a word, it's intense. In two words it's beautifully realised. In three words, it's ruddy brilliant. The graphics are amazing and with so much going on at the same time I'm often not sure where to look. But great visuals alone don't make a great game. Luckily, KZ2 has playability too. And by the bloody, gory bucket full. Once you get used to the controls (it's pretty intuitive) you're thrown screaming head first into a war hell.

In an average FPS, playing against bots is pretty repetitive and predictable. But, unlike bots from other games, these pesky Helghast seem unnervingly intelligent. They will flank you, they work together to flush you out and they will kill you. Resistance, as the Borg once said, is futile. But resist we must. These Helghast are mean, ugly and sneaky.

There are a few minor niggles but none that distract from the experience overall. I thought COD4 would be hard to beat but, on the strength of this (short) demo, I'm sure KZ2 will take the FPS crown for 2009 at least.

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