review

OverWatch: The Review

OverWatch: The Review

So OverWatch has been out for a week now, and after loving the Beta, does the full release live up to the hype?


Before moving to MMOs, I was originally an FPS player online. I played Duke Nukem 3D, Quake 2, Counter Strike, Unreal Tournaments of many varieties etc.

My main love of all time in online FPSs Quake 3, and I played it at all levels, including international online tournaments, organising and running entire leagues for Rocket Arena 3 and so on.

Then, shortly after I eventually quit playing Q3, Valve software released Team Fortress 2. TF2 for some, is the most direct ancestor for OverWatch, and in many ways they are right. However where TF2 has a very long list of differing game modes (King of the Hill, CTF, Arena, Team DM and so on), OverWatch really only has 2: Quick Play (basically LFG, either solo or as a group), and Arcade.

Quick Play is a quick queue system that pits you in and against teams of roughly similar skill levels. You can either queue solo, or if you’re grouped with up to 5 other friends you can queue up as a group.

Arcade mode is similar to the Tavern Brawl in Hearthstone. Different modifiers are applied to everyone playing that week. For example, this week?

  • All players have 200% Health.
  • Ultimates charge 150% quicker.
  • Abilities come off cooldown 75% faster.
  • Maps are limited to: Dorado, Hollywood, King’s Row, Numbani, Route 66 & Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

It’s a fun twist on the more vanilla Quick Play mode, and keeps the game both interesting and varied. Even though the base game is very fun in and of itself.


Character Roster

roster

The roster consists of 21 “Heroes”, all of which are very varied in terms of aesthetics, skillset and movement.

From the nimble Tracer, who has become the face of the game, to the lithe assassin Widowmaker. From the eco-warrior Mei (Mei is BAE, Mei is life!), to the crazy Aussie Junkrat and his collection of explosives, to the Hardcore German tank that is Reinhardt, to the cybernetic monk of Zenyatta.

The roster is incredibly varied, and players will find themselves gravitating to a handful of favourites, depending on the situation.

Character switching is not only encouraged during a match, it’s both expected and necessary.  Having trouble with a certain opposition character consistently laying waste to your team?

Well you’re in luck, because each character has a hard counter to them, characters that they’re either vulnerable to in terms of mechanics (Junkrat and his bouncing bombs or Tracer and her blink ability vs Bastion’s stationary OP Turret form for example), or they just can’t play well against (Symmetra’s & Mei’s short range weapons or Reinhardt’s slow movement speed vs Widowmaker’s Sniper Rifle).


Sound Design

ScreenShot_16-05-09_20-30-58-000The sound design in OverWatch is more important than you realise. You will hear opposition players footsteps and weapon’s fire more prominently than those of your team mates.

Audio queues are also essential when it comes to avoiding enemy Ultimates. Each character’s Ultimate is accompanied by an audio line:

  • McCree: It’s High Noon… (Headshots for everyone!)
  • Reaper: DIE! DIE! DIE! (Super Saiyan Ultra-Mega Death Blossom!)
  • Junkrat: FIRE IN THE HOLE! (Most terrifying rolling tyre ever!)
  • Widowmaker: No-one hides from my sight (Team-wide wall hacks!)

So you know if you hear McCree telling you the time, and you don’t have a McCree on your team, feel free to lose your head over it, because you probably will.

Probably. That is unless you can counter it – yes, each ultimate can generally be countered fairly easily.

If you’re playing as Mei, you can counter quite a lot of the area effect ultimates very easily.

Oh, it’s High Noon again is it McCree? Here, have an ice-wall in your face thus blocking your line of sight to everyone on your screen!

Junkrat chasing you with his Tire of Death? Ice-block!

Ultimates like Widowmaker’s wall-hack-like Recon Visor can’t really be countered, but it’s not something that can damage anyone, players still need to make the effort to reach the enemy and engage.


Art

ScreenShot_16-05-03_20-17-16-000The character and environmental art in OverWatch is just plainly gorgeous. From the cartoonish design of the characters and their many, many skins, to the varied aesthetic beauty of each of the game’s 12 maps.

The overall design hangs together brilliantly. It’s bright, bold and unlike so many online shooters these days, colourful and cleanly realised.

The design of the characters themselves heralds a cast that is very diverse on grounds of race and gender.

The females in the game aren’t overtly sexualised (aside from Widowmaker, but that’s sort of her visual MO), with none of the female characters wearing anything remotely resembling armour-kinis or indeed slutmogs, which are so popular in WoW.

And the racial diversity in the game is refreshing to see as well, with the cast seemingly picked from each of the major nations & continents around the world.

From the short & stout Swedish Torbjorn, to the lithe French Assassin Widowmaker, to the well built and very beautiful Russian Zarya, to the Brazilian healer Lucio, right through to the Asian quartet of characters in Genji, Hanzo, D.Va and Mei.

All of the characters in the game are thoroughly likeable, well realised and none of them are ridiculous cringe-inducing caricatures of their race or region.


Gameplay

ScreenShot_16-05-10_00-37-24-000The gameplay in OverWatch, as mentioned above, takes place in one of two game modes: Quick Play or Brawl (Or Arcade as it’s known now on Live).

Gameplay consists of several types of maps. Either payload based maps where you need to take control of a point on the map to get a payload moving, or simply straight up area capture objectives.

The variety comes in the strategic interplay of opposing characters and team make-ups. As mentioned earlier, each character has other characters that can counter their abilities, and character swapping is both encouraged and expected in order to achieve the objective.

Games themselves can range from free for all carnage to very tight, chess-like tense affairs, where even the slightest wrong move can mean losing.

The characters’ abilities themselves layer on another level of complexity and enjoyment, and again players will find themselves gravitating to a handful of favourites that they find enjoyable and fun to play.

For me? That tends to be:

  • Mei
  • Junkrat
  • Widowmaker
  • Soldier 76
  • Torbjorn
  • Lucio
  • Tracer

Generally in that order. Mei is for me the most fun character. In the right hands she can be completely OP. Her main ability is her cryo-gun, that she can use to slow and temporarily freeze her foes. When they’re frozen solid for a second, she can then use her gun’s secondary fire to shoot an icicle and finish off the opponent.

Headshots in OverWatch always deal critical/double damage. So when Mei finds her enemy frozen, a quick right-click to their head and good night Vienna!

Unless it’s a tank, as another variance on the character roster are their base health and armour levels.

Tracer has the smallest health-pool in the game at a measly 150 HPs, but she can quickly regain any recently lost health by rewinding back to where her health and location were 3 seconds ago.

Reinhardt on the other hand has 500 HPs, but also 500 Armour points, and a shield that has 2000 HPs! Roadhog, another tank, has 600 HPs, more than Reinhardt, but no armour. He does however have a 300hp heal he can use on an 8 second cooldown.

The average health pool is around 200 without armour though.

In general though, before playing it I had an idea in my head about how the game was going to play. I was used to the Kill:Death ratio of other on-line shooters, so when I began playing in Beta, I was initially disappointed by the apparently lacking scoreboard in OverWatch.

However, after this, I began to get a clearer picture of the vision that Blizzard have for the game. Individual players are only important as what they can contribute to the overall team effort.

Sure, there’s the Play of the Game mechanic after each fight, but that’s purely as a reward to highlight good play.

Unless you’re Bastion. Just hold down fire, spray bullets & win.

Pfft.

Overall though, I’m glad Blizzard went this route, because the game-play is just so much better for that decision.


Music

ScreenShot_16-05-10_17-37-54-000The music in the game is as varied as the roster and maps. Each map has its own musical motif, from the light Greek music of Ilios, to the Japanese themed Hanamura motif.

I’d encourage you to either turn the volume down of the music though for game-play reasons, just a tad, so you can hear the enemy’s movements that much better.

And of course there’s the OverWatch title theme that I love to bits.

Sadly the soundtrack is only available with the frankly grossly over-priced £100 Collector’s Edition. Neither the standard edition nor the Origins Edition, regardless of physical or digital, come with the music included seperately.

This is a major let-down, and continues Blizzard’s previous lack of soundtracks in Digital CE’s for World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. Come on Blizzard, it’s not that hard to supply an included zip file with the soundtracks as MP3s, so why not do it?

In order to get the soundtrack, I’d have to pay an extra £55 over and above the £45 cost of the Origins Edition to pick up the aforementioned overpriced £100 physical CE.

Happily though, this is the only complaint I have about the game, as I’m neither surprised, nor really disappointed by the next feature:


Loot Boxes & Micro-transactions

CjLiz_NWEAAVF8nLoot Boxes are awarded to players each time they level up in the game. Loot boxes contain any and all of the cosmetic items you can use to customise your characters:

  • Skins
  • Emotes
  • Victory Poses
  • Voice Lines
  • Sprays
  • Highlight Intros
  • Player Icons

Each character has a base version of each of the first 6 items above, and further customisation is achieved through unlocking further options by use of currency.

Now currency is another thing that drops from Loot Boxes, and is a method of, over time, guaranteeing that you can unlock that evasive skin or Intro etc that you’ve been dying to get your hands on.

So, Micro-transactions then?

When the game went live, players were given an option in-game to buy varying quantities of Loot Boxes directly, without earning them through levelling up. In the UK, those prices are:

  • 2 Boxes: £1.59 (80p per box)
  • 5: £3.99 (80p)
  • 11: £7.99 (72p)
  • 24: £15.99 (66p)
  • 50: £31.99 (64p)

So as you can see, buying the bigger bundles ultimately is better value per box.

Again, these purchased boxes contain exactly the same sort of items you get from the level-up boxes.

Given that all of the items are cosmetic, and in light of the fact that Blizzard have stated any further map or characters added to the game will be given away free?

Honestly, these don’t really bother me that much.

Duplicate items reward you with a small chunk of currency to put towards that favourite rainy-day item.

As for me, I bought 5 boxes for £4 during the week, and I was lucky enough to get one of Mei’s Legendary skins, her Fire-fighter skin, which given that it’s a legendary, would normally cost 1000 currency points:


Pricing

There are three different editions of the game on offer.

  • Standard Edition: £29.99
  • Origins Edition: £44.99
  • Physical Collector’s Edition: £99.99

The Origins Edition comes with 5 Skins that can’t be bought in-game, and extras for other Blizzard games, like a baby Winston battle pet for WoW players, banners and icons for StarCraft players and so on.

The Physical CE comes with the above, the soundtrack as mentioned previously, and a statue of Soldier: 76.

Personally I would’ve thought Tracer or Winston would’ve made a more obvious choice for the statue, but they decided to go with 76 instead.


Final Thoughts

ScreenShot_16-05-10_17-54-42-000I think it’s very clear that I absolutely adore this game, for all of the above reasons.

I love the characters, the music, the art style, the abilities, the game-play and the cosmetic variety on offer to players.

If you’ve never picked up an on-line shooter before? If you’ve ever felt too intimidated by the on-line keyboard warriors shouting down their mics calling everyone around them scrubs and noobs? If you’ve ever been turned off by the pure kill:death ratio focus of other on-line shooters, or prefer playing healer and support style roles?

I’d thoroughly recommend you give OverWatch a go. It’s fun, the focus is on team-play and supporting your team-mates and winning the objective based game-play as a team.

Individual skill, or lack thereof, is of less importance, thus allowing less skilled players an easy inroad to enjoy the game.

Posted by Sar in Games, Gaming, News, Overwatch, Reviews, 0 comments
The “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” Crux Review

The “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” Crux Review

This  is going to be a spoiler filled review, so if you haven’t seen it yet? Look away now…


Today was my dad’s birthday. He would have been 65. 
He died 5 years ago and I miss the hell out of him.

It’s apropos, trust me.


So I finally got around to seeing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (hereafter referred to as simply: BvS), after it being on release for over a week already. Having read and watched reviews being less than kind to it, I wanted to see for myself if the less than glowing critiques were justified, and if they were, what was it exactly that made the film so bad?

For a start, BvS isn’t quite as bad as the current rating of 31% on Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe. There were some pretty good points about this film…

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The first positive of the movie. Seriously.

Christian Bale was and probably always will be my favourite on-screen Batman. So when Ben Affleck was announced as Batman, I was seriously questioning what the fuck DC were thinking.

As it turned out, he makes for a great Batman. Not Bale great, but great nonetheless. Bats in this film is a perfectly realised Frank Miller’s Batman of The Dark Knight Returns. Right down to the story beats, age and even his bat costume & armour. All are directly referencing and lifting from Frank Miller’s defining work.

This is a pissed off, grizzled and just plain fucked off Batman. A man who is sick of shit and just wants to clean up and protect his Gotham from any and all threats.

As Bruce Wayne, he was in Metropolis during the events of Man of Steel (MoS) and saw and experienced first-hand, at street-level, the kind of wholesale wanton destruction that Kryptonians are capable of when they have a tiff.

After a short dream sequence (the film is full of them), the intro sequence to the film depicts the destruction during the end of MoS as witnessed by Bruce. The background to this destruction laden intro is the World Engine that was unleashed by Zod in MoS, battering the city.

With buildings collapsing left, right and centre, Bruce dodges his way through the destruction, in an effort to see who he can save. His main goal is the Wayne Industries building in Metropolis, which he witnesses being sliced in half by Heat Vision, and collapsing, killing everyone still inside.

From that point on, you can understand how an ordinary man like Bruce would view aliens like these. Mega-powerful, god-like creatures who can’t be stopped or killed by mortal weapons and who could, on a whim, destroy all life on the planet. As he said to his butler, Alfred:

“Count the dead, thousands of people. What’s next? Millions? He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”

Thus begins his mission to take down Superman…

Supermanbatman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-trailer-henry-cavill-warner-brothers-youtube-12032015-1276x850

Henry Cavill returns as Superman, his second appearance as the Last Son of Krypton.

I bloody loved Man of Steel, and a lot of that was down to Henry Cavill. I think he not only makes a perfect Superman, but also a great, more modern Clark Kent.

Christopher Reeve for many, will of course, and rightly so, be the best Superman. However as good as he was (and he was!), he never quite had the physicality that you would associate with someone as physically powerful as Superman.

Cavill fills that suit with aplomb.

If it sounds like I’m completely man-crushing here?

#guilty #broner

He returns to the role, and does just as great a job here. The impact that the events of MoS had both on Metropolis and Clark play out here.

There are two diametrically opposed views on Superman in this film. Those who support Supes, and believe he’s only here to do good, and those, like Bruce Wayne, who believe he presents a clear, present and potentially future threat to the citizens of Metropolis and beyond.

Cavill plays the guilt-ridden and conflicted Superman/Clark to a tee, and events later in the film show him pushed to the breaking point, ready to go full on nuclear on the film’s main antagonist and first major failing, Lex Alexander Luthor.

Good job Henry.

Call me?

*ahem*

Alexander “I’m not Lex” LuthorEfgtr

No, not the Lex you’re used to. Just not yet at least. Jesse Eisenberg, again playing himself as he does in every film he’s ever in (hey it worked for Sean Connery right?) plays Alexander Luthor, son of Lex Luthor.

Here, Alexander…fuck it, Lex, is a tech billionaire, of much the same ilk as another character Eisenberg played in the Social Network: Mark Zuckerberg. Here he’s full of twitches, tics and really hams it up as a man with psychological and pathological daddy issues.

His portrayal of Lex frames the character as one that might actually be clinically insane, which was honestly the best thing about the character.

But the biggest negative about his character is his motivation.

What the fuck was it?

It was never made clear throughout the entire film exactly why Lex was doing what he was doing. He just seemed to hate Superman and wanted to kill him. He kept referencing imagery of angels and demons, so maybe he was meant to be thinking that Superman was a demon in human form and he saw himself as the saviour of the world?

But if that was the case, then that doesn’t track logically with his unleashing of the villain that criminally was shown in the trailers: Doomsday. A creature hell-bent on destroying everything. But we’ll come back to him in a bit.

Cameos: Wonder Woman

Underused, but we got to see a decent glimpse of how Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman will be realised in her first full length feature that’s set to début next year.

There were initially a lot of concerns, similar to Batfleck, about Gadot’s casting. Happily though, again similar to Batfleck, Gadot pulled off the Immortal Amazonian Princess shtick with not a little bit of credit to her name.

No, she’s not built, like some would have liked, but she did well with the little she had handed to her to work with. That amounted to a few scenes outside of the Doomsday battle, and of course the majority of that battle itself.

It was good to see DC’s holy trinity on screen at once for the first time though.Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Trinity

But what of the other cameos? Flash? Aquaman? Cyborg?

Well, these were all “blink and you’ll miss them” cameos. Seen mainly as surveillance footage gathered by Lex in his research, each cameo was on screen for less than a minute each.

For me though, Flash aside, none of the others really have me all that pumped. And I only exclude Flash from that because I love the completely unconnected TV show. But frankly, the guy they’ve chosen to play Barry Allen in the DCU?

Looks like a skeevy drug dealer to be frank:

flashvszoom15

Barry Allen on TV: Clean cut, fun and wholesome.

ezra-miller

Barry Allen in the DCU – $5 a baggie?

Bleh. I remain to be convinced about any of the coming Justice League members outside of the Trinity. They’re not the Avengers, that’s for damn sure.

And as an aside? No-one even fucking likes Aquaman. I feel sorry for the frankly miscast Jason Momoa. He’s been stuck with a fucking terrible superhero to portray. I predict his solo film will absolutely stink.

Not even the guys on the Big Bang Theory, who all love superheroes, even like Aquaman.

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Fear him, he can swim like, really fast…?

And as for Cyborg? Anyone care?

Thought not.

Anyhow, the remainder of the MoS supporting cast are all here too: Lois Lane and Perry White (a returning Amy Adams and Laurence Fishburne), as well as Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner).

The actual emotional highpoint of the film for me was when Superman went AWOL for a while to try to clear his head and to get away from Metropolis, following a bombing at a trial where he was the only survivor.

He went hiking in the snow, and had a vision of his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent whilst there.

Pa Kent had a few wise words for his son, and the line that got me, after the vision ended?

Clark: I miss you dad.

Told you it was apropos.


Lowpoints of BvS

Anyhow, onto the failings then, and what dragged the film down, Lex Luthor aside…

First off, there was very little humour in this film. I can remember two jokes, one of which was the “I thought she was with you” line from the trailer.

Other than that, and an aside from Alfred (who seems to have been merged with the character of Lucius Fox in this DCU continuity and provides Batman’s tech support), there was bugger all to lighten the mood of what was otherwise a fucking grim spectacle.


Serious spoilers for the end of the film follow from this point right through to the end. You were warned!

Spoilers-Spoilers-everywhere-memeWhen you think about it, the reason it’s really grim is because the storyline of this film is quite simply The Dark Knight Returns vs the Death of Superman.

And yes, DC are using a bastardised Zod’s body (as seen in the trailers!) as that Doomsday. And here? He looks like a fucking Mutant Ninja Turtle. Like a pissed off Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtle that didn’t get his pizza delivered within 20 minutes or less…

doomsday-and-raphael-separated-at-birth

Anyway, the storyline follows that particular character’s most notable story to a tee.

Yeah DC, you done blown your load early.

You killed Superman.

You went and utterly blew the Death of Superman storyline by cramming it into the last 20 minutes of the second film in the DCU?

Seriously?

/facedesk x infinity

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu….

Death of Superman should have been a storyline that had an entire film dedicated to it. Man of Steel 3 perhaps.

You should have given the general audience time. Time to bond with this iteration of Superman beyond 1.5 movies. Give them time to see him redeem himself from the events of the first movie, to prove himself to be the hero the world knows him to be.

Then? When he’s a proper saviour, and adored by the world of the DCU and audiences worldwide? Then drop the hammer of Death of Superman, without any hint that he may still be alive, unlike what they did with the final shot of this film.

Alas that wasn’t to be. Instead, DC rush things in an effort to catch up to Marvel, and cram Superman’s most important storyline into the last 20 minutes of only the second film in the DCU, thus robbing the character’s sacrifice of much of its gravitas and importance.

Fuck.

But, as anyone who knows the Superman comic history will attest, Supes does come back after the Death of Superman storyline, and this version will too, but I’ll swing back round to why in a second.


There were many dream sequences I mentioned earlier, and two of them are relevant to where I think the DCU are heading with their overall story arc. Particularly that of Superman.

The first dream sequence involved a more overt cameo from the DCU’s Flash. In it, he warned Bruce Wayne:

“Listen to me now. It’s Lois, Lois Lane. She’s the key. I’m too soon? I’m too soon. You were right about him. You’ve always been right about him. Fear him. Find us, you have to find us.”

The other sequence, partially in the trailers, was set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside of a city, presumably Metropolis. In it is carved a huge Omega symbol, and there are troops with Superman’s S logo emblazoned upon their arms.

In this dream, it looks like Superman has gone evil, and amassed an army that worships him like a god, and he’s destroyed everyone that has gone against him.

batman-v-superman-final-trailer-6

Given these two dream sequences, I have a feeling they are going to really fuck things up. Especially for Superman fans.

How?

A few years back, a fighting game was released by WB featuring the superheroes of DC.

It was called Injustice: Gods Among Us.

It was set 5 years after the events of Death of Superman, and in it, he and Lois are married and she’s pregnant with his child.

The story goes that Superman, after the Joker tricks him into killing Lois and destroying Metropolis, Superman decides that he needs to impose a forced “peace” on the world. He warns the governments of the world to cease fighting, or that he’ll do it for them.

In essence he becomes a global dictator and rules the planet with an iron fist.

If you want to read more on it, you can read the Wikipedia synopsis, or a longer fuller description of the comic prequel.

So yeah, that’s where I think they’re going, and maybe why they’ve blown such an important storyline so early in the DCU.

It’s also fairly obvious that the major villain in the DCU, and perhaps in the last JL movie proper, is going to be Darkseid. In the aforementioned apocalypse nightmare, Darkseid’s henchmen are fighting alongside a corrupted Superman and his troops, so it looks as though both Superman and Darkseid could be teaming up in a future DCU installment.

In essence, Darkseid is going to be DC’s Thanos.

Except Marvel will have threaded the threat of Thanos throughout 12 movies over the course of 10 years.

Not so much patience being shown by DC.


Conclusion

Am I glad I went to see the film?

Yeah, of course. I love superhero films and TV shows, and it takes one to be really really bad for me to regret seeing it. Potentially Aquaman’s solo flick will be falling into this category.

Would I recommend you go see it?

Eh. It depends if you’re as big a fanboy as I am. If not? Maybe wait for the Blu-Ray release in 6 months.

Ultimately, it’s a very mixed film. Storyline was sketchy to non-existent, and the characterisation of some characters was off or incoherent at best.

The premature use of the Death of Superman storyline so early on in the DCU is so very nearly unforgivable, and Zack Snyder is going to have to really justify trying to run before he can walk with this nascent Justice League IP. This should have been a story that would have been built up to over the course of years, and if Darkseid’s coming? Have him resurrect Superman as his lieutenant.

But the film did have some high points. The fight sequences were good, and the effects were well handled. Batfleck and WW both came out of this with credit in their banks, and we’ve got a possible showdown with Darkseid on the cards.

I don’t usually score stuff, but it would be around a 5 to 6 out of 10. It was far from awful, but it was also far from great. And I say that as someone who adored Man of Steel, a movie that has had no shortage of critics in the years since its release.

An appropriately bitter-sweet experience then, for a bitter-sweet day.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Posted by Sar in Movies, News, Opinion, Reviews, 0 comments
Rewound: Life is Strange (Review)

Rewound: Life is Strange (Review)

Life is Strange, an episodic game by Don’t Nod Entertainment, was originally released in instalments over the course of six months between January and October of 2015.


headerI bought the first episode of Life is Strange a few days after it was released, having read good reviews on Steam and other websites. After playing through it I was thoroughly impressed. Enough so that upon finishing episode 1, I stumped up for the remaining 4 episodes there and then.

Now, a year later, having waited for the other 4 episodes to be released, and having the time on my hands to devote to playing it, did the series live up to the promise of that initial episode?

Story Premise

Max, and her wall of selfies…

18 year old Max (Maxine) Caulfield, returns to her home town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, having moved away 5 years previously with her parents as a 13 yr old. She returns to enlist as a photography student in the prestigious Blackwell Academy in order to be tutored by renowned photographer, Mark Jefferson.

Before she moved away, she spent most of her childhood with her best friend, a girl named Chloe Price, and the two were absolutely inseparable.

Shortly after the death of Chloe’s father, Max had to move and never kept in touch. Something she had felt guilty about over all those years. Returning to Arcadia Bay and not contacting Chloe had only compounded those feelings.

The story proper begins in Blackwell Academy. While photographing a butterfly in the female toilets for a school project, a guy enters, muttering to himself like a madman. Max decides to stay out of sight and wait until he leaves before she comes out of hiding.

It turns out to be a drug deal gone bad, and the guy, a rich kid bully named Nathan, owes money to a drug dealer. However the transaction goes bad, tempers flare and the drug dealer’s collector gets shot and killed in the resulting argument by Nathan.

Shocked to her core, Max immediately finds herself back in class 5 minutes prior to the events described above. She discovers she can prevent the shooting by being able to suddenly rewind time itself, and this then becomes the main game-play mechanic throughout the 5 episodes…

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Simple solution to Chaos Theory: Kill all butterflies!

It’s not a huge spoiler to reveal that the person shot in the toilets was an unrecognisable Chloe, who has since completely changed how she looks from when Max last knew her. Max and her reconnect shortly afterwards, and they begin to rebuild their old bond of friendship.

At this point the game begins to assume its main story arc, that of investigating the disappearance of a girl named Rachel Amber, who had been best friends with Chloe in the years Max was gone, and secondarily trying to prevent a cataclysmic tornado that will wipe out the town killing everyone in it…

The Butterfly Effect

Muhammad Ali was wrong, them butterflies hit like a truck…

Over the course of the journey, it becomes apparent that meddling with time has serious consequences. Not just on a personal level, with Max suffering increasingly severe headaches and nosebleeds as a result of her use of her power, but reflecting the game’s chaos theory motif, the apparent butterfly effect of her actions also begins to impact the larger world around her.

To the point where the constant use of her time-altering powers may actually be causing the increasingly freakish events that begin to unfold within Arcadia.

Was the wait worth it?

Bear in mind I played the first episode in February of last year, but I left it until all 5 episodes had been released in order to play my way through the entire season in rapid succession. In a way similar to how you may binge watch an entire season of a show like Netflix’s Daredevil or Jessica Jones, I binge played all remaining 4 episodes of LiS within the span of a couple of days, nearly a full year after the release of episode 1.

Hell yes it was worth it!

Playing it this way meant that certain cliffhangers, such as the death of a major character at the end of episode 4 (no names), were quickly dealt with and resolved within an hour or so by carrying straight on into the next episode, rather than having to wait an agonising 9 weeks or so until it was released to find out what happened next.

Other Characters & Back Story

The incidental characters, their stories, situations and choices all helped sculpt a rich back story to the main story, and the cataclysmic choices being faced by the main characters.

Do I save this character’s life? Do I let this character get the shit beaten out of them? Do I rat out this character to his wife about his activities? All these minutiae helped carve out a fuller, richer storyline and helped build the history and backstories of the main characters themselves.

These are all set against the backdrop of the two main story threads mentioned above: Investigating the disappearance of Rachel and trying to find a way to prevent the destruction soon to be wrought by the monster tornado.

A sense of loss

The game wasn’t without it’s problems, sure, but as with life, strange or otherwise, it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

After I finished playing I felt one thing in the main: empty.

In exactly the same way as you do when you finish a really great novel that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed and devoured the many pages of within very few sittings?

The world that the characters inhabit becomes your whole world for that short period of time, and the characters become like friends that you’ve known for years.

Their relationships, their troubles and situations become as intimate to you as your own, and when it’s finally all over? And you realise that you’ve come to the end of your journey, that your time with these characters, these friends, is at an end?

It’s like a small death, a sense of mourning for what’s been lost, but feeling richer nonetheless for having spent time with them.

That’s how much of an impact these characters, Max & Chloe, had had on me over the course of the 14 or so hours it took me to finish all 5 episodes.

life-is-strange-episode-1-0016

Pricefield

Art & Sound design

The aesthetic of the game is very artsy, in keeping with the entire theme of photography and artwork that features heavily throughout the course of the entire game.

Characters and environments aren’t photo-realistic, and are reminiscent of the art-style of Team Fortress 2, certainly in the environmental design. Textures throughout appear more painterly in style, and it works really well. Check out the beard art on the photography teacher, Mark Jefferson as an example:

Mr Jefferson, photographer extraordinaire

Mr Jefferson, loves taking photos…

Sadly lip-syncing of characters, something becoming increasingly more common in games for purposes of realism, is poor throughout, and during one conversation in the final hour, breaks completely. Max’s lips fail to move at all when talking, but once done with the conversation in question, it immediately rectifies itself and the previous lip-syncing, bad as it was, resumes.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention. It’s light and subtle where it needs to be, and its hipster style is fitting with the somewhat angst-ridden theme of millennials in over their heads.

Endings

At this point, there needs to be some discussion of the endings. There are slight spoilers for the end of the game without content first, which I’ll hide behind a spoiler tag, then full and complete spoilers including the content of the endings within a second spoiler tag, so if you don’t want to know anything about what happens at the end of the final episode, skip over the next bit.

[su_spoiler title=”Slight spoilers lie within…”]The ending though, was flawed in that ultimately, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of the 5 episodes had any impact on the ending you saw.

Reminiscent of Mass Effect 3’s “Pick an ending” debacle, this was the sole and major let down about the game as a whole. That none of my choices over the past 14 hours, none of the people I’d saved, helped out, rescued, brought together or seen die, that none of these choices, at the very end, had any bearing on what happened right at the death?

A major disappointment, but not one large enough to ruin the entire experience, unlike that of ME3…[/su_spoiler]

[su_spoiler title=”Full spoilers for the game’s ending lie within, so be warned!”]Ultimately, the game boils down to a straight up choice:

  • Sacrifice the town of Arcadia Bay to be with Chloe, either as her friend or lover, depending on how you play the game.
  • Sacrifice Chloe, and save Arcadia Bay and everyone in it, by going back in time and allowing Chloe to be shot by Nathan, thereby negating your involvement in any further time-altering shenanigans and preventing the strange series of events that culminated in the tornado.

Disappointingly, none of the choices you’ve made over the course of all 5 episodes can change either choice.

You either throw away all the work you did trying to improve the lives of the residents of Arcadia Bay, and presumably allow them all to be killed by the tornado, or throw away all the work you’ve done over the previous 5 episodes constantly trying to save Chloe’s life, time and time again, and allow her to die.

Patently, given the design of the ending sequences, the developers fully expect you to follow your head, and sacrifice Chloe, as that ending gets a fuller sequence showing her funeral, the characters that you’d saved and had an impact on.

If, like me, you follow your heart instead, the ending received upon saving Chloe and sacrificing the town is considerably more perfunctory, simply showing you riding through the wreckage of Arcadia Bay with Chloe, and driving out of town onto a new life together.

No repercussions or emotional fallout from having condemned hundreds of people, including Chloe’s mother and stepfather or your friends and schoolmates to a horrific and violent death.

Nor any recriminations from Chloe herself for sacrificing the many for the one, which, I’ll re-iterate, included Chloe’s own mother.

Disappointing, there’s no doubt about it. It could have, and should have been handled better by the developers.

Ideally I would’ve liked my previous decisions throughout the game, or even just the final episode to have had some sort of impact on the ending sequences, if not on the final choice itself. If you save Chloe, you see nothing of the Arcadia Bay residents at all, and it focuses the short ending entirely on their drive through and out of town.

[/su_spoiler]

Wrapping up

Flawed as it was, however, the ending was merely a coda on an otherwise excellent game and story experience.

Would I recommend that you pick it up and play it?

Most definitely.

It’s an excellent game, with characters, main and incidental, that I came to care about deeply over the course of my play time. Their characterisation was spot on. Both main characters were flawed, genuine and more human than the “heroes” in most other games.

Sadly, and ironically, my time with them is done, and I am feeling left emotionally raw. This is clearly an experience that will remain with me for some time still to come.


A second season has been confirmed, but according to the developer is likely to feature a different cast of characters, which saddens me, as I’d like nothing more than to spend more time in the shoes of Max Caulfield, Time Warrior…

Stand by me? Always, and forever…

Posted by Sar in Games, Gaming, News, Reviews, 0 comments
2015: Fine then, bugger off!

2015: Fine then, bugger off!

So it’s that time of the year again, time for drinks, Auld Lang Syne, and looking forward to what’s ahead: Yep, it’s New Year’s Eve.


So 2015 in WoW wasn’t its most shining moment ever in all honesty. Realistically this year will probably go down in WoW history as its worst. Hopefully. Because that means better is to come.

Warlords came out towards the arse end of last year, and this year saw the game receive very little content, not least in the form of *cough*major*cough*patch*cough* 6.1.

So in effect the game had 1 content patch all of 2015 in the shape of 6.2.x, an all time low for WoW, at the level expected of an aging F2P game. WoW is aging, that’s undeniable, but it’s hardly 100% F2P atm. In fact it’s still by far the biggest subscription MMO on the planet. It should be treated as such by Blizzard…

That and Garrisons. Eurgh.

On the plus side, it was the year I finally changed main characters after 6½/7 years and stopped tanking and went back to DPS. Glad I did, much less pressure to attend raids and perform in pugs/LFRs.


So this year I had the opportunity to try out several other MMOs: Wildstar, Final Fantasy 14 and Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.

Wildstar is a fun game, no doubt about it. It’s colourful, comical and brash in its use of pallette. Well worth dipping into, but I eventually stopped playing it because of a lack of guild or friends ingame to help make the whole experience worthwhile. Definitely a fun game though, and easy to give a crack as it’s now F2P.

Wildstar Online

Wildstar Online

Final Fantasy 14 was a different kettle of fish from Wildstar. A total contrast in fact. Where Wildstar was comic styled fun, FF14 is very po-faced, with seemingly very little humour. It’s a very dry experience, but very much a worthy game. Again I stopped playing because of subs costs (I was playing & paying for 3 MMOs simultaneously), so until the sub cost is dropped and it goes F2P it’s unlikely I’ll return.

Final Fantasy 14

Final Fantasy 14

Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is the Buy to Play iteration of the Elder Scrolls Online, a game that has dropped the initial subscription model, but still costs money to purchase the base game. This is one I’ve really been having a ball with, far more than FF14 or even Wildstar to a degree.

Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

That may be to do with my long-standing love of the Elder Scrolls games, right the way back to Daggerfall back in the day. I’m still only about 20 hours into ESO atm, but I’m loving it, and the lack of a subs fee helps in this regard immensely.

It does have a cash shop, but it’s a pretty good one, and one I’ve already spent some money on for a pet and a mount (both Jaguars!), as well as a costume set. Job done I suppose Bethesda!


Getting away from MMOs slightly, another game I bought recently was Undertale. On first appearances it looks like something made to run on a Spectrum 48k, and frankly it does nothing to dis-abuse you of that impression. But as with any great game it’s the story and characterisation that pulls you in and makes you care about a seemingly blocky arrangement of pixels…undertale


Pillars of Eternity was another game I was really happy to see released this year. Paying serious amounts of homage to its forefathers Baldur’s Gate & Planescape: Torment both thematically and graphically, this has led the resurgence of the CRPG that will only continue even further next year with the release of Torment: Tides of Numenera and more…

Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity


There were plenty of other games, such as Metal Gear Solid 5 etc, but those were the main games I sunk time into this year, and ones I’d recommend you pick up if you haven’t already!

All that’s left to be said is have a Happy New Year!

Posted by Sar in Gaming, News, Reviews, RPGs, World of Warcraft, 0 comments
Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So it’s Xmas time again, Winterveil is currently in effect on Azeroth, and we’re all looking forward to seeing a fat man emptying his sack all over our living rooms late at night…


Christmas came early for me and a lot of other geeks this year, with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Dec 17th. Long gone now are memories of George Lucas’s attempts to destroy the franchise with his horrific prequels, which were packed full of risible acting, complete lack of acting or direction, and the terrible decision to eschew practical effects completely in favour of CGI, which hasn’t aged well, even only 10 years after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

JJ Abrams took the helm for this first film of another trilogy, and it quite bluntly shits on the prequels from orbit. It is a far, FAR superior film to all three prequels on several fronts:

Acting: Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as Rey & Finn respectively absolutely school Natalie Portman and the godawful Hayden Christensen in terms of raw acting ability.

See Anakin? THIS IS HOW YOU EMOTE!

Ridley is absolutely delightful, and Rey is now firmly one of my favourite SW characters. Boyega as Finn completely owned his role and finally showed what a black male lead character (itself practically a SW curiousity) in the SW universe can be.

Sorry Lando & Mace Windu, but you were hardly lead characters!

😉

Practical Effects: Frankly, screw overuse of CGI. If you can build a set practically, then for god’s sakes do it! It gives the actors so much more to work with and allows both them and the audience to inhabit the scene so much more, and the situation becomes so much better realised and believable as a result.

Practical creature effects also helped enormously to give this new film the same feel as the original trilogy, especially the new “cantina” scene at Maz Kanata’s castle.

Friends Reunited: The original trilogy cast & characters make a very welcome return, and when Han & Chewie appeared on screen for the first time, you couldn’t have wiped the stupid fanboy grin off my face for a million quid. Not that the story concentrates on them in any way. No, this is firmly a film centred around the new triumvirate of characters (Rey, Finn & Kylo Ren, the new villain), but the appearances of them spattered throughout the film’s 136 minute running time help make the universe feel just like the one we left 32 years ago.

Story: No trade federation, no trade routes, no silly senate dealings. Nope, this was back to the roots of story telling in Star Wars: A story firmly about family. Or in this case, families…

There was one major criticism of the plot for this film:

[su_spoiler title=”Click for slight spoiler details…”]The film’s plot, beat for beat, perhaps too closely mirrors that of A New Hope. Didn’t bother me at all though, as it was perhaps better to help root the characters and setting once again back into a galaxy far far away…[/su_spoiler]

Overall though? Absolutely loved it. I was completely wrapt for the 2 hours, which is not something I could say for more than any individual 10 minute period of any of the prequels.

Is it better than the OT films? Perhaps Jedi, which as always been the weakest of the OT, but New Hope and Empire for me are still stronger films, especially Empire.

I’ll be going to see it a 2nd time over the Xmas & New Year period, which is something I rarely do with films/movies in the cinema. Last time I did that was the Matrix!

If you haven’t seen it yet, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS!? GO!


Posted by Sar in General, Movies, News, Opinion, Reviews, 2 comments