Wednesday, 20 April 2016

9th Dawn 2


9th Dawn, the idiosyncratic, 90s inspired RPG is one of the best games available on mobile devices. 9th Dawn 2 improves on it in every way.

Mechanically speaking it is much deeper and more refined. Dungeons now involve puzzles as well as combat, with switches to flick, moving platforms to jump between and gates to open. It's good to have more variety and flexibility in terms of the gameplay experience. With this in mind the UI and leveling systems have been vastly improved. Managing your inventory, levelling your character and accessing the game's basic settings is much simpler this time around. 



The world feels better too, the design of it, the locations, the spacing between towns and dungeons. The design feels much sharper, like Valorware had more confidence when developing this than they did the first one.

Graphically speaking the game has seen a big upgrade as well, it's still a 90s RPG through and through but the world, items, characters and enemies are all much more detailed. What’s great is that equipping different outfits and weapons has a visual impact now as well as just a statistical one. A small victory but a victory nonetheless 



The story and quests fit right in with the game’s traditional fantasy feel, you'll clear dungeons, free towns from Goblins and go in search of lost items. Just like with the first game though the real fun comes from simply roaming the land and finding your own adventure.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Dynasty Warriors 2 Review

I absolutely love the Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, it’s all good. I realise they can be a bit too repetitive for some people but, for me, they are consistently good fun. Sadly there are few people in this world who seem to agree with me that Dynasty Warriors 2 is the best in the series. So, me being the generous and giving person that I am, thought I should use my small amount of internet influence to educate the gaming world by reviewing Dynasty Warriors 2 for the PlayStation 2.

Cast your mind back to the launch of the PS2. An untold world of possibilities lay ahead of the gaming world, the leap from the PS1 to the PS2 promised to be huge and Dynasty Warriors 2 was a great piece of evidence for this. Featuring 28 characters and 8 large stages, the game gives you superhuman strength and endurance and has you battle against armies of hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers, with dozens of people on screen at any one time. The aim of these grand battles is pretty straightforward, kill the enemy general and keep yours alive.

The game draws inspiration from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the book inspired by The Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history where the kingdoms of Wu, Shu and Wei faced off against one another following the fall of the Han Dynasty to claim control of China. Don’t worry though, the game doesn’t let the history get in the way of the fun, it just draws it’s inspiration from these real people, places and events. It paints it more as a legend than as history and so you, as one man, can lay waste to hundreds of soldiers and dozens of officers.  



The game uses a deceptively simple Hack and Slash system. You mix light and heavy attacks and build up your Musou meter until you can unleash a special move. You can also fire a bow in first person or fight on horseback, with light, heavy or Musou attacks. L1 blocks and through a combination of all of this you can win some fairly challenging fights against officers, learning when knocking them down might cause them to use a health item or powerup and learning when to block and which of their attacks will overwhelm you. As an officer you can improve your stats by defeating officers and gate captains, collecting the stat boosts they drop. You also earn points for your kills, as do your body guards and, at the end of each stage, you can improve in rank and your bodyguards can improve in rank and number, with their appearance changing to reflect their improvements.

There are a number of items to collect, with food serving as health, bottles providing full health and Musou, bags filling your Musou meter, axes doubling your attack for thirty seconds, armor doubling your defence for thirty seconds, gold statues giving you infinite Musou for ten seconds and arrows giving you, well, arrows - duh.

By playing through an officer's story you can unlock the other officers - you start out with 9 - and at the end of each you’re greeted with a short summary of that officer's legendary deeds. You can also unlock and play as some of the enemy officers like the legendary Lu Bu but these characters can only be played as in the game’s Free Mode, which lets you play as any of your unlocked officers in any of the unlocked stages.

The game can be a tad tiresome at times, you have to play the first two stages as each of the officers from the Three Kingdoms and the fact that there are only 8 stages means things can get a bit ‘been there, done that’ but for the most part the characters are varied enough to keep things interesting. Also the limitations of the graphics can be a bit frustrating, there is a hefty amount of pop in, with characters sometimes only a few paces away disappearing from the screen completely if you are in too large a crowd. Also some stages rely on darkness or fog to keep the draw distance low while others, particularly the early areas of Hu Lao Gate, simply restrict your view by keeping the draw distance low. It isn’t a huge issue but it is a sign of the game’s age.

The game’s soundtrack has aged a lot better than it’s graphics, with a mixture of absolutely amazing face meltingly awesome heavy metal and some more traditional sounding Chinese elements. Most stages only rely on short sections of music but they’re all very catchy, some of them have stayed with me for years and most will get your foot tapping while your fingers are mashing away and the hours are flying past.



The best part about the game though, the reason that it is better than any other Warriors game, is that it isn’t just a mindless power trip. Sure you end most stages having killed some of the greatest warriors in Chinese history, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers but you are not a one man army. If you venture too far ahead your general and bodyguards will warn you to fall back and, if you don’t, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded and taking a frightening amount of damage. It’s important at these times to remember that if you haven’t found one of the memory card crates to save your game then death means restarting the level. In other words, don’t get carried away.

Working with your army is crucial, helping them advance, taking out officers and the reinforcement spewing enemy gates and preventing your fellow officers from biting the dust. You also need to react to - or if you played the game before pre-empt - any enemy strategies, this is where the game shines.

During the opening stage, the Yellow Turban Rebellion, it's important, regardless of which faction you are playing as, to defeat the officers guarding the gates that the other factions that make up your alliance are attacking. This allows the full force of the Han army to progress to the second gates, where you should really do the same. Then there is the wind tunnel and boulder trap, both of which should be neutralised to allow your allies to advance. Otherwise you will only have one third of your forces to attack Zhang Jiao, not a good idea unless you want a challenge.  



At the Battle of Hu Lao Gate you must again open gates for your allies and then you can choose to either face Lu Bu, who is as tough as the Terminator's balls, or you can bypass him, leaving him to lay waste to anyone who crosses his path. There is also an ambush force that attacks your leader, who in this battle is Yuan Shao. When this happens you need to decide whether you can rush to defeat the enemy leader, Dong Zhuo, before Yuan Shao is killed and you lose the battle.

I won’t go into detail for the other stages, if you haven’t played the game then I don’t want to ruin the surprise of what happens in each one but the game has plenty of tricks up it’s sleeve and keeps you on your toes. It is not the dull Hack and Slash that some would have you believe, it is deep, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Skin Trade Review



Skin Trade is, in theory, an action film with a message, two cops from different sides of the world work together to take down an international human trafficking gang whilst teaching us about the horrors of human trafficking. Let's see how that works out
First off it isn’t really a set piece film, fights take place in simple ways and often in small areas but this suits Lundgren’s tank like nature and Jaa’s flashy moves quite well, allowing the focus to be on their fighting. The action side of things is perfectly average but highly enjoyable.
The message is somewhat lost. The juxtaposition between the soft, darkly lit intimate scenes between Lundgren and his wife and the sensory overload of the scenes with girls being used as sex slaves is somewhat heavy handed and there are shots showing a container filled with girls who died during the trip which is filmed in an impactful way but is not contextualised. The problem is the movie moves so swiftly and employs so many action clich├ęs that it’s hard to contextualise the human trafficking within the action/revenge framework that the film has established for itself.  This renders the human trafficking scenes far less evocative than they need to be. Also there is an uncomfortable amount of gratuitous nudity for a film trying to educate about human trafficking.

It is pleasing to see Ron Perlman and Peter Weller in the film – they never disappoint and this is no exception. Weller is the hardy police captain and Perlman the Serbian crime boss. Both are stereotypical roles but seeing the two actors fill out the archetypes is good fun.
Then there’s Tony Jaa, whilst it is impressive he learnt the English he speaks in this film in such a short time he is far from fluent and some scenes are laughably awkward because of his shaky grip on the language. It's a shame because his action moments are great but when he speaks English it becomes hard to take him seriously. That's not to say that Lundgren has a voice that could woo the Pope but at least he has a full grip on the language and, much like Schwarzenegger, makes the gruffness of his accent work in his favour.

The action is enjoyable enough if you're a fan of the genre but the film could have been much more if it managed to balance the action with a sensitive and impactful handling of the issue of human trafficking that inspired it. It's worth a watch for Lundgren, Perlman and Weller but, at the end of the day, it's just an average action film, nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

My Top Five Movie Soundtracks



I thought I’d share with you a list of my five favourite movie soundtracks. I capped it a five because I could go on forever, for instance I’d also include Back to the Future, The Terminator, Hardware, 12 Years a Slave, Aliens, The Last of the Mohicans – I really need to force myself to stop. Anyway, after much deliberation, here are my five favourites:

Robocop

Robocop is a fantastic example of a soundtrack capturing a movie’s core – man and machine. It’s a heroic, march inducing tune that makes great use of mechanical and organic sounds to perfectly represent the character and his story.

Anyone else notice he always poses like this when he shoots?

Gladiator

Hans Zimmer is a musical genius and you need look no further than the score for Gladiator. Inspiring, heart-breaking, heroic, tragic. The score is always what the movie needs when it needs it most, memorable and evocative, it is just one of Zimmer’s many masterpieces.

Das Boot

Das Boot is a film of claustrophobia and chaos. It’s visceral in every sense of the word and the soundtrack captures this perfectly. Whether bonding in peace and quiet or holding on for dear life as enemy ships bomb them from the surface the music really makes you feel it.

Pulp Fiction

The choice of music in this film, as in all Tarantino films, is simply awe inspiring. I’ll let it speak for itself.

Rocky

Every Rocky film makes superb use of music and so many songs have become iconic thanks to this series of films. Through montages, moments of great character drama and moments of wonderfully OTT extravagance the Rocky soundtrack delivers in a way few soundtracks can.

I am entertained, by all of these soundtracks!



Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Hitman: Contracts Review

Alistair has just ordered his whiskey. I know this because I can hear the footsteps that follow the door creaking open. Hurried, consistent, regimented. The footfall of a loyal butler. I'm stood in the wine cellar, patrolling slowly. I see the butler through the bars as he pours the whiskey, the perfect amount. I don't make eye contact, as he leaves I slip back out into the hallway and make my way upstairs, reaching the rear staircase to head to the first floor before Alistair takes his first sip, convulses, collapses, dies. I know chaos has broken out on the ground floor, upstairs I'm just a guard, looking for my next target.


Hitman: Contracts. Ostensibly a series of jobs from Agent 47’s past. Each mission a large playground for you to explore. Seeking creative ways to kill, like pouring gasoline down a chimney onto a lit fire or giving a man laxatives so you can garrotte him in the toilet. Or you can use disguises and your trusty Silenced Silver Baller. Or, if you're feeling bloodthirsty, the all guns blazing approach works and, if you're health hits zero, just score some headshots for a second wind before you die. Contracts ups the ante from Hitman: Silent Assassin by making you feel like a true angel of death.

The Angel of Death is bald. 
Contracts takes you to meat warehouses, country estates, naval bases, biker hangouts - you see a bit of everything but always the seedy underside. The levels are large and well designed, there are always multiple ways to complete objectives dependent on your play style and this, coupled with the grading system makes each level hugely replayable. It's also great to see how other people handle a mission as often times they would have done it differently to you.


The stealth is largely reliant on disguises and your ability to hide bodies though it is a shame you can't do more than simply drag a body, it would have been great to be able to put them in containers or drop them over ledges. Also the only real stealth mechanic outside of disguises is a basic crouch. There is no cover system and the movement controls are a little clunky so even walking can be hard without suddenly bursting into a sprint. This can make blending in pretty hard. Of course the other option is to go all guns blazing but you will have to rely on the poor enemy AI - wait for them to run round a corner and, whilst they slowly turn to face you - gun them down because the shooting controls are also pretty clunky. Sadly all of this spills into the graphics as well, 47’s movements are a far cry from being natural Just stand still on the spot and look around, you'll see what I mean by the impossible way he turns.

What a lovely red tie. 
Fortunately the game’s music fares much better with an absolutely stellar soundtrack courtesy of legendary composer Jesper Kyd. The electronics and ambience suit the game wonderfully and are a real compliment to the story and world design.


Hitman: Contracts is a technically flawed game that has not aged well but it is still great fun and great value for money. If you enjoy freedom, replayability and stealth then I'd highly recommend giving this a shot. It isn't the best Hitman but it is a close second.