Random scribblings by a prick. Enjoy.

Archive for July 2012

Review: The Walking Dead Episode Two – ‘Starved For Help’ (XBLA)

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With the release of episode one of The Walking Dead, it was fairly clear that developer Telltale Games had something fairly special on their hands, well, special by the measure of ‘interactive adventures’ at any rate.

It also didn’t hurt that unlike previous IP’s which Telltale have made to walk down the interactive adventure path, such as Back To The Future and Jurassic Park, that The Walking Dead is enjoying a very contemporary groundswell of fan support in the form of hugely popular TV series and on-going graphic novella.

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Written by bitsnark

July 30, 2012 at 10:22 am

Ni No Kuni and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Confirmed Playable At Eurogamer Expo 2012

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This will be at the show. Did you see what I wrote there? NI NO KUNI WILL BE AT THE SHOW.

If you don’t know already, this year’s Eurogamer Expo is jam fucking packed with some seriously great titles which are going to be playable right on the show floor. We’ve had the likes of Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution, Assassins Creed 3, Resident Evil 6, Devil May Cry: DmC and many, many more already announced.

And to add further fuel to the nerdgasmic fire comes news that Namco Bandai will not only be having the newest entry in their long-running Tekken franchise available for all to play, but they’ll also be debuting the gorgeous Studio Ghibli animated, Level-5 developed PS3 JRPG Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch *pant* on the show floor too – marking the first time it’ll be playable on UK shores.

Lee Kirton, Namco PR bod and marketing director had the following to say, via press release, regarding the announcement:

“Tekken Tag Tournament brings some incredible new gameplay styles for the franchise with brand new modes, an incredible roster of characters and the most involved and detailed training mode ever created for the genre,”

“Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of the most beautiful games we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” he continued, undeterred. “It’s already causing quite a stir within the gaming world with its blend of superb gameplay from Level-5 and incredible animations produced and supervised by legendary Japanese animation company, Studio Ghibli. It’s exciting that we can have both games hands on at the Expo.”

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Ni No Kuni; BOTH playable at this year’s Eurogamer Expo – what more do you need?

Again, if you haven’t done so already, you can grab some tickets here.

If you don’t have tickets for this, then the only conclusion I can draw is that you’re some sort of disgusting pervert or something.

The Eurogamer Expo is due to take place this year on September 27-30 at Earls Court in London.

Review: Spelunky (XBLA)

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When people talk about Spelunky they far too often refer to it as some sort of ‘death-grind’, where all you do is spawn and die and that’s somehow that’s the single, solitary hook that keeps you playing like some sort of brutal exercise in platforming S&M.

For me, it wasn’t the notion of getting flat-lined just to try again that kept me coming back, it was something a little more subtle than that; namely the concepts of greed versus survival and risk versus reward.

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Written by bitsnark

July 17, 2012 at 10:24 am

State Of The Snark – Things Be A Changin’ & Thank You!

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The more things change, the more they’ll stay the same.

For the last seven or so years, I have been writing in my own little dark corner of the internet; blogging movies, anime and games; the impetus for which has always been my love for those three hobbies.  In May this year, I decided to get a little bit more serious about it; exporting my blog from it’s creaky LiveJournal hovel to WordPress which gave me a lot more freedom in regards to the visual style of my articles (it allowed the effortless inclusion of images and embeddable videos among other things) and also allowed me to reach a larger audience with my own domain name.

As a result of this transition, BitSnark was born.

BitSnark represents not just my passion for gaming channelled into words but also a means for getting myself seen with the goal of gaining more exposure.   That additional exposure has finally come, as popular videogame website The Gaming Vault  came knocking and as a result, I am now a writer for them; posting the exact same quality and level of content on their site as visitors to this site have become accustomed to.

My new home away from home, I’m privileged to be sharing it with some truly great folks – check it out! Don’t worry, Bitsnark will continue!

What this means for Bitsnark is that all of the reviews, news, articles and opinion pieces that I’ll be doing for TGV, will be re-fed through the Bitsnark facebook page which can be found here, in order to keep the folks who follow the blog up-to-date with all the new stuff that i’ll be writing.

With TGV being the primary recipient of my body of work, I won’t be looking duplicate all of the same articles and posts on here.  Instead, BitSnark as a WordPress blog will continue to function relatively independently, with some unique, not-necessarily game-related content being created for it as well as maybe the odd game review or two being cross-pollinated if you will from TGV.

It’s at this point that I need to put out some big thank you’s too.

My Long-Suffering Girlfriend, Hev  – Without her continued support and motivational kicks up the rectum, I would still likely be on LiveJournal, maybe posting an article or two every few months and leaving it at that.

Without her none of this would have been possible.  At all.  I really cannot overstate enough how instrumental she has been to all of this.

Lloyd Mitchell – A very good friend of mine; without Mr. Mitchell’s towering artistic talents, Bitsnark would have had been a largely faceless entity.  With his work on the BitSnark logo (which you can see at the top of the page), I feel that Bitsnark has been given an image which is both stylish and accurate to the sort of content that you can expect.  Lloyd also created the equally natty cover for the Bitsnark Facebook page too.  In short an amazingly talented artist and an even better human being.  Check out some of his superb work here.

My friends – Each and every one of you whoever said anything positive about my writing are as much to thank as anybody.  Your kind words, constructive criticism and mere attention to my scribblings have helped power me along and keep all of this afloat.  You know who you are – you folks are utterly irreplaceable.  Thank you.

Hate-Me Gaming – A collective of local friends and gamers, these guys have done a great deal to help promote Bitsnark.  As well as hosting an RSS feed, they’ve been periodically pimping my work through Twitter and for all of their work I’ll always be in their debt.  They are a superb group of people whose love for games is matched only by the warm welcome that they extend each and every person that joins them.  Get involved here.

GamerNights –  As well as being a cool web destination for folks looking for places to game online, GamerNights has also been instrumental in getting my blog out there and getting it noticed; very kindly linking an RSS feed to their site and publishing all of my newest stuff.  A superb little site ran by a group of superb people.  Check them out here.

ALL OF YOU – For each and every one of you who took minutes or even just seconds out of your day to view anything I’ve put out on Bitsnark you have my eternal gratitude and heartfelt thanks.  Every comment, every view, every link, every word typed about Bitsnark is something that I take as a personal kindness and as such again I would just like to say, THANK YOU ALL.  Without your attention, this blog would be dead in the water and I would likely be in asylum 🙂

Bitsnark WILL continue and I will continue to keep on writing to the same high standard that all of you have come to expect from me.

Thank you all once more and don’t fret, I’m sure I’ll see you all here and there 🙂

~John-Paul (Bitsnark)

Written by bitsnark

July 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Something You May Have Missed: ‘Papo & Yo’ For PSN – One Man’s Early Life Retold As A Gloriously Surreal Looking 3D Puzzle-Platformer

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A whimsical and seemingly unassuming logo; the actual game is anything but.

If you haven’t heard of ‘Papo & Yo’, I wouldn’t have blamed you given its relatively low profile.  A shame that said profile isn’t more prominent really, since Papo & Yo appears to be one of the most emotionally engaging and compelling looking releases of the year – downloadable or otherwise.

Papo & Yo is a surrealist 3D platformer that appears to take inspiration from the likes of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, ICO and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending film, Inception.  Interestingly, the game is actually loosely based on the early life of creator Vander Caballero – a former EA employee who had worked on the likes of Army of Two and FIFA before deciding to leave in order to pour his heart and soul into the very personal project that Papo & Yo has become.

Papo & Yo aims to retell Caballero’s childhood and his relationship to his alcoholic and abusive father as an abstract tale – swapping out Caballero himself with a small boy named Quico and his father with a huge colourful beast.

By and large, the vaguely Rhinoceros-looking beast is very friendly to Quico – helping him to scale tall obstacles and break through barriers with the sort of ease that the diminutive child is unable to muster.  Yet, his one weakness is frogs which turn him into a raging, fire-spitting Efreet-type creature and make him every bit a potential threat to Quico as he was an ally before.  The parallels that you can draw vis-a-vis his experiences with dealing with an alcoholic father are obvious, but the changes in temperament of this creature remain emotionally poignant and have a substantial impact on the gameplay.  At its core, Papo & Yo functions very familiarly to fellow first-party exclusive ICO; in so far that the game is a platform puzzler with a dynamic NPC partner slant but its the various mood states of the monster that dictate how those puzzles are approached – if the creature is in a state of calm, puzzles become relaxing and chilled out affairs, if the creature is enraged however, everything goes out the window and self-preservation shoots up the priority list ahead of completing the puzzle itself.

This is an awesome dynamic and one that is carried through not just on emotional and gameplay terms, but asethetic ones as well.  When the beast is calm, the music settles on a delicate tempo, lightly hitting relaxed notes and with whimsical strings providing a calming backing to the events unfolding on-screen, if the beast consumes any frogs however, the tempo ramps up and the music becomes much more immediate with an indelible sense of danger effortlessly conveyed to the player.   On the note of the music also, Caballero promises a great deal of aural uniqueness even saying “You’ll hear instruments in this game that you’ve never heard before.  Like the jaw of a dead cow.”

Jaw of a dead cow.  How many games can say that they have that in their musical score?

Visually, the game is a complete treat for the retinas.  Taking place in a surrealist interpretation of his upbringings in the colourful favelas of South America, colour and vibrancy are the order of the day here, as is unpredictability and chaos; with the scene sometimes turning in and on top of itself when a puzzle has been completed or when the beast indulges itself on some amphibian-powered intoxication.

There are more muted and delicate visual flourishes too.   Chalk drawings appear on many of the walls in the favelas; depicting puzzles that must be completed and upon doing so, the components of those puzzles spring to life – with new staircases materialising out of the thin air, and small little gears sprouting legs and hurrying quickly to their required positions as fast as their tiny new found limbs will take them.  Another example, is when Quico is sprinting along a pitch black corridor with a dipped light at the end of the tunnel; as he runs farther and farther down the tunnel, a section of the darkened wall opens up to reveal a menacing shadow of the monster following him.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, let me tell you that I am completely entranced by this game. Very rarely have I seen such an awe-inspiring  fusion of emotion and visual imagination outside of games such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus.  Even then, with this game drawing from a set of very personal experiences unlike the latter and the former, the emotional impact that this game delivers to the player with its visual allegories and character relationships comes across as a unique proposition all of its own.

Look at the trailer below and then put this on your radar and keep it there.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Papo & Yo is due to release exclusively on the PSN for the PS3 on August 15th, 2012.  It is expected to retail for £11.99.

Written by bitsnark

July 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Ultima Returns – EA Bioware Announce ‘Ultima Forever’ As Cross-Platform Free-To-Play Title For PC and iPad Later This Year

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My hopes aren’t terribly high for this, but any new Ultima is good Ultima… right? No? Ok then.

The original Western RPG Ultima, has returned to our screens – EA Bioware has today announced ‘Ultima Forever’ as a cross-platform, pay-to-win free-to-play title from the same label which houses their other free-to-play offerings such as Battlefield Play4Free and Need For Speed: World.

The official website for the new title can be found here where the splurge on the site triumphantly proclaims – ” The first great Western RPG has been lovingly restored in Ultima Forever,”.


If by “lovingly restored’ they mean turned into a cartoony, micro-transaction driven heap of code – then yes, this is VERY lovingly restored.

The site itself has little information on the game, but the information it does care to impart details two classes; The Fighter (“Fighters are one-man armies, trained to engage multiple opponents with a wide variety of attacks”) and The Mage (“With a staff in hand and a spell on their lips, Mages are ready to engage in battle from afar. Use your magical know how to vanquish enemies and assist your allies.”).

Aside from that, the only other bits and pieces of note that are shown is art of the series’ infamous Gypsy character (presumably meaning that you’ll have to do the eight questions of morality shtick when you first generate your character to ascertain what a complete bastard you are) and a map of the world of Britannia which bears more than a passing resemblance to the map used in the antiquated (yet thoroughly fucking awesome when it originally launched) Ultima MMORPG, Ultima Online.

The Ultima series has long been credited as being one of the finest examples of the Western RPG.  First beginning with Ultima I, which was released on the humble Apple II home computer back in June of 1981, the series went on to span many instalments and was lauded for it’s alignment and moral systems that were introduced in later instalments such as Ultima IV and V.  The Ultima series has also served as an inspiration of sorts for a number of high-profile RPG’s and JRPG’s.  Indeed, Ultima III would inspire the developers behind premier JRPG Dragon Quest and the developer of that hugely popular franchise credit the Ultima series with opening their eyes to the creation of large, epic and open-world adventures with complex stories and interesting characters.

The brainchild of eccentric, yet brilliant software designer Richard Garriott, the Ultima IP was left with EA when he broke ties with them after the launch of Ultima Online.    Needless to say, ol’ Dicky Garriott won’t be a part of this project.   Instead, he’s stuck his nose to the grindstone at his new company named Portalarium who are in the midst of developing something very special indeed – their own spiritual successor to 1997’s Ultima Online, codenamed Ultimate RPG / New Britannia.

Portalarium also recently secured $7 million in funding for the project, which really can’t hurt their chances now can it?

The site is also taking beta-sign ups which will be validated through EA’s Origin service here.

I’m going to need a lot more info on this (especially pertaining to just how the cross-platform play side of things will function across PC and iPad) before I make a decision to embrace it cautiously or bombard it with vitriol, but on the face of it, the cartoony designs and free to play business model don’t exactly inspire confidence in me.  At this point i’m far more interest in what Portalarium come up with their ‘Ultimate RPG’ than this.

Written by bitsnark

July 12, 2012 at 10:20 am

Konami Is Coming To The Eurogamer Expo And They’ve Got A Lot To Shout About – MGS:R, ZOE HD And Others Confirmed Playable

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This is going to playable at the show. I cannot fathom a SINGLE reason why you wouldn’t have, or would want to get a ticket for the show at this point. I really can’t.

With 78 days to go before Earl’s Court swings open its doors to the sweaty gamer massive for this year’s Eurogamer Expo, Konami has confirmed that they will be at the show and will be bringing a number of playable games and surprises along with them.

The organisers of the show have confirmed that Konami will have Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, PES 2013, Zone of the Enders HD Collection and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on 3DS all playable on the show-floor, so feel free to brag to all of your mates who don’t have a ticket.  In addition to the these games, Konami have also confirmed that in light of this year being the 25th anniversary of their stealth opus Metal Gear, they’ll have every single game in the series playable on the show floor.

Holy poo.

And you wanted surprises?  Well, the folks at the Eurogamer Expo also had this little cryptic tidbit to impart regarding the Japanese developer’s presence at the show:

“That is not all we are doing to celebrate this milestone, either, but I am not allowed to provide more hints as to what else may be occurring or I will be shot with a dart and stuffed in a locker. We’ll update you with more details once they are finalised.”

I don’t know about you lot, but I’m getting some strong whiffs of a Hideo Kojima developer session and retrospective on the Metal Gear franchise.  Too. Much. Awesome.

The addition of all of these lovely playable games at show from Konami quite handily compliments the earlier announcement of big hitters such as Assassins Creed 3, Far Cry 3, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, Hitman Absolution and DmC among a great deal of others, all being playable on the showfloor.

We’re also told that we should expect to hear something on the developer sessions and that tying in with those announcements will be earlier confirmations of times so that y’know, you can plan how much time you spend playing on all these lovely games and nipping into the Pizza Express kiosk naturally.

If you haven’t done so already, you can grab some tickets here.

No tickets? No? I don’t even know you. Actually, I don’t.

The Eurogamer Expo is due to take place this year on September 27-30 at Earls Court in London.

‘Hacker Friendly’ Android Powered Home Console ‘OUYA’ Almost Trebles It’s Kickstarter Target In Just Over 24 Hours

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This is the ‘OUYA’ – a $99 Android-powered home console with a focus on homebrew development. I’m not sure how you would pronounce “OUYA”, but ‘Oooh Yeah’, works for me right now.

The brainchild of a number of industry types, including former Xbox head-honcho Ed Fries, Ouya is an Android 4.0 powered home console tipped to retail at just $99.  Budget pricing aside, the biggest boon that the console has to offer is that it fully embraces an open design approach and welcomes the sort of tinkering and hacking that other manufacturers would seek to discourage since the unit will also include a development kit, allowing anyone to create a game, upload it to the marketplace and set their own prices.  It’s a tremendously enticing proposition and one that, at long last, will look to reinvigorate home games development in the console market.

Like most seemingly brilliant ideas, a Kickstarter has been set up for the console with a funding target of $950,000.  That was yesterday.  Today, the current total amount of money raised is $2,290,225 – showing that there is a shit-ton of love for an open development platform like this. Which, naturally, is pretty fucking great.

Additionally, the game also completely embraces the free-to-play model and it’s here that the console offers it’s only real rule – every game must include some free gameplay, which apparently can vary from a demo to a freemium title that finances itself exclusively on player micro-transactions.

The blurb on the Kickstarter evangelises this fact:  “At least some gameplay has to be free. We borrowed the free-to-play model from games like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, Triple Town, and many others. Developers can offer a free demo with a full-game upgrade, in-game items or powers, or ask you to subscribe.”

In terms of the actual unit itself, the MAMECube  OUYA has notable design pedigree.   Part of that pedigree includes One Laptop Per Child designer Yves Behar, who has designed the rather familiar looking controller.  Indeed, the layout of the controller bears substantial similarities to the Xbox 360 pad with non-parallel dual analogue sticks, face buttons, triggers, and a d-pad.  This is a GOOD thing.

As well as such traditional input controls, the OUYA console will also boast a touchpad, “for any games making the trek from mobile or tablet to the TV.” the blog cheerfully says.  Which in theory sounds great if you’re playing the latest HD Android titles, but less so if you’re playing non-HD titles, unless of course you like pixels the size of Duplo Blocks.   That shouldn’t suggest however, that the machine will merely leech off the Android market for content (though it probably will initially until aspiring bedroom coders have had their grubby paws on it for a bit), since the Kickstarter is eager to point out that a significant chunk of the funding will go towards the creation of exclusive first-party titles for the machine.  This, is also a GOOD thing.

In terms of the grunt under the hood, the OUYA console should be fully capable of playing just about all of the Android HD content available by the time it launches sometime in 2013 and most crucially, it’s powerful enough to allow enterprising folks to come up with some relatively decent looking games too.

Take a look at the specs below and see for yourself, and try to not be too not-picky eh? The bloody thing only costs $99:

Ouya’s hardware specs consist of the following:

  • Tegra3 quad-core processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB of internal flash storage
  • HDMI connection to the TV, with support for up to 1080p HD
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • USB 2.0 (one)
  • Wireless controller with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button), a touchpad
  • Android 4.0

OUYA also has a number of relatively big-hitters supporting it too including the likes of Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, fellow Wasteland 2 Kickstarter and industry legend Brian Fargo and Mojang, developers of Minecraft.

Taken from the Kickstarter page, this is what they had to say about the console:

“This has the potential to be the game developer’s console. It’s about time!” —Brian Fargo (founder of inXile) 

“Who wouldn’t want a beautiful piece of industrial design that sells for $99, plugs straight into your TV, and gives you access to a huge library of games?” –Jordan Mechner (creator of Prince of Persia, Karateka) 

“If OUYA delivers on the promise of being the first true open gaming platform that gives indie developers access to the living room gaming market, yes that is a great idea. We will follow the development of OUYA and see how it resonates with gamers. I could see all current Mojang games go on the platform if there’s a demand for it.” – Mojang (developer of Minecraft) 

In a climate of spiralling developmental budgets and a dogged focus on risk-averse, so-called triple-A development, it’s great to see a scrappy little proposition come along like this; I hope it becomes the resounding success that it deserves to be.

The industry needs it.

The Kickstarter page for the OUYA console can be found here, and in the time that it has taken me to write this article they have raised an additional $34,090, bringing the new total to $2,324,315.

A video profiling the console can also be seen below:

Written by bitsnark

July 11, 2012 at 9:14 am

Satisfaction Through Payne – Max Payne 3 Review (Xbox 360)

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In the nine or so years that have passed since Max Payne last lit up our screens with his Matrix inspired, bullet-ballet gameplay, a great deal has changed. The Matrix is in the past, bullet-time has been shamelessly milked by so many countless film and game properties that it’s no longer the fresh, mind-blowingly cool gimmick that it used to be and third person shooters in general have been forced behind cover due to a certain franchise obsessed with biceps and chainsaws.

Much like it’s titular character, Max Payne 3 is an unapologetic relic of an earlier era; a game that when compared to it’s contemporaries may seem outdated and relatively bereft of innovation or surprise in light of just how closely it sticks to the genre tropes that the first two titles did so much to create.

Despite appearing to be just another eye-rolling exercise in over-familiarity, developers Rockstar have somehow managed to make the familiar seem weightier and more substantial; meaningfully reclaiming the ‘grittiness’ from other po-faced shooter efforts who would merely use the word as an excuse to swear liberally and spray gore and body parts across the screen.

It’s in this grittiness that the narrative of Max Payne 3 is framed so succinctly. Set some time after 2003’s Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, this third entry in the series finds our tragic hero serving as a personal security officer for some of Brazil’s political elite by day, while at night, Max finds himself without distraction; locked in a downward spiral and broken down on every emotional level by a harrowing trifecta of personal tragedy, alcohol and painkillers. As you might imagine, things don’t stay calm very long and before you know it, folks are being kidnapped, shot and executed; prompting Max to start ejecting lead into people’s faces as an approximate and frequent reply all the while attempting to maintain his tenuous grip on reality.

Grizzled, pissed off and with a gun in his hand – this is the sort of poise common to our heroic chap throughout the game.

It’s an action-packed yarn, filled with the sort of striking violence, depravity, social commentary and sharp direction that typifies it as a Rockstar developed title. Taking Max from the crib of the richest financial and political magnates in Brazil, all the way to the crime-infested, desperate slums that make up the sprawling favelas of Sao Paulo, the plot of Max Payne is a much a meditation on character introspection and redemption as it is a gritty, gun-play laden action blockbuster.

If it’s not clear to you at this point, allow me to make it clear; Max Payne 3 is a very violent game indeed. Bullets cause all sorts of deformed nastiness to the human anatomy in this game with all manner of entry and exit wounds causing foes to slump against nearby furniture, or crash down a flight of stairs. The kill cam, just one of Max Payne 3’s many visual flourishes, serves to further heighten the violence; bringing time to almost a standstill as you watch round after round crash through the body of the unfortunate goon who just happened to be in your way. With that said, the damage modelling isn’t perfect – enemies caught by an explosion will merely have their bodies thrown (fully intact) across the room without any visual injury; a surprise given how meticulously the game models physical damage from firearms elsewhere.

Despite a stylish focus on the grisly, from a cinematic perspective the game distances itself from it’s genre stalemates in typical grand Rockstar fashion with a flair for the dramatic. Here, Rockstar have combined the sort of edgy and progressive cinematography seen in films such as Drive by Nicolas Winding Refn and Elite Squad by Brazilian director Jose Padilha, to sharp and impressive effect. This shouldn’t suggest however, that Max Payne 3 has left the original Noir stylings which characterised the it’s predecessors behind.

Despite it’s more contemporary cinematic influences, Max Payne 3 is still as much a love-letter to classic Hollywood Noir as it ever was. The internal monologues return, as do the dramatic analogous speeches, yet the game supplements this with a visual veneer that evokes a heady combination of David Fincher and the adrenaline-fused, visual style seen in the Crank movies.

During cut-scenes, conversational-text, momentarily darts into view while the camera-lens periodically loses focus and bleeds colour and hue – providing the sort of drug-infused distorted vision that you would imagine Max himself having after a night-long binge of his favourite brand of ‘Kong’ Whiskey (look for it) and painkillers. Indeed, in this incarnation Max himself has a very definite Hollywood look; boasting the rough facial lines and craggy looks which evoke a deep similarity to a 1980’s era James Caan.

No action shootery game is complete without the obligatory AVOID THE SNIPERS section. There are a few of these. Just a few.

When it comes down to the gameplay, it’s in the act of plugging folks with a variety of firearms that Max Payne 3 reminds us just how similar it is to the previous games that have spawned it. If the cinematic aspect of the game references the work of European and American directors, then the gameplay almost certain remains as much a homage to John Woo cinema as the previous games have. Bullet-time, the feature by which Max Payne his quite literally lived and died by since his debut over eleven years ago; remains a steadfast part of the gameplay in Max Payne 3. Max can dive forwards, backwards or to the side in slow-motion whilst firing his weapon of choice; either a primary firearm such as a rifle or heavy machine gun, a side-arm such as a handgun or a combination of two sidearms for maximum ‘guns akimbo’ effect.

It’s here that another little way in which Max Payne 3 separates itself from other, similar games becomes apparent.

If say, the impossibly muscled and gruff Marcus Fenix from Gears Of War attempted to dive side-ways whilst opening fire and there was a physical impediment in the way, such as a wall or other obstacle, he would just roll against it and get up right away. Max on the other hand, quite literally crashes into the wall, realistically sliding down it as he struggles to gain his bearings and correct himself. Age, drink and substance abuse haven’t been kind to Max Payne’s body, and so such physicality comes across exactly as it should – wholly appropriate.

In terms of the gameplay, these sort of weighted acrobatics have additional implications outside of the cosmetic. Although he may have crashed painfully against a wall or crashed backwards through a pool table after a frenzied dive, Max Payne can still remain on the offensive; even though if he may be struggling to pull himself up off the ground, or steady himself with a hand on the wall, he always has his gun pointed forward, meaning that you are always a danger to the enemy regardless of the state of animation you are in.

Very few third-person shooters can boast of such a level of offensive versatility and at first it catches you be surprise – you think “Ok, I’ve just dived through a table and I’m lying flat on my back…what now? Oh wait, I can still.. shoot?”. This is just one example of how Rockstar has embellished the fundamentals in the pursuit of attempting to perfect them.

Max Payne 3 hasn’t been totally immune to the genre status quo however; cover is now a critical part of the gameplay experience where it didn’t exist before. Hiding behind desks, lockers, walls and much more is mandatory in Max Payne 3, simply on the virtue of the lethality of the enemy attacks. Three or maybe four direct hits are all that’s required to put Mr. Payne in a wooden box and as such cover must be used intelligently; a fact which is further reinforced by the fact that the enemy aren’t stupid – they’ll regularly look for opportunities to flank you and will dart from cover to cover whilst doing so.

This sort of thing happens a lot in Max Payne 3. The trick is to be the guy holding the two guns and not the guy holding the two bullets in his cranium.

Speaking of mortality, like in previous games, Max is able to stave off the Grim Reaper by chewing down on bottles of painkillers which are dotted throughout the various locations in the game. In Max Payne 3 however, an additional feature has been added which effectively allows you a second wind if you have endured a fatal shot. Functioning similarly to Call of Duty’s ‘Last Stand’ perk, If Max has one bottle of painkillers left and has taken a hit that would otherwise kill him, he instantly consumes the painkillers (at half the effective rate) and time slows right down to a crawl for a few seconds. If during this time you can shoot and kill the guy who fatally wounded you, Max gets up to fight another day sans one bottle of painkillers. If you don’t, well, you die and that’s pretty much it. While it may seem whimsically gimmicky, the system actually forces you to balance your painkiller use more carefully and ensure that wherever possible, you have one left in the bank just in case you find yourself on the wrong end of an ambush or lucky shot.

There is no getting around it; Max Payne 3 never ever attempts to convince you that it is anything but an exceptionally gritty and tonally nasty third-person cover shooter. When you aren’t diving from behind furniture to avoid enemy fire you’re usually sliding down a rooftop unleashing a shower of precision lead on a group of unsuspecting goons, or some such similar scenario. The fact that it continues to segue into familiar territory with on rails vehicle shootouts and sniping missions, does little dissuade you from the fact that you’ve played this game in a hundred different places a hundred different times before.

In addition to the main campaign, you can opt to do the entirety of the campaign in Arcade Mode, where you are given score to accrue per chapter and with each chapter you complete, your score for that chapter is uploaded to the Max Payne 3 leaderboards. Another way that Rockstar have attempted to pad out the single-player side of things is through the ‘New York Minute’ game mode which again, takes you through the campaign but this time you’re set against a timer.  If the timer hits zero it’s game over and the only way to prevent this from happening, to delay the timer is to blast enemies; netting you a bit of extra time for each kill. Depending on how much of a completist you are, your mileage may vary, but with the main campaign topping it out at just over ten hours on the longevity scale, I found these additional modes to be rather hackneyed additions to the game that weren’t compelling enough to make me re-run the game.

Multiplayer-wise, there are the expected deathmatch and team deathmatch games, but the unique Payne Killer and Gang Wars present a much more interesting pair of propositions. In Payne Killer, the objective is simple; you are able to become Max Payne or his partner Passos by killing them, and then you can start earning points for staying alive and killing as many of the attacking players as possible. Naturally, your bullet-time bursts and life-saving painkillers will give you an advantage for a short time, but as always it’s a numbers game and it’s only a matter of time until those numbers catch you up and fuck you over.

Our hero Max Payne, post heavy whiskey binging session. Sort of looks like me after a night on the town. Only he has hair.

Gang Wars on the other hand, is a five-round team game in which objectives dynamically change round to round – always keeping the action fresh. For instance, one objective might require your team to plant explosives at selected sites that the opposing team are trying to keep standing. In another example, there might be a VIP whom you need to flat line on opposite team; the kicker being that the identity and location of this VIP will only be revealed after you’ve sent a select number of the other team to meet their makers. It’s an entertaining game type and one that certainly provides a different set of thrills from what you would often get in the usual run-of-the-mill deathmatch multiplayer game modes by virtue of it’s ever changing objectives.

Solid multi-player offerings aside, for me, the strongest part of Max Payne 3 remains it’s hugely satisfying and stylishly cinematic single-player story campaign. Nine years may passed, but Max Payne can still shoot it out with the best of them and he does so in the sort of relentlessly entertaining, teeth-grindingly intense way that only he can offer.

Like the harrowing journey Max himself takes during the game’s narrative, the strides made in the areas of gameplay in pursuit of that picture-perfect John Woo esque thriller are equally as considerable. Max Payne 3 is one of the finest cinematic shooters to be released in sometime and it demands your attention like a .38 pushed against your sweating brow.

Highly recommended.

Max Payne 3 is available to buy now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from all major gaming software outlets.  

Written by bitsnark

July 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Sega Announces NiGHTS Into Dreams HD Re-Release For Later This Year – Forgets The Spit ‘n’ Polish

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One of the most fondly remembered games from the Sega Saturn deserves more than just the ‘lick’ of HD paint that it currently has. Singular.

Sega has announced a HD re-release for their 1996 Sega Saturn cult hit, Nights Into Dreams, which is due to drop later this year on 360, PS3 and PC (via Steam) platforms.

As well as having all of the usual mod-cons like achievements, trophies and a new lick of HD paint, the game also bundles in the original Sega Saturn version with the original visuals intact as a freebie.  Whilst any day in which anything remotely Nights orientated gets announced should be looked upon as a good day, i’m left distinctly underwhelmed by the title’s HD resurrection.  The reason for my dissatisfaction is purely superficial – the supposedly ‘new’ high definition visuals look chuffing awful; drawing attention to the fact that this looks like the laziest and most cynical ‘HD update’ seen in a long while.

The whole thing has essentially been upscaled into 720p with the sixteen year old assets being brought along for the ride, kicking and screaming.  That’s it – that’s the extent of these ‘new’ visuals – a resolution upscale.  Thanks for that.

It looks fairly atrocious and this sad issue is exasperated by the fact that in the trailer below, footage is shown of the bundled Saturn version and it looks almost indistinguishable from the high definition version.

Not happy.  In addition, to say that it doesn’t exactly light a fire of confidence regarding my hopes for a quality Shenmue HD re-release would be understatement of the year at this point.

Watch and cry below:

NiGHTS Into Dreams is due to be released sometime later this year on 360, PS3 and Steam.  OR, you could just bring out your Sega Saturn and play it NOW.

Written by bitsnark

July 6, 2012 at 9:38 am

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