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Devil May Cry 5

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Video games, as a medium, have evolved so far beyond their earliest forms. What once existed as a brief diversion, an amusing gimmick, has now attained levels of sophistication impossible to have imagined even a couple of decades ago. Titles like God of War (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/god-of-war-2/) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/red-dead-redemption-2/) have raised the storytelling bar so high, legitimising video games as an art form capable of nuance, pathos and depth. All that being said… sometimes it’s fun to just beat the shit out of a bunch of demons, hey. Sometimes it feels good to unleash colourful carnage on deserving foes and look good while doing so. Devil May Cry 5 scratches that particular itch like an itch-scratching pro.

Devil May Cry 5 is the latest installment in the strange but stylish series from the good people at Capcom. Although the series was rebooted with DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, this is a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 which dropped in 2008. Confused? Of course you are, but to be honest, familiarity with the series is an optional extra at this stage. Because what Devil May Cry is about, and has always been about, is spectacular action, and oh good (Dark) Lord does this game deliver.

Practically, you’ll be playing as one of three rotating characters. There’s Nero, the arrogant youngster with interchangeable arm attachments; Dante, the classic demon slayer with sword and guns; and V – the lanky, tattooed emo newbie – who can’t actually fight himself but commands a demonic bird, big cat and enormous golem. He also reads poetry to amp up his dark powers and no, we’re not even joking. These three characters have vastly different play styles, unlockable skills and alternate weapons. Even completionists are going to have a hard time experiencing every single trick of the trade during a single playthrough, which is where Devil May Cry 5’s “Son of Sparda” mode comes in handy, basically the title’s version of NG+.

This trio of unlikely friends travel through a pretty ordinary story, that time jumps a little too much for its own good, but essentially the narrative is a delivery system for action scenes. And the action is buttery, fast-paced, exciting, visually spectacular and original. The sheer feeling of unbridled glee as you tear a motorbike in half and smack fools as Dante, or ride your own rocket arm as Nero or leap atop your golem and curb stomp some evil, is genuinely wonderful. After a slew of excellent, but deliberately-paced story-based games, it’s a rare joy to just shut up and fight.

Devil May Cry 5 is, quite simply, a fantastic action game. The story is threadbare, the dialogue frequently appalling, and geez it would have been nice to have a playable female character along with all the NPC eye candy, hey Capcom? But all those concerns will evaporate like a demon’s freshly-slaughtered corpse when the aggressive metal cranks up and the next pulse-pounding blue begins. Slick, gorgeous and utterly addictive, Devil May Cry 5 is a terrific ball-tearing action extravaganza of ultraviolence and chaos and one not to be missed.

 
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Trials Rising

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The Trials games are weird, narky little titles that absolutely should not work and yet somehow, against all odds, do. The premise is thus: you’re a little 2D bloke (or lady) and you ride a motorbike through increasingly evil courses involving the need for speed, precision, stunt skills and nerves of steel. The tracks get harder and more elaborate and the player gets sweaty and more frustrated, until you either run out of tracks (unlikely) or rage quit (extremely likely).

And yet despite obviously being a lower budget title, with 2D courses and occasional moments of graphical glitching, Trials games are utterly compelling. Trials Rising, the latest incarnation, is no exception to the rule and in fact features some of the cleverest, most devious and darkly diabolical courses in the series’ history. You’ll cackle with laughter as your manage to just survive an insane jump leaping through fire, you’ll punch the couch in spit-flecked frustration as a second later you’re coat-hangered by the lip of a ramp you hadn’t previously been aware of. You’ll repeat the courses over and over again, trying to shave precious seconds off your best time, and why? Because the real metagame of any Trials title is beating your mate’s high score.

Ironically, Trials Rising’s biggest problem is the opposite of most AAA games. As a critic one gets wretchedly tired of reviewing yet another tentpole title that doesn’t revolutionise or even vaguely evolve the core gameplay or mechanics, yet Trials Rising has done that and, uh… it’s not great. See, the way you unlock new tracks in previous Trials games was by getting better and better scores on existing tracks, which unlocks new areas. While that mechanic still exists here, to some degree, the main method of unlocking involves grinding random tracks that have new objectives like “30 back flips” or “finish in under a minute”. This sort of randomised content would be fine if it was optional, but it rather steals the thunder – and indeed the whole joy of progression – from previous games.

Other additions to the formula like online multiplayer and the ability to do tracks with your mates are fun, if inessential, but the progression system is a real bummer and feels antithetical to the precision and discipline required to “git gud” at these games.

Ultimately Trials Rising remains a worthy addition to a somewhat niche series, and features some of the most clever, wonderfully torturous tracks in the masochistic series’ history. However a new, frankly baffling, progression system steals the game’s thunder in a confounding fashion. Well worth a squiz for veterans and newbies alike, however, particularly if you have a group of competitive friends whose tears you wish to drink like salty, salty wine.

 
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Anthem

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Here’s the elevator pitch for Anthem: you’re on a strange world, spectacular and beautiful, that is chockers with deadly fauna, shonky humans and an ancient power you barely understand. The good news? You’re in a freaking Iron Man suit and you can fly all around this daunting, picturesque landscape, getting into adventures with your mates who are along for the ride. Sounds good, right? Well, the even better news is that the game’s by BioWare. You know, the people who brought us the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’? So you just know the characters will be fleshed out and the story intriguing.

It’s a great elevator pitch, and a great concept, so why then is the actual result so bland and lifeless?

Perhaps the problem with Anthem is the fact that it’s an online shooter/looter, a genre of game best represented by Destiny and The Division. This is new territory for BioWare, it’s true, but even grading on a curve, Anthem is shockingly light on narrative hooks and any atmosphere that extends beyond the admittedly pretty aesthetics. This is less Mass Effect 2 BioWare and more Mass Effect: Andromeda BioWare.

On the plus side, the flying is fun, and the mountainous, vertical terrain looks very cool. You’ll fly through the air, soaring past waterfalls and grazing creatures and shoot through alien technology, and gape in awe at how beautiful it all can be. This sense of spectacle won’t last long, however, as you’ll soon realise just how shallow and repetitive the gameplay is, even by shooter/looter standards. The combat feels okay, the missions are deeply unimaginative and the villain of the piece, called “The Monitor” is one of the more forgettable villains in recent memory.

The biggest problem with Anthem, however, is that it simply doesn’t feel that great to play. Flight is cool, it’s true, but the shooting and exploration are just adequate. There’s none of that addictive Destiny-style shooting that practically floods your brain with endorphins every time you pull the trigger. Instead, you’re left with an experience that’s just sort of… okay.

Even if you can look past the numerous technical flaws, the frequent drop outs, insane loading times and a staggeringly clunky User Interface, Anthem just isn’t that good of a game. It’s average in a sea of better products and while it may fix its various problems down the track, right now it’s a tragic waste of potential.

 
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Kingdom Hearts 3

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Video games are weird, it’s just a fact. This is a medium in which one of the most successful iterations involves a heroic Italian plumber who jumps on evil mushrooms and rescues a princess from a spiky turtle. And another all-time classic is about an amphetamine addicted* hedgehog who attempts to acquire wealth and stay on the gear, running endlessly around diabolical mazes, grinning like a lunatic. The point is, games are so ubiquitously strange that it takes a truly bizarre entry to make one sit back and say: “Crikey, this is some weird shit!”

Kingdom Hearts III is such a game.

The plot is a byzantine nightmare, more convoluted than a thousand Inceptions, but the short hand is: a bunch of characters from Disney and Square Enix properties are on an adventure through various worlds from video games and movies to save the universe. Speaking in practical terms, that means a trio of heroes comprising Sora (young boy with silly hair and a keyblade), Donald Duck (sentient duck with a speech impediment, prone to rage) and Goofy (a creature we still don’t understand and perhaps never will) travel to far off lands to “discover the power of waking”. Congratulations if you understood the previous sentence, you’re absolutely in the minority.

The action plays out as a mixture of exploration, upgrading weapons and gear and combat loops, that are bright and sparkly and fun. You’ll spend most battles mashing the attack button, but eventually other combat moves unlock, including the inexplicable ability to use Disney theme park rides as weapons. You’ll do this, by the way, while interacting with all manner of characters from Disney and Pixar flicks including Frozen, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and even Pirates of Caribbean (!?), amongst others.

The problem with Kingdom Hearts III isn’t the zany, surreal nutbaggery, it’s the ghastly writing and voice acting. Every line reading feels about a second too slow, with awkward Lynchian pauses between each leaden slab of mawkish word salad. Combined with the distracting decision to have the characters parrot some variation of “believe in yourself” every fifteen bloody minutes and it’s hard to escape the cloying tweeness. Still, there is an odd charm to Kingdom Hearts III at times. It’s a bit like watching a small child smacking together toys in a bathtub, hopped up on a sippy cup full of red cordial, unconcerned about things like logic and reason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and you won’t always be in the mood for it, but there’s an undeniable appeal here for those willing to brave the eccentricities.

Although, and it bears repeating, crikey this is some weird shit.

*probably

 
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Resident Evil 2

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Resident Evil 2, the game, was first released in 1998 and it blew audiences away. Although the previous installment had successfully introduced the concept of “survival horror” in 1996, part two honed the formula to a razor’s edge, delivering an experience that was scary, smart and absolutely absorbing. For those of us old enough to have been alive in that era, RE2 was a staggering achievement and managed to penetrate the ubiquitous haze of bong smoke and neglect to make an indelible impact on young psyches.

That being said, 1998 was a long-arse time ago, and time is least kind to video games. As the Resident Evil series lurched onwards it left those early entries behind, peaking recently with the somewhat divisive-but-brilliant Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/resident-evil-vii-biohazard/) which was a welcome return to pure survival horror. Still, when Capcom announced its Resident Evil 2 remaster it was hard not to get excited – but is it possible to twice catch horrific lightning in a bottle?

One thing we should get out of the way is that this isn’t an HD remaster but rather a full remake. The original RE2 featured static shots, clunky controls and graphics that were spectacular at the time but now look retina-damagingly awful. Although the game has been remastered for various systems over the years, presentation-wise it’s always looked… quaint. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 rebuilds the game from the ground up, putting the perspective in the RE4 over-the-shoulder view with a continuous camera that follows you around, not breaking for loading screens between every area. This is a welcome addition and makes the game play as smooth and immersive as your (lying) memories of the original.

Add to that, graphics as sharp and slick as any other modern release, replete with drippy, oozing zombies, genuinely scary, toothy monsters and character animations that make you actually feel for the other human characters – particularly when so many of them are viciously dispatched.

Actually, we’d be remiss not to mention the zombies at this point. In 1998, zombies seemed an amazingly fresh foe, having barely penetrated the cultural zeitgeist. In 2019, they’re basically a default option for most media, so how to make them scary again? RE2 adds a sense of unpredictability to the mix. The only way to permanently dispatch these ambulatory corpses is by destroying the head. You can do this using heavy weapons or grenades, however the zombies far outnumber your bullets so you simply don’t have the resources to kill them all. Therefore, you’ll need to leave some of the ghastly creatures lying around as potential jump scares, because they might rise at any moment (even if you’ve plugged ten rounds into their slack-jawed skulls) which adds a level of tension to an already scary game. See, Resident Evil 2 isn’t about killing all the monsters, it’s about surviving, solving the puzzles and escaping. It’s Capcom’s classic formula of puzzle solving under duress and it is edge-of-your-seat stuff, all the way through.

In 2019, video games pride themselves on being massive; the idea that more is more. Resident Evil 2 believes that to be a crock of shit, providing four of five medium sized areas to explore but you’ll know them like the back of your hand by the time the credits roll. The game also employs a map that really helps navigation, showing areas in red until you’ve solved the puzzles and collected all the loot in that area – whereupon it turns blue. This is a wonderful addition but much needed, especially as the game progresses and the character known as the Tyrant steps into view, providing a genuinely scary, seemingly invincible foe who dogs your steps like the STDemon from It Follows, and leaps out when you least expect it.

In terms of negatives, RE2 can be frustrating on occasion, particularly during boss fights where the lack of a dodge button would have been appreciated. And certainly, for some folks, the Tyrant is going to be a massive pain in the arse – although he does force you to think on your feet, which can be exhilarating. These are minor quibbles, however, in an overall experience that somehow keeps what was great about the original intact, while updating some of the wonkier aspects, like puzzles, voice acting and overall presentation.

Ultimately, Resident Evil 2 (2019) is everything a video game remake should be. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and a tense joy to play, paying nostalgic homage while improving nearly every aspect of the original. It’s scary, smart and absolutely absorbing – just like it was back in hazy 1998 – but with added levels of gore and unpredictability that will keep even series veterans on their toes. If you’ve never experienced the stories of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they explore a bizarre, avant garde police station in the middle of zombie-infested Racoon City, now is absolutely the best time to do so. And hell, even if you have, 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake is the best ever version of that iconic story.

 
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Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

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Plane combat games are something of a rarity in this wretched year of 2019. Back in the olden days, when the PlayStation or PS2 reigned supreme in the lounge rooms of many, they were a dime a dozen with the best contender being the Ace Combat series. This frequently bizarre mix of unnecessarily convoluted storytelling paired with surprisingly detailed plane combat was a pleasing bit of airborne escapism. Then, for some reason, much like the western in cinema – the genre fell out of favour. Happily, it appears that the dark flightless time is over, as Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is here and it’s pretty bloody good, for the most part.

Ace Combat 7 is set in the same alternate earth as the previous games in the series and follows on from the events of Ace Combat 4 and 5. If you can’t remember those events, don’t stress, as the war between Erusea and Usea is just as overcooked and daft as previous entries and you can, and probably should, take it with several heaping handfuls of salt. In short, war has broken out and you, “Trigger”, will need to put missiles aplenty into your enemies. The story is actually truly bizarre, even by Ace Combat standards, because the character you play is a total non event until about halfway through the game and a far more interesting character – imprisoned mechanic Avril Mead – is the one narrating the shenanigans… and yet you can’t play as her. It’s a bizarre, and very clunky, storytelling device that doesn’t really work. However, that’s not the draw here.

What really matters in Ace Combat 7 is what happens in the air and for the most part the game is a triumph of giddy dog fights, bombing runs and set pieces set in vicious storms. It’s actually quite a tough game all told, with some missions featuring ridiculously short timers and insta-fail objectives that may have you punching the couch in frustration (sorry, couch). However, if you listen carefully to the mission objectives, and make sure you have a decent variety of planes taken from the unlockable trees, you should eventually triumph over the game’s 20 missions.

The game also features a robust VR mode and an online multiplayer mode, which is a nice value add and sure to have VR owners dusting off their tech. Ultimately, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown is more of the same from the series, for good and ill. It’s fast-paced, frenetic, frustrating and full of fun – if you can get past the baffling narrative conceits and occasionally enraging difficulty spikes. And hell, it’s been a while since you’ve taken to the skies so fire up and go right into the danger zone!

 
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Just Cause 4

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The Just Cause series has always been a strange one. The mixture of vaguely grounded political intrigue and personal stakes often juxtapose awkwardly with the gonzo, Michael-Bay-after-a-fat-line-of-blow bullgoose lunacy of the action sequences and set pieces. Still, despite this inconsistency the games are usually a whole lot of fun, and this is true of the latest entry, Just Cause 4, although there are a few caveats.

Set in the fictional South American country of Solis, Rico Rodriguez is back to take on the Black Hand, an army of ne’er-do-wells run by Gabriela Morales. This rather generic premise leads to a rather generic campaign, whereby you’ll retake various areas of Solis, unlock more main and side missions, grapple and wingsuit your way across the sprawling environments and, of course, blow shit up with great alacrity.

Just Cause 4’s newest addition is extreme weather, including missions where you’ll be forced to brave tornados and super storms that fill the skies with deadly bolts of lightning (which is very, very frightening). Later on, you’ll also gain the ability to control said storms, which is a fine idea but its execution feels a little limited in this context. Other than that, it’s Just Cause business as usual – use the grapple hook to destroy stuff, shoot stuff, explode stuff, repeat. It’s classic but it also feels a little samey, particularly if you have vivid memories of Just Cause 3 which only came out in 2015.

More damning is the fact that a lot of Just Cause 4 is, well, rather ugly. Character models, cut scenes and even some environments look seriously janky at times, and while it never reaches the levels of Fallout 76’s hideousness, it’s strange to see nonetheless. It’s hard to get truly invested in Rico’s story when his ugly mug keeps clipping into his shirt, or the characters that he’s talking to drop textures or pop in and out of view.

Ultimately, Just Cause 4 is a fun time, with great explosions and physics-based mayhem. It’s also basically an oversized Just Cause 3 expansion, with unfortunate technical deficiencies that mar the overall experience. Treat it like a b-grade matinee movie, and you’ll likely enjoy the slightly shonky, but explosive shenanigans on offer.

 
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Darksiders III

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In a world of nuanced, compelling narratives like Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War, there’s something almost quaint about a game like Darksiders III. Whereas GoW deconstructs ancient stories and superstition to try and ground the more esoteric elements of mythology in emotion, Darksiders III unapologetically leans into the goofiness.

You, the player, inhabit the role of Fury – third horse person of the apocalypse after Darksiders’ War and Darksiders II’s Death. Fury is a bit of a cranky moll, to be honest, wielding an acerbic wit and a powerful whip, she flits about the screen causing bulk carnage paired with nimble acrobatics. For reasons too convoluted to enter into without spending 45 minutes explaining the dense, silly backstory, Fury has to go to Earth – which is a total shitfight due to a war between angels and demons – and defeat creatures that are the literal personification of the seven deadly sins. To help her on the quest, Fury loses a horse but gains a spirit friend, and the mysterious Lord of Hollows assists her rise to power for reasons known only to him.

Darksiders III brims with style and goofy enthusiasm, and as a medium-budget hack and slash adventure there is fun to be had. Unfortunately, it lacks the depth of the previous entry, Darksiders II, and ugly framerate issues persist even when not much is happening on screen. This third entry seems more in line with a Dark Souls-esque experience, with challenging bosses all the way through, but never feels precise or tactical enough to wear that mantle comfortably.

Fury, also, is kind of a dickhead, offering snark and edgy witticisms that feel ripped straight out of a comic from the early 1990s. She’s fun to play, mind you, physically weaker than Death but faster and more agile, and the whip is a grand weapon/swinging device.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Darksiders III is going to depend on your ability to adapt and accept. You’ll need to adapt to the new direction the series takes here, ignoring your love for the previous entry and focusing on what’s in front of you. You’ll also need to accept that the game has technical issues. Nothing like the bewildering mess of Fallout 76, but enough that you’ll notice it and it may break the immersion.

Darksiders III isn’t quite the sequel fans of the series have been waiting for, but it’s engaging enough that you’ll want to see another, probably final chapter down the road. Hopefully next time they’ll keep the bloody horse!

 
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Hitman 2

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Hitman 2 proves one thing very well: sometimes plot can just get in the way. The second entry in the series since 2016’s bold and surprisingly effective reboot Hitman, Hitman 2 offers a familiar experience to its immediate predecessor but with enough polish and new tweaks to make the experience worthwhile.

Hitman 2 tells the tale of the bald barcode-bonced killer for hire, Agent 47. Old mate is still on the trail of the “Shadow Client” from the last game and it will take him all over the world to unravel a mystery that ranges from the unnecessarily convoluted to the downright silly. To make matters worse the between mission cutscenes are mainly a series of stills with exposition blurted over the top. This is likely due to the game’s comparatively small budget, but that doesn’t make these interludes any more compelling or coherent. Happily, they don’t matter. At all. You can, and should, skip right by these bits of business and get straight to what matters: large sprawling sandboxes full of murder toys!

See, once you bypass the aforementioned narrative info dumps you enter the real game. Hitman 2 offers the series’ distinctive sense of variety and black humour, gifting you with numerous ways of dispatching your targets in spectacular and frequently hilarious ways. Booby trapped cars, pre-programmed robots, explosive rubber duckies or just shoving a tattoo gun right inside a bloke’s ear – the game has it all. Each of the six levels are massive with multiple ways of tricking the AI and setting up legitimately satisfying kill scenarios. This might have felt grim in other hands, but the game’s sense of humour manifests in surprising ways. The fact that Agent 47 just happens to look exactly like a famous model/actor/hairdresser etc. is a frequent refrain and the monologues delivered by the soon-to-victims show them all as unlikable mongrels very much deserving of the ice embrace of the grave.

Hitman 2 is a little rough around the edges and light on narrative depth, but what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in viscerally creative murderous fun. Engaging and adaptable, Hitman 2 is a must for those feeling sociopathic in the silly season.