Hotline Miami Review

Hotline-Miami

With the recent release of Hotline Miami for the Playstation 4, I thought that now would be the perfect time to review this incredibly twisted tale of revenge, betrayal and violent retribution. Just to note that the game is also available for Windows, Playstation 3 and the Playstation Vita which are all more or less the same in each aspect.

With obvious influences from the 2011 film, Drive, Hotline Miami tells the story of a man known only as “Jacket” who is given assassination missions over his phone. These assassinations form the basis of each playable level which the player must complete a few of per chapter. Each chapter of the game is book-ended by a Lynchian segment in which “Jacket” is confronted by three masked figures who allude to a much more surreal story that the player must attempt to piece together. Tonally, the game is the perfect mixture of noir tropes and characters, surreal imagery and grimy violence, all of which manage to depict a detestably delectable world, not at all dissimilar to that of Frank Miller’s neo noir comic and film series, Sin City.

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Dozens of massacred bodies becomes a typical sight as you complete each level

The top down gameplay is the definition of brutal; nearly anything in each level has the capability to wound or kill your opponents. Doors can be strategically opened to daze enemies, weapons are strewn throughout the area to be used and thrown at the player’s disposal, and some enemies can even be used as shields and bargaining chips to get the upper hand on situations. Players can also choose a particular mask to wear before each level, which all have their own advantages such as making more guns appear or being able to take more than 2 bullets before death. The gameplay moves to a quick beat, with death resulting in an instant reappearance at the start of the area to try again. Death will be an exceedingly frequent affair for the player, but the brisk pace allows you to quickly study areas and evaluate enemy movements. No matter if you approach each level with a carefully formulated plan or a bullish sense of bloody carnage, Hotline Miami will reward the player when the level is completed with points allocated for every violent scenario you could possibly imagine.

The pixelated style adds to the gritty nature of the game, and creates a great deal of irony when considering just how gruesome some of these sights would look with realistic graphics. It also allows the game to use some interesting and startling imagery as the surrealism starts to weave it’s way into the plot. It evokes the sensibilities of when videogames were about dropping coins into an arcade machine and immersing yourself in world of desensitized madness. The music is as top notch as a game like this can be; violent club music rumbles in the background of the bloody encounters; experimental reggae stylishly oozes a sense of grim pleasure and belonging, in the filthy forgotten corners of the city; and a Drive-esqe piece of music adds a great sense of relief and hope when “Jacket” drives home through the sun soaked streets of Miami.

Hotline Miami is full of extra content that will keep you occupied for ages. Levels can be challenged again with new masks and available weapons, and there’s also secrets scattered around for you to find. There’s even a completely different scenario that can be played after the end credits, which helps to evolve the story into new and even more surreal areas. The sheer amount of content and gameplay options keeps Hotline Miami from ever getting too repetitive; a pitfall many indie games have fallen into in the past.

Hotline Miami is a brutal and unforgiving tale of the destruction of both body and mind. The gameplay is quick and fun with a wealth of content that will keep players coming back for more. It may be a little too violent and surreal for some people but there’s a definite method to the madness that will appeal to those who like a stealthy and action approach to their games. With a sequel on the way, now is the best time to experience the sheer insanity that is Hotline Miami.

Score: 8/10

 

Tons of new characters leaked for Super Smash Bros

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A series of leaked screens have been revealed for the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros, the most notable picture being, what could be, the entire roster of the highly anticipated fighting game.

Included in the leaked pictures are a collection of returning characters: Wario, Mr Game and Watch, Ganondorf, Falco, Jigglypuff, R.O.B, Ness and Dr Mario. Excitingly, the list also includes a whole host of new characters to the series such as Bowser Jr, a rival of Mario; the dog from NES classic, Duck Hunt; Dark Pit, who was teased in an earlier trailer alongside Pit and Palutena; and finally Shulk who rose to fame in Xenoblade Chronicles, the recent critically acclaimed RPG game for the Wii. A series of videos depicting Shulk, Bowser Jr and Ganondorf in combat have been released alongside the images, giving a heavy amount of credence to the overwhelming set of leaks.

If this is the entire roster of the game, it’s an incredibly satisfying and varied set of characters that manages to respect the history of Nintendo’s past and Present. There are some sad omissions such as Bayonetta, who’s second game will be released exclusively for the Wii U, as well as Isaac from the Classic Gameboy Advance series, Golden Sun. Who knows though, there could still be some more surprises in store for the popular party fighting game, so there’s still some hope for more characters to be revealed.

So are you happy with the leaked list of characters or are some of your favourite Nintendo icons missing from the lineup?

News Roundup: A quiet week after Gamescom

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Nintendo caused a mild storm this week after a new costume for Zero Suit Samus was unveiled for Super Smash Bros. The revealing costumes, based on appearances from Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission, have caused a divisive reaction with some people complaining about the increasing sexualization of Samus Aran. Masahiro Sakurai was quick to note that the maker of the costume was a female designer but some fans have taken badly to the design of the badass bounty hunter.

Another piece of news comes from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain which has finally unveiled it’s multiplayer offering. The multiplayer allows you to invade other peoples bases, and vice versa, in an effort to take the supplies that other players have amassed. This sounds like a very interesting addition to the main campaign, and one that makes the Mother Base even more relevant and critical to success in The Phantom Pain.

Telltale also released a brand new trailer for the final episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2 which chronicles the events leading up to the Clementine that gamers have come to know now. The trailer highlights just how much the character has changed over the two seasons, changing from a sweet innocent girl to a hardened decision maker, who has learnt what it takes to adapt in the post apocalyptic world.

In other news, this week saw the release of Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition, Tales of Xillia 2 and a Playstation network title called Counterspy. Activision also revealed that Call of Duty Advanced Warfare will not be coming to Wii U, an unfortunate trend in 3rd party games that are neglecting the struggling console.

It’s been a generally quiet week for gaming news after the bombshells that came from Gamescom. Hopefully some more news starts to surface during the lead up to the Tokyo Game Show in September.

Dissecting Horror: The Difficult Position of Horror Games

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The horror genre was once thought dead if the last generation of consoles is anything to go by. Resident Evil had abandoned it’s macabre atmosphere for a more multiplayer focused blockbuster image, Silent Hill had seen a string of mediocre releases that had lost the surreal charm of the original trilogy, and Dead Space managed to deliver brilliant body horror before quickly twisting it into yet another action packed co-operative experience. So it was left to the indie scene to make the intimate horror games that big studios were quickly becoming too scared to make. If the past year has proved anything though, it’s that horror is most definitely scaring it’s way back into the mainstream, but is history doomed to repeat itself for this precariously placed genre?

The first glimpse of horror’s downfall was instanced in Resident Evil 4, which many people, ironically enough, consider the pinnacle of horror. It was a game that showed how fear could be achieved in broad daylight, evidenced by the stunning first segment which pits Leon against an entire village. It crafted a horror icon through the chainsaw wielding maniac that caused many a heart attack as soon as you first heard that chainsaw being revved up. This was also a game that revolutionized shooting mechanics, something that would change gaming as a whole forever.

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The REmake is one of the last truly great horror games

This is unfortunately what Capcom decided was the only thing to expand upon in further Resident Evil installments. Resident Evil 5 ditched any kind of attempt to frighten it’s fans and instead added a partner character to dispatch any kind of tense situations. In Resident Evil 6, the horror element was all but annihilated in a hail of bullets and superhuman acrobatics; a decision that represented Capcom’s unwillingness to invest in pure horror again. Although it should be noted that Resident Evil Revelations was a genuine attempt to bring this horror element back, even if the 3DS architecture stopped it from wholly succeeding in terms of sound and design. Capcom have also recently revealed that an HD remaster of the critically acclaimed Resident Evil “REmake”, originally released for the Gamecube, will be released sometime next year. If you’re after an example of horror perfection then definitely consider looking up the REmake; considered the perfect amalgamation of brooding visuals, stellar sound design, gruesome enemies, limited exploration and a genuine dread inducing atmosphere.

The other big franchise in horror, Silent Hill, also saw a sharp decline in quality after the fourth game, which is also when the original Japanese team terminated their involvement with the series. Silent Hill was once a journey into each character’s own personal hell, but this vision was later distorted, with enemies such as Pyramid Head turning up in any installment, purely because of the fact he was an iconic figure from Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill, much like the rest of the horror genre, was in a difficult position because of the nature of it’s gameplay. Being puzzle heavy and slow paced was starting to lose Konami the sales it craved for the series, which caused it to experiment with more action based gameplay and even going down a psychological route. None of these were working out though and Silent Hill was becoming increasingly irrelevant to gaming; it had no way to change with the times like Resident Evil and was eventually left in limbo (until recently).

This signaled the downfall of many horror franchises that were not doing enough satisfactory sales numbers. Horror slowly became less of a genre and more of an element being used in a variety of different games. Bioshock, much like System Shock before it, used sound and imagery to build an unbearable sense of dread at certain moments; Dead Space, whilst gradually turning more action based, had a truly gruesome creature design in the Necromorphs; and The Last of Us built up a strikingly bleak world and imaginative threat in it’s enemy, the “Clickers”. Horror could no longer achieve the sales numbers of blockbuster games, and so the genre was left to rot whilst action packed games ruled the roost.

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Slenderman was a triumph of visuals and sound design

The indie scene and PC market then took control of horror, forging effective experiences that ranged from short but brilliantly conceived free ideas to fully effective expansive games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent replaced the sight of a gun in hand with a simple lantern, the only tool you have to survive the events of the game. It tasked you with hiding from it’s frightening foes instead of killing them which in turn made them vastly more intimidating. This was something to be continued by the internet meme turned gaming phenomenon, Slenderman. The villainous entity received his own free to play game, Slender, in which players are tasked with navigating around a particular area in order to find 8 pages. Along the way, Slenderman will stalk the player and must be avoided at all costs or else the game will end abruptly. This led to many games exploiting the same mechanic, including two notable games, Outlast and Daylight, both of which revolved around very much the same mechanic, whilst including their own unique twists.

Horror was now gaining traction once again and the bigger studios were well aware of this. Capcom, after stating they wanted the Call of Duty audience with Resident Evil 6, were slowly backtracking on their comments and stated they were re-examining what Resident Evil meant to it’s fans. Bethesda then announced a new game by Shinji Mikami, the original Resident Evil creator entitled, The Evil Within. This was taking the gameplay of Resident Evil and placing it in a more twisted and dark universe with some truly evocative imagery. Sony then released The Last of Us, which sold in the millions, proving that gaming could tell bleak stories whilst still holding interest in the audience. It wasn’t until Gamescom this year that horror really showed that it was back with a vengeance.

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P.T has become the talk of Gamescom

Sony showed off a brand new trailer for it’s slasher inspired horror, Until Dawn, which takes the conventions of the genre allowing you to craft your own experience, with what is said to have hundreds of different outcomes. Then there was P.T, a brief mention in Sony’s conference that garnered a few scoffs when we saw the theatrical reactions of people screaming in the dark. Yet people logged and tried the free interactive teaser, only to be taken aback by the barrage of horrors and surprises that were in store for them; the biggest surprise being that it was actually a teaser for a new Silent Hill. Finally, Capcom may have also accidentally leaked information about a possible sequel to Resident Evil Revelations, which could be an excellent decision considering Revelations was a step in the right direction for the series.

All of this doesn’t change that horror is still the same genre, and the majority of gaming audiences are still the gun toting multiplayer obsessed players they always were. If P.T is anything to go by, horror is still a decisive genre as ever, with many people claiming that P.T starts off brilliantly but becomes increasingly more tedious by the end. It would appear that game players today are used to destinations that are sign posted and puzzles that can solved with a few simple taps of a button. P.T harkens back to the days of atmosphere and enclosed exploration, but it still remains to be seen whether audiences today will take to this more methodical approach in the final game.

The pieces are all in place and all of the big names are in play for the horror genre to become mainstream again. All we can really do is wait and see how it all unfolds but one thing is for sure, horror is definitely in the best position it has ever been. Do you think horror will make it big again, or do you think it’s better off in the hands of indie developers?

Can Videogame based movies ever crack Hollywood?

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With the news that The Last of Us is getting the Hollywood treatment, it once again teases the idea of videogame adaptations making a big impact in the movie world.  The big screen is no stranger to game adaptations but the result is often…shall we say, abominable. There isn’t a single movie of this type that has made a good case for the game to film transition. Some films have flirted with greatness but always seem to fall short of a cohesive high quality production.

All of this started in 1993 with the release of a live action version of Super Mario Bros starring the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the legendary brothers, as well as Dennis Hopper as Bowser. The film was critically slaughtered and performed poorly at the box office, now relegated to a running joke within the gaming community. The crucial question is why did this film fail though? Mario is one of, if not the biggest, icons in gaming, surely the name alone would secure at least a financial victory, if not a critical one. The problem with this film, as well as every other game adaptation that has followed it, is that it fails to understand what makes the source material special during the transition to film.

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Looks just like Bowser…

Mario is all about a bright and colourful kingdom filled with cute and wonderful creatures. The film takes place in drab looking cities and deserts and features an entirely human cast, although one unintended disturbing looking creature makes an appearance. The Street Fighter movie, starring Kyle Minogue and Jean-Claude Van Damme, became a laughing stock for it’s terrible dialogue and cheesy fight scenes; a far cry from the brutal satisfying combat of the popular game series. Finally, who can forget Alone in the Dark, a Uwe Boll adaptation of the first survival horror game ever, which he skilfully managed to craft into a film that is considered one of the worst movies ever made.

The Resident Evil film series, although just as critically abhorred, has managed to become the most successful film series to be based on a game ever, but the problem still remains that it does not take the source material seriously apart from the odd name drop here and famous monster there. It’s carved out it’s own universe and tells a completely different story, but the overwhelming consensus seems to be that this is a world far inferior to the Videogame series that managed to redefine survival horror forever. The film franchise has long since buried the horror aspects and chosen to focus on action based set pieces instead.

Silent Hill is one of the most successful examples of staying true to the source material, but it still failed to understand the relevance of what the game series represented. The film understands the importance of cinematography, with skewed and disorienting camera angles that recapture the claustrophobic fixed camera of the game series. The mood is darkly surreal and the characters are a little more fleshed out than the usual kind of emotionless husks in game to film adaptations. The most notable characters being Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and Cybill Bennett (Laurie Holden) who are both portrayed surprisingly well with a good amount of likability. Where Silent Hill fails as a film is in how it fails to understand what the very essence of Silent Hill represents.

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The Silent Hill movie manages to capture some of overbearing surrealism of the game

Each individual monster from every game serve a metaphorical purpose that actually helps us to understand the characters and situations more. The convulsing fiends that hunt down James Sunderland in the second Silent Hill game are disturbing enough just through their physical appearance, but it is the sexual undertones that offer up a real gut punch once you discover the deeper secrets of the game. The film does not offer up this same kind of depth, essentially placing grotesque looking monsters in certain scenes just to please fans of the series. Pyramid Head, the large blade wielding monstrosity from Silent Hill 2, makes a notable appearance in the film, but it’s a meaningless role that makes no sense in the wider context of the Silent Hill mythology. Pyramid Head is a figure of judgement for James Sunderland that is employed in order to constantly remind him of the atrocities he has committed. The monster’s purpose in the film is merely to be present, almost like a frightening attraction at a theme park; he takes our attention for a brief second but does not offer up any real great significance.

The Last of Us definitely has a lot of hurdles to jump over in order to convince videogame fans that the movie is worth watching, but it is in a substantially more effective position given that Neil Druckman, the original writer for The Last of Us, will be penning the script for the movie. The history of the medium is going against it, but if the production team understand what makes The Last of Us special, this could be the perfect chance to prove that some games do have the potential to be culturally valuable movies.

 

Nintendo fans petition for Robin Williams tribute in next Zelda game

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A petition for the late Robin Williams to be given his own NPC in the next Legend of Zelda title has reached over 100,000 signatures. An extract from the petition reads: “Robin was an avid player of video games, with a love for all things Nintendo, and a particular love of all things Legend of Zelda”. It’s very well documented that Williams was a long time fan of The Legend of Zelda series, even naming his daughter, Zelda Williams, after the eponymous princess. He and his daughter later appeared in Nintendo advertisements in order to promote the 3DS release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

After seeing the incredible support for the petition, Nintendo has since responded with the statement: “We appreciate the outpouring of support from the gaming community, and hear the request of fans to honour him in a future game. We will not be discussing what might be possible for future game during this difficult time, but we will hold our memories of Robin close”.

Although it’s not an official confirmation, it’s at least good to know that Nintendo have acknowledged the campaign; hopefully they continue to consider this touching tribute for the beloved actor.

 

Bravely Default Review

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Final Fantasy has fallen on hard times recently; the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy has proved to be controversial in both story and gameplay; Final Fantasy XIV originally launched to abysmal reviews; and Final Fantasy XV, announced over 8 years ago under a completely different title, is still missing in action. Although under a completely different moniker, Bravely Default shares a startling amount of tropes with the Final Fantasy series. White and black mages don their mysical garbs, players dash around the world map in a high powered airship, and four warriors find themselves tasked with restoring power to a set of magical crystals. What makes Bravely default so special though is that it clearly shows Square Enix has the ability to make great Final Fantasy games again.

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The hand drawn backgrounds are rich and enticing

Bravely Default depicts a world governed by four crystals that keep the elements in check. Something is amiss with the crystals though which is causing the world to slowly spiral out of control. Agnes Oblige, a young wind vestal who is responsible for looking after one of these crystals, takes it upon herself to reawaken these crystals in order to restore balance to the world. Along the way she encounters three individuals who’s fates will become closely connected to her own. This includes Tiz Arrior; a young man who’s life is turned upside down when his hometown is destroyed; Edea Lee, a knight who turns her back on her own country in order to help Agnes with her cause; and finally Ringabell, a flirtatious amnesiac who possesses a mysterious book containing details of the party’s future exploits. All of the characters are extremely likeable and fleshed out, bringing a layer of personality and dynamism to the game that is usually missing from the usual job based Final Fantasy titles. The same can’t be said for the voice acting which is pretty mediocre all round apart from a few notable exceptions. Edea and Ringabell are given some of the best lines of the game which are delivered very well, but unfortunately Agnes’ voice acting is woefully painful to listen to, which is a real shame given that most of the important events are based around her.

The story of Bravely Default is surprisingly dark, containing a great deal of twists and turns; some that will intrigue the player and some that will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. Regardless, many of the scenes are powerful and the overall scale of the game is incredibly grand. It also has a few lighthearted moments spread throughout that give the characters a great deal more likability, especially in the case of Edea and Ringabell who’s relationship is used to an often humorous effect. It’s this shifting tone that gives Bravely Default the much needed personality that has been lacking from recent Final Fantasy titles. This isn’t to say that the story is wholly successful, as the second half of the game takes a turn for the tedious that is obvious an effort to lengthen the story. It’s a poor decision on behalf of the designers, especially because most of the later content is recycled from the first half of the game.

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Spells and summons are a spectacle to watch

The graphics in Bravely Default are highly impressive, especially considering the fact that it’s limited to the weak architecture of the 3DS. The character artwork is striking but sometimes a little odd looking, due to the fact it blends chibi characteristics with realistic proportions. The creature design’s in battle are highly expressive and extremely varied with loads of different types for the player to marvel at. The world design is just as beautiful, with hand drawn backdrops (continue later)

The soundtrack is a strange mixture of celtic and rock which works surprisingly well given the world the game is taking place in. The battle theme is, as per usual, addictively catchy and the boss themes get the blood pumping for the long arduous battles. As said before, the only drawback from the sound design is the mixed voice acting that can sometimes detract from the quality of the character exposition.

The battle system is where this game shines though, taking the turn based battle system of Final Fantasy but adding it’s own titular actions to add a strong sense of dynamism to the proceedings. Battles are determined by BP which determined how many attacks you can deal per turn. By clicking the brave icon, you can use up to four attacks in a single turn but at the expense of going into negative BP territory which means the character must wait the allotted number of turns to attack again. The way to counterbalance this comes through the default command which causes the character to wait a turn and defend, thus giving them an extra turn for the next phase of battle. Regular battles can be breezed through quickly by using the brave commands, but it’s the boss battles where the battle system soars. You’ll find that discovering the right balance of attack and defense creates is key to winning against the difficult bosses in Bravely Default.

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There are a vast amount of jobs to find and use

The game also brings back the legendary job system of Final Fantasy, which includes the usual knight and mage jobs from Final Fantasy, as well as some new additions exclusive to Bravely Default. Much like Final Fantasy V, characters can dip and out of each job borrowing techniques and abilities from each one to use with their existing job. The costumes for each job are striking and typically grandiose, but with unique features for each character that help define their personality.

Bravely Default also has a few online touches courtesy of Nintendo Streetpass which can be used to rebuild Tiz’ hometown of Norende. This isn’t a purely superficial venture though, as taking the time to rebuild Norende can reward you with some very helpful items and attacks. There is also the option to buy some special potions that stop the flow of time mid battle, but these come at the cost of actual real world money instead of an in-game currency.

Bravely Default is a top notch RPG that manages to merge genre traditions with modern sensibilities. It takes the time to appease old school enthusiasts with a strategic battle system, whilst offering a fast paced and stylish presentation that will please modern gamers. It suffers a few unfortunate pitfalls along the way, but this is a journey of epic proportions that is definitely worth taking.

Score: 8/10