While everyone else was rolling painted eggs down hills, chasing after Easter bunnies and stuffing themselves full of chocolate, my main concern about the penultimate weekend in April (other than the trip down to Lincolnshire for my mother-in-law’s birthday) was the release of Portal 2.
In a gaming world where most of the action titles seem to be taking the “increased difficulty = more monsters and more shooting”, finding a title that is engrossing, has a good narrative and doesn’t rely on ultra-violence is quite difficult. I haven’t bought a new adult action game since Bioshock 2 — I’ve been buying things like Little Big Planet 2 and Rabbids titles instead. Compare Resistance: Fall of Man with its sequel, FEAR likewise — I haven’t gone near Dead Space 2 because the original took that to a frustrating extreme. There is only so much I can cope with button mashing through a fight only to run straight into another one with barely enough of a break to regain a couple of health bars.
Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air in a room stale with the scent of testosterone, cordite and spent shell casings.
It’s a puzzler, much like the first one. The first one, however, had us join Theseus after entering the Labyrinth then bug out as soon as the Minotaur was dead. In Portal 2 we get to see a bit more of Crete and the Kingdom of Minos.
Gameplay is similar to the first offering, although there is less reliance on laying portals in exactly the right place with impeccable timing and more on figuring out the correct sequence and making use of the portals to achieve the seemingly impossible. While I had a considerably frustrating time with the original, lacking the precise hand-eye co-ordination required to make accurate portals at high speed while flying through the air, I found Portal 2 to be just frustrating enough. I liked the logical progression of problem solving. Rather like doing a crossword, it’s necessary to gain an eye for it, to learn the rules and the patterns. There is a sense of accomplishment in gaining the mindset required to solve the puzzles. The achievement here isn’t being able to slaughter more and bigger and stronger rabid creatures: it’s being able to solve ever more complex puzzles that on first glance seem impossible until a solitary patch of white turns into the end of a thread that will lead you through to the exit.
There are nods to the original in the use of some of the same test chambers, run through the decay mill. If you are expecting the game to be as short as the original you are in for a shock at the point you think you have escaped into the outside world. The use of the derelict original facility to bring in a whole new set of puzzle types and give some background to the Aperture Science facility was enjoyable, seasoning the very dark storyline with welcome humour.
Another point for which Valve has my undying love is that our protagonist is a woman. But she just happens to be a woman. There is a point halfway through the game where GLaDOS says “She did all the work!” If you have been concentrating on the gameplay rather than laying out portals to get a look at your character, and know nothing of the game, this is the first time the sex of the character is clear. This isn’t Silent Hill, where being female inevitably leads to a plotline involving maternal instinct; or a reason for pneumatic busts à la Lara Croft; nor the ridiculous posturing of Bayonetta. Portal 2 passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, even when one of the women involved is a potato. (Spoilers!)
“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being dead. You know… after you murdered me? Okay look, we both said a lot of things that you are going to regret. But I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”
I couldn’t have been happier had a Big Daddy removed his helmet to reveal he was actually a Big Mummy.
We haven’t started on the co-operative level, and there are several achievements that I missed on my first run through, so there’s plenty of gameplay in it yet. If you fancy something a bit more cerebral than your standard first-person shooter, where difficulty isn’t measured in how many times you die in a sequence before you learn the spawn patterns and get your timing just right, I can thoroughly recommend this engaging and satisfying number from Valve.
I won’t spoil the ending, but yes, there is a song.
Is Little Big Planet 2 everything you expected? Have you been disappointed since getting your sticky, eager little paws on it? You have been terribly quiet about it and we thought maybe you were so heartbroken that you had consigned it to the oblivion of a mental oubliette, along with Highlander 2, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men 3: X-Men United and X-Men: the official game.
And sackbots! And grabinators! And robobuns! And caterpillars! And grappleguns!
It’s as awesome as an awesome thing
That has as a hobby
Being Made of Win
And Rocking like a Ninja
Who is also God and King!
There are a couple of games that have stayed with me as I have progressed through the various ranks of consoles I have owned and enjoyed throughout my time as a gamer (and I’d betray my age if I told you my first console was Pong). Nothing from the old Atari 2600 has survived the various upgrades, although I first played R-Type on a ZX Spectrum, when a dodgy joystick meant the only way to progress was for us to play in pairs, with one gunner and one pilot. By gum Frood and I rocked that game.
As far as I know they are not planning on releasing a version for the PS3, which is very sad. But I’ve kept my PS2 so I can still play R-Type Final.
The other reason I kept the PS2 was so I could continue to play the other game that I’ve bought every time I’ve upgraded my console: WipEout. WipEout Fusion is, in my opinion, the best of the various WipEouts. Sadly it’s one of the few games that doesn’t port properly over to the PS3 — after a certain number of tracks are opened up the game starts crashing.
Of course I have WipEout HD, and there are some features that are great improvements. The screenshot facility is great, and I have gone into geeky paroxysms of obsession trying to get the perfect picture (and so far failing, but enjoying the process). The ability to import your own soundtrack is also fantastic, as previously we had a complicated setup involving a Sony stereo system with a games function that allowed us to connect the audio output of the PS2 to the stereo, where it would be mixed with whatever CD happened to be playing. Turn down the in-game music, turn up the sound effects, stick some Crystal Method on the multichanger and you’ve got yourself a thumping race soundtrack.
Sadly, however, the tracks don’t live up to expectations and I do miss the pitstops. I’ve spent most of my life living in shared households with friends and we had our own language and terminology, some of which was game based. “Jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with only one pit stop. “Double jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with no pit stops at all. In the current WipEout you regain ship energy by consuming weapons, and it takes some of the risk out of it: skipping a pit-stop commits you to flying your socks off to cross the line before you crash and burn. They’ve also got rid of the shortcuts, which is really sad. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon sending my ship down strange side-roads in an effort to find the shortest (and therefore fastest) route round a course.
Then again, the head to head mode in the current version is much better, and I like that you can select which tracks you want for a multi-race challenge against a friend. I haven’t tried the online version, so I can’t comment on that.
Still. I miss Mandrashee.
Perfection, of course, would be importing the tracks from WipEout Fusion into WipEout HD. Then we could get a picture of Munky falling off the moon.
I shouldn’t really be reviewing this. Not really. Frood is playing this one and I’m just along for the ride.
The thing is, though, that while I’ll play some games that are okay, great even, and won’t bother reviewing them because everyone else has already played them or there are so many reviews out there another one won’t tell anyone anything (e.g. Bioshock), every so often we find a game that needs to be brought to the attention of the masses, whether because it’s several levels of awesome drenched in awesome jus, or because gamers should flee in horror rather than wasting any money on it.
Afro Samurai happily falls into the former category.
Based on the manga series written and illustrated by Takashi Okazaki, this third-person brawler follows the exploits of the titular protagonist as he goes in search of the number one headband. I think. I’m a bit hazy on which headband he has.
It doesn’t matter though. The game is sumptuous, apparently based on the Prince Of Persia engine, with the same semi-realistic scenery overlaid with characters that are more drawn in look, reminding me of Samurai Jack. The fighting is graceful and stylised, although Frood reports that Afro can be a bit unruly: it suffers a little from the standard gaming issue of the camera motion interfering with the movement of the character. In operation it is button-mash with a little finesse, offering hit, heavy hit, kick, and several slowtime focused attacks. Every so often there’s the option to play bodypart poker.
The soundtrack is excellent, reminding me very much of Ghost Dog, but what makes it is the character of Ninja Ninja, who appears to be an invisible friend in the manner of Drop Dead Fred, only funnier. And more helpful. Ninja Ninja is played by Samuel L Jackson, and his dialogue has had us creased up in fits of laughter.
“You spent so long chasing justice, you forgot how to chase pussy!”
“Someone’s been praying to the god of ass, and he’s just answered!”
Right now this game is on offer for less than a tenner at Amazon. If you are one of those gamers who likes to leave things alone for a couple of minutes to find out what the bored behaviour is (best yet: The Flash in Justice League Heroes, closely followed by Deadpool from MAU), don’t mind seriously bad language and can forgive linear gameplay, then don’t wait. Get one.