Thursday, 25 August 2011

Quality guaranteed?

I always found whilst I was growing up that there were certain things about a new game that got me excited about it. The genre, reviews and screenshots in magazines (this was before I had the internet people!) were of course a part of it but one thing above all else made me salivate and yearn for a game to come out; the word 'Squaresoft' printed on the cover. Back then if I saw that logo I was buying that game. End of discussion. I cottoned on to this notion that Squaresoft games were awesome long before I realised, for example, that I will almost certainly love a Christopher Nolan film. Hell I was noticing this even before I started reading different books by the same author after reading one I liked. This realisation has revealed two facts to me. Firstly I like video games more than other forms of entertainment (granted this was not a shocker) but also that the games industry can have a dramatic effect on their customers, at least equal to that of directors and authors of their movies and books.

Unfortunately Squaresoft no longer exist. Over the years they have degraded and become what we know today as Square Enix, a company turning out tripe like Kane and Lynch 2 and the biggest disappointment in my gaming life to date, Final Fantasy XIII. The changes to this particular series need to be rectified very quickly indeed.

I'm not saying trying to say that the Square Enix logo is a sign of a poor quality game, you only have to look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution to see that that would be an absurd statement; it's just that the Square name is no longer a sign of the superb quality we used to get. They have now branched out into so many different things that I think they've lost their focus on the games and instead turn their hand at anything, such as Mindjack...don't even go there with that one.

This wasn't intended to be a Square shooting gallery so I'll change the tone and introduce the company that now represents an almost sure fire sign of a great game, Bioware. I've always like Bioware games and hold both the Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect games very highly. The one thing I have found that is true of all Bioware games is that they are well written; even Dragon Age 2 which I didn't get on with quite as well could not be said to have poor writing. I am aware that i hold this particular attribute of a game perhaps more highly than a lot of people but it is certainly important to the immersion within a story and I can't think of anyone who does it better than Bioware.

Right now I find myself in the odd position that the last game I desperately wanted (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) and the next (Star Wars: The Old Republic) are split between my old and new favourite companies. I worry slightly that Deus Ex won't live up to my expectations as at time of writing I have yet to play it (cursed Steam download taking ages, I bought the damn disc why make me download the... stopping there, ranting imminent) but I hope that Square Enix have brought out another gem for me to enjoy. My only fear about SW:TOR is that I will lose friends as all my free time is spent glued to my PC.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I should go... but I don't think I will!

            Recently I decided to finally get round to playing a game I should have played before, especially since I picked it up dirt cheap around Christmas last year. For some reason I never played Mass Effect 2 when it came out, I played the original and enjoyed it but the sequel was one of those games that I wait for but don’t pick up. Before I dived back into the Mass Effect universe I bought myself a 360 copy of the original so I could replay that and have a save file carry from 1-3 when I play that next year. In light of my experience re-running Mass Effect that one will definitely be a day 1 purchase, special edition already on pre-order. At time of writing I have still not started Mass Effect 2 but this piece is actually about how incredible the original game is.
            At the heart of this epic Sci-fi action RPG lies the incredibly written story, as you can expect from a Bioware title. The game follows your own created Commander Shepard in your quest to save the galaxy from a rogue Spectre, a special agent of the Citadel Council which is the governing body of the central hub serving Citadel. Early on Shepard is promoted from a marine to a spectre him/herself and you must travel around the galaxy chasing leads and gathering information to locate and stop your quarry. One of the things that really makes the game stand on its own is a genuinely good morality system. You can often choose to be neutral, good (Paragon) or not so good (Renegade) and these choices effect a variety of things including character interactions and even the side missions you are allowed to take. Naturally for these my own Commander Shepard is a Renegade who takes no shit from anybody and puts bullets in the heads of people who try to give it. That said I ended up with a few dirty Paragon points because I was nice to my team, partly because I wasn’t sure if any of them would leave if I was a bitch to them but mainly because that’s how I feel I would react if I was in the shoes of Shepard in reality. Given the situation you are thrown into from the offset I don’t understand the Paragon approach but that’s just my feelings on it.
            It’s this freedom of choice which makes it so easy to identify with Shepard and thus it feels as close to you yourself making the choices and having the conversations as I have ever experienced. You grow to be close to your team, you will of course have favourites and I quickly settled on Garrus and Tali as my primary squad mates and ironically the characters I felt most separate from were the other 2 humans available. That said I still cared about them and when… actually I’ll stop there, spoilers and stuff! Suffice to say there by the end of the game there was a bond that I haven’t felt in a game since Final Fantasy VII.
            Now to hark back to a subject of a previous article, why are new games not as good as old? Well Mass Effect is an exception to this rule, as obviously there will always be. The weirdest thing to me is that I didn’t remember how phenomenal the game is even having played it the whole way through before. On top of the story is a sound cover based shooting system, a good character development and ability set and more side missions than I’ve seen in a while so it keeps you going if you want to do everything. I am relieved that I replayed this game. I wish to thank a few of my friends who know who they are if reading this, for re-introducing me to an incredible series and an amazing gaming experience. Now Mass Effect 2 beckons.

I should go.