Aliens: Colonial Marines Review

A stand up fight, or just another bughunt?

The Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise have always been marketed as the ultimate killing machine. Terrifying, unstoppable, emotionless monsters. At least until Aliens: Colonial Marines got hold of them…

Well, it happened. The preview here at Gamestyle listed our hopes for this game, but it also said our fears for a series that it seems difficult to make the perfect game for. I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now, but…wait for it…this game is kind of bad…

Let’s be honest. When a game is stuck for release for more than 5 years, it is going to have issues. It isn’t going to be perfect. But it could still be good. Especially when the story can practically write itself, and all the developers have to do is just make it playable. As much as it pains to say it, Gearbox have let themselves down.

A:CM picks up after Aliens, and roughly alongside Alien 3. The ‘rescue team’ have found the Sulaco from Aliens, and have gone onboard to find our what happened to the characters from the film. They have no idea that there are deadly creatures waiting for them, and the only thing that seems to be drastically amiss is that the Sulaco is back to the setting from Aliens, instead of being at it’s last known point of Alien 3. Plenty of potential, but it goes downhill rapidly. This is due to two massive mistakes. Firstly, the player gets no time to get a feel for the marines that they will be fighting alongside. Hudson, Vasquez and Hicks are all characters that fans of the film loved, we watched as their macho personas started breaking under pressure, and their deaths caused a pang. In A:CM, you have no idea who anyone is, so feel very little emotion when they die.
The second mistake is a massive one though. In fact, it warrants its own paragraph:

Early on in the game, as expected, the character is ambushed by an alien. Just the one, but as we all know, one is all it takes. The player falls to the ground, and the alien is drooling in front of the screen, ready to deal the killing blow. This is it, an early end. Unless someone rescues the player with gunfire, but then there will be a face full of acid and unavoidable death? Never fear, the player has an ace up their sleeve… a punch. The player punches the most dangerous thing in the universe in the face. With their fist. Laughable! Until…the alien whimpers and runs away. Just take that in for a moment, as that sets the tone for the rest of this review and the game as a whole.

The aliens have been reduced to cannon fodder, and are on a par with a Halo grunt. They look spot on, but everything about their movement is almost comical. The much hyped AI reduces them to just randomly jumping from point to point or running up and down walls, whilst making no attempt to attack the player. When they actually do get close, they can be punched away or pushed off. Enemy humans in the game will cause the player more concern, as they can shoot from a distance, and have rocket launchers. Being more afraid of people in a game like this is just plain wrong.

Graphically, this game is baffling. Some areas of a level look fine, whereas others look last generation. Texture mapping is grim, and entire rooms will just be a blur, only becoming clear when all enemies are defeated, or the player is moving to the exit. The characters themselves bear a resemblance to the botox shock look of the original Mass Effect. It really seems at points that we are seeing the parts of the game that were made more than 5 years ago and the designers forgot to update them last year. The early footage ‘polish’ conspiracy does seem to have legs…unlike some of the aliens that can be encountered.

This game is the glitchiest that Gamestyle has seen for quite some time. Aliens spawning under the floor, and attacking as a swarm of heads. Enemies charging the player, only to run straight past them and sprint into a wall. AI partners who are scripted to open a door to carry on in the level randomly get stuck in pipes. This list could go on and on. During one particular difficult level, we got past the tough bit. Proceeding to the next part of the level (and before reaching a precious checkpoint) our playable character just died. He was not under attack, he did not fall from a great height. He just keeled over from what we can only assume was despair induced heart failure, and fell underneath the level into grey space. This was the point that Gamestyle admitted defeat with this game.

Multiplayer is on a par with this sadly. Actually getting into a game is a challenge, and upon finally entering a Marines vs. (human controlled) Aliens death match, we were greeted by an alien who wasn’t moving, and wouldn’t die, despite the 50+ bullets that we shot in its face. There are a variety of modes aside from deathmatch, including an ‘Escape’ which is good in theory, but multiplayer as a whole is still cursed by the bugs. There are the standard customisation options as would be expected, that are unlocked as the player progresses.

As a fan of the series, the game was horrible to play, and this review was heart-breaking to write. For purely sentimental reasons, this was one of the games that fans would have been desperate to see succeed. Somewhere along the line, we were all let down. What makes it worse are the occasional flashes of a good game that flash through. Running from a larger than average alien, welding corridor doors shut as you go. The voice acting of the likes of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen. This could and should have been so much more. But sadly, it is just a broken game. Game over man, game over.

Retro City Rampage Review

I’ve got love for you, if you were born in the Eighties

An old school treat for gamers has been released on XBLA to kick off 2013. What better way to look to the future, by pretending to still be in the past!

It seems that the old days are coming back in a big way. Aviator glasses, leggings, and preppy outfits are clothes of choice among the younger generations, not to mention some of the unusual hairstyles that can be seen on the street. The music is still being sampled in modern tracks. But it’s the games that we care about. Pac-man, Frogger, and Super Mario are just a few names from a vast array of games that are still played by many today. Brian Provinciano (of Vblank Entertainment) has a love for the old days that seems to run deep, as he has near enough single-handedly developed Retro City Rampage, which is a treasure trove of the past.

RCR is not a re-release, but is a new old game (make sense of that one…). The idea lightbulb originally switched on back in 2002, and Provinciano started to develop an 8-bit version of GTAIII. In 2007, this was changed into a completely new entity. Modelled on the old arcade cabinets, the game isn’t widescreen, with the edges filled in with the cabinet ‘edge’, included sticker instructions such as how to score points. This is on the screen as soon as the game is fired up, and is a nice touch that sets the tone brilliantly. Even better, is that the setting for this can be changed, so it can take on the appearance of an old TV, or a Game Boy for example, all with matching colour palettes. This visual style carries on into the actual game, and a pixellated paradise. Anyone who has owned a SNES, or anything older will be taken back straight away.

The game itself is basically a complete parody of the last few decades. The Player (as the playable character is called) is a standard thug for hire, and after a robbery, ends up sent to another time (the year 20XX). A basic plot, but arcade games are known for the gameplay, not the stories. In GTA fashion, missions are available at various points in the city (when playing story mode). These mostly seem to revolve around ‘go here, steal this, come back’. It is only in self-depreciating fashion, as that is how many games used to be. Throw in a few racing type sections, platform levels and gambling areas, and RCR has many styles under one roof. There is also a challenge mode (unlocked through playing the story), and a free mode for the hell raisers. The GTA influence also shows in the city, as the view is almost the same as the top down style from the early games. The controls are equally simple, with the left stick controlling movement, and right stick controlling the shooting or punching direction. Pick up and play is an understatement.

The main thing that everyone has been talking about with this game is the old references. It is safe to say that every major franchise from the 80’s and 90’s has been mentioned. The Player ends up travelling through time in a time travelling phone box, before being collected by a ‘Doc’ driving a time travelling Delorean. Weapons training is received from a character who bears a striking resemblance to a certain ‘Snake’, and one of the enemies is a Dr. Von Buttnik. Even the shop to change your characters facial appearance is called MJ’s Face ‘R’ Us! Gamestyle’s personal favourite was during a mission where The Player was instructed to steal certain vehicles in the city. One particularly stylish black number called K2600 had an onboard computer. As The Player enters the car, he is greeted by the message ‘Boss Hoff has left a cheeseburger on the floor for your enjoyment’. Anyone under the age of 21 will probably miss a lot of these references, but everyone over that age will be laughing away and desperately trying to remember what film/game the reference is from. Modern games haven’t been overlooked though, as ‘Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy are both mini games in RCR, in 8 bit format! After completing these, the characters become playable, and can be used in free mode.

The effort that has gone into this game is clear from the start. This game was made by a very small team, and mostly by one man, so tip your hats to them.  In terms of playability though, it is basic, and even tedious at points. But that is what it is trying for. Old games were repetitive, and painfully difficult, and RCR is just trying to replicate this. RCR is meant to be a trip down memory lane for the older generation. Those people who still dust off their Mega Drive collection for a go every now and then, knowing that they own better games and consoles these days. The term often used is ‘so bad, it’s good’. But the younger players will miss the references, and will probably see the game as terrible.  This is a game where the age rating should definitely be taken into consideration.

Aliens: Colonial Marines Preview

Stop your grinnin’, and drop your linen!

After a long ten years, and more delays than the London Underground in winter, the latest instalment in the Alien franchise is nearly upon us.

A:CM was originally announced in 2001, and was planned to be released for the PS2. After several issues in development, the game was scrapped. In 2006, Sega bought the rights for future Aliens games, and immediately announced that they would be teaming with Gearbox to make a new Aliens game (unrelated to the 2001 title except for the name). News went quiet from this point, with very little being said until 2011, when a release of early 2012 was revealed. The fact that this review is being written late 2012 shows that this wasn’t the case. The release is now a definite early 2013 date, and fingers crossed, this will be the case. But enough of the past, let’s look at what the future holds.

A:CM is tied into the Aliens universe, but is not directly linked to any story that has been on the big screen. Following on from the 1986 sequel Aliens, A:CM shows the arrival of a rescue crew, who are there to check on the marines from the film who never returned. Obviously, this was due to a slight case of death, but it remains to be seen if they know exactly why. So, despite having not seen the films being an inexcusable offence, those poor souls that haven’t should still be able to work out what is going on.

For the fans of the films, the trailers are showing some very familiar sights. The main location for the game looks to be the Sulaco, the spaceship of the marines from the film, and it is just how it was left, even down to Bishops legs still lying on the cargo bay floor. LV-426 will also be visited, and looks just as dark and stormy as in the film. Accuracy is key for anything that is tied in to a major franchise, and A:CM looks to be spot on. This is also featured with the weaponry, as the familiar pulse rifles and sentry guns return, and the custom ‘3 guns taped together’ weapon of Ripley even makes an appearance as DLC.

What really looks impressive so far, is the horror side of the game. The films are tense affairs, with the aliens being masters of sneaking and being anywhere. The looks to have been captured perfectly in the story. This will not be a gung ho battle ala Call of Duty, with enemies running at you head on. This will be enemies jumping out of hidden openings, and sneaking up behind the player. An Aliens game should have the player on edge constantly, and it is looking like this will be the case. Gearbox and Sega have announced that the enemy A.I. will actively try and hide, then flank players wherever possible. Some sections of the game will contain ‘Last Stand’ elements, where the player has to defend certain locations as long as possible, and as the ammo runs low, these moments will be spreading panic like wildfire. It seems there will be a mix of stand and fight, with a touch of run like hell.

The enemies have been announced as being primarily the aliens from the films, along with some ‘new breeds’ that have been mentioned in other fiction, or made exclusively for the game. We can also expect other soldier types, which gives hints as to the possible direction that the story might take. The only concern is that the aliens will be demoted to just cannon fodder. If they end up being as dangerous as a Grunt from Halo, the game could end up being a disaster.

Multiplayer looks a bit more sketchy sadly. A:CM gives the player the option of playing as a marine, or as an alien. However, in the gameplay for the aliens, it seems to be head on rather than stealth. It may still be great fun, but there is also a big possibility that unless people play in the spirit intended, it won’t work properly.

For the fans of release day extras and collectors editions, there is a delightful looking special edition of this game. DLC including characters from the Aliens film, an exclusive level, various paperwork items, a statue and a special collector box all await those who make a purchase.

After some of the dross that has blemished the Aliens name, in both film and game, the series needs a lift. It is baffling that so many professionals just can’t make a decent horror game around these characters. Everything is there, but nothing feels right. The sceptic in us will assume the worse about A:CM, but from what has been revealed, it is actually looking very promising. A proper Aliens game would be a shoe in for one of the greatest horror games ever, so Gearbox and Sega can know that if they do nail this, they will be on to a winner.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse review

Fingers crossed, let this be the one. The videogame version of an animated TV show that isn’t terrible. The Simpsons and South Park are two of the big hitters to have failed recently, but can Family Guy turn it around?

Surely everyone must know all about Family Guy by now? First aired in 1999, Seth MacFarlane’s brain child is now a global phenomenon. Well known for staying at a consistent standard, and by being slightly less offensive than South Park, this award winning show is loved by many. Spin offs have followed in the form of the Cleveland show, and American Dad (to a degree), and even the film world is now being tested with Ted. But, there is yet to be a successful game. There was a Family Guy on Xbox and PS2 that received average scores, and an online multiplayer game is still in development. This is the first next-gen game that they have released, and Heavy Iron will be hoping that they can keep the Family Guy ‘hot streak’ continuing.

The plot for this game is a continuation of the ‘Road to the Multiverse’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through parallel universes) and the ‘Big Bang Theory’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through time to stop evil half brother Bertram from killing Stewie’s ancestors). Where an original plot would have been nice, the developers have taken the safe approach of sticking with two of the more popular storylines. A version of Bertram appears and announces that he is assembling an army throughout the Multiverse in order to destroy the main Family Guy universe. Whilst the story is classic Family Guy, everything else sadly starts to drop in standard.

The graphics are poor, and that’s being kind. Even bearing in mind that this game will not look realistic, this is just a rough effort. The show looks much sharper on TV than in this game. Texture mapping is average, and the characters are blocky and poorly detailed. This game is on a par with PS2 graphics. Accuracy is spot on though, and the player will never be confused as to who’s who. They may still be wondering if they have been in some kind of accident though. Levels have a good mix putting the parallel universe them to good effect, featuring a drunk student level, a Christmas level, and an Amish universe amongst others, and each are recognisable, and look different from the last. This is the redeeming feature for the graphics.

Is the humour good though? Do the actors lend their voices to the game? A big yes. But, there is a massive draw back. Most of the lines are recycled from the show. So for the real fans, the target audience, they will be hearing the same jokes that they have heard a hundred times before. And they will hear them another hundred times as each line is repeated on loop. Half of them don’t even suit the level, and it gives the impression that the developer just picked a list of their favourite quotes, and threw them in the game. Credit where it’s due, the cut scenes that have been created for the game are fine, but the level content is more tedious than fun.

Gameplay is an over the shoulder shooter. Controls are simple, and it is very easy to pick up and play. A child could play it, if it was aimed for them. The player controls either Stewie or Brian, in a ‘drop in drop out’ style, or both can be played in co-op fashion. Both have their own weapons, which does mean slightly different tactics depending on which character is being used. The level targets are very simple, generally revolving around collecting certain items, and returning to whoever told you to get them, or finding a certain number of item’s in the level. It harks back to older platforming games, and is enjoyable, if repetitive. Levels end with a boss battle which is the only time the player really needs to think or use strategy, as the rest of time it is pretty simple. Money is found / earned in the levels, and this can be spent to buy upgrades and different costumes and the like.

There is a multiplayer mode, which lets you control a greater variety of characters, but it is local only. Whilst it is playable, there are just too many better options for a modern gamer out there, and this would be no more than a fleeting novelty. There is also a challenge mode, but it is very much more of the same, and is neither challenging or long lasting.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is completely frustrating. It shows enough moments to make the player think that it’s going to be half decent, and then it just punches them in the face like a giant chicken. The graphics are average, and the audio is just annoying. The main impression that shines through is that the developers got bored halfway through making it, or just rushed it to make release deadlines. This would make an excellent PSN or XBLA game, and would be worth paying top price for. But as a top price full release game, this should be a lot better.

Assassin’s Creed 3 review

As Gamestyle mentioned in the preview for Assassin’s Creed 3, pre-orders for this game are at a high. On the 25th of October, just under a week before release, Ubisoft confirmed that AC3 is the most pre-ordered game in their history. Expectations are through the roof for the fifth major AC game, but can Ubisoft meet the expectations?

Without going over too much old ground, AC3 picks up where Revelations left off. Our main character Desmond is in possession of one of the Apples, and along with his companions Shaun and Rebecca, and his father William, is heading to the central vault. This vault, as advised by the messengers of the First Civilization, is where they will be able to save the planet from a solar flare that will engulf the planet.

With a great amount of difficulty, Gamestyle will keep this review spoiler free. But after some said that the story of Ezio went on for too long, AC3 has a new hero in the guise of Connor. There are however, various unknown elements to the story that were kept tightly-wrapped in development. Players will go through several twists and turns with the story, and any thought that perhaps AC was becoming stale will instantly disappear. After the ‘straight in to the action’ approach of the previous two games, AC3 has a more gradual build up which may not be enjoyable to all, but it is all worth it in the end. However, we can talk about what we do know, and that is a new character and setting.

Gone are Altair in the 1100’s, and Ezio in the 1400’s. The playable character is Connor, a half English, half Native American man, and the location is the USA in the 1700’s. The differences jump out right away. Whilst Altair was silent and moody, and Ezio was cocky and forward, Connor is actually…nice. The typical picture that is painted of Native Americans is that of respect, and peacefulness. Connor matches this perfectly. Polite and calm, it is a pleasant change to the typical gaming protagonist. The setting is what is really noticeable however. The older AC games often came across as being somewhat bland. Town areas blurred into one, and there wasn’t a great deal that stood out. AC3 and the USA however, really is a whole new world. The game feels alive. There are port areas, living sections, bars, shops and everything else that would be expected in a town. The NPCs are more active also, with conversations and actions coming across as much more natural. This is all noticeable from the start, but the greatest part of AC3, is the Frontier, or the area between cities. Forest, plains, canyons and settlements, everything is there, and it is absolutely stunning. It would not be too far fetched to compare it to Skyrim, that great is the level of detail. Weather conditions are a new feature, with the snow being a particular beauty. Whilst it is clear that AC3 is pushing the 360 to the limits (also being a two disc game), Ubisoft have made one of the most visually impressive games out there.

Trailers and previews revealed many additions in actual gameplay, and this is where AC3 really stands out. Whereas previous games revolved around simply finding hidden items, and purchasing various objects, AC3 is so much more. Again, listing all of them would spoil the game, but a couple that have been revealed include hunting, and naval warfare. The hunting is reminiscent of Red Dead, and involves tracking animals, setting traps, and skinning them. This gives the players materials for trade, such as meat and fur. The sailing aspect however, is something straight out of the films. Sailing along the seas, controlling the sails and firing the cannons, all that is missing is Johnny Depp on deck.

Assassin's Creed 3 Screenshot

The base of operations (or Homestead) has also been greatly modified. Now in the form of a worn down country manor, the player no longer just watches the upgrades happen. NPCs are recruited to live on the land, which increases available supplies. Hiring lumberjacks (or the 1700 equivalent), gives supplies of timber for example. All of the mini games and side quests are just as immersive as the main story, and add another dimension to the game.

Linked to all of the side quests are various clubs and challenges. Performing certain requirements will result in the player being invited to join a club. For example, killing X amount of animals will gain an invite to the hunting club. These range in difficulty, and are well worth completing as they net the player much needed cash and other rewards.

In terms of controls, AC3 has been tweaked slightly. The right trigger still causes more attention attracting moves such as running, but there is no longer a need to hold the A button for free-running and climbing, as the right trigger causes it to happen automatically. Large jumps that could cause damage still need to be triggered with A, but generally it is a much smoother system, which should result in less misplaced jumps or unintentional movements. The combat system has also changed, and is no longer as easy as previous games. Holding block in armed combat does not work anymore, and each individual attack has to be blocked. From this, counter or disarm moves can be performed. As is the way for many games now, AC3 is yet another to borrow elements of the fighting from the Arkham games. This has resulted in more fluid battles, and due to the increased number of animations, they look even better than ever.

Due to the more advanced time period, firearms are now a bigger part of AC3 than previous games. This is not to mean that the game will descend into a shoot ‘em up however, as we are still running on basic gunpowder. So that means one shot, and then around 5 to 10 seconds to reload. Swords and stealth is still the primary choice, especially when up against large numbers.

The multiplayer mode returns, and as expected, has been improved. Again using the ‘story’ of being an Animus training programme, the player has a variety of modes to choose from. These range from a simple mode where the aim is to assassinate a target, to team based capture the flag. It is great fun, although is very unforgiving for lower level players. Something of note is that some customisation options are unlocked through the single player, which gives another incentive to 100% the single player mode.

A more unusual feature to be discussed in a game review is the historical content. There were concerns before release that Europeans would be portrayed in an excessively negative light in this game. What Gamestyle found however, was a fair and balanced view of the event, with arguments both for, and against, the American Revolution. In fact, it was even funny at points, with Desmond and Shaun (a proud Englishman) arguing about the events. So not only is this a fun game, but it is educational!

Annoyingly, the only negatives that can be levelled at AC3 are technical ones. As is almost to be expected in a large game, there are lots of bugs. The collision system isn’t always accurate, leading to limbs disappearing through walls for example. Guns can be found floating in mid-air. A particularly amusing glitch during reviewing involved Connor jumping a fence, and for some reason being catapulted 500 feet straight up in the air. However, Ubisoft are on the case, and there is already a patch for some issues on release. As these bugs can be ironed out, it is not a huge problem just yet, but they do need to be looked at.

Quite simply, one of the greatest stories of this gaming generation has just released its greatest chapter. Some complained of a lack of extras in the previous games. In this case, they will be complaining that they don’t know where to start. AC3 is one of the best games this year, and even the minor flaws can’t take that away. This is a must buy for fans of the series, and is a reasonable starting point for those who are yet to play any of the previous games. Hopefully this isn’t quite the end of Assassins Creed just yet, as the levels in the present day were very enjoyable indeed…