Game Review: Halo 4

In the latest futuristic FPS in the series, we see the return of the powerhouse (and slightly deranged) spartan Master Chief as he faces an all new terrifying enemy that threatens to destroy humankind. One of the most anticipated games of 2012, there has been a lot of hype surrounding this title… But what has changed since the previous installment to the Halo franchise? We’ll look into the gameplay, the story, how the game looks and all the most notable pros & cons in between.

Halo 4 was developed by 343 Industries after the original developers Bungie, handed down the baton after their final releases, Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach. Set up in 2007 by Microsoft Game Studios, 343 Industries oversaw the science fiction media of the Halo franchise, which included comics, games novels, etc. When Bungie became independent and broke away from Microsoft Game Studios, 343 took over future development of the game.

Halo 4 starts on the UNSC fleet ship “Forward Unto Dawn” where Cortana brings Master Chief from cryostasis to defend the desolate from covenant attack. Master Chief is and the remnants of the covenant are then pulled into a mysterious giant planet, where the Chief uncovers a new and all-the-more deadly enemy that has been laying dormant. The story then escalates further… But I shall leave you guys to find out for yourselves.

The interface for Halo 4 is striking and it makes you feel you’re on a hologram computer in the future: you command everything in the hub and you have the power. It’s slick, clean and visually encouraging to those with an aesthetic eye.From the get-go, you are put inside the Chief’s helmet and it feels more genuine this time, as the edges of his visor meet the corners of your screen. Everything is visually striking and does well to set the scenes for the action to take place. Guns, objects and the environments have undertaken huge overhauls and really sets you in the Halo universe. The various metallic, as well as primal textures describe the “alien” locations really well, reinforcing the sci-fi theme with glows, lasers, spaceships, new creatures, etc. What is most appealing about the aesthetic upgrades, is within the cinematic portions of the video game where the character models are stunning and in high detail, right down to every wrinkle. Faces look realistic and expression is portrayed convincingly.  Timing however with the cinematic events is just a fraction slow and so the mouth movements aren’t exactly in-time with the audio. Fortunately this is a small oversight because there are many things to look at that draw curiosity away from small hitches. truly, 343 Industries have done their best to make improvements and while the obvious improvements generally are quite interesting, some textures are repeated alot… Specifically with structures. I do not say this to insult, as I believe that 343 have made many improvements that leave players satisfied.

Halo 4 continues its medley of epic soundtracks that accompany the stunning sci-fi visuals. It’s calm in the picturesque moments of gameplay but can pick up the tempo when the action/drama escalates. The music is completely complimentary to the experience and doesn’t overload the player with annoying sounds. Each gun has been given a new sound effects to which they “feel” more powerful with each shot and every grenade, button pressed and voiceover intensifies the drama so that the player can achieve the full FPS action genre experience possible. Even a lack of sound and just the character’s footsteps can be just enough to build tension and excitement, so there has been a clever plan on the implementation of audio.

Like previous halo games, the control scheme is relatively the same and for veteran halo players, they will find everything easily accustomed to. For fresh players to the game (or beginners), controls are quite generic to most FPS games available and are quite easy to get a grip of. somewhat “samey” to the previous halo games, it becomes a series of run n’ gun moments with strings of cinematics and tension in-between. Truth be told, you can’t do much in terms of flexibility, but for a semi-hardcore shooter, it has various weapons, vehicles and moves to nullify the repetitiveness that’s generic to all FPS video games. So for various new weapons, there’s ones like the UNSC SAW, or the Covenant Carbine… even a powerful new weapon like the Incineration Cannon. Alongside that, we see a change in spartan suit abilities, with new ones like “Promethean Vision,” which lets you see through walls, “Thruster” which propels you forward and “Hardlight Shield” where your characters creates a person shield. These provide more dynamic to the FPS action, particularly in multiplayer where clever use of the suit abilities determine your skill and the result of the match results.

I’ve mentioned earlier that all the guns have been given a visual upgrade and sound different. Well, alongside overhauls to classic Halo weapons, new ones have been added to the mix, as well as a set of “Forerunner” weaponry that then culminates to 3 contrasting styles of weapons between the UNSC, Covenant and the Forerunners. Not just weapons, but the multiplayer modes have been updated: Taken aboard the UNSC Starship Infinity, you are a new recruit where you can participate in War Games (Player versus Player matches) or partake in episodic cooperative missions called Spartan Ops. The multiplayer interface is new and you’re somewhat taken aback and it’s understandable to get lost… But given the time, you get used to where everything is and find yourself whizzing around like a computer genius. Points replace experience and credits and this acts as your rank-up requirement and a new currency called Spartan Points came in favor to replace credits and are used to buy weapons and upgrades for your spartan loadouts. Keeping to original hype, multiplayer is intense and fast-paced, providing a plethora of Free-For-All and team based modes… Some of which are quite recognisable and classic to the Halo series, such as Big Team Slayer, Oddball and Capture The Flag. If you’re a veteran, or a beginner, you will find vast amounts of playing hours within the multiplayer in comparison to Spartan Ops or the traditional Campaign.

Story-wise, another threat to the human race is uncovered and our local hero, Master Chief and his increasingly psychopathic AI friend Cortana spring into action to save the day. With this part of the saga, the story goes into more depth on the character of Master Chief and what makes him tick, as well as his relations to his colleague and in particular, Cortana. truly, Halo 4 centers more around Master Chief than ever as we pay witness to the inevitable psychological trauma he suffers at the pains of his closest comrades. We cannot see how it affects the protagonist very well as he hides behind his visor, but through the dialogue we understand that things change within the Chief to the point he becomes colder in his approach. Now we add a character like Commander Lasky to the picture who immediately can be recognised as a caring person towards the Master Chief as a friend, whom also garners respect for the man and eventually vice versa as Master Chief starts to understand (through Lasky) the importance of his existence. Quite  amazingly, the script for the plotline is well-written, as expected for any Halo game and everything about it is exciting and fulfilling to the inquisitive mind.

Overall, Halo 4 is an impressive continuation to the Halo Universe in general. Easy to say when your funding a game from the pockets of Microsoft, but 343 themselves have ways to go to improve upon this fantastic universe created with such passion by developers and fans alike. Minor hitches are merely by-product from 343 being relatively new to the Halo Franchise and Halo 4 being their first official video game development. Xbox players should consider this game a must-buy for classic entertainment that has spanned a decade.

Review: Twisted Treeline (League Of Legends)

 

Twisted Treeline has undergone an overhaul and with it, updated gameplay on the classic 3v3 map. It is a refreshing and exciting new change that increases the pace of gameplay and focuses more on frequent ganks a choice-making: fight, capture a shrine or destroy. Ultimately, this revamp is a shot at the top spot for the League Of Legends game modes.

So let’s go through the major changes:

The jungle camps and brush areas have been designed to be closer for more teamfight action and ganking opportunities, with the addition of a movement speed shrine in the center to get to the action quicker. The original buffed camps have all been removed in replacement of two shrines, to which both teams can capture and earn buffs. One shrine located on the west and the other adjacent in the east, each one is located nearby their respective team’s spawning pools. Capturing both shrines for your team equates to a damage buff. Now step back, there’s a new vile boss monster in town (or treeline) and his name is Vilemaw. What else do I need to say… Besides the fact he’s a GIANT SPIDER! Killing him gains you a buff that should help your team push for the win. Alongside that, wards have been removed and a new set of items have been released to add more diversity than your standard bruiser TT team.

This will all results in faster-paced gameplay and considerably less “turtle” action with wider chokepoints into the enemy’s base and the added fact of the buff and shrine control which provides some tactics and choice: choose to push a lane, gank a champion or capture the shrines. What you should expect to see, is new champions shining in this upgraded Twisted Treeline and a more diverse team composition for the traditional 3v3 mode. The visuals are stunning and the music ties in excellently with the theme of Halloween and all things scary… Just in time for halloween too.

Twisted Treeline 2.0 is currently in the beta stage on League of Legends, so have a go and tell Riot Games what you think. Of course because it’s a beta version, there are some kinks with audio lapses and compatibility, but nothing to fear at all so just be patient.

You can signup and download League of Legends here: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/

Game Review: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2 is the successful predecessor to the original Borderlands, with an all-new cast of vault hunters (Axton, Salvador, Zero and Maya) looking to make their fame and fortune on the bandit planet of Pandora, by rescuing it from the clutches of Hyperion CEO, Handsome Jack. It is a First-Person-Shooter game with role-playing elements blended in to add a diverse set of customization options, from changing your character’s looks & head, the guns and other aspects you can tailor. On its debut launch week, Borderlands 2 topped the UK charts and beat Mass Effect 3 by 4000 sales, reaching number 1 quicker than any other video game this year so far (excellent start!).

Gameplay is pretty hectic and action-packed, which is what you would expect from a shooter game but you can control the pace depending on how you play. Controls are accessible and the graphics are pretty dynamic, similar to the original Borderlands. You advance in the game by completing quests, killing bad guys with your guns and levelling up and that will earn you extra maximum hit points and a skill point at every level from 5 onwards. The overall gameplay experience is boosted when Co-op is enabled, increasing the difficulty of the enemies, but increasing the rewards in terms of experience points and treasure. As a little quirk, there’s unlimited running (unless you hit a wall) and some really awesome-looking grenade explosions in the game from bouncing bombs, to child grenades, to homing ones and EVEN MORE than that! Although it’s fun, some would probably lose interest as shooter games don’t offer much variety in actions and quests you can do. There are hidden easter eggs for gamers to find aswell that range from custom skins, to weapons or just quirky interactions, but I shall not disclose any more detail to thee :P.

The audio quality, as well as the music used in Borderlands 2 is quite excellent and emphasises the theme of “badassery” when you’re killing bandits. In terms of the style, it’s reminiscent of fight scene music from films such as Underworld, Resident Evil and various other high-action classics. The music choice is purely situational (different themes depending on environment, etc) and the gun firing sounds are wacky and dynamic: some traditional, some futuristic. truly, there is no negative aspect about the audio aspects of the game, it is merely a matter of taste and this is good taste to the majority because of popularity.

Visual quality is stunning as ever, purely because the graphics for the entire game is unique to itself where no game has the appearance quite like BL2. It’s not for everyone as things can get a little messy, or hardcore gamers may not like the simplistic meshing for the terrain as it is not so detailed as video games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Yet as I mentioned, the graphics are unique to itself and make Borderlands 2 different and very interesting to play.

The set of characters you meet in-game range from sane to insane… simple. Some are stiff-necked, but MOST are psychotic in one of three branches: sadist, sexual or manipulative. The few sane characters you meet tend to be too focused with dishing out tasks for you, but at least your sanity won’t be affected here. But safe to say, you will meet familiar faces, including the original vault hunters: Roland, Lilith, Brick and Mordecai. Alongside them, you’ll meet Dr. Zed, Marcus, Moxxi and a host of new characters with their own creepiness.

As a summary, Borderlands 2’s dynamic visuals, gameplay, customization and co-op will make unique gaming sessions each time you play. Ultimately the overall gameplay may become a tad dull and blunt when played for long hours, but some can create fun situations with friends and many overlook this hitch because they’re focused on collecting/finding awesome new guns to toy with :). The age restriction is 18 because there is some very adult themes from violence to sexual provocation. But as a result of this, it’s an adult-geared game with cartoony elements and a replay factor that is only understandable by fans of the shooter genre. Granted, this game is not for everyone, especially children as the warped themes in the game are not for sensitive eyes. Get blasting those bandits on Pandora vault hunters!

Game Review: League of Legends

Developed by Riot Games Inc. in 2009, this Multiplayer-Online-Battle-Arena (or MOBA for short) offers various paces of action with a clever combination of strategy and RPG elements. League of Legends, also known as LoL, is a relatively new game out on the scene but it has gained an incredible following with over 11 million players enjoying LoL a month. Alongside that, the game’s competitive scene has taken a boon in popularity and the current Season 2 championship prize pool totals at £2 million.

In this online free-to-play game, you are a summoner that summons champions to fight in team-based arena matches for you. You earn influence points which can help you buy new champions, runes to boost your champions or other various upgrades. The classic mode pits teams of 5 against eachother and each battle it out, with the assistance of NPC’s called minions and a shopkeeper who sells you items (with the gold you earn), to reach the opposing team’s base and destroy their Nexus. The game is predominantly PvP (Player versus Player) with an option to play against practice bots. The benefits of this game being that it’s free to play, but you can choose to buy premium items like champion skins if you so wish. The vast selection of champions can create interesting and unique team combinations and there is replayability factor in terms of player versus player matches.

For a small backstory, League Of Legends is set in the fantasy land of Runeterra upon a continent called Valoran. Valoran has been ravaged by what is called “Runewars” and a powerful organization comprised of the Valorian Countries’ brightest and wisest individuals was formed to prevent further damage to the land. This organization is called the League of Legends and instead of open warfare, disputes are settled on fields of justice, where opposing sides summon champions to fight for their cause to gain influence and decide the outcome of such disputes.

The abundance of champions, each with their own special skills (a set of 4 for each champion) does indeed create unusual and fun combinations of teams and this is a real bonus. There are so many characters to purchase that there is a completionist attitude set aside for hardcore gamers who like “collecting” things and the gameplay can vary between fast-paced or strategic and this broadens the dynamics of what a MOBA game can do for players. This game accomodates for experienced and new players alike and aims to provide the best balanced matches available, but for new players just starting out, they can play against bots to get used to the game first. The effort that goes into providing visually stunning artwork, 3D models and animation effects shows that Riot Games have a talented and dedicated team of staff to provide the best experience possible. As well as the art and development team, there is a team of community support staff to take care of the gamer’s queries and problems, from all corners of the world. What really will grab a players attention, is the feeling of control and new players will feel a connection to the game based on the “flavour” of champion they choose and over time gamers can become attached to their favourite champions as they develop their in-game skills.

On top of the positives, Riot have gone above and beyond to create their own musical scores in-game and offer regular patches to update the game’s visual and technical details. Despite being a new company, there is an air of extreme professionalism that reflects in their popularity and economical fortunes through premium purchases in game with currency called “Riot Points” and merchandising. Players who retain a positive attitude can see the care taken and I along with the rest of the fanbase should offer apreciation for their attention to detail. There is a strong competitive scene (as there should be with MOBAs) that offers normal games and ranked matches where players compete to be the best of the leaderboards. Local, national and world tournaments sinew a roar of excitement and enthralling action to where everyone can set themselves goals, so hardcore gamers ALSO have this element to keep themselves happy. Of course being a PvP game, anyone can meet anyone and make friends through any of Riot’s game servers.

Unfortunately, there are some issues with LoL that do ’cause serious concerns… The most noted of all is the community. Sure there are some really nice people in the game, but the reputation of the LoL fanbase is tarnished by negative and abusive players that is kindled by the competitiveness of the MOBA genre. Insults and cursewords, as well as a habit called “trolling” is very much abundant in LoL and it often pits new and veteran players in uncomfortable and upsetting positions and can even deter new players. Alongside that, the competitiveness and the broad skillset of the gamers who play it mean there’s a stark contrast and sometimes a new player is pitted against experienced players through “smurfs” or just misfortune. The high skill-level required to keep up with League of Legends would not appeal to every gamer, but Riot tries its best to change that.

Overall, there are some serious kinks to work out such as the community behaviour and the competitive scene, but generally it is a fun and enthralling game that offers MOBA veterans and newcomers alike a fresh and free-to-play video game that can be tailored to how the player wants to play. In comparison to LoL’s competitors Dota2, Rise of Immortals and SMITE, they have the largest fanbase and still continue to grow which is thanks alot to the beautiful artwork and the fluid and ever-updating gameplay mechanics, as well as a constant addition of champions and content to the roster, which keeps the fans entertained. League Of Legends is certainly not for everyone, but experimenting and giving this some time should decide whether the game is fun for you to play. Ultimately, you play the game however you want, WITH whoever you want and WHENEVER you want.

If you are curious, here is the link to their website:

http://www.leagueoflegends.com

and also Riot’s website, that has company info and job vacancies:

http://www.riotgames.com