Thursday, 27 September 2012

Review: The Walking Dead Episode 3

It is hard to find fault with this new episode of The Walking Dead as it weaves an engrossing and heart wrenching story full of complex characters and plot twists in a beautifully realised world. Episode 3, The Long Road Ahead, offers a strange juxtaposition of darkness and whimsy throughout as, whilst this episode contains the most humour of any episode yet, it also contains the most shocks. This episode pushed the boundaries further than I thought the series would go and makes me worry that no one will be safe when the finale comes round, though that does open up a lot of exciting possibilities. 

The argument from the last episode, about whether the team should stay or go, resurfaces as the food supply dwindles, there is increased bandit activity outside and now that the RV is working; with characters convincingly advocating both side. There is also the case of missing supplies for you, as the worlds greatest detective, to solve; with Duck playing the role of Dick Grayson with a gusto. The  episode starts off quite light hearted but soon everything escalates into a fight for survival; just as you expect everything to settle down the first surprise of the game hits you, and from there it doesn't let up. At around two and a half hours  long this is probably the longest episode yet, and whilst it does suffer from feeling slightly too drawn it, it is still great.
At first I thought that there were too many deaths in this episode and that death had been cheapened into just  being an inevitability that no longer mattered, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that each death had shocked me, made me feel a different emotion, and was important to the story. The Walking Dead's greatest strength is that it makes you think and it makes you feel, something that too few games attempt, and the deaths are not just meaningless deaths of people you don't care about; each death will evoke a response and has a purpose, the impact of which may not become totally apparent until the end of the season. 

Some of the problems with this episode have persisted from previous episodes; the faces of the characters don't display the range of emotions the story requires them too and the camera is often positioned badly. At one point in this episode you haver to snipe invading bandits; which feels odd and out of character for the game as it isn't normally so action orientated. The conversations at the beginning of the game feel a bit stilted as they try to bring up what happened last episode in an organic way, that just doesn't quite work. The new characters all feel like replacements for the ones lost this episode and all of them said that they don't do groups and, despite hearing how bad this groups day has been, decide to stick around. 
Overall, despite a few draw backs, The Walking Dead Episode 3 is a really strong episode and a great addition to the series. With a consistently high standard of writing, excellent voice work and beautiful visuals The Walking Dead has become one of my favourite games of the year. It's characters are multi-faceted and it's not just a case of always agreeing with what some of them say, whilst disagreeing with the rest; as with the TV show you won't like half of the characters, but that doesn't always make them wrong. The Walking Dead is proof that gamers want deeply emotionally engaging stories as much as they want cheap thrills and I cannot wait for the next episode.
9/10

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Preview: Guild Wars 2

Before I get into the game, which is amazing by the way, I will quickly go over my experiences of the opening weekend. I only expected the one day headstart so was surprised when I got a code for three days, unfortunately it was wrong and I did only get a day so after installing and patching I couldn't actually play. The one day headstart  began at 8 am UK time so I woke up at 7.45 to get a cup of tea and some cereal and to give myself enough time to patch if I had to, and... power cut for six hours, it wasn't until 2 pm that I finally got on. After three and a half days of disappointment I finally got on, but it was well worth the wait.

Stepping into Guild Wars 2 presents a pretty daunting prospect; five races, eight professions, a huge map, 80 levels and eight crafting disciplines to master. From the start I knew I was going to be a human Elementalist as I always go for the magic wielding class and because Nolan North is the voice actor for the human male. After two days my Elementalist is level 22 and I favour using a scepter and dagger combination with a mix of mostly fire and air attacks. The diversity in combat is great as each weapon set has a different group of attacks for each of the four available elements; there are even utility skills, elite skills and race on top of that. 
The world is full of awesome vistas like this.
Each section of the map is full of things to collect; points of interest, waypoints, renown hearts and vistas, which is where the camera pulls out in majestic style and shows you the full beauty of the world. Renown hearts are side quests that aren't super interesting but help structure the game so that you know where you should be going. Dynamic Events are what really makes the game interesting and draws large groups of players together to help with a common goal; each area has it's own set of Dynamic Events that range in side from only needing a couple of people to needing as many people as possible.

The game is beautiful both graphically and in the design of the environments. It is amazing how detailed each area is, I went swimming in an underwater section of the map with no points of interest nearby and found ancient ruins over grown with sea life. I have yet to see most of the world as I have only been to about six areas, but what I have seen so far has been diverse; from lush plains, to snow covered mountains and a pirate paradise. There are some amusing conversations to be over heard and generally the voice acting is done to a high calibre; my only complaint would be that NPCs repeat their standard phrases too often, whilst you are standing still for something like crafting this can be irritating.
Arena Net managed to make even underwater combat interesting.
Arena Net has included many things that might seem quite minor but add up to to make the experience much better overall. There are no quest hand ins, you do them and they are done, the cheque is in the mail. Unless you want to there is no grind, between exploration, crafting and down leveling there is more than enough content for you to not have to grind. If the next area is too high for you you can just go to another race's starting area, get down leveled and still receive XP. There are a lot of waypoints per section so once you have explored an area you can navigate it really quickly. Guild Wars 2 is probably more casual than many MMORPGs but that suits me just fine

I'm really enjoying my time with Guild Wars so far but I have found some problems. Once you choose your favoured weapons there is no way to change the main abilities, and they are all quickly unlocked, so I imagine that you can have your final build prepared by level 30-40. You start with only 5 character slots and a small bank space, probably so that many people will pay real money to buy gems and extend these, though you can get gems for in game gold. For a game built around the premise of guilds, it is in the name after all, it is not that easy to play with friends; the party UI certainly doesn't help. The first instance isn't until level 30 which at the start seems ages into the game, I was expecting to be able to play with my friends in a more structured manner sooner.
The UI is relatively simple and intuitive.
I am really excited to get further into the game to experience some of the high end content, start raiding and explore the rest of Tyria. The scale of group encounters increases as you gain in levels so I can't wait to see how big and ridiculous things get, as well as play more content with friends. I am really interested in some of the other professions, but I think I will try to max out my main first. Overall I am really glad I bought Guild Wars 2, MMORPGs are not normally my thing but I think that Arena Net has managed to craft a truly outstanding game with an amazing world, fun and consistent progression and an abundance of content. Over other similar games I think that Guild Wars 2 wins for it's accessibility, lack of subscription and awesome content.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Review: Stacking

Stacking can only be described as an odd game, as it is based on the idea of Russian matroyshka dolls. Your character is the smallest type of doll possible and there are a wide variety of different dolls that you can stack in to, each having their own ability, that can be useful in some way. In a standard adventure game you may have an inventory full of items that you have to use at different points in the game; in Stacking you create a stack of dolls to get the doll you need to the location where it is needed. You can only stack into dolls one size bigger than you, so it is important to get the right stack of dolls together, especially later in the game when you have to combine the abilities of different dolls.

Stacking is bursting with style; it is set in the industrial age and told in the manner of a silent film, with characters communicating through muted gestures and title cards displaying the dialogue. The main antagonist of the game is simply called the Baron and wants to use child labour to fuel his developing country; you play as a young child who, suitable annoyed that all of your siblings have been taken away, sets out out to save them. The game takes place over four main areas, each with their own set of dolls, and reaches a climax in another area that requires you to combine the abilities of many dolls together.
Throughout the game you are given puzzles to complete to progress forwards; each puzzle has many solutions but, after the first few, you only have to find one solution to complete them. The problem is that every puzzle has a very simple solution, that will be in the immediate vicinity and won't require much thought, and after that you don't have to do the other solutions to progress; this makes game is exceeding easy to complete. Other ways to complete puzzles and collecting all the dolls in each area is a way to extend the game further, but it's just not enough; Stacking feels very light on content.

For such a short game it is pretty amazing how repetitive Stacking can get; each level follows the same pattern as you work your way towards a family member, rescue them, and then have a similar conversation with each of them, before moving on to the next. In the last level they all get captured again and you have to free them all again in quick succession. Towards the end of the game you have to mix two abilities to complete a challenge, but by then it is too late to be anything but under-used; it would have been better if you had to mix together the abilities of whole stacks of dolls.
Stacking's graphics are nothing special, but its character and level design do manage to set it apart. Stacking fully embraces its industrial setting and creates a rich and full world. Character animations are extremely well done here as dolls walk in different ways, have distinct and easily identifiable abilities and react to what you are doing. The sound design is also very well done; different dolls sound distinct, all abilities have fitting sounds associated with them and the music fits perfectly with the silent film method of story telling.

Generally Stacking seems to be a case of style over substance as it's visuals, animations and tongue in cheek humour are the only highlights; past Double Fine games have managed to mix these qualities with great gameplay too, but Stacking just feels somewhat lacking. Stacking falls short of its high potential and feels more like an overly long tech demo, though it starts with a unique idea and has innovative story telling, it is overly simple and feels dragged out. The first and last chapters stuck out in my mind as being especially good, whilst the three in-between felt boring and repetitive; as though they just copy and pasted the script to make it last longer.
6.5/10

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Review: Spec Ops: The Line

It definitely tries to but does Spec Ops: The Line succeed in its fight against its genres tendency for being overly generic and create a truly unique experience? A fresh setting, a-typical villains and a focus on story are definitely two steps in the right direction, for the military shooter genre, but the gameplay and story's conclusion are one step right back. Spec Ops wants to be its own game but throughout playing it all I could think about was how reminiscent of the later parts of Uncharted 3, the protagonists are even voiced by the same actor, and Call of Duty: Black Ops it is. Whilst Spec Ops: The Line may fall short of its aim to be totally original it is still a very competent game, in its own right, and very worthy of attention. The story is well crafted, has a good pace and offers plenty of shocking moments, that don't just feel shoehorned in.

Spec Ops: The Line is a third person shooter with a heavy emphasis on cover based combat. The combat system is fast and fluid and your actions have a nice weight behind them; slipping into cover from a sprint results in your character rebounding slightly and jumping down produces a satisfying thud. For each weapon type, whether it be assault rifle, shotgun or pistol, there are multiple varieties that feel distinct and all come with an alternate attack. The alternate of your first weapon adds a silencer that allows for some limited stealth, whereas the alternate of another assault rifle, you find much later in the game, is an under barrel grenade launcher. In general the weapons in this game feel great.
The story takes place in Dubai after it has been wracked by a series of sandstorms and, for the most part, evacuated. You take control of Captain Martin Walker as he and his team go in after a after a division of the US army disobeys orders to abandon the city and goes rogue. The enemies aren't your usual Muslim extremists, Russian terrorist or Communist invaders, the people you face are just humans put in a terrible place; what happens could have occurred in any city in the world, after it is isolated and its remaining inhabitants left to die. Dubai is the epitome of over exuberant opulence and is a great setting for the game as it allows for the extremes of extravagant interiors on one side and destroyed buildings and slums on the other.

For most of the game you are accompanied by your two squad mates, Adams and Lugo, who are actually very useful. In a lot of games your squad mates are just glorified meat shields, but here they are actually capable of killing people on their own and you have a limited control of them to make them even more efficient. You can tell your squad mates to focus their attacks on one particular enemy, and depending where that enemy is they will kill them in a variety of ways, or they can flashbang a group of enemies. My one problem with your squad mates is that, once you know how the game ends, their loyalty throughout the game doesn't seem probable. Your squad mates are both very likeable characters but as the plot gets darker your relationship gets strained to the limit.
Graphically, Spec Ops always looks good (admittedly on ultra high on PC) and in some places is breathtaking. Dubai looks best in the sunlight as the lighting effects are particularly impressive. On the other hand, explosions are particularly bad and there are some low textures to be found as well. Spec Ops: The Line's music has an orchestra based backbone that is great but not exemplary. The tone of the game is often dark, atmospheric and introspective and this is reflected in the games soundtrack. Through the first two thirds of the game players you can hear a character called Radioman on the airwaves who provides a constant antagonistic presence and also plays some licensed music a la Apocalypse Now Vietnam war era.

The gameplay can sometimes get a bit repetitive, as is often a problem of the genre, as you go into a room, hide behind cover and slowly pick off enemies ducking back and reloading in between kills. Some sections are also overly long and drawn out, but in general the story goes at a fast pace. Spec Ops: The Line manages to tell the story it wants to tell, but is a very short game, coming in at around 5 hours. However, the multiplayer will extend the game time for those that are interested in it. The multiplayer mode as it is now is very generic but still enjoyable. There is also an upcoming DLC game that will allow you and a friend to play through certain sections of the game, prior to the events of the single player, in a cooperative mode. 
Spec Ops: The Line is a great game and a step in the right direction for the military shooter genre. It attempts to, and mostly succeeds to, innovate and it should be applauded for even trying to do so, as many companies these days are content to churn out the same game annually. Five hours for a single player game is short, but with that time it told a succinct and gripping story that probably wouldn't have benefited from being stretched by a couple of hours. I think that future Spec Ops games would benefit from an episodic format where every couple of weeks or so a new two hour chapter is released that tells a gritty and mature story; this would also help keep sustained interest in the game and its multiplayer component. Spec Ops' greatest features are its fluid gameplay mechanics, brilliant voice acting and its mature storytelling. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
8.5/10

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Review: HotKeyIt StarCraft 2 Guide

The truth is that StarCraft 2 is a hard game, improving by yourself is tough and will take too long for most people to get truly good; luckily there are many aids available to help you train to be better. For those willing to pay a monthly subscription there is the starcraft 2 guide HotKeyIt. It's a testament to the game that there is such a passionate community built around StarCraft 2 and, whilst you do have to pay $4.95 a month for this service, I don't think it would be possible to have this level of content without some sort of fee. For your money you get access to an ever expanding library of videos created by high level Grandmaster coaches and access to forums.
The website itself is pretty standard, if a little bland, but gets the job done. The whole website is very simple to use and it didn't take long at all for me to work out where everything was that would be relevant to me, as a Terran, was and where the forums are. All of the videos are well tagged and named so that you know what type of video each one is and for what race it is for. As this is a subscription service there are no adverts, either on the website itself or in the videos, as you would expect.    

Initially HotKeyIt seems to offer an overwhelming number of videos, but they are all well sorted by each of the match-ups, by lesson type or if they are part of a series they go into a separate place. There are multiple types of videos available ranging from simple macro mechanics tutorials to in depth strategies. The feature I was most impressed with was Leak Finder, where one of the coaches would take a replay from the community and analyse it. At first I was concerned that Grandmasters wouldn't be able to relate to silver league issues, but it turns out that problems are universal and the advise given was useful.
With this sort of service it is important that new videos are regularly produced to keep up with shifts in the meta-game, and this is something that HotKeyIt manages to do; with new videos added every few days. Each race has one or two main coaches, who create videos on a regular basis, so over time the number of videos will only increase. As well as the main coaches there is a number of other coaches, including some very well known names like Spanishiwa and desRow, who have also produced some content.

I think that with a service like this it is important to have communication between the content developers and the community; sometimes answering what may seem like a stupid question can completely change how somebody thinks about the game and improve their play. HotKeyIt keeps up communication in a number of ways. Firstly, there is a forum where members can talk amongst themselves, ask questions of the content creators and where updates can be posted. Secondly, each video has a comments section where users can talk about the video or ask question of the video's creator. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Leak Finder, which gives direct feedback to a member of the community but is also useful for others.
From what I saw all of the coaches have enough charisma to create interesting and informative videos without awkward silences and too much 'umming' and 'arring'. Settings quality does depend from coach to coach, but then you can't expect everyone to have a rig good enough to record ultra on, and if you are used to watching pro streams it shouldn't be a problem to watch on low. In regards to audio I never had problems with the quality of the mic used or with the in game sound being too loud or too quiet.

Overall I think that the main draws of this website are it's breadth and the responsiveness of the content creators. It's intuitive interface allows you to easily choose videos to target the areas where you are weakest; I have seen people suggest what they would like future videos to be about and then the coach follow through and make it. If you are stuck in a rut or just know you could be better then HotKeyIt is definitely a useful tool to achieve this. The website's design may not be that great, but the content is worthy of attention; if you are willing to spend $4.95 a month I would absolutely recommend this service.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Review: The Walking Dead Episode 2

It often seems that the best zombie stories are the ones that focus on the interplay between the living as much as they do of the dead; zombies, walkers, the infected or whatever they are are obvious dangers but humans can be just as monstrous, if not worse as they are self aware. This is why The Walking Dead the game succeeds as a brilliant work of fiction as the humans are well thought out with their own agendas and allegiances. The walkers were a much more imminent threat in Episode 1, but in this episode they take a bit of a back seat to a more human drama. Whilst there are some obviously good characters, like your adopted daughter Clementine from the first episode, most characters are shades of grey, and cannot always be relied on.

Like episodes of the TV show, Episode 2 of the game starts with a previously on section tailored to your play through of Episode 1 and ends with a preview of the next episode. Whilst the story is original and very separate from the TV show it still has a very cinematic quality with it's long cut-scenes, artistic graphics and emotional characters. The game plays like the previous episode did; there are plenty of conversation choices, as well as a bit of point and click exploring and QTE action scenes. The emotional tie between you and Clementine isn't emphasised as much as it was in the first episode, which is a shame, but there are still three more episodes coming to further develop that in.
A couple of new faces bolster the ranks of an already impressive cast.
 Episode 2 starts off gruesome and only gets worse as you play through. The survivors of the first episode are now holed up in a crude fort but have run out of food and there are even more people to feed too. A couple of men from a dairy farm happen by and offer to exchange food for petrol, and even invite the group back with them, but bandits threaten the peace and events unfold in a way you would not have guessed from the start of the episode. I don't want to ruin it but I will say that I was equal parts shocked and appalled by the end, though of course, it left me very excited for the next episode.

Episode 1 was characterised by a feeling of dread as the clear and present danger of a horde of walkers is ever present, in contrast Episode 2 has a disquieting feeling, that may seem less severe, but in fact is more alarming. Like I've said before the walker threat is more obvious, whilst the human treat may not be seen before it is too late. What if you don't trust people and they turn out to be saints? But then what happens if the opposite is true? Tension is slowly built up throughout the game, but it's not obvious if something is amiss, if you are just looking too deeply into something small or if you are looking in the entirely wrong direction.
Even in a zombified world kids are still kids.
My main concern with the game at the moment is that if they stick to their current schedule of one episode every two months, and if your choices are indeed remembered, that it will be too hard to remember what your choices in the first few episodes were. The only other problem I had with the game was that the camera angle can feel awkward at times, but with this sort of game that will always be a problem. The only bug I experienced was my character not appearing in frame for one shot and that isn't a big deal at all.

Overall Episode 2 is a great addition to what is fast becoming one of my favourite video games of the year. It mixes together good story telling, interesting characters and doesn't shoehorn in contrived plot points, which together creates a gripping story. The game goes at its own pace and may not be for action lovers but if you are interested in a good story then The Walking Dead the Game should offer you a treat. I give this episode:
9/10

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Does the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Get It Right?

**************WARNING SPOILERS FOR ME3**************

I would like to preface this by saying that I am not a clever man; I thought I had installed the Extended Cut and played through the ending again, only to discover that nothing was different. It gave me the opportunity to reassess my thoughts on the original ending, with a couple of months contemplation between playthroughs, and compare it to the new conclusion. On my second play-through of the ending I didn't find it as unsatisfying as the first time, though still far from great, maybe because I already knew what was coming and tempered my expectations, or maybe because, though I tried not to be, my originals thoughts were marred by other people's opinions. The original ending lacked the promised scope, didn't fully realise all your choices and was quite frankly nonsensical. The Extended Cut plugs the most obvious plot holes, though don't look too deep as there are still many to be found; rearranges the end of game video sequence for each choice, though some are still repeated; and adds in some more video clips of the repercussions of your choice. Your actions throughout the game still don't feel as though they have a direct enough result; you spend the game collecting a massive army, but you don't really witness your personalised army in the final battle, and it prevents the game from feeling individual to you.
The final chapter in London is the same up to the point where you make one last push to the Citadel.

Completely changing the ending, or incorporating indoctrination theory, would have set a dangerous precedent. Whilst it is important to send a clear message to developers that we will not accept paid DLC for a complete ending, as BioWare seemed to have planned, we cannot get every ending with disagree with changed and should allow developers their artistic integrity. Despite the outcry of fans to change the ending it seems to me that if anyone compromised BioWare's artistic integrity it was EA. Publishers, like EA, are increasingly pushing to squeeze as much money as possible from each customer, rather than creating a quality experience to attract as many customers as possible to their games. As long as they are asking what can be removed from a complete game instead of asking what they can add they are failing to serve their customers. Since KOTOR BioWare games have been a day one purchase for me, but between this fiasco and DA2 I have decided to rethink this policy. If you had asked me just a couple of months ago who my favourite developers are I would have said without a moments hesitation Blizzard, BioWare and Naughty Dog, now I am not so sure.
It seems the characters were as emotionally vested in me as I was in them.

So does the Extended Cut go far enough in changing what was wrong with the ending? I think under the circumstances, yes, but it still makes me weary of BioWare and EA. The Extended Cut offers a superficial bandage to the situation that should give closure to people who have been with the series from the beginning and a satisfying ending to people new to the series. The story is further fleshed out and better justifications and explanations are given, but it still won’t be winning any awards any time soon, and could have been so much better. Some of the theories that people came up with go to show how creative and invested a lot of the audience is, and whilst BioWare could not have incorporated them as it would have no longer been their story, how ready for a more complex, mature and engaging story people are. To me the emotion in the game was just as important as the story, and I think that is something the Extended Cut does get right. For me the best two parts of the final fight are not action set pieces but, firstly, when you talk to your past and present crew members, putting on a brave face as you know this is probably goodbye, and your final farewell to Anderson, the melancholy of his death combined with the perceived view of your imminent victory with one small task left to do. 

So in conclusion I think that the Extended Cut offers a relatively good solution to a bad situation, the ending now supplied might not be great but should at least offer closure. Changing the ending too much could have set a dangerous precedent whereby gamers have too much say in the development of a game, but not complaining and allowing corporate greed to take from the integrity of a game would have been just as dangerous. This about the best outcome we could have asked for.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Review: Max Payne 3

After an absence of nine years Max Payne is back and still down on his luck, what is supposed to be a nice private security job in sunny Brazil quickly escalates into a morality war for the morally bankrupt. A simple kidnapping reveals the darker side of Sao Paulo, where crime and corruption run rampant, and a deeply damaged Max Payne can somehow be considered a white knight. The game takes you from the penthouses of the rich to run down favelas, but it is never clear which is more deplorable.  Max Payne 3 takes a departure from not only the location of the first two games but from their film noir tone as well. The story itself may not be that great, but the journey you go on is well worth the ride.

The cinematic effects used throughout the game, such as chromatic aberrations and scanning lines, may seem a bit overpowering at first, but help illustrate the state of Max’s psyche and how dependant on alcohol and drugs he has become. For much of the game Max is a sorry sight as the weight of his past has crushed him. It’s not really apparent what his motivations to keep going are; does he actually care about the people he is trying to save? Or is he just looking for a way out with meaning? The writing is terrific with Max’s sardonic inner monologue keeping you company throughout the game; flawlessly performed by James McCaffrey. Max may be a drugged-up alcoholic shell of a man, but he sees the world more clearly than most.

Game-play hasn't changed greatly since previous instalments; the series’ signature bullet time returns to create stylish, if somewhat simple, combat. Cover is a new feature that incorporates well with Max’s other moves and gives you time to recharge and reload during combat. Stylishly despatching enemies is extremely satisfying, especially during some of the most over the top, slowed down sections that occur every chapter or so. My main grievance with Max Payne 3 is with its enemies, who seem close to omnipotent, and in possession of x-ray vision; when one of them sees you, they all do and no amount of moving behind cover will stop them from knowing exactly where you are. 

The game is unapologetically violent and nor should it be, the whole tone of the game is geared towards making a dark and mature experience, which it definitely achieves. Your last kill in a room always results in a kill-cam that slows down the violence and shows every bullet wound and blood spurt in gory detail. I don’t want to ruin it but the last chapter contains a Max Payne pushed beyond all limits delivering some of the best lines and harshest punishments. At first Max Payne 3 may seem less forgiving than many modern games with its lack of a regenerating health system, but this is not the case. If you die in a fight you restart with full health, after a couple of deaths you start to generate more and more pills every couple of deaths until you succeed. However, there are five difficulties and an arcade mode if you are looking for a real challenge.
The multiplayer component acts as an interesting addition to the game, but is not the main draw. The single player is standout whereas the multiplayer is decidedly average.  The multiplayer is much the same as other modern shooters, in that it contains a rank system based on XP and new weapons and bursts are unlocked with each level. Bursts are special abilities, like bullet time, that give you and your team brief advantages over the opposing team. There are only four modes available; a free for all Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Payne Killer and Gang Wars. In Payne Killer one member of the group takes on the role of Max and everyone else has to try and kill them, the person that kills Max becomes the new Max. Gang Wars is a team based shifting objectives game with five rounds. The multiplayer is solid enough that it will keep you interested for a while, but you won’t be playing it a year down the line.

There is also an arcade mode where playing stylishly and efficiently will net you a lot of points, whereas body shots will leave you at the bottom of the board. This mode is for leader board junkies who want to compare how good they are with everyone else. The problem with this arcade mode is that the long cut-scenes from the campaign continually interrupt and brake up the pacing of the mode. Very little separates the campaign from arcade mode except for your score, so as someone who plays for the story I found that it offered very little to me. 
From what I have seen 10-12 hours seems to be how long people generally take to complete the single player aspect of the game, but I completed it in just 8; I didn’t rush through the game, I collected a good proportion of the secrets and I died a fair amount of times, so I don't know where this disparity in time comes from. For this type of game 8 hours is a bit short, but I really enjoyed my time with it and the multiplayer and arcade modes server to extend the game time further for those that want it. 

Monday, 30 April 2012

Life in the Middle 30/04/2012

So this week I decided to take a break from Terran and play a little Zerg on my old account; it had been a while, so I felt a bit rusty, but I soon got back into it. Zerg is the most different race to play and it comes down to more than just how they make units. I think to play Zerg well you have to spend a lot of time on macro and much less on micro than the other races, to me engagements seem a lot easier to handle as a Zerg, but then again I am only just getting back into it. As a Terran I always felt that I had to pick away at the other races, whereas as Zerg you want to get the perfect composition and to attack as a whole. I'm not saying that Zergling run-bys and Mutalisk harass aren't important, they just have different purposes. As a Zerg I want to make my opponent too afraid to move out and take the whole map for myself, smothering them with my economy.
I used to do this a lot; thought I was so smart.
With Terran and Protoss you know to constantly build workers and get as many units as you can on top of that, adding on production when your resources start to build up; with Zerg it is nowhere near as obvious. When playing Zerg I constantly have the fear that I have over droned, as I always try to play macro games, and  have not got enough actual units to defend myself with. I think that when you get used to knowing when to build units and when to drone Zerg becomes a lot easier to play, as long as you remember to larva inject, spread creep out and scout a lot with Zerglings and Overlords. Knowledge is power in SC2 and it's easy for Zerg to have eyes on most of the map.
Trying to scoot and shoot with Roaches doesn't work out too well.
Strangely I had most success with ZvZ, I know it is considered to be like rock, paper, scissors in that the counters are extreme, but because it is so easy to have vision of the entire map I find it easy to anticipate and react to an opponent's moves. I think my proudest moment whilst playing against a Zerg was when I stopped an expansion from building with a small Muta force whilst taking out two more bases, one with burrowed Infestors and the other with a mass of Roaches. As the other races I would always worry about how much production I have, but as a Zerg it's a joy to be able to just build one structure and then mass produce that unit straight away; I hope all Zergs realise how lucky they are to be able to do that.
I'm still scared of Banelings, but less so when I have Roaches too.
As far as builds go I have been going 15 hatch in ZvT and ZvP and 14 gas 14 pool in ZvZ. I go for the safer build in ZvZ as you can still get a good economy with a slightly later expo and hold off any early pressure that is levelled at you. Also, if you see that you opponent goes hatch first you can get out early Lings to pressure it with. I only lost my expansion once to bunker pressure whilst going against the other races. I'm not very good with timings so I have to rely on good scouting to know when and what is coming and decide what I need to build to deal with it. Unfortunately you can't always know what is coming and can be taken off guard by it; I lost to mass Voidrays, mass Banshees and mass Thors, strategies that I thought the middle leagues were above.
So... what works against mass Thor? They've already ripped through the rest of my army by this point.
I'll probably go quiet for the next couple of weeks as I have my final university exams, but after that I should be back to weekly posts. I'm not sure if I'll be playing Terran or Zerg as I am really enjoying Zerg at the moment, but I started this blog with Terran in mind so I might continue with them. Thank you very much for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter here.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Review: The Walking Dead Episode 1

The Walking Dead is a game all about story, characters and choice; the gameplay mechanics function well, but make no mistake that is not what will draw you into the game. The developers have made very clear that your decisions will impact, not only the current episode you are playing, but the series as a whole. From what I have seen of the game so far this doesn't seem like an idle promise either, and I am very excited to see how the whole series knits together. The first episode allows for three saves, so you can play through multiple times and see the results of different decisions. As an interesting addition, at the end of each episode, you can see the statistics of  how other players handled the major decisions.
The general presentation of The Walking Dead is very impressive, even if there are quite a few technical flaws, the visuals, audio and general execution are done brilliantly. The graphics convey the games graphic novel roots, many shots look like they could have come from a comic book page. The frame rate is a very noticeable issue throughout the game, especially at the start when you meet your first herd of zombies. The music score that accompanies the game is stunning; it manages to wrack up the tension when when danger is present, but also helps make some of the person to person moments heart wrenching. Some very hard truths have to be told. Throughout the game the camera is a problem as it is frequently awkward and can obstruct your view, though this wasn't a problem during the action sequences.
Throughout the game you meet a sizeable cast of characters who will all make an impression on you and who are all voiced by some incredible talent. The story revolves around two characters and their involvement in a larger group. You play as a middle aged man trying to survive as the world goes to hell who forms a partnership a little girl. The relationship between your character, Lee, and the girl, Clementine, is great as she looks up to him and he protects over her; he possibly sees her as a source of  atonement for mistakes he made in the past. There are some moments of dark humour amid the craziness that show that, even if the world is over, people are still human. My only issue with the character models was that sometimes they tried to make the faces too expressive and eyebrows would just go everywhere.

There are some truly touching moments in The Walking Dead, which hopefully will be continued in the future episodes. To reiterate this is very much a story and character driven game, you have a group of ordinary people in extreme circumstances and you are witnessing the results. Much like the rest of the franchise the walkers are not the only antagonists, you are dealing with some of the worst aspects of human nature as well; in many ways the walkers aren't even the main adversaries, they are just a nuisance in the background of a very human drama. There are four more episodes yet to come, in monthly instalments, and I for one cannot wait to see how the story unfolds.
8.5/10

Monday, 23 April 2012

Life in the Middle 23/04/2012

Another week gone and I can't seem to decide on what strategies to use, so I have been trying a lot of new stuff out, especially versus Zerg and Terran. I think Zerg will take me a long time to finally figure out as it is the race I struggle with most on a fundamental level; I just can't deal with Banelings or attacking on creep and often end up throwing games I am way ahead in. I have my last big exams coming up so I have been struggling to play as much as I used to; though post University unemployment should be a great excuse to practice loads and hopefully finally get into Diamond. 
Bio is great but it is nice to have Siege Tanks to back  them up when your opponent goes for pure bio.
In TvZ I have been trying a new build where I go Hellions into two Starport Banshee, and it either works, or everything goes to hell. I normally try to hit with four Banshees with cloak, but just a couple of spore crawlers can completely shut it down as Queens are so good versus Banshees. I think that Hellions may give away that Banshees are a possibility, but they seem necessary to stop creep spread, which slows down any ground follow ups. I think I may get out a Raven in the future to use with the Banshees to kill creep, and then get out Siege Tanks for the follow up; I'm still experimenting a lot with what works bests.
Unexpected Banshees are so good; I try to hide my buildings as best I can to keep the element of surprise.
My new TvZ strategy came from trying it out in multiplayer one day when I couldn't be bothered to play normally and decided to go sky Terran instead. The biggest problem I'm finding with sky Terran is that both Mutas and Infestors counter it quite well in the mid game. Is it worth getting out mass Vikings to deal with Mutas? One on one Vikings win, but then they do cost more too, and Mutas have glaives. Ravens are good to cut back the creep but their abilities don't seem that great versus Zerg as most of their units outrun Seeker Missile and PDD doesn't affect Zerglings, Banelings or Raoches; which are often the meat of the Zerg army.
Apparently I played EGHuK and RatZDeezer this week, I have my doubts though.
Until recently I was going bio against Terran but I kept getting destroyed by one base Seige Tank pressure, so I have been going one Rax fast expand into Seige Tanks instead. I don't like Siege Tanks as much as when I first started playing as they are slow and cumbersome and don't really fit with the more active play style I have been going for. I feel like if you go bio you have to play a lot better, be a lot more proactive with your units, and repeatedly win engagements to stay on top; against Diamonds I don't feel like I can do this.
Just a couple of Siege Tanks is great to fall back on, but by this point I was way ahead anyway.
My TvP hasn't changed much but I have been enjoying it a lot more recently; I used to dread going up against Protoss to the point where I didn't want to play. I used to always be afraid to engage a Protoss army and always made them come to me, but recently I have become a lot more aggressive; attacking early expansions and denying thirds. I played an awesome game the other day where I got out Ghosts and nuked a lot, killing 32 probes over all, and even though I lost in the end it made me a lot more comfortable using Ghosts. However, I still lose a lot to early unscouted High Templars and struggle to use Ghosts effectively without cloak.
I've never really managed to use nukes effectively before, I would have won this game but I took an engagement really badly and lost two mining bases.
One thing I'm struggling to understand at the moment is why Siege Tanks do friendly fire damage. Ling, Baneling, Muta is effective enough without you killing your own troops at the same time, and it makes Broodlords so much harder to deal with. Maybe I am missing something and it really is necessary? Thank you very much for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter here

Preview: Diablo 3

With the Diablo 3 open beta weekend I finally got the chance to get stuck in and try out all that the beta has to offer, and overall I was very impressed. I had briefly played on a friend's account before, but never got into it by myself as it wasn't running very well; these issues were resolved by this weekend and being able to play through with a friend was great. So far I have played the Wizard, Demon Hunter and Monk, so I will talk about them after going over my initial impressions of the general game play, graphics and presentation.

I like the way Blizzard has taken away ability trees and slowly gives you new abilities and runes instead; it means that you can't spend ages chasing down the wrong branch only to realise that you have made a massive mistake and are way less powerful than other characters of the same level as you. In RPGs I often go for the coolest sounding spells only to discover that in practice they aren't as cool as they sounded and regret it for the rest of the game; Blizzards new approach gets rid of that and makes how you play important.
Getting new abilities every level also makes levelling up exciting every time; no longer will you have to save up a couple of levels to get the points to purchase an awesome ability, you know when they are coming. What is now important is the loot that you pick up as this is what will truly set you apart from other players, and there seems to be plenty of ways to get items; from drops, friends, by forging or purchasing in the auction house. From what I have seen there is a nice range of character types from melee, to ranged, to crowd control and everyone who plays should be able to find a class that suits their style.

I was a bit disappointed by the graphics at first as they are quite bland and drab, but I think they do a good job of creating a bleak atmosphere which is supported by the music. I think that the spell and ability effects are great as they are bright and flashy and this juxtaposes beautifully with the environments to reinforce that you and your team are the only people who can stop the dark Lords. There are large portions of the game to still be revealed so I'm hopeful that later hubs may be brighter, like the Desert city in Diablo 2.
I liked the relaxed way the story is told; it's there for people who want it, but for people in groups or who have heard it before it's easy to skip quickly through. The story is told through characters and audio lore logs with solid, if slightly melodramatic, voice acting throughout the game. Generally I found the sound to be phenomenal in the beta and very reminiscent of Diablo 2, which can only be a good thing. It would have been nice of the NPCs to react more to which class you are, but this is only a small complaint.

The first class I played was the Wizard, which I loved and was my favourite character overall, though I do normally learn towards spell casters in RPGs. The Wizard surprised me with it's ability to get stuck in and take quite a lot of damage, I found myself running into groups of enemies to use AoE attacks without fear of dying; it's refreshing to get to be a mage without being excessively easy to kill. By the end of the beta I felt like quite the badass as the Wizard and having played some of the other characters have decided that is what I will play in the final game. I didn't like all of her abilities but each slot had something that I would use often; I cannot say that for the other two races that I tried.
The need to scoot and shoot with the Demon Hunter really appealed to my Terran sensibilities (StarCraft) but some of it's abilities really annoyed me. I did not like the Vault ability, that causes you to dodge away, as there is a short delay before it happens and so it felt slightly unresponsive, though this may have been because I had high latency. I found that I only really used the primary and secondary attacks and had to remind myself to use the Demon Hunters other abilities, which at their lower levels didn't really help. I liked the Demon Hunter but found it bland compared to the Wizard. The Demon Hunter controls groups of enemies by slowing them down and that just isn't how I like to play; no colourful explosions, no thank you.
I really enjoyed playing as the Monk but I can imagine it getting pretty repetitive quickly as their primary attacks get into a rhythmic three attack combo. Out of the classes I played the Monk was the most different as it is so close ranged and agile; I loved the Tempest Run ability, which causes you to charge through enemies, knocking them back and allowing you to reposition. For a long time I thought the Monk was supposed to be unarmed so I didn't equip a weapon, but I still felt deadly efficient. Overall I think the Monk has the potential to be one of the most interesting classes in the game; it just relies on it's later abilities not being too similar. From what I have played and seen the Monk will be my second choice.
Diablo 3 was always a day one collectors edition purchase for me and the beta has only further increased by excitement. Unfortunately for me May 15th falls in the middle of my final year University exams, so May 21st cannot come fast enough. Thank you very much for reading, you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter here. I will have plenty more Diablo 3 content after the game is released.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Importance of Team Games

StarCraft is a very social game, but much if what you hear about is the competitive 1v1 side of it. It's hard enough to balance the game for 1v1s so it's doubtful that it will ever be balanced enough for team-games to be played truly competitively but they are really useful for for the average player to improve their play. Practicing new openers, trying out units you aren't experienced with and going up against unfair odd can be really useful. Team games are played differently but many of the mechanics transfer over.
I only rarely built Ravens before experimenting with them in team games.
I find playing StarCraft 2 very mentally exhausting to play and sometimes I just want to play team games to relax a bit, and maybe try out some new and interesting strategies. Recently I have been experimenting with sky Terran builds in 2v2s that I have started to incorporate into my TvZ games. Going sky Terran was so different from my normal TvZ style that I probably wouldn't have risked it unpracticed against a Zerg, because of the risk of tanking my MMR, but so far it's been a success and really helped up my win-rate.

Playing with friends can be really fun, but playing the same person over and over again isn't; especially when you have a limited number of builds to throw at them. Also, your friends aren't necessarily at the same level as you and may not appreciate being beaten over... and over... and over... again. In team games you can help your friends get better, I find that shouting at them about how useless they are is the best way to get my friends to improve; subtler approaches could also hypothetically be applied.
I've been going Hellion opening into fast expand with a Banshee follow up on ladder with quite a lot of success.
Part of what makes team games less stressful is that you have someone to rely on if you massively screw up. Whilst it can be annoying if your team mates are incompetent, at least you can use them as a distraction or as a meat shield. It's good to practice engaging multiple armies at once and learning when you should run; this can all be transferred to improve your 1v1 play. When you can't engage head on you can practice harassing instead, and learn how to do a lot of damage without losing too many units.  

Whilst team games can be a lot of fun there are also a lot of annoying things about them. Seemingly Blizzard doesn't want you to expand in team games and certainly don't want you to keep them too easily. The map pool is a bit stagnant as it hasn't been updated in a while and could do with a bit of attention. Unfortunately, cheese is more prevailent in team games and can be excessively effective when you and your allies don't share a base. Depending on what your team mates are you might struggle with certain match-ups; most of my friends play Terran so we lack diversity and struggle with Protoss/ Zerg combinations.
Early cheese can be tough to deal with, especially when you are busted and then another full strength army follows it up.
Overall team games are a great way to improve your game but shouldn't be relied on; at the end of the day the best way to practice for 1v1s is to play 1v1s but team games are still a useful tool. I found that team games were a great way to overcome my ladder anxiety as my friends encouraged me to play more and I threatened them into it in return. I'm not at all saying that you need friends that play StarCraft to get into StarCraft but for me it was one of the reasons I kept playing it, and why I still love to play it, over a year on.

You can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter here. Thank you very much for reading.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Life in the Middle: Terran Update

I have been playing Terran for a while now and so I thought I would update my overall thought of Terran as a race and how I think it compares to the other races. When I first started playing Terran I thought it was going to be the easiest race to play and that I would be able to do anything I wanted as them and still win; this turned out to be far from true. In my opinion Terran is the hardest race to play effectively with a higher skill cap than the other races. It can be very gratifying to play as Terran as skill is rewarded with increased efficiency and this allows some Terran units to be extremely cost effective. I will be talking about what I do and don't like about Terran as well as discuss their units and what I would miss if I switched from Terran. I hope I don't come off as too negative in this piece, I do love playing Terran I just want to be thorough in discussing what I consider their merits and drawbacks to be.

The main thing I like about Terran is how mobile the units are and how a small group of units can change the course of a game. A Terran army has the potential to split an opponent's attention like no other, as most builds include a Starport, and stimmed units can be very effectively used to get in, do damage, and get out. Whilst a Terran army caught unawares is easily dissolved, a well controlled one can be very cost efficient, and an entrenched one can be almost impossible to remove. The Marine is probably the most dependable unit in the game, with their ability to shoot ground and air targets and to do bursts of high DPS with stim; it is also cheap and quick to produce, especially with reactors, so is easy to use for the bulk of the army. Being able to build expansions elsewhere and fly them over, or recycle your main, is great for peace of mind; and being able to lock down expansions with Planetary Fortresses and bunkers also helps in that regard.
Bunkers are great at stopping attacks but I think Terran can be a bit over reliant on them, especially in early TvP.
There are also a couple things I dislike about playing as Terran though, such as their over reliance on harassing units, their lack of game changing late-game units and their extreme susceptibility to area of effect units. In my opinion many of the counters in SC2 are too strong and the Terran army can be too quickly and too easily dissolved by an enemy. I also dislike how the opponent doesn't have to constantly micro just to trade even, and can think about using spell casters after the engagement has started; instead of moving in units to counter aspects of the Terran army. I think that AoE attacks should either be for area denial or do higher, but more concentrated, damage. At the moment the other races do too much damage over too large an area, meaning they don't really have to place their spells precisely. One bad engagement can easily cost a Terran the game and it can be over so quickly that tactical thought doesn't matter.

Like I said above one of my main problems with Terran is their lack of game changing units; Broodlords, Ultralisks, Colossus and High Templar require you to drastically change your army composition, whereas Terran can bring out no units that can do this. Thors and Battlecruisers are Terrans only real tier 3 units (not that StarCraft really has tiers) but they are weak against cheap units and require a lot of teching to reach. I think that the main problem with high tier Terran units comes from how Terran and Protoss fundamentally work; large Terran units have to be armoured as they are machines driven by humans and Protoss has a lot of anti-armour units. Protoss can also feedback both of Terran's late game options, instantly taking away up to 200 of their health extremely easily. The problem with Zerg is that they can mass produce a counter to anything quickly, so any element of surprise is short-lived; also, Corruptors effectively counter Battlecruisers and can then be usefully turned into Broodlords, unlike Vikings they don't become useless.
I've been doing well against Protoss lately, but I'm frustrated with the standard MMMVG.

If I switched races there are a lot of things about Terran I would miss. I would sorely miss stimmed Marine, for their versatility, as a small squad can be game changing and a large force can take out almost anything. Marines takes a lot of skill to use effectively as, despite all the jokes,  they are very weak in a lot of situations and requires a well balanced amount of backup to prevent them from being easily killed. Often information is just as vital as resources or units and the ability to instantly scan anywhere on the map is definitely something I would miss; I do not envy the other races for having to send a unit to scout and having to wait for a response. Building queues are extremely useful, and whilst I try not to rely on them too much, they are especially helpful at restarting production at all facilities after a supply block. Obviously M.U.L.E.s are great in the mid to late-game for an extra boost of resources when you need them most.

In my opinion Terran has too few AoE units that are don't become a liability in the mid or late game; this is especially true versus Zerg. Against Zerg the Ghost does no AoE damage and against Protoss EMP is limited by the amount of shield the opponent has and it's small radius. In a straight up fight the Hellions are only effective against the light units at the start of the game and workers. In TvZ as soon as Broodlords start to appear Siege Tanks become just as deadly to you as the Broodlords are as their friendly fire means that you lose your own ground supply in exchange for supply-less Broodlings. In TvP Siege Tank use is limited because Protoss has so many good counters to them. The only other ground AoE unit is the Raven, which it is hard to get many of because you want a Reactor on your first Starport and because they are so gas intensive. Seeker Missiles costs a massive 125 energy and has to be researched first, on top of that Ravens only start with 50 energy, unless you upgrade that too, so you have to wait a long time to use it. Storm and Fungal both only cost 75 energy and Infestors can even be upgraded to have Fungal straight away.
In my opinion fungals and Banelings are too easy to use in conjuncture with each other and so devastating.
Overall I think that one of Terran's greatest strengths is that they have a lot of units that complement each other well, and can be terrifyingly effective if you know how to use them. In around six weeks I will finish all of my university work and will be dedicating a lot more time to practicing than I have over the last academic year, which I think has severely limited my progress through the leagues. As I look for a job in video game journalism I will be dedicating a lot more time to this blog and I hope you will follow and support me in this endeavour; you can follow this blog from the pane to the right and find me on Twitter hereThank you very much for reading.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Review: Catherine

Catherine has a lot going for it; a beautiful visual style, a deep yet accessible puzzle system and an absorbing story all come together to make Catherine a truly unique experience, and one that won't soon be forgot. Catherine mixes together puzzle levels, where you have to climb a tower before the time runs out, with story focused sections. In the story sections the main protagonist, Vincent, can talk to other characters, drink to reflect on what's happened over the course of the last day and play a mini-game that is just as deep as the rest of the game. Every night Vincent has a nightmare which is where he climbs a tower and over the course of the game he is trying to work out why this is happening to him and other people; some of who he knows.

The puzzles centre around climbing a tower of blocks which you can push, pull and climb up one at a time; you have to create a path upwards using different techniques that you learn throughout the game or devise for yourself. The game is split up into eight chapters and each chapter has two to four levels. New block types are introduced throughout the game and serve to increase the complexity of puzzles and force you to re-evaluate how you approach a problem. As you climb up you encounter other people, who appear to you as sheep, who are in the same situation as you and over the course of the game become more and more aggressive. Not all of the other sheep are bad though and in the landings between levels you can buy items, discuss strategies and talk to them about their general state of mind. The puzzling in this game is great with enough variation in block types and techniques required to keep it interesting over the course of the game.
Pushing, pulling and climbing may sound simple but the puzzles get really complex and require a lot of thought to overcome.
At the end of each chapter there is a boss that really puts to test what you have learnt over the course of the last chapter as it chases you up the tower. The boss sections are particularly well done throughout the game and really convey a sense of urgency as you have to quickly climb a tower while dodging their special attacks. The bosses are quite heavy handed metaphors as they take on the form of issues that Vincent has been dealing with over the course of the last day, but are still terrifying none the less. You have the ability to undo your last move as you are climbing which does allow you to cheat the bosses a bit as undoing resets their attack patterns and removes any of the items that they through at you; it's a shame the bosses are so easily cheated as it does take away from the sense of urgency slightly, though they are still difficult.

The story revolves around Vincent's relationships with his long term girlfriend Katherine and the mysterious Catherine who he seems to keep sleeping with. One of my main problems with the game was that I didn't like Katherine or Catherine and didn't understand why Vincent would want to be with either of them. The story focused sections take place in Vincent's favourite bar, the Stray Sheep, where Vincent receives and replies to text messages from his love interests. At the bar you can also talk to your friends and the other patrons, who seems to be experiencing the same nightmares as you. You can also play an arcade machine at the bar which has similar mechanics to the main game, but your number of moves is limited instead of your time; overall there are 128 levels to try and they mostly require more thought than the main game.
The landings in-between levels give you a chance to talk to the other 'sheep', learn techniques and buy items.
Not only do your choices affect what Vincent says throughout the game, but also the ending in quite a profound way. There are 8 endings in total and the range of outcomes affect more than what colour t-shirt Vincent wears in the end. I didn't like the grand reveal towards the end of the game as the reasoning for why what was happening was happening seemed pretty weak, but I don't think that this affects your enjoyment of the end of the game as this is before the final chapter and after that everything is great. On each landing between chapters is a confessional booth that asks the player a questions which affects a law/chaos meter and in the long run affects which ending you receive; how you treat the girls also has implications in this.  

Catherine's visual style is beautiful throughout, with a Japanese manga feel that percolates through every aspect of the game, from the gameplay to the cut-scenes. Vincent's facial expressions are priceless and very much in keeping with the theme of the game and really help to convey what he is feeling in a classic Japanese manga way. There is a lot of voice work in the game and it is all done to a really high standard; the only point where the audio annoyed me was during boss fights as what they say gets quite repetitive. As a character I found Vincent to be very relatable as someone afraid of commitment but having to deal with growing up and all that comes with it such as marriage and having kids, even though I'm not at that point in my life.
Vincent's voice acting and facial expressions are spot on in conveying what he is thinking at any time.
Overall Catherine is a really entertaining game; you may be attracted to the story but the puzzle elements are also really engaging, which is important as you will spend a long time with them. I felt that the game was overly long, but to some extent you can control how long the game is by what difficulty you choose. Harder difficulties require you to think further ahead as the paths forwards are less obvious and may require more block moves to advance. Be aware that easy should be considered normal and normal considered hard and hard should only be attempted by the mentally insane. Catherine offers a great and unique experience and deserves a lot of respect for trying something new. 
8/10