The Order : 1886


THE ORDER : 1886

Ah, once in a lifetime comes a game which opens peoples eyes to the possibility of what gaming is truly capable of as a medium. A game that turns heads, causes deep philosophical quandaries that make the player question the very meaning of life. Makes them ponder the metaphysical universe and re-evaluate every precept they hold dear.

The Order : 1886 is not that game. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. In a sound-byte, The Order is a technical demo released a year too late with more issues than What Car magazine.

Rumblings about The Order first emerged at E3 2013, setting tongues wagging everywhere. A new, vibrant universe set in an alternate Victorian Britain, in which an order of ancient knights battle demons in a conflict that has raged for centuries. The vision was grandiose, people were hyped and the truth is, between the trailers and the playable demonstrations at video game expos, the hype was justified. However, as is the common trend in gaming these days, the hype train got derailed spectacularly. The Order becomes another name in an ever increasing list of titles that simply cannot live up to their promise. The pre-order industry has a lot to answer for, and it’s no surprise that zero-hype indie games are delivering unique, enjoyable and cheaper experiences more and more often than their big budget cousins.

I bet the middle is very dusty

         I bet the middle is very dusty

Pre Order : 1886 is not without it’s good points by any stretch. As a demonstration of what the PS4 is capable of, it’s great; the visuals are nothing short of exemplary. The Order contains some of the best graphics in video games I’ve ever seen. There is a certain fluidity to everything, the physics of the engine act realistically with impressive dynamic lighting, faultless texturing of environments and near-perfect character models that run the gambit between the pleasant and the grotesque. There’s no technical faults in The Order. Glitches? Zero. Pop-in graphical flubs? Zero. Game-breaking bugs? Zero. It’s a technical marvel and it’s narrative, though short (we’ll come to that later) is self contained, cinematic and benefits greatly from the developer’s harrying of immersion breaking faults.

There is a level of world crafting present in The Order that deserves a ton of credit. The breathtaking vistas of merry old London are only matched by the lovingly detailed character outfits and weaponry. Whenever Sir Galahad receives a new weapon, there is a moment when he, or rather you, is/are allowed to lovingly gaze upon the weapon model… for what seems to be too long. This is probably one of the first things that raised my suspicions about The Order. It was all a bit… pretentious. The game, for the first time, ceased to be a game and all of a sudden became a forced model-viewer. Other games offer this viewer as a feature but The Order foists it upon the player every time you find a new item. It becomes very grating.

Sky Captain and the Console of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the Console of Tomorrow

There is also a lot of walking. Walking here, walking there, examining things in a room. 60% of The Order is walking around, perhaps more. I began to suspect the reason was to slow the player down so he is forced to examine the environment’s graphical splendour. The game is beautiful, hands-down but after a while, it’s like, we get it.

Once I got the thought in my head that this game was a tech demo, the game lost it’s charm irreversibly. The game play that was once varied, with sleuthing, shooting, sneaking and quick-time events, knife-fights and the very Dead Space-esque Lycan battles became hollow and irritating. The reason for this variety was simply to show off the PS4’s capabilities. It was all down hill from there.

The Order offers unparalleled walking experiences

The Order offers unparalleled walking experiences

There are many other things wrong with The Order. There are very little combat sequences, compared to the walking sequences- even then, the choice of weaponry you carry becomes redundant from one battle to the next. If you’re lenient enough to forgive the blatant demonstrative nature of the game and try to enjoy The Order as a video game with a story, the experience is incredibly short and unsatisfying. The story is paper thin, not fleshed out, with boring characters and major plot points left unfinished before the credits roll. The controls are strange and unintuitive. Weapons are only active during combat sequences, which sign-posts any area that you are actually in any danger, completely removing any element of surprise or suspense.

The game treats player death as an accident, and forgivingly revives you at the very start of the encounter, meaning that dying is no big deal at all. The “Normal Mode” is basically easy mode, and the hard mode is equally unchallenging. The paths through the levels are as linear as they come. There aren’t any truly likeable characters in the game, aside from Sir Galahad, and that’s a stretch. At least twice in the game the player is shown FLACCID PENISES. The right analogue stick can’t keep up with the ‘roadie run’ function. The list goes on and on and on.

There are some nice things about The Order. The graphics, the music, the script and voice acting. The lock-picking is crunchy and pleasant. The one-on-one knife fights are something different that put me in mind of Leon Vs Krauser from Resident Evil 4, which is a good thing.

A rare combat sequence

                  A rare combat sequence

In the end, The Order : 1886 has a million things wrong with it that sadly outweigh the good points of the game. It’s a shooter that Gears Of War did better 10 years ago. It’s a quick-time event led story that would have the developer’s at Telltale Games in stitches. It’s a story-heavy stealth-em-up that couldn’t wipe the dirt off Metal Gear Solid’s boots.

However, what The Order : 1886 does do is demonstrate the PS4’s capabilities going forward as a console. This is the first game I’ve played that truly felt like a PS4 game, unlike the cross-platform experiences that preceded it. If it’s a sign of things to come, with regards to technical prowess, then fantastic. If it’s a sign of things to come for gaming in general, then God help us all. Worth playing? Perhaps. Worth paying £50 for? Not a chance.

The Order Ratings Box

© 2014 James Greenfield

Resident Evil HD


Resident Evil HD

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, five and seven years old. The boys were SEGA kids. Sonic and Tails, Alex The Kidd, Streets of Rage, they’d played them all. They had, if you will, mastered the system. One day, their Dad brought home a brand new Playstation. It smelled of the future. It shined in the mid-morning sun like a  prism, a beacon of promise- and a promise of good times ahead…We just needed a game to play on it.

Long before Netflix, there used to be video shops where you could rent out films and video games. It was barbaric. After a cheeky look at the not-so-carefully hidden porno section, they scanned the big shelf for a potential game rental. One game had a bloke with a maddened look on his face holding a giant gun with the title ‘RESIDENT EVIL’ emblazoned on the cover and a 15 certificate in the corner. Of course, they rented that one.

A door. What?

                 A door. ..What?

To cut a long story short, they were terrified. Neither of them got past the first zombie. The whole game was fenced off from them. The name Resident Evil became synonymous with ‘scary’ in their house. The lurking, shambling horrors haunted their dreams. Cut to the present, the younger brother is 23 and reviewing Resident Evil HD as his next piece.  IT WAS ME.

Since those days, I’ve completed every Resident Evil released, except for the universally panned RE6. Personally, I think the magic is gone from the series, with each iteration cheapening the experience and every brainless movie too; with the exception of the sublime and influential Resident Evil 4, each sequel has been worse than the last. I told my brother, “I’ve downloaded the HD remaster of the original Resident Evil, and I want you to complete it.” and he did, just yesterday, with a little help from his kid brother.

Resident Evil HD is, well, it’s a port. It’s virtually identical to the Game Cube remaster that was released in 2002. The controls, music and dialogue are identical, plus all the unlockables and virtually everything else. We’re all terribly familiar with the story of the first Resident Evil game. The S.T.A.R.S are trapped in a mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, and it’s all gone to hell. Zombies, Zombie Dogs, and god knows what else are lurking around every corner, just waiting for a taste of that thing that you’re wearing (your skin) so navigating with care is essential. Just watch out for the deceptive static camera which cannot be trusted.

Here comes the pain train

        Here comes the pain train.

You play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, both characters that we’re extremely familiar with by now. Jill’s story serves as a sort-of easy mode, a precursor to the challenging Chris mode, who has less weapons and less crucial inventory space. Both characters have a different supporting character helping them throughout, in Barry and Rebecca respectively. There are a few slight differences in their stories throughout the campaign which make it worthwhile to play both characters at least once.

Despite being a remake of a remake, it’s still a fantastic experience. The atmosphere is unmatched, and still holds up as being one of the spookiest settings in video game history. One could argue that this game set the prototype for the survival horror genre in games going forward. If you really want to get picky though, that distinction belongs to Clock Tower, which if you haven’t heard of, google it and to an extent, Alone In The Dark.

Some puzzles will leave you ... snookered.

Some puzzles will leave you … snookered.

The game still plays just as tanky as ever. A lot of the controls are unused, which is not a bad thing. The people who remade the game resisted the urge to add in fancy new mechanics- except for one, the Defence button, which is a remarkably sensible addition. If a zombie gets hold of you, you can escape the clinch with consumable self-defence weapons. It’s a solid addition. Other than that, it’s the Resident Evil you know and love. Explore the grandiose mansion, dodge/kill monstrous creations, solve puzzles and manage your inventory as efficiently as possible.

The graphics have been souped up for the next generation, the textures and character models all looking appropriate and brilliantly suited to the general dinginess of the setting… yet somehow, the upgraded visuals detract from the scariness of the game in comparison to the original. Something about the low-pixel world of RE1 was much more unnerving, but then again, it may have just been because I was five years old at the time. Also, for some reason, Jill has insane ‘jiggle-physics’. Surely a hardened special-operative has a sports bra as part of her field gear?

Chris hoped he would get into the bathroom in time.

Chris hoped he would get into the bathroom in time.

In the audio stakes, the game is absolutely on point. The soft crunch of carpet underfoot, the creaking of the doors, the deafening silence in the long windowed corridors… it’s a fantastic tool for building suspense. It makes it so that the inevitable musical sting really works and can often make the player jump out of his skin. In the puzzle room sequences, the music is filled with this incessant urgency, a sort of maddening rhythmic tinkering. When a safe room appears, the music is soothing, letting the player know that they are safe. Well, 95% of the safe rooms.

It’s actually quite hard to judge replayability in this title. It’s a sort of contextual meta-question. Is the whole game not, in essence, a replay? To make matters worse, it’s a replay of a replay. You will want to play both character’s stories again, so sure, it has value for subsequent playthroughs once you finish the game, not to mention all the unlockable content which you can play to achieve, if you’re so minded. It’s just hard to judge from this reviewers standpoint given the Inception loop I seem to be stuck in.

Ultimately, Resident Evil HD is well worth the price tag of £15. It’s a classic title given new life, polished enough to make it shine on the PS4, whilst retaining everything about it that made the original such a classic. It’s got psychology, jump scares, perplexing puzzles and frantic decision making. Of course, I have to take into account certain factors as I’m reviewing this game within the context of modern releases. Is the story good? Quite frankly, no. The dialogue is downright laughable and the characters are card-board cut outs of people. Compared to modern stories told in gaming, it falls short of the mark. However, this game is a remake of a game released in 1996. In two years time, it will be twenty years old.

Resident Evil HD is a game you will replay to relive the thrills of when you first played it all that time ago. That’s where it’s true value lies. Just like with me and my brother, the Resident Evil franchise has it’s own story to tell among gamers. It has a legacy. Sadly, the IP has been whored out beyond measure, and the series has diluted in value…. but at it’s core, Resident Evil will always be a definitive classic. The HD remastering is just the icing on the cake.

Resident Evil HD Ratings Box

© 2014 James Greenfield

The Walking Dead : Season One


The Walking Dead : Season One

Telltale Games have made insane leaps and bounds in recent years, for all the right reasons. From humble beginnings working on Sam & Max and the CSI licences, Telltale has developed into one of the most respected and renowned studios out their today. They have taken a genre of gaming that was niche at best, and rejuvenated it to the point where they may have single-handedly kept story-driven point-and-click games from the brink of extinction, with clever use of source materials from popular culture; the iconic Jurassic Park, the hidden gem Homestar Runner, the classic Monkey Island franchise and the bleeding edge of cool Game Of Thrones have all had video games produced by the California-based studio and each one has been riveting, entertaining, true to the source, amazing value for money and expertly crafted.

The Walking Dead TV series is lauded globally by viewers and critics for its hard-hitting humanist take on a somewhat clichéd post-apocalyptic story, which despite it’s over done premise, proves that if this kind of narrative is done well, then cliché be damned. What fans of the series may or may not know is that the story finds its origin in the world of comic books, debuting in 2003, which is the main source material for The Walking Dead game rather than the series. Although, expect some familiar faces along the way.

Our handcuffed hero

                   Our handcuffed hero

Originally released in 2012, in the Telltale episodic style, The Walking Dead sees players assume control of Lee Everett, a former university professor on his way to jail for a crime of passion. His journey begins in a police squad car, setting the tone for a game that deals with adult issues from the outset. This game is not for the chidrens, despite the relatively cartoonish visuals. Lee rescues a young girl, Clementine, left alone by her parents with a babysitter while they take a weekend break on the coast. By the time Lee arrives, the babysitter is a walker, whom he saves young Clementine from. Forced to fight tooth-and-nail through the husk of civilisation, Lee and Clementine embark on a potentially futile quest to reunite Clem with her parents, while Lee’s journey is one of redemption for his soul. Hopefully, if you make the right choices, it’ll all end well, right?

Choice, like all Telltale games is a key motif throughout. Do you appease and crowd-please with the survivors you band together with? Do you endanger them to save your own skin? Are you pleasant, funny, an all around nice guy? Perhaps you are a complete arse to everyone you meet. Your decisions as Lee will alter the course of the game in ways that many modern titles claim to be able to do. It’s almost become a transparent lie when games tell you these days that your choices really matter, but Telltale’s games make it a badge of honour that each and every decision you make truly will alter the scenes you witness and how the game pans out. For the sake of this review, all of my screenshots are taken from the first 10 minutes of gameplay so as to not inadvertently spoil anything for the readers.

'Seen enough horror movies to know where this is going

Seen enough horror movies to know where this is going

The vast range of characters you come across on your journey are multi-faceted, human creations, all a different shade of grey. You’ll love some, loath others and some you’ll spend most of the game hoping they get eaten. Sometimes they will indeed become zombie food- but expect them to have a crowning moment of awesome before it happens, prompting serious feelings of regret.

It’s a tale of the foibles of the human condition, against the backdrop of a world gone to hell. The story is the main part of The Walking Dead, and by the end of it you’ll have experienced a range of real emotion, so engrossing are the story and characters. Telltale games are pioneering a range of artistic visual novels, which are every bit as rewarding as books and modern big budget TV series, but with the soul of a video game and digital player participation that can’t be found in other mediums, and they do so with inimitable flair.

The art style takes some getting used to, granted. It’s Telltale’s unique in-house art style, and can be seen in GoT and The Wolf Among Us (both titles you should immediately download and play) and the forthcoming Tales From The Borderlands. It’s a sort of, cartoon-esque cell shaded affair, with vivid colouration and stunning backdrops and cut-out stylised character models that make the world explode into life. The expressions on the characters faces, the look in their eyes, the way their mouths work is all very human while never veering into the uncanny valley territory some modern games fall victim to. The world is, for lack of a better world, alive. I’m not entirely sure this is a coincidental contrast either.

foreboding floor-boarding

               Foreboding floor-boarding

The game sounds great too- well, as far as the murderous wailing of the damned gets to sounding great. The eerie bleating of crickets in the distance, the almost imperceptible rustling of far off leaves in trees all builds to a tapestry of sounds that is so subtle, it’s both pleasing and horrifying. The drama unfolds with soaring accompaniment, musical stings at scary bits, and unparalleled voice acting that further enhances the characterisation to near perfect levels. It’s truly a thing to behold.

Replayability is a funny thing to consider in this game. Although the idea is that replaying the game will offer the player different scenarios and scenes they didn’t see the first time through… I personally felt that I had such a rewarding experience playing the game, that further re-imaginings of the story might in some way ruin the story I personally had a hand in fashioning. I played as Lee as though I was the one in his shoes, and replaying such a wonderful story for the sake of making what I perceived to be poor decisions, simply to see variations of scenes in the game, seemed sort of crass to me. After I complete the second season, and potentially the third, there may come a time I replay the game for the sake of being EVIL like I did Mass Effect, which I actually enjoyed way more as a bad guy. We will see.

Who invited these guys?

                Who invited these guys?

All in all, The Walking Dead is a roller-coaster of a game. It’s emotionally draining, in the best possible way. The scares are genuine, the characters will make you care about them and the moments of humour are surprisingly on point. The rare laughs you get from the game are true comic relief, from the horror of world where there isn’t much to laugh about. This is a game I’ll remember for a long time, and I urge every reader to go out and buy every Telltale game you can get your hands on. This is a studio that deserves support so they can continue to create such remarkable games. The most value for money game in a long time.

A must play.

South Park Ratings Box

© 2014 James Greenfield

South Park : The Stick Of Truth

titleSouth Park : The Stick Of Truth

In perhaps what could be the sleeper hit of 2014, South Park : The Stick Of Truth made its way onto the gaming landscape to much fanfare after a long wait, the hype built and built and gamers knew that this title had a lot to live up to, both from core gamers and fans of the series. Fans by and large were not disappointed with the final product that hit the shelves in March last year- although a vocal minority had some good points to make along the way as to why Stick Of Truth may have fallen short of the mark.

Stick Of Truth is a western animated cartoon trapped in the body of traditional JRPG, and the result is fantastic considering this rather absurd sounding premise. Players take control of the New Kid, who soon acquires the affectionate nickname ‘Douche Bag’ from his all too familiar peers. The pretext is a sort of game within a game, the boys are involved in a make-believe adventure full of magic, wizardry, swords and elves, all revolving around the titular Stick Of Truth, which grants the holder control of the universe.

Thank Jesus for Youtube!

Thank Jesus for Youtube!

The beginning of the game is wholly tied to this premise, but it isn’t long before the lines are blurred beyond all comprehension. This is the sort of game where you had best not ask too many questions. It’s an extremely enjoyable ride with all the whimsicality of the TV series and more.Fans of the show are rewarded handsomely playing this game. There are enough references, big and small, to fill fans of the boisterous long-running series with glee at every turn. The game is at its best when a familiar face shows up, and this happens a lot, although by the end of it all, you may feel a slight melancholy that one of your favourites didn’t make the final game (I’m looking at you, Satan). There is a wealth of references that even the most diligent of players might miss. If you’re a fan, expect to laugh your head off seconds after every loading screen.

There once was a maiden from Stonebury Hollow...

There once was a maiden from Stonebury Hollow…

Speaking of, loading screens were one of the core complaints levelled against Stick Of Truth, with players commenting that it was immersion breaking and that far too much time was spent waiting for data to load. As a somewhat credible reviewer (Hey, I’m getting there!) I have to say that this is nonsense. Stick Of Truth does have loading screens like any other game, but in comparison to monolithic titles like Skyrim, this criticism is quite frankly clutching at straws. Speaking of Skyrim, this is one game the developers drew influence from and parodied to hilarious effect.

References to the South Park television series are not the only references players can expect to be rewarded with in Stick Of Truth. Loving homages to all kinds of video games can be found along the way, and there are plenty of times where it was clear the developers are extremely genre-savvy. When you finally take a trip north of the border, expect to be filled with a sense of nostalgia that is unparalleled in a modern big budget title. The developers hang a lampshade on the battle system early in the game, making jokes about the combat engine in typical self-referential style. It’s features like this that make Stick Of Truth so much more than your prototypical video game adaptation.

Hasselhoff. That is all.

Hasselhoff. That is all.

The graphics are the truest representation of the world of South Park that gamers could have hoped for, and are one of the highlights of the game. The town is lovingly rendered and every landmark is visit-able and chock full characters from the series. As well as these locales, there are also a couple of brand new areas for the player to explore. Every item of clothing and weapon is represented on the character model, and each item has a description full of references, jokes and gags.

The soundtrack is on point with it’s dissection of medieval fantasy orchestrations, with melodies that stay with the player long after the game has finished. The characters are voice acted by their television counterparts, with Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s trademark style and sensibilities woven throughout the game so it never feels like a crass cash-in. Stick Of Truth is the most lovingly made adaptation I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. However it is not entirely without it’s flaws.

Crack House Clean Up

Crack House Clean Up

There are frame rate issues. Certain characters have special attacks that are not signified properly by button prompts, like the main characters are. The end game is entirely absent. Once the main storyline is over, there is very little incentive to stay in South Park. The RPG traits that Stick Of Truth borrowed so liberally from makes the lack of endgame a shock to the system. One would expect secret bosses, unbeatable dungeons, hidden characters, all the good stuff we’ve come to demand from RPG’s to be in this game after such a promising campaign, but when it’s over, there is a very sour taste in the mouth from there being nothing left to do.

After the final boss, you wake up the next day in an empty space with nothing left to do with your fully levelled character. Sure, you could start the game anew and play as a different class, but with all the jokes already been cracked, the appeal of replaying becomes sadly diminished. Upon completing the game, rather than a feeling of elation having completed such a wonderful 15 hour plus story, one is left with a feeling of disappointment that regretfully tarnishes the whole experience.

Until you complete it, South Park will be one of the best games you’ve ever played. It has broad appeal, loving homages, credibility, cohesion, wonderful set pieces, hilarious cut scenes, enjoyable combat… the list goes on and on. Fans of the series will be genuinely happy and won’t ever feel like they’re playing a knock-off, but players who’ve never seen the series will be missing 90% of the game. Then again, they are not the target market and personally, I struggle to think of anyone who hasn’t seen at least one episode of South Park.

It’s fun, hilarious and above all true to the source. I’d say it was the best video game adaptation of a series I’ve ever played. If not for my preconditioned expectations about RPG games, South Park : The Stick Of Truth would have scored higher… but as things are, the title is still a must play game, and more than deserving of all the accolades it achieved in the end of year awards.

South Park Ratings Box

© 2014 James Greenfield

No review tonight!

Dear Readers,

A quick update for you here.

I had planned to review The Walking Dead Season One on tonights Gumshoe Review… but due to unforseen circumstances, I haven’t completed the game yet! The reason is, it’s a lot longer than I thought I would be, so expect longevity to be a plus point when it comes to the review. It’s a fantastic title, and I can’t wait to bring you my review of it.


In other news, I’m starting a TWITCH playthrough of South Park : The Stick Of Truth tomorrow, so stay tuned for details on how to join the stream! It will be posted on the Gumshoe Twitter and Facebook pages.


Join us soon for more fresh content, including the news roundup on Sunday evening.

See you down the road!


Injustice : Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition


Injustice : Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition

“Ever wanted to re-enact epic battles between the heroes and villains of the DC Universe? Oh, you prefer Marvel Comics, huh? Will this do?”

This should have been the tag line for DC’s beat-em-up Injustice : Gods Among Us, a scrappy but glee-filled romp through the DC universe released originally on the last generation, which was at the time touted to be the next big competitive online fighting game. Suffice to say that it never lived up to that moniker- however, Injustice is a great game when you play it for what it is, and not focus on what it lacks.

Developed by NetheRealm Studios, a company formed from the ashes of Midway Studios, creators of Mortal Kombat and other games like arcade classic Joust (seriously, how good was Joust), Injustice has some serious pedigree when it comes to the genre of beat-em-ups, but Injustice never quite seems to share the quality of it’s companies flagship franchise.

Imagine you’re playing Mortal Kombat. Now, remove the fatalities and gore. Now switch the setting from ‘terrifying fire pit in Hell’ to ‘Atlantis’. Now remove Sub Zero and Shang Tsung and replace them with Catwoman and Shazam. What you are now imagining is Injustice.

Although this may sound slightly dismissive, Injustice is actually a very enjoyable game to spend a few hours with once you familiarise yourself with the setting. Let’s begin with the colourful array of characters, of whom are so numerous it would be trivial to name them all- but all the ones you know and love are there, and they are joined by many you have probably never heard of once in your life.

Piccolo VS Captain Birdseye  (?)

Piccolo VS Captain Birdseye (?)

Each character has their own move-sets, special attacks, unique character abilities and super attacks, and all have different ways in which they interact with the environment. Light-on-their-feet characters like Catwoman will opt to springboard off that car hovering over the streets of Metropolis, while opponent Bane would rather lift up said hover-car and smash you over the head with it.

The controls are tight and the combat is responsive and fluid, with a typical “minute to learn, lifetime to master” mentality. As the battle progresses, both attacking and being attacked will fill up your characters super meters, allowing for a devastating, over-the-top galactic beat down. It’s moments like this that Injustice shines, as the attacks are joyful to behold: Heavy hitting, bone crunching, laser guided onslaughts that are hard to land against experienced players, but when they do, you’ll know about it.

Soups about to dish out the pain.

Soups about to dish out the pain.

For a story mode, Injustice attempts something very bold indeed. Without wanting to spoil it too much, it’s a battle for the ages, chock full of dimensional travel, fascistic world police states, evil doppelgängers, vengeful heroes, multiple points of view, good and evil and fighting in space.

It’s as absolutely batshit insane as it sounds. For me it was the highlight of the whole game. As far as beat-em-up ‘story modes’ go, it’s possibly the best I’ve ever played, and I’m not joking. It’s a wonderful campaign that is not to be missed.

Alongside Story Mode, there are many other ways by which to experience Injustice. There’s the conventional arcade mode, but with a massive variety in opponent ladders, combat options and challenge runs, should you chose to take them on. Complimenting this is the S.T.A.R labs mode, which is a vast expansive collection of scenarios in which battles must be won with certain criteria achieved, such as landing a massive juggle combo, or survive ten seconds without being hit. There are three hundred of these missions, so completing them all will take a lot of skill and some serious commitment. The game rewards you for your exacerbation with alternative costumes, concept art, a jukebox style music player and character biographies. What more could a comic book fan want?

New costumes? I just gotta have it!

New costumes? I just gotta have it!

Speaking of Injustice’s music, I can only describe it in one word, and that word is sadly, boring. There is a general feeling that this music is supposed to be climactic, awe-inspiring and symbolic of the battle of the gods currently under way. But after the millionth time of hearing the same climactic, awe-inspiring music, you may feel like leaping from a tall building. However, the characters voice clips are enjoyable to listen to, with plenty of wise-cracks along the way and all the heroes and villains are voice acted fantastically.

The arenas in Injustice are quite apathy-inducing, and one or two are down right annoying. Some of the arenas are littered with distracting background characters, such as in the Hall Of Justice stage, where two gigantic characters are slugging it out in the background for no discernible reason.

Hey, do you guys mind over there?

Hey, do you guys mind over there?

The only highlight of the battle stages is the ability to launch the other player through the arena walls with an attack, which leads to a highly damaging transition into another part of the stage. This was done extremely well, with each arena having a different transition often littered with easter eggs which long time DC fans will positively lap up.

I played the online multiplayer battle in hopes that the game might come into it’s own in competitive online play, but alas, between regional-restrictions, laggy gameplay and seemingly being match-made with the best players in the world every single time, the multiplayer left a sour taste in my mouth. The games true enjoyment will be found sat next to a buddy, kicking his ass whilst he begs you to explain the controls properly, which you most certainly won’t.

Overall, Injustice : Gods Among Us is a solid B+ beat-em-up, with moments of brilliance scattered throughout, especially the Story Mode, which is wall-to-wall nonsense that will please even the most cynical player. The game is marred by little things that detract from the overall enjoyability of the game, and dare I say it, do injustice to what otherwise could have been a top tier beat-em-up for the ages.

If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll get more out of Injustice than anyone- this is the fighting game for you. If you’re a Tekken or Street Fighter veteran, don’t expect to play Injustice for long once the story mode is done and dusted. Heihachi and Ryu won’t miss you for long.

Injustice Ratings Box

© 2014 James Greenfield

Valiant Hearts : The Great War


Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Valiant Hearts : The Great War is one of those rare games that manages to be both beautiful and horrific in equal measure.

It is a forlorn retrospect of one of the bloodiest eras of human history, portrayed with inimitable artistic flair, coupled with a wonderful , evocative soundtrack and a delicate approach to the subject matter not often seen, in what is often considered a landscape over- saturated with games set in foreign theatres of war. This game is not Medal of Honour, Call of Duty or Battlefield, but it never tries to be. Valiant Hearts is it’s own game, with it’s own story to tell and it does so masterfully.

At this time of writing, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War was two months ago, and as people around the country watched their television screens and attended marches through city squares to commemorate the fallen, my eyes turned to this game on the Playstation Marketplace. The game is a side-scrolling puzzler developed by Ubisoft Montpellier (creators of beloved Rayman series) and as such, the game is very Franco-centric in it’s focus. At times I felt slighted by the absence of British heroism in the game. This was never truly a problem for me, but I did wonder why from the cast of playable protagonists, the French, Belgians, Germans and Americans had their own hero… and the British seemed to be mostly absent from the games narrative save for a few sections. One could of course argue that every character in the game, whether playable or not, is a hero in their own right. Speaking of heroes-

Freddie, Emile and the wonder dog.

Freddie, Emile and the wonder dog.

The first character we play as is Emile, a French farmer living on the outskirts of Saint Mihiel, a quaint hamlet in north eastern France, close to the border of the German Empire. Living alongside him is daughter Marie, her German husband Karl and their newly born son Victor. When news of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination reaches the French people, the German population of France are deported from the country, meaning Karl must return home to his native land, forcibly separated from his wife and child. Once France declares war on Germany, it isn’t long before farmer Emile, and son-in-law Karl are conscripted and sent to battle on different sides.

It should be noted at this point that the in-game characters do not speak in the traditional sense, communicating in garbled grunts in their native languages- not that this stops us from understanding what they mean in the slightest. This was surely a decision made to retain authenticity of language and communication; the low-key sound bites are accompanied by directional arrows and images in speech bubbles and we are never unsure of our next move despite never being told explicitly what it is.

The main bulk of the story telling takes place in cutscenes narrated by the characters in English, or in the language of your region. The story is also told in diary entries that are updated periodically, letting the player know what the other characters are doing at the time. The narrative is supported by other written extracts that provide historical context and factual information which is educational and informative, and speaking as someone who knows a thing or two about the period, I certainly learned a few things I never knew before. The information is accompanied by colour-enhanced photographs, the sort you may have seen in television programmes like World War II In Colour.

One of many fact files in the game.

One of many fact files in the game.

Over the course of the game, we play as Emile, Karl, American volunteer Freddie, Belgian medical student Anna and a heroic unnamed dog. Each character has their own way of navigating the game world, however most of their skills are universal. The game play mainly consists of set piece puzzles, with items to collect, things to activate in a certain order and other puzzle game mainstays. Emile has the skill to dig through soft earth and create tunnels, which is a feature used to great effect in the chapters of the game set in the trenches, and can also be used to hit enemies when their backs are turned for a knock-out blow. Freddie’s arsenal is identical to Emiles, with the exception of the digging ability, the same applying to soldier Karl. Anna’s segments focus around healing wounded soldiers and civilians in a timed button input sequence, which starts off simple enough, but increases in complexity as the game progresses. All the characters at some point of another are accompanied by the wonder dog, who’s knack for navigating tunnels and fetching crucial items from inaccessible areas becomes a crucial feature of puzzle solving.

Chlorine Gas being pumped onto the battlefield.

Chlorine Gas killed many on both sides.

Woven in-between these set pieces come two different gameplay styles: The fast pace, advancing under enemy fire sections which are based around getting your feet in the right place to avoid falling bombs and artillery, or hiding behind fences and other less conventional places like a mound of fallen soldiers, a heart-breaking, cruel moment. The others are riotous driving segments where the player is forced to navigate roads at breakneck speed while avoiding oncoming obstacles. In these sequences, the highlight is the musical accompaniment that seems to rise and fall in time with the upcoming debris and falling bombs. The sequences serve as breaks from the core puzzle elements that makes the game never become trivial or too repetitive.

Our heroes escape.

Our heroes escape.

The art style is perhaps the game’s greatest strength. Being able to convey the atrocity and brutality of war in comic book style, without it ever becoming crass or gaudy is no mean feat. The backdrops are works of art, even when littered with the bodies of the dead and artillery shells. As you advance through the game, each new zone brings fresh chances to marvel at the stylised art design that is at the same time both sublime and appalling. The dichotomy inherent in the artistry of the game is making a statement, that even amongst the horror of war, beauty can emerge in the form of friendship, brotherhood, loyalty and nobility.

Valiant Hearts contains perhaps the most breath-taking soundtrack I’ve heard for some time. The melodies of classical piano music soar from start to finish, and perfectly underline the charm of the art style. The sound effects, the rattling of gunfire, the screeching of car tyres, the roar of commanding officers pushing their men to push forward to their certain deaths, all serve to bring the conflict to life, and never overstay their welcome even when stuck on a particularly fiendish puzzle.

To add to the replay value of the game, hidden collectibles are strewn throughout the chapters, of which their are four, each corresponding to a different year of the war. Each one is difficult to find, and may require ingenuity on the part of the player. The collectibles also contain factual information, so they are worth finding to enhance the historical experience of the game. Some sections are just so enjoyable that you’ll want to play them again for the hell of it.

Valiant Hearts : The Great War is, in a nutshell, the most tasteful rendition of the first world war ever seen in video games. The game is telling you that this is one of the most important eras in human history, that needs to be treated with reverence and a solemn heart, whilst still retaining it’s enjoyability as a game. The mix of historical fact, a minimalist approach to characterisation that works to it’s credit, the gorgeous artistry and redolent soundtrack make this game an experience that cannot be missed.

Valiant Hearts : The Great War can be found on Playstation Network, Games for Windows and Xbox Marketplace. If you like the sound of what you’ve read in this review, I urge you to go buy it and see for yourself.

Valiant Hearts Rating Box

© 2015 James Greenfield

InFAMOUS Second Son

Title Screen

InFAMOUS Second Son

Second Son brings the InFAMOUS franchise boldly into the next generation of consoles, while remaining in the last generation of pop culture references.

Before being released in 2014, Second Son was one of Sony’s flagship titles when first announcing the PS4 the previous year. In the UK, pre-orders of the game were said to have surpassed pre-orders for Naughty Dog’s seminal The Last Of Us, and it was clear that people were expecting Second Son to rock their collective worlds.

In Second Son, we play as Delsin Rowe, a young, street-wise graffiti specialist of Native American stock who becomes embroiled in a fight against oppression on the streets of a dystopian Seattle.

Delsin spots Frasier Crane from afar

Delsin spots Frasier Crane from afar

For those not familiar with the lore of the inFAMOUS universe, it can be summarised as X-Men without the costumes. The mutants, sorry, ‘Conduits’ are individuals who developed powers to control the elements and were thus vilified by the normal folk who didn’t like them because they were different. It’s a story we’ve seen before, and inFAMOUS doesn’t stray too far from the formula.

Delsin is one such super-powered individual, but with a twist- he can absorb the powers of other conduits by touching them, sort of like Rogue from X-Men. If you can get past the genre-savvy cliché headache, this unique power makes for interesting gameplay along the way, with Delsin being able to switch between powers to suit his situation, adding some variety in how to approach an upcoming enemy stronghold- although it could be argued that some powers are more useful than others within the context of the game’s high-rise world, namely flight.

Along the way he is aided by an ensemble of characters, some more likeable than others, namely Delsin’s expertly characterised brother Reggie Rowe, a SPD Sheriff who has the dubious honour of being much more likeable than the protagonist himself. Reg is not only perfectly voice acted by the talented Travis Willingham, but also has the funniest lines in the game, the most pathos inducing moments and seems to be the only character with a sense of logic. He also is the only policemen in the game that will not infuriate you.

Reggie Rowe, Seattle's finest.

Reggie Rowe, Seattle’s finest.

Also in the cast is Fetch, a ‘junkie’ who can control the powers of neon, who features heavily in the first half of the game before vanishing, presumably to go take drugs or something. For some reason, Fetch was popular enough with fans to warrant her own spin-off DLC content in ‘InFAMOUS First Light’.

Also along for the ride is Eugene, the so-not-stereotypical nerd who has the power to summon a horde of angels from television screens. He’s entirely forgettable, and seems to only be there because the story dictates Delsin must take his powers from someone.

There’s also an evil redneck, Hank, an underutilised mother-figure in Betty, and the conflicted but downright dastardly Augustine who serves as the arch villainess of the story. With regards to the characters on the whole, there is a feel that the writers tried to shoehorn as many shades of grey as they could, to tow the line with modern storytelling conventions. Hank is a bastard, but dangit he’s got a family. Augustine’s imprisoning conduits, but it’s because she loves them so much. Fetch is a drug user with a heart of gold. The social commentary that made X-Men so wonderful is only hinted at in Second Son, without ever becoming fleshed out. It’s a hollow metaphor that has been done better before. This, along with the hit and miss method of characterisation only made me feel more apathetic towards the cast, with Reggie being the saving grace. At times it made me miss the black and white characterisation of early video games.

Speaking of black and white, or rather blue or red, the Karma system returns to the surprise of nobody. This karmic system is nothing new to players and only changes the story in a minor way whichever path you chose. Game play wise, Good Karma seems to be focused on precision shots and being able to traverse the city with ease (this becomes very important in the course of the game) whilst Evil Karma seems content with setting the player up as lumbering engine of death. You collect shards of pervasive phlebotinum, never clearly defined in the game, and power yourself up to take on the tyrannical D.U.P, who have been augmented by evil ginger Augustine’s powers of concrete. Good players ‘subdue’ these enemies, whilst Evil players naturally ‘obliterate’ them.
There are a variety of D.U.P baddies to contend with and the boss battles are all challenging in their own unique way.

The representation of Seattle in the game is a high point. In open-world sandboxes the devil is in the detail, and the developers did a great job of rendering the city and then perverting it with concrete towers and other ominous structures. The NPC’s that roam about the city add little to the game, aside from facilitating ways to increase your good or evil karma. On a minor note, the NPC’s of the game seem to be very anti-cannabis for some reason. If you tend to play games with the subtitles on, be prepared to have an almost constant variation of “Pot is bad for you” plastered across the bottom of the screen as you zip through the city finding the next power-up.

We get it, thanks.

We get it, thanks.

Second Son has a few side quests for you to tackle along the way to becoming a certified bad ass, the most ingenious of which being the graffiti mini-game, which involves turning your control pad sideways like a spray can, shaking it (literally) and pulling the R2 trigger to leave your mark on the canvas. I cannot stress enough how wonderful I thought this little touch was, it was unique and interesting to see the image at the end and consider what the image represented within the context of Seattle Under Occupation.

Another interesting distracting is the paper-trail quest, which involves switching from TV screen to PC screen and taking part in an elaborate browser based game which is challenging to say the least. It reminded me of the hacking mini-game from Enter The Matrix (2003) in that it involves lateral thinking that is both frustrating and rewarding. It is worth noting that there is no multi-player in the game, but this is not an issue, as the campaign is the meat of the game.

Just looking at the sign will get you drunk.

Just looking at the sign will get you drunk.

The graphics in Second Son are a highlight. There are some extremely pleasing visuals and lighting effects, and a full day-night cycle which alters how the city looks and feels, the shadows are near-perfect and little things like reflections on water and swaying of leaves in the trees add to the believability and immersion of the game world. The textures are all spot on, the animation of the characters faces are fantastic, especially when supplemented by having a personality like Reggie. I experienced very little clipping or frame rate issues and only one bug towards the end of the game that I suspect was my fault for trying to be too clever. Don’t expect to be wowed and awestruck by the visual set pieces, but expect to be pleasantly surprised by the living, breathing world the developers have created.

The soundtrack is sadly lacklustre, with a brief highlight at the end by including Seattle’s own second sons Nirvana as the credits roll. The noise of the city is sometimes bothersome, especially the aforementioned NPC’s that sound like a Fox News convention. The sound effects are pleasing, electronic blips that really evoke the power being used, and before long you’ll fear the tell-tale sound of crunching concrete about to hit you upside your head.

Overall, Second Son is a good game marred by clichés. Although it tried it’s best to, Second Son failed in capturing the essence of the early nineties grunge scene like was intended. The themes did not coherently fit together against the backdrop of ‘super heroes at war’ and the effect was incredibly jarring. The constant hunt for shards to use for powering up is wearisome and frankly boring. Little pleasures like scaling up a tall building become marred by bumping into overhanging awnings, breaking your ascent and forcing you to manoeuvre around them. If you’re planning a play through from start to finish, collecting everything, do not expect to play for more than ten hours.

What Second Son does get right however, is feeling like an unstoppable force of nature, soaring through the sky and bringing the thunder to the unrighteous. If you liked inFAMOUS games of the past, you’re going to love this. If you’re new to the franchise, you’ll love it too. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great game. It’s the story that drags Second Son down, and turns it into the black sheep of the family.

InFamous Rating Box

© 2015 James Greenfield

Welcome to Gumshoe!

Dear Reader,

How have you been? It’s been so long. How is life on the farm? Oh, you moved to the city? Well look at you.

I’m writing because I have a confession. I’m not the person who you thought I was… Some days I’m a sword brandishing knight. Other times I’m a cigar chomping marine with a large calibre rifle. Sometimes I’m a pixel. Sometimes I’m an animal. Sometimes I’m a disembodied cursor… yes… I’m a video game reviewer.

I understand if you want to leave and never see me again. It can be a lot to take in at first. That’s what she said. Boom.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Gumshoe Games. On this site you’ll find news and reviews of the latest games, plus a couple of classic titles from yesteryear.

I’m going to try make it thought-provoking, analytical and entertaining. As a graduate in the field of literature, my reviews will consider subtext and context, and have character and storytelling commentary sewn throughout.

If you’re looking for a cut-and-dry review of gameplay, graphics and multi-player capabilities, this won’t be the site for you. Of course my reviews will talk about these things, but so much more.

Thanks for stopping by.


Jim (Gumshoe Games)