The Walking Dead review: How far would you go?

The Walking Dead 1

Image by The_JIFF

The Walking Dead is an episodic  point and click adventure game by Telltale Games. I’ll only be talking about the original 5 episodes as I’m planning to review the 400 days DLC separately. This game reminded me why I love this genre so much (although it’s not really the kind of game I typically play) and it does it in a different way that’s more action-y than your standard adventure game (as opposed to an action-adventure game), true to its source material. I haven’t read the comics that the game was based on, but I have watched the TV series, which is now one of my absolute favourites. The game has got everything I love about the zombie genre and what I like about the TV show – it examines the effect an apocalyptic event like this would have on people and explores the darker side of humanity that exists even now. Sure, I like games like L4D that are just about shooting zombies, but The Walking Dead is truly a gem in its genre and in the game industry generally for achieving a level of tension, emotion, depth and believability that many games can’t and for going places others won’t. It is an undoubtedly flawed game and one that not everyone will enjoy, but one that definitely deserves some recognition.

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Journey review: A true gaming experience

Journey1

Image by ravensong75

A-another review? WHOA! CHEEESE SLOW DOWN! YOU’LL HURT YOURSELF SOMEHOW! I suppose… that’s probably pretty unlikely. Although my wrist does hurt sometimes… Anyyyyyways, today I have yet another review for you – this time of the much acclaimed indie game and PS3 exclusive Journey by thatgamecompany. I hadn’t realised until I actually sat down to write about this that there’s actually very little I can tell you about this game without giving everything away, so I’m not going to be going into the ‘story’ at all.  What I can tell you was that this game was truly an experience and I’m really glad that I decided to pick it up. Honestly, it didn’t really look like my kind of thing at first.  I’m not too big on games that are quite as artsy as Journey. And artsy it is. However, after 10 minutes of playing it, I suddenly realised it wasn’t what I expected at all. Far from being a pretentious indie game that tries a little too hard to make an impact, Journey turned out to be a sublime, thoughtful and genuinely emotional experience that will have you mersmerised for the 3 hours it takes to play the game. I don’t necessarily it’s the best game in existence as I’ve heard some say, but I do think it’s GOTY status was well deserved and that it’s a must-play for those of you who are up for something a little different.

The thing that surprised me the most was that Journey was actually a still very much a game. I expected something more along the lines of TFOL – barely interactive and more like watching an animated movie than playing a game, but that’s not what Journey is like at all. In Journey, there’s tons of game-y platforming elements and exploration. You’ll find yourself hiking up hills, surfing down sand dunes and even flying. The moment you discover how to fly is an exhilarating moment that is difficult to put in words. To fly, you use scraps of cloth and the more you collect the higher you go and the longer you can soar.  I found myself quickly addicted to the sensation and the weightlessness. I won’t go into the controls too much, because discovering them for yourself is definitely a large part of the fun. The platforming elements are pretty mild and not all that challenging, which good to an extent as that means the game can focus on what it does best – being a meaningful experience full of imaginative imagery and sounds. 

Like I’ve touched on before, Journey is an emotional game that reaches unbelievably joyous heights and also dark, lonely depths. There are no words or dialogue throughout the whole game, other than right at the beginning and the credits at the end. Even the ‘tutorials’ are presented visually and with very little information, so that you’re left to explore the world and your character for yourself. It’s incredible, but Journey somehow manages to infuse you with a staggering range of emotions without ever having to really say anything. The whole experience feels very organic and personal as the game never really tries to actively explain anything important or explicitly guide you. There is a story of sorts and there are places you have to go, but the hints that lead you on the right path are very very subtle and the meaning behind what you see is left up to your own interpretation. It’s a work of art in the way that many games aren’t and don’t try to be. Like I said before, I’m not going into the story at all, because I feel I should leave it up to you guys to experience and interpret for yourself.

Image by ravensong75

Image by ravensong75

The fact that this game can’t rely on traditional ways of communicating ideas to players means that it has to find other ways to show you instead. Since there are no words, what you see and hear becomes very important and on this front, Journey does not disappoint. The graphics are incredible and the art style truly unique. There are vast breath-taking vistas that show off an incredibly beautiful and varied world dotted with mysterious ruins and broken structures. As you progress and the landscapes change from gently sloping deserts to towering ruined fortresses and what you see will set the tone of the level. The stirring music has the ability to not only match what’s going on at the moment, but to set the mood along with what you’re seeing. Journey’s soundtrack can make you feel like you’re really through the soaring or instill a sense of fear and nervousness. Unlike other games, the soundtrack isn’t just an accompaniment to the game, it’s an integral part and without it Journey wouldn’t have been what it was.

Last, but not least, there’s the multiplayer, where players are anonymous and automatically connected. You have no way of knowing who you’re playing with and you can only choose to work together or part ways or something in between. At first I was a little self conscious and unsure of what to do with this random presence in my game and with no rules to guide the interaction, but then I found myself beginning to rely more on my partner and communicate with him or her through beeps (your only way of doing so). I discovered that exploring the world of Journey with someone else enriched the experience and made the trek across vast barren landscapes and ruins much less lonely. There was a level of companionship that I haven’t experienced in many other online coop experiences – you can’t really talk, you look and sound almost identical and so there’s none of the judgment you usually find online. Of course, you don’t have to team up with the people you meet along the way. You can navigate through the levels by yourself and completely ignore the other speck on the huge expanse of sand, but other than the company there are other reasons to help each other other out. In particular, being near each other will help you both fly higher, which in turn will help you reach places that would otherwise be tricky to get to on your own. don’t want to go into too much detail as to how that works as you’ll have to find that out for yourself. I lost a few partners, sometimes thinking they were right behind me or waiting for me at the exit. Losing your friend is surprisingly sad. Surprising because I wouldn’t have thought that meeting up with a random person online that I’ve never seen or spoken to, other than through beeps could be something that would actually make me feel sad, but it did. It feels like a profound loss and trekking through mountains and ruins by yourself suddenly seems much lonelier.

Image by ravensong75

Image by ravensong75

There were a couple of things I wasn’t too fond of, but I think they were largely personal preference or disappeared the more I played it. The lack of explanation took a little while to get used to. I struggled a little bit at the beginning to figure out what I was supposed to do, but that might just my impatient gamer mentality where I’m constantly trying to progress. Once I slowed down and just relaxed, things started happening naturally. There’s a giant mountain with a light on top, why not just walk towards it and see what happens? Once I stopped worrying whether I was going to right way or what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, I really started to enjoy it.

I really like Journey, but like with TFOL, I prefer my games to be a little more game-y and while exciting and interesting, Journey was not exactly a challenge. It was definitely more of an experience than a game to beat. That’s just a personal preference though and I can completely see why people are head over heels in love with Journey. I did love it too, but I certainly wouldn’t say it was the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. Personally, I thought a slightly better balance between gameplay and graphics/music/story would have been preferable for me. 

Journey achieves a level of emotional connection that many games can’t despite all the words they throw at it. While I wouldn’t say it was my favourite game of 2012, but it’s also one that I won’t ever forget either.  I think that if you approach it like something to be experienced rather than a traditional game you’ll enjoy it a lot more. It was an incredible game and will hopefully provide inspiration to other developers by proving that thoughtful, artistic games will have a place on gamers’ shelves.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – The Real Thing or Just a Shadow?

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na BAMAN! Ok now that that’s out of the way, on with my post!

For those not on Twitter, I do realise this is a day late. Believe it or not I had a massive migraine and started having weird visual hallucinations, which I assume is because I had been staring at my PC screen for too long that day or week or month or whatever. I know, right? If you’ve fallen out of your chair with shock I’ll give you a second to recover. Me? A gaming-related injury/illness? Who would have guessed? At least I don’t get those hand cramps anymore… Anyways, since the thought of looking at anything bright and glowing made my brain want to hemorrhage on the spot, I took a bit of time off (even though I ended up playing some Bordlerlands 2 as soon as the pain let up – oy!) Enough of my brain-related problems though, on with the post (again)!

Today I wanted to review a game that I’m ashamed to admit I only played recently – Batman: Arkham Asylum. I know, I know, you’d think that a self-proclaimed Batman nut like myself would have played a multi-award-winning Batman game that’s been around since 2009 and holds a Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever”. Yeah, beat that, right? The reason for this delay? Well, other than the fact that I was saving it for a rainy day, which turned out to be some years later, there was also that part of me that was skeptical. The truth is, nothing that’s come out of the Batman franchise other than the comics has ever truly impressed me. I knew it wouldn’t be as terrible the infamously cheesy 1960’s Batman TV series with Adam West or equally cringey old movies (much as they’re guilty pleasures of mine). However, even the much-lauded Batman: The Animated Series and Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight movies failed to really capture me the way the comics did. Don’t get me wrong, I used to watch the animated series obsessively and watched each of the new movies several times. It’s because I’m such a huge fan of Batman from the comics that I’m so particular when it comes to anything that’s added to the lore. That’s the problem though, really. None of it truly adds to or fits comfortably into the comic book lore and as a comic book fan that’s obviously something I’d be excited to see. Of course, I’m talking about the revamped Batman, the Dark Knight, not the previous versions like the 1940’s Batman who was even campier than Adam West (I confess I even used to read these somewhat terrible comics). Also, of course, there are many adaptations of even modern Batman, for instance Frank Miller’s Batman is different to Jeff Loeb’s Batman. However, although Batman has been revamped so many times, I feel there is a certain overarching look and feel to the modern Batman, who received a major facelift in the ’80’s and whose new look has been built on and adapted ever since. The movies captured the spirit, but I didn’t learn anything new or see another side of Batman that I’d never experienced before from the comics. Also, the movies were amazing, but it wasn’t really Batman in his true form. I loved the movies as a separate thing to the comics, because I just couldn’t reconcile the two of them in my mind. As an obsessed fan of the comics, I wanted something that truly captured the essence of Batman as I knew him. There’s nothing wrong with all the adaptations that have been created and as I said I’ve loved pretty much all of it, but as a Batman comic fan, I wanted that true Dark Knight experience from the comics for myself just once and to be able to share it with the rest of the world as well, so that they could so see why I’m so in love with this dark corner of the DC Universe. Above everything else, this game definitely does that. So, even if it turns out that everyone other than me has already played this game, I’m hoping that it might be interesting reading about the game from the perspective of a fan of the comics who used to creepily keeps busts and PVC statutes of Batman in her bedroom.

The official launch trailer:

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