CRASH BANDICOOT 4: IT’S ABOUT TIME REVIEW

Since the days of the original PlayStation the platformers have slowly dwindled to the point of extinction, with only Mario still managing to sell gangbusters among the Call of Duty’s and Grand Theft Auto’s of the gaming landscape. Then Activision decided to revive beloved 90’s mascot Crash Bandicoot with the stellar N-Sane trilogy. A reminder of the devilish perils of 90’s imprecise controls and the simple pleasures of defeating short linear levels. The N-Sane trilogy’s massive success has led a direct sequel to 1998’s Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped. Forgetting the other games that followed was smart and this game feels like a true sequel to the original trilogy created by Naughty Dog almost 26 years ago.

STORY

Picking up where warped left off – long-time series antagonist Doctor Neo Cortex and N-Tropy escape their time prison and tear a rift in time and space, which means Crash and his sister Coco must collect the 4 quantum masks to repair the the rift.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about Crash 4’s story but the elements are light and act as a fun backdrop to the beautiful varied levels you’ll visit along the way. Nothing is taken seriously, which after games like Doom Eternal, The Last of Us Part 2 and even Ori and the Will of the Wisps it’s nice to play something comedic, it’s a great little palette cleanser but don’t let whimsical light hearted tone fool you, Crash 4 means business.

GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS

Crash 4 takes the player back to basics, you work your way through each level spinning crates, jumping over chasms and avoiding various obstacles as the perspective shifts from side-scrolling to running both away and towards the camera. New moves include wall running Prince of Persia style, rope swinging, rail grinding and a double jump which is available from the start rather than unlocked later as in Crash 3. These provide a refreshing update on the formula at the beginning of the game, but it’s with the introduction of the quantum masks that truly test the players skills. These 4 masks fundamentally change the gameplay and rocket up the difficulty in the process, the first mask Loli Luni has the ability to phase objects in and out of reality at the push of a button, giving your timing and reflexes a massive work out. I really enjoyed this mask along with 2 of the other masks these include a time slow down and gravity manipulation. They really changed the gameplay in new and interesting ways, having to play a section of the game upside down for instance is a massive head fuck, it turns the world literally upside down and it’s a genius and really rather simple way to change the way you play. The 4th power up is the ability that you actually unlock second in the game, a constant spin which I found frustrating and difficult to control and exasperated some of the main issues I had with the game.

Crash 4 is fundamentally very fun, but the sometimes the depth perception can be frustrating as you jump to where you think the platform might be but miss by a millimetre and fall to your death, the newly introduced ring often doesn’t really help either. Another annoyance is that the game renders the often life saving Aku Aku mask pretty much redundant as most of the games difficulties stem for bottomless pits that automatically kill you rather than obstacles. The difficulty also seems to spike pretty early on in the game compared to prior titles, with me having to toggle the modern mode on by about 5th level (retro mode plays like the originals 100 Wumpas = 1 life). That’s not to say all these levels are a ridiculous challenge all the time, if you ignore smashing crates and just run through to completion the levels can be conquered with enough concentration good reflexes, but as a Crash bandicoot purist ignoring crates felt like sacrilege. I found some of the levels unbelievably frustrating, with the Neo Cortex boss fight being a particularly hard, I died over 100 times! It’s controller smashingly annoying. Crash has never been an easy game and I can’t completely fault the game for the difficulty when it’s mostly just my poor skills, though at times it was frustrating more than anything else. Another thing that I didn’t like as much was the lack of a warp room, I missed the choice of being able to pick what level out of 5 I did first, instead 4 harkens back to the first game where you take one road to the end. Levels also combine far more elements compared to the originals, at times I liked this as it kept the levels interesting and varied, however some of my favourite levels in Crash Bandicoot 3 were the tiger ride levels, but in 4 you have to power through half a level of regular platforming before you get to these sections – it’s a small complaint and one that is likely very personal to me but it’s a change I felt wasn’t needed.

With that being said the game has some of my favourite levels in the series, the Mardi Gras New Orleans’s level being a particular favourite, as neon coloured ghosts with trumpets mix with a jazz soundtrack which is just a joy to play. The Indiana Jones style run into the camera levels the series is known for for return and they are all well done, and the boss battles are well designed and properly challenging for the first time in the series. There are also playable characters that act as palette cleanser for the usual Bandicoot levels. You get to play as Tawna who uses a grapple and wall jumping, Neo Cortex whose ray gun can transform enemies into platforms plus a dash that makes him able to cover long distances and finally Dingodile who uses a powerful vacuum cleaner to suck in boxes and glide through the air – each character feels fundamentally different but luckily none take too long to grasp, I only wish there were more levels available for them as they all felt rather fleeting.

Graphically this is a pretty game, beautiful colours, slick animations and brilliantly cartoony expressions from the character models. The levels are so varied and everything is incredibly well done, the foreground is of course well detailed, but even things in the back ground are alive and give the game depth and helps build the world.

CONCLUSION

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a worthy follow up to the original trilogy, it combines clever level design, beautiful graphics, fun story telling and new and exciting ideas that refresh the tried and true Crash formula. Don’t let the cartoony aesthetic fool you this is a hard game and will stress most gamers and even test your patience at times. But it’s still a good time and absolutely packed with content to keep you busy for multiple hours, for anyone that wants to 100% the game be prepared to feel the pain!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Pros

  • Pretty graphics and great world building
  • Slick animations
  • Cortex, Tawna and Dingodile levels are fun
  • Excellent level design
  • Great use of quantum masks, time slow down is particularly fun
  • Genius boss battles

Cons

  • Difficulty spike is steep and unforgiving
  • Akano quantum mask makes platforming frustrating
  • Lack of choice regarding the order you can the play levels
  • Depth perception can be a bit of an issue
  • Over abundance of bottomless pits

TOP 5 TV SHOWS THAT SHOULD GET MADE INTO VIDEOGAMES

The inspiration for videogames comes from far and wide these days; books, films, artwork and of course television. There have been some great adaptations of television shows from Telltale’s The Walking Dead series and Obsidian’s South Park Stick of Truth and then there have been some games that even fiery pits of hell would reject like Dark Angel or even worse *gulp* the game based on Australian soap Neighbours… yes that happened.

We are in a golden age of television with Netflix and other streaming platforms locking us into a cycle of never ending binge worthy entertainment that goes on forever, yes Netflix I am still watching The Witcher – stop shaming me for my couch potato habits! TV’s long-form storytelling lends itself to the arcs that videogames often do, so it’s a wonder that the AAA videogame space hasn’t dedicated more games to telling stories within these fantastic worlds.

Here’s my Top 5 TV shows that should be made into videogames! (Yes I’m aware some already may have adaptations but I mean big budget AAA stuff)

5. GAME OF THRONES

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This one is pretty obvious isn’t it. A sprawling fantasy featuring murder, ice zombies, nudity and dragons. So basically Skyrim… it’s a glorious world though, populated by honourable heroes and villains that make the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang look like Mickey Mouse. It’s dark, it’s violent and in the earlier seasons it had an incredibly nuanced approach to political espionage. It’s a shame the show ended with a thud rather than a bang, as the thirst for more Thrones seems to have waned some what. But as a proper game, I would love to see it get made, I want to visit Winterfell and call John Snow a “Bastard”, I want to urinate off the The Wall, I want my skull to be squeezed into rice pudding by The Mountain and more than anything I want to ride a dragon with long blonde hair that miraculously stays perfect despite the heavy wind resistance, in fact lets have Game of Thrones branded hair spray that comes free with every a copy of the game.

An open world RPG would be perfect in this world and maybe a game could do the story justice where the TV show fell down.

4. DOWNTON ABBEY

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OK hear me out on this one. I know that your mum likes Downton Abbey and the series is generally a very by-the-numbers period drama, but there’s one area AAA games will rarely dare venture without killing things, but why? What if a game were given a big budget to create a murder mystery (or just a mystery) game where the village of Downton and the grand house itself are your playgrounds and utilising the detective style gameplay of the Batman Arkham games, add in some Resident Evil style puzzles, Mass Effect style dialogue trees and we could be onto something. I mean, I doubt it would ever actually happen and if it did it might be utterly awful, but don’t forget someone made Fast and Furious Crossroads… if there’s room for that there’s room for a Lady Elizabeth Crawley hair brushing mini challenge.

3. STRANGER THINGS

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So this one is pretty obvious, combine a killer 80’s soundtrack, mutants from another dimension, telekinesis and weird occurrences happening in a small town and what do you get? Remedy’s Control, which was excellent. So why not give us a proper Stranger Things game, I want to tear through Hawkins as Eleven and break into a government building armed only with a sling shot! Let me peddle through the woods on a bicycle hunting a Demogorgon with “Material Girl” playing on my Walkman. In fact lets dot cassette tapes around the world so I can collect the ultimate 80’s playlist, actually forget the rest an 80’s music collect-a-thon as a game on it’s own sounds pretty amazing on it’s own!

2. THE HANDMAID’S TALE

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The Handmaid’s Tale has bought the book to life brilliantly and created a world unlike any other, a world of subservient women, of violence, of intolerance with reprehensible people that harm the innocent for their own gain. The great thing about the Handmaid’s Tale is that this world is so vast, that you could take the story of any woman (or man to a lesser extent) and still make a compelling story. What about a stealth action game where you take on the role of a female solider trying to get back to find the rebels. A game where you can utilise various disguises, whether that being the red robes of the titular Handmaid’s or dowdy green ensemble of the Martha’s. There’s small uprisings in this world, there are spies, there’s public executions and there’s fear. This is a world that in the hands of master story-tellers like Naughty Dog could really be something special. Blessed be the Fruit and may the videogame Gods give this franchise to someone worthy.

NUMBER 1 : AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER

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The Last Airbender has been abused! A film adaption so bad fans were ready to gouge their own eyes out rather than sit through another second of that abomination, the mangled corpse of that “adaptation” which made it to the big screen almost killed a franchise that defined children’s storytelling. Here we are awaiting another live action adaptation from Netflix when there is the perfect opportunity to use this world in a much better way! Like the Handmaid’s Tale this world is vast and historic, you could be an Avatar from any time period of your choosing, learning the ways of the elements in whatever order you like, as an enemy rises from the darkest corner of the world. Previous videogames in this series haven’t lived up to the potential of this phenomenal cartoon series and who doesn’t want the ability to bend fire, water, earth and air at will with cute animal companions. Come on game developers and publishers we’ve had enough Call of Duty and Assassins Creed to last us till the dolphins rise up against us to become to the dominant species on planet earth, so until then if you won’t make new IP’s, make these – I’d buy them.

THE SINNER SEASON 3 REVIEW

The advent of television streaming has lead to a true golden age of television, with the quality going far beyond what came before. Crime and drama are two genres that have been revitalised and the first season of The Sinner was a riveting ‘why-dunnit’ and managed to tell a different kind of crime story. Going into season 3 after the solid second season The Sinner struggles under the weight of it’s premise.

Like season 2 The Sinner does away with the characters of the previous season, barring detective Harry Ambrose who anchors the show. Season 3 centres on the aftermath of a car accident involving two old university friends Nick and Jamie and their complicated relationship with religion and fate. Aspects of the story are fantastic, challenging both the characters on screen and the audiences expectations, like the prior seasons the plot twists and turns in unexpected directions. It’s all held together by stellar performances, Bill Pullman and Matt Bomer in particular, who have great on screen chemistry. Bomer is a particular standout as Jamie, a troubled teacher who struggles under the weight of his own mortality and whose mental health questions how masculinity and men’s relationships with one another can affect those around them. The romantic subplot involving Jessica Hecht’s Sonya could have been explored further and comes across as an after thought, under-utilising the actresses talents.

The Sinner is generally a good watch and is constantly engaging, the central mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat, but there are bumps in the road. The series often makes you suspend disbelief, I often questioned whether some of the events that take place would ever happen in real life and whether Harry’s methods for solving his cases are not only inappropriate but against protocol. Characters do mention that Harry’s methods are unique but it just doesn’t seem feasible, it’s an issue I felt throughout the first 2 seasons but the most recent one intertwines Harry and Jamie so tightly it’s hard to imagine it ever unfolding in the real world.

The season also suffers from characters constantly monologuing about their thoughts and beliefs, this can make the pacing a little on the slow side in the mid-season but it does pick up again in the final 2 episodes, cumulating in an exciting season finale.

I’ll be interested to see if The Sinner goes for the fourth season, the quality is still high but the ideas are beginning to wear a bit thin. The intrigue of the working out why people are involved in the deaths of others has dampened considerably and with both seasons 2 and 3 not quite living up to the Jessica Biel fronted first season.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

MRS AMERICA REVIEW

Mrs America was completely unknown to me, I wasn’t aware of its creation and it was by chance I came across an advert on social media that caught my eye – Cate Blanchett was reason enough but the stellar all-star cast and an intriguing premise really sold me and got me on a BBC iplayer binge I’d not been on since Rupaul’s Drag Race UK.

Mrs America follows the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would change the constitution to give equalised rights to women, the story follows the lives of the women at the forefront of both sides of the political spectrum – including the second wave feminists fighting tooth and nail to get the ammendment passed and Phyllis Schlafly a famous right wing campaigner who lead the women of “STOP ERA” movement.

Cate Blanchett brings Phyllis Schlafly to life with an incredible accuracy, from the hardened stares, to the southern drawl and the biting wit the real life Schlafly possessed. It’s a terrifying recreation of a character that’s abhorrent in her views, it’s one the best TV performances I’ve even seen this year and if it doesn’t win her an Emmy or Golden Globe I’ll be shocked. On the other side of the political fence is Rose Byrne playing feminist Gloria Steinem, a woman still active today – Byrne plays the role to perfection like Blanchett there’s a sense of excitement every time the character appears on screen, in episodes where she is featured less, her presence is missed and manages to steal the lime light from others even on limited screen time. The clash of these two titans is a thrill, but oddly the two characters never actually come in contact with one another, it’s face off that would have delighted audiences but as it never happened in real life – it never occurs in the show.

All the performances are fantastic, there are no weak links here; Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Tracey Ullman and Sarah Paulson all do great work in their respective roles, playing close to the real-life counter parts with excellent accuracy and emotional weight. Sarah Paulson’s character is one of the few fictionalised characters in the show, which is why it’s surprising that the penultimate episode features her so heavily, it’s one of the few missteps in the series, though Paulson is great in the role – the fictional context of her dedicated episode feels more “Hollywoodized” than prior episodes that are often so close to the actual events the series could be classed as an educational dramatized documentary.

One of the biggest hooks of the series is how closely aligned to historical accuracy it actually is, so much so that I found myself looking up individual characters in the show to gain a better perspective of their roles in both the ERA movement and their past and future political careers. This is a clear sign of the series engrossing nature as I wanted to immense myself even more in this thrilling and frustrating world. Phyllis Schlafly is incredibly interesting despite her horrible political views, a woman of determination and high intellect – who can easily outclass her male counter-parts but due to her political leanings has be willingly side-lined by her male counterparts. Her stance in the show is intriguing and contradictory as she strives to keep women as housewives while also doing everything to further herself and her career away from her duties as a wife and mother.

The 1970’s has been beautifully realised in the show, from the cinematography, the sets and excellent costume design. Gloria Steinem long hippy hair with aviator glasses is absolutely iconic and as Brit who is totally unfamiliar with the women featured in the show I was instantly obsessed with each and every one of them. There are some pacing issues here and there, with such a large ensemble some characters can get lost in the noise. And one cannot help but see a certain bias towards the portrayal of the ERA ladies compared to the STOP ERA ladies, though I certainly prefer this to the other end of the stectrum – it’s a shame Schlafly’s supporting characters were given a lot more creative license rather than being based on real women, this makes the two sides feel a little disjointed at times and probably why the 8th episode “Houston” sticks out so badly compared to the rest of the series.

CONCLUSION

Mrs America is a fantastically acted, beautifully realised miniseries, whose subject matter is still relevant even today. All the real-life characters are compelling and the show will make you want to research the era in detail to understand the background even more. Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne steal the show, the whole thing is worth watching for their performances alone. So much love, craft and talent has been put into Mrs America, it makes it a must-watch for anyone who loves a political drama.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • The acting – especially Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne
  • The period costume design
  • Excellent production design
  • Interesting period of history, with accurate portrayals
  • Excellent cinematography

Cons

  • Sometimes a little slow to get going
  • Schlafly’s supporting players aren’t as well realised
  • “Houston” episode throws realism out the window

WHY TOMB RAIDER 2 DESERVES A REMAKE

Tomb Raider 2 the myth, the legend, the legs. Tomb Raider 2 the boom, the bombast, the breasts. Tomb Raider 2 the guns, the female empowerment, the poor fashion choices (shorts in the Tibetan foothills, really?). It was a far more confident outing than the original, increased graphical fidelity, tighter storyline, new abilities, less rigid controls, vehicle sections and of course the ability to lock your butler in a freezer at Lara’s mansion – with his groans sounding like a whoopie cushion with a slow puncture – it was legendary! My all-time favourite level in all the entire Tomb Raider franchise features in Tomb Raider 2, Venice, tearing around the canals in a speed boat, whilst solving water puzzles and leading to the crescendo of smashing though the windows of a building and leaping from your boat as it detonates a load of water bombs, it’s absolute perfection.

Tomb Raider 2 often ranks as a favourite among fans and critics and I personally prefer it over the original. I think this is down to variety – where the original game had an incredible sense of awe and isolation, Tomb Raider 2 felt far more like the Indiana Jones experience it was obviously emulating. There were more varied enemies, the platforming was trickier but more finessed, it challenged the players in new and exciting ways especially with the underwater levels. The puzzling was also the best it has ever been, Tomb Raider 3 and The Last Revelation’s puzzles were incredibly tough to the point of barely being puzzles as some of the solutions were so obtuse, but in 2 they made sense and relied on the players reading the environment rather than a walkthrough. Then there’s the soundtrack, one word – sublime. From the iconic theme song (why this was removed in later games is anyone’s guess), the classical piece that plays in Lara mansion, the dark foreboding string sections in a darkened cavern or the 90’s thudding electro when you discover the snow mobile. Judith Gibbons provided the voice of Lara, her perfect delivery of Croft’s snarky no nonsense attitude has yet to be beat, plus who could forget the toe curling screams as Lara plunges to her death because you were 1mm off course (I know some of you killed Lara on purpose, you animals!). This is the Lara we loved, she’d shoot a tiger in the face and make a witty remark, she’d destroy an ancient building and do nothing but pout, she’s just like Judy Dench but instead of Shakespeare there’s mass murder. (Petition for Judy Dench to play/voice an elderly Lara Croft… anyone?)

By today’s standards Tomb raider 2 is rather dated, though it’s level design is still genius, it’s also a victim of its time. The grid based “tank controls” were perfect for what the game was setting out to do, but in the modern era the game just feels clunky and unforgiving. Plus those graphics have not aged well, Lara my have lost her cone-like bosoms from the first game and gained a moving ponytail but she still looked like sexy version of a sleep paralysis demon. And this is why Tomb Raider 2 deserves a remake, not remaster, not a reboot, a remake.

Tomb Raider can learn from it’s past while embracing it’s future. Combat was never Tomb Raider’s strong suit, but finally the developers mostly nailed it with the 2013 reboot onwards – add in the incredible graphical fidelity of these newer games, the smooth platforming but with the level design and pacing mostly intact from the original and we could be onto a winner. Plus there’s the vehicle sections which in the original game handled like a lorry with square wheels, give them a modern control scheme similar to the jeep sections of Uncharted 4 and the varied levels of Tomb Raider 2 could be transformed into a thrilling rick-rollicking action adventure game of the next generation.

The recent Resident Evil 2 remake has shown that a game from the 90’s can be updated for the modern era, not only was that game one of the best remakes of all time, it was one of best games of 2019 – this is a game that was created in 1998 competing and succeeding against games created with a modern audience in mind and yet it remained very faithful to source material. The first Tomb Raider game had a remake in similar vein to Resident Evil in the form of 2007’s Tomb Raider Anniversary. Utilising the control scheme and revamped platforming of Tomb Raider Legend – it was great game marred by the eras reliance on QTE’s and the aforementioned auto-aim combat. Still fun and certainly more accessible than the the 24 year old original, but when you defeat a T-Rex by making it run into a wall like Wile E Coyote you start to realise 2007 game design had some issues.

Square Enix’s unwillingness to make a proper remake of the game has prompted fans to take it into their own hands, with fan Nicobass remaking the game in Unreal Engine 4 using the controls from the Tomb Raider Legend era of games. It’s fantastic that a fan has created such excellent work, but it’s difficult not to imagine what a big budget remake could look like. The rebooted Tomb Raiders while great in their own right have faced a lot of criticism mostly their drab and melodramatic tone, a humourless Lara Croft and samey structure. Sometimes publishers and developers need to look at what made the games special in the first place and the best place to start is with fan-favourite Tomb Raider 2.

Square Enix, Crystal Dynamics, Edios Montreal if you’re reading this, you probably need to find better things to do with your time…. but anyway I beg of you please remake Tomb Raider 2, the fans want it, Angelina Jolie wants it, Karen from finance wants it, even Jesus wants it! Now don’t you think you’ve seen enough. If you want to see my Top 10 Tomb Raider games go to https://draggedgaming.com/2020/07/10/top-10-tomb-raider-games/

By Jay Johnson

Originally posted on metro game central

HOW XCLOUD COULD REVOLUTIONISE MOBILE GAMING

Console and high-end PC gaming will always have its place in the gaming pantheon, but there was a time towards the end of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation when analysts believed mobile gaming might completely eclipse console gaming. That obviously did not happen, and AAA gaming is as strong as ever, but that hasn’t stopped the growth of mobile gaming. Games like Candy Crush and Angry birds have been cultural phenomenon’s spawning films and various other types of lucrative media and merchandise. Console games like Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds have found a home in the mobile space too with both games now ported to Android and iOS, they have been huge successes even allowing cross-play with console and PC. But the AAA console experience hasn’t quite translated over into the mobile just yet, despite fairly capable mobile hardware and attempts from free-to-play games to blur the lines we’re yet see any real strides from major publishers, until now.

Netflix has revolutionised how we consume media and every entertainment medium would like a slice of that pie, game streaming might be in its infancy but it’s also becoming more viable with widespread 4G connectivity and easily accessible high-speed broadband. Google’s Stadia has stumbled out the gate with a small selection of games and a bizarre pricing structure, but Microsoft’s game streaming service XCloud looks like it could be the service to bring game streaming to a mainstream audience.

XCloud is a unique proposition, positioning itself as the true “Netflix of gaming” with Microsoft first party content releasing day one on the service with no extra costs incurred. With AAA games like Halo Infinite and Gears 5 playable on the service along with a huge variety of 3rd party games from studios big and small all for a low monthly cost. Removing the barrier of entry of a £400+ console, is a genius play by Microsoft meaning at last mobile gamers can play console games with an ease they’ve never had.

What elevates the service beyond the others is it allows for multiple control schemes with touch screen controls, as well as 3rd and 1st party controllers and a rumour of a “Switch style” add on for ultimate portability. XCloud is currently in its infancy and is still in BETA with a full release date rumoured for September. Despite this it still works rather well, its main drawbacks being slowdown, buffering and input lag, the latter of which can be especially frustrating when playing faster paced games. But for the most part XCloud is the first service to truly bring the console experience to a mobile phone, and it will only get better.

None of this would matter without the games, which is another area Goggle’s Stadia has struggled. The line-up on Gamepass is incredibly healthy and the upcoming slate coming from Xbox first party looking extraordinarily strong. XCloud could usher in a new era of mobile gaming – with games having near parity with high powered consoles, it’s an exciting time that’s for sure. Whether mobile gamers will embrace this new way to play remains to be seen, but with console gaming about to become the most accessible it has ever been, maybe a mobile gaming revolution is on the (Forza) horizon.

A HISTORY OF LGBT+ CHARACTERS IN VIDEOGAMES

EVERYBODIES GONE GAY!

The landscape for LGBT characters in the media has exploded in recent years and the representation of diverse and realistic gay characters has come a long way. TV has always been ahead of the curve from Mikey and Ian in Shameless to Lavern Cox’s trans character in Orange is The New Black, the stories have been varied and interesting, and with the recent popularity of Rupaul’s Drag Race, it’s almost as if the gays are taking over your screens and lets face it things are far more fabulous that way.

But the gaming landscape has been slow to pick up on the hype – both PlayStation and Xbox put out social media posts in support of Pride last month, to the dismay of the more backwards right winged gamers. But even with both platforms outward support of the community, there has been surprisingly few LGBT characters in videogames. Sam Greer of Gamesradar found that in 2018 there were only 8 playable LGBT characters in videogames, where the characters were pre-written as a queer instead of a character creator. So I’m looking back over some of the more popular characters that represent the rainbow flag and how we may be going into a golden age of LGBT storytelling.

THE JAPANESE AND THE 80’S  

The 1980’s was a strained time for gay relations and the general public, an era with the rise of AIDS and very little support from those in power, general LGBT representation was low across all mediums and was often demonised especially in the USA and UK. One of the earliest examples of representation came from Nintendo and Super Smash Brothers 2 where the character of “Birdo” was described as “a male who thinks he is a girl”, it’s not the most politically correct terminology, but for 1988 it was a pretty bold choice. Japanese developers were really the only ones who were willing to represent the community – with various examples of side characters being gay. Pretty much any western characters at the time were treated with ridicule or jokes and more often than not were censored, with their “gay tendencies” being taken out. An example being Phantasy Star’s USA and UK version of Usvestia saying male characters “look smart” instead of “look cute” as in the Japanese version. Another 1994’s Streets of Rage 3 had mob boss named Ash who was portrayed with tight clothes and ‘effeminate’ movements but he was still censored in many western versions of the game.

GAY FOR PLAY

Role playing games have been the best place for representation with Bioware’s Jade Empire and Lionhead’s Fable were some of the first western games to allow the playable character to engage in homosexual activities – Fable even allowed gay marriage in its world before the UK or USA did. As the world was starting to turn in favour of the LGBT community so too did game developers – but as games were still portraying women with oversized proportions, appealing to a predominantly heterosexual male audience, the characters were still underdeveloped and rarely playable. Major Japanese publisher From Software had openly gay character Makoto in the 2006 Xbox 360 RPG Enchanted Arms – Makoto openly admits his love for a fellow male character and though he is portrayed as a stereotypical camp man, he is a leading character with a major influence on the games story and playable in combat sections later in the game.

Rockstar surprisingly haven’t shied away from featuring LGBT+ characters in their games both Bully and Grand Theft Auto have featured them, The Ballad of Gay Tony from GTA 4 being the most famous example. Playable character Trevor in GTA 5 is presented but not confirmed as being pansexual, though not necessarily a positive representation of the community, to have a multi-layered character feature in one of the biggest games of all time is a big deal.

GAYME OVER

Huge strides have been made in recent years, Mortal Combat featured their first gay playable character with Kung Jin, nephew of Kung Lao. The Life is Strange’s Chloe Price is a deep and flawed character, whose mental health problems will resonate with many LGBT youths as she struggles with her sexuality and her place in the world. Obsidian Entertainments The Outer Worlds gave us the delights of Parvati; a sweet, caring and shy young woman but also a capable mechanic and fantastic friend, she quickly became the most popular character in the game. Even more impressive was her relationship with Junlei and the difficulties they face with their physical relationship, something rarely explored in any kinds of narrative and depicted with the utmost respect.   

Naughty Dog have been pioneers of storytelling in the videogame medium and with The Last of Us Part 2 we go on a journey with lesbian character Ellie. What makes this game so special is Ellie’s sexuality is never exploited, it’s also not shied away from either. We see her as a powerful woman with a lust for revenge, as a mother navigating a broken world and as a human coming to terms with her grief. It is an excellent character study from Naughty Dog, it will hopefully lead the way with more playable gay characters in future AAA games. Things are progressing slowly and some vocal minorities would like to see LGBT characters erased. It doesn’t seem to have affected game sales with both The Outer Worlds and The Last of Us Part 2 selling well – so it looks like going ‘Woke’ doesn’t lead to going ‘broke’ after all. Dontnod’s upcoming Tell Me Why will feature the first prominent playable trans character in a videogame, which will hopefully tell a unique story with different point of view – it’s a bold move and one that will be scrutinised by those on both the political left and right for different reasons, it’s a balancing act for any game studio willing to take on the challenge. To see my list of Top 10 LGBT characters in Videogames go to https://draggedgaming.com/2020/07/09/top-10-lgbt-characters-in-videogames/

By Jay Johnson or Ladonna The Drag Queen

Originall published here https://metro.co.uk/2020/07/18/history-lgbt-characters-video-games-readers-feature-13005976/

A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE REVIEW

The success of the Assassins Creed franchise has ushered in a plethora of stealth action and horror games, from the brilliant Batman Arkham Games to the terrifying Alien Isolation, each have their own unique take on stealth and how it works. Now even games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider have shoehorned in stealth, often to the detriment of the game itself. The recently released of The Last of Us Part 2 (click here for my review) was a masterclass in refinement of stealth gameplay, but one that still lacked the deep immersion of a gameplay systems which feature in games like Hitman, or smart AI that the Xenomorph possesses in the aforementioned Alien game. For The Last of Us the narrative hooks far outweighed any shortcomings in gameplay. A Plague Tale: Innocence goes for something similar and with a team of around 40 people at Asobo, it’s a valiant effort and well worth your time. Here’s my review for A Plague Tale: Innocence.

STORY

A Plague Tale’s setting of 1348 rural France is certainly unique, following Amicia and her brother Hugo during a time of disease and famine. Early in the game you learn that Amicia and Hugo barely know one another, with her brother suffering from a strange disease that means he’s been isolated his entire life. When the inquisition come looking for the young boy it sets the adventure in motion as Amicia is tasked with protecting her brother whilst trying to find an alchemist to help with Hugo’s condition.

It’s an intriguing premise for a AAA game to have two children as it’s protagonists and their relationship is definitely the most interesting aspect. Hugo and Amicia build a bond over the course of the narrative going from annoyance and lack of trust to sharing a traumatic experience that binds them forever. Amicia’s protectiveness over her little brother is believable and will certainly resonate with other gamers with annoying younger siblings. Other teenage characters join the story as the game progresses, which ties into the stories theme of innocence brilliantly – all of them are likeable and mostly well developed. The game gives of a historic Stand By Me vibe in some ways, with these kids learning what their capable of and having to grow up quickly well before their time.

The Plague aspect of the game features heavily throughout with towns and villages ravaged by rats and disease – it’s a brilliant re-imagining of real life history and something I’ve not seen done like this in a videogame. It’s a bit of a shame that the last third of the game does away with the realistic approach and decides to go on a supernatural route – it doesn’t make the narrative fall a part but it does make the game go from an intriguing real world drama that uses alchemy for the games mechanics to a cheesy wannabe blockbuster complete with a truly terrible villain whose motives are completely ridiculous. It’s a massive missed opportunity with the setting, time period and characters there could have been a real moral quandary at play with the antagonist that could have tested characters resolve and their newly formed bond, instead it does what a typical videogame narrative does.

GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS

As mentioned A Plague Tale is a story driven stealth game and it does an OK job of maintaining an interesting gameplay loop through its 15 hour campaign. It’s a perfectly passable stealth game, where hiding and learning enemy routes is important for succeeding in each section. Amicia is initially only armed with a rock sling shot, it’s slow to load but packs a satisfying punch as you head shot enemies – her arsenal increases over the course of the game, but only the sling shot provides the player with an aggressive approach to combat, everything else helps you turn the tide using your environment. The rats are a huge aspect of the game and are brilliantly rendered, 100’s of the critters can populate the screen at a time – it’s skin crawling and the feeling never subsides. The rats are scared of light, which provides the game with its biggest mechanic, extinguishing lights and breaking lanterns so the rats will feast on your enemies is a seriously twisted and gratifying way to dispense of them.

The rats provide clever but pretty easy puzzle solving as well, it breaks up the monotony of constant combat but barring one genius moment at the mid-way point involving clearing the rats out of a castle, it’s a real shame this wasn’t a bigger focus as it was the most memorable aspect of the game and it’s largely ignored in the latter half of the game.

Combat doesn’t quite hold up through in the latter parts of the game, enemy AI is incredibly poor, with communication between them almost non-existent barring scripted moments. Enemies will completely ignore your presence where I could run up behind them with no one noticing and then another enemy will immediately see you from miles away. Amicia controls is mostly smoothly, but her speed varies and once fully seen by groups of enemies it’s pretty much a death sentence, turning the tide is next to impossible, especially in the late game with archers shooting at you from out of range of your sling. Talking an aggressive approach also means Amicia will automatically stand out of cover and is venerable to being seen, this started to cause a lot of irritation as it meant experimenting with different tactics was pretty much impossible – her sling is also slow and sometimes annoyingly inaccurate, using an auto-lock on that would slip from target for no reason, resulting in my death – it started to try my patience as I had to redo stealth sections that weren’t that fun the first time.

Graphically the game is really beautiful, scenery is dark and dank which is perfect for a place ridden with disease and plague. France is rendered very realistically, with stunning lighting. Sunrays shine through the tree tops casting realistic shadows, clothing fabric and environmental textures look true to life – it’s an incredible achievement for a game with a team this small. Character faces are less favourable with a serious case of uncanny valley, lip-synching is OK but once again isn’t quite up to the standard of say Hellblade. It’s a shame as the character voice work is mostly excellent, with believable performances all round. The games score is a fantastic, setting the mood with haunting strings that are perfectly in keeping with the games setting.

CONCLUSION

A Plague Tale: Innocence is manages to combine a tantalising narrative with unique stealth gameplay that proves satisfying and thrilling in the first two thirds of the game. Dumb AI, slow restrained combat and a narrative that falls a part by the end sadly hold the game back from true greatness. It’s still worth your time though especially while the game is available on Xbox Gamepass. If there is a sequel to the game (and I hope there is) I could see it being a proper alternative to The Last Of Us, the characters and mechanical foundations are there, but expanding and broadening all this with a better narrative could make for an exceptional sequel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Pros

  • Generally great characters which are well voice acted
  • The rats!
  • Fantastic setting with beautiful graphics
  • A great puzzle at the mid point of the game
  • Great music and atmosphere
  • Realistically portrayed sibling relationship

Cons

  • Narrative takes a silly supernatural turn
  • Long loading times
  • Poor and uneven enemy AI
  • Close quarters combat is messy and inaccurate
  • Poor villain

OBSERVATION REVIEW

Games have the power to transport to worlds better than any other entertainment medium, they can make you experience things you don’t want to do – they can make you see through the eyes of a person you love and they force you see things you didn’t want to see. That’s the power of videogames, but so developers even attempt narrative like this and will often go down the well worn path of a typical heroes journey with characters that have very little emotional impact. But every so often a game will come along and challenge the film industry and the game industry in tandem making us evaluate what you can do with videogame narratives. Hellblade did it, The Last of Us did it and Observation does it too.

STORY

Observation is a short game, clocking in at around 4 hours and it’s better for it, the narrative is tight and well paced – it never outstays its welcome. Taking heavy inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the plot centres around a crew working on the titular space station Observation as it orbits earth in the year 2026, an unknown event damages the space station and causes it to spin out of control meaning the crew loses contact with each other and earth. It’s here we are introduced to Doctor Emma Fisher and her AI assistant SAM (Systems Administrations and Maintenance).

As the story progresses we learn what truly happened in the accident, weaving an intriguing plot incorporating time travel, extra-terrestrials and the dangers of what advanced artificial intelligence could mean. It’s a thrilling and original sci-fi plot, one with touches of horror. Observation is a thriller in every sense of the word, slowly building to an electrifying and unexpecting conclusion.

The characters are all very well acted, Emma Fisher in particular conveys fear and uncertainty with convincing realism and voicework pf Sam is perfectly unnerving and robotic. The acting is supported by a well written script that avoids the pratfalls of other sci-fi videogames and manages to weave exposition into the narrative without feeling like an information dump.

GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS

Observation is a indie game but it just about manages to keep up with a lot of it’s AAA counterparts when it comes to graphical fidelity. The space station is beautifully detailed, with the lighting in particular giving the game world a creepy and foreboding atmosphere that keeps pace with the narrative directions of the story. Character models are a big disappointment though, feeling stiff and emotionless with a bad case of uncanny valley in their eyes. It’s a shame as the rest of the game is so well rendered that this one aspect sticks out like a sore thumb and can’t keep up with the excellent performances of the cast. Occasionally characters would clip through scenery too, which just adds “Indie game” feel the game has. The art design is superb and floating over Saturn is incredibly exciting, as you move towards its beautifully rendered hexagon polar storm providing an eye catching feature for the back drop of space walks elements of the game.

The gameplay was the biggest surprise to me, as I was expecting a typical first person walking simulator which couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a puzzle game where you take on the role of the AI programme SAM, from a gameplay stand point and narrative one it’s a perfect way to tell this story. SAM’s is integral to the mystery of the game and your actions have an adverse effect on the characters you encounter, it’s incredibly well thought out and I’ve never played a game quite like it. The moment to moment gameplay is different sets of minigames, from switching on back up power generators, to trapping an enemy in a room with different pattern locks and controlling various CCTV cameras to help characters get into blocked rooms. It’s a gameplay loop I thought I would grow tired of, but the different systems and smart level design meant it rarely outstays its welcome – offering challenges that never get too frustrating but provide a proper sense of achievement when you finally crack them. Some parts of the game task the player with having a fully mobile sentry, whereby you can free roam in first person perspective, this is the main aspect of the game I truly hated, whilst exploration of this beautifully designed world was welcome the controls are absolutely awful, meaning you’ll spend more time hitting into walls than you will solving puzzles.

Music and sound is handled very well, with the vacuum of space convincingly portrayed, alarms and noises inside the space station helping to generate the thrills as the story begins to unfurl. The score adds the perfect amount of tension to scenes and knows when to ramp up and pull back. All in all this is a very well directed game.

CONCLUSION

Observation is a perfectly paced, beautifully realised, story driven puzzle game that manages to create a lasting impression even in its short run time. An intriguing story with immersive gameplay make it a must-play for fans of twisted sci-fi stories and unique puzzles. If you have Xbox Gamepass I would highly recommend giving it a go.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • Excellent script and intriguing story
  • Well realised environmental design
  • Accessible but challenging gameplay
  • Great performances from the entire cast
  • Well paced and perfect length

Cons

  • Poor character models that can’t keep up with the actors
  • Awful and frustrating first person controls
  • Useless map and navigation when in first person perspective

THE OLD GUARD REVIEW

Comic book films are two a penny these days – Marvel and DC have carved out their own universes, with the former creating an intertwined and grand narrative unmatched in the film making, while DC have changed tactics by releasing individual unique experiences to varying degrees of success. With these two juggernauts dominating the conversation to such a degree that sometimes other comic book adaptations can get lost in the noise. The Old Guard comes somewhat from left field, it’s a violent mid-budget comic book film adapted from source material barely anyone has heard of and released immediately to stream on Netflix.

The Old Guard immediately grabs the views attention with its striking and exciting opening fight sequence, it’s far better than the typical action movie fayre, this sequence gives the viewer immediate character development and introduces us to what makes this film unique. We meet Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) as they attempt to save a group children being held hostage in a military camp, but the kids they are trying to save turn out to be a group of mercenaries whose purpose is to reveal their secret – we learn in this first sequence that our protagonists are immortal with their gun shot wounds immediately healing Wolverine style, their centuries long lives as warriors mean they’re skills in battle are unmatched – they can dispense of their enemies easily. The frenetic action is well shot, director Gina Prince-Bythewood in her first action film has great skill with capturing the crunch of a punch or the fluid movements of a dodge.

This opening sequence sets the story in motion as some evil conglomerate tries to exploit these powers for evil deeds, but in the guise of helping others – it’s here we enter mundane and well trodden territory of comic book films and the villain played by Harry Melling is unconvincing and silly, when he should be menacing and complex, he comes across like villain from a different film, all he would need to be a more obviously sign posted “bad guy” is a moustache to twirl. We also encounter a new member in the immortal fold Nile (KiKi Layne), a US marine serving in Afghanistan – whose introduction enables the audience to experience the much needed back story for the heroes and enables the script to delve deeper into the moral quandaries of morality and immortality. Charlize Theron is the stand-out of the film, her performance as a 7th century warrior whose devotion to her adopted family is poignant, you can see the pain in her eyes from the ones she’s lost over the the years – it’s the multi-layered performance you’d expect from an actress of her calibre, Theron would be forgiven for phoning it in here, she doesn’t and she holds the film together even when it threatens to fall a part. Supporting characters do a mostly admirable job, Kiki Layne proves convincing as a hard as nails marine, whose morality is tested after killing someone for the first time – the script sadly doesn’t quite explore this as well as it could, but it’s a decent effort none-the-less.

The Old Guard’s surprise is the gay relationship between Joe and Nikki, it’s a sad moment when it takes till 2020 for Hollywood to feature completely out gay characters, that even share a kiss – but at the same time the characters are handled excellently and major props to the creators for the representation and how well the characters are handled. These are side-characters whose relationship is treated with as much respect as any romance from a comic book film – it’s satisfying.

The film feels ever so slightly too long and occasionally exhibits moments where the lower budget becomes more obvious. Some of the sets can feel empty, especially in final showdown where they feel cheaply put together. The music choices are… interesting, a forgettable score is made worse by the inclusion of modern pop and hip hop that feel incredibly out of place. It’s a shame as there are plenty of opportunities for the music to heighten both the action and the drama, instead I found the music made me raise my eyebrows with how out of synch it was with the film.

CONCLUSION

The Old Guard is a brilliantly directed action film, with fantastic LGBT representation and a stunning performance from Charlize Theron rarely seen in comic book adaptations. Despite a by-the-numbers plot, the unique protagonists and interesting fight sequences keep the film engaging. The biggest issue I had with the film was the horrendous music choices that come out of no-where and don’t fit the film at all. I would love to see where a sequel will take the franchise and I hope with the films streaming success we get to see one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Pros

  • Excellent action sequences
  • Incredible performance from Charlize Theron
  • Fantastic LGBT representation
  • Mostly adept character work
  • Interesting mythology

Cons

  • Awful music choices
  • Been there done that plot
  • Cheesy villain
  • Missed opportunity with exploration of morality and mortality