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Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

***This review may contain spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming***

The superhero genre is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance era. Franchise after franchise is being rebooted, remade and re-released for the viewing pleasure of the masses. It’s for this reason that a good Spider-Man remake was long overdue. Step in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This is the third time now that the Spider-Man story has been covered on the big screen, after two sagas which failed to deliver for fans. Traditionally, Spider-Man films have been corny, cheesy and all manners of bad.

It is perhaps for that reason then, that Homecoming distances itself from some of the tropes of the first two sets of the films. Homecoming does its best to ignore or barely touch upon various elements of Spider-Man’s backstory such as Uncle Ben’s death or the radioactive spider. It’s a refreshing change which makes the viewer relate better to the film without having to suffer the same old story.

Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-Man is phenomenal. He perfectly encapsulates the naive, angsty teenager whose intentions are often better than his actions. This, coupled with that all-so-familiar youthful struggle of trying to be bigger and better than you are, lends itself to some excellent character development. How he interacts with Tony Stark and his assistant, Happy, does a lot to flesh out that naivety and Holland captures it very well. His relationship with his best friend, Ned, a chubby and charming sidekick, is hilarious and heartwarming and is a real highlight of the film.

The film ranges from silly to serious, from sinister to light-hearted. In previous films, there has been a tendency to stray from grittiness and darkness. Homecoming does not shy away. There are real moments of sinister behaviour, in part helped by the performance of Michael Keaton as Vulture – who does a fantastic job of playing off Peter Parker’s youthful ignorance. The director has done an excellent job of striking a balance between the classic sarcastic banter of the franchise and a more serious underlying tone. Jokes are plentiful and funny, but that doesn’t stop the film from being serious as and when it needs to be.

One of the main problems with the film is that the aforementioned Vulture’s backstory leaves a lot to be desired. The opening scene in the film does some work to explain it, then the narrative skips eight years and he’s a fully established villain with little to no details as to how he got there. It is a minor gripe but a gripe nonetheless. It cannot compare to the origin story of someone like The Green Goblin, for example. There’s almost nothing learned about him. Nonetheless, Keaton excels in the role and manages to leave the audience hating him and fearing him in equal measure. The scale of his villainy is never in question. He doesn’t feel cheap, but still maintains his flaws. It’s a shame there isn’t more to it and the movie focuses far more on Spider-Man’s inner struggle than the enemy he’s trying to stop.

Homecoming is an example of a franchise reboot done correctly. From beginning to end, it’s an enthralling film which will leave everyone, fans or not, satisfied when the credits roll. It sets an excellent foundation for future explorations into the story, and in the post-credits scene there are strong hints of a sequel (which most will know is not uncommon in Marvel films). If there is a lesson to be learned from this instalment in the previously underwhelming Spider-Man series, it’s that superhero films are far from dead and Spidey will have an important role to play.

 

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Tekken 7: Fighting Games and ‘Finishers’

The Tekken Franchise has been at the forefront of fighting games since as early as 1994. Combo-based, fast-paced combat has been a staple of the genre since its first inception, and this edition doesn’t break from the mould too much. Tekken 7 is, at its best, an intricate and satisfying game and at its worst, a clunky and overly casual mess.

Most of the game will seem familiar to those who have played a Tekken game before. The roster is largely the same, despite a change in costume for most (especially Yoshimitsu, who has now become more octopus than anything else). The move sets, as could be predicted, are either the same or very similar for most of the characters. You can easily pick up your favourites and play them from the offset without issue. Combos work the same. Timing your hits in order to maximise damage and manage your opponents’ mobility still works the same. You still have the same controls and the game has the same feel to it.

So, what HAS changed?

Well, obviously, there’s a new story to follow. Without wanting to spoil anything, I can say that it left me pretty disappointed. My experience was limited, having only played through it once as Jin, but in that time it felt more like an interactive B-movie than a narrative with depth and direction. Cut-scenes are drawn out for as long as possible, which is made infinitely worse by their lack of quality and by the simplicity of beating the AI in a matter of seconds in the rounds before and after them. It’s difficult to become immersed in the plot and it often feels rushed and devoid of real direction.

Further to that, in disappointing news, there are now ‘finishers’ in the game. If you are being dominated by your opponent, you build up a hidden ‘rage’ meter. Maxing this out allows you to activate a ‘rage’ move which decimates a large portion of your enemy’s health. While not necessarily the same as a ‘fatality’ in the Mortal Kombat series, there are comparisons to be drawn in that they are visually spectacular and on many occasions, brutal. For those of us who enjoy Tekken’s traditionally straight-talking, no-nonsense approach to beat-em-ups, having such an option seems rather cheap. While it is understandable that getting juggled and destroyed without recourse is not enjoyable, pressing one button that turns the fight in your favour out of nothing is disappointing and a little underwhelming. Of course, there are ways to block or avoid these new moves. To a seasoned veteran, there will be little to no adjustment periods. However if like me, you and a few friends like to play fighting games casually, you may find this new addition to be unfair and somewhat irritating. It has the capacity to rob the game of truly exciting moments, when you’re one or two hits away from claiming victory, only to be rolled over at the push of a single button. It will leave you either elated or furious on many occasions and it seems alien to a Tekken game.

Tekken 7, however, is STILL Tekken. The wealth of characters is still present and the combat continues to be exhilarating. The winning formula is largely unchanged other than the ‘rage’ blip and it is still an undeniably fun way to kill a few hours either alone, online or with friends. The matches are quick and will raise your heart rate, especially when your opponent’s ‘rage’ meter is full and you need to try to bait them into wasting it. The quirky customisation system has been improved upon and you will find yourself scrimping on your in-game currency to buy the goofiest outfits for your favourite characters. A personal highlight is the Jenga stack you can place on your character’s head.

Tekken 7 is what it is. Is it better than Tekken Tag Tournament 2? Probably not, but it is still a satisfying game which will appeal to a wide audience even if it does use a few cheap tactic to get there.

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Overwatch: Orisa Goes LIVE! Thoughts and Opinions

Yesterday (21st of March), the 24th character to join the Overwatch roster was made live. She’s the third new character to be added to the game since launch. She’s a large, omnic quadraped armed with a gatling gun and a robotic Nigerian accent, which is as amazing as it sounds. She champions justice and protecting the public, giving off serious RoboCop vibes. She was built by eleven-year-old Efi Oladele, as an almost immediate response to an attack on Numbani by Doomfist (who we’re bound to see introduced to the game soon). She plays the tank role and comes equipped with 200 health, 200 armour. That’s the lowest of the tanks, and on par with Zarya. Zarya’s shields DO regenerate, however, meaning Orisa has lower survivability than her counterparts.

I spend most of my time playing tanks or supports on Overwatch, and so I was excited to get to grips with this new character. These are my thoughts on how she plays:

Pros:

Her kit borrows from the kits of other heroes, and so is quite easy to get used to. Her E ability is a deploy-able barrier with 900 health, not unlike Reinhardt’s shield. Her shift ability fortifies her and protects her from crowd control abilities such as Pharah’s concussive blast, or Lucio’s “boop”, among others. Her right-click is a mini-graviton surge which pulls enemies together and groups them up. Her ultimate, a “supercharger”, is dropped into the heat of battle to power up the damage output of her nearby allies. The damage increase is seemingly comparable to Mercy’s. Overall, her kit makes few unique strides in terms of gameplay changes, but is also incredibly useful to have in one character.

Her gun is a joy to use. It has a clip of 150, and fires from three barrels, making it feel like a death machine when used appropriately. Not only that, but I couldn’t help smiling with glee at the sound the gun makes. It’s a joy to listen to it while you mow your enemies down. The damage output isn’t ridiculously high, but you can still leave a noticeable mark on your opponents.

Her ultimate is probably the best thing about her. If you place it strategically, it can provide an insane amount of support to your team-mates, and can shift the tide of battles in your favour. The only downside is that it can be destroyed easier than Symmetra’s ultimates, so you’ll have be careful where you place it. I find myself thinking back to the last game I played as Orisa. We had a Bastion on top of the payload, being boosted by the supercharger AND a nano boost from Ana. The results were predictably chaotic and joyful.

Cons:

She has very low mobility, and no abilities to counteract that. If you’re going to play Orisa, you have to be absolutely certain to put yourself in positions where you’ll have an escape route, or you’ll find yourself dead more often than not.

Her health isn’t very high for a tank. She can easily be targeted and taken out by some offensive characters, and has no healing properties of her own. It is paramount to her survival to make good use of her barrier and to stay with team-mates. You cannot solo-tank as Orisa. It is not an option.

Her head is an easy target. I found that characters such as Reaper or Tracer were really enjoying getting in behind me, and picking me off before I could even think about trying to get away. Flankers will rejoice at this news.

Fortify is incredibly difficult to time properly. I have only used it successfully a handful of times at this stage.

Conclusion:

Above all, Orisa is fun to play, but she is not without her weaknesses. I find that without adequate protection from others, she struggles to survive. She cannot easily disengage from a combat scenario, so to use her properly, you need to stay as a group.

Her kit is incredibly useful and enjoyable to use, and she definitely has a place in the meta. To me, however, she seems like a complementary character. Her place is beside other tanks, rather than as a tank on her own. It feels like she could have been put in the support category just as easily.

In any case, I’m enjoying my time with her so far and I can’t wait to see how she’s used when she’s finally enabled in competitive play. She’s certain to shake up the meta for better or for worse.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Mass Effect Andromeda: First Impressions

The original Mass Effect trilogy was a grand space opera, brimming with interesting characters, engaging quest lines and unrivalled character development. It gave players the opportunity to carve their own narrative over the course of hundreds of hours of enthralling game play which improved with each new instalment.

It’s for these reasons, then, that the announcement of Andromeda was met with high levels of expectation and hope. It’s also for these reasons, however, that many people might be left disappointed.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the idea behind it, I stumped up the £4 subscription fee to EA’s early access service in order to play the ‘trial’ version of the game. At the time of writing, I’ve played just over four hours.

I wanted to personalise my experience and as such, I was incredibly excited to make use of the character creator in the perhaps vain hope that it

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You can make your character look like a clown with ease, but you’ll struggle to make them look realistic.

would be an improvement on the last Mass Effect. What I got, instead, was a barely serviceable tool that feels like it was added in as an afterthought. It both looks and feels like a step backwards. I decided to try and create a custom male Ryder character because the default female character looks like she was handmade out of clay by an infant, and I didn’t think I was up to the task of salvaging her. My attempts to make something semi-decent were thwarted by a severe lack of options and a clunky interface. I ended up reverting back to the default male Ryder and moving on.

 

Story-wise, what I’ve gathered in the very limited amount of time that I’ve spent playing the actual game is that Andromeda definitely has potential. From the offset, the player is met with that sense of grandeur and danger that is so familiar to the series. The task at hand is gargantuan. You play as either Scott or Sara Ryder, the son/daughter of ‘The Pathfinder’ – Alec Ryder. Your role is to find a new home world for humanity in the Andromeda galaxy. The opening sequences are exciting and captivating as you are made aware of the challenge ahead, and it definitely feels like you’re about to go on a great adventure.

These opening sequences and later cut-scenes, however, are frequently undermined by shoddy animation and sub-par writing. I found myself regularly failing to understand what had been said in a conversation because I was transfixed by how bad some of the facial animations are. It’s particularly noticeable in human characters. As mentioned previously, they often look like they’re made out of clay. Eyes look like they’re trying to escape from their sockets. Eyelashes look glued to the face. Some of the characters walk as if they’ve made a mess in their underwear. There are a few moments where I was convinced Alec Ryder was trying to talk with a mouth full of coins. I don’t believe it’s bad enough to completely break the game, but it’s immersion-breaking and if, like me, you play RPGs to immerse yourself in another world, you’ll find yourself struggling.

One of the redeemable qualities of the game is the combat. The original trilogy was a transition over time from a pure RPG to an action game with RPG elements, and Andromeda has made further strides towards getting the balance right. Engaging the enemy gives you an opportunity to make use of a very wide range of abilities and weapons, and you can gradually build your version of Ryder to fight in the way that you want. It seems fleshed out and tactical, and enemies adapt appropriately. I was playing on the second highest difficulty and had to make sure to approach battles with care or I’d find myself dead pretty quickly. The Kett, the main ‘antagonists’, are a worthy adversary and it’s not a case of ‘good vs. evil’ but rather a power struggle which is packed with moral grey areas. Their approach to combat is challenging and it keeps you on your toes. Outside of combat, you have access to a plethora of upgrades and a wide range of weapons to keep your experience fresh.

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The Ryder twins have a big job on their hands if they’re ever going to live up to the late, great Commander Shepard. From what I’ve gathered so far, whomever you may choose is vastly different to our hero from the original trilogy. I’ve been playing as Scott. He’s younger, more naive and less prepared than Shepard was, and as such, is quite endearing. He’s not the typical space cowboy that you might expect, and so far he’s had plenty of redeemable moments. As it stands, I don’t know if he’ll be as memorable as Shepard, but there’s a lot to like about him. The only criticism that I do have about the new approach to the protagonists is that they seem to be much less flexible. Instead of Paragon/Neutral/Renegade dialogue options, you can now respond with different styles of conversation including ’emotional’, ‘logical’ or even ‘professional’. While that sounds like it’s a big improvement, at the moment it seems to me like multiple paths to the same destination. It doesn’t seem like it matters what you say, it always comes around to the same conclusion. Again, I’ve only played four hours, so can’t be certain if this is true, but there are worrying signs. You may have to do some of your own role-playing in your head to see some proper character development, and I’m not totally prepared to do that. The game seems to have taken some lessons from Fallout 4’s dialogue system, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Furthermore, you seem unable to be as ruthless as you could be in the previous games. Whether that’s an oversight or a deliberate choice, I find it sad that I won’t be able to punch any reporters in the face.

Four hours is never enough time to judge an entire game, but from what I’ve seen so far, Mass Effect: Andromeda has the potential to be a fun experience, but it’s somewhat held back by graphical errors and glitches, and poor writing. It remains to be seen whether or not it will live up to the hype of its predecessors, but from what I can tell, it will at the very least be an enjoyable game, but not one of the greats.

 

 

 

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First blog post

Hello everyone.

This is a blog set up with the goal of providing a down-to-earth, casual view on all things entertainment. Video games will be the focus, but other forms of media will occasionally creep in.

If you’re sick of mainstream reviews and are jaded by the current state of journalism, this is a place where you can come for a no-nonsense, straightforward review of popular (and at times unpopular) new and old releases.

Good luck, have fun,

Jonnie.

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds: Early Access Review

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds is an epic 100 person struggle between aggressive enemy hunting and careful self-preservation. Each match begins with you and up to 99 other players in an aircraft headed for the huge map on which the battle royale takes place. Once your boots are on the ground, you will be warned that the ‘play area’ will soon restrict itself. Where on the map it will restrict itself to is randomised. You have a limited amount of time to make it to that play area before the map starts to close in around you, damaging you if you’re caught outside. This leads to frantic vehicle-based cross-country journeys, nasty close encounters and early scrambles to find suitable weapons with which to defend yourself.

Battlegrounds is currently in its early access stage, which means that there are a few graphical hiccups (such as the annoying glitch which didn’t load building textures and wouldn’t let me into houses) and gameplay issues that will need to be addressed further into development. However, it is still at its core a very enjoyable experience. You will find that it’s fairly difficult to predict what will happen in each match. You have a plethora of options and plenty of decisions to make from the outset. Whether you choose to jump from the plane early or late, whether you approach towns or stay on outskirts, whether you engage an enemy or not. It is all entirely up to you and it can bring on a variety of different outcomes. If you play too safe, you may not be as well equipped for the final battles you’re forced to engage in by the continually decreasing circle of play. If you play too aggressively, you’ll die at the hands of someone with a cooler head. There are NO respawns, so there’s a real need to manage the situation.

The sense of unpredictability is a good thing overall, but there are times when you find yourself running for what feels like forever, only to arrive within a safe zone just to be gunned down. You’ll suffer from a lot of frustration if you’re unlucky, but that’s probably the harshest criticism that can be made in my point of view. If you’re looking for something consistent and fast-paced, then this game is not for you. If you are willing to be patient, the game can be extremely rewarding.

There is a level of customisation to be used. In matches, you can find scopes and various peripherals to attach to your guns in order to maximise their effectiveness. Outside of matches, there are clothing options which are purely cosmetic. To unlock these options, you exchange battle points for crates. Not an uncommon practice for the modern era of video games, admittedly. Of course, there’s an option to use real money to buy the crates, but since the rewards have no bearing on your overall performance in game, then there isn’t much of an ethical issue. It should only be viewed as a way of rewarding the developers for a good game, and the rewards you get from the crates are a small token of appreciation on their part. There’s absolutely no need to purchase them otherwise.

There are three game modes at the moment: solo, duo and squad. Each brings its own set of challenges. Playing in a squad can provide extra cover but you’ll find yourself competing with your team-mates for the best weapons and you may disagree on strategy. Playing alone leaves the decision making up to you but can also mean you struggle to survive. In team games, you get ‘knocked out’ before death, and there’s a chance for revival. In solo mode, if you get downed, you die. It’s worth bouncing from one mode to another in order to keep things fresh.

At this point in time, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds is a suspenseful, thrilling survival game which continually draws the player back in for “just one more match”. The game evokes all sorts of emotions, from the sheer terror of hearing footsteps upstairs in a house, to the unparalleled joy of finding an assault rifle and being further assured that you’ll live that bit longer. It’s a simple concept, which becomes more complicated through strategy and player choice. This game has bags of potential, and at the current cost of £27, it’s worth it. I cannot wait to see what else gets added before full release.

EA Origin Access and The Death of The Demo

Yesterday I wrote a piece about my Mass Effect: Andromeda First Impressions in which I made mention of gaining access to a trial version of the game through EA’s Origin ‘Access’ system. This was my first experience with the service or any service like it.

For those who don’t know about EA Origin Access – it’s a subscription service that offers you access to free copies of old games, ‘trial’ versions of upcoming games, and discounts for existing, recent games. The subscription fee stands at around £4 for a month, or £20 for a year.

Many of you may remember being a child or a young adult and buying a gaming magazine with a bonus insert – usually a disc containing demos to multiple, upcoming, would-be AAA games of their time. They could also be included in cereal boxes, or you could find somewhere online to download a demo on your old-school internet connection. Now, I can’t remember the last time I got to play a demo as an added extra that came with a magazine or from anywhere else. That’s not to say that they categorically don’t exist anymore, and “free” multiplayer betas are prominent. Overall, however, the gaming industry and journalism in general have moved away from magazines and as a result physical, free demos are far less common. EA have seized this opportunity in their development of EOA. 

This raises a semi-moral question – Is EOA justified? Is it fair to charge for trial versions of games when in the past, they’d be accessible for free? Yes, EOA allows gamers to access some other, older games for free, and there are discounts available for other products as well, but as a whole, is it fair?

I am of the opinion that charging for access to demos is an inherently bad thing. Yes, you’ll get a discount on the final game with EOA, but the idea that they’re going to develop a version of the game for demonstration purposes and hold that back from a large number of people who aren’t willing to pay doesn’t sit right with me.

It isn’t EOA that scares me. I actually think that on balance, it’s a decent service. If you use it properly, you may end up saving money, but that’s only if you use it enough and you never run into a game whose full version isn’t appealing enough to you. It’s the precedent that services like EOA sets which worries me more than anything. At what point does it become too much about prying our money from us before a game is even released? Does it not drive a wedge between gamers who are willing and able to pay, and those who aren’t? While EOA doesn’t break the bank, it offers a real-life “pay to win” scheme and as a result, it segregates those who can pay and those who can’t. It makes the playing field unlevel, and the only way to level it again is by shelling out a subscription fee.

The solution for me would be to offer a subscription service which offers discounts and free copies of older games which may have fallen through the cracks, but make the service cheaper and leave demos out of it.

I sincerely hope that the likes of Origin Access aren’t the beginning of something much worse. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in future, developers did away with the subscription service and charged fees per demo. The whole idea seems like an attempt to gauge whether people are okay with paying to play demos, and the more we all buy into it, the more encouraged they’ll become to further divide the user base for monetary gain.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the signs are there. Free demos may be very much a thing of the past, but let’s try to avoid making paid demos a thing of the future. If you ever have the option to pay a one-off fee for the trial version of a game, don’t do it.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.