Games Review Round-Up - 12 October 2014

Continuing on from last week we have even more PC reviews including Alien: Isolation (Alongside the Xbox One version) and Middle-earth: Shadow or Mordor. Finally we have added a "Blast from the Past" review which will cover a different olden day title each week, starting with Trespasser.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Version Reviewed: PC (Xbox One and PS4 available)
Price: $49.99

Every so often a game comes out of nowhere and surprises everyone, this year it seems to have been Middle- earth: Shadow of Mordor.

You play the part of Talion, a wraith-like ranger who has just had his family ritually sacrificed by the Black Hand in an attempt to summon the wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor. Celebrimbor instead ends up merging with Talion, saving him from death. The game is supposed to be set somewhere between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and follows Talion as he heads into Mordor to take his revenge against those who wronged him.

During the game you will come across Sauron, Gollum and many others from the Lord of the Rings lore.

Shadow of Mordor has a similar feel to the Assassin’s Creed games in that it can involve many stealth kills and similar kind of missions, but what sets it apart from many other games is the “Nemesis System” which allows players to fight with various enemies in the game who then remember you and adjust their power and standing depending on their defeat or victory.

It might not sound like much, but it is an excellent system and really makes you feel like you are battling against characters who will remember you as you play through the game. Each enemy also seems to have a different face texture-wise and this makes a huge difference to the game and is something that is missing from many titles which just rehash enemies over and over.

You also have the ability to improve Talion’s stats though the game through skill trees, these abilities range from increased health, faster speed and stun moves to many other more in-depth feats. There is also the option to add runes to your bow or sword which can improve health generation and many other things.

Graphically the company have done an excellent job on the PC version of the game, it looks superb and has many features that other ports from next generation console games haven’t had. Depending on your system, you can have a really great looking game on your hands running at 60fps compared to the console versions locked-in 30fps.

Sound is excellent throughout, with the ever reliable Troy Baker voicing the main character in a completely different voice to his other work. The Gollum voice actor also does a great job too filling Andy Serkis' shoes. Music isn’t bad, though it could do with a little variety as it can repeat itself a little too often.

In the end Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of the most enjoyable games we have played this year, both in terms of gameplay and story. It might have some simple stealth fighting sections and some people may knock it for a lack of variety, but the Nemesis system has won us over and we can’t wait to see where Monolith take it next time.

Overall: 9/10

Alien: Isolation
Versions Reviewed: PC/Xbox One (PS4 available)
Price: $49.99

When Sega sent us a box of Alien: Isolation stuff this week the first thing we did was to get the game installed and patched up. This is a game fans of the Alien series of films have been waiting for, especially after the disappointment of the dire Alien: Colonial Marines game released last year.

Created by The Creative Assembly who are mostly known for their Total War series of games on the PC, Alien: Isolation is a first person survival horror stealth game set 15 years after the evens of Alien.

The game has you playing the part of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley. Amanda is trying to investigate the disappearance of her mother. As expected, nothing was ever likely to go to plan.

The game begins with voice-over work from the original Ripley, Sigourney Weaver and straight away fills you with confidence that Creative Assembly have done everything in their power to appeal to Alien fans.

After a short cutscene you finally get control of Amanda and get used to your fellow crew members and the android you are always likely to be wary of if you have watched any of the films before.

Because the game can last up to 20 hours, we are not doing a full review today, but early impressions are favorable. Graphically the game is very good, matching the look and feel of the early Alien film perfectly.

The only let downs here are the frame rate in some of the in-game cutscenes seem to be lower than 30fps and can jutter and skip although Sega have told us they haven't come across these issues before but it is now clear that it is a widespread issue on all next generation version of the game. The PC version doesn’t have this issue though.

It also has some atrocious lip-syncing on characters both in cutscenes and during the game, some of the worst I have seen in a long time. The good news is that there haven't been any framerate issues during proper gameplay sections, though the character textures can look poor when compared to their cutscene counterparts.

The first sections of the game are slow paced, getting used to environment and story, it is only later on that you will finally get to meet the Alien and start the hide and seek games. This is where the atmospheres ramps up again, the feel of being stalked and wondering what is around each corner might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but it makes you feel as if you are part of the Alien films and that is what everyone wanted.

Without spoiling anything, the alien isn’t the only enemy that you will come across during the game, and although none of them are as scary or visually as menacing as the alien itself they can make you panic a heck of a lot when they detect you.

Voice work is excellent from nearly all of the Alien: Isolation cast members, even from the various bit-part NPC's seen during the game. The original cast also do a decent job in the DLC for the game. The androids in the game rightly have the same voices as each other and are quite eerie and remind us most of the android in Prometheus.

While the game oozes atmosphere from every pore, there are times when it can be very frustrating, especially when you come across some rare dodgy AI which seems to detect you even when you are clearly not on show or making any noise. The game also has poor save system that sees checkpoints too far apart from each other, especially in a game that can see you die at any moment.

As huge fans of the original film, Alien: Isolation does the best job ever of feeling like you are part of that experience. It is scary, looks exactly like the film did and has some good writing. As we have stated, the only let downs are the poor cutscene stuttering, awful lip-syncing and the iffy checkpoint system, but when you get everything else as near perfect to an Alien experience as this, you can forgive those.

Overall: 8/10

Blast from the Past: Trespasser – PC
Release Date: 1998
Review originally written in: 1998

Trespasser based on Jurassic Park, was released 16 years ago way back in 1998. Many people believed that Trespasser would become one of the biggest games that year, saying how the amazing physics engine would become a benchmark in 3D games. Unfortunately, most of the hype failed to become a reality. Here are a number of the so called features that were going to make it into the game.

  • Meet all the Dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park movie
  • Amazing Graphics engine (Didn’t need a 3D card)
  • Use any object in the game as a weapon
  • Great new control via a right arm
  • Open-ended levels
  • Great storyline
  • Most realistic AI in any game

You played Anne (Minnie Driver) who was going out on an expedition somewhere when suddenly, your empty plane (bar the pilot) crashes on Site B. The aim of the game was to get off of Site B as fast as possible and that was pretty much where the storyline ended.

The game begins with a short, poorly looking, introduction sequence with a voice over by Richard Attenborough. Despite the very dated look of the introduction, the music and voice over are great. Next we get the full options screen, we clicked on New Game and the hard drive got into action, the first level (training) took a short time to load.

The first level loaded up and we remember how amazing it looked. You are facing out to sea just after the plane has crashed down, bits of debris are lying around you and rocks and pebbles are slipping off of cliffs nearby and falling into the sea with a great degree of detail. While facing the sea and watching the rocks fall in the water all looks great, at some point you must decide to turn around and start your journey off of Site B.

Despite the good start turning the mouse to the left revealed just what we were going to have to get used to performance wise, our then powerful PII 450 really struggled. The screen jerks at around 10-15 FPS when turning, and this is when there is very little on the screen apart from trees.

A lot was been made about how Trespasser's graphics would be amazing when It came out, screenshots looked amazing and all the talk was that you wouldn't need to have a 3D card to get the most out of it.

Despite this, DreamWorks added 3D card support into the game in an attempt to give the graphics engine a much needed speed boost. All we can say is that the screenshots branded about in a number of magazines and on the DreamWorks website must have been either A: Faked or B: The game must have been playing on some amazing never released PC because the in-game graphics didn’t look anywhere near the shots posted by DreamWorks, What went wrong?

Right, back to the game. As I turned around in Trespasser, the tutorial instructed me to press the W key to walk forwards, I did so and it seemed a pretty slow walk, I looked in the manual and saw that the W key was actually RUN, this left me even more baffled at the speed of movement.

The outdoor terrain mainly consists of trees, shrubs, rocks and sometimes a building or two. You can only see a short distance before everything gets blocky and the trees and foliage end up looking as if they are floating. Whilst playing this first level, I kept thinking that things can only get better, boy was I wrong, I assumed that when I reached the first indoor areas (Level 3 onwards) that the game would speed up, but once inside buildings the game got even slower.

The dinosaurs look fine from a reasonable distance, but once you get up close to them they, as do most things in Trespasser turn blocky. I was rather surprised that the game didn't stall to a halt when I came up against the T-Rex and two Raptors.

I tried a number of things to try and get the speed and detail up. Changing my driver to the Voodoo 2 added speed but the detail was far worse. The so called software driver that DreamWorks used to say would run fine on a P200 looked good but ran like a legless dog.

The sound and music in Trespasser are thankfully a couple of plus points. The sounds are suitably jungle like. Bird squawk, trees and undergrowth make the correct sounds when you walk past them and all the weapons, crates and drums that you pick up during the game are perfectly recreated. Minnie Driver does the voice over for Anne well and the late Richard Attenborough as I mentioned before pops up as Hammond.

An orchestral soundtrack starts up at various points in the game, like when you first meet the T-Rex or notice some ruins in the distance.

The controls and physics side to Trespasser consisted mainly of your right arm and how you can manipulate objects with it.  Any object in your hand can be manipulated in any number of ways: turned, rotated, twisted, swung, and stretched out for miles (a bug). It was very difficult to get used to, especially when trying to place creates or planks up against walls to try and reach a higher building or platform.

There are a number of problems with this control (None that couldn't have been fixed I'm sure). Turn you hand one way and it tends to go the other way, attempt to twist or rotate it and the hand flies off anywhere it likes.

As we mentioned earlier, running seems to feel as if you are walking. Jumping onto crates and anything else you want to during the game is more a case of hit Q and hope. The way you check your health is by looking down at your left boob, while this may be highly amusing to some, it does tend to add a sad factor the more and more you have to look at it.

The amazing AI that had been hyped up around Trespasser is another low point. While some dinosaurs such as the Raptors are quite intelligent and hunt in packs, the T-Rex is just plain dumb, we came up against a number of them during the game and never once died. We even stood by the side of one while it was eating another dinosaur it had just killed, shot him a couple of times, run around him and still he just carried on eating.

If Trespasser was one thing, it's was unique back in 1998 there was no other game like it. The emphasis was placed on realism and of being stuck on Site B and having to get off as soon as possible, while some parts are realistic, (Throwing rocks up to a ledge to knock down boxes that you need) the majority of things you have to do are just insane. Small ledges need crates to be placed in front of them so you can jump over, when in real life the ledge would be so small, even a baby could probably get over it. So called steep mountain terrain stops you from climbing, despite the fact that yet again in real life anyone could climb it.

There are a number of set-pieces in the game that have been made by the creators so you can try something different, these range from making a range rover topple over a hill and onto a raptor to making a range rover topple over a hill onto a raptor. These bits of game could have been great if it wasn't the fact that the whole of Site B seems like a military weapons dump with shotguns, machine guns and pistols lying about all over the place. Most people would just ignore the range rovers and simply blow the raptors away with one of their guns.

We were also disappointed to have completed Trespasser in less than two days, and for a game that has been hyped up for its AI this makes it even worse.

Don't get us wrong, one part of us enjoyed the game enough to spend almost two days completing it but there are too many bugs and graphical glitches for us to recommend the game as a good buy. Perhaps if DreamWorks spent more time on the game engine instead of hyping it up then we might have seen something fast and speedy, instead we are lumbered with what looks like an unfinished beta and one that doesn't look like it can be fixed.

We would love to see a remake of this now though especially as technology has moved on, it could well be our dream Jurassic Park game.

Next Week: We have full reviews of Driveclub on the PlayStation 4, Ryse and Styx Master of Shadows on the PC.

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