Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur

colin@colinlesueur.com
Colin Le Sueur

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Resident Evil HD – Dangerous Nostalgia

Back in 1998 a friend of mine introduced me to Resident Evil 2 on the Playstation. We stayed up all night playing, hours of almost constant deaths and getting lost in the wilds of Raccoon City. I was transfixed by the grim tone and terrified by the zombies that never seemed to stop coming. Resident Evil 2 blew me away and introduced me to next-gen gaming on the Playstation.

For 5 years I played all the major Resident Evil games up to and including Resident Evil Outbreak: File #2 on the PS2. That said, I did skip the on-rails light gun games and that one Gameboy release. Resident Evil 2 will always hold a special place in my heart but my favourite title from that era, and to this day one of my favourite games of all time, is the Resident Evil Remake on Gamecube.

Essentially a remake of the first Resident Evil for Playstation, the Gamecube version of Resident Evil (or REMake) updated the graphics and fleshed out the series mythology. I loved REMake and played the hell out of it on Gamecube. I played it so much I was even able to complete the Invisible Enemy mode. This was an additional difficulty setting where all enemies were invisible, funnily enough.

At the time I saw REMake as a significant step change in the Resident Evil series, an overall improvement in practically every aspect. Even years later I looked back at REMake with fondness and respect. Then Resident Evil 4 came along and redefined what a Resident Evil game was. Gone were the divisive tank controls, the constant inventory management, and the focus on atmosphere over action.

While I still feel that Resident Evil 4 is a brilliant game and the best in the series, part of me preferred REMake over RE4. So when I heard that REMake was itself going to be remade, this time on Steam, I couldn’t believe it. Imagine the best Resident Evil game with a next-gen HD upgrade! It was 2002 all over again and I couldn’t wait to dive in. I decided to break my rule of no pre-orders and bought the HD Remaster of REMake. The release day finally came and I sequestered myself to play. I’d forgotten most of the game and so it took me about 10 hours to finish it this time.

After watching one of the many endings, I had a couple of realisations about the Resident Evil series. First, I realised how much I hate the old-school inventory system. I lost count of how many times I had to backtrack to pick up a key because I didn’t have enough space in my inventory. 6 slots is just not enough. I much prefer the Resident Evil 4 inventory system which is upgradeable and more versatile. Best of all, quest items don’t take up space in your inventory. No more having to choose between ammo and a red gem to socket in a stuffed tiger’s head.

My second major realisation is how slow the older Resident Evil games are. Now, slow isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as tension and atmosphere take time to build. However, when your whole momentum stops every few minutes by opening a door, that affects your gameplay experience. I know the loading doors are a staple of the pre-2005 Resident Evil games but sometimes history needs to be changed.

What made REMake feel so fresh in 2002 makes the HD Remaster feel so clunky in 2015. I found it really tough to go back to pre-RE4 mechanics, even in a game with post-RE4 graphics. I think I was expecting a similar jump between REMake and the HD Remaster that I saw between Code Veronica and REMake. There’s a weird incongruity here with new graphics but old gameplay.

This brings me to the main point of this video: just how big a part should nostalgia play in modern video games? Recently we’ve seen a huge wave of nostalgia-driven re-releases, remakes, and re-imaginings. From Wasteland II to Grim Fandango to Pillars of Eternity, publishers are starting to realise that nostalgia sells. Of course, this is nothing new as video games have always been influenced by what’s come before. But there needs to be a balance between looking to the past and innovating for the future.

Nostalgia is an inherently positive feeling, a warm look at the past. Nostalgia is comfort and familiarity and knowing what to expect. But nostalgia can also be dangerous, bringing with it the risk of stagnation and a fear of the new. A video game industry built purely on nostalgia can by design only ever appeal to a core group of gamers familiar with the original games. Innovation and creativity would take a back seat to familiarity and repetition.

You can see this happening in the current cycle of AAA incremental releases like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Every year there’s a new title in the franchise that keeps the core gameplay essentially the same with little innovation. These titles always sell well and part of that comes down to giving the core players more of what they’re familiar with. Because these games make a lot of money for the publishers, the yearly cycle continues.

This means the AAA industry is constantly feeding off their past successes. This behaviour isn’t unique to video games; you can see a similar pattern in most popular media. Nostalgia plays a large part in indie video games as well, but this usually takes the form of remixes or mashups. Take the upcoming title Volume, for instance. Mike Bithell’s stealth indie game takes inspiration from Metal Gear Solid, expanding it out into a top-down 3rd person non-combat puzzler. Volume’s influences are clearly visible in the gameplay but it’s trying to do something new and different.

Finding a balance between giving players what they want and giving them what they didn’t know they wanted is something all developers struggle with, whether AAA or indie. When I bought the Resident Evil HD Remaster I got exactly what I wanted, a return to the great game I played to death over 10 years ago. What I didn’t realise is how much I’d changed as a player, and how much the Resident Evil series had changed. I enjoyed playing REMake again but I didn’t have as much fun as I expected.

I think there’s definitely a large place for nostalgia in video games, both to preserve the history of the medium and to build on past work. I also think nostalgia is most effective when filtered through new ideas and viewpoints. Back in 2002, Capcom took an old game and gave it a new twist. 13 years later they brought REMake back with a new look but little innovation. After playing the Resident Evil HD Remaster, I realise nostalgia can be fun but it gets old fast.

Colin Le Sueur
Tuesday, April 28th, 2015
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Alpha Wolf – Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

I’ve talked about my reaction to the Battlefield Hardline Alpha in a previous video last June. My initial experience with the Alpha wasn’t very positive; I’d been burned out on Battlefield 4 and Hardline looked to be more of the same. As well, transferring a military tactical shooter into one focused on law enforcement felt a step too far. Cops taking down criminals with rocket launchers and assault helicopters seemed over the top even with the current state of militarised police.

With the launch of the Beta, some 8 months later, I thought I’d give Battlefield Hardline another chance. My first attempt at the Beta did not go as planned. I tried to play on the first night; the game crashed after 5 minutes with a DirectX error and after that I couldn’t connect to any servers. My second attempt on the next night was more successful; I was able to play several rounds of Hotwire on the Dustbowl and Downtown maps. I didn’t try Heist mode or the Bankjob map, so this is mainly my initial reactions to Hotwire.

A new mode to Battlefield and a clever twist on Conquest, Hotwire sees both sides fighting over vehicles dotted around the map. These are mobile capture points and they activate when you hit a minimum speed. Maintain that speed and you’ll keep the capture point, earning cash for unlocks. Slow down too much, leave the vehicle, or get blown up and you’ll lose the point for your side. This mode is a great addition to Battlefield and helps keep things fresh.

The Beta feels different enough from the Alpha and I enjoyed myself a lot more. I had fun roaring around the map in Hotwire; one of my favourite things to do in earlier Battlefield games was tearing around in jeeps and quads. This mode taps into that kamikaze feeling. The car chase dynamics help bring a new dimension to the familiar combat. There are also a few notable changes that help the experience.

I like the reduced focus on vehicles and explosive weapons, though I did see a lot of grenade and rocket launchers during my play. BF4 eventually devolved into explosive spam and this is a nice change from that. I also liked the weapon/accessory unlock system; you can now choose what you want to unlock rather than wading through a slew of pointless accessories.

I still see Hardline as a close relative of Battlefield 4 but the new modes and changes since the Alpha have helped set it further apart. I’ve had fun with the Hardline Beta but there’s no way I’ll pre-order or buy the game at full price; BF4 took over a year to hit its stride and with the issues I’ve run into in my short time playing the Beta, looks like Hardline still has a way to go.

Colin Le Sueur
Monday, February 9th, 2015
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Electric Thumbs – Kingdom Rush

For the next entry in Electric Thumbs, my Android gaming series, I thought I’d look at the tablet game I’ve spent the most time playing: Kingdom Rush.

I first heard of Kingdom Rush after I saw it in a Humble Mobile Bundle. I’m generally not a big fan of tower defence games; after playing Kingdom Rush, however, I started to realise maybe I hadn’t played the right one yet. This entertaining, addictive, and colourful Android game consistently kept me coming back for just one more stage.

Like almost all tower defence games, Kingdom Rush is dead simple to explain. You build a variety of offensive and defensive towers to stop advancing enemies reaching your base. You can upgrade the towers and command a hero with special abilities to help you on the battlefield.

Part of my goal with Electric Thumbs is to highlight games that are best suited to tablets. To me, Kingdom Rush represents the ideal tablet game. There are generally four criteria I judge Android games by: Easy to pick up and play. Easy to put down and come back to. Intuitive touchscreen controls. Unique tablet experience.

Each stage doesn’t last very long to complete; I think I spent at most 20 minutes from start to finish. However, unlike some tablet games there’s actual skill and strategy involved in Kingdom Rush. Even if you’ve got the perfect tower setup one or two slipups can ruin your round. My preferred strategy soon became to load up on elven archers and decimate the advancing hordes.

The game’s presentation is fun, engaging, and well-polished. I particularly enjoyed the fantasy setting, with a mix of knights, elves, and dwarves. Even though the unit catchphrases are shamelessly pulled from pop culture I never grew tired of them. In fact, I found the game so much fun that I kept coming back until I finished the main campaign. I even went out and bought the other two games in the series, Kingdom Rush Frontiers and Origins. The gameplay is nearly identical but there are new units and enemies so the sequels kept my interest throughout.

While there are in app purchases in Kingdom Rush, these are purely optional and I never felt tempted by the new Heroes. For under £1 you can’t go wrong; I got several hours of enjoyment from Kingdom Rush and I’d buy it again in a heartbeat.

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, January 23rd, 2015
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Lords of the Fallen Review

In the past year I’ve become a big fan of the Dark Souls series. After several unsuccessful attempts starting the first Dark Souls, both on Xbox 360 and PC, I finally dug my heels in and found an entry point into the infamously difficult action RPG. I moved on to Dark Souls 2 after finishing the original and spent many hours exploring the world and leveling my characters. Eventually my interest waned and I moved on to other games. Even though there was new Dark Souls 2 DLC, I’d become burned out and needed a break.

Cut to a few months later and I started to see footage of a new Souls-like game called Lords of the Fallen. The game looked beautiful and was an unapologetic Dark Souls clone, an action RPG with tight combat mechanics, high difficulty, and punishing bosses. Lords was positioned as a western version of the Japanese Souls series and looked to move into the specific niche carved out by Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2. As a fan of these games I was immediately intrigued. How does Lords of the Fallen compare? Is it a true successor to Souls series or is it just a pale pretender?

Developers Deck13 Interactive and CI Games have delivered a game built from the ground up to appeal to fans of Dark Souls. If you’ve played any of the Souls games you’ll be able to pick up and play immediately; there’s even a control scheme that matches that found in Dark Souls, save for a few minor differences. Rather than going through all the ways Lords of the Fallen is similar to Dark Souls, I’ll highlight some of the most interesting ways they differ.

The first major difference you’ll notice relates to the character you play. In the Souls series, there are no set characters. You’re responsible for choosing the way your character looks and there are no clear backstories. In fact, the story in the Souls series is largely opaque, with a few hints here and there. In Lords of the Fallen you play as Harkyn, a former prisoner with a troubled past. Although you can still customise your playstyle with creation choices, everyone experiences Harkyn’s story. This streamlines the story but also serves to limit your role-playing possibilities.

When starting a new game you choose class and magic type. Class determines starting skills, armour, and weapons. Magic type is a little misleading, as your magical powers are closer to special combat abilities rather than specific types of spells. Every magic type enhances combat, whether by weakening your enemies or strengthening your attacks. There’s no option for a pure magic user, for instance, as the game is specifically tuned for melee combat. What magic there is supplements hand to hand combat rather than replacing it.

This focus on hand to hand combat means that fights are slower and more deliberate. Even fights with low level enemies can take a minute or two to win. Shield-bearing enemies are everywhere in the world and they take up the most time; unlike Dark Souls, where you’re able to break their guard and attack during the opening, the shielded enemies in Lords of the Fallen recover quickly and don’t offer many attack opportunities. Thankfully you’re given a gauntlet that can fire magic projectiles and this soon became my go-to method for dealing with frustrating shields.

Lords of the Fallen streamlines the gameplay formula set in Dark Souls. This makes for a generally easier, friendlier experience. One of the most tedious aspects of Dark Souls relates to running back after dying during a boss fight. Bonfires are normally not right next to the boss. This means you have to struggle your way through groups of enemies in order to have another go. Lords does away with this frustration and typically places checkpoints right next to boss areas. You can also bank experience at checkpoints and then spend it later.

In general, Lords of the Fallen is a much more linear game, and that’s both a strength and a weakness. I prefer the open world of Dark Souls and the nebulous character motivations. I like having the option to try a different route or move to a whole new area if I’m stuck. The bosses in Lords of the Fallen, the titular Lords, are also pretty unoriginal. Mostly heavily armoured knights with shields, there are no bosses on the massive scale seen in the first Dark Souls. While there are different patterns and stages to their attacks, most boss fights are grindy and tedious.

Some of the game’s mechanics are poorly communicated. I was halfway through the game when I realised some walls could be broken by dashing into them while holding up your shield. The health potion replenishment system could be clearer as well; sometimes I’d have them all refilled when saving at a checkpoint and sometimes not. I later discovered this was regulated by how many enemies you killed between checkpoints; there might’ve been a tip explaining this, but if there was I missed it.

The story in Lords of the Fallen is much more transparent than those in the Souls series. There are dialogue trees and clear quest objectives. I had a much better idea of what my character was doing and where the story was going. That said, I didn’t necessarily know where I needed to go. I lost track of how many hours I spent backtracking, looking for that one door I hadn’t opened yet or struggling to find an obscure corridor. There aren’t that many different areas and some of them are ridiculous mazes with similar paths that blur together.

On a more positive note, Lords of the Fallen looks beautiful, with great lighting and animations; it’s definitely got Dark Souls 2 beat. However, my biggest gripe with the visuals is the inconsistent camera. Several times I found myself losing my character into first person mode by getting too close to a wall in combat.

Ultimately I enjoyed Lords of the Fallen; however, there isn’t as much replayability for me when compared to Dark Souls. You’re limited in character creation choices and there’s not that much difference between a cleric, a warrior, and a rogue. There are extra boss challenges that’ll reward you with a special weapon if you complete them but some of these are exceptionally difficult and don’t interest me that much.

I beat the game once in about 20 hours and then again in New Game+ in another 10 hours or so; I had a lot of fun playing through the first time but NG+ wasn’t that different. The combat kept me coming back but at a certain point the enemy scaling outpaced my own and I stopped having as much fun. The interminable backtracking also wore me down; there’s only so much time I want to spend running around a circular room.

Playing Lords of Fallen made me appreciate the Souls series even more; it’s been enough to whet my appetite for another Dark Souls 2 playthrough, and an attempt at the new DLC. I’m looking forward to Lords of the Fallen 2; hopefully Deck13 Interactive and CI Games will deliver a game with wider scope and more interesting bosses. Until then, there’s always the endless appeal of Dark Souls.

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, January 9th, 2015
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Diablo III – Second Look

I’ve spoken before about my experiences playing Diablo III; one of my earliest videos was a comparison of Blizzard’s AAA action RPG and the indie alternative Torchlight II. In that video I explained how I loved the demo of Diablo III but soon grew bored with the actual game; this was back when the game was first released in 2012.

Over the years I’d heard how patches and expansion packs had changed Diablo for the better. Last month I was listening to Patrick Klepek and Alex Navarro on Bombin’ the AM; Patrick mentioned how he’d been playing Diablo on a higher difficulty and how this made a big difference in his enjoyment of the game.

I decided to give Diablo a second look and try raising the difficulty myself; I used to play on normal but changed it to Expert after finding Hard not that different. Surprisingly, the game itself didn’t feel that much more difficult but I found myself having a lot more fun.

As of this writing I’ve made it to Act IV but I’ve only died twice during my playthrough. Gameplay feels a lot more interesting and involving; rather than just mashing buttons like before I need to move around, be aware of my environment and the enemies’ abilities. My favourite encounters are with groups of elites or rares; these really push my skills and I enjoy the challenge of juggling cooldowns to take them down.

Collecting loot seems a lot more steamlined and enjoyable than before; all the legendaries I found have been suitable upgrades for my character, for instance. I don’t end up with bags full of useless grey or white items. As well, I haven’t experienced any connection issues or network problems in my recent playtime, something that happened quite a bit when I was first playing; either Blizzard have sorted these bugs or there aren’t as many people playing Diablo III these days.

I’ll probably check out the Diablo expansion Reaper of Souls once I finish the main game; I might even try Master or Torment levels of difficulty. I’ve been playing through as a Barbarian but I do want to try the other classes; in particular, Monk seems like a good fit with my preferred melee-heavy playstyle.

I’m glad I’ve given Diablo III a second look. Blizzard have fixed most of my major gripes and raising the difficulty has opened up the game like never before; this is how Diablo is meant to be played and I’m having a helluva good time.

Colin Le Sueur
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014
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