Thursday, 14 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Spoiler Free [Review]

The first thing to really notice about The Last Jedi is that it sets quite a bit up within the first ten minutes. Then it decides to go further. What the trailers showed us and what we see in the film is different, though many suspected that it might be. Narrative structures teased in the trailers go to unexpected places, and there are plenty of unexpected things within the film.

The characters here continue from where they left off in Force Awakens, with Poe immediately being back in an X-Wing blowing things up. That trait gets focus here, and some development in his understanding of the larger plan of war happens. BB-8 is again a standout droid, giving some great character and getting into some action of his own. Leia doesn’t get a whole lot of focus, but has two standout scenes that make Carrie Fisher’s last appearance in a Star Wars film worth her inclusion. Finn and new player Rose team up on a mission, and each is given focus as a character and their new and growing relationship gets focus. Finn also again is questioning his purpose. On Ahch-To, Rey comes to grips with the Force, and has her work cut out in connecting with Luke. The story hinted at in Force Awakens regarding Luke and Kylo Ren gets its focus here, and depending on how you see Luke’s character at the end of Return of the Jedi, this character thread will either please or infuriate. Some will see it as natural progression. Some will see it as needless regression. I’m in the former of the two, since it only makes sense for Luke to react the way he does in the situation he found himself in. I’m saying no more on that.
Kylo Ren comes out even more conflicted than before, quite possibly, at the end of this film. At the end of Force Awakens he was bested by Rey, a person of no significance and untrained in the Force. Here, not only does he have the task of taking out the Resistance, he has Snoke calling him out for his weaknesses. We’ve heard in the trailers his line about putting the past behind you to allow you to move forward, but despite the fact he keeps telling himself he has, it’s clear that he certainly hasn’t, especially at the climax of the film. Phasma is again getting the short end of the stick here. The trailers show her in battle with Finn, but that’s all we really get from her. New guy DJ is an interesting character, and makes Finn think on his actions.

Away from characters, the planets themselves look great. We see more of Ahch-To, and get introduced to the Porgs that inhabit the planet. Canto Bight is certainly a great looking world, giving an upper-class society outside of any particular faction but profiting from both sides to keep the lives they lead. And Crait is a world we see little of, but still gives a sense of wonder. The set pieces we see happen on these worlds fit the places they are, and even the vastness of space gets a great opening action sequence. The musical cues here are perfectly tuned to the scenes they are a part of, and one particular set piece makes use of very little sound to pull off an impactful scene. Some familiar things will set off nostalgic feelings, such as original trilogy music pieces, and such things are used for impact within the action or plot. The entire basis of the film could be seen as Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fused together, mixed around, entire elements changed up and new plot points added, to create something both familiar and new to a much better standard than what Force Awakens achieved. All plot points pay off, and just like Empire Strikes Back, the film ends with the good guys beaten back but not deterred in their overall goal. And despite this being the longest Star Wars film to date, everything feels well-paced and interest doesn’t get lost at any point.

This is probably too early to say, but at the minute the reviews are saying this is the best Star Wars film to date, and after the first watch – I’d agree with them. Nothing feels out of place and everything has a reason. As such, for Star Wars fans, it is an easy recommendation, as it is to anyone else who enjoys a good sci-fi/fantasy epic. However, since The Last Jedi continues straight off from where Force Awakens left us, Episode 7 is a must watch to understand several of the points raised in this one. And I’m pretty certain that Episode 9 will pick up where this one left off, so it will feel like one continuous story once the trilogy is complete. What Episode 9 chooses to showcase is anyone’s guess at the minute. One thing for certain though, is that there will be a duel of the fates to finish this trilogy off.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

December '17 Monthly Update [Network]

A bit of a change-up on certain things stated in last month's update is happening, so only the reviews had gone up. For WattPad, I really want to start putting the last of the stuff from the old site up. That means the few short stories that were on the site get put into Shorts of the Rula, and the entirety of Pokémon: Shadow Boom gets uploaded as its own story. However, it isn't just going to be a straight port of content. There's already a prologue of Shadow Boom that has been rewritten from the first part that was uploaded way back in 2012, and that will start off the new year. The reuploads of the shorts will be dotted throughout next year, and halfway through the Sonic the Hedgehog story will start.

That's for next year, though, and this month is going to be a bit slow. Custom Transform Races are now able to be built on GTA Online, so I've been working on a few. That video will show off two of them. Since the Pokémon Ultra Sun review has fallen into this month, that's two reviews that will be posted. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is coming this month, so a review of that will be posted. Any other content will be announced as it arrives, as for now there's no other plan. If a Nintendo Direct arrives this month, I'll be sure to post about it, but this month is another quiet one.
Now, I know there has been a lot of delay in things I've said would happen, but that will come to an end starting from next year. 2018 should be a big year for me, and I'll be posting new things as they happen.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Star Wars Battlefront 2 EA [Review]

Battlefront 2’s five modes might look a bit sparse on paper compared to the 2015 game, but in reducing the amount of modes, they have become more focused. And as multiplayer is the biggest draw with this game, it’s a good place to start this off.
Galactic Assault has been the mode pushed in the advertising of the game since the big reveal at E3, with Starfighter Assault coming in later as the second big mode. For Galactic Assault, the action is mostly on the ground, with three phases split across four ‘missions’. In any one of the eleven maps, the attacking team will either hack systems, defend transports, capture and hold areas, or protect a charge from being switched off. It works well, and all of the maps feel different – both in terms of objective and aesthetic. Which is great work in a game that has almost two of every biome. Jakku and Tatooine are both desert worlds, but they both have differing features in how the map plays. And that goes for the other maps as well. However, sometimes these matches can be won quite easily on the first stage, especially if that first stage is a capture and hold. A ticket counter for the attackers gives them limited reinforcements to get the job done, so if the defenders can do their job well enough, the win goes to them. Of course, that’s not really a negative point against the game, as this is the standard two teams format, and it always is based on the skill of the players [and a bit of luck in some cases]. I’ve had the most fun in this mode, and like Walker Assault in the 2015 game, will more than likely be my go-to mode whenever I hop on.

Starfighter Assault has fewer maps, but still manages to be diverse with them. Kamino takes place around the cloning facility instead of being out in space, for example. Endor has the battle within the debris of the Death Star. The objective for the attackers in this mode is to destroy the systems of either a cruiser or space station. Flight control is vastly improved in this game, and the removal of a lock-on for primary lasers is very welcome – as is the removal of automated rolls. They always felt sluggish when used in the 2015 game, and not very effective all that often, so always being in direct control of whichever ship you use is great. New Hero ships have been added for the additional eras, so Yoda’s Jedi Interceptor faces off against the Scimitar of Maul’s, and Kylo Ren’s TIE Fighter squares off against Poe’s X-Wing. There’s also a second Millennium Falcon that’s been added representing the sequel trilogy. Just like the heroes themselves, each new addition has something that sets it apart from the others.
From a starfighter focused mode to a hero focused one, Heroes vs Villains returns. Instead of being brought over untouched, it’s seen a complete revamp. Four light side vs four dark side heroes enter the battle with a set ticket count. One person per team gets chosen as a target, and whichever target gets defeated loses a ticket for their team. The team that manages to keep at least one of their tickets wins. And this seems like a good time to talk about those heroes. Returning for the light side are Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, with Rey and Yoda being new. For the dark side, Boba Fett, Bossk, Darth Vader, and The Emperor return, with Darth Maul, Kylo Ren, and Iden Versio being the new additions. At the start, only Han, Lando, Rey, Yoda, Boba, Bossk, Maul, and Kylo are unlocked. Everyone else needs unlocking through credits earned by playing. Before all the controversy that hit, Luke and Vader were 60,000 credits each – and when each match is paying out only a few hundred at a time, that’s a lot to save up. Fortunately, all unlock prices were slashed 75%, so now they only need 15,000. The mode itself is fun, and works well, due in part to the smaller sections of maps they take place on – as all small modes do.
The last new mode is Strike, where 8v8 matches are played. The idea here is that one team has a ‘flag’ that needs to be taken into the enemy stronghold. If the defenders can stop that from happening, they win. It’s a mode where sometimes rushing it can help while other times you’ll need to fight hard to make progress, all the while keeping that flag held by someone. Heroes and vehicles aren’t allowed here, so it is purely a clash of classes. Blast is the other returning mode, and remains the basic team deathmatch mode it always was. Which is to say still a good mode for those who want nothing but a standard shootout.

New to this game are the campaign and the arcade mode. The campaign follows Iden Versio and Inferno Squad – a top special forces unit within the Empire – during the waning days of the war. The plot itself is focused more on the characters than any of the events that surround them, so while we see Operation Cinder, the retreat from Endor and others such things, the focus remains on what the characters are feeling more the details of those events. As for gameplay, the mechanics from the multiplayer carry over here. Upon being defeated, you can swap out weapon and star cards to try a different approach. Some levels are quite decent in length and offer quite a lot to do. The first mission has you controlling Iden’s droid as it makes its way to her through the rebel ship. The second half then has you controlling Iden herself. Endor has you storming several groups of rebels before getting into a TIE Fighter for some aerial combat. Other missions will have you playing as other heroes such as Luke or Leia, but these aren’t quite as good. Objectives in these missions are usually to defend for a certain amount of time before moving on to the next part of the map. However, for a campaign of roughly four to six hours in length, it offers a good experience. As for Arcade, there’s eight different scenarios to play for both light side and dark side using either the team match or onslaught templates. Team match is basically Blast under a different name, with onslaught being a one vs many template. Each mission has three difficulties, with the first difficulty being completed to unlock the next. These missions are fun, but mostly Arcade will be used for Custom Battles. For now, there isn’t much to it. Various factors can be changed, such as how the classes are used [battle points from multiplayer, everything free, heroes only, etc], how many units each team has and the reinforcement tickets available. The planet that is played on can be selected, but not every planet is available. For consoles, this is still great for those local multiplayer matches – even if, and I know I’m going into territory I don’t usually go, it doesn’t match the quality of the original Battlefront 2 in terms of choice.

The sound design is great, as are the visuals. There’s a lot more proper Star Wars music in the game this time, but the voices of heroes still fall a bit flat in terms of being accurate for some. All units within the game can be buffed using star cards. Unlike in the 2015 game where these were bought with credits after attaining a certain level, we have… loot crates. The most expensive crate is 4000 credits, and with that you can get anywhere from three to six cards. However, not all of those cards will be actual star cards. One of those gives credits, and another gives crafting materials. These crafting materials can be used to upgrade cards, or get new ones, and is really the only part of this system I like. Star cards themselves can no longer be placed in one of the three slots available [which already have class specific items inserted] but instead overwrite one of the three. It feels limiting in an already limited system. Trait cards are included, and can be upgraded just like the abilities. Three cards can be active per class [after collecting ten ‘ranks’ for that class], but each class has their own star card sheet which includes those traits. Again, limiting. However, with or without the system being an active part of how you play, the game itself is still fun and you can still use the standard classes without star cards and still progress. Heroes and vehicles also have star card sheets with specific ability upgrades and additions available. Guns are thankfully tied to missions, which track progress within the game. Using a class for a certain amount of time, getting kills with that class, and getting kills with weapons of that class will unlock class-specific things. Kills with the class gets new guns, and kills with a specific gun unlocks add-ons for that gun. Kills with other weapons will give a crate for a specific item, which really begs the question of why it couldn’t just give that thing without the need of a crate. I’ve talked enough about that system, and no doubt you’ve heard all about it from the controversy anyway, so recommendation time.

Star Wars fans wanting a solo adventure won’t get much use out of this game, but everyone else I think will find it fun. How much you cherish an actual progression system over luck-based crates will be the overall factor though. While I wouldn’t say this should affect your decision, I’d also advise thinking about whether you found the 2015 game’s loadout customisation better than the one here. Otherwise, there’s a lot more here than in the 2015 game, so if you can overlook some of the factors, there’s a great game waiting to be played. And all content being free isn’t that bad either, right?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Sonic Forces [Review]

The game starts with Sonic running through Green Hill on his way to stop another Eggman attack in the city. From this stage, it is clear what the game is presenting us with. The level looks great, but is undone somewhat by how it is designed – and that is pretty much throughout the game. The controls of Sonic are also stiff, with a homing attack lock-on that can’t decide whether it wants to work and visible shifts in speed instead of a natural flow. After beating the stage, Sonic stops the robots attacking, then royally gets his spiny blue tail handed to him by Infinite. And this cutscene shows how the rest of the story plays out. It is tonally confused, to put it mildly. This is Sonic getting knocked unconscious by his enemy, and starts with some powerful hits until it devolves into some comedic piñata pummelling. It’s as though the balance is being shifted too far in one direction after already being in the perfect position. After a bit of text explaining that after Sonic’s capture Eggman conquered the world, but a small band of resistance still fights, the avatar comes into play.

Choosing from one of seven species [dog, wolf, hedgehog, bird, bear, cat, rabbit], you’ll then choose from several options such as colour of fur and skin. Later there’ll also be the chance to add clothing accessories to the character that unlock upon completion of missions. In terms of gameplay, the avatar is a bit worse off than Sonic. Lacking a spin dash and ball jump, the avatar fights with Wispons – weapons that use the power of Wisps – to defeat enemies. Also equipped with a grappling hook that is used to replicate a homing attack, the jump of the avatar is floatier than Sonic. As with Sonic, speed gain isn’t natural flow. And this is also the case for Classic, who also sports a very botched jump. Landing on enemies doesn’t carry momentum, but crushes it. As for automation claims… That’s weird in its own right. Rolling down hills carries a bit of momentum that usually allows Classic to get around loops, but there are still speed boosters aplenty. And all three characters have sections that remove control entirely for a bit of spectacle.
There are also stages where Sonic and avatar team up, where control switches between the two depending on which specific action you do. Boosting swaps to Sonic, whereas using a Wispon will swap to avatar. These are possibly the poorest levels of the game, since if you accidentally press the wrong button by mistake [and fumbling the controls can happen when using a Wispon is on the right trigger instead of the more sensible choice of the left action button], the character automatically swaps, and if it was that left action button you pressed – enjoy a trip to the last checkpoint if you were anywhere near an open space.

The story is a simple one, with Eggman using the Phantom Ruby’s power in Infinite to make him incredibly strong. With this Ruby’s power, Infinite can make reality warp and create a new one that will affect anyone the user wants. This brings Zavok, Chaos, Shadow and Metal Sonic into the loop, but you’ll only ever fight two of them. Zavok is near the beginning, and in a way proves that when not restricted the physics can work. Zavok is the only battle fought by Sonic in an arena, and aside from the homing attack lock-on, works incredibly well. Yeah, there’s no way to speed great distances, but movement is fluid enough that if the restrictions were removed from other levels [and they had a bit more depth] it would improve playability. Metal Sonic is fought on an endless loop of a runway, and so are most of the other bosses as well. Chaos is reduced to a quick kill when Classic appears, and the Shadow illusion is taken out by the real Shadow. Both of these could have had some form of a boss. Classic fighting Chaos would be in a 2D space as usual, but it could have been a perfect way to start Classic’s entry in the fight. And Shadow, well add another arena fight. Have him use Chaos powers in unique ways after each hit. The fights against Infinite are a royal pain in the backside, as is the final boss. If you hit the illusion cubes, be prepared to dodge attacks you can barely see due to the red hue messing up vision.

The resistance is made up of familiar faces, with Knuckles taking on the commander role. He has a much better characterisation here, and most of the cast get a small time to shine with dialogue and interactions. Silver is here, playing the careful planner to Knuckles’ hot-headed nature. Espio, Vector, and Charmy represent Team Chaotix. Amy is around, as is Rouge. Tails rejoins the main force later on – having lost it due to Sonic’s disappearance. And Tails is really the only one to have regressed as a character, though that really happened in Unleashed. It’s just more prominent here. Back in Unleashed, Tails lost the Adventure developments to become a tech-wiz with little combat ability. With Forces, he is seen a few times near the beginning to cower in fear of robots and Chaos. When it comes to some true action, again he is on the sidelines. Eggman is always on the attack, and since he is the genius of the bad guys, it seems bad to keep Tails from fighting back.

The music in the game is not the best, but still has some shining moments. Most of it blends together due to the over-use of synths, but there are a few stand-outs, such as the world map theme and the avatar stages. The avatar stages have vocal tracks on par with Adventure 2’s. Think of the treasure hunting themes or a few of Shadow’s, and that’s the general feel of those offered here. Voice acting for the most part is fine, though audio logs on the map screen sometimes get lost while the music is playing – especially Shadow and Silver, who for some reason sound quieter than other characters.

Now, for everything I’ve been saying, you would think this was bad. However, that’s the thing. Frustrating at times – yes. Unplayable – no. There is nothing game-breaking here. It’s just a case of getting used to the quirks it presents. Yes, some of them are larger ones – such as the control of characters – but with the lives system gone, it’s just a case of try, try again. There is fun to be had here, and if you care to do so, there’s enough extras to keep anyone happy. Collecting red rings within stages unlock extra levels. There’s five in each, and sometimes can be within easy reach, other times presenting a bit more of a challenge. Arbitrary replayability is forced in the avatar stages, where swapping Wispon to reach some of the red rings is required. Completing daily missions give perks, which make earning those S-Ranks easier [and you’ll be needing it on some stages]. The regular missions unlock more equipment for avatar, and these come in all varieties. Completing stages, earning an S-Rank in stages, using moves of characters, completing stages under a certain time… There’s a lot of them. Some missions will also give Wispons with added perks, such as score bonuses with each 100 rings collected, or increasing speed when grinding. There are also SOS Missions that present themselves in regular stages, which challenge you to one of three objectives. Two of them are based on avatar – using a random avatar, or a rental avatar. The other is with Sonic or Classic, and requires finding a pod within the level to free animals before completing the level. The avatar ones are easy enough, just requiring learning a different set-up. Finding the animal pod is harder in some cases, as multiple paths mean it can be missed if you don’t explore enough.

So… Recommendation time. It’s difficult to really say. If you are a Sonic die-hard or want some platforming speed, other boost games can provide much better. However, if you are on consoles, this is the only boost game available on the current systems – at least until Unleashed and Generations get put on the Xbox One’s Backward Compatibility program or HD remasters of the two are released. The avatar creation system is fun to play around with, and testing out all of that on the stages can provide some entertainment. There’s wish fulfilment in that, for those who want it. If you know, like me, that you will replay stages just because of the fun in doing so, then by all means buy away. However, as a general buying guide, wait until it becomes cheaper. There’s not much here that hasn’t been done before in the series. While shorter, Generations is still the go-to game for boost gameplay, or Unleashed for some true spectacle.