Review: Bulletstorm Full Clip Edition (PlayStation 4)

2019 sees me trying to be more conscientious about my video gaming. For one I’m trying to throw less money as the hobby; money that is ultimately wasted on games I didn’t really want. Tied to this, I’m also trying to make the most of my subscriptions to Xbox Gold and PlayStation Plus and play the monthly games each service gives me. Finally, I’m making a concerted effort to play through each game I start. Unless I’m really finding one boring.

Bulletstorm is a fun game that came to PS+ a couple of months ago. A first person shooter combining Gears of War’s meathead puppets, Enslaved’s lush green, broken world and Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system, it works hard to carve out its own niche in a crowded genre. Very much a product of its time (releasing originally on Windows, Xbox 360 and PS3), its age is starting to show. Eight years is, after all, a long time in video games.

That said, the graphics are really quite nice, eschewing the popular grey/brown palettes of the time for a more colourful game world that sets itself apart. Shades of Gears of War and Unreal are apparent in character design – no surprise given that this game was developed by People Can Fly and Epic, who are responsible for those titles.

It’s a shame that you can’t explore further this into world, but you are funnelled along an almost completely linear path. Very seldom will you have a chance to stray from the path, perhaps ducking under an obstacle into a “hidden” room containing a collectible item, then back to the straight and narrow to continue your quest.

Enemies are a lot of fun to kill, and in several different ways. The primary method of dispatch is, naturally, shooting. The usual variety of weapons (or fun revisions of them) can be gathered and used to separate limbs and heads from their owners. Each weapon has an unlockable Charge Mode that has limited ammo and causes serious damage, in a way replacing the grenades that other similar games may give you.

The real fun, however, doesn’t come from the guns, but rather from your leash – a powerful item that throws out an energy whip to yank your foes towards you, or into a multitude of environmental items. Exposed rebar, spiked cacti, fan blades… there are a great many disasters awaiting your enemies as you leash them to their doom. Failing that, a good kick will send them, in slow motion, over the edge of a building, to plummet to the ground. Performing such stylish murders earns you points that can be spent at certain droppoints to upgrade the Charge Shot capabilities of each weapon, or to top up your ammo.

Two favourite weapons of mine are the Headhunter – a sniper rifle that grants you control over its bullets, chasing down enemies as they scramble away from the shot, and the Penetrator – a rail gun of sorts that fires drills that send enemies spinning through the air and can pin a line of them to a wall like a kebab. Charge Shots for both allow a certain amount of post-contact control to send the projectile onto the next enemy; in the case of the Headhunter it is especially satisfying to use the bullet to carry your target over to his friends before detonating the bullet like a remote bomb.

Each weapon has its own series of associated skill shots – rewarding the player with bonus skill points to spend later. These range from landing headshots, to taking down multiple enemies with one shot, onto one of my favourite gruesome deaths – Gag Reflex, which you score by taking out an assailant’s throat.

All in all what we have here is a stylish game with well-polished gunplay and some interesting bosses. These bosses are, typically, huge monsters with clear weak points, and take an awful lot of bullets to take down. The change of pace can be somewhat jarring, but the fights are great fun. Weak points can be exposed using the leash to rip away armour protecting them, or battered away with enough ammo. One particularly enjoyable fight sees you take control of a robot dinosaur that was previously stalking you, and taking down wave after wave of enemies, like your very own episode of Godzilla.

It’s not a particularly difficult game (at least on normal difficulty); as was becoming standard by then, you have no health bar or armour pickups – instead when you are close to death your HUD warns you to seek cover, where your health will automatically regenerate over a couple of seconds. Your basic weapon, an assault rifle, refills a portion of its ammo when emptied either at the end of a wave of enemies, or immediately during a boss fight, so you cannot run out of ammo at a critical moment.

Droppoints are plentiful, and ammo for most weapons cheap enough you’ll never be low in any case, but it’s fun to conserve ammo by using your leash and the sole of your boot to bring about the bad guys’ ends. You’ll also use droppoints to choose which three weapons you want to carry, assigned to Left, Up and Rught on the D-pad. You’d think this would add a layer of strategy, choosing the right weapon for an upcoming fight, but I have found myself playing almost exclusively with pistol, assault rifle and sniper rifle, and having no trouble progressing.

If you missed out on this game 8 years ago, or a few weeks ago on PS+, it’s still priced as a budget title, at around €40 on PlayStation and Xbox stores, cheaper in physical stores, and €10 on Steam. Even at €40 it’s a good price for a great game, but wait for a sale if you like, I’ve already got it. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it, despite having played it through previously, several years ago.

RetroRam’s Games and Lames of the Year 2018

It may be a little early to be considering my favourite games of the year, here in the middle of November, but the simple fact is I’ve done my game purchasing for the year, with the exception of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which comes out on disc in a couple of weeks. I am not expecting that to make this list, and I may even cancel my pre-order because right now I’m not in a gaming kind of mood.

This year has been one of transition for me as a gamer. I’ve been playing less, due to familial commitments. I dumped my PlayStation 4 and allowed my Xbox One S to become my main gaming machine. I finally accepted that Xbox Game Pass (and similar products) have a place in the world, and signed up for it using a discounted membership I bought elsewhere. So, without further ado, here are my games and lames of this year – which was 2018.

Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One) – Recently released, this is the latest in one of my favourite series. I love cars, I love racing games, and whilst I prefer the more orderly progression of the Forza Motorsport games, there’s a lot of fun to be had tearing about the countryside in a Ferrari F40, smashing through walls and collecting bonus boards all over. FH4 is set in the UK, albeit mainly the northern parts of it, which for a Brit like me is a nice touch. It’s nice enough racing around digital approximations of other countries, but to see familiar landmarks in a game is quite a feeling. It’s not the best of the series, indeed it has a few issues that I won’t go into here, but they’re hardly game-breaking, and the overall product is wonderful.

Celeste (Xbox One & Nintendo Switch) – Yes, I liked this game so much I bought it twice! On the surface yet another retro-styled game; the difference is, this one has class. Beautifully presented, the graphics are well thought out, and the music is amongst the very best you’ll find in an indie game, modern or otherwise. The story follows Celeste as she attempts to climb a mountain, struggling to overcome her own inner demons as much as she struggles to overcome the physical obstacles in her way. It’s a touching tale, the emotional impact only strengthened by that soundtrack and by some clever narrative choices. The game is tough as nails, with plenty of replayability in the shape of collectible strawberries hidden throughout, and each stage has a hidden casette (won by completing a smart rhythm-based section) which unlocks a harder “B-Side” (and later C-Side) version of the level. One of my games of the decade.

Dark Souls Remastered (Xbox One & Nintendo Switch) – Another game that I bought twice, having previously fallen in love with the original game on PC and PS3. One I’m not only happy to return to every few years, but in this case I’m paying both Remastered editions concurrently, more or less keeping up with myself in each copy! The Xbox One edition is truly fantastic, running super smooth and looking great. Sure, it looks like a game that is a few years old (because it is), but it does a lot to improve what we saw previously, even over the previous PC version. The Switch version deserves a mention because (as I’ve mentioned in a previous post) it is simply wonderful to experience the game on the handheld console. It makes some concessions with the graphics, particularly you’ll notice that spells and fire look far less impressive, but the fact that it is running with a quite steady framerate here is impressive. I’d put it next to Skyrim as a technical achievement for Nintendo’s famously underpowered console. Dark Souls is one of my favourite games of all time, and this is simply the best way to enjoy it today.

The Messenger (Nintendo Switch) – In a similar vein to Celeste, this game has a retro style, and places you against difficult odds, expecting you to improve through repeated trial and error. It’s another well-made retro-styled game, with a great aesthetic and compelling gameplay. Well worth a play.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Nintendo Switch) – Not strictly a new game, this Wii U port came to Switch earlier this year, and it’s a great game either way. Essentially creating a full game from the Captain Toad bonus stages from Super Mario 3D World, this collection of puzzles has a delightful style and simple execution. Captain Toad can move in all directions, but he can’t jump. You must guide him to collect all the stars in a level and make it to the end, using the environment to your advantage. Each stage has a bonus goal, such as collecting a set number of coins or finding a hidden bonus item, and further replayability as you go back into a level and must locate a hidden piece of pixel art similar to those found in Super Mario Odyssey. The cutesy presentation hides a puzzler that becomes increasingly difficult as you progress, but never becomes infuriatingly obtuse. Switch is a natural home for this type of game, which was originally designed with Wii U’s Gamepad in mind.

Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition (Nintendo Switch) – I really wanted to love Final Fantasy XV. I’m not sure why, honestly, because besides 7 and perhaps 8 and 9 I’ve found the series to be absurd and.. well, a bit naff. XV does have a great look to it, and after some adjustment I came to quite enjoy the new combat system. Pocket Edition strips the game of many side quests and a lot of the boring exploration, replaces the shiny “real world” graphics with a cartoon, chibi style, and streamlines the experience, originally for smartphones. It’s a fantastic idea, and has opened the game up for those of us who, simply, can’t be bothered to pay through the tens of hours of the main game, but still want to enjoy the story and basic gameplay.

Super Meat Boy (Nintendo Switch) – Yet another game I’ve purchased more times than is sane, Super Meat Boy is another of my all-time favourites, so when it surprised me by appearing on the Nintendo eShop I had to grab it again. A super-polished game that tasks you with navigating perilous stages to save your girlfriend, there is great humour to be found here. Stages have no time limit, but to meet a target time grants you “A+” status on each level, and each world has a number of hidden bandages (plasters to us Brits) to find and warpzones to uncover – these transport you to some very clever retro-inspired stages, in the style of Game Boy or SNES games. Various characters are unlockable as you progress, based on other indie games of recent years, and each controls differently with their own special power that can help you collect bandages that are just out of reach, or simply complete the stages in a different way. One of my essential games.

Labo (Nintendo Switch) – “Nintendo charging for cardboard,” they said. Right. Just as I gave Mini thousands of Euros for “some metal and plastic”. I felt compelled to add this one to balance the negativity in my review of Nintendo Switch Online (below), as Labo is in fact quite ingenious. Two packs came at launch; the one I bought was a general pack including a number of toys to be built, but there was also a massive wearable (for kids) robot, and more packs coming in the future I believe. When I got the pack home I spent a couple of hours building the piano. Well-designed and easy to build, using video instructions provided on the game cartridge, the final product is solid and has proved a conversation piece since. With the switch in place, you can… play piano on it. Multiple methods are available to alter the sounds the piano makes (through the console), and you are encouraged to experiment with your own solutions (such as cutting a piece of paper into random shapes to control the waveform produced). Other toys in the set include a fishing game and motorbike handlebars, which can be used as a controller for Mario Kart 8 DX! Now I’m just going to wait a few years for my son to be ready for it, and we’ll have great fun exploring the rest of the cardboard fun.

Those are some of my very favourite games from the past year. I can hardly end this without a bit of negativity, so here follow a selection of big disappointments, sure to stir some controversy. Whatever, this is my list.

Shenmue Collection (Xbox One) – I’ll be fair and say that this review relates only to the first game of the pair, as I’ve been unable to consider trying the second. The opening cutscene is laughably terrible, like a bad old martial arts movie, but without the charm. Once you gain control you find things don’t improve much, as the crappy dialogue is so poorly recorded and compressed that it makes your speakers buzz even at low volumes. The controls are of the kind best left forgotten in the new millennium, and the game’s attempts at presenting a real world are also very much of their time – with no place in today’s world. I bet you love me now, don’t you.

Flashback (Nintendo Switch) – I mean this isn’t a terrible game. It’s very good. For 1992. Not as timeless as some would like you to believe, this game is at times confusing, hard to control, and generally not as much fun as it should be at the price they released it for on Switch.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (Xbox One) – I really didn’t want to put this game here. Rockstar so rarely misstep for me, and I had high hopes for this one. GTA V, their previous release, is one of my all time favourite games. I’ve played through it three times at >40 hours a go, and never been bored. RDR2 however managed to bore me even during the introductary scenes. Once it’s over and you’re in the game proper, I just haven’t been compelled to progress. A handful of missions done (10% apparently) and I’ve basically been phoning it in. The game is beautiful, really doing good things with current generation hardware, and has all the hallmarks of Rockstar’s attention to detail and their version of realism. I didn’t really enjoy the previous Red Dead game either, until it started to click on about the fourth restart. I played that one to the end, ultimately enjoying the experience, but I guess the setting works less for me than one in the modern world, such as GTA presents. Ho hum.

Nintendo Switch Online (Nintendo Switch) – Something of an honourable mention, Nintendo Switch Online is terrible. The few online games I’ve tried to have of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe have been plagued by lag which means I have been hit from behind by someone in front of me, and failed to hit someone ahead of me with a red shell because they’re not actually there. Pretty annoying. The complementary NES games are something of an insult, or at least a disappointment. The same old games that have Nintendo sitting on their Laurels, repackaged for subscribers. Nothing but NES games. Before the system even launched, Nintendo had us teased with suggestions of a Virtual Console to include a back catalogue up to GameCube. This should certainly be possible on the console, and imagine how great it would be to revisit some of those games – except it appears Nintendo have realised they can re-issue these old games on a cartridge and charge top dollar, negating the need to sell them for a fair price online. This is becoming something of a rant. So strong are my feelings on this matter. The simple fact is, if you want to charge money for something – particularly something that was previously provided for free – you ought to make sure it works first. It’s not like there aren’t two decades of competing services to draw lessons from.

There you go. Some highs and lows of my year in gaming. You may agree with all or some of these, or you may not. Either way look me up on Twitter and we’ll chat about it! @BitlandGaming.

Art Commissions Open!

Having recently had some fun creating some RetroRam avatars for my Twitter account, I’ve decided to open up commissions for anyone who wants my help with a unique avatar for themselves!

He-Ram
He-Ram and the Baaaasters of the Universe

€10 / $10 / £8 will get you a custom avatar in the style of the pictures in this post, to use on Twitter or any forum you wish. Prints are also available starting at €15 / $15 / £12 plus p&p per print in standard photo size (4 x 6″ or 10 x 15cm).

Ram-bo
Ram-bo

Depending on your needs, there are plenty of other options of art style. Check my portfolio at DeviantArt for an idea of what I’m good at and perhaps some inspiration.

Ram-ona Flowers
Ram-ona Flowers

Besides avatars, please contact me if you’re interested in larger prints. Naturally the price for these will be higher – particularly for a custom one-off, but we can discuss that separately. Most of my work on DeviantArt is also available as a print directly from my profile there.

Jean-Claude Van Ramme
Jean-Claude Van Ramme

Find me on twitter @BitlandGaming, or email me BitlandGaming@gmail.com to discuss further. Payment through PayPal.

Dark Souls Remastered (Switch) – half-baked semi-review

One of the finest action games ever made, that’s how I’d describe Dark Souls if I were short of time. I’m not, so I’ll say some more.

After a few month’s delay the Remastered version of the game (released on PS4, Xbox One and PC in May of 2018) came to Switch on October 19th. I’d read no official reason for the delay, but were I a cynic I might assume it was due to the imminent release of Nintendo Switch Online, a paid service that is required to enjoy the fullness of Dark Souls with its often-frustrating PvP system and sometimes-helpful messaging and player bloodstains that may offer hints as to how others have died horribly so that you may avoid their fate.

Whatever the reason for the delay, I have to say the result was worth the wait. I was concerned about the Switch’s capabilities for this game. It runs, frankly, pretty badly on PlayStation 3 and even PC in its original state, so I imagined something similarly unimpressive here. But what do you know, I was wrong. This is truly an impressive port.

Because of the delay to this version, I bought it on Xbox One. Anyone that has played that version and the original will know how it was improved – not just in obvious graphical ways, but also with a higher, stable framerate. As far as remasters go, it is one of the greats. The Switch version is not quite up there with its big cousins, but it’s not very different at all. A few particle effects are absent. Bonfires are less impressively animated. But overall, once you’re playing, the game runs smoothly and is easily amongst the best looking games on the system’s lovely little screen. Battery life suffers as you’d expect, with 10%!disappearing in a short play session. Similar to Breath of the Wild, so I’d assume about 3 hours of battery-fuelled playtime. I haven’t yet had a chance to play it docked, so can’t comment on how it performs there, only to posit that it would be at least as good as in handheld mode.

I’ve played so far through Undead Burg and Undead Parish, defeating the Bell Gargoyles before I called it a night. Everything is where you know it to be from other versions, and whilst I have noticed a small amount of slowdown a couple of times, it’s never been enough to distract. Blighttown is one area that was plagued with slowdown in the original version, but as I’m not there yet I’ll have to trust other reviews that suggest this isn’t the case in Switch.

The controls are surprisingly good too – using the Joycons. I had assumed they’d not be up to the task, and was prepared to return the game if I couldn’t enjoy it fully in handheld mode (the only reason I bought this) but I needn’t have been worried. Those tiny, stubby joysticks are not ideal, but I’ve also had no problems adjusting to them. The only problem I’ve had is with the L and R buttons, used for blocking and light attacks respectively. With my big hands on those tiny buttons I’ve found myself unguarded as my finger has randomly stopped pressing down. Further adjustment is needed I suppose.

Another minor issue with the game, though an understandable one, is that you can’t use sleep mode. This is also true of the other consoles. Put the console to sleep and it shuts down network access. Lose network access and the game kicks you to the title screen, forcing you to reload (but your position is saved). The nature of the game means you should really be quitting to title before sleeping the console anyway, lest something nasty come get you while you’re away.

Fortunately load times are incredibly fast. Some games on Switch take twice as long as their other console versions to load, but not here. A few seconds and you’re ready to continue where you left off. They’ve truly optimised the game for the system, in a way few developers seem to care about.

There’s not really a lot else to say about it. I have Dark Souls (original version) on PC and PS3, and the remaster on Xbox One and have played it through once on each. It’s a fantastic game, and this is a fantastic version of it. If you have an Xbox One, a PlayStation 4, or a PC, and don’t care about being able to play the game in handheld mode, then those are (slightly) superior ports. Otherwise you won’t go wrong with this one, a nice upgrade on the original release with the benefits of the Switch console added to the mix.

Life After PlayStation (or How I Turned Green)

Yesterday I took my beloved PlayStation 4 Pro to GameMania, a bag full of games for it (and a couple unwanted Switch cartridges) and asked them how much store credit they’d give me in exchange. It was sufficiently generous, so the deal was done. I came home with half a dozen Xbox One games (all of which were replacements for my favourites of those I’d just traded in). Also Dark Souls Remastered for Switch, but that’s another story.

I’d made the decision to ditch the PS4 the previous night; after once again trying to make progress in Spider-Man and being unable to hear the game at suitable-for-that-time-of-night volume levels because the system’s cooling fan was making a terrible racket. Spider-Man isn’t even the worst offender, with Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War being two main offenders. It was driving me to distraction and after trying in vain to solve the issue – removing the top of the console to see that the fan was indeed clean, turning off Pro-related settings such as boost mode and supersampling – I was at my wits end.

One option, I supposed, was to trade my Pro and pay the difference for a PS4 Slim. A smaller, nicer looking console, I hoped the Slim maybe wouldn’t have the same problem. But maybe it would, and I’d essentially be paying good money to downgrade my PlayStation 4.

So I instead went for plan B and dumped the system. As I said up there, I received fair compensation for my traded games and console, more than I expected by some margin, so everyone was happy. I even went back this morning (with the controller I’d forgotten to put in the box with the console – the shop manager knows me well enough that he hadn’t checked the console before accepting it!) and traded the rest of my PS4 games – all of them except for the system exclusives, leaving me with around 25 games to stick in my cupboard of forgotten things.

A part of the decision that weighed heavily was the loss of 90 downloaded games that I would receive no compensation for. They’d just be gone. But then I have 330 on Steam and haven’t had a PC in five years. I got over that. It’s just a shame to have wasted so much money on them. But at least, like Steam, they remain on my account, ready to be downloaded to a PS4 that I may purchase in the future. I just wish I’d backed up my saves before I initialised the console…

So, the benefits of having dumped a system (bearing in mind that I also own an Xbox One and a Switch). I’ve drastically reduced the number of games I have on disc. My Xbox One is full of downloaded games, mostly the Forza Motorsport and Horizon series and dozens of older Xbox Live Arcade titles that carried over from my Xbox 360. Disc-wise I now have 22 for that system, around two thirds of which were replacements for PS4 games I just got rid of. I have a similar number of Xbox and Xbox 360 discs on the same shelf that are backwards compatible. So, say 44 discs. Before I had all those older Xbox games, about 8 Xbox One discs, and 90 PS4 discs. I’d literally spend several minutes choosing a game before playing – which is one reason I have moved more towards downloading games.

Decluttering is good for the soul. Tidy a messy room, you’ll feel good in the end. Clear out a drawer full of useless tat, you’ll feel cleansed. This is kind of how I feel having drastically reduced my gaming life. I prefer the Xbox One in general – the controller being the main factor, also the backwards compatibility, but mostly (for the sake of this text) because it’s silent even when the fan gets going. Let’s just leave Switch out of this. That’s a different thing altogether.

The main upshot of all this is that my Xbox One has become exciting once more. I bought it about a year ago, a Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels bundle, purely to play the Forza games (after being bitterly disappointed by Gran Turismo Sport on PS4). Over the next few months it took more and more of my time, particularly as I expanded my Forza collection, but also revisiting old favourites from the previous Xbox consoles. Every now and then I’d think I’d better give my PS4 a play tonight, it’s been a while. Now, without that distraction, my Xbox One is my main source of entertainment, and it’s great.

So my advice to you, dear reader, is this. If you find yourself stuck in a gaming rut, with so many games that you don’t know what to play, get rid of some of them. The ones you’ve had for a year or more but never played. The ones you bought because you know all your friends on Twitter would be really impressed you have it, even though they’ll never meet you in real life to find out. You don’t need them, and cleaning up your collection just may be the thing that makes gaming exciting again.

Spider-Man – a crazy conspiracy theory

Like so many of you, I purchased Spider-Man for Playstation 4 yesterday, and managed to put a good few hours into it. It’s a fine game – in particular they’ve nailed the feeling of soaring through the (incredibly clean) New York. Naturally there’s discussion on Twitter, and through the magical medium of abstract thought I came to a fun theory, which I will lay out here. For a laugh.

Spider-Man

While I was playing, my wife came in from work and asked “are they trying to make him sound like Tom Holland?” to which I replied, “well, this is Spider-Man.” I recognised the voice, which prompted me to look the game up on IMdB, where I found that Spider-Man is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal who, amongst his dozens and dozens of credits played The Prince in two of the Prince of Persia Trilogy – namely The Sands of Time and Two Thrones.

Now, as you’ll know if you’ve played said Trilogy, in Warrior Within the Prince gains the ability to not only control time (rewinding after a missed jump for example), but the ability to travel through time using special gates, with the palace and associated traps changing from working order to a crumbling, decayed mess. You’ll notice that Lowenthal did not voice The Prince for Warrior Within (the second game of the three). I wonder why that would be… and so we come to the meat of the theory.

(Remember this is for fun).

The Prince (and his voice actor) travelled through time to the present day (well, a few years ago), discovering New York and settling there. Honing the acrobatic skills he’d brought with him, and using his mastery of time to give the illusion of “spidey sense”, he created the character of Spider-Man to help him hide from his enemies, who were still after him in the guise of the various villains of Spider-Man’s universe.

There you go. Silly, isn’t it. Or is it? After all, Prince of Persia…… Peter Parker…..

All Change!

So I deleted a lot from this blog today – namely 130 daily sketches.

I’ve been trying to rediscover and focus my talents on my art with a daily sketch every day this year. So far I’ve not missed one, which is quite satisfying in itself after almost 4 ½ months have passed. Until last week I was posting every single one of those images to this blog (with a little explanation text), Instagram (cropped to square) and on Twitter (linking to the associated blog post).

As seems to be the norm, I’d get a lot more likes on Twitter than views on this blog, and many more on Instagram. It was starting to feel to me like the blog shouldn’t be a repository for my art. It doesn’t display as a gallery of any sort, and the way people consume art seems to be quite disposable – it needs to be easy, a couple of seconds taking in the idea of what they see, maybe hit “like” and move on to the next distraction.

So I moved to DeviantArt. Here you will find all my daily sketches to date, all future pieces, and eventually other relevant art too. If you feel so inclined, you can also support my via DeviantArt as any and all pieces I post there will be available for purchase in a number of sizes and media.

Thanks for all the support I’ve received so far in this endeavour, and rest assured this blog isn’t over – it will just be more tightly focussed on my writing than my art.