The Binding of Isaac Review

I am incredibly poor. I have been for a while. Those of you who have actually bothered to read all my reviews will realise that, because the newest game I have reviewed is about five years old. Spec Ops being the only one released this year. However, I am about to improve on that by reviewing a game that’s only about a year old! Go me!

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The Binding of Isaac is an independent game designed by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl (Thank Wikipedia). I believe McMillen had a hand in Super Meat Boy, but I’ve never played it before. It has been given the classification “action-adventure” which is a genre I’m almost certain doesn’t exist. They just slap that on anything that they can’t classify. I would call Binding of Isaac an action plat former.

You play as Isaac, a small naked boy who is running away from his murderous mum through the basement of his house. The game takes heavily from the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac where God demanded a sacrifice from…Whatshisface, in the form of his first born son. When Whatshisface was about to kill his son (Isaac) God popped up and said “LOL! Only joking!”. (A quick google search shows that Whatshisface was actually called Abraham).

But that’s not all they rip from the bible. They use the book of revelations a lot, including the four horsemen, although this always infuriates me. Did you know Pestilence isn’t a horseman? Never has been never will be. The four horsemen are, War, Famine, Death and CONQUEST. Conquest being the anti-Christ. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, back on topic, they also have biblical objects as items throughout the game, such as actually being able to find and use the bible itself, the dead sea scrolls etc. So, as you can tell, pretty heavily biblical references, but they treat it almost as a parody, without the humour.

Isaac is running through the basements, naked and crying as I said and being attacked by strained, twisted creatures which he beats away using his tears. That’s right, he defeats the monsters by crying at them. And my dad said that there was no point crying at bullies. This game proves him wrong!

I’m trying to think of a game to compare it to, but I can’t really think of any. The closest I can come up with it side scrollers like Golden Axe. There’s five or six enemies in a room that all die in one to four hits. Once you’ve killed them all you move onto the next room. You have to defeat the boss monsters to move onto the next level and on each level there is a treasure room, with a free item in it, and a shop where you can spend coins on items.

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The mechanics of the game are mostly good. You can use the mouse or arrows keys to fire your tears and W,A,S,D to move around the room. What does annoy me no end, however, is the fact that Isaac can’t shoot diagonally, yet enemies can. Really, really unfair. But then, that’s the game in a nutshell. It seems to be designed to frustrate and infuriate.

You start off with three hearts and lose half a heart for each hit you take (a whole heart in later levels) and you have one life. That’s it. If you die, you start THE WHOLE GAME AGAIN. It took me over ten hours of gameplay to finally defeat mom at the end, and even then I discovered there were more ‘secret’ levels and a brand new final boss.

Some of the enemies have really cheap attacks as well, like the jumping spider things that can only jump a certain distance, unless they feel like ruining your day in which case they seem to be able to jump the length of the room and are therefore almost impossible to avoid. Or the fireflies that shoot three pellets at you, but they start off in the air so it’s really hard to judge where they’re going to land until you’ve already lost four hearts.

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The bosses are arbitrary as well. The selling point of the game is that the levels are randomly generated, so no play through is ever the same. The bosses are also randomly picked at the end of a level. It creates a curious scenario where on the penultimate level you can face a piss easy boss, but on the next play through face the toughest boss in the first level and get completely decimated.

And, of course, the items are randomised as well. Which means in the first level you could get a game breaker, like the laser tears and plough through the rest of the game in minutes, or you can play every level getting through by the skin of your teeth and only ever receive crap items that do nothing to help you.

So, do I recommend Binding of Isaac? To be honest, I don’t know. It’s another game like War Commander where there are plenty of negatives, and yet I don’t seem to be able to stop playing it. For some reason going through twenty playthroughs getting destroyed and rubbish items seems worth it for that one run where you get the best gear in the game and smash your way through with ease.

It’s a fun little time waster. It’ll take you attention for a few hours, maybe even more like thirty hours if you get into it as I have. But it won’t distract you from games with more depth. If I had Mass Effect and Binding of Isaac in front of me, I’d grab the Mass Effect disc every single time.

7/10 – A fun, shallow little game. It’s the kind of game where you will play for ten hours or so then get bored, then try it again in a few months and find yourself hooked game. However, it’s not a patch on most mainstream titles.

Let’s Play: Gobliiins

Today, I began my Let’s Play of Gobliiins!

I played Goblins when I was younger. It was one of the few DOS based games that would actually work on my family’s computer. My memory is very hazy, as is clear from my playing style. Hopefully it’s good for a giggle, especially when the unexpected happens…

War Commander (Facebook Game) Review

A mixture of illness and work has prevented me putting up a blog as often as I would have liked. Truth be told, I haven’t played enough games recently to do a review, so I thought I would review the game I’ve been playing while ill.

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War Commander is a Facebook game developed by Kixeye and was first shown to me by a work colleague. He invited me to it to fulfil his invite a friend mission and I promptly got hooked, so I blame him for the loss of my social life.

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The game itself is a bit of a cross between internet war games such as Travian and mainstream real time strategy games such as Starcraft. From Travian, it takes the ridiculously long upgrade times (Anywhere from 5 minutes to a week) the large PvP focus (as in, if you don’t want PvP don’t play it) and a heavy clan or guild emphasis.

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From Starcraft, it takes the mechanics. You attack bases and can control your platoons as you wish, using diversion tactics, aerial assaults or whatever strategy you can come up with. In the end the game becomes taking out the opponents defences before ransacking the rest of the base for resources.

Occasionally there will be special events in the game, which liven it up no end. Usually they take the form of destroying special enemy bases, or defending against waves of attacking enemies. While fun though, these can also become repetitive. Some kind of freshness definitely wouldn’t go amiss.

As I said, the mechanics are very Starcraft-esque, right down to the units shouting affirmatives whenever you click on them. I just wish they had ripped off the control system as well. The controls in War Commander are frustrating at best, and ball buggeringly annoying at worst. The amount of times I tried to tell my units to run away because they were getting there asses handed to them only for them to do a neat little pirouette on the spot that, I admit probably would have scored high in a ballet competition, but did little to impress the enemy in a war.

Or the amount of times I tried to select my air units because, again, I was getting decimated, and for me to manage to select all but three of them and have to watch as the rest of them abandoned their comrades because in order to select the aircraft you have to click on the ground that their floating above, not the graphics themselves. How stupid is that? You want to select that unit? No no, you can’t click on it. You got to click slightly under it moron! Didn’t you even know that?

The game can be frustrating in a lot of ways as well. A lot of the people on the game seem to live only to annoy you and will flame in the world chat given half the chance. Some of the wait times are ridiculous with the best tank you can get in the game taking a few MONTHS to upgrade fully. And if you want to get resources quick, the best way is to attack rogues (NPC bases) and steal their stuff. But all the rogues have just three or four different base layouts, so killed one of them, killed them all.

So the question after the last few paragraphs is, then why have I spent most my time playing it recently? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s because it’s one of the few games that can say you need to use tactics and be telling the truth. You try and go head first into a base and your units will be killed, stuffed and mounted above the enemies fireplace before you can yell “Charge!”.

Or maybe it’s because I enjoy real time strategy anyway. Starcraft is one of my favourite games ever, even though the second one was disappointing. Or maybe it’s because I love the idea of someone halfway across the world jumping up and down on there hat in frustration as they log on to see their base looking a lot more like rubble than when they left it.

I’m not sure if I can recommend War Commander. I’ve had and still am having, lots of fun with it. But I can easily see how the negatives would outweigh the positives for some people, especially those who have less patience than me.

It’s a nice little time waster, but not the kind off game you can lose yourself in.

6/10 – I don’t think it has anything except niche appeal. If you enjoy games like Travian, I think War Commander is miles better than that. If you enjoy games like Starcraft, you might manage to get into it. Other than that, I can’t recommend it to anyone else.

Spec Ops: The Line Review

It took quite a lot to convince me to buy Spec Ops: The Line. I’m getting sick of modern shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. I think they’re all the same and save for a few moments of inspiration, they fail to hold my interest.

I went into Spec Ops expecting another boring ride through the usual set pieces, but within the first few missions my cynicism was flipped upside down.

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Spec Ops is a third person cover based shooting game, which, I’ll grant you, seem to be coming out every few days. But we aren’t here for the game play. The selling point for Spec Ops is the storyline.

You play as Captain Walker. Walker and his two lackeys, one named ‘Lugo’ one named ‘I can’t remember’ are sent into Dubai a few weeks after the biggest sandstorm in history hits the city, to search out Colonel Konrad who had  been in the city trying to evacuate the citizens. Walker has no idea where Konrad is, or even if he is still alive, but instead of leaving and telling the US Military this, he decides the best thing to do would be to explore.

The story in most of these games are just a loosely related series of events. Missions seldom flow into each other because in some games you can be in different cities, or even different countries. Spec Ops is one of the first gritty realistic shooters I’ve found that has emphasis on a good story campaign.

The first few missions were par for the course. Walking down narrow corridors that the game pretends aren’t narrow corridors with a few fire fights here and there. The turning point for me game around the third or fourth mission when I was forced to walk down a narrow corridor in a basement surrounded by bodies. Blood everywhere. From what I could tell, most were civilians and seemed to have been executed.

If you have seen any adverts for this game, you will know that one of the selling points of the game is trying to portray the horrors of war. You aren’t really there to have fun. You’re there to learn what war is really about and the game succeeds in this amazingly. In most games like COD you would smash through the enemies in front of you and proceed to become the hero with no mention of civilian loss. Spec Ops makes you watch as your actions and choices condemn those around you and you start to feel the pressure.

About half way through the game when the choices started coming thick and fast, I started to feel the pressure. I tend to play games for the happy endings. In all the Fable games or Mass Effect games I try and make everybody happy and keep everyone alive. In Spec Ops, you can’t. As simple as that and boy, it starts to feel frustrating after a while.

The story is fantastic. I can’t stress enough how much I loved the story. I know my summary of it was a little vague and that’s purely because I love it so much I don’t want to spoil it for whoever ends up reading this. You will only get the impact from it if you play it yourself.

However, not everything is perfect. The actual game play, because after all, it is a game, not a book, is somewhat lacklustre. By no means bad, but not amazing either. I found it competent enough. You click and your character can usually be trusted to fire his gun. If there is someone in front of the gun they can generally be expected to fall over. That’s about it.

There is a brief mechanic where the game expects you to shoot out windows to make sand fall onto your enemies, but looking for them in the middle of a fire fight felt unnecessary when I could be using the energy just to shoot the bad guys. There are a few set pieces where you can’t progress unless you shoot out these windows, but your support characters are helpful enough to shout at you to do it until you actually do.

I forgot to mention the two support characters. Just about every game ever has to have support character’s these days. It’s some kind of law. In Spec Ops if you press a button one of your support guys will through grenades. If you press another, the other one will snipe an enemy. But again, these just seemed out of place. In order to get your sniper to shoot someone you have to have your cross hairs over an enemy and if I’m doing that, I might as well just use my own gun to kill them. Again, there are a few set pieces where this is necessary, but the game forgets about it after the first few tutorial levels.

In summary then, if you are going to play this game, do it for the story. If you are fed up with the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, give Spec Ops a go. The game play is by no means revolutionary, but I can guarantee the story will make up for it.

Score – 8.5/10 I couldn’t bare to take a whole two marks off, so I only took one and a half off for the game play. Don’t get me wrong, I found the game fun. The fighting was adequate if nothing else, but everything that it tried to claim as unique had already bee done before. The whole rest of the mark is for the story, because, frankly, I have never seen anything like it and I doubt you would have too.

‘Mount and Blade: Warband’ Review

I’m going to start this lame excuse for a blog by talking about the game I have played most of recently. I know it’s a few years old by now but I’ve enjoyed it more than most main steam titles recently.

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I bought the entire Mount and Blade series off of the Steam sale a few weeks back. Obviously, I started out playing the original simply called ‘Mount and Blade’ and found it lacking. It was a unique idea handled clumsily before it slipped through their fingers and smashed into a billion pieces onto the hard floor made of crap.

Mount and Blade: Warband is effectively an expansion pack for the original, however unlike most expansions, they just completely re-released the entire game with the extras installed in it and it was a massive improvement.

The unique selling point of Mount and Blade is that you command your company usually of between 50-150 troops. You will fnd yourself attacked by bandits or armies of an opposing faction and have a big battle with you able to jump right into the middle of it and start kicking shins. Kind of like the ‘Kingdom Under Fire’ series, except waaay better.

In the original, all you could really do was join a faction, beat up other factions and take their stuff and aim to conquer the entire map. However, in Warband you have much bigger aspirations. In Warband you can start up your own faction and beat all the other into submission until you are King of everything! You can also get married! I’m a bit of a sucker for marriage and romance in games. Except for the Fable series. The constant whining of my wife used to annoy me. She didn’t seem to understand that I had a big sword and she was a weak feeble woman.

But I digress, let’s get right into the important aspects of the game and discuss gameplay. I actually really enjoy the sword fighting mechanics in the Mount and Blade series. The attack commands are quite pitiful being nothing more than ‘click to swing sword’. Right clicking will use your shield, again pretty standard and tame, but the bit I like is when you are equipped with just a sword.

You have to watch your opponent’s swings and prepare to parry a split second before the swing is to hit you. If you parry too soon you can end up parrying in completely the wrong direction. Too late and you’ll end up with a curious sword shaped piecing in your torso. Of course, you can also fight on horseback, hence the “Mount” part of the title, which is probably my favourite part of the game. You go pelting into the battle on your trusted steed and swing your sword wildly slicing up the enemies a treat. There is nothing more satisfying than going flat out of your horse towards and enemy on foot and swinging your sword perfectly to catch them right on the neck as you zoom passed and see them drop to the floor as you turn for a go at someone else.

However, with every good mechanic, there must be a bad one. For me, the worst part of the game is the bandits you encounter.

Tell me how this makes sense, I am wondering around with a company of about 75 seasoned, hardened troops. The kind of people who have killed hundreds of enemy soldier’s each. Suddenly 60 bandits appear. They have had no training. They are nothing but criminals and wankers. How the heck to they see my military trained troops and say “Yep, we can take them”? And I am always proved right! I smash their troops with minor casualties to my own after about half an hour of fighting, I loot nothing usual from them, so all it ended up doing was delaying my game by half and hour.

The graphics are also poor but then I never seen graphics being important. Put make up and a bow tie on an angler fish and I still wouldn’t want to play with it. The women in this game look incredibly alike, I had to go into edit mode before I was happy to marry one of them. There are several bugs with some NPCs, and on one occasion me, getting trapped in a stone wall. Attacking castles is a right bitch as well with there usually being only one ladder up the walls of the castle and the NPC dumbasses getting stuck at the bottom and/or top and sitting there happily while the enemy archers shoot us all to death.

To summarise then: Mount and Blade was developed as a quick cost effective game so don’t expect fantastic graphics or an in depth complicated plot that will change your life forever. However, the combat is fairly engaging and enjoyable and if you go into it with the right mindset it will suck out all your free time before you realise it.

Games like this should be encouraged. Apart from the Kingdom Under Fire similarities (A game series I LOVED the concept of but never got into) it is one of the few original titles I have come across recently. So if you’re getting bored of all the Call of Duty games and would like something slightly different, I recommend trying out Mount and Blade.

Overall Score: 7/10 – Good but not great.