Category: Reviews


Developer: Airtight Games

Release date: PC – June 21st via Steam, Xbox 360 & PS3 – July 11th via download

A couple of years after co-creating the groundbreaking hit Portal, lead designer Kim Swift left Valve to join, Airtight Games. After the colossal success of Portal setting up an equally sizeable precedent for her first project, no longer in the loving embrace of Valve, can Quantum Conundrum live up to its predecessor?

Quantum Conundrum, much like Portal, is at its heart a puzzle game, where you manipulate time and physics of the environment around you in order to progress. You start off with the ability to turn even the heaviest objects as light as a feather, by transforming the world into fluff; so if you need to carry an object like a safe on to a pressure activated switch, you turn it to fluff, place it on the switch and go back to normal, bringing it to its full weight. As you progress, more options are given to you how to change the world around you, including the ability to make everything heavier, slow down time to a crawl, and reverse the flow of gravity completely; the caveat here, is that while this is all happening, as the one who manipulates these physics, you’re immune to the changes that take place.

Some men just want to watch the world burn… or turn to fluff.

The plot to Quantum Conundrum is pleasantly simple: you play a 12-year-old boy who’s been sent to stay at his uncle’s mansion for the weekend, who happens to be an eccentric scientist and inventor called Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, who also created the Interdimensional Shift Device (or IDS for short), the very tool you have to use to make your way through his mansion and its many puzzle rooms, in order to reach the generator which will open up the pocket dimension the professor trapped himself in after a botched experiment.

The simplistic plot – while welcome for avoiding being convoluted in a game based around physics manipulation – falls somewhat short. The professor does offer background narration as you make your way through, via a disembodied voice but there’s little to compel players to keep progressing through the game’s many levels, beyond seeing and attempting to solve the next puzzle. Luckily, its puzzles are strong enough that it can hold a player’s interest, and much like Portal, its later levels can leave you flummoxed at first, and make you feel like a genius for solving it.

One of the many, many safes you’ll see throughout the game.

It’s hard not to compare Quantum Conundrum to Portal, given that their frameworks are almost identical, but this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing; ever since its release, apart from Portal 2 there haven’t been very many games to even attempt to emulate the formula laid out by it. Quantum Conundrum doesn’t necessarily have that charm that Portal has, but it does have a charm of its own; there are jokes littered throughout, including classic books with scientifically parodied titles (such as ‘Great Exponentiations’, ‘To Kilowatt a Mockingbird’ and ‘Prime and Probability’ among many others), paintings of the professor and his pet Ike (a bipedal feline-type creature with the ability to teleport) and their journeys through time, and bizarre contraptions which aid you along your way.

No, this isn’t the vomit dimension, this is what happens when the world flips.

Quantum Conundrum may not have set a new standard the way that Portal did, but it’s definitely a game that you shouldn’t ignore; it’s extremely clever, fun, engaging, and has a level of ingenuity few game developers even dare to live up to. I got around seven hours of playtime out of my first playthrough, but there are challenges that can keep you returning, like finishing a puzzle with a limited amount of dimension shifts, completing them within a set time limit or finding hidden collectables. As far as downloadable titles go, Quantum Conundrum is a must; give your brain a work-out and play it.

 

Overall: 8/10

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After almost a decade long hiatus from the world of games (and a brief, yet abysmal foray into the world of cinema), Max Payne is back once again to shake up the third person shooter genre. During his absence, many contenders have come along and changed the landscape of the genre, including Gears of War and Uncharted, both with their own brand of combat and bombastic narrative, and both enjoying great success; so can Max Payne still stand out in such a competitive climate? The short answer is: yes, but read on, and I’ll tell you why.

For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the first two games, titular character Max Payne is one of your classic anti-heroes; the grizzled cop whose life was turned around upon the murder of his wife and daughter by a drug addict. Upon his quest to exact revenge against the people who were supplying the drugs the addict was taking, the story is befitting with its noir backdrop, having Max tumble down the rabbit hole, and his actions turn from righteous to morally ambiguous.

This is the kind of fashion I want to rock when I’m in my 50s.

Many deaths and many years later, we return to Max in Max Payne 3, more grizzled, more self-destructive, and – as usual – with nothing to lose. We see Max in his new job, retired from the police and working as private security for one of the richest families in Sao Paolo, Brazil. At first, it seems like an easy gig for Max; watching over rich kids who party all day as he drowns his sorrows at the bar in a tailored suit, but wherever Max goes, trouble’s sure to follow, and true to form, it does. Members of the family are targeted and kidnapped by some of the city’s most dangerous gangs, and Max and his security partner, Passos, are tasked with finding out why they’re being targeted, along the way discovering things are not quite as they seem.

Up until the release of Max Payne 3, many expressed concerns with the game, based on impressions from the trailers, and changes in development. Unlike Max Payne & Max Payne 2, which were developed by Remedy, Rockstar (creators of the Grand Theft Auto series) took the helm, and series creator and original writer, Sam Lake, was replaced by Dan Houser (writer of Red Dead Redemption and most of the Grand Theft Auto series). Initially, people complained that the noir elements which embodied the original games and the change in writing duties were detaching the series from its roots; thus, it wasn’t going to be a Max Payne game. I can say with all certainty that those naysayers are dead wrong. For one thing, noir isn’t just how something looks; a greyscale world do not a noir make. Noir is all about story; it’s about the self-destructive anti-hero, the conspiracy, the hard drinking, the ambiguity, the darkness of the setting, it’s not just about how it looks, and Max Payne 3 nails down noir perfectly.

It’s like they made a game based on my daily life.

As for the change in writing duties, Max Payne 3 has a narrative that’s stronger than ever; since the triumph that was Red Dead Redemption, Dan Houser has proven himself to be one of the strongest writers working in the games industry today; he has the ability to make you truly care about the characters you need to care about, and invest in their quest. The story is tightly threaded throughout the entire game, forgoing the comic book stills the past games used as transitions to tell the story, and repurposing them through cut-scenes and Max’s narrative during gameplay. The narrative works as an effective tool that works dynamically with Max’s actions; if you pick up a bottle of painkillers (the game’s health restorative) Max will justify his reasons for picking them up and using them, much like anyone would in the grip of addiction.

Now, to the gameplay; the original Max Payne games pioneered the usage of Bullet Time in its gunplay, a technique which many games that followed it adopted. True to its predecessors, Max Payne 3 reintroduces this mechanic; when you have enough time built up through killing enemies in normal speed, you can slow down time or perform leaps through the air, which gives you greater control of your aiming and take down a room filled with enemies with greater efficiency. You’re not invincible during this time, so you have to keep on moving and be wary of your environment. Thanks to Rockstar’s repurposing of the RAGE engine and its fantastic implementation of body animation, it can cause problems for Max; if you perform a Bullet Time leap too close to an object and leap into it, it can appropriately interrupt your action as you collide with it.

Gunplay is always fun, fast and frantic, and staying true to the original games, Max Payne 3 has ignored the modern shooter trope of regenerative health, and makes the player reliant on a health bar, something that will both challenge players, and make them realise how the modern shooter has a tendency to coddle them. As such, Bullet Time can be the saving grace which can help you make use of those last few bullets and your last slither of life.

Everyone hates campers.

Max Payne 3 is also pleasing to the eyes and ears; not only does it offer animations that few games can rival, characters and environments are impressive in both their design and variety; never did I encounter repetitive enemy models, or areas that mirrored another aesthetically. Both Max and his enemies make good use of the world around them, vaulting over railings, tumbling down stairs when knocked back by a shotgun round and even diving through windows. The game also delivers some spectacular set pieces; similar to quick time events in other games, there are moments where the player is forced into Bullet Time (usually during some reckless stunt performed by Max), and you’re tasked to take down as many enemies as possible. They’re always welcome, and never fail to impress.

Max Payne 3 also marks the series’ first entry into the multiplayer realm, and whilst one might see this as one of the ways modern developers haphazardly tack on the feature to increase longevity, this is not the case. Max Payne 3 has a robust, rewarding and most importantly, fun. It includes modes such as deathmatch and team deathmatch (along with versions with higher player counts and larger maps), but it also features some interesting and unique variations. There’s ‘Payne Killer’ where gang members with limited arsenals are tasked with killing two other players who take on the roles of Max Payne and Passos (who are kitted out with more substantial weapons and painkillers), should they kill one of them, they take on their role, and hold on for as long as possible. The ones who attain the most kills as the main characters wins. There’s also ‘Gang wars’, where two rival forces compete against each other; one attempting to fulfil their objective, as the other does their best to prevent them. This mode tends to be the most challenging, as the player count is higher, it’s not just about killing, and it takes place over the space of six rounds.

All in all, Max Payne 3 is a solid return to the series; its campaign feels richer than its predecessors, both in scope and length, lasting around 12-14 hours. Few will feel the need to return to the campaign, once it’s finished, unless they want to complete modes such as score attack or New York Minute (where you have to make your way through a campaign level as quickly as possible without dying once), but for those who don’t, the multiplayer is more than to keep people returning to Max’s world, long after you’ve seen his tale of corruption and redemption reach its thrilling conclusion.

 

Rating: 9/10

PC version reviewed

Back in October, Demon’s Souls had a relatively quiet release in the US; it didn’t come with the hysteria usually reserved for big game releases like your Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto games, it was simply… well, released. Shortly thereafter, reviews started appearing on gaming websites, and the results were that Demon’s Souls is good. Very good. So good in fact that it won numerous awards, including IGN’s, GameSpot and GameTrailers’ ‘RPG of the Year’ award, and not only did it win that award with GameSpot, but they also gave it the most illustrious award of ‘Game of the Year’. Needless to say, I was very intrigued. Bearing in mind this game had beaten off competition like the mighty BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins. Developers FromSoftware had made something special, something people said was cripplingly hard, but still incredibly good and addictive. I write this review at 6:30pm GMT, I started playing today’s session of Demon’s Souls at 1:15pm, and I didn’t realize where the time had gone until my stomach started to groan. It goes without saying, Demon’s Souls is good; very, very good.

Now despite the fact we here in the UK usually share close windows of releases with games, this is one of those occasions in which if you wanted to play Demon’s Souls you’d have to either import it or wait for a release date (which at first many thought wouldn’t actually come). I chose to wait, not out of choice though; when the game came out I was relatively broke and unemployed, so I had to be somewhat frugal, especially when it comes to the at times pricey matter of import games, and honestly I wish I made the investment as it would’ve helped me wittle away those hours (but at the same time it would’ve probably prevented me from actually searching for employment). The game was released here at the end of June, so this is a somewhat belated review due to both release and of course the time which I’ve sunk into playing it. I’ve completed the game once and I’m still not done.

Demon’s Souls is a jRPG by name, but its grounding seems almost western in nature, what with the medieval architecture and olde english dialect. The story itself is relatively light, you are a warrior who has decided to enter the troubled kingdom of Boletaria, a fictional European locale steeped in a rich history but torn asunder by an ancient power known simply as ‘The Old One’, in a desperate search for power, King Allant, the ex-ruler of Boletaria brought a fog which engulfed the lands after his attempts at channelling souls caught the attention of The Old One, and in turn Allant was consumed, and demons were unleashed, who feasted upon the souls of mankind, and those left soulless were doomed to insanity.

This charming fellow is a God, and you have to defeat him...

Though the story is light, and most of the dialogue takes place within the Nexus (a hub in which demon slayers may rest and develop their skills), it honestly doesn’t matter. The world is so incredibly engrossing, beautifully dark in its design, and constructed in such a way that will keep you on your toes with each and every turn, never knowing what may lay in wait.

Now if you’ve read any reviews or even descriptions of Demon’s Souls, you’re pretty much going to hear the same thing from every person, and this review is no exception; Demon’s Souls is indeed an extremely hard game, brutal even, not for such a long have I played a game which is so crushing in its difficulty. One may question though “how can something so difficult to play be so good at the same time?”. The answer to this is simple, because even though Demon’s Souls seems almost leviathan in the task expected of you, and the world so punishing, the game is never unfair. It’s expertly crafted so that every aspect of the combat and the build of your character determine your success. When you die in Demon’s Souls (and you will die often), you’ll get frustrated, but at the same time you’ll have learned what you did wrong, and know what to do when you get to the same point again. And although dying is part of the natural order, you quickly realize that you need to be careful, and every action whether it be stepping off a ridge or the swing of a sword must be taken into hefty consideration. Combat isn’t about who can swing their weapon the hardest; it’s about timing and execution, every action is beautifully animated, and enemies can be both unpredictable and deadly in their riposte. And no, you can’t simply sit behind your shield and wait for the right time; your equipment wears and needs to be repaired, and there are some attacks you simply won’t be able to block. You can dodge some attacks, but time it wrong and you’re going to take the full brunt, and that can be the difference between life and death.

So you might think that dying in Demon’s Souls is no big deal; just respawn and try again, right? Sure, you can respawn, but the consumables you’ve used won’t return, and most importantly you’ll have lost the world’s greatest commodity – souls. Souls are the biggest commodity in the game, you can buy new weapons, ammo, spells and pay for item repairs with them, but most importantly you use them to develop your character; as you carry on through the game you’ll need more and more souls with each additional level. At the start of the game, you start at a Soul Level which is dependent on which class you chose, and it generally only costs you a few hundred souls to upgrade, but as I stand now at a soul level of 104, I need around 64,000 souls to upgrade by only one level. I get more souls from each enemy, now that I’m in my New Game+ state, but they’re now harder, and with greater gain comes greater risk of you losing everything you worked hard, and possibly in one fell swoop.

I wonder what their honey tastes like.

I could go on about how incredibly testing Demon’s Souls can be on a player, and I know that there are some out there who will simply give up on the game, unwilling to tolerate its unrelenting nature. I know how they feel, I know because I was there too; by the time I reached the second boss who swiftly killed me in two hits, I put the game aside and thought “how the hell am I supposed to beat that?”, but after searching around on the wonderfully comprehensive Demon’s Souls Wiki (which I can’t recommend enough to anyone out there who wishes to master this game), I found some advice, and next time I made my way to the Tower Knight I was optimistic yet ever cautious about the approaching battle, and I took him down and claimed his soul. I can say with all honesty, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt such a sense of accomplishment from doing something in a game.

Demon’s Souls success doesn’t lie solely on the gameplay and accomplishments, it also has one of the most innovative and original online components I’ve seen in a RPG. You can play the game offline, but in doing so you miss out; when you’re online you can see the ghosts of other warriors passing through in real time, and everyone can leave messages on the floor from a prescribed list (which is actually a great way to avoid players trolling). These messages can warn people of upcoming obstacles, falls or even strategies on how to approach certain enemies. You can even mislead others into a false sense of security by leaving fake messages, but this doesn’t mean the world is littered everywhere you step with them; people can rate messages, and low rated messages will disappear. Not only that, but people within your range of Soul Level can assist you in your quest, they can leave blue signs on the ground and you can summon them to lend a hand, doing so gets them souls, and of course lessens the load of an otherwise overbearing boss. Not all is camaraderie in the world of Demon’s Souls though; just as you can summon others to help, people can invade your world as a Black Phantom, and attempt to kill you and take all your souls, when this happens a message will flash on your screen and they will hunt you down in your own world, from this point on you’re left to defend yourself, it’s exhilarating and unique, and adds to the feeling of ever looming threat and the prospect that while the world you inhabit is your own, there are others there to both help and hinder you.

The red guy's a Black Phantom, or as they're more commonly known as in Demon's Souls; 'Oh shit'.

I could honestly go on about Demon’s Souls, it’s truly a magnificent game and one that no PS3 owner should go without; more to the point, Demon’s Souls is important not only as an RPG with its incredibly innovative online features, but for games as a whole. I remember a couple of days after playing it, I was speaking to someone about and said “I’ve not played a game so hard since the original MegaMan games” and it dawned on me that I wasn’t just being facetious, I genuinely hadn’t. I’ve been playng video games for nearly 20 years, and I can say with all confidence (and this is where I start to sound old) that games simply aren’t as hard as they used to be, and this isn’t a good thing. What’s a game without a challenge? It’s a moving picture which you can make little characters move around with no consideration of actions or consequence within the world (hence why we get so many people  exploiting certain game mechanics, in order to achieve something few others have). A lot of people mistake difficulty for how long you have to grind to build your character’s level up, or even by the achievements or trophies included with the game. Demon’s Souls does have its trophies, but compared to the colossal sense of achievement that comes with slaying that mighty foe that once eluded you, they are nothing. Demon’s Souls is a hard game, but it’s all the richer for it. Why? Because you have to work hard in Demon’s Souls if you want something out of it; people afraid of a challenge need not apply, but those looking for a game that will test their mettle, and their aptitude as a gamer cannot go without playing this. When you see those credits roll at the end, you’ll feel both relieved and satisfied that you’re now one of us few who can proudly proclaim “I have beaten Demon’s Souls“, and when they’ve finished you find yourself back in the Nexus with all your stats and equipment, and the world’s that bit harsher with stronger enemies and higher stakes, and you can’t wait to do it all again.

My only complaint; every other game’s going to feel like a walk in the park after this…

Rating: 96/100