Resident Evil HD (PS4) – Review


The original Resident Evil must be one of the most re-released and re-made games ever. Originally released for the Playstation over 20 years ago, back in 1996, it has since been ported to everything from the Sega Saturn to PC to the Nintendo DS. The first version I played was what’s often referred to by fans as the “REmake”, when Capcom released a new version of the game with vastly improved graphics for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2002. That version has since been remastered, and a HD version was released on a host of recent consoles a couple of years ago. Capcom seem to be aiming for total Resident Evil saturation.


As far as graphics and production goes, the HD version of RE on PS4 is pretty much perfect. The HD version has a widescreen display that shows off the pre-rendered backgrounds and environments to great advantage. While other games might boast superior or even photorealistic visuals, few can match the consistent visual atmosphere achieved here. You have no control over the camera, and every scene is shot from a fixed angle, with your character moving in relation to the camera. This limits the visual information available to you, and game director Shinji Mikami and his team create some of the most effective and memorable jump scares in gaming. Resident Evil established the survival horror franchise at a stroke, and it’s not hard to see why. This is an outstanding horror experience. Of course, the lack of camera control is a trade-off, and occasionally you’ll find that an abrupt change of camera angle causes your character to run into the clutches of a monster or something. This is an inevitable result of a conscious design choice, and most players will agree it’s worth it: Resident Evil is a uniquely framed experience.


The sound design is also commendable. The largely minimalist and ambient “soundtrack” often just consists of silence punctuated by wind, dogs howling, or the creaking of the old manor in which most of the game is set, but it does a great job of establishing atmosphere and is often very unsettling. One of the first games to feature a decent amount of voice acting, Resident Evil was somewhat notorious for its corny script and the hammy performances of its cast. Recent versions of the game have toned this down a bit, but the dialogue and acting can still raise a laugh. Characters often act in a way that’s hard to credit, and use redundant phrases and bizarre intonation¬† (“We have to get a GRIP… on the situation”; “I used him for my personal purposes.”) But it’s in keeping with the B-Movie inspired plot, and the rest of the series has largely shared this game’s slightly camp, tongue-in-cheek tone.


Resident Evil allows you to play through the campaign as either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, although you’re strongly encouraged to play through it more than once. Both are series stalwarts, having appeared in multiple games at this point, so it’s nice to go back and see where they started. Jill has always been an awesome and widely, er, admired character, but Chris is quite likable here–though they’re both a bit dimwitted. In recent games, an older version of Chris has become a super-serious steroid junky with a puffy face, so this was a welcome return to a more relatable version of the character. The game is slightly easier if you play as Jill, because she can carry more stuff, has a lockpick, and has access to a powerful weapon Chris doesn’t get.


There are a few storyline as well as gameplay differences depending on who you choose. Moreover, Resident Evil is a game where you really have to learn the layout, item locations, and puzzle solutions, especially if you are playing on one of the higher difficulties. Even on Normal difficulty, Resident Evil can be very difficult and punishing for new players: ammunition and health are in short supply, and your ability to save your progress is strictly limited by the number of ink ribbons you can find. You’re often best advised to run away from monsters, avoid engaging and hope they don’t outrun or grab you. The tension is normally just right, and for the most part it’s expertly balanced to be challenging without being unfair. Nevertheless, this kind of experience is quite different to the more frustration-free gaming diet most of us expect these days.


Many Resident Evil fans went ballistic after the release of Resident Evil 6, which was seen by many as an abandonment of the survival horror roots of the franchise. I must say that playing Resident Evil now, even the HD version, limiting mechanics like the tiny inventory and restricted saves can be a pain in the ass, and this style of game is not a growth market. It’s pleasing, therefore, that Resident Evil 7 seems to have largely impressed people so far by re-interpreting traditional “survival horror” in a contemporary context. That said, I’m studiously avoiding reading any reviews. Zombies don’t scare me any more, but I live in fear of spoilers. Let’s hope that some of those new to the series are inspired to check out where it all started.


Cheers (Seasons 1-3) – Review


Cheers was a hugely successful comedy, running for eleven seasons and 270 episodes between 1982 and 1993. Cheers began with a very simple formula, as a situation comedy set in the titular bar in downtown Boston. Cheers revolves around retired pro baseball pitcher and bar owner Sam Malone, and a cast of characters comprising bar staff and barflies. The first season is set entirely in the bar, and each episode begins with an announcement that it was filmed in front of a live audience. Later seasons include other scenarios as well, moving the action into the homes of some of the characters, and by the end of the third season we even have scenes taking place outside of Boston.

The physical location of the show in a single bar, filmed entirely in front of a live audience, gives the first season of Cheers a wonderful energy and at times it feels almost like watching theatre. The actors sometimes laugh and break down under the comedy of their own lines, and there’s an obvious chemistry at work on set that adds a spark to the show. In particular, there is excellent chemistry between Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and the new barmaid, haughty graduate student Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), which gives the first season real magic. For a comedy filmed well over 30 years ago, the first season is still enormously entertaining, partly because the main storyline (the will they/won’t they dynamic between Sam and Diane) is so timeless. Sometimes the episodes have a theme which belies the show’s age, such as when Sam is pressured by his regulars to exclude some gay customers from the bar. But Sam generally ends up doing the right thing, often under the direct or indirect influence of Diane.

One of the things that makes the first season of Cheers feel so special is that it is a profoundly democratic comedy. At their best, pubs and bars are leveling public spaces where people from different walks of life come together to share their problems or have a laugh over a couple of drinks. Cheers’ iconic intro sequence captures that perfectly, conveying the social importance of bars to community spirit and social bonding. This is carried through to the writing, and over the course of the first season Diane comes to relax and lose some of her superior attitude, while Sam and, to a lesser extent, some of the other denizens of the bar see their moral and cultural level rise ever so slightly. In the first season, Cheers also demonstrates a mature capacity to create rounded characters, generally avoiding the easy option of painting people as caricatures or lazily vilifying them. Sam’s alcoholism is also introduced and handled sensitively, at least at first.

The first season of Cheers received critical acclaim, but it wasn’t a ratings hit. It was only with the second season that ratings started to pick up and it slowly became the commercial success it’s now known as. The writing of the second season takes a bit of a turn for the worse, in large measure due to the decision to make Sam play a shitheel role for a number of episodes. This may be important for storyline reasons, but it’s hard as a viewer to see a character you’ve come to like behaving reprehensibly episode after episode. That said, season two is still pretty good, largely for the same reasons as the first, and continues to be very funny for the most part.

Season three sees the introduction of psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), a breakout character who was to star in the frighteningly successful spin-off that bore his name. Frasier is a very welcome introduction to the show, and most of season three’s best moments revolve around Frasier in some way. Unfortunately, the general level of season three is notably inferior to the first two seasons, and the beginning of season three in particular contains some very disappointing episodes. One of the major problems with season three is Sam’s bartender “Coach”, a retired baseball trainer. Coach is supposed to subscribe to the trope of the dimwit with a heart of gold, but the character shows a proneness to selfish and manipulative behaviour which is very unappealing and at times difficult to watch. Coach was fine as a background character but during seasons two and three he takes too much of the spotlight, and his overacting and lame and one-dimensional jokes wear thin very fast.

The actor who played Coach, Nicholas Colasanto, became seriously ill during the filming of season three, and it’s obvious that he loses weight and looks more and more unhealthy as the season progresses. I know that Colasanto was admired by his co-stars and that many people are fond of the Coach character, so I should emphasize that the criticisms I have of Coach as a character stem from the script, and can’t be attributed to the actor’s health problems. To a lesser extent, I noticed the same phenomenon (overacting; repetitive and tiresome one-dimensional jokes) with the character of Carla, the other barmaid at Cheers. Carla’s obsessive and unrelenting dislike of Diane wears thin, and I really hope that her character sees some development or progression in coming seasons, as I’ve grown fed up of her character by the end of season three.

You can get all eleven seasons of Cheers for twenty or thirty pounds in the UK. 270 episodes is a lot to get through, but it’s pretty low-effort fare which lends itself well to regular viewing. Fingers crossed we can stick it out, because Cheers has the potential to keep T. and I entertained for a long time to come. I’m hopeful that the arrival of new character Woody (another breakout role, this time for Woody Harrelson) will see season four come close to the heights of season one. If not, we might just have to move on to Frasier itself. But the first season of Cheers is easy to recommend to anyone, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth the price of admission.

Season 1 – 10/10

Season 2 – 8/10

Season 3 – 7/10


Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA/Wii U) – Review


The Game Boy Advance was blessed with a wonderful games library, including no less than three full Castlevania games. The only one I played back in the day was Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, and while I enjoyed it at the time I found myself frustrated by the darkness and obscurity of the GBA’s screen. We’re relatively spoiled now with bright, HD smartphones and iPads, but when the GBA was released 15 years ago, it was a challenge to get an affordable handheld console to power semi-decent colour graphics at all. The result was that most GBA games were constrained by what now feels like a tiny, dark screen, which often didn’t do justice to the artistry of the game designers.

The Wii U Gamepad is the perfect way to re-live GBA games such as Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Its screen is much bigger and far brighter than the GBA’s, meaning the graphics are much clearer and you can see a level of detail that would have been missed on the GBA itself. Castlevania games are known for their atmospheric environments and distinctive enemies, and Aria of Sorrow is no exception. As you explore Dracula’s castle you’ll traverse a number of varied areas, and the background and architectural detail is often impressive. Enemies hark back to other Castlevania games as well as classic horror books and movies, and the models are well-drawn and expressively animated. The same goes for the main character, charismatic bishounen Soma Cruz, as well as the surprisingly large cast of NPCs you meet during the adventure.

There’s another reason the Gamepad is the perfect way to play Aria of Sorrow, beyond the enhanced graphics. I found that my HD TV suffered from a bit of input lag when playing the game on the big screen. This is not an issue for most of the relatively sedate or turn-based RPGs I play these days, but it really matters for something like this. Aria of Sorrow is an action-adventure RPG with a lot of platforming, and accuracy and timing is quite important. Even if it doesn’t cause Soma to die, it just doesn’t feel quite ‘right’. Plus, playing it on the Gamepad screen means someone else can make use of the TV, which is a bonus.

Aria of Sorrow is a ‘MetroidVania’ game, a term which refers to the design of a large, 2D gameworld made up of different rooms (some very large), which gradually open up as you defeat bosses and acquire new abilities. Aria of Sorrow is reasonably well paced, for the most part, with your journey punctuated by a number of boss fights and occasional scenes of dialogue and exposition. You’ll spend most of your time exploring the castle and fighting monsters, slowly leveling up and increasing your health and magic pool. Soma has the ability to absorb the souls of monsters he defeats; monsters will randomly drop ‘souls’ which Soma automatically collects, and which you can equip to access new attacks or defensive moves. There are a lot of souls to collect, and although many of the special moves are very gimmicky, it’s fun and sometimes amusing to try them out. The drop rate seems fairly generous, and I never had to spend more than a couple of minutes grinding for a particular soul. You can also find a variety of different weapons in the castle, mainly swords, spears, whips and so on, which can increase your damage, range, or attack speed. All in all, there’s enough variety in the combat system to keep your attention, and you’ll probably find yourself switching out weapons and souls with some frequency.

One of the main reasons to experiment with your load-out are the boss fights. Aria of Sorrow throws a number of inventive bosses at you, with some interesting mechanics. Some of the bosses are quite cheap–for example, using near-screen filling attacks which it’s hard to dodge–and the game has something of an ‘old school’ feel about it in that regard. This can become frustrating, and I imagine I’m not alone in having a lower tolerance for these kinds of encounters these days. Still, there are those who enjoy the experience of defeating borderline unfair bosses, and Aria of Sorrow never made me give up in frustration.

As well as pretty decent graphics, Aria of Sorrow features a robust score, with some catchy themes that have a real 16-bit flair to them. On the whole, the production values are quite high, but the Western localization might raise a few eyebrows. Although the dialogue is by and large fine, some of the enemies and weapons have names that were somewhat lost in translation: Kali becomes ‘Curly’, Scarmiglione is ‘Skull Millione’, while the spear Longinus becomes ‘Ronginus’ and the demon Rubicant the vaguely suggestive ‘Lubicant’. Aria of Sorrow’s story is fairly predictable, but well told, and Soma Cruz is an appealing lead. There are multiple endings, and completing the game unlocks the option to play through the story as a new character, but that’s probably for Castlevania completionists only. Most players will probably make do with just the main story, which at ten hours or so is just about acceptable value for the ¬£6 and change the game will cost you on the Wii U eShop. The Castlevania games are discounted occasionally and I picked Aria up for under a fiver at Halloween.

Aria of Sorrow was very well-regarded when it was released back in 2003, sometimes spoken of as one of the best games on the GBA. Personally, I’m not so sure it has aged that well, but it’s still a good example of the MetroidVania formula from a time when the franchise was still more or less in its heyday. These days, regrettably, Konami shows little interest in Castlevania, although longtime series producer Koji Igarashi is working on a crowdfunded spiritual successor, Bloodstained, due out next year. Anyone interested in playing a Castlevania game other than Symphony of the Night could do a lot worse than Aria of Sorrow, and the Wii U Gamepad is almost certainly the best way to play it.


My 5 most anticipated games for 2017

2016 was a good but not spectacular year for video game releases. Plenty of games enjoyed commercial as well as critical success, but there were few stand-out hits, for me anyway. Looking at Metacritic’s top 100 games for 2016, it’s not until no. 27 that a standalone game appears which appealed to me. Good job then that 2017 is looking very promising indeed, with a number of blockbuster games slated for release before the year is out. Fingers crossed their release dates don’t slip too far!

5. Red Dead Redemption 2


Rockstar’s open-world Western epic Red Dead Redemption, released in 2010, is one of my favourite games of all time. The game was a bloody homage to classic Westerns like Unforgiven and The Wild Bunch, and an excellent video game in its own right. Not much information has been released yet about its sequel, but presumably the game will have a massive budget, and the few clips released so far suggest Rockstar hope to eclipse even The Witcher 3 in terms of scale and ambition. RDR 2 was only announced in late 2016, and I would be more excited were it not for the fact there are a bunch of important games due out much sooner. Moreover, there’s a good chance the release date for this one will slip into 2018.

4. Resident Evil 7


I must be one of the few people who thought Resi 6 was a really good game. When I finally played it, on PC in 2015, I enjoyed it immensely and found it an exceptionally satisfying action-horror game. I’m actually playing the HD remake of Resident Evil on PS4 at the moment–the first time since I played it on Gamecube over a decade ago–and while it’s still a good game, I find I don’t miss the endless backtracking and inventory management. However, the masses have spoken and Capcom seem to be heeding the popular call for a return to the survival horror roots of the series, at least in part. One of the exciting things about Resi 7 is its bold use of VR, as Capcom have indicated the entire game will be playable on Playstation VR. The potential of this is huge, both good and bad. I’ve experienced how immersive VR can be, and the prospect of playing through a Resident Evil game in a VR headset is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. It’s a risk to include this in a franchise main entry rather than testing it out in a spin-off first. But whatever, we don’t have long to wait until we know what it’s like: the game is due out on 24 January.

3. Tales of Berseria


Another game due out in January, Tales of Berseria has actually been out in Japan for some time, where its reviews have been very positive. This is good news, as the last entry in the franchise, Tales of Zestiria, was a bit of a mixed bag and something of a disappointment as the first Tales game to hit the PS4. At its best, the Tales series delivers an unparalleled RPG experience, with a knack for creating interesting characters and worlds, colourful graphics, and deep and engaging real-time combat systems. It’s also exceptional among RPG franchises for its regular inclusion of couch co-op, making it a massive favourite in our household. We can’t wait to see how the adventures of Berseria’s heroine and her crew match up to previous Tales games.

2. Mass Effect: Andromeda


The Mass Effect trilogy provided an outstanding, inspirational story and setting, one of the best I’ve enjoyed in any medium. Naturally, therefore, I’m excited to see what the next Mass Effect game has in store, although it will be strange not to share it with Commander Shepherd and the crew of the Normandy. I expect I’m not alone in feeling some trepidation about the prospect of a new ME game, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be concerned at how publisher EA will handle this beloved franchise. The developer, Bioware, has a lot of good will in the bank, but this isn’t really the same Bioware that released the first Mass Effect game almost a decade ago. The lengthy trailer that came out a month or two back raised as many questions as it answered. Here’s hoping the game does justice to the legacy of its predecessors. I’m also looking forward to its multiplayer, as the online co-op horde mode included with Mass Effect 3 was really excellent, and not just because it finally let you play as a Biotic Volus.

1. Persona 5


I’m a latecomer to the Persona party, having played my first Atlus game last year. But Tokyo Mirage Sessions was my game of 2016, and I’m now hooked on the formula used by the Shin Megami Tensei/Persona games and their various spin-offs. Persona 4 regularly features in best-game-ever lists, and Persona 5 has already attracted rave reviews since its release in Japan last year. This game has been delayed almost as often as Duke Nukem Forever, but the experience of Doom last year seems to have proved that interminable delays aren’t always a bad thing. Going by the trailer alone, Persona 5 looks like it will be awesome, and it could well be the stand-out game of a very promising year. Fingers crossed.

Other thoughts

It’s not a coincidence that all my most anticipated games of 2017 are coming to PS4, though they’re not PS4 exclusives. Sony’s console is firmly ensconced as the main console of this generation, so it’s obvious why developers want their games to appear on it. Plus, the PS4 is particularly well catered for with JRPGs.

That said, two other games deserve a mention here. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is due out soon, and does look pretty appealing. I was a Zelda fanatic as a teenager, but I haven’t been excited for a Zelda game since Twilight Princess. As a loyal, suffering Gamecube owner, I grew increasingly frustrated by that game’s endless delays, and was disappointed by the lacklustre final product when it was finally released for the Wii. Breath of the Wild is thus the first Zelda game in a decade to stoke my interest, but I don’t know yet if I’ll get it on the Wii U, or wait and maybe buy it on the Switch some point down the line.

The other RPG I’m curious about this year is Dragon Quest VIII, due out imminently on the 3DS in just a couple of weeks’ time. I never owned a PS2, so missed out on Dragon Quest VIII the first time round (just like I missed out on Persona 3 and 4). But it seems to be regarded as one of the best entries in the franchise, so I’ll try to pick it up at some point this year.

So, all in all, it looks like there will be plenty to get stuck into in 2017–even leaving aside the dozens of already-released games I want to play this year.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP) – Review


Weirdness abounds in the world of Persona 2: Innocent Sin.

Preamble: I’ve been a fan of JRPGs for many years, but somehow managed to remain oblivious of the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series until the last year or so. Tokyo Mirage Sessions finally sparked my interest in Atlus’s well-regarded franchises, and I’ve since made it my business to collect as many of their games as I can. Specifically, with the much-anticipated Persona 5 due out in a few months, I decided to go back and play through some of the older games in the Persona series.

The first Persona game seems to be widely regarded as quite dated and non-essential, and so I started with Persona 2. However, one of the fascinating things about the SMT/Persona universe is the convoluted relationship the games have with each other, and Persona 2 actually consists of two parts. The second part, Eternal Punishment, was released on the Playstation back in 2000 and is now available for download on the North American PSN store for PS3 (though not in Europe). The first part, Innocent Sin, was released in Japan in 1999 but never got a Western release–until 2011, when it was released on PSP. Naturally, I didn’t want to play Eternal Punishment without playing Innocent Sin first. I played the PSP version of Innocent Sin, which is the subject of this review.

The Persona games have earned a reputation for the quality of their writing, which is manifested in good stories, characters, and relationship-building mechanics. Innocent Sin is no exception, and features a story which is highly unusual and original, during which you’ll meet a number of well-written and likable characters, and a number of scenarios to both entertain and move you. The main story starts with protagonist Tatsuya Suou, a popular but laconic high school student, and a group of friends trying to solve the ‘Joker’ mystery. Joker is a mysterious and malevolent entity who appears if summoned (sort of like Candyman) and who offers to fulfill your dreams, but who also steals souls. Joker is also seemingly behind a strange phenomenon whereby rumours are becoming reality. As Tatsuya and his friends investigate this mystery, they gradually uncover a vast and frankly bizarre conspiracy that draws in aliens, Nazis, and the Cthulhu mythos. This kind of zany nonsense would be a good reason to disregard some games entirely (cf. Assassin’s Creed), but Innocent Sin is different: partly because the zaniness is a function of human conspiracy theories coming true, but also because the characters themselves acknowledge the ludicrous and unbelievable nature of what’s going on.

It seems to me that one of the main reasons Atlus’s storytelling recipe is so effective is the basic sincerity and compassion with which they depict their main characters and indeed the vast majority of those who inhabit their game worlds. Innocent Sin is no exception, and for all the weird and wacky goings-on in the main story. the human drama that unfolds as the story progresses is peculiarly resonant and affecting. The themes that are explored–loss, coming to terms with your past, learning to know yourself and find a place in the world–are not unusual, but they’re handled with disarming maturity and simplicity, perhaps accentuated by the weird events of the story. It’s a moving, poignant, and memorable story.

While the story and writing has endured exceedingly well, and could be appreciated by most gamers today, the same can’t be said for the core gameplay. Innocent Sin is very dated, and relies heavily on dungeon crawling and the dreaded random battle mechanic. Dungeons look very generic, and your map is very limited, meaning exploration often relies on trial and error: and there is little more frustrating than wading through a sequence of random battles only to find yourself at a dead end. Many of the dungeons are relatively short, meaning this isn’t a major problem, but the endgame sees you placed in some massive, labyrinthine complexes. Even worse, once or twice you’ll find yourself completing a dungeon ‘against the clock’, with a game over in store if you don’t finish it in time. I played pretty much the entire game with a walkthrough open on my PC, and in this day and age you’d have to be a masochist to try and complete a game like this any other way.

Combat is a turn-based affair, but conducted in rounds. This means you enter your party’s commands, and then your party and the enemy carry out their actions in a certain sequence. It makes for a fairly abstracted affair and is really not that much fun. Instead of fighting, most opponents (who are usually demons) can be ‘contacted’ in an effort to befriend them and win items, money or cards. Each character has some unique ways of interacting with demons, which range from relatively familiar ones like “Persuade” or “Seduce”, to more creative methods like “Self-Promote”, “Discuss Manliness”, or “Do Impressions”. You can even combine characters to perform dual routines: some perform comedy sketches, while in one a female character performs a makeover on a male friend and laments he’s more beautiful than her. In fact, it’s heavily implied one major character is gay, and you can even pursue a gay romance between him and Tatsuya. Pretty groundbreaking stuff from a little-known JRPG from 1999. Demons react differently to your different performances, so you never know what will work. Unless you check a guide, but then you’ll miss out on some genuinely amusing interactions. The writing shows attention to detail and even these minor interactions show wit, sophistication and occasional bawdy humour.

One of the purposes of contacting demons is to acquire ‘cards’, which you can spend to summon Personas. These are equippable demons which make you stronger in battle and give you access to increasingly powerful spells and abilities. There are a huge number of Personas in the game and finding them all would provide you with plenty to do if you are that way inclined. The demon and Persona design is quite interesting, and draws on a very wide range of real-world mythology and anthropology, incorporating both relatively familiar beings as well as more obscure and interesting ones. These are depicted in equally creative fashion, and the game’s visual design and execution is a high point, at least as far as characters are concerned. Environments generally look bland and repetitive, but there are some fairly impressive FMV sequences, and the remake boasts an awesome intro sequence. I dare you to watch it and not be tempted to play the game. The game’s soundtrack is also excellent, with a very wide number of tunes and themes, some of which are really catchy and memorable, and a couple of which I think recur in other Persona games as well. Innocent Sin also features a limited amount of voice acting. This was very early days for voice acting, and much of what’s there comes across as a bit silly, with a few voices that sound like they’ve been done by the creators of South Park. In general, though, that’s in keeping with the tone of the game, and really doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

In a way, it’s a shame that Innocent Sin hasn’t been remade into an animated film or series, as the story and characters have an enduring appeal and value which one would think would be well-received by new audiences today. But the dated gameplay and mechanics would put most people off, and Innocent Sin can only really be recommended to the most intrepid of JRPG and Persona fans. As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing how the story continues in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.