All posts by James Pinnell
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

By on October 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

When you’ve been overseas for a fairly long time, you start to yearn for something more familiar. Not cane sugar Coke, Tim Tams or any of that rubbish, but the basic elements of social interaction that genuinely make you feel comfortable. Deep inside the Alps about 10 years ago, homesick and lonely, the Byron Bay-born bartender at my hostel became my best friend for three hours.

Hearing a genuine Australian accent within 20 minutes of starting Borderlands: The Pre Sequel instantly gave me a rapport with the game that only a few thousand other people would share. For once, there was regional humour, slang, and jokes in a game that weren’t painfully ripped out of a failed Crocodile Dundee script, and I fully appreciated all of the touches that said “Yes, this game was made in Australia, by Australians, and we should be proud of that”. But The Pre-Sequel is the sum of all its parts, and I wouldn’t be a very good critic if my entire review was simply an acknowledgement of the fact that 2K Australia exists, would I?

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Shadow of Mordor

By on October 15, 2014 at 4:26 pm

The almost universally positive reaction to Shadow of Mordor‘s AI and Nemesis System shows us exactly why scripted narrative needs be dramatically scaled down in many titles. I have argued on many occasions, on this site and others, that the sandbox is like an engine room for creativity and unique story generation — how many more videos are there on YouTube for games like Minecraft, GTA5, Just Cause, DayZ and Rust than traditional scripted fare like The Last Of Us? While what Naughty Dog have done with TLOU is a brilliant example of how to do scripted, linear, gameplay, it doesn’t necessarily engage people in a manner that pushes them to go back or share their experiences.

It also demonstrates why their is still a need for scripting in many games – but just not every game. Here’s why.

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Destiny

By on September 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm

There is nothing more satisfying than finding and buying a new pair of quality jeans, especially when the first pair you try on fit perfectly. For me, jeans will always be a distinctive part of my fashion repertoire, as they bridge that gap between tight slack wearing hipster and “my tie hurts” professional businessman. They are fairly season agnostic, and most importantly, no one will make passive aggressive jokes about your life choices both in front of and behind your back. They are a safe bet. It’s the reason why almost every man in the world owns at least 2 pairs and wears them almost all of the time. Next to a pair of Converse sneakers and a Blade 3 hair cut, they are about as average and conventional as life in a first world country can get.

Destiny is a pair of Levis 514 Straight Leg jeans.

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Dead Rising 3

By on September 4, 2014 at 10:47 am

The relentless open(ish) world of the Dead Rising games allows you to indulge in all of those zombie-destroying fantasies that you may have imagined in your stranger hours. The very first game, which debuted on the Xbox 360, gave me and many others the ability to mow down the undead with lawnmowers and baseball bats. Now the latest third one, which continues the apocalyptic slog, has introduced it to the next generation. Dead Rising 3 is, arguably, the best zombie experience that you can have on any gaming machine in 2014.

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Destiny

By on July 23, 2014 at 3:00 pm

The more I play Destiny, the more I struggle to define what keeps drawing me back in.

On the surface, there’s a lot to offer. Perhaps it’s the way Destiny manages to recycle much of the same content while still keeping it fresh and enjoyable — something many other MMOs have not been able to do. The combat is satisfying in a way that many shooters fail to execute correctly, because they either make the enemies too easy or too difficult. Charging through the nameless hordes, organically pouring out of dropships or quietly shuffling around the guarded shells of a dead Earth, continues to excite especially after you find that great new weapon or apply that upgrade.

The grind still exists and Destiny isn’t pretending it isn’t there — it’s just going out of its way to make sure you’re still having fun while doing it.

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Survarium

By on July 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

There are times when I’m playing a game — during those crucial stages where you desperately search for some sort of new mechanic or interesting function to latch on to — where I audibly sigh. I sigh because the game is uninspired, because I feel overly cynical for making such a snap judgement, and because I realise I’ve been playing and critiquing games for so long that it becomes second nature. Survarium made me sigh because I struggled to see the point of why it existed, in a sea of titles that were genuinely attempting to make a mark on the landscape and taking risks. The fact that the game took a shocking 36 hours to download should have given me an indication that the PVP-only beta I was about to play wasn’t even hosted properly.

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Sniper Elite 3

By on July 1, 2014 at 10:45 am

I share a longstanding joke with a colleague where every single Nazi-themed game instantly fails if you do not get the chance to kill Hitler. Hitler can be in any sort of form: Robot, Zombie, Art Deco, whatever. He just needs to have the iconic mustache, short stocky stature and a strong dose of facist dogma in order to meet the grade, and provide that most excellent of releases that video games were designed for.

The problem is that World War 2 was, frankly, a World War, and Hitler couldn’t exactly be in every theatre at once. So, unfortunately, in Sniper Elite 3 you do not get to kill Hitler.

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Destiny

By on June 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Activision’s brand new console-exclusive IP Destiny is a huge risk — the whopping $500 million dollar budget makes it the most expensive video game production ever, almost doubling GTA V‘s development cost of $267 million. There’s no denying that developers Bungie have got the goods, and their hallowed Halo history makes them well-placed to build the most expensive and expansive shooter ever — but can it deliver where others have failed? I took a look at the recent alpha weekend on PS4 and asked myself: will this work, and does it also deserve to have a place on PC?

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Everquest Next Landmark

By on May 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm

“Maybe you’re just tired of the genre?”

Every time I try to communicate my frustration at the glacial pace of innovation within MMOs, somebody comes along and says something similar to the above phrase. After all, when you have millions of active players sharing a pliable world, why should we attempt to widen the length and breadth of our thinking? Why not simply bash away at the same beasts, the same quests and the same dungeons over and over again? Am I right? No, actually. It’s been 15 years since EverQuest created the base line for what a 3D online role playing game should have been, and since then we’ve refined that concept to the point where the model is almost perfect. The problem is the players — they’re no longer happy just being pawns within the walled playground.

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redemption

By on May 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm

One of the (few) luxuries of being a freelance games journalist is that I rarely tend to be uninformed when it comes to most titles. Many of my colleagues are generally across almost every inch of every genre of every platform; meaning I usually know what’s good and what’s not by the time embargo lifts. But every now and again, just like everyone else, I fall head over heels with the idea or the concept, rewatching trailers and gasping at the pure adrenaline of the hype.

Deep down I know it’s a poor idea, with every ounce of logic in my body pushing against the charging train of sheer want. So I preorder. I preorder Sim City.  I preorder X: Rebirth. I preorder Diablo 3.  I beg and plead for early keys from the online grey suppliers, desperate for the bucket of games heroin to quench my nagging thirst. But the payoff, when it finally, initially blissfully, arrives, I’m left wanting: The game is bad.

But the marketplace is not the same arena that it once was, where games came permanently hardcoded onto cartridges, CDs and DVDs. There were no updates, patches, mods or expansions back in the golden days, so if a title was poor, it stayed poor for eternity. Game breaking bugs could destroy the livelihoods of a developer, squandering years of work in a matter of days and weeks as returns and leftovers piled up on store shelves. But in 2014 things are different.

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Earth 2066

By on May 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm

It’s easy to understand the appeal of crowdfunding, at least on paper — being able to pick and choose the projects that the community feels need direct support, and ensuring that they get a decent chance at completion. The reality, however, is much more fractious and complex. I’ve made it fairly clear over a number of features and editorials on this wonderful website, that crowdfunding of titles and the new regime of pre-funding development isn’t something I feel is a great idea.

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Nether

By on May 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

Survival games are interesting beasts. On the one hand their unforgiving nature, lack of obvious structure or direction, and ability to create unscripted suspense and horror stand as arguably the most redeeming parts of this burgeoning new genre. But on the other, a lack of community or player cohesion and little consequence for griefing, camping and harassment — alongside the absolutely staggering difficulty — scares away hoards of potential players, leaving almost all the power in the hands of a few aggressive individuals, a handful of hackers and a couple of server admins with god complexes.

The latest gladiator to enter this bloody arena is Nether, yet another Early Access title that combines a similar experience to titles like Dust or DayZ but also introduces a number of additional elements, such as world events, objectives and an optional “safezone” (which ironically isn’t actually all that safe). But I digress. Nether is… confusing.

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ArcheAge

By on April 22, 2014 at 1:03 pm

In the last few years that I have been writing for this fine outlet, I have heaped scorn on the current state of MMORPGs and their lack of innovation, their careful restriction of player control, and their almost dogmatic devolution to a decade old play model. In almost every case, there is a fierce battle from both sides of the aisle — those that share my opinion and lament the broken promises for change, the watering down of sandbox elements, and the stringent dedication to tropes like the Holy Trinity and the Raid. On the other hand, players who feel that the Theme Park style of play is really what defines an MMO claim that the problem isn’t with the system, but that it’s ultimately a lack of quality control on behalf of the developer, resulting in the slew of bugs that tend to infest launch titles, and half-baked features that don’t pan out or fit into the design matrix that the game is based on.

ArcheAge, to me, always felt like the logical bridge between the two paradigms – a “SandPark”, as the developers at XL Games refer to it. Taking both the structure of a Theme Park and the flexibility of a Sandbox, ArcheAge has made a lot of grandiose promises around things like farming, non-instanced player housing, naval combat and even treasure hunting. I graciously accepted one of the rare Alpha keys on offer from NA publisher Trion and set out to see if it was too good to be true.

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Betrayer

By on April 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

The year is 1604. Washed up on a beach after the (presumed) crash of your ship, you expected to find a thriving colony on the edge of the new world. Instead, what you find is an island full of ghosts, demons and a mysterious cloaked woman on a quest to locate her twin sister. Betrayer is easily one of the more ambitious indie titles I have seen in a while, with an opening so ominous, confusing and daunting it put me instantly on the back foot. Soon you’ll find your first “base” of sorts, Fort Henry — but from there, the mystery only deepens as the game forces you to evaluate your surroundings and discover clues to what has occurred. Why are there human remains solidified in place? Why does this bell create instant darkness? Why are these souls begging me to find their loved ones?

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Rust

By on April 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Rust is many things to many people, and to those who haven’t fallen into its grasp but instead look through a Twitch or YouTube window, it looks simply like DayZ mixed with Minecraft. To an extent, it is — the crafting and survival elements of the game are neatly in tune with its spiritual predecessors, but at the same time, is nothing like them at all.

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cutting_the_red_tape_on_classification

By on March 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

It was just another part of the daily news. The Abbott coalition government, as part of their plan to “slash red tape” and “remove unnecessary regulation”, announced that they would amend the Classification Act of 1995. The heavy, clunky, 1980′s style human element of the classification system for digitally distributed games would be gone, alongside a host of other small changes.

“These reforms are the first step in the process of ensuring our classification system continues to be effective and relevant in the 21st century,” touted the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, who was effectively following on with pledges by previous Labor administrations to make the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations in enforceable legislation. On the surface, it didn’t really seem like much of a big deal — the meat of the R18+ sandwich had already come and gone. But in reality, the rest of the meal had finally begun to arrive at the table.

To explain why this change is significant, we need to understand how the current status quo works.

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Wildstar

By on March 18, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Nostalgia is not usually a quality that many MMORPGs tend to strive for when they set out to create a new universe. WildStar is unique in that it is one of the first Western MMOs in quite a long time that was designed by a small team on a limited budget, but with lofty ambitions to succeed where many others have failed. As a result, it has ended up much closer to the fold of traditional MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, in offering what is unabashedly a conservative play system geared significantly towards hardcore players.

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