bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: LEGO Marvel Avengers (PlayStation 4)

Since 2005 we have seen the release of 21 LEGO themed video games from Travellers Tales, ranging from the original LEGO Star Wars through a variety of popular licenses including Harry Potter and Batman. We’ve already had one Marvel themed game from the studio, but that was its own set adventure, this time out the focus is quite squarely aimed at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this in mind, you’ll find yourself playing through elements of most of the movies released from Captain America: The First Avenger up until and including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

That’s a lot of ground to cover, the Harry Potter franchise was split into two separate games. It’s also a rather large number of characters, over 100 in fact, although 13 of those are different suits for Iron Man alone. Unfortunately it also means the omission of a bunch of fan favourites, notably the FOX and Sony movie characters, so Spider-Man, the X-Men and (thankfully) the Fantastic Four (I really disliked using them in Marvel Super Heroes.

The formula is the same as ever, work through each level beating the crap out of everyone and everything to release a whole bunch of LEGO studs and solve simple puzzles using the different characters abilities to progress through the level and unlock more content. I find it all to be kind of fun in small doses but I’ve never been one for games that put a lot of focus on collecting things, although the chance to play a game as using Ms Marvel, Wasp, Captain Britain or Squirrel Girl (all of whom aren’t MCU characters but are unlockable here) is enough to keep me chipping away.

LEGO Marvel Avengers features a handful of over-worlds, the biggest of which is once again Manhattan, here you can take on extra mini-quests and even be involved in solving random crimes that happen whilst you’re running around, it makes the game feel surprisingly lived-in, although getting around is a bit of a ball-ache as the vehicles are horrible to control. That’s one of the many problems I’ve always had with the series and the other two key ones that irritate are still here and have been for as long as I remember. The way the split-screen works has always been an issue for me.. The fixed vertical split leaves very little room for being able to see what’s going on whilst the reactive split-screen, where the split moves with the character, feels sporadic and far too intrusive and in my humble opinion the entire franchise would work better if bothy were dropped and you both had to stay within the confines of the screen, its not like you’re allowed a lot of freedom to go off wandering when in the structured levels, although the hubs they’ve introduced in more recent titles would definitely be affected.

The other thing that gripes is the games checkpointing. It often feels sporadic, and in a franchise that feels like its aimed at family members who want to play together, it leaves something to be desired that you may have to abandon the game at times that the game doesn’t want you to forcing you to replay whole chapters, which grates when you’ll find yourself having to return to every section of the game later on anyway in order to unlock everything. As I say, these are all issues that have been apparent for a long, long time now and with the schedule being roughly two titles per year or thereabouts, plus with Dimensions being a thing, it’d be nice to see them being addressed rather than each and every game feeling like a re-skin. I recently went back to the original LEGO Star Wars and whilst there’s been a lot of stuff added over the years, there’s still a hell of a lot of things that felt broken then that feel broken in Marvel Avengers, which considering the 11 years or thereabouts between them, is a ridiculous situation to be in.

That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had with this release, as per usual, if you’re a fan of the subject that’s being covered you’ll find plenty of content to keep you happy and the little jokes are as amusing as ever. But its just annoying to be criticising a series for the same thing again and again,

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums 2019: #1 End of Suffering – Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Politics and mental health have been a recurring theme of my top ten albums this year (and were prevalent themes of last years too), and both feature heavily on Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes latest, especially mental health, as Carter continues to battle with the ball of fire that’s been in his belly since he was part of Gallows (and if you haven’t checked their early albums out, fucking do that now!). End of Suffering is a very different album into 2017’s Modern Ruin, in that Carter came across as a very angry man, something he’s made a career of, here he’s more mellow, more self-reflective and challenging his historical views and the effects its had on the health of those around him as well as himself, especially in songs that will become life performance anthems such as Anxiety.

It’s also worth checking out some of the remixes they’ve created from tracks on this album.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Album 2019: #2 Cut & Stitch – Petrol Girls

Petrol Girls need to be so so much bigger than they currently are and I hope they grow and fulfil their potential. They’re a band that I keep trying to expose my daughters to listen to as they discuss so many issues that affect women everywhere whilst tying it all into some absolutely fucking amazing punk music, just listen to Big Mouth, what a fucking track. The whole album feels extremely experimental and yet awesomely polished, this group know exactly what they’re doing, they don’t want you to be comfortable, they’re here to absolutely smash the patriarchy and if you don’t like that then they’re more than happy to tell you “up yours”. Petrol Girls are our this generations The Slits.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums 2019: #3 Strength in Numb333rs – Fever 333

To describe Fever 333 I’d probably turn to a mix of Rage Against The Machine and Linkin Park, theres that political aggression that the former are so famed for, and indeed there are moments you do wonder if you are listening to Zack de la Rocha rapping, then the choruses kick in and there’s a polished Linkin Park feel to proceedings that will, hopefully, allow them so much more exposure and reach out to so many more people as their careers progress. Seriously, listen to Burn It and try and tell me this band haven’t got something special going on.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums 2019: #4 PSYCHODRAMA – Dave

I wrote about this album back in September because it’s such an important piece of work for UK music, for mental health awareness, for the fight against toxic masculinity and for survivors of domestic abuse. It’s an album, that as a man, forces you to reflect, think on the things you take for granted, the things you bottle up and just how easy it is to let things snowball and get out of hand, its an album that forces you to notice the warning signs, don’t write off just because you don’t listen to rap music or because it isn’t designed to be chart or festival friendly like previous releases such as Thiago Silva.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums of 2019: #5 Gold & Grey – Baroness

I’ve been listening to Baroness since 2012’s Yellow & Gold and they continue to blow me away. Some people will notice there’s a distinct lack of Metal on my list this year, but there’s always room for Baroness melodies. There are very few bands out there that, in my opinion, do what Baroness do, where the vocal performance fuses perfectly with the music being played and you are instantly just lost in the wall of noise that they create. Admittedly they can often be intimidating, but the pay off is always absolutely worth it. If 2015’s Purple was about trauma (after the band suffered a massive bus crash which led to two members leaving), then Gold & Grey is about acceptance and heading on to the next stage. Here Baroness very nearly descend into Prog Rock, but still continue to keep things Metal and, as ever, produce something unique and special.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums of 2019: #6 Dogrel – Fontaines D.C.

If Sleaford Mods are almost taking the piss out of their political leanings, Fontaines D.C. are wearing their beliefs on their hearts, with them witnessing their communities struggling to keep up with the modern world. This post-punk outfit are rubbing shoulders with the likes of IDLES and Shame (who both appeared on my 2018 list, IDLES were at #1 whilst Shame came in at #7). Songs like Sha Sha Sha feature repetitive rhythms that drill their way into your mind whilst Television Screen’s almost lazy vocals really get you singing along and lastly Hurricane Laughter has an almost Iggy Pop feel to it.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums of 2019: #7 What’s It Like Over There? – Circa Waves

Circa Waves are probably one of the “safer” artists I’ve listened to this year, their very radio-friendly as popular single Times Won’t Change Me shows. That’s not to discredit them as they’re a very talented group that create some excellent and highly listenable tracks, though it’s probably The Way We Say Goodbye (from How to Train Your Dragon 3) that really caught me off guard and, with the past two years of my life in mind, really brings a lump to my throat every single time I listen to it, its an emotionally difficult track that always gets me teary-eyed and is reminiscent of Jimmy Eat Worlds “Hear You Me”.

Albums of the Year 2019, Music

My Top Ten Albums of 2019: #8 Body Bag Your Scene – Riskee & the Ridicule

Grime is usually regarded as the modern equivalent to 1970s punk, however there’s not been a big movement that combines the two. Riskee & The Ridicule are on a mission to rectify this. As you’d expect from such an infusion, Body Bag Your Scene is very politically charged, and its a sign of our times that there is evidently a lot of anger there in both the music and the lyrics follow suit as evidenced on Our Time “Are you scared of the working classes? Well we’re coming for your blood clot arses”, verses are spit fast and loud whilst chorus’ are catchy and a lot of the time have a real Vans Tour pop-punk hook to them. These guys are, in my opinion, going places.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: EDF2: Invaders from Planet Space

We’ve already covered one EDF game this week, which happens to be the most recent one. Ben was less than enamoured with it, he tried in vain to grasp what it is that has resulted in the series having a rather vocal fan base, but ultimately it just wasn’t for him. So its now up to me to give Earth Defence Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space a try, a remake of a remake from what I understand, being based upon Global Defence Force from the PlayStation 2 which was then re-released on the PSP as Earth Defence Force 2 Portable and now carries the aforementioned suffix �Invaders from Planet Space� for its Vita release.

Off the bat, it ticks a lot of boxes that are immediately attractive to me. I really rather like cheap B-Movies about alien invasions, I find their campiness to be rather endearing and the fact that this has a bit of a sprinkling of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds plus a coating of Kaiju and I should be in heaven really, but despite all of this the whole concept feels completely and utterly wasted.

The gist is that you are given a mission, this mission is usually to see off a wave of ridiculously sized insects or alien craft, all of which is set within the confines of a city with some recognisable monuments. London is quite clearly London, you can’t really miss Westminster and the Houses of Parliament whilst shooting down hordes of gigantic ants. Even so, the cities themselves are rather sparse and unpopulated, there’s no real agency to drive you on and prevent the invasion. You’ll occasionally get a handful of civilians trying to flee, but overall, it doesn’t feel like the emergency situation that’s playing out over the radio waves as you unleash lead into a bunch of jumping spiders.

That last point there sounds fun enough, but that’s literally all there is to it. Keep firing until your clip is empty, reload and carry on, keep doing so until you’ve cleared every red mark off of your radar, make sure you pick up as many dropped items as you can as you do so, then carry on to the next mission. There’s very little in the way of interactivity and it just makes the game feel like its in its very early stages of development (this isn’t helped by the visuals, but apparently one shouldn’t criticise EDF’s visuals…). It really does feel like the player should be given more to do, hell something like Burning Rangers on the archaic SEGA Saturn provides the player with more agency and that games older than my children’s ages combined! When you look at how the action genre has evolved it feels like there’s just too much missing from the core gameplay and EDF2 becomes a procession of doing the same thing again and again. None of the enemies require much in the way of a change of tactics, after the first wave of missions were done (in which you’re gradually introduced to a few different types of creature to kill) I was introduced to my first Kaiju. I was hoping that this would require me to focus on a weak spot or that I would have to think about the fact it was rampaging through what looked like a suburb and try and contain the damage, but it was yet another exercise of pumping as much ammunition as I could into the beast until it eventually fell and died. There’s not even an element of point scoring or leaderboards, and whilst there is a choice of difficulties on offer the only difference to them is just how much damage each creature takes before it eventually falls, which itself is nullified by the vast amount of near identical weapons that you can pick up for later missions as you play.

I’m actually kind of thankful I played this on the Vita, reading through Ben’s review its hard to not be appalled that he records issues of slow down when there’s a bunch of explosions on screen, the same thing happens in this release but is kind of more excusable because of the platform its on. It doesn’t become unplayable but it is noticeable, as is the fogging and pop-up which happens closer to the player than I think is acceptable. If Sandlot had have fixed that then the other stuff may have been a bit more excusable, because on this platform I can see its 5 minutes of game per mission being perfect, there’s no real need to be invested in long protracted cut-scenes and it’d almost work as a pick up and play whilst waiting for the kettle to boil (insert other short wait here). Its for this reason alone that I’ve scored this particular version of EDF a little higher than Ben’s PS4 review, because quite frankly, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the game itself.