Gird Your Loins: Telltale’s Game of Thrones Episodic Adventure

Life has a way of getting in the way of things. You lose yourself in “the routine” of work, sleep, eat, rinse, repeat. You forget your passion and ignore the things you love in favour of someone else’s capitalistic dream. That’s my explanation for my long, inexcusable absence from this medium. Despite not having many comments to my name, there have been some faithful viewers keeping my stats up in spite of my posting-lapse. Thank you to you all. With that said, this is going to be a review of Episode 1 of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones episodic title, Iron From Ice. Tomorrow, I’ll have a review of some other games I’ve been playing while away. Some will be old, some will be new, some in between. Either way, I’m glad to be back to writing. As always, spoilers may be ahead, so if you’ve yet to touch this game, consider yourself warned.

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In the Christmas Steam sale rush, I purchased this game as a gift for my sister and as a gift to myself. Yesterday, I finally set aside some time for myself to play the first episode. I am a big fan of Telltale’s style; I thoroughly enjoyed The Walking Dead and have purposefully taken my time with season 2 of that title, trying to drag it out for as long as possible before the next installment. Most of what I had predicted for their Game of Thrones title was accurate: multiple playable lead characters, a different art style and of course, the absolutely insane tension that only something spawned from the mind of George R.R. Martin could create. And let me tell you…this game is tense! But let’s take a step back and break this game down.

Appearances & Sound

"I much prefer being painted from this side...it's my best side."

“I much prefer being painted from this side…it’s my best side.”

Telltale went with a “painted” look for their foray into the world of Game of Thrones, with varying results. The colours are rich, vibrant even when the scene is meant to dark. The characters really pop out at you, as do the set pieces. All your favourites are here: Tyrion, Margaery Tyrell, even Cersei. Margaery in particular has a pinched looked to her face that is a pity when compared against how beautifully they captured Lena Headey’s face as Cersei Lannister. Telltale doesn’t shy way from squeamish stuff either; at one point early on, your character is assisting a maester with treating a wound. By assisting, I mean you’re holding open a gash in your leg while he drops some maggots in to stave off infection. Bet you didn’t know that that was a thing!

Much like the TV show, the Game of Thrones game sounds best when there is no sound. It adds to a game element that is discussed later, but when there is music in the background, it is always beautiful and in the same haunting vein as the show. It’s common knowledge that this episode opens at The Red Wedding, set against the backdrop of the Twins, stronghold of the Freys. As in the iconic episode, the game lets you know that shit’s about to get real when the early chords of the Rains of Castamere begin to drift into the camp. Brilliantly nuanced facial expressions and vocal tones are the strength of this game; everyone reacts to everything that’s being said, but as always in Westeros, they keep their opinions close to the chest. Telltale spared no expense and brought on original cast members to voice their in-game characters. I think anyone looking for Peter Dinklage to redeem his video game voice-acting skills after his flat turn in Destiny should look no further; Tyrion Lannister seems the role he was born to play.

Gameplay & Story

As I mentioned before, Game of Thrones is tense. I’ve been in many real-life situations where my fight-or-flight instincts were a hair’s breadth away from triggering. Interviews, public speaking, being surrounded by dignitaries, being surrounded by violence…I can confidently slip in “navigating conversations in the GoT game” with these scenarios. This is where Telltale shines: incredible writing that evokes serious emotional reactions from the player. The Walking Dead‘s choice-system was a great example of this. To borrow a quote from my sister’s reaction after her playthrough, Game of Thrones plays as though someone at Telltale Games woke up, kicked a puppy, choked a kitten and then sat down to pen this gem. I knew the game would feature Cersei Lannister, acid-tongued she-devil of House Lannister. But I purposefully stayed away from any in-depth previews etc, so I was completely caught off-guard by the inclusion and appearance of Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard son. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know that Ramsay is a sadistic madman with a certain delight for giving people a resemblance to House Bolton’s sigil of the Flayed Man. Having Iwan Rheon provide the voice of the character he’s made his own on the show heightens the Creepiness Factor of seeing Ramsay in-game. I found myself getting goosebumps during my interaction with Cersei and a feeling of impending doom as I spoke with Ramsay; and not without merit.

It is the usual control setup for this game, as it was with TWD. You walk about, explore your surroundings and hold conversations with people to determine your next steps. The different mechanic here is that you experience the story from multiple POVs, all individuals of the line of or related to House Forrester. The stress level of your interactions is made worse by the notion that what you do as one character in one location could have consequences to another character in a separate area. I agonized during my conversation with Cersei, trying to select answers that walked the line between bravery and outright insanity. I waited down to the wire with my responses to Ramsay, terrified of what he would do if I were to say or do the wrong thing. To be able to create that kind of emotion with that incredible writing is amazing, and I love Telltale for it.

Overall, I’d rate Iron From Ice a 9/10. The art style, while beautiful, faltered at some points but by the time the screen flashed to black, I was gripping my controller and cursing myself for not waiting for the whole season to release and then binge-playing. Now I have to wait…and who knows how long. Telltale sets the stage for an incredible rollercoaster ride that promises to be filled with the same amount of WTFs as uttered by viewers of the show. Thanks for checking out this review and stay tuned…I’m back!

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Battlefield Hardline: BETA Brawl

So I was invited to the Battlefield Hardline BETA for PC, one of the first of my friends to get their official invite. I was pretty surprised, not expecting to have received it so soon after registering when EA announced it at their E3 2014 Press Conference.

I’ve managed to play about 1 hour of the beta, which is a feat considering the sheer volume of traffic currently flooding the servers.

I’d never played a game on Origin before, so having to install Battlenet software was a bit odd to me. Anyway, I did it and played it with an open mind, so let’s get this doing.

Battlefield Hardline is the cops and robbers we all played as kids in a video game, and just a little crazier. Right now you can play two modes in the beta: Heist and Blood Money. There are sprawling stages featuring the environmental dynamics that the Battlefield series is famous for, such as cranes collapsing and shearing off the sides of entire buildings while you’re gunning for your target. The weapons handle the same, fire the same and sound the same, as authentic as EA money can make them. Because that’s essentially what this game is: Battlefield 4 with police officer and bank robber skins pasted over it. And this is where my “meh” attitude towards this game comes into play.

Most of the success behind FPS multiplayers is their familiarity to fans, the fact that it always feels like coming home when you fire up one of these titles. That’s completely understandable; human beings love what they know and who am I to begrudge them that? This Battlefield Hardline beta only makes me wish that The Division was coming out sooner, because I find myself leaning more towards these open-world RPG style multiplayer experiences as time ticks by. We know little to nothing of the single-player campaign of Battlefield Hardline to be able to offer up a full preview review (is that even a thing?) before the game’s launch, though Visceral has promised that details on SP are coming later. Considering their track record of providing well-written, deeply involving single-player campaigns, I have some hope.

But too many issues still plague Battlefield 4 players for Hardline to seem even necessary  to me. What is the point if it’s meant to be a crime game when it’s just a military game with different character skins splattered all over the place? I find it difficult to suspend belief when police officers are rocking grenade launchers and SEAL-level weaponry, and the criminals possess the same. It just seems a bit too ridiculous, you know? Rather than sink their resources into developing Hardline, I believe that more effort should have been poured into enhancing and improving the Battlefield 4 experience, particularly considering that game’s horrendous problems at launch with the multiplayer component. It just sums up the general feeling I got from E3, from many developers:

CASH GRAB

Are you in the Hardline beta? What are your thoughts? Were they right to pump this title out while still struggling to resolve existing BF4 issues?

FYI, someone asked me why I hadn’t yet reviewed Watch_Dogs. It’s because it would essentially be a rewrite of every Ubisoft game I have ever reviewed, and well, that joke is getting played out right now by other reviewers. I will also start testing my Twitch channel and possibly begin streaming some titles online. We’ll see.

Until next time, peace.