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Technology and Devices

I Now Own Far Too Many Consoles

It started with the PS2. I wanted one. I was 20 and this was nearly two years ago. I’ve owned a PS4 since 2014 but now I wanted a PS2 as well. Finding one on eBay was a trivial matter and I found mine for about £40 with a bunch of PS2 classics like ‘BRATZ: Forever Diamonds’ and ‘Charlies Angels.’ PS2s are cheap because of how ludicrously successful the system was back in the day – the christmas after the PS3 came out the PS2 was still the best selling console. I had no idea what path I was walking down, and how easy and tempting each step is. My name is Henry Vincent, and I have a retro-console problem.

CEX is a good shop. Hull has two of them for some reason. I would go to both of them everytime I could be bothered to walk into town. I wouldn’t buy a game every time I visited, I just wanted to look at all the games they had and got excited about what I found, so then I’d have to convince myself that I don’t need the Futurama game because I remember it being bad and not in a fun way, and other people seem to agree, but it’s still just so tempting. Although sometimes when a really bad game is exactly 25p I won’t be able to stop myself.

How could I turn away from such a awe-inspiring sight?

One fateful morning, a few months after getting my PS2, during a typically self-inflicted student-life sleep-deprived state, I wandered into the now-defunct Hull branch of Granger Games to find – to my amazement – a PlayStation 1 behind the glass. Now, the PS1 isn’t that rare in itself, but this was the very first original PAL version, with the RCA jacks on the back, RF video support (lol), and – most importantly, the PlayStation controller. Not DualShock, not even Dual Analogue – the first PlayStation controller, with no analogue sticks and no vibration. I’d never seen one before. I was barely aware of their ever having existed to be honest; we always had DualShock when I was a child. And all of this for a mere £22. I couldn’t believe it. I should have gone to sleep; I was exhausted – but instead, I bought the console.

Okay, yes – obviously, I already had a console that could play PS1 games perfectly well (even better you might argue) – the PS2. But that never seemed right to me. It seemed to me that if I can play PS1 games on an actual PS1, that’s better isn’t it? Apparently that makes me what’s known in the retro console community as an ‘original hardware person’. I don’t want backwards compatibility or emulation when I can experience a game authentically, on the hardware it was built for, experiencing the quirks of the system, using the actual controller the game was designed to work with and the actual disk – the full experience that is more than the game itself – there’s an important meta side to the game. No matter how complex and technically accurate your emulation experience gets, you’ll never have the true feeling of pushing the power toggle button in, hearing the clunking and whiring, and seeing the bootup animation, and then hoping the game will actually load past the PlayStation logo because sometimes it doesn’t so you need to try with the PS1 upside-down. You can’t beat that feeling with any kind of backwards compatibility or emulation.

You’d think that it would be annoying that you sometimes have to turn the console upside-down to get it to detect the disk – but I love that about it; it’s such a bizarre quirk that you don’t get with modern hardware. I mean – I don’t want that to be a ‘feature’ of my PS4 but I think it’s cool on the PS1 as a charming oddity of my model of the system. Although I would like to get the slim version (confusingly called the PSOne) which doesn’t have this problem (it also looks cool as frick).

After a month or so of being perfectly happy with the quality of my gaming experience with the then three PlayStations I owned, ‘the algorithm’ got to me. Youtube recommended me a video titled “Getting the Best Picture from your PlayStation 1 Games”. I was mortified; I’ve been playing PlayStation games as a scum-lord using disgusting, dirty composite video. It was lucky then that my room had a TV with a SCART input that supported RGB. I could use a nice RGB video signal from both my analogue-only consoles. It required me to buy some slightly expensive new cables, but the video quality was quite well improved – so I was happy.

Needed to make sure my two new boys got home with me nice and comfortable.

A fool I was! As soon as I was content again, I watched NakeyJakey’s Halo videos. Great – now I need an Xbox. Furthermore, it occurred to me that I had every PlayStation apart from the PS3, so now I need one if only to complete the set and not have a weird gap in my collection. I didn’t even have a particular game I wanted to play on it! Then one of my housemates had an Xbox 360 which he didn’t want anymore, so of course I bought it off him! What do you think I am? Some sort of person who wouldn’t do that and would instead be satisfied by the things they already have? I’m not some sort of Buddhist who seeks satisfaction from within, I’m exclusively about external pleasures.

Okay, then I took it to a level of ‘OG hardware’ that was too far. I sourced a CRT TV in Hull for £20 which accepted RGB input and seemed to be decent quality. Because ultimately, you’re not getting the full experience if you’re not playing these games on a display from the time. I was pretty happy with it for a few months. It looked okay and it gave me the nice tingly feeling of better times gone by.

Am I taking this too far? Or not far enough?

But… you know… it is quite big… and everything looks fairly fuzzy on it. It didn’t even have the blessed scanlines coveted by the retro console community. I mean if it were a Sony Trinitron I’d be fighting people off with a pointy stick, even if they weren’t fighting me – but this display ultimately just disappointed, so I sold it for £25. So at least I’m an entrepreneur. 

I think I’ve worked out what all of this is about. Some number of years ago, my cousin got some vinyl records for a Christmas present. I remember my Mum and my Aunt asking why he’d want records in the modern day, considering that we now have CDs and streaming services which are quite obviously better in all possible ways. He said that they’re ‘just nice to have.’ I catch that drift. In a world where more and more of our lives exist digitally, it’s a becoming a novelty to actually own real stuff – especially entertainment stuff. Holding a vinyl record in your hands and realising that this thing contains the sound you’ll listen to and nothing else… it feels authentic. In some ways, these old consoles have that same sense of authenticity. The PS1 plays PS1 games. That’s all it does. That’s all it’s designed to do. It was built from the ground up to process polygons and draw an image on the screen, play some sounds and accept user input. Playing these same games on my PC – a device that was designed to do any number of different tasks feels sort of not real. A game was not made specifically for this hardware, nor just for this kind of input. It’s hard to explain, like trying to describe what it means for sound to be ‘warm.’

I know that it’s probably just a phase, but it’s one I’m enjoying right now. I now have way too many games to play and I’ll probably never get through them all because the library is expanding faster than I can consume it, but in some ways just owning some of them is nice enough for me. Playing older games has given me an appreciation for the design choices of modern games, and for how much things have improved and also how much has been left behind over the years. Games of today are better than games of twenty years ago, not exclusively, but generally, and I can say that now. I got over the nostalgia of it all ages ago – now I’m just playing these games and appreciating them. I gave up on the CRT because once the nostalgia wore off, I realised I didn’t really like it, but these consoles and these old games are pretty cool if you ask me even after nostalgia has faded. Thanks for listening and have a nice day. I will one day learn to end these things well. Until then, peace out.

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Optimising The Fun Out Of Video Games

Civilisation game-designer, Soren Johnson, once wrote on his blog, “Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game.” This was something that I originally considered to be an alien concept – until I realised that I do this, and so does everyone else.

It comes down to an interesting question – what is the objective of a person playing a video game? Why do they do it? Will they take actions in the game specifically to have fun, or will they choose to forgo fun for the sake of making the game easier so therefore to ‘do better’? Johnson, in this quote, argues that the player cannot be trusted to play the game in a fun way, but rather a fashion where they will play better. Some would then argue that the feeling of doing well in a difficult video game provides a kind of enjoyment – which is true. However, I’d argue that this is only a feeling that many players have when they’ve been playing a game for a while, and they initially struggled with it. The feeling they are enjoying is a sense of achievement and progression – it’s good to know that you are getting better at something you once found challenging. If there was no challenge to start with, it is unlikely that any such feeling will be experienced; it’s boring because the game is too easy (of course, some games aren’t supposed to be challenging, and the enjoyment comes from other elements). I’d argue, then, that the feeling of doing well in a game does not correlate to enjoying the game.

My personal story regarding this started about three months ago when I decided to replay Bioshock: Infinite. When this game came out in 2013, I considered it hands-down one of my favourite games – but I could never put my finger on why. I’d been coaxed into reinforcing my resolve that this is a good game when I saw several game reviewers I respected discussing how they didn’t like this game and that they didn’t know why anyone does. I, instead of being stubborn, decided to replay the whole game and reaffirm my opinion – as well as, hopefully, finally put into words what it was I liked about it.

My result? Well, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I remember liking it. I still enjoyed it and managed to play through the whole game in less than two days, along with the Burial At Sea DLC in the following two days. But the interesting thing I found about this game, and what got me thinking about this topic, was the fact that I remember the combat being really fun and engaging. This was not the case on a replay – I found the combat ludicrously easy and, not exactly tedious, but certainly somewhat mind-numbing. You see, the world in this game has a system of ‘skylines’ which are a set of suspended rails above the maps that can be used by the player to quickly traverse around the map in combat scenarios. The idea is that the player can swoop in over a group of enemies to fight them, and then swoop away as soon as they’re in too much trouble. This promotes a fast-paced, aggressive combat style. It’s really fun and was a great feature for the marketing of this game. The devs really wanted players to be flying about the map using the skylines and fighting aggressively and quickly.

The problem is that the skylines are completely unnecessary when it comes down to it. I don’t mean that you can play the game without really ever using them, just that there really is no advantage to using them, apart from when they’re the only way to reach a location of an area. In fact – the game is much easier if you don’t spend your time swooshing about, and actually just stand still – against a wall, with the carbine, head-shooting enemies as they approach.

It’s shocking how many maps in this game allow you to do this – and it how well it works for that matter. The game mechanics even reward this behaviour – unintentionally, I’m sure – with the ‘Booker, catch!’ mechanic. Booker is the name of the character you play as, and so this phrase is shouted at you by your AI companion, Elizabeth when she throws you supplies. Early on in development, she (in an attempt to make her more of a feature of gameplay rather than a cut-scene only type of character) would actually path-find through the local area to supply drops around the map, and then throw them to you as you need them. This was changed – for a variety of reasons – to a system where she just spawns in whatever you need and throws it at you. If you’re thinking that this would surely ruin the combat – seeing that you no longer need to look for ammo or health packs when you’re low on either – then you’d be right. It entirely promotes a slower, more defensive combat style, which this game does not suit because it simply wasn’t designed for it. It is further worsened by the fact that enemies have the aim of a loose garden hose on full blast, providing no immediate threat to anybody. I died once in this game – due to a glitch.

So, as stated the game is easiest played by standing in a corner, behind some amount of cover, and just blasting the enemies with the carbine, which is the ultimate long range, and mid-range weapon in the game. Combined with the shotgun, which is obviously great for short range, and you’re unstoppable if you play the game slowly and less aggressively – which was against the intentions of the developers. There is a boss battle about three quarters through the game involving a ghost woman. It’s supposed to be really hard because it spawns other ghosts that attack you – but you don’t have to worry about them, you just have to go for the main ghost. My strategy? Use charge (which is a kind of superpower you get that allows you charge into an enemy at great speed and do some damage to them) to get really close to the ghost woman ASAP, and then shotgun and charge repeatedly until she teleports away. Only she didn’t have a chance to do that, because I had her dead before Booker and Elizabeth had finished their ten-second dialogue about how we need to kill this ghost-lady – which was kind of funny; the dialogue at the end of the battle started overlapping with the dialogue at the start if the battle.

Because I had anticipated that the shotgun and charge combo was the way to go, I’d spent all my upgrades on maxing both out, so by the end I was an unstoppable killing machine – which is actually less fun than it sounds – there was no challenge to it anymore. There is a fun way to play the combat, and then there is an effective way to play the combat – the circles do not overlap in this diagram. By developing these strategies, I’d optimised the fun from Bioshock Infinite.

While Bioshock has these problems, I also consider my attitude towards games to be at fault – to an extent. With the new Tomb Raider coming so soon, I decided to replay Rise of the Tomb Raider in preparation. Now, this game isn’t supposed to be unreasonably hard or anything – the focus of the experience is in its exploration and puzzle solving, with some stealth and set-piece combat sections breaking the experience up. The thing about this game is that the combat sections are frustrating in a way that I don’t really enjoy that much. Perhaps it’s due to my playing the game with a controller and the lack of auto-assistive aim, but I’m not such a fan of the bits where you need to shoot people. I don’t hate it, I’d just rather avoid it if possible.

Well, it turns out that sometimes it is possible. In some sections, it’s entirely possible to simply run past all the enemies until you reach the next checkpoint location – it’s not mind-blowingly easy because you’ll probably have to make a few attempts due to all the enemies shooting at Lara, but I found the challenge of doing that was more fun than the challenge of having to fight all these enemies with the frustrating combat system. Once you reach the next checkpoint, just let Lara die, and when you reload at that checkpoint the game will assume that you killed all the enemies behind you – or at least successfully snuck past them.

This is not the intended way to play the game when it was designed, it’s more me being lazy. But you can’t blame the player, you can only blame the game. There doesn’t need to be a system to prevent the player from doing this.

Halo’s checkpoint system prevents it, but it often leads to what I like to call ‘stingy checkpoints’, where the game will only give you a checkpoint under very specific conditions. I consider the checkpoint system of all the Halo games, from one to four, to be broken (I haven’t played five). It leads to the player legitimately playing the game the way it was intended to be played, but still being in situations where they die and then reload to a checkpoint twenty minutes earlier. I recently played Halo 4, and it’s a big problem still, successfully making my experience with that game worse than it needed to be.

If Crystal Dynamics, when developing Rise of the Tomb Raider (RotTR), had made the combat and sneaking mechanics more compelling and less tedious, I might have felt more inclined to not try to skip those parts of the game – the simple fact is, my method of skipping these sections is legitimately more fun than the way the developers intended me to play the game.

Having said this, I do still believe that I, overall, had a worse experience playing the game improperly than I would, had I had just persisted. I felt little satisfaction, or much of a sense of achievement, in skipping combat sections altogether – and I was messing with the pacing of the game. RotTR is a very linear experience that has been painstakingly tuned to be just right. So while skipping was more fun in the short term, it was probably not as fun as finishing the game more legitimately.

The two examples I’ve given here are very different in nature. My ‘optimisation’ of RofTR felt distinctly cheaty – I knew I was breaking the system. Bioshock was different in that I didn’t feel like my ‘optimisation’ was illegitimate, nor was it breaking the game. Bioshock’s problem was a lack of incentive to play the game any differently to the way that I was, other than a few prompts telling me that I should use my powers and the skylines more – but when my strategy is working really well, why would I change anything? It’s not like I had no fun playing Infinite, it was just significantly less than I remember back in 2013. Although I was a dumb sixteen-year-old back then so my opinion might have just been plain wrong.

I don’t think you can really ever blame the player for ‘playing the game wrong’, you can only incentivise them to play it in the way you want them to. XCOM 2 has a controversial system that limits the number of turns a mission can be played in. This forces the player to think more about what they’re going to do in order to not waste any turns – and more importantly – it forces them to take risks. The game is said to be a lot more fun when the player is using a dangerous strategy, so Firaxis (the developer) made it part of the game. This has been met with some pushback from fans, because it forces everyone to play the game in one way, in a strategy game where the player should be able to handle any mission in any way they want.

When Blizzard was developing World of Warcraft, they wanted to make sure players were taking regular breaks and not playing the game for unhealthy numbers of hours, so they provided an incentive to players for logging off. The ‘Rest’ bonus gives players an XP boost for players who are logged off, which wears off over time when they are logged in. This also makes it fairer for players who don’t want to commit as much time into the game as hardcore players who may never stop playing the game.

Unlike the XCOM example, this is a well-liked feature of the game. The reason? This is an incentive that acts as a reward for doing something, rather than as a punishment for not doing that thing. When people are playing a game they want to have positive experiences rather than negative ones. The XCOM example punishes players for being slow in the most extreme way it can – failing the mission and making the player start it again. It would be better if the game gave a big reward for players who completed the mission quickly, such as a research bonus or more equipment, but was more forgiving for slower players who don’t want to take too much risk. Players would be more inclined to choose to play the game in the way the developers would like them to, rather than feel like they’re being forced to play the game in a way they don’t want to. The game should dangle a treat in front of your face and tells you that if you want it, you need to play the game like this.

TLDR; the most effective way to play the game should be the most fun way to play the game. That is the goal of a game designer. Unless it shouldn’t.

If this interested you, here’s the video that inspired me to write about this topic:

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Games Reviews

Detroit: Become Human – Amazingly, It’s Quite Good

Quantic Dream finally did it, guys – they made a good game. Not only did they make a good game, they made a really good game – not perfect, but pretty unbelievable for Quantic Dream’s standard. I went into this game with the usual expectations from my vast experience of having played all but one of QD’s previous games, and they managed to blow my expectations out of the water completely. Well done David Cage.

Detroit follows the stories of three androids in the year 2038. Presonally I feel this future would be more believable if it were set a bit later, like in the 2060s, which would follow current predictions of AI development – but that’s just me. Two of these andriods have become deviant – meaning they’ve managed to go against their programming somehow, often through being in a state of extreme stress. The third character, Connor, is an android trying to find the cause of the ‘deviant crisis’, as more and more androids go against their masters and become deviant – possibly posing a threat to the safety of mankind. You see – this is a future where intelligent androids now exist and can be purchased for as low as $900 (less than an iPhone X), meaning that most people have them to help them out with stuff – they have no rights and are not recognised as living beings so you can do whatever you want with them really. They also have replaced many people’s jobs, because you don’t have to pay them or send them home at the end of the day, and because they are capable of human interaction, manual labour, intelligent action etc, not many people’s jobs are safe. They can do pretty much anything that human can. This game is set in America, and it is stated that Androids are banned in most countries around the world because of such issues, it’s listed as a big criticism of President Warren, as she has suspiciously close connections with the one company which creates androids, cyberlife. This has created big social issues becuase a lot of people hate andriods and are scred of them so androids don’t live a great life. There’s a lot of depth to this world and I bet you can’t guess what all this is based on!

I got the most of that information not from the compulsory dialogue, but from optional readings and dialogue which can be found only if you look for it. This is something that I have praised games like Gone Home for – you get as much out of the game as you put in. If you can’t be bothered with reading stuff you won’t get the depth of the world, and that might be fine with you. There is so much in this game that has been put in as an optional extra, and I love the details – this is not something Quantic Dream has ever done before with their games and it makes it so much more interesting. Depth! Depth is so important when creating a compelling world and when creating compelling characters to populate that world. QD has managed to do this very well and have created a world I am actually interestred in knowing more about, prompting exploration and replaying. What I wrote above is just scratching the surface of the lore of this world.

Previously I complained that Quantic Dream has a problem with choices in their games. Very little ever seemed to actually matter and ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ seemed to play itself almost. Detroit fixes this problem spectacularly. This game is so much bigger in scope and in the choices that can be made, I haven’t yet counted the number of endings in this game but there are a lot. Not all the endings are very good, however. I’ve replayed the game from various points to try to get different endings, and I’ve only really felt that one or two of the endings I got were really satisfying – we still have the factor of  ‘David Cage would really like you to make this decision’ to contend with. So, while choices are given to us, there is (only sometimes) an implication there of what choice you should really go for, and going against that implication is often met with mild punishment from the game. “You made the worng choice.” I think that no choice should be ever ‘wrong’, just different – this game can be pretty black and white sometimes. You have a clear ‘good choice’ and ‘bad choice’ presented to you. I watched a friend play the game after me, and he ended up making most of the same choices as me without knowing it, and only really differed when he knew what choices I had made and wanted to see what happened when you do the other thing.

And speaking of choices: combat. Look, linking this all together is hard, okay? Beyond’s combat was weird, and I understand the choice to backpeddal the combat system back to Heavy Rain’s combat. Which was a good decision. Basically, everything is done through button prompts QTE segments. Unlike Heavy Rain, they aren’t stupid in this game. You can fail every one of them (not that I ever did), and they are actually often at least slightly challenging. I felt slightly challenged while playing this game and that’s more than I can say for any other QD game I’ve played.

detroit-become-human-2
Credit: Kotaku (yeah I’m that lazy)

This game is infinitely replayable. This is partly owing to that fact that the game isn’t unwieldy long (but it’s not exactly abruptly short either), but mostly due to the flowcharts. When you complete a chapter of this game, you are presented with a flowchart of all the choices you made along with what path you went down by making those choices. It also gives you stats about the proportion of other players and what choices they made so you can know if you’re a maverick or a beta cuck normie. Sometimes the flowchart is enormous! Being able to see what choices you made, and being told that ‘at this point, you could have done something else which would have lead to a different ending to this chapter’ just simply makes you want to play the game again and do all the other things. It never tells you what the choices you could have made are, but it does tell you that there was an alternative to something you did. Sometimes I was surprised that there was a choice and prompted me to replay just to know what that would have been. Often it’s not unbelievable, one is literally if you just do nothing for 10 minutes your character dies but that’s cool to know I suppose. Also you can often guess what the other choice would be but It’s still cool to know.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Quantic Dream has come a long way in making their interactive dramas feel more interactive, rather than a film with button prompts. And the story they tell with this game is so much more compelling than ever before. You still have the crap bits that David Cage is known for, but he’s getting better.

To briefly cover what I think of the plot – seeing that it’s the main aspect of any QD game – I think it’s pretty good. I liked the characters, but felt that Connor is the only one I really liked. Kara’s story acts entirely as a ‘B story’ and has no impact on the central conflict of the story whatsoever, but it’s quite nice I suppose. There are some scenes where I felt like I didn’t understand what the point was, and by the end of the game I thought Markus had turned into a bit of a knob but I still kinda liked him as a character. Look- there are still a lot of problems with Cage’s writing style, but he’s gotten a lot better. Someone managed to remove all the random, awkward sex scenes and I think that was probably for the best. It’s quite easy to take this story seriously because the characters have character and don’t have the personalities of damp wooden planks, which really helps (not even Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe could help that). There were no awful cliche’s or gratingly cheesy lines that I could notice. This is a well written story, but I feel like it could have a bit more depth to the actual conflict within the story – it has a certain polarising effect where it’s pretty clear that the slavary of andriods is obviously wrong, and doesn’t bring up the possibility that the andriods aren’t alive and are just simulating intelligence. There’s no ethical discussion there, which makes me feel like the story has no wider point to make about reality. It makes it hard to believe that questions wouldn’t at least be raised about the ethics of andriods and enslavement, but this world would have us believe that there isn’t even an activist group looking to get andriods some kind of rights or even raising any questions. Humans don’t seem to have even ever considered that what is being done to andriods could even be considered remotely unfair. This, for me, was the hardest thing to accept about this world. I still enjoyed the story regardless, aminly owing to the well written characters. It seems Cage’s robotic dialogue works well with andriods – clever move, David.

I’ve got to talk about the music in this game. There are three separated (for most of the game) stories starring three separate characters in this game, so it kind of makes sense to score each of these stories with different composers. Philip Sheppard, Nima Fakhrara, and John Paesano worked independently of each other to create three distinct sounds for each character. You might think this would create an inconsistent theme across the game, but it actually works unbelievably well. I didn’t know about this until after I played the game and I can’t say I noticed any inconsistency in the tone of the music. All I did notice was the GREAT score for this game and how much it carries some of the scenes and the characters. The very opening scene is a masterclass of how to open a game, the tone, the atmosphere, the dialogue, the visuals, the music all come together to create something that immediately grabs your attention and makes you want to keep going. I’d recommend giving this page a view if you want to know more about the music in this game (it’s very cool!).

detroit-become-human
Credit: OnlySP (Yep – still lazy)

Finally, graphics. I’m sorry but I have to talk about it. They’d nailed down the textures and models for Beyond: Two Souls, so there isn’t much further they could have gone in that direction for this game, just rendering the game at a higher resolution. For this game, QD’s focus was on getting the optics of the camera right. Yeah, they did that alright. ‘Cor blimey is the depth of field well done in this game. Normally DOF fails in the transition when the focus is pulled, as the game struggles to smoothly unblur and blur objects in the scene to illustrate depth. This game does it so smoothly that it’s unnoticeable. Generally, there is a great feeling of realism with the camera and how it behaves and moves – there are no impossible shots and this contributes to the next-level standard of cinematography in this game. QD is good at cinematography, but this game is a leap forward, possibly due to them hiring a professional cinematographer to not only set up cameras but also to light scenes. This game looks good, but there is a depth to the way it looks, camera angles and lighting is deliberate in order to convey a message. Just, this game looks good.

I’m so proud of David. Cage has finally managed to make a genuinely good game and I love it. I still think there is some improvement to be made – particularly in allowing the player to deliberately choose an option they know is not the one the game wants them to choose. I’d like an ending where all the androids kill all the humans but I was robbed of it. There are a few nitpicky problems I have but I don’t know how I could explain them without you having played the game as much as I have so that’ll just have to wait until I’ve started doing video reviews of games (probably won’t happen). This game is good and you should play it even if you don’t like video games, or just watch someone else play it – I managed to amass an audience when I played it and they seemed to enjoy it. Well done David Cage.

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Games Reviews

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – It’ll Stress You Out And You’ll Love It

It was only relatively recently that humanity even started to understand the concept of mental health, and only very recently that people have really started to take it seriously – and we still have some way to go in that direction. Back in the days of tribal people, where healthcare, in general, was not even really understood – people might have thought of people suffering from mental disorders as being slow, evil, or even an oracle who can see visions. They might have shunned these people or even burned them as witches out of pure fear.

Senua is a tribal woman living in what I can only guess is northern Britain who suffers from psychosis – meaning she hallucinates through psychedelic visions and sounds in her head. This game tells of her quest to bring back the life of Dillion – a man she loved before he died of spoilers. The game is told through the eyes and ears of Senua – the player experiences her visions and hears what she hears, and Senua isn’t having a good time of it. She’s seeing visions of scary monsters trying to kill her and occasionally of being set on fire. She doesn’t cower in fear, however, she instead fights through in her determination to reach Helheim to beg the God, Hela, for the life of Dillion.

Nothing is handed to you when you’re playing Hellblade. The game only acknowledges your presence once, when it tells you about the black rot mechanic – which is an unintrusive life countdown mechanic. Everything else is left for you to work out through trial, error, and experiance. I didn’t know I could block attacks until I accidentally pressed the corresponding button. Over the course of the game you’ll do better naturally, rather than artificially, through augmentation of stats. It should be said that the game does give you a list of controls when you pause, but that’s just a reference for if you forget. The effect of this is that every visual, which would normally be a UI element, can be explained as something that Senua is actually seeing due to her psychosis. Nothing is allowed to be intrusive and everything appears to be real for the player.

This is also true for the audio. Senua hears voices in her head, and to communicate this to the player, these voices have been recorded using binaural microphones. If you’re not familiar with the concept, I would highly recommend you listen to the Virtual Barber Shop, wearing headphones. This microphone system uses two specialised microphones with ear-shaped covers on them, placed a head’s width apart. The result is an illusion in which the listener can tell where the sounds are coming from – it sounds like noises are coming from in the room with you, rather than through your headphones. In this game, the effect used is to unnerve the player. In stressful situations, it can really throw you off if someone starts whispering right by the back of your head. This game does that a lot. Also, everyone whispering in the background is kind of creepy. A really creative use of the voices in this game is in combat – you’re friendly head voices like to warn you about enemies coming up behind you, and they like to remind you to evade some attacks rather than block them.

The atmosphere of this game is its strongest asset. If you’re going to play this game, play it with the lights off and headphones on. It’s a spooky experience to behold. From the sound design to the wild and creative visual effects, this game has got its tone nailed. I felt stressed as Senua did, felt calm when she did, and even felt a bit traumatised at times. This isn’t an experience you can get in most games; it takes real skill to get it right, and Ninja Theory must be praised for it. A lot of this, I think, comes from the authenticity of the experience – Ninja Theory worked with several mental health experts to ensure the experiences present are true to that of psychosis. There are sections of this game that are simply frightening. When atmosphere alone makes you tense up and get’s your blood pumping – that’s when you know you’ve got something good going.

This atmosphere is craftily built and very delicate – anything could destroy it, like a bug or a glitch, for instance. This game isn’t AAA. That’s something which, in the interest of fairness, should be established before continuing. This is an independent project, focusing on creating an AAA experience, but shorter – meaning it’s cheaper and less of a risky investment for publishers. It’s clear to see where they skimped out with the budget. I encountered many small glitches and bugs which ranged from negligible to very frustrating, sometimes requiring the game to be restarted. I got a couple which just meant that things didn’t trigger when they should’ve, but, because of the no-hand-holding nature of the game, I wasn’t sure whether I had just done something wrong and ended up wasting a load of time trying to solve a puzzle that doesn’t exist. These glitches weren’t too often, however, and they were easy to get past – but not good for maintaining the atmosphere.

Speaking of combat – this game has it – and this game’s combat is, like many elements of the game, very stressful. The combat style is what I would describe as being ‘half-Dark Souls’ in nature. Movements are fairly slow and deliberate, letting the player really feel the weight and brutality of this kind of combat; but it’s not as unforgiving as Dark Souls. It’s hard but not punishing – and there is an easy mode (although the game does a good job of setting the difficulty automatically). You can do all of the usual things like dodging, rolling, heavy attack, light attack, and block. The enemy types are not particularly varied – you have the usual ideas for enemy types like sword boys, shield boys, mace boys, and so on. It honestly wouldn’t bother me if the combat sections didn’t have a tendency to drag a little due to the game’s habit of throwing waves of enemies after you endlessly. I feel like more could have been done with the combat sections to make them more interesting.

Similarly, the puzzles can suffer from an over-abundance of repetitive mechanics. This game has a few really creative puzzle ideas, but once you get used to the idea of one, you won’t struggle to solve more of that one as it occurs. That said, solving them the first time can be fairly frustrating, especially when the style of puzzles has not been well established enough – you need to remember that interacting with things in this game isn’t always about pressing a button, sometimes it’s a matter of perspective. I’m not saying the puzzles are bad – they’re actually pretty good – but you’ll be in the dark for some of them until a lightbulb pops up above your head, and others can feel like they’re the same as each other, deminishing the challenge somewhat.

Playing this game has been an experience I’ll probably remember for a while yet. It evoked fear, stress, anxiety, and hope in me. The ending touched me with its message about loss and greif. It ended up being a far more profound experience than I had anticipated. Well worth whatever I paid for it.

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Beyond: Two Souls – It is Bad, But That’s What Makes It Good

I was wrong about Beyond: Two Souls. I used to tell people that Quantic Dream’s 2013 ‘interactive drama’ was a terrible game. The truth is that I’d never actually played it – I’d only ever watched a YouTube playthrough. It’s what I did back then; it was before I fully realised that watching a game is a very different experience to playing a game – so I can’t really give opinions on a game I’ve not actually played. I’ve corrected this mistake in recent days and now I realise how wrong I was.

2013 was a different time. The PS3 was just about still the latest and greatest console on the market (ignoring the Wii U, of course) and I was still watching Nerd³ on YouTube – don’t judge me; I was young and stupid. I won’t get into my current opinions of Daniel Hardcastle (his real name) here because I don’t think what I have to say is very helpful. It doesn’t matter at all that I think he is bad at his job and makes really low-quality videos, and that I don’t understand why anybody watches them. All I will say is that I don’t follow his opinions on games anymore since he said that Just Cause 3 was the best game ever made – but back in 2013 I was a loyal follower. It’s fair to say that Nerd³ was, as far as I’m concerned, just a little overly harsh on Beyond: Two Souls back in the day and having rewatched the video recently, it seems to me that the majority of what he had to say was redundant and hardly becoming of a supposedly professional critic. Since I now have a PS3 I thought I might as well pick it up and see what I actually think of it.

One of my current favourite YouTubers, Raycevick, recently talked about how a bad story or script can still be enjoyed if the presentation of that story is good. In that instance, he was talking about Max Payne 3 and how the flashy graphics and soundtrack attempts to cover up the uninspired story that the game tells. This was an interesting concept to me and lead to me realising that this is a problem in many games and films that I could list – for example, two of the worst games ever, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther. Both games were highly praised for their amazing graphics and soundtracks, but that sort of thing only goes skin deep – below the presentation of both games lies a very uninteresting story and game mechanics which achieve nothing but bore the player with their simplicity and tedium. Why is that I seem to always get hooked up on these games? I think the both of them made me so angry that I haven’t quite got over either of them – even after three years since I played either of them.

What does presentation have to do with Beyond: Two Souls? One of the reasons I wanted to have this game in my collection was the graphics. I can say, without a doubt, that Beyond represents the absolute pinnacle of what the PlayStation 3 is capable of. You’d be forgiven for thinking the game was running on a PS4; it certainly looks better than some games I’ve played on PS4. The PS3 notoriously has a bit of a strange system architecture which many developers didn’t properly know how or didn’t have the resources to fully utilise. The PS3 technically should be producing graphics far technically superior to that of the Xbox 360, but often games released on both systems often looked equally good on either. Beyond shows us what happened when a developer pushed the PS3 to its very limits for one last hurrah before the PS4 came out later that same year. In short, the graphics are stunning and I remember being very impressed back in the day – I couldn’t quite believe how good it looked. Beyond still looks good by today’s standards.

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Quick time learning event montage.

It may have just been for stylistic choices, but the whole game is played with a letterbox effect – that is black bars on covering the top and bottom of the screen. My theory is that this is to help take some of the rendering load off of the PS3’s GPU, so the game can still have a horizontal resolution of 1280, but only a vertical resolution of 544, rather than the standard 720, effectively meaning you don’t have to render a quarter of the screen. Clever – if you ask me. As a disclaimer: it’s very possible that I’m completely wrong, but I hope I’m right because that would mean I am clever. Normally, I would only have bad things to say about letterboxing in video games. It’s used in The Order: 1886 and The Evil Within (until they patched it out by popular demand) to horrible effect, but that was combined with a startlingly low field of view (FOV), and the two factors combined apparently created a horribly cramped feel – making both games unpleasant to play (I should disclose that I haven’t played either but I’ve heard people say these things). I hardly noticed the letterboxing in Beyond – to be honest, I was convinced for a while that it can’t have been there the whole time because I would have noticed it before three hours into the game when I did finally acknowledge them. I realised that the interface, the wide FOV and the style of gameplay had come together to create an experience so streamlined that not even the letterboxing could get in the way of a comfortable ride. Some would say it’s too streamlined. More on this later.

The cinematography of this game and the graphical quality is awe-inspiring throughout, but the story doesn’t quite match up to the presentation. That being said, the story is admittedly where the fun comes from. The game tells the tale of a troubled young girl named Jodie, who was born with an invisible entity sort of ‘attached’ to her. His name is Aiden and he seems quite nice but is obviously a bit scary to people who don’t understand him. Aiden can do various things like throw things around, create a forcefield around Jodie, kill people, mind control etc. Pretty useful, you might think. The only thing about it is apparently Aiden sometimes just doesn’t feel like using his powers at times when it would be quite convenient. Need a keycard to get through a door? Why not use mind control? No. Aiden doesn’t want to right now. Let’s do something more complicated and time-consuming. Jodie is in the middle of the fight with like 5 bad guys trying to kill her? Aiden’s gonna sit this one out – wouldn’t want to get in the way.

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Well at least the Green Goblin is happy.

So what actually happens in this story? That’s actually quite difficult to say. Quite a lot of things happen, but also nothing in particular happens. The game follows the life of Jodie, from a child to a teenager to an adult – but all the scenes are out of chronological order. Sometimes the order can be justified, a lot of the time it just seems random. The random order makes most things seem to have no real consequence. There’s one really long sequence in the desert which doesn’t seem to matter at all – but that’s not to say that it’s not an enjoyable part of the game – most of the sequences are pretty fun owing to the fact that many of them are pretty stupid. The story is filled with jarring clichés and painfully cheesy dialogue. The performances of the actors are pretty good considering the material they’re working with – you may have noticed Ellen Page’s and Willem Dafoe’s faces popping up in posters and the like. Quantic Dream clearly thinks this story was so much more clever and sophisticated than it actually is which makes the whole thing so much more enjoyable. There are various twists throughout, but most of them were things that didn’t really change anything in any significant way – more like just new information that can be simply ignored.

This game features dialogue choices. Most of these are timed, presumably so the player doesn’t spend too long deciding what choice to make. If they do run out of time, the game will pick a default option. This creates a weird effect – the game can mostly play itself. This is what I mean when I say that a game can be too streamlined – when it gets to the point that there is no longer any need for the player to do anything at all, why is it even a game at that point? It feels, at points, like David Cage – the game’s writer and director – only reluctantly gave the player some choices. Why did he not try and get this story produced a TV show for Netflix or something? It would have worked so much better – but would have probably been a lot less fun.

Sometimes the game wants you to make a dialogue choice based on how a character feels about something. The problem is due to the nature of how the story is told – that being out of chronological order – it’s often quite hard to know what that character thinks of that thing at that moment because it’s often not been well established. Should Jodie try it on with this guy? I dunno. I have no idea who this guy is or what his relationship is with her. The game eventually asks you if Jodie is in love with the same guy, but gives you no reason to think that she actually is other than the fact that he’s kinda hot so who wouldn’t be amiright? And then it doesn’t even matter what you choose so you wonder what the point of asking was.

A lot of the drama is lost in this game due to how it almost pretends to give you choices. Scenarios are set up in a way so that the game can very heavily hint to the player about what the game wants them to do while only subtly presenting alternative options which it clearly thinks would not be very interesting. Choices it does freely give you are very minor like what Jodie should have for dinner tonight. Defying the game’s intended path is met with much resistance, and quite often lead to no real change in the proceeding events – some things just didn’t make as much sense. Why even give me a choice if you don’t want me to choose? The good thing that comes out of this is how funny it can be to go against the intention of the design. The story is already not amazingly well told, but when the player isn’t quite taking it seriously it can be a helluva lot of fun. It reminded me a lot of the film ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, starring Gerard Butler. It’s a terrible, cheesy rip-off of an action film and it is so fun to watch because of how dumb it is.

While developing the game, Quantic Dream wanted to create an interface which will allow the player to be fully immersed in the game world and forget that they are in fact holding a controller. The chosen solution was the dots. Oh the dots, my arch nemesis. Everything that can be interacted with on screen has a little white dot over it. The player can select a dot by pointing the right analogue stick towards the dot of their choosing. Simple, right? To be fair to the game, most of the time it works fine, but some of the time it puts a dot on the screen which is in just enough of an ambiguous location that it makes it really hard to know intuitively which way the stick needs to be pushed. Often this is a problem with the up and down axis. I’d quite often be trying to interact with a dot that looked like it was below the centre of the screen, but it was actually slightly above. My theory is that this is a problem with the relative location of the dot – I’d think to push down because, relative to Jodie, the thing she is interacting with is downwards, but the camera angle places it upwards relative to the centre of the screen. Even worse is when there are two dots, one to the side and slightly up and one to the same side and slightly down. Quite often this leads to Jodie doing the wrong thing because the precision required to select one over the other is unprecedented and you having to direct her back to try again which takes up valuable time and even more valuable patience.

If you ask me, it doesn’t feel more immersive than just giving button prompts for all this stuff. The frustration of the ambiguous dots takes me out of the moment far more effectively than being given options like press X to do this, Circle to do this etc. Or perhaps the better solution could be to have the dots but have the player choose by pointing the stick and then pressing X to confirm which would prevent accidental interactions because, of course, the right analogue stick also moves the camera.

Combat is similarly weird and confusing. Any ‘movement’ (i.e. punch, kick, duck etc.) puts the game into slow motion as the player is required to push the analogue stick in the direction of that ‘movement’. So if Jodie is punching towards the left, the analogue stick must be pushed to the left. If she is jumping over something, the stick should be pushed upwards. A lot of the time, however, it’s not at all obvious which direction the combat is moving in, so you’ll more than likely push the wrong way. This would be annoying if it weren’t that it doesn’t seem to matter when you screw it up – the game will continue as if you did it correctly. I never failed a combat sequence, and I screwed up a fair number of times. It does bring up the question of why does the player have to do anything at all if it doesn’t matter when they make mistakes. The game feels like it’s playing itself. The interface is designed to not be a challenge to the player, but also to make the player feel like they are contributing. Which is effective if you are a five-year-old.

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Pretty intense combat going on here.

Ultimately, this game feels a lot like it didn’t want to be a game, and only reluctantly fits into that category. There is very little choice throughout, puzzles are simpler than Skyrim’s and the ending you get is almost solely based on the very last choice in the game. The lack of any possible meaningful interaction by the player makes this a bad game, but the silly story makes this a very fun experience regardless. The game ends with what looks like a very clear and undeniable setup for a sequel, but David Cage and Quantic Dream apparently had never planned or intended to make one. This is the biggest plot twist of the whole game; the ending is such a cliché setup for a sequel it’s almost unbelievable. If there’s not going to be a Beyond: Three Souls then what was the point in the very final scene?

I really enjoyed this game, not despite its flaws, but because of them. I can’t, with any integrity, say that I can really show this game any love but I can proudly say that I’m eagerly awaiting Quantic Dream’s new upcoming game, ‘Detroit: Become Human’, which looks (touch wood) actually kind of potentially okay. It would be a first for Quantic Dream but I like to live in hope. In the end, good or bad, it’ll certainly be fun.

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Hell’s Kitchen: The Anime

There’s something so fascinating about Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a simple formula that can be boiled down to The Apprentice but it’s about cooking. A large group of both professional and amateur chefs battle it out week-by-week completing cooking challenges and desperately try to be the winning team to avoid the possibility of being eliminated from the competition. The reward at the end? Glory, money (lot’s of money) – and you get to run one of Ramsay’s restaurants with a big salary (a very big salary). There’s intense, over-the-top drama, there are tears, and there’s a hell of a lot of arrogance and bitching. The show is both American and a reality TV show, so it is unbelievably over-dramatic, to the point where it is quite impossible to put on and ignore, and even harder to not watch just one more episode. The drama is so intense it becomes funny to watch. Shamefully, I once watched an entire season in one sitting. I didn’t sleep that night. It’s trash TV. I love it.

The selling point of the show is not only that it is a competition, but a chance to grow as a chef – to be tutored by the great and almighty god of cooking, Gordon Ramsay. It’s quite funny, sometimes, to see how much these chefs look up to and fear Ramsay – especially when I’ve seen him on UK shows and can see how much of an act he is putting on in America as an aggressive, sweary, British chef. He’s not like that on UK TV – probably because people wouldn’t put up with it so much. People in Hell’s Kitchen are terrified of him and also idolise him – if he gives one of them a compliment they’ll almost collapse with the pride. It doesn’t even have to be anything big – they might have cooked some spaghetti properly. They’ll record interviews Big Brother style so that sound bites can be played over the top of challenges. Some have been so overwhelmed by Ramsay’s presence that they have started crying.

I’ve always felt while watching the show that it is well executed; by the end of a season, you feel as though the right person won and the right people lost – yet the show can still often surprise you unexpectedly, which is all in how it’s edited but that’s a topic for another blog. The show is so completely ridiculous and it’s one of my favourite shows on TV – so you can imagine my disgust when I realised that it has been removed from UK Netflix. What’s even the point of Netflix anymore? It has since been restored, but I have found a new love.

In my dark days of not having access to Hell’s Kitchen, I have discovered a new light to lead me further down the path of cheesy, melodramatic cooking shows. “Shokugeki no Soma” doesn’t really translate into English as anything useful, so it has been renamed to “Food Wars!” in English speaking countries and that is what is translated into other languages – so in French, it is “Guerres Alimentaires!” I thought that was interesting so I’m sorry if you don’t care. The exclamation mark cannot be removed – it is part of the title. Personally, I prefer the title Shokugeki no Soma – but only because I’ve watched a season so I know what a Shokugeki is and I know who Soma is.

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The student cast of Shokugeki no Soma

Soma Yukihira works in a popular diner run by his father, Joichiro Yukihira. Because of their god-like cooking abilities, Restaurant Yukihira is incredibly popular. One day, Soma’s father tells him that he must go to a cooking school, but not just any cooking school – the best cooking school in the entire world! Totsuki Culinary Acadamy is the size of a city behind its closed walls and has a pass rate of less than 1%. Not because it’s actually a terrible academy which fails to properly teach it’s students, but because so many students get in at the first year and the standards are unbelievably high, leading to many expulsions. So you could say that the graduates are the best in the world because of a process of elimination rather than any particular training – in this way it reminds me of getting a Hunter License in Hunter X Hunter (very recommended).

In that, we have the drama aspect of this show. Soma is already better than most of his year at the academy because his father taught him so well while they worked at their small diner in Tokyo. During his three years at the academy, he must complete many varieties of challenges – all of which involve cooking in some capacity. One might wonder when the actual teaching happens because every day seems to involve a new challenge to test the students, and not a lot of actual lessons. Fairly reminiscent of the challenges in Hell’s Kitchen, but much more dramatic and often quite a lot more dangerous. Students battle it out in Cook-Offs called Shokugeki – which is the only way disputes can be formally resolved while at Totsuki. Any student can challenge any other student or teacher to Shokugeki – often by shouting ‘SHOKUGEKI!’ at them. While it is admittedly not exactly the same in Hell’s Kitchen, competitors are often challenged to battle each other in the cullanry arts by Ramsay.

Shokugeki No Soma is unbelievably melodramatic, which is the primary source of comedy in this show – and this show is very funny. Not an episode goes by that I won’t laugh out loud, rather than just quietly chuckle as I normally do. Students have ridiculous feuds between them which involve them shouting about how they are so much better than the other and that they will destroy them. A little bit similar to Hell’s Kitchen when competitors take a dislike to each other and have stupid arguments. My favourite was when one man started shouting at the other, “I will cook circles around you! You couldn’t cook my cock!” What makes Shokugeki No Soma so funny is how self-aware the show it to how stupid the drama is. Either when it comes to how the animation is done, or the sound design, or the acting. It all comes together beautifully to create a great show. It’s all excellent in execution and makes the show extremely enjoyable to watch. I love it. I want an anime Gordon Ramsay to show up for one episode to reveal that he was trained there as well – that would be my make-a-wish if I was a terminally ill child.

In conclusion, I recommend you watch Hell’s Kitchen and Shokugeki No Soma. I’m not sure where any of this was going to be brutally honest. Happy Easter?

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The Library Level Should Have Been Cut From Halo

Halo is a pretty good game – to put it mildly. That is not a controversial statement; almost everyone who has played Halo: Combat Evolved loves it. It’s one of the (many) reasons the Xbox brand ended up being so successful. Indeed, the name Halo is almost synonymous with Xbox. It’s one the best first-person shooters on a console even to this day and one of the first to introduce so many game mechanics we consider standard today. Aim-assist, regenerating shields, even the standard FPS controls – all introduced or heavily innovated by Halo. It’s safe to say that Halo is a historic game and has had an astonishing and undeniable impact on the console gaming world. But it is definitely not without its flaws.

The Library is the seventh level of ten and represents an absolutely disgusting lapse in quality during such an otherwise high-standard game. If you can, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you skip this level; it adds nothing but half an hour of tedium and frustration.

In order to fully understand the failings of this level, it is important to examine the rest of the game as a whole. Halo’s other levels are vast, expansive and varied. In most missions, there’s not too much of a sense of repetitiveness about them (apart from when there is). In an age of endless corridor-shooters, Halo stood out as a game with huge sandbox levels that were both fun to fight in and also nice to look at, with only a few endless corridors. Each level has its own purpose – whether the purpose is to convey some story element or to teach the player about a game mechanic, most levels feel required and useful, which is important to the player’s enjoyment of a game like Halo.

What, then, is the purpose of The Library? I’ve seen it said in forums and comment-sections that The Library is used to convey the overwhelming nature of the Flood. As the Master Chief moves through the level, he must fight the ever persistent Flood, which come close to overwhelming him by their sheer numbers. It, in theory, sounds like a good way of conveying why the Flood are so feared and a disaster if they get off the ring while following the story-telling rule of ‘show – don’t tell’. But wait – hasn’t the game already done this? Level 6, ‘343 Guilty Spark’, is the level which introduces the Flood – and does quite a good job of it, too. In that level, Master Chief delves deep into an installation looking for Captain Keyes, only to find both Covenant and Human soldiers dead as if they had been mutilated, and no signs of the Captain. Suddenly the Chief is hit by a wave of Flood – and another, and another. The only way he can survive this is to run away as fast as possible through the corpses of his companions and enemies, it is not required of him that he kills all of the Flood, buts that’s up to the player. Sounds to me like this idea of the Flood being overwhelming and almost undefeatable has been conveyed quite well, while also providing an entertaining experience for the player. So, bearing that in mind, what is the library for? Is it to reinforce the plague of the Flood idea? If it is, it is done quite ineffectively, makes the level ultimately feel redundant, and takes away from the impact of the flood because too much time is spent on conveying that one idea without expanding it or giving the player any new information – it’s all just repetition. The player learns not to fear the Flood, but to be frustrated and bored by them.

So the level has no point, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth anything; it could still be fun and simply act as padding to make the game another half an hour long. And that would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that this level is awful owing mainly to the almost comically-bad level design. The level starts by putting you in a corridor. Run forward for a bit while you get attacked by a wave of flood. Wait for Guilty Spark to open an unnecessarily oversized and slow-moving door. Congratulations – do that for ten more corridors and you’ve done the level. Three groups of corridors are broken up by two also very large lifts, and a couple rooms where you get locked in and have to fight the Flood for a bit. Every corridor is an exact copy of the last – obviously literally copied and pasted to make the level longer, but occasionally a slight alteration is made, making the level feel extremely repetitive. The result is a player who feels like they have been going around in circles for 30-40 minutes. A feeling of being lost is very common in this level, which was probably not deliberate.

It all just screams laziness – Bungie made a couple of corridors, a lift, and the final room and then just seemed to settle for looping them over and over again until the level felt long enough. The whole level design is boring because you’ve seen the whole thing about 30 seconds into this half-an-hour level. This is especially bad because Halo was supposed to be a game that moves away from closed in corridors and into vast open levels, so The Library feels a bit counter-intuitive in that regard, being a level almost entirely composed of corridors. The level gets completely boring about two minutes in, and carries on for over half an hour.

The level design may be bad, but that alone isn’t what makes this level so hated. The other main problem is the combat. The Flood are awful to fight. It’s hard to imagine anybody actually enjoys fighting the Flood, and if they say they do, they are wrong. The Flood are essentially zombies with guns and therefore have no regard for their own safety, and as a result, the Flood fight you stupidly. They’ll ignore cover, they’ll run straight at you to hit you a lot or stand still shooting endlessly. You’d think this makes them easy to fight, but you’d be wrong, because in order to make them a challenge, Bungie made them do a frankly over-the-top amount of damage, and also put what seems like a million of them in a level at once, completely surrounding the Chief. They don’t try to keep their distance or try to defend themselves like the Covenant do – they get closer, they sneak up behind you and blow up to take your shields out (à la creepers from Minecraft fame), they hunt the Chief down and run at him – making trying to hide from them almost impossible. Exactly one gun is effective against the flood – the shotgun. You can fight them with other guns but you’re not going to have a good time doing it – although, you’re not going to have a good time whatever you do, but it’ll be much better with a shotgun. This means that the best way to fight them is to run at them while they run at you and shoot as you go, except they’ll overwhelm you if you do that so you have to sort of run around in circles, trying not to advance too much at once and clean-up the level as you go. All of this combined makes them very challenging – but not in a fun way, and after you’ve died to them a few times you’ll start getting suicidal over how tedious this whole act of fighting them is.

The combination of a boring, uninspired, repetitive level design and an enemy which is painful to fight in great numbers makes this level possibly the worst level in Halo history. So what should have been done about it? I like to take the ‘brutal editor’ approach to this and would suggest cutting the level entirely and replacing the little storytelling it conveys with extra lines of dialogue in other cutscenes, or even create a new cutscene where the level previously was; it wouldn’t have taken very long and would have drastically improved the overall quality of the game – and, incidentally, this is precisely what Bungie did multiple times while developing Halo 2 (although that was because of ridiculous time constraints rather than anything else). The level could also have been drastically shortened and altered, but this would have to be to the effect of pretty much completely changing the level design, structure and even the objective – essentially the same as cutting the level, except a new one would be put in its place.

The game would have arguably been seriously improved if the Flood were more fun to fight, however that could run the risk of losing the emphasis of how the Flood will destroy the entire universe unless wiped out, and thus the main driving force behind the whole plot would be lost. The Flood are at their best when the player is running away from them, not when the player is forced to kill them all; it both makes more sense in terms of the plot and world-building that has already been established, and can provide quite dramatic and memorable sequences.

The Library level is hard to enjoy, even for the most veteran Halo fans. It’s boring, it’s tedious, and it’s far-too brutal. If it were just boring but not very hard, the player could just zone out while playing it and it would be forgotten, but when it’s both boring and difficult, the player must focus on a repetitive slog through a seemingly infinite set of corridors. This level takes place in Halo’s second half, which is often said to be where Halo starts going downhill in terms of quality, but The Library is a rather sheer cliff-face of a drop-off. The quality recovers immediately after but never quite reaches the same standard set at the start of the game. Halo is a really fun and historic game which everyone with an Xbox should play – just skip The Library if you can.

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Games Reviews

Tomb Raider (1996) Is A Really Frustrating Game

I did it, guys. I completed the original Tomb Raider. It took me weeks, it subjected me to psychological fatigue I thought I would never experience with a video game and there was a point in playing Tomb Raider where I was considering if it was even worth continuing. I decided to press on and I’m glad I did; completing this game was one of my personal best achievements of my life so far – but only because I didn’t think I could do it.

I started this journey over a month ago. I wanted more games for my PlayStation, and I decided, since I’m such a fan of the two most recent Tomb Raiders (2013 and Rise Of) and how those are the only ones I’ve played, that I should play every Tomb Raider game released on a PlayStation console. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve completed the first one, but there are still five more before I even get to the Crystal Dynamics titles. It’s a daunting task but I’m not giving up now.

The story of this game is simple. Or it isn’t. I wasn’t really that clear on what was going on and when, but I don’t think it was actually that complicated – just told badly. I would show up to a level and not bother wondering why I was there, and eventually, I would get to a cutscene and vaguely watch without really knowing what was going on. Some of the cutscenes are right weird. It has to be forgiven, however; the game was developed by a six-person team and FMV CG cutscenes were hard to do in the mid-’90s. Still, the story is creative and takes Lara to interesting places and it’s better than no story at all I suppose.

I think that this is a game that everyone in the world has heard of, but not a lot of people I know have actually played it. Occasionally I would bring my PS1 into the living room of my house to play the game on a large screen. Almost every person who walked by would make the remark, “Oh yeah, the triangle-tits game.” I think that for most people, that is the only thing they really know about the first Tomb Raider. It’s not even something that’s noticeable most of the time; it’s very rare that the camera will point at the front of Lara, and the cutscenes use a model of Lara which has a much higher polygon count. In any case, the shape of Lara’s breasts is not something which should be the main point of discussion when there is so much more to this game.

Tomb Raider came out in a time where the DualShock controller did not yet exist, so no analogue controls for you. Now, you can imagine the difficulty in designing controls for an open 3D action platformer type thing, but I’d be lying if I wrote that Core Design did the best job they could have done with the limitations they were dealing with. Fighting with the terrible controls is a challenge in itself, let alone the actual intended challenges of the game. By the time I got halfway through the game I was just about starting to get the hang of it. I only really understood how I was supposed to be using the controls by watching videos of other people playing the game and by reading a walkthrough.

Moving Lara around can only be done slowly and carefully – not helpful when a lion pounces on Lara and you need to move around fast to survive or a puzzle requires a complex series of jumps to avoid a rolling boulder or swinging blades intent on destroying the very core or Lara’s being. Moves are completed using a sequence of buttons rather than a combination. For example, to jump in any direction you need to press the jump button followed by the direction you want to jump, but you have to do it quickly or she’ll just jump upwards. Try to press them at the same time and she’ll do one or the other and probably run off a cliff to her death. This isn’t even a limitation of the PlayStation’s hardware – just bad design.

The controls are also made more difficult due to the fact they use the ‘Dark Souls’ system (Tomb Raider is the Dark Souls of action-platformer-puzzle games!). The Dark Souls system is simply that if you press a button, Lara does an associated action. There is no backing out when you press the button. Accidentally press forward? You cannot quickly press backwards to cancel. This system has caused my death many uncountable times. I don’t even want to think about it – there is only darkness and anger there.

I found that the only real way to complete this game was by consulting a walkthrough at multiple intervals. I could have done the whole game blind, but it might have taken me at least 3 times as long, and I don’t think I would have had the patience for some of the puzzles which require you to sort of just know how to complete them for you to even have a chance. The walkthrough isn’t even just for the puzzles, it also helpfully tells you what types of jumps you have to do at what points. Depending on how far you need to go, you might need to perform a standing jump or a running jump. Do a standing jump when you needed to do a running jump and you fall short and probably die, do a running jump when you only needed to do a standing jump and you’ll overshoot and probably die, and it’s not always obvious which you need to do. Following a walkthrough makes this a lot less frustrating – the walkthrough I followed has a page dedicated to how to perform jumps in this game.

There are many enemies in this game which are hell-bent on murdering you as fast as possible – wolves, tigers, lions, bears, mutants, other people etc – but they are often quite unsuccessful. What is much more likely to kill you are the many, many, many platforming sections. Normally I like the platforming parts of these games as a bit of a break from the endless fighting but in this game, the fighting provides a break from the platforming. The final boss of this game was extremely easy to kill – just jump around and hold the shoot button – the only reason I did it four times was because of the short platforming section just after it.

The game isn’t that long if it weren’t for the many instakill platforming sections and the sparse save point system. Most levels took me at least an hour to complete and have about three save points per level. Finding a save point is a moment of great relief because you won’t need to do anything up to that point ever again. Save points are so rare that I started to use them strategically – if I found one soon after I last saved I would wonder whether it would be better to not use the save point so I could use it later. I had once saved and then realised that it would have been much better to wait to use the save point just before a very tricky bit and I ended up wasting a load of time having to redo a short section of platforming (but even a short section takes ages to do in this game). The whole experience was just so unnecessarily frustrating that I could only play it for an hour at a time before needing to take a break.

And yet there was something that always led me back to it. There was a point in the game where I questioned if it was even worth continuing or just skip to the next game, but I soldiered on and I think I’m glad I did. If I can really say that I enjoyed the experience I’m not sure, but I didn’t hate it nor did I even really dislike it. I can see why it took off at the time, but it hasn’t aged well. Tomb Raider 2 is apparently where it gets much better – you can save whenever you want. The controls haven’t changed though.

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Games Reviews

Jak and Daxter: An Uneven Bridge

Crash Bandicoot was an incredible series for Naughty Dog. It was insanely popular and skyrocketed their studio in the industry in terms of status. So, when the PS2 was on the horizon, what else was Naughty Dog going to do but scrap the whole thing and start afresh on a whole new franchise. Many people at the time thought this would be the biggest mistake Naughty Dog would ever make. But it wasn’t. What it was, was Jak and Daxter.

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was built on a simple ambition – no loading screens. The whole game would be a big open world which can be explored to one’s heart’s content and at no point be broken up with loading screens. Quite an ambitious feat when you consider the hardware they were working with. But, because it was Naughty Dog, they managed to do it.

The game they came up with is about a young lad named Jak – because no one needed a ‘c’ in that name to begin with. Jak is mute, so the person who does all the talking is his buck-toothed friend Daxter. While not following the instructions of Jak’s guardian, Samos, they sneak off to an island and find a big pit full of an ominous liquid substance called dark eco. Daxter promptly falls in and is transformed into an ottsel. If you’re confused, an ottsel is not a real thing. An ottsel is a mix of an otter and a weasel. Predictably frustrated by his condition, the two ask Samos the sage for help. He respectfully informs them that he is unable, and they would have to go to the other sages for advice. Unfortunately, the teleportation rings aren’t working for some unknown reason so they will have to go the other sages on foot. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that the only way to get to the next sage is across a lake of lava. Keira, who’s like the sexy young woman who works for Samos (she’s the love interest), suggests using a sort hoverbike heat resistant thing that she just happens to have. To get it working, however, Jak and Daxter need to find 20 power cells.

That’s the premise which sets up the whole game. And also a description of the main gameplay – collecting. To collect the power cells, you have to complete a series of side quests for the villagers, as well as purchase them with these egg things that are just everywhere, and most of all – platforming. The power cells are basically just lying around the place just waiting for someone to come and get them, and all they need to do is jump around some obstacles for a bit. Once you get the 20 power cells, you get across the lava lake and fight a boss battle, and then some plot happens which means you need to now find another 20 power cells. This is the format of the whole game. To complete the game, I think you need about 80 in all – 100 if you want to 100% the game.

The game is fairly relaxed. It’ll take a long time to finish it because it is a hard game – some of the platforming is only reasonably described as a challenge, to say the least. It seems a good time to talk about eco. Eco is a magical substance which bestows upon a person a mystical property. Green eco heals, blue eco gives speed, red eco gives strength, yellow eco gives the ability to shoot projectiles at people and dark eco hurts you until you die (unless your name is Daxter apparently). Now, this is all fine in Jak 1 because it is very limited and you can only use one kind at a time. The only issue I have is that green eco serves no purpose whatsoever. Jak has a total of three hit points throughout the whole game, and the only way to regain a hit point when one is lost is collecting green eco. The thing is that you need to collect fifty balls of green eco to get one hit point back – which takes a while – and on top of that if you get hit again you’ll lose all the eco you’ve collected. I think I managed to restore a hit point about twice during my time playing the game. So it’s often easier to just die.

That’s not to say that dying matters particularly in Jak 1. It’s an important point to look at the number of checkpoints in each game. In Jak 1, they’re everywhere. You jump to a platform – that’s a checkpoint, you kill an kill an enemy – that’s a checkpoint, you walk a step forward in any direction – that’s a checkpoint. The result of this is that death no longer really matters at all apart from in boss battles. This doesn’t make the game ‘easy’ but it means you don’t ever really have to redo anything when you die – just the thing that killed you. Not that failing a section of the game is always death; a lot of the time it’s because you fell off of a precarious platform and have to go back to the start, or you took too long on a timed segment or missed the target on one of the hoverbike sections. The interesting thing about this format is that it allows you to start again as soon as you realise you failed. How many times have you played a hard game and got into a pattern of pausing and restarting the section at the slightest screw-up? Jak 1 feels like it was built on that mentality. Screwed this bit up? Just go back to the start again. This, for me at least, does so much to avoid making me frustrated at the game, because it always seems fair and every failure feels like my own. It’s just nice to play a game that’s so forgiving is all. It is a game for children after all.

Jak 2: Renegade is a dramatic departure from everything that Jak 1 is. Released only two years later, Jak 2 says goodbye to the child-friendly Disneyland style of Jak 1 for a more mature style and a teenage audience. Set after the events of Jak 1, Jak 2 begins with all the main characters driving into a portal thing and then Jak finding himself alone in a strange place called Haven City (it’s an ironic name because Haven City is actually not very nice at all). He’s tortured by Baron Praxis (the man in charge of the city) for two years until Daxter (who is still an ottsel for reasons which would be spoilers) comes to rescue him. Jak speaks for the first time, “I’m gonna kill Praxis!” Not following the colourful child-friendly fun atmosphere from the first game at all.

The game is in fact so different from the first one that you could say that Naughty Dog basically dumped all they had established with the franchise up to this point in the bin and only carried over some small components. You still have the same base four characters, but Jak 2 adds some more – well over doubling the cast. These characters are conflicted, deep and interesting (most of the time). Yes – Naughty Dog has officially entered its BAFTA-winning story writing phase. The plot is interesting but isn’t exactly going to blow you away or anything, but it did hold my attention and I found it easy to follow. Gameplay is still the focus here.

Gone is collecting. There is only one mission in the game which involves collecting anything at all (as far as I remember) and that is only to send the message that collecting is dead and Naughty Dog killed it. So, considering that Jak 1 was all collecting, what is the gameplay for Jak 2? Shooting! Violence! Platforming! (They kept that part in) Jak 2 gives you four weapons to use – a shotgun, a rifle, a mini-gun and a rocket launcher. Using these weapons, Jak must fight off hoards of creatures called metalheads (I have no idea why they have this name – nothing about them is metal) as he completes missions for the resistance who are trying to take back the city from Barron Praxis and liberate the people while also discovering Jak’s origins and uncovering the secrets of the ancient precursor civilisation. It’s cool.

Or it would be cool if it weren’t for what Naughty Dog did with the checkpoints. Where Jak 1 had a checkpoint for every step you take (and every move you make), Jak 2 goes for the polar opposite. One single checkpoint at the start of every mission. One! You have to complete every mission without dying at any point because if you die you start the whole mission again. The game does not give you enough hp, you can only heal up with health packs which are found sparingly throughout a level, and you can never level up your hp – what you have at the start is what you have at the end. Combine this with the instakill sections of quite challenging platforming coupled with the sometimes endless waves of enemies and not enough ammo for all your guns and, well, it takes a certain amount of monk-like patience to complete every one of the “65 stunning missions”.

Sometimes it’s not even dying that causes you to fail. There are a number of escort missions where your companion doesn’t even have a weapon in most cases so they die very quickly because you’re having a hard enough time keep Jak alive let alone whoever you’re supposed to be protecting. You can also fail these missions if you walk just slightly too far away from your companion. One mission involved platforming while escorting a man and protecting him from random enemies. I kept falling off of the platforms, which wouldn’t actually kill me but I had no way of getting back up without failing the mission so my only option was to restart the mission from the pause menu. This frustrated me many times and prompted me to have a civilised ‘discussion’ with my controller where I introduced it to the floor – on several occasions.

There are loads of examples I could give of what I would (in polite company) refer to as “quite unfair” missions. The racing missions are a little bit annoying but manageable. The street race mission, however, is completely ridiculous. In typical video game style, Jak must settle an argument by winning a street race with this random person. The problem is that there is no obvious path to take in order to win the race – so you have to just keep failing and eventually you’ll learn the route because it will be engraved into your memory. That’s okay, I’m not complaining about that. What I am complaining about is the wriggly twists and turns you have to execute perfectly on this quite long course. If you crash at any point – it’s over; you’ll not be able to catch up. If you don’t travel at the speed of light, however, you might avoid crashing but you won’t win the race. The incredible precision you have to perform with a PS2 controller combined with the difficulty of trying to remember what the course is going to require you to do after the next turn just makes this mission the worst. THE WORST I TELL YOU.

Missions like these normally frustrate the hell out of you until you manage to get past them using ninja gaming skills at which point you feel amazing and nothing can stop you – you’re Superman with the wind at his back, but when over half the missions in the whole game are like this it makes you question whether it’s even worth you’re time anymore; you complete a mission that you struggled with and then you just know you’re probably going to struggle just as much with the next one. That being said, finally finishing the game felt pretty incredible but I can’t decide whether that was because I was just glad I no longer had any obligation to keep playing that game or if I just genuinely was enjoying myself and not knowing it. I think I’m happy that I played the whole game and looking back at it I did enjoy the world that Naughty Dog had created. But if the game were a little easier I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Jak 3 is almost exactly the same as Jak 2 – but with a few important differences. The world is even bigger and now featuring a quite large desert area which is used for driving around in – yes Jak has cars now! Just what we all wanted. I’ll get to vehicle combat later. Where Jak 2 had a mere 4 weapons, Jak 3 has 12! It’s not that hard to keep track of them all because it is the same 4 from Jak 2, but now each has 3 versions which alter the weapon’s behaviour. Also, the only gun you’ll ever need is the second tier rifle; it shoots bullets which bounce off of all the surfaces of the room until they hit someone. Goodbye aiming. Now when you enter a room with a load of enemies in it, just spin around in circles while shooting until everything in the room is dead. It is actually that easy most of the time (until you run out of ammo).

Aiming is now also improved. Where Jak 2 had sort-of half auto-aim, requiring you to slighting move towards to the enemy, which ultimately just means you’ll slowly nudge around the area in an annoying way, Jak 3 has much more controlling auto aim which is actually usable.

Jak 3 also keeps up with the trends with the option to invert the x-value of the camera control stick. This was something more and more games were doing at the time. Previously, third-person games camera system had the player push the analogue stick in the direction they want the camera to rotate around the camera. In practice, it feels more like you have to push in the opposite direction you want to look. Games started defaulting to the, what we now call, modern camera control system. I am very pleased they did.

The most important change to talk about is the checkpointing. Jak 3 features many checkpoints throughout missions rather than just one at the start. This makes the game so much more enjoyable to play and I was so pleasantly surprised whenever I died in a mission, dreading having to do the mission from the start again, only to discover that the mission had a checkpoint so I only had to do the final third of the mission. It just makes the gameplay so much better. You no longer need to train in the art of patience from ancient monks in a mountain temple in order to complete the game. That’s not to say that the game is ‘easy’, however. The checkpoints feel like a compromise between Jak 1 and 2. Not quite everywhere, but also not nowhere. For many, this is the right balance.

Vehicle driving features heavily throughout the game. Many missions involve Jak driving through the desert to do various odd jobs that don’t seem to be that important when compared to the world ending peril that Jak is also supposed to be single-handedly preventing but whatever I’ll go and heard a bunch of leapers into a pen for you ‘cos that’s important as well I suppose. For some reason, there are a bunch of randy buggers driving cars of their own who seem to have nothing better to do than literally drive directly in front of you while blasting machine gun turrets in an attempt to destroy your whole self. To avoid this you must shoot forward while swerving out of the way of any other vehicles you may encounter. The thing about swerving in this game is that the vehicle physics just loves flipping you over and sending you on a car rolling journey which will see you rolling down the entire face of the hill as the game tries to flip you over back onto your wheels which causes the car to just flip back over again until you are on flat ground – of which there is not an abundance. This can cause some frustration when you are doing a timed driving mission and you fail just because someone dodgemed into you. The driving missions in this game are easily the worst thing about it.

You know what’s better than platforming? Platforming in a car. Did I say better? My mistake. Having to platform while travelling at characteristically PS2 fixed, very fast vehicle speed is less than ideal. Jak 3 features a temple area in the map which you must go to on the regular and can only be reached using the jump car. The jump car has a button that propels the car in an upwards direction entirely to powerfully. Using this, Jak can leap over large gaps. If you’re a bit careful, you can quite easily get to the temple. Getting back from the temple is a nightmare. I’m not sure why, but leaving is just so much harder. If you fall off of the platforms (which is quite easy) the game puts you back to the temple. It doesn’t even feel like this is supposed to be part of the game, it just feels like a mistake. It’s not fun, it just stops you from getting to where you need to go. It normally would take me quite a few minutes to free myself from this section of the map. Until I discovered that you can just shoot your car and cause it to explode. It turns out that if you do that the game just takes you back to the desert city. I discovered this the final time I needed to leave the temple island. Because I am a very rational person, I got very annoyed by this.

Naughty Dog used this game as an opportunity to expand its trademarked BAFTA-winning story writing and it really comes through in this one. The story in Jak 3 is actually pretty good and features one of the best plot twists I’ve seen in a game. That being said it’s still pretty clear that for Naughty Dog, the gameplay still takes priority – which is a good thing; all I’m saying is that sometimes a character will ask Jak to do something that makes no sense at all but will lead to a standard type of video game quest, which is most of the time quite fun.

Since we’re talking about Naughty Dog and I’m a nerd, we can’t not mention how impressive it is what Naughty Dog can do with that PlayStation 2 hardware. Jak 3 is the first game that actually made me realise how impressive the game looked that the time. Not only has Naughty Dog build this quite impressively large world with absolutely no loading screens (pretty much), it can also have an amazing number of things going on on screen at a time. In Jak 3, large sections of Haven City have become a war zone, and Jak needs to fly over it to get to places. The war is played out in front of your eyes as the streets are filled with enemy AI and friendly AI characters dynamically fighting with each other – in impressive numbers (for the PS2). Everywhere you look you can see different battles playing out with different groups of people and different stories going on. The animation and graphical quality Naughty Dog has achieved is also just so spectacular – especially when you compare the game to others released for the PS2 at the same time. In my head, I was picturing how not good looking Beyond Good and Evil looks in comparison, and how small the world is before you need to go through a loading screen.

I find the Jak and Daxter series quite interesting because it connects the Crash Bandicoot Naughty Dog to the Uncharted Naughty Dog, but the transition is not linear. Jak 1 is like Crash Bandicoot with an open world and a bit more focus on storytelling. Jak 3 is like Uncharted but cartoony and less grounded in reality. But Jak 2 and Jak 3 are essentially the same game in lots of ways. You could say that the Jak series is a kind of uneven bridge that has a big gap after one-quarter of the way through it. The leap taken here was startling – almost like a whole new franchise entirely. So what happened there? The answer is simple – GTA 3. GTA 3 came out and had an effect on every game around it. Loads of games at the time tried to emulate it in some way, and Jak 2 was one of those games. I think that Naughty Dog also wanted more of a focus on storytelling anyway, but GTA 3 definitely inspired the move to a more mature, darker tone. Also the open world city and shooting and all that stuff. Naughty Dog does a good job of taking that stuff and making it feel a bit more unique to Jak 2 and it doesn’t just feel like a GTA clone. Jak 2 is more ‘inspired’ by GTA 3.

That being said, I would say that I am one of those who thinks that the series definitely suffered some losses in the transition. There seems to be some debate about which game is the best. Most people go for the third one, and I can see why – it’s like Jak 2 but more balanced and less of a pain to complete. Some think Jak 2 is the best because they like the challenge of it and, arguably, the story is the best in Jak 2 according to some people. I think Jak 1 is the best. Neither of the other games in the series held the same charm and attitude I enjoyed so much while playing the first game. Yeah, it’s a game primarily designed for children, but I that doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy it as well. It’s just a nice game to play and I have the fondest memories of it after completing it.

Overall this series took me ages to complete, made me very angry and I constantly complained to my friends about it during my time with it. So, yeah, I enjoyed them – a lot. I would even recommend them to my friends. The trilogy was recently released on PS4 in a kind-HD remastered format. I got Jak 1 for free with another game. It’s like playing the game on PS2 but in 1080p and with a DualShock 4. They haven’t changed the button prompts so the game will ask you to press the non-existent start button on occasion, but this can be achieved by pressing the right side of the touchpad. I didn’t know that there even were PS2 games that can be emulated on the PS4, so that’s cool. The list is quite short though and doesn’t have many classics I’d like to play, like the Simpsons Hit and Run. If you’re in the market for a series of classic adventure games that are also pretty old at the same time, this is a great series to go for, and probably best experienced on the PS4 because of the HD and the non-inverted camera controls.

I apologise for the length of this and also the fact that it is twelve days late. I had a lot to say and not enough time to say it in. So I’m sorry I care about quality.

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EGX 2017

I went to EGX 2016 alone. No one I asked to come with me was available, or they simply didn’t want to. This year I got two suckers to come with me – Ambrose and George who what I live with. I found that having company at EGX is extremely preferable to being alone, so I’ll start this by thanking my compadres for agreeing to accompany me. I mean, I’m sure neither of them came just for that reason alone, but I’m glad they did.

We arrived in the morning with enough time to get our wristbands (I managed to embarrass myself by holding my arm out for the woman to put it on me rather than take it and do it myself which is what you’re supposed to do), and get pretty close to the front of the line waiting for 11 o’clock to be let in. Our ambitious plan was to get in as quickly as possible and go straight to the Assasin’s Creed line. Being an EGX veteran myself, I doubted we would be able to get in the queue seeing that a lot of people had gotten the early entry tickets so they’d been in the show since 9AM – but I was willing to try. Sure enough, however, we reached the queue and saw the line would be 2 hours. We abandoned AC for the time being.

On our way over to AC, we saw a big banner hanging from the ceiling. One side had displayed in large letters, “PUNCH ZOMBIES IN VR.” On the other, “SHOOT FRUIT IN VR.” This was above a big booth showing off a couple of VR games. The first we saw was a game called Shooty Fruity being demoed on the Oculus Rift. You play a checkout person, doing the checkout thing, who must periodically pick up guns and shoot down malicious fruit charging for an assault. The best part was that the queue wasn’t very long so the three of us got in line.

I’m told, reliably, by George and Ambrose that the game was very enjoyable. You see, I couldn’t fit the Rift over my glasses, and I couldn’t see anything in the Rift without my glasses – even with much adjustment from the people running the demo. This surprised me because I’m short-sighted and can see further forward than the Rift protrudes from my face. Obviously, I don’t understand optics as well as I thought. I’m disappointed I couldn’t have a go personally but I trust that is was very fun to play. George got 2nd place on the EGX leaderboard, but we checked a few hours later and he’d already been knocked off by other people.

At my request, we went to the other VR demo in that area. It was a game called Bloody Zombies (it’s set in the UK, so I think it’s a pun) and was being demoed on the PS VR. This one was an interesting one because it’s a 2D side-scroller fighting game. Usually, VR games are 3D first-person games for obvious reasons – how would something not in the first-person work in VR? Luckily, the PS VR was designed to work with glasses so I could find out. Surprisingly to me, I put on the headset and immediately exclaimed, “Oh my God this is amazing!” Because it was. George and Ambrose were playing at the same time and seeing the game on a TV (it was co-op), which restricted their field of view to a small window where their characters were. I could see everything. I could see the whole level by looking left or right, I could see things in the background which the others could not, I could see it all in 3D which made the gameplay easier because I could more easily see what 2D plane my character was on. I didn’t want to take the headset off in order to let my friends have a go and when I did everything seemed so flat and small. I want to go back! I mean I still don’t think it’s worth a £500 investment but it is pretty cool and I found it made the game a lot more interesting.

The rest of the day was spent going from game to game and trying everything that was free at the time. Total War: Warhammer 2, Cuphead, Worms WMD on the Switch, Mario and Rabbids, Disney Land Adventure. What a list. We also spent a small while looking at a couple of indie games: Tokyo Dark and Max: Curse of the Brotherhood.

I’d seen Tokyo Dark advertised a lot on PC Gamer’s website and wondered what it was. Turns out it’s a 2D point and click detective visual novel puzzle solving thing. The small amount I played was quite intriguing; it features puzzles which rely on you paying attention to the dialogue and using the information characters give you to solve them. The game doesn’t seem to hold your hand very much at all, and the small amount of the story I saw was rather intriguing. I’m currently considering buying it. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Max: Curse of the Brotherhood is a 3D puzzle platformer with a twist. At the touch of a button, one can summon an enormous pencil and draw ropes connecting things together. The game was fun and challenging, and the kind of thing I could play with my children – as it seems to be geared to a child audience.

Overall, it was a very fun day out and a marvellous time was had by all. The most impressive thing we saw would have to have been the VR stuff – it’s what we were talking about for the days after the event. I look forward to VR becoming affordable.

 

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EGX lads 2017 (I didn’t know my hair looked like that)