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Games Reviews

The First Half of Uncharted: Schrödinger’s Franchise

Last month, I posted a day later than I should have. I know, unbelievable. So, to balance out this terrible crime, I’m posting this one a day earlier than I normally would. Satisfied, Ambrose?


Last Christmas, I received the Uncharted Collection as a gift. Just what I wanted, especially as I had asked for it specifically. I wanted it because of a simple reason: PlayStation fans won’t shut up about it and considering I bought a PS4 to play exclusives, I thought I might as well give it a go. The series was developed by Naughty Dog, who, of course, developed Crash Bandicoot, Jack and Dexter and The Last of Us. I really liked The Last of Us, and I grew up playing the Crash Bandicoot games. I think Uncharted is worth my time. However, I’ve only so far been able to play the first two, so I’ve still got two to go (I also bought the fourth one when I got the collection), but I feel now is the time to share my thoughts. If my opinion is drastically changed after I play the second half, I’ll update you.

Uncharted is about a man called Nathan Drake, who is supposedly a direct ancestor of Sir Francis Drake, the famous explorer. Determined to follow in the great man’s footsteps, Nathan is basically Indiana Jones/ Lara Croft and he explores tombs, solves puzzles and fights the bad guys to stop some unholy evil from destroying the whole entire world etc. etc. etc. Fairly standard stuff if you ask me. Although I sound sceptical, I will admit that the writing in Uncharted is probably the best thing about the games; the characters are well developed, the story is, well, interesting enough to keep me playing, and as you’ll find out, that’s pretty impressive. There have been several times when characters have genuinely made my laugh and I can say that I do really care about most of the characters. The story is never anything groundbreaking or actively gripping and perhaps a little too complicated for me to bother paying that much attention to the finer points, but hey, I didn’t get bored and stop.

The visuals of the Uncharted games are pretty impressive. Even more so when you remember that these games were developed for the PS3. Naughty Dog somehow managed to work out a way of working unholy dark magic with the PS3’s complicated cell processor to make it produce graphics that, at the time, look absolutely face-meltingly, stunningly fabulous. I know I’m playing it on the PS4, and a version which has been optimised for the PS4 with improved graphics, but still, wow. Several times, especially in Uncharted 2, I had to stop just to have a look around and take in what I was seeing. Naughty Dog are wizards, and they know how to make this bit of hardware do magical things. Massive environments, colourful scenes and the small details which just bring the whole thing together.

The environments are the kind that you just want to spend all your time climbing about and exploring. It’s clear a lot of ideas have been taken from Tomb Raider here, and to be fair, the new Tomb Raiders have clearly taken some ideas back from Uncharted. I have had the most enjoyable time in Uncharted just climbing up the walls and solving the many, actually often quite challenging, puzzles. It’s not that it’s relaxing – it’s not like therapy or a spa day or anything – it’s interesting enough that if climbing and puzzle solving were over half the game, I’d be quite satisfied with it as a game.

I’ve played the first two hours or so of Uncharted 3 (I’ll get back to it when I don’t have so much coursework to do), and I got to a point where Nathan climbed out of a well and encountered about 20 bad guys. At that point, I sighed, heavily. I remarked to the world that I had been enjoying myself, and now I had to deal with this. Combat in the Uncharted games is many things: difficult, repetitive, irritating, but most of all, it’s tedious. When I started playing the games I didn’t mind the endless combat, but when I realised that it never changes, I started to loathe it.

Combat is the same format every time, and it never seems to end. Enter an area, get behind cover, shoot ten or twenty bad guys, despair as a second wave arrives, run out of ammo much quicker than should, scramble around getting more, get shot by three RPGs at once, die, start again. Do this a couple more times and you’ll eventually get through (assuming there isn’t a third and then a forth wave), but then feel your soul die as you enter a new area, get behind cover… It’s all just tedious, and there is hardly ever a break. In my Tomb Raider review, I said that one of the things about the game is that it never stops. To quote myself exactly:

The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended.

You’d think, then, that I’d like this endless combat in Uncharted, but the difference here is that Tomb Raider indeed didn’t stop, but it didn’t repeat itself too much – sometimes you’d be running, sometimes you’d be fighting, sometimes you’d be almost falling off a cliff. It’s tense, it’s full of action and – vitally – it never gets boring. Uncharted’s action gets boring and fatiguing, but Tomb Raider’s doesn’t. It’s called variety, Naughty Dog, and it’s very important to create enjoyable gameplay. The game isn’t even satisfying to complete, I felt glad, but only that it was finally over and I wouldn’t have to ever do it again. I felt like Frodo at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I doubt he would describe his feeling as being ‘satisfied’ at his quest being over, but I’m sure he felt happy that it was all over. But at least Sauron didn’t make a sequel to the One Ring, so Frodo got off easy there.

It’s a real shame because the combat almost tips the balance against all the good things about this game and plunges it into a set of games I don’t want to play. If I’m brutally honest, if I didn’t already own the entire franchise, I’d probably not bother playing past the first game. Hell, I’d have probably not have bothered finishing the first one. It took months to do that because I got stuck on a particularly irritating combat section and got so angry that I decided I needed a break for a few months.

I’ll play the rest of the franchise because I own them and not because I would have bought each respective one after completing them. I just keep comparing them to the glory that is the Tomb Raider series. I’m very interested in the fourth installment, as it is post-Last Of Us, and I want to know how that game changed the series, probably not much considering it’s likely that they were working on both games at the same time, but I can dream!

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The Turing Test

A little while ago, it was my 20th birthday. “Huzzah!” came my cry as my teenage years had come to an end and I entered the void of the time between being a teenager and a proper adult, with a job and a place to live that isn’t my parent’s house. One of my many birthday gifts was a game called The Turing Test. I’d asked for this because it was intriguing; I’d seen a part of the game being played on a YouTube channel, and I became very interested in it, both for the  gameplay and the discussion the game creates.

The game is a puzzle game, and clearly takes many themes directly from Portal – you’re solving puzzle rooms to get through a sci-fi facility while being talked to by a sentient robot, who turns out to be a little sinister – very Portal. The difference here is the far more serious tone that game takes, it’s a lot darker and brings up quite complicated ethical and philosophical issues, that really get you thinking while solving these puzzles. The game gets you thinking by presenting you with a well-balanced argument about AI and how you prove something has intelligence. It even goes into arguments about what intelligence even is and how you can define and measure it. By the end of the game, I had a lot to think about, which lead me to do a bit of reading on my own on the subject, but it also helps that one of my modules in University is all about AI, so I’ve been learning from that. The game is good, and I’d recommend playing it, but I don’t really have much to say on the subject. The ending is very good and left me very conflicted about who’s side I was on, the robot’s or the humans’.

But that’s not what I came here to write about, I want to write about the Turing test, as in the actual Turing test. Most people know about the original idea of the Turing test – a person sits at a computer terminal and has two conversations, one with a computer and one with another human. If the person is unable to reliably tell which is which just based on the conversation they had, the computer has passed the Turing test. For a lot of people, this is not a very convincing test, and most would argue that it is possible to program any computer specifically to pass the Turing test, without needing it to be intelligent at all. The  main argument for this comes from John Searle in a book he wrote called Minds, Brains, and Programs. The argument is called The Chinese Room. It argues that a computer can be programmed to fake the ability to have a conversation with someone using a rulebook telling it how to reply to every possible input to look convincing as a sentient being, when in fact, it’s just faking, this is basically how things like Cleverbot work. Some people have taken this argument to mean that it is completely impossible for a computer to be truly intelligent, as a computer is unable to understand the meaning of the replies it is giving and is simply pretending to be clever (like a lot of us d0).

Think of it this way: a computer knows the definition of house and it knows the definition of home but does it understand the true meaning of either word. To a human, we understand what it truly is to make a house a home™, but does a computer which is basing its understanding on:

House
noun
  1. a building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys.
    “a house of Cotswold stone”
  2. a building in which people meet for a particular activity.
    “a house of prayer”

And:

Home
  1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
    “the floods forced many people to flee their homes”
  2. an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.
    “an old people’s home”

Both definitions are taken directly from Google, which is probably where an AI would get its knowledge from (No intelligent being would dare touch Bing). I know which house is my home – it’s not the house I live in permanently, it’s the house I grew up in rather than the house I live in when it’s term time at my University.

But, when one looks at the other side of this philosophical coin, one can see the other argument. Taking a quote directly from the Turing test game, this argument can be summarised quite neatly:

If someone copied, exactly, the brain of a duck into a digital form that could be run by a computer, and put it into a perfect robot copy of a duck, would onlookers not say, “that is a duck”. After all, if it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and does everything a duck would typically do, would you not simply say “That is a duck!”.

I’m not sure I would make any comment about a duck if I saw one, but it does raise an interesting point: if a computer could mimic intelligence perfectly, why does that not mean it is intelligent? In the Chinese room example – sure, the person in the room doesn’t understand Chinese, but the whole system does understand Chinese, or at least appears to. This is the main argument against the Chinese room experiment, and I think that it is a very interesting one.

Humans have been known to think very highly of themselves, so when it comes to the idea that a computer could become intelligent, we tend to get a bit snooty about the attempts to make a computer intelligent, dismissing them as ‘faking’ or ‘cheating’, but I think that before we can understand how a computer can be intelligent, we need to know how a human can be intelligent, and even the simple question of “what even is intelligence? How do we measure it? Where does it come from?”

In my AI lectures, students have been asked “What is you favourite colour?” to which they reply blue, red or some other colour. Is that an intelligent answer? I walk to University every day, is that an intelligent act? Does someone have to be intelligent to walk from A to B? Or do they just do it, especially when they have walked this route before? What is it to be intelligent? What do we do that is classed as intelligent?

Sorry to end this on a list of questions, but I simply don’t have a solid answer to any of this. If you want to know more, there was a really cool program on Channel 4 a couple of days ago (that was definitely not an hour long advert for Humans season 2) which explored some of these questions, it was called How to Build a Human. Watch it, it was very cool. I won’t watch Humans, though. Maybe someone can tell me if it’s worth watching, and then I probably still won’t; I have a vendetta against Channel 4 at the moment.

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My Day at EGX 2016

Every year, I go to EGX. It’s a tradition that’s last about four years now. It started when I found out about it from a friend and learned that it was about a thirty-minute journey from my house in London. It’s moved to Birmingham now, which means my pleasant thirty-minute journey has changed to a stressful three-and-a-half hour journey – and all because Earl’s Court is gone (also, you could argue that the NEC is a more appropriate location for a UK convention as it is located more centrally in the country – but on the downside, it means you have to go into Birmingham). I usually go with my brother, but this year he couldn’t come for a plethora of reasons, so I spent the day on my own. So, with no one else to share my experience this year with, I thought I’d just write about it.

 

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Oh, the things you see.

 

I love the experience of going to EGX; I feel suddenly I’m with a whole massive room full of thousands of other people who are a bit like me in at least some small way, of all different ages and backgrounds. I like listening to conversations and finding that people are talking about the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonoured or loads of other games, they may even be talking about being excited to meet the Yogscast, or Syndicate (I have no idea why you’d want to meet him after recent events). To put it simply, EGX is one of the only places where that small part of my life feels less alone; it reminds me that there are other people – real people, in front of my face – who also spend a few hours every night watching the same YouTube videos that I’m watching, it reminds me that there are other people obsessing over their PC builds and other people who play far too much Skyrim to be healthy. It reminds me that I am part of a community – that’s why I go to EGX every year, and that’s why I still went when they moved the event to Birmingham – that’s right, it’s so good, I’ll brave having to be in Birmingham for eight whole hours.

This year, I planned to go to EGX as soon as tickets were available. I didn’t spend really any time at all thinking about what I’d being doing about the time EGX was on – I just assumed I could fit my life around EGX. I bought tickets for the Friday, and then as soon as I could, I booked tickets for the train. If I’d known about a show on that night by the YouTube group Hat Films, I’d have gone to that, but it was too late; my ticket home was booked.

 

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This is a very cinematic queue shot.

 

After I’d travelled the three hours to get to the NEC, I started on the labyrinth that is the epic twenty-minute journey between the train station and the halls where EGX was being held. If you’ve not been to the NEC via train, you should know that the train station, the airport and the NEC are all one building. It’s bloody massive in there. I spent the time walking along and finding my way. For most of the walk, there aren’t any signs pointing you to EGX, but that’s fine – just follow the gamers. How can you tell who are gamers and who aren’t? Strangely enough, that doesn’t prove much of a challenge. The NEC is so massive, that at any one time, multiple exhibitions are going on. When I was getting close to the hall I needed to go to, I, surrounded by some other gamers heading to EGX, approached a man who clearly worked for the NEC – based on his uniform, who stood next to a signpost which pointed off in two opposite directions – one pointing to the cycling convention to the right, and the other to EGX on the left. The man took one look at us and must have thought, “are these people into cycling or gaming?”, clearly, the answer was obvious to him as he called to us, “The entrance to EGX is in hall 8.” If I were a lesser man I’d have been offended that when he looked at my toned, athletic body he didn’t instantly assume I was after the cycling show.

I’ll give this to the NEC, there is a hell of a lot less queueing to get in than when the show was at Earl’s Court. You walk in, show someone your ticket and they give you a wristband and when the event opens, they just let everyone walk in and try to spot anyone who hasn’t got a wristband. When event goers walked in this year, they were given the gift of Tornado energy drink. I never go understand this connection between energy drinks and gaming, but I will admit that Tornado is the only energy drink I’ve ever had which I can bare the taste of – believe it or not, I actually drank the whole thing. If I were to start drinking energy drinks, I’d drink Tornado (can I have ad money now, Tornado?).

When I do get into EGX, I like to spend an hour walking around and seeing what’s on offer; eight hours go by quickly when at EGX, so you need to prioritise and find out what you want to invest your precious time onto looking at. It would be great if you could have a go on all the AAA titles, but in my experience, you’ll probably have trouble squeezing more that two into your visit, especially if you want to do anything other than playing the AAA titles.

 

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Not sure I do want to have a go on that to be honest.

 

This year, the over 18 area was almost completely not worth going in at all as far as I’m concerned; unless you really want to spend three hours queueing to get a go on Titanfall 2, Gears of War or Battlefield One – not very worthwhile if you ask me. The only redeeming feature of the area was the small stand set up to promote South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I’d have had a go on it if it weren’t for the Nosulous Rift you had to wear while playing. If you’ve not played The Stick of Truth (the first South Park game), you should know that one of the main game mechanics in that game is the ability to produce flatulence at will. This is a feature that has been carried on to the new game, and, to promote this new game, the developers built this device which, when one produces flatulence in game, squirts a rather nasty smell into one’s nose, for immersion purposes, and to add to that, one’s face is broadcast to a large screen above one, so all may observe one’s reaction for general amusement. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, and in any case, I will buy the game when it comes out; I really liked the Stick of Truth.

 

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Another cinematic queue shot.

 

Moving on to the regular area, I noticed one game I was vaguely interested in, and that was Dishonoured 2. I only played a couple of hours of Dishonored 1, and I can’t actually remember why that was. I’ve seen a full playthrough on YouTube, however, so I do know what happens and how the game is played. I entered the queue, thinking that it wouldn’t take very long; the queue as far as I could see only went around the corner of the booth – I thought it’d take 30 minutes at most. When, after about 25 minutes, I finally got around the corner, I saw the endless zig-zagging maze of tenser barriers that was the rest of the queue. By that point, however, I felt that I’d been in the queue so long, it’d be a sign of weakness to leave then. It took a further hour in the queue to get in.

Why the people who’d set up the event didn’t allow us to use keyboard and mouse will forever haunt my wonderings. The game was being demoed on PC, yet they only allowed me to have an Xbox One controller, which meant I had a tough time getting through the whole level in the half an hour I had, simply because I am terrible at first-person games when using a controller; I only ever use keyboard and mouse. I was just about to get the final part of the level when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up.

If you’d like my thoughts concerning Dishonoured 2, here they are put simply: it’s pretty much the same as Dishonoured 1 except with some new features, like being able to play as Emily, a skill tree system and new abilities. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No. Dishonoured 1 was a good game, and I think the attitude of taking a good game and adding new features to it is a good one. I don’t mean Call of Duty or FIFA style, where the game isn’t really changed at all, only graphical changes and maybe a new gun or football team (and this year, managers!), I mean new game mechanics and improvements to old ones to make the game more enjoyable. It’s why I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider – it’s pretty close to the previous game, but with new features and improvements to old ones. I like that system of making sequels. I will probably get Dishonoured 2 on November the eleventh, the day it comes out.

 

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I’m trying to point out that there are a lot of queues.

 

After doing that, I decided then was my time to go and meet the Yogscast. I’ve been a fan of that lot for quite a long time now I think about it, but I’ve only ever met HAT Films at a convention before. The experience of actually meeting these people who you’ve been watching videos and live streams of nearly every day for the past 5 years is a slightly bizarre one, to say the least. You think you know these people, because you do to an extent – you know some random things about their lives from the stories they’ve told, on the way over on the train I was listening to the Triforce podcast where Lewis was talking about weird things that have happened to him at conventions, and previously he’d been talking about dealing with his landlord and giving away details about the flat he was living in, but when you’re standing in front of him and actually talking to him, you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know this person, and he doesn’t know you at all.

 

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Actaully a very nice T-shirt.

 

In spite of that, Lewis actually was excellent at making conversation with the people who came up to meet him. He asked me a couple of questions and was very confident. He somehow made it very easy to talk to him, which is a real talent. We didn’t talk long, however, as there was a big queue behind me. I moved through Duncan, Kim and Turps, none of whom I talked to at all really other than saying hello and asking each other how the other was. I’m used to this; I am pretty awful at conversations, especially if I’m expected to lead it, and also it should be said that they were all about to have a break, so they were looking a bit worn out.

The other half of the Yogscast that was there was on the other side and required a different queue. This side had only just started so the energy with all of them was much higher and they seemed more enthusiastic. I met Hannah, who was very friendly and eager to talk, Caffcast, who was equally talkative, Vadact, who I’d never heard of and didn’t really say anything to me and of course, HAT films. Trott laughed at his own signature because he felt it wasn’t as good as anyone else’s, Ross was cheerful and friendly, and I actually had a 30-second conversation with Smith about Dishonoured. All in all, meeting the Yogscast was a very worthwhile thing to do.

 

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Thanks, Sony, the backlight really makes taking a picture easy (Not! Lol!).

 

After that I had lunch and decided to have a bit more of a look around the place for my next adventure. I saw the new PS4, which is indeed smaller, and I saw the PS4 Pro, which I think looks a bit weird to be brutally honest, but whatever. I then had a look at all the different PC stands like Scan who were trying to flog their very fancy looking PCs for a lot more money than I’d ever pay for anything ever. I was slightly gratified that most PCs they were showing off had the same keyboard and mouse combo that I use, I suppose Corsair was sponsoring them.

I then moved on to have a look at the Retro Arcade, featuring genuine retro things, like ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and a BBC Micro, what I have one of. They also had a couple of Xbox 360s and PS3s. It’s too soon; I’m not ready to accept it. I spent quite a long time here, looking at all the different old gaming machines, like an original asteroids machine which I played quite a lot of.

By the time I’d torn myself way, there were only about 40 minutes left of the convention, and that’s when I found, tucked away in the corner, Horizon Zero Dawn. I really wanted to have a go on that, but I was too late; they’d accepted their final group of people. I’ve really wanted just to know what that game is and if I should get excited about it. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until the game has more information made public, or when it is reviewed – what a struggle life is.

It then wasn’t long before the event was closed, and I was heading home. I’d had a pretty great day out, even though I didn’t feel I’d achieved very much, but you could say that is what makes a day great. I’m for sure going back next year, and probably every year – it’s not something I’d miss, unless they moved it to Swindon or somewhere.

This post ended up a lot longer than I thought it’d be. This is why people have editors, I suppose, but because I don’t, you’ll have to manage for now – poor you.

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Games Reviews

Enderal – Just Fantastic

EDIT (28/09/16) – You may want to disregard my comments regarding the loading times, as it turns out it was an issue with my motherboard. I got suspicious when every one of my games started to have an eternity for a loading time. Blame me; I should have investigated further rather than blindly assume. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.


So, with the Elder Scrolls VI not coming to us until the year one million and a half, I suppose we’ll all have to compromise. And compromise we shall, with the new, highly anticipated mod from Sure AI, Enderal. Sure AI was behind such mods as Cube Experimental – for Fallout 3, Nehrim – for Oblivion, and now Enderal – for Skyrim. But what is Enderal? Enderal is a “total conversion mod for Skyrim” which literally changes everything about the game – the world, the story, the quests, the character system, levelling, skills, graphics, the UI – in short, it’s basically a whole new game using Skyrim’s engine. It’s incredible what this small team of twelve people, with no budget, have managed to achieve – they’ve created a game with “at least 30 hours of gameplay”, a massive, beautiful world to explore, and an epic story line. But is it actually good, and does my title allow for any kind of suspense? Let’s find out.

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The Map of Enderal.

Enderal  is fantastic – it’s even beyond fantastic – it’s bloody impressive and I think I love it. I’m saying this although I haven’t had too much of a chance to actually play that much of it, but the amount I have played has really impressed me. Starting with the world, it’s actually quite large and very pretty – even without ENB enabled (you can’t use ENB with Enderal) – and a lot of fun to explore. I can see myself getting lost in the world in the same way I often get lost in Skyrim’s, the world is full of rolling hills and expansive countryside which gives you a real sense of being in the open world and being able to explore anywhere you like. To put it neatly, the world is pretty great, and on par with the beauty of Skyrim’s.

And then there are the cities. There is only one city, Ark, which sits roughly in the centre of Enderal, but I can tell you, Sure AI have addressed the many voices crying out for better cities in Skyrim. Many people, including me, were unsatisfied with the cities in Skyrim; they’re all very small and aren’t very complicated. Ark, on the other hand, is pretty damn large and pretty damn complicated – it involves five quarters (yes, I know, I was confused as well), a whole “under city” below ground and a large palace type place, where clever people live.

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Pretty massive if you ask me.

It’s worth pointing out the Ark is, in fact, the only city in Enderal, but I don’t think I need another one – I can accept that with the smallish total size of Enderal that they’d only have one city. There are towns, however, about 4 or 5 of them, all of them quite big and are laid out in ways which feel unique to each place.

I will just quickly jump to Bethesda’s defence before you started thinking that Bethesda should have done the same thing with their many resources and infinite time, by saying this: the reason the cities aren’t unimaginably huge in Skyrim is because, A, Skyrim is not the kind of place to have humongous cities and vast towns; they’re a simple people up there and aren’t into that sort of thing, and B, the world designers were probably trying to keep the world feeling concise and neat, because I will admit that the vast size of Ark and the towns can feel a bit messy, and a little bit empty. The engine is not capable of having a crazy amount of NPCs hanging about and doing their thing – it was never built for that. It’s weird, then, that Ark is so large yet there simply aren’t very many people about – it’s quite like Aberystwyth in that way. I’m not the only one to think this.

Returning to things about the world I do like, I like seeing adventures hanging about the place. In Skyrim, it seemed that you were the single adventurer in the whole world and you never saw anyone else doing anything of the sort. In Enderal, I saw several people kitted out in gear for adventuring about the place, which is a nice touch. And speaking of characters, there are some. People seem much more alive and real than in Skyrim; people speak more casually and say things that, you know, a real person might say to another real person – the writing and voice acting is superb.

 

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The Hero menu, where you can see your character and stuff.

 

It’s pretty clear to me that Sure AI share the opinion of many about what some refer to as “the dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls”, because they’ve made this game a lot more Morrowind-ey, by removing the ‘learn by doing’ system of Skyrim (which I think is actually very innovative and a great way to do character progression but whatever I suppose), and replacing it with a more traditional, “here are some skill points where ‘d ya wanna put ’em?” system, they’ve also completely removed the fast traveling system (which, again, fast traveling I think makes the game a lot more accessible and if you don’t want to use fast travel then just don’t but whatever), and replaced that with a more traditional, “just walk for hours on end” type system. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are these things called “teleport scrolls” which you can use to get to places, but there is a limited supply and you have to use the right one to get to the place you need to go. Also, in Ark, you can interact with sign posts to move around the city a bit quicker than by walking. I wish you could, like in the Witcher 3, use sign posts to fast travel to any other sign post in the game; I don’t feel like Ark is so big that I need to fast travel around it, but I suppose that’s to cut down on the number of loading screens you’ll have to endure.

 

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You’ll see this a lot, for a very long time, and you’ll go mad looking at it.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my God! What is going on with the loading in this game? I have had serious problems with actually getting this game to load at all past the main menu. Just this morning I had problems getting the main menu to load at all – I eventually gave up. I’ve done some research to suggest that this is a common issue for many people, some saying that for them loading times are on average between 5-10 minutes, and that’s for every loading screen – not just the first one. I count that as unplayable. I can’t wait that long for the game to load, I simply can’t – show me anyone who can. I’ve more than a couple of times gotten out of my chair and leant over my window sill to contemplate life while the game loads the next area – I’ve come to some interesting conclusions in that time, but perhaps I’ll discuss this another time. You know how bad the loading time is? It’s worse than GTA V. Not even joking.

 

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This game is too cool for horses, apparently.

I should reiterate if I have not mentioned already, that I haven’t played a huge amount of this game, so how I should feel entitled to review it is anyone’s guess, but I’ll discuss the parts I have played. The game starts off with some very intense/creepy/disturbing gameplay, and then you end up on a ship with a friend. Through the dialogue, you discover that you and he are stowaways aboard this vessel. Anyway, plot, plot, plot, and you have a creepy vision and end up on a beach.

Before we continue I would just like to mention a few things. Firstly, damn these guys are good at the cinematic stuff, and second, I found the character creation to be a bit lacklustre; at the start, you are introduced to your father, who is most definitely a human man, which means you are forced into being half human. You can’t even be fully human – you have to be half human and half something else. The variety of something else includes four options: something that looks like an orc and an elf, something that looks like and elf and an orc, something a bit orkcey/elfey and something this is, I suppose, kind of a cross between an elf and perhaps some sort of orc. They each look slightly different from each other and they have different stats tied to them, but in terms of looks, you’re stuck with one. Although it should be said that the inclusion of ApachiiSkyHair was very much appreciated.

 

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My character, Amber Stottlesworth.

 

What then follows carries the title we all fear, the tutorial, and it’s a long one. It is actually quite an interesting tutorial that sets up the story, the information about nearly all the gameplay and sets you up with the basic equipment you need to do your thing, before dumping you in the world. It involves crawling through a cave, killing some things and then wandering in the wilderness for quite a while, which is a good way of letting you appreciate the beauty of the world, but it is quite a lot of wandering at the start, a time when a game needs to hook the player and keep them going until they stop resisting and follow willingly.

Speaking of quite a lot of wandering, I want to discuss this issue of fast travelling. It’s not in Enderal, so you need to do a lot of walking to places, and probably getting ambushed on the way. In the world of this game, there is a thing called the “Red Fever” which basically means everyone in the wilderness hates you and wants to kill you. I’m not a fan of this, It’s not a good way of encouraging exploration when you’re worried that if you step your foot out the front door, a crazy loon will start gnawing it off. Makes a man want to just fast travel everywhere. I had a nasty surprise when I discovered that fast travelling wasn’t in the game. I had just run for miles as every creature and person in the world was trying to hack me to bits for whatever reason, so I could talk to a nice old man about something I wasn’t paying attention to because it wasn’t super interesting. After the conversation finished it told me I had to go back to the person I’d been sent by, which meant going all the way back the way I came. Needless to say, discovering that fast travel isn’t a thing upset me slightly, but luckily I know the following three commands to type into the console: “tcai”, “tcl”, “tgm”. With my new abilities of an infinite sprint, flying and being ignored by people who had wanted to kill me a minute before hand, I flew through the terrain to my destination. Cheating, I know, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to fight my way all the way back.

 

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What I value is KNAWLEDGE!

 

Getting back to the point, while playing I noticed something I liked: Sure AI clearly have played Skyrim quite a lot because they’ve added some pretty cool features. For instance, if you have a follower who walks too far away from you or gets lost somehow (which happens all the time in Skyrim), the games puts a marker above their head. It’s simple, but it made finding my follower a lot easier than it would have been without it.

Another little nice feature was the way they’ve done dialogues. Some ideas have been borrowed from the Witcher, including how the dialogue options point out which options will move the conversation on, and which will just give you more information. It makes sure you don’t say something that you can’t unsay which might cause issues later. The other thing is the knowledge system. The knowledge system is one which tells you that this option will give you information  about the world. The interesting thing about is that it’s set up in a ‘collect them all’ type of system. This is good because I’d have never asked about these things otherwise, and I actually learned quite a lot about the world of Enderal this way. Now I’m looking for them and actively wanting to know these juicy, interesting facts.

 

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Looks… familiar…

 

The whole theme of this game is a bit weird and conflicting; it looks like Skyrim, but it’s all a bit darker and more brutal. While playing Skyrim I never, for instance, come across a corpse hanging from a tree or had characters effin’ and jeffin’ all over the place. I quite like it, but I also don’t. It’s like a halfway point between the themes of the Witcher and Skyrim – I find that bizarre, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with many hours of playing.

After all that you might be wondering why it is that I said that I loved this game/mod. Well, it’s more Skyrim, innit. Between thirty and  a hundred hours of it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it. It gives me something to do with myself until Skyrim Special Edition comes to us in October. To sum up, play this mod if you have Skyrim; you’ll probably enjoy it. If the loading screens don’t bore you to death, that is.

 

 

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Musings On The Elder Scrolls VI

It’s official – The Elder Scrolls VI won’t be in my hands until several years have passed. Bethesda has confirmed that not only is it scheduled to be released after two new IPs they’re producing, but also that the game is not even in development yet. We know it’s coming; Todd Howard said that “Of course they will be a new Elder Scrolls”, but it seems that The Elder Scrolls VI is coming in the same way that winter was coming in Game of Thrones for the first 6 seasons (is that a spoiler? If so… sorry?) – in that it’ll happen, oh yeah it’ll happen, and when it does you’ll know about it! However, it’s going to be so far in the future that you’ll have likely forgotten it was going to be a thing until Bethesda announces it, which will likely be about 20 minutes before official release, knowing Bethesda.

By the time The Elder Scrolls VI is in my hands I’ll have finished University and probably (hopefully) I’ll have a job and will (maybe) have moved out of my parents’ house. My life will be completely different from how it is now (probably), and what’s more shocking, is that by the Bethesda development schedule, The Elder Scrolls VI will be released over 10 years after The Elder Scrolls V, quite a wait for us Elder Scrolls fans. Consider it – the original Bioshock came out 9 years ago, and think how long ago that was – I was 8, and I’ll be over 25 by the time The Elder Scrolls VI is something I can play for hours and days and moths forever. It better be worth the wait – that’s all I’m saying.

Tamriel_Map
Tamriel – in all its glory.

There has been much speculation over The Elder Scrolls VI, mainly focusing around where it’ll be set. Will it be Valenwood? Black Marsh? Hammerfell? Or perhaps all of Tamriel? I don’t personally like the idea of just creating a game that covers all of Tamriel; I like the focus on a particular area that we’ve had in the previous games. In The Elder Scrolls V, you really get to know Skyrim as an area and it’s people (those racist, bigoted Nords. They’re almost as bad as UKIP supporters). It was interesting to learn about the people of Skyrim and how they felt about the empire, which leads to the civil war which every player loves so much – I’ve come to calling it #Skexit. Yeah, I love Skyrim, and I’m hoping the ‘special edition’ will tide me over for a while. Although I’m fairly sure my modding can beat the graphical improvements any day of the week, but whatever – it’s an excuse to start a new character.

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Not sure how the special edition is going to top this…

All I really care about with the new Elder Scrolls is that Bethesda keeps it as open as every other Elder Scrolls before it. I spend about 40% of my time in Skyrim just sort of wandering about and doing, well, nothing. Doing nothing at all in Skyrim is more entertaining and fun to me than shooting people in Call of Duty or fighting through missions in GTA V; it’s indescribable – I don’t know why I enjoy it so much – I think it’s just relaxing. It’s like a sort of Zen. I also like how I can play nearly 200 hours of the game at the time of writing this and still be surprised at discovering new things in the world I hadn’t ever seen before and discovering new epic quest lines that I didn’t know about. There is so much to do in Skyrim, and if The Elder Scrolls VI has as much, then I’ll be satisfied with that.

I could go on about how great The Elder Scrolls is all day, and I might internally, but I’m sure you have other things to do. I’m not sure whether I should try to forget about The Elder Scrolls until the new one comes out, or just play Skyrim like crazy until then. I think the latter will do nicely.

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Games Reviews

Tomb Raider (2013) Is a Really Good Game

I was going to write this post a few weeks ago, but I got ill for a bit. Then I forgot about it. It’s a bit of a shame because I had replayed the game only a few days before so it was all really fresh in my mind. Now it is only a slightly vague memory. Oh well. On with the show!


Okay, unpopular opinion time: I really, enormously and with a full heart, love the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider – and when I type ‘love’ I am not exaggerating. I think it is one of the best games I have ever played. Now – before you lube up your maces and WD-40 you rusty pitchforks ready to track me down using Google Maps – you should know two things; my blog is hosted in America which is not where I live and don’t judge me until you have read this review.

What's she looking at?
What’s she looking at?

Okay, firstly let’s talk about the obvious thing that everyone complains about a lot. I wanna start this review by explaining the bad things about this game and telling you why you should get over them and play this game. Actual puzzles. Anyone who has played one of the original Tomb Raider games will know that they had no shortage of puzzles in them. Mostly athletic type things which involve jumping around, landing on buttons, weighing things down and stuff like that. They were often not super complicated, just hard to perform. It’s the kind of thing you have to have the patience of a monk to handle. I never didn’t like them, I just didn’t often have time for them and after a while would resort to the internet to get things moving again. In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, there is a distinct lack of these puzzles in the main campaign. I think off the top of my head there are about two or three.

There are other puzzles, but they are all optional ones which you have to seek out and solve to get something (It was never particularly clear on what I was getting out of solving them other than a sense of satisfaction). The puzzles in the main campaign are not too difficult to work out, and they don’t take too long either. They are easy once you know what you are doing. The optional puzzles are different. Most of them are kinda challenging to work out what to do, and I would have completely given up on a couple of them if it weren’t for the obviously-Arkham-inspired survivor vision (or whatever it’s called) which, at the tap of a button, marks your objective and makes anything you can interact with glow a bright yellow. Some would argue that this makes it to easy. That’s a fair opinion, and I have a solution for you: don’t use it unless you are completely and hopelessly stuck, and let the stupid people use the easy option.

The other problem with the puzzles is – as all the good ones are optional – it’s often a puzzle to find them. When you are kinda near an entrance to a puzzle room the game will notify you with a sound effect and a popup. It doesn’t actually tell you where it is, and survivor vision doesn’t highlight it for you (unless it does and I never tried that). Worse, some puzzles you can’t enter until you get an upgrade. This means you have to remember where it was (it doesn’t mark it on the map (unless it does and I never tried that)) and come back for it later. This puzzle thing isn’t the end of the world and certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me – it just would be nice if in the next game more of the puzzles are in the campaign or just easy to find.

Well - you screwed this one up, Lara
Well – you screwed this one up, Lara

So – if the puzzles are lacking in a Tomb Raider game, what’s left? Well, I’ll tell you: lots of mind-bending and exciting action. The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended. There are countless action sequences which have Lara jumping and flipping, hiding behind cover and being a super action hero as you run through an area shooting people in the face with a shotgun and sniping people with a compound bow as the entire world around you blows up and falls apart leaving you to jump wildly – desperately attempting to just cling on to anything you can to survive.

There is one – what only can be described as a ‘holy hell’ moment – where you’ve been fighting on a big old boat suspended in some trees, and when the flight is over, the ropes holding the boat up on one side are broken, and the whole boat drops sideways, leaving you to hang off tiny ledges in the ground – while a maniac is shooting at you with a mini-gun. It gets a bit intense at some points.

Yep - that's Lara swimming in a river of blood.
Yep – that’s Lara swimming in a river of blood.

One thing Crystal Dynamics really vamped-up from the original games is the sheer amount of gore. The first few Tomb Raider games were known for their gruesome death cut scenes, which some considered to be a bit much. This was a practice which eventually died out in the Tomb Raider series. Well, Crystal Dynamics wanted it back, and it really is back. There are many times in the game where if you make a small slip up, a jagged, rusty pipe will end up being lodged through the base of Lara’s head and come out the top, though the middle of her brain – and other things like that.

I don’t think it will be easy for me to remember the first time Lara shoots someone in the game; it’s pretty intense. Lara tries to escape from be captured by a load of cultist weirdos and hides inside a small gap between some huts. This part is done very craftily; you expect it to be the standard Lord of the Rings style moment where the pursuer almost finds her but is distracted at the last second. I was stunned when he grabbed her and pulled her out. In an intense button mashing session (which happens quite a lot in the game) you grab his gun and struggle to aim at his head where just at the right moment – you pull right trigger and shoot him right in the face which… almost kills him. Lara is a little upset at this – as you would be – staring into the eyes of the almost-dead shivering bloody man on the ground, who had friends and a family, and who was only trying to survive. He dies after a few seconds letting Lara pull herself together and get out of there. Yeah – it gets intense. That bit left me breathless the first time I played it. Even when I replayed it I felt a little shocked; I’d forgotten how brutal it all was.

Of course, as was pointed out by many reviewers at release, this representation of the horror and brutality that is murder doesn’t last long. Withing about thirty seconds of this you have to shoot four or five people in a cover shooting battle. It’s a little jarring, to say the least, and it leaves you not sure how to feel about all of this. You quite easily forget all of that when you get more into the game and the combat system gets quite fun.

They... got in the way...
They… got in the way…

Okay, time for another unpopular opinion: the combat system in this game isn’t bad at all. I grant you it takes some getting used to and it’s not so fun when you aren’t very good at it, but when you are good at it and you unlock some of the combat upgrades, it gets deliciously exhilarating.

The combat first starts out as cover-shooting, which I normally find quite boring and I don’t really want to spend my time doing it. You start off with the handgun you stole from that guy you killed, but during the story, you find some other weapons. They’re all old, a bit damaged and kinda crappy. But that’s okay! Over the course of the game, you pick up salvage from boxes and crates. Sometimes it’s a puzzle to get it but it’s quite satisfying when you do. Using this salvage you can upgrade the weapons. They’re all themed upgrades and they’re quite realistic to the situation. For instance, you can’t attach a scope to the assault rifle; where would she have the parts to do that? But she can tape two magazines together to allow for faster reloading, she can bind the stock to reduce recoil, she can tape a flint to her torch to light it wherever she wants. All of these upgrades are realistic to the situation, and it’s things like this that I like.

The combat is brutal. It starts out as cover shooting, but evolves to more melee elements, in the most traditional sense of melee, meaning a confused fight or scuffle. Early in the game you acquire an Ice Pick for opening doors and as a general multi-tool – it’s surprisingly versatile. After a bit of upgrading, Lara learns how to throw dirt into the enemy’s eyes and drive the ice pick into their skull. Yup. You can unlock finishers which have Lara push them to the ground and pepper them with the assault rifle. Yup – it’s harsh. Fire arrows will allow you to set your prey on fire and a grenade launcher attachment to the rifle lets you generally blow stuff up. I like it. Some people don’t like how the brutality of Lara’s actions juxtapose the timidness of her character at the start of the game. I like it; it’s character development. She’ becoming the Lara Croft of legends (and video games) past. This is addressed in the dialogue at the very end. The bad guy (?) says this to Lara:

“I was only trying to save people’s lives. How many have you killed to do the same?”

(That’s not an exact quote; I don’t have super-memory) She starts out hating her experience, but at the end of the game it’ revealed that she grew to enjoy it – like Lara Croft is like in other games. The game ends with this cheesy line:

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you home soon.”

“I’m not going home.”

And then the music swells and the credits roll. She could just go home, but it’s probably better she doesn’t; she may well get bored and kill a bunch of the public for taking too long in a queue or something.

Is this a DV cam, in 2013?
Is this a DV cam, in 2013?

The story is… okay. It’s quite a puzzle because the whole big thing about this game was how Rhianna Pratchett came along and was all huffy and puffy about how games never have good stories because developers don’t care enough and are evil compiling machines who just want to kill people in a digital fantasy land. Pratchett wrote the story and was all proud of it, I remember her talking about it on the radio. Personally, I think the story ain’t bad. The main complaint I’ve seen about it is it being a little difficult to follow at times. I won’t spoil it, but play the game yourself and see if you understand it.

The main problem I have with the story is not the complexity of the plot, but of the characters. You see, there ain’t much. Every character is pretty two-dimensional. Lara’s companions are a multi-race 80’s power supergroup involving an Asian woman, a black woman, a Scottish stereotype, a nerd, a Hawaiian,  a clearly-going-to-sell-us-out-at-the-first-opportunity cowardly intellectual man and a trustworthy, down-to-earth northerner. They all behave the way you expect they would. This wouldn’t be so noticeable if it weren’t that Lara’s character is so three-dimensional. Do I care about these characters? Yes, I do. Well, most of them anyway; there’s a couple who you know are going to die from the start, so forget about attaching to them.

The antagonist is alright, though. He’s this sort of religious leader type who knows what’s up on the island because he’s been there so long. He’s become hardened in his old age and will do anything it takes to get off the island. By the end of the game I pretty much was sympathizing with him; by that point Lara’s body count is pretty much in the hundreds and he’s just trying to get off the island. Granted – the process involves human sacrifice, but he’s been there for about twenty years – he’s gonna do all it takes.

No Lara - it's not a good idea.
No Lara – it’s not a good idea.

The picture above was taken at one of my favorite points in the game. It’s quite early on where Lara is trying to radio for help. The only way to get the radio tower working is by climbing to the control panel, which is helpfully located at the top of the tower. I’d like to point out that there is no reason for any sort of control panel to be at the top of the tower, but this one is. When you get to the top, it just feels great. I don’t really know why – but it does. And then you get to zipline all the way back down it’s a bunch of fun. Climbing in this game is awesome. I can’t tell you why, but I just love the way Lara traverses around the place. It feels like an action film and I love it.

Two guns!
Two guns!

So then, to conclude, this game is great. If for any reason you have not played it, I must inform you that you are missing out, and we should all be excited for the new game coming out early next year (I’m not counting the xbone release in November because I don’t have an xbone). The new game is set to have many more puzzles in the main story line and some actual tomb raiding! Seriously, play this game. Stop reading this, stop doing anything else until you have played this game to completion.


Wow, you read all of that? Thank you very much for giving me your time. You deserve a treat. How about a look at my Tomb Raider screenshots folder (warning: very vague and minor spoilers!):

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Are Publishers Bad For Games?

If I say the word ‘Publisher’ in the context of gaming you’ll probably think of names like Ubisoft, Bethesda and even (angry murmuring) Electronic Arts. These are companies who, for a long time, I thought were the people who actually make the games. I was wrong, they are the publisher – they fund and market the games and often overshadow the developers. That doesn’t seem very fair to me, as the developer is the person who actually puts in most of the work. So why does the publisher get so much attention on the box cover and in the adverts? It’s because they are the ones producing the adverts and making the box covers. This is the kind of thing I’d assumed could be done by the developer, and they could be, but the publisher is the company which takes the game and gets it to the player. In modern times of the internet, developers can just stick their game on the internet and players can just download it. Marketing can also be done quite cheaply if it is just done on the internet as well. So what then, is the point of the publisher anymore?

Arkham Knight: A PC Port Gone Wrong

I’m going to need an example of a developer. I’ll take Rocksteady as Arkham Knight was released quite recently and that makes this quite relatable. A few years ago Rocksteady started work on their second game, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Because the game quite heavily involves the very much copyrighted character Batman, Rocksteady needed permission from the people who own the rights to video games about Batman. Those people were Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers would only allow Rocksteady to make this game if they could be the publishers of the game.

It is important to understand that at the time, this was not a highly anticipated title; it was not a sequel and was only their second game, following not a very widely known title, Urban Chaos: Riot Response (I had to Google it). For this reason, Warner Brothers didn’t put too much of a stranglehold on the development of the game, neither did they give the developers much of a budget. And thus the game was excellent, the best game in the series, and importantly the PC port was wonderful.

Fast forward to June the 29th, I was walking home after my final A2 level exam feeling pretty fine, and getting ready and excited to sit down and play the final instalment of Rocksteady’s Arkham series. I opened Reddit on my phone and am met with a wall of posts named in variations of, “DO NOT BUY ARKHAM KNIGHT ON PC.” You can imagine how something like that would make you feel a little uneasy, especially after anticipating the game’s release for a few years and having pre-ordered the game. I raced home and, sure enough, the PC port of Arkham Knight was awful. What happened?

Well, in the time I’ve waited to actually play the bloody game, I think I’ve worked out the answer to that question: the publisher. Let me explain. I did a little bit of research into what was going on and it seems like (by which I mean was officially confirmed) the PC port was not done by Rocksteady, but by a little company famous for screwing up various other PC ports called Iron Galaxy. I know this to be true because I have in my possession a boxed copy of the PC version of the game and the PlayStation version, the only logo that is not on the PS version is Iron Galaxy’s. They did the PC port of Arkham Origins, a game which I deny the existence of as much as I can. When that game came out there were a very large number of bugs which I had to deal with and became very annoying over time. This was a problem with the PC port of the game – console plays didn’t seem to have most of these problems. Consider this: Arkham Origins was not developed by Rocksteady, it was developed by Warner Brothers Montréal. This probably means that for both games, the decision to just hand the PC port over to Iron Galaxy to sort out was probably Warner Brothers. Why they decided to use them again I have no idea. It seems like Rocksteady didn’t have much say in that matter. Why not?

It comes down to the popularity of the game. The Arkham series is probably one of the most successful series Warner Brothers have published, so when work started on the final instalment of the series, Warner Brothers, like an overbearing parent, started really paying attention and interfering way too much. They needed to get money for the game to be as big and epic as possible, so Rocksteady would have no walls stopping them from making the best game they can. To do this, Warner Brothers struck up a deal with Sony (I should remind you at this point that this is all basically just my speculation and a succession of educated guesses), so that some content would be exclusive to the PS4 and all advertising would in some way involve a PS4. Look at all advertising for this game and you’ll see some reference to the PS4 in every advert. I don’t doubt that this probably helped in the development of the game, and probably contributed to the being able to hire Johnathan Banks, which served to distract me greatly while playing the game. What it probably did lead to, was Warner Brothers handing the job of porting the game to PC over to Iron Galaxy, in order to let Rocksteady worry about the actual game. For whatever reason, Iron Galaxy screwed it up and Warner Brothers and Rocksteady were unaware that the port was not in good shape. For me, this explains why Rocksteady seemed so surprised by the bad port and reacted so quickly. I’m sure if they were aware of the quality of the port before release, they would have delayed it. It would have been better than what they actually did.

Obviously, the publisher is good for funding the game. Arkham Knight would be as big and as grand as it is without the funding from Warner Brothers. What I am saying is that it is fairly clear that Warner Brothers interfered too much with the development (again, this is all speculation – I don’t know any of this for sure).

EA – Money Grabbing Bastards

Electronic Arts used to be a very well respected organisation which was responsible for a lot of Maxis’ successes like Sim City and The Sims. They also have helped with DICE’s successes like the battlefield series. More recently they have been named the main reason Maxis has now collapsed in on itself, and the disaster of the latest Sim City. Sim City failed because of EA’s ridiculous DRM worries. EA can’t live if they feel like they are losing money, however little, through something even if they can’t prevent it. EA is perhaps most known for the many, many freemium games which you can find on your phone’s app store. Search for EA in your app store of choice and see how many games are there.

A freemium game is a game which you can play for free, but which has a load of micro-transactions, or in-app purchases, which the game (kind of) forces you to buy in order to progress. This is something which most gamers don’t partake in, but which affects a certain type of person who finds it addictive. If you want to know more, I’d recommend you watch the excellent South Park episode “Freemium Isn’t Free”. It’s in the eighteenth series. If you want an example of a freemium game and to listen to a rather angry man get angry about it (in a slightly over-the-top fashion) then go watch this:

I won’t go on about it, but I feel that EA is a very good example of a company which is poisoning the gaming world with its money grabbing ways. EA was recently voted the worst company in America, and I’m kind of inclined to agree; they’ve done a lot of things which have annoyed many, many people. I think it’s because EA has gotten so big, they are no longer looking to make great games, and they are looking to make money. A want to make money doesn’t make great games. Face it, if you’re looking to make a profit, you shouldn’t be in the gaming industry, where studios like Irrational Games produce games like Bioshock Infinite and then go bankrupt because they overspent and didn’t make that money back – despite being the bestselling game on Steam at the week of release, and having critically acclaimed status. Games are super expensive to make and you have to make a lot of sacrifices in your game to not overspend (speaking as someone who has never made a game and does not know anyone who has).

The Lighter Side

This has been a delightfully negative review. I was told once that it is much easier to be negative than it is to be positive. So perhaps I should leave a little note about the good side of publishers – after all, they’re not all bad. Publishers can be good for the developers of games. The publisher funds the game and gets it marketed – it’s what they’re for. If the publisher doesn’t over-interfere with the development of the game, they can be doing something great. They take talented independent studios and give them the resources to make the game they really want to make.

This is the philosophy of publishers like Bethesda. Bethesda is good at publishing games – a lot of the games they’ve published in recent memories have been successes and many which have been critically acclaimed, and I think I might know why. Bethesda doesn’t just publish games, they make their own; we’ve all at least heard of the Elder Scrolls series and the Fallout games. That tells me that they know how a game is made, they understand the process and so they know what developers need from a publisher. All they have to do is give that to the developers who are being published by them. This is what a publisher should be, they should care about the games they are publishing. They should not be in it for the money, they should want to get great games out there.

In Conclusion…

No. Publishers are not bad for games. But, as with everything in the world, there are good publishers and there are bad publishers. It all hinges on the attitude of the publisher – if they care about the game, they are a good publisher, if they are only concerned about how they can get more profit out of a game, and they are bad for the game.

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Games Reviews

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

The Chinese Room is not new to this style of game. You may remember a few years ago when they produced Dear Esther. A game, I kid you not, I played for eleven minutes before getting bored and stopping. It wasn’t very interesting and I haven’t used to the style of game that it was. At the time, I was prone to immediately rejecting games which I wasn’t used to, and this was something completely new to me.

My opinion about this style of game changed radically when I played Fullbright’s Gone Home. If you have not played this masterpiece, stop reading this and play it now. It really is fantastic and it managed to completely change my opinion about this kind of games.

It was because of Gone Home that when I found out about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (ridiculously long title – I’ll just refer to it using the acronym EGTTR from here on out), I decided I wanted to give it a go. I wasn’t really aware that the game was by The Chinese Room when I started it, but when I found out I was willing to give them a second chance. I was ready to experience a story involving a bunch of Welsh(?) people who have all mysteriously disappeared.

What a lovely apocalypse.
What a lovely apocalypse.

The game starts off with you waking up in the middle of a road by a gate. From there you just start walking down a road. Along the way, the game teaches you the controls. Make sure you learn them; after showing them to you once, the UI clears itself from the screen and you just have to remember what buttons to press. Luckily, there’s not much to remember and you’ll probably get the hang of it quickly. It wasn’t entirely obvious to me that the game would stop prompting me so suddenly. In the game, there are some radios that are constantly emitting the sound of a woman reading out a random sequence of numbers. The first one you come across prompts you to press the X button to activate a BioShock style log entry recording. When I found the second one, I didn’t know to press X because it didn’t prompt me to do so, and I assumed that I couldn’t. It was only after about an hour did I work this out, which means I’ve missed a whole bunch of story. I may have missed some important things which would have helped me understand what was going on.

This wasn’t too bad a problem. The radios are simply an extra thing you can listen to which adds to the story. The main, important parts of the story are told by these strange, floating blobs of light which guide you around this village. At points they stop, and using some controller tilting, you activate some narrative. When this happens the world goes dark as if it were nighttime, and the light takes human form to represent a number of people and various objects they interact within the narrative. These narratives are meant to tell you about various people who live in the village and about what happened to them on one mysterious night, where everyone disappeared mysteriously.

The game is beautiful. It uses the CryEngine which is known for being good at making beautiful looking games with many lights and particle effects. What the most beautiful aspect of this game is not the visuals, but the enchanting soundtrack. It is relaxing and peaceful. It’s the kind of music which you can’t help but feel some kind of emotion for. It is great at relaxing you so you can simply sit back and enjoy the game. Frankly, it would be pretty boring without it.

On my list of things which really put me off games is slow walking speed and a lack of a sprint button. This game ticks both boxes in that criteria. You walk incredibly slowly in this game, it’s like your legs can’t move more than half a footsteps. You’re supposed to be following the strange balls of light but it’s quite irritating when they move so much faster than you. At times, I wanted to explore some of the houses and perhaps have a look at the vast open fields. Sometimes I got lost and needed to turn back. It’s quite annoying when you have to walk a long distance in a game very slowly. Perhaps the sprint button was not put in because it would ruin the mood of the game if people were just running around everywhere and rushing the game. I would hasten to disagree. Why? It took me three hours to complete the game and I’d wager that about half of that was walking and being lost. Let’s face it, walking around and getting lost does not make enjoyable gameplay. I wanted to get on with the story, not wander slowly through a village wondering where I’m going. I could do that in real life.

The big problem with being lost in EGTTR is that sometimes you don’t realize it. I had, on several occasions, lost my ball of light as I was walking, so I followed the path, trusting that the world design would guide me to where I was meant to go. You know, like a good game would. This did lead me somewhere else, but not where I was meant to be. The game is separated into following around different people (or blobs of light). You follow one person until you find out how they died, then move on to someone else. I had, twice, gotten myself so lost that I accidentally found the starting location of another story line which I can only assume I was supposed to find after I had completed my current story line. So without knowing it I had started another part of the game without completing the part I was on. I didn’t know this until much later in the game, so I had to go back and find the previous ball of light to complete their story line. I just went with it followed their story until I got lost again. This was very annoying. Not only because it meant walking back and having to find where the ball of light had gotten to, but it also completely muddled up the story in my mind. Everything I experienced was out of the order the game was supposed to happen in. The effect being that I was completely lost and couldn’t tell you what happen in the game at all. I still can’t.

After I had completed all the story lines (with great effort and determination on my part) I was catapulted back to the place I started but on the other side of the fence this time. I had one road to follow and had to walk into a big room where the final, revealing moment would happen. The moment where all of would suddenly make sense and I would finally understand what the game was trying to tell me. Alas, no. The conclusion made sense, I understood it, and I was completely underwhelmed. None of the previous three hours of gameplay mattered to the conclusion whatsoever. The ending was simply not very interesting and I felt cheated. My time had been wasted, and so had my £15.

This is what people look like.
This is what people look like.

So, in conclusion, I can’t recommend this game to you. You can get it for £15 on the PlayStation Store and I thoroughly recommend you spend your money on something more worthwhile. Like a really good toothbrush.

Categories
Games Reviews

Batman: Arkham Knight

Note – I’m going to try to avoid putting any spoilers in this review. unfortunately, that means glossing over some big parts of the game. So… sorry about that…

Also, I’m not going to talk too much about the absolutely appalling PC port. I don’t really have enough information about what happened there for me to give any good and useful opinions about that. But yes – it’s terrible that a port that bad was released by such a well-respected and liked studio. I only hope this doesn’t come back to haunt them in later years.


I was excited about this game. I Preordered it over a year before it eventually was released, and was so quick to defend it when I heard complaints, and so quick to turn off any doubts I had in my mind that this game may not be as good as I had hoped. If you’d asked me what games I was excited about back in January, I’d have told you GTA V, The Witcher 3 and most of all Batman: Arkham Knight. That order has changed somewhat after having played all three of these games.

Before I begin, let me cast your mind back to 2009. Seems so long ago. I would have been about twelve years old at the time. It was only the year before when Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ had been released and we were all feeling a bit Batman-ey. That year my brother got Batman: Arkham Asylum for his Christmas present. That was the first game I remember really, genuinely loving. I’ve since played that game a billion and three times and can get through the main story in about five and a half hours (which is impressive for me).

Jump forward to 2011, when Batman: Arkham City was released. My brother and I had been following this game for years – ever since it was announced. We were lucky enough to actually receive our copy a day early. My brother enjoyed it so much he actually completed the game that day and I’ve also played that game a billion and three times.

My nostalgia about the previous games in this post is to express how much this series means to me, how excited I was about Arkham Knight – and how disappointed I was with what it turned out to be.

To understand the failures of Arkham Knight, we must explore the successes of the other games. The best game in the series was Arkham Asylum. That’s not opinion, that’s a scientific fact. The world is very small, but it was still somehow big and complicated, with quite an impressive amount of detail. Around every corner was something to find with some reference to the Batman universe. A lot of what I know about Batman has come from that game. This made exploring the Asylum quite a bit of fun. The world was small but the Asylum felt vast because there was so much to explore in every building and around the gardens – you simply had to stop in every room to have a look around. There was also something very cool about exploring an island where you’ve completely lost control and things are getting progressively worse at every step. It seems the more you progressed in that game, the direr the situation became. The story simple and very easy to understand, which meant that you completely cared about what happened, enough to get through even the most irritating of battles.

Arkham Knight, on the other hand, has quite a large world, which can be explored, but the player doesn’t really have much of an incentive. Gotham is not a very interesting or detailed world. I certainly didn’t care to wander into the buildings and have a look around, mainly because you can’t enter most buildings. The buildings you can enter aren’t very complicated, mostly consisting of one or two rooms, and a fight to do. Gone are the many subtle references in the main campaign to various characters in the Batman universe. Arkham Asylum had a nice little fact file section which popped up when you discovered a new character. It was fun to read and learn more about the characters in the Batman world. It would seem that most of the extra features of the previous two games have been trashed to make this one more serious and epic. It feels a lot less like a game made by people who are big fans of Batman, and more like a game made by fans of The Dark Knight. There’s a big difference.

The story of a game is normally what holds it together. As I have previously written, the stories of both the previous games have been very interesting, fun and compelling. This is because of one main factor: simplicity. Neither story was complicated. They were a bit convoluted, certainly, but that was to keep you guessing and wanting to progress. I can honestly say that at every moment in both previous games I knew what was going on, and could explain it to a five-year-old – which is actually a very good test. In Arkham Knight, I still couldn’t tell you what was actually happening in the game. The story lacked any kind of logic or sense, to the point where I found that I was doing what the game was telling me to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure why it wanted me to do it. All I knew was that it was getting a little bit serious and a little bit dark for it to hold my interest for very long. Stuff was going on, and I wasn’t sure if the story had properly started or was just about to begin. I didn’t feel that Batman was in any danger, or that he didn’t have control of the situation he was in. I was waiting for things to really start, but they never seem to. He seemed to be handling the situation pretty well. Some stuff happened which sort of felt like it could have been a problem, but then never really amounted to anything. The story lacked a lot of much-needed substance.

Rocksteady were very excited to be introducing their own character to the Batman universe: the Arkham Knight. The whole game featured characters asking each other “Who is the Arkham Knight?”, as if their curiosity would rub off on me or something. Truth be told, I didn’t really care who he was, I was mildly surprised when it was eventually revealed, but I never really cared. He was a boring villain. Here is a run down of his profile:

  • He hates Batman (like every other villain in the world)
  • He has a lot of cash and military training
  • He knows stuff about Batman that some other people don’t know
  • He’s very angry (like I was when the PC port turned out to be terrible)

That would be about it. That is all the character development we got for him. It meant that I really didn’t care who he was, all I knew was that I was wishing the villain was Joker; he’d bring a bit of life into the game.

Scarecrow
Whoever did his face-lift didn’t realize that his mouth was not an open wound…

The other Main villain of the game is Scarecrow. “Oh! That really fun and interesting guy who was in Arkham Asylum!” You ask . No. He’s grown up and become boring. In this game he is all serious and deep, but not in a good way. He spends the entire time being all sensible and calm, and the game desperately tried to make him come across as scary or super intelligent or something like that. Not the Scarecrow we all loved the first game, who was just completely metal and was going after Batman just for a bit of a laugh. They’ve taken Scarecrow and made him even less interesting than the Arkham Knight – and I can’t imagine that was an easy thing to do.

This means that all the villans in this game just weren’t very interesting. I mean, there was this whole introduction about how all the villans had joined forces to take down Batman, but that’s something I forgot about until someone in the game mentioned it. This really didn’t feel like it really had much to do with anything. The other villans are much more interesting than the main ones, but there was next to no interaction between them and Batman. Think back to City, the main story was written in such a way that you had to go past every other villain in the City to eventually get to Joker. That was a thing about City which I really liked. It provided a bit of separation in the story between who you were dealing with, and added interesting breaks. It ultimately made the game longer. This was also prominent in Asylum, but almost non-existent in Knight. There was simply not enough of the cool, interesting villans for me to really care about their evil plan – or even remember it.

The game heavily hints that you should get on with some side missions in-between bits of the main story, and I would suggest that you do that – even if you just want to get on with the story and find out what happens next. This is because I feel that some of these side missions should have been slotted into the main story somehow, in order to make it more of a satisfying ending when you eventually do get to the end and defeat Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. I completed the main story and felt a bit empty and dissatisfied with the outcome. This prompted me to just go on. To do loads of the side missions to completion. Let me tell you, they are boring as hell when you are just doing it all together in a big chunk. Take the fireman mission as an example. At the start of the game Batman is informed that the fire crew of Station 17 have gone missing and that he needs to go and rescue them. This basically means predator mode in various places in the city. You go in and sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue a fireman. Sounds fun, right? Not after the sixth fireman, and especially not when you realise that there are ten more to find, sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue the firemen. The game simply stops being fun and becomes repetitive. I don’t feel like I finished the game. I feel like I got bored and left it, because the ending to the main story was so vague and unsatisfying I was left feeling like the game hadn’t actually ended. Nothing changed when I completed the main story, everything kept on going as if I had done nothing.

The Batmobile
Not the most aerodynamic design in the world.

I can’t belive I’ve come this far without at all mentioning the Batmobile. This was hyped though hell and back by the Rocksteady and Warner Brothers marketing teams. It seems like it was all they were talking about. I wanted to know more about the other aspects of the gameplay. After playing the game, I now know that the Batmobile is in fact the only aspect of the gameplay in Arkham Knight. You spend more time in the Batmobile than out of it in Arkham knight, whether you want to or not. Quite a lot of the missions either involve or entirely take place within the Batmobile. And while the Batmobile is quite fun (I mean, not the best thing ever or anything like that) it does get a little stale a little bit too quickly into the game. The car doesn’t handle very well and is quite difficult to drive, the controls aren’t the standard controls for driving, and this is irritating to get used to, especially with no custom button mapping. The battles in the tank involve shooting and dodging. That’s it. It requires a bit of skill and a good reaction time. At first my thoughts were, “This is quite a cool thing in this game, I quite enjoy this.” My thoughts changed quite a lot by the tenth time I was doing it. It just became boring. The variation in the fights is simply controlled by the number of drones you are attacking. It became very repetitive very quickly. And for the final boos battle to be a tank fight was just disappointing. I wanted to fight some people with my bat-fists, not sit in a car and shoot a cannon at things. That’s not what being Batman is about.

Dual Play
The super-group are in!

Okay, I think I’ve bashed this game enough. Let’s discuss some of the things I like about it. Belive it or not, I think there are some really cool aspects to the game. I’ll start with Dual Play. People have been asking for CO-OP in these games since the beginning. This is not it. This is something I think is really cool, and better than CO-OP. Batman has quite a few allies, at points in this game one of them will come along and help him out a bit. The player (you and I) has the ability to play as either Batman, or his ally. You can actually switch between them during a fight, and this something which can be used strategically. Picture this: you’re Batman and you’ve just started beating up a brute – this takes a while and you can only knock them out if you complete the beat-down – when in the background, oh no! Some other guy is breaking into a weapons box. They’ll get a gun and ruin everything. Don’t worry; Nightwing is here and with a tap of a button you can switch to him and take down that pesky man who is trying to obtain weapons, while Batman completes the beat-down at the same time. The day is saved. It can also be used as a special combo take down. It’s not the most game-changing feature in the world, but I enjoyed it.

Another great new feature is the improvements made to predator mode (I know that doesn’t count as a feature but just roll with it). Remember those floor grates in the previous games which you never bothered using unless you were forced to? Well in Arkham Knight, you can very easily access them from up high. With a button press, Batman with getting from his high vantage point to under the ground without alerting anyone at all. When I was playing the game, I spent a significant amount of time under the floor and leaping out at people unexpectedly. In fact, it changed the whole way I treated predator mode. I used to rely on inverted take downs, but in Arkham Knight, I used silent take downs from inside the floor vents for ninety percent of the time. They’ve also added a new kind of takedown, useful for dealing with a room of three or four armed thugs. It’s called the Multi-Fear Takedown. Basically, you sneak up on a group of people and press a button, then the game goes into slow motion and you take down each of the thugs using surprise fear tactics. These two things combined have changed predator mode quite a lot and made it much more varied – which is what it needed to be.

For my honor, I should also mention the general improvements made to general combat. Combat is largely the same, but Batman can use many more of his gadgets to deal with some of the most annoying enemies, like the stun-stick people. You can use the bat claw to grab them and they’ll drop their sticks. This is different and in some cases I’ve appreciated it. Although it’s not world-changing or anything.

Arkham Knight
He’s got a lot of remote controls…

So, I think that’s about all I had to say on Batman: Arkham Knight. I want to stress that the game was fun. I did enjoy myself while playing the game, it was just not nearly as good as the previous games. I would recommend it once they have finished the PC port fixes, and when the game is a little cheaper. In the mean time, go play Asylum and City. Both are excellent games.