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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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Games Reviews

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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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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Story Telling In Video Games

Story tellers have always been looking for new and more creative ways to express themselves and/or entertain the masses. I think that, if handled correctly, video games can be the most immersive and creative medium of all. But what is the correct way to go about telling a tale in such an inherently interactive environment? Over the past several years, various people and studios have experimented in an attempt to answer this question. The solutions some have come up with have been absolutely amazing in some cases, controversial in others and a complete failure in a disappointing number more.

You may have heard of The Chinese Room. They are an independent developer who has gained some fame for making two such infamous story-based games. The ‘walking simulator’ is a derogatory term which (so far as I know) was invented to describe the games that The Chinese Room is known for. Dear Esther is the first time I’d heard of them myself. This is a ‘game’ which I believe I have complained about before on this blog; the amount of interaction the player has is minimal: hold ‘w’ and move the mouse to point in the direction you want to walk while a mopey man talks in your ears about something. I honestly gave up listening to him after only a few minutes of him complaining. A mistake, it turns out, as the mopey man who talks way too much turns out to be the device by which the entire story is told. You walk around a deserted island until he runs out of stuff to complain about. The end. There is some kind of gameplay here, but I fear it was not intended by the developer; the level design is extremely poor. So much that it presents quite the challenge at times to work out where you’re supposed to next. Oftentimes it leads you to a dead end and you have to, with no indication at all, work out that you’re supposed to do a 180 and go back the way you came for a bit. To get through this harrowing experience, I would throw on some tracks from Spotify to listen to while I held ‘w’ down for 5 minutes straight, and discovered that you can’t actually drown yourself in game – several times. When this torture ended, I remember a great feeling of frustration that I had wasted my time on it. I was shocked to discover that I had only apparently spent 76 minutes on it. I thought it had been hours.

Their next game was Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. I did a review of it at the time. If you can’t be bothered to read that, here’s a summary: if you ignore the very nice graphics and beautiful soundtrack, the only thing impressive about this game is how the story can be so boring throughout, and yet the ending still manages to disappoint you. The story is told in basically the same way, except there is now some kind of gameplay, I’m not talking about the (still as unbelievably terrible) puzzle of a level design, but there’s a confusing light puzzle thing that is remarkably easy to solve once you work out the first one.

Everything about The Chinese Room’s games screams pretentiousness to the highest degree. They are games that feign depth and put on an aesthetic which tries to trick you into thinking that these games are deeper than they actually are. The kind of thing that some people would be scared to criticise because fans could so easily tell you that you ‘just don’t get it’ and that you’re ‘not clever enough to understand’. Well no more!

Gone Home is also a walking simulator, developed by Full Bright. I love Gone Home. It’s the only good walking simulator I’ve ever played. It tells the story of a person going home to the house they grew up in and learning about the events that transpired while they were away. What makes the game good is how much freedom the player is given to pick and choose how much information they want to learn. There’s the base story, which you have to follow, but there’s also so much more detail the player can go into in the form of documents, photos, notebooks etc. The player chooses the pace at which the story is told – this is an advantage of this medium that walking simulators simply must capitalise on if they’re going to tell a story. If you’re trying to tell a story through a game and you don’t want to give the audience the freedom to go at their own pace and skip out on stuff that might not be as interesting to them as someone else, are you sure a video game was the right medium to tell this story? Gone Home’s story is simple, easy to follow and excellently told. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it needs to be – there’s no fluff, it’s not trying to examine the human condition, it’s trying to tell the story of a family and the struggles they’ve had with living together – and yet Gone Home has had a far deeper impact on me than anything The Chinese Room has ever done. I fell in love with the characters and I left the game feeling satisfied, rather than frustrated. Gone Home is up there with the greats.

Walking simulators are quite limiting, however. You can only really tell one kind of story with one – one where the events have occurred and you’re a person walking through the rubble, uncovering the story regarding what happened. Telltale takes a more cinematic approach. I think most people know of or have played their Walking Dead game, at least the first series. It’s the only one I played. Telltale pioneered the episodic approach to releasing a story driven game. They would work on an episode, release that, and then do the next episode a month later or so. This is a pretty good system for them for a few reasons. For one thing, it means that they can have an output and release stuff on the regular without compromising so much on quality than if they had released it all at once. It also gives the players a common stopping point. It means players of the game are more likely to discuss it with each other. If the game was released all at once, it would leave players all at different points meaning that they would avoid discussing the game. By releasing the game in easily-digestible 2 hour chunks, you get the water-cooler effect, where people start discussing what they think might happen next. Then we get the peer pressure in for the people who aren’t playing the game but everyone else is. It’s a great marketing strategy.

In terms of how Telltale tells a tale, it much like watching an episode of a TV show, only you get to make some decisions like how the main character will reply to a question, who they’ll back up in a conflict, should they go to this location and do this or go to the other location and do something else. There’s also a combat system built into most of them which almost always consists of quick-time events and button-mashing, which can be exciting sometimes, but it is almost impossible to fail most of the time. Telltale has made series in this style ranging from The Walking Dead to Minecraft. They have been hugely successful, and I’m not going to sit here and write that they are bad at it; they’re not, they make good stuff, just nothing great.

I think that there are a few things which hold back all Telltale games. For one thing, production value is fairly low – animation is consistently robotic looking, graphics usually leave something to be desired and the soundtrack has never been stunning, but this is what you get when you are splitting you’re resources so much that you can be working on multiple series at once, and when you want to easily port the game to mobile.

Also a problem for me is the implementation of player choice. We know from the failings of The Chinese Room that you need player input. I’m not convinced Telltale actually really has any. I think that when you are given a choice in a Telltale game, you are being tricked. It’s not like the game ignores anything you tell it – it’s more that the choices you make have no real effect on the outcome of the story. Quite often a dialogue choice will come up and it will be designed so that whatever you choose, the same event will occur afterwards. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect Telltale to create such a branching story line so that any choice the player makes will have a different effect on the outcome. I just think that when you have a system like this, you are relying on the illusion of choice you’ve set up to not be shattered; once it is, the player starts to wonder why they’re bothering. I’ve always watched Telltale games being played on YouTube rather than buy them and play them myself.

For a more high production value game in this style, see Life Is Strange. Life Is Strange is the same sort of formula, except it’s a lot more like a normal game; you have a lot more control over what the main character, Max, does. You can walk her around, go exploring and also control time – but that’s more to do with the plot than anything else. This opens up something that is missing in Telltale games – exploration. Like in Gone Home, the player is given more of an opportunity to play at their own pace. If they were to walk into a room, they’d be able to look at loads of things in the room in order to learn more about the world, the characters and pick up hints about the plot. Choices that the player makes actually affect aspects of the game. So far as I know, nothing can change the outcome, but it makes the journey to the outcome so much more interesting, and provides a different experience for each player.

Life Is Strange is also a beautiful game, with pretty good animation, nothing stunning but better than Telltale’s stuff, and a great soundtrack. You may get annoyed with the characters, being that they’re all angsty teenagers, and you’ll definitely get annoyed if you are a teenager yourself because the character’s lines were all clearly written by someone who does not know how teenagers talk to each other – I’ll say this is charming; it did give me a good laugh while playing it.

There are loads of other games I could talk out – The Witcher 3, The Last Of Us, Uncharted – but I wanted to focus on games who’s sole purpose is to tell a story rather than be an action adventure or an RPG. I have seen proof that games can be, when done correctly, an amazing way to tell a story and an experience to remember for the player. But I think that it is so much harder to achieve this than to make a great film because there are so many variables involved. For a story to work as a game it has to be written as a game, and it should not be something that could be directly translated into a film or a book. Story telling in games is hard – but when it pays off, it can make for a groundbreaking experience.

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Games Reviews

Mass Effect: Andromeda – Not Actually the Worst Game Ever

Mass Effect: Andromeda came out a few months ago, but if you wanted a quick review from me I can only disappoint you. When the game came out, it was bombarded by the internet because of the animations and glitches. In fact, EA managed to unwittingly create a perfect storm by releasing the game early to some people – so for the majority of people, the marketing of the game was stuff like this:

Which was a bit of a disaster for sales in an environment when so many things can go wrong, and if any of them do, the sales of a game can completely fall over. Big games like Mass Effect: Andromeda need to sell well because they cost so much to make. A lot of casual fans dismissed the game because of the footage of the animations and glitches they were seeing all over YouTube, and while the reviews of the game weren’t actually bad in general, they were just not as good as most people need. At least it got over 70% on Metacritic, which is the threshold it needs to cross in order to be not a complete disaster, but it was just not good enough for casual gamers – especially at the £50 price point. The game didn’t sell well enough and it’s no surprise to anyone that EA has (apparently) ‘shelved the series’.

I would love to go into the details of why the game failed so badly on a technical level, but other people have already done that a lot more effectively than me, and with better knowledge. Firstly by Jason Schreirer of Kotaku who did some excellent investigative reporting on the subject, and secondly, there’s a great video which also covers animation in RPGs generally:

But if you can’t be bothered with that, here’s a summary: EA is in love with their Frostbite engine (and has been for years) and recently decided that all their games must use it because then they’ll all look really good. The problem with that is Bioware had barely used the Frostbite engine in the past, and because the engine is only really a graphics rendering engine, they had to rebuild a lot of the systems they had before for the other games when they used the Unreal engine. A combination of poor management and staff changes throughout the project lead to everything falling apart. A lot of the animation ended up (probably) being untouched by human hands and was left mostly to the computers to work out using advanced cyberspace computer magic. I’m surprised EA didn’t delay the game again, but I suppose this is EA we’re talking about, who would throttle a starving orphan to get an extra £10 in sales of FIFA.

Considering the nightmare of a development Andromeda had, I was genuinely impressed they managed to get such a complete game out the door. Yeah it was glitchy and the animations were often hilarious, but overall the game is playable, and I only encountered 2 game-breaking bugs, causing me to have to reload from an early save and redo some bits. It’s even quite fun. Yes, even after all the bad press it got, I still bought it (for cheaper than the normal price) fully expecting to find that I had made a horrible mistake. Given my expectations, I was very quite surprised by the game – in a good way.

Andromeda takes place after the events of Mass Effect 3, although none of the characters are aware of the events of Mass Effect 3 (probably a good thing). This is because, as the narrative dictates, after Mass Effect 2 the council decides that just in case the galaxy is wiped out by the Reapers after all, they should send a few colony ships to the nearest other galaxy: Andromeda. They all set off just before Mass Effect 3 begins, and arrive 700 years later. Thorugh some kerfuffling, you become the human Pathfinder – the person who is in charge of establishing new colonies throughout the galaxy and also sorting everything else out because apparently, no one thought to send any kind of military with the colonies to do the dangerous stuff. But that’s fine, I think all government officials should be trained in the art of combat and sent into war zones – it would more fun that way. Some stuff and things happen – you meet an alien race who are hilariously called the ‘Kett’ and some purple humanoid lion people who are all quite nice but don’t really trust outsiders. The story, in general, is okay – nothing too interesting or engaging but at least it drives things forward. I could fairly well predict the plot points that were coming up as I played through the story.

Getting into the characters for a minute, it’s worth setting this up by mentioning that the characters in the original trilogy were definitely one of the strongest points of the games. They were all interesting, varied and had rough edges – like real people. They could joke around but knew when to get serious. You knew you could depend on them in a crisis. Through the games, you got to know them very well – if you spent enough time talking to them – and because of this, I got to quite like some characters that I had, at first, disliked. This was only because I actually talked to them and helped them out with their loyalty missions. It was all very well done. Andromeda’s characters are all a lot more childish and light-hearted. The majority of the characters are people in their early 20s and not from a military background, so they aren’t hardened and they often joke around, sometimes inappropriately. I don’t want to give the impression that I hated this, I was just a bit confused by it for a while and I definitely don’t prefer it. It’s a little bit jarring if, like me, you’ve come straight from the original trilogy. I suppose it was an attempt to distance this set of characters from the characters of the Normandy. I can respect this direction, even if it comes off a little bit cheesy at times. My biggest problem was the lack of variety in the crew. Nearly everyone failed to interest me at all. I didn’t really want to get to know my crew particularly in the same way that I wanted to get to know my crew on the Normandy as Commander Shepard. Ryder (the Pathfinder) is much less of a leader on the ship than Shepard and more of a friend to everyone. I’m not such a fan of this direction, personally.

One thing I am a fan of is, however, is the new dialogue system. The original Mass Effect series had a dialogue morality system where one could choose either the good option or the bad option for what they want to say to people. If you do a lot of good things, you will be able to do special good things which will mean you can persuade other characters to do stuff – and the same for the bad dialogue options. It doesn’t amazingly matter whether you pick good or bad, It’ll just affect whether Shepard is nice to people or not. The problem with this system is that one only has to choose at the start of the game whether they want to be nice or nasty and then from that point on simply only pick the relevant dialogue options in order to unlock the late-game persuasion options. This system is abandoned in Andromeda and replaced with what emotion you want to respond with. Do you want to respond to a person emotionally, logically, professionally, or casually? This means that you’ll end up spending a lot more time thinking about your options rather than always going for the good or the bad option. In the originals, it would sometimes even point out to you what the good option and bad option is for a moral choice. Would you like to do the good thing or the bad thing to these people? Oh no! How am I going to decide?! What a conundrum!

The original idea behind Andromeda was to go back to the roots of Mass Effect, which was fantasy fulfilment and exploration. While I think the term ‘fantasy fulfilment’ sounds dodgy, I can confirm my fantasies were fulfilled by this game more effectively than in the first three games. I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation recently, and I’ve got to say, Andromeda got me feeling like I was in charge of a little spaceship, like in TNG, and that’s a great feeling. I loved the idea of flying around the galaxy and visiting new planets with my loyal crew at my heel, ready to take a pounding whenever they fail me. But that’s just my fantasy, I don’t know about you.

As for the exploration part, well I dunno about that. The game features 7 planets to wander around. They are very large areas and I only found the border of one once. However, these planets are all a bit empty. One planet is literally just a big sandy desert a la Tatooine or Jakku from the Star Wars franchise of movies. Originally, there were going to be infinite planets like No Man’s Sky, but people in Bioware questioned how that would possibly make a good game and how they could tell a story in a game world like that. The idea was scrapped and the number of planets was eventually reduced to 7. I feel as though they could have trimmed it more if it meant more variety and features on the more important and interesting planets. I didn’t feel at all compelled to properly explore the planets I was on. I quite quickly got bored of all of them before even the game would allow me to move on to another planet. I found I was rushing through the missions just so I could go somewhere else. In open world games, I’m a strong believer in ‘density over size’ of a game world. Just Cause 3’s world was big and empty – I got bored pretty quickly, the same is true for the Mad Max game. You can try to impress me all you want with how big the world is, but if there’s not a lot in it, I don’t care – I would even prefer the world were smaller. This is why open world games like Skyrim, The Witcher 3 and Horizon Zero Dawn work so well – their worlds are only as big as they need to be in order to comfortably fit all the actual stuff in them. The reason I wanted to move on to a different planet in Andromeda was that I wanted to see a different horizon and be somewhere else. I would say Bioware didn’t do an excellent job of the exploration part of things.

They didn’t screw up combat too badly at all, however. Well, that’s not entirely true – the biotics wheel is gone and you can only equip two powers before a mission which you’re stuck with. This was probably an attempt to streamline the combat, but I just think it makes the combat a lot less varied and a lot more shooty. Strategy is no longer much a concern in Andromeda and combat is a lot messier. That said, I think it still is very fun in its own way – it’s certainly more fun than a lot of third person shooters I’ve played, and a lot more varied in terms of the enemies you’re fighting, which need you to do different things in order to take them down. It’s quite like Destiny. I had fun with the combat, but I did still miss the strategy and planning involved with the previous games. I suppose you could explain it away by saying that Commander Shepard was an actual military commander and Ryder has almost no military training at all – but that just leads you to question why Ryder has been put in charge of a military team when there are people on the ship who are actually qualified to do that very thing. What are they even there for?

The game was a lot of fun and I did play it for thirty hours. However, the final four of those hours were rushed because I could feel myself getting very bored and I didn’t want to abandon the game when I felt so close to the end. The plot left lots of things unexplained – clearly setting itself up for a sequel which will never happen now (probably). Maybe the (potentially) forthcoming DLC will explain some of these things. I would say that the game is worth playing if you’re a fan of the series. And if you can get it cheap. And if you have nothing else to do – which you clearly don’t because you read all the way to the bottom of this.

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Games Reviews

Uncharted 4 – Best of the Bunch

I wrote before about Uncharted 1 and 2, remarking that if I ever got around to finishing the 3rd and 4th games I would review them as well. Well look what happened – I stormed through 3 and enjoyed 4. Here follows a collection of my thoughts on the matter.

Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 were a struggle. I enjoyed the story and the exploring but I didn’t enjoy the combat – not one bit. At first, I didn’t mind it. After a few hours, the repetitiveness wore me down. I dreaded a section of combat coming up, and I got very frustrated. The mere thought of getting stuck on another battalion of nasty people gave me the collywobbles I tell you. I needed to take regular breaks from playing to cool off, because as I got more frustrated the less patient I got, so I was playing worse, leaving me in a bit of an unending circle. At one point I took a break that lasted over a month, and because of these breaks, I didn’t get to the end of Uncharted 3 until almost a year had passed. I got very angry and I often questioned why I was bothering with it.

It was all worth it. All the struggle, the frustration, the shouting at my screen. I’m so pleased I persevered; Uncharted 4 is incredible. Without this instalment of the franchise, I’d have probably called the whole project of playing the series a boondoggle. Almost every complaint I had about the previous games has been resolved and that has made this game inordinately enjoyable. In short, Uncharted 4 is being added to my private, metaphorical hall of bloody excellent games that I love like a father loves his favourite child – and not my pit of games I despise like that same father might chain his least favourite child to a radiator and ignore them.

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PS4 takes a screenshot every time you get an achievement (It rarely looks good)

Combat – my main complaint about 1, 2 and 3. Combat in Uncharted 4 is actually quite good, however. In fact, it is very enjoyable. I actually, if you can believe it, really like the combat in Uncharted 4. Variety is rife and well welcomed. Level design is much more interesting, giving you different ways of tackling different groups of enemies in an assortment of ingenious and interesting approaches. And most importantly, stealth. Stealth actually exists in Uncharted 4, in an achievable way. You could sneak about a little bit in preceding instalments, but you were always doomed to failure. Someone would always spot you when most of the people were still about, and the games gave you no chance to get out of sight before every bad guy in the room knew where you were, and once they know that, they know forever – you can’t loose them. You’ve got one chance, that’s it. Uncharted 4 gives you the possibility of stealthing a level full of bad guys and gives you the tools you need to be able to do it – enemy tagging, awareness meters, bushes to hide in and so on. I found that it was a lot more fun to take each level slowly and sneak the whole thing, taking out each enemy at a time. When someone spotted me, I’d simply jump into bush around a corner and they’d loose me. I’d climb up next to a window and defenestrate the next fool who walks past. Being able to stealth all the time meant that I actually sometimes wanted to just run-and-gun some levels for some more variety. Combat in Uncharted 4 is what it should have been in all the past games and more.

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It does indeed

One of the things I really liked about the games of the past was the stories they told. The characterization and adventure of it all really are fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable. However, it must be said that 4’s is the best. It’s a lot less silly and more grounded in reality but in a good way. Somehow, the treasure not being some mystical and unexplained force made it all a lot easier to get into. In 2 particularly, it was about saving the world. 4 is about finding billions of dollars worth of treasure. I prefer the latter motivation if I’m brutally honest; it seems more human.

I also preferred the choice made to drop all the characters constantly questioning whether the end goal is worth the means. Every uncharted game has some point where a character asks Nathan, “This big pile of treasure or whatever you’re looking for is totally not worth risking your life for! Quit while you’re ahead!” It gets a bit tedious after a while. In 4, Nathan is only doing this because he has to. He’s not actually interested in the treasure because of money, he’s interested in the treasure because he needs the money for reasons that are explained in the plot. His motivations for risking his life in the way he does is much more relatable and that is another thing that makes the plot more enjoyable. You feel like you’re in it together and you can get right on board with it.

The game also admits that Uncharted is a bit of a rip-off of Indiana Jones. There are so many references I could point out. From talk of people being abducted by inter-dimensional beings to ‘bad dates’ while looking at some grave stones. I don’t know why I enjoyed this so much, but I really did. By the way, when the character in question mentioned the inter-dimensional beings, they also remarked that they thought this was a stupid idea. I liked that one particularly.

As always with Naughty Dog, the graphics are incredible when you consider the hardware the game is running on and will leave anyone in awe of how amazing and wonderful the world is. Uncharted 4 brings it to another level of incredible graphics. The world looks so real, the people resemble real humans to a startling level of accuracy. If only my PS4 would keep a little quiet, instead of imitating an industrial hair dryer, trying to keep cool while rendering these complex and beautiful images, but that’s a criticism of PS4 rather than this game.

It’s actually a little bit surreal. I was used to the thoroughly PS3 looking people in the prior games but in this new game, all the people look the same but so much more clear. It’s like when a character in a video game is based on a real person and the first time you see them is after playing the game they were in. They look so much the same but also different and it’s a little bit unsettling.

Some change must have happened in Naughtydog before The Last Of Us; they’re doing much more story driven games. I like it; they are very good at it. The best – no one better. Finishing Uncharted 4 made me excited for whatever games Naughtydog plan to do next. The Last of Us 2 cannot come quicker – if it’s anything like the first one and Uncharted 4, it’ll be a very compelling reason to get a PS4.

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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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Comment Games

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.