Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

Games, Journalism, Other, and Books

That's all of life's bases covered, right?

Games

All of the posts under the "Games" category.

Hands-On With Nintendo Switch: One Day Later…

I know, I know – like the internet needs another opinion piece about Nintendo’s new console.

However, the impending arrival of a new Nintendo device – more so than a new Xbox or PlayStation – is always a cause for excitement, and one I’m regularly caught up in. Friends, colleagues and Twitter followers know I’m a pretty dedicated Nintendo fan, often quick to leap in and defend the platform holder even when doing so is at its most difficult (Double Dash was a great Mario Kart, dammit!).

You would think I’d be chomping at the bit for the Nintendo Switch to arrive, but oddly, unnervingly, I’m not. Maybe it’s changes in my life circumstances (I’m now a dad, with limited time for gaming, and a homeowner, with even more limited disposable income). Had Switch come out five years ago – say, when the Wii U had arrived – I would have done all I could to ensure there was one set up by my TV on day one. Instead, I find myself determined not to buy one. At least not for quite some time.

Like many journalists and fanboys, I was up at 4am UK time to watch the worldwide reveal of the Nintendo Switch. Like many, I was hopeful, eager to see what surprises the platform holder had in store for us. An hour or so later, I found myself unable to contain my disappointment, venting through Twitter about the lack of compelling games at launch (or the lack of games in general) and the sense that while the concept of Switch is intriguing, it’s not enough to warrant a day one buy – even without that hefty price tag.

Just a few more hours later, I was in London for a special hands-on event where the new console would be showcased to the press, retail, publishers, celebrities and more. Now that I’ve had just over 24 hours to let the initial excitement and novelty wear off, it’s time to share what I really thought of the Nintendo Switch.

(And yes, that was an unnecessarily long intro to a hands-on preview, but you should know what an uncharacteristically sceptical mindset I was in as I entered the event…)

Read more →

James January 14, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

The Best Games of Not-2016

Two things have severely hampered my gaming this year. Well, technically one thing, but it sort of led to a second thing, and I regret neither of them.

The one thing is the birth of my son, making me a father for the first time. As such, the luxury of time that can be dedicated to gaming has all but evaporated completely. Last time I was able to play on a console was October.

The second, related thing is the luxury of money which, while it hasn’t exactly evaporated, is something I’m much more conscious about spending (I’ve been waiting to get paid before I can decide whether to buy the full Super Mario Run). The result is I haven’t been able to buy all the awesome games I’ve wanted to – and yes, journalists still have to buy games.

While I’ve dabbled in some 2016 games – Far Cry Primal, Quantum Break, Forza Horizon 3 and of course Pokémon Go – the majority of what little game time I’ve had has been spent on back catalogue. So, just for a bit of fun, here’s my picks for the best games of not-2016 I’ve been playing.

Read more →

James December 23, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

I’m changing the way I game

Not my pile of shame. Just searched Google for 'pile of shame'. Shameful, no?

Not my pile of shame. Just searched Google for ‘pile of shame’. Shameful, no?

Despite enjoying many of the benefits and responsibilities of being (apparently) an adult, I do sorely miss the days when I could pour hours of my week into the latest video games. In the golden years of 2008 to 2011, I was able to complete the Portal 2 co-op campaign in a single sitting, enjoy an uninterrupted 12-hour Star Wars experience in The Force Unleashed, and dedicate dozens of hours to the Mass Effect Trilogy.

Now? Not so much.

Life is different. I’m no longer that single, semi-unsociable, definitely-irresponsible, early 20s lad who could throw himself down onto a couch at the end of the day and not move until I realise all my housemates are asleep and it’s 4am. Now, I’m a responsible 30-year-old father-to-be, with three podcasts to cram into what little spare time I have and a long-neglected aspiration to become a published author.

So games will have to go. Well, not go, but I need to be pickier with what I play. While the 2008 me still lurks inside somewhere, chomping at the bit for a new Mass Effect, the 2016 me has to remind him that there’s no time to replay the trilogy before it arrives.

This post is a declaration of intent. Something to hold myself accountable to. Something to curb my enthusiasm and ensure I’m getting the most out of my increasingly limited gaming time.

Read more →

Constantly on the defensive: Life as a gamer

ignored

Let me preface this by saying two things: 1) This is a rant. Nothing more, nothing less. 2) I’m all too aware there are far more important, more heinous things happening in the world. File this under ‘#firstworldproblems’.

Why do we as gamers always have to be on the defensive?

“£42 for the new Star Wars game?!” a friend exclaims. “Why are games so expensive?”
“Only the new and biggest ones are that expensive,” I said. “There was a time when they’d cost £60-£70.”
“Why? They’re not exactly worth that money.”

To you, perhaps not. But to others, who find dozens perhaps hundreds of hours of pleasure and entertainment in such products, that’s £42 well spent compared to the equivalent three or four trips to the cinema, each time to a two- to three-hour film.

“Well, that’s a lot of money that could be spent on better things?”
Like what? Are we supposed to be instead investing in The Complete Works of Shelley and Keats? Buying outfits we’ll only wear once? Throwing money away as we throw shots and cocktails down our gullets, all for a few hours’ fleeting buzz and a lingering hangover?

Read more →

James November 22, 2015 Leave A Comment Permalink

The end is nigh. Ish.

dragon age inq

 

The problem with open-world games can be just that: they’re open. Freedom’s a wonderful thing, but it can taint everything else the game is attempting to accomplish, particularly if you’re trying to inject some urgency into the game.

I’m currently playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, my first foray into BioWare’s Tolkien-esque fantasy world since the original came out way back in 2009. I’m not far in (I’ve only just reached Skyhold), and despite the ominous green rift in the sky, Inquisition feels like it lacks that same gravitas that Origins had – despite trying hard to imply imminent and certain doom.

While your war council and party will regularly remind you that the world is essentially ending, there’s nothing to stop you wasting hours of time picking up shards, harvesting random crafting materials, completing unrelated side quests and generally dossing around in the game’s open environments.

Dragon Age isn’t the only game to suffer from this. Mass Effect 3 also spun a tale of imminent extinction for all organic life in the entire galaxy, but still allowed you time to potter around with the miscellany that serves as padding around the main quest. The ‘shopping list’ gameplay, if you will.

I understand it’s a difficult balance to strike. Developers want to tell grand stories with high stakes, to compel players into action that – if not taken – spells devastation for all. But when it contradicts the actual mechanics and structure of your game, the drama can be the most jarring element.

Read more →

‘Shopping list’ gameplay: the ‘litter’ of open world games

progression_wheel

I spent four solid hours playing Dragon Age: Inquisition on Saturday, with the vast majority of that time spent in the Hinterlands: the first major open world area of BioWare’s latest epic.

Despite having read several opinion pieces and tips guides stressing that I shouldn’t dally too long in this region, I found myself exploring every nook and cranny of the Hinterlands – partly because that’s all that was available in the trial version (yes, I’ve yet to buy the game. It’s on my list!), and partly because I was genuinely enjoying most of the quests. Most, mind you.

As I opened more and more areas of the Hinterlands, I found that Dragon Age – a series I’m quite fond of – has become the most recent victim of a particular bugbear of mine: a game design I call ‘shopping list’ gameplay.

The term refers to my experience of MMOs such as The Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic and (to a considerably lesser extent) World of Warcraft. After just a few hours of wandering the low-level areas, I would find my journal cluttered with a myriad of sidequests along the lines of ‘Collect 20 of Y’, ‘Kill 10 of X’.

I like to take the role-playing element of games quite seriously, immersing myself in the narrative of the world, but in the case of LOTRO, for example, I actually lost all context of what I was meant to be doing, my overall goal blurred by this shopping list of bland objectives, a checklist of things to defeat, gather or reach.

Read more →

Nintendo needs seconds, not thirds

BKXBLA

It’s nearly time for E3 and my mind is almost habitually turning to the Nintendo conference (or Nintendo Direct or whatever they choose to do instead of the traditional on-stage flashiness).

Obviously I’m looking forward to the Microsoft and Sony shows as well, but they’re a little easy to predict: big first-party sequels, maybe a new IP, partnerships for third-party blockbusters, entertainment services and perhaps some awkward celebrity cameos/endorsements. With Nintendo, the anticipation centres around the same question E3 has presented us for the last few years: can Nintendo turn things around?

Wii U is struggling. 3DS is doing okay, but it took all of Nintendo’s biggest franchise and most of its attention to fix – something that undeniably added to Wii U’s woes. The announcement of a new ‘quality of life’ business spells the beginning of the end for this Nintendo – it’s only a matter of time (perhaps just a few years) until Nintendo quietly downsizes its gaming output and focuses on this new business. The caterpillar that is the Mario and Pokémon firm is preparing the threads for its cocoon from which it will emerge as a health and fitness butterfly.

However, that laboured analogy does not mean Nintendo is or should giving up games completely. With the 3DS back on track, the only problem left to fix is realising the potential of Wii U. And there is still potential – perhaps not to surpass the success of the Wii, but to at least introduce new forms of gaming, offer an alternative to the glossy, loud offerings of Xbox One and PS4 and to entertain families and friends in the way that only Nintendo can.

As is the case when any prominent corporation is struggling, everyone already knows how to save Nintendo. Or at least, that’s what they claim on Twitter – although the allegedly infallible solutions won’t emerge until after the Big N has gone. The most common suggestions – nay, guaranteed salvation – comes in the form of new IP and more third-party exclusivs (or, these days, any third party support).

New IP is certainly something we’d all love to see, but it’s not necessarily the best way to revitalise Nintendo. Let’s set aside that fact that new IP typically tends to struggle in the market, and focus on the fact that, while Nintendo may be guilty of rolling out the same properties time and again, it still has more familiar franchises than either Microsoft and Sony. It’s like asking Disney to come up with a new character to replace or draw attention from Mickey Mouse.

As Nintendo has proven in the last couple of years, the likes of Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, Mario Kart (yes, it’s separate), Donkey Kong, Professor Layton and Smash Bros still excites its audience – and that’s without the other pillars in its portfolio such as Wii [ various], Pikmin, FZero, Starfox, Metroid, Pilotwings, and so on. It also doesn’t count the spin-offs that essentially serve as new IP; take away the trembling plumber and Luigi’s Mansion is a new IP, as is the WarioWare series, because of the wildly different gameplay. Nintendo has enough properties (although we’ll never say no to more).

Sadly, I worry that the third party ship has sailed. Only Ubisoft seems to be unyielding in its staunch support of Nintendo with the biggest games in the market – Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, FIFA – giving Wii U a wide berth, despite the entirely capable hardware. Equally, while some publishers/developers attempt new things with their Wii U SKUs – again, Ubisoft with its hack-happy Watch Dogs – few have the time, resource or even imagination to seek out innovative uses of the unique GamePad.

Yes, third party support would be instrumental in at least maintaining Wii U – the fact that almost every next-gen release is accompanied by Xbox 360 and PS3 ports but nothing for Wii U is inexcusable, with the fault lying as much with Nintendo as with the publishers. Nintendo’s first party titles can offer something enticing in the meantime, but there’s an interim stage that the platform holder seems to be missing – and it was a major factor in the success of one of its past consoles.

Forget third parties – Nintendo needs second party support.

All of Nintendo’s internal developers are dedicated to established franchises: Mario, Zelda, etc. With these already on shelves or currently in development, there is no resource for these developers to be exploring other possibilities. This has always been the case, but in the days of the Nintendo 64 there were second party studios to help with this – most notably the UK’s own Rare. While Nintendo pumped out Super Mario 64, two Legend of Zelda games, Mario Kart 64, Lylat Wars and other first-party hits, Rare produced Banjo-Kazooie, Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day – oh, and Goldeneye. For all intents and purposes these were Nintendo properties, or at the very least Nintendo exclusives. And they caught of other gamers. Why else would Microsoft purchase Rare, then spend years tempting nostalgic fans with new outings for Banjo, Joanna Dark and a remake of Conker.

Some of Sony’s biggest hits today – the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Infamous – are not from internal studios. The games are published by Sony, the franchises are owned by Sony, but it is other developers making them. It gives the platform holder plenty of scope to have teams working on these blockbusters while its own studios are working on other first-party properties like LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo and so forth.

Yes, Nintendo has Retro Studios but the US developer has only been tasked with work on first-party IP –the excellent Metroid Prime trilogy and recent Donkey Kong titles. Rumours suggested the Japanese giant was gearing up to purchase Bayonetta makers Platinum Games, but has yet to prove these reports true. Nintendo needs to invest in second parties, and ideally those with an already proven track record and plenty of sales under their belt.

Second parties bring fresh ideas to the table. With the right studios under your wing, they can provide an entirely separate portfolio of franchises that are just as compelling as the first party ones, plugging the gaps on the release calendar between internal Nintendo projects – and perhaps even allowing for more time to be spent on those titles (It’s unlikely Super Mario 3D World was in development for more than a year, and even less likely that New Super Mario Bros U was).

Perhaps trusting these second parties with first party IP, as Nintendo has in the past, will lead to new spin-offs on existing franchises. Luigi’s Mansion was famously used as a training project for a team of new Nintendo developers, while Capcom proved it was more than capable of honouring the Zelda legacy with no less than three handheld games and a multiplayer title. Yes, there have been failed experiments in the past (we’re looking at you Star Fox: Armada and Metroid: Other M), but think what other non-Nintendo talent could do with those franchises, or Pokemon, or even Nintendo IP that hasn’t seen the light of day since the days of the NES and SNES. And it’s not like Nintendo doesn’t have the cash reserves to invest in this.

When Nintendo’s E3 broadcast goes live, I’ll be hoping for new properties, and I’ll be hoping for some sort of major third-party Wii U exclusive that will silence the naysayers (however briefly). But I’ll also be hoping for news of an acquisition, or a glimpse into what other studios can do for the platform holder’s portfolio. Roll on E3…

A Nintendo console is for life, not just for Christmas

Mario___Sonic_at_the_Olympic_Winter_Games-Nintendo_DSArtwork4140_MG_8551

This is not another opinion piece that will solve all of Nintendo’s problems.

Since the Japanese giant announced its worrying financials, a good portion of Twitter users and almost every games media outlet imaginable has scrambled for the spotlight with their own infallible rescue plans for Wii U and its parent. Their suggestions – go mobile, scrap the Wii U, release a new console, abandon hardware, release the Nintendo back catalogue as a Netflix-style service – could all fail just as easily as they could succeed.

Instead, I’d like to offer a more personal request for something to be factored in to Nintendo’s inevitable reinvention: a Nintendo console is for life, not just for Christmas.

For many, console gaming is a year-round hobby. While Q4 is understandably a crucial period for any company that deals in retail titles – a fact that often sees the run-up to the holidays overcrowded with blockbuster releases – there is still a steady supply of new games throughout the other nine months of the year. Expect, arguably, on Nintendo home consoles.

I got an Xbox one just before Christmas, with copies of Forza, Ryse, Dead Rising, Zoo Tycoon and Assassin’s Creed. And yet the console I spent the most time with – nearly four full days, in fact – was the Wii U, and specifically Nintendo Land. The multiplayer games in this showcase of tech demos managed to ensnare both my family and that of my other half, as well as two groups of friends – one of which was a bunch of core gamers who had originally earmarked the day to spend on Call of Duty.

It was amazing to see everyone from children to adults, casual players to gaming enthusiasts, hooked on the panic-inducing antics of Mario Chase – a game that, with only three maps, it’s possible to exhaust in terms of new content in less than fifteen minutes, and yet every match reveals new strategies and unique moments.

It was not to last. I have not touched the Wii U since December 27th. And sadly, this is nothing new.

Since 2006, anecdotes about the original Wii only being dusted off at Christmas have been both commonplace and, unfortunately, true. Wii Sports was central to every Batchelor Boxing Day until the release of Mario Kart, which took over for the next year or so. And yet at any other time of year, the console was more often than not regarded with apathy.

I may not know the cause of nor the solution to this eleven-month neglect, but I hope Nintendo considers this as it ponders over how to better position its troubled console. Ignoring calls for the firm to ape its rivals Microsoft and Sony, I would point to the release schedules for both Xbox and PlayStation as something to learn from.

While first-party releases are even more irregular than Nintendo’s – particularly on Microsoft’s consoles – there are still significant events throughout the year. These range from Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, drawing attention to the wealth of digital games during a traditional lull at games retail, to the major third-party blockbusters that punctuate Quarters 1 to 3.

Just look at 2013: all eyes were on Xbox 360 and PS3 when Tomb Raider arrived in March, followed shortly by BioShock Infinite. PS3 stole the limelight briefly with The Last of Us, before the next multi-format releases around the cluttered August Bank Holiday: Splinter Cell, Saints Row and Rayman. Only two of these examples were released on Wii U, one of which was originally supposed to be an exclusive.

I’m not saying Nintendo needs third-parties to maintain interest in Wii U throughout the year – unfortunately, that ship seems to have sailed and I doubt anyone truly knows how to beckon it back. Instead, Nintendo has already proven that it can keep one of its platforms relevant with regular, high quality releases.

3DS outsold every other games platform last year, and it had one of the best software line-ups in history. Between January and December, we received Luigi’s Mansion, Fire Emblem, Donkey Kong, Mario & Luigi, Animal Crossing, Pokémon, Professor Layton and an excellent new Zelda – all critically acclaimed, enticing releases with barely a month between them. The result was that if one title didn’t appeal to a 3DS owner, chances are there was something more tempting that wasn’t too far away.

Meanwhile Wii U, during its crucial one-year head start over Xbox One and PS4, saw the slow trickle of LEGO City Undercover, Game & Wario, Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101, Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World during the same period. This range was far more limited in its appeal, primarily reaching out to children, fans of Japanese oddities or loyal Nintendo fans who are already hurling their disposable income at Wii U’s sister platform.

Yes, the first year of a console is always slow – the 3DS’ first one certainly was – but never before has the launch period of a console been so crucial. Was there more Nintendo could have done? Absolutely. Were they in a position to do it? Arguably not; the stunning 3DS release plan was the belated rescue line-up that followed its own troubled start.

But had Wii U benefitted from a similar line-up to 3DS, it could have deterred players from sticking it back in the cupboard with the Christmas tree decorations and collection of sculpted Santas. There are plenty of reasons to play Xbox 360 or PS3 every day – even after the launch of their successors – and I would love nothing more than for Nintendo to take this into account when it devises its much-needed Plan B.

And yes, I’m fully aware that suggested solutions have wormed their way into this piece, despite my opening promise. But the health of Nintendo is so near and dear to those of us that have grown up with it – not to mention the future of the industry – that it’s impossible not to chip in with advice, despite the fact that the recipient in many ways defined video gaming. Perhaps that’s why every games journalist is convinced they know how to save Nintendo.

James January 22, 2014 Leave A Comment Permalink

Best games of the generation that I haven’t even started

the-last-of-us-wallpaper

Following my previous post of the best games from this console generation that I shamefully haven’t finished, I have something even more shameful: these are the games I never even started.

In all cases, I’ve wanted to. I’ve heard so many great things about these titles, whether it’s their quality, their impact on the industry or their innovative new ideas that have since been aped by countless copycats and follow-ups. But a lack of the relevant platform, the disposable income to invest in something I wasn’t 100 per cent sold on or, the most common culprit, a lack of time means that all of these titles are short of one sale.

NTR_PLaytonUF_01illu01_E3-e1279112913611

Professor Layton

I’ve lost track of how many of these games have been released. I wanted to start with first entry The Curious Village, but as far as I’m aware they don’t have an ongoing story arc, so I could have jumped into any of them. The one that most appealed to me was The Lost Future for no other reason than I’m a fan of time travel. Regardless of which entry you prefer, reports of this series’ clever logic puzzles, colourful characters and endearing story-based structure are widespread. They are a more cerebral breath of fresh air in a stuffy climate of largely mindless shooters and action games. Plus, the promise of a new puzzle every day until the next entry comes out is a DLC model few have been able to rival. It’s just a shame I barely play my DS, and they cost £30 to £40 a pop.

0000007899

Braid

As mentioned in the previous list, I have dabbled far too little in the most notable downloadable games of this generation. Xbox’s popular Summer of Arcade was a series of events that simply passed me by, but I was aware of the hype around Jonathan Blow’s acclaimed platformer. Time travel mechanics, the more contemplative take on the ‘man rescues princess’ storyline and a memorable art style are just three of the reasons I still want to check out this title. This is one of the many download titles I never bought because I didn’t want to spend money on something unknown – I’ve almost certainly lost four times as much cash on duff retail games. Hopefully, that’s a lesson I’ll learn in this new generation.

RO7

Rayman Origins

Quite how I haven’t played this yet, I’m not sure – it’s been released on practically every gaming platform of the last generation, and there’s even a reportedly better sequel in the form of Rayman Legends. Rayman is a character with whom I hold no affinity. I missed his early platformers – in fact, the first Rayman title I played was a Rabbids mini-game collection, which doesn’t really count. But there is always room in my heart for a quality 2D platformer. While it isn’t my first genre of choice, it’s undeniable how many hours of fun can be had with one of the classic Mario games or even the New Super Mario Bros series. From what I heard from far more enthusiastic platforming aficionados, Rayman’s comeback easily rivalled – and perhaps surpassed – Nintendo’s best efforts. And, as a seemingly undeterrable Nintendo fanboy, that’s a claim I’d like to have tested for myself.

crysis2011020521043277 (1) 

The Witcher

While platformers aren’t my go to gaming challenge of choice, western-developed fantasy RPGs most definitely are. The Witcher series is based on a series of books (which I have yet to track down), and is said to be one of the best RPGs on the market. Both of the first two games received high review scores, a lot of hype among genre fans and momentum is building behind the upcoming third instalment, Wild Hunt. I confess I’m not entirely sure what it is that separates The Witcher from the established hits like The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age or new challengers like the ill-fated Kingdoms of Amalur, but I was always intrigued to find out. I found console copies oddly hard to come by, but the PC versions were always discounted on Steam or GOG.com. It’s a shame my PC has never been up to scratch.

tba-infinity-blade-ii-20111003025217965
Infinity Blade
Despite owning both an iPhone and an iPad, my experience of iOS game is somewhat lacking. I’ve sampled auto-run platformers like Temple Run, puzzle games like Angry Birds, social titles like Quiz-up and sadly become hooked on The Simpsons: Tapped Out. But I’ve never explored the “hardcore” and console-esque games available on Apple devices, many of which owe a lot to Epic’s Infinity Blade. I downloaded the tech demo Epic Citadel and was amazed at how large and detailed a world the firm could create on this pocket-sized device, but when a full title was built on this technology I never investigated further. Peer reaction has been mixed: some are still impressed today by what the game achieved, while others remain indifferent. However, my determination to use my phone primarily as a communications device means I’m unlikely to give Infinity Blade, or any similar title, the time and attention it so clearly deserves.

a 

Dark Souls

Or Demon’s Souls, or whichever death-ridden gothic adventure you’d care to present to me. I am generally quite rubbish at video games. I play them primarily for the storylines, the characters or for the feeling of being a badass on the battlefield. If I find myself restarting sections over and over again, I’ll whack down the difficulty without a moment’s hesitation – in fact, I played most of the Mass Effect trilogy on Casual. So if a game’s selling point is that I will die a lot, then die some more, and once I’ve finally passed an obstacle die from something else, I don’t exactly finding myself chomping at the bit to play it. The trouble is From Software’s Souls series has such a cult following behind it, I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing out on something. I love fantasy RPGs, I love giant landscapes and intricate dungeons, and the online interaction of debating whether or not to trust messages left by other adventurers intrigues me. If I had more time to train myself up for something like this, I would definitely try a Dark Souls game and probably enjoy it. But then I would die. A lot.

Multijugador_TBOGT

Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City

GTA IV had a lot of critics decrying the change in tone for the series, the unnecessary focus on realism and solemnity and the irritating and unamusing characters – but I liked it. It felt good to lose yourself in a world where the people you were associated with weren’t all cardboard cutout gangsters and there was more propelling the main character forward than ‘do this mission because the bossman said so’. However, it took me so long to finish GTA IV, I never got around to playing the highly-praised and reportedly superior follow-ups The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. This downloadable expansions, later released on a single disc, were said to bring the fun back to Grand Theft Auto, an aspect that had since been usurped and exaggerated in the rival Saints Row series. But with GTA V now in my PS3’s disc drive and the enjoyable antics that Los Santos has to offer, it’s likely I’ll never find out whether I would have enjoyed the Episodes from Liberty City.


Walking-Dead-Episode-1-PSN-review-2

The Walking Dead

I have no excuse for this one. I have at least four platforms that this game is available for, it’s available on both disc and download for some of them, and the digital versions have often been discounted in online sales. I can’t even use the excuse of “I don’t like zombies” – something that has got me out of playing most of the Resident Evil games – because the emphasis is on characters, narrative and most importantly choices. The single biggest reason for my love of the Mass Effect games is the choices you make and the way consequences play out, so when I hear that not only does The Walking Dead do this better, but also offers you seemingly unwinnable and less ‘black and white’ dilemmas, I am ashamed that I have yet to pick it up. With the second season now beginning, I’m running out of time to catch up if I want to join in the discussion around what is one of the most acclaimed and accomplished games of recent years. This one is very much on my To Do list.

the-last-of-us-shot-one
The Last of Us

Shamefully, I did use the “I don’t like zombies” excuse to distract myself from this one, but when I saw fellow journalists, friends and co-workers waxing lyrical about how emotionally impactful and cinematically ambitious this title is. Let me stress that I do own a copy, I just haven’t started it yet. I will do, at some point. I enjoy exploring ruined worlds like Rapture and the Capitol Wasteland, so the setting of this definitely appeals to me, and from what I hear the zombies – yes, they are zombies. Don’t give me this ‘infected’ crap – are merely enemies to avoid or confront and don’t dominate proceedings as I had expected. I am determined to play this in the near future. In fact, I might take a couple of days off in the New Year to dedicate solely to this title.

Uncharted Drakes Fortune Screenshot HD
The Uncharted Trilogy

I have a reasonably good excuse for this one – I only acquired a PS3 a year ago – but alongside The Walking Dead, this is probably the entry on this list I am most embarrassed about. Uncharted seems like my perfect game. It’s a swashbuckling adventure with lots of action-packed sequences that are reminiscent of the best popcorn flicks. Nathan Drake is part James Bond, part Indiana Jones – both my childhood idols. And if the taster I’ve been given by the handheld Uncharted: Golden Abyss and the very Uncharted-like Tomb Raider reboot is anything to go by, I will love every second of the Uncharted trilogy WHEN, not IF, I play them. I already have the second and third games, which I’m told are the best, so all I need now is a few evenings at home without newer releases distracting me.

 

James December 19, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

Best games of the generation that I never finished

HL2 City 17 01

With the arrival of the Xbox One and PS4, many journalists have been compiling their Games of the Generation lists and waxing lyrical about the best titles they have played in the last eight years.

However, this is the first generation where not only have I seen my gaming time dramatically decrease, it has also been spread across multiple consoles (previously, I was a Nintendo-only gamer). So instead, I’ve compiled something a little different. In honour of the growing Pile of Shame, this is the first of two Games of the Generation pieces: Best Games I Never Finished

okami

Okami

Okay, technically this is a previous generation title, having released on the PS2 a few months before the PS3 launched, but I put several hours into the Wii edition. As the merest glimpse at Okami screenshots will tell you, the art style was phenomenal and it had a unique atmosphere. The gameplay was somewhat reminiscent of the wolf sections in Zelda: Twilight Princess, but the motion-controlled spell casting system made you feel empowered in a way no other magic-based system had. Unfortunately, the stop-start nature of the first few hours meant that the story was hard to get into, particularly when playing in short bursts. I still have this on my shelf because I’ve heard later areas were even more impressive than the opening, but I will no doubt have to trawl through the tutorials and character introductions again.

oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Having finished most of the questlines in Skyrim, I now realised that I didn’t give Oblivion the time or attention that it deserved. I only played the first three quarters of the Thieves’ Guild questline and a few random quests here and there, as well as closing any Oblivion gates I encountered. But I never picked a random direction and explored the world of Cyrodil. Oblivion’s game world was a massive step up from Morrowind’s in terms of both detail and visual beauty, and I can’t help but wonder how much more there was to see. I didn’t even begin the main quest – something that turned out to be highly enjoyable in Skyrim – nor did I start the Shivering Isles expansion, since all my time was taken up by a single questline. Bethesda has proven time and again since Oblivion that its worlds are worth exploring, so it’s a shame I didn’t truly experience this one.

bastion

Bastion

I have barely dabbled in the downloadable games of this generation. My excuse is that with so many boxed games gathering on my shelves unfinished, how could I justify spending money on ones that I’m even less likely to play? But of all the digital smash hits of the past few years, Bastion is one I tried to get into. I played through the trial version available on Google Chrome and was instantly won over by its striking art style and unusual narration. The demo gave me a taste of more splendour to come but I never bought the full version of what I’m told is one of the most impressive games in recent years. Perhaps I’ll have to try harder when spiritual successor Transistor is released next year.

assassins-creed-2-51

Assassin’s Creed II

And by extension, Brotherhood, Revelations, III and IV: Black Flag. I love the concept of the Assassin’s Creed series: both the historical, parkour-based murdering and the futuristic Templars’ global conspiracy storyline. And while flawed, I really enjoyed the first Creed. But its sequel – a game I had heard was far superior – failed to hold my attention. The emphasis seemed to have shifted from tracking down your target and working out the best way to eliminate him, and more towards an all-out action adventure where you lead groups of soldiers into medieval battles. While it wasn’t what I was looking for in an Assassin’s title, I did come to enjoy it and I found Ezio a far more compelling character than Altair. But by the time I reached the halfway point, my attention was distracted by newer releases and I never returned to Renaissance Italy. Stubbornly, I refused to begin any subsequent Creeds until I finished II, but since that clearly won’t happen now (and I’ve had the future Templar storyline spoiled for me), I may as well bite the bullet and start anew with Black Flag.

nuts&boltspic3

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Anyone that claims Rare lost its touch after being acquired by Microsoft clearly didn’t play Nuts & Bolts. Colourful worlds, creative and innovative gameplay, genuinely funny video game parodies and homages and a fantastic scope for freedom with the vehicle creation: this was the sort of title Xbox fans expected when the Nintendo darling came over to the green side. Despite the hours I poured into this, I only reached the halfway point and the reasons are two-fold. Firstly, scouring the hubworld for secret areas and boxes of vehicle parts was far more addictive than the quirky levels so I spent most of my playing time here. Secondly, designing your own vehicle became something of a labour of love. Hours could be lost to moving the egg cannons a block or two to the right, or chucking in that little bit of extra power behind the propellers. And those eureka moments where you worked out how to create something new – a plane that jettisoned a submarine for example – were some of the most satisfying in the last eight years. The next generation needs more of this.

world-of-warcraft1

World of Warcraft

My hit and miss relationship with gaming PCs means that I have spent very little time with my desktop compared to my consoles. As a result, the entire MMO phenomenon has all but passed me by, but thanks to a week spent at a friend’s house (fittingly while I was working on PC Gamer, my first internship) I was able to sample World of Warcraft. After just eight to ten hours of scampering around the Night Elf starting area, going back and forth between the graveyard and a challenging bear cave, I soon learned why people were becoming so addicted to it. I even formed a small party of friends on my second session as we cleared some of the trickier, combat-orientated quests. However, the monthly subscription fee was a barrier I could never overcome, and by the time Blizzard made a free-to-play version, the game world was empty and lacked the atmosphere of WoW’s peak. Plus I had too many console games to be not finishing.

far_cry_2_hero

Far Cry 2

Excluding the RPG/FPS hybrid that is Borderlands, this is the shooter I have spent the most time with. Yes, I know Far Cry 3 improved on its predecessor in every way – and I’m currently in the process of not finishing that game right now – but I will always prefer Far Cry 2. The game felt so different to any first-person shooter I’d played: a vast open world where I had the freedom to approach situations in any way I chose, a setting that was strikingly different to the usual Middle Eastern battlefield or war-torn first-world cities, and plenty of activities to distract me from the main quest. Annoyingly, due to a save-breaking glitch, I had to restart when I was two-thirds of the way through the main storyline. Even more annoying was the fact that Ubisoft patched this glitch just one week after my save was lost.

tomb-raider-2013-screen-11

Tomb Raider

I had no interest in the new Tomb Raider. I’ve tried most of the previous ones and just couldn’t get into them – even the puzzle-centric co-op download title Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. But when a spare copy was floating around the office, I decided to give it a go – and was pleasantly surprised. The cinematic nature of the new Tomb Raider meant that I was quickly swept away by a story of survival and necessary evils, rather than backtracking for hours as I tried to scale the same bloody ruin over and over again. The developers handled Lara’s first kill – a crucial moment for the character – really well, although it was undermined slightly by the bloodbath that followed. Tomb Raider was visually impressive as well; it’ll be interesting to see how much improvement the Xbox One and PS4 versions are able to make. Unfortunately, Tomb Raider was followed quickly by BioShock Infinite and, not wanting to suffer from spoilers, I shelved it to play Ken Levine’s latest. I’ve yet to go back.

alan-wake-pic

Alan Wake

Survival horror is not a favourite genre of mine, but I am always interested in how game makers are finding new ways to tell stories. Alan Wake’s episodic structure, with it’s TV-like recaps and end of chapter cliffhangers, managed to keep me interested for longer than I expected, and the dark atmosphere was equally impressive. Very few horror games have startled me so effectively – a brief glimpse of a shadowy figure passing a window is far scarier than a monster jumping out of a closet – and I was reluctant to play this in the dark. But, as with similar titles before it, Alan Wake let me down with its frustrating combat. I don’t find being underpowered, undefended and faced with restrictive controls to be tense or thrilling, I find it to be rage-inducingly punishing. After defending against a couple of waves of shadow beasts with an insufficient supply of batteries, I gave up.

Welcome-To-City-17-half-life-11381566-1920-1080

Half-life 2

I’m sorry, I really am. I’ve tried so hard to finish this game, harder than I have for any title on this list. I’ve restarted it three or four times in the hopes that my love of the opening few hours would motivate me to press on. I love the tense escape from City 17, making your way through railways, sewers and canals to rendezvous with the rest of the Resistance, the air of revolution growing in the air. But as soon as I reach that sodding road and have to drive for miles in that rickety buggy, occasionally stopping because an inconveniently closed gate forces you too, I grow bored. It’s such a dramatic change in tone from the rest of the game and even the original Half-Life that I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to slog along the desolate coastline. As a result, I haven’t played the reportedly excellent Episodes One and Two either. Again, I’m sorry.

James December 17, 2013 Leave A Comment Permalink

get_footer() ?>