This review was published on Push Square (27 Jan, 2018).
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 using disc provided by Square Enix.
Memory is reconstructive
It's one thing to make a game in the style of a classic 90s role-playing title, but it’s another thing entirely to make one that matches the heart and focus of those beloved titles of yesteryear. Lost Sphear marks Tokyo RPG Factory’s second attempt at rekindling a spark of the past as the developer continues to pump out old-school RPGs.
It makes sense, then, that Lost Sphear finds inspiration in so many prior games. The battle system may be a slight development on the one introduced in I Am Setsuna, but it’s a combination of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, and Xenogears that deserves the royalties.
Combat revolves around an active-time battle system, but you can enhance attacks by charging up a meter and pressing the square button at just the right time. Spritnite, or skills, can also be equipped into slots which provide different buffs or effects. It’s a fairly basic system, but you can have fun with it. To be truly effective you need to master the art of positioning, moving characters around the screen on their turn to effectively position for attack or defence.
"Lost Sphear has so many half-baked systems that most of them feel redundant."
Battles become somewhat more complicated when you pick up vulcosuits, which are essentially mechs. When equipped, your characters’ stats increase, and each individual gains a unique ability. It was an exciting moment when we first picked up the vulcosuits, but they’re limited and can sometimes be more of a nuisance than a blessing.
Every move while wearing the suits uses a combined pool of points which diminish rapidly and take far too long to replenish, meaning that they’re not nearly as useful as they could be. Since you’re effectively encouraged to save these points for bigger battles, you’re rarely inclined to experiment with each of the characters’ unique abilities. The knock-on effect is that, when you do use them, you haven’t had time to practice and you can become overwhelmed.
It’s also not the only element of the game that falls short. Cooking is a mess; you have to provide the necessary ingredients and pay the chef to cook them for you. These ingredients are often rare, and the temporary stat boost from eating the dish is rarely worth the cost or effort. It basically makes the whole system redundant.
You can enhance your weapons at shops, but, again, there’s little profit in doing so. You’re better off buying new gear or picking some up from chests, especially since enhancing quickly becomes a costly endeavour, and often more expensive than just buying new stuff.
"Lost Sphear's dialogue lacks the strength to make it seem truly heartfelt. There are some tender moments, but we found it hard to feel fully invested."
Much of these issues might be more forgivable if the narrative was a strong one, but we often found it hard to care. On paper, it sounds promising: much of the world has become lost and replaced with empty white voids that only our protagonist, Kanata, seems to be able to heal. To do so, he needs to collect the memories of those affiliated with the area. You and your team of comrades therefore take it upon yourselves, partly pushed along by the empire, to return the realm to its prior state.
Collecting memories reminds us of Ni No Kuni, where you're tasked with talking to the right person to gather what you need to continue – in this case memories rather than emotions. Lost Sphear is nowhere near as charming, though, and the dialogue lacks the strength to make it seem truly heartfelt. There are some tender moments, and the premise is interesting, but we found it hard to feel fully invested and it ultimately falls back onto predictable ground.
However, there are parts here that we really like: the soundtrack is beautiful and has much more variation than I Am Setsuna, and the admittedly simplistic, stylised aesthetic is a pleasant one. The gameplay is slick, loading screens are short, and it feels polished in its presentation.
Sadly, aside from these positives, Lost Sphear is a hodgepodge of just above mediocre elements that fail to merge into a satisfying collective. Like its narrative, the game seems lost. It looks to its ancestors so much that it neglects to forge its own identity. Those looking to Lost Sphear to rekindle the nostalgic feelings of yore are likely to be disappointed since it lacks the soul, depth, or focus that made those titles so beloved.
A less focused outing than its predecessor, Lost Sphear gets lost amid its various, undercooked systems, and it fails to successfully consolidate its many inspirations. It’s a pleasant enough game with a nice aesthetic, but we doubt we’ll be looking back on this one with too much sentimentality.
Also enhanced with PS4 Pro support
Back in October, Here They Lie – a psychological horror game set in a town with an animal-headed populace who want nothing more than to see you bleed to death – was one part of a pretty expansive launch for PlayStation VR. The game was developed by Tomb Raider series designer Toby Gard alongside Spec Ops: The Line co-director Cory Davis. The game received some pretty favourable reviews, but sales haven’t been kind to it as stock for Sony’s headset continues to elude the general public.
Well, as of the latest free update, Here They Lie no longer requires PlayStation VR to play. Not only that, but the team has enhanced the game with PS4 Pro support allowing those with the updated hardware and swanky new 4K TVs to play the game at a native 2160p resolution with HDR and at 60fps. And if that wasn’t enough, those with Sony’s supercharged console can also enjoy improved shadows, post-processing effects, dynamic flashlight shadows, and ambient occlusion.
They haven’t forgotten about their VR-adorning fans, though, since the team has also worked on ironing out some of the issues that plagued the initial release. In addition to all of the above, the game now includes improved head-mapping and reworked textures to help out those susceptible to motion sickness – a major early concern for developer Tangentlemen.
So, is this enough to get you to pick up the game or return to the nightmare? Don your animal head and tear us a new one in the comments section below.
The Smartphone Revolution
Earlier this month, the iPhone turned 10 years old, and in the last decade since its first unveiling, the technological landscape has changed beyond recognition.
It’s hard to overemphasise the importance of Apple’s smartphone brand – even though it was not, in fact, the first so-called “smartphone” on the market. Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung had all made relatively “smart” phones before 2007, but none of these initial devices went on to make waves in the same way.
Part of iPhone’s early success is owed to its capacitive display. Whereas other manufacturers had somewhat clumsily adopted touchscreens which required the use of a stylus, keyboard or traditional keypad to function, Apple took iPhone to the next level with a large (for the time) multi-touch display which required nothing more than the stylus we were born with: our fingers. That it was met with hesitance on announcement boggles the mind in hindsight.
Part of Apple’s ethos across its products has been ease of use for the user, and by removing the need for extraneous peripherals, iPhone became a far less overwhelming device than the competition and was instead an accessible, efficient accessory that even technophobes were able to embrace. It felt like an extension of our arms.
The iPhone was a device that would simplify your life, not make it harder.
Apple’s streamlined user experience enabled iPhone’s acceptance by the masses rather than just smaller tech-savvy groups. It shaped the direction of technological innovation over the following decade, influencing competitors such as Android to fuel a long-standing rivalry which has undoubtedly pushed both operating systems towards further innovation through competition which benefits the user.
The iPhone has steadily improved its capabilities over the years since the original.
In 2007, iPhone released with a 3.5-inch display and without an app store or the ability to copy and paste. Not a big deal for a phone at the time, but these would become smartphone staples over the next decade. Ten years on, and iPhone has a camera that rivals some DSLRs, an app store that boasts over 2.2 million applications, a 5.5-inch display, and almost every trick you might expect from a computer.
The original iPhone initiated the smartphone revolution which eventually put powerful computers in the hands of two billion people. We live in the Social Media Age, and while Facebook and its ilk changed the way we communicate with each other on a mass scale, iPhone led the charge to the first compelling devices that would allow us consistent access to those tools in the first place.
It was the pioneering device that was key to fuelling one of the most transformative technological advancements of the last decade – shaping entire industries, with force enough to reshape the web for the masses who would now be permanently connected wherever they went.
With competitors making equal strides in the market, Apple needs to stay on its toes. And while many might argue that recent iterations of iPhone have underwhelmed, Apple is rumoured to be planning big things to celebrate its decennial birthday later this year.
Remember where we were 10 years ago and imagine the possibilities a decade from now. After all, we have selfies now, and surely the smartphone is partly to thank for that, too.
This review was published on Push Square (25 Aug, 2016).
Reviewed on PS4 using copy provided by 505 Games.
your Driving Simulator
With Project CARS already in the wild and Gran Turismo Sport on the way later this year, as well as other realistic and excellent racers of their own kind in DiRT Rally and F1 2016 already out, there’s plenty of variation and choice in the racing simulator market on the PlayStation 4 right now.
But having garnered a hefty following with the modding community on PC, Assetto Corsa finally makes its way to Sony’s platform – albeit without the community of tinkerers that perhaps made the game really stand out in the first place.
That’s not to say that Assetto Corsa lacks appeal by itself, but upon starting it up there’s so little on offer here in terms of content that it’s hard to find a place to fit it in alongside everything else. There are over 20 car manufacturers to choose from, but the number of cars from each is limited, with different versions of the same car making up the count. Likewise, we’re told there are 26 different track variations included, but many of these are the same courses with slightly different layouts – or are simply reversed.
But where other racers might dazzle with their numbers, Assetto Corsa aims to deliver solely on the track. There may not be the embarrassment of riches regarding variation that you’ll get from a Gran Turismotitle, but what’s included is relatively well optimised and individually tailored. This is evident in how each and every car feels and sounds entirely different from the last, lending a unique identity to each. Likewise, tracks are so accurately reproduced that even the bumps and dips in the road are felt in the shake of the controller as you gather speed – forcing you to adjust to accommodate them.
"This game is hard. Really hard."
It’s this sense of realism that the game is striving for – it wants to be a celebration of cars by putting them through their paces in a series of realistic scenarios. But while it strives to reach these ends, it also flounders. It fails to present the joy of cars or to put them on display in the way Gran Turismo does with its garage and showroom system. Here, the cars are designed with such attention to detail that you really want to just look at them and admire their beauty, but there’s simply no way to do this away from the track.
And then, if you’re one to watch replays and admire them as they thrash around a course at high speed, you’re again let down by some poor graphical presentation. Sure, the tracks and cars look superb, but the buildings, trees, and onlookers by the side of the road are hideous and are made up of what appears to be two pieces of flat, blurry texture put together to make something akin to a 3D model. Y’know, like they used to do on the PlayStation 2!? This is often so visibly poor – and in complete antithesis to the detailed, textured, and almost palpable car models – that you’ll even notice it as you race by at 200mph, and it never fails to be an ugly distraction.
Away from the graphical presentation, however, Assetto Corsa also disappoints. This game is hard. Really hard. It’s the kind of game that punishes you so severely that mistiming a corner by even a split second is enough to wreck an entire championship weekend – and this applies even to the slower starting cars which seem to take an age to come to a stop. While this kind of punishing gameplay is nothing new and has been well-implemented elsewhere (we’re looking at you, DiRT Rally), it’s made infuriating here because there are no tutorials whatsoever; you’re simply plonked onto the track and away you go.
Couple this with the useless driving assists such as a non-dynamic driving line that seems to have been optimised for a Lamborghini and not a Fiat 500, and you’re left wondering how the hell you’re supposed to learn to play this game. Even the automatic gearbox is somehow awkward to use, making it so that you have to switch manually into reverse should you have an accident – a detail that’s at no point explained, you’re just left to figure it out. This is where mods might come in handy and make the game a little more palatable, but there’s no word yet and whether this feature will make it to the PS4.
"Sure, the tracks and cars look superb, but the buildings, trees, and onlookers by the side of the road are hideous."
And since the game is so unforgiving, and it has no way of teaching you how to play effectively, it’s also not a fulfilling experience. We never felt entirely comfortable with it, no matter how much we practised and played. Maybe a licensing system akin to Gran Turismo would have benefited the title here; it could even have been implemented within the game’s career mode, which would have certainly fleshed out what is, in all honesty, a rather tedious main event.
Working your way through pre-made events to gather trophies to unlock new ones is nothing new (DriveClub did this relatively well), but it’s the game’s insistence on forcing you through long, dull events in cars you couldn’t care less about – cars that feel more like boats, and that refuse to turn even at 25mph around a corner, that really takes the biscuit. It’s strange just how often this is the case – even with cars as theoretically splendid as those from Ferrari.
Maybe this is closer to what they feel like in real life – and we’re not looking for an arcade racer here, by any means – but it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s just not fun to play. Online modes seem to be just as limiting, although we had a hard time getting online for review because of the servers, so it’s hard to really take this into account.
Assetto Corsa is a frustrating drive with a punishing learning curve that never truly pays you back for your time investment. It fails to provide an effective way to learn its complicated intricacies and lacks features that a game of its ilk requires. It’s also simultaneously the best and worst presented racing game of the past few years, with superbly detailed cars and tracks hampered by awful long-distance scenery and ugly roadside textures. Ultimately, this is a disappointment that lacks the heart required to truly celebrate the cars it has so lovingly recreated.
This article was published in Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Issue 124, July 2016.
Wailing guitar, lovably cheesy one-liners, and more guts than an abattoir during barbecue season.
Following the exploits of Lo Wang five years after the events of his reboot, Flying Wild Hog’s ludicrous but enjoyable ninja extravaganza returns for a second round of relentless slaying and punning. This time, it also includes a new four-player online co-op mode, important tweaks to the established formula, and a typically fast-paced weapons-first approach.
Despite its title, shadows are only peripherally used here. Sure enough, Wang is able to use them – having the nifty ability to see in the dark certainly helps – but which he rarely does. He’s a ninja solely by title and in reality he’s about as gung-ho as they come. This isn’t such a bad thing; it’s full of silly moments, some which cause the occasional guffaw, but which sometimes make you question the sanity of the script writer. This deranged silliness is what makes it stand out, though, and more often than not comes across as asinine fun in the craziest of ways.
"Even the sharpest of tongues can be blunted with enough repetition"
Take Wang’s characteristic sharp-tongue, for example, as he brazenly blurts out witticisms while he pummels hundreds of enemies with bullets in a split moment. It’s this sense of character that it holds in abundance, although it shamelessly undermines its own comicality at times. The shock value it provides is only there for so long, and the effect wears off once you’ve heard “here goes the boom-stick” twice in quick succession. Even the sharpest of tongues can be blunted with enough repetition, and it remains to be seen just how varied the joke book is. Likewise, general dialogue is typically elementary with focus instead placed on gameplay.
Thankfully it provides plenty of variation in this regard. Weapons take centre stage as you quickly switch between a medley of different types: shotguns, pistols, and automatics – some of which can be dual-wielded – fill out the basic categories, while otherworldly weapons like an electrocuted grenade launcher and a green machine gun that looks like something straight out of a 70s sci-fi movie provide some variation. Swords can also be used, including some Wolverine-like fist blades that allow you to dance like a ballerina while painting a canvas of blood, almost like you’re finishing in the arabesque position.
Wang of Four
It’s about how you utilise each weapon, rather than sticking to one or two. Weapons level up separately which forces alteration, but different weapons provide plenty of encouragement for mixing-it-up anyway with each one proving useful in different situations. And let’s not forget that Wang is bringing some friends along for the ride. Each of these procedurally generated levels can also be played with three other friends in the new online co-operative mode which is bound to keep the anarchy reigning if you so desire.
"Movement is swift and agile; it's like playing through one of Ang Lee's martial arts movies"
Movement is swift and agile; it’s like playing through one of Ang Lee’s martial arts movies. Jumping across rooftops is enhanced by the ability to boost yourself mid-air allowing you to get to those hard-to-reach areas, all while carrying a plethora of destructive apparatus. He really is surprisingly nimble for someone carrying so many tools of destruction. It seems choreographed, but you’re well and truly in control.
The knock-on effect of co-operative play is that areas are now far less linear than in the past with open areas allowing swathes of enemies to descend on you in a split-second, demanding quick changes of tact, and a level head. In keeping true to its roots in some respects, however, it also maintains some old-school features such as pick-up first-aid packs and health bars. Meanwhile, light RPG-esque elements – including level-ups and buffs – are present, as well as damage numbers which shoot out of enemies like an unexpected sneeze.
Okay, so it’s unlikely to be at the top of everyone’s awards list this year, but Shadow Warrior 2 has spades of character and a crazy enough premise that makes it stand out in the shooter market. It’s not a bad looking game either as willows billow in the wind and lightning turns the sky into a disco for your dance of death. It’s silly, crude and brash, but it looks like a fun distraction from the status quo, and that’s not such a bad thing.
These articles were published in Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Issue 124, July 2016.
2016 is looking like a great year for shooters. But with big-hitters such as Call of Duty and Battlefield taking the limelight, as usual, some of the smaller or newer titles are easily passed by.
I recently got the chance to write some preview articles for Official PlayStation Magazine, and what follows is a series of brief overview pieces published in issue 124 of some of the smaller shooters coming in 2016. Maybe one or two will unexpectedly catch your eye, or maybe you’ve heard of them all before – either way, I hope you enjoy.
Continuing its parkour-peddling trade, frenetic slaughterbot-happy shooter Titanfall is readying its PS4 debut. And in an age in which shooters seem to be stepping away from campaigns, it’s refreshing to see this sequel heading in the opposite direction, with the former Infinity Ward crew looking set to focus on story.
The briefest of reveal footage unleashed so far shows a crashed pod wth the name of a certain James MacAllan emblazoned across the front. It’s a handle those familiar with the first Titanfall will know well – MacAllan’s a divisive but popular character who led a mutiny on moral grounds.
A former executive officer of the colonising IMC faction, he’s believed to have perished in an explosion at the end of the original, making his possible appearance an intriguing affair.
Did he really die? Can we expect a prequel story following his road to sedition? Prepare to find out later this year when the game launches alongside fellow EA-bedmate Battlefield 1. How romantic.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Having mastered the open-world template, this military third-person shooter is the next to receive the Ubisoft treatment.
Set in present day Bolivia, you play as a special operations soldier sent to disrupt the country’s drug trade, manipulating it from the inside and conducting special ops to take out targets.
In a recent earnings call, Ubisoft remained confident it will launch before April 2017. Should give us enough time to get through Breaking Bad again, for “research” purposes, of course.
This controversial twin-stick shooter makes its console debut in Q4, with an HD remaster of 1997’s PC favourite.
Including fresh levels and a new challenge mode, which fittingly rewards aggressive play by increasing a multiplier based on your kill-streak, you need to mix up strategies to maximise scores.
Continuing the contentious play-style that everyone loves/hates it for, the third-person isometric shooter lacks the hype of some games on this list – but is sure to be bloody, if not brilliant.
Feeling the Heat
Like slinky hero Karl Fairborn, Rebellion is going solo in publishing this latest entry in its staple series.
Using its new-found freedom to build the title exclusively for current-gen hardware, there’s a level of polish here that previous entries simply couldn’t muster.
Introducing a series of new features – from additional traversal options to drastically improved AI – this is much more complex challenge. When you kill is now just as important as how you do the deed, with Nazi hierarchies determining morale.
Take out an officer and his underlings mentally deteriorate. Get lucky and he may even drop a map detailing his subordinates’ locations. Handy for spreading disarray through your Nazi foes.
You need every last scrap you can get from them as well, considering areas are at least three times bigger than before. Fortunately, it’s quite the gorgeous game and running at a buttery smooth 60fps, so you won’t mind wincing extra hard at the glorious gratuitous nutshots.
Oh yes, they’re back. Only now, Sniper Elite 4 doesn’t need to rely on them quite so much.
With Call of Duty zooming into the future, indie developer Bulkhead is looking to the past with Battalion 1944.
Executive producer Joe Brammer insists that the focus of this World War II shooter is balancing the twitch-based mechanics of Call of Duty and the methodical approach of Battlefield: “We wanted to bring back the original fun of both those games in a revitalised way.”
Nailing the mixture is important. As Brammer explains, “if it’s too twitchy, then it just becomes a deathmatch game and that’s not really what we’re looking for.” This also extends to getting the level of authenticity right and combining realism with player feedback.
“We’re playing loads of shooters and trying to figure out what good they can bring … and what players actually like.”
Bulkhead’s desire to self-publish is indicative of its desire to create a game that’s “about the gamers and about what they want.” If it can find the middle ground between the FPS big-hitters, it might be onto a winner.
These articles were published in Official PlayStation Magazine UK, Issue 124, July 2016.
It’s a slightly Darwinian theme this month as we race to survive an enemy onslaught in ARK, then the nuclear holocaust … while playing golf, of all things. We also delve into family memories following a tear-triggering goodbye. It really is survival of the fittest. Happy days, eh?
Valkyria: Azure Revolution
This kinda-sorta semi-sequel to Valkyria Chronicles hasn’t been confirmed for a European release yet, but since we’ve been graced with a remaster of the original game on PS4, we expect it to head west at some point. Like Chronicles, it features a sumptuous visual style akin to some of Japan’s best anime, but mixes things up by discarding the series’ hallmark tactical view and instead utilising that of a third-person slasher/shooter hybrid. Maps appear linear, but you best be careful – those who die will be gone for good. Yikes.
Fragments of Him
Everyone likes a good mope every once in a while, and just in case you’re looking for some tear-jerking inspiration, this emotion inducing first-person drama set following an untimely death ought to open the floodgates. A brief story-focused offering, Fragments of Him has you delving into the tragic and treasured moments of your friends and family, making decisions that shape the outcomes of their lives. It’s not all waterworks, though – hope will be a central theme, with the aim being to teach us how we should cherish the time we have with those we care about. Aww, that’s lovely (sob).
ARK: Survival Evolved
It feels like we’re mobbed with MOBAs right now, so if you fancy a break from the battle arena, how about a sojourn to the brink of your sanity? This multiplayer Hunger Games-style effort pits combatants against one another in a large, changing arena – offering an intriguing twist to the established formula with a focus on survival. You can forge weapons, build and defend bases, and even tame dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs). After all, there’s nothing like scrambling on the edge of death with a ferocious raptor at your side. Right?
At the instant that Armageddon strikes, who doesn’t fancy a round of find-the-hole? Well, good news – Nuclear Golf provides what you’ve all been unknowingly waiting for. The ball soars through a series of skill-based trajectory challenges in a destructible, post-apocalyptic 2D setting (think lo-fi Dangerous Golf) – with boss battles (in a golf game!) adding to the bonkers package. It even has a ludicrously cool levelling-up system for the balls, because… why not? What more could you want – it’s Tiger Woods on Three Mile Island, for crying out loud.
What do you do when your enemies are hell-bent on preventing you from reaching your destination and have the ability to control light? You learn to control the darkness, of course. In Aragami, you lead an undead assassin with the ability to create weapons out of nothing, summon deadly dragons, and control the shadows to free his creator from her prison. Set in a Japan-inspired mountainous region, and with a fetching cel-shaded art style, Aragami aims to reward players accordingly for different play styles – either by killing enemies from the shadows, or avoiding them altogether.
Torchlight developer Runic Games’ debut on PlayStation has dressed to impress. This third-person adventure title thrusts you into a colourful but dangerous world without any exposition, leaving you to explore a continuously shifting environment. This scenario and its enigmatic narrative take centre stage as you traverse using a multi-functional glove tool to tackle a series of puzzles that are scattered across a broken world that needs fixing. The protagonist may be silent, but this game screams of promise.
This review was published in The Student (Issue: Tue, 19 Apr, 2016).
Greatness from Small Beginnings
Uncharted is one of the most memorable series of games from the last generation of consoles. Each instalment somehow surpassed the last, as it became a beacon of possibility for the PlayStation 3 and showed players and developers alike what could be achieved by Sony’s famously complicated development hardware.
The Uncharted series combines third-person action/adventure with cover-based shooting mechanics in an unprecedented way, but that’s not what sets them apart from the competition.What is, is its ability to straddle the line between fast-paced action and a compelling narrative. If Gears of War was the highlight of cover shooters in the market in the late noughties, Uncharted showed them how to tell a story while they were at it.
The first game in the collection, however, does show its age. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was the first outing from Naughty Dog on the PS3, and it was also the first game for the company following the charming PS2 platforming series, Jak & Daxter. Needless to say, whilst Uncharted has its platforming elements, the game’s style is evidently different from the studio’s prior work.
Drake’s Fortune is a great game, but compared to the outings that followed, or by today’s standards no less, it appears flawed. Moments of shock and sadness are not visibly displayed within the game, meaning the player’s emotions are not always mirrored by the protagonist himself, and there are sections of gameplay, specifically in the middle section, that feel devoid of any meaningful narrative development.
That said, the bulk of the first outing is excellent, and by the 2007 standard this was about as good as narrative-driven action games had been. More than anything else, the series’ origins only further highlight the development both of games in the last decade, and within the Uncharted series itself. If the first game shows its age, it’s hard to say the same for parts two and three. Even still, playing through the Uncharted Collection from start to finish is like a timeline of game design, detailing how far it has come in the short time since 2007.
"These games stand on their own two legs – even in today's gaming landscape – and feel like they have hardly aged a day."
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves shows incredible depth and complexity – not only in terms of gameplay mechanics and animation (which are outstanding, by the way), but also in terms of character development and narrative. This is where the series really comes into its own. Characters make sense and complement one another, and they stand out as symbols for a specific purpose. We may enjoy Drake’s happy-go-lucky attitude, but Among Thieves reminds the player that he is, after all, a thief among many. We begin to question his motives and decisions, and this is further explored in part three, Drake’s Deception.
Both of these games stand on their own two legs – even in today’s gaming world – and feel like they have hardly aged at all. Shooting mechanics are tight; environments are detailed, sharp, and beautiful; and the series’ cinematic storytelling is still perhaps the best in the industry. Whether it’s sprinting through a sinking cruise ship, fighting swathes of enemies atop a train as it skirts through the Himalayas, or climbing up into the cargo hold of a plane as it takes off, the Uncharted Collection includes some of the most memorable and entertaining moments in video game history.
Curiously, this collection is not ‘complete’ and there are missing elements from the original releases. Online mode – which was never truly the highlight of the series – is lacking, as well as the PS Vita title, Golden Abyss. It would have been nice to have a home console version of that outing included.
That said, this collection includes three of the best games released in recent memory, and they look better than ever running in 1080p and at 60fps. For those who missed their original release on the PS3, this is an essential purchase, and for those who loved the originals, this is a fine way to refresh yourself before delving into the upcoming fourth game.
This review was published in The Student. Issue: Tue, 19 January, 2016.
Some Things Never Change
Fallout 4 is a huge game. It’s nigh-on impossible to sum it up in one small article, but its scale is one of the game’s strongest selling points. The world of Fallout 4 is so vast, so detailed, and so engaging that it swallows up your time like a newborn baby, and even then there is always more to be accomplished within its world.
Bethesda’s latest offering is essentially an RPG set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Boston, USA, known as the Commonwealth. Before the bombs fell, certain individuals were able to gain shelter within underground vaults, and you play as a self-styled character who emerges from Vault 111. Upon emerging from the vault, it is instantly clear that the pre-fallout world is no more, and what was once called your home is now but a shell of its former glory.
"Given the subject matter, it's perhaps ironic that the game's standout feature is just how alive the world feels."
Given the subject matter, it’s perhaps ironic that the game’s standout feature is just how alive the world feels. The apocalypse may have wiped out entire species, or any inkling of life as we knew it; monuments of culture stand only as a reminder of past glories, and former ideas of institution may have entirely elapsed, and yet the world feels so alive in its own anarchical skin that it’s impossible to not be submerged within the world which it provides.
Fallout 4, however, is not perfect. Released exactly five months after its initial announcement, the game has set something of a precedent for how games might come to be released, and it stands as a beacon of forward thinking marketing. That said, the game does not always feel like a forward thinking, current-generation game. Both in how it looks and plays it feels closer to a late PS3 game than PS4, and it’s visibly obvious in its rough edges, mechanical NPCs (and I’m not just talking about the synthetics), and often lackluster side quests. Bugs and small glitches, something with which Bethesda has regrettably become synonymous, are once again aplenty, but thankfully none of them seem to be game-breaking.
"A new addition is the ability to create and manage settlements, which is simultaneously engrossing and frustrating in equal measure."
Customisation still maintains a significant role with weapons and armour upgrades still accomplished through workshop use. A new addition to the game is the ability to create and manage settlements, which is simultaneously engrossing and frustrating at the same time. On console, at least, this aspect is just too fiddly for its own good, and explanations are incomprehensibly vague and brief, which hinders the success of this initially exciting addition. Attribute upgrades have been altered, with perks and upgrades all visible within a single table that is apparently intended to simplify the process, but which actually appears quite overwhelming instead.
Whilst ostensibly an RPG, and these elements remain as strong as ever through constant streams of quests and customisation options, this is perhaps the first time that Fallout can also be played as an FPS. In previous titles, Fallout has lacked the accuracy and fidelity needed to be played as a shooter, but this has been somewhat rectified with this release. Weapon stats feel like they really mean something, and upgrades accomplished through pickups on scavenging expeditions create significant alterations to how weapons both look and feel. Whilst I would never consider this to be as fluid as something like Star Wars Battlefront, the game is finally playable as a shooter, and the assisted targeting system can now be somewhat sidestepped instead of wholly relied upon like in previous iterations.
The main quest line of the game is also something of a disappointment, and the eventual conclusion, at least for me (there are multiple different endings), was a little anticlimactic. Side quests are also often lacking imagination, although one or two of them had their merits. The real draw of Fallout 4 is the world it gives you to play within. In terms of narrative the game, for me, fell flat; but, in terms of the sandbox world it provides, this game truly excels. The world really does feel like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and its up to you to succumb to the anarchy or bring back some order. If only the narrative had allowed me some closure, I might have truly loved this game.
This review was published in The Student. Issue: Tue, 12 January, 2016.
A Force to be Reckoned With?
Star Wars Battlefront is a game which fans of the series have yearned after for the longest time, and playing it now is like welcoming back an old friend with the warmest embrace.
In recent years, it has been easy to forget just how wonderful Star Wars is, with the divisive prequel trilogy of films leaving a sour taste in the mouths of those who fell in love with the original films. Star Wars Battlefront, however, reminds me of why I love Star Wars. It drives me through iconic locations from the original films, taking me back to childhood and watching the trilogy with my dad in a single sitting, and living the life of someone in a galaxy far, far, away. It utilises those classic sound effects that are so iconic of the Star Wars franchise and a sweeping John Williams score which just happens to appear at precisely the right time, every time. It feels like I am playing the original Star Wars films, and that is something which demands praise.
"Leading you through iconic locations, Star Wars Battlefront is truly a beautiful looking games."
Battlefront leads me through iconic locations such as the snowy planet of Hoth, with its long-distance snow fields, rocky banks, and caves. It also takes me to the Ewok inhabited forests of Endor, complete with cheeky, scared, fleeing Ewoks as the battle between the Empire and the Resistance takes place below and around them. The rugged, volcanic rocks of Sullust and sands of Tatooine are also included, with all four of the locales standing out perfectly from each other. It all looks so good as well; this is a truly beautiful looking game. Maps are remade with incredible attention to detail, with each bit of foliage seemingly moving independently of each other, and made useful providing safe little hiding places from the enemy.
It’s these little details which make the game so wonderful. Travelling across the wooden bridges that connect the trees of Endor it’s hard not to be in awe as particular scenes are replayed from the film, except that I am playing them – I am living Star Wars, I am interacting with Star Wars, I am a part of the world. This is a feeling which consistently resounds throughout my playtime with the game. And it’s thanks to this, I suppose, that the game’s limited content is less of an issue than it might have been.
"Star Wars Battlefront is basically a Battlefield game in a Star Wars skin. But, oh my, is this a good skin!"
Out of the box, Star Wars Battlefront is a little thin on the ground. There are 13 maps across 4 locations: Endor, Hoth, Sullust, and Tatooine; with an additional two maps from Jakku, a new location from the upcoming seventh Star Wars film, coming free to players in early December. Granted, the included maps are large and detailed, and genuinely good fun, but for a game lacking in a single player campaign, these maps are everything, and this is all you get for your hefty outlay.
Thankfully, and honestly this is the least they could do given the short supply of maps, there are plenty of modes to try out, although they can be a little hit or miss. After getting fed up of constantly dying on the ground in a poor session of online play, it’s a nice change to switch to an air-based only mode instead, shooting down TIE Fighter’s or X-Wing’s alike, depending on which side you end up on.
Unfortunately, some of the modes can be a little dull, and even the most basic modes have been seen plenty of times before, such as “Blast” which is essentially a renamed version of Team Deathmatch. There are some brief single-player elements to the game in the shape of missions, which can also be completed cooperatively, but they feel more like very simple tutorials on how to play than full-on challenges in their own right. No, this game is all about the multiplayer; it’s about the feeling of being in Star Wars.
Although there are a fair share of different modes, most of them are not really all that interesting, and some of the more basic ones – the ones most likely to be played, in all honesty – are commonly seen in other shooters, which means that Star Wars Battlefront, after the initial awe, is basically a Battlefield game in a Star Wars skin. But, oh my, is this a good skin! It’s beautiful and wonderful; it feels good to be a part of, and it brings joy, and is this not what a game such as this is all about?
Whilst I spend most of my time playing as either a generic member of the Rebel Alliance or as a stormtrooper, I don’t seem to tire of either becoming Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, or any of the other heroes that can be controlled in small sections of the game, or simply playing alongside them. The feeling I get when I’m flying in my X-Wing defending the Millennium Falcon from enemies, or running through the snow fields of Hoth alongside Princess Leia or Han Solo is an incredible feeling, especially when it’s presented this well, with an authentic soundtrack and original Star Wars sound effects to boot.
Now I am by no means saying that charging full price for a game with limited content is okay, because I’m not. But it’s hard to stay angry with a game that is so polished, so clean, and so perfectly realised in what it does offer. This is a game which achieves precisely what it set out to do: to recreate the world of Star Wars for players to live in.
I suppose the issue, then, is just how long this limited world can keep the player entertained, and for me, after about 30+ hours of play, I am starting to feel like I want more. But would I have been happy paying full price for a 30-hour single player game? Yes, I would. So why shouldn’t I be happy with 30+ good hours of multiplayer fun for the same price? Honestly, I would also have liked more content, since I have been, after all, playing over the same limited maps for those 30-hours, without any form of narrative development which I would have received in a single player game.
If I want more, then I need the season pass, and the game constantly reminds me that it is available; that it costs almost as much as the base game, and that more content is indeed out there waiting to be played if only I part with some more money. An advert for the season pass is included in the box of the game, and shows up on the homepage every time the game is started up, and tells me that new maps are available whenever I play the game as though my initial outlay is already outdated, and if I want to keep up with other players I need to shell out a little more.
And I think this is where the problem begins, because the base game feels like it should have more, and that more was planned all along, but that it’s locked behind a paywall. Granted, this content was not available at launch, but because the base game is so limited it feels like it was released too early rather than being complete without this DLC. Instead of those extra maps appearing as a nice addition to a full game, they instead feel like they have been taken away from the player only for us to be charged for the privilege of having them back. This is only exemplified by the lack of a single player campaign, meaning that multiplayer maps are everything to Star Wars Battlefront.
So what we have, then, is an adept shooter set in a beautiful, detailed world that is rich in uniquely Star Wars details. What we also have is a very limited base game that feels somewhat incomplete without the extra DLC maps. I got about 30 hours of good playtime out of it, but the surprises ended at half of that time, and we need more than this in a full-priced game in 2015. What’s included is wonderfully accomplished, however, with little to no obvious problems with the game that have plagued previous DICE shooters. Simply living in the world of Star Wars that this game provides is an exhilarating experience, and essentially the game achieves with aplomb what it set out to do. It’s hard to stay angry at such a wonderfully polished Star Wars game such as this, because it makes me feel so happy to play, and it’s really hard to put a price on a feeling such as this.
Welcome to my new website!
Phew, now that’s out of the way I can explain to you exactly what this is all about. Put simply, this is a blog dedicated to video games. It’s something I’ve put together for myself because I love video games, and I love writing, and I love writing about video games. Needless to say, I write this for myself more than anything else, but should you find any comfort or enjoyment in reading the musings of someone such as myself, then great, once again, welcome!
Kidding aside, this is my own personal project where I can talk and write freely about games and hopefully build up a portfolio of written work both for myself and to further my aspirations as a writer/editor. I do, of course, hope that you read and like what I write, and there will be a comments section for precisely this reason because I do care what you have to say, and I appreciate the feedback, both positive and negative.
Now I’m only one person (look, that’s me adventuring in the picture up there), and there are a lot of games out there, so I can’t write about them all. But the ones I do play will probably be written about in one way or another, but don’t expect reviews of every new release because, frankly, that isn’t going to happen. I may post reviews around launch, or I may post reviews months later – there’s no real timeframe on this since I am, just like you, a gamer at heart struggling in a world where so many wonderful games are released with so little time to play them all. This blog is something I do in my spare time; I’m not making any money from it, so time is a precious commodity.
Since I write for a number of different outlets, and I will be collecting some of the work here on my blog, the writing style may change between posts. But more often than not, I will write my reviews in the first-person perspective to ensure that my subjectivity comes across in the writing. I think this is important to remember since, after all, it is all we have. There is only so much objectivity one can keep when reviewing a game, and essentially my views and feelings on a game may differ considerably compared to another reviewer, or even yourself.
I also won’t be posting scores for my reviews; instead, I hope my words will be enough to get my feelings across. That said, links will be provided for articles that have been published elsewhere which may, indeed, include scores. So if this is something you particularly care about, you can head right on over to them by clicking on the article links to check them out.
On top of reviews, I will also post previews, opinion pieces, and feature articles which I also hope you enjoy. Whilst these may initially seem quite similar to some of my reviews in terms of writing style, I will be taking a slightly different approach to them depending on the topic covered. In my feature articles, I will aim to focus more subjectively on particular aspects of, or feelings towards, a game or they might simply be commentary pieces on something that has happened (or is happening) within the world of gaming.
Since I’ve been writing reviews for a number of years before this blog’s launch, I have decided to re-edit some of the best articles and post them on the site too. They will be backlogged and dated according to when they were originally written, and I hope you get some enjoyment from reading them as well.
However you see it, I hope you like it. Once again, welcome, and please feel free to leave me some comments along the way.