Thursday, 8 April 2021

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey - Falling in love with a series again.

By Sam Coles: 

There are video game franchises that go on for years, with that longevity can come with fatigue with the audience and the franchise for me that springs to mind is Assassin’s Creed. I am a huge fan of the series, however around 2015 when Syndicate came out, I just lost all interest for the series and just drop it for a few years. As the years went by, I get an email from Ubisoft in 2019, they said “Do you want a copy of Far Cry 5 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey”. Me not being an idiot I said yes of course, I booted up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey I fell back in love with the series. What made Assassin’s Creed Odyssey so special? Well let’s talk about it.  

I think what immediately stood out for me with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the setting, Ancient Greece is such a fantastic setting for a game especially for an open world game, plus I did study era for A-Level. Not only that, the story within said period is always good not ground breaking but it is engaging throughout as you converse with various figures throughout Greek history. You can either play as Alexios or Kassandra, who are both Spartan warriors that meet an untimely fate and are exiled. I picked Alexios because his sarcastic remarks never cease to make smile and burst out laughing, and in my opinion Kassandra as the antagonist works better.  

What was instantly refreshing when I first booted this game up was the world, now I may come across as a tad biased because I did study this period of history for my A-levels and still own a copy of Herodotus’ The Histories on my shelf. However, it is a setting that is not often explored especially with open world games and it works beautiful for Assassin’s Creed, as Ubisoft always have a good eye for detail and authenticity with each historic period.  

Like the real-world version of Greece, the landscape consists of islands, coastal towns and cities, these can range from small remote areas to sprawling and thriving cities. The first time I entered the outskirts of Athens I was in awe as I saw the Parthenon on the horizon, I couldn’t wait to the enter the city and explore like the curious cat that I am. Coupled with the large and beautiful landscapes is a superb musical score, it is relaxing to listening to as I explored beautiful vineyards as the sun would slowly set as I find myself journeying towards a valley.  

The gameplay is something that is rather contentious within the Assassin’s Creed community, however this is what drew me back to the series as it was refreshing. It does try to do a more simplified version of The Witcher 3’s dialogue mechanics, but simplified is not necessarily a bad thing. The combat is simple but it can be challenging in the early stages, especially when you are up against big groups of enemies as they will discard you like a football and kick you hard. Plus the combat is instantly enjoyable when you unlock the Spartan Kick, as it basically throws the balance of the game off a cliff literally as you can kick high level enemies into the ocean. Before you ask, yes I do shout "This is Sparta"! in the middle of my bedroom/office every time I do it.  

What also drew me back to Assassin’s Creed with Odyssey as well were the visuals, yes, the animations with characters during conversations are stiff at best, but the details on main characters are in fact very good. From the blemishes on their faces, to the exquisite detail on armor. Not only that as I said before the landscapes are beautiful, with the blue hues of the ocean as I sail across the Greek World, the sunset vistas as I walk through an out of the way village to the busy and bustling cities as people are trying to sell me their wares.  

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a game that brought me back to the series, yes one could argue that it is not really an Assassin’s Creed game but maybe that is why it drew back in. It’s on the list of games that I play when I want to relax or if I am feeling low, this is the game that made me fall in love again with the series. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Skyrim: A decade long legacy.

By Sam Coles: 

A decade these days tend to be expendable, especially when you are in adulthood as 10 years ago seem like yesterday. Skyrim is not a game I think when I think 10 years ago, but here we are in 2021 and we are a decade removed from the initial release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and there is still no sequel in sight. All we have is a logo for the next Elder Scrolls game and that was nearly three years ago, don’t mind me Bethesda human existence is fragile but you take your time but I digress. Anyway, I want to take a look back at the popular RPG and why people still talk fondly about it today.  

The gaming industry was a different space back in the 2000’s and early 2010’s, as game reveals were still in that kind of transition of being a business meeting instead of the hype train we know today. Skyrim is one of the first examples in my lifetime were there was so much hype surrounded around a video game release; you have to remember it was five years after the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion so the wait was a long one. Especially or me which saw me go from a 13-year-old to an adult at the age of 18, which back then felt like an eternity.  

When the announcement trailer for Skyrim first dropped in early 2011, I remember being instantly excited as the main theme Dragonborn kicks in with the booming choir sending chills down my spine. To find out that it was coming out the same year of it being announced had me more excited, people find that games take forever to come out these days, but back in those days a lot of games more often than not became vaporware or would be announced and stay radio silence for years, looking at you Max Payne 3. I remember the presentation that they did at E3 in 2011 showing off the game, where they talked about how you can explore anything you can see on the horizon. Now this all sounded like hyperbolic PR speak, but they weren’t wrong and when I experienced the game for the first time on the date of 11.11.11 I was enamored with the game.  

My first experience with Skyrim was beautiful, after the usual the Bethesda shenanigans where they throw tutorial after tutorial at you in a patronising manner, they finally set you free. The first time I stepped out of those caves, my mind was in awe as I see the protentional adventures I could embark on because in most Elder Scrolls games you can do anything you want from the word go. I love the calm and serene forest as you trudge towards the little village of Riverwood, as you hear the gentle sound of the flowing river near the saw mill. It’s this main aspect that Skyrim gets right and its design still holds up, as it is the true definition of freedom within video games.  

There are times in Skyrim where I would have no particular goal in mind and I would just walk around, with the HUD turned off and just explore. I highly recommend doing this because it is very immersive as there is no clutter on the screen.  It’s ultimately this level of freedom with the exploration in Skyrim of what makes it so appealing, but this freedom also falls into the gameplay. 

Now I know there are some traditionalists who are not a fan of the direction of the gameplay within Skyrim, this is mostly due to Bethesda scrapping classes all together and you are basically a jack of all trades. However, I think this is a good move as you are not a generic nobody, no you are a mythical chosen one known as the Dragonborn so it kind of makes sense that you are skilled in most aspects in the world. This also adds variety to the game, so if you get bored of being a melee-based combatant and want to shoot lightning out of your hands like Emperor Palpatine, you can do that. This no class base system just makes exploration and combat more flexible, and yes it does somewhat take the role out of the Role-Playing Game but it makes for a more fun experience.  

Visually Skyrim is still wonderful to look at, although before the game came out, I had a bit of trepidation as I was expecting mostly snow, as the game is set in the northern region of Tamriel. However, the landscapes are more varied than one would think with rich vegetation within the forest, the ancient stone ruins and the expected tundra wastelands. Not only that the music and ambience accompanying the exploration is beautiful, the soothing tones of Jermy Soule are relaxing, but sometimes they can be haunting as you explore a dungeon. The soundtrack is fantastic and I often listen to it in my spare time, the calming tracks as you walk through a city as you hear a waterfall get louder as you edge closer to it makes me feel safe.  

Now I know it has become comical with the number of times that Bethesda have re-released this game, but there is a reason for that and that is because the game is timeless. There is a reason why 10 years later people are still playing and talking about Skyrim, it’s because it is a really flexible game with its gameplay and endless supply of mods. It’s a game that I hope we remember for another 10 years, and it is a game that I hold very close to my heart. 

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

My first experience with the Nintendo Switch.


By Sam Coles:

Nintendo since the N64 have had a rather steady decline with sales and direction with their hardware and games, especially during the Wii era where decided not to compete anymore. The Wii U was the final nail for Nintendo’s crucifixion where it sold abysmally, but it was a proof of concept for their next console. The Nintendo Switch was met with meh reception when it was first announced in early 2017, but when it finally released it was a resounding success and slowly became the best-selling video game device for Nintendo.

Fast forward to 2021 I want to give my first thoughts of the portable system; I was kindly gifted one for a sponsorship on Instagram from the lovely folks at Bristol PC Repairs. I’m going to go over how the console feels to hold, control and my overall user experience. I have been sent various games to try out from the lovely folks at 2K Games, Koch Media, Voidpoint and Techland. So, thank you very much to them, and let’s get into this.

Let’s start off with the design of the console, I was gifted the Lite model of the Switch and I have to say I was sceptical about the design of it. However, when I finally picked the device up and held it in my hands it felt wonderful, the feel of the Switch Lite feels so natural where it is nice and light but doesn’t feel too light. It feels like a premium portable device, and it is a joy to play for hours. Coupled with that it has a decent set of speakers, if you crank up the volume to the max it has a decent amount of bass on the speakers especially when playing first person shooters. The screen is also fantastic with its vibrant and crystal-clear display, games look beautiful on the system and are very clear to see even for those with compromised sight.

Now let’s get onto the games I tested out for the little yellow portable, I tested out a few different genres from first person shooters (a lot of them), platformers and strategy games. Let’s start off with first person shooters, as it was the genre, I have spent the most time with as I have been given lots of FPS games to play.

I tested out several shooters Call of Juarez: Gunsliger, Bioshock 1,2 and Infinite and Borderlands 1,2 and The Pre-sequel (still a stupid name Gearbox). I played Borderlands first which I had some trepidation of how FPS games would handle, but those worries and fears were quickly quashed as Borderlands performs and controls really well. Yes they did crank up the auto aiming system up a bit to compensate for the control scheme, but this system works really well and it is more or less like I am playing it on the PS4 although at 30 fps instead of 60 which is not a deal breaker.

Bioshock was the next game on the list to test out, which was mostly good Infinite was the game I wanted to test the most as that game really pushed the Xbox 360 and PS3 to their limits back in 2013. Fortunately the game runs smoothly on the Nintendo Switch, but I don’t think they got the memo of upscaling the resolution of the user interface as it is very small and hard to read on the Switch Lite in some places. Despite that oversight with the U.I resolution everything else is fine, it’s Bioshock but on the go.

Enough the first person shooters, let’s move on to something that doesn’t involve redecorating the room with someone’s brain matter. Super Mario Odyssey is one of the main reasons I wanted a Nintendo Switch, and it is amazing. The game really pops out of the screen, with its beautiful and vibrant visuals coupled with the smooth framerate.

In terms of graphics across the board I am impressed, especially with the third party games. I was fully expecting the visuals to be compromised in a big way with the third party offering, however if you are playing on a smaller screen you really don’t notice the corners that were cut to squeeze these massive and expansive games on the little machine. Games look beautiful, from the deep depths of Rapture, the post apocalyptic wastelands of Pandora to the dusty roads of Texas as you gun down your latest bounty. All the games look fantastic, and I am genuinely impressed with the visual fidelity.

Overall I am really pleased with the Switch and my first experiences with it, it is the perfect companion console. It’s great to sit back and relax all cosied in the corner of your living room playing triple A experiences, as well as lying in bed on Sunday mornings do the same said thing. Great console and I can’t wait to have more experiences with it!

Friday, 26 February 2021

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger Switch Review - Time to saddle up!

By Sam Coles:

The Western genre seems to be somewhat of a rarity in video games, but this is mostly due to Rockstar Games scaring everyone in the industry away from making them with their Red Dead games. However there is a underrated series made by Techland, yes that Techland who are more known for Dead Island and their latest franchise Dying Light. However I would say their more noteworthy titles were the Call of Juarez series, great first person shooters set in the old west. Recently I was gifted a Nintendo Switch via a sponsorship, as well as some game codes which happen to feature Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.

This game was originally released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 exclusively digital in 2013, which is probably the reason why it didn’t sell well that and it was released in the middle of the summer of that year. Anyway I am taking a look at the Nintendo Switch edition, which I was really surprised how well this game handles as I was worried how first person shooters would handle all together, but I am really impressed. Let’s get into more details.

The game starts off in the year 1910 where we see an old cowboy ride into town, where he is nearly hit by a car showing the civilised age taking over the old west. He stumbles into a Saloon as he is almost immediately recognised, as he is a legendary bounty hunter named Silas Greaves. The customers of the bar offer to buy him a drink in exchange for some of his tales as a bounty hunter, so each chapter is recollected by him. This is part of the narrative I like as it uses the unreliable narrator trope, this works really well as it bleeds into the gameplay where random objects suddenly appear, or he remembers the enemies differently. It makes for an entertaining plot because it never really breaks the flow of gameplay, and relies on environmental storytelling. 

The gameplay like the first two games is a first person shooter, and yes I said last two games as we don’t count The Cartel as that game is on par with being buried alive but I digress. Anyway it is a first person shooter that leans more towards arcade fun instead of scripted events, it feels more old school although it does use a regenerating health system. Each level is short and sweet and you are rewarded for gunning down enemies as quickly as you can, as your combo will build if you maintain your momentum. I like this as it keeps the pace fast, and honestly it never really breaks its pace.

The shooting feels fantastic in this game, the guns feel powerful where I almost have to hip thrust with every pull of the trigger especially the shotguns. Unlike the other Call of Juarez games Gunslinger plays like a competent shooter, the controls are snappy and tight as well as movement being fluid as you dash through each encounter. I was somewhat worried how first person shooters would handle on the Switch due to the tiny nubs that call themselves analogue sticks, but fortunately they feel great and go toe to toe with standard console controllers.

You earn skill points through out your adventure, these are split into three different skill trees which are tied to revolvers, rifles and shotguns. These are very useful from the practicality of reloading revolvers in a speedy fashion, to the more absurd of duel wielding sawn-off shotguns. They all cater to the playstyle that you want to take, if you want to have more of a methodical and sniper approach you can do that or in my case it was more chaotic as I ran around like a madman with two shotguns in my hands.

Visually this game holds up extremely well, this mostly stems from its cell shaded art style with its bright and colourful aesthetic. There are beautiful and wide open canyons and valleys you will traverse through, as you gun down anything that looks at you funny. The feedback visually from enemies is fantastic too, you get a real sense of weight as you gun down bandits as you see blood fly everywhere and paint the walls where it is coupled with a sickening squelching sound. Performance wise the game ran at a pretty consistent 30 frames per second, which it didn’t maintain its framerate in its initial release on the Xbox 360 which would stutter as soon as things would start exploding.

Overall Call of Juarez Gunslinger is a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, with its fast paced and bitesize action. If you are looking for a great FPS game on the go then this game is for you! 


Saturday, 20 February 2021

Super Mario Odyssey: My thoughts so far.


By Sam Coles:

Every time I boot up a 3D Mario adventure I always revert back to a small and innocent child, as it reminds me of my childhood of playing lots of Super Mario 64 on Nintendo’s titular console. So when I first booted up Super Mario Odyssey on my Nintendo Switch, those emotions came back with my eyes widened in awe as I felt like I was five years old again. I’m going to talk about my initial thoughts about the portly Italian’s globetrotting adventure. Just to preface this is not a full review as I have not finished the game yet at the time of writing.

Does Mario Odyssey divert from the standard Mario narrative formula? Of course not, it is still Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser it is a Mario game I’m not expecting Socrates levels of social commentary or any at all as it is a Mario game. Although there is the strange premise that Bowser is trying to force Peach to marry him, but I will let people on Rule 34 drum up their twisted fantasies. Anyway Freudian digressions aside, the story revolves around a race of sentient hats and headwear (stay with me). Where Mario adopts one to use his power to possess his enemy’s souls, narrative wise it is silly, but it works more in favour of gameplay.

Gameplay goes back to the free form style of Super Mario 64, where you have huge hub based levels with various collectables and missions to complete. What astrological McGuffin is Mario collecting this time? Moons of course, I swear Nintendo throw a dart at an astrological chart and decide “Yep that is what Mario is collecting”. What next Suns? Oh wait they technically did that already with Shine Sprites, anyway enough digressions.

Anyway back to gameplay this time you are not in the Mushroom Kingdom, instead you are what I think is supposed to be the real world. At first I found this rather jarring, as Mario’s cartoon aesthetic mixing with realistic environments didn’t really gel with me at first. However as I played the game more and more, it slowly grew on me and it worked.

Mario’s objective in each world is to acquire Moons, these can be singular Moons in plain sight or in obscure places or they are Multi-Moons which are generally tied to a boss fight. However unlike Mario 64 you are not booted out the level to start it all over again, it takes the Banjo Kazooie approach of letting you carry on and you can retreat at your own time and pace. It keeps the gameplay flowing and I never felt the tasks at hand were ever laborious, they are all varied and kept me engaged with Mario’s slick controls.

Speaking of controls as well as the cap mechanic it feels as smooth as butter to control Mario in this game, his momentum feels natural yet quick and performing flips and triple jumps feels excellent! The platforming while using the cap in tandem feels great, especially when you perform a long jump and then use your cap as a spring board to barely make the jump. The game really encourages you to experiment with Mario’s movement, because if you faff about with the controls you can find Moons in hard to reach and obscure places.

The cap is not only to help you with your platforming endeavours, no as I said early you can possess enemies and control them. This is fantastic as it adds an extra layer of depth to the puzzle solving within the game or if you just want to destroy everything in sight. Before you ask, yes I had a lot of fun taking control of a dinosaur at the start of the game raining death and destruction on anything that got in my way.

Visually the game is absolutely stunning and it runs as smooth as a freshly oiled bike, with vibrant and colourful worlds that really pop even on my Switch Lite. The framerate is a smooth 60 frames per second, I didn’t notice any framerate drops well major ones as it would hitch but that was very rare. Mario’s character model is very detailed, you can see every stitch on his trousers, every strand of hair in his moustache and everything has been given a nice update to his appearance.

Overall I am enjoying my experience with Super Mario Odyssey so far, it is a wonderful and colourful Mario adventure that takes me back to my childhood. It is a game that I’m looking forward to finishing 100%, and it will keep me occupied!

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