Sunday, 23 December 2018

My favourite games of 2018.

By Sam Coles:

2018 has been a hell of year when it comes to video games with some excellent releases; we had long awaited sequels to the more surprising. I just want to cover my top games of this year, now remember this is my opinion if there is a game that is not on here it is either because I didn’t play it or I didn’t enjoy it so don’t get your panties in a twist. These are in no particular order I just want to talk about my favourite games of this year and I don’t want to put them in a numeric order.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

Now you are probably going to say “Sam you do realise that this game came out in 2017”. Which I would say yes, on PS4 but I’m judging this by its 2018 release on the Xbox One as this is the first time that I’d played the game.

It’s not often that a game really gets to me on an emotional level, but Hellblade is a very disturbing game with its depiction of Psychosis. It’s not often that mental health is shown in video games, but Hellblade utilises the Norse mythology setting to their advantage, where we see Senua being taunted by the voices that constantly whisper in her head.  It’s a prime example of narrative design in video games, with the fantastic performance Melina Juergens, she really nails the twitches and genuinely creep me out as she starred longingly into the camera. If you haven’t pick this game up I can’t recommend it enough, plus it got a physical release.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

In 2017 I got the chance to review Yakuza 0 and Kiwami a month before their public release, and I was instantly in love with the series. To say I was excited for Yakuza 6 would be an understatement as I was anticipating Kazma Kiryu’s last adventure.

What I like about the story in Yakuza 6 is that we’re seeing an aging Kiryu who is trying to live a normal life with his adopted daughter. However it’s not easy for Haruka, as the public have found out that her Father Kiryu is a former Yakuza thug and it tarnishes her reputation and she runs off from the orphanage she runs. Kiryu comes back to Okinawa after serving three years in prision and finds out she has disappeared where he ends up back on the seedy streets of Kamurocho, and he finds out she has been involved in a hit and run which links back to the Chinese mafia. So he does what he does best by asking questions with the heel of shoes, as he explodes nose cartilage.

Gameplay was changed and simplified in this game, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as combat has weight to it and I really feel it when I cave in a thug’s skull in with a bicycle. The only down side of the gameplay we went from a smooth 60 frames per second to 30 fps, but it’s understandable given the amount of detail and this was the first game in the series to be exclusively released on the PS4 as 0 and Kiwami were also on the PS3.

Forza Horizon 4

Now I can hear your monocles pop off with shock as you say “A racing game being a favourite game of Sam’s”? Well to tell you the truth reader, it was nice to play a game where I wasn’t making someone’s jaw bone fly off in eight directions with a 12 gauge where I can flaw it and speed through the countryside at 200 mph.

Forza Horizon 4 was a real surprise for me because to be honest on the surface it looked to be yet another open world racer, but this game with its setting, visuals and tight controls was a joy to play. The setting of my homeland of the UK was a unique setting, because to be honest it’s not often to see a video game set in Britain unless it’s within a historically setting.

Controls and visuals are top notch, it feels great to take a super car and flaw it through the beautifully rendered countryside of a condensed version of the north of England. It is always a joy to drift around corners, coupled with the excellent audio design as you hear your tyres screaming as the engine under the hood roars like a lion.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy

My stance on remasters is generally pretty bleak, but this game was more of a remake and I think publishers and gamers in general need to know the difference. What we got here is a beautiful reimagining of the first three games that were released 20 years ago.

Booting up the first game made feel five years old again, with its stunning graphics that look like a Pixar film where Spyro is expressive and animated beautifully. Controls are a big improvement where Spyro no longer controls like a tank, he has been tweaked in the speed department too he is much faster in these remakes especially when he charges. This is a wonderful remake of the first three games and gave me a childlike wonder again something I have not had in years, If you haven’t pick it up for your Xbox One or PS4.

Red Dead Redemption II

It has been a long time waiting for this game as I adore the original Red Dead Redemption; the original game is very emotional to me as it got me through a rough patch when I was studying my A-levels. When I was low during the summer of 2010 I would boot up Red Dead Redemption, where I would experience John Marston’s endeavours.

Red Dead Redemption II lives up to my expectations, and surpasses the original with a superbly written narrative with excellent performances from everyone in the cast. The open world is absolutely wonderful with varied landscapes, with frost covered mountains to the damp and humid swamps. Arthur Morgan is one of the best video game protagonist, he is a level headed individual he knows what he is doing is wrong but he doesn’t know any other way of life, where does end up doubting if it is worth it anymore.

The environments are so beautiful that I have had a blast taking screenshots for my Instagram; it is the definition of video games as an art form. This is easily the best game of the year and dare I say it one of the best games of all times, I can’t believe that this game is real and it makes me happy to be alive as a gamer.  

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review - A birth of a beautiful friendship

By Sam Coles:

It’s hard to believe it was five years ago when I bought a PlayStation 3 and experienced the Uncharted series for the first with the third instalment, yes the third game may have been an odd choice to start with but I fell in love nonetheless. I was captivated by the characters and how light hearted it was, however it knew when to switch out the happy mask to the sad one. When Uncharted 4 was first announced I was a bit hesitant, as it look to be taking a more serious tone and that is somewhat the case with the final release due to it being under the director of The Last of Us. However it still had its fun moments, but overall has a very serious tone compared to the first three games. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy on the otheer hand goes back to what made Uncharted special, where it is a fun swash buckling adventure with wise cracking one liners with the beautiful and lustful Chloe Frazer.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy takes place after the events of the fourth game, we step into the tight jeans of Chloe Frazer who has teamed up with former shoreline mercenary Nadine Ross. They are on the hunt for the Golden Tusk of Ganesh, so Nadine can buy back her private military company… well initially. Unfortunately they find themselves in competition with the local warlord, where he is wreaking havoc across the region, and wants the relic to buy a bomb to destabilise the region more. He is not a deep villain he is a classic moustache twirling villain, which is fine as this game does not take itself seriously with a few scenes that are an exception.  What stands out in this story is the chemistry between Chloe and Nadine, they start off resenting each other, but as the story moves forward they grow closer as friends and it is truly beautiful to witness.

How is the gameplay? Well I might as well copy and paste the gameplay segment of my Uncharted 4 review from 2016 as it is fundamentally the same, where you climb, shoot, swing from ropes and dodge roll. But there is one new feature that crops up in the first few hours of the game, where the adventure gives you more of a choice of how to tackle your current task, think of it as a mini open world. However this is used and never looked at again, but to be honest this is just a standalone expansion I wasn’t expecting The Witcher 3: Uncharted Edition (Naughty Dog call me), but it seems rather one note as the game goes back to the scripted sequences we are used to with the series.

Visually the game looks great, what can I say that I haven’t already when it comes to a Naughty Dog game. The facial animations are nothings short of amazing with believable expressions, coupled with the beautiful motion capped movements from the actors. The environments are breath taking, with the lush jungles and huge expansive spaces that I took a lot of screenshots for my social media that’s how beautiful the game is.
The only issue I have stems from all Uncharted games, where the main character will not climb up to the platform I’m aiming at, or they jump up and down like they have incontinence problems. It does get very irritating especially when you are being chased or when you are being shot at on the side of cliff, where Chloe can take as many hits as an asthmatic bong user.  

Overall Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was an enjoyable game and is a return to form with the more light hearted tone compared to 4. The story is fantastic with the beautiful chemistry between Chloe and Nadine, where you genuine care about them as the story progresses and to see a friendship blossom between the two is truly special. The game is cheap these days, I picked it up second hand for £10 and it’s worth the 6 to 7 hours it will take to finish.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Editorial | Battlefield V: The Last Tiger.

By Sam Coles:

Battlefield V has had a tough time recently, due to its announcement earlier this year as well as releasing in an unfinished state with EA’s “Live Services” strategy. There was one piece locked behind this and that was The Last Tiger campaign in the war stories. When I heard about this when they were talking about it in press conferences I thought, What? They are making a German war story during the Second World War? That is bold. Honestly it is an engaging story, but it is rather weird with certain aspects I will go into that make it standout and not in a good way.

You play as a tank commander named Peter Muller, where he is in the Rhineland during the closing stages of the war where they are trying to push American forces back. You are accompanied by three other soldiers; you have Kertz the tank driver who is indifferent about the conflict, Schröder a devoted Nazi fanatic who follows everything by the book and finally Hartmann a rookie soldier who is frightened.

You get a range of feelings from each of the characters with Peter being the veteran within the German military who followers orders but is ultimately human and sees the errors of his ways by the end of the war story. Kertz is there because he has to be and he doesn’t really care about who wins or loses the war, he is there to drive to the tank. Schröder is devoted to the cause and will shoot anyone who dares to desert the battle, where Peter has to tell to calm down at certain points of the story. Hartmann is like any other young man during the Second World War German or not, he is frightened and wonders why he is there.

As engaging the story is we get into a factor that makes the story feel weird, and that is the fact the game does not reference Nazi Germany or Adolf Hitler at all. You can put a smoke screen over it as much as you want, but you know damn well they are fighting on behalf of the Nazi party especially when it comes to the character of Schröder who is the embodiment of a Nazi fanatic. It just feels very odd to play a World War II game with no reference to the Nazi party, whether it is the Swastika not being present which it is not in any of the war stories, to the fact they don’t reference the Third Reich.

Now I know why they did this, it is because they wanted to show that the Germans were following orders as they had to like other countries around the world. However I think sugar coating Nazi references makes the impact of the story stagger, if they didn’t hold back I think the story could have more of an emotional and shocking impact. I say this because half way through the story Peter starts to doubt what they are doing, it’s scene when he is driving through the streets and he sees soldiers that have been hung for fleeing where he comes across Hartmann who has been given the same fate. This is a powerful moment as he starts to have second thoughts about the war efforts, and tells Schröder to shut up as he calls him a traitor.

The ending is just as powerful as Peter and his crew are surrounded by American soldiers, where the tank driver Kertz starts to doubt everything as says they lied to us and starts to realise what he has done during the war. Again who they are is left up to the viewer, which again is rather jarring due to the lack of Nazi reference in the story. He leaves and is shot in the back by Schröder because he sees him as traitor as he is fleeing the battlefield, which Peter is mortified as it is his old friend. After seeing that he is surrounded Peter gives up and realises what he has done is not moral, and surrenders where is then gunned down by Schröder as he sees him as a traitor of the fatherland.

The Last Tiger is a bizarre story, because I know they want to portray the German side of the war from the eyes of the soldiers, but the sugar coating of the Nazi party makes it jarring. If they were to keep that in the game I think the story would have more of an impact, I understand that what the Nazi’s did was horrible in war, but that would make the story all the more impactful and show the audience to never forget past atrocities.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Editorial | Exploring the world of Red Dead Redemption II.

By Sam Coles:

Red Dead Redemption II has to be one of my favourite games of this generation; it was a long and staggering wait for me as I had been anticipating a sequel ever since I finished the last game in the summer of 2010. There is something about the open world in this game that stands out from others in the genre, I want to go into it and talk about why it is special. Let’s go on a journey as we explore the world of Red Dead Redemption II.

The problem I have with most open world games is that they don’t feel like a living breathing world, where you are dumped in this visually stunning looking environment where it then reveals its two dimensional nature where you have a check list that you obliterate. Rockstar somehow makes the world interesting to explore, and it doesn’t matter that map is huge I never found myself using fast travel at all because the world is that interesting where anything can happen.

Once the game has finished its prologue the world is more or less yours to explore, this is what I like about Rockstar open worlds since GTA V they no longer restrict you from exploring all of its world from the word go. Things open gradually and organically, there are never any objective markers above an NPC, they will shout to you if you need your help. In Ubisoft open worlds they get this wrong on every level, as it seems they want to constantly remind you that you are playing a video game with their tooltips and constant reminders of events like they are a nagging spouse.

The game’s activities are delivered to you in an organic manner; you don’t see flashing icons in front of you. Say you want to hunt down a bounty all you have to do is find a wanted poster and talk to the sheriff, it makes exploring the world believable and dare I say it “realistic”. It’s something that kept me exploring the world, even the random events are fleshed out more due to the unique scenarios. These can be events such as people trying to blow open a safe on the side of the road, needing a lift to town or stopping a robbery. What makes this great is that you can react how you want to, you can help people or you can pull out a sawn-off shotgun and full their face in with buckshot.

It is the design of the world which encourages players to go off the beaten path and see what they can find, which there is a lot you can find. Whether it is abandoned camps where you piece together what happened or hermits that have decided to live outside of society and reject cultural norms.

What helps with the exploration of Red Dead’s open world is the HUD, or should I say lack thereof. There is a HUD but ever since Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto IV they have gone for a minimalistic look, where they only really display a map and your ammunition as they want you to see the landscapes. What I loved doing is turning off the HUD entirely, as you can really appreciate all the effort that Rockstar have put into crafting this beautifully realised world from frost laden mountains with snow creasing as you walkthrough, to damp and humid swamps with crickets chirping in the darkness.

Red Dead Redemption II is an open world experience that has me captivated with its beauty, it’s been a long time that I felt genuine love for a video game’s world, last time I felt this wonder was when I played Oblivion for the first time. Rockstar have truly created something special, where I want eat, sleep and live in for years to come.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Luigi's Mansion 3DS Review - A GameCube classic in the palm of your hand.

By Sam Coles:

In 2001 Nintendo released the GameCube; a console while good struggled to find a market with gamers. 
For one it probably didn’t help that it used tiny discs which could barely hold 1gb of space, compare to the PS2 and Xbox’s DVD format that could hold over 7gb. However the console housed a lot of great and unique games, Luigi’s Mansion was one of those games. Luigi’s Mansion was met with hostility initially due to it not being a traditional Mario game; however it was a fun and silly spooky horror game although it was not scary and was more like a child version of Resident Evil. 17 years later Nintendo have remastered it for a portable console, and it is mind boggling how I can play a console game in the palm of my hands. How does it hold up? Fine although it does have some control issues, let’s get into it.

You step into the shoes of the green clothed titular plumber, but this time Luigi is not saving the princess with his brother Mario, instead he has won a mansion in the lottery. However this turns out to be a ruse, where Luigi goes to meet Mario but it turns out that he has been kidnapped by King Boo who is well…. King of the Boos. The mansion is flooded with all manners of super natural entities, and Luigi must deal with them with the Poltergust 3000, which is a vacuum cleaner. The game’s story is great it does not take itself seriously, plus Luigi’s cowardly personality really stands out in this game as he hums nervously down the dimly lit corridors.  

Gameplay consists of exploring, light puzzle solving and combat, you explore the mansion looking for keys, money and objects of interest that will lead you to find Mario. The puzzles are not anything too taxing on the brain; it merely comes down to using the correct elemental medallion on certain enemies or doing certain things in a specific order. You have to bear in mind that this game is aimed at children first and foremost, so the puzzles are not going to be enigma code levels of complexity.

Combat is where things start to feel a bit clunky and this is due to me playing this game on an original 3DS from 2011. Luigi’s Mansion on the GameCube relied on a dual analogue stick control scheme, the original 3DS lacks a second stick but it does try different schemes to help improve the situation such as gyroscopic movement. This however was a real pain in the backside because I would find Luigi staring at the ceiling, because I would readjust to get comfortable and my 3DS would register that as movement. I found myself getting very frustrated in some combat scenarios, especially when I was ambushed by ghosts from either side as I could not swing around with ease due to the lack of a second analogue stick. I would recommend playing it on a New 3DS as that has a second stick.

The game has been given a new coat of paint when it comes to graphical fidelity, with Luigi’s character model looking cleaner and smoother instead of the blurry look of the GameCube original. However there are some graphical features missing in this version of the game, there are certain smoke and fog effects not present I expect this is to keep it at a stable framerate. This doesn’t overshadow the experience, as you will only notice it if you own the original game like myself.

Overall it was fun to revisit this classic in a portable environment, if you told me 17 years ago if you could play a game like Luigi’s Mansion on the go I would have laughed. It is astonishing what type of games we can play in the palm of our hands these days. Luigi’s Mansion is still a charming and fun adventure; despite some of the control issues which I got use to eventually it is a very enjoyable game.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Editorial | Why Dragon Age is special to me.

By Sam Coles:

If you know me you would know I have a deep love for high fantasy, whether it is in books and of course video games. Dragon Age is a series that I have deep love for, as it has a special place in my heart because it got me through a tough time in my life. I just want to talk about why the series is so special to me, and detail my personal feelings towards the series.

In early 2011 I was in the second half of studying my final year of A-levels, I just got back from the Christmas break and honestly I was feeling low. The days were dark, miserable and cold and I just felt too much pressure from my studies. As I was cycling home one afternoon I went into my local Blockbuster, I perused the shelves as I usually did and I saw a game called Dragon Age: Origins. At the time I didn’t follow the gaming industry as I all did in terms of writing about video games were reviews for my local newspaper, but the Bioware logo stood out to me as I had played Mass Effect 2 the year prior. I thought Wow a high fantasy RPG made by the same people who made Mass Effect, as I was just starting to read through the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the time, so I was enthralled with the setting. When I got home and put the game into my 360 I fell in love, as I explored the world of Thedas.

What I noticed about Dragon Age when I first booted up the game are the characters, they are all well written from the lustful and beautiful Morrigan, the cheeky and clever remarks from Alistair to the wise, calm and collective demeanour of Duncan. Even the sequels that people like to hate have some wonderful characters, such as the sly but charming dwarf Varric, the intimidating Seeker Cassandra and the noble hawk. Even the Inquisition with its returning cast has a few new ones that had me grinning ear to ear, such as the playful Sera the elven archer who is friendly but is not afraid to slit your throat if you get on her bad side.

It’s these characters that you genuinely get to know throughout all three games, you really connect with them when you sit around a fire and talk the night away in Origins, visit them in their homes in Dragon Age II or share an ale in the grounds of the Inquisition’s fort. They all feel dare I say it, realistic and believable you want to swap stories with them, whether it is a troubled past, sexual encounters or just conflicts they have had on their adventures.

The music is something that still sticks in my mind; every main menu has a beautiful theme. From the calm and soothing tones of Origins, the haunting and almost creepy atmosphere of Dragon Age II to the epic orchestral score of Inquisition which evokes the epic nature of the open world adventure you are about to embark on. It’s a soundtrack that I listen to in my spare time when I’m writing, it has a good mix of relaxing Celtic folk and adrenaline pumping orchestral scores when you are slaying Darkspawn in the Korcari Wilds.

You would probably laugh at me when I say the environments are beautiful, and yes even for 2009 Dragon Age: Origins wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of tech. To be honest it is just the unique locations, such as Brecilian Forest which has one of the best character interactions with the Rhyming Oak Tree. It’s when Bioware switched to the Frostbite 3 engine for Inquisition was when they captured the beauty of Thedas, with lush green fields of the Hinterlands to the extravagant and ostentatious cities in Val Royeaux.

Dragon Age is a series where I can lose myself in world with well written characters, and worlds that feel lived in and believable that have a deep history. Yes the first two games are not the best looking games, but it is the lore and characters that keep me coming back where I feel genuine grief when I lose them whether it is through death or a disagreement. Even nearly a decade after its debut, Dragon Age is something I can revisit over and over again as it can always get me through a tough time and it can always make me smile no matter what.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Grip Review - Which way is the right way up?

By Sam Coles:

The 90’s were a strange time for gaming, more in a good way as game developers were more experimental with established genre tropes. This was the case with a racing game called Rollcage that released on the original PlayStation back in the late 90’s, as it was a racing game with an interesting gimmick. If you grew up in the 90’s you will perhaps remember those remote control cars which drive no matter which way up it is, Rollcage was a racing game with those in it which made for a fun and unique racer. Grip tries to recapture that in modern gaming, where it mostly succeeds.

Grip does not concern itself with a story as it is a racing game, it lets the gameplay do the talking and I must say racing games have been rather exciting in 2018. This is not realistic, I mean how realistic can you make a game that takes a remote control car that drive not matter which way up it is that also shoots rockets. The emphasis of this game is verticality, you don’t have to drive in a straight line, well you can if you are boring. What’s great about this emphasis on verticality is that you can find different ways around the track, with interesting shortcuts and plus it looks amazing spinning in the air as you break the sound barrier.

I found throughout my experience races never really fell in my favour completely, because usually in racing games once you are in first you generally just speed off into the sunset. However in Grip the races are very unpredictable due to the verticality and the emphasis of keeping momentum, because if you don’t keep your top speed up you will lose as the A.I opponents don’t mess around. If you do find yourself behind in a race you have access to items which are either offensive of a way of speeding up. You have two slots where you can stock one more item; these can range from speed boosts, machine guns or missiles to turn enemies into a pile of shrapnel on the asphalt.

Visually the game looks okay, not bad by all means but okay it’s not the best looking game and that is odd considering it runs on the Unreal Engine 4. However I can see why this game looks okay as it shoots for performance over looks which is something I will take, as this game is blisteringly fast as you hit speeds of 500 km an hour which requires ones utmost attention because if you fumble you will be tumbling off a cliff. Honestly the track design is what stands out rather than the visuals themselves, but let me stress it is not a terrible looking game but it’s just okay.

Grip is a game that evokes the 90’s where developers were daring with current genres; it is fast, frantic and will keep you on your toes. I highly recommend picking up this game if you are a fan of Rolecage that was released on the PS1 and you want a modern interpretation as it is really fun. The game is out now on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Editorial | The resurrection of mascot platformers.

By Sam Coles:

The past couple of years we have seen a resurgence of mascot platformers, as they have been somewhat absent during this generation of gaming and last gen, with a few exceptions of indie projects. However there were none from triple A studios, well not any good ones I’m looking at you Knack. With the release of Ratchet and Clank back in 2016, there has been this slow resurrection of genre, where we eventually got a remake of the original Crash Bandicoot Trilogy and now Spyro. I want to discuss what makes these games so special, and why we suddenly have an interest from triple A developers again recently.

The mid to late 90’s was a wash of platformers since Mario 64 proved it can be done in 3D, others tried to cash in. It is true Crash Bandicoot did it six months prior, but it was basically a 2D game because it was a linear plain where you moved forward instead of side to side. Mario 64 had full 3D movement, so naturally other companies would capitalise on this. We had anything from Bob Cats, Mice and personified gloves, no I’m not joking if you remember Glover from the N64.

Why do people have such fond memories about these games? It wasn’t necessarily the gameplay, which wasn’t bad but it was run of mill mostly. No it was the characters and how unique the worlds were, from the Artisans Realm of Spyro the Dragon with its high fantasy aesthetic to the rain soaked jungles of Crash Bandicoot. The characters and worlds were just realised in such a beautiful way, with their popping colours and well written characters with self-aware humour.

The wonderful aspect about these types of games is that the developers could base it around anything, the only limitation for devs are their own imagination. We had characters like Earthworm Jim, Banjo Kazooie and hell I would even give credit to Bubsy the Bobcat the most irritating platform character in history just because it took some creativity. You could make a platformer about a jar of pickles and make it entertaining somehow.

As funny it maybe to say now given how spoilt we are with visuals now, the graphics with these sorts of games were something we had not seen before giving us what was at the time a Saturday morning cartoon look. Yes some of these games look crude by today’s standards but some of them have aged surprisingly well, such as Crash Bandicoot with his expressive eyebrows as he is about to mount an unfortunate Wild Boar.

In 2016 Sony released a remake of Ratchet and Clank for the PS4, which ignited an interest in genre but why did it spark an interest again? Well to be honest if we think about it and this is just a theory, the people who grew up with these games are now working in the industry and want to bring back that childlike wonder again with people who are still playing video games. Plus sometimes we just want to sit back and take a break from games that have heavy subject matters, don’t get me wrong I like a good narrative but I like to switch gears and play something that is light hearted and fun.

I think mascot platformers are slowly making a comeback, with remakes of Crash Bandicoot and of course the recent release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy. It evokes of a simpler time where the games industry didn’t take itself seriously and could have fun and laugh at itself.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Editorial | Stop and smell the roses.

By Sam Coles:

As I have said before, as I get older my gaming choices tend to take a slower pace. Now this is nothing to do with my reflexes being shot, far from it my reflexes are the best they have ever been. I just like to slow down and zone out where I figuratively and literally stop and smell the roses. I want to go other some of the games that have enthralled me over the years, where I can just look around with no particular goal or just games that take a more relaxed approach.

I can hear you all sigh with content and thinking “Oh god he’s talking about Oblivion again”. Yes while I do like to talk about this game a lot, that is because it has had a massive impact on my life even 12 years later I have a sense of wonder when I boot it up. The beauty of Oblivion is that you can take things in your stride; the game doesn’t really force to do a certain thing in a set path, with the exception of the dungeon escape. I always find myself exploring to see what settlements I could uncover and what ruins there are to uncover artefacts and weapons. Not only that Jeremy Soule’s melodic tones really help, with the soothing welcoming tunes as you walk through the market at dawn, to the emotional scores as you are traverse the fields of Cyrodiil. It never gets old and ages better (mostly) as the years go by.

The original Red Dead Redemption (yes I have to say that now), is one that is truly special to me, it got me through a tough time when I found my A-Level studies were weighing on me. When the game came out it consumed my summer in 2010, I could just load the game up and explore the plains of New Austin and Mexico. Like most Rockstar open worlds you can just do anything, but Red Dead took a slower approach which was thematically appropriate given its western setting. It is always a joy to lose oneself in the world of Red Dead, were you can stumble across interesting characters who want to talk, or rob and mutilate your corpse. Again the game doesn’t really force you down a set path, I can’t tell you enough the amount of things I found just going off the beaten path. Where I found camps left for the wildlife, to poor and helpless men and women with broken down stage coaches.

I know it may be a stock standard answer when it comes to The Witcher 3, but you have to recognise an achievement in terms of storytelling and role playing in interactive form. When they first said that The Witcher was going open world, I was hesitant but as I thought about it more it made sense. Every time I boot up The Witcher 3 I tend to just slowly walk around taking things in, whether it be the cobbled streets of Novigrad or the boggy swamps of Velen. It’s the attention to detail which make me to take my time and explore the nooks and crannies of the environments, coupled with the fantastic musical score from the Polish folk band Percival. It’s a game that encourages you to take your time, and almost pokes you saying “do you see that abandoned hut over there? Take a look”. It’s that organic nature of the game that makes it fun to explore.

Now this last example may make you call my gaming credibility into question just hear me out, Two Worlds II has a beautiful environment that makes you want explore its entirety. Yes this game has a lot of issues with animations, voice acting and to put it politely questionable controls. However it has this slow and steady pace to it where I like to look around the varied environments which you don’t often see in medieval style RPGs, you start off in a beautiful African Savanna to a village that resembles Feudal Japan. It’s not the most technically polished game, but it is a true testament of how they managed to produce such a visually pleasing world to explore, it was an apology letter in video game form after the disastrous first game.

Those are just a few examples of games where I just like to slow down and take my time, or smell the roses as it were. The next time you play a game just stop and take the time to appreciate the subtle things, you may find something special that others will not even bat an eyelid at. This is what makes the interactive medium special, that everyone has a different experience.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Editorial | John Marston - Outlaw to Gentleman (spoilers for RDR 2)

By Sam Coles:

Red Dead Redemption II is one of if not my favourite game of 2018; check out my review if you haven’t. It has given me a new outlook on John Marston, he is not the main focus of the game well not in the first three quarters of the game but it does shine a light on the character. I want to go over John’s transformation from a hot headed and blood thirsty outlaw to a gentlemanly cowboy.

When the game begins, you are transporting your gang through snow laden tundra of the mountains after a heist gone wrong, John goes missing and Arthur has to go and find him. Arthur retorts with “He’s gone riding off again” suggesting that this is something quite common with John, Arthur goes and finds him like an obligated father. John is injured which gives me his signature scares that are tattooed into his face, once John is back in good health he is up to no good.  

It’s clear that Arthur has some reservations with John, as he is reluctant to do any jobs with him mostly due to his impulsive nature which leads them to a cordite filled situation. However as the months go on Arthur begins to warm up to John, and Marston begins to realise he can’t keep the criminal life up and starts to doubt Dutch’s words of a life in a tropical paradise as he keeps saying “Just one more time”. John starts to realise that he can’t continue like this, as he has a child and partner and he can’t raise a family with empty promises of paradise. So after one thing after another, he leaves the gang after Dutch goes insane, where he then retires to a normal and mundane life as a ranch hand.

When John leaves the outlaw life he tries to go straight and find a legitimate job, however he has trouble adjusting to normal life at first as his violent tendencies have a habit of surfacing in certain situations. He stumbles on a farm as he is delivering food and supplies to them, he sees that they are being hounded by a small time gang where he then chases them off. He is taken on by the ranch where he and his family can stay on site; he slowly warms up to the ranching life as he is shown the ropes as he slowly falls into a routine.

John’s violent tendencies seep through once again, but it’s not through malicious intent as he is trying to defend the ranch he works for against bandits. His partner Abigale doesn’t see it that way, she sees it as John going back to his old ways and then she leaves. John now alone and broken decides to prove himself, he hears about a piece of land in Beechers Hope and wants to settle there. With some help from his boss he is able to take out a loan, gather materials and build his home where he can settle, what I like about this character development we see Marston mature and shape into the man we know in the original Red Dead Redemption. He truly turns into a man of honour and respect.

With his home built John finally gets his wife back, it’s a touching moment and we see him turn into a sensitive soul as they go and do normal things such as going to the theatre and getting their photo taken. We see the sensitive side of John show, and his violent and outlaw life have finally faded away as he can leave the madness of Dutch behind and live it out with his family, for now anyway.

It was great to see John Marston’s character to shape in Red Dead Redemption II, from a naïve and violent outlaw to an emotional and gentle soul who wants nothing more than to live the rest of his days with his family. It makes it doubly hard to deal with his fate in the original game, and makes me shed a tear more as it shows that he genuinely wants to make a difference in his life.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Editorial | Embracing F.E.A.R

By Sam Coles:

The horror genre can come in predictable forms with jump scares and monsters but there are certain games within the genre that switch gears in an instant. F.E.A.R is one of those games, if you watch reviews on Youtube or on other blogs; people often harp on about the combat and the “advanced” A.I. However that is only one half of the game and I want to go over why F.E.A.R’s atmosphere is totally unique, and will completely catch you off guard.

The game begins with main antagonist Paxton Fettle breaking out of confinement; however he has a unique ability to take control of a clone army known as “Replicas” telepathically. You are then sent in to investigate and bring Fettle in, but it doesn’t go to plan where he knocks you out and taunts you for a bit. It is a typical villain set up, but it’s not the story that captivates in Fear it is the atmosphere where it can juxtapose from high octane action to unnerving horror. There is also a child named Alma stalking you throughout the game, with her intentions unknown.

The game starts off as a gruff military shooter, where you are fast roping out of a helicopter and gunning down Replicas as they rag doll in their as meaty giblets fly in the air as you spray buckshot at them. However in most cases when a firefight finishes, what do you hear? Nothing! This is what always gets to me in Fear, after having a lot of fun in a gunning down soldiers in slow motion it suddenly switches gears and becomes very quiet with nothing more than the sound of your footsteps.

Like Monolith’s other game Condemned which released the same year as Fear, it likes to play with your expectations because when you walk down a corridor and there is a suspicious corner your natural human instincts think there is going to be a jump scare. However when you turn the corner there is nothing there. This is what elevates the atmosphere as you think you know all the tricks that the game has but the game plays with you and almost taunts you, and catches you off guard after a gunfight as most would think that this is a standard action game.

The music or lack thereof is what also increases the tension of the atmosphere, as the game goes for more audio ques instead of a traditional soundtrack. You will mostly here diegetic sounds this can consist of objects falling off shelves, moaning of unnatural entities and just general industrial hums as you traverse in the darkness. It is this oppressive weight you feel in these moments, that I get twitchy and paranoid when I’m playing late at night.

As I said earlier you are stalked by a child named Alma, her back story is dark as she was experimented on by her own father we she has become this godlike figure where she can literally make people explode with her mind. She is always there watching you throughout the game, what I like about this is that you can miss her sometimes as she is in the darker corners of an area, or you see her shadow as she slinks away into the shadows. It creates a paranoia within the player, especially when you clamber down ladders she has a strange fascination with ladders and it still gets me with the audio ques and her playful yet creepy laugh as she taunts you.

F.E.A.R’s tense atmosphere is something that catches you off guard as it uses the downtime in between firefights to play with your expectations. If you haven’t played the 2005 classic I would recommend it, you can play it on 360, PS3 and PC the PC option is probably easiest option.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Editorial | Majora's Mask's dark atmosphere.

By Sam Coles:

There are certain games that take a more unconventional approach to their sequels, I say this because Majora’s Mask is one of those games that stands out in the Zelda series as it only had an 18 month development and doesn’t really feature the titular character. Its dark atmosphere is something that is brought up in gaming discussion 18 years after its release, spawning theories about the subject matter in the game. I want to talk about the game’s atmosphere and Termina’s impending doom!

Majora’s Mask is an unusual start to a Zelda game because it’s a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, Nintendo don’t often have direct sequels to Zelda games but this is one of the few exceptions. Link is walking through what we presume to be the Kokiri forest in search of Navi (we think); he is then accosted by Skull Kid who is wearing the titular mask. This is where the downward spiral of doom begins, as Link is turned into a Deku Scrub which makes him useless as he is not allowed to leave Clock Town and people are prejudice towards him. He encounters the Happy Mask Salesman who promises Link to return him to his Hylian form; however he will do it in exchange for Majora’s Mask, there is also a catch you have only 72 hours to do said task.

It’s not long to realise that there is an overarching threat to the land of Termina, all you have to do is look up and you see the intense grimace of the moon looming over as it slowly descends towards the sleepy carnival town. What I like about Clock Town is that its inhabitants to begin with are none the wiser to the moon, however as the days progress they become more paranoid to where then realise they are about to die on the third day. It’s the juxtaposition that makes this game work where the people of Termina start off in denial, worried and finally the realisation of their fate, it makes you want to rush to finish the task to save these people.

The point of contention of this game is that there are only four dungeons, which if you look at it with a close mind set it can be perceived as a short game. However that is not the focus as it is all about the citizens of Termina, the side quests are the meat and bones of this game where you help people out with their last wishes or get them out of horrific situations. The most terrifying was the quest when you find a girl’s father as a Gibdo, the deformed face as he contorts is horrific.  

The villain of Majora’s Mask Skull Kid doesn’t really have an overall goal such as taking over the world like Ganondorf, all he wants to see is the world to burn as he wants to smash the moon into Clock Town. There is no motivation all he wants is chaos, and I must at admit this is a good villain with no obscure reasoning behind his plan as he just wants to destroy the world. Skull kid or should I say Majora controlling him is unnatural, as he stands there twisting his head as you hear his body creak as he walks it’s almost like something out of The Ring or The Grudge as he stares at you contemplating his next move.

Compared to Ocarina of Time Majora’s Mask is more colourful with its environments; however that doesn’t mean it is a happy game I like to interpret this as a false sense of security. The game presents the player with these colourful environments, where it then presents you with the first dungeon with its ominous tribal music which use to frighten me as a child.   

That’s what catapulted Majora’s Mask’s atmosphere was the soundtrack, you have jaunty tracks such as Clock Town and the classic Zelda theme for Termina field. However it’s when you enter the four regions of Swamp, Mountains, Ocean and Canyon is where it journeys into creepy and hopelessness. They all share the same track, but what makes them unique is that they are thematically appropriate for each area from the haze and subdued beach music with steel drums to the winter inspired jingles of the desolate tundra of the mountains.  However what all of these areas with the track share is the utter hopelessness of the situation, with the swamps waters poisoned, the Goron’s land frozen coupled with starvation and of course the dead that are restless in the canyons.

Majora’s Mask is an unusual instalment in the Zelda series with its deep and dark atmosphere as you can feel the oppressive nature weigh on you. It is certainly a unique game in the series, and is a must try for any Zelda fan or someone looking for a good story with a dark tone. If you are going to try this game get the 3DS version as the N64 edition has not aged that well, and prepare to journey through the depressing land of Termina.

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