GAMING: Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) – PS4

What’s the deal?

A masterpiece 6 years in the making and definitely the most beautiful looking game I’ve played in a long time. From majestical snow-covered mountains to arid dessert to tropical jungles, the landscape is truly breath-taking at every turn.

However, the quality of this game goes way beyond something that is merely aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The entire environment feels alive, mystical and at times slightly terrifying as the robo-baddies you take on become larger and more complex as you progress through the game.

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What works?

The story – yes, post-apocolyptic is nothing new but this is a truly engaging tale that resonates with the latest technological advances we are witnessing today and where these could lead if not properly policed – regardless of how far fetched things get during the last act.

Whereas a game like Fall Out uses the setting of nuclear destruction and all the potential what if scenarios an all-out nuking of planet earth could create, the apocalyptic future used in this game is surprisingly original. Rather than a wasteland of radioactive humanity, Horizon Zero Dawn is about a last ditch attempt to save the entire planet (plants, animals and any other form of bio-matter), rather than simply the human race. It’s a sobering premise to begin with and as bleak as this future may sound the setting is anything but with Guerilla Games proving once again the graphical possibilities of the PS4’s gaming engine.

The controls and gaming mechanics gently introduced in the first few levels via a subtle tutorial are easy to grasp and enjoyable to put into practice. The game offers a great blend of exploration, stealth and full on action giving you the choice as to whether adversaries are to be engaged or completely avoided.

Given that each adversary can be taken down via a number of ways this adds a dynamic to the game missing from other titles like Assasins Creed or The Division where gameplay becomes mind numbingly repetitive. Rather than simply standing over a hidden box and holding down a button to regenerate or resupply everything in Horizon Zero Dawn is based around hunting. Whether its the adversaries you need to get past or scavenge for parts or the other more docile wildlife whose carcasses can be converted into health and weapon upgrades you’re always left with the choice for how much you want to hunt.

In addition to being beautiful and fun to both explore and play its also worth mentioning just how huge this game is. In the beginning fast traveling across the map costs you resources meaning that you need to choose wisely as to which trips you will do on foot and which you will opt out of. Later in the game, you have the option of unlimited fast travel but that too can be a curse since you normally need to restock your supplies after each major encounter.

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What doesn’t work?

Some aspects of the plot, such as the talking heads exposition gets a bit tired after a while, especially since there’s no reason why more of it couldn’t be delivered by characters while playing the game which is something the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Uncharted have executed with more finesse.

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The fact that early on in the game you seem to spend as much time searching for potions and plants to heal your wounds as you do in battle itself can feel like hard graft but to be honest you’re too distracted by the gameplay and graphics to care.

There also seems to be some inconsistencies in the facial graphics from time to time and in some towns traders talk over each other, which, when there are 10 in the same area all taking at the same time is slightly annoying.

Who should play it?

Anyone who enjoys a good RPG and owns a PS4.

Enough said. If not now then at least when its come down in price, this is not a title to be missed.

If you own a PS4 Pro, then this is exactly the type of game you bought it for.

 

RETRO RATING – 9/10

 

Charlie McGhee Retro Ramble 2017

GAMING: For Honour

What is it?

Hack and slash fighting game where you get to fight as a knight, viking or samurai in 4v4, 2v2 or 1v1 dueling battles.

Initial release date: February 14, 2017
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Genres: Action game, Fighting game, Hack and slash

What works?

Ubisoft definitely spotted a gap in the market for the type of fighting game we’ve not seen for a while. It’s also a clever move for them to capitalise on all assets and IP they’ve already developed in titles like Assasins Creed and The Division. Graphical Design is of the usual high standard you would expect from Ubisoft, as are the fluidity of movement and controls whilst playing.

As expected, it was the 1v1 duels that I find the most enjoyable when playing this game but its worth pointing out that once I felt more comfortable with the controls I decided to try out the 4v4 and 2v2 modes and have to admit that there is a lot of fun to be had in Dominion if you play on a team that has half an idea.

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It’s also worth pointing out that Ubisoft have given players as many options to play as possible when choosing what sort of FIGHT they want to hop into. In addition to playing multiplayer games against other online teams of 4v4, 2v2 and 1v1 you also have the option where you and 3 other players see how well you fair against the CPU or “AI Bots” as they are referred to. Maybe this abundence of choice is not generous, maybe its actually an attempt to hide the fact how content-lite this game is, who knows?

The control system or “moveset” has obviously had significant thought and testing behind it and once you get the hang of it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable battle making attack and defense as important as each other and making you think twice about which type of warrior you decide to fight each Battle. There’s plenty of opportunity to get to gets with the controls since the game offers a mixture of other online players to choose from or “bots” should you decide to practice your moves by playing the CPU.

Like we saw with The Division, the pairing up of players in the multiplayer lobbies is both rapid and robust, however in today’s age of established inexpensive cloud servers coupled with real time analytics of how many people are installing the game on their consoles, there really is no excuse for a game developer not having enough server capacity to deal with how many people end up wanting to play on them.

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What doesn’t work?

  1. This is a multiplayer game and should have been priced accordingly.
  2. This is a multiplayer game and multiplayer games require dedicated servers to work.
  3. Not only are there no dedicated servers, the server side of things is not even managed by Ubisoft??

The result, the best part of a mediorce game, namely the multiplayer, doesn’t work because the developer is too tight to invest in a suitable network environment to host everything on.  As they say in America, go figure.

In terms of content, this game falls foul of all the same problems as many other Ubisoft titles; looks and plays great but you quickly work out there is no substance to any of the characters and the gameplay is going to be formulaic and repetitive

Conclusions

Looks and plays great in the awesome multiplayer (when Multiplayer actually works) but terrible single player experience.

Ubisoft and EA Games may have the biggest releases but they are both guilty of causing the biggest problems we all experience with gaming today. We need game publishers that put the fans first and invest a couple of years making (and testing) a game so it stands the test of time. Good examples are the likes of Rockstar (GTA V) and Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last of Us) who care more about the final experience and the legacy of the games they create for players rather than simply churning out title after title that perform well on release but dive in sales shortly after.

Its clear to me that the only reason Ubisoft tacked on the Single Player mode was to ensure they could qualify in the top tier of AAA game sales. There is no denying that for Ubisoft making money is as important, or maybe even slightly more important than making good games. There is so much focus placed on getting you to sign up for Ubisoft Club or getting you to care about the games currency system of “Steel” all in an attempt to rob you from even more of your money, despite already getting you to pay more than you should for this game.

All that said, the Multiplayer does actually make this a worthy purchase since its addictive enough to keep you coming back to play again and again which defeats any problems I may have had with the following niggles:

  • the cretinous plot of the single player
  • the dodgy menu system
  • the joke of a multiplayer game lobby system
  • over the top, melodramatic voice acting….”I am Apolyon” LOL.

Overall: 6/10

Suggestion: This game is worth playing but not at the current price tag, suggest giving it a go in 6-12 months once all the DLC has come out and can be bought in one purchase.

 

 

 

 

GAMING: Battlefield 1 (EA)

Battlefield 1 is a First Person Shooter (FPS) set during the First World War. As with previous games in the series the focus of the game is mostly on the multiplayer side of things. That said, there is a great single player campaign that’s worth a look if you are that way inclined, I just wouldn’t advise that you buy this game if you ONLY want to play single player, not unless it had been heavily discounted.

  • Released: October 2016
  • Yay!: Beautiful, Accessible, Enjoyable WW1 FPS,
  • Nay: Once again content from EA will be drip-fed via DLC.
  • Overall: 8/10

Who should buy it?

If you like a good shooter then it’s a no brainer, you should definitely buy this game.  It looks great, its easy to pick up and it makes a nice change from the more modern based shooters we’ve been bombarded with for the last decade. You should also buy this game if you are a casual gamer and like the idea of being able to switch on your console and get stuck in for half an hour and actually feel like you’ve had a decent game of something – as opposed to faffing about with your load-out for 2 hours. If you enjoy this game I also highly recommend checking out some of the titles in the Battlefield series like Battlefield 3 or 4.

Who should NOT buy it?

Don’t buy this game if you prefer a shooter with a 3rd person perspective, or the “Tomb Raider” view as George and I referred to it growing up. Also don’t buy this game expecting it to be like anything from the Call of Duty series. The single player has got better but is not as well produced as the Call of Duty (COD) episodes. That said, I do find the multiplayer more balanced and mature looking than many of the COD games. This is reflected in the audience playing it, well mostly.

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What works?

The game is gorgeous, playable, fun, satisfying more than it is annoying and most importantly for a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) title its really accessible so there are tonnes of people playing and you never know what type of game you’re going to get. Like the battles themselves you get to take part in many different types of battles from being deep in the trenches to the sands of Saudia Arabia to being deep in the woods.

Unlike playing Call of Duty, the larger multiplayer games like Conquest, Rush and the new Operations setting really feel like all out warfare. Your in a plane, you get shot down, so you parachute and land on a rooftop, the building you landed on is then levelled by a tank, which is then blown up and suddenly it’s all gone team deathmatch! You get the idea…

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What doesn’t work?

Too many automatic weapons for the purists I would say. I’m sure its entirely accurate and all these weapons were in existence back in the early 20th century but I’ve had many battles that seem a little out of place.  On many an occasion battles have descended into the type of skirmish you’d expect to encounter in the Second World War not the First World War. Another thing that annoys me a lot, even though I normally like the sniper load-out is that being a sniper is way too easy, which means too many, many people play as snipers.

The problem with this is that its only a matter of time before those of us run n’ gunning it get sick of being picked off and become snipers ourselves…you dig? Battlefield has 4 different load out types for a reason (Assualt, Medic, Support & Scout) choose wisely my friend and you’ll have a ball. Just don’t pick sniper every frickin time!

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Conclusion

Whilst its nemesis Call of Duty blasted off into a rather bleak future of space-based battle, EA decided with Battlefield it was time to roll things back and remind us just how savage, sluggish and brutal the Great War must have been. Given that its been around 100 years since it ended it seems a rather fitting time to do this and given the end result no-one can accuse EA DICE of not handling this part of history with the uttermost respect on the part of those that fought in it.

Battlefield 1 is a gorgeous, glossy fun game to play. However, given the response its received from hardcore fans of the series, has EA DICE made an mistake by focusing too much on making the game attractive to casual gamers and taking away the key features that made it stand apart from other FPS games?

Then there’s the DLC, only 1 has arrived so far, its nice, but its a map that’s clearly been adapted from the Single Player game so it feels like a staggered release rather than a valuable extra.

As mentioned in our article about Star Wars Battlefront, also developed by EA and built using the same tools, by making these games both content-lite and noob-friendly is EA DICE losing the identity and fandom that made them so great in the first place?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

 

 

 

GAMING: Super Mario Run (iOS)

  • Release Date – December 15th, 2016
  • Yay! – Play Super Mario one handed on your smartphone!
  • Nay! – Must be connected to internet to play!
  • Retro Rating – 8/10

For someone who invested many hours hammering both Tetris and SuperMarioLand on the Nintendo Gameboy the announcement of this release filled me with a mixture of fear and excitement. Well, it wasn’t so much and announcement as a relentless all encompassing advertising campaign on which Nintendo spent god knows how much.

Like many a smart phone gamer my initial fear surrounded the worry that this was going to be another game purchased out of nostalgia that I would get really excited about, pay money for and then be horribly disappointed by. It wasn’t until I saw the game in action – on every single iPhone I walked past in the Apple Store – that I gave in to the gods of advertising and made the ‘impartial” decision to give it a go.

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Please be aware photos of games never do the real thing justice!

The first thing that strikes you is how much of an obvious big deal this is for Nintendo. This is no rush job or cash grab. It’s clear from both the graphical design and playability of the title that this has been handled no differently from any other major game title release on one of Nintendo’s own platforms. Its worth noting that this will be the largest audience that Mario has ever been offered to so it should not come as a surprise as to how carefully Nintendo has both planned and executed its release.

First off I was happily surprised to find that its one of those free games that offers in app purchases i.e. A play first, buy later freemium model. This clearly shows Nintendo’s commitment to making gaming as enjoyable as possible for everyone. Some could argue that only offering three levels  before making customers pay may seem a little tight but I think that’s a little harsh considering what Nintendo are offering. To be fair I believe they’ve struck a great balance between whetting the appetite of new customers without cannibalising purchases from loyal fans of Mario keen to take advantage of all the available add-ons.

The controls are simple meaning you can play one handed. The screen is well designed so your fingers don’t obscure your view and even though Mario runs from right to left on his own this is a dynamic you quickly get used to. The fact that there are many new options for controlling Mario while he’s in the air, coupled with the fact that players are rewarded for doing it in style also adds an unexpected enjoyment factor when playing this game. There is also the added bonus of being able to compete against the scores of other players on the same first three levels giving it a whole new dynamic.

The only problem I’ve personally found with this game is the fact that like many other iOS titles it needs to be connected to the internet in order to play it which can be frustrating since many of the times I look to a game is when I can’t get online for whatever reason.

Since the game’s release back in December, the game’s gone on to attract more and more players all over the world – 90 million downloads as of January 2017, and that’s only on iOS. It will be very interesting to see how popular the game is when it hits the Google store given that Android represents 86% of the smart phone market!

Its still early days so with any luck this is only the beginning and we can expect many other retro Nintendo titles to hit smart phones in the coming years.

With any luck we’ll get an iOS version of Super Mario Kart before next Christmas!

GAMING: Star Wars Battlefront (EA)

Just like Beggar’s Canyon back home!

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Star Wars Battlefront may have hit stores over a year ago but it’s only in the last few months that we finally received the last of the DLC (in the form of the Rogue One Scariff Map) and can now view the game in its entirety. Its for that reason that I decided to give it the full “Retro Review” treatment and I hope you enjoy the article below.

  • Released: October 2015
  • Yay!: what every Star Wars fan has been waiting for.
  • Nay: only 40% game content included in original release.
  • Overall: 8/10

BREAKING NEWS: since writing this post EA announced in January 2017 that they will release Battlfront 2 in 2017 and, in response to the main complaints highlighted below, will feature a lot more content, including a Single Player Campaign, more maps and more heros from other episode’s in the Star Wars franchise.

Who should buy this game?

Well, if you’re a fan of either Star Wars or any type of First Person/Third Person Shooter then it’s definitely worth a look, obviously if like me you’re fan of both then this should be a no brainer.

“Impressive. Most Impressive.”

My last dealings with Battlefront were back on the Playstation 2 and that incarnation, as welcome as it was at the time, is a far cry from the heavily multiplayer focused title that Electronic Arts (EA) have given us.

Not only do you get to run around in one of the most beautifully designed sandboxes available on today’s consoles, the game is much more evenly balanced than a lot of other multiplayer games out there. It even offers a 3rd person perspective for those of us who overdosed on FPS a little too much in the early days of COD and swore to remain firmly in the safe confines of being able to at least see ourselves get shot in the back – you know who you are!

One of the things that got me most excited about this game in the run-up to its release was the fact it would be developed by EA DICE. For the uninitiated, EA DICE gave us the Frostbite engine which has been used in a few other EA titles, most notably for me, in the well-known FPS military franchise, Battlefield. Frostbite has also become so reliable that EA have even based the latest version of FIFA on it, much to the delight of many a gamer.

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Rebel base on Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.

Thanks to this type of pedigree, and very much in the fashion of a shooter like Battlefield, the game offers a whole host of multiplayer game types to choose from. On first glance there were around 15 game settings but the number was increased with subsequent Downloadable Content (DLC) packs that included additional game types. Whichever way you look at it, there’s a tonne of different ways to meet the common objective of blowing stuff up or shooting as many opponents as possible in the face!

Whichever way you look at it there’s a tonne of different ways to meet the common objective of blowing stuff up or shooting as many opponents as possible in the face!

In regard to the gameplay itself, you get to do all the things you’ve seen in Star Wars films again and again. From intense Infantry based combat to flying X-wings, TIE-Fighters, the Millennium Falcon and Boba Fett’s Slave One in Fighter Squadron.

Whether it be a massive multiplayer online environment like Supremacy offering full scale 40-player-ground-to-air battles of Rebels versus The Empire, or the much more infantry based games like Blast, Droid Run or Drop Zone there is plenty to keep you coming back for more.

For me personally, well at least for the first 6 months of owning this title, it was all about Fighter Squadron. Air-to-Air multiplayer dog-fighting at its very best, so much so its easy to conceive that with a little tweaking this could even have been released as a stand-alone title of its own.

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Darth hiking on Endor.

As well as all the iconic sound effects you would expect to find in a Battlefront game, from thermal detonators explosions to the scream of incoming TIE-fighters, there’s also the entire back catalogue of John Williams’ original score belting out in the background to make you feel like you are in some way part of a story taking place somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.

As someone who grew up with the originals, I have to say the highlight for me is Battlestation that arrived with the Death Star DLC. Here you get to hop into your X-wing, or even Luke’s Red 5 once you’ve found the Hero icon and complete the Trench Run whilst being chased by Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced and the rest of the opposing team.

On one occasion I actually managed to get both Luke’s X-Wing and be selected to do the Trench run in the same game – however whether it was my proton torpedo that hit the exhaust pipe or the player behind me I’ll let you be the judge – you can watch the video of my “performance” here. Obviously, like any other game reviewer I’ve only included a video where I don’t crash and burn every 10 seconds!

Out of the nine maps – well, all four of them in the original release (wow, thanks EA), all have been taken straight from locations either featuring in / referred to in the original Star Wars trilogy and the attention to detail is impressive to the point of distraction. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been killed for standing around admiring the scenery.

It’s no surprise that the game actually went on to win awards for the quality of its’ graphics. Maybe a little too good, perhaps if more attention had been spent on creating a larger universe to explore rather than making each ice cave on Hoth look as realistic as possible, the end result would have been more satisfying.

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The last DLC featuring new map from Rogue One.

The first of the DLC gave us The Force Awakens planet of Jakku and this was followed on a quarterly basis with the Outer Rim featuring Jabba’s Palace, The Cloud City of Bespin, The Death Star before finally Rogue One’s Scariff in December 2016. To get an idea of just how significant these DLC packs were you can watch them all here in our Gameplay section.

For me, the Outer Rim and Bespin should have been included in the original release but the Death Star was worth the wait and the true highlight of the game. Given that Battlestation enables you to play objectives based on Episode IV and it works so well, its a wonder they didn’t base more of the multiplayer games on memorable scenes from the films.

Combining the best of an established FPS that EA DICE offers and grounding it so beautifully in the Star Wars universe was a master stroke by Disney/EA and is something I’m truly happy has come to pass. A cynic might say that such an obvious success is one reason why EA or Disney decided to milk it as much as they have.

“Your over-confidence is your weakness.”

As you might imagine, with me being such the Star Wars fan, not to mention someone who appreciates a good FPS shooter, I love playing this game and in the beginning I couldn’t find fault with it.

After a while I started to find that as addictive as it was to play, the game left me wanting. From a marketing point of view, can you really criticise a game whose customer’s main complaint is that they want more of it?

Maybe…maybe not. But given I paid the full price for what turned out to be 40% of a game, I’m gonna anyway!

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“I can feel your anger…”

The timing of Battlefront‘s release was obviously no coincidence to ensure it took full advantage of both the upcoming release and later success of The Force Awakens, not to mention a revived love of all things Star Wars. As a result, it was priced like any other major console release would be, set firmly in the $60/£60/70€ price range. Had it actually arrived with the all DLC that we now have one year later I, like most people would be okay in paying that.

Anyway, as I’ve already said, since this is really the only complaint that I or anyone else has shows what an awesomely fun game this is to play. I just feel that EA are not doing themselves any favours, not in the long run anyway.

Conclusions

Battlefront delivers an impressive, engaging and almost fully immersive Star Wars experience perfect for both fans of the franchise or anyone looking for the type of accessible fun an arcade shooter like this offers.

Despite how much of a problem the DLC has been for me, well retrospectively in terms of what I invested in the title, it hasn’t stopped me enjoying it one bit. It’s nonce-sense that EA thought that they could get away with this in the long-term. I mean, from a marketing point of view they have succeeded. Mugs like myself and millions of others fell for the hype, bought the game, loved the game and signed up for the DLC – but The Internet Never Forgets and it may cause problems for them in the future.

All that said, and due to this staggered DLC release being over, there really has never been a better time to buy Battlefront.

If you’ve not bought it and own a console, the game is finally both available in its entirety and more interestingly for you, at the price tag it should have started at.

You can pick up a reasonably priced copy of Star Wars Battlefront here.

Hitman Sniper (iOS)

Charlie McGhee has been playing Hitman Sniper on his iPhone and thinks you should too. Here are his thoughts on why its a great smartphone game plus some  videos of Charlie’s own gameplay to give you an idea of what its like to play.

What is it?

If you’re into gaming you’ll no doubt be aware of the Hitman series that dates back to the PC and PS2 in the early 2000s. Since then 6 games have been released spurning a host of games for tablet and smart phones including this little cracker which was released in 2015. The game is a FPS but centres only on sniping activity and as Agent 47 although you are never threatened by counter-attack you can and will fail missions for being too aggressive, alerting the wrong people or not fulfilling the specific mission objective. Rather than a straight forward FPS this is more of a puzzle game where completing the mission requires you to focus on taking out targets in very specific ways. From shooting balcony glass to cause targets to fall to their deaths to shooting patio heaters to cause an explosive death the game continually challenges players to be as creative as possible.

What works?

For me, the production quality of this game is top notch, soundtrack and in game sound effects are 10/10. In terms of graphics these are as good as is possible on current iOS devices which to be fair is currently somewhere between what you’d expect to see on the PS2 and Xbox back in the day.  The game is quite addictive since what starts out as a satisfying point and shoot quickly changes with each mission requiring you to find a new way to take out targets without being noticed or in a particular order. The options available leave plenty of room for manoeuvre and keep you coming back for more.  The best thing about this game is you can have a satisfiying game in 2-3 minutes so ideal for short bus/train/metro rides.

What doesn’t work?

As addictive as the game is, apart from a Zombie survival-type mode that was added later there’s only really one location, albeit there are techinically 3 buildings and surrounding estates where targets will be located. As we’ve said before on this blog wanting more from a game is not necessarily a negative. Square Enix Montreal have done a great job with this title, so more please! As its their most successful game to date let’s hope it’ll be updated shortly.

Who should play this?

Anyone who’s every enjoyed any of the Hitman games or anything similar, plus anyone simply looking for a short gaming fix on their daily commute.

Gameplay (Charlie McGhee)

Wanna see what it’s like to play, well so do the game’s developers since they’ve made it incredibly easy to upload your own gameplay to Facebook and Youtube.