Sea of Peeves

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Love it, hate it or if you’re somewhere in-between, there’s little getting around the fact that Sea of Thieves suffers from a glaring issue: There’s bugger all to do (and not much point in doing it either).

If gameplay is King, then for some reason Rare decided to appoint the iron throne to a ruler as bad as Joffrey, because at it’s core the game is nothing but a series of fetch quests. You set sail, you gather some stuff (Chests, skulls, livestock), then you bring it back for cash rewards – rewards that can be spent on items that only have a cosmetic purpose. The biggest irony being you that can’t even really see the fancy new tricorne you treated yourself to, as you play from a first person perspective.

However, although the core gameplay objectives are more than a little lacklustre, the general gameplay execution is sublime. The way you interact with everything in the game is basic enough not to be complicated, but involved enough not to be simple. Sailing a ship for example – one of the main things you’ll spend your time doing – involves a series of manual tasks like setting the sails, raising the anchor and relying on the compass for navigation. It’s very hands on if you’re on your own in a sloop, whereas the galleons really require the careful coordination and cooperation of an entire crew! Successful sailing and navigation can be very rewarding in itself. The game world, with day/night cycles and variable weather conditions, is also very remarkable and a thing of beauty. Between the gameplay handling and the game-world, you have a rock-solid foundation to build on – even if you kept the simple fetch quest mechanics.

The reason I believe this to be true, is because of the parallels between this game and Elite Dangerous. In Elite dangerous you do the same basic stuff – you ferry items about for cash, and you might find yourself in the occasional shootout with rival ships; albeit of the space variety. The main difference is though, in Elite Dangerous you can invest the money on proper stuff. Stuff that improves you. Progress!

The counter argument to this is that it would unbalance the game, but the game is already unbalanced. If you head out on your own in a sloop, you won’t stand a chance if a passing galleon with anger management issues takes an interest in you. You’re much better off trying to fly under the radar. Sea of thieves could play into this. When most people think of improvements, they initially think of increased health and firepower – which would certainly be an option – but customisation can be much more than that. For the lone adventurer, how about a sloop upgrade that ditches the weight of cannons in favour of advanced speed and manoeuvrability, in order outrun enemies? What about a water tight deck upgrade so you can lose them in a storm? Or a shallow keel upgrade so you can take advantages of the shoreline. A paint scheme that makes your ship harder to spot? These are the type of options that Elite affords the player and, rather than unbalance the game, it opens it up to different ways to play; it gives your sandbox more options. More reasons to carry on playing.

Another great addition that could be pinched from Elite would be bounties. Being the feared Blackbeard of the seas is a lot of fun, but what if it came with some risk attached to all that piracy and griefing? What if, the more you hostilely engage other ships, the more a bounty goes up on your own ship? Hunter becomes hunted, as players take to the sea to hunt you down for the massive bounty on your head! They could even introduce a GTA-like stars system, where an NPC navy man-o-war spawns in to try restore order to the seas. It would all need to be carefully balanced for risk and rewards, but there’s no reason why piracy couldn’t have it’s own level/faction – where stolen chests are cashed in for bigger rewards than ones that are simply found on islands. Bounty hunting itself could be another new faction, where you take on quests to hunt down notorious pirates on the server. Pirate leader boards! None of these things would drastically change the core game, they would just introduce systems of progress around elements that already exist in the game and give them some meaning.

Sea of thieves is clearly lacking content, but a lot of people can see  – or really more feel – its potential. There’s something there; something special. New epic quests and a depth of content might be an answer, but I’m not sure it’s the right answer. There’s something to be said about writing your own story as you play the game, rather than adding new content that writes it for you; I think the answer simply lies in creating more meaningful progress systems around what is already there to ensure the players and their friends keep on writing.

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

We’re all emotional beings. Well, most of us. There’s definitely a few emotionally-dead fucking psycho’s out there – but most of them seem to reside in parliament, rather than the gaming community. Actually, there’s quite a few in the gaming community now that I think about. Anyway, I digress (already).

We’re MOSTLY all emotional beings, with feelings and erm, stuff. When we play a game, we’ll invariably feel a certain way about it. We’ll either enjoy what we’re experiencing, or we won’t. We then put those feeling on the game, and translate it into good or bad.

I’m enjoying myself = good game. I’m not enjoying myself = bad game. Simple stuff right?

You may then go on, especially in the case of the games reviewer, to explore those feelings in more depth and analyse what is causing them. Why is this game not making me happy; What is wrong with it? Or, this game is awesome; what is it about the game that’s making me feel this way?

Makes sense? The only issue I have with this, and where the waters get a bit muddy, is how variable our emotional state is, how blind we are of it and more importantly of how it affects our outlook. To give you an example – and it’s not a video game, but I believe the principle is the same – I started watching Black Sails on amazon prime, or at least tried to, but wrote it off fairly quickly; I wasn’t enjoying it. We’ll call that point A. Some months later, I started watching it again, got really into it and it went on to be one of my favourite shows – we’ll call that point B.

The only real variable between point A to point B is me. The show is the same show. However, if you’d asked me to review the show at point A, it would be a very different review to one you’d read if you asked me to review it at point B. I’m fairly certain that I’d have found reasons to explain why Black Sails isn’t very good if you asked me about it at point A; The acting isn’t very good, the story is too slow, or cliche, or something else. I’d have been able to explain it and make it sound like a logical and reasoned critique as to why it’s not a very good show. It is only with hindsight that I can now see that I was the issue. It’s hard to analyse these things, but I expect that the issue was down to me having just finished the season finale of Son’s of Anarchy (multiple seasons, hundreds of hours) and I was still too emotionally wrapped up in that to transition straight into something new. When I came back to Black Sails at a later date, I was in a more open minded state. But, as I say, it’s only going back to it that I now have sight of the real issue. Had I not, I’d still tell you Black sails isn’t very good if you were to ask me.

Most reviewers are never going to get that hindsight, and it makes me wonder about how flawed the process is. Or at least how fair or even reliable it is. When you review a game, you’re tied into a deadline. You need play, form an opinion and write it up in a very narrow window. You don’t get to put it down and come back to it in a few weeks time. You only get one bite of the cherry and if on that particular day you’re sick to death of cherries, well, it probably isn’t going to turn out favourably for the cherry.

It also makes me wonder about more conscious bias. If your cat got run over that morning, you may not be aware that it manifests itself as a poor write up of the latest twitch shooter that afternoon. However, there are things we’re completely aware of. I can’t fucking stand point and click adventures. For every inspector Clueso moment, where you cunningly determine what you need to do with an item because of message hinted at earlier in the game, there’s 10 other moments where you arbitrarily have to stuff a turnip in a keyhole to make a magic pixie appear who opens a door to another dimension. It’s a fucking stupid, stupid gameplay mechanic that often boils down to either trying every item on ever thing, or resorting to an online guide to tell you what to do next. They’re all shit!

So, given my open disdain for the genre, should I even go near reviewing a game from it? I know my bias against the genre will openly factor into my opinion, and won’t necessarily be fair to the game. Objectively, I can recognise that Simon the sorcerer is visually appealing, has amusing writing, good voice acting (From Arnold J Rimmer) and pleasant music….but it’s a point and click adventure so to me its gameplay is fundamentally broken and well…. shit. When I play this type of game I know I’m going to get annoyed by it and eventually fed up; there’s nothing I can do to control those emotional responses. I also know that’s completely out of touch with those that like this kind of thing (aka idiots). So what can you do? There’s no way to really account for the emotions you’re aware of, let alone the ones you aren’t.

 

Ultimately this is all just food for thought. We’re all human and it’s this kind of thing that makes us human. I do think it’s interesting though, on a philosophical level, that we can’t even reliably trust our own opinions with complete certainty; external pressures are always acting on them. Writers just need to be as conscious of this as possible and back up their opinions with examples as much as they can. I think the onus is probably as much on the reader as it is on the writer to appreciate the highly subjective nature and questionable validity of reviews. The reader needs to appreciate that if a game gets 7 out of 10 it doesn’t mean it is 7 out of 10 – it just means that person, on that day, in that frame of mind thought it was a 7 out of 10.

 

This Month In Gaming (July 2017)

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I’ll start off by saying I completed a game this month; Yay me! That may not sound like a massive thing to most people, but I am famously bad for starting ALL THE GAMEZ and finishing none of them. The game in question was PS1 era FF VII, which is one of those “must play” titles if you’re a gamer. Don’t worry, I’ve not actually been playing it since the PS1 – although that would make its completion a little more monumental. Having now beat the game, I am left feeling a little lost without it. This happens to be quite a lot. It’s nice to reach that goal you were aiming for, but the fun is in the process of getting there, not in the destination; Life’s a journey.

Speaking of journeys, Pokemon Go got its UK release this month and, being a Pokemaniac, I was of course compelled to download it straight away. If you’re that one person that hasn’t got the game yet, here’s the deal: Pokemon GO (or “NO” as I refer to it, due to it’s broken overloaded servers) is google maps on your phone, but with a Pokemon theme over-lay. As you walk around the real world, phone in hand, your little Pokeman trainer avatar does the same on Poke-maps. If you look down on the map, you’ll see certain points of interest are “pokestops”, others are “Gyms” and then wild Pokemon will appear sporadically as you wander about. Get close enough to Pokestops and you can click them for items, close enough to Gyms and you can battle other Pokemon and close enough to Pokemon and you can catch them in Pokeballs via an “augmented reality” mini game – a term that sounds waaaaay cooler than it actually is.

Conceptually, I think it’s brilliant. None of the individual elements are particularly new or groundbreaking, but they’ve been brought together to make a type of game I’ve never seen before, and one that I think works really well…when it works. See, Pokemon Go is a great concept, and it seems millions of people agree – I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon before. Everywhere I go I see people walking around with their phones out playing the game. I don’t mean in the way I might see someone else playing Clash of clans on the train and thinking “Oh cool, they play Clash as well”; I mean the fuckers are literally everywhere. It’s had widespread success and it would seem that this success is taking it’s toll on the servers.

As it stands, Pokemon Go is unfortunately a buggy mess. I am assuming here that it is down to sheer numbers, but it’s very unreliable and this in-turn is very frustrating. Seeing as it’s a free application I can’t get too mad about it, but I’ve already considered removing it a few times just from sheer annoyance. The other big negative is how much battery it uses. My poor phone battery already gets a bit of a hammering as I’m on it constantly, but Pokemon Go really drinks the juice. Reports suggest about 40% of your battery for 1 hour of gaming, which is a little disturbing. With it sucking you dry like the worlds most over-zealous hooker, Pokemon Go is a bit problematic as a mobile game. It may make walking more fun, but you’re going to want to make sure your destination is somewhere you can charge your phone when you get there or you’ll need to invest in one of those mobile power packs to recharge on the go.

As I say; the concept is great, and it makes walking much more interesting, but I fear the game could ultimately be as short-lived as your phones battery. The battle mechanics at gyms is far too simplistic and buggy, making them a bit of a let down. It’s worth taking on gyms for the reward in gold coins, but not for the entertaining gameplay. If there is to be any long term appeal, it will come from trying to collect the full set of Pokemon – other than that, the game is going to need a major overhaul in later updates to really revise battling, bringing it more inline with the source material. A tactical turn-based system could add some much needed depth and even the playing field a little. As it stands, the only real tactic is to level up the highest CP (combat power) Pokemon you can muster and just hammer away with attacks.

Overall, Pokemon Go is a bit of a mixed bag. Fun, exciting and interesting at first, but quickly reveals its complete lack of depth. The competitive nature of trying to find more than your mates, or have the strongest Pokemon will certainly hook many, but for others, it will simply remain as something to enhance the walk to work: I personally won’t be dedicating my evenings to playing it.

This Month In Gaming (June 2016)

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It’s been one of those months where, despite my addiction to gaming, I found myself not really wanting to play anything. I’ve got a stack of decent titles patiently collecting dust as they wait for the day I give them some lovin’, but I just can’t muster the motivation or desire to play with them.

In desperation I turned to an old favourite of mine; World of Tanks. Having not played the game for months, I was met by the inevitable massive update – but was then pleasantly surprised to find that, for reasons unknown to me, I had loads of free premium days on my account. For those of you (bellends) that don’t play World of Tanks; It’s a free to play game where you can pay for, amongst other stuff,  “premium” on your account. It means you get 50% more rewards at the end of each game, meaning you can unlock stuff faster.

The result was twofold. I remembered how much I loved World of Tanks and was also compelled to take advantage of my premium time – as it’s a use it or lose it system. And thus, June has been a non-stop World of Tanks gaming session. From not wanting to play anything, to clocking up more gaming hours than usual and going to bed at 2am.

I’ve always found the “carpe noctem” side of gaming to be quite appealing. I think there is something a little mischievous and transgressive about it. Being awake while the rest of the country is sleeping, watching the progress of the moon against the night sky and – although knowing I’ll suffer for it at work the next (well, same) day – chancing “just one more round”, as I play a meta game of chicken against the clock in the front room. I may need to be up in four hours time – but what the fuck – I’m only 1000xp away from that tier VI tank destroyer I’ve had my eye on.

World of Tanks really is quite an oddity for me. The paid for stuff doesn’t offer value for money as far as I am concerned. It just speeds things up a bit when it comes to progression – It doesn’t affect gameplay at all. This is a great model when it comes to F2P titles, but I actually feel like I owe wargaming (the dev) money. World of Tanks is one of my most played games ever, and it’s cost me basically nothing. I think I may have spent £5 on some gold once for an extra garage slot, which in hindsight I didn’t really need. This makes it one of, if not thee most value for money title I’ve ever played! Possibly a reflection of the capitalist society we live in, but it feels a bit weird to have got so much enjoyment out of something basically for free.

Prior to rediscovering World of Tanks – as I say at the start of this blog post – I found myself a little bored of gaming and was turning to other stuff. A little while back I vowed to spend some time watching all of the gaming to movie crossovers, even though I know most of them aren’t exactly good. Five minutes into Mortal Kombat (one of the better ones, apparently) and I started back-peddling faster than a “Vote Leave” campaigner post EU referendum.

It’s cheesy and crappy, but to the point that those things quickly become the accepted and consistent tone of the movie. They don’t really stand out as bad points. My main issue was that I just couldn’t be bothered to watch it. Without realising it, my mind kept wandering off to other places; I’d find I was looking at the screen, but my mind was elsewhere or I’d ever start playing on my phone. That’s the trouble though – this is a film where you can miss 15 minutes and miss NOTHING. There’s no hint of depth, intrigue, plot twists or outstanding acting. It’s all just really forgettable.

If there were any redeeming…well maybe not redeeming. If there were any note worthy points to the movie they’d be the following. The actresses for Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) are both hot. Scorpion and Sub-zero didn’t seem to lose much of their cool factor during the transition to movie. The Mortal Kombat theme tune is badass, and I noticed that they used an Orbital track in the movie…which shows some good taste was applied. Last but not least, this film isn’t as bad as Street Fighter.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Mortal Kombat, I would say that it’s OK. If anything, I guess you could argue the two dimensional acting simply remains true to the source material.

This Month In Gaming (May 2016)

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Backwards compatibility has always been a bit of an ironic concept to me. Everyone always bemoans consoles that don’t offer it, yet no one ever fucking uses it. That’s certainly been the case for me anyway. Without it, moving to a new console seems like a difficult first step, until later on, when it dawns on me that I’ve never looked back or missed my old games.

This now brings me round to the irony of ironies. After getting to a point where I’d finally realised I don’t use backwards compatibility, Microsoft adds the functionality to Xbox One and, of course, I’ve started using it; well, for one game anyway:

Dark Souls

Although Demon Souls was the first, and there’s been several sequels, Dark Souls seems to be the game people focus on. For many, Finishing Dark Souls is like a gamer rite of passage; a bench mark that separates the men from the boys. It’s also a bloody good game; so with it coming to Xbox One recently, I decided to load up my save and get closer to my goal of completing it.

What always strikes me about Dark Souls is how beautiful it is –  because it really has no place in being so. Dark Souls is a world of the undead, filled with skeletons, demons and ghouls. Its dilapidated fortresses and murky dungeons should really instil a sense of foreboding and horror, but instead come across more as sombre, peaceful and reflective. As you navigate battlements you’ll catch the occasional glimpse of a golden sunset in the background. The stark contrast serves to highlight and enhance these moments, often making me stop to take it in. The resulting affect is much more powerful than it would be in another, happier setting.

Having not played the game for many months, I was surprised by how easy it was to get back into. The nature of the gameplay means that you’re constantly taking baby steps, as you learn by your mistakes. There’s not layers of mechanics or complicated controls to remaster; the main skills are patience and concentration.

The game is as punishing as it is inconsequential. The only real penalty for death is frustration, so you’re free to take on (what seem like) impossible bosses over and over again. This doesn’t make the game feel cheap or easy though, far from it. If anything, there is something slightly sadistic about it. As lives are so abundant, the odds of survival are much less. At times, it feels like every foot of progress has been hard earned and finally defeating one of the many bosses can fill you with pure jubilation. The level of challenge is so high that googling walkthroughs and boss advice doesn’t feel like cheating.

It’s a great game, well deserving of the praise it gets. It can however, get a little heavy going, and I think this is where my other game of the this month came in:

Wolfenstein

I tend to play games at random, playing whatever I’m in the mood for that day. I say at random, but I think in the case of Wolfenstein it was to be a symbiotic relationship with my Dark Souls gaming. Where as Dark Souls seemed to demand a lot of me, Wolfenstein is much more mindless; shoot stuff in the face, then shoot some more stuff in the face.

I have no vested interest in Wolfenstein as a series, so I’ve no idea how well this one fits in. As a fresh faced Wolfenstein player, I can however say that The New Order is a darn (yes, darn) fine shooter. The “shooty bang bang mechanics” are great; really fast, fluid stuff. Even the story isn’t too bad – it basically boils down to “fuck Nazi’s”, but that’s ok becasuse….fuck Nazi’s.

If I do have a gripe, it’s the between mission stuff. You’ve got your little hideout/base area where you’re routinely forced to do sub-mission crap before you can move onto the next round of mindless killing. I guess it’s to add context and build both the story and the charaters, but the relality appears to be a bunch of dull fetch quests. If your idea of fun is searching around the base for lost toys, then great! For everyone else though, these are irksome at best and I personally just “googled” to get them out the way as fast as possible. It’s a minor annoyance really, and I like the idea of the base area, but I just feel they could of implemented in a more interesting way.

At the time of writing this i’ve still not completed the game, and yet I’ve stuck a fair few hours in. For a shooter (these days) this certainly hints at a legthy campaign – which is good news as they didn’t include a multiplayer.

This Month In Gaming (April 2016)

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A slightly surprising month of gaming this one, as I played two games I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy and yet was pleasantly surprised on both occasions.

The first one was Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played a few Final Fantasy games over the years, but wouldn’t consider myself a fan. I don’t mean that in a negative way either, I simply mean I find them to be good games, but not ones that make me jump up and down whenever somebody mentions them.

Somehow – possibly down to the N64 – I kinda missed out on playing Final Fantasy VII back when it was released. Now it’s not like I’ve played all the others – I couldn’t even tell you how many there are – but Final Fantasy VII seems to be the one that people go on about. Final Fantasy VII is the Final Fantasy game. Seeing as nobody is making any fucking games on the Vita these days (and because it was on sale) I decided it was high time I gave this game a try and the handheld seemed like a good fit for it. For some reason I refuse to play retro crap on my home console. I don’t think it demeans the machine or anything – I just have better shit to play when I pick up the controller.

Unless fuelled by dangerous levels of nostalgia, many shitty retro games are….shitty retro games. Actually, I find that statement to be true for quite a lot of old shite. I’ve lost count of the number of “classic” movies I’ve had to endure – but anyway, I digress. As I was going into Final Fantasy VII for the first time, I feared it was going to be little more than an archaic RPG, the likes of which have been superseded many times over since the time of its release. Now this isn’t actually far from the truth – however, the nature of turn-based RPG mechanics mean that time has been fairly forgiving. It’s also a genre where graphical prowess holds limited authority. Where as many ageing games can look bad now in comparison (think Goldeneye), Final Fantasy just looks different. I’ve played modern releases that have opted for similar aesthetics to this as a style choice, rather than limitation – so it’s not really detrimental at all.

The game did start a little slow for me, or at least getting my head round the mechanics did. Things also get a bit choppy at times, with certain characters forced into or out of your party. Once I got to grips with materia though (magic/ability granting stuff), everything started to click and found the whole thing much more enjoyable. At the time of writing this I’ve not actually completed the game, however I’ve certainly gone from struggling through the first ten hours, to blasting through the following forty. Although I think I’ve missed the bus on this one becoming a personal nostalgic great, there are occasional moments where I feel like I can glimpse back in time and see why it is for others.

The other game that I was pleasantly surprised by was Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. I’ve written before about my feelings towards this cash cow franchise, but long story short; used to love it, now I can’t be arsed with it.

It’s probably down to the “used to love it” part that makes me feel that, on some level, I really need to play each one at some point; so that’s what I did with this one, now that it is dirt cheap.

Once I started playing, I was surprised by how seamlessly entertained I was. It’s great, top-drawer stuff, and for all the cynical comments it gets, it’s hard to find fault with it. The familiarity from all the previous Call of Duty sessions just stops if from feeling particularly special, even though it’s one of best produced games on the market. It’s kind of like why I think all these celeb’s get caught cheating on their partners. Despite having Call of Duty at home, they still get caught balls deep in Kane and Lynch 2; because variety is the spice of life.

One thing that does make it stand out is Kevin Spacey, because Kevin Spacey is awesome. Add Kevin Spacey to anything and you’re basically onto a winner. Every time he shows his face in the game a little “Kevin Spacey” alarm triggers in your head, instantly making that situation better than a situation devoid of Kevin Spacey. I can’t think of a better person to put in the game…apart from maybe Kevin Bacon.

Multiplayer has arguably been the bigger focus of Call of Duty since Modern Warfare dropped. Advanced warfare’s double jump may not sound like much on paper, but in practice it has quite a significant impact on the gameplay. Or, to put it another way; it adds chaos. Despite getting my arse kicked as gun totting manics bounced around the levels like bunnies, I actually found I was really enjoying myself. Experience of the maps themselves seemed a little irrelevant with this new ability, leaving it all about fastest finger first as everyone throws themselves headfirst into the fray. In all in all, very good fun.

Skillz To Pay Da Billz

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Polygon recently posted a video that comically showcased how inept they are at playing the new Doom game. It reminded me of one of those times when you reluctantly hand the controller over to one of your non-gamer buddies, and are then forced to sit and watch as they stumble around on-screen like a completely uncoordinated mess. Laugher is generally the only escape from the painful spectacle you’re forced to endure.

Once the giggles subsided on this particular video, many people (including the likes of Notch  “Minecraft” Persson) started calling in to question the competence of the publication as a whole. If these clowns are that bad at playing video games, how can one take their “expert” opinion seriously? That seems rather hyperbolic to me; the idea that one member of their staff demonstrating a – “less that skilful” shall we say?- ability in one game brings the reputation of the entire site up for debate? The reasoning being applied did lead me to think about the question of: Do you actually have to be any good at games to review them?

The simple answer is no. Videogame reviews are subjective in nature and thus can’t be incorrect. This is great news if it’s your chosen line of work as, despite the internet telling you otherwise, your personal feelings towards something can’t be wrong, so anyone of any skill level can do it (hmm…this explains a lot, lolz).

The “opinions can’t be wrong” statement is a bit of a platitude however. In same way that you can go to your really racist uncle for advice on the EU referendum; sure, he can give you his opinion, but that doesn’t mean it will be an informed or educated one. Really, when you seek out advice, you want to try an insure the source of that advice is as impartial, knowledgeable, experienced and unbiased as possible. This is what we’d call “Good Advice”.

In this regard, I do think you should be good at gaming to review games, simply because it should come as a by-product from my definition of what I consider good advice. If you suck at games, I’m going to question how experienced you are. If you’re paid by the publisher, I’m going to question how unbiased you are. Any failings or short comings in what I consider the key components of good advice, and I’m going to place less respect on that point of view. That’s just how life works.

The other important thing to point out is that being bad at something generally causes frustration, which severely impairs your ability to be objective. For example; when my daughter tried out her new bike, she hated it. She struggled with the size, the lack of stabilisers, she couldn’t work the gears and she kept falling off of it. These issues were, according to her, all the bikes fault and it was rubbish; 2/10. Her old bike was much better. Now that she can ride bikes better, she appreciates that gears are really useful, that the suspension makes for comfortable riding and that stabilisers only held her back. Once her skill improved she was able to see the bike for what it actually was, and not just be blinded by her frustration. We, as people, are much quicker to pass the buck than we are to admit our own failings. Because of this, reviewers need to be good enough at something so that lack of skill isn’t an issue and it can be completely removed from the equation.

The flip side to this is that someone who is extremely skilled – a subject matter expert if you like – is probably more likely to get bogged down in the details; details that could leave the average reader more confused than informed. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly of more niche appeal. Due to this, I’d stipulate that although you need to be good at gaming to write a fair review, there is no direct correlation between the two. The better you are at gaming doesn’t equate to the better you are at reviewing; you simply need to be good enough not to trip over your own incompetence.

It’s worth nothing that the onus is on the reader as well as the reviewer. Reviewers may have a duty to try provide good advice, but readers also need to seek out reviews, reviewers and publications that meet their demands. If you’re essentially just reading a review to get talked into buying something you’re interested in, you may need to avoid a deep, hyper-critical review. If you’re looking for a detailed overview of all a games finer points, you may want to avoid short, sharp overviews. Just because something isn’t tailored to your needs, doesn’t automatically make it bad, and if something isn’t what you wanted to hear, it doesn’t automatically make it wrong.

Tron

Videogames, probably due to their tendency to rely on killing stuff as a core mechanic, seem to have a monopoly on shitty, horrifying, or otherwise dystopian settings: the kinda places you’d want to avoid in real life (unless you have a death wish). Some of them even have a surprising dark charm about them. Fallout’s capital wasteland, for example, can be quite a fascinating place – but only within the confines of a video game. If such a place existed on earth, I wouldn’t exactly be contacting Thomas Cook to book my family holiday there.

Despite this, there are a few examples of places within games that I’d love to visit: places I’d jump at the chance of being beamed into the screen and having my digitalised-self materialise into that world. The first place that comes to mind is The Forza Horizon Festival, from Forza Horizon (duh).

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Situated in the sunny Colorado desert, the Forza Horizon festival brings together motor-racing, music festivals and fair ground rides to create the most amazing, non-stop party I’ve ever beheld. By day, thousands of scantily clad party goers can be seen soaking up the sun as they dance, cheer and celebrate: a sense of pure enjoyment hangs not only on their faces, but within the air itself. As day gives way to night, the festival transforms into a spectacle of lasers and lights that can be seen from miles away. From a distance, it’s like a beacon that draws you in!

Horizon festival

As great as Forza Horizon is – and it truly is a marvellous game – whenever I play it, there is always a slight sense of regret that I can’t pull up, get out of my car and join in with the party that is going on around me. I don’t want it to be just a game – I want it to be real! I’ve been to many car shows, but none look as epic as the Forza Horizon Festival.

Next up, and of a similar theme, is The Gold Saucer from Final Fantasy VII.

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Accessible only by cable car, this towering amusement park has been built so high that it’s actually up in the clouds: a marvel in itself. I imagine simply getting there would be a real emotional rollercoaster of fear and excitement, as you ascend higher and higher, leaving the ground far behind you. Once inside, everything about the place just seems so happy and joyous. There’s amusement arcades to play on, live shows and events to watch, chocobo races to bet on and even a spooky themed hotel to stay in.

It looks like the kind of place where you leave all your worries at the door: a little bubble of happiness floating in the clouds. I think it would be a great place for a day-trip, with possibly an over-night stay at the hotel. Any more though, and I fear the non-stop merriment could start to distort, slowly turning into insanity.

Speaking of insanity; the original Bioshock introduced us to Rapture – a 1940’s underwater city/civilisation – in a dystopian state. Inhabited by murderous crazies, the decaying remains of the dilapidated city is more “hell on earth” than “wish you were here”. However, Bioshock Infinte’s “Burial At Sea” DLC offered us a glimpse of a much more inviting rendition of the befallen city:

Rapture_trailer

Prior to it’s fall from grace, Rapture was designed to be an underwater utopia, populated by the worlds greatest minds and free thinkers. Unbound by the laws of the land, science and creativity flourished, filling the city with grand architecture and new wonders; the likes of which have not been seen before.

Set from a first person perspective, the game does allow you to experience a taster of the city, but only from the confines of the linear story arc; you aren’t free to wonder this wondrous metropolis like you could if you were actually there. I imagine the reality of such a place would be simply staggering, leaving you breathless at every turn.

When simply looking out the window is a magnificent experience, and assuming the place is filled with the greatest art, harmonious music and finest food, my only question is if you’d ever want to leave?

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I think eventually – and even with the greatest of distractions – the reality of living in a capsule under the sea would sink in. The urge to run free under the open sky, feeling the fresh air against my naked skin would eventually take over (even though the police have ordered me to stop doing that).

This Month In Gaming (March 2016)

Two games have dominated my free time in March – both of which are re-releases of games I’ve played in the past. The main one being Pokemon Yellow – which I’ve covered HERE – and the other being:

Gears of War Ultimate Edition

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Bro’s of war: The biggest bro-fest of them all. Civilisation is on its knees and it’s up to a team of hulking bro’s – humanities last hope – to save the day via the power of bro. Had this game of been any less bro though, I fear it may have missed the mark. I think it’s the fact that this game is so inescapably and unashamedly bro that makes it work. The time for democracy has passed and a dog eat dog world is all that remains: Luckily, our team of bro’s have both an insatiable appetite and very sharp teeth.

It’s hard to say how great of a remastering has been done, as I remember the original game was a bar setter when it came to graphical prowess. If there was any criticism in the past, it was usually around the lack of colour – as if a viva piñata palette would somehow of benefited the game? Thank fuck those cunts aren’t in game dev though, as the drab, washed-out colours are still perfectly befitting the world they’re trying to present here. The environments do look cleaner and sharper this time around; “fresh” – if you can really refer to a dystopia in such a way?

The gameplay has successfully stood the test of time without issue. It’s as solid as the golem-like characters themselves. Slamming into cover, kicking down doors and chainsawing enemies in half: it all feels as good now as it did then. It’s actually quite refreshing to play something so unapologetically macho as Gears again. Gears knows exactly what it’s trying to be and never fails to deliver. It doesn’t really do anything all that clever or unique – it just does it in such sold and polished way that it feels great.

If I have any niggles, they are minor. AI companions are…AI companions. I know we’re meant to be bro’s, but Dom tends to lean more towards “sack of spuds” than he does “useful team-mate”. His three specialities are 1)getting downed by enemies 2)getting in the fucking way and 3)blocking my line of fire. Down in front, bellend!

That aside, Gears is great and the Ultimate Edition is the Ultimate way to experience it. Well worth the bargain price it can be purchased for – even if it is money for old rope (a remaster).

TEH DRAMAZ

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It’s been an eventful month of gaming drama on social media. The firing of a Nintendo employee, attributed to “GamerGate”. The removal/changing of a characters “sexual” pose. The inclusion of a transsexual character. All stuff that has had the rage machine go into full overdrive.

I’m not going to comment on the specifics (or do them justice), because in some cases I simply don’t know them (no one really does) and in others, I don’t really care: they were complete non-issues. As a casual observer to these arguments, one thing always strikes me as ironic though, and that’s the double standards, hypocrisy and inconstancy in logic.

Years ago, a writer made some unfavourable comments about a female in the industry. They were deemed inappropriate and sexist, and he was let go by the publication he wrote for. This was seem by many as a great success.

Although not actually/even the official reason, it’s been suggested that unfavourable comments made by a Nintendo employee led to her recently being let go. This has been seen as a travesty by the same group?

Personally, I think taking offence at someone’s subjective comments on social media and using those comments to try and get them fired is always wrong. To celebrate this, is to celebrate the act of being a vicious, snide cunt. “Because you don’t like them” doesn’t make it OK.

The next example is even more ironic to me. A user of the steam forums complained about a characters pose. They didn’t think it was a good fit for the characters personality. The developer agreed and decided to change it. This changing of content was seen by many as pandering/censorship/something something ethics/crimes against artistic vision. Ok fine.

Only days later, people were upset about some of the content in Baldurs gate DLC. The way a transsexual character was represented, some lines of dialogue that looked to mock “GamerGate”, etc. There were cries about having this content removed/changed. Erm… pandering/censorship/something something ethics/crimes again artistic vision???

On day one you’re going to moan about “censorship” and how bad it is. Then, on day two, you’re going to cry out and demand some “censorship”? Which is it dude?

Of course, I am guilty here of applying these contradicting stances to largely amorphous groups. I can’t say all of group A said this one thing, then went ahead and contradicted themselves by saying this other thing. It is however, a quite easily observable phenomenon if you spend enough time on social media. One thing that I am sure of is, when it comes to online debates, there doesn’t seem to be any consistent use of logic, only a consistent use of feelings.

The Rise Of A Filthy Casual

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I’ve always been a pretty hardcore gamer. I know that’s a label that gets peoples backs up, but I just see it as a fitting descriptor. Off the back of the amount of time I put into my hobby, I may be guilty of being a little snobbish, but then who isn’t? Heck, I used to look down on youngsters that drank a couple alcopops and started exaggerating about how wasted they were. Mother fucker, I drank 15 stella’s last night and woke up covered in my own faeces; don’t presume to know anything about getting wasted. That doesn’t mean I wield the term around like some badge of honour, or title that grants me access to a special club though: I just think it is calling a spade a spade.

I don’t see hardcore as equalling good and casual as equalling bad. I’m about as likely to boast about being a hardcore gamer as I am about being a hardcore wanker (I’m probably more befitting the title “pro” when it comes to that anyway). It is just a fitting term. To substantiate my point, I’ve come to realise I’m probably now a casual gamer; or at least become a lot more casual in my gaming habits. The amount of time I spent playing and talking about games (in fact, me even writing this blog) kind of makes it hard to truly argue the “casual gamer” label, but I’ve seen a noticeable change in my gaming habits.

I don’t have the time, or maybe it’s the inclination, to invest in deep games any more. I find this quite peculiar, as it’s that depth that used to hold all the value for me. I don’t think it was ever really snobbery as such, but casual games just looked shallow to me. I liked games with complexity and some meat on their bones. I actually found myself getting annoying at what I saw as a trend of “streamlining” games to make them more casual. Mass Effect, to pick one example, went from an RPG to little more than a cover shooter. In fact, those are still very logical standpoints to me, which is how I know this is all about how I’ve changed, and not about how I think games need to.

My most played game these days is Clash of Clans (CoC), on my mobile phone. Even as I read that sentence back to myself, and acknowledge the truth of it, I still struggle to swallow it. It’s like when an alcoholic has to say the words out loud; it may help combat the denial, but you’re still left wondering how you got there. In this case it was a friend that introduced me, and before I knew it, I found myself favouring CoC in the evenings over my console games.

Clash of clans has enough depth to allow for some degree of skill, but not so much that you get bogged down in complicated details. It’s got a good social aspect to it, where you clan up with people and wage war on rivals, which also requires a degree of team work. All this is done in a little and often fashion, where you’re constantly dipping in and out throughout the day. For me, this provides a consistent gaming hit over the course of the day, which may actually be why I don’t feel the need to game every night now. I often compare my gaming habits to that of an addiction, so it actually feeds into the analogy; that a weaker prolonged hit would reduce the need for an more intense one every evening.

Of course it could be argued that “causal” games are now just another string to my bow, on top of all the other gaming I partake in. I do still play those “Hardcore” games – just not as much – so maybe I’ve merely expanded and diversified my gaming. Maybe, rather that dial back, I’ve rounded out my gaming repertoire. Maybe I’m now a hardcore and a casual gamer. Maybe I’m an UBER-GAMER!
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