The State of Play – Taboo Releases

Black Ops 3

Why do I feel dirty and slightly embarrassed about next week’s release of Black Ops 3? The thing is, I’m genuinely more excited about it than Fallout 4 which releases a few days later.

Treyarch’s latest behemoth in the COD franchise is surely going to be weighing down Santa’s sack this Christmas, yet why do I whisper its name in hushed tones to friends and work colleagues as if it’s taboo? I feel like a teenager quietly telling a friend about a porno mag he’s found in a bush.

Certain gamers and video game journalists have become sniffy at the series, many dismissing it as a money making machine and nothing more. Sure, the two most recent offerings of Ghosts and Advanced Warfare were nothing spectacular, but they were still great fun to play online and provided thousands of gamers with hours of head shot goodness. Most buy COD simply for the multiplayer, the campaign comes second. There is nothing wrong with this as multiplayer is where COD has it nailed. It’s become synonymous with online gaming – the image of a player in a darkened room, headset on, shouting obscenities at his TV as he’s blasted with a noob tube from across the map. Indeed, the decision to sell Black Ops 3 on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as multiplayer only was met with mild outrage in the more snobbish corners of the gaming press, but the general gaming community as a whole simply muttered a “meh” and realised it wasn’t a big deal, no fewer copies will be sold. It’s the multiplayer people come for, and Activision know this.

For what it’s worth, Black Ops 3 looks like it’s going to be the best in the series for years, but that’s not the point. The point is that people are having fun in a series that is confident in what it is. Activision don’t want Treyarch reinventing the wheel, they are simply asking them to give the fans what they want.

For me, after a busy year that has seen me play some seriously heavy games; The Witcher, MGS V, Bloodborne etc. I can honestly say that the last thing I want to do right now is dive head first into Fallout 4.

I want something fast, dirty and satisfying. And Black Ops 3 looks just the ticket.


Review – Star Wars Battlefront Beta


Oh dear, the Force isn’t too strong with this one.

The Star Wars Battlefront Beta has been out for two days now and unfortunately it’s failed to blow my Chewbacca patterned socks off.

Let’s start with the positives – this game looks fantastic. From the moment I jumped into the first of the beta’s two game modes – Drop Zone – I was taken aback by the gorgeous graphics, textures and landscape. There were burning X-Wings scattered around along with smoking Tie Fighters and I spent minutes staring above and beyond at the beautifully detailed backgrounds. Couple this with the wonderful music and you honestly feel like you’ve walked into one of the films themselves. It really is a faithful homage to the series.

Then it’s down to business. Drop Zone has you and your team (either Rebels or Imperials) taking control of pods that are dropped around the map whilst fending off your opposite number. Highest number of pods at the end of the round wins. Bing bang bosh, nice and simple.

When you first spot an enemy however, the problems with the gunplay soon become apparent. There is no function to aim down sights in this game. The developer explained that this was due to wanting to make the game as authentic as possible so shooting from the hip is what we have to put up with. It’s an old school mechanic that I don’t like as it feels disconnected, unrealistic and inaccurate. Some of the weapons have sights on so you can zoom in for the kill, however it leaves you feeling exposed and blinkered. The weapons themselves are the biggest problem I found. The blasters are shit. I’m sure there will be plenty of better weapons to unlock on the way but I wish they’d included them in the beta as it’s the biggest turn off for me. It takes a good 5 shots to kill an enemy and the fire rate is horrendous on these things. If you are firing at a sprinting enemy and are zoomed in, forget about it, you ain’t getting a kill. By the time he’s been hit 3 times he will be behind cover where his shield will regenerate within seconds. I found myself using the Cycler Rifle (an unlock-able perk, or “card” weapon) and just waiting for it to become usable again after each shot instead of the blasters. That’s how badly I wanted a normal, decent weapon. The hit detection is also poor and the weapons as a whole feel like they lack “weight”.

The other online mode is Walker Assault where you are freezing your knackers off on Hoth and are either destroying the Rebel scum as Imperials, or stopping the Imperial attack as the Rebels. On first play this mode is quite confusing as to what is going on, especially if you are playing as the Rebels. There’s a lot to do and it relies heavily on teamwork and cohesion, this was absent in the beta as everyone was running around like headless chickens and blasting anything in sight. If you’re lucky enough to be spawned on the the Imperial team then happy days, you can relax as the mode is so unbalanced that you WILL be winning the round.

Walker Assault gives you the opportunity to pilot vehicles though, which is one of the things I was most looking forward to. Yet soon after picking up the Tie Fighter icon on the map to take control, my excitement soon turned to despair. I can’t believe how clunky the vehicles feel to pilot. Forget trying to shoot anything, your main preoccupation is trying to keep the aircraft in the air without it lurching into the ground or nearby mountainside.

Playing as Luke Skywalker or Vader is a cool touch, but the novelty soon wears off after a few matches. Don’t forget that there is no campaign with the full version of the game – this is pretty much it. Of course there are other modes but I can’t help but feel like a well made campaign would have added so much and complimented the package as a whole.

The entire purpose of the developer making the beta available is to gather feedback and make adjustments here and there before next month’s release. Unfortunately, I think the problems with the game are at an extent that it would need quite a large overhaul in order to make it anywhere near the level fans expect it to be. To drop £50 on what is essentially an average shooter with no campaign seems like a bit of a rip-off if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that Treyarch are releasing the latest in their Black Ops juggernaut of a series days before.


Review – Super Meat Boy


“Jump you bastard!”

This phrase has been the soundtrack to my living room for the last couple of days. Yet there is no anger or exasperation felt when shouting it at my TV for the trillionth time. Quite the opposite, it’s joyful and wonderful.

The game causing these outbursts is of course Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy, which has just been released in the Playstation Store. Everything that can be said about this game has already been said, I just thought I’d share a few of my views on this wonderful little game.

I, like many people, remember watching Indie Game: The Movie and becoming infatuated with these two blokes building this seemingly impossible, never-ending project. I wanted to play this mythical game there and then. Being a Playstation owner I missed out back then, my chance has finally come however.

From the retro intro and level select screen you know you’re in for a treat. This game is a labour of love, there’s no other way to say it. Meat Boy’s controls are fluid and precise and coming from a platforming background they felt instinctive. Glorious. A simple two button layout is all that’s needed. Using R1 to dash is a revelation.

The level design is utterly splendid. Every jump, buzz saw and pitfall are accurately placed in order to test your reflexes and cunning. You get into a certain momentum when playing so that when you watch back the end of level replay you feel like a complete beast.

Be prepared to die as you will be dying a lot in this game, but the near instant restart is brilliant in the way it feeds the addiction and doesn’t put you off your rhythm. You’ll be going back to earlier levels in order to ace it fully – to appease the OCD demon inside you – but that adds to the fun.

A catchy soundtrack tops off what is one of the most refreshing gaming experiences I have had in a long time. The game is a masterpiece and deserves its status as a legend of indie gaming.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Review – Mega Man Legacy Collection


It’s the 25th August and that can mean only one thing to gamers around the world, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is exactly 7 days away from launch. Early reports about how exquisite the game is seems to be only ramping up the excitement to near fever pitch. Words such as “masterpiece” and quotes such as “one in a lifetime game” are already starting to be thrown about. We will have to wait and see. A week to be exact.

So what am I to do until then? Luckily, the answer arrived on the Playstation Store today with the release of Mega Man Legacy Collection.

Now I’m going to be honest with you, I have never played Mega Man. It passed me by and was slightly before my time. As a matter of fact I was only 365 days old (approximately) when the first game came out on the NES. The original Mega Man series ran from 1987 – 1993 on the NES, so you’ll excuse my failure to play them.

However, just because I’ve never played them doesn’t mean I don’t understand or appreciate what they have done for gaming, especially in the early years of home consoles.

This Mega Man Legacy collection comprises of the original 6 games released on the NES. They have all been sharpened up and I must say, they look extremely clean and crisp on a modern HD TV. The 8-bit soundtrack sounds great as do the old school sound effects.

The games themselves are old school platforming perfection. For continuity, and my crippling OCD, I am playing the games in order without skipping ahead. So you’ll forgive me for concentrating on the first game as that is what I have played the most.

Mega Man is our hero – clad in a blue suit and helmet and armed (literally) with a blaster. He has three control functions; jump, shoot and turbo shoot. That’s it. Easy, simple – bing bang bosh. The game begins with a nonlinear level select screen where you can pick any of 6 areas to visit; fire, water, ice etc. and each level has an end of level boss. Once you defeat this boss you take ownership of their specialist weapon. This weapon has limited ammo as opposed to your blaster which is infinite and you collect charge for these weapons by killing enemies. The same goes for topping up your shield/health. The levels flow wonderfully, with tight platforming sections interspersed with tricky enemies that swoop and dive from all angles.

If, like me, you have never played Mega Man before and pick it up for the first time, there is one thing that will hit you straight away. The difficulty. Christ on a bike, this game is hard. Like many games from the early days progressing through 2D platformers relied on a mixture of timing, reflexes and the memorisation of enemy patterns and level features. True hardcore gaming. The only way to get good and progress through games of this difficulty is to play them so much that you know them inside out. Indeed, a quick search on YouTube will provide you with videos of utter beasts beating levels in speed runs that can only be attributed to hundreds of hours during the late 80’s/early 90’s playing Mega Man.

My satisfaction after completing the “Cut Man” stage was one of old school joy. It’s this feeling that pumps the adrenaline through your veins and the addictiveness takes hold. After my first half hour my thumb was feeling sore. A nostalgic discomfort I haven’t felt since holding my SNES controller.

There has been a save function added whereupon you can save your game once during play. A welcome addition as apparently the original series had a cryptic password system – a common theme among games back then (one day, when I can bare it, I’ll talk about The Legend of the Mystical Ninja on the SNES and it’s password system –  a process I can imagine being similar to writing an algorithm for Google’s search functions).

A gallery of enemies has also been added for your perusal as well as a soundtrack playlist that allows you to replay your favourite tunes from your favourite levels. This must be a dream come true for hardcore fans.

All in all I am very happy that I purchased this collection and believe it will be the perfect refreshment before getting stuck into MGS V next week.

The whole collection cost me just £11.99 which for the amount of content you get is well worth it. Personally, I’m just glad I finally got to play this great series – albeit 28 years after it started.

But like they say, better late than never.

The State of Play – Bobbing Along

Donkey Kong

I sometimes sit and wonder about how amazing it would be to step into a time machine and head back to the early 90’s with my Playstation 4 and a copy of something like The Witcher 3 or The Last of Us. I’d love to see the wonder and amazement bestowed upon the gamers of that age – their minds would be blown to smithereens. They’d dribble in awe at the sight of Ellie and Joel exploring a deserted village after which they’d be mumbling incoherently at the lush vegetation passing them by as they ride Roach around Skellige, with Geralt’s white hair flapping in the wind.

Graphics and visuals beyond imagination; scale, voice acting and character movements unbelievable beyond words. Yet there would be one mechanic that would bring even them – the stone age of gamer – to despair. Underwater sections. Or more specifically, swimming.

Since the dawn of home gaming, in the adventure genre particularly, the “water stage” has been a staple of level design. Yet whilst every other factor of gaming has evolved for the better since then, swimming hasn’t.

Take The Witcher 3, for example. A game I have played a lot over the last 3 months and a game I consider to be one of the finest releases in years. Geralt can run around the lush lands with perfect agility but once he comes into contact with water he turns into what can only be described as a drunken vagrant that’s fallen into a canal. You watch in dismay as he randomly scrambles around underwater, with the player frantically smashing the X button to loot a chest and feeling like they are controlling an oil tanker. The problem is compounded when attacked by enemies. Poor Geralt is pinged around like he’s in a pinball machine.

Yet it has always been like this since games went 3D. Think back to Tomb Raider. Even now I can recall the wall pounding frustration at seeing Lara’s drowning animation for the tenth time whilst trying to pull a submerged lever. People cite Super Mario 64 as one of the greatest games ever made, but if you play it again (like I have recently) then you will realise that the swimming sections are utterly dire.

Even modern powerhouse developers like Rockstar can’t get it quite right. Swimming in GTA has that common feeling of sluggish clunkiness that other games of its generation have.

Naughty Dog seem to be the only developer who seem to be actively trying to improve the mechanic. The Last of Us underwater sections were fairly smooth and quite enjoyable. They were still far from perfect, but at least Naughty Dog are trying to improve this age old problem. Other developers seem to shoehorn in water levels with little thought or eye for improvement, as if it’s a necessary evil.

I believe that swimming underwater was at its best in 2D side scrollers. Think Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World or even Ecco the Dolphin. These games were much more basic of course, but the tap-tap of a single button to control the forward and vertical movement of a character was a revelation. So simple, yet so effective. Some underwater levels from that 2D era are amongst my favourites. The change to 3D overcomplicated things.

Swimming in games is here to stay, but developers need to actively focus on improving it and making it more fluid or else the whole mechanic is in danger of becoming stagnant.

The State of Play – A Knight to remember

Shovel Knight

I’m currently dismantling various pieces of rubbish, selling items from my ever growing inventory and carefully selecting which sword/armour/gloves I wish to craft. After 20 minutes I’m happy. My girlfriend thinks I should have used the time to clean out the shed.

This is The Witcher 3, one of the finest games of recent times and certainly one of the stand out releases on this generation of consoles so far. It’s a vast, beautiful and awe inspiring title that has generated much acclaim and rightly so. It’s the only game I’ve played in the last month, until this morning.

I was perusing the Playstation Store on the lookout for any new titles that I may have missed when I came across Shovel Knight. I remember hearing great things about this title when it was released in 2014 but somehow missed the announcement that it was available on Playstation 4 (this could be due to CD Projekt RED putting me into a Witcher inspired coma for the last few months). £11.99 would be the price to play Yacht Club Games’ debut offering. And after a few hours, I can honestly say it’s probably the best £11.99 I have ever spent.

For those who do not know who or what Shovel Knight is then I shall do me best to sum it up in a sentence: It’s a 2D side scrolling retro platformer done in an 8-bit style where you play as a knight with a shovel for a main weapon.

Since the emergence of the Indie Game market there have been a lot of retro-styled throwback titles in recent years. Some more successful than others. I think that a lot of the titles released come down to the player relating and connecting with what they are playing to what they were playing all those decades ago.

That is why I believe Shovel Knight is such a success. Its gorgeous level design, gameplay, story and soundtrack not only remind me of the obvious classic games it pays homage to, it also encapsulates a whole generation of gaming from my childhood. Shovel Knight himself is Arthur from Super Ghouls and Ghosts reincarnated, and the first stage where you can see a castle in the back ground reminded me of a similar sight towards the end of Streets of Rage 2. Everything feels comfortably familiar, from the perfect control system to the classic hit detection “flash” when you strike a boss. You have all the mod cons of recent gaming such as auto saving without it ever losing its authentic feel. This game could have been released 25 years ago and it would have been a triumph then as it is is now.

The difficulty is perfect and the boss battles are wonderfully challenging. I was cursing at the TV after timing a jump wrong over and over but all with a smile on my face, purely for the reason that the frustration was part of the fun! I welcomed it like a long lost friend.

It’s just the perfect game to play after endless hours grinding away with Geralt of Rivia or any other mammoth gaming project one has on the go. If I were to use a food analogy (my favourite) then The Witcher would be an exquisite 3 course meal consisting of foie gras, followed by venison with a red wine jus and finishing with a lemon syllabub. An experience to take your time over and savour. Shovel Knight on the other hand would be a delicious gastro pub-style burger with beer battered onion rings, accompanied by an early 90’s soundtrack playing through your brand new iPhone.

So I had best go clean the shed out now, if I value my life, but when I come back in there will be one game I’ll be itching to play. And it involves a little blue knight with a shovel.

The State of Play – Do we still care about The Last Guardian?

The Last Guardian

E3 is just around the corner and this year’s show looks set to be a return to the glory days.

Gaming journalists and fans alike are working themselves into a giddy frenzy at some of the titles set to be shown this year; Fallout 4, No Man’s Sky and Doom are just a handful of the heavyweight titles tipped to be on display. But there is one title that pricked the ears of even the most sedate of gamers. If you listened hard enough you could just about hear the hushed whispers circling the Internet. Making sure not be be too loud, so as to not scare off this mythical title. Thousands of gamers the world over rubbed there eyes in disbelief and asked themselves, “The Last Guardian is to be shown at E3?”.

The story first appeared in an article on The Guardian’s website (the British newspaper – no relation to the game) this week. The short, sparse paragraph gave no solid evidence whatsoever as to the title’s re-emergence, it could have just been popped in to fill a few column inches. It doesn’t matter though, as gamers worldwide are talking about Team Ico’s title again. It got me thinking though, “Why do we care so much?’.

After reportedly being in development since 2007, the first time we saw the game was 2009. As expected from the people who brought us Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the hype was real. Fumito Ueda had pulled up a throne alongside Hideo Kojima as Japanese game designer royalty. Gamers were chomping at the bit to get their sweaty mits on this Playstation 3 exclusive. Then, quite suddenly, everything went quiet.

As the years rolled by release dates came and went, as did key staff members associated with the project. Like Kojima, there were tales of mutiny and ridiculously lengthy delays due to “perfectionism” associated with the project.

Even though the premise of the game is beautifully original – a young boy and his huge feathered dog like creature completing puzzles – due to the game’s delay and what has happened in the proceeding years, it doesn’t feel as special as it once was.

In the 8 years it’s been in development (8 years!) we have seen some of the greatest games in a generation come and go; Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, The Last of Us, Super Mario Galaxy and Bloodborne to name just a few. Not forgetting the emergence of indie game developers and titles such as; Journey, Braid, Limbo and Fez.

You can see the challenge facing Team Ico. The video game landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. What was once an original, intriguing title is in danger of becoming an overhyped throwback to a bygone generation. Don’t get me wrong, if The Last Guardian was to ever see the light of day I highly doubt it would be keeping company with Duke Nukem Forever as one of the most overhyped dog turds of all time. But I also doubt we will be talking about it in the same excited tones as we were back in the “noughties”.

Some would say that sometimes it’s better to just cut your losses, accept that the game had promise and move on. Others would say that it is a labour of love and the game must see the light of day, a reward to all the fans who have waited patiently for its release year after year.

It’s all speculation of course. The only reason we are talking about this game again is because of a vague reference in an article on the Internet somewhere.

Yet there is a part of me deep down that would love to see Team Ico and Ueda swagger out at E3 and show us that actually, good things do come to those who wait.