The State of Play – No Man’s Sky

NMS 2

In a month’s time Playstation 4 owners will be able to get their sweaty summer mitts on one of the most hyped games of this generation, Hello Games’ – “No Man’s Sky”. The excitement within the gaming community is palpable, but I’m wary.

“18 quintillion planets” are theoretically possible for you to visit according to the most recent trailer. I say theoretically, as somebody did the maths and it turned out it would take you billions of years to explore every single one of them. You may have gone slightly overboard there lads, 2 quintillion would have sufficed.

Since its first appearance, Hello Games have bamboozled gamers with incomprehensible facts and figures about the size of the explorable universe within No Man’s Sky. It gets to the point though where the eyes begin to glaze over as it all starts to become a little meaningless.

Gamers always want bigger and better worlds to explore, I think it’s a natural progression as we have journeyed through each generation of console. Yet it can get to the point where worlds are too big and too empty as to be interesting. This is the core of the problem with No Man’s Sky, I believe.

If there is nothing to fill the world then why does it need to be that big? Take Red Dead Redemption, for example. The game world is vast, and yet it is filled with amazing characters and details that you often stumble upon sometimes entirely by accident. The Witcher 3 is another prime example. These are massive worlds but filled to the brim with interesting NPC’s and quests.

It seems that there is none of that quality and gameplay in No Man’s Sky. Apparently there is little to no story and our aim is to explore, mine materials and catalogue what we find. There is little to no interaction between characters – as I don’t believe there are any. Have your socks been blown off yet?

And I swear that if I hear the term “procedurally generated” one more time then I’m going to put my head through my PS4 and send Sean Murray the bill. Most of No Man’s Sky *sigh* is generated procedurally; the planets, the life forms, the sound effects, the terrain etc. But how long is it going to be remain interesting to land on yet another planet which is slightly hillier than the last one and a slightly different shade of red? Or to see a tree with square branches rather than round? Or to “scan” and catalogue an animal with two dicks rather than one? You get the idea.

NMS 1

The very best worlds in video games are meticulously thought out and filled to the brim with lore and legend, with characters that ooze story and dripping with gorgeous dialogue that has been painstakingly crafted by a writer or writing team over countless hours.

We will be getting none of this with No Man’s Sky. Yet maybe that’s the point. Maybe the handful of people who have worked on this intend for the universe to be sparse – much like our own.

I really want to be wrong, I honestly do. I pray to the gaming Gods that in a few weeks I’ll be eating humble pie because I respect Hello Games and admire their ambition. But unfortunately, I have a feeling that the resounding lesson that Hello Games will take from No Man’s Sky is that sometimes, less is more.

 

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Top 5 Video Games of 2015

Well here we are, 2015 is about to come to a close and with it we wave goodbye to what has been a fantastic year for gamers. I’ve played many games on my trusty Playstation 4 over the course of the last 365 days and I have decided to whittle them down to the 5 best and bang them into a lovely little list. Here we go.

5 – COD Black Ops 3

Black Ops 3

The Call of Duty juggernaut is renowned for being the reliable King of online first-person shooters, but this year’s instalment from Treyarch takes things to a whole new level. It is honestly one of the most addictive games I’ve played in years.

Intense battles that flow gracefully through well mapped-out levels and the addition of new “specialist” characters ensure that the game has it’s own distinctive feel. Wall running and underwater sections can at first seem strange, but soon become more fluid and pivotal to your playing style.

The campaign is decent – it’s not going to last long in the memory – but it’s not the campaign thousands of fans buy this game for. It’s the sublime, aforementioned, multiplayer.

Top it off with the return of the excellent “Zombies” mode and you have the best Call of Duty in years.

4 – Limbo

Limbo

I used to cast envious scowls at Xbox users when they would harp on about Xbox “exclusives” such as Super Meat Boy and Limbo. However, this year my patience was rewarded with the release of both these titles on Playstation 4. Super Meat Boy is fantastic in its own right, but it’s Limbo that made me realise that I can still be stunned by such an original idea even after all these years.

Limbo is a visually arresting piece of work. The blacks and greys that blanket the screen give you a deep sense of dread and foreboding. The story is deliberately ambiguous, a point that annoyed some critics upon its release. For me however, there were just enough scraps of suggestion here and there for me to fill in the gaps and hypothesise as to what I believe was going on. It feels like a nightmare that you are trying to recall in fleeting moments.

The puzzles are some of the most ingenious I have ever played, with the physics system as perfect as you could possibly dream. Blocks slide and glide along levels as you push buttons and pull pulleys to get them to where you want. It’s wonderfully, head-smashing-against-the-TV frustratingly superb.

The game ends as abruptly as it started, 6 hours later. I felt a pang of sadness at it being over. Limbo is one of the finest, most hauntingly original games I’ve ever played and I’m sure it will stay with me for years to come.

3 – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Geralt.jpg

Nothing much more needs to be said about CD Projekt RED’s release earlier this year that hasn’t already been said. It is, without doubt, a masterpiece.

It is an absorbing, detailed, beautifully stunning RPG that can consider itself as one of the best ever made. It is arguably one of the standout games of this generation of consoles.

The Polish studio have created such a detailed world that it beggars belief. The story intertwines with local myths and legends whilst characters involve you in normal, human problems as you go about your quest and there are laugh out loud moments interspersed with fast moving, brutal combat that flows beautifully with every sword stroke.

The release of Fallout 4 has only cemented what a great piece of work this is. Fallout 4 looks bland and it’s world empty compared to The Witcher.

The game is so vast that even after days upon days of cumulative play, I didn’t even fully finish it.

CD Projekt RED are now focussing on their next title – Cyberpunk 2077. A futuristic RPG set in the future. The Witcher crossed with Blade Runner anyone?

I’m so excited I could cry.

2 – Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight

I play a lot of retro games. My SNES is played as much now as it was over 22 years ago when I first unwrapped it one Christmas morning. The games of that era sparked a life long passion for the medium that is evident as I type!

I think that’s why I love Shovel Knight so much.

Yacht Club Games’ release took me back to my childhood in an instant as wave upon wave of nostalgia slapped me across the face like a 90’s dance track.

Platforming rules and patterns that had been burned into my subconscious through hours upon hours of gaming in the early 90’s suddenly burst back into my mind like they had never been away.

I wrote an entire article on Shovel Knight which you can go check out for a more in-depth look at the game. I don’t need to say much more, other than not only is Shovel Knight one of the best indie releases in recent years, it is also one of the best platform games ever made in the history of video games.

1 – Bloodborne

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Without doubt the best game I have played all year (and quite possibly working its way into my top games of all time) is Bloodborne.

The gothic, blood soaked action/survival horror/RPG nightmare from Hidetaka Miyazaki is an original masterpiece that has to be played to be believed.

Very little explanation is given to what is going on with regards story – I know about as much now as I did when I first started playing many months ago – but it’s deliberate and refreshing so that the gameplay can take centre stage and the story can be patched together as you go along.

The city of Yharnam that you wander around is a gothic nightmare; dark cobbled streets, towering cathedrals and looming gargoyles cast their menacing gaze from above. A varied army of enemies patrol the city and wait to be dispensed in a shower of blood by you and your arsenal of weaponry. Combat is satisfying and fluid, the action intense and controlled.

It is also a brutally difficult game, the casual gamer might not be able to hack the challenge. But for those who dare take it on, they will be rewarded with a gaming experience like no other. It is absolutely fantastic.

So there we go, my top 5 games of 2015. Do you agree or disagree? What did I miss? Let me know below. Cheers

 

 

 

Review – Star Wars Battlefront Beta

star_wars_battlefront.0

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.

Disappointing.

Review – Mega Man Legacy Collection

MegaMan

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 – 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 their 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.

The State of Play – Are games challenging enough?

“You Died”

I found myself maniacally laughing and speaking in tongues at seeing these two words for at least the thirtieth time in 3 hours. Yet the frustration was reassuringly nostalgic.

I’d first seen the blood red text appear on my screen 20 years prior when playing Resident Evil for the first time on the Playstation. Now, in 2015, I was seeing the same two words again – but this time on the console’s fourth generation, and in the form of Bloodborne.

Playing From Software’s fantastic new release got me thinking about another thing these two games had in common despite the age gap of two decades – the difficulty.

Bloodborne has garnered much praise from critics due to its unflinching difficulty and deservedly so, but is this game overly testing or have we – as modern gamers – become scared of a challenge?

It immediately becomes apparent that From Software have been very economical when it comes to checkpoints, they are audaciously few and far between. The humble checkpoint has become such a crutch in recent years that we take them for granted. Most releases these days find them staggered in what sometimes feels like 30 second intervals. In Bloodborne, the feeling of finally reaching one after fighting through hordes of beasties, half dead and low on items, is one of exhilaration. The sweet satisfaction of reaching a save point where you can fully restock and replenish your health and items make it all worth while. A glorious feeling.

Back in Capcom’s survival horror masterpiece, and the feeling was quite similar. There was nothing quite like the dawning realisation that you have no health replenishing herbs left, 4 rounds of ammo in your handgun and in order to get to the typewriter to save your game you must first get through a corridor of the undead. Couple this feeling with the stomach churning dread of knowing that you last saved two hours ago, and you begin to appreciate the enormity of the situation.

I’ve lost track at the number of games from back in the day that I have put to one side for months on end after dying and losing hours of progress.

The interesting thing is that early in my gaming career I didn’t really know any better. Sure, Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past had a superb save feature, as did Super Metroid, but other titles on the other hand had nothing at all. Not even a password to level select.

I remember Jurassic Park on the SNES. It was a decent game; great graphics, sound and design. The object of the game was to collect eggs and do something with them. I never knew what as I never made it that far. There was no save function or password system. Every time you played the game you had to start from the beginning. Every time.

To this day I can still play the first three levels of Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts in my head as if I was playing it on a SNES. I shit you not. I’ve played that game, and more specifically the first few levels, hundreds of times in my life. It’s easily one of the hardest games I’ve ever played and also one of the best. Any game where you get to the end of it only to find out you have to play through it ALL AGAIN immediately in order to fully complete it is a true sadistic masterpiece. I must be a sucker for Capcom games.

The feeling of completing a game such as Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is unparalleled in my experience of gaming. A true test of timing, reactions, level memorisation and patience. The same feeling with Resident Evil. There were many points where you would temporarily give up, but the frustration in it’s difficulty would ensure you’d always be back.

Recent games I’ve played have none of this. GTA V for example was a stunning game. Great fun and an enjoyable experience. But was it a challenge? Not for me. Not in the slightest. It seemed to be scared to challenge the player too much.

It’s as if developers these days are playing it safe, they don’t want to lose players who can’t hack a challenge.

That is why Bloodborne is such a breath of fresh air. It has everything the modern gamer wants in a game; gorgeous graphics, fast paced action and lots of blood and guts.

Yet it also has what the modern gamer so desperately needs in a game – a challenge.