State of Play


gamingWell it’s obvious we live in a really amazing time for video games.. i’m in the fortunate position to own three games consoles; the Xbox One X , PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch … and even though I’m not a PS4 player these days (I mostly use it for Netflix on YouTube), I find plenty to turn to via my Xbox and Switch.  The games I’ve been playing lately including still diving in and out of The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (clocked over 200hrs on that masterpiece so far) as well as persevering with Pokémon Let’s Go and to a smaller extent Super Smash Bros Ultimate.  As far as newer games are concerned I’ve been playing Metro Exodus after recently completing Metro Last Light (highly recommended), Exodus has some of the best graphics I’ve seen for a while on Xbox One X which really shows off the system in its full 4K glory, and is a solid survival shooter that has strong echoes of the legendary Half Life 2 due to a focus on story and characterisation as well as polished gameplay.

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve also recently started playing Devil May Cry 5, the latest entry in a series I’ve always been fond of even though I’ve only really ever played the first game … but I did play the seriously misunderstood spin-off DMC Devil May Cry a while back on the Xbox 360 which I consider an underrated gem.  I’m also still occasionally dipping into Red Dead Redemption 2 which whilst a very good game and real showcase for the Xbox One X, fails to fully hold my interest as much as other games can do.  I’m not entirely sure why this is because it’s really well done and they’ve re-created the Wild West superbly, but I think it’s that open-world freedom which, with exceptions, I find turned off by. In most regards when it comes to games I much prefer a straightforward linear narrative with occasional side quests and secrets thrown in, if a game has any chance of holding my interest.

I think regardless of what system you prefer, what games you play there is something for everyone available at the moment. It’s to the point that sometimes there’s a too much choice and it’s more a case of a lack of time or lack of money preventing me from playing some of these titles … but if I choose wisely I can stumble upon some real gems and get some great experiences in this hobby I enjoy almost as much as movies.

Craig.

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Gaming in 2018


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This was the year that I embraced the Nintendo Switch further and also upgraded my Xbox One to the Xbox One X.  It’s also been fairly packed as far as actual games are concerned, and although I haven’t finished that many games, I have experienced a rather wide variety of gaming than I have for a while.

HellbladeI dipped my toe into the narrative-lead genre with Life Is Strange and enjoyed following a story primarily rather than shooting or hitting things.  It was refreshing.  The award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice took a similar narrative focus but also brought with it intelligent examinations of mental illness mixed with nors mythology.  Both are games I intend to go back to and finish at some stage.

Finishing (at least as far as their stories are concerned) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Dishonoured 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider this year were also some of my fondest gaming memories in the last twelve months, and especially Zelda being now one of the best games I’ve ever played.  It feels a good time to be a gamer.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Sony’s PlayStation 4 I confess has taken a significant back seat this year with even titles like God of War not really holding my interest.  I think it’s just the fact it’s the most talked about and most popular games consoles on the market that leaves me cold and I often find myself shunning that which is treated as such and well, who doesn’t like to back the under-dog?  So yes, Xbox has got far more of my attention and although I’ve only slightly dipped my toe into the consoles admittedly lacking exclusives (Sea of Thieves seemed cool at first ‘till I realised it had nothing to offer the single player, and Xbox One XForza Horizon 4 is superb but racing games don’t hold my interest.  However I did really like State of Decay 2 and should get back into it at some stage).  Yet I admit it hasn’t been a great year for Xbox despite their Gamepass service being terrific and a great way to play lots of different games I may otherwise pass up.  I have my hopes for 2019, but Crackdown 3 or possibly the next Halo isn’t going to win them a console war they’ve already lost.  Roll on next gen I say.

Recently I’ve been getting into Pokémon.  In the run up to Nintendo Switch exclusive Pokémon Let’s Go, I’ve been playing the mobile game Pokémon Go.  I really like the concept and can see it being a new thing for me and am really enjoying the Switch game since having it for Christmas.  In addition to this I’ve been playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate (I’m a complete novice to the series but am certainly impressed with what this version offers as far as modes and gameplay not to mention the graphical detail on show).  Also I’ve been playing the much hyped Red Dead Redemption 2 which is THE showcase for the Xbox One X, with native 4K resolution and the most detailed and impressive gaming world I have ever experienced.

Pokemon Let's Go

There’s been a fair few games I’ve had to leave on the back burner, and whether or  not I return to them I can’t say but games such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Assassin’s Creed Origins are two I hope to dip back into as I was enjoying them a great deal but with so many gaming distractions throughout the year, it’s easy to get side tracked.

So there you have it, my thoughts on gaming for me in 2018.  I’m excited for what 2019 will have to offer and am sure I’ll get to play many more great games.  For now I’ve got my work cut out with the games I have got.

E3 thoughts


e3-2018

I had mixed feeling in the run up to this year’s E3 conference … the biggest event on the gaming calendar, where the big companies, publishers etc. showcase their plans for the coming year and beyond, often revealing games and services for the very first time.  It’s always very exciting, but with the recent slight fall from grace Microsoft and it’s Xbox brand had experienced with a drought of AAA exclusive games compared to it’s immediate rivals, Sony and Nintendo – I was also concerned.  So below I’ll go through my brief thoughts on the various conferences shown followed by a few highlights.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot to prove.  The army of Sony fan-boys loved sticking it to the American giants that the platform was lacking the big name exclusive games compared to their beloved PlayStation, and I can certainly understand where they are coming from.  Where’s Xbox’s God of War?  So watching the near 2 hour conference was nerve-wracking … but, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer came out swinging, with an immediate reveal of Halo Infinite (just a CGI trailer sadly) and then went on to present a very confident presentation showcasing many games and several exclusives, including the likes of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 4 and  Gears of War 5.  However the big news was the acquisition of 5 game studios that will now be working on first party games for the Xbox platform … the big surprise being the purchase of Bafta award winning studio Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senora’s Sacrifice).  Microsoft shot down the nay-sayers that would presume Xbox isn’t interested in exclusives anymore and set in motion a future that well really, should have been set in motion years ago – but at least now that future is more promising that it had seemed before E3.

Crackdown 3

Outside of exclusives, some games that will be appearing elsewhere also, were shown for the first time including Devil May Cry 5, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Cyberpunk 2077.

I would have liked to have seen a Fable announcement or the rumoured Perfect Dark game, but that elusive, big name exclusive title that would wow me and surprise me, was sadly absent.  Microsoft did a lot right here to build confidence in their brand and to pave an exciting future ahead, along with a brief mention of new Xbox hardware on the horizon … but in the present, they still for me didn’t do enough to sway those not already invested in Xbox.

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros UltimateWith Nintendo riding high on the success of the Switch, and it being my preferred platform of choice for the best part of the last twelve months, I had high-hopes for their presentation.  Much more low-key it turned out than Microsoft, with no on-stage conference just a 45 minute Nintendo Direct.  Games like Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Super Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate were revealed for the first time along with several indie titles and more footage of previously announced games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  However an absence of Mario Tennis was odd and especially disappointing was no mention of Metroid Prime 4.  The follow-up Nintendo Tree House event showcased Smash as well as an in-depth look at the forthcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games … but my overall impression was that Nintendo really didn’t pull anything out of the bag this year, perhaps a little too confidence with the Switch’s continued success.

I’ll certainly be getting my hands on Smash Bros as it looked a ton of fun and Pokémon interested me a lot more than I expected.

Sony

Sony went for a rather unconventional approach to their conference, hosted in a tent for starters and focusing on previously announced games rather than any new reveals (for the most part).  It was not what I expected from Sony, who are currently the industry leaders by a large margin but I guess they can relax and show they don’t really have anything to prove anymore.  So yeah if they want a banjo player on stage, then I guess they can have that.

Ghosts of Tsushima

So we got to see a lot more of The Last of Us: Part II, Death Stranding and the first full details of Ghost of Tsushima and Spider-Man.  Flute players, banjo players and a running commentary …different, but what’s E3 without a few bizarre moments?  I am excited for The Last of Us definitely, it looked incredible as did Ghost of Tsushima.  I was however surprised to see a Remedy game showcased, namely ‘Control’ but it’s a multi-platform title so they hadn’t jumped ship to Sony after mostly working with Microsoft for years.  Several games for PlayStationVR were also announced even if VR doesn’t interest me.  The big surprise for me was a remake of Resident Evil 2, arguably my favourite Resident Evil game of all time.  Not exclusive to PlayStation but an exciting announcement all the same.

The overall feeling I got from the Sony conference was that PlayStation were sitting very confident in their line up of games, not really showcasing anything ground-breaking for the future, but that’s probably something to do with the persistent PlayStation 5 rumours.  It’s clear to me Sony have some very good studios in their pocket and they’ll continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

The other conferences etc.

I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the other conferences other than checking out highlights from EA, Ubisoft and Bethesda, all of which showcased some exciting stuff including Rage 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the impressive looking The Division 2.  As with all games shown, taking what we’re seeing as actually what we’ll finally get should include a hefty pinch of salt but damn… were there some stunning looking titles showcased this year.  The future looks healthy for all 3 major platforms and the games industry as a whole is making leaps and bounds in technology and innovation to bring us, the gamers so much for the coming years.

Switch anniversary and the year ahead


Hi everyone.  I’ve not posted like this in a while.  Life’s been pretty busy start of the year despite me managing to cram in rather a lot of movies to review.  Also there seems to be some good stuff on the horizon for me, and thought I’d give it a little write-up.

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First it would be remiss of me not to mention that today marks the first year anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, a console I have fallen in love with and over the past twelve months has given me so much fun and enjoyment.  Highlights of course include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but along with this smaller titles like Rayman Legends and Steam World Dig 2 have also been a lot of fun.  The portability, versatility of this system can not go un-mentioned either and it’s a unique joy to play it in bed, sitting in my living room or in front of my bedroom TV on a larger screen.  Having the best of both worlds.  In the process, the Xbox One and PS4 have fallen by the way-side and not the Switch is my go-to console of choice and with games on the horizon like Donkey King Country Tropical Freeze and Yoshi, I can see it staying that way for the foreseeable future.

IMG_0286I’m of course also looking forward to seeing Garbage again in concert in September.  It will mark the 3rd time I have seen my favourite band live and well, I’m still pinching myself that I actually got to meet them as well back in 2016.  This tour will mark the 20 year anniversary of their second album ‘Version 2.0’ and as it’s my favourite album of theirs where I went from liking the band to being a real fan, this concert where they’ll play every track and every b-side released at the time … fills me with excitement.  I’ll be meeting up with a few like-minded friends when I am there so it should be a great experience for me again.  Incidentally, lead singer Shirley Manson was recently honoured by UK publication NME with their first ‘icon’ award which was presented to the Scottish singer at their annual NME awards in London.  As a long time fan this was a very proud moment for me.  I have said it before and I’ll keep saying it .. Garbage don’t get the recognition they deserve and it’s awards like this that feel even more special simply for that fact.  Well done Shirley!  Currently they are working on album #7 with a hope of a release in 2019.

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In other news, I’m currently watching several TV shows, including new seasons of Homeland, X-Files, The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot, the latter I consider one of the best shows available right now.  Speaking of TV shows, I was pleased to see a brief return of one of my favourite cult shows over Christmas, namely The League of Gentlemen, which was only three episodes but it was bliss.  The creators, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton then followed this up by announcing a tour, of which I rushed to secure tickets.  Strangely enough it’s scheduled for two days after I see Garbage.  What a weekend that will be!  Their brand of humour is rather dark, character-driven comedy that is probably an acquired taste, but I love it.


As far as this blog is concerned, I want to vary the content a little and might do special posts of certain subjects, like favourite actors, movie genres etc and more stuff on video games and music.  I’m unsure what form that will take as I want to make it as interesting as possible, but I continue to love writing this blog and it keeps my love of writing alive.  Hope you all manage to get something from it too.

Until next time.

Craig.

My 2017 – a look back (part two)


As I learnt writing the last look-back, 2017 has been a pretty packed year as far as entertainment is concerned, and there’s been plenty of highlights over the months.  So continuing this little bit of nostalgia, I thought I’d give a portion of this to my music highlights of the year, of which there have been many.

In the summer, Garbage made a return to the stage going on the road with the iconic Blondie for their co-headlining ‘Rage and Rapture’ tour which over 20+ dates travelled the United States and from what I hear was a roaring success.  During the tour Garbage released a stand alone single, the politically charged ‘No Horses’ accompanied by a powerful, hard-hitting video (see below).  It was another belter of a track from my favourite band, but wasn’t the only highlight of the year for me…

PVRISIndie electro-rock band PVRIS returned with their second album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’, and it was a step up from their impressive debut and cemented them as a new, unique voice in my music landscape.  Add to this British four piece Wolf Alice also delivered their second album ‘Visions Of Life’, and like PVRIS it was an improvement over their debut and a haunting, artistic experience full of emotion and effective songs that has made them one of my favourites.  A couple of more veteran artist also released new material and although I don’t listen to everything out there, I am glad to have discovered Paramour with their fun, energetic album ‘After Laughter’ proving worthwhile.  I was also happy to see the return of possible my favourite female solo artist Kelly Clarkson and her latest release ‘Meaning of Life’ really impressed and proved this singer still had it after her previous, otherwise forgettable ‘Piece by Piece’ album.

Well back to the movies and such…

July to December

As the blockbuster season continued, I didn’t get around to all the big hitters but was pleased to see the latest of one of the best franchises around right now, War For The Planet Of The Apes which again proved powerful and exciting with stunning effects.  Less engrossing but still fun was the rather hypoed but run-of-the-mill Baby Driver.  Adding to the disappointment was the surprisingly un-engaging Christopher Nolan WWII drama Dunkirk which for a war movie directed by one of the best around, proved strangely boring and lacking in character or spectacle.  It sure was ‘pretty’ though.

war-planet-apes

Get Out was a rather unsettling thriller and an interesting take on the racial tension subject, and hyped book adaptation Girl On The Train was an enthralling mystery with a great central performance from Emily Blunt.  One of my favourite directors, Park-chan Wook returned with The Handmaiden, an erotic period movie that although a tad drawn out was an engrossing love-triangle thriller.  Mark Wahlberg’s based on true events thriller Patriots Day was also powerful and gripping, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi thriller Life was particularly effective and scarily-relevant.  August finished up with one of my personal horror highlights of the year, the far better than it should have been sequel Annabelle Creation.

Twin Peaks

Around this time I also watched the highly anticipated and very long awaited new season of Twin Peaks.  This was probably one of my most perplexing, strangely gratifying and definitely unique experiences of the year.  David Lynch’s magnificently bizarre and utterly surreal 18 episode ‘TV event’ is still something I am trying to piece together in my head even months after finishing it.  I had the box set for Christmas so may well be diving back in.  That ending though….yeesh.

French cannibal horror / coming of age drama Raw  proved effective if disturbing and distasteful but has certainly stuck in my head.  However, the latest entry in a once beloved saga, Alien Covenant was very underwhelming, having more in common with the tiresome Prometheus than the Alien movies.  Then I stumbled upon Netflix movie Gerald’s Game, a surprising, engrossing and creepy-as-hell Stephen King Adaptation.

I finished (at least the story) of the highly acclaimed and heavily hyped The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and as if testament to just how much fun and appealing that game was and still is to me, I still find myself going back to finish every shrine, find every weapon and do at least the majority of side-quests.  I even recently purchased the season pass.  Yeah I can’t get enough of this game.

Super Mario Odyssey CappyThe highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049 disappointed, with a plodding pace, forgettable visuals and was only marginally saved by a good turn from Harrison Ford.  However all was not lost as November rolled around and the much anticipated Super Mario Odyssey was finally released … and proved to be everything I had hoped it would be.  Add to this I finally got my hands on the highly acclaimed Japanese animation Your Name which proved to be a decidedly clever and thought-provoking body-swap drama.

So we come to December and particular stand-outs were Despicable Me 3 and the otherwise maligned Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Bigger name movies like Spider-Man Homecoming and even Star Wars The Last Jedi didn’t fair as well for me but still had their moments.  With Christmas upon us again, I always enjoy writing these look backs and considering the movies that will eventually make up my Top Ten.  I’ll have that particular post out on New Years Eve, so please drop by then and check it out.

I also managed to get my hands on a new phone.  Previously and for about 3 years I’ve had the Samsung S6.  However now I have the recently released iPhone 8, which I’m loving so far and along with my iPad, that’s me all Apple’d-up going into the year ahead.

So there we have it.  That was my 2017 in two big entertainment nutshells.

Roll on 2018.

Craig.