Next gen begins here.


I’ve pre-ordered a PlayStation 5. Yeah, as someone who primarily plays on Xbox, that kind of surprises me too, but stay with me here. I have every intention of getting an Xbox Series X at some stage, but my existing Xbox One X isn’t that old and with nothing that essential coming to the Series X at launch (that isn’t also coming to Xbox One) I did feel there was little reason to upgrade just yet. Over on the PlayStation, Sony seem to have delivered a bit more next-gen excitement this time and games like Spider-Man Miles Moralis , Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart and Demon’s Souls look great and show off what is possible with these machines (ray tracing, super-fast loading) … and when put simply, my PS4 is getting rather old and sounds like a jet engine when in use. I am looking forward to playing PS4 titles like The Last of Us Part II on it with faster loading and more stable frame rates.

I’m under no illusion that next-gen isn’t going to entirely knock my socks off this side off Christmas or well into next year but I wanted an upgrade to my PS4 and also enjoy keeping up with technology developments. Entering a new generation is always exciting and boarding that ship is something I love doing. Also technology gimmicks like the haptic feedback on the new PS5 ‘dual-sense’ controller will be fun to explore, even if in the long/run it’s a feature that will get used less and less (I’m guessing).

There’s still some element of the unknown here, how games will perform and what features they’ll have (and not have), and how third party games will compare between PlayStation and Xbox. Xbox has a lot of promise still, what with all the new studios they’ve acquired and the consumer-friendly services they’re offering. I just don’t feel we’ve really seen much games-wise to truly excite (Halo Infinite’s delay went along with aiding my decision to hold off on Microsoft’s console right now). Either way us gamers have much to look forward to in the coming years and the rivalry between the big console names will deliver some great games as a result I’m sure. For now though PlayStation 5 will be my starting point.

Roll on November 19th.

Let’s talk about: The Last Of Us Part II


Never in the history of at least my gaming life have I experienced such backlash and a dividing of the audience as I’ve seen with this game. Having now finished it and enjoyed it, I’ve been trying to figure out and understand some of the negativity and hate thrown at this game which on a whole has been a massive critical and commercial success. Below I’ll give a short review on the game, and tackle some of the issues people are having. Warning: SPOILERS ahead.

A woman scorned…

This is a revenge tale that follows the character of Ellie, in a world struck by a virus who herself is immune from, and having to deal with the revelation that Joel, her friend and father-figure from the last game saved her from being killed by doctors who wanted to create a vaccine from her blood. Set 4 years after, Ellie’s out to avenge the death of someone she cares about on a journey where violence and hate prove a corrosive pursuit. It’s not a new idea, many movies have tackled a similar subject but in video games it’s quite unique but handled well here. At its heart it’s a stealth / action based journey set in a world not dissimilar to The Walking Dead. Characters and the performances are incredibly nuanced and deliver emotions more convincingly than any game I’ve played (it’s even better than Hellblade or for it’s time Half-Life 2). Production values and visuals are incredible, easily some of the best on PS4 (if not ever) and gameplay is slick, brilliantly realised with intense action, great atmosphere and tons of memorable encounters. It’s also particularly daring with its twists, which brings me to the criticisms, some of which I do understand.

SPOILERS AHEAD: stop reading if not finished TLOU2

Final warning….. SPOILERS

A beloved character from the first game, Joel is killed early on. Online leaks spoilt this and caused many fans to make their mind up about the game before even playing it. Also, at certain points you take control of the main antagonist, Abbie who is painted early on as bitter and evil, but as you play through her segments her driving force becomes more understandable. Yes, I took a while to warm to her and her segments take up a bit too much of the game with some parts (the skyscraper) feeling padded out or unnecessary. However her relationship with the two Scars members proves a worthwhile highlight. Yet the game asks a great deal of the player to be onboard with this character, and I can see those shocked or offended by Joel’s death, would find the Abbie segments too big an ask. I almost wanted to stop playing when the game had me controlling Abbie whilst fighting Ellie. But I persevered and am glad I did. Where it went with it’s revenge ark – was incredibly powerful even if it made for quite a bummer ending.

the face of evil…?

Yet the hate levelled at this game … sigh. Threats to the game makers and performers, petitions to have it remade. Entitled much? I agree it won’t be a story everyone can get behind, I may even have ideas how it could have played out differently to get the same result without ‘forcing’ the player to do certain things in the name of hammering home it’s message. Yet for daring storytelling, assured game design that may not break the mould but polishes it to near perfection … I found very little to complain about. There is no room in this industry for such hate and threatening behaviour though. If you don’t like the game, just don’t buy it, don’t play it, express your opinion but keep the bile and hate to yourself. Not many game designers have the audacity to deliver a story in this way, and such a backlash might only cause the industry to shy away from such bold manoeuvres in the future.

Beauty in dark times…

I personally loved this game and have found myself coming back to many sections again for collectibles, the gameplay and for the rich and (at time’s ridiculously) detailed world these brilliantly realised characters inhabit. Is it perfect? No, structurally I’d have liked some of the fat trimmed here and there as well as more ‘choice’ given to the player rather than just violence as the only action. But with that said it’s a game I won’t easily forget.

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.

Gaming in 2018


gaming

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.