My gaming year 2014


It’s certainly been a very fun year on my gaming calendar.  I had only got my Xbox One in December 2013 so by the time 2014 rolled around it was still very new to me.  One of the first games I played during the year was Dead Rising 3, an open world zombie slaughter-fest with immediately impressive visuals mostly down to the number of zombies all after my blood, and the tongue-in-cheek storylines and comical weapons and outfits kept me coming back.  Then we got the remastered edition of Tomb Raider, arguably Lara Croft’s best adventure yet and it looked incredibly detailed on the XB1 and meant I went on to complete it a second time, having previously owned it on PS3.

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As the months rolled by, I got my hands on the much anticipated Titanfall.  Now this game may have lacked a story of any particular significance, and it’s single player was pretty dire – but the multiplayer, wow … really grabbed me, I felt for a shooter it had real depth and the inclusion of parkour, titans and some great maps kept me playing for a good while.  I’d even go as far as saying it’s the best multiplayer shooter I’ve ever played, and for me I felt I could be good at it and it was fair and easy to learn.  I haven’t played it in a while, and well, I really need to get back in there.  One other similarly hyped game was Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, which although visually and concept-wise impressive left me feeling it could have been much more.  It didn’t have the replay value I had hoped, was way too easy to get spotted whilst sneaking around and well, despite an interesting (short-lived) campaign that set the stage for MGS #5, I sold it after a short while owning it.

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I got Battlefield 4 with my Xbox and that certainly got a lot of time in the drive.  I must have played through the excellent single-player campaign at least twice, because I got almost to the final mission then a bug caused me to lose my progress, so I had to restart.  I thought it had a great story with really good characters and some top-flight visuals.  One of the best launch titles for the XB1.  The multiplayer also was very addictive, but as with the likes of Call of Duty, after a while it just seemed to get too popular and too difficult to be fun anymore.  Another game I had with the XB1 was Forza Motorsport 5, which I still dip into today, and is a great, serious racer with some sharp visuals and lots of fast, meaty cars.  Certainly a game I can really lose a lot of time to and has depth and a lengthy career mode that I’ll admit I still haven’t finished.  I played it recently to compare it with the PS4’s Drive Club, and not being biased whatsoever – Forza was just immediately more accessible and more ‘fun’.

During the year, off and on I had a lot of fun with the ‘Record That’ and ‘Upload’  features of the XB1, which is very easy to play around with and the inclusion of being able to edit several clips together or narrate them etc. has been endless fun.  I also like how XB1 allows you to upload said clips not only to their own Upload service but also to Youtube.  Xbox Live’s Games with Gold was also very welcome as I pay almost £40 a year for the service and have enjoyed getting my hands on freebies like Guacamalie, Limbo and Super Time Force to name but a few.  It’s a great incentive and I look forward to what Microsoft gives away in the future.

Another highlight was Watch Dogs … yes, it was downgraded following the E3 2012 reveal but damn if it didn’t have a great cyber-hacker story and some great characters.  I think the whole hacking the city game mechanic set a blue print for the future and any sequels will only build on such an interesting concept.  I think I was fairly on my own for liking Aiden Pierce – he was an anti-hero, a troubled character, flawed but believable and I thought he was a great lead for the story.  I still come back to this one as the rendition of Chicago is very well done and well, let’s be honest here, at night, with it raining and the lighting etc. – this game can look amazing.

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In recent weeks it’s also been a case of too much choice not enough time or patience to really get some games completed.  Good examples of this are The Evil Within, which I’ll admit has scared the crap out of me more than any game this year (yes, even more than Outlast) and the onset of the horror survival genre has meant I’ve purposely avoided similar titles.  Evil Within is different though as it still plays like a classic Resident Evil game, has action not just scares, and a great atmosphere.  Still not finished it though.  Another is the polar opposite Sunset Overdrive, probably one of the most unashamedly ‘fun’ games I’ve ever played, with a perfect mix of Dead Rising meets Jet Set Radio in probably the most colourful city I’ve ever visited in a video game.

Destiny remains my biggest disappointment of 2014 as far as gaming is concerned.  Initially yes, it was all wow for me … gorgeous visuals, decent shooter gameplay and the ability to upgrade your character, weapons etc. within an always online open world.  Then after a few weeks, repetition crept in.  The single-player which seemed to promise so much was over and a big let down and then I’m meant to just keep playing the same raids and missions over and over until I cap out my character’s level?  I also didn’t like how Bungie pretty much promised the earth and delivered something ultimately very bland.  It’s still on my XB1 dash board … I may pick it up again just for the sheer beauty of it, but it’s not a game a have much of an urge to rush back to.

Of course I ended the year very similarly to how I ended 2013 … by getting a new console.  I purchased the PlayStation 4 and am very glad I did, having a lot of fun with the impressive Assassin’s Creed Unity.  The machine itself seems a simpler design to much of the ambition of the XB1 and despite more power under the hood, plays it very safe, very PS3 in comparison.  2015 will be the real time it get’s to spread it’s wings, so for now XB1 is still my console of choice.

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It will be interesting to see how 2015 shapes up.  The big games I am looking forward to are the XB exclusives Quantum Break and Rise of the Tomb Raider, as well as the PS4 exclusives Uncharted 4 and The Order 1886.  I’m a bit on the fence on how the much anticipated, heavily hyped The Division turns out, it being by Ubi Soft who do have a habit of over-hyping stuff and not entirely delivering … but it was one of the best looking games on show at both E3 2013 and E3 2014 … but I’ll wait and see if the final product looks (or plays) anywhere near as good.

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So with 2015 on the horizon, this gamer / blogger is very excited to see what it delivers.

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Watch Dogs … room for improvement?


This is the last post I’ll be writing on this heavily hyped and popular game now I have had more time to really get to grips with it.  So there are a few things I’ve noticed and a few things I wish had been implemented better … or at all.

Ubi Soft have done a great job with this recreation of Chicago and its a blast to explore, especially with all the extra side missions and wealth of people and things going on. What did puzzle me was the amount of bus shelters – but not a single bus! Also why aren’t there any Taxis in this city? Just seems like a complete oversight by the developers. Also strange that Police seem to be absent for the most part until you do some sort of crime. Shouldn’t they be on patrol anyway?  Then the pedestrians which at first glance are well done and individual, it soon becomes apparent that there are a ton of repeated lines of dialogue like ‘what is going on in Chicago’ and ‘she has a crazy perfect ass’ but spoken by different pedestrians and in different areas of the city. A tad lazy for an apparent next-gen experience.

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The weather system is at first impressive and I can’t fault the thunder / rain effect. Even the slight smoggy look at certain times of the day is impressive, but wouldn’t it be cool if there were other effects catered for, like snow? As seen in The Division, but perhaps time of year is a factor, so a wintery sequel? Hmm.  Building interiors lack some detail and I think they could have had a few more areas you can go inside and explore. It doesn’t feel as interactive as GTA V and that was a game on last-gen hardware. Oh and why is this city, like many open world games completely unpopulated by children and animals? I get it, we don’t need to see a child run over by a crazy gamer or shot at point-blank range, but hey – not very ‘real’ either, is it? Couldn’t it be implemented so that such incidents would have a much bigger impact on your reputation compared to regular pedestrians? Just a thought.

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The cash system is far too generous. I haven’t once during the time I have played, lacked money – I either pick it up from fallen foes, steal it off pedestrians or its just plain given to me … lots of it. Makes the whole buying weapons, pills, clothing part of the game a bit boring if its so easy to come by. Oh and as for weapons, getting hold of high powered items like the grenade launcher, very early on, makes many of the missions rather easy. Shouldn’t such hardware get unlocked the more I progress, or as I have mentioned, wouldn’t more of a lack of cash make such cool weapons worth ‘saving up’ for etc… with cash earned perhaps during side quests? I actually had the grenade launcher around the start of the game. On the subject of weapons, how about customization and individual weapon mods, like perhaps a silencer on a sniper rifle…?

The game has some very cool ideas though. The way you can hide in your car following a police chase feels very cop thriller territory, and the story itself, whilst very serious in tone, has the feel of a cool high tech TV series or a movie, with characters that feel real – to me at least. I love profiling pedestrians for some of the weird job titles etc. Also getting hacked during my game is very clever and fun to track down the hacker and blow him away…lol. Some have said the driving is a bit off. I disagree. This depends on the car you use, and feels believable to how real world cars react, as in over-powered ones spin out very easily etc. The bikes are awesome, by the way.

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That extra six months of development, I do wonder where it went . . was it getting the core gameplay principals just right, or adding silly (but fun) diversions like digital trips and cash runs? Personally the time given to such mini games could have been better put to use on limiting the repeated dialogue, giving us buses and taxis to ride (not just trains…) and general polish (yes the game has bugs…). Oh and don’t get me started about the radio… firstly no stations and no DJs? Granted this is Ubi Softs first stab at this sort of GTA-like game, but really? It’s been a stable mate of this style of game for years.

So for the inevitable WD #2 I hope we don’t just get more of the same, but Ubi Soft dedicating themselves to delivering a fully immersive, open world experience with all these little details intact – believe me they matter.

Watch Dogs fall-out?


Note: this article has now been updated (see below).

So, the most anticipated game of the year is finally out, after a stunning reveal at E3 2012 and following controversy over it’s apparent downgrade in graphics since then … what do we as consumers actually have now it’s available to buy?

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A big, at least visually, disappointment.  The game looks last-gen with a few better textures and arguably impressive night time rain / wet road effects … but visually overall it does not impress me.  I don’t currently own the game and am not sure if I will (but I may due to it’s unique gameplay alone) but as a much hyped title, the six month delay and the e3 reveal we are left as consumers with little more than a poor-mans GTA… and stylistically it doesn’t look much different to GTA 5 which was a real show stopper on last gen hardware.  For a game also being released on the PS4 and Xbox One – it is nothing special.  Textures, roads and buildings seem to lack a three dimensional appearance … what, no bump-mapping?  Why does everything look so flat and square?  It’s like a game from the early 2000’s.  That would be forgivable then, but we have come on considerably since.  For me the best looking open-world GTA-clone in recent memory was Mafia II, which looked amazing, especially inside buildings, with very impressive detail and great lighting and shadow effects.

I hope when I finally get hold of the Xbox One version I will see something I am not currently seeing … but for now consider me rather underwhelmed.

Some gameplay of the Xbox One version from You Tuber user ‘optic midnite’ can be seen below.  Now don’t get me wrong, the game looks fun – but after all the hype and the suggestion this was going to be a true ‘next gen’ show-piece, I’m not entirely sold.

On the new consoles and even on PC this doesn’t cut it, and considering what has been achieved I can only presume the more detailed hacking mechanics have prevented the developers really pushing this on a visual basis – like too many things going on in the background?  Either way the fact we have sub-hd resolutions on both the PS4 and Xbox One (worse for the XB1 being at 792p) is baffling if these consoles are meant to be considerably more powerful than hardware that’s now eight years old (PS3 & 360).

(Updated: 31/05/2014):  Well I went and purchased Watch Dogs for my Xbox One and what are my final hands-on impressions?  Much more positive.  I’d go as far to say this is probably the most interesting game I have so far on the XB1 and certainly one of the more unique open-world games I have played.  To touch on the visuals firstly, internet videos, comparisons between PC, XB1 and PS4 do this game no justice.  Its beautiful and very detailed … and goes for a very realistic interpretation of Chicago, with an effective day / night cycle and wonderful weather effects.  The wealth of people in the game are also believably animated, do interesting things to further enhance a living world atmosphere such as once I walked by a couple who the woman was throwing bags over a balcony much to the upset of her disgruntled boyfriend … and another time I passed some street rappers, and another a couple posing for a photograph being taken by another person.  Impressive.  Lighting is first class as is water and shadows and other details like tires on cars you can actually burst by shooting them, or realistic glass shatter as you plough into bus stops with your vehicle.  Some have said this game doesn’t look as good as the PS4 version, but from what I have seen, there is hardly any difference at all, and all the details and effects are intact … so XB1 owners hesitating over the reduced resolution … don’t worry one bit.

The game itself seems a very intriguing techno thriller, such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and immediately grabbed me, all to do with main character Aiden Pierce searching for revenge after an attempted murder goes badly wrong.  It’s a great initial hook to pull the gamer in, and made me really want to unravel all the story had to offer,  The hacking is of course the big draw and it’s so well implemented that it makes the usual sneaking you’d find in games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid seem refreshing and new, and add to this first rate gunfight / shooting mechanics as well as well done driving and lots of vehicles and weapons to find … this seems the perfect marriage between the old and new to create something truly next-gen … at least in terms of giving the player a new take / spin on tried and tested game play.

I’m still early into this but so far many of my reservations and fears have been quashed.  Although some reviews have said the missions get repetitive, I am still very eager to see and play more … so would say this will be my primary game to play for a while yet.