The Future of Just Another Gaming Blog?

Don’t panic, despite the ominous sounding title I want to make one thing clear, the blog is NOT shutting down. However due to the fact my life is set to become very busy, how and when I deliver content on this site will change.

Firstly, I will no longer be able to guarantee posts all throughout the year, posts will be more likely to appear during holiday periods.
Secondly, the frequency of reviews will change, reviews take the longest of all types of articles to write and require new games to be written about, two resources that’ll be in short supply.
But they won’t be gone forever, I’ve actually had two reviews waiting to be written, Terraria and Batman: Arkham City. Honestly they would have been released already, but I could never quite settle on what areas to tackle in the review.
If all goes to plan, one or both of those should appear perhaps before the end of the year
In future I’ll be moving towards more non-review articles, such as my thoughts on major gaming news/conferences or a look back at an old console.

While the blog may not be as active as it was, I will still be around in a couple of ways:
Follow me on Twitter, @AnotherGmgBlog moving forward I’ll try and tweet more with my opinions on news stories, new releases etc

You’ll also find me making appearances via email every week (and very occasionally in person) on the One Track Gamers Podcast, do give it a listen, they’re a great bunch of people with a real passion for gaming.

Thanks to everyone who reads these ramblings of mine and for your continued support.
I hope to be delivering some brand new articles to you in the near future 

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Red Dead Redemption and Just Cause 2 Review

I bought myself a few new games recently and as some people have said they find my reviews a touch on the long side, this time I’m trying something a little different. So please enjoy some slighter shorter reviews of not just one but two games.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is a game published by makers of the GTA series Rockstar Studios, with Red Dead being the game the team worked on between GTV IV and V. The story is set in the American Old West as you play as John Marston a man betrayed and forced to work for the US government. It is an open world game unsurprisingly reminiscent of the GTA franchise, you’ll even come across a couple of mechanics that would go onto appear in GTV V.

Speaking of mechanics, being set in the Wild West means there’s a few things to get used to, mainly riding a horse. You soon pick it up and but it takes some practice, you can’t just hold down or hammer a button, over work your horse and it’ll throw you off. I approve of Rockstar’s choice to implement a fast travel feature as unlike driving in GTA riding a horse a long distance in Red Dead can become a touch boring.

However one mechanic I’m less happy with is that of the cattle herding, now this is something you have to do about 4-5 times in the entire story, but the problem is the AI for the cows is almost too good, despite you’re best efforts they always wander off. While this was now doubt put it to improve the Wild West feel of the game it never sat well with me as it took longer than it should to complete and somewhat broke the flow of the game. This is certainly an action game, if you go straight to one mission to the next you’ll discover Red Dead to be a fast paced and thrilling adventure.

One of the stand-out features of this game however links back to something I mentioned in my Assassins Creed: Black Flag review: it’s incredibly immersive, when you’re riding around on a horse and stumble across an abandoned town you genuinely start to feel like a bit of a cowboy. Frankly that’s one of the best things a game can do, instead of feeling like you’re disconnected from the world and pressing buttons you actually feel like you’re part of that world.

Now I know some of you might be thinking, this sounds a lot like a GTA game with a Wild West skin placed on top. That’s not the case, the two series are very distinct from one another, Red Dead leans more toward exploration than the ability to cause chaos. Secondly you should remember that both games are made by the same company using the same engine so of course they’ll be a little bit of crossover between the two. If you still think it is the case then I ask you this, is that so bad? Red Dead Redemption is of the same level of quality and polish as a GTA game and yet is just a little bit of something different and I think that’s some good praise for a game to receive.

They may have only strayed a little from their comfort zone but Rockstar have proved they aren’t just a one trick pony, if you’re done with GTA but want a game of a similar standard and gameplay you can jump right into, look no further than Red Dead Redemption.

Score: 70/100

Just Cause 2

In the last few years gaming has been doing it hardest to improve its image in the eyes of the world, giving us games with deep and meaningful stories such as the The Last of Us. Now this is something I completely approve of, however most if not all gamers deep down also have a desire to just have fun and mess around and this is where Just Cause 2 comes in.

The game’ story (if you can call it one) revolves around Rico Rodriguez an agent working for ‘The Agency’ he must travel to the fictional South Eastern Asian island of Panau to overthrow its dictator. That it really about it, but this is not a game you go into for its story, even the developers seem to be aware of this as in the game only the first two missions are compulsory, everything else is entirely optional. Speaking of missions there’s a fair few of them but they aren’t mind-blowing and become repetitive very fast, usually centred around destroy this area or assassinate this person.

Perhaps one of the most interesting mechanics this game has to offer is the combination of the parachute and grappling hook you are equipped with. Not only can the grappling hook be used as both a short and long range weapon, allowing you to yank snipers out of their nests from a distance, a surprisingly satisfying thing. You can also use it to climb buildings and using the parachute as well the hook becomes a slingshot of shorts allowing you a whole new way to travel long distances. Inside these features lies the true heart of this game, something which some games have forgotten: have fun doing crazy things. The ability to tether two objects together allows you to do whatever you want. Can I attach a 4X4 to a 747 yes you can, can I then jump out of the plane and attach myself to the 4X4 in mid-air, YES you actually can.

As someone who’s played and enjoyed GTA V I’d begun to wonder if I’d got everything out of the whole, ‘here’s an open world do what you like’ experience. But I was wrong, fundamentally GTA’s world revolves around the story and its characters whereas Just Cause 2 revolves around causing chaos, that’s even the aim, you need to cause chaos by destroying stuff to unlock later missions. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, like I said I enjoy getting lost in a game’s story but every so often is nice not to be tied down to a story and have freedom to do as you like.

I feel I must mention this game has a few rough edges, it’s one of the most glitchy games I’ve played in a while with a few leading me to have to restart the system and lose progress. The second big rough edge, the driving. With games like these driving is very much not the main point of the game so you’re never going to get Gran Turismo levels of quality. But this is somewhat below my expectations, the steering is almost completely unresponsive at speed and due to some slightly wonky physics hard braking can launch the car into a roll. Admittedly most of the time this makes the game more entertaining, however the few missions where driving is key it does begin to become a greater issue.

Let my end by saying, despite what sounds like an overly negative review, I don’t think this is a bad game it just perhaps lacks the polish of big games like Red Dead Redemption and Tomb Raider. Thankfully as this game is a few years old it can now be picked up used for around a 1/3 its original price, and I think that makes it good value.

It may not be up there with the AAA games in terms of quality, but if you go into Just Cause 2 expecting a fun and crazy world with limitless options, it’ll pay you back a hundred times over.

Score: 53/100

 

Well that’s that, hopefully my next review will be Batman: Arkham City not sure when that’ll be up so just follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with all my articles. (@AnotherGmgBlog)

Feedback is welcomed concerning the new review format, would you like me to go back to long reviews or do you prefer shorter ones?

Tomb Raider (2013) Review

It’s been a while, but I’m happy to be writing another review. Even before I started playing Tomb Raider there was a lot riding on it, this was my first new game in a while and I was a desperate to find a game to somewhat fill the void left by Uncharted. Did it deliver? Let’s find out.

I shall briefly outline the plot, we find Lara Croft and friends stranded on the mysterious island of Yamatai, an island dominated by storms making escape impossible and forcing Lara to discover its secrets. Perhaps the most significant fact about this game’s narrative is that it is set during a time in which Lara Croft has yet to become the famous Tomb Raider and the player sees her forced to adapt to events of the island and being the journey to becoming that infamous heroine. It is also worth noting a number of people believe this plot could be used if the Tomb Raider film franchise also gets a reboot in future.

I will begin be addressing something of the elephant in the room, a criticism often levelled at this game, is essentially a reskin of Uncharted. The opposite is even true to a point, during its development Uncharted was rather affectionately nicknamed ‘Dude Raider’. Now I’m not going to try and argue that similarities don’t exist between the two games, I’ll admit a few sequences in Tomb Raider got me thinking, this reminds me of Uncharted. The most obvious example being the now almost cliché, walking on a bridge/platform and part of it breaks putting you in danger sequence. However this fact shouldn’t be used to devalue the achievements of Square Enix, the similarities exist as both games sit with the action-adventure genre, which many will argue that Uncharted helped bring back into the spotlight, thus tropes of the genre are almost guaranteed to appear in both series. Want more proof? Recent footage of the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End shows for the first time Nathan Drake equipped with a grappling hook, while admittedly not present in the Square Enix iteration the grappling hook has been a long standing feature of the Tomb Raider franchise.

However if you dig a little deeper into Tomb Raider you’ll start to realise there are stark differences compared to Uncharted. First and foremost is the sense of depth of the game as a whole. Don’t get me wrong I love Uncharted but it’s somewhat difficult to argue it as little more as a run and gun platforming game. I feel that the sense of depth comes from the more open and exploratory nature of Tomb Raider versus the somewhat linear progression of Uncharted. If you want to look for them there are albeit not very well hidden ‘secret tombs’ in Tomb Raider not to the extent of previous instalments of the franchise but they’re there. Testament to this is the fact that even with a pretty decent amount of exploring I finished the story with only 61% completion, if you want it there’s more to do in Tomb Raider than meets the eye. Speaking of tombs, I will just briefly touch on the puzzle elements of this game. Puzzles played a major role in the original Tomb Raider series as well as the first reboot beginning with Tomb Raider: Legend. Conversely the 2013 iteration lacks puzzles in the traditional sense, instead going for a more lateral thinking approach. Basically the answer of open a door is not hidden, it’s in plain sight you just have to approach it in the right way. A great example is at one point having to move a hook around overhead lines to open a door. You start thinking, if I pull it over there does that mean I will be able to get it back over there?. I should stress these are often rather simple and people with the right sort of mind will solve it in two seconds, it’s just another little thing adding to the overall depth of Tomb Raider. The ‘secret tombs’ do help to increase this game’s puzzle credentials, I’m very much glad they’re a feature as it shows despite being a reboot the developers haven’t forgot the heritage of the Tomb Raider franchise. Although this is one area that is perhaps in need of expansion in the sequel.

Secondly (this is an area I normally don’t discuss) the character development is another clear difference between the two. Playing Tomb Raider really put Uncharted into perspective to me, looking back Nathan Drake as a character seems a little shallow, known mainly for just witty remarks and sarcasm. Contrast this with the Tomb Raider-in training we have with Lara Croft, this might just be me or it might just be good storytelling but it really felt that as the game progressed so did Lara, she became battle hardened, in fact to quote the final image of the game, “A Survivor is Born”. There is also a much greater sense of progression in Tomb Raider, it managed to do the thing every good game does, just when you think you’ve mastered everything it chucks a new mechanic or weapon to keep you on your toes. Compare this to Uncharted, which to my mind had little if no progression of this kind. Frankly my only example is learning to throw back grenades about half way through Uncharted 3 and honestly that’s such a major combat mechanic I think it should have been there from the start.

That rather nicely brings me on to my next segment, let’s look at some of the gameplay mechanics in more detail. Firstly we’ll start with ‘Survival Instincts’ tap L2 or equivalent at any point and the world turns black and white with key objects that you need glowing, it will also show you a compass point marking where you need to go. From what I’ve seen two major criticisms have been levelled at it. Firstly it appears to be a blatant copy of Assassin’s Creed’s ‘Eagle Vision’ and secondly the compass mark shouldn’t be in an adventure game because they should be about exploring and finding out the way by yourself. My response to this? Well first I’d say if it really bothers you don’t use it, unlike ‘Eagle Vision’ it’s not a necessary part of the game, it’s simply there to aid you if needed. Furthermore I don’t think it’s the worst thing for one developer to be inspired by another, Square Enix is basically saying to Ubisoft, well done we like your idea. Otherwise what would’ve happened is the developers would have been so obsessed with distancing themselves from established mechanics that their new mechanic would be something that probably wouldn’t work and would just annoy you. Secondly the compass issue, yes it does somewhat go against the spirit of the genre, but let’s look at this practically, one of the worst things I feel that can happen in any game is that you have no idea where to go next and you’re just stuck going in circles, features like this just give you a nudge in the right direction so you never end up in that situation.

Next up we come to the ‘Salvage’ system. Salvage is the system used to upgrade your weapons throughout the game, for example it may cost 200 salvage to upgrade your pistol to improve its accuracy. Salvage is gained through the looting of corpses and the breaking of boxes scattered around the map. In theory bar one occasion you don’t have to do this, however if you don’t you’ll also miss the chance to collect weapon parts which allow you to completely overhaul and improve your weapon. Secondly it helps to inject a sense of exploration into the game, furthermore the perfect balance was found with the position of extra boxes, not so close that you don’t have to stray from the game’s main path and yet not so far that you think, I really can’t be bothered going all that way. For me collecting in games can be very hit and miss, the charm and aesthetic of LEGO games means I found collecting in those games fun and not in any way a chore. In most other games however, Uncharted included I don’t really bother as doing it often serves little purpose beyond gaining achievements. Thus I think it should be seen as proof of quality that this game got me obsessed with exploring and collecting. It is worth nothing that footage of this game’s upcoming sequel Rise of The Tomb Raider shown at E3 2015, highlighted that the salvage system has been expanded into a full crafting system meaning particular items are needed for a particular purpose, i.e. leaves are needed as part of a health pack, something to look forward to perhaps.

Lastly we have the ’Skill Point’ system, of course this is nothing new to anyone whose played an RPG but a rare thing in a game of this genre. As you gain experience points through general progression and particular manoeuvres you gain skill points to ‘spend’ on a particular area. This is a welcome addition as it allows you to tailor Lara to suit your style, if you’re an explorer pick the upgrades that increase the XP or salvage you get. This also helps to contribute to the great sense of progression in the game, early on there is effectively no melee combat, all you have is the ability to dodge attacks. But if you spend your points right you can create a more melee focused Lara, allowing you to deliver timed attacks to stun enemies to be followed up with a melee ‘finisher’.

To stop this review sounding incredibly unbalanced I will mention one albeit incredibly minor criticism. I have never liked the fact that in 2 out of the 3 Uncharted games the final boss is basically a sequence of quick-time events. I prefer a more traditional boss battle in which you have a big enemy with lots of life that you have to kill in a small area testing all your skills. Did Tomb Raider deliver? Well sort of, I won’t spoil it but the penultimate fight in the game is a ‘traditional’ boss battle which then leads into the final boss which is once again mainly quick time events. My compliant? I wish those two fights were swapped round, the sense of satisfaction I got after a pretty gruelling battle during the penultimate fight made me feel I’d really been tested, I was then slightly annoyed that the final fight wasn’t much of a test at all. But as you can see this this is a very minor criticism in an otherwise nearly perfect game, and for all I know maybe a QTE final boss in just another trope of the action adventure genre…

Now sadly I’ve reached both the end of the game and this review, one of my best gaming experiences in a long while, from now on I’ll just be praying for Rise of the Tomb Raider to get its release date and perhaps even a rumoured PS3 release. Although if Rise turns out even half as good as the first it may be time to invest in a PS4.

Updates: As mentioned in my previous article, I did make an appearance on the One Track Gamers Podcast, talking a little about Tomb Raider and just having a fun discussion about games in general, give that a listen at www.onetrackgamers.com

As far is the blog is concerned, currently unsure what my next review will be. Although I do have a couple ideas for some other articles that may appear in the coming weeks so keep an eye of my Twitter (@AnotherGmgBlog) for details of those.

Tomb Raider is back, and it has managed to reclaim the crown of best action-adventure game, the ball is in your court Mr Drake… An absolute must-play, if you own a current or last gen console pick up a copy now.

93/100

Thanks For The Memories, But Your _____ Is Evolving!

We all possess gaming memories of some sort, but the question is, how much have our memories and nostalgia warped our perception of these games? Secondly what does the evolving nature of online games mean for this? Trust me this is one evolution you can’t stop by Pressing B.

So how has this all come about? Well one of my favourite games of the PS2 era was Ratchet and Clank, it was a great little action platformer with some unique weapons and environments. So understandably I was overjoyed to hear that a HD collection of the first 3 Ratchet and Clank games existed so I very quickly got myself a copy (This article will act as something of a review of this game)

As I started playing the first game, the illusions I’d built up for this game were completely shattered and it really started to annoy me. Don’t get me wrong it’s still a great series but it has some pretty major flaws. Its greatest problem is the check-pointing. Throughout the games you’ll find yourself running gauntlets full of enemies, you make it to the end, then accidently die and bam, and you’re right back to the start and without any more ammo. It just really sucks the fun out of the game and ends up artificially extending it. Furthermore Ratchet and Clank suffers from an issue similar to my problems with Ocarina of Time 3D: the saving. Instead of remembering your exact position in the level/planet the game will behave like you have just started the level, meaning large chunks of time are wasting getting back to whatever point you were at. Another gameplay issue, the camera, as well as attempting to automatically adjust, it can also be manually adjusted with the analogue sticks, the problem? It’s never quite right, it’s allows just a bit out. In some types of games this isn’t really an issue, but with platformers that isn’t the case, you need decent camera positioning to help time jumps etc. This is an issue is exacerbated in the Ratchet and Clank series, on a number of occasions you’ll have to walk on walls and the ceiling, at those points in particular it’s a real nightmare.

What struck me most replaying this game, is something my nostalgic memory of the game obviously didn’t include is how much of a Metroid-vania style game this is. Quick explanation, Metroid-vania, style games named after the Metroid and Castlevania series refer to games where you’ll often be in the following situation:

At the moment you can’t open this door, you go to the next level and find something that allows you to open said door, if you go back and open the door you’ll find an item of some sort, you might not need this item straight away to progress in the story but at some point in the you’ll will have to go back and get it.

Playing Ratchet and Clank I forever found myself having to go back to the same places just to open a single door to get something new which felt kind of repetitive. Worst of all the game never informs you if this item you’ve got will be needed at some point or if it’s just some random extra item. While I can certainly take a step back and see why some people like the Metroid-vania genre of game, I personally don’t, I prefer my games a touch more linear and structured so I know exactly what I need to do next time I want to play. Now credit to Insomniac games it appears they may have listened to people like me, when we reach Ratchet and Clank 3, affectionately called ‘Up Your Arsenal’, in which missions are clearly marked as part of the story or optional. Is this an improvement? Frankly no, it feels like they went too far the other way, abandoning the Metroid-vania aspects for a much more linear progression, shame really.

It appears I’m not alone when it comes to nostalgia giving you false impressions about a game, I got in touch with my friends over at the ‘One Track Gamers’ podcast (Details will come later) and they had much to say.

Cory fondly remembers playing Donkey Kong 64 and its “awesome gameplay” What about now? I’ll let him explain: “the controls are just garbage […] camera is bad” Oh dear he seems to suffering from a similar problem as me. He went on to rather perfectly explain reasons identical to the ones that made me want to write this, “the nostalgia doesn’t live up when you play it ever, just better off in your memories” Is Cory right, should we leave old games in the past and not ruin our memories? Well game publishers don’t seem to think so, re-releases of games are incredibly common these days and frankly getting a bit excessive. Recently announced was Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for PS4, a HD re-release of the first 3 Uncharted games, and let’s be honest those games aren’t that old, the first one came out in 2007, I could understand re-releasing a game after a significant anniversary like Nintendo did with Pokémon Gold and Silver, but Uncharted? I don’t think so.

Although fellow One Track Gamer, Amanda highlights the other side of the nostalgia debate “I still appreciate it (an old game) with the flaws. This is certainly true and I somewhat subscribe to the theory, for example the first thing I bought in the PlayStation Store on my PS3 was the PS1 classic Crash Team Racing, yes by modern standards the graphics are terrible but that doesn’t bother me because I had so much fun with that game while I was growing up.

So perhaps the answer about how does nostalgia affect games is simple, it depends on the game. If it’s a game we love and treasure, we’ll continue to love it and overlook it flaws, while if it was a game we just liked we’ll probably find ourselves picking holes in it.

Now at the beginning of the article I mentioned the evolving nature of games, you might be thinking, games don’t really evolve, I buy a game in a shop play it, could come back to it in five years and it’ll be the same. Frankly you’re pretty much right, yes we have internet connected consoles these days, but those updates are usually bug fixes or bits of DLC, the fundamental basics of the game don’t change. But there’s one type of game where that’s not the case, they constantly evolve and change, yes, I’m talking about online games.

To help illustrate my point, I’ll be using Valve’s Team Fortress 2 as my example to show just how much a game can change.

17th September 2009, a momentous day, why? It was the day I bought Team Fortress 2, in the early days I loved that game, it’s art style, the range of classes and weapons led me to put over 300 hours into this game. One particular fond memory was a little server running a map called ‘Breakfloor Sawmill’ I couldn’t tell you how much time I sunk into that one server with a little group of friends, but sadly for reasons unknown that server is lost to the mists of time.

December 17th 2009: The evolution of TF2 with the introduction of in-game crafting. This was one of the major new features added into the game that I actually supported, yes it devalued some of the rarer items but for the most part it meant those dozens of Force-a-Nature’s in your backpack finally had a purpose. (This is a plight any TF2 player can sympathise with) However from here onwards, things go horribly, horribly wrong.

March 18th 2010/May 20th 2010/April 7th 2011: These 3 dates mark the ‘Community Contribution Updates’, players could now have weapons and items they’ve made be added into the game. Now I’m not saying involving the community of a game is bad, it really isn’t, it’s just this led to the game being flooded with items, thus the influence of the in-game economy starts to grow…

June 23rd 2011: TF2 goes Free to Play. This was one of the contributing factors for me abandoning the game, I really don’t agree with the F2P model. Yes I not going to lie gaming can be an expensive hobby, but Valve didn’t need to do this it had a huge fan-base of people who paid for the game. Why don’t I like F2P? Firstly it devalues the contribution of the players who previously bought the game, yes we got an game item (Woo-hoo) (!), really think something like an old, cheap Valve game i.e. original Counter Strike might have been better. Secondly, it creates two tiers of players, the paid and the F2Pers and let me tell you to this day there is still animosity between the two groups. It’s not beneficial it’s made the community divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’

September 6th 2011: In-game trading is introduced. Now once again in the early days this wasn’t really too much of an issue, if you wanted to trade items you could go to dedicated trade servers and do just that, perfect. But then the influence of trading started to spread beyond the confines of trade servers, you could be playing a nice game of Capture the Flag, you get a new item, you just kind of ignore it. You are then bombarded with trade requests from players asking if you up for a trade, ruining the game experience. This was a sad day for TF2 in my opinion, the day the game became less about having fun and more about the in-game economy.

There are probably better examples of the ‘evolution’ on online games, this just happens to be an example somewhat close to my heart.

I really hope you enjoyed the article, just want to say a big thank you to the ‘One Track Gamers Podcast’ for their contributions, they’re a great weekly gaming podcast, find them on iTunes, Podbean and many other places. Secondly if it all goes as planned, yours truly will be making a guest appearance on ‘One Track Gamers’ , where I’ll be discussing a few things I’ve got planned for the site in the coming weeks, you’ll have to listen to find out…

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag Review

Can you guess the two things wrong with that title? No, well firstly the guy who doesn’t like stealth games is playing Assassin’s Creed and secondly my first Assassin’s Creed game is the 4th one?! All shall be revealed.

Before I get into this, a little bit of context, for a long while Assassin’s Creed was a series I was incredibly interested to play and once I got my PS3 I decided it had to be one of my first games. I’d heard really good things about Black Flag and the navel elements intrigued me and to be honest each individual Assassins Creed game is relatively self-contained so prior experience with the series isn’t a must.

Right, I won’t spend forever on the plot, put simply you are controlling Edward Kenway, a pirate pretending to be part of the Order of Assassins and his desire to gain money through a life of piracy and making a number of enemies along the way…

First things first, Assassin’s Creed is indeed a stealth game, however it’s the type of stealth I enjoy whereby in a lot of cases you have two options: full on don’t get detected stealth or just elect to hack your way through. Although disclaimer, certain missions force you down the full on stealth route. Now the land based missions, one of my biggest annoyances. Far far too many of the missions are tail and eavesdrop missions, the greatest issue with this is it disrupts the pace of play. The way I see it Black Flag has two types of pace, slow, creeping around in attempts to kill people or sprinting across rooftops to escape. Whereas these missions occupy a strange middle ground as you can’t use either of those techniques, go too slow and you’ll fail a mission for going out of range, use the rooftop method and you’ll be detected. It just doesn’t fit the game, I’m glad to hear that the majority of these types of missions have been removed in the follow up: Assassin’s Creed: Unity.

Next up, the navel stealth, two issues here. Firstly the general concept is ludicrous, according to the game it’s possible to sit 100m behind a giant ship in an equally big ship and not get spotted, the game even goes out of its way to highlight that boats have scouts out looking for you! I know games aren’t real, but the lack of common sense is annoying. Secondly the mechanic itself is broken in the game, when looking for you ships have around a 150 degree field of vision means it’s possible to sit directly behind ships and not worry about getting caught.

The land combat, has divided me somewhat. It fundamentally relies on two buttons and mainly just spamming a single button. It’s divisive because I like that the simplicity of the system makes it more accessible to new players, I just feel they could have developed the combat to allow the player to pull off my complex moves as the game progresses. One rather bit of strange logic in the combat is that it takes around 5-6 successive attacks to kill a standard enemy, however if you wait for an enemy to attack you and counter the attack, Edward will pull off a manoeuvre which will automatically kill the enemy and you only need to press two buttons. It just feels somewhat out of place. Next the navel combat, couple points here, firstly players shouldn’t moan that your ship rotates too slowly, the developers are being accurate here, a ship of that size would not rotate 360 degrees in a couple of seconds. Secondly piece of advice, get ready to get used to fighting sideways, in most games such as FPSes you naturally shoot forwards, but remember a ship’s cannons are mounted on the sides so travelling head on into a battle will not be very effective, if you play games such as Guns Of Icarus Online this shouldn’t be an issue for you. The second issue is the fact that your 3 primary weapons are coded to a single button (in the case of PS3 it’s L1). The weapon available to you changes depended on your position in relation to other ships, so if you’re pointing towards the enemy you can only fire your forward guns not your broadside cannons. This can lead to situations where if you aren’t lined up perfectly with your target, you can’t fire the weapon you want. My solution to this? Code each weapon to a D-Pad button i.e forward gun are up, broadsides could be left or right, allowing you to change weapon whenever you like.

If you’ve read up to this point you might be thinking I hate this game, but not quite, there are a number of things I really love about this game. First and foremost this game is very visually appealing, really pushing what the system can do giving the game a cinematic feel. This game has also done well to capture the feeling on the environment. What I mean is when you swing onto a ship and plunge directly into the fray you feel like a true pirate. Secondly, while this may be true of all open world games, the ability to explore and the numerous side missions give you a tremendous amount to do even if the main story is complete. If my personal experience certain parts are immensely addictive, every time I’m about to stop playing I then think, ‘ooh maybe just one more ship upgrade’. Talking of ship upgrades, speaking to a friend of mine who’s also played the game we discovered we had two distinct play styles. I went down the route of upgrade my ship so that I always massively outgunned any ships I’d meet in the story, while my friend spent less time upgrading his ship and relied on his outright skill to progress in the story (Good going Sam!). That is very much the mark of a good game: it’s versatile. But by far and away the stand out feature of this game is… THE SEA SHANTIES. To clarify while you are sailing around your crew will sing songs if you wish and frankly they are insanely catchy and I won’t forget them. (Except ‘Johnny Boker’ search it, it’s infuriating)

Fundamentally Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, feels like something of a missed opportunity, at times it showed sparks of brilliance but is hindered by issues with its core mechanics.

SCORE: 67/100

 

Uncharted Trilogy Review

First of all, big news I’ve recently come into possession of a PlayStation 3! Although you could have guessed that given the title of this review, which means that my next few reviews throughout the year are likely to be PS3 games. But fear not I haven’t forgotten my 3DS or PC, so hopefully there will be some non-PS3 game reviews. This year I’ll also been attempting more smaller articles, but I can’t promise anything at the moment as I’m rather busy with other things.

Secondly I’ve elected to combine all 3 Uncharted games into a single review, from a gameplay perspective the 3 are not radically different and it gives me the freedom to discuss the series as a whole.

The Uncharted series follows Nathan Drake, history buff turned treasure hunter, think of him as Indiana Jones minus the hat and whip or a male Lara Croft. The plots of the 3 games are relatively similar with Drake searching for a different treasure each time. Apart from some allies of Nate’s who return in the 2nd and 3rd games, the games are relatively self-contained; while I urge you to play all 3 games, it’s not the end of the world if you can only get a copy of Uncharted 2 or 3 and you haven’t played the first game.

The gameplay of the series has a few interesting quirks. First let me talk about platforming in games, fundamentally there are two types, the Super Metroid style: miss your jump by a single pixel and you’re dead. Conversely there’s Uncharted’s style: leap in the general direction of a platform and your nigh-on guaranteed to land on it. Now this is going to divide people, some will argue that it makes the game too easy. However I feel this style of platforming fits the theme of the games, as I was playing them I got the sensation this could very easily be a film, it’s no surprise then that a film adaptation is set for release in 2016. In order to keep this cinematic style the game needs to be rather fast paced, furthermore I feel if the developers had used Super Metroid platforming, then sections of platforming that take 5-10 minutes could take 20-30 minutes and the whole flow of the game will be ruined. The cinematic feeling of the game is reinforced through the major action scenes, they almost feel like they should be in James Bond films, in a scene reminiscent of ‘Skyfall’ Drake must battle enemies on a moving train during Uncharted 2.

The AI in this game deserves a quick mention, not the enemy AI but the AI of your allies. During particular chapters when you have someone working with you, they don’t just passively follow you but actually shoot and the bullets aren’t for show, your allies can kill enemies for you. I admit it’s not revolutionary, but it simple makes a nice change to the normal useless, passive friendly AI in games.

Moving on to the combat system, at any one time Drake can carry 2 weapons, a pistol and a larger gun, that may be a rifle or even an RPG, along with a maximum of 4 grenades. When it comes to Uncharted cover is the name of the game, you won’t succeed by charging directly at the enemy, you have to think tactically, giving yourself time for your health to recharge. Cover systems can be done badly, but I feel Uncharted has found a good balance. On the other hand the melee combat system could do with some improvement; you can at any time defeat an enemy using hand-to-hand combat. My issue, it’s just too simplistic, in the first two games, you simply pressed square to attack and triangle to counter, and it was absurdly clear when enemies were about to attack making countering in no way difficult. During Uncharted 3 they did try to expand the melee combat, you could now throw your enemies in any direction and when applicable use objects such as bottles in your attacks. While I’m happy the developers tried to improve things in the third game, I think there’s still room for improvement and that’s what I think a lot of fans are hoping for in the upcoming Uncharted 4 on PlayStation 4. While I’m personally not a fan of it, I know many people are, so I felt I should mention you can play Uncharted stealthy if you wish. Creeping up behind enemies undetected not only stops others flocking to your position but also gives you the added bonus of picking up double ammo from that enemy. There are times when stealth may be the superior tactic, but thankfully there are very few occasions when stealth has to be used in order to progress, in fact I believe it’s only required in a single chapter of Uncharted 2. I don’t mind games having stealth options in them, but it has always annoyed me when games force you to be stealthy, I’m surely not the only gamer out there who isn’t a fan of stealth.

Now I’ve seen the series attract criticism for the games being too similar to one another, sticking to the same formula and not trying anything new. Frankly I see nothing wrong with that, a game series can be ruined when after a successful first game the developers go in a completely new direction for the second so that it feels in no way related to the first. Naughty Dog realised they hit upon something good with the first Uncharted and continued using that blueprint just with minor changes for the sequels and I’m glad they did.

I should warn you, this next section is entirely my own opinion. I feel Uncharted 3 is the weakest of the three. It doesn’t have huge flaws it’s just little things coupled with the fact the first two set the bar so high. My main complaints are at times it feels like enemies were coming out of nowhere and attacking, I found this a pain and I was only playing on Normal difficulty I can only imagine what it must be like on Crushing difficulty. Secondly (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) there are some sections where Nate has be drugged, all you have to do is get from point A to point B but the fact that everything is deliberately blurry makes these small sections a tad annoying

Overall I loved the Uncharted series, yes they are quite short and yes there’s not much replay value. But for that brief period I had a fantastic gaming experience, one of the best I’ve ever had, it reminded me what gaming is all about.

Super Smash Bros 3DS Review

Nintendo made a bold move, putting a console staple series on a handheld device, the question is: Did the gamble pay off?

It’s finally here, it’s taken some time but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Super Smash Bros on the 3DS, let’s get going.

I won’t lie I was immensely excited for this game when I first heard about it, I loved the previous instalment Brawl on the Wii, and I missed that fact that I no longer had my Wii to let me play Brawl, so I hoped the 3DS version would help to fill this gap. I’ll just give any new-comers a quick introduction to Smash Bros. It is a fighting game involving a range of Nintendo characters from throughout gaming with a range of items and weapons from a broad range of franchises, instead of having a health bar to go to zero in Smash Bros you have a damage percentage that will increase, as it increases you are more likely to fly off the screen, meaning you’ve been KO’d and have lost a life.

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Each character has about 8 attacks, however in a new addition to the franchise you can collect alternative attacks for the characters meaning you can customise your fighter to suit your style.

However I did have a nagging worry in the back of my head ‘How much depth is this game going to have, given the lack of any single player mode/campaign?’ Just for some context the idea of a single player mode was discussed and subsequently dismissed, the reason being that Nintendo felt as soon as the game was released someone would post all the cutscenes online and people would watch that then and not bother to actually buy the game. What a fool I was to think this would be a shallow game, there are multiple game modes, a standard ‘Brawl’, Classic mode makes a return, you’ll compete in a number of matches before reaching a boss fight with Master Hand. But by far and away the most exciting mode is the 3DS exclusive mode ‘Smash Run’. You and three others are placed in a level similar to a stage from the Subspace Emissary from Brawl, there will be a range of enemies for you to attack, as you defeat them they will drop items that increase particular stats such as speed and defence. You have five minutes to collect as many stat boosts as you can, at the end of that time, the four fighters will be placed in some kind of final battle, this can be a normal fight, or a race to the finish, where speed is an essential stat, best of all you don’t know what the final round is going to be.

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The two things that have kept me coming back are the unlockable characters (hint: play LOTS of standard matches….) Oh I forget to mention the game technically has infinite characters. Hear me out, in yet another new feature, you can now play as any Mii you like. You put your Mii in one three classes, Brawler, Gunner and Swordfighter, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses. The possibilities for who you can create are practically endless. Second the challenges, I dunno if this is because I’m a bit OCD or a completionist, but I am obsessed with completing these challenges, even if it just unlocks a trophy I MUST UNLOCK IT!!! *Appeal to my readers* I need tips for the Home Run Contest.

The stages in this game also deserve a mention, I love how almost all of them have a unique quirk to keep you on your toes. For example there is a stage based on the Spirit Train from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, at certain times the train will be travelling slowly, so if you get pushed on to the tracks it’s very easy to recover. But then just a few moments later the train has sped up, meaning if you hit the tracks it’s an instant KO. I feel that fact this game, like its predecessor has a level based on the old DS messaging system ‘Pictochat’ is just amazing. I love how that stage looks and how you interact with it, what I mean is shapes will be drawn on to the screen that become part of the stage, for example some fire will be drawn, which when touched will indeed burn your character. I also enjoy the fact that every franchise or series that all the different characters hail from is represented in at least one stage.

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I’d like to briefly mention the couple of factors I don’t like, and they relate to the fact that this game runs at a mind boggling 60 frames per second on such a small device. Simply, it’s a bit of a battery drainer, even on the lowest brightness it only lasts around 3 hours. Second and I admit this is a tad picky, but on all other 3DS games I’ve played, when I press the Home button to close the game, it occurs in about a second, 2 at the most. When it comes to Smash Bros you’re looking at 10-15 seconds, it’s just a little thing that annoys me, but I’m willing to forgive it considering just how well it runs. This may sound like a stupid thing to say if you don’t own one but still, really this game needs to be played on a 3DS XL, even on an XL at times I’ve find it difficult to see what items are onscreen, because the camera is quite zoomed out, that gradually moves in as the number of fighters decreases. I just worry it could become a rather frustrating thing that would ruin your experience on standard 3DS.

Some of you may be able to remember when I discussed in my Ocarina of Time review that it wasn’t really a portable game, as you had to sit down for 30 minutes to an hour to get anything done. Smash Bros on the other hand is the definition of a portable game, if you’ve got a spare 5-10 minutes you can easily boot it up and play a couple fights to pass the time, this is what games should be like on portable consoles.

Even if you’ve never played a Smash Bros game before, I urge you to try this it’ll appeal to causal and more serious gamers alike, but above all it’s just good fun.