Highlights from Sony’s Future of Gaming

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“We get to show you just some of the games that demonstrate our belief that PlayStation 5 marks the biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen.” – Jim Ryan, President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sony were taking no prisoners, darting straight out of the gate with Spider-Man Miles Morales. There was a lot of confusion surrounding the announcement, with a lot of talks about Spider-Man (2018) getting a PS5 remaster and Miles was set to be added as an expansion. Insomniac Games have now confirmed on Twitter that it is in fact a standalone game, much like First Light (2014) for the Infamous series and The Lost Legacy (2017) for Uncharted. We can expect more information in the coming months, but for now it’s time to be hyped for Miles to make his debut later this year!

The overall vibe of the showcase was artistic, colourful and introducing a wide variety of games for every player. As much as I would like to cover every game that was announced, I’ll be focusing on the handful that I personally am excited about and looking forward to hearing/seeing more of. That being said, I can’t continue without at least mentioning Resident Evil Village because that fake out with the title was so perfectly executed. Well played, Capcom.

Follow the links in the titles to watch the trailers!

 

Project Athia (Working title)

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Square Enix are just flexing at this point. This game looks absolutely beautiful and judging from the glimpses of gameplay that we’ve seen, it all looks very promising.

We are presented with lushious environments, giant beasts and a protagonist who can launch herself great distances. The animations are fluid and the gameplay looks fast paced and action packed, and traversal looks incredibly fun as you soar through the air and landing seemingly impossible jumps with ease. Being able to conjure roots from the earth beneath you to ensnare enemies looks totally badass and I feel as though I’ll be channeling the might of the Leshens from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015).

No release date as of yet and with the title still not finalised, I don’t suspect that we’ll see Square Enix drop this title any time soon but they’ve certainly created a buzz for this new IP.

 

Stray

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R.I.P HUMANS

You get to play as a cat with a little backpack and if that doesn’t grab your attention then I don’t know what will.

Stray is a third person adventure game where the player controls a stray cat, lost in a gorgeous but decaying cybercity. The neon colour scheme of the world is so visually striking and futuristic but having cats present feels out of place, much like this poor stray who must find their way home. I’m curious as to why cats are in this city of charasmatic robots and how our tiny furry friend found its way there.

Down the road the player will befriend a flying drone known as B12, who I believe will serve as the voice of exposition/hint provider for the player (unless if the cat can talk!) much like Navi’s now infamous function for Link in Ocarina of Time (1998). The two will work together to find their way out, defend against threats and explore the streets. I’m fully anticipating being able to do some cat shenanigans because the Untitled Goose Game (2019) has now set that bar.

Whoever is trying to hurt this cat and its mechanical friend is going down in 2021.

 

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

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I was making notes throughout the stream and all I wrote for this was “ADORABLE OMG YES BEAUTIFUL” and I honestly think that sums it up pretty nicely!

Finding out that it’s the talented folks over at EmberLab that are creating this game filled me with such joy. The team created the incredible Majora’s Mask animation back in 2016 entitled Terrible Fate and the attention to detail is simply stunning. Kena: Bridge of Spirits combines the gameplay of Pikmin (2001) and the visuals of Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) in the best way.

Bringing the animation level of a Pixar film, players assume control of Kena, a young Spirit Guide, on a journey to find the sacred mountain shrine. The adorable, fluffy companions are known as the Rot, who maintain balance within the forest. The Rot have different abilities and Kena herself is very capable, sporting a staff and bow that use a blue energy to attack. By teaming up, the group must purify the corrupted spirits and uncover the long forgotten secrets of this whimsical world.

Dazzling and charming, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has my utmost attention.

 

Oddworld: Soulstorm

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Goosebumps.

It dawned on me that New ‘n’ Tasty came out in 2014 and I suddenly realised how long we’ve been waiting for Soulstorm. Lorne Lanning, president of Oddworld Inhabitants, describes this latest instalment as “an emotionally engaging story, where rescuing is rewarding and failure is devastatingly hilarious”, all of which I’ve come to expect from Oddworld.

Personally, I haven’t played Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (1998), of which Soulstorm is a reimagining of, because I hadn’t realised that there was a sequel to my beloved Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997). Despite this, it’s because of my attachment to the first game that has fuelled my excitement for Soulstorm. There have been leaps and bounds since New ‘n’ Tasty and it shows. I have rewatched the trailer several times since its reveal and the level design looks both insane and ambitious. I also noticed the Quarma meter at the bottom right pop up every so often, which will dictate the ending (good or bad) that the player earns. Quarma first appeared by name in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (2001), but it has been present since the first game as a background mechanic. It will be interesting to see how Quarma is presented visually, such as having an actual meter to show the player where on the scale they currently are although this could make it too obvious that the player is on track for the good or bad ending.

I loved how they breathed new life into New ‘n’ Tasty but one of my small issues with it was losing a sense of the creepy atmosphere, which is something that I hope they’ll implement in Soulstorm. I can’t quite describe the noise I made when I first saw Abe go to cut those stitches in his mouth after all these years, but I am greatly anticipating him finding his “full voice”.

 

Little Devil Inside

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Such a charming trailer with fantastic music and some great creature designs.

The official Neostream Interactive website describes the journeys you undertake as a challenge for your “survival instincts and the choices you make”. Originally introduced as a Kickstarter project, Little Devil Inside set itself out to be a exploration based survival game that rewards players for the ordinary, every day tasks. Rather than being a traditional dungeon crawler, the player has a homebase that can be interacted with with its own events or used to rest up before a mission.

Hired by an individual known as the Professor, the player must hunt down beasts for the Professor’s research purposes but will encounter many obstacles along the way. As such, a heavy emphasis on preparation is placed onto the player. Bad weather can be a setback, not knowing enough intel about the area will send you along the wrong path and being complacent with your gear could prove disastrous.

The animations are clean but the combat seems brutal and efficient, as a monster hunter should be. Despite being strong, the main character is not gifted with any particular powers and can be afflicted with sickness and even injuries. With the pacing of the game aiming to be slower, it seems that Neostream are expecting their players to learn on the go and play smart.

 

Horizon: Forbidden West

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The Golden Gate Bridge has seen better days

I gasped so loudly when I heard the first note of music in the trailer. It shook me deep within my core and I just knew we would be getting our first glimpses of the next part of Aloy’s journey and to finally see what Sylens’ plans are with HADES.

Horizon: Forbidden West doesn’t seem to be set much later than the events of its predecessor, but there are already some very distinct differences in a world that seems even more dangerous than before. Firstly, we’re certainly not in Colorado/Utah/northern Arizona anymore, and Aloy has travelled westwards to San Francisco and possibly even Las Vegas. I wonder if Aloy was on a journey to discover more of the world, to connect distant tribes or if she was drawn to resolving the mysterious red plague that’s ravaging the natural world.

The crabs at the beginning of the trailer had so much personality that I completely glossed over the fact that we were now near the ocean! Underwater traversal, while not everyone’s favourite thing in games, opens up a whole new realm of exploration for Aloy that was not previously available to her. As exciting as this is, it does also mean that we’re likely to see more water dwelling machines who will be in their element. Aloy may be able to use the underwater vegetation to conceal herself and draw these machines into well placed traps, much like she does on solid ground.

Speaking of machines, there are some familiar faces such as the Charger and Snapmaw but these new machines look incredible. It will be interesting to see how they function in this part of the world, but most of all I just want to know if we’ll be able to mount these new flying machines because that was sorely missing from the overridden Stormbirds. Also, was that a mechanical Oliphaunt or something?! I was inspired before, and now I’m all in.

And that about covers all the games that I’m looking forward to! The line up looks very diverse and there’s definitely a game here for everyone. The roster of titles will only get bigger but for now, this seems like a great start for the PS5.

A Fresh Start: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Release date: March 20, 2020

My social media is full of around the clock updates regarding the ongoing issue (putting it mildly) that is Covid-19. Despite only being nearly 4 months in, people are already fed up of the year. It was then that a silver lining in the form of a distraction made its way to us; a true hero that has helped to keep people connected and provide some much needed respite while maintaining social distancing and quarantine. My Twitter feed in particular now includes a delightful sprinkling of players’ cute avatars and their experiences coexisting with their anthropomorphic animal neighbours on a once deserted island. Or maybe some people just wanted a break from Doom Eternal (2020)…

The latest installment in the Nintendo franchise that has spanned almost 2 decades is equal parts charming and relaxing. It’s easy to understand why long term fans were excited about New Horizons, but there’s something here for everyone.

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You can celebrate your own and your residents’ birthdays!

I had a very late epiphany about Minecraft (2011) in that I didn’t give it enough credit, but my love affair with the game was brief. In a similar vein I loved the concept of Stardew Valley (2016) but it didn’t click with me. It was because of this that I was skeptical that I would enjoy Animal Crossing, but I was fervently urged by a few friends and now I’m the one trying to convince others to join in with the incredible amount of fun that is New Horizons.

Having never played Animal Crossing in any capacity I wasn’t too sure what to expect but when the game opens in a heart achingly adorable airport with two, sweet little tanukis named Timmy and Tommy to guide me, it’s as if Nintendo didn’t even want to give me a chance to dislike it. Before I knew it I was being whisked away to an uninhabited island with wild cherries that would eventually be known as ‘Smol Isle’, its residents henceforth called beans, and it was here that I would put down my roots. Thus began my very first journey into crippling debt to the infamous business entrepreneur, Tom Nook.

The first thing that will grab anyone’s attention while playing this game are the graphics. While cartoony by nature, when you compare New Horizons to the earlier games you can see how Nintendo jumped leaps and bounds to get to this point. The gentle rustling of leaves on trees and the waves softly lapping at the shore gives the game the calmest atmosphere possible. Even when there are grey clouds and it rains on your little island it still feels nice to be there.

As a new player, I didn’t know that Animal Crossing syncs to your game console’s time and date, meaning that the game matches real time. I was pleasantly surprised when playing at night and found that it was also night time on my little island. The day/night cycle and even the time of year effects the types of fish, insects and even NPCs that you can encounter, but the passage of time is also how progression is paced. Kind of like a pay-wall but… time instead.

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The start of the game is relatively slow because the various NPCs provide tutorials via tasks such as creating your first set of tools to get you started. The durability of these tools is reminiscent of how weapons worked in Breath of the Wild (2017), which isn’t necessarily a good thing. It feels somewhat frustrating to have tools break so quickly and this means having to grind for materials to craft new ones and this can be especially taxing while still in the early stages. It would be helpful to have a durability bar of sorts to give an indication to players when their tools are close to breaking so they’re able to plan ahead of time. As someone who is not fond of gardening in real life, I have to say I was pretty devastated when my watering can broke.

Your progress is also hindered by having to wait overnight for some things to come to fruition. I am aware of players being able to change the date and time on their consoles to move time forwards as far as necessary but as this was my first time playing, I wanted to experience the game as it was intended rather than speed running my way through. I have also heard that Nintendo lightly discourage this practice and have hinted at implementing some kind of deterrent, though the details of what this entails have not been revealed.

By day 3 I had hardly any events or chores that needed tending to as I was waiting for the museum and shop construction to be completed, however I was not aware that I could invite other NPCs to become beans and move to Smol Isle, which I have since made a start on and began readying their new homes. My favourite addition to the island so far has to be the museum. It is such a wonderful place to explore and really gives the players motivation to catch every critter and uncover all the fossils so they can be displayed in their full glory. I did try to keep half of the Stegosaurus skeleton that I found in my house but it took up nearly all the space I had, so I figured the museum was a better place to keep it.

One thing that I loved from the word go was that the controls are intuitive and still very simple. I instinctively knew that holding B would make me sprint and to repeatedly press A when reeling in a fish. Most of the controls can also be figured out just by fiddling around with the keys for a few seconds, such as cycling through your tools with the left and right arrows on the D-Pad. My only issue is that on occasion the controls can be a little finicky and so it’s hard to be accurate on occasion. I have been attacked by wasps on countless occasions because my door was a little bit more to the left or right than I originally judged and I couldn’t get indoors fast enough, or my flowers have been planted incorrectly because despite digging a hole for the seeds they somehow land behind me. It’s a minor grievance, though it is reminiscent of how small inconveniences seem to feel enormous at the time even in real life.

A great aspect of Animal Crossing is how every player’s experience will vary from one another, from the native fruit that grows on your island to the residents that will become your neighbours. Each NPC has their own personality and quirks, which does mean that when residents interact with one another they can be friendly or a little hostile to each other depending on if they are compatible friends. On day 5 I welcomed my new resident with an appropriately sporty housewarming gift and for now it seems all is well. Each player can host up to 10 residents on their island, making it a bustling community where some will choose to stay as long as you do and others may eventually move onto other things. Will there be falling out amongst the beans? Only time will tell how things will turn out on my Smol Isle.

There is a sense of a lack of choice when initially creating your avatar but like how all the collectibles are a goldmine for the completionists out there, the ability to draw up custom patterns for decorating and refurbishing furniture gives the designers out there something to be excited about. I have seen some incredible designs out there, including Link’s classic green tunic and even Ellie from The Last of Us (2013). I used this feature to create some pixel art of Luigi, Sonic and Charmander to decorate the walls in my ever growing home. It’s a simple feature that makes way for endless possibilities and provides infinite options for personalisation to really make things your own. Decorating and setting up furniture in and around my home has been a highlight of my experience with the game so far and I’m not even close to being done, which makes it even more thrilling. I spent an obscene amount of time trying to get the placement of a candle right yesterday, but it was worth it!

Players are also not bound to stay on their own island forever. Although the entire island is not immediately available to be explored until you obtain traversal items, players have the option to buy a Nook Miles Ticket using their Nook Miles (another form of currency that is awarded for completing tasks), which allows them to jet off to a random island that can be raided for supplies. There is a chance to encounter potential new residents and find islands that have different fruit, and these can be harvested and planted on your own island. I have heard that there’s also an island that only hosts tarantulas, so keep those nets handy and may your aim be true.

Anyone who knows me or has seen the pattern in the video games that I tend to review knows that I am not a big fan of playing online. So when I say that going over to my friends’ islands is wholesome and fun, I mean it. I bought a year subscription for Nintendo online because of how much I enjoyed visiting and hosting my friends. Also because of Mario Kart 8 (2017) but that’s a given really. It’s great to see how your friends use the same tools that you have to create something that’s entirely unique and you can even help each other by sending resources and DIY recipes to aid the crafting and design efforts. A friend of mine and I had a little museum date on each other’s islands last night while also swapping notes on how to better organise our houses and trading some of our flora. It’s possible to send short messages while visiting one another, which is admittedly easier to do while playing in handheld mode as typing can be arduous with a controller, but it’s a cute workaround the lack of a voice chat option on the Switch. The Nintendo Switch online app does feature a rudimentary text and voice chat option, but something like Discord may just work a little better for you.

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Sometimes the news and social media can embed stress and anxiety, especially in the most recent months. Now more than ever people are in need of something lighthearted and a way to stay connected to the world, whether that means playing online with friends or visiting a random player’s island whose gates are open. Other people may just need a way to keep their minds off all the bad news and Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives players an opportunity to safely do just that. Completing small tasks is an achievement and even when you feel as though there’s not a lot to be doing you can create your own goals. There is a great sense of exploration despite being in a small space and in the later stages of the game you are able to terraform the island, creating a completely new area than where you started. I’m excited to get creative and I can’t wait to see what members of the community think of.

Personalise your own little paradise and soak up the virtual sun when you’re done for the day. Maybe send a letter with a gift to a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them. Sit back, relax and play at your own pace; and hey, at least it makes doing chores fun!

“You can’t stop this” – The Last of Us Part II is coming

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The Last of Us Part II
Release date: 19 June, 2020 (Edited after statement regarding the new release date)

NB: I am currently trying to avoid reading articles or watching gameplay as much as possible as I want to go into this game with a fresh perspective next year. This post is going to be based on initial observations and speculation – if I miss anything that answers questions I present or disproves any theories then you know why!

It’s time to come out of hiatus.

Naughty Dog have successfully blown fans away with their latest State of Play and have finally revealed the long anticipated release date for the sequel of The Last of Us. This past week has been a goldmine of information with possibly the most exciting ‘Outbreak Day’ yet and it seems as though everyone is officially aboard the hype train.

Although first announced back in 2016, fans haven’t had any indication of where the game was going until E3 in 2018 where Naughty Dog dropped a gameplay trailer. In this, we got our first look at the challenges that face the now nineteen-year-old Ellie, such as the cult faction that has made an appearance in the world. Although there has always been human antagonists, it was clear that these people felt much more dangerous than the ones previously encountered. How this group’s (revealed to be called the WLF) presence played into the wider story was still heavily speculated but after recent announcements it seems as though we have a better steer on where this story is taking us. In my first post after the game was initially announced, I theorised that Ellie was referring to the Fireflies when saying she would “hunt down every last one of them”, which definitely isn’t the case anymore.

Over this past week we have heard Neil Druckmann and other members of Naughty Dog make numerous references to this section of the press release:

What would you do if someone you loved was the victim of a cruel and violent act? How easily could one’s mind tip towards violent retribution? How far would you go to bring the people responsible to justice? If you were successful, how would it change you? Would you be the same?

Judging from the latest gameplay trailer it looks as though Ellie at one stage is searching for her best friend (and potential love interest), Dina. The trailer presents the narrative that Dina is captured by this hostile group and killed in front of Ellie as we hear her agonised scream echoing behind a black screen. We next see Ellie being brought a meal by Tommy, whose settlement she arrives at by the end of the first game, asking if she really means to go through with her plan. In keeping with the themes of the franchise, Ellie displays brutal acts of violence against those responsible. Ellie is clearly on a quest for vengeance, but the way this storyline is presented feels too on the nose for Naughty Dog.

After what has quite literally been years, we have finally been given a good look at our man who looks like he’s taking handsomely rugged to a new level. However the joy was short-lived as the theories surrounding Joel began to resurface, one in particular has created a resounding stir throughout the community; what if Joel is the one who is killed?

The trailer is cut in a way that appears seamless, so in the scene where Joel looks to be confronting Ellie (from which the stills above are taken from) fans became suspicious of the timeline of events as it seems as though Joel and Ellie are in two different places here. Of course, we can all hope that Joel truly means it when he says he wouldn’t let us do this on our own and makes it to the end of the game, but the world of The Last of Us is unforgiving and doesn’t play on favourites. In a way, it would feel repetitive for Ellie to lose a friend/love interest as we have seen this play out with Riley during The Last of Us: Left Behind, but to lose the man who is the only parental figure she has known is an entirely different beast.

Another interesting point to take from this extract of the press release is how Naughty Dog takes specific themes to shape their characters. In The Last of Us, Joel is described as a ‘man with few moral lines left to cross’, which was the brief that caught Troy Baker’s attention and carried through in his performance. For this game we have been repeatedly hearing the phrase ‘vicious cycles of violence’ and when you take that alongside the question of how far would someone go for revenge it paints a vivid image of what is in store for Ellie’s character development.

We received a good look at our protagonist’s new appearance back in 2016 in the first teaser trailer but fans were concerned that this adult version of Ellie wasn’t quite what they were expecting. With sharper features and a hardened stare that could make even the most experienced person shake, Ellie didn’t seem to be herself. In the latest trailer it seems as though Naughty Dog took some of this criticism on board and rounded her face a little more to pay relate it back to her younger teenage self. It’s clear that actress Ashley Johnson’s own look has also had an impact on Ellie’s design, with a blend of the two of them molded into her character model, breathing a distinct sense of life into her.

Ellie is also shown to be much more capable with an increased movement ability such as climbing and dodging, creating a more agile experience in comparison to what players had with Joel who relied on brute strength. This ties in well with how Ellie played during Left Behind, which utilised her smaller frame to sneak around and think of clever tactics to outsmart her opponents. The essence of her character is still present but it is clear that the brutality of Ellie’s actions in Part II should not be taken lightly either.

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Director Neil Druckmann has confirmed in Inside the Demo that parts of the latest trailer take place the following day after Ellie and Dina’s iconic kiss. They ride into the snow covered environment on horseback on a routine patrol to clear out areas of infected, a task that is mentioned the previous night by a new addition to the cast, Jesse. So it does look like that horses will now be accessible during parts of the game for traversal as opposed to the one level in The Last of Us where they appear, though how extensively this will be utilised remains unclear. There is mention of the snow gently gathering on the horse as Ellie rides through the terrain, which feels a little too specific if horses are only a passing means of transport.

So far there has been a much bigger emphasis on the Seattle based group due to their more organised presence in comparison to their predecessors, Hunters. There is a palpable tension as Ellie ducks behind cover, squeezes through gaps and sneaks her way around to avoid being spotted. Ominous messages with the words ‘May she guide you’ were crudely painted on the walls in the first gameplay demo, meaning that these people are driven by survival but a desire to serve, in their eyes, a greater purpose.

From what we’ve seen during gameplay these enemies are much more intelligent. Communicating with one another through whistles and checking in with each other to ensure their patrols are going smoothly, this puts the player on edge as a wrong move can be the difference between life and death. There is also the added problem of guard dogs that the WLF utilise during their patrols, creating a new danger that Ellie must be aware of. While listening out for enemies, there is a scent trail that can also be seen that dogs will pick up on and track Ellie down, giving the player another sense that they need to be aware of.

One of the reasons why the human enemies stood out in The Last of Us was their unpredictability. They were able to adapt from patrolling to being on alert and even sneaking up on the player if the opportunity arose during combat. Naughty Dog have turned the dial up with the WLF, but they’re not the only terrifying part of this universe.

The gameplay released over the past week has given us our first real look at the infected and they are even more intimidating than before. While Ellie’s abilities have improved, such as her athleticism, the infected have also turned it up a notch (or three). Runners, the newly infected, are noted to be much more aggressive whereas in the first game they were dangerous but definitely the easiest to dispatch without causing too many palpitations. This does mean that infected classes beyond the Runners have also been scaled up and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is nervous knowing that Clickers have become even more spine-chilling than they already were. But if that wasn’t enough then Naughty Dog have showcased “one of [their] new infected classes”, which after hearing about I made a note while drafting this post that simply said “Thanks, I hate it”.

Based on the biological cycle that is presented in The Last of Us it is safe to assume that the Shambler phase of infection appears between the stages of Clicker and death. The Shambler is said to be a “lumbering, tankier enemy that can take a lot of punishment”, which sounds a lot like a Bloater. I would like to say that a Shambler fits into the cycle between Bloater and death as it makes sense for continuity, only they are said to chase you down before bursting and emitting “lingering, corrosive clouds”. Bloaters are known to be slower than other infected, and so the Shambler could be a previous stage with the spore explosions being hindered by the fungal plate-like armour that appears on Bloaters in the latter phase of infection.

Ellie’s immunity will also play an intriguing role in Part II, as while she doesn’t need to worry about infection there is still the risk of dying. However during hers and Dina’s patrol Ellie is wearing a gas mask, which as we see during the first game is not necessary. Does this mean that even Dina does not know about Ellie’s immunity to the infection or is it a pretence that she is keeping up for the wider community? An interesting theory that has popped up is that although Ellie is immune there is a chance that she is experiencing some adverse effects from inhaling spores over the years without using a gas mask. This would provide an alternative reason as to why her hands shake in the trailers, as opposed to simply being pumped full of adrenaline in those moments.

Now, this post is already getting particularly lengthy, so I will cover the bigger questions like if a continuation to what was already one of the greatest endings in a video game ever was necessary in the future. Suffice to say that the excitement for this game is at an all time high after the recent announcements. I’m sure we’ll see more snippets as the months go on, but it is now time to officially start the countdown to The Last of Us Part II.

Endure and survive.

3 Things to Know Before Playing Horizon Zero Dawn

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All images were captured using the in game photo mode

Horizon Zero Dawn
Released: February 28, 2017

I’d been debating whether or not to buy a PlayStation 4 Pro for the good part of around 6 months, and the other week I finally caved. I had missed out on a number of games over the last year or so but it’s better to start late than never. Horizon Zero Dawn boasts stunning visuals, an intriguing storyline, vast exploration… and surprisingly difficult gameplay.

The initial area is deceptively easy, and once I was out in the wider world I soon found that I had underestimated the game. Knowing this now, here are my three tips to any first time Horizon player:

1. Don’t be a Hero

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Northwest of the Embrace

There is a heavy emphasis on stealth and playing tactically, meaning that unless if you can comfortably overwhelm your opponents, going in guns blazing shouldn’t be the first strategy. Some fights will inevitably devolve into close quarters combat, and it is during these times that you should either have an escape route in mind or get ready for a bruiser. The machines hit hard, even the little ones, so it’s ideal to take them out quietly.

First order of business would be to unlock the Silent Strike skill, allowing Aloy to use her spear to silently take down small machines and almost all human enemies while hiding. When using this on a larger enemies, it deals significant damage and can stun your opponent. Combining this with the Critical Hit, Lure Call and Concentration skills make for a pretty devastating set of moves.

A little further into the story sees the introduction of a new feat, overriding the machines. Hostile machines will respond to an overridden machine violently and they will engage in a fight to the death. This is one of the most handy tools you will come across, especially when you find yourself in a situation where you are grossly outnumbered. While the machines are too busy fighting amongst themselves, make a swift getaway and live another day.

2. Utilise the Arsenal

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Day Tower

Weapons, traps, potions, modifications, armour and the Focus. Why choose just one? Aloy’s extensive stockpile gives you a multitude of ways to tackle combat, and combining them makes for the ultimate experience.

The Focus is the first piece of gear you’ll become acquainted with and is your most useful device. With this tiny piece of technology, Aloy is able to survey her environment and see hostile machines, human enemies, remnants of the Metal World, game for hunting, etc. While scanning enemies, it is possible to see and highlight their walking path if they are patrolling, giving Aloy an edge and providing a chance for you to pick the most opportune places to hide and strike.

Traps are particularly helpful to stall or pick off weaker enemies, allowing you to concentrate on the more intimidating threats. Modifications are harvested from machines and can be used in weapons (coils) or armour (weaves) for stat buffs. Note that once a modification is removed it is lost unless the Tinker skill has been learned, which allows for them to be reused, so choose your mods wisely. Potions can either be used for health or elemental resistance, which is useful against enemies that use fire, shock or ice attacks.

Often times the process is trial and error but the more practise you get in, the more proficient you become with the tools at Aloy’s disposal.

3. Imbalanced Quest Levels

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Cauldron Sigma

Yes, the quest is listed as level 8. No, it won’t be a challenge at level 5… it will feel impossible.

Saltiness aside, the quest levels in Horizon are much more like loose guidelines. Levelling up Aloy doesn’t do much other than increasing her maximum health by 10 HP and awarding a skill point. Both are definitely helpful, but when facing a high level enemy those extra hit points won’t even cushion a direct hit. You are not required to be a certain level before getting access to better weapons, it’s more of a case of if you can afford it then you can buy it.

Taking on higher level enemies is daunting but not hopeless, as you thrive in Horizon by exploiting the weak points of machines. After scanning one with your Focus it will add information about their attacks and vulnerabilities in your notes. Simply hitting them over and over will do damage, but not nearly as much as blowing up a Blaze canister that’s sticking out of their back. In some cases, using these components creates a blast that damages anything within range, including you. Commit the machines’ weaknesses to memory as you will certainly need to know where exactly to hit them to induce the most pain.

While enemies may be listed at level 20+, it is possible to take them down at lower levels but it does take patience and careful planning.

Bonus Tip!

Spend some time in the menus as there’s a lot in there that the game doesn’t explain, such as gaining XP for completing weapon tutorials and increasing your carrying capacity. The sooner you are able to upgrade your equipment and carry more stuff, the better prepared you will be for the journey ahead. Happy hunting!

The Last of Us 2 Officially Announced

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‘I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to finally be able to say that Ellie and Joel are back for another intense, harrowing, and emotional adventure.’ – creative director, Neil Druckmann

It’s been rumoured since the success of the first game, but The Last of Us 2 (known as Part II) has finally been announced during the Playstation Experience (PSX) keynote. While the necessity of a second game has been debated over the last few years, the trailer does provide an immense amount of curiosity to keep the naysayers at bay.

Ellie is much older than in the original game. She now looks to be in her late teens and possibly even in her early twenties, begging the question of how much time has actually passed between the two games. She is also seen playing guitar, a practise that Joel had promised to teach her once their quest to find the Fireflies was over. She seems to have taken to it as proficiently as she did when shooting a gun for the first time.

Our previous protagonist, Joel, also makes an appearance during the trailer but this is only brief. He walks through a house with several bodies strewn about the place before finding his way into the room where Ellie is playing guitar, asking what she is doing. The focus is very clearly on Ellie, which is one way of Naughty Dog emphasising that Ellie is the playable character this time around (other than Druckmann saying it himself).

The trailer leaves us with so many questions. Who is Ellie planning to kill? Does she know about Joel’s lie at the end of the first game? What has happened to them both during this time-skip? Druckmann has stated that as the game is in early stages of development, it will be a while until we’re able to see something closer to a finished project, but they were all too excited to wait any longer to give us a sneak preview.

A few things to take note from the trailer: nature appears to have completely taken over structures by this point, indicating that humanity still has not bounced back from the Cordyceps infection, but there are no infected in the trailer itself. The Fireflies are still around, as shown by their logo spray painted on a road sign. Perhaps this is who Ellie is referring to? Ellie has lost the childlike wonder that she once had, which is now replaced with a much more hardened and seasoned expression, like that of Joel’s. She has a tattoo on her right forearm, and just so happens to be playing guitar next to the window that appears in the menu screen of the first game. Where are they? What is the significance of this house? Only time will tell.

Druckmann, and both Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Troy Baker (Joel), took to Twitter to announce the exciting news within minutes of one another. Seems as though they were all extremely eager to let the world know of this game’s existence, and the world appears to be glad for it. I think it’s safe to assume that we’ll all be keeping our eyes peeled wide open waiting for updates on The Last of Us Part II and the ‘epic journey’ that the game will take us on in the coming months.

EDIT: An interesting theory that I have seen on Reddit is that Ellie’s declaration is targeted at the Fireflies, who have since tracked down her and Joel after the events of the first game and killed Joel in response to his cold blooded murder of Marlene. Joel, as he appears in Part II will be an image that is haunting Ellie, urging her to turn back because this path will get her killed. As the first game was about a father coming to terms with the loss of a daughter, the second game will focus on a daughter losing her father. Interesting food for thought, no?

Alola, trainers!: Pokémon Sun and Moon

 

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Pokémon Sun and Moon Demo
Release date: October 18, 2016

After what can only be described as a tumultuous relationship with Pokémon Go and the sudden arrival of Ditto in the app, Pokémon Sun and Moon is finally here. Scroll down if you want to skip my thoughts on the demo and go straight to the main game review.

Initially I decided against downloading the demo as I wanted to do a completely blind playthrough as I have with previous titles, but I was swayed by the promises of awesome stuff that could be transferred to the full game. One of these things was the Ash-Greninja from the anime, which until now I had not seen or even heard of. I can’t say I’ve been keeping up with the anime as of late, but I personally like Greninja as I grew to really love mine in Pokémon X.

Overall, I have to say I was underwhelmed by the demo. New Pokémon always make me feel quite bitter and put off because I am a “Gen 1er”, but I’ve enjoyed the last few games despite this. I’m going to try and not judge them too harshly, but from the small selection that I’ve seen so far I’m not quite sold on them yet. I was also a little sceptical of the touch screen interface as it doesn’t look as good as the previous ones. I may just be nitpicking but it was a good set up, so I don’t see why the need was there for a drastic change in the aesthetics. What I did like about the changes were the small notes to say if certain moves would be effective or not against certain opponents in battle, which is great because it got really confusing after new types of Pokémon were added, such as Fairy and Dragon. At least it did for me, and I found this feature helpful.

Knowing that Game Freak had opted to not include Pokémon Gyms made me worried. Instead they have introduced a new system called the Island Challenge, in which the player must go through trials to progress on each of the four islands of the Alola Region. The Trial Captains act very much like Gym Leaders and are the ones who present the trials to you. The player will also battle against Totem Pokémon, which are a stronger version of Pokémon that have been encountered and can even call upon other Pokémon to aid it in battle. During the demo, you battle against a Totem Hakamo-o, which wasn’t particularly difficult but it’s a demo. I didn’t expect them to raise the difficulty level to that of Dark Souls or anything.

The changes were very different to what we’ve seen before, but I wasn’t going to let it dissuade me from purchasing the full game. The reception of the Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire demo was lukewarm, and that game turned out fantastic. Game Freak know what they’re doing, and we can trust them to produce something wonderful.

 

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Pokémon Sun and Moon
Release dates: November 18, 2016 (Japan, North America and Australia), November 23rd, 2016 (Europe)

Minor spoiler warnings

I decided to buy Pokémon Sun because, in my opinion, the sun lion (Solgaleo) looked cooler than the moon bat (Lunala). I did notice this during the demo, but the movement feels much more fluid and less clunky than in previous titles. There are even great looking cutscenes now, which are so smooth in comparison to what we’ve had before, which shows how much of a massive improvement there has been. The environments look diverse, and I love the fact that my character isn’t a tiny sprite/chibi anymore. The chibi look was cute, but I’m enjoying the more in proportion avatar as I roam around Alola.

I went with Litten as my starter, because look at that face. It’s adorable and I couldn’t say no to it. Though now, it has already become a Torracat and it looks like it’s going through its smug teenage years. The inclusion of several Gen 1 Pokémon has made me exceedingly happy, as at the start I was wondering why you would move from Kanto to Alola, because let’s be honest, Kanto is the best. So far, I’m liking the Alolan versions of some of these familiar faces. I’ve only seen Rattata, Grimer and Meowth’s Alolan counterparts as of yet, so I’m looking forward to encountering the others.

The new and improved Pokémon Amie that was introduced in X&Y is now called Pokémon Refresh, and is much more interactive than before. Instead of simply petting, feeding and playing with your Pokémon, you are now able to help them recover after battles. Whether this means you can cure status conditions such as paralysis and burns, and to clean them up if they get dirty during battle. It’s completely optional of course, but it’s a nice little way to feel like you’re bonding with your Pokémon. And, most importantly, it’s absolutely adorable.

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I am finding that I’m ignoring several of the new Pokémon in favour of ones that I am more familiar with, but I am attempting to catch every creature that I come across. As of where I am now, I have a caught each and every wild Pokémon that I’ve seen. I still get that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watch the Poké Ball wiggle. It lingers for a second too long after the third shake and I’m sat there hoping it doesn’t escape. I love that these games still gets me this excited and nervous.

I’ve noticed that several of the NPCs are holding smartphones, and it looks like their screens have a pixelated version of Pokémon Go on them. I wonder if they had as many server issues as we did. I have also, since playing the demo, made my peace with the interface both during and out of battles. It works well with all of the added features in these games and now I’m not having to scroll through several menus to get to where I need to be. It’s easy to use, self explanatory and you get going pretty quickly.

Some of the best changes are to do with convenience. I am so thankful that Poké Marts are now within the same building as the Pokémon Centres. It’s so much easier to flit between the two of them now without the added hassle of having to run to two different buildings that were not always very close to one another. Also, the change that is making life a lot easier on me is that when your party is full and you catch another Pokémon, you have the option of whether you want to switch out a member of your party to replace it with your new Pokémon, or to send it directly to your box. In previous titles, the new Pokémon would be sent directly to your PC in the Pokémon Centre and it would be frustrating. Sometimes I would be so far away from a Pokémon Centre but I wouldn’t be able to use my newest Pokémon without either backtracking or powering onwards with the risk of missing things. At least now, I can rearrange my team on the go if I so please.

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Now onto the part that was worrying me – the new Island Challenges. Going into the first of the trials, I can say I definitely got some Legend of Zelda vibes from it. I felt like I had just walked into Kokiri Forest or the Great Deku Tree, which was actually quite nice. I’ve got a lot of love for Ocarina of Time, so this made me feel somewhat more determined and comfortable when going into the trial. As the demo had explained, the most challenging part of the trial would be to face off with the Totem Pokémon at the end.

I did really enjoy the first trial. It was slightly repetitive but then the rude interruption occurs to spice things up a bit, and as ridiculous as Team Skull are, I do have to admit that I like them. This is a welcome change from the usual Pokémon Gym format, and I like that Game Freak have decided to try something different. The entrance of the Totem Pokémon was brilliant, and I don’t know if it was intended to be funny but I laughed. I did experience a drop in frame rate during the Totem battle, which was disappointing but a minor problem in the grand scheme of things that will hopefully be fixed. It was as easy as the demo, but I’ve no doubt that they will get harder down the line and I’m looking forward to how the trials progress from this point onwards.

The only thing so far that I can consider to be a negative aspect of this game as of right now is the Festival Plaza, which is very similar to the Mii Plaza that comes with your 2DS or 3DS system. It’s a nice idea, but it is confusing and the only reason I went into it was because I misclicked it while looking for Pokémon Refresh. After a bit of searching and digging, my friend and I managed to list one another as VIP guests in each other’s Plazas, trade with one another and even battled. (A/N: If you’re reading this – you got owned, son). Trading is something that I’ve always enjoyed in Pokémon, but I was never overly keen on battling as I hate to lose. This could be the game that makes me venture out of my comfort zone. Watch out, trainers, I’m coming for you… maybe.

I have to say, I’ve been playing this game for apparently ten hours now (admittedly, I did eat and write this review in between) and I’m loving it. The story feels very different, while also remaining true to the previous Pokémon games, and the new gameplay mechanics are great. I honestly cannot wait to see what else this game has in store.

London Film Festival 2016 – Bleed for This

 

On the 9th of October, I had the amazing opportunity to go to the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival to watch the premiere of Bleed for This. It’s a pretty big digression from my usual articles surrounding video games, but this is definitely something that I wanted to document. I’m going to dedicate the first half of this article to my experience at a premiere, as it was my first one, and the second half will be about the film itself. Skip ahead for the review on the biopic movie about Vinny Paz.

Because I knew that the cinema at Embankment Garden had only just been put up specifically for the London Film Festival, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there. My mum and I rolled in, all dressed up and with a good amount of time to get a drink in before I suddenly heard someone shout “Aaron!”. I’m going to be honest, the director and actors in this film were not people that I feel like I’d become starstruck by, and I was right. As far as I was concerned, they were people that are in a film that I was about to watch, so there wasn’t really a sense of being amazed by famous people on my part. If I was somehow going to get Kit Harington’s number from Ciarán Hinds, that would be cause for a completely different article. However, I was still really excited by it all and their presence made the experience that much more special.

Miles Teller was whisked away whenever he was finished speaking to members of the press, which is completely understandable. He’s the star of the film, you can’t expect him to speak to everyone individually. Aaron Eckhart had his back, and he took the time to take pictures and sign autographs for people while everyone else was doing their part. My ‘selfie’ with Eckhart is one of my highlights of the day, and it makes me laugh because the main focus of the picture is that poor photographer’s head rather than myself or Eckhart.

Once they were done on the red carpet, we went inside and took our seats. My mum and I were sitting three rows from the front and we were unbelievably giddy at how good our seats were, and at how huge the cinema screen was. I can guarantee that any trip I take to a Cineworld is going to be underwhelming in comparison. Ben Younger (director), Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds stood at the front and introduced the film to the audience. Younger told us about some of the challenges faced when filming and for Teller in particular, who had to lose and gain weight rapidly for his role.

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As the film’s credits rolled, the quartet made their way back to the stage and there was a short Q&A with Terri White, our host, and the audience. I would have filmed the Q&A, but I wanted to experience it without watching it through the screen of my phone. Also, the British Film Institute have their own YouTube channel, which has the full Q&A in much better quality than my phone could have ever achieved. Hinds’ responses to the questions were adorably jumbled after he admitted that it was the first time that he had seen the film in its entirety. There was a great chemistry between the actors off camera, as evidenced by Teller and Eckhart bouncing jokes off one another in their recounting of the short filming process. You could tell that they all had built up a strong bond and friendship over the course of filming and attending these events together.

Something that I found interesting was that Vinny Paz was not as involved with the filming as one would have expected. Younger claimed that Paz was on set a few times but did not want to stick around as the shoots were long and arduous. While they were joking, I think this goes to show the amount of trust that the former boxer put in Younger, the crew and the cast as he did not feel the need to be a backseat driver. Paz was, however, in full correspondence with Younger during the writing of the script, which is most likely where he must have felt that his story was in the best of hands.

Overall, it was a great experience and I’d love to attend more events like this in the future. I love hearing about the stuff that goes into creating films, whether its the actors’ struggles or the funny things that happen. This definitely had an impact on how I viewed the film. Because of all the excitement, it was hard to watch the film with a critical mindset and so I will be undoubtedly biased in some senses, but I’m going to try to be as balanced as possible as I write about the film itself.

 

Bleed for This (2016)

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“Now go out there and show me how you do things. Show me how you lift. Show me how you fight. Show me who you are.”

I’m not usually one for films about sports, because I personally am not someone who watches sports, and the lackluster performance of Miles Teller in the even worse reboot of the original Fantastic Four (2015) had sky rocketed my doubts, but there was something that drew me to this particular film after watching the trailer. Of course, Teller’s skills shone in Whiplash (2014), and he wasn’t playing a fictional superhero with questionable powers this time around, but instead he was throwing himself headfirst into a gritty drama, portraying world champion boxer Vinny Paz (formerly Pazienza).

Teller plays Pazienza as cocky and obnoxious, as boxers sometimes are during their pre-fight talks and weigh ins, but despite this, Pazienza is shown to have had an admirable sense of family and community. Ben Younger talked about the Pazienza family during the Q&A following the film and called them ‘colourful caricatures’, which does indeed come across in the film. Katey Sagal played Louise Pazienza, the worrying mother who refused to watch her son in the ring and instead opted to sit in front of her many depictions of Christ during fights. Ciarán Hinds as Angelo Pazienza played him as a caring father who implemented tough love as a form of affection, but with an unwavering belief in his son who he viewed as a champion from day one. While some people may view their characterisations as a negative, Younger believed that this was central to their personalities and felt that these aspects of them had to be recognised. I respect the decision, but there were a few occasions where I found the Pazienzas to be overbearing, though it came from a place of love and no one is perfect.

There was a sense of predictability within the film, mainly for three reasons: it’s a true story, there is a layer of cliché over almost everything and the trailer gives away far too much. Because of this, the first half of the film felt a little bit like every other boxing film that I’ve watched. The arrogant boxer gets knocked down a few pegs by his opponents and the people surrounding them, until they pull through and perform better than ever, so on so forth. It’s a tried and tested formula in film, so you couldn’t really go too wrong other than the fact that it didn’t feel very original.

And then the near-fatal car crash happens.

“I know exactly how to give up. You know what scares me, Kev? Is that it’s easy.”

The crash looked so convincing. It was gruesome and that was a necessary detail. This film does a great job of indicating to you that this is a true story with the use of archival footage of Pazienza, and so to make the car crash scene and its aftermath as lurid as it was is the best way to show it. Teller himself talked about having been in a serious car accident while in his 20s and that two of his friends had been killed in car crashes during the Q&A, which is something that the audience can then hone in on. Car accidents are an unfortunate everyday occurrence, and with all of this apparent sense of cliché in the film, the audience need to remember that this is a true story. Seeing Teller as a bloody mess with his head limply hanging out of the car window serves as a powerful and shocking reminder that this actually happened, and they spared no detail.

Pazienza broke his neck in this accident and was told that he would be lucky to walk again, and so fighting was off the table. The fitting and eventual removal of the Halo (a circular metal brace screwed into the skull at four points and propped up with four metal rods, as pictured above) was a grisly ordeal, and Teller’s performance during the removal procedure was both, in equal parts, full of wincing and hilarity. After the Halo was first put on, the sense of defeat that Teller so competently illustrates with just his expressions is astounding. It’s around here that you come to realise that this isn’t just another boxing film, because the greatest moments are when Teller is depicting Pazienza out of the ring and his demonstration of his sheer ‘dogged determination’.

Aaron Eckhart as Kevin Rooney made for an interesting on-screen dynamic between both himself and Teller. As the film became a little less about boxing, it began to shed light on the influences and relationships between these people. The trust and belief that Pazienza and Rooney had in one another is forever shifting throughout the film, but it is because of this that there was a solid foundation for both of them to fall back on, and this is portrayed brilliantly by Eckhart and Teller. The friction between the two men is justifiable, and it is hard for the audience to take sides in this instance. With Pazienza’s serious injury, his resolve to disobey doctor’s orders to pursue his passion for boxing is more than praiseworthy, but Rooney’s initial inadvertence to potentially help Pazienza cause irreversible damage to himself is logical and understandable.

This story is considered one of the greatest comebacks in boxing history, but in reality it’s more than that. Paz’s conviction and persistence to return to the ring, continuing his training despite his condition, isn’t just an achievement for a boxer but it’s a true testament to a person’s willpower to never give up. Paz’s journey is inspirational, and Bleed for This captures the essence of what it means to resist admitting defeat, no matter what or how great the task is.

5 Upcoming Games to Be Excited About

1. Horizon Zero Dawn

February 28, 2017 (North America), March 1, 2017 (Europe), March 3, 2017 (UK)

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First things first, this game looks beautiful. The environments are stunning, and those mechanical beasts are a complete contrast to the wonders of nature. Incredible juxtaposition. You have my attention, Guerrilla Games.

Now, because it’s an action role playing game with a big emphasis on open world, I can’t help but compare this game to the Witcher series. That was the first thought I had when I saw this game’s reveal at E3, but there are enough unique points about it that differentiates this game from the behemoth that is Witcher. Our protagonist, Aloy (or Ygritte as I have heard people comment), uses an array of ranged weapons and stealth attacks to take down Machines, which can be looted for parts. The world is divided into sections, which are controlled by different tribes. Aloy’s adventure takes her across the world, which she was shielded from her whole life, and the player is able to take on quests from different tribes. Exploration is key in this game, and Guerrilla Games have stated that there will be no loading screens when entering new areas, which is ambitious and I commend them for that.

Guerrilla Games have also claimed that this game will be heavily based on trial and error, and as such, there will be no tutorial. I can’t tell you enough how happy I am to hear this. I’ve found recently that I have preferred to figure out controls myself rather than be thrown in and out of tutorials to tell me basic controls, like how to move my character. Sometimes teaching controls is useful, but more often than not I feel as though tutorials can hinder the player and ruin the immersion. So, I am pretty ecstatic that the developers aren’t going to be holding our hands during this game. It will really feel as though the players are Aloy, who is going out into the big wide world for the first time, and we will learn about her own abilities as a huntress and the world around her as we embark on the journey together.

 

2. Corpse Party 3DS

TBA (Europe), TBA 2016 (North America), July 30, 2015 (Japan)

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It’s not necessarily the game that I am excited for in this case, I just can’t believe that it’s coming to 3DS. Corpse Party is one of the best RPG maker games ever. The story line is great, the atmosphere is chilling and the soundtrack is unbelievably catchy. It was around when I discovered Corpse Party that I was also very much into Ib and The Crooked Man, both of which I thought were great RPG maker games too. I think there’s something about horror and RPG maker games that goes really well together, and Corpse Party got it just right. The campaign is long enough to keep you interested and there are several characters to get attached to, though that is a fool’s errand because these characters drop like flies. Especially if you start to get things wrong.

You play as various characters, all of whom are students, but after school activities go awry when one of them suggests that they perform a ‘ritual’ to mark their everlasting bond as friends. After a sudden earthquake, the students find themselves in an abandoned school, separated from one another and with evil things lurking in the darkness. They encounter the bodies of those who were trapped in the school before them, and the malevolent spirits that are trying to lead them to the same fate. The students of Kisaragi Academy must survive several obstacles in an attempt to solve the mystery surrounding the ominous place, and to finally reunite with their friends.

You really wouldn’t think that small 8-bit characters have the ability to scare you, but I really do think that this game makes a lot of triple A title horror games look like chumps. I don’t usually play horror games, but RPG maker games have a certain charm to them. You can’t help but be drawn in by them. I am a big fan of anime and manga, and so the art style and voice acting is definitely up my street, as it feels as though I am playing through an anime rather than simply watching it. The game is already out in Japan, and America are likely to get it before us here in Europe, but I can wait. It’s just going to feel like forever.

 

3. For Honor

February 14, 2017

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Move over, Chivalry. Your time is over.

I adore the medieval period (though the literature can be quite taxing), from the architecture to the artwork and, most importantly in this case, the warfare. For Honor gives players the chance to play as Knights, Vikings or Samurai, all in a medieval setting. Where it differs from Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is that it’s not just the players in the game, but instead the AI makes up a lot of the armies, which makes it feel a lot more like a siege or battle scenario. There will be multiplayer options, so don’t worry, you’ll be able to hack your friends up to your heart’s content. But, if you’re like me and you’re not someone who plays online very much, you’ll be pleased to know that For Honor features a full single-player campaign that is completely separate from the other game modes.

Also, this is probably going to be the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. However, at the same time I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. While this game looks awesome in many ways, the gameplay that I’ve seen doesn’t make me say “Wow!”. I love the fact that Ubisoft have implemented  a slightly more complex control system. The right analogue stick serves as directing your guard for opposing attacks, and it seems as though they have taken inspiration from Dark Souls and Bloodborne with the inclusion of light and heavy attacks, coupled with a dodge button. At the same time, when you watch gameplay it does look as though you’re simply just slashing your way through enemies with ease. There doesn’t seem to be any weight to your weapons, so the impact and damage they inflict appears superficial.

There is time for Ubisoft Montreal to reflect on any criticisms they have received, and I do hope that they try to do their best with this one, because this game looks like it has some real promise and potential.

 

4. We Happy Few

July 26, 2016 (Early Access)

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There’s something about pairing excessive happiness with a horrific dystopian world that grasps my interest. I mean, look at these people. Their appearances are so disconcerting and I love everything about them.

We Happy Few is set in a fictional English city in an alternate timeline during the 1960s. The people have begun to take a hallucinogenic drug known as ‘Joy’, and as the name suggests, Joy makes them happy. But it also comes with serious side effects. People on Joy are left with little morality and are very easily manipulated. People who refuse to take their Joy are known as ‘Downers’, and can actually see the decrepit nature that they really live in, but Downers are greeted with violence by others. Players will control one of three characters who are Downers and must survive and escape the city, all the while trying to complete a task that is personal to their specific character.

This game definitely has influences from Orwell and Huxley from a concept point of view, which is clear to see. I did also feel as though the animation style was reminiscent of Bioshock, which I don’t think is a bad thing. I also got Tim Burton vibes from the character designs – large eyes, long limbs and skinny frames. With that combination, it’s safe to say that this is the type of game that I’ve been waiting for. In an industry that is saturated with ‘new’ ideas, this one stood out against all the big triple A titles. When I first watched the trailers and gameplay, I really couldn’t hold back my smile. The happy, colourful atmosphere is completely torn apart by the brutality of violence and paranoia, but people continue to take their Joy because they don’t want to see that side of life. It’s so brilliantly done!

I like that Compulsion Games have also steered away from Contrast but kept the intrigue. I enjoyed Contrast as it’s a platform game (anyone who knows me understands my love for platform games), but I also fell in love with the setting and the story. Shifting in and out of a shadow form to get past levels felt ingenious, but now we’re in a much darker area than that of simple shadows. I really cannot wait for the full game so I can experience what it’s like to be “off my Joy”.

 

5. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon

November 18, 2016 (Japan, North America, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan), November 23, 2016 (Europe)

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Thanks to Pokémon Go, my excitement for Sun and Moon is ridiculous. The mobile app has served as an appetiser, but I’m ready to throw myself back into another Pokémon adventure. I am finding the designs of the new Pokémon interesting, and it doesn’t seem as though Nintendo are running out of ideas (I’m looking at you Chandelure and Vanilluxe)… at least not entirely. I mean, Shirodesuna is pretty much a sand castle. Although, the name seems to be a play on the words shiro desu na, which literally translates to “That’s a castle, huh”. So, well played with the humour there, Game Freak.

I am leaning towards getting Pokémon Sun over Moon, because Solgaleo looks so much cooler than Lunala in my honest opinion. I do usually get lean towards blues and purples, but this time around I’d rather get the sun lion over the moon bat. I also think that my starter will have to be Litten because that cat looks adorably grumpy, and I can’t help myself. Another thing that I was a little confused about at first was the Alolan Pokémon, but after a little research I found that these Pokémon have become slightly different to what they usually appear as in other regions. Generation One Pokémon such as Vulpix, Sandshrew and Marowak have become ice, steel and fire types respectively, because of the different microclimates in the Alola Reigon. Marowak is definitely the coolest looking one so far, and I cannot wait to use him as a fire type this time around.

The new Battle Royale feature that will be introduced in this game sounds extremely fun. Up to four players can battle and the trainer who has accumulated the most amount of knockouts and with the most Pokémon remaining is the winner. I’m not usually one for online battles on Pokémon, but this is different to the standard battles that we have had before and I like that Nintendo are attempting something new. Until this game comes out, I have been considering replaying Omega Ruby (because I have all the Eeveelutions on Pokémon X and I’m not willing to give them up) to satiate my need for a Pokémon fix.

And that’s my final list! A couple games that should get honourable mentions are Battlefield 1 and Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom. The only reason I didn’t include them was because I’m still a bit skeptical of AoT as it looks a little skittish in the gameplay, and I personally have not played Battlefield before but the new game does look like it will be incredible.

I’m sure I’ve missed out plenty of games that deserve to be on this list, so write them in the comments and let me know what you’re excited for!

Gotta glitch ’em all!: Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go
Released: July 6, 2016 (US and Australia), July 13, 2016 (Europe)

Pokémon Go was finally released in the UK a few days ago, and it has quickly captured the attention of many people. I have already seen many people out and about, congregating around PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m one of these people. Pokémon Go allows fans of the original games and television series to go out and experience life as a Pokémon trainer, like the characters they played as and watched did. It’s exciting to see Pokémon that you know and love pop up in familiar places. Although I was never a fan of bug type Pokémon, I was ecstatic when I first came across a Weedle. The game does come with its problems but I’ll go over the good things first.

The app is highly addictive. You can’t just stop at catching one Pokémon, you gotta catch ’em all! Especially when there’s word of people having already gone through the enormous challenge of evolving their Magikarp into a mighty Gyarados, it drives you to want to do the same and become even better than them. It’s all a bit of healthy competition and it’s bringing together people from all walks of life. I’ve seen several posts on Reddit about people becoming friends with those that they meet at PokéStops. There are also people claiming that the app is helping to improve their mental state as it is encouraging them to go outside and get exercise in. Those Eggs won’t hatch on their own! This alone is enough to convince me that the game is worth investing some time into. Pokémon Go has already impacted many people’s lives and the majority of people are in love with this game. I do genuinely believe that the app is encouraging children to get out of the house more as well. There’s been a lot of talk about how kids these days are constantly stuck in front of screens, and although Pokémon Go involves a mobile device, it does make them want to be outside catching their favourite animated creatures.

I went on my first PokéWalk yesterday morning (I would have gone sooner if I wasn’t busy with graduation the day after the app’s release in the UK), and although I didn’t catch any wild Pokémon, the walk itself was lovely. My family moved house around a month before I had gone off to university and so I had not had much of a chance to explore the local area. Pokémon Go gave me an excuse to do so, and I really enjoyed myself. I ran into a couple of children with their mum who were also out on the hunt for Pokémon and we all looked just as excited as one another. I believe that people have a tendency of staying indoors these days, it’s not just children, and so Pokémon Go has given people a reason to go outside, even if it is only for twenty minutes or so.

Now, unfortunately there is a myriad of problems with the app and I have to address these issues because I do pride myself on being able to write about both sides of a topic, and also because these technical issues are such a prevalent problem that it is difficult to ignore them. The biggest problem that I have encountered when playing Pokémon Go is not necessarily down to the game but, because I happen to live in the middle of no where, the internet signal is terrible. Now, this could be down to the combination of having a four year old iPhone 5 and being on a rather terrible mobile network because it’s cheap. However, because of this, I have found it exceedingly difficult to do well in this game as I live in a small village with poor reception and so walking around in search of Pokémon is not usually successful. In all honesty, I have better luck catching Pokémon just by turning on an incense and just waiting around for them to turn up. Today, I have managed to catch a few Pidgeys, Rattatas and Spearows as they seem to be in abundance. But amongst these common Pokémon, I have also caught Drowzee, Zubat, Magnemite, Koffing, Geodude, Magikarp, Psyduck and Goldeen. I’m sure I would have better luck in cities, but am I really willing to go to somewhere like London just to catch Pokémon? If I don’t even want to upgrade to a better, more expensive mobile network, then I doubt I’ll fork up the money for a train ride. 

The other problem that happened without fail earlier in the day was that every time I threw a Pokéball to catch one of these beasts, the game would freeze. It would take a minimum of three attempts to restart the app and reconnect to the server and despite my attempts, it would only sometimes register the Pokémon that I had initially caught before the game decided to rob me of my joy. This does not often occur when playing through WiFi (A/N: I take this back. It’s now happened three times in a row over WiFi as I write this post), but it was a common occurrence when playing through 3G and 4G. This brings me onto the frequent server crashes and login failures that happen all too often. I have read many complaints where people have expressed disappointment in not being able to even connect to the server, let alone suffer the glitches that occur within the game. The server practically had a meltdown after the European release of the game. It was released in twenty-six countries on the same day and that was it. Millions of people trying to access the game crashed the server, but despite the app already having numerous problems it was decided that a mass release of the game was a good idea. Perhaps fixing the game before doing this would have been a better idea. As I’m writing this, the game has crashed after I just caught a Staryu (A/N: It did not register the Staryu after I had finally managed to load the app again, and I’m very annoyed about this).

These issues are very unfortunate as it is a very fun game to play, but the glitches and crashes make it difficult to enjoy it. It is also off putting when you’re not sure if the game will save your progress because of these frequent crashes and the host of other problems that it harbours. I am going out later this week with friends to try and catch Pokémon  in a neighbouring town and maybe I’ll have a better experience then. A week is a fairly long time for Niantic and Nintendo to make the appropriate changes to the app, and who knows, perhaps they’ll have these issues fixed soon. I would love to write more positive things about the app, but as of now the game is quite broken and so it would be unfair to base a final judgement on the app as it stands right now. Once the technical issues have been addressed and the app is finished, I will then write another post outlining how these things have been fixed or not (A/N: I have now also been deprived of catching a Poliwirl. These problems need to be addressed sooner rather than later).

As a side note, the fact that I have to update this post with how the game continues to somehow break is highly irritating and disappointing. Apparently the servers have been dodgy all day and so it’s advised that if you are able to sign in then do be careful when using lures, incenses and lucky eggs as the game may crash. Honestly, I expect more from Nintendo, Niantic and The Pokémon Company. They have made more than enough money in the last couple of weeks, and it’s not as though they don’t have the funds to fix these problems.

Never work for free: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

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The titular Witcher, Geralt, holding the heads of his targets

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Released: May 19, 2015

N.B: I wrote this post as I was experiencing the game. From opening the package to the actual gameplay, I began documenting it from the outset as I felt like trying a new approach to my ‘first impressions’ posts. If things seem a little jumbled or like I’m rambling then that will be why. I wanted to try and leave this as unedited as possible. Feedback of any sort is always welcome!

I don’t know if CD Projekt Red were just trying to butter up the players who purchase this game, but I was not expecting all of this extra content in the package when it came through my letterbox. I saw in bold letters in the corner of the box stating ‘Bonus Content’, listing a compendium, the soundtrack, a world map and two stickers. Now, I just expected to have to download these bonus features (not the stickers), but there it all was. Inside the case! I was so excited and impressed by the additional content that I momentarily forgot about the game itself. I bought the standard edition of the game and so I expected to receive only the game, as it is with many other titles. Not only this, but CD Projekt Red also included a note inside on how to claim 16 free DLCs (downloadable content), no matter which edition of the game that you purchase. Instructions of how to download these features were on the official website, where I saw the statement: ‘Dedicated to gamers who want more from physical box editions of games than just the disc and manual […]’. I’ve never been as touched by a video game developing company as I had in this moment. Firstly, I must say a huge thank you to CD Projekt Red for valuing their customers. Games do not come cheap these days and it is nice to have a few extra things to make up for the ever increasing prices. So, again, thank you CD Projekt Red for caring about your players.

It comes with the territory of being a literature student that I inherently love reading. The compendium that was so kindly included by the developers was a nice surprise. I found myself looking into the universe of The Witcher before I even put the disc into the PS4. I’ve not played the previous two games and so brushing up on a brief history of the game’s universe was a good way of preparing myself for what was to come. I’ve stated many times here that RPGs (role-playing games) are not my type of games, but I’ve been delving into them more often recently and I was excited to sink my teeth into this one. My initial excitement, however, was short lived. After waiting for two hours for the game to install, I expected to get straight into it but I was denied this pleasure. I watched the opening sequences which got me understandably pumped to play but then I was met with a loading screen that was seemingly stuck, but the tutorials kept scrolling by. I knew the game was huge (for perspective, it turns out that this game is 30 times larger than the previous Witcher games and 20% bigger than Bethesda’s Skyrim) but the PS4 was making worrying noises as though it was struggling to run the game. The long wait had me wondering if I had a faulty disc, but with a little more patience the loading bar finally started to fill and make progress. I was not overly impressed at the start when the graphics, textures and even sounds had to take a few moments to catch up with what was happening on screen. When the game finally decided to start playing nice, I was met with a beautiful and most incredible world. Unfortunately, my battle with glitches and the like was not over yet.

I kept the tutorials on for the time being as I still wasn’t familiar with the controls, but I found that they actually hindered what little gameplay I had managed to experience in the first ten minutes of starting the game. It made everything run extremely slow, which can become very frustrating, especially when it is telling you a simple and standard command such as something along the lines of ‘press X when walking towards a door to open it’. In my panic during a tutorial, I managed to jump off of a high tower and successfully killed Geralt, the protagonist, in what I think could be considered record time. Dying in games does not concern me as much as it used to after my ordeal with Bloodborne (2015), but the exceedingly long loading times even in between deaths is excruciating. Perhaps this is why CD Projekt Red provide bonus content, to keep us players occupied while we wait for the game to actually load. Joking aside, the game does run very smoothly once you get past the initial loading screens and jittery start.

With such a rocky start, my patience was wearing thin. The game did eventually begin to play out as it should do, until it decided to randomly crash and the PS4 automatically ejected the game after stating it could not read the disc. This was a huge disappointment and a real shame in my eyes. The game itself is fantastic. The story is compelling, the characters intriguing and the locations are nothing short of breathtaking. Despite not having played the previous games, I felt as though I knew these characters simply through their dialogue with one another. I was not able to fully absorb the game for what it really is due to these technical difficulties. A friend of mine explained that prior to the second game being available on Xbox 360, The Witcher series was exclusively for PC. This definitely explained the graphical issues and strain on the PS4 and was possibly an oversight by the developers. In the event that this was to continue happening, I came to realise that I could not spend hours on end playing this game to save myself from continuous frustrations of it crashing randomly. Then the miracle occurred.

After the game crashed for a second time within two hours, I gave up on it for a while. I had received messages from friends to say that I would enjoy the game to no end, and I knew this, which made the technical problems all the more frustrating. Fantasy is a genre that is near and dear to my heart, and so I was becoming increasingly dejected as the game just did not want to cooperate with me. I came back to it about an hour later and the first thing I noticed was that the PS4 did not sound as though it was dying from its endeavour to run the game. There were no graphical glitches, no problems with sound cutting out and even the loading time had been sped up exponentially. Was I finally able to experience the game as it should be played?

Once I knew that the game was not going to crash again, I became invested in the story and characters very quickly. I immediately cared about how NPCs (non-playable characters) would perceive Geralt’s actions and words, and so I became mindful of how I was playing the game. Although this may be due to a slight doubt in my mind of whether the game would decide to crash, but despite this I found myself interested by the lore. Having not played the previous games, I knew that I would be out of my depth in terms of references but I enjoy researching and I know that I will be reading up on the history of the universe to better familiarise myself with the game. The look and feel of this game made it seem as though I really was in a different world. From passing people speaking a foreign language to watching the most spectacular sunset, I had been completely taken aback by how amazing it actually looked. I started to forgive the long loading times as I came to understand the scope and ambition behind the game. Interactions between characters don’t feel forced, and even on occasion are funny. I felt as though I was watching something like Game of Thrones as I chose to speak to people for information and take on jobs in exchange for money. Coincidentally, I did converse with a character that is voiced by Charles Dance who just so happens to have starred in Game of Thrones.

I have not played much of the main story, though this is how I tend to play games as I don’t like progressing too quickly. Instead, I have been focusing on exploring locations and doing side quests. The optional missions have been very diverse, from helping an old woman obtain her frying pan to ridding an abandoned village haunted by a spectre. I have enjoyed each of them greatly and I feel a real sense of accomplishment once completing a quest. Although on many occasions, I do wonder if accepting payment is the right thing to do, but I too need to survive in this world and a Witcher isn’t known for taking on jobs for free. One feature that I have found to my liking is the use of Witcher senses, which allows Geralt to focus on points of interest and track movement in the surrounding area. At first I was a little unimpressed as it felt like Eagle Vision from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but eventually I came to see that it was a much more refined and sophisticated mechanism. Instead of just being able to spot targets, as it is for the most part in Assassin’s Creed, Witcher senses allows you to do much more. Tracking footprints and finding clues is particularly fun and I feel as though I am actually uncovering clues to piece together the wider story during these short missions. One of the biggest selling points of this game is the fact that everything feels as though it is being done for a reason and you aren’t wasting time or doing anything repetitive.

The controls are somewhat clunky and there is a slight delay or non-responsiveness to some actions at times, which can become irritating but it is quite minor in the grand scheme of things. Once you get past the occasional hiccup, combat flows fluidly and enemies are challenging, though not impossible. I am barely a few hours into the game and I have already encountered a myriad of beasts to combat. Not only this, but I have collected many books and information on creatures that I am sure that I will come across later in the game, which makes me even more excited and nervous to progress, but that’s half the fun. Alongside this, the world is masterfully crafted and the attention to detail is astonishing. It all feels very unique, which is definitely hard to come by considering just how many video games are around now. I was worried that the game would be like Skyrim (2011), which would have been all well and good but just not for me. I’m definitely more of a Fallout fan than Elder Scrolls, and I was not prepared to try and throw myself back into something Skyrim-esque.

To wrap up, the game is fantastic so far. The initial problems that I had after I had installed it, however, does make me worry that one day the PS4 will decide that it has had enough and just stop running it altogether. I did do a little research online and I found that graphical issues and crashes at certain points were all very common when the game was first released. Hopefully by now there have been patches to rectify this and I, along with other players, won’t be having anymore problems. After getting through these prevenient difficulties, I have found that I am thoroughly enjoying The Witcher 3. I will acknowledge that many references to previous games or the wider universe is going over my head at this point in time, but despite this the game remains accessible to new players. Allusions to the preceding titles are subtle enough for existing players to recognise, and yet lucid enough for new players to notice. Personally, this gives me incentive to look into the game’s history more scrupulously and I definitely look forward to doing that, alongside playing more of the game itself.

I recommend this game to people who love exploration, fantasy and spending a lot of time on games as this one spoils you with the amount of content there is to get through.