Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “January, 2015”

Never Alone for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Never Alone is a bad game made for a very good reason. It’s sort of like Comic Relief. Objectively speaking it’s usually dreadful comedy, but it’s run for such a good reason you can’t really get mad at it. Never Alone was created to raise awareness of a little known indigenous group, Native Alaskans known as the Inupiat. The philosophy of using game design to bring little known cultures to life is so wonderful that I’m willing to forgive the generally quite poor gameplay.

Never Alone is an adaption of a popular myth told by the Inupiat people. The protagonist is Nuna, a young Inupiat girl whose village is destroyed by a terrible man. With the assistance of an (adorable) arctic fox, Nuna quests out to find him and also to seek the source of an endless blizzard ravaging her world. As you play, you unlock short documentary clips about the Inupiat.

The story isn’t particularly compelling, but the way that the game narrative weaves around the documentary footage is intriguing. Moments in the story are followed up with clips which explain what these things mean in Inupiat culture. This is the way to make a game educational and elevates what would be an otherwise dull story into something quite special.

Never Alone is a platformer, but is very much in the tradition of Limbo, in that it has quite floaty and imprecise controls. To be honest, it’s frequently incredibly frustrating. It’s built around co-op, but I still don’t have a second PS4 controller so played solo. Nuna and the fox have different abilities, with Nuna able to throw a bola, a kind of slingshot type thing, to destroy obstacles and the fox able to call spirits and move them around for Nuna to climb on. There are some simple puzzles and some cool platforming moments, with the highlight being an actually rather stunning section at the source of the blizzard at the end of the game. Still, it’s not a huge amount of fun and I frequently died for reasons that felt quite unfair. This is a game which is rough around the edges.

Thankfully, it looks lovely. Never Alone is gorgeous, with a fairly straightforward and unstylised look which ends up working wonders as you trek through the icy wasteland. The sound, music and atmosphere is top notch and proves how powerful games can be as a medium for placing you into a whole new world.

Your mileage with this one may vary, depending on your perception of what gaming is for. Being honest, Never Alone really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I love that developers are creating games with a whole range of intentions. It may be a rough start, but I’d love to see more games like this.never-alone


Assassin’s Creed: Unity for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Well…that wasn’t as bad as I’d feared…but it wasn’t good either. I’m a bit of a sucker for the Assassin’s Creed series, though even I have to admit that the series has only seen three truly great games out of seven (2, Brotherhood and Black Flag). Unity definitely isn’t up there with those games, although I still overall liked it more than Assassin’s Creed 3. One thing that is certain is that this is not the revolutionary next-gen Assassin’s Creed game we were promised; in fact last year’s Black Flag outshines it in almost every regard.

Unity takes place during the French Revolution, one of the most fascinating time periods that the series has ever covered. Arno Dorian was orphaned at a young age and was raised by Francois de la Serre, a Templar who nonetheless greatly respected Arno’s Assassin father. Arno and de la Serre’s daughter, Elise, grow close and become lovers. Tragedy strikes when de la Serre is murdered and Arno is framed, sending him to the Bastille. The onset of the Revolution allows Arno and the grumpy Assassin to escape together, with Arno training as an Assassin to examine the Templar conspiracy at the heart of Paris.

So, that probably sounded a bit incoherent and that’s because it is. Putting it bluntly, Unity has by far the worst story of any Assassin’s Creed game so far. If it wasn’t for Destiny, Unity would in fact be my most disappointing game narrative released in 2014. The problems are myriad; the actual plot is convoluted and meandering with no strong narrative core to keep you going. The romance with Elise is probably meant to be this core, but it’s not particularly convincing. Arno himself is easily the blandest protagonist in franchise history, despite early attempts to set him up as the successor to Ezio. I thought Connor was boring, but at least he had the core of his identity struggle between his British father and his Native American mother. Arno has nothing. He is a void. Elise is a much better character and would have made a much better protagonist, but she’s held back from protagonist duty due to her crippling disability of being female rather than a stoic white dude.

Of course, the biggest problem is that the French Revolution has almost no bearing on the story. This story could have taken place at pretty much any point in history. The Revolution is just happening in the background whilst we focus on the much more boring struggles of byzantine scheming between the Assassins and the Templars as well as a dull romance. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the modern day story and that’s because there really isn’t one, apart from some Assassin lady speaking to you sometimes and telling you how well you’re doing. Lazy doesn’t even cover it. Ubisoft dropped the ball badly here. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I think Watch Dogs had a better story.

So, does the gameplay make up for it? Well…yes and no. We’re back in Ezio Trilogy territory, with the Frontier stuff from 3 and the ship stuff from Black Flag gone. Some will be happy about this, but it left Unity feeling a bit empty. You’re doing the same sort of stuff as the Ezio trilogy, but with less variety. There are some welcome changes, such as an ability to descend much more easily and the addition of a crouch button. The crouch doesn’t really work though with the stealth actually being better in Black Flag. The whole thing is still clunky, which has been the curse of the series for a long time. Assassin’s Creed has always been a series greater than the sum of its parts but, well, Unity is just the sum of its parts. The free running is a bit more fluid, but not much more so than in the earlier games. The combat is a lot tougher to encourage stealth, which is a good thing, but it’s still a whole amount of not-fun every time it comes up. There’s an upgrade system and a greater focus on equipment, but it’s essentially just smoke and mirrors to create an artificial sense of progression. Previous games didn’t need it and Unity doesn’t either. Ever since Assassin’s Creed 2, all the games (Revelations aside) have had something interesting to set them apart, a mechanic which defined that game. Brotherhood had the…er, brotherhood, 3 the Frontier and Black Flag the sailing. What will we remember Unity for? Well, there is nothing. This is Assassin’s Creed at its most generic and consequently the hardest to defend.

It’s not all doom and gloom though; Unity has some of the best side missions that the series has ever had. The Paris Stories bring you into contact with some familiar faces from the time, such as Madame Tussord and the Marquis de Sade as you complete missions for them, lending them a bit more intrigue than the anonymous assassination missions you received in previous games. The Murder Mysteries are great as well, as we investigate a series of areas scouring for clues before accusing the correct culprit. They’re a bit like a simpler dumbed down LA Noire, but I enjoyed the way they broke up the pace of the game. The lack of a modern day element is sorely felt, but they are replaced with the Helix Rift missions which see the player catapulted into another time period, with the best being a brief sojourn in Nazi occupied Paris, allowing us to climb the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Unity never really comes together and represents the moment where I finally got sick of the core Assassin’s Creed mechanics. Oh, and there’s Co-Op, but online Co-Op is 100% not my thing, so I played one mission, hated it and moved on.

There are moments in Unity where the game genuinely looks to be fulfilling its next-gen promise. Treasure them. When you’re perched above Notre Dame watching the vast expanse of Paris below you, while hordes of people seethe below you desperate for liberty, it’s hard not to be completely stunned. Then you descend to street level…and then frame rate descends along with you. Ubisoft promised the biggest crowds in the series and they delivered, but not like this. The frame rate dips, the people glitch in and out of existence, their clothes constantly changing, any immersion crushed. I’m very forgiving with bugs, I really am; unless they render a game unplayable, I’m not sure that I’ve ever played a game which was genuinely ruined by bugs, but Unity is it. This is a game which needed months more work, but god forbid Ubisoft didn’t release two Assassin’s Creed games in a single year. This is all post-patch by the way. The game is playable, but once again Ubisoft have created a game which looks amazing in screen shots and dreadful in motion. It’s a shame because the art direction itself is top notch. The people who likely are most upset about this aren’t the fans, but the dedicated and hardworking people who lovingly crafted this wonderful Paris for us only for it to be ruined by the greed of the Ubisoft higher ups. It must be devastating.

The voice acting is competent, but bafflingly British. I get why they didn’t go for French accents as they did with Italian accents in the Ezio Trilogy, but that doesn’t mean I like it. It’s just so ridiculous and doesn’t help in the slightest with the feeling that Ubisoft half-arsed the setting. I know it’s a strange thing to fixate on, but this to me is a classic symptom of everything that’s gone wrong with Assassin’s Creed and, arguably, Ubisoft in general. Where Assassin’s Creed 2 was a game which took risks, even a risk as minor as a main character with a European accent, but Unity is terrified of anything that might possibly alienate its core audience and that includes French accents apparently.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative tone of this review, Unity is still a competent and regularly enjoyable game. There are flashes of that old magic, but the big corporate Ubisoft machine is crushing the soul from what started as one of the most inventive and exciting franchises in gaming. I have no doubt that there’s a lot of talent behind Unity and with another six months of development this could have been a genuinely great game. I’m not so pessimistic that I’ll say we’ll never have another great Assassin’s Creed game, but the trust is gone. Black Flag won me back but Unity has lost me; Ubisoft went from being the best of the ‘Big Three’ (EA, Activision, Ubisoft) to arguably the worst. Hell, at least your annual Call of Duty game functions.ACU_hero

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Middle books in trilogies are generally tough, with Brandon Sanderson himself falling into the trap somewhat in the rather plodding middle book in the Mistborn trilogy, The Well of Ascension. Sanderson has clearly learnt however, with Firefight standing as a great follow-up to the supremely enjoyable Steelheart and left me chomping at the bit for the final book in the Reckoner Trilogy, Calamity.

Firefight picks up a few months after David Charleston, Reckoner, took down Steelheart, the tyrannical ruler of Newcago. Several Epics have come after David, now known as Steelslayer with David and the Reckoners putting them all down. The Reckoners discover that all the Epics have been sent from Babilar, a city located in what was formally Manhattan, ruled by the High Epic known as Regalia, who has a mysterious connection to Prof, aka Jon Phaedrus, the head of the Reckoners and secret High Epic himself. Prof, Tia and David head to Babilar, meeting up with the Reckoners there to take down Regalia. That group of Reckoners are mourning the loss of their point-man Sam, who has been killed by Firefight, the undercover Epic David knows as Megan, the girl he may have fallen in love with.

This book is just a whole lot of fun. I didn’t so much read this book as consume it. The plot is twisty without being convoluted with a genuine raising of the stakes throughout the story and a good balance between fun action stuff and the more emotional bits. It also has some killer revelations about the overall nature of Calamity and the true nature of the Epics, leaving the series in a very interesting place for the next book.

Its ridiculous how consistently good Sanderson is. Most authors as prolific as this, even the great ones, churn out their fair share of misses. Look at Stephen King, for every masterpiece like the Dark Tower books or The Stand we get a fair bit of dross like Cell. Considering that Sanderson regularly publishes up to three books a year there haven’t really been any stinkers. Sure, some are better than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book of his that wasn’t at least a 7/10. He’s not flashy in how he writes, but it’s clear and simple and oh-so readable.

David is a breath of fresh air in YA fiction. In a genre where the default setting is often with phasers set to brood, David is refreshingly energetic and enthusiastic without being obnoxious. I also like that Sanderson gave him one, big character trait which is constantly referred back to; e.g, his inability to use metaphors. It may be a bit silly, but even with good YA protagonists like Katniss Everdeen, it can be difficult to find traits beyond basic things like ‘kind’, ‘heroic’ and ‘caring.’ Firefight may not necessarily be Sanderson’s most memorable book, but I’ll always remember David as the guy with the bad metaphors. The supporting cast are good too, with Megan being a solid love interest with an actual personality. My favourite character is Prof, head of the Reckoners and undercover Epic, with a good range of villains better developed than the intentionally enigmatic Steelheart.

Firefight is just a really good book, plain and simple. It ticks all of the right boxes and I can’t wait to see where Sanderson goes with the series from here. In the time being I have the next Wax & Wayne Mistborn book to look forward to!isbn9780575104525-1x3a

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Ultimate Edition for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

If it isn’t Smash Bros or Soul Calibur I don’t really do fighting games. I get that they’re probably the best test of raw gaming skill out there, but I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. However, I do like DC Comics and this game was free on PS+, so I made an exception. Well, I did like it, although you still won’t have me rushing out to buy Super Street Fighter IV Turbo Ultimate Special Edition X or whatever it’s called.

Injustice takes place primarily in a parallel universe to the main DC continuity, in a world where Superman and most of the Justice League rule as tyrannical dictators, with a plucky resistance led by Batman. This world took a turn for the worse when Superman was tricked by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis, leading to Superman brutally killing The Joker and seizing control. Batman of this universe brings a group of heroes from the main universe to help him fight their doppelgangers and liberate his universe.

The premise is better than the execution and whilst there are some good moments, most characters are drawn in their broadest possible strokes. The only characters that I particularly liked were Green Arrow, Deathstroke and The Flash, with pretty much everyone else being in full brood mode or curiously muted. I wish they hadn’t bothered with the whole two universe thing, making the whole thing feeling a bit low stakes. I’d rather have just had the game take place entirely in one, but I do get that Multiverse shenanigans are part of the DC package. There are some undoubtable cool moments, but Injustice doesn’t really live up to the premise.

I’m only really going to look at the story mode as that’s all I played; I don’t like online multiplayer and I don’t have a second PS4 controller for local, so single player it is for me. There’s loads of stuff though, this seems like a very complete package. From what I’ve been told, Injustice’s mechanics best resemble Mortal Kombat. It’s quite complicated by my standards, but I did eventually master a few combos for each character and managed to make it through the story on normal mode with a moderate challenge. This probably sounds utterly pathetic for fighting game fans right? Look, it’s not my thing, but I actually did enjoy it quite a lot and the different characters felt really distinct to play which is definitely a good thing.

The game looks a bit dated by current gen standards, but overall holds up quite nicely. The environments are cool, but the character designs didn’t really work for me. Wonder Woman in particular looks like she was designed by someone who has never actually seen a woman in real life. The general vibe of the game was a bit grimdark for me; I could have done with a bit more fun, but that’s probably more a reflection of my own personal tastes than of the actual quality of the game.

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this one; if you’re into fighting games and DC you’ll probably love it. If you like DC or fighting games you’ll probably quite like it. If you don’t like either…why are you even here? Go away. I fall firmly into that middle camp.Injustice_hero

inFamous: First Light for PS4

inFamous: Second Son was my first game for the PS4 and, although it wasn’t, it always felt like a ‘launch game’ to me. You know the type; competent but a little lightweight, a teaser for better stuff to come. I did enjoy my time with the game though, so was happy to briefly slip back into Seattle to blast stuff with lasers. It’s kind of hard not to enjoy something like that.

First Light is a prequel focusing on Fetch, the disturbed and violent young woman encountered by Delsin during the main game. The game is told through the frame narrative of Fetch, real name Abigail, relating her tale to Augustine in the conduit prison Curdun Cay prior to her escape at the beginning of Second Son. Fetch arrived in Seattle with her brother Brent, fresh from kicking her drug habit and ready to start a new life, keeping her neon powers hidden. It’s not long however until Fetch is forced to use her powers, putting her protector Brent in danger, leaving Fetch desperate to save him.

Fetch was the best character in the main game, so it was nice to see more of her and see how she became the way she is. That said, none of it feels particularly impactful and I never really brought the more emotional moment. Second Son was based around a sibling bond too, but there it had time to develop. Here, Brent is almost immediately in peril so I couldn’t get as invested in Fetch’s devotion to him as I might. The villain is also a bit ridiculous, certainly loathsome, but not especially compelling; Augustine in the main game was much better.

First Light doesn’t add much to the gameplay mix from Second Son. It feels like a bit of a loss not to have the range of powers Delsin had at his disposal, but the neon was my favourite anyway so no huge loss. Most missions involve running somewhere, fighting some bad guys and then rinse and repeat. There isn’t much mission variety, but this did just make me appreciate how fun the core mechanics of Second Son are. I love how mobile you have to be, zipping all over the place to avoid enemy fire. There’s a challenge mode if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’m not so I focused on the story and side content. It’s not too exciting exploring Seattle a second time and I wish they’d taken more time and even charged more and given us a whole new setting. First Light is more of the same, but that’s not the end of the world.

Not far off a year later, inFamous: Second Son is one of the best looking games on the PS4 and First Light lives up to it. The faces are realistic but not with an uncanny valley effect and the neon powers look great. The music is entirely forgettable and the voice acting fine, with the standout being Fetch unsurprisingly. First Light doesn’t do anything particularly interesting in its presentation, but with a source as strong as Second Son it doesn’t really need to.

If you want more Second Son, First Light will be right up your sleeve. There’s not really much else to it than that.Infamous_First_Light_cover_art

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I am shamefully, shamefully, ignorant when it comes to British history. I always preferred the American stuff, probably because there’s less of it. I therefore approached Wolf Hall as an opportunity to educate myself. Although obviously not fantasy, if you’re a fan of political and backstabby books like Game of Thrones, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Wolf Hall.

Wolf Hall tells the relatively unfamiliar tale of Thomas Cromwell, eventual great-great grand uncle to Oliver, but we won’t hold that against him. Cromwell was a man rather maligned at the time, a commoner who schemed his way to the top to gain the ear of King Henry VIII. He was viewed as a ruthless and callous man to be feared, but Mantel presents a much more sympathetic figure in Wolf Hall. The novel begins with Cromwell as an aide to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who emerges from Wolsey’s downfall to become one of the most powerful men in England. With Henry seeking divorce from Queen Katherine to marry the seductive and manipulative Anne Boleyn, Wolf Hall follows the early days of the Reformation and the founding of the Church of England.

Through my ignorance, I was perhaps able to enjoy Wolf Hall in a different way to many. I might as well have been reading fiction to be honest; I may be aware of who Thomas More was, I even read Utopia at university for crying out loud, but I had no idea of his eventual fate. I enjoyed Wolf Hall the same way I enjoy fantasy, as an escape into a world utterly unlike my own. It took me a while, but Wolf Hall eventually got its hooks into me.

One of the barriers to entry is the sometimes frustrating difficulty in telling who is talking; when I realised that ‘he’ almost always referred to Cromwell with everyone else called by their names it became a bit easier, but it’s still a bit odd. Either the writing got better as it went on or I grew to appreciate it more, but it doesn’t really matter. By the end Mantel had me eating out of her hand, with sharp and sometimes funny writing contrasting with tragedy without feeling mawkish. Some of Cromwell’s ruminations, which could have been dull and self-indulgent, are genuinely captivating to read. Mantel’s style is slightly odd and I couldn’t really tell you why; I’ll only say to persevere and hopefully it’ll click for you as it did for me.

Cromwell is the best kind of protagonist; funny, arch and sympathetic whilst remaining mysterious. Not much is known about the past of the real Thomas Cromwell, only really that he was a commoner born to a blacksmith in Putney. His time as a mercenary and soldier in Europe is less known and Mantel appropriately preserves that mystery rather than trying to create a fictional account of Cromwell’s exploits. He’s a character I could follow around for a long time and thankfully will in the sequels! The supporting cast are interesting as well, from the torturing and hypocritical Thomas More to the dedicated but self-obsessed Cardinal Wolsey through to the seductive and brittle Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII emerges as an interesting figure, with a genuine interest in doing the right thing clouded by layers of self-delusion. I was always shocked when I remembered that these were real people, I grew so interested in her well drawn characters.

Wolf Hall is a book with huge cross genre appeal and I recommend it to other fantasy fans. I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel Bringing Up the Bodies and then watching the BBC adaption of both!4.-Wolf-Hall

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for Wii U

Delightful. There we go, delightful. That’s Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker summed up in one word. Although it can’t compete with the sprawling majesty of the main Mario games it is spinning off from, it isn’t trying to. This is a game which knows what it is and is a boiled down example of what makes Nintendo so great.

As you might expect, there isn’t really a plot. Captain Toad and Toadette are adventuring for treasure when Toadette is carried away by the evil bird Wingo. Captain Toad sets out to save her, recovering treasure along the way. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, with Captain Toad and Toadette either being endearing or irritating based on your general outlook on life.

Captain Toad expands on the mini-levels in Super Mario 3D World through around 70 new stages. For the uninitiated, these Captain Toad levels involve making your way through a series of short levels contained within a box. You must rotate the camera manually to see where you are going, either using the right stick of the motion controls in the Wii U gamepad. Each level has the ultimate objective of a star, with three treasures to be found along the way, as well as a secret objective revealed when the level is first completed. Captain Toad can’t jump and he moves quite slowly, making even foes such as Goombas slightly formidable. Thankfully, Captain Toad can defend himself by plucking turnips from the ground and throwing them Super Mario Bros. 2 style. There are also the odd levels which involve mine cart and turret sections, which shift the camera to first person as you fire turnips at obstacles. It may not sound like much and on paper it’s all very simple, but Captain Toad is never less than completely compelling.

One of Nintendo’s trademarks is its ability to use familiar mechanics in utterly unfamiliar ways, through ingenious level design. Although you’re not really doing much different in each level, it always feels fresh and new, with some clever puzzles. For example, there are words based around the timed level switches we’ve been seeing since Super Mario Galaxy and worlds where platforms can be raised and lowered with a tap on the touch screen. There are worlds which focus on stealth, some on reflex and action and some on puzzling skills. You rarely feel like you’re doing the same thing twice, which for a game with such simple mechanics is a real accomplishment. I could have done with a bit more for the money I paid; although it is at a slightly lower price point, it’s still a rather light experience. There’s an attempt to extend the game with the optional challenges revealed at the end of each level, but this does feel like a way to artificially extend the experience.

Captain Toad looks basically the same as Super Mario 3D World, aka unbelievably lovely. Everything is smooth, fresh and charming, running at a delightfully smooth frame rate. The music is chirpy and catchy as would be expected. Really, praising Nintendo games for their technical excellence has become par for the course. In an industry prone to releasing glitchy unfinished messes of games too early, Nintendo are one of the few companies left that you can really trust to deliver.

This is pretty much exactly the game I thought it was going to be, but that’s ok because I thought it was going to be pretty great. If the worst I can say about a game is that it left me wanting more I suppose it can’t have done too badly. Captain Toad, although technically released in 2015 in Europe, nevertheless feels like a nice way to cap off what has been a good year for the Wii U.SI_WiiU_CaptainToadTreasureTracker

Far Cry 4 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Far Cry 4 is proof that a sequel doesn’t need to innovate to excel. Far Cry 3 was a great game and, barring a handful of small changes, Far Cry 4 is more of the same. Is that a bad thing? Well, no, Far Cry 3 was great and I was very happy to do the same stuff for a bit longer. That said, I’m not sure if Ubisoft could get away with it again for Far Cry 5, or we may be entering worrying Assassin’s Creed territory.

Ajay Ghale has travelled from his home in the United States to his birth place, the tiny Himalayan mountain nation of Kyrat to scatter his mother’s ashes. Kyrat is ruled over the tyrannical, insane and charming Pagan Min. Pagan is opposed by the Golden Path, a resistance group formed by Ajay’s father Mohan. Ajay is quickly brought into the resistance against Pagan, slaughtering his way across Kyrat and through Pagan’s power structure until he reaches Pagan himself. At the same time, Ajay must resolve a power struggle with the Golden Path itself between the traditionalist yet regressive Sabal and the progressive yet brutal Amita.

The overall storytelling is stronger in Far Cry 4 than in Far Cry 3, partially by not killing off its compelling villain and replacing him with a much worse one half way through. I’ll never forget Vaas, but I can’t for the life of me tell you who the main villain was. Far Cry 4 doesn’t make this mistake with Pagan standing as your opponent through the whole thing. He still doesn’t have enough of a presence however, occasionally taunting you through your radio but feeling mostly absent for much of the game. The sheer unbelievability of Ajay’s military and action prowess is ridiculous, with Ajay being a total non-character, with her personal connections to the events in Kyrat never feeling particularly engaging as a result. Far Cry 3’s protagonist was also insanely proficient at killing, but at least that game attempted a Heart of Darkness style focus on the changes that violence makes to a person. Of course, Far Cry 3 also shared some of Heart of Darkness’ problematic colonial themes, which are thankfully less present in this instalment. The attempts at humour are pretty embarrassing, with the irreverent resistance DJ grating and the ‘comic relief’ stoner side characters really not working. Pagan Min is main redeeming feature of the storytelling, but thankfully he’s enough of an asset to carry the whole thing through.

If you played Far Cry 3, you know what to expect in Far Cry 4. The mechanics are basically the same, but that means they’re still incredibly fun. Stealthily taking outposts with bow, arrow and knife is still fantastically fun, as is raining destruction with rocket launchers, or sniping all from afar. Far Cry is a series which has made good on its open world structure, with the popular marketing buzzword that you can approach objectives how you like for once being very true. You won’t really be doing anything different; you’ll still scale radio towers to unlock new parts of the map, hunt animals to craft new gear, assassinate commanders and, of course, complete story missions with greater set piece moments. There’s a huge amount to do in this game, with some brilliant side missions given by particular characters being standouts. The generic assassination and delivery missions are still really fun, simply through the strength of the core mechanics. There are a handful of new toys to play with however and they’re all a lot of fun.

Kyrat is more hilly and vertical than the Rook Islands from Far Cry 3, so getting around is made easier with a fun and effective mountain climbing mechanic. I’m a sucker for first person platforming and Far Cry 4 does it quite well. There’s a nice little tweak to the driving in the form of an ‘auto-drive’ mode which allows you to focus on shooting during high speed pursuits. The real vehicular highlight is comfortably the mini-helicopter which you can use to get around quickly. I love flying in games and I never really got tired of zipping around in the little thing. The ability to ride elephants into battle is another extremely fun addition, although the guilt I felt when my giant flappy eared bro fell to enemy fire was a bit of a downer. The only change that I really didn’t like was that Pagan can now take back outposts if you haven’t already captured one of four fortresses. I’ve seen a few different opinions on this and I do really understand that the developer is trying to create a sense of satisfaction in taking the fortresses. The reality is however that every single time it happened I was extremely irritated, as I would usually be half way towards something else that I wanted to do. I ended up feeling like the game was wasting my time. That said, it’s really my only quibble in an otherwise joyful experience.

Far Cry 4 looks pretty great, although it is unarguably held back by its inclusion in the previous console generation. A large amount of stuff is ripped straight from Far Cry 3, but it’s not too noticeable. Kyrat is a hell of a location, quite unlike anywhere I’d really seen in a game before. It’s undeniably beautiful and a nice change from the tropical Far Cry 3. The music isn’t bad, although I actually kind of missed Far Cry 3’s wub wubs. The voice acting is mostly excellent, with the obvious highlight being Pagan Min, but your Golden Path contacts Amita and Sabal acquit themselves well too. It’s refreshingly glitch light as well, which is surprising considering that it is a) open world and b) released by Ubisoft. A nicely presented package overall, but I’m looking forward to a Far Cry 5 exclusive to the current gen.

Did you like Far Cry 3? Good, you’ll like this too then. It may not make the same impact as its predecessor, but it’s still a damn good game and well worth a play.farcry4

Titan Attacks! for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita

Ok, it technically wasn’t the first game ever made, but I think Space Invaders may be the first fun game ever made. It would be pretty difficult to create a modern and fun re-imagining of Pong wouldn’t it? That’s what Titan Attacks is basically, an update to Space Invaders. If that sounds like your sort of thing you’ll probably like it, if that sounds like retro nostalgia wank then, well, you won’t.

Titan Attacks is, appropriately, an arcade style experience. The basic gameplay is Space Invaders, as you control a cannon firing upwards against rows of gradually lowering alien invaders. There are some twists on the formula with different enemy types and an upgrade system between levels to boost your shields or firepower. That’s it really. It’s quite fun, although a bit sluggish. That’s probably a matter of taste though, I like my shooty games a bit faster paced, but the element of carefully predicting your enemy’s location when you fire is an undeniable part of the Space Invaders experience.

The game looks alright, but it’s not particularly stylish or interesting to look at. Perhaps that makes me a bit superficial, but I do like a bit of style in my ‘modern-retro’ games. The music is just sort of there and I felt throughout the experience that the whole thing could have used a bit more pizzazz. Many may like the stripped back style however.

Titan Attacks is a nice little diversion which I probably mostly enjoyed because I got it for free with PS+. It’s not really my sort of thing, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy my time with this game.header

Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire for Nintendo 3DS

Ok, I know that a lot of people were clamouring for this game, but to be honest I never really liked Ruby and Sapphire that much. I remember my childhood disappointment well when many of the brilliant developments from Gold and Silver were thrown out the window for this game. Gone was the day/night cycle, the keeping track of the days of the week which felt so new and exciting at the time, gone was the return to a previous region. Ruby and Sapphire was a big step backwards for the series despite having some great Pokémon designs and the arguably the best legendaries that the series has ever had. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire rescue the originals as one of the most generous remakes I’ve ever played. So much is added and changed so as to make them almost feel like new games.

Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire follows your standard collect gym badges then fight Elite Four plot, with the obligatory evil team being Team Magma or Team Aqua for Ruby and Sapphire respectively. Each team seeks to resurrect Groudon/Kyogre to increase the landmass of the Earth/cover the Earth with water, causing massive destruction to Hoenn in the process. It’s not exactly interesting, but that is made up for the brand-new Delta Episode which takes place at the conclusion of the game which contains interesting links to X & Y, the origin of Mega Evolution and even suggests a Zelda-esque alternate universe Pokémon timeline. I’m not exactly claiming that the storyline is good in the new Pokémon, but it does suggest that Game Freak are beginning to take seriously the importance of story. It’s no coincidence that the most recent three releases, Black & White, X & Y and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire have the best stories of any Pokémon game to date.

There’s never much to say about the core gameplay of Pokémon, if you’ve played Ruby & Sapphire or X & Y you’ll be in familiar territory and if you’ve played both you’ll be in extremely familiar territory. There are obviously no new Pokémon, but there are new mega-evolutions, some of which are very cool and some which are very silly. My Mega-Altaria was my favourite as it grew a beard made of clouds. There are some welcome additions, such as the ability to sneak up on rustling Pokémon and a greater ability to see which Pokémon can be found in each area. The ability to actually manually fly on the back of a Latios or Latias fulfils a childhood fantasy of mine which harked all the way back to Red & Blue. As has become the case in recent Pokémon games, I tend not to bother with a lot of the content. Yes, there are contests and berries and Pokeblocks and all these things but for me the core gameplay of Pokémon is enough. Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire has, in my opinion, the best end-game and side quests of any Pokémon game to date, with the aforementioned Delta Episode being the best element. Only a year after X & Y I’m not that fussed about dipping into it all, but this is a game which will give you spectacular value for money.

Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire continue in the visual style of X & Y, making it look incredibly different from the 2D grid of the originals. There’s less show-offy 3D stuff, with the general design being slightly more conservative than X & Y, but probably better for it. I remember trying to navigate Luminose City; there’s nothing as bad as that here. The soundtrack of Ruby & Sapphire has never stood out to me, but it’s all admirably upgraded for the new version.

As I’ve said earlier, I never have much to say about Pokémon games. Ruby and Sapphire isn’t a favourite and this game hasn’t necessarily converted me, but I will say that it is probably one of the best remakes I’ve ever played. There’s just so much here that it can be a little overwhelming. I will say that I need more than a year between Pokémon games to get properly into them, so Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were more of a fun diversion for me than a full blown obsession, but I still enjoyed it a lot.pokemon-omega-ruby-and-alpha-sapphire

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