Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PC, PS4, XBOX ONE)

“That’s right! Run you bastards! I’m coming for you all!”

Tomb raider

Yes, the only reason I am review this is because it was free for PSPlus users back in January. I thought I would just get that out there. Since I am still without anything new to play and still without a PS5 to elevate my gaming into the next generation (not that there are many PS5 exclusives available). I’m still going through my backlog of games of at least minor relevance still. So to that end here is the 3rd installment of the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise. Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider still follows Lara Croft, still saving the world from the bad guys at Trinity who are still trying to use the worlds ancients doomsday devices to be up to no good because otherwise there would be no plot device. This time around for a change it’s Lara who accidentally starts the Mayan apocalypse before Trinity can do so, Lara must then take it upon herself to undo her fuck up and stop Trinity from capitalizing on it.

My relationship with the new Tomb Raider games have changed with each installment. If anyone would care to remember my original review of the Tomb Raider Reboot despite my gripes about it I did enjoy it. 5 years later we’ve seen some marginal tweaks, a few scenery changes and very little else. With the 3rd installment what felt like a breath of fresh air originally is now starting to feel a bit stuffy.

In the first game a lot of my problems with it were due to me feeling like I was mis-sold the experience. Going into the game I felt like it was going to be a lot grittier than the game ended up being. I was expecting a greater fight for survival, having to scavenge and hunt for food, find shelter from the elements and in essence do what was needed to survive. In the end all we got was some scavenging and hunting for resources for the arbitrary crafting system all games seem to require these days. Fast forward to the third installment and I kind knew what I was expecting. I went in expecting more of the same and that’s sadly what I got.

My main problem especially in this and the previous games is that of Lara herself. She has absolutely no growth as a character, she’s just as vanilla at the start of the game as she is at the end. At least in the original reboot she showed glimpses of evolution even if it did come with a truckload of Ludo-Narrative Dissonance (for more information on Ludo-Narrative Dissonance see link). At least in the original series Lara was a seasoned archaeologist and that’s exactly how she acted, the new series tries to make her relatable by making her more “girl next door doing what she needs to do to survive” but she’s scaling impossible cliff faces, shooting like a seasoned professional and absorbing mental trauma with absolutely no signs of PTSD. Therefore I must conclude that Lara Croft is either a sociopath or a psychopath.

I’ve noticed myself I’ve not really done much talking about Shadow of the Tomb Raider specifically. This is probably because there’s nothing about this game that is particularly good or bad, it’s all very safe. Crystal Dynamics seem to have a formula for the Tomb Raider series, it’s not a winning formula by all means but it’s one that’ll get anything they make across the finish line. In doing this they have made the series boring and generic. It’s OK, if you enjoyed the previous games you’ll also enjoy this one but you won’t gain anything from it. You won’t leave the game with a lasting experience, just something to kill some time between now and the grave.

As I’ve said previously and I really can’t say it enough, the series could have been so much more. It was there in my minds eye when I saw the trailer for the reboot. I saw a darker, grittier, more realistic Lara Croft where she would be fighting for survival and barely holding her head above the water, not just against her enemies, but against the elements and the very environment itself. Have her need to find food and fresh water and if she doesn’t make it so she can’t run as fast or climb as high, have her need to suture bad gashes, create splints for broken bones or find different medicinal herbs with different properties (e.g. pain killers, antibiotics, ointments etc.), have her need to find shelter and warmth to prevent hypothermia. These things would have improved Lara’s story immensely and as such build her as a character because you’d be able to really see her struggle and watch her come out the other side a changed person. Make her a true survivor like the games advertise her to be.

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Death Stranding (PC, PS4)

Hooray for PS Store sales. This week we will be delving into the weird and wonderful mind of Hideo Kojima (emphasis on weird) the mastermind behind Metal Gear Solid as we bring you one of his first works following his divorce with Konami. So here is what I thought of Death Stranding.

Death Stranding takes place in a world not to dissimilar from our own where the worlds of the living and the world of the dead have melded in an event known as the Death Stranding. This has caused creatures called “Beached Things” (“BT’s”) to swarm America that explode when consuming corpses (voidouts), this along with the Timefall, which is rain that causes anything it touches to rapidly age. This causes society to collapse into a few isolated pockets, downgrading from the USA to the UCA (United Cities of America). You play as Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) a courier who travels between these cities making deliveries. He is tasked by the late president to travel from the East coast to the West connecting cities he meets to the UCA.

If you managed to get to the end of that paragraph and not think to yourself “Nope, I’m out” then you might just enjoy the game. As expected from anything with Hideo Kojima’s name, the game is polished to a high finish. Graphically the game is very impressive, both the characters and background rendering are visually stunning. The level of detail the game goes to would extraordinary if it were anyone other than Hideo Kojima. For example, it’s not just the weight of the load Sam is carrying that can put him off balance but the way the load is balance can do it, for example if heavy parcels are stacked higher than less heavy ones it’ll cause a greater moment so require Sam to control his balance more. It’s more than likely purely coincidental but I enjoy the similarities that the Death Stranding has to the COVID-19 pandemic that escalated just months after the games release. Themes of isolation, fear and disconnection.

Game feels like it needs to do a better job of defining what the point of it all is. All the gameplay details are great and all but sadly the game is let down by being really boring. For the most part you are traversing a blank wilderness ladened with parcels from point A to point B with the occasional ghost attack to break up the monotony. The added mechanics do nothing to improve the enjoyment and seem more a practice in showing off.

I can’t get past how shameless the game is. The games tactless brand dropping for Monster Energy drinks. Going back to the idea of showing off, I can’t help but think Hideo Kojima is name dropping and showing off who his famous friends are, with big names such as Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen & Léa Seydoux to name a few.

Although I do have to admit that there is something cathartic about successfully delivering a small mountain of parcels across challenging terrain to their destination and thanked by a hologram of someone who may or may not actually exist. It’s moments like this that make me believe that I would enjoy a postman simulator game.

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Final Fantasy XV (PC, PS4, XBOX ONE)

As I write this it is currently coming up to Christmas and with needing to buy presents for everyone as well as earning just enough to stay poor, the flood of new games has crawled to a stand still. As such I am catching up on the backlog of games I have played that I can review, putting them in reserve for a later date. This time around another Final Fantasy in the form of number 15.

“Not so Final” Fantasy XV takes place in the world of Eos, you play Noctus, Prince of Lucis whom at the onset of the game is traveling to Tenebrae for his arranged marriage with Princess Lunafreya of Tenebrae. This being a condition of Lucis armistice with the Niflheim Empire. Accompanying Noctus on his journey is his royal guard and bestest-best buddies. As expected inn true Final Fantasy style not everything goes as smoothly as planned. Whist away from the capital the armistice signing is ambushed and Noctus’ father, the King is killed. It is then up to Noctus to gather the royal arms of past Lucis kings and take back his home & kingdom.

Final Fantasy XV was one I was quite excited about since it’s days as FF Versus XIII. It seemed like it was going to be a darker, more serious game than FFXIII. Although I was right on the money with this it still falls short of some of the other games in the series. One of my main grips with the game is the combat, when I say that don’t get me wrong, the change to a real time more fast pace combat style is defiantly a step in the right direction but in doing so they over simplified it. I managed to get through a fair portion of the game by only using attack and dodge, I didn’t bother with any of the magic crafting and barely used any of my team mates abilities. The game also suffers from an ailment I like to call “Fahrenheit Syndrome”, the main symptom of which is the game shitting it self halfway. In the case of Final Fantasy XV the game goes from having such an open expansive world to being coming a completely closed off corridor-fest. Although the game does have an expansive lore (e.g. The Astrals), it’s very much unexplored by the party during the events of the game, only accessible by reading books found in the game. This isn’t helped by the fact that later on the lore becomes a pivotal to the plot and unless you’ve been reading and learning along the way the meaning behind a lot of the happenings seems very nonsensical.

Now that I’ve gotten that over with lets get on to the better points of the game. To start with despite the group having as much character depth as a puddle on the pavement, there does seem to be a great chemistry between the 4 four of them. Their varying personalities makes each character unique and makes for excellent banter between them. Gladiolus is the stoic protector of the group, Ignis is the tactician and brains of the operation, Prompto is the ‘happy-go-lucky’ one & Noctis is a whiny bitch. The character design outside of the main party as well is worth a shout out too, each character feeling very unique with their own distinct personalities and quirks. The Kingdom of Lucis in which the majority of the game is beautifully varied, from the deserts of Leide, to the plains of Duscae to the rocky mountains of Cleigne. This sense of open luscious scenery however disappears once to leave Lucis, past this point the vast majority of the world is closed off to the player. I personally love a game where I can explore the world, finding new and interesting places (which is why games like The Elders Scrolls & The Witcher resonate with me so well), this longing to travel was sated for the first half of the game, be it with great annoyance as when I first played the game as off-roading wasn’t unlocked at that point. Upon leaving Altissia there was no more opportunities to explore despite being in a whole new land which judging by the map must be at least 50% bigger than Lucis being stuck to see the arid wastes, luscious green mountain ranges and icy vallys as the pass by through a train window.

A lot of my complaints about the game (besides the final third of the story) comes from material that seems to be missing from the core game. Depth of character for instance, each of Noctus’ companions motivations never get any deeper than “Because he’s my prince” & “Noctus is an entitled asshole”. I believe that the reason this game suffers is due to the developers desire to create the Final Fantasy XV Universe without creating a series of games. This means a lot of the material would be taken from the main game is taken and re-deployed in other media. Going back to the character depth, a lot of the characters background and motivations are found in the Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV anime and in the DLC packs. This waters down the main game and ruins it’s overall appeal as a single unit, it’s like being making an extremely weak glass of Ribena then have them hide the rest of the cordial in an abandoned library on a completely different plain of reality. From a marketing perspective I get it, “If you want the whole FFXV experience you must play all the games, read all the books, watch all the TV series, eat all the branded yogurts etc.”. This train of though breaks down when the core game (the gooey caramel centre to the whole story) doesn’t interest me enough to want to go beyond the core game. This was the same story with FFXIII. Final Fantasy X on the other hand was a game that stood up on it’s own but was enhanced by the introduction of X-2. The difference here was Square-Enix went into both XIII & XV wanting to create a universe with several elements or using several different mediums, but with FFX the aim was to create the game, it was only after the game was complete and on shelves did they start on FFX-2. Although this meant longer production times and costs but meant that the end products were better for it. This can be seen by calls for fans for X-3 18 years after the originals release, while nobody is asking for another FFXIII game.

Zero Escape Trilogy (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma) (DS, 3DS, PC, PS4, PSVITA)

OK, This weeks review is one purely for self-indulgence. This was a series that I enjoyed playing back in 2018 and is one I believe has been somewhat overlooked by a lot of people. So with that in mind let me set the record straight.

The Zero Escape series consists of 3 games. The first is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors in which 9 people are kidnapped & held hostage by an unknown figure calling himself ‘Zero’ aboard an ocean liner. It’s here he forces the hostages to participate in “The Nonary Games” where they must solve a number of puzzle rooms in order to reach door no. 9 in 9 hrs otherwise the ship will sink. The second game, Virtue’s Last Reward is of a similar style, 9 more people are kidnapped by ‘Zero Sr.’ and is set inside a warehouse facility where the only way out is to complete in another “Nonary Games” which involves more puzzle rooms but differentiating from the first games by having players participate in what’s called “the Ambidex Game” which is a series of prisoner dilemma scenarios where players get or loose points depending on their answer. The first person/s to 9 points can escape trapping those who do not in the facility forever. Any player who accumulates negative points is killed. The third game, Zero Time Dilemma takes place when a DCom (Dwelling for Experimental Cohabitation of Mars) experiment is hijacked by masked individual calling himself ‘Zero’, the 9 individuals are separated into teams of 3 who are forced into a death game where the only way to leave is to gain 6 passwords and open the exit. A password is revealed each time a player dies.

At first I played the games in the wrong order. I started with the 3rd one then a year later learnt of the existence of the other 2 upon their release on PS4. With that I made sure to play them through then replay the 3rd one. The gameplay is fairly similar throughout the 3 games, they are separated into 2 main segments. The first is where the story is driven forward by using story boards in the first 2 games and as full 3d cut scenes in the 3rd. These sections are broken up by escape room like puzzles which must be solved in order to progress the story. Jumping between these segments doesn’t do well for the pacing of the games but the story is gripping enough that it allows for some leeway in this department.

Speaking of the story, all 3 stories are based heavily around both scientific and philosophical ideas, some of the more heavily present themes are that of morphogenetic fields (telepathy-type interconnectivity between persons) and the Many-worlds interpretation (where each decision made splits the time line depending on our choices). The games (especially in the 3rd instalment) allow the player access to the entire timeline of the game allowing you to jump back to decisions in the game and change the outcome. In some cases when you jump back the character can do what’s called a “Spacetime Human Internal Fluctuating Transfer” (or SHIFT for short). This will transfer the consciousness of a character from one timeline to another opening up more of the game and allowing from the better endings. As you can imagine once you throw both the shifting and the other scientific and philosophical concepts into the mix the story can become very jumbled and out of place, especially if you are playing through the timelines out of order (which will be almost everyone who’s not using a guide).

If you can follow the story then you are in for a great time, the story has some absolute gripping moments. One that comes to mind is when one character is trying to kill another one with a chainsaw whilst they try to fend them off with a fire axe. Another is where one player is locked in a chair with a revolver to their head and another is inside an incinerator about to turn on. The only way to save them is for a 3rd player to pull the trigger on the revolver in which there are 3 bullets and 3 empty chambers. It’s Saw-esque moral choice dilemmas like these that push the human condition to it’s extreme limits that get me very excited indeed.

Overall if you don’t mind a bit of bad voice dubbing and the stop-start story telling then the games are defiantly worth a play. The third one is defiantly the strongest of the 3 but also the hardest to follow. That being said the first one I would say was the weaker of the 3 but the easiest to follow so makes for a good introduction to the series and knowing that the following games will only get better. Anybody who loves a good gripping story should defiantly check them out. I would also say that if you are going to play them, play them in order. You’ll know after the first one if the series is right for you and you will loose a lot of background knowledge in the later games if you don’t play the ones before.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Final Fantasy X (PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

With the release of the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer I can’t help but think about the series as a whole as well as my favourites of the series. I struggle to pick which is my favourite, that would be like picking a favourite child. I would never be happy carving a hierarchy into stone, solemnly decreeing that this is the definitive order and so shall it be for all time. I would probably make my list out of water as like water my opinions are fluid, constantly shifting from outside influences. Sure some titles will remain in familiar territory. Using the Premier League as a metaphor, FFXIII will always fall around the back of the pack and fight against relegation, FFXV despite soiling it’s underpants in the final third does enough to hover around mid-table with the likes of FFV, FFXII & FFIX, although the latter 2 do make it high enough now and again that they could qualify for the Europa League and the top spot is usually fought over by FFVII, FFVIII & todays subject matter FFX.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus (whom I always pronounced as Tie-dus, it was years later when I watched a making of documentary that it was pronounced Tee-dus), a young blitzball player from the large city of Zanarkand. His home is attacked by the gargantuan being known as Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself lost hundreds of miles from home. A chance encounter with the summoner Yuna and her guardians finds Tidus a way home.

The game really made you invest in and bond with the characters which makes the stories twist and the end that much more heart wrenching. As previously mentioned the world was also full, vibrant and rich, oozing with culture and lore. This is even before I mention blitzball which I spent more time playing than I care to remember. I would have loved blitzball to have been release as a FIFA-like spin off. Graphically too, FFX was a huge step up from the previous console generation and truly showed off the capabilities of the PS2 at the time.

Final Fantasy X may be a game that fights for the top spot but that doesn’t mean that it is without it’s flaws. It was the first Final Fantasy to ditch the world map for a series of smaller locations which made the world feel small and far too linear, not to the extent that XIII did but it was still an unwelcome change to the series. Also the sphere grid levelling system meant that because everyone can learn every skill & ability each character looses their unique feel in battle later in the game, with Overdrives and Yuna’s summon ability the only unique abilities left. This is not to mention some of the cringe worthy dialogue (The laughing scene in particular).

From the outset you can tell that Final Fantasy X is a very different breed from the Final Fantasy games that came before it. The use of voice overs, mo-cap & skeletal animation & 3D backgrounds being the most noticeable. This huge evolutionary leap is due in part to the series’ jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2. The massive increase in hardware capability gave Square that unrestricted creative freedom to take the series away from the tried and tested Final Fantasy model. Although this does mean a few classic flavours of the series get left out in the cold, this however is the price of progress and whether you like it or not it’s happening. I brought up this same point in my Final Fantasy XIII review all those years ago and although I am for the evolution of the series and it’s modernising to introduce new players to the franchise I still yearn for some of the classic characteristics to come creeping back in, mainly a full explore-able world. We’ve not had one of them since FFIX. Imagine if Final Fantasy XVI comes with a modern fully rendered 3d world to get lost in, full of secret locations and optional cities and towns? If it does I think I will genuinely loose my shit.

BONUS CONTENT: Dungeons and Dragons and My New Perspective on Baldur’s Gate 2.

Despite the disadvantages that a global pandemic has on interacting with new people, I have been getting into Dungeons & Dragons. I have played a few sessions, even playing as Dungeon Master on some occasions and I have revelled in the experience, but what was I to do in the periods between? This is what drove me to revisiting Baldur’s Gate 2.

Baldur’s Gate 2 starts with the hero of the pervious game and a few companions captured by the elven mage Jon Irenicus in order to use his powers as a Bhaalspawn (A child of the God of Murder) for his own evil deeds. The player and his party must escape from Irenicus’s clutches and stop his horrible doings. Although between these two point a vast amount or very little can happen depending on the players actions.

I’ve never played the first Baldur’s Gate, opting to jump straight into the second instalment. I believe I first played Baldur’s Gate 2 in 2008/9 and I must admit I struggled in getting to grasps with the games lore and mechanics since I came in all fresh faced and bushy tailed. Although now coming back to it after a few D&D sessions I have a much clearer picture of the world and it’s workings (I originally didn’t get what the whole d4, d6, etc. thing was, I do now). To be fair I have been playing the Enhanced Edition recently which does have a few extra bits but for the most part it’s the same game.

My time learning how to play D&D has been a revelation in regards to my experience with Baldur’s Gate 2. The extra background knowledge meant I could properly tweak each party member to use specific gear and properly strategies combat so was no longer relying on blind luck and determination to get me through the game, this in term gave me a greater respect and appreciation of the game which is more than deserving of the critical acclaim it got at release all those years ago. The world is massive with so many side quests to do and different people to meet. The story is a true epic and with the Enhanced Editions graphical upgrade it doesn’t feel all that old despite turning 20 this year.

I’d defiantly call it a must play for any D&D or Western RPG fan, although since it has been out for the last 20 years I can imagine all D&D & Western RPG fans have already played it. It certainly makes me more excited about Baldur’s Gate 3 which has been on Early Access on Steam for a while now but at £50 for a game that’s not complete yet, it’s still a bit rich for my blood.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PS4, XBOX ONE)

I think I stuck just as many hours into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the PSone as I did on Rayman, Resident Evil 1 & 2, Metal Gear Solid, Command & Conquer, Command & Conquer Red Alert, Crash Bandicoot 1, 2 & 3, Final Fantasy VIII & Final Fantasy IX. In fact I’m pretty sure the only game I played more of on the PSone was Final Fantasy VII. So when news reached me that the first 2 games were being remade for the current generation I was pleasantly surprised. I never would have thought the games to be that sort after that a remake was in order (than again Metacritic names THPS2 as it’s top rated Playstation game of all time), so with The Last of Us Part II behind me lets grind some rails and Ollie some magic bums.

This is normally the part of the review where I write a description of the plot of the game. Given that games pre Tony Hawk’s Underground didn’t have a plot there is little to tell here. There are several different areas, you have 2 mins to complete any number of tasks for that area varying from score so many points, pull off a certain scored combo, find some items, destroy some stuff etc. Unlock so many and you can move onto the next area.

Right from the word go as soon as I appeared in the tutorial area everything came flooding back to me. Like riding a bike my muscle memory kicked in. It wasn’t long before I was building up combos and not falling on my ass. The controls feel just as tight as they did back in the Playstation era. The use of the joystick rather than the original D-pad means that the game easily mistake left or right with a diagonal, but switching to using the D-pad gave the game a bit more of a retro feel. Something that doesn’t feel retro however is the graphics, they are much, much, much improved. The lighting effects, the rendering, the modelling, the textures. All of it modernised for the 21st century.

The game feels exactly like what a good remake should feel like. When I started playing and the classic playlist starts I felt like I’d continued off from where I had left off with the original games all those years ago, despite all the aesthetical changes. With the likes of Resident Evil 2-3 & Final Fantasy VII, they felt like new games that gave nods or had similarities to the original & with Command & Conquer I was just playing the original. THPS1+2 is the games adapting to the current generation so that new fans can enjoy the same experience we did all those years ago.

Overall I hope that this is a resurgence for the Pro Skater franchise. It was a series that fell off of my radar after the Underground games, which was a shame as I really enjoyed the first Underground game. THPS gameplay with an underdog rags to riches storyline, sign me up. It may have been a bit cliché but it was a step in the right direction. I hope that with the serge of popularity developed with the remake we can expect delve again into a spot of storytelling.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This review has been sitting in my drafts waiting for a slow day for the past 3 months. However now that the games are starting to dry up So with that lets get down and dirty with our Witcher (in all aspects of the term).

In The Witcher 3 we return to the story of Geralt of Rivea, a witcher which (for those of you who don’t know) is a monster hunter for hire. After reuniting with his on-again-off-again lover, the sorceress Yeneffer. She tells Geralt that he has been summoned to an audience with the Emperor Emhyr ruler of the Nilfgaardian Empire. The Emperor tasks Geralt with finding his daughter Siri who is being pursued by the Wild Hunt. Given that Siri is also Geralt’s adopted daughter after having been awarded her when he evoking the Law of Surprise after saving Emperor Emhyr’s life in the past, he accepts. Geralt then travels the land picking up Siri’s trail and confronting the Wild Hunt on the way.

As previously mentioned in my Metacritic post all those moons ago, I didn’t have a lot of past experience with The Witcher series before playing the game, a couple of hours with the original game and binging the Netflix series. So I knew enough to get me through the first module but no where close to achieving my Bachelors in Witcher Studies. This was fine however, the game seems to understand that it was going to bring in new players to the series so the game includes a handy glossary detailing important people, places and events for the unknowing, forgetful or slightly confused. It broke up the flow of the game a little, like having to stop and read the ingredients list of each item I put in my trolley when I do my monthly shop, but the upside was I didn’t feel as if the game was shunning me for not being one of the cool kids. This is also true with the first area of the game being one long tutorial detailing every mechanic of the game and giving a feel to how the rest of the game was going to unfold.

All this contributes to one of the strongest aspects of The Witcher which is it’s ability to create an interesting and engaging gaming experience. The world is teeming with background and lore, which makes you want to explore each of the small villages between Novigrad and Babylon in order to learn more about the world, as well as finding more quests and things to do/kill. Truly immersing you into the Ronin-esque lifestyle of a witcher. Strolling into town, bartering your loot, tracking down the local monster that’s been terrorising the locals, kill it, mount it’s head on your horse, get paid then mosey on out of town without nary a wave or tip of the hat. Along with the addictive card game of Gwent and the treasure hunts; The world is packed full of things to do and see. Plus if you ever get tired of dicking about there is always the main story which is encapsulating and very well written, everything about it from the characters you meet to the monsters that you slay feels like it belongs in the world, nothing feels out of place.

That being said, just like every time I go out for ice cream, it is possible to have too much choice. The combat is a good example of this. There are so many bells and whistles that just serve as extra baggage. There’s a whole assortment of potions to brew with various effects as well as a multitude of spells and sword techniques to master. However, I managed to get through most of the game using mostly quick attack, dodge and the fire spell. If I needed healing I’d had enough food I’d bought from my travels between inns to open a small chain of restaurants. It must have got to the point that by the time I got to the end of the game I must have eaten enough roast chickens to label them an endangered species. Although I did start to use the weapon oils around the end of the game, mind you it was only because it wasn’t until I’d upgraded them to max level that they really had any major effect. Whist I’m ranting a bit, what are Geralt’s swords made of? I know one is supposed to be steel and the other is silver but given how quickly they break they might as well be made of polystyrene wrapped in wet newspaper. To finish off my list of gripes I have about the game, there were one or two technical issues I had with the game bugging out now and again, mind you they were no where near in number or severity of that of Fallout 3 (which is my go to example of buggy games) but there were enough to get my dander up.

Besides my small tirade of niggles the game really is one of the pinnacle open-world action adventure RPG’s, which is quite the praise especially given how dense I mentioned the genre is in my Horizon Zero Dawn review. It delivers the goods exactly where it needs to and does it with such gusto it’s not hard to see why people are calling it “The greatest game of all time”. I disagree with the statement but I’d defiantly place it much closer to the top of the list than the bottom. Overall I don’t think I could have bettered the levels of enjoyment I got from The Witcher 3 for the £13 I spent on it, except maybe with the exception of some Nitrous Oxide and the Black Books box-set.

The Last of Us Part II (PS4)

Finally. A fat, juicy AAA title to sink my teeth into that wasn’t a reboot. Sure it is a sequel but that can be forgiven as it is a sequel to one of my previous Game of the Year winners. Let us re-join Joel & Ellie in their post-apocalypse fight for survival in The Last of Us Part II.

Just before you proceed, thought you ought to know There will Be Spoilers.

So we start the game with the ending of the previous game conveniently retold to us by Joel and the massacre he made of the Fireflies in order to save Ellie from being dissected in order to find a cure for the Cordyceps fungus pandemic. Fast forward 4 years later and the two have settled down to life in Jackson, Wyoming. During a scouting mission Joel and his brother Tommy rescue a survivor Abby from a hoard of infected. Abby takes the two back to Abby’s group who unknown to the brothers are remnants the Fireflies who ambush the brothers. Ellie finds Joel just in time to watch Abby beat Joel to death for killing her father, one of the surgeons who died in Joel’s massacre. Ellie swears revenge against Abby and sets out to Seattle in pursuit of Abby and her gang.

Now I like to think that someone somewhere at Naughty Dog read my review of The Last of Us and thought “Yes, we must fix those niggles for our next game”. I think this because that’s exactly what they did. Unlike the first game I really managed to get absorbed into the game and feel immersed into the world. The stealth aspect that felt as thought it was at times either too sensitive or not sensitive enough has been evened out too. The game looks and feels superior to it’s predecessor.

From the very onset of the game the visuals are absolutely stunning. The detail of the environment and the fluidity of the characters movements and facial expressions show that a lot of time and effort has been spent polishing the game to such a finish that even Rhianna would complement it’s shine. This enforces the immersive capabilities of the game. You can’t help but feel tense as you sneak up on an enemy as you hope to your preferred flavour of deity that the poor bastard doesn’t turn round.

The immersion is also helped by the depth of the characters in the game. You get a sense that these are real people, feeling real feelings and having real struggles. However, I failed to sympathise with either Ellie or Abby during the game. Ellie’s sole goal is Abby’s death because she killed Joel, but Joel did a shitty thing and kinda deserved what he got. On the other hand Abby did a particularly shitty thing in killing Joel so kinda deserves what’s coming for her. All my sympathy was spent on the horses having to stay out in the cold as long as they did and later on getting blown up and shot, despite the fact they never killed anyone (that we know of). This makes the message of cause and consequence in regards to revenge and taking a life that the game is so obviously wanting to portray somewhat weaker with each enemy Ellie makes new neck holes for.

So we have established that the combat is good (actually looking back I haven’t, btw the combat is good, done, moving on) and the story telling is good. However, the parts in between them are a bit of a slug-a-thon. These are the parts in films that are usually skipped over, like how you never see James Bond browsing through duty-free as he waits for his flight to be called to continue to where the rest of the plot is happening. Usually these parts consist of move in said direction for a while, except for the little open world bit where Ellie must roam the central district of Seattle looking for gasoline.

So if Naughty Dog are reading this (as we’ve already established, they are) recommendations I would like to make for The Last of Us Part III are in short: a) More open world explore and b) A bit less Ludo-narrative dissonance please. Aside from them just do more of the same please.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PC, PS4)

So anyone that knows me on a personal level or from the other side of a two way mirror will know that I don’t play well with others. I think I’ve got this boiled down to 2 reasons, 1; when I’m playing against others the idea that there are people out there that are better than me hurts my ego so badly that I go into an emotional downward spiral causing me to question my self-worth, and 2; when I play co-op with people I don’t know I get impatient towards others for not following my strategy and inevitably fuck everything up leaving me left looking like a twat for trusting someone with the IQ somewhere between a sea sponge and a damp cloth. If you haven’t already guessed I’m not in a good place this week so here’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.

Fall Guys is a multiplayer battle-royale where 60 players are pitted together in a series of Takeshi’s Castle/Total Wipeout esc. mini games whittling the numbers down round by round until the final round where the last… thing? standing takes the crown. When you play, you gather a currency called “Kudos” which can be used to purchase skins and costumes for you character. When you win a game you get a crown which can be used to purchase premium items.

Aesthetically the game is quite pleasing, it’s very colourful and cutesy. This is also reflected in the character you play as. You play as some sort of sentient jelly-bean that as previously mentioned can be customised to looks like a pigeon or wear other ridiculous outfits. It has a certain charm that makes it warm and inviting. Another aspect I enjoyed was it’s simplicity to play, the controls consist of run, move camera, jump, dive and grab, meaning the game doesn’t take you long to learn so you can jump straight into the action. I like that this means that seasoned veterans have little strategic advantage over new players making for more of an even playing field, however this does mean that a lot of the rounds are based more on luck than actual skill. This is especially true at the start where you have gangs of contestants trying to occupy the same places in both space and time leading to pileups of bodies tripping over each other and Three Stooges style jams between obstacles.

Despite all the nice I just said about it, overall I find the game to be very hollow and empty. Maybe a host, an audience, some commentary would make the game feel more alive. It seems to me the developers have missed the point of what makes the aforementioned gameshows fun. You don’t watch Total Wipeout to watch people be competent and complete the course (That’s what Ninja Warrior is for), you watch it to see people get sucker punched and to miserably fail. This makes for good television when it’s somebody else, not so much when the person falling to their doom for the umpteenth time is you.

To me the game lacks purpose and the rewards are massively out weighed by the effort one must put in to get them. If you win you get a crown which you can spend on items so that when you next play the game you can wear a funny hat. Imagine if Katniss, when she won The Hunger Games instead of winning her freedom she won the right to fight in the next Hunger Games dressed as cheeseburger? The game is a constant perpetual struggle with no true winners except for those who run the game making money off of watching us run in our never ending hamster wheels, enticing us to keep running by dangling meaningless cosmetic accessories in front of us like a carrot on a stick. It is a complete waste of time and completely detrimental to my mental wellbeing. All this would be forgiven if the game was actually fun to play, which it was to start with but as I repeated the same levels over and over again they became more bothersome than fun.

Is this really what video games have become in the Micro-transaction era? I feel that video game developers see gamers as nothing but wallets with thumbs, dangling us upside-down and shaking to see what falls out. Bow down and surrender your hard earned cash to the faceless corporations to which you have signed away your mortal soul for your jelly bean novelty sunglasses. I hope that an extra circle of hell is created for these people where they must play Fall Guys until they mass enough points to win their freedom, only to be beaten at the last second by hackers. Everyone, rise up against your suppressors, break the chains of oppression and demand substance, invigorating stories and enriching gameplay that will stay with you long after you’ve finished and walked away from it.

I should be feeling better next week, hopefully.