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.

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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.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PC, PS4)

Last week I mentioned in my IMDB “Must Play” post that Horizon Zero Dawn is a must play on PS4. Upon reflection I thought that this would be a good opportunity to evaluate on this statement. Also taking into account that the game was released not too long ago on PC, It does make the review a bit more relevant, so without further or do lets get on with it.

Horizon Zero Dawn tells the story of Aloy. A young female hunter who’s tribe is attacked by a cult wielding corrupted machines called Eclipse due to her resemblance to an old world scientist. It is then that she is told of the strange circumstances of how she came to the tribe. Aloy then sets off to discover her past, what part she plays in the fate of the world and the truth behind Eclipse and what they are planning. Throughout her journey Aloy must face the perils of the environment, savages as well as that of the robotic wildlife roaming the wilderness.

The game set less in a post-apocalypse world and more of a post-post-apocalypse. The world is bright, luscious and vibrant, with wildlife galore. Although to be fair not all of it is made up of flesh and bone, but we’ll get to that later. The scenery is varied (maybe even too varied) as in easy access by foot we have rolling green fields; towering, snow capped mountain ranges; vast, rocky deserts; dense, thick woodlands and overgrown, old world ruins. With how visually stunning the environments are I can’t help but think the game is just showing off wanting to show off it’s range of landscapes.

Like most AAA games these days, Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world action adventure with RPG elements. This means you know what to expect, optional side-quests, collectables, crafting, un-lockables, combat choices so on and so forth. Although as far as combat choices go, you have 2. Either put your stats in ranged and stealth or die a lot. Although to be fair I thought this would have been a given in any game involving fighting large robots. Anyone that thinks it’s a good idea to charge at a towering robo-saurus is either a psychopath, completely fearless, a moron or d) all of the above.

Speaking of our heavy-metal adversaries. They feel very much like the selling point of the game. The meat between the bread and butter in our open-world action adventure with RPG elements sandwich, sadly though it’s not quite enough to make us a hearty lunch. As much fun as it is to separating a Thunderjaw from it’s beloved disc launcher then proceed to give it a taste of it’s own medicine it’s hardly enough to hold the game up. The story as intriguing as it is, is just bland. The same way as finding a hobnob in your pack of rich teas is intriguing but it’s hardly going to get you a New York Times best seller.

The main problem that Horizon Zero Dawn faces is that although it is a good game, it’s not a great game. What the game does well has been done better by other games before it. It just can’t compete with games like The Witcher 3, Mass Effect or Zelda: Breath of the Wild which stand head and solders above other games of a genre so dense it’s close to critical mass. The game is at it’s best when it’s not trying to be another face in the crowd. When you pull off a perfect slide dodge followed by an instant kill shot or scraping together the last of your resources to finally take down that Stormbird that’s been holding up your progress. Those moments are unique to this game are when it comes alive and reveals it’s true colours. So I guess the moral you can take away from this is that it’s best to be yourself rather than a knock-off of someone else.

Metacritic’s “Must Play” PS4 Games?

So to quote the guys from Monty Python “And now for something completely different”. I’m still too poor to splash out on some new game. Believe it or not nobody pays me to do this. Therefore I don’t have £40 to spend on The Last of Us Part 2, so I improvise. I saw recently an article claiming to state “The Top 30 PS4 games you must play”. Now, those who know me will know how much I don’t like being told I ‘must’ do something, but this gave me an idea. I would take from Metacritic the top 10 rated PS4 games I have played and in a short paragraph mention if it’s a must play or not. Just as a disclaimer, the numbers I’m using are the rankings on Metacritic so in the case that I miss a number I’ve either not played it or not played it enough to warrant a decent opinion.

1) Read dead redemption 2:

A strong contender straight out of the gate. Red Dead 2 was a game that I took great enjoyment from playing. I got to the end of the story but there are so many collectables and side quests that I could probably put another 100+ hours into it and still be short of the platinum trophy. As far as a must play goes I would probably say that it is. The single player is engaging and full of content, there is also the multiplayer as well if you’re into that sort of thing.

2) Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V was one of the games that I got in the bundle with my original PS4 (along with Drive Club, The Last of Us Remastered & a copy of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on BluRay). I don’t think my feelings for GTA V are as strong as they are for Red Dead 2. Red Dead had the stronger story and looked that much crisper which may be due to it being native to the current generations rather than a port like GTA. Although on it’s own merits I’d probably recommend you play it, again there is the multiplayer which is one of the few multiplayer games I’ve partaken in.

4) The Last of Us Remastered

I first played The Last of Us on the PS3 when it was first released and I enjoyed it for the most part. Besides a few pacing niggles, the story was gripping, the atmosphere was intense and graphically it was brilliant (even more so on the PS4). I reviewed it some years ago and gave it my game of the year back then as did 200+ other more reputable institutes. Therefore it’s a recommendation from me.

5)God of War

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes and 1000 times yes. If I was running my Game of the Year back in 2018 this would have been my choice hands down. The story may have been a bit disjointed at times but everything else it did so well that it was forgiven. The environments are just stunning, It has immersion to spare and the gameplay is some of the cleanest outside the Batman Arkham games. Did I mention that I recommend it.

7) Persona 5

Now this one surprises me. There were many other games I would have expected to rank higher than this one but it is what it is. As I mentioned in my review of it, the game is solid enough but I’m not sure if I would categorise it as a “Must Play”. It’s quite a niche game and I imagine more than a few people would be irritated by the games choppy, stop-start gameplay and story telling. If you’re into all things Japanese then be my guest, otherwise I’d understand if you leave it.

8)Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Now, I have an issue with The Phantom Pain. Before it’s release and watching the trailers I was sold on the game. It promised to be an open world MGS game, yes please. Sadly though what we got was open world with a big ol’ asterisk and in doing so broke the flow of the game. This bummed me out big time. I don’t think I would call it a “Must Play” but if your a fan of the series it’s still one of the best of them.

9)Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4 to me is a game that shouldn’t have existed other than to have an Uncharted game on the PS4. It added nothing to the series, It was just another Uncharted game which looked nicer. It may have rounded off the whole Nathan Drake saga a lot better than the 3rd one did but it didn’t need to. If you are a fan of the series I’d play it just to finish it all off but to the rest of us I wouldn’t call it a “Must Play”.

13) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 was a game I could really get my teeth into. My previous experience with The Witcher series came from playing the original game for a couple of hours and watching the Netflix series. It took me a little while to get the lore of the game but once I did I was fully immersed into the life of Geralt of Rivia. As such I would give the game a “Must Play” for those with and without prior experience of the series.

21) Resident Evil 2

Here we have a great example of how a game should be re-imagined. Everything I loved about the original is there with improved game-play and graphics. One of my few flaws in the game was that I couldn’t enjoy it for longer. I’d have given it my Game of the Year for 2019 had I been giving out awards then. Without a shadow of a doubt I would give it a “Must Play” stamp of approval.

28) Monster Hunter World

This was the first Monster Hunter I played in the series, but I’ve seen friends play some of the older ones so it wasn’t like I went in unaware of what awaited me. I put in far more hours then I thought I would have before I started. If you enjoy a challenge, and/or have a love of micromanagement and cats I’d recommend it. If you fall outside this Venn diagram then you’ll probably be better off with something else, therefore for the reason that I couldn’t recommend it to everyone I don’t think I could call it a “Must Play”

In conclusion. Metacritic gave all 10 of these games it’s “Must Play” stamp of approval, I would only have to agree with 6 of the 10. I do believe however there are a number of other games that should be worthy of a play through by any PS4 owner. The first one that come to mind is Horizon Zero Dawn. It is a good, solid game and I would recommend it to anyone who has a PS4. Metacrtic ranks it in 46th which in my opinion is very harsh. Next one I’d recommend would be Marvel’s Spider-Man, Metacritic has this at 77th which to me feels very much like a slap in the face. True the game is not perfect, but what the game does best is that it is fun. The swinging mechanics are so smooth and fluid that you’ll find yourself taking wrong turns just so you can keep at it. If you are a person that likes having fun, I’d say get it. Although in the end it all depends on each person’s tastes and preferences. Even games I’ve stated as “Must Plays” will find people who dislike it. I don’t think there will ever be one game that will be universally loved by everyone. As the saying goes “You can please some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but you can never please all the people all the time”, in short “Haters gonna hate”.

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This week I’ve not been in a position financially to pick up any new games. As such I went through my back catalogue of PSPlus games that I’ve downloaded when they were free and just not got around to playing them. This game peaked my interest more than the other so I decided to look into it. After a little research (checked the wikipedia page) and saw that it won the BAFTA for Best Game in 2017. That cemented my decision to give it a go and here is what I found.

What Remains of Edith Finch takes place on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State. It tells the story of Edith Finch’s return to her old family home which she inherits after her mother passed away. She intends to return to the house in order to find out the truth behind the strange happenings and incidents that befell her family. The game plays through the tragedies that befell each of the Finch’s starting from her great grandfather Odin Finch all the way though to present day.

The tone of the game is set from the very beginning as you make your way up to the house. The feelings of isolation and apprehension that are instilled into the player as you walk through the woods up to the old, crooked house. You know at that point that the game is going to be very atmospheric and story driven and in no way is it going to be all rainbows and sunshine. The game-play is quite minimalist with only a few controls available to the player, move the player, move the camera and an action button. I find it very effective in allowing the player to concentrate more on the narrative.

The story is mainly told through narrations, mostly by Edith herself. The rest is done in segments by each of the Finch family moments before their tragic end. Each segment plays out very differently from person to person. For example, Sam Finch was an amateur photographer so his story is told through photographs while Barbara Finch was a child movie star so her’s is told in the style of a comic book. This makes each segment feel a bit more personal and stops the game from becoming stale. This is also helped by the length of the game, it being easily completed within a couple of hours. Although I’m not sure what to make of this. I left the game wanting more but there was nothing more to tell, like getting to the end of a box of Jaffa Cakes and being 2-3 cakes short of being completely satisfied.

To round it all up, I’ve seen a few reviews of the game stating it as a example of video games as an art form and I must confess that I do agree. The atmosphere and the environment do wonders to immerse the player into the role of each of the family members, however some segments are more immersive than others. For example I found Molly’s segment a little disjointed while Lewis’s on the flip side really stood out as being equally engaging and harrowing. In a sentence it’s a great story told in a great way and if you can find it for a great price… Great.

Two Point Hospital (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

I spent a week writing an interesting piece on violence in video games and their repercussions in the real world. I almost got to the end only to realise I hated everything I wrote, so I’ve shelved that for now and looked into something a bit more fun. So as such I was thinking about what game I played recently that I had the most fun playing. This was the first game that came to mind and was the perfect choice to move away from the seriousness of the previous mentioned topic. So please step into my clinic as I prescribe to you a dose of Two Point Hospital.

Hands up who remembers Theme Hospital? I know I do, I spent hours playing it back in the 90’s/00’s. For those who don’t, Theme Hospital was a hospital simulation game on PC and later ported to PSone. It was developed by Bullfrog Productions (co-founded by video gaming legend Peter Molyneux) also famous for The Populous series, The Dungeon Keeper series as well as Theme Park and it’s sequels before they were gobbled up by video game giants EA. Theme Hospital’s lead Producer (Mark Webley) and Lead Artist (Gary Carr) founded Two Point Studios in order to create a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital and I can honestly say they succeeded.

Although there is nothing in the games that directly links the two of them, Two Point Hospital defiantly feels like a Theme Hospital for the 21st century. It’s just as wacky and fun as the original with greater smoothing around the edges. This certainly doesn’t hurt the game in my opinion, I’ve seen a few reviews marks points against it for being “too much” like Theme Hospital which is a concept which I personally don’t understand. You wouldn’t say “I don’t like this delicious cake because it tastes too much like the delicious cake I had a few years ago” would you? Unless you were an absolute cretin.

I feel it easy to connect with Two Point Hospital, this is probably because I am British and the game is also unashamedly British. The characters look like they would be right at home in anything made by Aardman Animations (The guys who made Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and the like) and the humour is witty and dry with a dark undertone without trying too hard to be funny, just how us Brits like it. The little details too are what I love about the game, I could spend hours reading the compendium about all the different diseases and the causes. They have absolutely no bearing on the game but some of them are that bizzare I can’t help but keep reading and having a giggle.

The game play itself is endearing in being easy to learn and hard to master. This is done by making the in game missions difficult to fail but quite challenging to gain top marks. One slight niggle I have about the game is that once you develop a strategy that works the game play can become a bit tedious. There are a few missions where limitations are put in place or the formulae is mixed up a bit but depending on your strategy it’s not hard to alter it slightly to fit your needs.

At the time of this review there has been 4 major DLC’s for Two Point Hospital. I have played the first 2 (Bigfoot & Pebberley Island). Both of them I have found are a bit samey, you get 3 extra missions with a handful of new diseases, I’ve heard that the third one (Close Encounter) is the same. The fourth (Off the Grid) adds a few new game mechanics too in making your hospitals more eco-friendly but isn’t massively refreshing. If you own the Steam version I wouldn’t buy the DLC’s at full price as compared to the rest of the game it doesn’t really seem worth it, luckily enough the DLC’s are semi-regularly on sale. This currently doesn’t effect the console versions as they are shipped with the first 2 DLC’s and the second 2 have yet to be ported over.

To round it all up I highly recommend Two Point Hospital if you played and didn’t hate Theme Hospital. Sure the game-play may get repetitive at times and it may not be much of a challenge but it is fun, humorous and for all those who have played Theme Hospital oozing with nostalgia. However I’m not sure how the game would hold up without the nostalgia value as I’m finding it very hard to separate my feelings for one on my opinion on the other because of the overwhelming similarities between them. This was also the first game developed by Two Point Studios and I’m hoping to see more spiritual sequels of old Bullfrog games in the future, hopefully if Two Point Hospital is anything to go off of, I’ll be looking forward to hearing of news of Two Point Theme Park.

NOTE: I was originally planning on posting this next week but I have learnt that it’s the game is free to play on Steam this weekend because it’s the games 2 year anniversary. So check it out for free if you like what you read.

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

Now for anyone who knows me on a personal level you’ll have some idea of how excited I was for this when it was teased all those years ago back in E3 2005. Despite all the “will they, won’t they’s” for the following 10 years after that before finally being announced that it was happening in 2015 to it’s release a few months ago. We finally come to the moment. Final Fantasy VII: The Remake.

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

As I mentioned all those years ago when I originally did a look back review on the original Final Fantasy VII. The game holds special meaning to me, as it was one of the games that I have replayed and re-bought on several occasions, I can’t recall the number of summer holidays where boredom would set in and I’d fish the game out for another run. So to play through the same experience with a current-gen overhaul could only enhance the experience, it would but that’s not quite what’s happened.

As far as I see it there are 3 types of remakes:

  • Remaster: Where it’s the same as the previous game but with graphical upgrades (e.g. Command & Conquer Remastered)
  • Re-imagining: Where the game significantly overhauls the game-play or story but follows common motifs(e.g. Resident Evil 3)
  • True Remake: Where the game is rebuild using more modern means to resemble the original, possibly with a few minor tweaks or improvements (e.g. Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy)

Using this as our guide I would put FF7R into the Re-imagining category. I understand that this decision was done as a true-remake would alienate new players to the game, but it does mean that to fans of the original game, more of it feels new than nostalgic. For example the bombing run at the beginning gave me chills of nostalgia but later on before the second operation I felt annoyed and disheartened. In this section you have to infiltrate a Shinra warehouse with the help of Wedge, Biggs & Jesse. This section was so disjointed and felt out of place with the rest of the game. Although learning about Jesse’s past and her motivation to join AVALANCHE was refreshing. However Roche annoyed me to no end. He felt like that guy that always tries so hard to be cool in order to be liked that they come off as obnoxious and arrogant, dancing around with all the subtly of a fireworks factory exploding on what might as well have been a motorbike made of flubber given how many time it defied the laws of gravity. The section ends with another terrorist cell appearing and taking Wedge, releasing Wedge, Biggs pulling down Wedges pants and staring at his ass (yes this does happen) and then the group parachuting back into the slums within the space of 10mins.

The combat system is a change that doesn’t offend me. You get to do physical attacks in real time but in order to use magic, abilities and the like you need to fill your ATB gauge before you can use them. This system felt a lot more organic but I must admit that the friendly AI could do with some improvement. A lot of the time they don’t act with any kind of sense of urgency, It might just be me misjudging the situation but I would have thought the fact that they were in a life or death situation would bring about some sort of sense of self-preservation. Apparently not.

The game ends when the gang prepares to leave Midgar and set off into the world. For anyone who hasn’t played the original this point is about a third of the way through the first disk. Given that the original game is 3 disks we are probably about 10% through the game as we know it. The game feels like it’s far too excessively padded for it’s own good, if some of this was thinned down I recon the game could have got us to the boat out of Junion without feeling rushed. Then again I suppose in doing this Square-Enix have created an audience for the next 7-8 instalments of the game that will be coming our way if the amount of faffing about remains the same. I thought the whole point of episodic games were so that shorter games could be released at lower prices and more frequently, Square-Enix has so far missed all 3 of these targets and has missed them hard. So as it stands if the next instalments are just as padded as this one we can see the whole development time being about the length of the Bronze Age, the game would take an average person their entire life to complete and would cost somewhere comparable to the debt of sub-Saharan Africa.

On a final note, I can see glimpses of the game that I loved so dearly though it’s obscured by excessive padding and needless content that adds nothing/very little to the story or depth of the game. It doesn’t improve anything, it doesn’t add anything and that infuriates me. In fact the part that received the most of my ire had to be the dance-off between Cloud and Andrea at The Honey Bee Inn. I mean WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK JUST HAPPENED!? The section was so out of place and so infuriatingly needless I had to quit the game afterwards and fold some washing to take my mind off it. I didn’t play the game for the rest of the day after that. If I’ve learnt anything from playing games as long as I have it’s that if a game does something to make you not want to play it, then it’s doing something wrong. I would love to have been in the committee meeting where that idea was brought to the table so I could shut it down with as much flying furniture as I could muster before it got traction. I’m not against mini-games, like the squats. They make sense, Cloud would have trained hard in the military so would be physically fit enough to do a series of squats without problem, but where outside the realms of Greace and Foot Loose would Cloud learn how to dance so professionally? What will he surprise us with next? My money is on a fishing mini-game being inserted somewhere before the end of the story. Why not? It’s only gotta be copy and pasted from Final Fantasy XV.

Stardew Valley (MOBILE, PC, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

I’ve been trying for the past week to come up with a topic to talk about, I’ve started a couple but never managed to get written down enough to be happy with. I have just started playing the remake of Final Fantasy VII but I’d like at least a couple of weeks under my belt before I let the world know what I think of it, therefore we head as close to casual gaming as I am happy to go. I speak of the wonderful pixelated paradise that is Stardew Valley.

Now anyone that’s played a classic Harvest Moon game will know how this goes. You’ve left your hectic, stressful life in the city behind and inherited a farm from a dead relative (usually Grandfather) in a small, remote country setting and it’s up to you to fix it up in order to find the good life. Growing crops, raising livestock, making cheese, keeping bees, getting married, having kids etc. Essentially things you’d rather be doing then questioning where you went wrong in life (I know I do). It mimics Harvest Moon down to it’s underpants then adds it’s own modern elements such combat as well as mining and crafting elements.

The game itself seemed to press all the right buttons in my frontal cortex to keep me engaged for more hours than I care to remember. You could spend the rest of your life and then some imagining, designing and maintaining your own little slice of paradise. If you are one of those 100% completion nutters you best get a shortcut to the wiki on your favourite browser as you’ll soon find the scope of the game to be vast. Between becoming best friends with the whole valley, completing all the collections, exploring all the caves and extra areas the game will keep you entertained for years and given how cheap the game can be bought for it’s defiantly value for money.

I played the game originally on the PC a few years back and more recently on mobile and I do find the mobile version easier to put down, not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just literally easier to put down and walk away from. I can sit there for a few minutes on my phone whilst on the toilet, play though a day or two before my legs get numb and I have to get on with the rest of my day. The PC version on the other hand gave me a case of the “Just-One-More’s” where I would decide to play for an hour or so before breakfast only to walk away when the sun has gone down and it’s time to go back to bed.

Now for a final thought. There are very few things that get under my skin when it comes to Stardew Valley, I think my biggest niggle with it is that it’s too easy to make money and the whole thing becomes more of a vanity project rather than a challenge. Maybe if I had to keep some of my crops and produce aside so that the player didn’t starve then the game might have provided more of a challenge. I know that each in game action costs stamina but you can replenish said stamina at the days end or by taking a dip in the spa so the whole thing become less of a hindrance and more of a minor annoyance. It seems that world hunger was solved by stopping people from needing to eat but then again if that was true why is there still a market for my goat’s cheese?

Detroit: Become Human (PC, PS4)

I originally started to write this review soon after I completed the game, which was a few days after it’s PS4 release but never got around to finishing it. I only discovered that it was half written after finishing my Persona 5 review and was looking through my drafts for something else to write about (I have a few drafts sitting there that I’ve been meaning to write about) and with it’s release on PC not so long ago I guess it makes sense to revisit it. So let me take you into a not so distant future where androids obey the will of their owners, unemployment has skyrocketed due to cheap android labour. Social tension is high, the city is at boiling point and revolution on the horizon.

A friendly warning before I start, from this point on Here Be Spoilers.

The story revolves around 3 main characters. First up is Connor, an android commissioned by Cyberlife (a leading android manufacturer) to aid the Detroit police to investigate how and why androids are becoming self-aware (known as deviants). Next is Markus, an android owned by a rich elderly gentleman to whom Markus acts as his butler, chef and general confidant. Finally there is Kara, another android owned by a dead beat, drug addict, child abusing father of one, to which Kara acts as general house maid and punching bag.

As you will know I am a huge fan of Heavy Rain (It actually being the first review that I posted) although less so with Beyond: Two Souls, but like Heavy Rain I was excited about it’s release so it was only natural to pick this up on release day. Although I don’t think it quite lives up to the height of Heavy Rain, I’d still rate it closer to that than Beyond: Two Souls. Much like it’s predecessors it’s graphically very well rounded and of the finest detail, the motion-capture is well worth a mention as it’d probably one of the best I’ve seen in video games. However, as is the problem with the previous Quantic Dream titles the game play is where the game is let down. The controls are still as clunky as ever and the characters seem to move with very little urgency even when faced with life and death situations, where you’d think moving fast would be of use. I mean they are androids, it’s not like they are going to get out of breath.

There does seem to be a lot more “cause and causality” in this game than in Heavy Rain or Beyond with many more branches to the story depending on action and relations with certain characters. In fact at the beginning of my first play through I refused to break Kara’s programming so didn’t play as her for the rest of the game and as such missed out on a fair chunk of the story. The characters are relatable, you can sympathise with them wanting to be treated as equals, especially in our current political climate.

There is also a greater emphasis on morality in Become Human, when Markus rises to lead the rebellion, the play can decide whether to approach things with violence and destruction to get what they want by force or whether to act peacefully and sway the court of public opinion to your cause. Either way I’d go into the game choosing one or the other as a half arsing it is only going to get you a bad ending.

Now for my final thought. It does seem that when it comes to Quantic Dream, “The more things change, the more things stay the same”. The game suffers from the same faults as all those that came before it. The story little depth and clunky game-play grinds whatever flow the game has to a slow trickle. With Heavy Rain at least the story was executed in a compelling way and had a goal to keep you playing through. Beyond’s story was so disjointed and the flow so poorly you’d think the the office intern knocked the original script off David Cage’s desk and hurry replaced them in whatever order he could grab them before anyone found out. Detroit had all the potential to be great, but lazy writing and poor scope prevented this. The game boasts about having 40 different ending like it’s a good thing. I’d rather have 3-4 well written, engaging endings than 40 poor developed ones. Like how I’d rather have 4 packets of Walkers Salt & Vinegar crisps as opposed to 40 packets of a cheaper brand.