Category Archives: Entertainment

(Initial) Opinions on… The Nintendo Switch

So! It’s been a long time coming, but the Nintendo Switch has finally emerged from the shadows, finally revealing its secret after months of speculation. That secret, of course, is that it’s a weird hybrid of a home console and a portable device, with a joypad that you can split in two, and then take those pieces and slot them on to other things… And it’s only when it comes to writing it down now that I realise how weird that all sounds. Anyway, the initial reveal has left many a thought pinging around my head, some positive and some negative. It’s a long journey ahead, that’s for sure, but join me as I break down my thoughts, and try and work out whether this is something that can ‘switch’ Nintendo’s recent fortunes…

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The one game I’ll never play… And why

You know, I’m an open minded kind of guy when it comes to video game. There’s pretty much nothing out there I won’t at least try, even if it belongs to a genre or franchise I’m completely apathetic too. I’ll ponder away at a puzzle title, command an army in an RTS until they all inevitably die in gruesome ways five minutes later, and (despite being the least athletic person on the planet) I’ll even play a game of FIFA or two given the opportunity. Yet there is one game out there that I refuse to approach; one experience that I dare not sample, for fear of what the dark and twisted results may be. That game is…

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The “Time Played” puzzle – How relevant is it?

I’ve written about the Steam review system recently, and how improvements could be made to encourage its brightest and best content to come to the forefront. Yet in my opinions I never really focused on the fact playtime is shown alongside a player’s review with fairly due prominence, and the simple reason for that is as follows… It’s way more complicated on a matter than I first anticipated. Allow me to explain.

My initial thoughts on the matter where that is simply shouldn’t be there – after all, it only seems fair that everyone’s opinions have equal value. Yet the more I considered it, the more I realised this doesn’t work in practice – after all, someone with a massive amount of time logged into a title is logically going to understand more about that game than someone who has just picked it up. Naturally, there’s no way of telling if someone has just left a game running on idle to clock up a bunch of empty hours, but a reasonable assumption can still be made that the player in question  knows the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and has uncovered all the secrets and subtleties that it may have to offer. Of course, this doesn’t mean any review they post immediately becomes gospel – perhaps it even adds an increased pressure for them to clearly mark out what makes the game in question so compelling – but it can add some extra reassurance to a well voiced opinion, therefore justifying the existence of playtime being there in the first place.

The question can therefore be asked as to whether reviews with a much lesser playtime (Perhaps bordering on the minute) actually lose their relevance. This isn’t the case all the time, but it’s difficult to say when it is true and when it isn’t. For one, the matter of playtime becomes entirely subjective based on the game in question; A quick arcade style game isn’t going to require many hours to truly understand, for instance, which a massive RPG style game set in a large open world might take a bit more exploring before someone can form an effective opinion.

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Enough time? Or not at all?

The above is pretty much a given, but it gets even more subjective when you start taking into consideration the nature of the player themselves. For instance, someone well versed in playing first person shooters is likely to race through such a title much quicker than someone coming across them for the first time… But it’s the inexperienced player who would be shown to have the longer play time, even though it’s the more skilled player who might be the best at explaining whether the game in question is a good or bad example of the genre. Likewise, fans of a franchise will more rapidly understand new features and spot improvements, and therefore be quicker to come to a (still reasonable) judgement than someone new to the series. Even subtle things like a person’s reading speed when it comes to a visual novel can notably alter their play time – even if, in the end, their overall experience remains remarkably similar to someone else’s.

To go even further down the rabbit hole, though, take a moment to consider basic human psychology… And yes, I am serious. You’ve probably heard of the idea that it only takes someone around seven seconds to draw up their judgement about a person. The same holds true in a sense when it comes to games – after all, it really doesn’t take long most of the time before your general feelings about a game really begin to take shape. Naturally, some titles might take more time to get going, and you should always be open to changing your mind, but as a general rule of thumb I feel the idea does hold true.

Take, for instance, my time and resultant opinions about Mad Max; it was only about one or two hours maximum before issues with its design and structure began to chew away at me, and further play only re-enforced those opinions. In short, there may be something worth taking away from someone’s gut instinct. That’s not to say that every review with 10 minutes play time should immediately be welcomed with open arms. It’s wise to approach these reviews with some wariness, and in most cases it doesn’t take long for the content of such a review to reveal a person’s lack of expertise. Yet on the other side of the coin, reviews with such a limited amount of play time should not be dismissed immediately, especially if they express their views clearly and concisely.

In conclusion, playtime’s a tricky beast to pin down.  Overall, I don’t feel like it’s something worth removing completely – as discussed, it’s a reasonably ok way to judge experience and how cautious you should be when looking at a certain review. It’s just a matter of making sure that when it comes to looking at the figure, it’s something that you should be looking at with a mind that’s aware of all the facts.

Opinions on… Gunpoint

Gunpoint’s a clever game. It’s clever in all the ways you’d expect a good game to be, of course; It’s got a distinctive art style and soundtrack that effectively create the feeling of a noir-inspired, near future world. It’s also got a nicely refined difficulty and progression curve, holding your hand and building your strength without insulting you. There’s a bunch of other core gameplay elements Gunpoint does well – yet it is not really these that which make it so clever.

The first thing that really does this, and which catapults the game into being something more special, come in the form of its core gameplay feature – the Crosslink. In short, it’s a device that lets you rewire one device to another, changing the way they operate. This can be simple as wiring up a switch to open up a door instead of turning on a light… Or it can be as complicated as using a lift to trigger a sound sensor, which in turn turns off a light, causing a curious guard to wander over to the lightswitch, which electrocutes a socket elsewhere when flipped, which in turn knocks out another guard. It sounds confusing, but it’s surprisingly intuitive and easy to get used to; it’s not long before you’ll start to feel like a real Crosslink expert.

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This is clever in itself, but the real brilliance comes from the fact that’s there’s no real negative result to messing around with this power that brings your fun coming to a screeching standstill. Either your elaborate Crosslink scheme succeeds, making you feel like a diabolical mastermind, or it ends up falling apart, at which point you’re just eager to refine your strategy and work out what went wrong instead of being infuriated. There’s always the third result that your plan was so stupid that it ends up with a door swinging open and knocking you flying, you won’t care regardless, because that’s just hilarious.

Another way the game’s quite ingenious is that you’re free to play it however you want. Want to buy a gun and just shoot every problem you face? You can do that. Want to use your super jump to arc gracefully through the air and silently smash through a window like a twisted, trench coat wearing Spiderman? Go ahead! It’s possible for every player to have a different experience on a level just because of all the different ways you can approach each situation. I myself went for a no-upgrade run on my second playthrough, which presents its own challenges and its own little moments. The game itself even subtly reacts to your play style – there’s a nice easter egg for if you get too punch happy on a guard, and the story and future missions can even subtly change based on how you’ve played previously. Smart! Again.

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This ability to choose you own play style even leaks into the story – while your choices here don’t affect things that much, you can still choose to respond to your client’s calls deadly seriously, or just make endless deadpan comments and jokes about the absurdity of the situation. The writing’s witty and genuinely funny at points, and while the story itself got a little overly complicated for my tiny brain to comprehend as it neared its end, in general it’s compelling and has a nice few twists and turns that keep things moving well. It’s all… Well, I think you can guess what I’m going to say.

Overall, it’s hard to fault Gunpoint. There’s possibly an argument to be made that it’s a little short, but as noted above, there’s tons of replay value that comes in changing your technique, and the fact you can build your own levels is just more reason to keep playing. Overall, this is a smart and entertaining title that’s certainly worthy of your time.

Opinions on… Mad Max (The Video Game)

Let’s cut to the chase; Mad Max is bland and generic. Which, for a series with themes of anarchy and madness, and with multiple films containing fairly fresh and original ideas, is a really odd thing to have to say. There’s very little here that hasn’t been done before and done better, and the more you whittle away at the game, the more readily this becomes clearly apparent. The end result is a game which rapidly loses its appeal for each hour that passes, and one that has no real reason to stick around in your memory for the long term.

To pick apart why this is the case, you only need to look at the core structure of the game. It’s a case of going to one location to scout out points of interest in the area, and then going to those points of interest and clearing them out. Do that over and over again, and finally the area will be free of any ‘threat’ and you can move on to the next area and do it all again. If this seems familiar, it’s because you probably recognise it as that classic ‘Ubisoft formula’ game style that’s been used in countless titles in the past few years; Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, you could go on. It’s not the only idea to be mundanely recycled, either. The whole hand to hand combat system, for instance, is incredibly close to that of the Batman franchise, right down to the counters and combo meter. It’s so confusingly similar, that given a few hours you’d be forgiven for wondering why Mad Max himself isn’t wearing the cape and cowl.

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There’s nothing technically wrong with the re-use of such elements, especially considering they work; but it’s just so tiring to see them so lazily recycled here, especially in conjunction with a franchise such as this. It’s a potentially forgivable grievance, but dig a little deeper into more specific gameplay elements, and you’ll see just how flat this whole experience is. For instance, collecting scrap for upgrades is vital to making progress, but you soon learn if there’s a slight annex or route off the (completely linear) path through enemy bases, there’s going to be scrap there.  It’s not even open to questioning – it’s simple fact. Such cliché gameplay elements roll on– if there’s a door that needs explosives to open, there’s guaranteed to be some sort of combustible extremely close nearby. If you need fuel for a generator, there’s going to be cans of it within ten feet of your location. This last one is particularly laughable – the game goes on about the scarcity of fuel, but you can pick up a fuel can that’s required for some purpose, and IMMEDIATELY see another one spawn in its place. It’s possible to stack about 5 or 6 cans up just by picking up the new spawn and immediately dropping it. It’s absurd.

The whole issue with this cookie cutter generic gameplay and the desire for the game to hold your hand only goes to fly in the face of the game’s (and the franchise as a whole) ideas of survival as a whole. Early on, you’re told to keep fuel for your car close at hand lest you get stranded, and keep your canteen full of water as it’s your only means of refilling health. It’s a neat concept in theory  – desperately trying to cling on to your last supplies as they slowly dwindle away – but you soon realise both these supplies are practically everywhere. In all my time playing, I don’t think I’ve refuelled my car once. It’s not even come close to starting to run out. Water also becomes meaningless when you realise death only drops you a few minutes back with a miraculously full life bar. It’s all just so painfully bland, so much so that the end result just makes you want to smash your head into the keyboard.

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Is there any positives? Well, yeah, actually. Car combat is a little weird and doesn’t work perfectly, but it’s damn fun all the same, which is what you’d sort of expect from anything relating to Mad Max. The car harpoon is the obvious highlight – using it to rip off parts of your opponent’s vehicles until they are a mere shell, and then boosting into them for a glorious finale of explosive pyrotechnics. You could, of course, just cut out the middle man and harpoon your foe straight out the driver seat, dragging them merrily along behind you before whipping them into the nearest brick wall for a gristly finale. It’s delightfully vindictive fun that only gets more fun the more you upgrade your car into the perfect killing machine.

The game itself is also visually stunning. The wasteland is an eerie place just to drive around, dust and sand whipping away at your feet, elegant arcs being carved through the sand as you get into your car and roar away. When you encounter your first storm, the screen filling with debris and your speakers roaring with the sound of the wind, it’s a genuinely terrifying and immersive experience. HUD clutter ruins the effect somewhat, but you can go into photo mode (it in itself good fun to play around with) and eradicate that nuisance, as long as you don’t mind not knowing where anything else for a while. It’s a visual spectacle that does capture the spirit of a destroyed and ravaged world in a weird and wonderful way.

Overall, though, it’s really, REALLY hard to recommend Mad Max. Fans will get something out of it – that goes without saying – and if you know exactly what you’re going into and don’t expect much from the whole affair, there is fun to be had. Overall, though, the rest of us will find a game that’s ticks all the right boxes mechanically, but lacks any soul whatsoever. And all things considered, that’s… Well, mad.

Opinions on… Monster Hunter Generations

Monster Hunter: Generations is like the “Greatest Hits” compilation of your favourite band. This may strike you as an odd analogy, but the same emotions are there. You’ve got all the well known bits everyone enjoys always ready at your fingertips, but as time passes, you begin to miss those little things – the obscure little bits you always enjoyed, or the little bonuses and sparks of personality which makes all the other releases so great. Monster Hunter Generations is perhaps the greatest celebration going – but there’s a ton of those little things which can easily get you down.

The first, and probably the most glaring, is the lack of G-Rank. By no means does Generations lack in content – there’s new deviant and hyper variations of monsters that can keep even the most battle scarred of hunters busy – but the omission of G-rank can make it feel like there is. In all honesty, I never reached it in MH4U; but its presence was something I aspired to, a lofty goal to one day achieve. Now, once you hit high rank and grab a few sets of armour, you’re pretty good to go for the rest of your time with the game, no matter how long that will be. Therefore, you’re left with this odd situation where there feels like there’s a void when in reality there’s as plentiful harvest to feast upon. Perhaps it’s something that will only really bug the most dedicated players, but it remains a disappointment not to see it make the cut.

Other features have taken flight or shifted in weird ways; for one, Generations drops things down to 30fps instead of the 60fps of the previous instalment, and textures and surroundings have also been slightly dulled and muddied in return for a few new particle effects. It’s not a huge game breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but with my time with the game there have been moments where things just haven’t seemed as crisp or smooth to look at and play, and that becomes more noticeable when you put footage of MH4U next to it for comparison.

The pacing of gameplay also feels different, especially so in the first few hours of the game, which are incredibly slow and come dangerously close to being crushingly boring. Monster Hunter’s habit of not explaining anything well glares through strongly here, and there are far too many tedious gathering quests to be done before you even hunt your first big prey. Even then, you have to sink MORE time in before things really hit high gear. Having to build yourself up to the big threats is nothing new to the series, sure, but the way the game’s designed makes it feel more laboured and a chore than it really should be. For those coming into Monster Hunter for the first time here, beware – you really do have to put the time in to start getting things out.

The biggest omission in my personal opinion, however, is one that you might not expect, that being the lack of a decent story. It’s fair to say that Monster Hunter games do not and should not have a deep and compelling story as their main focus, and that’s all true and fair, but MH4U did an excellent job of having one that really enhanced the game as a whole. There, you were made to feel like part of something bigger, gathering new friends and experiences and rallying together to tackle adversity. When it came near to the end of MH4U’s story, with an elder dragon ready to attack at any moment and an army of Seregios swarming the world, it felt like a big deal – the threat was constant and real, and the subsequent monster fights felt epic as a result, as if you were carving out your own legend.

Monster Hunter Generations has none of that. You’re literally thrown into the game with a quick “oh, you’re a research assistant” explanation, and things never really develop from there. As a result, no monsters of challenges really have the chance to build up the threat or gravitas they deserve. This is especially true with the ‘fated four’, which are four new exciting and challenging monsters introduced in Generations that prove one of the game’s highlights… Yet the game introduces them with very little fanfare, and indifference bordering on apathy from the NPCs around you, which nullifies their impact somewhat. Even the Glavenus – the hardest hitting and most intimidating of the four – gets introduced in a sort of “Oh, there’s a Glavenus, you’d better kill it I guess” sort of way. It’s a real dampener to the game as whole in my opinion, and hopefully we see a return to a sense of adventure in the next title.

With all those grievances taken into account, however, the undeniable fact remains that Generations is one hell of a compelling game. There’s still that overwhelming sense of satisfaction that comes from slaying a creature as big as a house, and the added pleasure that comes from carving up its corpse and subsequently wearing it as a hat. Online hunts remain challenging and exciting, and those old feel good moments such as where a monster stumbles and allow your team to unleash hell continue to never get boring. The game retains its sense of charm and good humour (Even poking fun at some of the more annoying parts of the community in some of the dialogue) and there’s also a great deal of small and welcome quality of life changes to be found… Not least of all the ability to hold the button to gather instead of mashing it. Hallelujah.

For all of the talk of omissions at the start of this review, it’s important not to forget the additions that have been made. Hunter Arts (special attacks and abilities you can build up and then unleash when suitable) feel slightly gimmicky, as the best strategy seems to boil down to “pick the strong attack and use it when the monster falls over”. However, Hunting Styles are much more interesting, a lot of the time fundamentally changing the way each weapon works and therefore dramatically shifting your strategy as a result. For instance, you can choose an aerial style for dual blades, granting you the ability to jump around like a spinning ball of concentrated death – but can you live without demon mode, which grants you enhanced dodging and better combos? Overall, they’re a great addition, one that makes mastering even one weapon a much grander endeavour, and therefore adding even more gameplay as a result. And let’s now forget prowler mode, which lets you play as your Palico. Not only is it another interesting change in pace that forces you to rethink your strategy, but the sheer sight of seeing a small cat trying to bash an elder dragon’s head in provides a remarkable amount of comedy value.

Monster Hunter Generations, then, is a damn fine game, one that I have sunk a many an hour into, and one that I have no intention of putting down any time soon. It’s just unfortunate there’s a bunch of little faults and exclusions that really stop it from reaching the lofty heights that MH4U felt like it achieved –here’s hoping the next title can take the improvements made here, and craft them into something that really blows our minds.

Opinions on… Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece. There’s no point in me hiding that fact, or trying to debate it; it’s so simply and categorically true that I might as well just stick it at the start of this article and potentially be done with it. That would certainly mean that in most cases you’d be free to go off and do your own thing, but I want to really explain why it’s so good. Well, that, and I get lonely without you here. In short, Naughty Dog has just excelled at every component that shapes the end of Nathan Drake’s journey – it’s a combination of so many finely tuned and elements, it becomes almost ridiculous to behold.

To begin with, let’s take the purely external appearance of A Thief’s End; that is, what you immediately see when the game is in action. Graphically, Uncharted 4 is simply breathtaking to behold – this is something I say this about lots of games, true, but this game takes it to another level. Everything just feels so vibrant and alive, every new vista causing you to stop and just drink it in with awed wonder time and time again. Everything is so intricately detailed, something that boils down to even the finest of details – flowers dance and sway in the breeze, rocks tumble and fall down mountainsides so realistically it’s frightening, and so many more examples besides. Photo mode here doesn’t just feel like an optional bonus, it feels like an intrinsic part of the game, something you’ll want to mess around with time and time again. After all, you only need to glance around the web to see the hundreds upon hundreds of amazing screenshots other players have taken. You’d be forgiven for thinking trickery is at play, but you’d be mistaken – that’s just what the game looks like all the time.

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This isn’t just all gloss and no substance, however. After three games following Drake and friends, becoming invested in their adventures and their hardships, Uncharted 4 delivers a gripping story that’s less about treasure hunting and more about looking at each character and who they really are. I should point out it’s a story that’s slow to get going, to the extent I was starting to get a little restless at the slower pacing that makes up the first few chapters, but when it truly gets going it never stops. There are so many moments where I felt the highs and lows the characters themselves were feeling on screen, making me rapidly come to realisation of how much I actually care about each and every of them. That’s something that’s not easy to achieve by a long shot, and the fact the game manages to pull it off so easily (And end the whole Uncharted saga with a satisfying conclusion to boot) only adds to its impressive nature.

Completing the package, of course, is the gameplay itself. Anyone who has even touched an Uncharted title before will know to expect the hearty mix of platforming, puzzles and action that the games have delivered in the past. Here, though, everything’s polished to an ever finer shine. There’s very few moments this time around that are in any way dull to play – everything just flows and feels so brilliantly and naturally it reaches the point where it’s almost unnoticeable. I’ll avoid spoilers, but chapter 11shows this off perfectly, and is perhaps the pinnacle of Uncharted gameplay in compacted form. It starts off with some excellent platforming in the kind of locations you’ve come to expect to see, then throws one of the cleverest puzzles the series has ever had at you, and ends with perhaps the best action sequence of all the games to date. That chapter in microcosm alone is sure to be held in high regard for years to come, but the crazy thing is it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. The whole game is just pure fun to play from start to end, with nothing there to sour the experience.

This extends to certain gameplay elements I was wary of going into the game, but which fit so perfectly I honestly question why I ever thought otherwise. Take, for instance, the jeep and boat sections – after the clumsy Jet Ski sections of the first game, I was worried the same fiddly controls and issues would rear their ugly head again here. It’s actually the opposite that holds true; both vehicles provide some unique gameplay and exciting moments that simply wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It also allows the world to open up to a bigger extent that it has ever done before, which is a very good thing. The same holds true of the grappling hook – it feels like a weird addition to begin with, an unwanted intruder into the familiar, but by the end of the game you’ll be wondering how the series ever functioned without it. Even design choices, such as a noticeable reduction in the amount of set pieces and gun fights that disappointed me initially, end up making perfect sense. This time around, there’s no reliance on certain scripted moments to get the blood pumping; the action is more widely spread out to keep you focused, and when a set piece does arrive, it’s all the more grander for it.

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If there’s one final thing to mention, it’s the multiplayer, and if I were to be honest it’s here that I can fire off the only major issue I have with the game. There’s nothing actually wrong with it – it’s accessible and exciting to play, and in my short time with it so far I cannot deny I’ve had some exciting matches and memorable moments. It just feels like there’s not much to keep you coming back to it. The whole experience is geared around unlocking new costumes and animations, but after completing the one daily challenge you get a day, progress towards doing so becomes incredibly slow. There’s nothing truly exciting to work towards, and which the thrill of victory is nice enough, it just feels like there needs to be something more. The fact micro transactions loom over the whole affair can’t help but makes you feel like that this was an intended design choice as well – and with the rest of the game being so welcoming and exciting to the player, that’s not a nice feeling at all.

Seriously, though, that’s the only fault of any substance I can level at the game. Any other issues – such as the unexpected gameplay shift in the final boss fight, for instance, or the fact combat as a whole can still feel a tiny bit loose of times – quite simply does not detract from the final product in any noticeable way. From the very start of this article I’ve been gushing about how good Uncharted 4 is, I’m well aware, but that’s simply because I simply cannot get across how honestly and truly amazing a game this is. You need to play this. Seriously.