It occurs to me that the vast majority of my time in the “new generation” of video game consoles has been spent replaying games I already owned one, two, sometimes three years ago. The terminology is starting to get confusing. Is this a reboot or a remaster? The Game of the Year Edition or the Definitive Edition? Is there a difference? They’re shinier, usually. Sometimes they have all the bells and whistles already attached; additional content you previously had to pay for now available right out of the box (which is where, some might argue, it should have been to begin with). That’s useful, occasionally, for games you missed or expansion packs you couldn’t justify buying. More often, though, it just feels exploitative, like a publisher wringing your neck until yet more coins plink out of your orifices.
2015’s Need for Speed is perhaps the most egregious recent example of the industry’s tendency to rehash old ideas and re-skin old games. It’s a reboot, technically, although one could reasonably argue that every game in this franchise has been a reboot of the one preceding it. There aren’t any recurring characters or sprawling narratives. Each game takes the fundamentals of the previous instalment and either builds on them or takes them in a slightly different direction. We’ve had direct sequels, in a sense, such as the two Underground titles, which is where the series began for most people; and the two Shift experiments, when Need for Speed veered away from the street racing microcosm and set off in a more simulation-based direction. But these are only really sequels in that they’re continuations of a specific style and theme; they’re hardly the next chapters of a riveting saga. This is, partially, what aggravated me about how EA marketed this latest edition – on false promises, and in answer to questions nobody was asking.
Continue reading Review – Need For Speed (2015)
The Lego games would typically be outside of my usual remit, but I’ve somehow managed to dip my toes into both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones incarnations without even realising it. The former was a nice go-to game when I was weirdly, worryingly into Xbox Live Achievements (even though I don’t remember playing it for long), and the latter came with my replacement Xbox when I somehow fucked the first up beyond repair (and I hated it). So, Lego Batman was a weird one for me; something I played out of general curiosity to see how DC’s most beloved hero would receive the shiny plastic treatment.
I honestly don’t have too much to say about the game. The Lego series has always been the quintessential casual game: easy to pick up and play, charming, fun, and ideal for short ten to fifteen minute sessions. Lego Batman is all of that, plus and minus a few quirks.
Continue reading Review – Lego Batman
Whatever your girlfriend might think, bigger isn’t always better. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is big. The biggest the series has ever been, easily. But it’s far from better. Wildlands couldn’t hope to compete with the two Advanced Warfighter games from 2006 and 2007; and it’s even inferior to the stripped-down Ghost Recon: Future Soldier from 2012. It’s just big. Bloated. Unhealthy. If size matters to you, then so might Wildlands. I guess the heart of the series is still in there. But it’s covered in fatty deposits and it only beats once every few hours. Wildlands moves, but it never feels alive.
Again, and again, I’m reminded that not everything needs to be bigger; that not every video game franchise needs to expand outwards. Ubisoft’s death-by-a-thousand-icons design is wearing so thin these days that I can see straight through it. And to think that an open world used to mean something. Used to matter. It stood for things – possibility, freedom, fun. It was the kid’s toybox writ large; “play” personified. Now it’s a rote checklist of mundane distractions. Wildlands has all the usual suspects. You can sweep weapons, upgrades and skill points into your trousers like a cartoon bank robber, pester convoys and patrols, lead the toothless rebel populace around like sheep. Interrogate this guy, kill that one, capture the other. Blow this up. Defend that. Stop for a minute. Paint shark teeth on your gun, try on a new hat. Do these sunglasses go with this outfit? Remember, a tattoo is for life. Pick something artistic. There are outposts to capture. You want to look good while you’re warmongering, don’t you?
Continue reading Review – Ghost Recon: Wildlands
It’s hard to explain the appeal of the Sniper Elite series. It’s one of those gaming guilty pleasures that sounds faintly perverse written down, and utterly ludicrous spoken out loud. Not that there’s anything particularly unusual about sniping in games; almost all shooters have at least one rifle, and many have whole stretches of gameplay that are dedicated to nothing but long-range marksmanship. The sniping in and of itself, though, isn’t the appeal of Sniper Elite. Things would be so much easier if it were. But, no, there’s something else that differentiates this series from other sneaky-stabby-shooty third-person games, and it’s that psychotic slow-motion X-Ray view that lets you see all the catastrophic internal trauma you’re inflicting on your victims.
Seems an odd thing to be into, doesn’t it? Certainly wouldn’t sit well around the office water cooler or the in-law’s dinner table, and you get the sense that Rebellion, the game’s developers, probably recognise this. Which, I assume, is why they continue to set the series in World War II, despite having exhausted every major theatre of the conflict. You need Nazis for this kind of thing. These games have such a throbbing stiffy for lovingly-detailed exploding organs that it would be uncomfortable if your bullets were tunnelling through the brainpans of anyone else. But killing Nazis is always guilt-free. In the context of taking on a xenophobic imperialist war-machine, it’s actually pretty satisfying to watch precisely how much irreparable damage each bullet is inflicting on the Third Reich. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Continue reading Review – Sniper Elite 4
Eighty hours, give or take. That’s how long I spent playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. The first twenty or so of those were spread out over the course of about two weeks: an odd hour here and there, maybe four or five if I was particularly in the mood for it, but never consistently, and rarely were any of them all that enjoyable. Then, something strange happened. The main villain tipped his hand, the titular Inquisition became a real, tangible entity rather than just something people kept telling me I was a part of, and I spent the next sixty hours sat in front of the television, only occasionally breaking away for hasty meals and restless, dragon-disturbed daydreams.
Only in relation to video games could one possibly utter the phrase, “It gets good after the first twenty hours”. It’s true, though. Dragon Age: Inquisition really doesn’t come into its own until at least a third of the way through the story quests, and in typical BioWare fashion, getting even that far is a significant time investment. If, like me, you’re one of those hopeless losers who has to scour every inch of the map, complete all the available sidequests and read every single Codex entry, you’re potentially looking at almost a full day of your life (if not longer) spent filling in what amounts to little more than a glorified checklist.
Continue reading Review – Dragon Age: Inquisition
When I recently took to Twitter to declare that Call of Duty: Black Ops might have the best single-player campaign in the series, my timeline immediately became contorted with posts of outrage and confusion. I remember thinking at the time of the game’s release that many people I know and respect didn’t seem to be having as much fun with it as I was, but even in hindsight it seems that for some reason Black Ops left a particularly sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
My good friend and colleague here, Daniel Hart, expressed to me his various concerns with the game, and he made several valid arguments. He felt that the bombastic action scenes could have been spaced out and punctuated with more thoughtful character moments. He suggested that the game constantly wrenching control away from the player was done at the expense of interactivity and immersion. He thought that the campaign had potential for greatness, but needed to be expanded and lavished with the same care as the multiplayer for people to really and truly care about it.
Continue reading Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops (Campaign)
A question I’ve been asking myself lately: Am I a fan of the Call of Duty series? I really don’t know. On the one hand, every year I play the newest instalment and enjoy the single-player campaign for what it is as long as it lasts. On the other, as soon as the closing credits begin to roll, I don’t even think about the game again until the following November. And because I rarely have the time or inclination to indulge in multiplayer, my relationship with Call of Duty begins and ends with the portion of the game that almost everyone – including, I suspect, the developers – considers something of an afterthought.
From an outsider’s perspective, this relationship probably seems rather abusive. I return to the franchise again and again because it’s a good provider, I trust it, and occasionally I even feel like I need it; then it batters me with non-stop sensory overload until I collapse, sweaty and exhausted, yet again resentful of the fact that I fell for its empty promises. In my mind, Call of Duty is that one girl you always call when your current relationship falls apart – she’s great at what she does, but you both know she’s meant for someone else.
Continue reading Review – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Campaign)