January 2019 Free Time

Would you believe that I spent a large portion of my time on honeymoon, lying lazily on the couch, watching rubbish on TV? With the new wife obviously. If you said yes, then you know me well. The time off work and with my partner was fantastic. Was I productive? Ha, of course not! But you’re not here for productivity so let’s chat about the time I wiled away.

Games

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Why won’t you let me win, Dead Cells?! Have I not been patient with you and dedicated enough time to you? I have a huge backlog of games to get through and yet there you sit on my PS4 dashboard. Taunting me with the potential of THAT run. The one where I beat the final boss for the 2nd time over my 60+ attempts. After all my 59+ loses, I still adore the gameplay of Dead Cells. Simplistic gameplay with oodles of complexity. What keeps me coming back after each failure is the way I fail in Dead Cells. When I lose, I don’t think the game is being unfair. I die because I get too bold, I play bad or the run just doesn’t come together. That’s what makes a great rogue-lite. When you lose and you can accept the loss. Because you know that you can do it and you will do it on another run. The next run? Only one way to find out! *Goes and plays Dead Cells again*

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Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to drift in and out of my sessions. It still hasn’t hooked me and I’m at the Epilogue now. So, I think I’m far past the part where I *get it* or it *just clicks* like friends have told me. Not to say I’m not enjoying my time with it to an extent. I think the story and characters are engrossing. It’s just the gameplay in-between which holds it back for me. I’m looking forward to finishing it, purely from a narrative experience but I can’t say I’m racing to play it.

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What a fantastic demo that Resident Evil 2 had! The concept of a timed demo seems unfair but it does a brilliant job of giving you that little fix that makes you crave more. Big fan of seeing more demos like it. I hadn’t even planned on buying it and yet my order is arriving tomorrow. I’ve played most of the main Resident Evil series, including 2 but I wasn’t that fussed about replaying it. The overhaul though is extraordinary. Zombies are scary again! Get the champagne out! I only experienced shooting mechanics for a dozen or so minutes but I really enjoyed how it felt. The fact that the aim takes a bit of time to finesse itself so you get an accurate shot is a huge deal to me. No more quick shots RE4 style. Precision is key. Zombies also take a lot to kill which I can fully get behind. And when there bodies hit the floor, I really struggle to tell if they’re dead or not. So much so, that I employed the Zombieland double tap method. In a game with limited ammo, I can see me firing an extra bullet into the deceased deceased as a bad habit. But, we shall see when I start my playthrough. I’m sure you’ll hear my thoughts on the game in the short future.

Films

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Starship Troopers really holds up! I watched this film when I was 7 or 8 and saw it mainly as a Sci-Fi/Action film. Guns, aliens, yelling and brief nudity were all bonuses to any film for a young lad. My wife was genuinely scared of this film as a child and when we were flicking through the channels on honeymoon (we don’t have a TV license so Sky was a luxury for us) she spotted the film and put it on to show me how gruesome and scary it was. I quickly explained I knew most of the classic quotes of by heart from frequent watching as a child. But when we settled to watch it, it became clear how great the film is. I don’t think the film was big budget but the aliens and special effects look pretty great considering its age. Not only that but the satirical aspect of it was completely lost on me as a child. Seeing all its intentions with an adult mind really made me appreciate the film on another level. And it’s just a great alien killing romp with some pure cheese lines that steal my heart with each watch. If I’m ever in charge of a battalion, ‘Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?’ will be my battle cry. No one alive could resist following me into battle after that rousing line! Highly Recommend

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An interesting film that fizzled out towards the end and slacked in the middle for me was Bad Times At The El Royale. A really intriguing beginning, fantastically shot with a terrific soundtrack and a cast of actors that always stood out to me. The first hour I was fully on board with the mystery and style but it just couldn’t the premise for its almost 2 1/2 long runtime. With its initial setup I was expecting more of a mystery with twists and turns but the film quickly resolved its questions without much fanfare. It made me wonder throughout most of the film if I missed something or when the next big twist was coming. That was possibly my own downfall but it did seem like there should have been more going on than what was handed up, especially with the disjointed first act. But as I said, expecting more mystery is a personal fault in my viewing experience and perhaps not the films fault. I do think the middle drags and I found the end to be a bit bland but strong performances and music kept me interested in this film. I’m glad I watched it and I would suggest watching the film but I don’t think I’ll ever watch this again. Happy I watched it but it’s not very memorable. Light Recommend

Series

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I finally started Killing Eve. Watched all 8 episodes in one night so that shows you how good I think it is. Basic premise is Eve, a government investigator gets brought in to investigate a murder of a political figure. That’s the first episode and from there it escalates into a game of cat and mouse. The 2 leads are very well acted and the main villain really captures your attention. Fantastic performances all round and what I love about the show is even though it’s a dark series about murder and assassinations, it has a healthy dose of humour and dark humour. Which as a fan of early Dexter, I’m all about! Another praise I have to give this show is that it knows not to drag its feet. 8 episodes long and the plot moves at a good pace. Too many shows have a loose middle now from overextending their plot into more episodes but a lean experience is always more memorable than a drawn out one. Quality over quantity and Killing Eve is a prime example of this. Highly Recommend

Random Recommendation

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For this month I wish to recommend the graphic novel Invincible by the creator of The Walking Dead. This is his attempt at the superhero genre and I think he does an admirable job of creating an entire superhero universe and hero. Mark Grayson is Invincible, a superhero that is essentially Superman but in his Smallville era except it didn’t take 10 seasons for Mark Grayson to learn how to fly. Invincible can fly, is quick, durable and super strength. He wins no prizes for originality but that isn’t what the series is about. Robert Kirkman has taken the highs of comic books and its tropes and recreated them in his vision. For instance, there is a Justice League equivalent where the Aquaman version is literally a walking fish man who is the butt of jokes. Just like how Aquaman was a joke character in general media like Robot Chicken. What I really enjoy about Invincible is how the characters evolve. Heroes have problems and downfalls, they aren’t always on top form like Batman and Superman. Heroes mess up and suffer consequences or change mindsets in a gradual manner. There is a lot of personality and progression with the characters and some of the storylines are great arcs. As I said, a lot of this stuff is borrowed from other comics but after 60+ years of comics it’s hard not to do that. But as I said, Kirkman generally puts his own twist on the tried arcs and brings a new flare to the basics. If like me, you enjoy general comic book films and like comic book characters and like to dip into the comics now and then, I highly recommend Invincible. Part of the reason I only read contained stories in comics like Planet Hulk/World War Hulk is because you can jump into those things with basic knowledge of the characters and the world and just figure the rest out as you go. But if I grabbed a random Spider-Man comic I would be completely lost with what is going on. Invincible has an easy starting point and an end, and at 144 issues, it’s not a huge commitment.

Anyway, that’s me for this month. Hope you had a good month and thank you for reading. Take it easy.

Marriage In Gaming And The Lack Thereof

I am married! Officially off the market and happy to be so. Currently on last day of honeymoon and been craving to write and so I thought I’d talk about what’s been on my mind predominantly the past month, marriage. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with my day. I’m talking about marriage in gaming.

When I decided to write about this topic I started to think over my 1/4 of a century gaming knowledge and I quickly realised how little marriage is in games. Considering marriage has been around for seemingly ever and is a tradition across most of the world, it sure doesn’t come across that way in video games. I can understand this to an extent though. Game publishers want the player to feel a connection to their protagonist or to want to play as a fantastical protagonist. Marcus Fenix from the Gears Of War series doesn’t look like an average gamer but the boulder in armour appeals to that fantasy element. Who doesn’t love pretending to be a badass? Marriage would only hold that fantasy back. Then there is the classic, regular person finds out they are the chosen one or falls into a situation where they save the world. I would be lying to say that I haven’t daydreamed about that in work now and then. Commitments like marriage, a job and family would also lessen that fantasy. Not saying I wouldn’t like that to be an element in games, but from a publisher stand point I understand. The average age of gamers is rising but I don’t think I’m far wrong in saying that the majority of game revenue is from the teenager to early 20’s demographic. As I’ve been ageing my game buying has decreased, as have my friends spending habits too. In my early 20’s I bought games willy-nilly but there is a reason I had more money and free time back then. I was devoid of commitments and any commitments I had were minor compared to today.  So I understand publishers aiming for that larger revenue.

As I said though, the age of the average gamer is rising and so I believe it’s time we see this being reflected in games. Not in all games it’d be a good way to distinguish your game from the crowd. Games like Mass Effect where you get a template character and a choose your own backstory section would bode well to have a marriage life option included. A checkbox that allows you to include a married life package or even create your spouse and children in a character creator. It would allow players to a wider range of character depth and for those that have a family, it’s nice to be able to experience that in a fictitious setting too. It doesn’t even have to be anything major in that marriage package. Could just be a home on a distant planet that you can visit now and again and have supper with the family. Or emails that you receive now and then about young Jimmy being bullied at his new school. In today’s games where we have an overabundance of things to do on the map, a little subplot about married life shouldn’t be hard to implement. The ability to play Commander Shepard as a family war hero rather than the swinging bachelor war hero would be a welcome change to some games. Is it necessary in all games? Absolutely not, stories function better at times if the protagonist is single and ready to mingle but in games where that doesn’t matter, a choice would be a welcome one.

Most games where marriage is a component, the marriage aspect is usually a story point. FFX and FFXV both have key plots that revolve around a marriage. The original Gears Of War trilogy has Dom’s personal mission of trying to find his wife Maria. Uncharted 4 has Nathan Drake struggling to adapt to a stable married life instead of his daring and dangerous past. While I enjoyed each of these, they are generally end goals or things to push the story in the right direction. Dom’s search is the exception there but it’s never the main story thread. There can be hours before Dom pipes up about his wife and even though I enjoyed that plot, it is a sub plot. What I want is a more natural married life situation. I want it to be there and to have meaning to the whole story or a majority of it. It doesn’t have to be the main focus but it should be there and not just something that dips in and out to add stakes or to propel a story beat. Even though those things are fine to do in games as well, I just would like to see it more fleshed out. When I was thinking about games that I’ve played that featured well done couples, I really struggled to remember any. There is one that I instantly remembered and one that I remembered really appreciating when I played it and that was Lost Odyssey.

lost odyssey

Lost Odyssey was a JRPG that came out on the Xbox 360 in 2008. It centres on Kaim, a member of the Immortals, a race of….well immortal beings. For some reason the Immortals lose their memories and what follows is a quest to recover Kaim’s memories and to save the land from disaster. Not a wholly original plot but what makes it for me is the introduction of the rest of the party. Specifically Sarah, Cooke and Mack. Sarah is also an Immortal who has lost her memory but it is revealed that Kaim and Sarah are husband and wife. Not only that but Mack and Cooke are Kaim and Sarah’s grandchildren. For the majority of the game, these 4 are together, traversing this world and trying to prevent disaster from happening. How often can you think of a game where husband and wife are a team in combat situations? How often are the children or grandchildren of these people involved? Not only are they an integral part of the combat and its mechanics but also the story. The kids and Sarah aren’t just chucked in for a bit of drama or aren’t the driving force at the start of the story. They all go on an adventure together as a family and I’ve hardly seen that in games. There are quite a few games where it’s brothers off on a mission together so why not couples? There is room to do a lot of creative things with marriage in gaming and not for it to be a basic mechanic in Fable 2 or some subplot to overcome. And while I don’t want those mechanics to disappear, I think it’s time we start seeing more representations of married, family or couples life in gaming.

Who knows, maybe I’m just high on married life. It’s only been a week since the day. Ask me how I feel about this in a year’s time. Maybe by then I’d vote to keep reality and fantasy as far from each other as possible. But until then, let me know your opinion and if you can think of any well done couple/marriage elements in gaming, feel free to share them as I’m quite interested in seeing more examples. Take it easy.

My Top 5 Games Of 2018

Christmas and New Year joy to all! Now that the end of 2018 is near, this is the ideal time to look back on video games and which games rose to the top for me. Obviously, I haven’t played all games this year, as much as I would like to have that much free time. So, you may have choices that aren’t present on the list either because I didn’t get round to them or they didn’t make the cut. Purely opinion based. So without further stalling, here’s my top 5 games of 2018.

5. Super Smash Bros Ultimate

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This game is a tricky one to gauge for me as it has only just come out. I haven’t put as much time into as other games on my list but I feel this fits comfortably at the number 5 spot. I was concerned that I’d outgrown Super Smash Bros as I hardly played the Wii U version after extensively playing the previous entries. But, so far I’ve put over 20 hours into the World of Light mode alone and I have no sign of stopping. The appeal of all characters and levels from past games being crammed into one package, plus more, is worth the price of admission alone. But, the amount of extra content and the creative ways Nintendo’s series lore is interwoven within the Smash battles is really something special. The game doesn’t need this much content but I fully appreciate the little nods to past series in the World of Light mode. And speaking as mainly a solo gamer, I really feel like the AI is a huge improvement from the last game. Fights are challenging and the AI utilise all tools and dodge roll and hop their way extensively across the stages. Sure, sometimes it seems like the AI is reading my inputs but I appreciate the challenge. Overall this is a great package and it plays great. You won’t come across another game with this much content and a game that also provides the ability to punch Mario into oblivion. I guarantee it.

4. Spider-Man

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I was so happy that this game exceeded the web-swinging from Spider-Man 2! The phrase ‘Captures how it feels to be Spided-Man’ or similar was repeated so much in reviews that it actually became sort of a meme. And I want to avoid saying that but I can’t. It really does capture the feeling of being Spider-Man or as best as I can imagine. The acrobatic swinging is on top form and the fighting is fast pace and fluid. The story is a real highlight for me. There’s a great balance of Spidey characters and villains without being too heavy with the references. I never felt like the story had too much or too little going for it and I genuinely cared for the heroes and main villain which is a great achievement. It ranks 4th because a few things hold the game back which I’d love to see improved in the sequel. I have an issue sometimes with the combat. It gets a bit cumbersome at times compared to the Batman Arkham series and it leads to me bumbling into walls and awkwardly jumping around the brawl. The Miles and Mary Jane missions also wore out their welcome quickly for me. I just didn’t find them fun, they weren’t always clear and they slowed the pacing right down. A change of pace when done right is a beautiful compliment to the previous or following scene but when done wrong it just makes you wish to get back to what you were doing. All moans aside though, I fully recommend this game even if you aren’t a Spider-Man fan.

3. Monster Hunter World

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The Monster Hunter series is one I’ve dabbled in from time to time. I play handhelds less than consoles and so I drop off the portable Monster Hunter’s quite quickly. By quickly I mean after 100 hours which is rookie numbers if you know Monster Hunter games. And so when World was announced I was pretty excited about playing it on the main screen again. It didn’t disappoint. World brings the Monster Hunter series to the big screen magnificently whilst improving the overall gameplay. A big issue I had in the past was how rigid my character felt at times but in World, your character feels sturdy yet mobile. It plays great and features an online system I really enjoy. I hardly use headsets and Monster Hunter World makes it easy to group up with strangers for monster hunting fun and communication emotes which while basic, offer enough variety to get the point across. And then you have the monster tracking system which really streamlines the experience and makes the series feel more focused than previous iterations where you mostly ran to new zones until you finally stumbled upon your sought after prey. Overall, just a great game to hop into for some slaying co-op fun.

2. Dead Cells

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Sometimes, I just want a basic game. A game that is stripped of a big plot and dialogue and loads of filler features and collectables I couldn’t care less about. Dead Cells represents that for me. You spawn as this weird glob thing that attaches itself to a corpse, you run through increasingly difficult levels while finding new weapons and tools and upgrading your stats. You fight through slogs of enemies and run though twisting pathways until you get to a boss or the next section. And you keep going until you make it to the end or you die. After which you respawn as the glob and set off again. If playing through similar corridors isn’t your thing then perhaps Dead Cells isn’t for you as even though the layout changes, there are still structural placements that stay the same. Games like The Binding of Isaac change more of their layouts than Dead Cells but Dead Cells is more about your own comprehension of the combat. You get rewarded for being fast and Dead Cells but you get punished for being sloppy and so you need to strike a fine balance between skill and rashness. I personally love how Dead Cells plays. It’s frantic but controllable. And when you have that control, you have this sense of power that I don’t feel in a lot of games. The way the character moves and how responsive it feels really accentuates that too. It’s a game where I can be effortlessly cutting down legions of enemies one second and then all of a sudden I’m way out of my depth and dodge rolling like an idiot. But it really is a game where the more you play, the more you see your progress through your actions.  To add to that, the more you play, the more permanent upgrades and access to weapons you unlock. Meaning you have more variety and pathways to explore. Dozens of hours in and I’m still unlocking stuff. It’s a game where you can pick up and play an hour of or spend all day trying make it to the end of a run. It’s a games game to me. Lacking in what we expect from most big AAA releases but making up for it in refined classic gaming. And Dead Cells is a masterclass in that regard.

1. God Of War

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This year, like last year with Persona 5, God Of War was my top choice easily. Not only do I believe this to be a well told and fun game to play. But, I really think this is a high point for how game studios should handle past projects. It’s easy to reboot something or to do a sequel a few years later but God Of War really feels like a proper evolution of a character. You could play this game on its own and have a fantastic experience with it but I believe this game is really elevated when you’ve played the past games. Kratos was fun to play as in past games but you would have hated to be his friend or related to him in any way. He was essentially a selfish jerk, fun to play as but basic in character. In 2018’s version of him it really feels like the studio looked at him as a whole and just challenged themselves on making this loud character and evolving him into his next progression. And not even just a small alteration, a big character change whilst also keeping his past nature and actions still present. You feel the weight on Kratos, this heavy burden that he tries to move on from. He reeks of remorse, maybe not about who he killed because let’s face it, a lot of those gods had it coming, but he regrets what he allowed himself to become. I’m going to stop talking about Kratos now as this is the Game Of The Year, not Character Of The Year. Gameplay wise, it’s fantastic. Originally I thought the combat felt more clunky but it feels right for what they’re going for. It’s more weighted than previous games in the series. The Leviathan Axe is a fun new weapon and offers some really creative fighting. The Norse world is a beautiful touch and really opens up a lot of future conflicts which I eagerly await. God Of War is just really focused. It wants to tell a personal story, it doesn’t have loads of filler and collectable, there are fewer characters than fingers of the average person and the game is better for it. A lot of games have end of the world scenarios and God Of War, at its most basic level, is a story of a father and son bond. Sure, events happen around them but we play this game to see their growth. I have to give big praise for the writing and acting from the two leads. The game is leagues above others and joins the ranks of The Last Of Us in terms of characters that I genuinely cared for and wanted the very best for. It takes great skill to achieve that and it deserves recognition for it. Overall this is just a phenomenal game and one of the best returns to a series I can think of. This is how a series continuation should be. You use the past games as a strong foundation, you don’t bury it or dismantle it. Take what you made and what you learned from them and improve upon it. As Kratos told Atreus, ‘Don’t be sorry. Be better.’.

Honourable Mention: Shadow Of The Colossus

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So, I’m cheating here. This is a top 5 but shhhh, I won’t tell if you won’t. Honestly though, this choice is the choice I struggled with the most and one that I’m going to need to think about for future lists. I’ve played this game on PS2, PS3 and now the remastered version on PS4. I love this game and the version that came out this year. If, I were to include this as a contender for this list, Smash Bros wouldn’t be talked about. This is one of the best games of all time to me, never mind of the year. But it’s a remaster! Does that entitle it to be included? I personally don’t think I can include it. If it was my first time when playing it then sure. But, it’s not an original game of 2018 and so it didn’t make the cut. So, I’m writing this for your opinion honestly. Let me know how you feel about situations like this? Also, I just really wanted to recommend this game in case a reader hasn’t played it.

Thank you for reading and feel free comment on what you think of the list or your games of the year. Hope you all had a great Christmas and have a Happy New Year!