FIFA 17 – Deluxe or not?

FIFA 17 is released this week and it goes without saying that I shall be all over it. I’ve  not really been gaming much through the summer, but a spell off work recently has given me time to smash through all off Fallout 4’s DLC. Now it’s time to get FIFA’d up for the coming year.

The first question is where to buy from. I’m going to be buying from a place called Louth Electronics this year, and although I may pay a little more there is a reason I shall be doing so. The standard version is £47.99 from there with the deluxe version costing £60.99. Now if I wanted to go with Tesco for instance I could get those prices down to £42 and £57. However I believe very strongly in local outlets and therefore I want to purchase from Louth Electronics. For the record the service is always personal and I see it as much more than a shop, it’s an experience. Andy (proprietor) knows his games and despite recommending Carmageddon to me he’s usually spot on. If it wasn’t for him I would never have experienced Star Wars Battlefront. Imagine the horror!

 

So I’ve made my choice of where to buy. I’ll probably go for the midnight launch as well seeing as I’m not at work at the minute. Why not? They’re putting on a bit of an evening with a FIFA 16 competition ahead of the launch and some prizes on offer. I’ll wager I’ll be the oldest person there if I do make it! I never imagined that the only time I’d be looking at staying up past midnight in 2016 would be to join a group of men playing a football game. How times change.

Anyway back to the question in hand. Despite Lincoln City not being featured FIFA has become the only ‘must buy’ game every year. Every year I flirt with Pro Evo like a saucy liaison with a past lover, but somehow it never manages to hit the heights it used to as a teenager sat in my bedroom playing with myself…. I mean no online facility…. you knew that, right?

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Since the explosion of online gaming I fell into the Ultimate Team trap and have been known to spend a few quid on trying to get Aguero or Bale into my team. My actual ‘game’ isn’t that great, I’m an average to fair player who relies on spending power to get a competitive team in order to beat kids half my age and twice as talented. It seems like a fair strategy. Once upon a time I was that horrible little kid who could beat the adults, firstly on Sensible Soccer and latterly on Pro Evo. Now I’m the one suffering indignity and it seems only fair that I utilise all the tools I have in my locker, which includes spending money on my team. Real money.

So the Deluxe version comes with 20 Jumbo gold packs for FUT (the ultimate team mode) meaning within 20 weeks I could have a pretty strong looking Ultimate Team for an extra £20. The packs cost significantly more if you were to buy them individually off your own back, so all in all it looks a good deal. There’s a few other little sweeteners as well like exclusive FUT Kits and draft players. Seeing as I spent £25 two years ago just to get enough coins to buy Gareth Bale it seems like a steal.

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The question of whether to buy deluxe or not actually depends on how good I think the new ‘Journey’ mode will be. For the first time ever EA have introduced a proper story mode following young Alex Hunter as he rises through his Premier League academy into the first team. It’s a bold new move which is unlike FIFA as they usually just rehash the old game with a couple of little tweaks. However they’re hoping FIFA 17 will be one of those flag ship titles that stand out from the rest.

If the story mode is any good I’ll probably plough my time into that, but if not I’ll be building up my FUT team hoping to get a significantly better side than skint teenagers on a budget. It’s a tough decision to make. Can I risk not investing the extra £20 to gain an unfair advantage only to have to splurge out more of my hard earned when I complete the journey and am still (for want of a better word) crap?

I’m fairly sure that I’ll end up buying the deluxe version just because I can. I can’t possibly risk someone I barely know challenging me to a game and then mugging me off in my own living room. That happened far too much with Call of Duty.

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Uncharted, finally I get it.

uncharted-4-5Firstly my apologies. I just got a few subscribers and I barely write anything on here for months. The truth is whilst the sun is out and the nights are long I don’t find time to game. I’ve been tied up with a couple of side projects as well, my football blog and relaunching a fanzine. However I’m beginning to prepare for winter already and that means looking at E3 and deciding which games to pre order. You bet your last pound that I’ll be all over Dishonoured 2, FIFA 17 and the Skyrim reboot, but while I persued the magazines last week Thiefs End caught my eye.

I’ve only once played a Nathan Drake game before and frankly it didn’t hook me. I had limited time and whichever one it was I failed to connect with the character or the gaming. The Tomb Raider genre never really caught my imagination, but I ntocied that Naughty Dog were involved and after The Last of Us I thought they maybe deserved a go. Besides it’s raining and the PS4 is getting dusty.

I’m not going to do a full review yet because I haven’t played it through, and I know half the beauty of these games is found in their storyline. However I am happy to say that this game has caught me, square in the jaw and knocked me for six.

It is without a doubt the very pinnacle of it’s genre with some beautiful grahpics, but also a game that is easy to control. I usually get frustrated at finding a ‘bit’ that I can’t beat, a jump that I can’t make or something of that ilk. I’ve found those jumps here, but I’ve got around them very quickly. Nathan Drake moves with a fluidity that at times joyous to be in control of. He looks stunning as he parkours up buildings, but also feels as though he is 100% yours to control. The reaching out for a ledge he can’t quite reach is a nice touch too, it indicates a ledge you can reach. For aman who once threw a PS1 out of his bedroom window in frustration at not being able to make Lara jump a chasm or two I feel safe and secure. The PS4 is in no danger, even if the odd controller might feel the brunt of my aggression.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the story goes as I find myself becoming more fond of the lead character and indeed those around him. I’ll almost certainly be adding the deluxe edition of the first three games to my collection to, just to push the adaptation of the Witcher 3 card game ‘Gwent’ even further down my ‘to play’ list. That’s how much this game has got my attention.

So this little blog is to let you know I’m still here, still gaming and still prepared to write about it. I’m just also a busy man who has to prioritise gaming over real life. I’m looking forward immensely to dark nights and short chores lists, it’s going to be a big winter.

 

CJ’s Elephant Antics

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This is the only time you’ll see CJ in shades.

 

As a thirty something gamer I had a variety of machines, but my first real pride and joy was a Commodore 64. I think along with the ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC464 they cornered the domestic gaming market for many. So today I have decided to look back at the very first C64 game that I actually had the patience to complete in it’s entirety. That game was the somewhat uncool CJ’s Elephant Antics.

The game itself was a fairly standard platformer of the day with a lovable elephant as the main protagonist. He was captured and destined for a zoo in England only for the plane to hit turbulence and he fell out in France. Conveniently for his flight his captors had given him an umbrella parachute so his landing didn’t spread elephant innards all over Paris. The four levels of the game were CJ’s attempts to get back home to Africa through France, Switzerland and Egypt before arriving in home in  the not-actually-a-country of Africa. I’m not splitting hairs but technically Egypt is in Africa so he was home in three countries, but this was 1991. I assume he hitched a lift through the other inconvenient and less iconic countries.

I expect I first read about it in the classic C64 magazine Zzap64. Oh how I loved that magazine, full of blocky graphics that these days look terrible. The amount of independent and indie gamers programming for those machines meant there was always a healthy glut of games to review.

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That umbrella wasn’t half handy.

The joy of an eight bit platformer was finally making the jump you failed a thousand times, or finally beating the boss that beat you a thousand times. Nowadays that would be called repetitive, but back then it counted as fun and depth. I persevered with the jumps and battle because in 1991 I was little more than a simple 12 year old boy who didn’t particularly like being outdoors on cold nights. Plus we had to be in by six for tea and bed after The Bill.

I also went with it because back then £2.99 was a lot for a young boy to have, and as a ‘budget’ game that was the market I had to go at. A top game cost much more, perhaps as much as £10. We weren’t flushed with dollar back then so you got a budget game and you made it last.

So CJ became my challenge and for many years it remained the only game I completed. In actually fact the next one I finished properly was Grand Theft Auto Vice City, so it was well over a decade before I had enough time on my hands to beat everything the developers could put in the game. It wasn’t fashionable to go to school and tell people you’d managed to get an umbrella carrying, upright standing elephant back to his home country, but in my mind completing it made me a proper gamer for the first time.

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Spectrum users had maybe five colours. He wasn’t a pretty egg.

Apparently it had a 2 player mode as well, although I didn’t try that out because my brother was too busy on his ZX Spectrum playing the superior Dizzy games to come and indulge me. I hated that little egg and I hated all the kids that said the C64 version wasn’t as good because it was programmed on the Spectrum and therefore was really a Spectrum game. The C64 was better, face facts.

Today you can still buy the game on cassette on ebay, and it’s fetching a touch under a fiver, which means it probably wouldn’t serve as a sound investment. You’d struggle to find an original machine to play it one, or even a tape deck that would load it 100% of the time. Indeed my gaming was often interrupted by having to rewind the tape and typing ‘load’ once again. That’s how we used to roll kids.

For a bit of nostalgia I decided to find an emulator online and play CJ’s again. I’m sorry to say that it hasn’t aged all that well, so reviewing it by todays standards would be like comparing reviewing an I Phone 6 against a Bakelite phone with a numbers dial on the front. After all the Bakelite phone might have passed for communication back then, but you wouldn’t use it if you’ve got Whats App available to you.

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The 16 bit Amiga version was prettier, but CJ still didn’t have his shades on.

 

Kick Off is coming back

Whilst researching my recent Kick Off 2 article I stumbled across a bit of news which I thought might be worth sharing with anybody who reads my blog. Dino Dini, the genius behind Kick Off, Kick Off 2 and Goal is planning to bring Kick Off back to the console world.

He’s currently working on a game called Dino Dini’s Kick Off revival which is due out some time in 2016 exclusively on PS4 and PS Vita. That’s right folks, one of the all time classic football games is getting the eighth generation overhaul.

On the Playstation blog Dini explained how the revival came about;

“The revival started when Shahid Ahmad, Director of Strategic Content at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, took an interest in my story and, to my pleasant surprise, offered to send me a PS Vita development kit. At first the challenge was finding the time to work on a prototype in my spare time. Eventually I was able to show a demo, and Sony offered to help me get the game made. Now I am working on it full time.”

Dini had become disillusioned with the genre he helped to shape feeling that the big games focused too much on licensing and glamour and not enough and playability, something which his games we renowned for. However in a world where indie games are coming around again he has decided to have another crack at the football game market, 25 years after that first iconic title.

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What do we know so far? Well it’s going to be 3D but the base view will return to the classic top to bottom view his first games were played in. The ball won’t stick to your feet but you’ll still have that fluid control you had back in the early nineties.

In a youtube posting Dini confirmed he is stripping football games back so the beauty is not in controlling Ronaldo or Messi in front of the cameras, but purely about you and your ability to express yourself.  You will need to train. You will need to practice. Those were his words, and they certainly sum up Kick Off 2.

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Here’s an actual screenshot from the upcoming game

If this is the case you’d expect a healthy online option to be one of the new additions to the series. The original games were put out long before you could pit yourwits against people all over the world from your sofa, but in todays gaming an online version is a must.

Can it challenge the glitz and glamour of the big two? Is it one purely for those with a yearning for yesteryear? Or is it’s legend much stronger than it’s current appeal?

I suspect a generation of thirty something gamers will champion it’s return no matter what role it plays in the future of football games. It’s a bit like The Stone Roses reforming and releasing a new album: it won’t have the same cultural impact as the original but it’ll be loved by many nonetheless.

 

 

Dishonored Definitive Edition Review

I’m going to confess something before we start: I’ve really been looking forward to writing this review for you. I first played Dishonored back in 2013 on the PS3 whilst I had a bit of time to myself and really enjoyed it. You may not know but it cleaned up a load of game of the year awards for it’s innovative design and gameplay and it was clear to see why. However I think it’s prudent for me to tell you why I enjoyed it then, and if a rehashed PS3 game is worth your PS4 time and money in 2016.

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The Hound Pits pub – an unofficial base for the Corvo and typical of Dunwall architecture

The game is set in a plague infested city called Dunwall. It’s not your typical GTA style city, it’s more a cross between Victorian and the fictional steampunk era. It’s dark and gothic with sparsely populated streets and towering buildings, most of which are inaccessible to you. The world is quite engrossing and although it isn’t a free roaming sandbox environment its still handled in a way that feels relatively free. Sometimes as a gamer with limited time such as you and I it pays to have a bit of direction in your gaming, and although you’re not herded down any particular alleyways you are gently nudged in the right direction.

You play the role of Corvo, a skilled assassin currently acting as a bodyguard to the queen of Dunwall. Of course it isn’t that straightforward otherwise there wouldn’t be a game for you to play. Without spoiling too much it transpires that you’ve got some sneaking around and killing to do.

You’re aided in your endeavours with a small range of weapons and an array of magical powers bestowed on you by an NPC called The Outsider. Whilst it may all sound a little baffling, it really isn’t. The interface is extremely easy to use and you’ll soon find yourself slipping in and out of hiding spots around Dunwall with ease. The back story is handed to you in small chunks, and there’s plenty of material to read along the way if you wish. I don’t wish to spend all my gaming time reading about the world I’m in though, and Dishonored doesn’t punish you if you just want to get on and play the game.  If it’s a need to know piece of information then there’s a cut scene, and blissfully those cut scene are short enough not to be eye closing but long enough to build the world for you.

Handing out a mission for their favourite Assassin to carry out. Havelock ad Pendleton.

Handing out a mission for their favourite Assassin to carry out. Havelock and Pendleton. They’re not renowned for their looks these boys.

Dunwall is itself  magnificent even though this was originally designed for the last gen console. It isn’t as crisp as perhaps the upcoming Dishonored 2 will be, but it still handles and plays very much like a PS4 game should. The city is plague infested and hence the streets are bare aside from a few thugs and the City Watch, meaning your journey around the city can be quite eerie and lonely. However again it manages to build up tension without having you jumping out of your skin.

You play through a handful of specific missions, each one requiring you to leave your base at the Hound Pits pub and travel off to Dunwall itself. It’s essentially a chapter based game held together with your visits back to base camp to chat to the NPCs and upgrade gear and skills. It works very well, and although you’re nudged in certain directions you never feel railroaded to take any particular approach. The NPCs at our base react different depending on how you approach each mission as well meaning when you do go back it’s a little bit more than just a pit stop.

One of the games strong selling points is how it reacts to the choices you make. It’s designed to be approached in a number of ways, none of which are right or wrong. For me its a sneaking game with abilities that allow you to morph into one of the plague carrying rats for a short time to creep past guard, or the excellent ‘blink’ ability in which you essentially teleport short distances beyond the reach of guards.  However you can choose to go balls-out psycho and attack everything in sight, and there’s skills and weapons to suit that approach. Every guard can be subdued quietly and hidden in a bin, and burned alive in the street and left for the rats. Which approach you take shapes both the city around you and the reactions of the NPC’s. The difference it makes is very obvious as well. Kill too many characters and more rats appear to feast on their corpses. Cause too much havoc and you’ll influence those around you with your cruelty.

Slackjaw, a useful NPC who refers to himself in the third person. Nasty piece of work too.

Slackjaw, a useful NPC who refers to himself in the third person. You’ll notice here he’s offered a non lethal way to complete a task, something you can choose to do if killing isn’t your thing.

The elements come together incredibly well and it’s surprisingly easy to pick up and play even as a newcomer to the stealth genre. The magic powers you have use mantra, use too much and you’ll only have you blade and crossbow to see you through. It matters not of course as those plagued infested citizens left plenty of matra and health potions laying about, if you’re inclined to look in the right places.

There’s collectables too, but we’re not talking Assassins Creed collectibles which are high in number and low in actual value. Runes are cleverly hidden and will expand your magic powers, whereas Bone Charms will give you small boosts to your skills. These are versatile as well so whichever approach you take there’s a skill or boost applicable to you. I mentioned Blink which is primarily a sneaking ability allowing you to teleport over distances to creep up on guards or escape combat quickly. It’s amusing to blink your way out of a fight and hear the guards muttering ‘he was just here’ as you disappear in a puff of smoke. However there’s also abilities which allow you to release powerful melee attacks should you decide to attack the guards head on.

I found me a Bone Charm. Exciting times and a nice distraction from all that sneaking and killing.

I found me a Bone Charm. Exciting times and a nice distraction from all that sneaking and killing.

The story is engrossing if not a bit formulaic, but it’s tempted me back for a second play through so it’s certainly deeper and more involved than a Call of Duty campaign. It won’t satisfy dedicated RPG fans, but then again if you’re a thirty something gamer like me you don’t have eighty hours to play building up a character of decent strength. Dishonored allows you to become pretty powerful whilst playing at a reasonable pace, and enjoy a decent story without having to connect too deeply with the other characters. There’s is a nice relationship between Corvo and the Princess Emily (voice by Chloe Moretz) but it isn’t a relationship that will have you reaching for your hankies.

The definitive edition comes packaged with extra content, namely the DLC offered first time around. There you get to play as Daud, an NPC from the main game who is searching for redemption. I can’t tell you what from, it’d be a big spoiler but having the DLC available makes the PS4 version good value for money.

A health vial. Much needed as your health doesn't regenerate in Dunwall, even on the easiest setting.

A health vial. Much needed as your health doesn’t regenerate in Dunwall, even on the easiest setting.

If I have to pick a couple of downsides to the game then I’d probably point at it’s length. If you simply play through without exploring there’s perhaps 15 hours of gameplay here, although with the extra content the PS4 edition offers there’s a bit more to get your teeth into as well.  I also occasionally found the controls to be a little unforgiving when trying to subdue an enemy from behind, twice I slashed away and alerted them to my presence when I intended to simply subdue and drag them off.  However these are minor gripes for a game which on the whole plays incredibly well.

The fact is games don’t win awards for no reason, and Dishonored offers something very different from the usual selection of games without you having to immerse yourself in the world it creates. To pick the game up and simply play it is very easy, and it quickly becomes one of those ‘just five more minutes’ titles. intended to write this article at tea time, nipped on the PS4 to get the video and screenshots and played for a couple of hours as well. The stealth elements work so fluidly and you’re offered a hundred different ways to approach each situation.

If you can pick this up pre owned for £15 then it really is worth a play through. I’d bought it a second time purely to write this review from the eyes of a PS4 gamer and it hasn’t lost any of the charm or uniqueness that it delivered first time around. It’s certainly different. but not in a niche way. It’s accessible to first timers and like a good book will leave you wanting to play just a few minutes more each time. Once you’ve played through it there should be a firm release date for Dishonored 2 as well, which means now is probably the best time to start climbing the rooftops of Dunwall looking for someone to kill.

Dishonored Definitive Edition Rating:   89%

I’ve put up a short video of the gameplay here for those that are interested. You can see Corvo taking on the shape of a rat to access and previously inaccessible area, you can see him finding a much cherished Rune in a locked safe and you can see him hunt and subdue a guard as well.

What’s coming up from the 30 something gamer

I’ve been quiet for a day or two because I’ve been preparing a few things that I’ll be doing over the next few days, and I thought I’d give you a heads up.

Firstly I’m straying into dangerously advanced territory for a thirty something gamer. I’ve figured out how to get short video clips onto youtube, and then how to embed them into my blogs. I’ve also mastered getting my PS4 screenshots onto a USB drive and onto my blog.

This means that my reviews will come with a short gameplay clip as well which will give you an opportunity to have a look at the gameplay and graphics rather than rely purely on my words.

It also means that as of now all of the screenshots you see in my PS4 reviews will be my screenshots from my own gameplay. I’m pretty excited about it even if nobody else is. It means I can actually highlight some of the key points I’m making with pictures that are relevant. It puts me dangerously close to be a proper reviewer (apart from not getting paid and hardly anyone reading).

There will also be a page featuring the pick of my FIFA goals. It’s self indulgent but I’ll put some of my favourite music over the top of them or something. Trust me it’ll be worth a watch.

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Incase you doubted me, here’s a shot of Withcall FC and I earning a trophy in FIFA 16.

I’ve also spent some time actually gaming and therefore getting some material ready for upcoming reviews. I’ve been on Dishonored, the definitive edition to find out if Dunwall has enough to convince you to part with your hard earned folding money. I’ve also had a stab at Metal Gear Solid V, The Phantom Pain. I’m new to that series so I wanted to find out if a newbie with a few hours a week to sapre could fully immerse himself in the world of, um, whatever the main guy is called. I’ve forgotten his name, but he has a bionic arm or something.

Plus on the classic gaming front I’ve been chatting to a few of you older gamers and for now I’m going to stick with some of the classic football games. I’ll be talking about the C64 classic Emlyn Hughes International Soccer as well as visiting the cult phenomenon of Sensible Soccer to see how it has stood the test of time.

Lots to look forward to, so when I do write something you like please share it. I’m doing this for my own satisfaction really, but if you like what you read I’d appreciate you letting other people know.

Thanks

 

Classic Gaming: Kick Off 2

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I’m going to be taking a look back at some of the games that have shaped my life as a gaming addict. They will be from a wide spectrum of genres and across many different machines, but all of them will be games I’ve played and recall fondly.

The first game I want to talk about is the game that really set a standard in terms of football titles, the superb Kick Off 2 by Dino Dini.

I’d spent my football gaming time on C64 titles such as Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and the awful Gazza 2, but I remember that first time I saw the majesty of Kick Off 2. It was at my mate Jason’s house, he owned an Atari ST which was well out of my price range. He invited my over for a game of this new football title he’d got, namely Kick Off 2.

I always liked going to Jay’s house as he was always one step ahead with machines and consoles so my only exposure to the game was at his. When I had a Vic 20 he had an Amstrad CPC464. When I (finally) got a Commodore 64 he had an Atari ST. When I (finally) got my Amiga 600 he had bagged a SNES. It wasn’t one upmanshipor anything, he just stayed one step ahead. As mentioned I never actually owned Kick Off 2 as by the time I’d upgraded to an Amiga 600 ‘Goal’ had been released and Kick Off 2 looked dated. Goal was in essence ‘Kick Off 3’ by Dino Dini,

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I spent many hours playing with combinations here.

If I’m honest the very first thing that fired my passion for the game was the kit design function! Being a passionate football fan I wanted nothing more than to be able to put my players in red and white stripes like my beloved Lincoln City. That was probably how Jason sold it to me, because something had to keep me going back despite the constant thrashings… and I was constantly thrashed. Back then you only had two buttons to play with, and because of the immense pace of the game you really had to practice to get any good at all. He used to swear he only played it when I came round, but I think even you reading today know he was talking pony.

Essentially I am reminiscing about  a game that I never mastered, probably rarely scored a goal on and never owned. The thing is, it was good. It was so quick and the pitch was enormous. It seemed like the closest we’d ever get to real football on the computer. You could alter your tactics and change the way you set up which was ground breaking back in the day. For the first time ever you really seemed to have full control over events on the field, and the ability to change the patterns and routines of your players. There were options that altered your gaming experience, from harsher referees to soggy pitches. It was like nothing we’d seen before.

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Options, lovely options!

The top down view had been done before in games such as Microprose Soccer, but they freedom to play with kits and tactics opened up a whole new world. I keep using the phrase fast, and there’s a reason for that. It was fast. Really fast. The players moved quicker than they do on FIFA in 2016, almost at an uncontrollable pace. It was also one of the first games where the ball did not stick to you feet, instead you had to ensure you were positioned behind it at the right angle. That was why practise was so important and that was why Jason beat me every single time. If I wasn’t running off in the opposite direction to the ball I was desperately searching the scanner to try and locate my nearest player. It was a minefield.

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This looks much like one of our games. Him winning 3-0 and a foul by me.

Every single time I got beat heavily, except on one occasion. One day somewhere around 1991 I recall clearly heading over to Jason’s for my regular ‘ass serving on a plate’ session. We went through the ritual of designing kits, his always close to Liverpool and for me that day blue and white stripe. How crazy is that, I remember it was blue and white stripes, I imagined like Brighton and Hove Albion.

The game zipped on around me as it usually did but Jason struggled to put enough unrealistic after touch on his shots to beat my keeper. I wondered if maybe he was going easy on me to make it look like there was some sort of parity between us. I broke and forced a corner, and somehow managed to pressure him into scoring an own goal. As was customary he immediately went up and scored from the kick off which was his trait. I couldn’t seem to ever pull it off.

Only this day I did. I went straight up through the pack and managed to apply just enough curve to go 2-1 ahead.

After that is a bit of a blur. I know there was a red card and apparent sabotage on my part kicking the ball out and demanding a toilet break, but irrespective I hung on for a famous victory. It felt so good I immediately pretended I had to go home in order to be the champion of Kick Off 2 just once. Suffice to say Jason wasn’t happy and he called it a moral victory for him, which seemed  harsh seeing as he had about a hundred actual victories to his name already.

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It might not look pretty, but my lord it was fast.

Kick Off 2  was probably the first football game that had a feel of unpredictability and real competition. It was the first that required a specific knowledge of the games controls and available skills and it was the first you truly could master and express dominance. It was ground breaking in every way and made some keys steps that helped shaped our football games of today.

 

Star Wars Battlefront Review

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FPS with a recognisable twist

 

Star Wars games have always failed to make a significant impact in my gaming schedule. Aside from Lego Star Wars I’ve never managed to find a game that captures my attention, and despite the hype surrounding Battlefront I didn’t buy it straight away. I was put off by the distinct lack of a full campaign mission having discovered a majority of the content is online. I wasn’t a big online gamer, nothing makes me angrier than being constantly killed by spotty teenagers the world over and then having them gloat about it by sending me abusive messages. It’s why I gave up on one of the COD games, there’s no fun in sitting in your own living room being made to look like an idiot by a kid who still has to go to bed when his mother tells him.

However the release of the film The Force Awakens and an enforced spell at home made me swap over thirty beer tokens for the game. As per the norm these days I banged the disc in and waited 14 hours for my 1.2gb update to download. There are downsides to living in the Lincolnshire Wolds and god awful internet is the main one (the other for those that are interested is bloody massive spiders).

The basic premise of the game is very simple. You either play as Imperials looking to wipe out all the Rebels, or vica versa. The games modes vary but all fall in similar categories to your favourite FPS games of old. There’s posts to capture, things to escort safely and just out and out battles to the death. Let’s face it to reinvent the FPS genre now would be incredibly difficult, with some saying that attempts to innovate have led to the current crop of games falling short. It’s probably why Battlefield 4 servers are still rammed full.

The first thing you’ll notice about the game is the authenticity of everything. It looks and feels beautiful, just like a Star Wars game should. Blaster fire ricochets all around you and in some game modes X Wings swoop in from above. Stand around too long and you’re guaranteed to get picked off by an eager Storm Trooper or desperate Rebel. The sheer scale of some of the game modes is tough to comprehend. There’s immense battles on Hoth or Endor to drop in and out of, and when you do you’ll feel like you’re dropping into the films themselves. The soundtrack is entirely authentic as well, so this really feels like the homage to the original films that a game should be. It’s beautiful, genuinely a sight to behold.

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It doesn’t look good for Han on Endor

What this game can do that many FPS cannot is give you the opportunity to play as a hero. They’re not available in all games modes, and in some you have to pick up a power up to become one but they’re there and they are ready for you to play as. Luke, Han, Leia, Darth, Boba Fett and the Emperor all make an appearance in the basic game and they all have their special skills and traits. If you’re in one of the massive 40 player battles on Jakku it really does help if you suddenly get to slash your way through hoards of white helmeted enemies as the mighty Skywalker.

There’s something very satisfying about playing as these characters and for me it makes the Heroes v Villains mode the first port of call. In this mode all three heroes take on all three villains with teams made up of eight players each. The premise is to kill all of the opposing heroes before the other team does. It’s compelling and before long you find yourself playing to certain heroes strengths. Leia for instance can regenerate health and produce a squad shield making her great for survival, whereas Luke has far more offensive moves such as force push but cannot heal himself. I have often been cornered as Luke by a couple of villains at once and the blind panic of trying to fight back can be terrifying. It does however make for a great spectacle, especially when Darth and Luke enter into a light sabre battle. Believe me you’re there and nothing up to this point has felt as authentic or as in tune with the films. The sabres clash and swoop through the air just like Obi Wan and Darth did in 1977 and it still retains that charm today. You can even hear Darths distinctive breathing as he bears down on your position, which isn’t encouraging if you’re a lonely foot soldier likely to perish at one slash of that red light sabre.

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Don’t deny it, this makes you a little excited doesn’t it?

If you’re not a hero there is still plenty to get your teeth into. As well as a basic blaster you have three cards that offer abilities and weapons for you to take into battle. Again they seem fairly generic and have been seen in other shooters, but they do add an element of planning to your battles. There’s a jump pack which really isn’t much use in the Hoth base, but comes into it’s own on the dusty open expanse of Tattoine. There’s cards to make you bullets explosive, scanners and proectiles too. All cards regenerate slowly over the course of a battle as well so you can use them multiple times. There’s a lot of fun to be had in finding the right balance for your gaming style. Whilst playing as heros there’s also a chance to respawn as a Shock Trooper or Honor Guard, both of which are slightly tougher and come with their own weapon sets. Be careful though as they spawn next to either Leia or Palpatine and often you’re straight into combat whether you like it or not.

View some gameplay here that shows me hunting down Boba Fett and then re-spawning as an honour guard.

I’ve owned the game for three months now and I noted with interest that one of the original reviews on a proper review site complained that the game was repetitive after a while. That’s why I didn’t want to write a review straight away, as a thirty something gamer I thought it was my duty to see if this really was the case.

It is to a degree. The lack of a substantial campaign mode does detract from the overall appeal and I can’t help but think it is an opportunity missed. With this license and the ultra realistic environment a decent campaign could have fired this game to legendary Jedi status, instead I have been caught wondering what might have been. There are a few bits you can do offline, hero challenges mainly but they don’t feel like they have any substance at all. I tried them for a short while but it lacked the frenzy of the multiplayer and I soon drifted back.

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Mobbing up before an assault on a checkpoint

Therein though lies the true power of the force. Before this game slipped into my PS4 I avoided online play for fear of being made to look like a mug, and yet now I embrace looking like a mug. I’m not an online gamer of any repute, I won’t claim to top any charts or lead any squads or anything like that. I play fairly recklessly and have a kill ratio of about 0.77 which is average but not great. However this game keeps on giving in terms of gameplay and is forgiving to the average gamer. The world is so absorbing that I persevered just so I could continue to experience the wonderful rendering of the Rebel Base on Hoth, or the Ewok Village. I will happily be blown up with a thermal detonator time and time again in my mission to grab a vehicle token and take to the skies in a X Wing or blast Rebel positions in my AT-ST. I found myself enjoying my online experience despite not being in the top 50% of players and that really takes some effort.

I’m a fan of Star Wars which means I love Battlefront despite the missed opportunity on the single player. The multiplayer versions are varied and come with a good collection of maps which is expanding with 4 planned DLC’s, one of which was released this weekend and introduces the new maps, game modes, characters, weapons and challenges. I’m not usually one to subscribe to the whole ‘DLC’ thing unless it’s missions and stories, but I waited my 38 hours for 8.2gb to download simply to play as Greedo running around Jabba’s palace. In the coming months they’re introducing the Death Star, Bespin the cloud city and doubtless Chewbacca and Lando. I can hardly wait. Recreating the light sabre battles between Luke and Darth on the Death Star is what eighth generation gaming should be all about, as long as Boba Fett and Greedo don’t turn up and turn it into a one sided massacre.

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Luke Skywalker is reported close to your position. Damn right.

So to conclude I have to firmly recommend this game, although at early levels you may find the battles unforgiving. I spent a few hours levelling up and improving gear before I felt anywhere near competitive, but I never felt like I wanted to put the game down. If you’re a fan of the franchise then buying this is a complete no brainer. If you’re not you’ll still be rewarded with a solid and competent shooter that offers something a little different from other games in the genre. Either way just go out and buy it, I saw it in Louth Electronics yesterday for under twenty quid, which is tantamount to theft.

Star Wars Battlefront Rating:   92%

 

Assassins Creed Syndicate Review

In a recent news article I was very harsh on Assassins Creed Syndicate and I’d like to start by explaining why, and why I’ve decided to give it another go. The AC (Assassins Creed) series has been a staple of my gaming collection ever since Altair first scaled those beautifully rendered towers back in 2008. As the game has developed it’s opened up new historical settings such as Renaissance Italy or Colonial North America. It delivers wonderful settings and has always managed to look good. After the insanely good Black Flag came out I expected a massive ramp up for the eighth generation. What we got was AC Unity in a murky and moody French Revolution era Paris. The game had failed to build on the previous outing, and when Syndicate landed I felt it had continued to fail. It almost coincided with the release of Fallout 4 as well meaning it quickly slipped down my game pile.

My problem with it was a lack of progress from the previous incarnations and I slated it as such a few weeks ago. Since then I decided to give it another chance, but to mark it as a standalone game. I often talk about being a gamer who wants to cut through a lot of the hype and just tell you if a game is any good or not, and to judge AC Syndicate by the standards of previous efforts is wrong. If Hitman can simply deliver a better looking Blood Money to critical acclaim then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t review AC Syndicate as a standalone title.

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Jacob scopes out a gang stronghold

The plot is very much in line with the rest of the series, although for the first time we get to play as both of the protagonists, the Frye Twins Jacob and Evie. They’ve come to London as Assassins to rid in of the Templar scourge. They’re going to do this by completing missions, building their gang of Rooks and scaling all the recognisable landmarks our Victorian Age capital city has to offer. It’s fairly generic in that respect and even second time through I failed to really connect with the lead characters. I play 90% of the time as Jacob mainly because Evies self righteous know it all attitude gets right on my wick.

One salient point I overlooked when first playing the game was the wonderfully constructed evil that is Crawford Starrick, the ‘baddie’ if you will. Not since Far Cry 3 and the deliciously evil Vaas have we seen a villain than carries as much charisma and menace. The cut scene featuring him are woefully few and far between, but with his handlebar moustache and passive aggressive dialogue he creates the perfect Victorian villain for you to topple.

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The wonderfully evil Crawford Starrick enjoying a nice cup of rosie.

Gameplay has actually improved from Unity if not evolved. Parkour is much easier and London is a joy to travels around, whether its on foot, via carriage or using your rope dart to swing high above the bustling streets. I’ve often lamented the controls of an AC game but finally they seem to head in the right direction. Carriages aren’t my preferred method of getting about though, especially not when you’re encouraged to charge your horse into lampposts and other carriages as if it were a weapon. There’s also something desperately sad about seeing a horse killed in the midst of a violent battle.

There’s plenty to do in London aside from the main quests. In the course of the game you get to interact with Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and even Ripper detective Frank Abberline. There’s DLC featuring Jack The Ripper himself, and if that’s not enough a side quest featuring the hunt for the elusive Spring Heeled Jack as well. One thing Ubisoft really do well is attention to historical detail and once again they’ve managed to weave lots of Victorian culture into their game. If you’re not helping out figures from history then you’re probably off taking over the different boroughs of London, and when that bores you there’s that tantalising main quest to get stuck into. Only last night I discovered a side mission set in World War 1 London as well which I’ve barely explored. It’s big, but those side missions don’t demand that you complete them if you don’t want to. If you want to wade through the story and be done with it there’s still lots of depth and enjoyment to be had.

Fighting is tough at first and checking the levels of enemies is vitally important. It’s not quite as skilfully handled as something like Batman Arkham City, but there is a little more to it that button mashing and hoping for the best. Evie and Jacob have a different skillset and therefore you may look to approach battles differently depending on who you’re using. Unlike Unity I found it much easier to stealth around a location picking enemies off one by one instead of running away when there was too many to take out simply by fronting them. Whatever your approach once you get up to around level five combat becomes much more of a viable option.

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Only 1 of 75 fancy moves performed? Does my crowbar not count as fancy?

There’s a skills and levelling system in place but if you get to level nine you’ll obtain all the skills anyway, so choice is based more on how you get there rather than what you choose. It works well though as it’s simplified to a degree and really understandable. Some excellent games such as The Witcher 3 could do with a bit of simplifying and AC gets it right.

Okay so it doesn’t really offer anything new to the franchise and plays very much like the excellent AC Brotherhood from five years ago. Graphically it uses the PS4 to it’s potential and my previous description of a ‘garish’ London may have been a little harsh on the bright and bold depiction we’ve been given. Maybe I’d hoped for Unity’s gloom and doom to be transferred across to London but either way the job they have done is extremely good. The landmarks are all there in full glory, and the streets literally bulge with NPCs going about their daily business. Unlike French based Unity it doesn’t sound odd that they’ve all got cockney accents either!

In short it’s playable and you can pick it up and put it down in short bursts. There’s no fifteen hour introduction to play through and settle into, there’s no massive back story to try and familiarise yourself with before anything makes senses and there’s no pretence that this is anything other than another AC game. Ubisoft know if they’re going to breath new life into the franchise then they’re going to have to rethink what they do which is why they’ve taken a year out, but as a standalone game I think Syndicate is definitely worth your time, especially if you can now pick it up pre-owned for around £20.

ASSASSINS CREED SYNDICATE RATING   86%

 

I’m having a little move around

Alright all,

Just a quick note to let you know I’m separating my blogs, and keeping one for gaming and one for football related stuff. The gaming one is staying right here. If you’re looking for the football stuff its now at https://staceywestblog.wordpress.com/ which is where you’ll continue to find all my Lincoln related chatter. I refuse to use the word banter.

I’ll be developing this blog for my gaming stuff over the next few weeks as well.

G