Battlefield: Hardline – Review (PS4)

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The Battlefield series has consistently been one of the better multiplayer shooters out there in terms of gameplay, rivalled only by Killzone which has a more sci-fi tilt. Battlefield games are all about spectacle and while Battlefield 4’s ‘levolution‘ is hideous marketing-speak, the concept of having huge set piece moments erupt around you is a sound one. With Hardline’s setting changing to the police rather than the military, will it lose any of the identity Battlefield has worked so hard to cultivate?

Let’s start with the online. Hardline is just as bombastic as its predecessors at times, with cop cars, motorcycles and helicopters all thrown into the mix for bigger maps. As well as the returning Conquest and Deathmatch modes you have a host of new ideas to play with. Heist sees you trying to break into the opposition vault, and is very reminiscent of Rush from previous titles. Blood Money is more fun, a pile of cash in the middle of the map that both teams fight over and return to their getaway vans… the twist being that each team can also rob the opposition van! This leads to some great back and forth gameplay, a hallmark of the series. Another new mode is Hotwire, which I also greatly enjoyed. Like Conquest you have to capture and hold points on the map, the difference being that each control point is a vehicle you’ll need to keep on the move to accrue points. It leads to some frantic car chases and putting in a few ramshackle ramps lends the mode a Smokey and The Bandit/Dukes Of Hazzard feel.

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Gameplay wise this is the best the shooting has felt for a while (for veterans as well as noobs – there is a generous auto aim function for new players) and there is a pretty good variety of weapons, which you now buy with Heist money rather than unlocking by rank. Vehicle control is fun and the addition of radios in the car makes a huge difference to the immersion – jumping in the car as a criminal to the strains of KRS-One’s ‘Sound Of Da Police’ still hasn’t gotten old! The music selection is fairly good, although I hope if they return to this for future games they increase the track count so you get less repeats.

Moving on to the single player campaign, which is set around a cop called Nick Mendoza. In true cop show fashion, the game opens with you on your way to federal prison and a guard on the bus berating you for being corrupt. Then we jump back in time and you’re back with a badge and a gun. The most intriguing thing for me about Hardline is that you almost always have options. Some levels have multiple paths through and even those that don’t at least offer the choice of stealth or all out attack.

One of my gripes with the game is that the stealth is a little clunky at times and there were occasions when I felt I had been unfairly spotted. The game works with a Far Cry style awareness meter, so at least you know when you’re about to be spotted! I also felt sometimes that the AI was quite poor, often just filing into a room one by one for me to shoot rather than doing anything tactical to flush me out.

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The campaign plays in episodic format so it feels like a TV show, and even lends the ‘Previously On…’ trope that Alone In The Dark used to keep you update on what happened in the last few episodes. I liked that this doesn’t play if you go straight into another episode so it wouldn’t get annoying for people ploughing through the game in one sitting. Personally I played it an episode at a time almost exclusively, it was well paced and I had fun with each episode. The game might have become slightly repetitive if you were playing it in longer sessions.

Graphically for the most part the game looks good, especially in single player, but in multiplayer sometimes the distant skylines seem quite sparse compared to other Battlefield games. There are exceptions of course, the burning town in the background of Hollywood Heights is a real highlight. Facial animation and motion capture for the campaign is great and while I never fully believed I was watching real people, it came close on occasion.

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Overall then it’s a pretty good package, but with regards to multiplayer that’s on the basis that you’re done with Battlefield 4 and want more of that Battlefield experience. There are some new modes and the gameplay is improved, so if you’re looking for more then this is the game for you. The campaign is easily the best since Bad Company 2 and while it does have some shortcomings I really enjoyed the way Visceral lent into the cop show vibe.

Rating: 8/10

The Order: 1886 – Review (PS4)

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The Order: 1886 had been on my radar since that amazing first trailer reveal – the graphical fidelity of the game coupled with an alternate history plot and Victorian London setting had me hooked. As more trailers arrived it seemed to just get better and better.

And then I played it. Last year’s EGX gave the public the chance to get hands on and I was very keen to do so. It certainly looked great but the animation felt lacking and the gunplay wasn’t what I was looking for. I walked away feeling a little deflated. However two friends that also played the same demo really liked it and came away impressed. I figured maybe when I was playing it at home it might click with me.

So now that I’ve had the full experience of playing the game, did The Order turn out to be a disappointment? Or did Ready At Dawn deliver on the initial promise of the game?

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Well the good news is that the animation problems I had previously with jerky movement of NPCs were almost non-existent so you could lose yourself in the game without being dragged out of the world every time someone would stammer across the screen. The issue with enemies not flinching from gunfire sadly remains, although this too is reduced. For such a film-like experience it does jar to have enemies not respond appropriately when hit by bullets. I mean if you look at games like Killzone 2 and 3 it can make a huge difference and make taking on enemies a lot more enjoyable.

Much was made of the game’s length before it’s release, with some people citing playthrough times of 5 hours. While The Order isn’t a long game, my initial playthrough took around 7 hours which I felt was a decent enough length. Whether or not you feel that sort of campaign length is worth £50 is up to you but it certainly wasn’t quite as short as was reported previously.

Another issue some people had was the amount of cut scenes and time spent not in control of the character. This definitely could be a problem for some, I personally felt ok with the way it was handled and enjoyed the story. Again I was happy just looking around the environment and exploring little pockets of the game world, enjoying the stunning job the developers had done. It almost verges on the ridiculous, with items in the world (like chairs or books) fully fleshed out and gorgeous looking, even when there is a good chance players won’t actively stop to look at them. There is no doubt The Order is a truly stunning looking game and between this and DriveClub you now have a couple of titles that can showcase the difference between PS3 and PS4.

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Unfortunately for all the talk of how wonderful the game looks it simply isn’t that exciting to play. The gunplay, while having a certain heft doesn’t match titles like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Max Payne 3 or even Grand Theft Auto V. It’s such a shame and it means those sections where they are throwing 20 or 30 enemies at you can be a bit of a drag. Of course I did have fun with some of the encounters, it was just those longer ones that tested my patience. There is also a stealth section that drove me mad, wherein you need to kill a set amount of guards but have no indication of where they are. If you are seen it’s insta-fail and right back to the beginning. Not including a checkpoint in there and having to restart every time meant it really broke the flow of the game.

It’s not all bad though, there was a lot of talk about there being too many QTE’s in the game but I thought it was handled ok and the addition of a few new mechanics thrown in for some helped to make some of the encounters feel different. The music is also superb, with Jason Graves delivering once again. Having such a dense, heavy score really helps to colour the game world and give you a sense of the atmosphere and feeling of this alternate London.

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The Order: 1886 certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I felt that the plot was good and the gameplay was enjoyable enough for the most part. When I got to the end and the credits rolled I thought to myself, ‘I’d play another one of those if they made it’ and I hope Ready At Dawn get a chance to refine this experience and give us a game that delivers on all fronts.

Rating: 7/10

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You’re Playing It Wrong Or: How Ratonhnhaké:ton Helped Me Enjoy Games Again

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As things have developed for me over the last year or so, both professionally and personally, I have found myself having a little less gaming time than before. For one, as I creep into my mid 30’s, I just don’t have the energy to game until 1am or 2am like I used to. Add to that mix having children (no daytime gaming at weekends), the fact that I’ve been watching more TV & reading more books and it’s easy to see why. So am I in danger of giving up on my favourite hobby?

Nope, far from it, in fact. While my time has been cut down a bit, I’m actually enjoying games more than I have for a long time. A decision I made last year about this blog was that I wouldn’t rush through games just for the sake of getting a review up quickly. I’ll review games as and when I finish them, which eases the unconscious pressure a review deadline can bring. What has happened is that over the last few years my gaming style has changed from mainlining most games (just sticking to the main plotline) to fully delving into the wonderful worlds created by game devs. And in the last 6 months the scales have finally tipped fully in favour of exploration.

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Let’s rewind a little bit though as I can tell you when and where this all started, in the American Northeast back in 1754 – 1783. Or more precisely November 2012 while playing Assassin’s Creed III. There’s no nice way to say it but despite a few clever touches Assassin’s Creed III is the worst entry in the series of games. It starts strong but quickly loses its way after an interesting plot twist. The main character Connor, or Ratonhnhaké:ton to give him his real full name, was a whiny, uninteresting protagonist and midway through the game it became a slog that I simply wasn’t enjoying. But instead of either ploughing through until the end or giving up and playing something else, I took a road very much less travelled (at least by me)… I started doing side quests. Even hunting missions, stalking animals and taking them out. Next time I played the game I spent 45 mins doing side stuff, played a main mission and did a few more side bits before logging off. And suddenly over the next few weeks I found myself really enjoying the game! Sure the main story missions were still fairly terrible but by breaking things up with side quests they were a lot more palatable.

Don’t get me wrong, in some of the bigger/more interesting game worlds (Fallout, Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, The Last Of Us, GTA and the like) I have often explored the environment but those games were few and far between and while playing titles like Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, L.A. Noire or Mafia II I would usually just play the story missions and do one or two side missions. And some games don’t require you to do anything but the main story, titles like Uncharted or Killzone, which is great and I love those games also.

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It’s just that even with less time to play I find that I’m drifting in between story and side quests in a lot of titles. I’m currently breaking my own ‘only-have-two-singleplayer-games-on-the-go-at-once‘ rule spectacularly by taking on Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, Alien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4. None of these are small games but whereas before I would’ve burned through something like Shadow Of Mordor, I now soak up the world and enjoy simply being in it and travelling through it. It also helps in that specific case to have the nemesis system which helps keep the world feeling ‘alive’ and constantly changing. Far Cry 4 is another good example in that I’m more than happy to do a few side quests on the way to main mission sometimes. And I think a huge amount of credit has to go to developers for finding that balance between sparse pointless side quests and overloading the player with map icons in a lot of recent titles.

There are of course exceptions, I really enjoyed Infamous: Second Son but the world felt so… quiet. With side quests that were minimal and not that interesting, it left the game feeling empty a lot of the time. From the little I’ve played of Assassin’s Creed: Unity it seems to have the opposite problem. You can barely see the map for a flood of different icons (see below) and the kicker with that seems to be that when you try to do some of the side missions they are actually locked in the game until you sign up for some Ubisoft service or companion app. But that is a conversation for another time.

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I think it’s interesting that my gaming habits have gone in completely the opposite direction to how I would’ve expected. As my time playing decreased I would’ve thought I would be avoiding side quests just to get through and finish titles. Don’t get me wrong, even my reduced game time is probably still more than a lot of people that play games so I will still be completing a lot of games, I guess it’s kind of the best of both worlds? Perhaps stepping out of the review ‘arms race’ has given me a new perspective? Regardless, the simple fact is I’m playing less but enjoying it more – I believe quality over quantity is the correct term and its great.

Have any of you noticed any changes in your gaming habits over time – have you followed the same pattern as me? Or even gone the other way? I look forward to hearing in the comments below.

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GregHorrorShow: Game Awards 2014

Game Awards 2014 Main

Now that everyone has had time to digest their turkey and Christmas pudding, it’s a good opportunity to look back at last year’s game offerings and dole out some awards.

So let’s start at the very beginning – well, 2013 to be precise…

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MISSED GEM OF 2013

Game Awards 2014 AC IV

WINNER: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4)

Black Flag missed out on a place in last year’s list as the PS4 launch was too late in 2013 for consideration. I was burned out on Assassin’s Creed by 2012’s title which I felt had a poor lead character and not a particularly great story. Black Flag throws the Assassin’s Creed rule book out of the window (well, not the whole book) and gives you a fun character and interesting world to explore, along with decent gameplay to compliment it. The sailing aspect is excellent and I never got bored of my crew striking up a shanty :)

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BEST GAME INNOVATION

Game Awards 2014 Innovation

WINNER: Nemesis System (Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor)

There were some cool new ideas in games last year. The prospect of a single player game being online and full of people isn’t a new one, we’ve had quite a few of those trailers over the last few years, where the game pulls back and reveals the other characters are real players (The Division etc.). Despite it’s faults Watch_Dogs was the first game that I thought handled it quite well, with other players able to hack your game and you having to force them out. Photo Mode is one of those things that you can’t believe wasn’t in games before – the ability to pause the action and be able to set up a photo opportunity might not sound that ground-breaking but it changes how you play the game and has led to some amazing in-game shots of titles like The Last Of Us: Remastered, DriveClub and Infamous: Second Son. For me though, the biggest innovation has to be the Nemesis system in Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, which gives personality and meaning to the enemies you encounter throughout the game. Essentially enemies are named and remember the previous times you’ve met in battle. They can also be promoted through the ranks of the opposition army and it’s fun to have some history with opponents. When you clash with them the camera pans in and the enemy will taunt you or threaten you. The other cool thing about this feature is that it isn’t limited to specific characters or events – you can sometimes find yourself in a battle with two or three of these named enemies if they happen to be in the same area you’re fighting in. It’s a great addition to an open world title and gives the game world a huge boost.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Invasion Multiplayer (Watch Dogs)
  • Photo Mode (Various PS4 Titles)
  • Shadow Gameplay (Contrast)

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BEST DLC (CONTENT)

Game Awards 2014 DLC

WINNER: Last Of Us – Left Behind (PS3)

The Last Of Us was my game of the year for 2013 and February saw the release of the long awaited story DLC ‘Left Behind’ in which you played as Ellie. Set before the events of the main game it was a look at Ellie’s relationship with her close friend Riley. Well written and with some truly memorable moments this is quite possibly the best DLC I’ve played. Wholly recommended and for you lucky folks who have picked up The Last Of Us Remastered on PS4, this DLC is already included on your disc – enjoy!

RUNNERS UP:

  • Second Assault (Battlefield 4)
  • Intercept (Killzone Shadow Fall)
  • Ignition Pack (DriveClub)

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BEST DOWNLOAD ONLY GAME

Game Awards 2014 Download2

WINNER: Transistor

I’ve never played Supergiant Games previous title ‘Bastion’, although I always loved the art style. So when the studio’s follow up for announced as a PS4 exclusive it was a title I was really looking forward to. At that stage I had no idea how much I would fall in love with the world, art, music and gameplay of Transistor. I also thoroughly enjoyed the second season of The Walking Dead and I certainly wasn’t expecting to get as much out of Resogun as I did – I’m looking forward to picking that up on Vita as well when it arrives. A title that didn’t technically land this year but arrived on Vita was the superb Rogue Legacy – if you haven’t checked that out yet then make sure you pick it up!

RUNNERS UP:

  • The Walking Dead: Season Two
  • Resogun
  • Rogue Legacy

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MOST ANTICIPATED GAME OF 2015

Game Awards 2014 Anticipated

WINNER: Uncharted: A Thief’s End

While 2014 might’ve been a little disappointing, with lots of top tier releases being delayed into 2015. On the flip side it means that this year is already full of quality titles just waiting to jump into your PS4 as the months progress :) For me the biggest of these is Uncharted: A Thief’s End. I *love* this series, which never fails to keep me entertained and I can’t get enough of the characters created by the wonderful folks at Naughty Dog. The gameplay reveal in December has left me even more psyched than ever, so roll on November! It was hard to narrow down the runners up to just three when factoring in titles like Batman: Arkham Knight, Bloodborne and No Man’s Sky. However the other three games I’m most excited for have to be Hotline Miami 2, Metal Gear Solid V and the new Rainbow Six game, which I think could be amazing if they nail it.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Metal Gear Solid V
  • Rainbow Six Siege
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

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BEST GAME TRAILER

WINNER: Uncharted: A Thief’s End

As mentioned above I’m a huge fan of Uncharted and boy was this reveal trailer impressive. Giving a glimpse at what might be possible for PS4 in the future, even if the gameplay only looks half as good as this it’ll be a huge step up for the series. Cuphead isn’t even scheduled to come to Playstation platforms but I adored this trailer, which reminded me of all the old cartoons I used to watch as a kid – what a great artstyle! If you needed an excuse to get excited for Velocity 2x then this trailer was it, showcasing the new platforming sections as well as the ship based gameplay… and THAT music! Sadly Assassin’s Creed Unity didn’t live up to the hype but the series continued it’s great run of trailers with this gem, scored by Lorde’s version of Tears For Fears.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Cuphead
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
  • Velocity 2x

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BEST PS VITA GAME

Game Awards 2014 Vita

WINNER: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

The Vita has had some great games this year, original titles like Murasaki Baby, Freedom Wars and Luftrausers as well as excellent ports like Fez and a solid version of Football Manager. I enjoyed the super addictive Rogue Legacy and Velocity 2x, both requiring a different set of gaming skills while I thoroughly enjoyed the cold war setting and espionage gameplay of CounterSpy. That being said it was a more unusual title that ended up being the one I got the most out of – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Yes, that is a real title and yes, it’s a fantastic game! The story of a group of students who wake up to find themselves trapped in their school. The only escape is to kill another student and get away with it by beating a courtroom judgement. All seemingly masterminded by an evil, robotic teddy bear. Crazy, for sure, but a great gaming experience.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Rogue Legacy
  • CounterSpy
  • Velocity 2X

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BEST GRAPHICS

Game Awards 2014 Graphics

WINNER: DriveClub

Just look at that picture. Click it to see the full size version. That isn’t a press shot or some PR trick, I took that screenshot during a race using DriveClub’s Photo Mode. It is insane how good this game looked before the weather update added different conditions. And now? Well, it’s certainly one you could show to friends and family to show what the PS4 can do. Big shout outs to Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare for some ridiculously good facial animation, Destiny for a wonderful art style and Alien: Isolation for an almost perfect recreation of the original film’s world. But this year’s award goes to the DriveClub – possibly the best looking game I’ve ever played.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Destiny
  • Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Alien Isolation

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BEST STORYLINE

Game Awards 2014 Story

WINNER: TellTale’s The Walking Dead (Season 2)

The return of Clem, and the fact that you were controlling her, in the second season of The Walking Dead had me in two minds about the direction the game was taking. I loved Clem and felt that maybe she was better left behind in the first season and that the new run of episodes should feature just new characters. How wrong I was, while it stumbled at times, this season of the game was superb and I found myself with a decent resolution by the time the final credits rolled. I really enjoyed the story of Transistor, delving into the back story there was great – although I felt that game was more about the characters than a specific storyline per se. I ended up liking the story of Murdered: Soul Suspect as well, which had some interesting twists and turns. The closest game to beating The Walking Dead though was the superb DLC for The Last Of Us ‘Left Behind’, which as I mentioned earlier looks at the relationship between Ellie and Riley.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Last Of Us – Left Behind (PS3)
  • Transistor
  • Murdered: Soul Suspect

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BEST SOUNDTRACK (SCORE)

Game Awards 2014 Download

WINNER: Transistor

The music in Transistor is a huge part of the game and what an amazing soundtrack. The excellent Darren Korb delivers a brilliant score, with some help from vocalist Ashley Barrett and this is one of those games where you’ll be raving about the music for a long time afterwards. Destiny‘s score had some wonderful moments and the recreation/remix of original music from the Alien film gives Isolation a really strong score element. Child of Light was another title that I thought music played a big part in and the score is definitely worth checking out. Special nod to Velocity 2x as well which I thought was also a great soundtrack.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Child Of Light
  • Destiny
  • Alien Isolation

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BEST SOUNDTRACK (LICENSED)

Game Awards 2014 Music

WINNER: Grand Theft Auto V Remastered

Adding 162 new tracks to an already huge and impressive soundtrack is a great way to help flesh out some of the radio stations in your game. Doing it with quality artists like Jackson Sisters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chvrches and Lorde just increases the richness of your world no end. Good lord even Bobby Brown’s ‘On Our Own’ from Ghostbusters II is in here! Just, wow. Watch_Dogs had a good soundtrack but was hampered by the fact you had to unlock tracks in game rather than them all just being on the radio. FIFA 15 delivered again, for the sake of clarity I did help shape the soundtrack to that one a little, but even the stuff I played no part in was great. And Battlefield 4 technically shouldn’t be in here but it missed out last year based on time constraints and deserves a nod for ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Battlefield 4
  • FIFA 15
  • Watch_Dogs

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BEST VOICE ACTING

Game Awards 2014 Voice

WINNER: Infamous: Second Son

I enjoyed Infamous: Second Son, although I did feel a little let down that the characters weren’t more fleshed out. Having said that what was on display here was seriously impressive in terms of voice casting, with Troy Baker and Laura Bailey doing most of the heavy lifting. Matched with some superb facial animation, Infamous gave us the best voice acting of the year. Both ‘Left Behind’ and ‘Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare’ weren’t far behind though, the latter also helped by having the fantastic Kevin Spacey on board.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Last Of Us DLC
  • Transistor
  • Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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SINGLE PLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

Game Awards 2014 Single Player

WINNER: Transistor

The haunting quality that Supergiant Games gave to the world of Transistor was a big part of why I wanted to explore the world and discover more about the characters but if it didn’t have the gameplay to back it up, this game would not be taking this award. Taking the time to plan out your moves before erasing them and trying a different solution was an addictive process. As you hit ‘go’ to put your plan into action there was a rush of the unknown as you desperately hoped your plan would work as desired. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t but it almost always felt satisfying. Shadow Of Mordor’s main accomplishment is taking various elements from other titles, mixing in the Nemesis system and having everything work together really well. Sadly the story wasn’t up to scratch, a problem which also hampered Advanced Warfare. Again the gameplay in Call Of Duty was strong though and graphically it was excellent. Far Cry 4 delivered more of the same goodness from the previous game and it’s emergent world was great fun to be a part of. Also a quick nod to Dragon Age: Inquisition which I’ve been enjoying but haven’t spent enough time with for serious consideration here.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
  • Far Cry 4

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MULTIPLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

Game Awards 2014 MP

WINNER: The Last Of Us: Remastered

2014 was a bizarre year for multiplayer games, with most of the year being taken up with last year’s titles like Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Killzone: Shadow Fall. There just wasn’t anything that attractive in the multiplayer space on PS4 – Xbox and PC owners had Titanfall but judging from others comments, even the allure of that wore off fairly quickly. FIFA 15 was up to its usual tricks and I got pulled back into Ultimate Team mode again. Destiny had its hooks into me for a while there as I was really enjoying the multiplayer and more recently (now that it all works) DriveClub has been amazing fun – both in terms of time challenges and straight up races. For me though it was another 2013 title that I ploughed countless hours into. The Last Of Us Remastered hit PS4 this year and with the package containing all previous online maps and the extra Interrogation mode, there wasn’t a better online experience in 2014. The meta-game with your camp remains a really nice touch – meaning that everyone always has something to play for – even if you’re having a bad round the need to get supplies means that you’ll never just write a round off. Added to that the fact the game still looks glorious despite its gritty nature and you have one hell of an online experience on your hands.

Runners Up

  • Destiny
  • FIFA 15
  • DriveClub

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GAME OF THE YEAR

Game Awards 2014 GOTY

Winner: Transistor

Well, who would’ve thought in the first full year of PS4 it would be a turned based strategy game that would take home Game Of The Year? The simple truth is I got lost in Transistor in a way I simply didn’t in any other game this year. The music, the art, the gameplay… the characters… the world. Wonderful stuff and much deeper, tactically, than you might originally give it credit for. The style of the cut scenes had me hammering the screenshot button again and again. My only complaint would be that I’d have liked a bit more story told through the game rather than unlockables but it’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things. I can’t wait to see what Supergiant come up with next.

Runners Up:

  • The Last Of Us: Remastered
  • Far Cry 4
  • Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

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So that’s 2014 done and dusted!

I’d love to hear if you agree with any of the choices above and what your favourite games were from last year. Here’s to 2015!

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GregHorrorShow – The Music Of 2014

Music 2014 Main

2014 has been a really good year for music, with breakout albums from the likes of Sam Smith, Banks and Hozier. There have also been some great albums from returning artists and even a very interesting film soundtrack collaboration.

Like last year I’ve popped my recommended tracks onto a Spotify playlist that you can check out here:

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I really liked Katy B‘s original album from back in 2010 so I was excited to hear the follow up ‘Little Red’. Keeping a similar vibe to her previous material, I thought this was a good listen. Maybe not as good as her debut but a solid ‘difficult second album.’ From an initial listen (albeit while working) I didn’t click with Beck‘s ‘Morning Phase’ album until a second listen cemented it as being up there with the best of the year.

The Phantogram album is fantastic, with stand out tracks like ‘Fall In Love’ and ‘Black Out Days’ throughout. I was also lucky enough to see them play an in-store gig at Rough Trade which was awesome. St. Vincent delivered a great album and I’ve been told I must check her out live soon because her shows are astounding. I really enjoyed the Dan Croll album, which has some good, laid back, pop tracks.

Music 2014 St Vincent

I think my favourite band this year has been Broods, who released their album ‘Evergreen’ a few weeks ago. I love their sound and they are great live. The stand out track for me is ‘Bridges’ but it’s a very good album overall. Jessie Ware returned with her second album which is among the best released this year. Tracks like ‘Tough Love’ and ‘Pieces’ cement Jessie as one of the UK’s best artists at the moment. Another returning artist was Lana Del Rey who dropped Ultraviolence in the summer. While I didn’t think it was as strong as her debut album it was a good listen and tracks like Brooklyn Baby and West Coast were highlights.

Hozier kind of came out nowhere to become one of the biggest artists of the year, his album is great with, of course, ‘Take Me To Church’ being the stand out track. Sam Smith has one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard in the last few years – like Adele or Florence Welch. Backed up by some fantastic tracks, he’s only just getting started! I’ve listened to the Banks album plenty of times and it’s just a really strong collection of tracks. I was fortunate enough to see her live earlier in the year at Koko and she was excellent in the flesh.

Music 2014 Hudson

On the live front I was lucky enough to check out lots of gigs this year. Aside from Banks and Broods, who I mentioned earlier, the highlights for me were Irish duo Hudson Taylor, Lorde – who was amazing at Shepherds Bush Empire, Ella Eyre, Hawk House and Hozier.

Azealia Banks finally dropped her long overdue album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ and while there were plenty of people lining up to watch it crash and burn, she actually delivered a really good, solid album. Would definitely recommend. Royal Blood make a hell of a lot of noise for just two people and I thought their album was brilliant. I’ve always liked The Roots and their new album ‘And Then You Shoot Your Cousin’ is up there for me as some of their best stuff. A great listen from start to finish.

Music 2014 Vaults

Other albums I enjoyed this year came from Vaults, Death From Above 1979 and Ben Howard. Another good listen was the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, curated by Lorde it had some great artists involved with some cool tracks as well.

I’m sure there are plenty of artists and albums I’ve missed in this round up but shout out in the comments if there’s anything great you’ve been listening to this year.

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GregHorrorShow: The Books Of 2014

Books 2104 Main

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already almost the end of 2014 – having said that, looking at the long list of books I’ve made it through this year at least makes me feel like I’ve experienced a lot of great stories.

I’ll get straight to business – if you like sci-fi and you haven’t read the Wool trilogy (Wool/Shift/Dust) by Hugh Howey then you are in for a absolute treat! These books were the best I read this year with a gripping story and wonderfully written characters.

I caught up with an old title by another of my favourite writers, Aimee Bender, with ‘An Invisible Sign Of My Own‘. Telling the story of Mona Gray, a young woman who finds solace in mathematics before taking up teaching, it continues Bender’s surreal slant to stories and I really enjoyed it. I also read ‘Gone Girl‘ which, despite being pretty depressing and containing no likeable characters, I just couldn’t put down. It’s well written and strings the reader along throughout. Great fun.

Books 2104 Invisible

I loved David Glen Gold‘s ‘Carter Beats The Devil‘ so I was keen to check out ‘Sunnyside‘, his fictionalised account of the Charlie Chaplin based mass hysteria in the US during the early 1900’s. ‘Never Go Back‘ continued Lee Child‘s return to form, if you like Jack Reacher you’ll love this story. I can’t wait to check out the next installment in the Reacher series.

I’d been meaning to check out ‘The Quantum Thief‘ by Hannu Rajaniemi for a while and it didn’t disappoint, with a story that was at times both confusing and inspired. Ranjaniemi has created a fascinating look at an alternate universe with some ideas that may even find themselves into our world at some stage. I found myself a little disappointed with ‘Metro 2033‘ by Dmitry Glukhovsky. Actually let me re-phrase that as it was more of a post-apocalyptic burnout than genuine disappointment. It was a fairly enjoyable read but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d experienced most of it before, whether that was in other books or TV or films etc.

Running With The Firm‘ by James Bannon wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea but being so firmly rooted in the world of Millwall and set at the time I just started attended matches, it managed to pull me in. The first ‘Game Of Thrones‘ novel by George R Martin really sucked me in and I was amazed I could retain so many character, place and family names all at once! I’ll definitely read more of the books in the series.

Books 2104 Fatherland

I read a few older titles as well this year, many of which I enjoyed. ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s‘ by Truman Capote wasn’t really what I was expecting at all. It was better than I thought it would be, with some interesting themes. I found ‘Fatherland‘ by Robert Harris thoroughly gripping – I’ve seen the idea that the Nazis won the second world war done many times but this was a really well fleshed out and believable world, with great characters. A classic novel that I just couldn’t get into was ‘100 Years Of Solitude‘ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I didn’t enjoy it at all, which is a shame as it’s so highly regarded by so many people.

Hyperion‘ by Dan Simmons was also a bit of a strange one – I really enjoyed the story but had no idea there was more than one book in the series. So I was getting into the final third of the book wondering how they would tie it all together, only to discover they weren’t going to and that the next set of events would occur in a later novel! Naomi Klein‘s hard hitting look at corporate culture in ‘No Logo‘ is a must read for everyone in the 21st century. Despite being over 10 years old it’s still as relevant today as it was then. Another book I enjoyed was ‘The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie‘ by Muriel Spark which I wasn’t sure if I’d like but the characters are so well written it wasn’t hard to get sucked in by them.

You‘ by Austin Grossman was an interesting look at game development and the toll it takes on people’s health and relationships. Kate Atkinson‘s ‘Life After Life‘ has a great premise and I’m a sucker for anything time travel/alternate universe related so it was no surprise I enjoyed it. ‘The Girl With All The Gifts‘ by M.R Carey managed to turn me around as I was initially disappointed because I felt I’d heard this story before. But it soon shifted gear and delivered a great story that had me hooked until the very last page.

Books 2104 Girl Gifts

So there you go, here’s the full list of titles for 2014:

An Invisible Sign Of My Own – Aimee Bender
Sunnyside – David Glen Gold
Wool – Hugh Howey
Killshot – Elmore Leonard
No Logo – Naomi Klein
The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi
Fatherland – Robert Harris
Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Never Go Back – Lee Child
Game Of Thrones (1) – George R Martin
100 Yrs Of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Shift – Hugh Howey
Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
Running With The Firm – James Bannon
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Don’t Point That Thing At Me – Kyril Bonfiglioli
Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
Dust – Hugh Howey
You – Austin Grossman
The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R Carey
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

What have you guys been reading this year? Any recommendations?

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GregHorrorShow: The Films Of 2014

Film 2014 Main

I’ve seen some great films this year and finally got around to catching up on some of the films I’ve missed over the last few years.

It’ll probably be no surprise to anyone to hear that Guardians Of The Galaxy was my favourite film this year – with such a great mix of characters and some strong performances to boot, it didn’t matter that I had no knowledge of the comics. James Gunn did a very good job of making sure you cared about the characters but that the tone stayed light for the most part.

Of the films I’d missed previously I really enjoyed Argo, a film that cements Ben Affleck as a really great director. It was tense, well shot and an interesting story. Alongside that, on a more sci-fi tip, I liked Prometheus, Pacific Rim and Avatar. Pacific Rim in particular was an enjoyable mech-filled romp and I thought Prometheus was much better than the critics gave it credit for at the time.

Film 2014 Paddington

Obviously having kids means I get to see some films that are aimed at a younger audience. The best two I saw this year were Frozen and Paddington. Paddington is one of the most British films I’ve seen in ages and is really a great watch, regardless of age. Likewise with Frozen, aside from the complete indoctrination imposed on me by my children, it genuinely is a lovely film and it’s nice to see a sibling bond as a central relationship as opposed to a romantic bond. Also the songs *are* great ;)

From the other kids stuff I watched, Mr. Peabody And Sherman was the new generation’s ‘Bill and Ted’, Boxtrolls was good but quite dark and Get Santa was a nice little Christmas film that I’d recommend checking out if you get the chance.

Another of my favourite films this year was the documentary I Am Ali, which was a fascinating look at the world famous sportsman using home recordings and interviews with his family and friends. It was a real insight, not only into the man himself but also into the fever that built up around him. I also saw The Place Beyond The Pines and 47 Ronin, both of which I enjoyed but didn’t really blow me away.

Film 2014 Ali

Two films that did have an impact, albeit for different reasons, were Zero Dark Thirty and Pride. Zero Dark Thirty I found completely compelling and coming to it as someone who watches Homeland, it fitted nicely into that US Black Ops/C.I.A mould. Pride is a great film, showcasing just how rough it was growing up gay in the UK during the 1980’s. It’s a bit of a hard watch at times but retains a light heartedness that is totally charming. Very enjoyable.

On a smaller scale I thought One Crazy Thing was a fun, cheeky look at the cost of internet stardom and how things stay online forever. While Set Fire To The Stars, telling the story of Dylan Thomas’ US tour in the 50’s, was interesting, if a touch depressing at times.

There are also some great films coming down the line including rom com Man Up, with Lake Bell and Simon Pegg; Legend with Tom Hardy and the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, which looks stunning. Add to that Joss Whedon’s second Avengers film Age Of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road & Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie and 2015 could be another great year for film.

Film 2014 Mad Max

And a final shout out for one of my Twitter friends Jaz Moore who is hoping to get her horror comedy funded on Kickstarter. It’s called Ranger Danger and tells the story of a young forest ranger that suddenly realises he is working in a universe swarming with horror cliches! It looks like great fun so check out the trailer below and back it here if you like the look of it:

 

 

So that’s my look back at the films I saw this year and a few projects I’m looking forward to seeing in 2015. How about you guys? What were your favourites from this year and what are you looking forward to in 2015?

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