Grand Operations – Should DICE Advance or Retreat?

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Battlefield V launched back in November of 2018 without much fanfare and alongside a bunch of negative headlines (Eurogamer: “Battlefield V physical sales down more than half on Battlefield 1” / VG24/7: “Battlefield 5 drops down to $30 in new sale“) which did a good job of killing most of my expectations for the title. So I was surprised, when I picked up a copy, by how much I enjoyed the online action in the game.

The big, main mode, alongside series staple Conquest, is Grand Operations. A new version of Battlefield 1‘s Operations mode. In that title you had a few attempts to take ground against your opponents, and the losing team was able to call in a Zeppelin to try and turn the tide. It was a fun mode, which I liked playing. In Grand Operations you play across three ‘days’ of various game modes, although Day 3 is always Conquest. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played of it so far but there are some under-lying problems that leave me concerned about the longevity of the mode.

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So what are the issues and what can be done to fix them? It’s a tough question because how do you make online play fun over a long period of time in a title where the individual player has such a small influence? In something like Overwatch or Rainbow Six: Siege, you are part of a team of 5 or 6 and your actions, such as the use of a gadget, skill or ability, can directly win a round for your team. In Battlefield V, while you have a squad of four, there are 32 players on each side and your actions rarely impact dramatically as events unfold.

Let’s start with the positives and what Grand Operations does right. It evokes memories of the excellent, and similarly titled, Killzone 3 Operations mode – especially with the parts where you’re aboard a plane before rounds start and you’re waiting to jump down into the action. I’d like to see more cut scene variations between the days if possible but what we have is a decent enough start. Grand Operations certainly feels grand in terms of time – rounds can last between 45 minutes and an hour depending on how close they are. It’s interesting to move through different sections of the map on each day and generally rounds do seem to finish quite close for the most part, which gives it the sense of a thrilling battle.

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Grand Operations is likely the best mode in the game… if you have the time. Conversely, on occasion the rounds seem to drag out – especially when the victor is obvious. The first two days are almost pointless as only victory/defeat on the final day decides the battle. This would be fine if the first two days counted for anything on both sides. Attackers do get benefits if they win the rounds (extra respawns etc.) but the defenders don’t, they just stop the attackers gaining an advantage. There’s nothing quite as disheartening as, while defending, winning the first two days and then losing the final day to be greeted by a ‘Major Defeat’ screen. The game is also glitchy during gameplay and cut-scenes, including instances of Day 3 just being a black screen, meaning you have to quit and lose your progress. Also people quit (or perhaps can’t join due to technical issues) between days, leading to wait times between rounds and sometimes completely uneven sides.

I have some ideas to remedy these problems and make Grand Operations the go-to mode for Battlefield V. Some are simple fixes and others more complex suggestions but let’s get into it.

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My first suggestion is the easiest to call out as a player, though only the developers will know how much time/resources would be needed: fix the bugs. This isn’t exclusive to Grand Operations but it would make a huge difference. Unlocks not happening, players dropping out of games, standing in the plane literally INSIDE another player – tidy it up please DICE. Secondly, give more rewards for playing Grand Operations. Maybe it is exclusive outfits or even a special gun. Anything would help bring people into the game mode.

DICE have to change how the ‘Days’ system benefits each side. My suggestion would be to scrap the respawns and make each day count as an automatic flag capture on the final day. So, if one team wins both days on Day 3 they start with two flags already captured. Currently if you’re defending, the first two days seem quite pointless. While the extended sessions are great, perhaps the addition of a ‘Mercy’ option like the one in Destiny could help. In that game the ‘narrator’ character ends the game early if one team is completely dominating. Given the World War II setting this would be in keeping with the atmosphere of the game if your ‘commander’ called for you to retreat. In one way it saves you the humiliation of spending another 10 or 15 minutes in a fruitless battle but brings the embarrassment of having to retreat.

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My final idea, and likely to be the most controversial, is to make Grand Operations the ranked/competitive mode of Battlefield V. Firstly, it would stop people quitting out between rounds. If you couldn’t play another round until the one you quit finished or you rejoined, it would be a good deterent for quitters. Assigning a specific ranking to performances and having you climb the ladder season to season in the mode would keep people interested for longer. This could tie in with the extra rewards I mentioned and could possibly involve the Tides Of War side mission content. If they actually fixed the issue I mentioned above in regard to balancing rewards for Days 1 and 2, Grand Operations could even be the mode that EA utilize for Battlefield V’s esports angle. It seems like it would be a great fit with potential rounds of up to an hour and I’d love to see what sort of tactical plans teams and squads could come up with, given advance preparation time. I suspect EA will more likely be looking at their Battle Royale mode for that but I think this could be a much more enticing option.

So there you have it, some ideas to help enhance what is a promising game mode. With a few changes here and there Grand Operations could be a stand out mode and Battlefield V’s trump card. We’ll have to wait and see how it pans out as 2019 progresses.

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GregHorrorShow’s Year In Gaming 2018

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It seemed 2018 was as good a time as any to mix up these end of year posts, mainly due to the way a lot of games are becoming sprawling services that span years of content as opposed to annual franchises. A lot of what I played this year wasn’t released in the calendar year but that seems to matter less and less as time goes on. I’ll list the release date next to anything not from 2018.

For anyone interested here is the non-gaming round up in case you missed it. For now though let’s delve into last year’s gaming…

hitman

I know Hitman 2 came out in 2018 but let me tell you about Hitman (2016). This was a game, like Life Is Strange, that really nailed the episodic format. It was a joy to jump into a new level (each with varying locations around the world) and spend a good chunk of time messing around, trying to find a stealthy way of taking out a target. Then I’d be happy to put the game back on the shelf and return to a new area in a few months. 2018 was the year I finally finished the last of Hitman’s content and I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.

I played A Way Out in full co-op with a friend and had a blast with the game. I’m not sure it would’ve been as much fun playing solo and while the story was fun it wasn’t the greatest narrative I’ve ever played through. This year I also played This War Of Mine: The Little Ones (2016), a title I’d been keen on for a while. It tasks you with scavenging to survive in a war torn country and really gives you a sense of how tough that kind of thing can be. The mental effects can completely change the game, if the characters become too scared or depressed you can lose control of them and they won’t respond to commands. It was tough watching my little group of survivors deteriorate until they fell apart, a rough but worthwhile gaming experience.

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VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action was a game I was super excited for and I really enjoyed taking on the role of a cyberpunk bartender, despite not being the best at remembering the drink combinations! Luckily there is a recipe book on hand to help. This is a visual novel on Vita so it’s a lot of reading, with a small gameplay element of mixing the drinks – giving customers different drinks can alter the storyline, which is cool. Hue was another Vita game that I put alot of time into, the puzzle solving was good fun and the use of colour was interesting.

Two games that took me an age to finish were Assassins Creed: Origins (2017) and Fallout 4 (2015). I wrapped up both this year and they were enjoyable for different reasons. Origins was a real high point for Assassins Creed, with a good story and lots of fun gameplay additions. I’d still rather they lost the current day set up as I find it really detracts from the main story but maybe there will be a payoff for that stuff at some stage? Fallout 4 left me in a frustrating spot so I didn’t ‘finish’ the game in terms of seeing the credits but felt I’d told my characters story to it’s conclusion, the game was exactly what I wanted from it and I look forward to playing the next numbered Fallout title when it arrives.

I also played through The Walking Dead: New Frontier (2016) and finished that a week or so before the sad news that the game studio behind it was shutting down. While the technical cracks were showing throughout the game I still enjoyed spending some more time with Clem and watching her grow over the course of the five episode arc. I didn’t play much of Gran Turismo Sport (2017) but the hours I put in were really enjoyable. I’m terrible at the game for the most part but as usual the joy of the game comes from heading to the car dealerships and picking up lots of different cars to race.

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In terms of online gaming its difficult to talk about 2018 without mentioning Fortnite. I’ve dropped off of the game in the last 3 or 4 months but I imagine I’ll be back at some stage to play some more. I enjoyed the tense, high stakes gameplay of solo the most, although it was definitely fun with friends as well. FIFA 19 is, finally, a more than cosmetic update of the yearly title. I think the changes they have made are certainly for the better although the issue of ‘rubber-banding’ (allowing slower defenders to catch up to attackers and tackle them) needs to be addressed as it can completely break the game flow and seems totally unrealistic. Another fun multiplayer game was Laser League (2017), which I picked up as part of PlayStation Plus. This is a futuristic sports game where you turn lasers to your colour on the playing field. If your colour laser touches an opponent they are taken out of play – it’s a really interesting idea that is well delivered.

My favourite online games from 2018 though were Battlefield V, Overwatch (2016) and Rainbow Six: Siege (2015). As a Battlefield veteran (from Bad Company on) I’ve enjoyed but not loved the recent titles in the series. I think Battlefield 4 was the last one I really put a lot of time into. Hardline was something different and Battlefield 1 was good but didn’t hold my attention. However something about Battlefield V just clicked with me – possibly it’s the heavy emphasise on squad play but this, for me is the best Battlefield since the Bad Company 2 days. It certainly has some issues but overall a really solid title. I absolutely love Overwatch. I still play regularly and have a great time with it – the updates with new maps and characters help keep the game fresh and with the newly launched Overwatch League, it seems the game is here to stay. That works for me.

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Having said that my pick for online game of 2018 is 2015’s Rainbow Six: Siege. The recovery of this game from a troubled launch is astounding. It has a vibrant esports scene and the continued release of maps and content (now stretching into the game’s fourth year!) makes sure the game is constantly evolving. It’s similar to Overwatch in that two small teams face off in a map with one objective and the teams take turns attacking and defending. Another familiar aspect is that a roster of characters each have different specialisations that can be used to gain an advantage or swing a fight. While Overwatch is like a bombastic, Saturday morning cartoon, Rainbow Six takes things a bit more seriously, although some cosmetic options allow you to lighten the mood a bit. The gameplay is finely balanced and it’s really unforgiving but definitely worth your time.

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In terms of single player games Detroit: Become Human was a highlight. While it was maybe heavy handed with its messaging I found the game itself to be enjoyable and the sheer amount of choice, in terms of the branching storyline, was hugely impressive. David Cage has done this before but each game genuinely improves on the last. The fact I can talk to other people who played it and we have very little in common in terms of the story of the game is actually quite astounding. One of my other favourites from this year was The Sexy Brutale (2017), a really clever puzzle game in which you relive the same day over and over, trying to stop a bunch of murders. It’s a touching, smart title with a great graphical style and some excellent music. A real joy to play through.

I’m still making progress through Persona 5 (2017) and loving that. The story is starting to build and I’m adding more characters to my roster of crime-fighters. The Persona games always have a lovely sense of style and this is no different – the music is as amazing as ever and graphically it looks brilliant. Another superb title I’m still finishing off is God Of War. This is one of those titles that really show off what a PS4 can do and also give a good reference point for non-gamers to see how games are progressing. It’s a tour de force really, while still maintaining a fragile father and son story that doesn’t feel melodramatic or forced. The script and voice acting help with that, it’s a game I can’t recommend enough.

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There is only one game that can be both my favourite thing from this year and also the best game I’ve played in years. Red Dead Redemption 2 arrived after a seven year wait but it was worth it. A prequel to the original title it tells the story of Arthur Morgan, a member of the same gang as the first game’s protagonist, John Marston. This is a huge game with so much content it’s likely I won’t experience much of it at all in the grand scheme of things. I’m about 25 hours in and still only midway through, I’ve spent a bunch of time just living in the game world, hunting, playing cards and fishing while completely ignoring missions. The world feels alive and there is always something going on just around the corner. I haven’t really touched the online beyond setting up a character but I’m also looking forward to getting more into that in the future. Red Dead Redemption 2 is my game of the year for 2018.

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There was a lot I didn’t get around to playing that I want to try – Spider-man, Hitman 2, Iconoclasts and Life Is Strange 2 to name a few. As my backlog builds there is also plenty to look forward to in 2019. I think The Division 2 (above) is my most anticipated title, although if The Last Of Us II does get confirmed for this year that might just pip it. As well as games, it seems like another generation of new consoles are also on the horizon which should lead to some interesting announcements and game reveals.

Exciting times ahead in the world of gaming!

MOST WANTED – E3 2018 EDITION

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As 2018 continues to race on, we find ourselves with another E3 just around the corner. It’s the time of the year that the gaming world fills with rampant speculation and expectations soar.

So it seemed as good a time as any to take a look at which titles I’m excited to see more of at the conference in early June.

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BORDERLANDS 3

MW E3 2018 Borderlands

I was a big fan of the previous Borderlands games, their mix of stylised graphics, humour and sheer volume of weapons made for a fun experience that you could shape for yourself, depending on how you upgraded your character. So I’m looking forward to seeing what Gearbox reveal – the gaming landscape has changed massively since the last time Borderlands hit the shelves, might the new title even be a ‘games as service’ type affair?

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NEW DRAGON AGE

MW E3 2018 Dragon Age

It may have taken me until last year to finally finish Dragon Age: Inquisition but the game originally landed in 2014 so we are long overdue some fantasy, tactical RPG goodness. Confirmed to be in development but not officially announced, I’m hopeful we might get a teaser or some sort of update at the EA conference this year.

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LAST OF US II

MW E3 2018 Last Of Us II

The last footage we saw of Last Of Us II was harrowing and pretty disturbing. In lesser hands I might’ve been concerned but Naughty Dog’s track record speaks for itself and I suspect, in context, the violence will be in line with the tone and feel of the game and world. The first title was a game changer and, after the amazing Uncharted 4, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

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GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

MW E3 2018 Ghost

I’ve been saying for years, we need a new Samurai game! I thought it would be the history-hopping Assassin’s Creed that would deliver but instead it’s Sucker Punch, of Infamous erm… fame, that are bringing some Katana action to our living rooms. For all their faults, I enjoyed the Infamous games and I think Sucker Punch could really deliver something special with Ghost Of Tsushima.

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DEATH STRANDING

MW E3 2018 Death Stranding

Ah Death Stranding, three trailers in and still no sense of what this game is actually going to be. From the creator of Metal Gear Solid, it appears you’ll be playing as a character attempting to protect a baby from supernatural forces in a post apocalyptic world. Or is it all a Dallas-style dream? Who knows? It has all looked great so far though, now I’m hoping we get to see some actual gameplay on stage.

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CYBERPUNK 2077

MW E3 2018 Cyberpunk 2077

We still don’t have many concrete details about Cyberpunk 2077 but E3 2018 looks set to change that. The makers of the successful Witcher series have a large presence planned on the showfloor – could this mean a playable demo? Or is it too early? Details are sparse but we’ve been told the game may take some cues from Deus Ex and is set to take place in Night City, an existing location in the Cyberpunk pen and paper RPG game on which this title is based. The biggest game at E3 this year? Quite possibly.

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So those are some titles we already know about but where’s the wild speculation I mentioned earlier? Oh ok, here are a few ‘long shots’ – not completely random but games that are probably very unlikely.

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DISHONORED 3

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It might be too early for this announcement but as a fan of the last two games I’d love some more Dishonored. The universe is so rich and different to anything else around, it’s a real pleasure to explore, not only the city itself but also the game mechanics and different ways of interacting with the world.

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NEW GUERRILLA GAME

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I loved the Killzone series and Horizon: Zero Dawn knocked it out of the park last year. So what are Guerrilla working on now? Well I’d really love to know, so fingers crossed for at least a tease at E3. I suspect it might be more Horizon, given it’s success but something new – or even something Killzone – would be most welcome.

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NEW SKYRIM

MW E3 2018 Skyrim

Skyrim came out over six years ago. Six years! And it’s now available on every platform possible. Surely it’s time to bring us some new adventures, potentially in a different region of the Elder Scrolls universe. It would be amazing if we got a glimpse of something new at E3 – fingers crossed!

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THE ORDER 1887

MW E3 2018 Order

This is probably the longest shot in here, given Santa Monica studio only recently wrapped on the well received God Of War reboot. The Order was a game with a phenomenal look, some great acting and a decent story. At times it played well but for the most part the combat was rote and it descended into moving from one ‘shooting gallery’ to another. If they revamp the combat and design more interesting combat encounters, a new Order game could be amazing. It’s time may have realistically passed but I would be really happy to see a sequel.

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So, there you have it! Early June is right around the corner, I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store.

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GregHorrorShow: Game Awards 2017

Game Awards 2017

2017 was a stand out year for games, with some amazing titles hitting shelves. Whether hunting robot dinosaurs in Horizon: Zero Dawn or teeing off on the 18th hole in Everybody’s Golf, there were plenty of great games for all types of players.

As usual there were some games I didn’t get to, Assassin’s Creed Origins and Wolfenstein II to name a couple. Also I hadn’t played enough of Persona 5 to judge it on much beyond graphics and music.

So here are my favourites from 2017 but first another awesome title from 2016…

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MISSED GEM OF 2016

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I got this for Christmas 2016 so it wasn’t until early last year that I really got going with it. A follow up to Arkane Studio’s 2012 title, it picks up some time after the end of the first game. Once the opening scene plays out you are given a choice of whether to continue as the original games hero Corvo or as Emily Kaldwin. Both have different powers and I’m really looking forward to going back and replaying this with different abilities. A mixture of stealth and action, the game has a wonderful sense of style and the soundtrack gives it a distinctive flavour as well. Plus one of the levels, The Clockwork Mansion, is a true feat of design, seeing the entire level shift around you depending on which levers you pull. Great stuff.

WINNER: Dishonored 2

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MOST IMPROVED GAME

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As games become more of an ongoing service than ever, I thought it might be worth keeping an eye on which titles have evolved over the last 12 months. On the single player front No Man’s Sky is almost unrecognizable from the game it was at the time of release, with base building and a more detailed story now featured. It also features lots of ways to play the game, whether you want a punishing survival adventure or a more relaxed, exploration based experience. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t been back to it for a while. One surprise was The Division‘s recent update which added a ton of more content including a horde mode and more player v player options. This is in addition to the extra end game content and systems already added during the year. There were also a few paid for DLC packs that added more scenarios and areas. Battlefield 1 added a handful of more free maps and an awesome mode called Operations, which is a sprawling battle across numerous areas – definitely something for players looking to get into longer, more intense matches. Most of the Operations are available to all but some are locked behind the Battlefield Premium pass, along with a good number of maps. Overwatch continues to change as time goes on, alongside balance changes players have also received 5 new characters and 4 new maps. In addition the game has added tons of new modes in the arcade rotation, including Deathmatch, Elimination and Duels. There were also the event related modes like Junkenstein’s Revenge, Capture The Flag, Lucioball and Yeti Hunter, which all added to the variety of content. Uncharted 4 delivered more arenas and a huge of amount of characters and customisation. The addition of a horde mode and a much requested ‘Classic’ mode were most welcome and the game still feels great to play. All of these games have shown a strong development over the last year but I feel like Overwatch by adding, for free, such a big amount of heroes and new areas alongside balancing and entirely reworking existing characters gets the nod here. The fact you can buy the game now and have access to everything in the game content wise is fantastic and it has continued to suck up a lot of my time in 2017.

WINNER: Overwatch

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THE JOE DANGER AWARD

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I really enjoyed Everybody’s Golf on the Vita so I was looking forward to the PS4 version, thinking it’d be fun to play with friends and just online in general. I didn’t imagine the single player, with it’s golf carts, fishing and quizzes would draw me in but it did and I spent a lot of time working my way up the rankings and challenging the ‘boss battle’ style golfers to unlock more progress. It’s also a really relaxing game and can be great to play to just unwind a little.

WINNER: Everybody’s Golf

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MOST ANTICIPATED GAME OF 2018

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Could it be anything else? Without doubt one of my favourite games of the PS3 era, Red Dead Redemption was a stone cold classic that delivered an epic story and a really solid multiplayer offering. As much as I can’t wait to see the story Rockstar have planned for us it’s the multiplayer I’m most excited about. I loved it before but seeing what Rockstar have done with the online for GTA V makes me hope that this could really be something special.

WINNER: Red Dead Redemption 2

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BEST TRAILER

DeathStranding

I’m still not entirely sure what Death Stranding is even about but with each trailer Hideo Kojima reveals a little more of the characters and setting. His next project post Metal Gear Solid is shaping up to be like nothing else we’ve ever played. The trailer shows a world in disarray and people trying to protect a baby from supernatural forces. Graphically it looks great and he has both Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelson on board, so I’m really hopefully he will continue his run of amazing, and amazingly crazy, games. Watch the trailer HERE.

WINNER: Death Stranding

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BEST VITA GAME

SteinsGate

Steins;Gate is an older title but was far and away the best Vita game I played in 2017. Unfortunately with support outside of the indies drying up for the Vita there wasn’t a huge amount of new stuff I played on the system. However I’d definitely recommend trying this title out, the tale of a time travelling ‘mad scientist’ who has to battle a series of other outside influences in an attempt to use his time travel for good and save his friends. This visual novel goes dark in places but man, what a ride!

WINNER: Steins;Gate

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BEST GRAPHICS

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This was a crowded category in 2017 with plenty of amazing looking games arriving, whether it was the anime styling of Persona 5 or the photo realistic universe of Battlefront II. Naughty Dog delivered a wonderful looking game in Uncharted: Lost Legacy, with impressive vistas and Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s lush, beautiful expanses were a bit to play in. But I’m giving this to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a mid price game that gave us a well paced 10 hour experience that looked stunning considering it was made on a much smaller budget than the other games mentioned here. It was a darker world than the other games here but still absolutely stunning.

WINNER: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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BEST STORYLINE

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I really enjoyed playing through Senua’s troubled story in Hellblade, it was a difficult experience at times but the pay off was worth it and I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot if you haven’t played it already. Unfortunately I only had time for one playthrough of Nier Automata this year, so while I know I still have story beats to come, I felt the game deserved a nod even just for the first run through. Naughty Dog did an amazing job of giving us another Uncharted title but with different protagonists, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, giving us a unique vibe. It worked a treat and I enjoyed the story here, the pacing was excellent. However, this year’s winner is Horizon: Zero Dawn which gave us a story told on several levels and with a few great twists along the way. Guerrilla Games did really well with this, especially after the story of Killzone: Shadow Fall, which didn’t really deliver.

WINNER: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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BEST MUSIC (SCORE)

Persona5

There has been some wonderful music made for games this year, Henry Jackman’s score for Uncharted: Lost Legacy was sublime and really added to the atmosphere of the game. Likewise Horizon: Zero Dawn had a great score which felt like a real part of Aloy’s world, especially the contrasts between battle themes and more peaceful moments. I’d actually thought Nier Automata would take this category as Okabe Keiichi’s score is hauntingly beautiful but although I haven’t finished the game I’ve spent enough time with Persona 5 to know a killer soundtrack when I hear one – that end of battle sting brings a smile to my face every time! Wonderful stuff as usual from Shoji Meguro.

WINNER: Persona 5

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BEST MUSIC (LICENSED)

Ruiner

Full disclosure, as anyone who follows me on any socials will know, I helped to select the soundtrack for Dirt4 but I genuinely believe it’s a great soundtrack with a strong mix of old and new artists. Uncharted: Lost Legacy nabs a spot on the nominations list solely for a glorious and truly fitting use of M.I.A and FIFA 18 delivers another great selection of new music across genres. But the winner here is the absolutely brutal soundtrack put together for Devolver Digital’s cyberpunk title Ruiner. Featuring artists like Susumu Hirasawa and Zamilska I’d recommend giving it a listen if you’re not familiar. A perfect match to the dark, unrelenting action on screen.

WINNER: Ruiner

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BEST VOICE ACTING

LostLegacy

Melina Juergens has rightfully earned a lot of plaudits for her voice acting as Senua in Hellblade, she made the character believable and vulnerable, while still maintaining a rough edge along the way. I also thought Ashly Burch was great as Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, unfortunately she was the best of the bunch, although there were a few other good performances scattered among the rest of the cast. There was more story in Destiny 2, which of course brought more voice acting, though not from your mute character – I really do wish they’d go the Mass Effect route and have the character voiced but I digress… What you do have is great work from Lance Reddick, Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion. Is Cayde-6 a little overplayed? Yes, but having some extra personality is better for me than none at all. There was plenty of personality in Uncharted: Lost Legacy, which takes home the award. It was fantastic to see the development of the relationship between Chloe and Nadine as the game went on and you really did feel a bond established between them. Just the right mix of quips and seriousness meant I didn’t miss Nathan for a second.

WINNER: Uncharted: Lost Legacy

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BEST SINGLE PLAYER GAME

HorizonZD2

First off a shout out to Call Of Duty: World War II which was, admittedly, dire and relentlessly depressing for the most part but delivered one of my favourite levels of the year with a great set piece that sees you infiltrate a Nazi base as a Resistance member. Fun and different. Again, I’ve only played through Nier Automata once but I really enjoyed what I did and thought the story was interesting – I know there is more in store for me on further playthroughs so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s on offer. Uncharted: Lost Legacy gave me exactly what I was hoping for, a story in the Uncharted universe that didn’t revolve around Nathan Drake (as much as I love him, Uncharted 4 rounded out the arc perfectly). It was really well paced and looked absolutely gorgeous. But I have to give it to Horizon: Zero Dawn. What an amazing game. Robot dinosaurs was the premise, hunting them and having to take them down. The developers really delivered on that promise and then some. There is so much more to the game. So much in fact that a hint on the loading screen after I’d finished the game told me about a type of weapon I hadn’t even known existed! Horizon really is a game you can lose yourself in, if you haven’t already grab yourself a copy now.

WINNER: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME

Destiny2GA17

2017 was a weird year for multiplayer. As I mentioned in an earlier category, a lot of big games from the last few years stepped up and gave us more, sometimes different, content. I played more Overwatch, Rocket League and Battlefield 1 this year than I did any of the games on this list. Everybody’s Golf turned out to be a title that I stuck more time into offline than online. But I had great fun playing with friends and doing the online challenges. FIFA came back with a bang and I reignited my Ultimate Team career after barely touching it the previous year. The only issue is that it’s very easy to pay-to-win using real money so sometimes it’s just not that fun if you haven’t spent cash yourself, I’ve been on the end of a fair few 7 or 8 goal thrashings that I imagine might infuriate more volatile players. Speaking of pay-to-win, I was tempted to give the award this year to Battlefront II. I don’t think it’s a popular opinion but putting aside the loot box shenanigans (at the current time you can’t actually pay real money to win) I’ve genuinely enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the game. It handles well and, for the most part, has felt fair to play. Having said that, Destiny 2 handles like a dream. Being able to play through the story with friends and then get online for some crucible action has been more than enough of a value proposition for me. I loved the PvP in the original Destiny and I love it here. The mix of weapons and abilities gives a flexibility you don’t always see in online shooters. And the shooting feels so good you won’t want to stop.

WINNER: Destiny 2

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BEST OVERALL GAME

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When Guerrilla Games announced they would be making something completely new after our Killzone titles, I was caught in two minds. I love Killzone (and hope it comes back at some stage) but something fresh could be great. Then they announced Horizon: Zero Dawn and I was blown away. Blown away and a little worried. I had faith in Guerrilla but moving from a gritty, first person environment to a third person, open world RPG? Added to that was the fact that, while the multiplayer delivered, the last Killzone’s game story was a big let down. Could they give us a story over tens of hours that would stand up? I need not have worried at all because they smashed it out of the park. Horizon: Zero Dawn is up there with the very best open world games I’ve played – GTA V, Metal Gear Solid V, Red Dead Redemption, Aloy’s wondrous journey is on a par with these gaming masterpieces. The robots themselves are so brilliantly designed that I loved working out ways of taking them down. The story is fantastic, the world building is great and I always felt like I was doing something and not just grinding for XP. Aloy’s character is subtle and, as a rare female lead, treated in exactly the same way a male version of her character would have been. It shouldn’t be impressive but it can hopefully pave the way for more games with female leads. I can’t wait to see what Guerrilla Games do next but I’m there day one.

WINNER: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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So there you go, another fantastic year done and 2018 looks to be another good one with Red Dead Redemption II, Far Cry 5, Anthem, Detroit: Become Human, the God Of War reboot and a title I’ve been looking forward to for months – VA-11 Hall-A, a cyberpunk game in which you play a bartender. I can’t wait!

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MOST WANTED 2017/18

Detroit

As we head into the final stretch of 2017 I thought it might be worth taking a look at some of the titles that will be coming to the PlayStation 4 in the next year. Have a look below to watch some footage of the games I’d recommend keeping an eye on in the next 12 months (and beyond!).

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Star Wars: Battlefront II

I liked the first Battlefront game, it certainly looked the part but eventually the lack of content killed off my interest. This time out DICE are not messing around, with triple the maps, heroes and vehicles that the first game had. There are also more game modes and a nice bump in the graphics (see above video). The game now encompasses the locations of all the Star Wars films, not just the most recent and the addition of heroes like Chewbacca and Rey mean everyone’s favourites should be in here. As well as all that there is also a full story mode (missing from the first game) which gives you even more value for your money.

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Detroit: Become Human

There is something wonderful about finishing a David Cage game like Heavy Rain and then discussing with friends to see whether they had a similar experience and if you both had the same characters alive at the end. Detroit: Become Human looks set to continue this tradition, with you playing as three androids in a futuristic vision of Detroit. Androids are starting to go rogue and demanding independence, you’ll be able to see the story from three viewpoints: Connor hunts down ‘deviant’ androids, Kara is a ‘deviant’ who has escaped from the factory she was built in and Markus, who wants to free all androids. Hopefully the game can build on the interesting questions raised around androids and AI in last years TV series Westworld.

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Forgotten Anne

Forgotten Anne had slipped under my radar but I was lucky enough to get to play it briefly recently and found myself enraptured. If you have an interest in animation or anime I’d recommend checking this out, it’s a beautiful game and is like playing a cartoon. Here’s the blurb from their website, which describes it better than I could: “Imagine a place where everything that is lost and forgotten goes; old toys, letters, single socks. The Forgotten Lands is a magical world inhabited by Forgotlings; creatures composed of mislaid objects longing to be remembered again.” Sounds like a perfect title to delve into and forget your troubles.

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Red Dead Redemption 2

Recently pushed back to early 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be Rockstar’s first release since juggernaut GTA V. After playing that I can’t wait to see what they deliver in a western setting. The first Red Dead was fantastic and no doubt the power of the PS4 will be at full stretch for this one. In this game we’ll be playing as Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang as they travel the old West getting up to no good. In addition to the single player mode I’m really excited to see what they do with the multiplayer. In the previous game multiplayer was a really fun experience but after GTA Online I’m expecting them to really step it up and give us something special to get our teeth into.

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The Last Of Us: Part II

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Probably one of my favourite ever games, The Last Of Us was phenomenal. The story was excellent, with one of the best cast performances in gaming history. So no pressure on the sequel, right? The question was asked almost as soon as the last game arrived. Would you play a sequel? Do we need a sequel? The answer to the first was yes and the second could only be answered by the creators of the game – luckily for us they have obliged and hopefully they can repeat the magic of the first title. I’m not going to talk plot or characters just in case anyone reading this hasn’t played the first one… and if you haven’t go play it now!

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Cyberpunk 2077

No list of upcoming games would be complete without Cyberpunk 2077. Originally announced in 2012 we’re on course for a late 2018/early 2019 release and having played their other recent title, The Witcher 3, I can say that Cyberpunk 2077 is definitely one to look forward to. It looks set to be a deep RPG with plenty of customisable options for your character. There is always a danger when a game is in development for so long that it might disappoint but all the signs point to this one living up to the hype and it’s cyberpunk, so what’s not to like 🙂

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God Of War

I wasn’t sure whether I needed another God Of War game, I enjoyed the first couple but with the handheld games, and a few extra spin offs, my appetite waned for Kratos’ brand of hack ‘n’ slash. Then they showed the trailer of an older Kratos with his son and I was sold. Maybe they could tell a decent story in amongst the violent carnage and switching from Greek mythology to Norse will also help freshen things up. Add to that the game is Kratos first real trip out on the PS4 and I’m hopeful we could have a great game on our hands.


So there you go, there are plenty of other great games coming as well but these are the ones that really resonate with me. It’s been another amazing year for gaming, with Horizon: Zero Dawn, Destiny 2 and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, among others, giving us a real treat in terms of gameplay and story.

I can’t wait to see what else is announced as we move into 2018!

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Playing Games Like You Watch TV Or: Why It Took Me Over Two Years To Finish Dragon Age: Inquisition

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I’ve spoken about my gaming habits plenty in the past but I’ve noticed another shift in the last year or so. If I have an hour spare now in the evening I’m much more likely to play an online game, not something single player based.

While it sounds contrary to the above, I feel like I want to invest more time in single player game sessions than ever and really lose myself in that world, which conflicts with my gaming schedule – essentially the odd hour here and there in the evening. I’m finding that I don’t want to play something story based for 45 minutes or an hour. Or at least that’s how I feel about open world games, I’m certainly still happy to play an hour long session to complete a chapter of Uncharted or a main mission in Tomb Raider. More linear games still lend themselves to that style of play. I’ve always played those kind of games like TV shows anyway, a chapter or two at a time over the course of weeks rather than days. I’ve never been a gamer who will rush through a 15-20 hour game in a weekend.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn is a good example of this new play style, a game I likely would’ve rushed through before is now a title I’m planning to play over the course of months rather than weeks. Crucially, I also feel like I’m getting more enjoyment out of the game by taking the time to explore and discover smaller content along the way.

I think there is an accompanying parallel change in multiplayer games, which are doing a much better job of getting you to come back and play more often. There has been a positive change in a huge amount of games whereby new content (new levels/maps or characters) is being added free of charge for all players. This is important because, firstly, it means the player base isn’t split (some that paid have the new content but others don’t and they can’t all play together) and secondly it gives people a strong reason to come back to games they might not have ever returned to before this trend. In addition a lot of games are rewarding players for logging in and playing, which keeps people interested for longer.  I also feel like there are a ton of pick up and play online experiences that last 5-10 minutes per game, which align perfectly with the time I have available.

If I only have 30-45 mins spare why waste my time on an open world title and have to turn it off just as I’m getting into the rhythm of the game? I’d rather play a few rounds Overwatch and a game of Rocket League. It’s also occasionally quite nice to play something that has a set beginning, middle and end. I guess it’s similar to watching a really good eight episode TV show knowing it only has one season and tells a complete story within that.

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Big, sprawling open world titles are definitely still attractive to me, Horizon is one of the best games I’ve played in the last 4 or 5 years, but I just need more time to play and invest in them. Dragon Age: Inquisition took me over two years to finish. Why? I suspect the TV season-like structure helped, along with the change in my own gaming habits. What I loved about the structure of Dragon Age in particular was that your main hub in the game was your ‘War Table’, where you and your colleagues/advisors would plan your next tactical move and which mission to take on. On this table you had a selection of smaller missions, including favours for your colleagues that would reveal more about them and strengthen your relationship with them, but also one bigger mission that moved the main story on considerably. So for me, the game became like a TV show in so far as I would spend a few weeks playing side missions, levelling up and getting some character development for my team before doing the big, climatic ‘end of season’ mission and then putting the game down for a month or two.

Another huge title in terms of scale is Fallout 4, which I’m still playing 18 months after I started. Why? Well for similar reasons to Dragon Age but with the added decision from the outset not to follow the direct path for ‘character reasons’. I decided to make my character more selfish than my usual created characters, for example my elf Inquisitor from Dragon Age or Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect. In Fallout, Bella would be a character that was, for the most part, more interested in her own current affairs than any grander goal – which has been great fun and I’d recommend everyone to try playing a character like it at some stage!

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Another issue with mainlining games is burnout, doing the same thing over and over again is certainly not fun and can severely lessen your enjoyment of a game. However, I think there is a huge difference between repetitive gameplay over a longer period of time in hour sized chunks and repetitive gameplay experienced in bigger 3 or 4 hour time slots.  I genuinely believe that the reason I still enjoy long running game series like Assassin’s Creed, where you are essentially doing the same thing in every iteration of the game in a different setting, is because I’ve never really sat down and played them for 4 or 5 hours at a time.

Episodic gaming kind of solves this play style problem, although it doesn’t always necessarily do the best job. Titles like The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange are great games, although each episode usually runs the length of a film which runs into the same problem for me time-wise. Hitman, which is perfectly suited to the episodic format, is another title with lengthy levels (a positive when I have the time to invest) although the inclusion of smaller one off assassinations does mean that is a game you can also dip into here and there.

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Some people are quick to mainline these huge games and I just don’t get it. Why would you want to rush through these big titles? Where Uncharted is like a film, games like Skyrim, Mass Effect or Dragon Age are like having 10 seasons of a TV show in front of you. Finishing these open world games as quickly as possible by doing just main quests would be like having a cut down version of the TV show that just focuses on the main character and no-one else. Sure you’d get to experience the story at the centre of the show but without any focus on other characters. Imagine a Buffy The Vampire Slayer without any development of Willow or Xander? Or an Orphan Black with no focus on Donny or anyone except Sarah? Indeed, imagine a Mass Effect that didn’t bother to flesh out your crew but just double downed on the main story.

I’m as guilty as the next person of binge-watching TV shows but I do feel that for games it is a little different – as I mentioned above my confusion isn’t really based on people playing games quickly, it’s what you might be missing along the way. Even if I binge something like Jessica Jones I am still seeing all the story the creators put in there and want us to see. If you mainline a game you could be missing a wealth of interesting content and potentially things that might be integral to the wider plot of the game.

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Even in this age of on demand binge watching it can be nice to watch a TV show week by week – one of the biggest luxuries of the ‘old’ approach to watching TV or playing games is that you have time to think about and appreciate the content you’re consuming. I’ve found that in games but also in TV. Recently, Legion was a delight to watch week by week and I actually think I needed that time between episodes to process what I’d seen. Sure, there is a rush from getting through something you’re enjoying – it can exhilarating knowing that you are just a click away from another episode or main mission but I’d recommend giving slower paced gaming a shot. It’s definitely a different experience and one, for me personally, that means I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of open world games.

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Rise Of The Tomb Raider – Review (PS4)

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I was quietly confident that Crystal Dynamics would be able to deliver a strong follow up to their 2013 reboot of Square Enix’s beloved franchise. The sequel arrived on XBox One a year previously as a console exclusive and it got great reviews so I was excited to get a chance to play it. The initial reboot provided a good story paired with familiar but fun gameplay. So did they manage to better this with Rise Of The Tomb Raider?

Graphically the game is stunning and while it can’t match Uncharted 4 it certainly has some sections I thought were beautiful to look at. The level design and more open ended areas give the game some nice spaces to explore, although it suffers from that age old open-world issue of giving you ludicrously low stakes side quests while the end of the world approaches.

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In this instance Lara is chasing an artifact that can grant immortality but the supernatural side of things doesn’t really come into play before the final third. Until then you are taking out an army of mercenaries and trying to beat their leaders to the artifact. The story is so-so to be honest and I saw the main twist coming a mile off but overall it’s an enjoyable campaign to play through.

In addition to the main missions there are also bigger open world parts of the game which contain the optional side missions I mentioned above. The return of puzzle based Tombs is welcome as the ones I completed were a nice distraction from the main path but didn’t take too long to finish.

There are robust skill and crafting trees, which is cool and lets you build your own version of Lara that can play to your own gameplay strengths. Likewise Lara has a selection of different outfits that each come with a stat boost, 10% more melee damage for example, so you can really shape the character to your playstyle.

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While Rise of The Tomb Raider doesn’t have the impact of the original, it builds on what came before and delivers a really good experience with amazing graphics. Unfortunately it suffers a little from hitting the PS4 after Uncharted 4 and can’t quite match the heights of Nathan Drake and co. Nevertheless it’s a strong title which I’d recommend checking out.

Rating 8/10