GregHorrorShow: Game Awards 2015

GAMES2015 THE WITCHER 3

What a year 2015 was for gaming! I feel like I open my awards post with that every other year but the last twelve months saw the release of some truly astonishing titles. The breadth of titles was stunning and the depth of the games themselves left me wondering when I would get to play everything!

As is always the case there are titles I simply haven’t had time to get to or that I started but only put a small amount of time into. Things like Mad Max, Just Cause 3, Mortal Kombat and Borderlands: The Handsome Jack Collection may well have made it into these awards somewhere but alas not this year.

So as usual let’s delve back into 2014 for a title I missed at the time but ended up being a firm favourite early in 2015…

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MISSED GEM OF 2014

GAMES2015 WOLF

WINNER: Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

I had no real knowledge of the Fable comic series before the announcement of The Wolf Among Us and even then I thought it sounded like a cool premise but wasn’t sure if I’d want to play a game based around it. Having loved The Walking Dead (yes, even the much maligned season two!), I just didn’t know if I could care about a cast of characters in such a far fetched setting… Well, as it turns out I definitely could! You play as Sheriff Bigby, the wolf of the game’s title and fairy tale legend. You are charged with keeping fairy tale characters in check as they settle into life in the real world alongside Humans. They do such a good job of dragging you into this world and it features all the hallmarks of a Telltale game – narrative choice, good writing and memorable characters.

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BEST GAME INNOVATION

GAMES2015 MGS SCORE

WINNER: Metal Gear Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Until Dawn came close to nabbing this award, with the best use of the motion function of the controller in years. In tense moments of the game you are tasked with remaining still and not moving the gamepad. If you do you will be caught/trapped etc. In a game where all the characters can die at any time it led to some extremely tense moments! Life Is Strange‘s unique use of time travel also impressed, just the fact that you could rewind dialogue choices more than once gave you a sense of freedom to explore the possibilities and take your best option. Again, Batman: Arkham Knight might have taken this in another year. I don’t recall a use of audio/visual cues that was as good as it was in Arkham. In addition to the radial wheel to choose missions there was an abundance of in-world feedback that I loved. So many times I’d be on my way somewhere and see or hear something odd, a building on fire or a strange flying shape, that I investigated and suddenly found myself in a side mission. Great stuff. But there is only one game that could take the award for 2015. In a year of amazing games Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain rewrote the rulebook for open world games. There is so much I could say here; the amount of buddies you can take on missions, the customisation of weapons, the base management and so on. It all boils down to one thing: giving players the flexibility to take on missions, or salvage ones gone awry, in their own way. Want to capture that colonel and get his Intel? Go for it. Oh, you’d rather just shoot a rocket launcher at him and jump in a jeep to speed off? Just as valid. Amazing.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn (Don’t Move)
  • Batman (Audio/Visual Cues)
  • Life Is Strange (Improved Rewind Mechanic)

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BEST DLC (CONTENT)

GAMES2015 DESTINY

WINNER: Destiny: The Taken King

There could only really be one winner in this category. With The Taken King, Destiny has been revitalised. With fresh content and a re-working of the game’s original story stuff this really was DLC worth having. New multiplayer maps and modes added extra value to the mix and this was a fantastic addition to the game. DriveClub: Bikes also bought a wealth of new content in the form of Bikes to the game. Another full tour mode, challenges and multiplayer bring a different spin on the original game and for the mid-range price point. If you’re into DriveClub and fancy something different, you can’t really go wrong here. Rocket League has been extremely well supported by the developer with both free and paid for content. I’ve taken advantage of both and found them to be excellent. Sure a lot of it is smaller things like cars/decals etc. but with the new content that allows you to mix it up and make the game more fun (low gravity/huge ball etc.) I feel it’s a worthy nominee. The same can’t really be said for Star Wars: Battlefront but it’s the only other DLC I played this year. A free addition that gives you a new map and few new game modes, it’s perfectly fine and apparently more free content is coming.

RUNNERS UP:

  • DriveClub: Bikes
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Rocket League

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THE JOE DANGER AWARD

GAMES2015 ROCKET LEAGUE

WINNER: Rocket League

This was previously my Best Downloadable Only Game category but it kind of felt redundant, with so many great games in the spirit of the award also getting physical releases. So from here on out The Joe Danger Award will be for games that are mid level price but captured my attention in terms of hours spent playing or polish. This year the award came down to a head-to-head between Life Is Strange and Rocket League. As much as I enjoyed Helldivers it didn’t stick with me and Steins;Gate is awesome but it just doesn’t fly in the same way as the two frontrunners. In the end I have to give it to Rocket League – I had no expectations for that game and it pretty much took over my gaming schedule for the entire Summer! With no story or characters to divide opinion, Rocket League seemed to be enjoyed by everyone that played it and for good reason.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Steins;gate
  • Helldivers

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MOST ANTICIPATED GAME OF 2016

GAMES2015 UC4

WINNER: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Well because of its delay in 2015 through to Spring of 2016, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes this award for the second year in a row. I love the Uncharted series and the footage that has been released, along with the multiplayer beta I played before Christmas (footage here) have stoked the flames even more. I can’t wait for this… No Man’s Sky was a runner up in this category back in 2013, another game that has been confirmed for 2016. This space exploration sim looks set to explode this year as gamers clamour to name new planets and creatures. Should be good fun! I couldn’t get enough of Persona 4 Golden a few years back so the sequel, Persona 5, is big news for me. I look forward to building up those Social Links all over again! I also think Horizon: Zero Dawn looks astounding, and the creators of Killzone are well worth backing in their new game universe. Another one to look forward to in 2016.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Persona 5
  • No Man’s Sky

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BEST GAME TRAILER

WINNER: Star Wars Battlefront

As someone who isn’t even a Star Wars it was a surprise just how much of an effect that Battlefront trailer had. I suppose everything Star Wars is so much a part of pop culture’s make up that just seeing the characters and hearing the music triggered my brain – nonetheless it’s a great trailer that was the best I saw this year. I’ve been hoping for a second installment of Dishonored and it was finally revealed at E3, with the awesome news that this time out you’ll be playing as Emily Kaldwin – hopefully it can live up to the trailer, which is the same thing I’m hoping for Hitman. This game looks amazing graphically and I really enjoyed the last one. With the PS4’s improved sharing functionality, this could be a game that benefits and the trailer does a good job of giving a glimpse of the world that awaits. I was always going to get Fallout 4 but I thought this trailer was really well done and deserves a spot on the list.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Fallout 4
  • Dishonored 2
  • Hitman

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BEST VITA GAME

GAMES2015 helldivers

WINNER: Helldivers

My Vita was sadly underused for new titles during 2015. I had a lot of game time on the handheld but it was mostly spent playing older titles I’d missed – things like Persona 3, Muramasa Rebirth, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and the previously mentioned Wolf Among Us. So unfortunately most of the new stuff I played didn’t get a huge amount of screen time. I really enjoyed my time with Helldivers and thought it was a great port. It ran fine for me and I used it offline to level up my character before logging in when possible to update it. Steins;Gate has been really cool so far but I’m under 10 hrs in and don’t feel I can give it the award without having seen the whole story. I also thought Broken Age was impressive – it looked gorgeous and had a very engaging setting. Some of the puzzles were a little bit taxing for me but I’ve never been that strong on logic stuff in games. Olli Olli 2 was more of the same but why change a working formula? The introduction of manuals gave a further level of control to an already difficult, but fulfilling, game.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Broken Age
  • SteinsGate
  • Olli Olli 2

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BEST GRAPHICS

GAMES2015 BATTLEFRONT

WINNER: Star Wars: Battlefront

That Star Wars Battlefront trailer that you watched above? Most people dismissed it as CGI and said the game would never look that good. It looks that good. No question. Fair enough the game only has four environments but they are jaw droppingly stunning. The fact that The Order: 1886 didn’t win this category is still a surprise to me. I just didn’t see anything surpassing it, least of all a multiplayer title. But don’t let that detract from Sony Santa Monica’s eye melting depiction of an alternate history Whitechapel in the late 19th century. It has to be seen to be believed at times and while the gameplay wasn’t great, the graphics certainly were. Until Dawn had some ridiculously good facial capture and looked absolutely gorgeous, both in terms of the characters and the environments. Another game that had fantastic environments was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which at times looked unreal – especially with it’s day/night and weather cycles.

RUNNERS UP:

  • The Order: 1886
  • Until Dawn
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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BEST STORYLINE

Life Is Strange 2

WINNER: Life Is Strange

I seem to be in the minority when talking about the story of Batman: Arkham Knight. I enjoyed Rocksteady’s final hurrah with this character and found the tales told over the course of the game to be fun and interesting. Although I should also say it was mostly the side stuff that held my interest, the main storyline not so much. Until Dawn was another story I enjoyed – the mix of main storyline and background information found via collectibles was great and felt natural. The Order: 1886 told a solid story and was possibly the best written of the bunch this year. It’s such a shame everyone focused on the, supposedly, short play time of the game and not it’s positive aspects. Which brings us to the winner of this category, Life Is Strange. What a story. This was one full of twists I didn’t see coming and with some lovely character moments. Max’s story is well told and something that everyone can relate to, even if you’re not a teenage girl yourself.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn
  • The Order: 1886
  • Batman: Arkham Knight

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BEST MUSIC (SCORE)

GAMES2015 MGS GOTY

WINNER: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

It wasn’t a huge year for music scores in the games I played. I enjoyed Life Is Strange‘s incidental music a lot and Batman: Arkham Knight had some powerful cues that really lent some atmosphere to the events on screen. Jason Graves delivered with Until Dawn and had me jumping out of my skin on several occasions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes it though – some of the score when out on missions is fantastic and that music when you’re preparing for a mission is insanely good. I have high hopes for this category next year with titles like Uncharted 4, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Rise Of The Tomb Raider and Horizon: Zero Dawn hitting the PS4.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Until Dawn
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Life Is Strange

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BEST MUSIC (LICENSED)

GAMES2015 LIFE IS STRANGE

WINNER: Life Is Strange

Battlefield: Hardline set the bar for licensed soundtracks early in the year with songs by Jamie N Commons, Public Enemy, Judas Priest, Run The Jewels and The Clash before being usurped by the 80’s-fest that was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain which included artists like Hall and Oates, Kajagoogoo, Kim Wilde, A-Ha and The Cure. The use of them in game was great as well, which made a huge difference. Battlefront had the benefit of licensing in some of the most well known film score in history. Those songs just fire something up in people and add a huge amount to the experience of playing the game. But the winner here is undoubtedly Life Is Strange, which has an array of fantastic music from artists like Syd Matters, Amanda Palmer, Sparklehorse and Foals. It all suits the game so well and the opening of the game is possibly the best use of music I’ve seen in a game. It’s flawlessly executed and helped me fall in love with the game even more.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Battlefield: Hardline
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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BEST VOICE ACTING

Until Dawn Main

WINNER: Until Dawn

It makes a change when looking at the best voice acting category to have a selection of games NOT featuring Nolan North or Troy Baker! As great as those two are we have some fresh blood. First up I want to give a shout out to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and in particular the twins Evie (Victoria Atkin) and Jacob Frye (Paul Amos). Both compliment each other really well and it’s a refreshing change to have such engaging lead characters in the series. Also props to Battlefield Hardline, which I felt was a little overlooked in 2015. I liked the episodic TV format of the game and thought the voice performances were strong – especially Adam Harrington and Travis Willingham. Life is Strange nearly took this category with some wonderful work from Ashly Burch and Hannah Telle, as Max and Chloe, but in the end I had to go with Until Dawn. The game has a fantastic cast and some memorable dialogue that is delivered pitch perfect. Hayden Panettiere is great as Sam and Brett Dalton gives a good performance as Mike. For me though the best two lines were from Galadriel Stineman’s Ashley (“What are you tweeting? Hashtag there’s a freaking ghost after us!”) and Nichole Bloom’s Emily (“Understand the palm of my hand, bitch!”). Wonderful stuff that really added depth to the characters.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Battlefield: Hardline
  • Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

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SINGLE PLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

Life Is Strange Main

WINNER: Life Is Strange

I haven’t finished The Witcher 3 but have played enough to know it’s deserving of a place on this list. I never had a chance to experience the previous games in the series as they were PC only but that didn’t seem to hold me back at all. The Witcher 3 has an in depth and interesting combat system that takes into account potions and well as sword-play. It can be challenging at times but is definitely worth sticking with, complimented by some cool story beats and side missions. As I mentioned earlier, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain took the opening world genre and redefined it. While it’s story wasn’t strong, I felt gameplay wise this was possibly the best thing I played this year. Until Dawn was also an absolute blast, which is surprising coming from someone who is not into the horror genre at all. I’m still annoyed about my ending to that game, thinking about the characters I lost, which is always one of the signs of a great game. The winner of this year’s award is another game that stuck with me for weeks after I’d finished it. Life Is Strange sucked me in like no other game this year. The mix of setting, characters, music, story and gameplay had me hooked from the very first episode. Seeing your choices make a difference, no matter how big or small, was always cool and some of those cliffhanger endings to episodes were jaw dropping. Checking the online stats and seeing how many people made different decisions was an eye opener. An amazing game, I can’t wait to see what comes next from the developer.

RUNNERS UP:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Until Dawn
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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MULTIPLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

GAMES2015 ROCKET LEAGUE 2

WINNER:  Rocket League

It was a much improved year for multiplayer gaming, with Destiny continuing to satisfy and increasing the level of content with The Taken King expansion. I had a great time with the game in 2015, jumping on to do a few Daily Challenges in the multiplayer Crucible modes. It remains the best shooter currently out there, the handling and control I would say are on a par with my other favourite FPS series, Killzone. At the other end of the spectrum we had Star Wars Battlefront, which was aimed at a much more casual market. With looser shooting and helpful mechanics like no reloading, Battlefront might have been something you could dismiss but DICE do a stunning job of creating the most authentic Star Wars experience out there. Now, admittedly, that is the view of a non-Star Wars fan but for me when you look around the battlefield and see Storm Troopers, AT-ATs and then that music swells as Luke Skywalker bursts round the corner… Well that’s Star Wars and it works. I still feel Metal Gear Solid Online was a little under-appreciated this year but then again I’ve been waiting years for a good SOCOM style multiplayer shooter so I was always going to like this. Having said all that the game that dominated my online time in 2015 was a football game. And it wasn’t FIFA 16. The award for best multiplayer goes to Rocket League, a game in which you play football (soccer) with cars. It sounds simple because it is but the developers nailed the control of the cars and the way the ball reacts. Scoring a goal is quite something else in Rocket League. This was the most fun I had this year online and the game also posed a great challenge as I started to get better at controlling the cars. And that’s the amazing thing about Rocket League – you can be good, bad or great. You can pick up a pad for the first time and play the game, having just as much fun as a seasoned veteran. It’s easy to get into, tough to master and generally an all round excellent game.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Metal Gear Solid Online
  • Star Wars: Battlefront
  • Destiny: The Taken King

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GAME OF THE YEAR

GAMES2015 MGS INNOVATION

WINNER: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

As I said at the start of these awards, it really has been a great year for gaming. It was tough to whittle this list down to four and even tougher to decide a winner. In the end it could really only be one title though, the game that delivered on both single player and multiplayer fronts. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Hideo Kojima’s swan song at Konami and the final instalment in the Metal Gear series was stellar. A few mis-steps aside (would’ve preferred keeping voice actor David Hayter as Snake and well, the less said about Quiet’s outfit the better) it was a masterpiece and has given other developers of open world games a lot to think about. The sheer flexibility of the game is unreal – what would be a ‘Game Over’ screen and restart in other titles (including previous Metal Gear titles) is here a chance to try and salvage the mission by improvising. The AI is clever enough but never feels unfairly advanced or, equally, too stupid. The online is also an achievement, with the slick control from single player coming over. Add into the mix the Fulton system and how that effects things in Bounty Hunter mode and you have mechanics that keep the game interesting beyond your usual 3rd person shooter stuff. This is the best game of 2015 overall and a worthy winner.

RUNNERS UP:

  • Life Is Strange
  • Until Dawn
  • Rocket League

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So there you have it! 2015 is done and we can now look forward to 2016, which is shaping up to be another big year for games. Titles like Uncharted 4, Deus Ex, No Man’s Sky, Hitman, The Last Guardian, Gravity Rush 2 and The Division, among others, will be hitting and I can’t wait! It’s a great time to be a gamer and I’m already wondering which of 2016’s titles will make the list next time out!

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Batman: Arkham Knight – Review (PS4)

Batman AK Main

Rocksteady had a real job on its hands back in the late 2000’s – superhero games were generally very poor and the developer had been tasked with delivering a new Batman game. It was a challenge they relished and they ended up revitalizing the game genre, with seamless combat and tight scripted encounters, in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The second game in the series, Arkham City, opened the game world up to a part of Gotham and laid the groundwork for the latest instalment. 2015’s Batman: Arkham Knight is the culmination of Rocksteady’s trilogy of Batman games and a showcase for the graphical capabilities of the new generation of consoles.

Set a year after the events of the previous game, Arkham Knight sees Scarecrow threatening to release a poisonous toxin throughout Gotham. When another, previously unknown, villain – the titular Arkham Knight – lends his weight to Scarecrow’s campaign of terror, it becomes apparent Batman is going to have his hands full. Luckily you’re not on your own, Alfred, Oracle, Robin and more are on hand to offer assistance.

Batman AK 1

In the panic and chaos, all of Batman’s greatest enemies come out of the woodwork to take advantage. These villains could easily have been written in throughout the story but are instead optional side content, called ‘Most Wanted’ missions. I felt that this was one of the strongest aspects of the game, as it allowed you to delve into Batman’s relationship with those villains when you wanted to and gave you a choice as to how far you wanted to pursue them. Each villain has 4 or more missions each before you finally get to bring them to justice.

I really enjoyed the side content in Arkham Knight, even more so for the fact that along with specifically choosing to do a side mission, you might just stumble across them because the game does a great job of delivering on visual/audio cues that you might naturally gravitate towards out of curiosity. It felt really great when, for example, I noticed a building on fire in the distance and went to investigate. When I got there it triggered the option to start a Most Wanted mission. Very cool.

My main complaint of the game was the way the Batmobile was handled. Introduced as a new way of getting around Gotham, it does a serviceable job – although I preferred to just glide over the city which was just as quick, in my opinion. Unfortunately the controls never quite felt right for me, with L2 switching the vehicle to ‘Battle Mode’, as opposed to braking – which is usually L2’s function for car based control in other games. It led to numerous occasions where I ended up failing a mission because, in the heat of the moment, I instinctively hit L2 to brake and instead the Batmobile came to a stop and transformed into a tank.

Batman AK 2

There are needlessly large car battles and even stealth Batmobile sections, both of which felt clunky and always seemed to break the pacing of the game. At one stage I almost walked away from the game entirely after an extremely draining chunk of time trying to finish one mission. Frustrating doesn’t cover it, especially as for most of the game you feel powerful and in control of combat – the Batmobile stuff just didn’t really work, sadly.

Thankfully that is the only real complaint I had with Batman: Arkham Knight, for the majority of the game I was having a blast and another of the new mechanics, Fear Takedowns, was a big reason. This ability allows you to cherry pick enemies to take out in order. Time stops and as you select targets Batman will automatically knock them out. As you upgrade the ability you can string more attacks together, mainly to be used for face to face combat. This means you can stalk your enemies first, taking them out with stealth attacks, and then confront the last four or five, taking them out immediately in quick succession.

Rocksteady do a fine job of bringing all of the Batman characters that you know and love into the final chapter of their trilogy. I’m not a big fan of Batman but I knew most of the characters here and even the ones I didn’t had interesting enough missions that I got to learn a little about them. There is a huge amount of content in the game, my playthrough was probably around 16-18 hours but that was doing a fair chunk of side content. I had finished the main storyline and completed almost half of the Most Wanted missions with an overall completion stat of 69%, so that gives you an idea of how much is here.

Batman AK 3

As much as I loved Arkham Asylum, for me Arkham Knight is a superior game overall. Not as ground breaking as the first title in the series but more fleshed out in terms of game world and content. To have the freedom of Gotham to explore, stumbling across villain missions or just taking in the (gorgeous) sights of the broken city, is a wonderful thing. This is a game to take your time with, to savour your surroundings and the world Rocksteady have created. Unfortunately a lot of the pacing and general enjoyment is ruined by the Batmobile missions – they are forced on you too much and leave a bad, frustrating, taste. Arkham Knight is the ultimate Batman game but be prepared to suffer through a few sections to be able to appreciate it all.

Rating: 8/10

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GregHorrorShow’s Guide To Gaming – Part 4: The Parent Edition

Guide Vol 4 Parents Main

So your kids are getting bigger, becoming small people with personalities and tastes of their own🙂 All of a sudden they are asking about games… all their friends are playing games… can we get a console… can I play on the iPad… and so on and so forth. There is a hell of a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there with regards to games so we are going to discuss some of the stigmas around games and bust a few myths while we are at it.

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PEGI RATINGS

Guide Vol 4 Parents Ratings

So first things first, the most basic of all the information I have to share but also the most commonly misinterpreted. Most games aren’t made for children. That’s the best thing to get your head around. The average age of gamers is now 31. Unless it’s a game aimed at children, presume this was intended for adults to play. PEGI (Pan European Game Information) are the game equivalent of the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) for films. The age rating on the box of a game is the same as it would be for Film or TV. It is NOT a guide to the ability of your child like a puzzle or board game. These ratings are content based, not skill based. I once overheard a lady in a shop who had made this mistake and was considering buying her 10 year old son a copy of an 18+ rated game because ‘he is really good at games.’ Thankfully the shop assistant explained. So always check these ratings before allowing your child to play a game. Of course there is nothing to stop you allowing your child to play a higher rated game if you feel they are mature enough to handle it, that’s your call – my 4 year old daughter often played Skylanders with her bigger sister which was rated as 7+ and we had no issues. However, it should be a decision you make rather than just getting whatever game they ask for.

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PLAY TIME

Guide Vol 4 Parents Time

Gaming is no different to any other medium; a child should not be sitting down and playing their console all day. To be honest, adults shouldn’t be doing that but they are old enough to look after themselves! I wouldn’t recommend a child sits and watches TV all day, or just sits in a room reading a book all day. I’d also strongly advise against having a console in their bedroom so you can keep an eye on what they are playing but again that’s a personal parental decision. Most things in moderation are ok and gaming is no different. Make sure you explain to them what time you’re allowing (45 mins or an hour etc.) and then stick to it. You should allow a little leeway; say 5 minutes to get to a suitable stopping point. Most games now auto-save very regularly so don’t let them fob you off with tales of having to get to a save point. If they insist try googling the game to see if doesn’t have auto-save, just in case.

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IPAD / TABLET GAMING

Guide Vol 4 Parents IPad

My area of expertise is console gaming and I don’t have a lot of experience with iPad/Tablet games so my main advice is to be super vigilant. On consoles you would need to have a credit card linked to your PlayStation or XBox to buy anything. On phones it’s a lot easier for kids to accidentally rack up costs (often without realising it). Sadly the mobile gaming space is full of titles made with the aim of getting you to pay money. Beware of Free To Play titles, they are specifically designed to prey on people susceptible to gambling/addiction by making the game ramp up in difficulty or locking things behind a timer – “Wait two days to play again or just pay 79p to jump straight back in.” These games can be very dangerous to the wrong personalities (adults included) and can often be as bad as fruit machines. Best thing to do would be to check around online and see which games are rated highly for kids. Having said that even that can’t protect you from the stream of ads running alongside the game… a well-known kids app called Talking Tom (with a cute speaking cat you interact with) hit the headlines for running hard-core porn video ads in the game while children were playing. This thing is mainly avoidable on consoles as most products don’t have random ads running in the background.

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CONSOLES

So you’ve been beaten into submission and now you’re looking to get a console! But which one? Well fortunately you only really have three choices and two of them are very similar.

Nintendo Wii-U

Guide Vol 4 Parents Wii U

Nintendo are often kid’s first game experiences as they are very family friendly. Games like Mario Kart, Donkey Kong and Legend Of Zelda have great heritage and with new titles like Splatoon, they are still delivering solid kids content. The only issue you may have here is that a lot of other companies have stopped making games for it so it is mainly just those Nintendo games you’ll be playing.

XBox / Playstation

Guide Vol 4 Parents XB-PS

For younger kids you might be able to get away with giving them the older consoles (XBox 360 and PlayStation 3) which both have a wealth of back catalogue games and, while not quite up to the standard of the latest titles, will be great for playing lots of awesome games. However as they get older and need to keep up with the Jones’s, you’ll be looking more at the XBox One or PlayStation 4. These two are fairly similar and it will probably come down to what your kids friends are playing on. I’ve always preferred PlayStation, which also has the benefit of being market leader and getting the best versions of most games. Also there’s LittleBigPlanet, but more on that later!

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TOYS TO LIFE

Guide Vol 4 Parents Toys

There is a new kid on the block in terms of games for youngsters – Toys To Life. This genre encompasses heavyweights like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and the newly announced Lego Dimensions. These games are played like others with a gamepad but the difference is that they come with a little portal. You pop the toys on top of the portal and then they appear in game for you to control. It’s pretty awesome actually, I would’ve loved this for my He-Man or Ghostbusters back in the day! My (gentle) warning on these games is not the content – they are definitely kid friendly – but more the fact of knowing what you are investing in. These games are full price (usually with a toy or two) and then further toy figures are around £10 each. Some (optional) areas of the game can only be accessed by specific characters and as you can imagine the cost can escalate quickly, especially if your kids have more than one of these titles!

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SUITABLE GAMES

Guide Vol 4 Parents Tearaway

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games out there that your kids could play. Make sure you research titles before allowing them to play. Here are a few titles that I’d recommend.

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Under 5’s

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  • Joe Danger
  • Super Rub A Dub
  • Katamari
  • Skylanders
  • Disney Infinity
  • Octodad (this is actually really difficult but the kids love the comedy element)

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These games should always be simple and not too complicated so the child doesn’t get too frustrated – I’d strongly recommend Joe Danger (video above) and Katamari from this list as they can be played on a basic level with just one or two buttons. And both are great fun!

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5-12 Years

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  • Skylanders
  • Disney Infinity
  • Minecraft (more on that below)
  • FIFA Soccer
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Various Lego Titles (Batman/Avengers etc.)
  • DriveClub
  • Child Of Light
  • Tearaway

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There are some wonderful games in this list – LittleBigPlanet is shown above but Tearaway is also amazing and for something a little deeper Child Of Light is unbelievably good. These are games that both children and adults can enjoy (together if you’d like!)

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The ‘Teens’ .

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  • Destiny
  • Uncharted
  • Need For Speed
  • Mass Effect
  • Journey

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So included here are a bunch of game series that are higher rated age-wise and deal with violence but with a more sci-fi slant that isn’t going for realism. Another series in this vein is Uncharted, which is more like Indiana Jones than anything else. Also worth noting that Mass Effect contains (non-explicit) sexual content as you can romance a member of your crew, just in case that influences your decision.

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BIG NAMES

Guide Vol 4 Parents Minecraft

And now we come to the big names, the ones the kids will be begging to play.

PLEASE NOTE SOME OF THE VIDEOS BELOW CONTAIN EXTREMELY VIOLENT GRAPHIC CONTENT – I AM EMBEDDING THEM BELOW TO HIGHLIGHT POTENTIAL GAME CONTENT BUT CLICK AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION. .

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Minecraft

Minecraft is great for most children, it encourages building and exploration. Some of the enemies might be too much for very young children but I’d say this one is generally ok for most age groups.

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Call Of Duty

Call Of Duty is a huge franchise in which you play as a soldier killing other people. There are two elements to the game, single player and online. The online multiplayer is where they will likely be playing, in modes where killing the other players is the name of the game (literally, it’s called Deathmatch!). This tends to not be too graphic, although bear in mind you will be shooting and stabbing people. The other issue is online chat, although I’ll go more into that below. The other side of the game is the campaign in which you would play through the story. Known for its shocking violence these can sometimes be tough to watch as an adult – for example an interrogation scene in which you put glass into a man’s mouth and then crush it by punching him in the face. It’s probably most infamous for its ‘No Russian’ that sees you take part in a terrorist attack at an airport, shooting civilians. Footage below so you can see for yourself…

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Assassin’s Creed

The Assassin’s Creed games all take place in different eras of history (1400’s Italy, 1700’s Paris and 1800’s London for example). This means they can give a feel for those places at that time and you can visit recreated landmarks and go inside (Notre Dame was particularly impressive!). However, as the name suggests you will be tasked with killing targets as part of an overall Templar/Assassin storyline. Usually using blades, although guns do feature, this is probably the least graphic of the biggest games but still I wouldn’t really recommend for kids younger than 15, depending on the child of course.

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Mortal Kombat

And now I’m afraid I’m going to be really hypocritical. Let me explain. The original Mortal Kombat came out in 1993, when I was just 13. And we played it for hours at friend’s houses. While not quite as graphically impressive as games nowadays it still allowed you to perform brutal finishing moves on opponents and was, no doubt, not suitable for a 13 year old. Having said that it didn’t seem to do me any harm but I digress… The latest installment of Mortal Kombat is the tenth in the series and the games have leaned even more into the gross-out over the top finishing moves than ever before. As an adult I can differentiate between this type of ‘video-nasty’ horror/violence and real life, knowing that these moves are displayed tongue in cheek. However parents should be aware that although this verges on satire, they are still extremely, graphically, violent. Again, here’s a video showing a few of the moves in the latest game.

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Grand Theft Auto

Ah Grand Theft Auto – the bane of game headlines around the world! First let’s bust a few myths.

‘This game makes you sleep with a prostitute and then kill her to get your money back’

While this is possible in the game it is never requested as part of a mission nor are you asked to do so. The logistics of that statement are correct but this is player agency, you aren’t asked to do this.

‘Playing this game turned this kid into a killer.’

From all of the research I’ve read there has never been a proven link between games and real life killing. I strongly suspect playing GTA all day every day is going to do the player no favours, in the same way sitting and watching video nasties would potentially warp someone’s perception of the real world.

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The Grand Theft Auto games are violent, involve crime and come with a lot of baggage in terms of cultural experience. This means a whole lot of swearing (including the c-word) and possibly the most racial slurs/slang I’ve ever heard in a game. The most recent game also includes a torture scene in which you select which ‘instrument’ (pliers, wrench etc.) to use for most damage. Here’s the scene below, again it’s a tough watch but you should know what you’re letting your children get involved in.

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The irony of all this is that Grand Theft Auto is a superb game. It has furthered the media in so many ways. For all of the above negative points it is unrivaled in creating a lifelike vibrant city with an endless stream of things to do for the player. You can go to the cinema, play golf… even get a haircut or tattoo. The radio stations in the game allow players to discover new types of music and bands they may never have heard before. This game, all of the games in this section are great games. I’ve enjoyed playing them but as an adult. Not a child.

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ONLINE GAMING

Guide Vol 4 Parents Headset

Another thing parents should be aware of is online gaming in general. Gamers are able to communicate with game headsets so that they can talk to other players while in game. This can be a good thing, socially especially, and is a helpful feature when playing with friends. However you need to bear in mind that if your child is using a headset to talk to other gamers they could, literally, be talking to anyone. They could (and sadly probably will) hear abusive phrases thrown around casually. Racist slurs, homophobic slurs. It’s the same as being on the internet – if you let your child visit whatever sites are available and talk to people they don’t know there is a chance they could end up talking with some quite unsavoury characters. This isn’t a reason to panic but try to ensure they understand the dangers and, if possible, only use a headset to talk to people they know.

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So that’s pretty much it, I know it’s a *long* piece but I’ve been asked by enough people that it felt something like this could be helpful to fellow parents who aren’t as aware of games.

If you do have any other questions feel free to drop them in the comments or, of course, e-mail or tweet me. In the meantime feel free to share among fellow parents and anyone who might appreciate a heads up.

The main takeaway should be that games are not made exclusively for children but that they aren’t inherently bad for kids either. Be aware of what they are playing and monitor their progress.

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Alien Isolation – Review (PS4)

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So here we are again, another console generation and another Alien game. Isolation promised an experience much closer to the original film and pre-release material looked great. However as someone who got burnt by Alien vs Predator and Colonial Marines, I was reluctant to let the hype carry me away. Could Creative Assembly be the first developer in decades to nail an Alien game?

Picking up in 2137, between the events of Alien and Aliens, Isolation sees you take on the role of Amanda Ripley – the daughter of general badass Ellen Ripley. With Ellen still missing, a flight recorder from her ship Nostromo is discovered and Amanda heads to Sevastopol, the space station that has the recorder, to get some answers. And that’s where we pick up the story, playing as Amanda from a first person perspective.

The first thing you’ll notice is the presentation. From the opening boot up sequence, featuring some wonderful retro logos, to the in game world, everything has been crafted with a level of dedication that shows a real love for the universe. As you make your way through the levels you’ll find yourself taken in by how good your surroundings look. Of course, you’d expect a high level of fidelity and detail when dealing with enclosed spaces and corridors like this but that doesn’t mean its any less impressive. The fire in the game looks especially good and while character models can sometimes look a little off facially, Isolation is a pretty good looking game.

Alien Isolation 1

Another thing to note is that while Isolation is a first person game that features guns, flamethrowers and other weapons, it is not a shooter. This is a horror game, pure and simple. You will spend a lot of time hiding and almost all of the game crouch-walking slowly around areas. While Amanda can handle herself against human and android enemies (although even those can kill you quickly) the Alien itself is not killable, or at least certainly not with the tools you have at your disposal. It will also kill you in one hit, often from behind. These mini cut scenes are great, for example the first you might know about it is suddenly losing control of Amanda and she looks down to see the tail of the Alien break through her chest! That means if you hear it nearby you’ll need to find somewhere to hide or set up a distraction.

The Alien is well designed and uses the games artificial intelligence to learn your patterns, which is really cool (but terrifying). If you keep hiding in lockers the Alien will check them first when looking for you. Same goes for hiding under desks or in cabinets. It’s a clever mechanic and doesn’t feel unfair, it’s something that adds a bit more tension to proceedings. The amount of times I was hiding somewhere only to see the Alien slowly stalk passed outside, I was literally holding my breath.

As someone who doesn’t really like horror games with jump scares (I survived about 20 minutes of Outlast before turning it off and let’s not mention P.T…) I found this to be a great experience. The issue I had was that it was so intense I could only play an hour or so at a time. Which is why it’s taken me months to finish it (apologies @lefty_flip!). And that brings me to my main complaint about the game, it’s length. It is quite rare these days for a game to be too long but unfortunately Alien Isolation out stays its welcome by a good few hours. Clocking in at around 20 hours, it was just too draining. Also a few of those missions before the game ramps up at the end really felt like filler and there was a lot of ‘go to this door, try the handle, power’s out, track back across the map to turn it back on, and return to the door’ type stuff. And all the while you’re being hunted by an AI clever Alien. It just felt too long.

Alien Isolation 2

The other issue was that the game lost any suspense when failing areas. If you could get through them on your first or second attempt it was an exhilarating ride. However repeated deaths led to instances where you ended up just running here and there with pinpoint accuracy. I’m not really sure what the solution would be for that but it definitely shattered the carefully crafted illusion of the game on several occasions for me.

I quite liked the story but there were a few issues and the ending seemed to have a few gaping plot holes, which had me reaching for the internet. The characters felt quite well formed and Ripley herself was a decent protagonist. Even though I knew from the films what had happened to Ellen Ripley it still felt interesting and important when Amanda discovered new pieces of information.

In addition to the main campaign there is also Survivor mode, whereby you attempt to escape through levels as quickly as possible while doing optional side objectives to increase your score. You are given a time limit (30 minutes for example) in which to escape and the whole thing feels even more claustrophobic than the campaign. Having a timer running in the top corner adds even more pressure. I couldn’t even beat the first of these challenges so I suspect they are for more hardened/skilled players or people looking to play more of the game without replaying the story.

Alien Isolation 3

It has been years since the last decent Alien game – Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation (1996) and Alien 3 on Sega MegaDrive (1993) come to mind as stand out titles – but Alien Isolation is the best we’ve had for a long time. It captures the feel of that first film perfectly and while it has some issues with plot and overall length, this is recommended – especially if you’re a fan of the Alien universe.

Rating: 8/10

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Battlefield: Hardline – Review (PS4)

Hardline Main

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.

Hardline 2

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.

Hardline 3

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)

TheOrder Main

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?

TheOrder 1

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

PlayingItWrongMain

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.

PlayingItWrong2

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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