GregHorrorShow’s Year In Gaming 2020

As we ease ourselves into 2021, it’s a great time to reflect on the last year of gaming. As always this isn’t a piece about the games that came out in 2020 but the titles I played throughout the year.

Starting with some older titles, I finally picked up and made a start on the excellent Celeste, a challenging puzzle/platformer with a wonderful art style/music. I really enjoyed Absolver, a title that lets you customise your fighting style/stance as you progress through the game. Exploring the game world was peaceful and it was another game with a decent sense of challenge. I’d had my eye on Dex for a while, an old school looking Cyberpunk RPG title – while I’m far from finishing it, I’d recommend giving it a whirl if you like that genre.

Erica is a title that is all film footage, you make your choice of what to do and the next scene plays until you get to the end of the story. I quite enjoyed it, although there seemed to be a fair few plot holes unfortunately. Close To The Sun tells the story of Rose Archer, a journalist searching for her sister on a vast ship. It’s 1897 and set in an alternate universe where Telsa and Edison are vying for dominance of the science world. It’s essentially a first person horror title with some neat jump scares and tricks up its sleeve. Again the story ended up with some gaping plot holes but it was a fun 8-10 hours. A game I adored was Sayonara Wild Hearts, a rhythm action game with a killer synth pop soundtrack. Highly recommended.

Last year I also ended up doing something I rarely do, replaying old games – or at least the remastered versions. I played through Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (which was a great walk down memory lane) and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which had some fun moments but didn’t really do it for me). A title that came packed in with the PS5 was Astro’s Playroom, a love letter to the PlayStation brand and stellar showcase of the new PS5 controller. This is one of my highlights of the year, such fun and a lovely look back at the previous four PlayStation generations.

PES 2021 was a minor update to the series but the gameplay remains strong and I got into NBA 2K20 as well via PlayStation Plus. Dirt 5 was, without doubt, the best feeling racer I’ve played in the last few years and the free PS5 upgrade was a great touch.

On the multiplayer front I tried HyperScape, Ubisoft’s battle royale offering, but it didn’t really stick for me. I was happy to switch between Call Of Duty: Warzone and Fortnite for my fix of large numbers of players jumping out of planes. I stuck a fair bit of time into Red Dead Online, the recently added character specialisations (I went for nature photographer) bring some new life to the game beyond just wild west shoot outs.

In terms of ongoing games Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League, Battlefield V and Destiny 2 all kept things ticking along nicely by either running regular events or giving the entire game a fresh lick of paint. All remain immensely playable and highly recommendable, especially as they still have high player counts and it’s easy/quick to get into a match.

But my favourite multiplayer game of 2020 has to be Fall Guys. Out of nowhere came this insane bundle of joy. Mixing a battle royale format with ‘It’s a knockout’ style games was a winning recipe. I am still yet to claim a show victory, despite my best efforts, but Fall Guys is a title I’ll no doubt return to again and again.

In terms of bigger, longer games I really liked A Plague Tale: Innocence – the story of a brother and sister trying to escape the clutches of the Inquisition that also has a supernatural twist. Dishonored: Death Of The Outsider is definitely substantial enough to be considered stand alone, in my opinion. A great story well told and another excuse to visit one of the most stylish game worlds of recent times. I’ve only recently started The Outer Worlds but after 8 or so hours I’m really enjoying it so far!

Unfortunately, while I was loving Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey finding out I was only halfway through when 35 hours into it meant my playthrough ended there. I had been ready for things to wrap up but couldn’t face another huge chunk of time, sadly. I recently started Ghost Of Tsushima (on PS5) and it is a glorious looking game. I like the way it plays and am finding roaming the game world to be quite laid back. I’m also playing it with the Japanese language option, which is cool. So far, it’s a great game.

One huge title I did finish was Death Stranding. While I think it was 3 or 4 hours too long, the story was nonsensical and some of the dialogue was not great, I did actually really enjoy it. Traversing the world and exploring was fun and fairly peaceful. Walking everywhere didn’t seem too much of an issue when played in short bursts of a couple of hours. I’m interested to see what Kojima comes up with next.

Which brings us to the title I’ve given my game of the year award to – The Last Of Us Part II. Expectations were high for this one, the first game is a masterpiece in my eyes and so there were questions as to whether Naughty Dog could deliver. Deliver they did, in terms of story, gameplay and technical achievement. I haven’t played many games like this where you are forced into making bad choices or doing bad things by the characters. You’re complicit with each button press. This isn’t a fun, easy play. The violence is brutal and at one late stage in the game I had to take a break from what was going on. Despite all that it was well worth seeing it through. Without a doubt one of the best games I’ve ever played.

And so there you have it. 2020 in a nutshell – mentions must go to Spiderman: Miles Morales, Bugsnax and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, unfortunately I simply didn’t get time to put enough hours in with them for consideration here. I’m sure they will be here next year 🙂

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Playstation 5 – Reveal and Games

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On 11th June we finally got a chance to see the Playstation 5 and had an opportunity to see some of the games that will be coming to the console over the next few years.

After Microsoft got some criticism for a lack of games at their new console launch event, Playstation was taking no chances – showing more than 25 titles that would be coming to the PS5. The official Playstation YouTube channel has got all the trailers shown in one playlist HERE if you haven’t seen them already, or want to check out something specific from the below.

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More good news came in the form of backwards compatibility. While not as broad as Microsoft’s offering, Sony confirmed the top 100 PS4 games would be playable on PS5. Obviously it would be great to have everything working backwards but I suppose if you’re limiting your efforts then the top 100 games is a good amount of titles.

I won’t be going too deep on all the titles shown at the event, especially already existing ones, but I thought it would be worth having a look at some of the games that caught my eye during the presentation.

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Let’s start with some game series we were already aware of. Spiderman is back with a stand alone game featuring Miles Morales, which is great. Look forward to going back to the city and slinging some webs! It wouldn’t be a Playstation launch without Gran Turismo and, as usual, the racer looked phenomenal. Ratchet and Clank (above) are back, with a new time/dimension rift mechanic that shows off what the PS5 can do.

Sackboy returns in his Big Adventure, which should be fun. The trailer looked colourful and the four player co-op could be awesome. I loved the previous games so Hitman III was a highlight for me. More of the same but using the power of PS5 to create even better environments for assassinations! I haven’t been in the world of Resident Evil since game 5 but Resident Evil 8: Village looked interesting and might tempt me back.

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There wasn’t a great deal shown for Project Athia but I thought the trailer, which showed a young woman in a fantasy setting with dragons and magical wolves, looked impressive. I’m not sure whether Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a game I’d pick up, it certainly looked stunning, almost like an animated film but the Pikmin-style gameplay didn’t really interest me. I did love the style of Goodbye Volcano High though, can’t wait to see more about that title.

I thought Ghostwire: Tokyo continued to look encouraging, for me it’ll probably come down to how the game handles and the moment to moment gameplay. Solar Ash had a great sense of style and the developer has made cool stuff in the past. We didn’t really get to see much of what Pragmata was about from the trailer, I enjoyed it but would like to see more on the game and what it actually is.

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Deathloop (above) was the highlight of the show for me. Knowing the studio’s track record with the Dishonored series, I cannot wait to see a similar game in a different setting/world. The trailer exuded Tarantino vibes and I love the look and style of the game. Horizon 2 was also a huge highlight as I loved the first game and can’t wait to see what new things we will be facing off against and exploring. Bugsnax (below) was an unexpected surprise, coming from the makers of the brilliant Octodad. While I don’t know if I will play it personally, my kids are hyped so I expect it to get a lot of playtime in my house!

PS5 Bugsnax

I think Little Devil Inside could be awesome, it looked bizarre enough and stood out from a lot of other titles. Stray, in which you play as a cat in a robot world, looks fantastic and could be brilliant, depending on how the gameplay works. Returnal had an impressive trailer (still can’t decide if I like the game title though!) and anything with a recurring time theme definitely has my attention. The other game to make an impression on me was Destruction Allstars (below). It’s been a while since we had a fun, multiplayer racer so I’m keeping this one firmly on my radar.

PS5 Destruction Allstars

And of course they showed us the actual console, which… wasn’t what I was expecting. Having said that I like the design and don’t have a problem with it being bigger if it means the console is quieter. At times my PS4 sounds like it’s on the verge of taking off! It’s also interesting that there will be a disc-less digital only version as well.

So there you go, all that’s missing is the price. There’s been a lot of talk from Playstation about the value the console will bring, so my thoughts are that it will be expensive. I’d been hoping (perhaps unrealistically given the power of the new consoles) that £399.99 might be an option, or even cheaper, but I suspect we are now looking at £499.99 at launch for the PS5.

We’ll just have to wait and see!

Games As A Sevice – The Future Of Games?

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As technology has advanced, a lot of games have moved away from simply creating a product, selling it and then making extra content to be sold for it in batches. Being able to regularly update games via downloadable patches has meant that titles can now have a lifespan long beyond traditional game releases.

This means that older games like Overwatch (2016), Rainbow Six Siege (2015), For Honor (2017) and Battlefield V (2018) can have very high engagement rates and keep players coming back to discover new content, whether it’s new maps, characters or game modes.

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But as a large amount of titles look to move towards becoming what is known in the industry as ‘Games As A Service’ (GAAS from here onwards), what benefits – and drawbacks, are there for gamers?

One of the biggest positive effects of this trend is the fact that it can really help keep games fresher for longer. Take Overwatch as an example. In the old days, a character based Mega Drive game like Eternal Champions would release and if the characters were unbalanced or disliked you were stuck with the game as it was. Now if a character isn’t being used because people feel they are ineffective (Symmetra in Overwatch, for example) the developers can tweak the character to make them better or, as in the case of Symmetra, completely rework her ability toolset. This allows the game to evolve, rather than being stuck in a static state.

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These changes can help mould the game around the desires of the players. Although it must be said, depending on the game this could also be a negative because pandering to your audience doesn’t always bring the best results.

Something else that often gets raised when talking about GAAS is the ability to bounce back from a rocky release window. As a developer if you continue to support and tweak your title following a negative or disappointing release you can still find an audience. Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor are both great examples of this, titles that struggled at release but have gone on to be very successful and popular titles. On a personal level I started playing Rainbow Six Siege TWO YEARS after it released!

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Another reason people sometimes like GAAS is that you often feel you are getting a lot more value for your money. That depends on the game though, as if you’ve played full price for something you might feel the value proposition is less than a free to play game that gets constant updates.

Which brings us onto the negative aspects. The first of which is the flip side of the final positive point – sometimes GAAS can feel like a complete rip off. If you’ve paid £50 for a game there is an expectation that extra content will arrive without further cost but that often isn’t the case, especially with games that feature microtransactions, even ones just for cosmetic goods. This also plays into the Loot Box conversation and whether blind boxes are ever a good thing. I don’t mind them as a mechanic in games if I can also use in-game (earned) currency to unlock the same items. I do find them a bit sleazy if they are the only mechanic to unlock items.

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Another issue is regarding the care of workers and the people making the game. The more updates and changes the developers have to make, the harder and quicker people are expected to work. This has recently led to a series of articles about the poor work environments on some games:

The developers of the game Cuphead have also announced they are delaying new content exactly for this reason. Although it isn’t a GAAS, I still think this is great. It also leads us to the question of whether a GAAS will ever be truly finished? And if that even matters any more?

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The most valid criticism I’ve heard was actually around the game Overwatch. It was recently leaked that the game will be moving to a 2-2-2 locked format. Currently there are 30 characters formed into three ‘classes’: Damage, Tank and Support. At the moment you can play any characters you want – 6 Supports? No problem (although you’ll likely lose the game). The developers feel that having 2 characters of each class will better balance matches and gameplay.

As someone who plays the game a lot this makes sense to me, a balanced team is more likely to get results and probably has a higher chance of playing closer, enjoyable matches. But where this is a problem (along with the point I made earlier about tweaking and changing characters) is that the game can feel very different and might end up completely unrecognisable to the one you bought at launch and had enjoyed up until the changes. Perhaps you had a favourite character and now, months or years later, they now don’t match your playstyle and have completely different moves and abilities – I can imagine it would be really disappointing.

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So there are definitely positives and negatives to Games As A Service. Most of my experiences so far have been good but I can certainly see why some people might have reservations about them. I think my biggest concern is that every title might try to be a GAAS which would leave gamers worse off both financially and in terms of the actual time we get to play games.

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Top 10 Single Player PS4 Games

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I often get asked to recommend games to people, especially if they have just got a console and are looking to jump into the best games on offer. As the PS4 generation comes to a close I thought it’d be fun to try and whittle down a Top 10 to recommend.

Quick disclaimer, obviously I haven’t played every game out there and some of the well regarded, bigger releases (Spiderman, for example) may well have made the list if I had played them. It was pretty tough to get the list down to a Top 10 of just the stuff I’d played!

As you’ll see, even the Top 10 isn’t just 10 games… here we go, in no particular order:

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The Last Of Us Remastered

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The Last Of Us originally came out at the tail end of the PS3’s life cycle but received a welcome remaster when the new consoles arrived. Even now this is still one of the games I’m first to recommend to new PS4 owners. It tells the story of Joel, a grizzled old survivor, and Ellie, a young girl, as they travel across America in a post-disease world where the majority of the population has been wiped out. A mix of action and stealth, along with a strong story and some excellent voice acting, drive the gameplay while the stylised graphics look fantastic, especially with the HD remaster treatment.

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God Of War

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Having already played six God Of War titles on the PS3/PSP I genuinely wasn’t sure I needed another game when they first announced the PS4 title. I was quickly reassured when I saw the footage as this new game is a masterclass in single player storytelling. Whereas the previous games had a fixed camera and were viewed from a distant perspective, the latest game is much more up close and personal. It is set long after the other games and Kratos now resides in Norse mythology as opposed to Greek mythology, which adds a nice spin on things. The story focuses on a journey that Kratos has to make with his son and the many characters they meet along the way. The gameplay can sometimes be frantic and challenging but it’s almost always enjoyable.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn

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Guerrilla Games were most well known for the Killzone series of games, first person shooters with a sci-fi leaning. When they announced a new, open world third-person adventure game I was hopeful but had some reservations. Killzone had always been linear so could they deliver on an open world game? Thankfully the answer was yes, in abundance. In Horizon you take control of Aloy, an outcast who is looking to shed some light on her past. She lives in a world where most technology has faded and giant dinosaur-like robots roam the land and need to be avoided. The moment to moment gameplay in Horizon is truly fantastic – the way you need to plan encounters, especially for some of the bigger enemies, is a welcome change from the hack and slash of a lot of other games.

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Grand Theft Auto V / Red Dead Redemption 2

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I’ve included two entries under the same section here as this will boil down to your preference of genre. Do you prefer a satirical, current day gangster/heist setup? Or a lawless Wild West affair, with cowboys and Sheriffs? The gameplay isn’t too different whichever option you pick. Both are third person action adventure games with compelling stories told over tens of hours. Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually a prequel, wherein you take control of outlaw Arthur Morgan. You’ll see some familiar faces along the way but you don’t need to have played the previous game to appreciate this title. Grand Theft Auto V on the other hand sees you take control of three different characters as their lives intersect and unravel in various ways. The game features numerous heists, which I found to be great fun.

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Uncharted 4 / Uncharted: Lost Legacy

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Another entry with two titles, this time simply down to your previous experience with the series. If you’ve played the previous titles Uncharted 4 is a great game to play through as a final goodbye to the characters we’ve known/loved throughout the series. In Uncharted 4 Nathan Drake is retired but can’t resist the lure of ‘one more job.’ Will it cost him his marriage and every he’s worked so hard for? A globe-trotting adventure awaits! If you haven’t played the other games I’d probably recommend Lost Legacy as it doesn’t rely as much on previous knowledge of the other Uncharted games. Lost Legacy features Chloe and Nadine, both side characters from other Uncharted games. It’s well written and more concise than the mainline Uncharted games. Both titles have similar gameplay, with lots of exploring, climbing and gunplay. Both are graphically superb and would be a great addition to your collection.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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I’ve always been a fan of Metal Gear’s over the top gameplay and story. Metal Gear Solid V continues the tradition with a story that I’m still not 100% sure I understand. Once you get past the slightly sluggish and bizarre opening section the game opens up and the fun begins. The gameplay here is some of the best the gaming world has to offer – there is such flexibility that almost anything is possible. The game does an amazing job of letting you escape from situations, as opposed to killing you quickly and giving you a game over screen. The story doesn’t make much sense and the game, in my opinion, makes a serious mis-step in it’s treatment of Quiet, one of the female characters in the game, but overall MGS V has some of the finest gameplay out there.

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Dishonored 2

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Another title that gives you a lot of freedom to carry out your objectives is Disnohored 2. The first choice you make is whether to seek revenge as Corvo, the male character from the original game, or Emily Kaldwin, the Empress of Dunwall. Both have different abilities and approaches to the game. Even within these differing disciplines you still have the option of stealthing through levels as opposed to fighting everyone you see. For me, most missions started as stealth and developed into combat when things went wrong 😀 Set in a steam punk-like future and with a very distinct visual art style, Dishonored 2 is a game that you shape around your playthrough and choices you make along the way. The abilities you gain are very inventive and fun to use and it’s different to almost every other game out there.

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Persona 5

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Full disclosure I haven’t actually finished Persona 5 at this stage – I’m around 40 hours in though so feel confident enough to strongly recommend it in the meantime. The Persona series of games have been around for some time and the fifth instalment continues the series tradition of turn based combat, where each member of your party and the computer each take it in turns to attack/defend during each round of the battle. Some of the fights are over quickly while others take a bit more strategy. You play as a school kid who can turn into a superhero-type in an alternate reality. So as well as saving the world you’ll also be dealing with the day to day of school! One of the big draws of these games is the graphical style, along with the music, and Persona 5 doesn’t disappoint. With a cast of characters including a talking cat this is definitely a game you’ll love or hate. One word of warning though, as I mentioned at the top of the paragraph – it’s a looooong game. Likely to be over 100 hours to get through, this isn’t one for a quick playthrough.

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Detroit: Become Human / Until Dawn

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Both of the entries here feature the ability to create your own story. There are no game over screens on these games – you continue to make choices, both good and bad, until the credits roll. It makes for a fairly seamless gameplay experience but the fact is your version of the story might be wildly different from someone else. Perhaps a character survived that died in someone else’s playthrough? Or maybe because you chose not to intervene in a situation it escalated and had a knock on effect further down the line? The gameplay in these titles is very similar, locked in camera angles and lots of exploring areas looking for clues. There is also the odd chase and action scene thrown in for good measure but these games are all about the story. The reason I’m recommending both is down to your personal taste – Detroit is a sci-fi thriller set around Androids in the near future and Until Dawn is a horror game where a killer is stalking a bunch of kids staying in a remote lodge. Take your pick (or play both!) and enjoy the ride.

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No Man’s Sky

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No Man’s Sky is what I always hoped that games could be when I was growing up. The game is essentially a randomly generated universe that is ready for you to explore. Once you repair your spaceship in the game’s tutorial you can start making your way across the universe and start your adventure. It has a brilliant visual style and the randomly generated planets really can spark a sense of awe. There is a story path to follow but you can ignore that for the most part and just check out the different planets, mining for materials or discovering new creatures. The game is so huge and over the last few years a lot has been added, base building and underwater exploration for example, that I feel it’s easy to recommend as there is something here for everyone!

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So there you go, my top 10(ish) recommendations. It was really difficult to narrow this list down and so I have plenty of Honourable Mentions: Hitman, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate/Odyssey, Life Is Strange, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, The Order 1886, Transistor, Valiant Hearts and The Sexy Brutale all deserve a shout but ultimately missed out on making the list.

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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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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

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – Review (PS4)

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Adam Jensen is back. Following the events of previous title Human Revolution, Jensen finds himself running ops for a branch of Interpol – with one mission in Dubai going south very quickly. In the immediate aftermath, Jensen isn’t sure who he can trust and with rising tensions between augmented and non-augmented citizens approaching breaking point – it seems like the World is on the brink of collapse. So can he stop the madness?

Deus Ex titles have always been about choice and Mankind Divided delivers some interesting ideas, including a couple of my favourite type of game choices… The type where you literally have to choose one or the other, you can’t do both. While some of these are obvious to the player, others are based around what you choose to do during gameplay which is cool.

As usual Jensen is equipped with a full arsenal of augmentations that you can use to get around levels and complete objectives. Some of these will be familiar to regular players of Deus Ex, with some new additions to spice things up. Stealth is still the main priority, which was good for me as I found the shooting to be quite lacklustre and unenjoyable. It’s a shame because it would’ve been nice to have the flexibility of something like Metal Gear Solid V when missions move from stealth to action. More often that not here breaking stealth meant death. I also felt that I never had enough ammo or charge for my abilities, which meant some missions became a rinse and repeat of running to cover, waiting for stealth to recharge, run to next cover, wait for stealth etc.

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I didn’t really think the overall story was great, though there were some great missions and some of the side content was quite strong. There were some interesting characters and it was nice to see some familiar faces. Also shout out to Peter Serafinowicz in his role as Duncan MacReady, as a fellow Brit it was great to hear such a natural vocal performance.

Graphically the game is a powerhouse, it looks exactly like a sci-fi game should. The oppressive atmosphere is effective and while we’ve seen it done before the overtly aggressive policing going on around you certainly has an impact. For the most part the game runs smoothly on the technical side but every now and again, almost always when moving unconscious enemies, glitches would crop up. The last thing you need when trying to hide a body is for it to melt part way into a wall and start moving violently in a vain attempt to free itself!

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Overall I found Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to be an enjoyable experience and that is down to the writing and freedom of choice it allows. Unfortunately for the majority of the game it just wasn’t that fun to play and at times it really felt like a slog, with the gunplay in particular leaving a lot to be desired.

Rating: 6/10

GregHorrorShow’s Guide To Gaming – Part 5: The New PS4 Owner Edition

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So you’ve got yourself a PS4 and you are now faced with a huge collection of games to consider. Fear not, I’m on hand to recommend the best in class for a few different genres/game types.

Have a look below to find something you’re interested in and some titles to explore!

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REMASTERS

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The Last Of Us

One of the best remasters out there, Naughty Dog did a great job on bringing the PS3 smash to the new generation of consoles. Telling the story of Joel and Ellie as they make their way across a post-apocalyptic America, this is a must for those who haven’t played it previously. Another good shout would be Naughty Dog’s Uncharted Collection, which contains the first three Uncharted titles, all remastered.

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ACTION ADVENTURE

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Speaking of Uncharted, if you’re looking for an exciting, gun toting adventure then A Thief’s End might be the one for you. One of the best looking games I’ve ever seen, coupled with some great voice acting makes for a memorable experience. If treasure hunting isn’t your thing I’d really recommend the latest Assassin’s Creed title Syndicate, which for me was the best game in the series for years.

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WITH FRIENDS

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Destiny: The Taken King

A new breed of online gaming has begun to shine on the new consoles, one in which you play with friends cooperatively rather than competitively. Destiny is one such title, much better with a few friends as opposed to playing solo. It’s a space shooter with character based special abilities that allows good flexibility. The Taken King expansion adds some extra content and is worth picking up. Alternatively, The Division does the same thing in the more realistic setting of a post-virus New York.

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DRIVING

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Despite a troubled launch DriveClub grew into one of, if not the, best driving games around. There are tons of single player tournaments to race through and lots of options for online play, from setting challenges to racing face-to-face. If you prefer a more ‘pure’ driving game I’d also recommend Dirt Rally, which is more simulation and less arcade based.

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HORROR

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Until Dawn

For horror lovers the first game that comes to mind is Until Dawn, a title in which you control a group of teenagers and try to get them to survive the night. The most interesting aspect of the game is that none of them can die or all of them can die – it all comes down to the choices you make during the game. If you’re looking for something more tense, I’d really suggest checking out Alien Isolation – especially if you have any interest in the films. It’s a bit too long but a great experience nonetheless.

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ROLE PLAYING GAMES

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Dragon Age: Inquisition

If you are looking for a sprawling, lengthy campaign of around 50 odd hours (or more!) then look no further than Dragon Age. Create your own character and then enter a world of Elves and Mages, submerge yourself in archery or magic. It’s completely up to you. It’s like creating your own version of Lord Of The Rings. If fantasy isn’t your bag then consider Fallout 4, which is the exact same thing but set hundreds of years in the future after a nuclear war!

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STEALTH

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

For those of you looking for a more well measured and sneaky experience, it has to be Metal Gear Solid V. While it’s certainly possible to play the game as an action hero this title has some of the best stealth gameplay ever to grace the PlayStation 4. You take on the role of Big Boss, assigned missions ranging from hostage rescue to larger, more complex infiltration scenarios. For those of you that are comic book fans, Batman: Arkham Knight will also tick this box.

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STORY

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Life Is Strange

Some of you might be looking to ease into gaming and a title that is based around story with reduced gameplay could be an option for you. In the first instance I’d recommend the awesome Life Is Strange, the tale of a college student who discovers she has the ability to rewind time. Aside from that, despite the occasional performance issue, I’d suggest checking out any of the Telltale games; The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us or Tales From The Borderlands in particular.

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FUN

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Rocket League

For pure unadulterated fun, it has to be Rocket League. It’s football with cars. Quite possibly the dumbest game I’ve ever played, it’s also the most fun by far. With friends is best but even alone with random strangers online is great. There is certainly a skill to the game but it’s the pick-up-and-play-factor that makes Rocket League stand head and shoulders above other games.

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COMPETITIVE

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Overwatch

I’ve gone for Overwatch here, mainly because I’ve spent most of the summer addicted to it, but you could switch it for the faster paced Call of Duty or more military focused Battlefield depending on your taste. Overwatch is a glorious 6v6 character based shooter in which you battle over objectives – its the characters that help make it memorable, you have 22 to choose from, all with various skills and abilities.

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TACTICAL

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If you’re looking for pure tactics then seek out Invisible Inc. It’s a turn based cyberpunk adventure, in which you race against time to prepare your agents for their final, high stakes mission. You’ll take control of numerous members of the team and coordinate attacks on various bases around the globe. Another excellent tactical title is Transistor, which is also turn based and has some fantastic artwork and music.

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So there you go a few suggestions to get you going, let me know if you pick any of these up and whether you enjoy them – or if you guys have any other suggestions of titles people new to the PS4 could pick up. Drop a comment below or tweet me @greghorrorshow.

 

Gone Home – Review (PS4)

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I was quite excited to get the chance to play Gone Home, which had arrived on PC last year. I’d heard lots of good things about the game’s setting and atmosphere. It’s a title reminiscent of older adventure games, there isn’t a great deal of gameplay per se, it’s about unravelling the story by exploring around the environment.

Set in 1995, you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar who returns back after some months away travelling to find her family moved into a new house. To make things even weirder there is no-one home but a note on the front door from her sister Sam begging her not to look for her.

And then you’re off, first finding a way into the house and then trying to work out what has been going on in your absence. Along the way you’ll uncover clues about not only your sister but also your parents, each strand delivering more intrigue as you delve into places you probably shouldn’t – and wouldn’t under normal circumstances.

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Gone Home does a good job of making you feel this, that voyeuristic vibe that should accompany rooting around in other people’s private stuff. In a lot of games it’s sometimes easy to forget that whoever you’re investigating is a person with a history and feelings, not so in Gone Home and there were a few instances that I felt genuinely uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing as it shows they built a believable cast of characters that you know only through clues.

I loved the design of the house itself, which was interesting and quite a big area to explore. The only downside, not unique to this game but exacerbated by the freedom to move around large swathes of the house, is that there is a lot of ground to cover if you miss a clue. Which is what happened to me.

Let me preface this by saying I appreciate that I might be the only person in the world this happened to, I’m not sure what the odds are for missing clues in the game as a lot of them are signposted well. This clue came fairly deep into the game and I, essentially, didn’t click one thing in the room. Now, that is not the developers fault – I missed the clue – but I found it really disappointing there wasn’t any sort of hint system at all. Surely after an allotted time (10/15 mins) a prompt could pop up, even if it’s asking if I want a hint as opposed to just revealing it?

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Instead what happened was I knew I’d missed something so went right back to the start of the house (more than once) and scoured every room again. For 45 mins. Just to put that in context, Gone Home is 2 hours long. So I spent a further amount of time the equivalent of almost half the game aimlessly walking around, frustrated. Eventually, thinking the game might be broken, I checked online, discovered what I had missed, went to the next clue and activated the following sequence. As I said earlier missing the clue is my fault, that’s a part of adventure games but I do feel if I’m turning to the internet in the belief your game is broken then maybe you should consider a form of hint system for next time.

And this broke the game for me. My immersion was shattered and I had lost any interest in the story. I walked away from the game and returned a few hours later to finish it but the experience was soured. Which is a shame because I imagine in a ‘clean’ run through this would be a short but interesting title.

Rating: 6/10