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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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

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Review (PS4)

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know about my love for the Uncharted series. Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan remains one of my favourite game characters of all time and the dynamics of the relationship between Nate and Elena, among others, keep me coming back title after title. But after the release of Uncharted 3 and a teaser trailer for the fourth instalment, it was all change at developer Naughty Dog – the driving force of the series Amy Hennig left and The Last Of Us team took over the reigns. The game was rebooted and reimagined. So could they continue the good work laid out in the previous games?

The Last Of Us had a huge impact on the gaming landscape both in terms of design and character development in games. The concern from some corners was that the devs might make Uncharted too ‘serious’. I don’t feel that happened and, actually, I believe toning down a few sections really helped the characters shine. Uncharted 4 still has the bombastic, action filled set pieces I’ve always loved but now includes a few options to use stealth for battles if desired. There are still plenty of one liners and quips but also real conversations and moments of downtime. It’s a slow start compared to other Uncharted games but I think it benefits the game in the long run.

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The story this time is your typical ‘one last job/coming out of retirement’ fare, all based around the reappearance of Nate’s long thought dead brother, Sam. For me, Sam was an interesting character but led to a few issues with the overall Uncharted universe. I don’t recall him having been mentioned much previously but if you ignore the ‘retcon’ of back story and just enjoy the plot it isn’t too much of an issue.

Graphically the game is a powerhouse, I’ve not seen anything like it and it’s definitely one of those games (like Driveclub or Star Wars: Battlefront) that you can use to show off what a PS4 can do. Gameplay remains largely the same, lots of climbing and firefights, although the addition of the grappling hook also gives you a lot more freedom of movement to escape from (or rush to) enemies. The AI of the enemies seems much improved and there were a few occasions that felt genuinely challenging on the Normal setting.

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I was a little disappointed that Greg Edmonson didn’t return to score but I guess the new Uncharted Naughty Dog team wanted to put their own stamp on things. Henry Jackson’s score does the job and the opening theme does hit home as expected. The voice acting is, as always, truly superb. Additionally the facial capture is among the best I’ve seen, able to capture subtle expressions of thoughtfulness or glee. Newcomers Laura Bailey and Warren Kole (as Nadine and Rafe, respectively) delivered two more great characters to the series. Rafe might actually be one of my favourite all time videogame villains.

I’ve always enjoyed the shooting in these titles and Uncharted 4 delivers again, with various weapons all feeling different to handle and having a decent heft to them. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the hand to hand combat. Taking a more Last Of Us direction meant that close quarters fistfights became a mess of button mashing and hoping for the best. There were also a few sections when climbing that weren’t immediately clear on direction and I ended up falling to my death. Having said that, at least it added some (small) stakes to climbing, which hadn’t happened in previous instalments.

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Multiplayer is back and bigger than ever, with fast paced action set around a few core modes. Uncharted multiplayer has always been a bit ‘Marmite’ but I’ve always enjoyed the fun nature of it and this game really ramps things up by introducing computer controlled side kicks and mystical abilities based on items from the series. This feels like a good move to me, the game thrives on the magic artefact theme so why not lean into it for multiplayer? Players remain a touch bullet-spongy, again not an issue for me but others may not like that style of combat. The grappling hook also comes into its own here and it’s very satisfying to take out a human opponent from up high!

I don’t want to go into detail about the story but I will say it was the most enjoyable one in the series for me. Uncharted 2, with its triple-crossing, pulp action comes a very close second but the character development in 4 is truly great. They have the benefit of this being the final game, which allows them the luxury of tying up some loose ends and I’ll finish this short section on the story by saying, as someone heavily invested in the series and characters, that I was really pleased as the credits rolled – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a great way to wrap up the series.

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Another stellar title in the series then, as Naughty Dog continue their amazing run of games on PS4. With the increase of players on Playstation this generation lots more people will get a chance to experience Uncharted’s special brand of treasure hunting. If you haven’t already picked this up, I’d really recommend you do.

Rating: 10/10

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops III – Review (PS4)

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I quite enjoyed the last Call Of Duty game, Advanced Warfare, and Black Ops II was my favourite game in the entire series so I was really hopeful that Black Ops III would be another great experience.

In Black Ops II, I found that I enjoyed the story a lot more than the multiplayer especially with the option to change the outcome via decisions you make over the course of the game. With this new title I felt the balance had shifted in the other direction and when you’re not that into the multiplayer aspect of a game series, that can be an issue.

I fully expect to be in the minority here as I know the Call Of Duty series fast paced, twitch based, shooting is massively popular. It’s just never felt good to me. What’s on offer here for multiplayer is a solid set of maps (one of them even made my list of Top 30 Maps) and some new abilities/classes with which to play around with. In the wake of Titanfall and Advanced Warfare there is an added emphasis on movement, with the ability to jump boost along walls and gain some extra height quickly giving the game an even faster pace than before.

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Story wise, this tale of futuristic espionage treads a familiar path – you and your team take on various groups of enemies, now also featuring robots/cyborgs, as you try to unravel a mystery with the C.I.A (your employer) at its heart. One thing I did like about the campaign was that it gave you the option to play as a male or female operative, which is pretty cool. Something I didn’t like was the fact the game ran separate versions of the campaign for online and offline story modes. So if you played offline, when you returned and were online there was no way (other than switching off your internet) to continue your game… madness!

Graphically the game looks good, as you’d expect and there are no performance issues that I encountered. The campaign supports 4 player co-op play as well so if you have friends that also have the game that’s a neat way to experience the story. Zombies mode returns and there is also a new mode called Nightmares, unlocked by finishing the campaign, that puts a different spin on the story and replaces the usual enemies with Zombies.

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Overall I was a little disappointed with this instalment in the Call Of Duty series. Without an interesting story to compliment the multiplayer I didn’t feel there was enough there for me personally. In terms of the gameplay Black Ops III continues to evolve the series and brings some interesting ideas to the table but the campaign mode, while delivering something new with gender choice and co-operative play, also felt like a step backwards – especially after the way Black Ops II’s story played out. I suspect fans of the series will have loved it but there just wasn’t enough there to hook me in.

Rating: 6/10

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