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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GregHorrorShow’s Top 30 Multiplayer Maps (Part Two: The Top 15)

Maps Part 2

So we’re back again with some multiplayer goodness – this time heading into the Top 15 maps, really showcasing some of my all time favourite arenas.

If you missed Part One (30-16) check it out here:

And away we go!

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15. FIREBASE GODDESS (Mass Effect 3)

Another multiplayer that I would love to revisit at some stage is Mass Effect 3. Firebase Goddess is a great map with lots of ins-and-outs and a cool exterior section showing the destruction that has occurred at the base. With the play in Mass Effect 3 being horde-based the numerous entrances make for some tense moments and you’ll need a good squad of players to hold down locations and complete objectives on this one!

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14. TWILIGHT GAP (Destiny)

Destiny has been one of my favourite online shooters of the last few years and Twilight Gap has housed many happy memories for me. The layout is great, with a few parts of the map requiring you to glide across – which of course leaves you open to attack. Finely balanced and with a lot of different entrances/exits, this is a really cool map. Also the capture point at ‘B’ is both enclosed and exposed at the same time… quite a feat of design and something that I have both benefited from and succumbed to in equal measure!

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13. MAWLR GRAVEYARD (Killzone 3)

Killzone 3 has a lot of maps that revolve around a specific feature and MAWLR Graveyard is no different. The central route through the map means going through the path of a metal crusher – activated by a button on a raised platform. It’s very satisfying to spot a group of enemy soldiers making a run for it, hit the button and watch the kills stack up. But you also have other ways around, with two rooms on each side for close quarters action – which are linked by an underground tunnel. Fantastic stuff.

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12. CASTEL GANDOLFO (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood)

The majority of levels in the Assassin’s Creed series have been effective but nothing special in my opinion. However Castel Gandolfo (a real province in Italy) is a fantastically made map that generates an amazing amount of tension during games. Set across two floors of the building, including some of the exterior as well, it’s crowded enough to lose your pursuers but not so busy that you can’t get a good chase on. Great placement of Trap Doors’ adds a further edge to proceedings.

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11. GRAND BAZAAR (Battlefield 3)

Battlefield 3 has given us some of the biggest maps ever seen on a console shooter and Grand Bazaar is a stunning example of how good design can enhance the player’s experience. Basically an alleyway with lots of entrances/exits and the ability to flank around both sides, this is a map that makes it easy to get caught up in the choke-point of the alley but gives you the option of stepping back from the carnage and making a dash via a different route to try and claim a flag. It’s this freedom of choice that makes Grand Bazaar such a strong map.

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10. BILL’S TOWN (The Last Of Us)

Ah, The Last Of Us – potentially the most underrated multiplayer game ever. As you stealth and stalk your way around the game world, it’s important the maps give you enough options to sneak up on your enemies. Bill’s Town is a great example of this, featuring levels of verticality as well as lots of different entrances to the buildings on the map. The walkway across the map from top floor to top floor is risky but necessary for a quick escape in a pinch. Great stuff.

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9. THARSIS DEPOT (Killzone 2)

Set on the same refinery as the single player mission, Tharsis Depot is full of steel and has an elogated bottleneck between the bases down one side of the map. Co-incidentally that is also where one team has to defend in search and destroy – which usually leads to all kinds of chaos. With two floors to choose from there are plenty of ways to surprise your enemies and I am a HUGE fan of holding down the corridor just off the main room in the middle to shotgun any enemies that come my way.

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8. THE SANCTUARY (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)

This map is my personal favourite from Uncharted 2. Whether it’s plunder, elimination, deathmatch or whatever – The Sanctuary almost always throws up a great match. The underground tunnels are a fantastic addition in that they effectively add a third layer to proceedings and the risk/reward of positioning the Hammer on the exposed ledge is a stroke of genius. In fact you can also climb to the top of the tower in each base, above the main rooftops so technically The Sanctuary has FOUR levels to play with. A monster of a multiplayer map considering how compact it is.

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7. SHORES OF TIME (Destiny)

Undoubtedly my favourite Destiny map, the layout is truly superb – it gives you lots of options for circling round and flanking opponents as well as freedom to traverse the area however you want. That could be through tunnels or across open stretches and the placement of capture points is exquisitely balanced. They are certainly defendable but having three different entrances to each makes it difficult and extremely tense. Add to that the gorgeous, lush look of the level and you have something really cool.

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6. PORT VALDEZ (Battlefield: Bad Company 2)

This was one of the maps from the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 beta and it is still one of my favourite maps on the game. The balance between defence and attack (in Rush mode) in terms of positioning of buildings etc is truly superb. The last few bases of this massive map are fantastic and you really do have to consider your tactics. Making a run for it is all well good but you can almost guarantee a host of snipers will have their sights trained on the entrance of whichever base you’re at. A really well designed map, especially considering the size and amount of bases in it.

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5. CHECKPOINT (The Last Of Us)

Checkpoint is the map that best showcases the slower, more deliberate gameplay of The Last Of Us. If you get two experienced teams of players it can be a thrilling, tense battle to victory. Alternatively if you don’t know the map it can be extremely punishing! Focused around the checkpoint that the level is named after, which sits in the middle of the area, the level has buildings on either side and well placed resource boxes mean there is a big risk/reward element in trying to get supplies. There are choke points dotted around but more than enough other routes to enable you to circumnavigate your enemies and sneak up on them to take them down unseen.

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4. CHATEAU (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception)

Chateau is one of those maps that creates it’s own centrepiece as the game progresses. At the start of the round the roof is set on fire and soon enough the rooms in the upstairs of the building catch alight, the floor crumbles as it burns and flames lick the walls. It is some truly stunning stuff. And that’s to say nothing of the zipline from a hole in the top floor down to the adjacent garden or the downstairs room with overturned furniture that can be used as makeshift cover. A well designed map full of character.

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3. CASPIAN BORDER (Battlefield 3)

There are so many great maps in Battlefield 3 that I could probably do a Top 10 list just based on that title alone but the one that stands out above the rest for me is Caspian Border. Finely placed objectives and a wonderful mix of high and low positions mean sheer fun. The four main areas are far enough apart that it makes sense to grab a vehicle but if you find yourself stranded it isn’t too far to run. Add jets and helicopters into the mix and you have a recipe for some seriously amazing mutilplayer action. Outstanding.

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2. LENTE MISSILE BASE (Killzone 3)

This is a map that I simply love playing on. The way Lente Missile Base spans so many levels is brilliant and, of course, the fact that missiles actually take off from the basement (and you can get killed if you’re foolish enough to be down there) make this one of Killzone 3’s best experiences. Like some of the other centre-pieces in the game’s online offering there is a switch you can push to cancel the missile launch. It’s the little touches like that which really give the level a touch of character. From tense fights in the main tower through to open battles in the courtyard and below to tight skirmishes in the tunnels under the base, there is always something going on in this map.

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1. RADEC ACADEMY (Killzone 2)

Yep *still* the daddy of all multiplayer maps, Radec Academy is a superbly designed map with both open areas and some really tight corridors/stairways which leads to some intense firefights. The positioning of the search and destroy targets (for both teams) is inspired – essentially requiring you to hold a room that has three or four different entrances. Meanwhile there is the opportunity to snipe from the balcony overlooking the square – but you’ll have be quick to take those chances as people don’t hang around… unless you’re lucky enough to find an unsuspecting soul taking stock in one of the doorways opposite. Then of course you have the tunnels that run between each base and the building at the back of the map which can get quite crowded if a speaker spawns down there. Overall for me personally, it’s tough to think of what more they could’ve done to improve Radec Academy…

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So there we go – not a huge amount of movement right at the top of my list but there have been some really great maps over the last three years.

What have I missed? Drop a comment below or find me on Twitter (@greghorrorshow)

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Persona 4 Golden – Review (Vita)

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As someone who has never played, or been interested in playing, a Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), such as Final Fantasy or Valkyria Chronicles, I was intrigued to see Persona 4 Golden essentially clear up the Vita Game Of The Year awards at most gaming sites last year.

Released back in 2012 in the US/Japan the game finally arrived to Europe in February. Having read from practically every gaming site I trust/respect that this was the best Vita game out and one of the best JRPG’s around I felt obliged to give it a try.

The jazzy intro left me with a smile on my face but also a quizzically raised eyebrow as I wondered exactly what I had let myself in for.

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The game is a year in the life of Yu Narukami as he transers schools to spend a year living with his Uncle in a small town called Inaba. You have control over his life, from schoolwork to making friends and even deciding on where to work part time. While the story doesn’t change your decisions do affect your relationships throughout the game.

And Persona 4 Golden is all about relationships. Whether it’s your friends or relatives, everything you do has a knock on effect on what the game calls your ‘Social Links’. The better your social links the more powerful your (and your allies) Personas can become when fighting shadows.

Oh, did I forget to mention as well as Yu Narukami’s daily life of school and work you also FALL INTO TV’s AND BATTLE SHADOW MONSTERS 😆

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Without getting too spoilerific, you discover that you can access this other world through the TV. After a spate of murders in Inaba, you realise they are tied to the other world. You and your friends decide to try and save whoever might be the next victim.

Because I hadn’t played a game like this before I put Persona 4 Golden on ‘Very Easy’ and to be honest this was probably a wise move. I died in battle only a handful of times and when I did was able to revive on the spot with full health. While this reduced the challenge of combat it enabled me to get to grips with the game without becoming frustrated. It also meant I was free to concentrate on the social side of the game and just enjoy the story.

And what a story it is. Traditionally Japanese games have been a bit more ‘out there’ than Western titles (see Bayonetta/Vanquish/Metal Gear Solid) and Persona 4 Golden is no different but the game also deals with some interesting themes – loneliness, responsibility and even coming to terms with one’s masculinity. It might be wrapped up in J-Pop gloss but Persona is definitely full of great character arcs.

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The characters are well written and by the end of the game I genuinely cared about them. It’s not often that happens with game characters – probably The Walking Dead, Mass Effect and Uncharted games are the most recent examples I can think of.

As you build relationships with the other characters you’ll get different options in terms of who to spend time with and the game often gives you a few options when you only have time for one. You may even eventually get a girlfriend (or several if that’s more your ‘style’) and the game does a good job of conveying the slightly embarrassing beginnings of a school relationship at that age.

The difference between this and other games with social options is that Persona 4 Golden isn’t just a case of ‘this person likes/dislikes you’ it’s that in forging and building these relationships you are effectively levelling up. Even studying and doing well at school gives you bonuses. It means that of all the 41 hours I ploughed into the game not a minute was wasted. There was no filler.

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The combat is based around fighting monsters in dungeons that are themed around various thoughts/fears of the townspeople. You have the ability to call on monsters of your own (Personas) to aid you and you’ll always be with a few of your friends (another difficult choice, who do you take with you?). You walk around the dungeon freely in third person and once an encounter is initiated the action moves to a turn based setting.

I won’t go into story details beyond the above but I enjoyed it and thought it did a good job of maintaining the mystery of events until the reveal. One word of advice though, keep 3 or 4 rolling saves because it is VERY easy to miss the real ending of the game. First time out I got a disappointing ending that skipped 3 months of in-game time (around 8/10 hours of gameplay) so keep a spare save ready to go back if needed.

Even going back and getting the proper ending I still missed a part of the game and didn’t have a back up (thinking I’d finished) so I will have try and get to that on my next playthrough. Yep I plan to go back through the game again, this time on a more competitive setting.

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I didn’t imagine Persona 4 Golden would grab me so hard if I’m honest – as I said at the outset I’ve never been interested in this type of game before but I’ll be keeping an eye on the genre now and hopefully might find some other great experiences for my Vita.

If you have a Vita then I can’t recommend this enough, Persona 4 Golden is a fantastic game that offers a lot more than just turn based combat and will leave you wanting more at each turn.

Rating: 10/10

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MOST WANTED 2010 (PART 1)

Well it’s that time again when I thought it would be handy to round up what’s on the horizon and what games I’ll be keeping an eye out for in 2010.

RED DEAD REDEMPTION

Release: April 2010

This for me could be one of the stand out titles for 2010. I always held out hope, I mean, a western by the makers of GTA? But the overwhelmingly positive chatter of industry people who’ve played it means this one could fulfil it’s potential.

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ALPHA PROTOCOL

Release: ‘Spring’ 2010

Delayed from last year, which is usually not a good sign, Alpha Protocol is apparently not just being polished but changes are being made to some of the core mechanics. Essentially the chance to become Jason Bourne and choose what areas you specialise in (martial arts/guns/computer hacking etc) mean this could be a really great experience.

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BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2

Release: March 2010

I won’t bore everyone again with how much I want to play this game – check out my beta impressions and demo impressions for a more in depth look!

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GOD OF WAR III

Release: March 2010

One of the most highly anticipated games of the year, the third instalment in the God Of War franchise marks Kratos’ debut on the PS3. Everything seen so far looks totally epic and could really push the boundaries in terms of sense of scale.

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MODNATION RACERS

Release: Spring 2010

Luckily I got into the beta for this otherwise it could’ve slipped under my radar. A cross between LittleBigPlanet and Mario Kart, Modnation Racers could be fantastic – as long as the online is smooth and they sort out the (long) load times.

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DEAD RISING 2

Release: September 2010

The original (XBox exclusive) Dead Rising was one of those games that I watched a mate play and thought it looked fun but never actually got to play myself. Looks like they have cranked up both the comedy and the violence in the second installment as your one man army fends off the zombies.

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RESISTANCE 3 (Rumoured)

Release: Late 2010?

While not as strong as Killzone 2 the Resistance series of games are, for me personally, vastly underrated. The third in the series has been rumoured for a while and although we haven’t had anything official everyone seems to think this will be announced at E3 in June – I hope it is as I would relish the chance to take down some more Chimera 😎

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KANE AND LYNCH 2

Release: May/June 2010

I seem to be in a minority with regards to the original Kane and Lynch – while flawed I found it to be an enjoyable, gritty game. The sequel is set in Shanghai and the entire game is played through the eyes of a handheld video camera – giving the game the appearance of a youtube upload. According to early reports this unique style works really well and I can’t wait to try it out.

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SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 4

Release: Summer 2010

I can’t help myself. Despite being burned by terrible Sonic games since the MegaDrive era, I am excited by the prospect of a true sequel rather than another lame spin off. Can Sonic regain the stature he had? Sega need to deliver on this – if this turns sour it could be the blue hedgehog’s swan song.

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JUST CAUSE 2

Release: March 2010

I missed the first game on PS2 due to loads of other games coming out around the same time but having seen the trailers for the second game I can’t wait to play this. Just Cause 2 looks like insane fun – hopefully the accompanying elements (story/graphics/online) will tie together as well.

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DEAD SPACE 2

Release: Q1 2011

I still find it a bit strange for someone who doesn’t like films that make you jump how much I loved Dead Space. 😕 I’m excited to see how the developers have improved the original – rumour is they are aiming for the Aliens franchise. First game/film suspense horror and the sequel more action orientated. Fine with me as long as it works and we get more of the same storyline.

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DEAD NATION

Release: ‘Spring’ 2010

The zombie infection continues, this time with Dead Nation – as this PSN action shooter aims for the head. The idea behind the game is to fight off the zombies in your own country (from the global map) and then venture to other territories to help them out. If it works it could be fantastic.

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MASS EFFECT 1 & 2 COMING TO PS3

Release: Unconfirmed

Yeah, yeah – this may not happen ever, never mind this year but the GTA IV DLC arriving on PS3 has renewed hope that us PS3ers may get a chance to play the awesome Mass Effect games. The one series that causes an envious look in the XBox 360’s direction.

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So that wraps up part one of the most wanted games for 2010 – part two coming shortly!

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