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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Talking ‘Bout My (New) Generation (Of Consoles)

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It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that I rushed home with a massive, shiny 60GB Playstation 3 and plugged it in for the first time. It was, in fact, almost 12 years ago. Even the excitement of bringing home my Playstation 4 was 6 years ago. It almost feels too soon to be thinking about a new generation of consoles but here we are at the start of 2019 with rumours already swirling.

It’s been widely reported that Sony’s own first party developers, such as Naughty Dog (Uncharted, The Last Of Us), Sony Santa Monica (God Of War), Insomniac (Infamous, Spiderman) and Guerrilla Games (Killzone, Horizon: Zero Dawn), have already shifted focus to working on the new platform. IGN recently reported that both Bethesda and Square Enix are confirmed to be working on next gen titles so logically it’s likely that Ubisoft, Activision and EA won’t be far behind.

But what does a new console look like as we head into the 2020’s?

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For all the talk of the future being completely digital, this next round of consoles will most likely be similar to the current generation – you will have a box under your TV that you pop a disc in/download games to. In the future I can imagine streaming games rather than buying them to download but I think we’re still a little way off that technology running smoothly for people around the world.

An interesting aspect of the new generation of consoles will be the idea of streaming creeping into more widespread use. As services like Spotify and Netflix become the norm will Playstation increase the cost of of its Playstation Plus subscription and offer streaming as part of the package?

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Recently a patent was uncovered that seemed to indicate Playstation were exploring a much deeper implementation of emulation. It looks likely you might be able to play your old Playstation 1, 2, 3 and 4 games on the PlayStation 5 – which would be massive. At the very least the PS5 needs to be able to play PS4 games or uptake will be limited. Especially as forthcoming stand out titles like Last Of Us II and Ghost of Tsushima are both scheduled for PS4.

Aside from backwards compatibility there are several other things I’d love to see from a new console. Of course the most visual of aspects would be a boost to graphical capabilities, full 4k at 60 frames per second and HDR for every game would be brilliant but I’m not sure how realistic that will be. As mentioned above I think more options for streaming would be great – perhaps offering a form of Playstation Now as part of the regular monthly subscription would be a good start.

The other big thing for me is how much of the PS5’s power can be used for A.I in games. Nothing ruins a game quicker than amazing looking enemies who proceed to just stand in the open taking fire. I’m hoping for another big leap, similar to the one we got for Killzone 2 on the PS3. I’d love to think improved and challenging enemies will be the standard for next generation… we’ll see.

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Of course the main tipping point for most people on whether to jump to a new console is price. While the PS3 weighed in with a whopping price tag of £425, the PS4 was a more respectable £349. I’d expect around the same again if I’m being honest. In a dream world it would be £299 but I’d hazard a guess it’ll be £329. A little more I could stomach but if it tips above £400 again I think PS5 will see sluggish sales beyond the initial die hard fans.

In terms of release date – I expect we’ll hear more about the console at an initial reveal this year with the launch date looking like mid 2020. Pure speculation but this guessing game is sometimes the most fun part of the run up to a new console generation!

Whatever happens it looks set to be an interesting and exciting time in the console space. I definitely feel like the PS4 has a year or two left in it but am really looking forward to seeing what Playstation deliver with their next console.

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Overwatch League – Season 2 Preview

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With the new season of the Overwatch League (OWL) starting in mid-February, I thought it might be worth taking a look at what’s changed since the inaugural season last year. There are a lot of new teams and some changes to the format, both of which I’ll get into later. To start with, let’s take a quick look at last season and some of the players you should keep an eye out for in 2019.

The first season of OWL was split into four stages, with each stage having their own playoffs before the grand finals. This was a good way to keep up interest during the season because it meant that, while the New York Excelsior were crushing everyone in the overall results, teams and fans had something to fight for throughout the season. The much fancied Korean roster of the London Spitfire won Stage 1, New York Excelsior took Stages 2 and 3 with the Los Angeles Valiant winning Stage 4. In the end of season playoffs the London Spitfire took home the championship, seeing off the Philadephia Fusion in the final. It was a thrilling end to a great first season.

There was some amazing play on display throughout 2018, here are my picks for the players to watch out for in the upcoming season…

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1. Profit (London Spitfire)

What can you say about Profit? One of the best damage dealers in the league, he has the ability to turn a match on its head with one smart play. Definitely a huge asset to the defending champions.

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2. Geguri (Shanghai Dragons)

As the first female OWL player, Geguri already had a huge amount of pressure on her and adding to that she joined the Dragons – who lost every game of the 2018 season. Her tank play was a bright spark and she carried the team at times, I’m looking forward to seeing what she can achieve with a more stable setup around her.

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3. Fissure (Seoul Dynasty)

Ah Fissure, the very confident (and highly skilled) tank player that left London mid-season for the Los Angeles Gladiators, only to not show for the end of season playoffs. And I don’t mean that figuratively, he literally stayed away from the arena after in-fighting with the team. Drama follows him everywhere but he’s a great player and, if he doesn’t throw a wobbly, just what underperforming Seoul need.

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4. Pine (New York Excelsior)

Pine is what you’d call an impact player. Often being used as a sub during games and pulling off daring damage plays that always seem to come off. I’m hoping he might get some more play time this season as his skill level is outrageous. New York’s stellar season fizzled out in the playoffs, maybe more Pine would’ve helped.

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5. Surefour (Los Angeles Gladiators)

Surefour is known for his Widowmaker play and I always enjoy seeing him in action. I don’t feel he had the consistency of someone like Fleta (Seoul) or Carpe (Fusion) last year but I think if he can deliver regularly through 2019 then the Gladiators have a real shot of making the end of season playoffs.

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OWL New Teams

The amount of teams in the league this year has risen from 12 to 20, which has also impacted the scheduling. Each stage will now be 7 games rather than 10, meaning each team plays 28 games overall. In terms of the end of season playoffs, the top Atlantic and Pacific division teams, along with the next four teams in the standings regardless of division, will automatically qualify for playoffs. In a change to last season’s format the 7th through 12th placed teams in the overall standings will also have a chance to qualify for the playoffs. These teams will be pitted against each other in a sudden death tournament, with the top two teams being able to join the playoffs for a total of eight teams.

So from the overall 20, 12 teams will be in with a shout of making the final 8 places in the playoffs. New teams that have paid upwards of $30m to join OWL come in the form of Atlanta Reign (US), Chengdu Hunters (China), Guangzhou Charge (China), Paris Eternal (France), Hangzhou Spark (China), Toronto Defiant (Canada), Vancouver Titans (Canada) and Washington Justice (US). Do any of the new expansion teams have a shot this season? Let’s take a look.

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A lot of the teams have picked up players that were in the league last season – Soon joined Paris, Hooreg joined Vancouver and Hotba joined Guangzhou, to name a few. Some teams went for players from the Overwatch World Cup with no league experience – Kyb at Guangzhou or Krystal at Hangzhou. Most of these teams seem a mishmash on paper, especially ones with multiple nationalities that could lead to language barriers. The front runner for a tilt at the playoffs has to be the Vancouver Titans, whose roster is a former title winning team in Korea called Run Away. This synergy could see them make a great start in 2019.

Personally my tips for the 8 playoff slots would be London Spitfire, New York Excelsior, Boston Uprising, Philadephia Fusion, LA Gladiators, LA Valiant, San Francisco Shock, Seoul Dynasty and Vancouver Titans. We’ll have to see as the season progresses!

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With some teams starting to play in their hometown this season, and everyone doing so in the next few years, the league will no doubt be looking to get more teams involved from around the world. I would love to see teams from places like Russia, Brazil, Sweden, Australia or Germany. Overwatch is a global game so it makes sense the league would look to try and get teams started in as many places as possible, especially if they will playing matches locally. I can’t wait to see the Spitfire play in London at some point, it would definitely help increase the bond with the team.

So there you have it, an overview of what to expect from the OWL in 2019. It starts on the 14th/15th February and the league has a deal in place with Twitch to show all the games live so head to http://www.twitch.tv/overwatchleague to catch up on all the action!

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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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MOST WANTED 2017/18

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

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Star Wars: Battlefront II

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

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Detroit: Become Human

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

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Forgotten Anne

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

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Red Dead Redemption 2

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

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The Last Of Us: Part II

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

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Cyberpunk 2077

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

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God Of War

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


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

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

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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