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!

OWL London

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

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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DriveClub

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

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HORROR

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Until Dawn

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

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ROLE PLAYING GAMES

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Dragon Age: Inquisition

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

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STEALTH

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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

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STORY

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Life Is Strange

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

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FUN

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Rocket League

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

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COMPETITIVE

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Overwatch

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

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TACTICAL

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

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

 

Gone Home – Review (PS4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 6/10