GregHorrorShow’s Year In Gaming 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Life Is Strange – Review (PS4)

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Life Is Strange is an episodic game that tells the story of Max Caulfield, a student who has returned to her hometown to take an elite photography course at Blackwell Academy. She has been away for five years, since her family moved to Seattle and we meet Max in October 2013, awaking from a nightmare as she slept in class. After class finishes she makes her way to the restroom where a chance encounter leads to a discovery… that Max can rewind time.

Choice is a big theme in a lot of games, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, The Walking Dead and, more recently, Until Dawn gave the player a selection of choices throughout the game that helped to shape the player’s experience and story. Life Is Strange does the same but with a slightly different twist.

Max can rewind time at will, you’re free to rewind by pressing L2 most of the time, and this also extends to conversations. So as well as manipulating certain events to happen at a set time, she can also get more information from people than you would just by speaking to them. You can have a full conversation, get some information and then rewind and have the conversation again. Only this time you will have extra dialogue choices based on what you found out and what the character you’re talking to doesn’t know they already told you. Still with me? 🙂

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The other twist on the choice mechanic is that Max’s power doesn’t have an ‘energy bar’ or limited use. She can only rewind time so far but she, and by extension you the player, can do so over and over. This gives you the freedom to choose different options, see what happens and then rewind and try something else. If you prefer the original choice just rewind again and reselect it. If not go with something else. I feel this is a great innovation in the genre and while it wouldn’t suit all choice-based games, it really makes Life Is Strange stand out from other similar titles.

Graphically the game has a really nice art style, which looks gorgeous at times. It uses lighting well and the characters are modelled with believable facial animations, the only downside is the movement of mouths which, for the most part, don’t really match up to the dialogue being spoken. It’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things and not a huge problem given that the game was made with a smaller budget than a lot of other titles.

The story itself was gripping and it was a painful wait between episodes, with about a two month period between each installment. There were a few odd inconsistencies in the story but nothing that did too much damage, especially as a lot of the time you’d be altering the timeline anyway and changing things. The characterisation was superb, with most of the people you meet feeling like well fleshed out characters, each with a story to tell if you wanted to listen. There was the rare occasion where characters veered away from the personality they’d shown previously, particularly in the final episode, but I never found it too much of an issue.

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Before we discuss another big part of the game, music, I wanted to flag up, in the interests of full disclosure, that I did actually work on Life Is Strange, helping to make sure they could use the Sparklehorse track that features in the game. With that out of the way, it would be remiss not to discuss the music in this game. A selection of great tracks, for a start, that are used so well and do much to add to the game. The music is as much a character in Life Is Strange as some of the other supporting roles. The opening of Life Is Strange features, in my opinion, possibly the greatest use of music within a title. It’s seamless, suits the scene perfectly and puts you straight into the head of Max. Wonderful stuff.

The game comprises of five episodes, each ranging between two and half to three and half hours. There is plenty of content to get through, although the ability to rewind time to check out different dialogue/choice options within the first playthrough might limit the replayability of the game for some. Having said that there are also chances for Max to practice her photography, with picture opportunities scattered around levels and not clearly marked for the player. Each of these will net you a trophy so perhaps people might find some extra playtime going back to find these.

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I fell in love with Life Is Strange right from the opening credits of the first episode. As long time readers of my blog might know, I am a sucker for anything time bending or time travel related and the developers have provided a rich, varied cast of characters to join you for the ride. There were moments I didn’t see coming that made me smile and a fair few that had me welling up. One cliffhanger ending to an episode left my jaw on the floor. Life Is Strange is everything a piece of entertainment should be – enjoyable, well made and memorable.

Rating 10/10

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Relentless – Simon Kernick (Book)

If you’re looking for a nice breezy read Relentless is not the book for you.

The story starts at a breakneck pace and barely pauses for breath in the entire 450 or so pages.

I actually found this style, initially at least, to be a bit overbearing. It felt a little forced and I thought the characters response to the first set of events was slightly unrealistic.

However that is obviously just a personal point of view – the writing itself was fine (apart from an extensive use of the term ‘bodily’ which was quite jarring after the fourth or fifth time) and once I adjusted to the pace I found the book to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Tom Meron is an insurance salesman with a very average life – university lecturer wife, two kids, nice house etc – in London until the day he receives a phone call from an old school friend who he hasn’t seen in 3 or 4 years.

His friend sounds like he is taking a beating and eventually he utters six words to his attacker that change Tom’s world forever: the first two lines of Tom’s address.

Believing his friend to have been murdered and the murderer on his way to Tom’s house he grabs his kids and so starts a game of cat and mouse with Tom never entirely sure who to trust.

This was never going to be a book that required a lot of brain power, most of the twists are hinted at in advance of being revealed, but then sometimes it’s nice to read a book that is enjoyable without being taxing.

Rating: 7/10