Author Archives: g0l1ath

The Three E’s

Humans of the World. Earthlings. Terrans. Pitiful specimens of homo sapien kind. Set aside your differences and come hither; revel and bask in the mighty, unifying glory of the mother of gaming events. The Electronics Entertainment Expo. E3.

This year was, as usual, a jolly good show, (their 20th anniversary dontcha know) and this here edition of my pointless and irrelevant ejaculation of words will give a brief précis on what caught my eye from afar, bearing in mind of course that I’m not a journalist, so wasn’t actually there, at the LA Convention Centre, in LA, Los Angeles California, USA. No, I was here. In London. Alone. Watching with a hundred million other similarly sad, wet, lonely, empty husks of what-could-have-been valuable members of society……*sigh*……

Anyway, games then. So these were the things that I was interested in. There’s no point highlighting all the games that were there otherwise we’d be here until the Sun finally puts us all out of our misery and blows the fuck up, so this is strictly the shit that in some way fish hooked my interest. So here goes, in no particular order.

Dead Island 2

2D Boxshot Wizard v1.1

A funny one to mention given that the first Dead Island was an almighty waste of my fucking life and easily one of the most disappointing games in recent memory. So why include it? Well, just in case, that’s why. 4-player campaign co-op. Zombie shit. What’s not to like on paper. Plus Techland who developed the first one have all but handed over the reins to Indi German outfit Yager Development who were responsible for the widely acclaimed Spec Ops: The Line back in 2012. File this under the “convince me” header.

Dying Light

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OK, yes, despite me coating off Techland’s Dead Island not moments ago, Dying Light is their current triple-A which is – if I’m honest, and against my better judgement – possibly my most anticipated title of next year. The free-running, zombie killing, melee focused open world game not only looks utterly sublime visually speaking, it also just…well, it has a certain something that makes me want to stand up and beg for buttermilk. I admit, on paper it looks like all the elements of some of the most disappointing games I have ever known: Free Running (Brink), Zombie Melee (Dead Island), Techland (err, Dead Island again)….OK I’ll stop now before I change my mind. But it’s also 4-player co-op and has the whole dynamic day/night thing where instead of just zombies you get mental crazy other shit going on when the sun goes down. It was due for release in 2014 but that has now been pushed back to March 2015, which I should mention, in my opinion, doesn’t have the same connotations of ‘troubled development’ as it once did. What can I say, genuinely excited about this.

Evolve

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Gameinformer’s best in show, and it’s easy to see why. Turtle Rock Studios – the team who developed Left 4 Dead for Valve before they split away to form their own band – certainly have pedigree on the co-op thing, and this game looks quite simply mouth watering. Just like L4D, it’s all rather simple. 4 players, 4 classes, each with their own skills. All use a variety of BFG’s to hunt ‘The Monster’ on an alien world. Monster in question can – if you so wish – be played by another Hoomuun Bean, or else let the AI take control. Monster starts off teeny, and ‘hunted’ and needs to feed and avoid being slaughtered before it can ‘evolve’ through different stages into an eventual goliath (literally, one of them is actually called a goliath). Then hunted becomes hunter and can start kicking seven shades of shit out of those pesky Earthlings. Check out numerous vids all over t’interweb to see what kind of innovative toys and weaponry Turtle Rock have thought up to help you all enjoy the bloodthirsty joy of the slaughter. Pre-order…check.

Far Cry 4

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Well. I’ve barely got over the sad day that I finished Far Cry 3 – one of the best games I can remember in some time – and now this? As long as Ubisoft don’t fuck up and just go with the ‘if it ain’t broke’ attitude we should be on track for another epic, immersive and outstanding piece of gaming. This time we are set in the Himalayas – complete with elephants and the like – and if the opening 5 minutes is anything to go by we should be in for a treat come Christmas. This time they have included full 2-player campaign co-op which quite frankly is almost too much for me to take and I may just have to curl up into a whimpering foetus and cry myself to death. How they are going to top FC3’s Vaas Montenegro – one of the all time great gaming villains – I don’t know, but they are giving it their best shot with weirdo fuck chops Pagan Min who enjoys helicopters, pink suits, and stabbing employees to death with pens.

Alien Isolation

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Don’t start getting all “oh for fooks sake mun, not another tossy Alien game”. All I can say is; this ain’t like them. Check out some vids and you’ll soon see this is ALIEN Isolation, not ALIENS. If James Cameron’s undisputed classic was a tackle-out action fest, then Ridley Scott’s masterpiece was surely the birth of survival horror in space. That’s what this is; survival horror. 15 years after Ellen Ripley pushed the red button on the Nostromo, you are her daughter Amanda trying to piece together what happened. You find yourself all but alone on the scarily empty space station Sevastopol. Just you and a big fat fucking Xeno for company. No M41A Pulse Rifles, no sonic electronic ballbreakers, no sharp sticks. Just you, a motion tracker and your wits. I nearly shat my knick-knacks just watching a walkthrough vid so I am aching for its October release. Developed by Brit outfit The Creative Assembly with some silly-good high end graphics, this could be the Alien game we all need to convince us all Alien games aren’t shit.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

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If you need me to talk about this you haven’t read any of my previous blogs and probably shouldn’t be here. Borderlands = one of the best games ever made. Gearbox handed this one to 2K Australia so if it’s rubbish it doesn’t matter. But it won’t be. It’s fucking Borderlands.

Tales From The Borderlands

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Speaking of which, the other Borderlands game is Telltale Games episodic adventure type deal a la The Walking Dead. Having currently not played The Walking Dead (Series 1 or 2) I have no point of reference but I have heard nowt but splendid stories about it and it is currently sitting un-played in my Steam Library awaiting my attention. Anyway, hopes are high for this.

Elite: Dangerous

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If you are unfamiliar with Elite and need an explanation for this little beauty you really are reading the wrong blog. Suffice to say that current-gen graphics, a billion solar systems, 3 friends and a ‘flight system’ joystick/throttle that costs more than a Faberge Egg make for something potentially so good you may wish to sell everything you own, say your goodbye’s to loved ones, and see out your days trading platinum in space. Bring. It.

Hellraid

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Techland again, and they loooove their 4-player co-op stuff. Which, to be honest, I can only applaud. Hellraid substitutes zombies for medieval supernatural shit, with skellingtons, mages and the like twatting each other senseless. It’s melee and magic Vs the armies of Hell. I’m hopeful this will be what I hope……hence ‘hopeful’…….forget it.

Homefront: The Revolution

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This was an unexpected one and no mistake. For those not in the know, Homefront was a Call of Duty rip-off developed by Kaos Studios and published by THQ in 2011. It was well known for the following. A) Being a bit shit. B) Sending THQ bankrupt and C) ‘Maybe’ being written by Hollywood screenwriter John Milius. Maybe, because though he’s billed on the credits it is widely believed that actually he didn’t write a single word, and whilst he certainly did write Apocalypse Now, Conan The Barbarian and Dirty Harry, he’s also a self proclaimed right-wing extremist, so there’s that. Anyway, the premise was pretty cool; a unified Korea basically invade and occupy the US. Much savagery ensues. The delicious Crytek have picked up this IP now though and appear to be adding their own brand of special sauce to turn this into more of an open world type resistance shooter. Which, one cannot deny, is exciting.

The Division

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Again, this is one I’ve not been shy about talking about. Ubisoft’s open world, 4-player co-op shooter with a seriously next-generation-level of environmental detail thanks to the brand spanking new Snowdrop Engine. It looks quite simply epic. I’m trying to keep myself in check with this given Ubisoft’s track record with….erm….almost everything and not least Tom Clancy games (of which this is one). Having said that, when they get it right, they REALLY can get it right. Let’s just hope their PC version is more than just after birth, and that the vids and walkthroughs I’ve seen do the finished article justice. Guess we’ll find out next year.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

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Lara Croft is at it again with Square Enix’s next instalment in the Tomb Raider franchise. For anyone not au fait with my previous blogs, Tomb Raider was one of my favourite games that I played last year and I am thoroughly looking forward to this next offering. Plus, y’know, Lara’s blatantly hot as fuck.

No Man’s Sky

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The contender to Elite’s crown perhaps? Hmm, I have to say I am definitely intrigued. From what I can gather we are talking full, galaxy exploration, which includes the planet surfaces themselves. What I mean is, picture this: You are swimming in clear blue waters, you climb out onto a golden beach among lush, bright vegetation and the varying wildlife of a given planet, you climb into your fighter, you take off, fly about for a bit, breach atmosphere and you’re in orbit, then hyperspace, then another solar system, then you pick another planet and do it all over again. The word ‘potential’ doesn’t even do it justice. Details appear to be thin on the ground when it comes to actual purpose of the game and the mechanics of it, but it’s definitely got the gaming community wanting lots more.

HUNT: Horrors of the Gilded Age.

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Crytek once again getting my saliva glands all moist. This particular morsel is full 4-player, 3rd person co-op, set in the early 20th Century. Priests, cowboys and similar people of the time are the characters – all with their own skill trees and the like, and all hunting various supernatural monsters and creatures from folklore around Europe and the America’s. Expect crazy nuts cultists and supernatural crazy shit to be fodder of the day which may give some juicy variety to standard enemies. Shotguns, pistols and rifles seem fairly welcome, if expected, but reports of them mixing it up with the odd special ‘weapon’ such as a Bible (which is a book, apparently) which a priest can read verses from causing some enemy types to die or whatever as their demons are exorcised. That kind of shit sounds rather spunky if you ask me. Characters also apparently have a large variety of customisable gear as well if you care about such things. Reports are that this will be free to play. Crytek seem to be big advocates of that model, so maybe I’m just having trouble moving with the times when I say I still have reservations about F2P titles. It never makes me think ‘yay’ – it always makes me think ‘oh’. What can I say, I need convincing that free games aren’t second rate games, so maybe this could be the one to turn me.

Rainbow Six: Siege

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With Rainbow 6 Patriots still currently AWOL, this is going to be filling the Six void for now. But rest assured this definitely doesn’t just look like filler. This looks good. Back to basics Rainbow Six tactical shooter stuff. Made for co-op. The gameplay vid had me going back half a dozen times as Team Six raided a large domestic property with a dozen goons inside and 1 poor wickle hostage. Destructible environments, customisable load outs, everything you would expect from a classic R6 game but with all the mod-cons too including aerial pre-siege overlook to help you plan your entry-points (which are entirely your own choice) and cheeky little drones and spy cams to give you the heads up on those pesky terrorists. Obviously Ubisoft comes with a warning, but this definitely looks the part.

The Evil Within

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Now that Resident Evil games are basically a bit shit, and at best a shadow of their former selves, it’s easy to forget what they used to be. Unrelenting masterpieces of survival horror, that’s what. And that is largely down to one single man. Shinji Mikami. Well, he left Capcom long ago and Japanese developers Tango Gameworks snapped him up and set him and his brain loose on the world once more. The result is The Evil Within. Think old school resident evil in a modern era, complete with current-gen graphics, oodles of post-Hostel gore and all manner of horrendous and disturbed nasties conjured up in the nightmares of this clearly damaged brain. Watch the first 5 mins on Youtube to see just how fucked up this shit is going to be. Have fun kids!

So, Aside from those main players there were other games that got my attention for various reasons, but don’t quite warrant a full piece of pie to themselves. Batman: Arkham Knight and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor both made me want to go back and catch up on those respective, critically acclaimed series. Mirrors Edge 2 made me want to pick up its predecessor and see what all the fuss was about (which I did). Mortal Kombat X can’t help but awaken the nostalgic teenager in me and I can easily see myself picking this up on a whim just to satisfy his blood lust. And Sniper Elite 3 has been written about by me enough and will surely be another splendid Nazi killing game by Rebellion.

Assassins Creed: Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Halo 5, Destiny and Battlefield: Hardline were all hugely covered at E3 as you can imagine. Those titles alone probably account for a large percentage of the entire cash flow of the gaming industry. But they excite me not, I’m afraid, and it would be disingenuous of me to start mouthing off about how the world finally gets to see Destiny or what colour underpants Master Chief will be wearing in Halo 5. I don’t even know if the dude’s alive, didn’t he die? Anyway, who gives a shit. Not me.

So, just like England in a World Cup, it seems over before it had started. E3 gone for another year.

By the way, as I write this there is a Steam Summer Sale on so go and buy a load of good games at silly process.

That is all. You may leave.

Oh, one more thing before I go. Doom. That is all.

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Get over here….

There I was, living my life, doing my things, and then this happened.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFVgTdPZ6p8

It’s been over 20 years since Mortal Kombat was first unleashed onto the World in all its blood-soaked, ultra-violent barbarity. It caused a stir and no mistake. But more than that, it started something. Henceforth nothing would be the same. When Mortal Kombat landed, gaming came of age.

MK logo

But we’ll get onto that later. First up, ‘where have I been’ I hear no one caring about or saying or anything. Well, I’ve been not really in the whole gaming thing for a while. I’ve been kind of more on the film thing, and other things. I’ve been dabbling with Titanfall, which – yes – is very very very good and I hope to find time in the not too distant future to utterly immerse myself in it as every egotistical FPS super-freak should do. I’m currently enjoying the spoils of Rapture/Columbia in Bioshock Infinites 2nd DLC (and last I believe) which is just as saucy and delicious as its Big Daddy counterpart (my favourite game of last year dontcha know).

So yeah, I’ve not been blogging for a bit because, well, I really can’t force it. It needs to flow. A bit like an open wound if you like. Or a sewer. Or the Gush for all you Brass Eye fans. I’m never ‘out the game’ though; I’m always balls deep in the gaming world trying to keep up with the ebb and flow of the tides. The current generation consoles are in full swing and still, if I might say, not really impressing me much (plus some cretins still insist on calling them ‘next-gen’ for eff’s sake – clearly ‘next’ refers to whatever come after now and not what is actually now. That would just be ‘now’. Am I wrong?). Among The Sleep has been released to largely positive reviews; an indi-game I clucked about way back in one of my first blogs. Elite Dangerous Beta is imminent. I still haven’t played The Last of Us, and yes, I still badly want to. And no, I still haven’t finished Borderlands 2…….(*glares at those who can help change that…..you know who you are*). There was also a reboot of a childhood fav of mine – Strider which sits un-played in my Steam library, and the brand spanking new Wolfenstein which almost nudged me out of my hibernation last week but for various reasons didn’t quite.

I mean cripes, guys – I haven’t really been gone that long. It’s not exactly like in films where the bloke comes out of prison after 35 years and finds the world has passed him by and he’s just some hollow relic of a forgotten age. AMD and Nvidia still fucking hate each other. Call of Duty games are still popular and frequent. Fox News is still blaming violent video games for all the bad gun-shit that keeps happening in America (found it most amusing to see one of their favourite news-shitters vent his righteous spleen at Ubisoft’s new AAA behemoth ‘Watch Dogs’ which, according to said fucktard, actually teaches players how to hack real world computers and systems. Like, in real life. Cunt).

Anyway, so there I was, existing and walking around and stuff. When it was announced that Mortal Kombat X (which, as I understand it, is the number 10 in some ancient and forgotten tongue) was dropping in 2015.

Mortal – fecking – Kombat. It may seem like an odd one to shake me from my slumber. It’s not exactly high on my currently-played lists. I sort of lost interest to be honest way back when they started going all Primal Rage and basically making the game into ‘who can memorise the longest combo’ kind of twattery. But never the less, whilst that may or may not have been an inevitable requirement in the genre of the beat ‘em up, when MK first hit (or should that be smashed repeatedly) the streets, it really did change the whole landscape.

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A brief history then – Developed by Midway (in liquidation since 2009…sad face) waaay back in 1992 – yes, 1992 sports fans. That’s the year before Doom was released. Mortal Kombat was an arcade goliath. When it came to fighters, it was that and Street Fighter 2 which was released a year earlier. Street Fighter was and remains undoubtedly the Godfather of fighting games, but Mortal Kombat took things to the next level. In 1993 it was ported to various consoles, including the two big boys – Nintendo’s epic Super NES, and Sega’s last real player, the Megadrive (or Genesis if you are from the US).

This bit was the problem really. See, the thing about Mortal Kombat was that it was violent. Not like Street Fighter 2 – a fighting game – was violent. No, this was like, really violent. Really really fucking violent. Jesus Christ I loved it. Gone were the Manga/anime cartoon hero’s and villains of Capcom’s Street Fighter saga. In came digitized sprites, based on actors to make everything more….well, real. This made things all the more impressive when the hardcore violence kicked in. And oh, did it ever. Straight away you knew shit was gonna get real. Some of the arena’s had backgrounds festooned with Vlad the Impaler style heads-on-spikes and bits of torso on chains and stuff. Fat splashes of bright red blood would spew forth from a satisfying smash in the teeth against your opponent. But all this was just the hors d’oeuvres to the bleeding main course which was the Fatality.

I spent vast swathes of my teenage (and beyond) existence in arcades, and more money that I care to comprehend. I had many good times and like to think that the ridiculous amount of hours I put in helped me somehow in later life be a better……I dunno, man? Ok, not man. I had some great times. But there were fewer greater things in those years than when you beat your opponent in Mortal Kombat……….

The crowd around the arcade hushed – the arena background darkens leaving only you and your dazed, defeated foe in the limelight – the music gives way to that dull, menacing tone like the Devil himself was writing the score – and the voice of Shang Tsung barks the immortal words “FINISH HIM”. It’s fatality time, and if you fucked it up, no amount of ‘flawless victory’ would ever undo the shame. →↓↘→Punch – and Sub Zero would uppercut, tearing the head from your screaming opponent, ripping it from their lifeless torso, and hold it aloft like a trophy, spinal column still intact and dangling beneath it. As a teenage boy, you have to understand, this was some unbelievably cool shit right there.

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And that was also the problem in more ways than one. It was popular – HUGELY popular. But it was violent. Really violent. Don’t get me wrong, we’d had violent games before. But the digitized sprites and the very nature of this game really was like nothing else I’d ever seen. Naturally, consoles wanted to get in on this shit, and Midway were obviously chomping at the bit to get the greenlight from the two mighty console players, Sega and Nintendo. For Sega, it was a no brainer, but Nintendo had an issue. That being, it was Nintendo. The company that brought you such fun family favourites and Mario World and lots of other child-friendly games. Think ‘Disney’s Conan The Barbarian’ and you get the picture. How were Nintendo going to square this unashamed ultra violence with the Nintendo faithful. Basically, they used the c word. Censorship.

Bear in mind, all this was before there were gaming regulators in the same way there are today. After all , gaming was for kids, right? It was primarily a child’s medium. But, well, no – it wasn’t. Not anymore. The kids who grew up in the first generation of arcades and playing their Spectrum’s at home were all growing up and becoming developers themselves. The late 80’s fueled their fires with films like Robocop and Predator – gamers, hell, gaming was coming of age, and Mortal Kombat was the shining beacon to the world that showed just that. In fact, it was primarily because of Mortal Kombat that the US started the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) which still classifies games to this day in the US. The UK simply gave those duties to the BBFC which was already doing the job well enough with films.

But back to 1993, and without these regulating bodies in place, Nintendo took it upon themselves to censor the game. Red blood was out – er…..green blood was in. Gone were the heads on pikes and various other nasty things. Gone were basically any of the cool fatalities (I remember Kano pulling not a beating heart from his opponents torso….but a – er, grey blob of….well, grey). Sega on the other hand were not bound by such a family friendly association and opted instead to release the game with an option (or a cheat, I can’t quite remember) to turn the gore on in all its ‘gory’….hahaha, see what I did? The result? The Sega version of Mortal Kombat out sold the Nintendo version by about 5 to 1. I don’t want to make this out to be that violence was the only thing this game had going for it. It really was actually a good game as well, albeit the tried and tested Street Fighter formula. But it did it very well.

kano censor

^ Is that…..what is that??

As for me, it was surely fate that Mortal Kombat was released on consoles in the UK on Monday, September 13th, 1993. ‘Mortal Monday’. My birthday.

And that’s why the announcement of MKX sparked this blog. The personal touch. To this day the Mortal Kombat games pride themselves in pushing the boundaries of unbelievable gaming violence, but hey, it’s Mortal Kombat. Not that that I really play them anymore, but I’d be kind of disappointed if they didn’t continue pushing those boundaries. Even well known game-journo’s such as Charlie Brooker has voiced concern over the level’s of violence in some of their more recent outings (Kung Lao’s ‘Buzzsaw’ fatality is especially gruesome, check YouTube for a taster).

kung lao

^ Kung Lao gets medieval

But I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to that view. Rating boards are essential, and I think the BBFC/ESRB do a good job, as with film, on giving guidance as to what is appropriate for which age-range. But above that I don’t think censorship is the answer. In fact, I don’t even really think there is a question to answer. I don’t think my parents were that worried about me buying Mortal Kombat; maybe because they were confident that I had a functioning sense of reality vs fantasy, or maybe just because they had no fucking clue you could tear someone’s head off and hold it aloft in giddy, bloodthirsty splendour. Whichever, it surely did me no harm, right kids?

Anyway, that’s me for the day, I’m sure we’ll get to see more of Mortal Kombat X (and shed loads more) at E3. I’m off to saw someone’s face off and dance in their blood. Toodles.

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One of the Titans

There be rumblings out there. I feel it in the earth and in the water. The ballistic crack of high powered assault rifles, the dull pulse of jet packs and the ground rattling thud of a Titanfall – mechanised war-suites injected into a battle ground from orbit. Things may never be the same again.

Talos

^Talos – Not one of the Titan’s…

Of all the upcoming games to tickle not just my own gaming loins, but the gaming community in general, this would appear to be the big one. The anticipation is as big as the titular war machines themselves. Everywhere I look the cogs of industry and marketing pump out teasers and adverts and posters and banners and footage and more showcasing this behemoth, this potential game change in the FPS genre. And I have to say, I like what I see.

Now, I’m not here to fellate Microsoft, Respawn (devs) or the game itself – it’s not like I’m getting paid for this shit and nobody reads it anyway, but I am EXCITED by this monster that will be slamming into my life on 14th March. There is something new about it, something fresh, something that no one has quite managed to pull off properly before, but it looks like Respawn might just have nailed it.

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Respawn Entertainment – for those who know not – is a ‘new’ development studio created by two gentlemen who go by the names of Jason West and Vince Zampella. These two colossi of gaming development were formally running ‘tings at Infinity Ward and are largely responsible for some of the biggest games in history; that being arguably the best titles in the Call of Duty franchise. It’s true to say that today, although the COD games are still raking in the kind of cold cash that would make a Russian gangster feel inadequate, they are feeling a little bit tired now. Ghosts was, predictably enough just a bit samey and somehow feels like the franchise is coasting, like Black Ops 2 did before it (and Black Ops 1, and Modern Warfare 3……maybe). Therefore you may be forgiven for rolling your eyes when I say “Respwan were responsible for Call of Duty blah blah” – but let’s not forget that COD fatigue has only kicked in recently; a few years ago things were different. A few years ago Call of Duty: Modern Warfare dropped – and that changed everything.

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^ COD:MW Changed everything

From the very beginning Modern Warfare felt different, unique, fresh, relevant, current. The things we take for granted (and indeed are now growing weary of) in COD games – and its competitors – were like flashes of brilliance that kicked the genre in the nuts and demanded it stood to f*cking attention. Relentless waves of enemies chucking pounds of brass at the tiny outcropping of cover you were huddled behind, forcing you to move under fire to the next position. I can’t tell you what a revelation that was for me. Having to move on without clearing a battleground was not something I was used to. Generally I am one to lay waste to my enemy before I stride over their cold corpses surveying the blood-washed arena which I have created, only then deciding after catching my breath that I will move on and do it all again. Add to this the characters, voiced by real and in some cases genuinely talented actors (Soap and the SAS guys particularly stand out) and a story that wasn’t a retreading of a World War II ‘favourite’, but presented a not-completely-unrealistic current-affairs take on the Middle East crisis. All with M4’s, red-dot sites, javelins, and Barratt .50 cals. It genuinely felt like “why hasn’t anyone done this before?”

And I can’t help but think – or hope – that those same guys have pulled it off again.

It’s fairly common knowledge that West and Zampella were fired from Activision in very disagreeable and unceremonious circumstances. What followed was an exodus of 40+ Infinity Ward employees who all joined Respawn Entertainment. That sucks if your Activision, but for us mere mortals it bodes well. Oh so very well.

Titanfall is their first game, and they are once again looking to slam the genre in the testicles with a big, mechanised boot. The game is touted as a blending of multiplayer and campaign. Injecting vertical combat with the use of jet packs enabling players to easily scale walls and buildings adding a 3rd dimension (or ‘verticality’) to the arena. This in itself is tantalising, giving a free-running element to proceedings which is very fashionable at the moment. The gameplay footage looks intense, fast paced, unrelenting – all the elements I enjoy most in an FPS.

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^ Collectors Edition is a must…

And let us not forget the mighty Titans. Mechs have always been popular in sci-fi, whether in film, game or literature, and I won’t waste your time by spouting off about examples which are doubtlessly already invading your head boxes as you read. But somehow no one has really ever pulled off the feat of really – REALLY – nailing the feeling of being in one and commanding the battlefield. Lots of games give you a ‘mech-moment’; maybe a whole level if you’re lucky to wander around and twat some bad guys with chain guns and rockets (and not much else) and have some fun. But Titanfall puts the mechs front and centre, seemingly striking the balance by having not just enemy Titans as well but giving the foot soldiers the advantage of speed, agility, jetpacks and the ability to climb on your back and pull your mech-brain out the back of your-mech skull. Not to mention the ability to seamlessly enter and exit your Titan without interrupting the flow of slaughter – and this includes commandeering enemy mechs as well. Kill? Or Commandeer? Choices, choices.

Titanfall-Angel-City

I’m sure anyone reading this has already been touched by the Titanfall marketing machine and may be growing weary of the hype. Maybe it is hype. But bare in mind this is Xbox One and PC exclusive, not PS4. I hope very much the hype machine is being helped along by the fact that Titanfall is f*cking good, and not just because Microsoft are pumping squillions of Earth-monies into trying to dump upon their rivals.

Regardless, on March the 14th the Titan’s fall, and then we’ll know.

I-besoft, We-besoft, Ubisoft

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Rejoice, oh fans of Crytek’s 2004 classic Far Cry. Ubisoft have announce that a….how do I put it, redux? Re-release?…..of said First Person delightfulness will be available as of February 11th in the form of Far Cry: Classic. Updated visuals, brand new cut scenes and other jiggery pokery means that for just $9.99 (US Bucks y’all) you can go back to the Island where it all began and retread those most hallowed of grounds in all their glory….

…….Not if you have a PC though. Sorry, did I forget to mention that bit? That’s right, Far Cry: Classic – originally released solely for the PC back in ’04 if you recall – will not be given a PC release.

Aaaaaand that little event perfectly sums up Ubisoft, who are the subject (or should that be target) of this particular episode of my game ramblings.

Here’s the thing about ole Ubi; they have made – and continue to make – some of the best games put to code. But where once the name Ubisoft was synonymous with edgy, hardcore titans like the Tom Clancy Series (at least, I think it was, right?), now they fall into the same category as other bloated, faceless, corporate monoliths like EA and are known for their lazy and third rate approach to anything even resembling a PC game. And that’s the bit that stings.

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Waaaaay back in the mid 80’s Ubisoft – started by 5 brothers in Brittany – made deals with Electronic Arts, Sierra On-Line and MicroProse to distribute their games in France. Success quickly led to other deals in other territories and before you could say Rainbow Six, Ubisoft started their own development arm.  Today, they boast around 30 individual studios (some founded by Ubi, others acquired over the years) in 19 countries. They employ the world’s second largest amount of in-house developers and can claim to be the third largest independent games developer on the whole ruddy planet. So well done them. But success, as usual, comes at a price. Ubisoft’s price was their connection to the very fans that made them what they are.

Up until 2004, every Tom Clancy game (all owned by Ubisoft since they acquired Tom Clancy’s own Red Storm Entertainment after the very first Rainbow Six game back in 1998) was released on PC. We are talking around a dozen Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon Titles, with all of their DLC’s and sequels and extra bits and pieces, many of which were solely available on Windows. Not to mention titles like Far Cry, the Rayman Series, and a whole grab-bag of random titles that helped build Ubisoft into a giant on the development and publishing stage. That changed – slowly at first – but then as the inevitable wave of cash poured in from the console market, Ubisoft left the PC world behind. Forgotten. Betrayed.

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It feels as if they almost resent the PC market now. Their games, not all, but most, many of which with sooo much potential, are invariably chucked through their in-house ‘porting machine’ that seems to require little more than “Press 1 to port to PC”. And lo – a PC version of Rainbow Six: Vegas is shat out like an unwanted colonic tumour and left to fester in its own bile. Leaving half finished games riddled with more bugs than a Ukrainian prostitutes toilet seat. Connection issues, crash to desktop, GPU incompatibility, key-bindings (I mean, key bindings, what the actual fuck?) Jesus, Far Cry: Blood Dragon doesn’t even run on my machine to this day and Ubi’s tech support was like talking to office IT punks who can barely manage to change printer toner. Trying to have a 4-player co-op session on Vegas 2 really was like being in Vegas in that it was a roll of the fucking dice whether or not we’d get a game at all.

And it’s as if they don’t even give a shit. I mean, they barely even hide their contempt. There’s precisely dick in the way or after sales support. Almost no patching. Ghost Recon: Future soldier even had their PC version canned after not much time in development without even a fucking press release out of courtesy to their fans. And then what happens? A year later the Ubisoft Porting Machine dumps out the PC version with barely a whimper, like it didn’t even touch the sides. Was it worth the wait? Was it fuck. What a load of tripe. The potential in that game had me salivating; pre-planning tactical scenarios and custom load outs with my clan for weeks before hand. What an unmitigated disaster, a total waste of my life and a scar of disappointment that will never fully heal.

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That’s what is so painful; when Ubisoft nail it, they really nail it. When they don’t, it feels like they simply don’t care about the PC market any more. If it wasn’t for the fact that Vegas 2 was such an unbelievably good game – once you managed to get in there – we would have simply thrown it to the side and cracked on with something else. But God it was good. Naturally we expected the same from Future Soldier. We were wrong.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the latest title I’ve played of theirs, and guess what? It’s very good. A clean PC port, excellent gameplay, and challenging to boot. So why the inconsistency? How was Ghost Recon so badly done and yet Blacklist seems to have made the transition effortlessly? It’s for reasons like this the phrase “don’t hold your breath” is so common within the circles I dwell when talking about Ubisoft, because you just never know. All faith has gone. When you talk about Valve, Gearbox, Irrational, Crytek, these guys have had hits, and misses, but you can’t shake the feeling in your heart that these guys want to make good games; artists constrained by the shackles of commerce. Ubisoft, EA, Activision, these are the billion dollar goliath’s, raking in cash, buying up indie-developers and swallowing their souls. Money machines, worrying ever so slightly about the whole creative side of things – and yes occasionally turning out fucking good games.

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That is where they dwell now; the mighty halls of big industry gaming, where the PC crowd are very far from The Master Race. It’s all Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs and other AAA titles.

It’s a rollercoaster ride with Ubisoft. You never know which way it’s going to go. The problem is though, they have stung me too many times for me to give them the benefit if the doubt. In fact it’s now the opposite. As much as I may get excited at their upcoming releases, ultimately I assume it will be yet another ruined opportunity. It will take more than Splinter Cell: Blacklist to change that.

And so what of Ubisoft’s future? Rainbow 6: Patriots is still apparently in the works despite a horrendously bad production thus far which ended up seeing the entire creative team ‘deleted’ and Ubisoft essentially starting again from the ground up. The Division is the next title incoming (due sometime in 2014), and once again it looks like it has vast stacks of potential, with a current-gen breakthrough in destructible and dynamic environments and an excellent 4-player co-op system. But guess what, it was only confirmed that it would have PC release after they asked fans via Twitter to sign a petition and declare interest. I mean Jeeeeesus.  They’ve also hinted at a Far Cry 4 which, after the instant classic that was the series third instalment, I am already excited about.

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Each one of those three titles alone has the potential to be truly epic and to be a contender for game of the year. But they also have the potential to be crushingly disappointing.

I’m hoping for the former, but guess what, It’s Ubisoft, so I won’t hold my breath.

The Future is Now…..or soon….or at least ongoing.

2014 is a go ladies and gentlemen, we are rolling. The Earth continues to complete a single revolution on its axis roughly every 24 hours AND simultaneously orbit our Sun at around 67,000 miles per hour. Mash those to astronomical factoids together and you get science, apparently. But you also get time, or more accurately our method of measuring it. Anyway, what was I talking about? Ah yes, games…..

So as we stride forth into the 2014-shaped yonder, your Bioshock Infinite’s and your Shadow Warrior’s are but distant memories, replaced instead with things in the shape of Titanfall and Dying Light. Yes folks, let us look forward to what meaty juices the rich world of games, gaming and gameage has to offer us lucky monkeys this coming 365 planetary revolutions (which is a year, I’m reliably informed).

I won’t do a list of most anticipated titles – only idiots do lists. Besides, there are too many games I’m interested in to do any kind of meaningful list, so I’ll spit my words and see what comes out.

So, not a list, and in no particular order.

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One of the first games dropping this year which has got me reasonably flustered is Eidos Montreal’s reboot of Thief. The first in this series came out back in ’98, with a sequel in 2000, both of which were great games (I didn’t play the 2004 instalment). They almost, sort of, started their own sub-genre in the First Person arena, with the onus almost entirely on stealth, plus as I recall the medieval steam-punk setting was pioneering at the time. I can’t help but feel like this reboot is somehow competing with Dishonoured which in many respects actually felt like a reboot of Thief in its own right, or at least was surely heavily influenced by its legacy. Various reports of a troubled development is always the sort of thing to set the nerves on edge (first announced back in 2009 but reworked from the ground up thereafter) however Eidos Montreal did a pretty good job with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so here’s hoping.

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There’s no doubt Titanfall is personally one of my most anticipated titles of the year. This bad boy is the first game from Respawn Entertainment, but fear not, those guys are seasoned vets, with co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella both coming from Infinity Ward and can claim to be chiefly responsible for arguably some of the best titles in the Call of Duty franchise. This game looks to be First Person Carnage at its finest, with the added dynamic of jet packs enabling you to scale buildings in a single bound thus adding literally another dimension (that being vertical) to the battlefield. Oh, and there’s also huge fuckoff mech suits (Titan’s in fact) for you to climb in fight against and oooh it’s all exciting. Please be as good as I hope.

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The other title REALLY tickling ones floppy bits is Elite: Dangerous (Frontier Developments) which I’ve written in detail about before. Strange thing this, because it seems as if my gaming family and I are the only human beings on the face of the frickin’ Earth who are in the slightest bit excited about it. How exactly is this possible? I have trawled a dozen “Most Anticipated Games of 2014” run down’s and not a single one gives it a mention, not even Games Radar’s 100 Most anticipated…… I mean, are they seriously saying there are at least 100 other games scheduled for release this year which they are more excited about? Really? Elite was nothing short of pioneering and changed the shape of gaming forever, so why aren’t people getting giddy about the reboot, especially when the Alpha release looks so saucy? What irks me more is the fact that games like Star Citizen (Cloud Imperium Games) and No Man’s Sky (Hello games) are both similar in theme and are both regulars on said lists. OK, the comparison isn’t entirely fair but you get my point.

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As it happens, Star Citizen does look pretty sweet. From what I can gather it’s a kind of double-release in that the game is actually comprised of ‘Star Citizen’ which is an MMOG, first-person, space-combat game with trade elements (like…er, Elite) but also ‘Squadron 42’ which is more of a single-player/drop-in drop-out co-op campaign typa’ thing (and we looooooovvveee co-op campaigns in these quarters).

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No Man’s Sky also looks tasty, but in all honesty I’ve only seen a wee taster trailer from VGX and from what I can gather it’s still early days, although the ability to explore the universe from the deepest oceans right through to the furthest reaches of the galaxy is certainly a USP to keep an eye on.

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Dying Light is another title high on my list for 2014. Techland have a lot to answer for after the woefully disappointing Dead Island, and Dying Light could – could – right those wrongs. All the elements are there; zombies, fluid free running, day/night dynamic, co-op (although presently un-specified what co-op elements it will offer) and although the above sounds like a mash up of Brink and Dead island – two awful, awful games – I have hope for this game.

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Mad Max from Avalanche studios is next up. Big fan of George Miller’s first two films that follow ole’ Max Rockatansky in a post apocalyptic down under. I’ve often thought it’s the basis for a good game setting and indeed I would wager id Software were influenced more than a bit when they made RAGE a couple of years ago. Open worldy, survivaly, post apocalypticy; what’s not to get excited about?

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Let’s talk horror. More accurately, survival horror from the Godfather of the Genre himself Shinji Mikami. The gameplay footage and trailers from The Evil Within (Tango gameworks) look suitably unbelievably-horrific with all manner of totally effed up shiz  going on. In fact, I’m not ashamed to say it, when I saw the gameplay trailer showcased at E3 it was dark and late and I was tired and yes fine it made me feel reasonably uneasy and getting to sleep that particular night wasn’t a pleasant experience. I look forward to many more nights of equally uneasy sleeping experiences this year.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order (Machinegames) will hopefully be a solid FPS with B.J. Blazkowics back in the saddle, this time in a mech-infused alternate reality future where Ze Pesky Nazi’s won the war or something. This is the first instalment since waaaaay back in 1992 that doesn’t have id Software involved although Machinegames are using the id Tech 5 engine, so there’s that. What can I say, I can’t help but get excited for this, and the teaser trailer set to Jimmy Hedrix’s All Along the Watchtower just set the moody mood. Plus, I mean, Nazi’s, big guns, c’mon.

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Sticking with Ze Nazi theme, Sniper Elite 3 developed once again by Rebellion has us in North Africa doing the obvious. Sniper Elite V2 was an awesome game which included full 2-player co-op campaign and then went and upped the stakes with Nazi Zombie Army 1 and 2 to the oh-so-brilliant 4-player co-op. There’s been no official statement on just how co-op SE3 will be but I think Rebellion will have missed a trick if they don’t make it 4-player drop-in drop-out. Plus I’ll be pissed off with them, which I’m sure they will be devastated about.

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Ubisoft had to make the list didn’t they? Will this be another year, with yet another disappointment from them? Let’s hope not. The Division, like soooo many Ubisoft games before it is brimming with potential. Don’t get me wrong, Ubi do make some brilliant games (Far Cry 3 a case in point) but they also have a habit of doing the worst console ports ever and just lazily dumping out PC versions without a care in the world and ruining what could be such amazing games. I am currently in the throes of wrestling with the PC port of Splinter Cell: Blacklist which has all the frustrating hallmarks of a Ubi port. I hope hope hope The Division isn’t the same because it looks like one of the few titles which could be considered ‘next gen’ (even though that phrase doesn’t apply to PC’s, but you get the idea). Plus it’s co-op and…..well, need I say more.

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I may have mentioned once or twice in previous posts that I’m a Borderlands fan. Have I? Well I am. A big fan. To say the least. Whilst we don’t have a new Borderlands game as such, we do have an episodic game ‘series’ in the vein of The Walking Dead and in fact developed by the same guys over at Telltale games. Tales from the Borderlands should begin sometime in 2014. Yay.

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A recently announced title has immediately registered highly on my excitometer – Evolve from Turtle Rock Studios pits 4 players (in co-op, of course) against 1 almighty alien (also player controlled should you so desire). Said alien starts off in an almost infant like state while the 4 players try and hunt it down and murderlise it before it grows (or ‘evolves’….see) into its adult form. A sort of hunter-becomes-hunted element is one of the games strong suits, but also the idea of every level kind of revolving around ‘a boss’ in some way is intriguing. Not to mention the possibility of having a human in the shoes of the boss in question. All very delicious.

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Another recently announced title also sounds and looks like it has absolutely ooooooodles of potential. Alien: Isolation from The Creative Assembly. I don’t need to go over the history of Alien related games and how they have on the whole fallen so very, very short of their potential (the wounds of Colonial Marines are still raw for me…..) but this looks…..different. Whilst we are still looking for a worthy successor to Rebellion’s 1999 masterpiece Alien Vs Predator in the form of a James Cameron-a-like action-fest, Isolation appears to be taking a different approach and is instead taking its lead from Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 horror-in-space. Still early days on this but it looks like The Creative Assembly have nailed the atmosphere (which is exactly what I said about Gearbox and Colonial Marines prior to its release). Please don’t be shit.

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Rounding off the list is kind of an also-ran for me but I do have the odd pang of excitement when seeing some of the visuals. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (Kojima Productions) serves as the first instalment in a double-release comprising Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain. All that doesn’t really interest me if I’m honest, the Metal gear games have been solid console performers since day dot but always felt very frustrating and repetitive for me, however early gameplay footage from ground Zeroe’s and an impressive film-like cinematic trailer just about gets it on the list.

So that’s it really. Or at least that’s the bulk of it.  There are other games which I am GAGGING to know more about and if they aren’t released this year then hopefully we will at least get some news on them. Such titles include Rainbow 6: patriots which underwent a root-and-branch creative overhaul after most of the senior players were ‘let go’ from Ubisoft. Rainbow 6 games always have potential and the premise for this looked outstanding, so let’s see what happens.

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Gearbox has been schtum on Furious 4 for a while now but hopefully they will be ready to get the ball re-rolling on their 4-player co-op Inglorious Basterds-esque Nazi-killing romper stomper.

Among The Sleep is an indie-title I blogged about many weeks ago from Nordic Independent developers Krillbite Studios. I haven’t heard anything on this for a while but now that I have schooled myself in the world of non-violent first person games I am more eager than ever to get my hands on this.

Talking of Indie-games, The Dead Linger is a kickstarter project from Sandswept I’ve been backing and once again has so much potential.  Currently in its Alpha state, it’s a full-on, open world, 4-player co-op zombie survival game in the vein of Day Z. Who knows when this will be ready to hit shelves, but when it does, let’s just hope it’s good.

Lastly, and not leastly, this one is for Valve. This could be their year what with the imminent arrival of Steam OS and the Steam Machines, but must we go another year without any news on Half Life 3? What about Left 4 Dead 3? Will we see another sequel to possibly the best co-op series of all time? Do something amazing Valve. You know you want to.

And so that’s that. What more will the year of gaming offer us mere mortals? Hopefully lots of lovely stuff for me to play and write about.

You may now return to your lives.

P.S. I have never forgotten about Hidden & Dangerous, I just dare not utter the words…….

The Age of the Steam Machine….

With the general lackluster reaction to the next gen consoles – (a bit of opinion passed off as fact there) – the world of all things gaming is starting to get sweaty about Valve’s intriguing and potentially game-changing Steam Machines.

I’m primarily a PC gamer it has to be said, but the plan for this particular installment in the blogosphere is to be as objective as possible. The Steam Initiative (as it henceforth shall be known) is bold, intriguing and exciting for me if for no other reason than to see what The Mighty Valve can do to get a shoe in on the ‘living-room’ market.

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I think that’s a good starting block as it happens: Valve. They are really the only ones who could initiate such bold attempt at cracking a notoriously tough nut. They have been a pioneering game developer for a long time now; Founding Father Gabe Newell is considered an industry behemoth and revered with almost Yoda-like admiration and respect within the gaming world. Valve themselves are known for their innovation and pioneering initiatives not only in game development but also in their general ethos to the industry and their company, and in turn seem to breed excellence as standard. Steam is an example of this, and while it was a rocky start for the digital distribution platform it was the first of its kind and is now, basically, standard-issue for any PC gamer, with the likes of EA and Ubisoft et al only now attempting to emulate their success with varying degrees of terrible. Oh, Valve are also known for taking f**king ages with everything as well, but that’s an aside.

Indeed Valve’s entire approach to infiltrating the living-room space seems so very, typically, Valve. It doesn’t seem like an aggressive invasion, or a declaration of war that you might feel from the mighty electro-giants of Sony or Microsoft. Imagine if this entire scenario was perpetrated by Apple or Samsung, it would feel much more of a cold, corporate attempt to muscle in, but with Valve you get the distinct impression they aren’t trying to start a fight, they just genuinely believe there is a gap which they are best equipped to fill. A gap which, if successfully filled, could change everything for consoles.

So, the gap then. Does it even exist? Tough one that. Personally, I think yes. For sooo many years now I and other PC gamers have oft remarked on the fact that consoles by their very nature can never really be cutting edge in terms of processing and graphical capabilities and are instead very quickly out of date and left behind by the march of technology. I won’t dwell on the same old arguments though, this is in no way an indictment on consoles, just merely pointing out a factor which Valve appears to be addressing. On the flip side of that coin of course is the plethora of potential issues that can occur with having a PC. Compatibility, software, cash, all become factors in the PC Gaming world, especially if, like me, you want to try and keep up with the technology at least to a degree. For these reasons it can be a lot simpler to have a machine that you simply press ‘go’ on and boom, you’re playing.

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With those reasons (and others) in mind I think the Steam boxes do fill a gap. The question ultimately will be, is the gap a problem enough for gamers to want to get the gap filler (if that terrible sentence makes any sense)?

It’s a tough call, because on one hand, this gap is getting smaller. The Steam boxes are effectively going to be PC’s for your living room in a console-shaped box (not effectively, that’s actually what they are). But isn’t that the way consoles are already going? The Xbox One and PS4 seem to be crowing about how they are ‘media-centres’ which I would argue in part is because they are struggling to define and justify themselves in a tech-savvy market who is only too aware their gaming capabilities do, and will always lag behind their PC counterparts. On the other hand however, maybe it’s the perfect time for this bridge between the PC and living room. Maybe the relatively unimpressive impact (not in units sold, but in favourable reviews) the new consoles have had on the gamersphere illustrates that, in fact, the time of the console is coming to an end and the current incarnations are living out console’s last generation and that their struggle to find their own place in the universe has afforded the opportunity for Valve to come in and smash the shit out the industry.

That’s really the key issue; can a Steam Machine exist in the same world as a console? Can they co-exist? And if not, who’s going to go? Xbox and Playstation have good pedigree and loyal (oh-so loyal) fans that would likely never turn away from their beloved games machines even in the face of utter, incontrovertible defeat. But then, gamers want to game, and if the Steam Boxes do it better than the consoles, what’s to say a slow and steady migration won’t leave the consolers adrift and dwindling in numbers before the generation is out. The gaming-road is strewn with the corpses of dead consoles and once-mighty titans of the industry that have been forced out into oblivion. Sega, Atari, even Nintendo who were so successful in staying out of the Xbox/Playstation wars a decade ago with one of the greatest consoles of all time, the Game Cube, are starting to slip as the overwhelming tide of cash generated from your CoD’s and GTA’s begin to force them into the realm of a second-class console, and no-one lasts in that realm for long.

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Valve also have some very powerful weapons in their arsenal, not just their reputation and track record on innovation: The games. Not least the calibre of their own games; Half Life, DOTA, Left 4 Dead, Counter Strike, Portal – not many developers can boast a roster like that.  It may seem counter intuitive citing games as a big pro in the Steam Box corner, after all exclusive AAA titles are rarely exclusive to PC’s. But that could change were Valve to release Steam Box Exclusive titles – can you imagine Half Life 3 exclusive to Steam machine? That would be enough to put the shits up Sony and Microsoft. In addition, game developers would surely relish their games being fully compatible with everyone’s device should the Steam Boxes draw gamers away from consoles. Instead of having to adapt or port multi-platform titles, with the various restrictions and parameters that come with that, I can only assume dev’s would be far happier developing for one platform, unrestricted by the glass ceilings that consoles demand. In addition, Valve’s OS being open-source can only add to developers licking their lips with anticipation.

But the weapons cache doesn’t end there, oh no. Valve isn’t manufacturing any hardware, they have left that to the hardware experts, and as I write this Valve have just announced 14 individual Steam Machines from various manufacturers. And this surely has to be one of the main selling points. Steam Machines range from around $500 up to the ridiculously high end $6000 (no GBP prices as yet). And judging from some of the proposed specs the lower end models are easily comparable to the latest consoles. The CyberPowerPC rig comes in at $499 and boasts a GTX 760 GPU, 8GB RAM, 500G storage and an Intel i5 CPU (AMD GPU and CPU variables available). That is the lowest tier Steam Machine and quite frankly it easily competes with the Xbox or PS4, and don’t forget, these things are upgradeable!

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^ Alienware’s entry into the Steam Machine world

Low tier not for you? Fancy splashing the cash? The Origin PC Chronos boasts an i7 Intel CPU and a twin 6GB Nvidia GTX Titan GPU’s (yes, twin). Falcon Northwest have their Tiki models in a range from around $500 up to a monstrous $6k with up to 6TB of storage and again rocking the mighty, currently-unrivalled GTX Titan (I want one…..).

I could do a whole blog just on the variables, but the point is Valve have concentrated on the software – the thing they excel at – and left the hardware up to the experts to produce an entire range of Steam Machines to fit any option you may desire. If any operation were ever to be successful in changing the current way of things, this approach must surely be it. Valve at the helm, multiple hardware options, but all basically plug and play.

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Of course, the other big difference between consoles and PC’s is the input devices, i.e. mouse & keyboard vs joypad. I’ve written a little on this before in previous articles but suffice to say on many games – First Person Shooters primarily – the precision and speed of a mouse & keyboard is of course unrivalled. Whilst some modders have managed to get the mouse and keyboard rigged up on their Xbox’s – which is totally cool by the way – Steam have not ignored this obvious difference and once again have provided what appears to be a ‘revolutionary’ mid-way solution. Anyone remotely savvy about the subject of this article will by now have probably seen the Steam Machine controller and whether you are excited by it or not, I would like to think most of us can agree we are at the very least intrigued. Haptic feedback on two smooth, circular trackpads which boast high fidelity resolution approaching that of a mouse, much greater than any traditional joypad that has come before. These pads are also clickable, acting like buttons in themselves, and the central console is due to be a customisable touch-screen for various buttons, although current prototypes have a 4-button configuration rather than the touch-pad.

All of this adds up to something very exciting if you ask me. The thing that stimulates my loins the most is just to see what impact this will have on the industry. Maybe it will be a complete non-starter, with PC gamers sticking to their rigs and consolers eschewing the Steam Machine’s in favour of what they know. Maybe Steam will annihilate the competition and leave Xbox, Playstation and even traditional PC’s fighting it out for the pitiful scraps left in its wake.

If it does strike a chord with gamers I think the effect would likely be more subtle. People who have recently forked out a fat stack of green for a new console – and there are many as Microsoft’s 3-million-Xbox’s-sold announcement shows – are unlikely to be doing the same again for a Steam Box any time soon, but if it’s as good as it could be I would guess the shift away from consoles (or indeed PC’s) and toward Steam Engine’s will be more of gradual migration rather than a tidal surge.

Whichever way it goes, I’ll be here, shitting my word-guts all over the interblog in a pitiful attempt to get people to like me and trying in vain to convince people I know what I’m talking about.

I don’t. All I do know is, I love games, and the Steam Machine’s excite me.

Now go, for I grow weary of you.

2014…….not yet

Well here is 2014 then, a world record for the most amount of years counted since the year 0, so well done everyone, and well done to the world for that great achievement.

Obviously with this being a gaming blog I am itching to do a full round up of what I am looking forward to in the coming 12 months, something which I briefly touched on in my last instalment. But before I look forward to the New Year I think there are a couple of loose ends I need to tie off first.

There were a few games that I really should have played last year that I didn’t. Namely the trio of ‘Gone Home’, ‘ Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ and ‘Tomb Raider’. Well, I couldn’t face the possibility of marching into 2014 with these stragglers floating un-played behind me in some kind of gaming limbo, especially when a Steam Sale made all 3 available for less than 25 pounds of British Sterling. So I went and crunched all 3 of them over the Christmas period.

This could have been a dangerous move; imagine the utter humiliation that would befall me were any of this trinity to have been good enough to be included in my already-published ‘Top 5 Games of 2013’ – Oh the embarrassment. Fortunately they weren’t. In fact, the results were surprising….

WARNING: SPOILERS BE HERE!

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Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)

Well, Gone Home was easily my most anticipated title of the trio, and the first of the three that I sank my greasy chops into. I had heard nothing but good things about this little indie-game; Game Of The Year at VGX, 86% metacritic score, and an intriguing premise. You play a sister who returns from a year-long European vacation to her family’s new home (who moved during her trip abroad) to find her family (Mum, Dad, Sister) missing. As soon as you walk into the porch and read the note left by your sister, you can’t help but get a chill up your spine; something sinister is afoot. The atmosphere is instantaneous; the stormy night and empty house conjure up an immediately foreboding sense that something bad is about to happen, that at any minute your excrement will evacuate your body at the speed of sound due to some horrendous thing. That feeling of dread stayed with me throughout as I unravelled a back story to not only my family members but also the house itself.

This feeling of dread was superbly crafted by The Fullbright Company; the story of a crazed previous owner and family member (does crazy run in the family?), the placement of books on poltergeists and stories of Ouija boards and ghost hunting in the corridors (ghosts have always been my Achilles heel  when it comes to fear-factor). Family portraits with the faces cut out, and the building up of tension when you read a report from an electrician noting how the electrics – although safe – have been added layer upon layer over the years meaning that lights flicker and go out without warning, y’know, just to really shit you up and add yet another layer of dense, sinister atmosphere to the house.

What a set up. But here’s the real kick in the chops – what a fucking anti-climax. When the extremely short game finished (around 3 hours of gameplay) my initial feeling was….”wait, what? No, no, no, there must be some mistake, this isn’t finished…..but, but, nothing’s happened?” That’s right folks, it was all innocent and nothing to be worried about. No supernatural elements at all, no murderous mental relative, no genetic crazy gene developing in a family member – nope, sister has run away with lover, Mum & Dad on vacation, back tomorrow. What the actual fuck! Talk about a wasted opportunity? The mother of all set ups, with absolutely zero pay off. Oh where they could have taken such a flawless and crafted story. I would wager this was one reason why so many people felt the need to tell all about how remarkable this game was – which incidentally it was up until it finished – “it’s not what you think, what a twist…” etc. It’s one thing to deflate tension with something innocent (in film terms we call this a Lewton Bus) but this didn’t deflate the tension, it skipped over completely.

Such potential, but I’ll always be left with the disappointment. Gone Home – Dissapointmuch.

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze)

It’s not all about the First Person games y’know. This little gem had also registered highly on the ole’ radar. The story in itself is nothing remarkable; 2 brothers set off in a fantasy land of trolls and giants to seek the tree of life to save their dying father. But the first thing that struck me was the gameplay mechanic. Now it should be said that this game is recommended for use with a gamepad, and me being a silly-billy chose to opt for the mouse and keyboard option (what can I say, I’m a purist). I say mouse, there is actually zero requirement for the mouse in any way, even during menu’s. While the keyboard was a bit clunkier than preferred it wasn’t a big deal, but if you do have a gamepad use it.

So the gameplay mechanic is simple, but different. You control both brothers at once. It’s a top-down game so you have simple directional movement and a ‘use’ key, that’s it. You take the brothers through varying maps – each more beautiful and crafted as the next (the Giant’s battle ground is particularly outstanding) solving various puzzles and devising methods of getting from A to B. The relationship between the two brothers manages to bloom despite the limited dialogue all being in a fictional foreign tongue. Without the intent of seeming patronising (which I am certainly not) this is a beautiful little game. Again, it’s only a few hours gameplay but for the price on a Steam Sale there won’t be many games that leave this kind of an impact on you from last year. Highly recommended.

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Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics)

The Triple-A title of the bunch. One I had the least interest in and only decided I should pay it because it garnered very favourable reviews and I feel I owe it to Lara Croft because a) she’s hot and b) I have some very fond memories of the early Tomb Raider games which soaked up many, many hours of my life (playing the game, STRICTLY playing the game you dirty little monkeys).

Well, one thing’s for sure, she certainly is still hot. Hotter than ever in fact. The obvious flak that the franchise has come in for over the years revolving around Lara’s magnificent (pixelated) breasts etc has clearly been addressed in that Crystal Dynamics have made her more of a real character, investing some obvious time in her and the her dialogue. Indeed the game itself is an origin story for Lara (not the obvious ‘she’s born of a male and a female human who perform sexual intercourse….’ dur) but show’s her ‘coming of age’, starting off a young, unsure but enthusiastic archaeologist who needs to step up to the plate when shit gets heavy. Which it does of course. All this just serves to make Lara more delicious….that and her magnificent breasts (and arse).

The gameplay is simple and balanced extremely well. There are various simple skill upgrades to acquire which give you various abilities and upgrades that serve the gameplay reasonably well.  A few weapons but not tons (this being a good thing in this case) – handgun (just the one), shottie, assault rifle, and a climbing pick which  doubles as an indispensable tool for various puzzles and crates and also a melee weapon. All upgradeable of course. Oh, and then there’s the bow….

The bow and arrow seemed to be weapon of the year in 2013, making an appearance in one form or another in games like Far Cry 3 and Crysis 3. I think Tomb Raider might just take the crown though. Don’t get me wrong, the bow and arrow in Far Cry 3 was arguably my favourite weapon in the game and had the whole arrow-ballistics thing which made you feel that little bit more satisfied when you bullseye that headshot, but Tomb Raider – although keeping it less realistic – somehow manages to keep it just as satisfying and it certainly became my weapon of choice, especially a few upgrades in.

This being a triple-A title it has a juicy campaign length at around 14 hours – although I am a completionist and scoured every nook and cranny, notching up 91% completion on my first run through. The maps themselves are delicious and relatively open worldy, giving you gorgeous landscapes to get the juices flowing especially on a decent rig. The enemies are challenging and smart enough on hardest setting to keep you on your toes during skirmishes as well and some of my fire fights lasted many minutes which is always welcome.

The puzzle factor and additional bits and bobs kept the game flowing for me and always gave me something to do making sure the gameplay never got stale. They had me jumping through treetops, sliding down zip lines, scaling walls etc and whilst they kind of always felt like they were afterthoughts, it was never the less all rather tasty.

If I have one criticism of Tomb Raider, it’s that there was hardly any Tomb Raiding. There are two or three tombs per ‘map’ which might sound a lot but these represent only a tiny fraction of the gameplay time and consisted only of a single, relatively simple, problem to overcome to gain access to whatever chest or artefact was in the particular tomb you were in. They almost felt like an afterthought, being shoehorned in because someone remembered they were making a Tomb Raider game during production.

The only other thing is of course – this being a console port – means we have the dreaded Quick Time Events. Now, fear not, these aren’t the Resident Evil style game killers. There are a few of them, but they are all simple and never more than a 3-button-run. Obviously they are still shit and it does beg the question why the fucking Christ are these things still in existence.

Anyway, to be honest that’s nitpicking because Raiding Tombs, mashing ‘ENTER’ or not, I didn’t really care as long as I could scale cliffs and shoot goons in the face with arrows. Not to mention Lara’s magnificent breasts.

Tomb Raider = Highly recommended.

So that’s it really for 2013, well and truly in the past. You could say it’s ‘soooo 2013’ but that would make you a massive bellend.

I still have The Last of Us to play when I get my hands on a PS3 and I may or may not decide to write about it depending on how good or shit it is.

That is all, now please leave.