Category: Gaming

2017: The Year In Review

It’s New Year’s Day already and that means it’s time to do our annual Year In Review. At this time last year I had almost completely freed myself from a terrible, punishing job at the World’s Worst Company – I was almost at the end of my contract, slogging through the last of a huge pile of paperwork and looking forward to being formally released mid-January. I was in love with a Person who I wasn’t supposed to be in love with during the second half of 2015 and much of 2016 but by the time 2017 materialised it seemed to be really over, at last, and I formed a new and more worthwhile relationship with my Playstation that I had for Christmas.

By the end of 2017 I had visited 5 countries and set up home with someone new, in my first serious relationship since this blog began.

January

January arrived, as it is wont to do. I handed back my keys at the World’s Worst Company, left the building and returned to full-time self-employment. This was definitely the high point of the month. I was in terrible physical shape due to being overworked for a long time but I was optimistic for the year ahead. I joined a local community choir, to give my lungs some exercise and to provide an opportunity to keep dressing up in outrageous, huge-skirted, 1950s frocks, a habit I formed during the last few months of going to work. Check out this little number, it has dinosaurs, which turned out to be rather a theme for January.

dinosaurs

I played Far Cry: Primal on my Playstation and it was the TLYW Game of the Month.

Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629
Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629

I celebrated my new-found freedom going out around London. I saw some art: I went to the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern.

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I went to the British Museum to look at some African masks

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and to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.

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I went to the gym, which was a new thing. I despaired about the state of my teeth, which is never a new thing.

February

I got seriously into live music in February and started going to concerts and operas around London. The first event was a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra of Haydn’s Creation at Royal Festival Hall. Then I returned to Royal Festival Hall for a performance of music by Philip Glass. After that, I went to the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance and then to Rigoletto, both sung by the English National Opera.

I went to the British Museum again, to look at John Dee’s crystal ball. Dee was a 16th-century mystic who advised Elizabeth I. Then I went a third time, to see the South Africa exhibition, which was amazing. I felt relatively well-informed about South Africa, having visited in 2016 and learned as much as possible about its history while I was there.

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I went to an exhibition of board games at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London, which is an extension of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

I ate heartily, at South Bank Food Market and Comptoir Libanais.

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In February I conceived the idea of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, an organised programme of console gaming, in which I lined up a total of 14 console games to be played at a rate of one a month. This programme continued well for the first three quarters of the year. Game of the Month for February was ARK: Survival Evolved, which was awesome and turned out to be my favourite game of 2017. I will definitely return to it. I will do a separate post about my 2018 plans for gaming.

ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731
ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731

I went to the gym and caught two colds, which was so predictable. At least I was trying.

March

I continued to be excited about music and went to hear the Philharmonia Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s Firebird. The below clip shows Stravinsky conducting the last three scenes of The Firebird himself, it was recorded in 1960.

The story of The Firebird comes from Slavic folklore, a theme which held my attention for the rest of the month while I was reading The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

I fulfilled a lifetime ambition by seeing the wonderful Marc Almond perform live in Camden.

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I went to the Royal Academy to see an exhibition called America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, which featured Edward Hopper and Grant Wood.

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Then I returned to the RA to see an exhibition of Russian art (mainly paintings and ceramics, some films) from the period 1917-1932, that is, immediately following the Russian Revolution.

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Dress of the month was this turquoise Ophelia by LindyBop.

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Game of the Month of was God of War III: Remastered.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550
God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550

April

My interested in classical music continued in April and I went to Royal Festival Hall yet again to hear Mahler 5. I’d been in hospital with cellulitis, having had a run of bad health for about three months, and they let me out just in time to go to the concert.

mahler 5

I also went to the Royal Opera House to see a performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The production took my breath away with its scale and beauty and I cried at the end. 10/10, would go again.

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Then my interest turned from opera to ballet and I went to see George Ballanchine’s 20th-century ballet Jewels, performed by the Royal Ballet. It was glittering, as one might expect.

Game of the Month was Witcher III: Wild Hunt.

White Orchard
White Orchard

May

A fabulous month. There was more opera and ballet. I went on holiday to Spain and France. I fell in love twice, latterly with Harry, who was about to change my life by becoming my first serious partner in several years and moving in with me before the year was over.

Opera of the month was Mozart’s Magic Flute. I enjoyed it so much, I saw it twice. It was performed by the Charles Court company in the back of a pub in London’s Islington. The second time, I was with Harry and it was our second date.

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Ballet of the month was Casanova, a new ballet by Kenneth Tindall, performed by the Northern Ballet Company.

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I went on holiday to Spain, where there was a resort and a beach, then I went to Paris, where there was wine.

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Game of the Month was Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. It was glorious and I particularly enjoyed sailing ships and fighting at sea.

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Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528183133

June

There were terrorist attacks in London and Londoners were annoyed. I went to the historic Black Friar pub in London, which was built in 1875 and has stained glass windows.

I went on another date with Harry, this time to see Wayne Thiebaud at White Cube.

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Then we had still another date and went to London’s Kew Gardens. The summer weather was beautiful, we had weeks of sunshine, not to be underestimated in the UK.

kew tree house

Dress of the month: Nadia, by LindyBop, in a nice guitar print.

nadia guitar

I cleaned my house magnificently because of being in love. I had new, matching tableware from Portmeirion, the first of two sets this year.

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Game of the Month was Red Dead Redemption.

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July

July saw two things happen: Harry started cooking at my house, revealing fantastic cooking skills, and I went on a health kick. I purchased a Nutribullet, made smoothies twice a day and started doing a lot of exercise. I felt v healthy and only stopped with the hours of punishing cardio because my hair was falling out (I am not good at doing things in moderation).

 

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There were some nice walks on Hampstead Heath.

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We had an interesting meal at the Carousel restaurant at Tate Modern, including green matcha cake.

The restaurant has this view across the Thames. That’s St Paul’s Cathedral on the other side.

view across thames from tate

While we were at Tate, we also went to see Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (and finally blogged about it in September).

soul of a nation

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George Romero died and I wept.

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Game of the Month was Battlefield 1.

Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245
Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245

August

My business life heated up. I had to blog far less and do less video gaming but I travelled more. In August I went to Rotterdam, Den Bosch and had my 51st birthday in Amsterdam. This is the point where I suddenly had a lot of photos and no time to post them, so you are still waiting for pictures of all these destinations. Here are some teasers.

Rotterdam.

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Den Bosch.

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Amsterdam.

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Harry and I managed to squeeze in a date at London’s Camden Lock.

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Game of the Month was Batman: Arkham Asylum.

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September

Work was in full swing. By this point I was right in the middle of the busiest four months of 2017. There were no more fun dates around London or outdoor exercise sessions. I just worked and focused on meeting deadlines. I don’t even have any photos from that whole month.

Harry was supportive while I got all my work done.

Game of the Month was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, arguably the greatest of the GTA series.

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This turned out to be the last month of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming that I could fit into my diary. We are reviving the programme this January.

October

We celebrated the blog’s 7th birthday.

I went to Rotterdam again. Here are a couple more teaser photos. I’ll do detailed travel photo posts in due course.

Delft.

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I then went to India. Managed to get this quite nice snap out of the window on the plane.

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Spent a few days in Bangalore.

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Managed to carve out a very small amount of time to see some art, of which more later.

November

Finished working in India, went straight to Orange County in California.

Really nice weather, was like a British summer.

Back in London, Harry and I went shopping at The Japan Centre to celebrate his birthday.

December

Continued to work at a breakneck pace during the first half the month, then gradually began to slow down long enough to do a few Xmas things.

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Harry and I went to see The Nutcracker performed by the English National Ballet.

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Then, quite suddenly and very near the end of December, I finished work for real, cleaned my house, visited some relatives and settled in for a slightly delayed Christmas Day in London with Harry.

xmas cocktail 2017

And that was 2017. I wish everybody a very happy and prosperous year to come. I wanted to say that before hitting publish last night but someone was very keen for me to get off my PC and come to bed. Anyway, happy new year.

Warcraft.

I have missed World of Warcraft so much. I haven’t played any PC games for a whole year, because the TLYW Year of Console Gaming began at exactly this time in 2016. I will do a separate post about that soon because we need to figure out how to complete the programme.

That’s obviously Santa on the left and on the right is my main character, a level 104 undead warrior who is 11 years old this Xmas, isn’t that amazing. I’m going to collect her Xmas presents now and then repeat the process for all of my alts, there are a lot. They are all Horde. Lok’tar Ogar!

warcraft xmas 2017

That’s better.  I forgot she had a Christmas jumper.

warcraft xmas jumper 2017

An evening off.

Wow! I have an evening off! It has certainly been a busy few months. Let me give you a news update, now that I have the chance.

Work. There has been plenty of it, for fun and profit. Business is very busy indeed. I was a little overwhelmed for a while there and couldn’t blog or do anything outside of work. But it is easing back now and I am so looking forward to Christmas holidays.

Travel. There was loads! I went to the Netherlands, then went a second time. Then I went to India and then to California. I’m back in London now and I have lots of photos to share with you. In the spring of 2018 I am going to Washington! I’ve never been there before.

Romance. Omg! It has been really exciting. I had to check back to earlier posts to find out what I told you so far about Harry. We are getting along very happily. We had our first date in mid May and that means we’ve been seeing each other for six months! He is at my place most of the time and is on track for coming to live with me full time in the new year. His family (parents, brothers, extended family) have been informed about our relationship and are understandably very curious about me. I spoke to his older brother (27) on the phone a couple of days ago and we have invited Mum (53) out to dinner. Eek! His brother told me that after being initially reticent, Harry now talks about me a lot. I need to lose ten (30) pounds and get my teeth bleached.

Health. Fucking teeth. We’re looking at doing another bone graft in 2018 on the other side of my face.

Art. Yes! I managed to see art in the Netherlands and India, photos forthcoming.

Christmas. I cannot wait, seriously. I am going to take as many days off work as possible and clean and decorate the house so we can have a romantic Xmas holiday with the new boyfriend. I have some awesome new decorations for the tree which I will show you nearer the time. Robots, dinosaurs and various other things.

Gaming. Year of the Console Game has been on hold for the last six weeks, after my work diary blew up and obliterated everything. I am very excited to get back on it asap. We are on Month 10 and were supposed to start Dead Island on 1 October. I am much happier when I have gaming in my life and I don’t find most mobile games quite as rewarding. Harry plays chess.

As you can see, everything is basically okay. Photos and travel news shortly. We have some catching up to do.

 

Dead Island

Dead Island. Deep Silver (2011), Xbox 360. An open-world, survival, horror, first-person action role-playing video game. I am playing single player.

It’s October and it’s Month 10 of the incredibly exciting Year of Console Gaming. It is Sunday afternoon and I am supposed to be working right now but I am taking time to post, because the YOCG is that important.

Business has taken off in a huge way in recent weeks, a lot of travel is coming up and I will have to be very determined to carve out any game time during October. Despite this, October will reward my effort because the game of the month is Dead Island, which has in common with GTA: San Andreas that it was one of the first games I acquired for the Xbox and one that I liked enough to return to a couple of times, usually at Xmas, because I wanted to get properly into it. This time around, October is my chance.

As you will recall, we are following an historical trajectory throughout the Year of Console Gaming. January and February were pre-history. March was Ancient Greece. April was the Middle Ages, quickly followed by the Enlightenment in May. June edged into the 20th century. July inevitably brought WW1. August evacuated to New York for the duration of the 1940s. September rudely bounced into the early 1990s and now here we are with Dead Island, which is set in 2006.

Zombies are here, finally. Game development swerved drunkenly towards zombies in the 2000s and games started to be set in the present day but with a zombie apocalypse representing the threat. Dead Island, developed by Polish team Techlab and published by Dead Silver in Germany, is a classic example of the genre. Set only five years before the date of publication, the action of Dead Island takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a lush, tropical resort. The island is in the region of Papua New Guinea, north of Australia. The player becomes one of four characters who wake up in a luxury hotel to find that there’s been an outbreak of flesh-eating zombies. Played from a first-person perspective, your character will run around the island, trying to escape, which will involve completing missions, collecting machine parts, etc. You will be constantly attacked by zombies and engage in melee combat such as hitting them with wrenches, baseball bats or whatever you have handy.

Last time I attempted to play this game was probably last Xmas or even the one before and I seem to remember that I loved it. Although it was initially a bit nerve-wracking and I didn’t like being in the dark corridors of the hotel, once I got outside in the sunshine, I soon got the hang of bludgeoning zombies with heavy objects, repaired my car and had a fantastic time driving around. Eventually I drove through the wall of someone’s house, into their living room, and got my car stuck there, with the result that I had to sit there while hungry zombies slavered at me through the window, but hopefully things will proceed better this time around.

Dead Island sold 5m copies. It received a IGN score of 8/10. Dead Island 2 has been eagerly awaited by fans but currently has no release date, following a change of development team. So if you wouldn’t mind quickly emailing or tweeting @SumoDigitalLtd to ask what they are doing with it, that would be great. Maybe they will take notice if we all message them.

Here’s a trailer so you can see what I’m in for this month.

And here’s the trailer for Dead Island 2. Hurry up. Thanks.

Year of the Console, September Review. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. September is suddenly over and so it is time to say goodbye to Month 9 of our specially extended 14-month year. The game of the month was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004/15) on the Xbox 360.

The 2015 release of the remastered version of this game was the reason I bought the Xbox two years ago. I desperately wanted to play it and have returned to it more than any other game apart from World of Warcraft over the last two years.

September was a hectic business month and I hardly had any time for gaming; despite this, I made more progress with San Andreas than on previous occasions.

If you are completely new to console gaming, like I was two years ago, having spent 20 years with PC games and their mouse-and-keyboard controls, Grand Theft Auto is a terrible place to start. It is fast paced and you will spend two-thirds of your time behind the wheel of an uncontrollable car, mowing down pedestrians and driving into walls at 100mph as you attempt to escape the police. You will not make any in-game progress and everyone will laugh at you as you handle the car like a drunken child.

This time around, I returned to San Andreas with eight consecutive months of console-handling experience. It was like a different game. I found myself able to control the car, outrun the police, complete quests, etc. And so it came to pass that I finally had the experience I wanted from San Andreas, the experience I knew was awaiting me, where I cruised around the beautiful, West Coast city in a series of progressively more glamorous stolen cars while listening to the deep reggae and hard core rap on the 1990s radio stations and only occasionally slowing down to do a drive-by shooting.

I am pleased to report that we have screenshots and actual gameplay.

Here I am in character as gangster Carl Johnson, aka CJ. In this clip, CJ is at the gym. I mainly included this to demonstrate how camp this game is. OK, so I deliberately dressed CJ in tiny shorts for comic effect, but even so. The shorts were there in the in-game wardrobe in the first place. I have to assume that this is how Rockstar Games wants CJ to look.

In this second clip, CJ is on the back of his friend’s bike. His friend is driving and CJ is shooting at police, very amateurishly. It is sheer dumb luck that I managed to hit anything but nevertheless we successfully finished the quest. There are exciting sequences in this clip such as a huge articulated lorry driving off a bridge.

Screenshots

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Rockstar Games (2004/15), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world action-adventure game set in 1990s San Andreas, a fictional US state based on California and Nevada.  

Plot and setting: Gangster CJ drives a series of stolen cars around a city that’s essentially Los Angeles in 1992, shooting rival gang members, evading the police and wearing a series of camp outfits.

General remarks: I absolutely loved it, it was everything I hoped for. It is funny. It is exciting. The cars handle beautifully once you’ve learned how to drive. The map is large. The quests are meaningful and contribute to plot development without being constraining. The roads are wide. The scenery is attractive, especially out by the coast. The soundtrack is hands down the best music I’ve ever heard on a game and I couldn’t have asked for more from it. The best moments were just driving around the city, listening to K-JAH West. As you recall, I enjoyed riding my horse around the deserts of Red Dead Redemption (also by Rockstar Games) but then the horse didn’t come equipped with a radio and even if it had, it would have played country & western, which, yanno, one would like to avoid.

Thumbs up: Everything. Music. Pleasure of driving. Map and scenery. Comedy. If you take CJ to the local fast food restaurant and make him eat too many chicken burgers, he will throw up on the floor.

Thumbs down: It’s hard to find anything to criticise. I suppose the graphics can be a bit blocky but it was originally released in 2004. When you take that into account, it looks great.

Return to?  Without a doubt. I will return to this game and keep returning to it until I’ve listened to all of the music and seen all the locations. This was one of my favourite games of the year so far, on a par with Ark: Survival Evolved.

We must close with a tune. This is on the GTASA rare groove radio station Master Sound 98.3. If you played the original version of this game back in 2004 and didn’t wait for the 2015 remaster, then you should congratulate yourself because the original soundtrack was longer and even more funky, if such a thing is imaginable. Cross The Track was produced by James Brown.

Maceo and The Macks: Cross The Track (We Better Go Back) (1975)

 

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Rockstar Games (2004/15), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world action-adventure game set in 1990s San Andreas, a fictional US state based on California and Nevada. I am playing single player.

Welcome to Month 9 of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, which thunders through history like a juggernaut, or, more accurately, like 14 juggernauts, carefully arranged in order of the precise moment of history that they are attempting to blow up.

Having left the Batman of the 1940s behind, we unhesitatingly leap forward 50 years this month, entering the 1990s and things that happened within living memory. This month’s game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was originally released in 2004, only about 10 years after the period in which it is set. It was then remastered for the Xbox 360 in 2015 and in fact this monumental game is the reason why I even own an Xbox in the first place and why I eventually set out on this year-long quest to become better at console gaming.

GTA: San Andreas follows the adventures of CJ, a member of one of two rival gangs based on the Crips and the Bloods, in a city based on Los Angeles. The game features gang warfare, police brutality and events inspired by the 1992 LA riots that followed the beating of Rodney King. This game might be the centrepiece of the Year of the Console. This will be my second or third attempt at carving out time to play it, over the course of two years, and nothing will stop me this time. I will give it as much time this month as I can make available.

Upon its release in 2004, San Andreas won a string of awards, including Game of the Year, Best Soundtrack, Best Action Game (VGX), Ultimate Game of the Year (Golden Joystick), Best Action Adventure Game, Funniest Game and Best Voice Acting (GameSpot). It has an IGN rating of 9.9. The Best Soundtrack award is for San Andreas’s incredible radio stations, which you listen to while driving stolen cars around Los Santos at 200mph and mowing down rival gang members and the police. There are 11 fully-functional radio stations, 20 DJs, the largest track listing of licensed music ever featured in an action game, hilarious spoof commercials and the genres span rap (of course, it’s LA circa 1992), reggae, rock, pop and country. The radio stations are in themselves a reason for playing. Here’s my favourite, reggae station K-JAH West. So many TLYW favourites on this station.

Grand Theft Auto San Andreas: K-JAH West ft. various artists (2004)

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Tribute video commemorating the game’s 10th anniversary, this is what I am in for all this month. Excitedly awaited.

 

Year of the Console, August Review. Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. I cannot believe we have already reached the end of August, Month 8 of our specially extended 14-month year. The game of the month has been Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) on the Xbox 360. Even though my gaming time was limited by work and business travel, Asylum proved to be easy to learn, engaging and much more enjoyable gameplay than I expected. I managed to complete about 8% of the game on my own at the start of the month, then Harry stepped in to help last night and pushed it forward a bit more before we ran out of time. Super helpful. I am glad he wants to be supportive of my gaming. I really had no idea that the Year of Console Gaming was going to feature real-life falling in love around Month 8. Didn’t see that coming.

As you know, we are following a dramatic historical trajectory throughout the year. August was the month in which we ended the first half of the 20th century; Batman’s story and aesthetics derive from the 1940s. At the start of the game, Batman spawns on a relatively small geographical area, being an asylum for the criminally insane and its grounds. The asylum belongs to the fictional Arkham City. It has been taken over by The Joker, and other familiar characters such as The Riddler and Commissioner Gordon make an appearance.

Once again, we have both screenshots and real gameplay.

Here I am in character as Batman, beating up some thugs in a corridor. Harry picked out this clip.

Batman swoops, grapples and soars around the room, gliding down to drop-kick bad guys. This was as much fun as the horse in Red Dead Redemption back in June.

Batman gets involved in an exciting boss fight.

Screenshots

Batman: Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady Studios (2009), Xbox 360. A third-person action-adventure game concerning Batman and a familiar cast of characters. 

Plot and setting: Batman run, swoops and glides around a dark and spooky hospital/high-security prison which has been taken over by The Joker and his gang of criminal buddies. Batman must rescue personnel, take out bad guys and solve puzzles and problems.

General remarks: As readers may remember, I really didn’t like God of War 3 back in March because I am not used to platform gaming and I found it linear and constraining. There was too much puzzle-solving while being trapped in one room or even one spot. I was afraid of having the same problem with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but even though there are puzzle-solving elements and more than a few platforms, I needn’t have worried. Asylum gives you the feeling of considerable freedom as you jump and glide around large buildings.

Thumbs up: Excellent graphics considering it was 2009. The physical mechanics of Batman’s movements are incredibly satisfying and he can fly, swoop and glide long distance with ease and grace.

Thumbs down: There isn’t much to criticise, this is a light-hearted and fun game. I suppose if I wanted to find fault, I could complain that it felt a bit shallow. This is family entertainment, based on a comic book character, in the form of a very sleek platform game, it was never going to have the same adult moral dilemmas and open-world, sandbox complexity of Skyrim or whatever.

Return to?  I might return to the Asylum, in the futureIt didn’t feel like the kind of game you would commit to for months or years but it did offer accessible and light-hearted Batman fun, just right for a bit of casual gaming here and there.

It’s almost September and time for a new Game of the Month! Coming this Friday.