2017 is the Year of the Console Game here on TLYW, in which I play 14 games in 14 months on the PS4 and Xbox 360, after 25 years of PC gaming. We are following a course through history as the year progresses. The series is expected to conclude in February 2018.
January – Far Cry: Primal
Ubisoft (2016), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in pre-history.
Plot and setting: Early humans run around mountains and valleys, spearing rhinos and firing arrows at members of rival tribes.
General remarks: A gentle introduction to console gaming. I was able to take my time learning the handset and controls while still making in-game progress. I brought the game almost to completion within a month, eventually tiring of the final boss fight.
Thumbs up: Lots of time outdoors in attractive scenery. I was guided through various well-structured quests and the story was quite involving.
Thumbs down: I spent too much time viewing the attractive scenery using hunter vision, which makes everything grey and yellow. At times the story felt a bit constraining and I wanted more freedom to decide what to do next.
Return to? Probably not as I more or less finished it, but I would play other games in the Far Cry series.
February – Ark: Survival Evolved
Studio Wildcard (2017), PS4. I played on single-player mode, but there’s a multi-player option. An open-world, action-adventure, survival game set in pre-history.
Plot and setting: Humans co-exist with dinosaurs, are attacked by T Rexes and fly around on pteranodons while building elaborate houses and inventing firearms.
General remarks: A pleasure. Very restful. I say this despite the horrendous and constant dinosaur attacks in the central and north parts of the country. The southern beaches are lovely and you can sail around in your boat relatively undisturbed.
Thumbs up: Lots of time outdoors in attractive scenery. Complete freedom to do what I want, at my own pace. Genuinely open-world, lots of exploring with an amount of combat to suit the individual player. Sophisticated options for tweaking the gameplay settings on single-player mode.
Thumbs down: This is a new release that will benefit from a few patches. My two biggest gripes were the near-impossibility of placing or sometimes even seeing fence foundations and the magical ability of dinosaurs of all sizes to intersect walls, rather defeating the point of the wall. Minor bugs resulted in things like my character getting stuck on top of ladders.
Return to? Definitely. In a year from now, hopefully some patches and bug fixes will have resolved some issues.
March – God of War III Remastered
Sony Santa Monica Studio (2010, remastered 2015), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in Ancient Greece.
Plot and setting: Kratos is an angry warrior who is the son of the Greek god Zeus. His mission is to take revenge on Zeus for some reason, which involves scaling a giant mountain, slaying skeletons and minotaurs and solving puzzles.
General remarks: You will manipulate the handset epileptically while mashing random combinations of buttons until you die and have to repeat the fight.
Thumbs up: The outdoor scenery and some of the buildings are quite nice. The action was quite exciting.
Thumbs down: It was just too linear and platformy for me and there was too much extreme button-mashing. I prefer a slightly more thoughtful, slower-paced sandbox game with a wider choice of in-game activities. Also, Kratos’s world is very dark and gloomy when it’s not on fire.
Return to? Probably not. The rewards weren’t sufficient to keep luring me back in for consistent play throughout the month.
God of War® III Remastered_20170311230955
April – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt (2015), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in the 13th century.
Plot and setting: Monster-hunter Geralt rides on horseback around the countryside and various mediaeval villages, slaying ghouls and mythical beasts while searching for his missing wife and daughter.
General remarks: Fairly engaging. A large open world with lots of space to explore and move around. A generous amount of quests and a good balance between the main quest chain and various side quests.
Thumbs up: Runs smoothly. Combat and crafting are both pretty easy to learn – systems have some variety without being needlessly complex. Well-engineered, unobtrusive mechanisms for things like horse riding and hunter vision.
Thumbs down: Because I don’t like Geralt and his family very much, and because Geralt isn’t a character I would have built for myself, it’s hard to know what my long term goals are within this game.
Return to? Yes, possibly. It’s a strangely amoral and emotionally detached experience but combat is quite enjoyable and there are abundant quests.
May – Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
Ubisoft (2013), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in the 18th-century Caribbean.
Plot and setting: Pirate Edward Kenway sails a ship around the islands of the Caribbean, firing cannons, plundering other ships and carrying out assassination quests around Nassau and Havana.
General remarks: A happy and cheerful game. There are no depressed mediaeval villages that are being terrorised by ghouls. Rather, there are bright and lively cities where the sun shines all the time, people sing and dance and drink rum and pirates cheerfully plan their next outing.
Thumbs up: Easy to learn and play. Glorious scenery. Naval combat really offers something new and it’s super fun being at sea in a decent-sized ship that can go fast, take on big waves, and defend itself. Better than average NPC scripts and acting.
Thumbs down: The seafaring action took a while to get started but once you are past the first few quests and out at sea in your own boat at last, it’s no longer a problem.
Return to? Yes, definitely. The mood, like the weather, is sunny and the chance to be at sea in a ship is different and appealing.
June – Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar (2010), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world, action-adventure game set in the western United States and Mexico in 1910.
Plot and setting: Cowboy John Marston arrives in the frontier town of Armadillo to fight bandits and horse rustlers and protect the local hookers from being murdered.
General remarks: An atmospheric game. Everything is very rich in story, even the side quests. NPCs are interesting and different from each other. Combat isn’t too hard, thanks to an effective auto lock on the gun. The artwork and the emotional tone of the characterisation and story are both quite warm, almost romantic. I really noticed this in contrast to last month’s game, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, which is rather crisp.
Thumbs up: Outdoor questing almost all the time, whether in farms, towns or the open land. Impressive scenery, nice weather with dramatic sunrises and sunsets. The horse handles beautifully and the animation is realistic. It’s very satisfying, riding your horse around.
Thumbs down: After a while, I seemed to lose track of the main quest line and wandered around uselessly for a while, collecting herbs and being savaged by mountain lions. The questing became a little monotonous, perhaps partly as a function of the vast, unchanging scenery. I was surprised that after only 10 hours of gameplay, I was looking around for some variety in the range of things to do.
Return to? I might return and play the expansion pack Undead Nightmare, which I didn’t have time for. I felt like I was starting to run out of momentum with the main game and its quest line, but I enjoyed the scenery, the mechanics of gameplay and my horse, so zombies might shake things up a bit. This was probably my 3rd favourite game so far this year, after Ark: Survival Evolved and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
July – Battlefield 1
Electronic Arts (2016), PS4. A first-person shooter set during World War 1.
Plot and setting: Single-player missions take you on a tour of Europe and the Middle East during WW1 and are based on historical events. Enjoy beautifully-rendered scenery including charming Fr. villages, mountain ranges and the occasional desert while everything gets blown to pieces.
General remarks: Dramatic, brutal. It can be heart-stoppingly tense but is not particularly relaxing.
Thumbs up: Amazing graphics and exciting gameplay. Well structured campaigns, supported by detailed stories.
Thumbs down: A bit depressing and ugly. I suppose that’s war for you.
Return to? A highly professional game that might get a return visit because it is so well-made, if not for the depth of its characters or emotional range.
August – 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: Easy to learn, engaging, enjoyable. Even though it is a essentially a platform game, with a distinct game sequence to follow, 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 future. It 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.
September – 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 quests are meaningful and contribute to plot development without being constraining. The cars handle beautifully. The map is large. The scenery is attractive, especially out by the coast. The soundtrack is hands down the best music I’ve ever heard on a game.
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.