Tag: year of the console

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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

Welcome back to the unstoppable TLYW Year of Console Gaming in which we dramatically swoop through 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 August, it’s Month 8 and we’re into the second half of our 14-month year! The year began with two months of pre-history in the form of dinosaurs and primitive early humans, then continued through Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the American Wild West and finally plunged into World War I in July. Here we are in August and the natural next chapter would have been World War II, but frankly I could not face two world wars back to back, which is probably how people felt at the time. As a result, I looked around for another game that was more or less set in the 1940s and alighted on the DC Comics hero Batman (who first appeared in 1939, with his own comic book beginning in 1940).

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a critically acclaimed game that won several awards. It spawned a series of well-regarded sequels from 2011 and was remastered for the PS4 and Xbox One in 2016. I’m going to play the original 2009 version on the Xbox 360.

This should certainly make a change from Battlefield 1. I don’t think there will be much driving of tanks or crawling around muddy fields with a large, antique gun. Instead, I believe I can expect a month full of swooping, jumping, grappling, climbing, running, using throwing weapons and engaging in hand to hand combat. Arkham Asylum has Batman running around a prison for the criminally insane and his foes will include The Joker as well as half a dozen other super-villains. There’s some puzzle-solving and I’m slightly concerned that this is going to be uncomfortably close to the rather linear God of War 3, but we are committed now so let’s see what August brings.

It might be amazing; let’s hope so. Here’s a trailer so you can see what I’m in for.

Year of the Console, July Review. Battlefield 1.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. It’s the end of Month 7 and we have reached the exact halfway point in our specially extended year, which is 14 months long. There has been a great deal of work, meal preparation and relationship-building this month so I have played Battlefield 1 rather sporadically, making a start on its single-player War Stories, which amount to only a portion of the whole game. Despite playing it in small bursts, it’s been a very absorbing game, to the point where I almost forgot I’d ever played anything else. I would have struggled to remember what we played last month.

As you know, we are following a dramatic historical trajectory throughout the year. July was the month in which we fully settled into the 20th century, which of course means war. Set during WW1, Battlefield 1 takes place in France, the UK, Italy, Turkey and Mesopotamia and is based on real events. I travelled around by tank as well as sneaking around on foot. The scenery, whether French villages, Italian mountain ranges or Mesopotamian deserts, would be gorgeous if everyone were not constantly blowing each other up and destroying buildings.

For the second consecutive month, we have not only screenshots but real gameplay. Here I am, in character as Daniel Edwards, a British soldier, driving around a muddy, ruined village in my tank, taking out German tanks, artillery and infantry. This mission is based on the Battle of Cambrai, 1918.

Screenshots

Battlefield 1. Electronic Arts (2016), PS4. A first-person shooter set during World War 1.

Plot and setting: The game begins with a series of single-player missions, set in half a dozen countries and climates. The missions are based on historical events in WW1 and the player adopts various unique characters to complete self-contained quest lines, or War Stories. These quest lines prepare the player for eventual multiplayer gameplay.

General remarks: This was an interesting change for me because Battlefield 1 is very rich in story while not being a RPG. There’s no character development as such. I never really got to know my character, Daniel Edwards, he didn’t have much internal dialogue. However, as a young soldier and tank driver for the British army in France, he and I certainly saw dramatic and terrifying events unfold. Battlefield 1 is nothing if not atmospheric. In strong contrast to most RPGs, it isn’t warm, decorative or obviously romantic. It’s brutal. It can be nail-bitingly tense but is not particularly relaxing.

Thumbs up: Amazing graphics and exciting gameplay. My heart was in my mouth as I stealthed around German camps in the dead of night, looking for spare parts for my tank and trying to pick off Nazis quietly without attracting everyone’s attention. The quest lines are clear and well-structured, there was plenty of action and most of the time I was clear what I was supposed to be doing, never having played a war game before.

Thumbs down: It’s an exciting game but it’s also a bit depressing. I loved being drawn into the drama but I also recall how much I enjoy games that offer blue seas, placid beaches, tropical flowers, palm trees and opportunities for quiet solo hunting or even house building and crafting and Battlefield 1 is the wrong place to look for that stuff. War is serious business and is not pretty.

Return to?  I recognise why this is such a Titan of a game. It is beautifully imagined and engineered. It looks great. It works and gives satisfying gameplay. It’s polished and professional. It offers entertainment and drama with a measure of real history. It’s a very macho game and I cannot say when I will return to it, however I acknowledge its many merits and technical accomplishments.

It’s almost August and time for a new Game of the Month! Kick-off on Tuesday, so stay tuned.

Battlefield 1

Battlefield 1. Electronic Arts (2016), PlayStation 4. A first-person shooter game set during World War 1. 

Welcome back to the fabulous TLYW Year of Console Gaming in which we attempt to play 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 July, it’s Month 7 and that’s very exciting as we are now half way through the year! Our year began with two months of dinosaurs and primitive early humans, then continued through Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment and finally arrived at the dawn of the 20th century in June. Here we are in July and, unavoidably, here is World War 1 and an immensely popular game that I would never have played were it not for this year-long project.

Despite its name, Battlefield 1 is actually the 15th iteration of the Battlefield series, so EA has had plenty of time to get the game design right and, indeed, this game was critically acclaimed upon release. Rather than a single main character and a single open world to explore, in single player mode there are six distinct War Stories, where you can play out different characters in a variety of locations and scenarios. The game was praised for its compelling stories, well-structured campaigns and diverse scenery and gameplay.

Battlefield 1 was released at the end of October 2016 and in January this year it was reported to have sold more than 15m copies. That was six months ago so the total will be even more than that now.

I hope it’s good. It has a lot of customers. As one would hope, there’s a multiplayer mode so if I turn out to be good at it, there will be plenty to do, with the single-player missions functioning as training for multiplayer scenarios. I will then be able to use my fancy Turtle Beach headset to scream into the microphone at teenagers in Ohio and Alabama as I blow things up, which is what everybody is presumed to want.

My interest in video gaming has always attracted a lot of attention from boys in the online dating arena. One such, a hot blond of about 25 who was a massive Battlefield 1 player, proposed as his suggestion for a date: “I will come over and you can play Battlefield and scream at American kids while you sit on my face.” “Yeah okay”, I replied, “that sounds all right actually”.

Here’s a trailer so you can see what I’m in for. The gameplay I mean, not the other part. Here’s to July. I wish you a happy month of gaming.

Trailer:

Year of the Console, June Review. Red Dead Redemption.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. It’s the end of Month 6 and we are almost halfway through our specially extended year, which is actually 14 months long. Perhaps surprisingly, in light of continued romance, I’ve had a pretty good go at this month’s game: Red Dead Redemption. By the last weekend in June I’d logged almost 10 hours of gameplay and completed 21% of the main quest line.

As you know, we are following an historical trajectory throughout the year. June was the month in which we finally entered the 20th century. Set during the final years of the American Wild West, circa 1910, the action takes place in the southwestern United States and Mexico. There is plenty of horse riding and the scenery involves deserts, rough buildings made out of timber and those cacti that look like a person holding up their arms.

I’ve been playing on the Xbox 360 this month, marking the first game we’ve played on Xbox so far this year – there will be more over the summer and autumn. My Xbox is about 2.5 years old, so I have attempted to use it before. I have previously attempted to play various iterations of Grand Theft Auto and Dead Island, but got nowhere fast. My console-handling skills were non-existent and I now think that GTA was an awful place to begin console gaming, what with all the driving and high-speed chases. This time around, returning to the Xbox after five solid months of industrious console handling on the PlayStation, I took to the Xbox like a natural and played to a respectable standard on Red Dead almost from the beginning.

One thing that Xbox 360 lacks is built in screenshot and video capture software, so I bravely expanded my tech skills even further by hooking up the Xbox to my Republic of Gamers laptop via an Elgato HD60 video capture device. It is a joy to use and can even stream content, so I could, in theory, stream my gameplay to Twitch or YouTube. You don’t know how tempted I am to have my own live gaming channel and it is only a pity that I have to go to work.

Thanks to my experiments with the HD60, I not only have screenshots this month, I have real video of my own gameplay. The first one shows our hero John Marston learning to capture and tame wild horses and is a fun quest. It is outdoors in nice weather, fully makes the most of the open land, the horse handles beautifully, it’s active and quite exciting. These were some of the most enjoyable moments, chasing a herd of wild horses around.

The second video shows what playing RDR is actually like much of the time, if you are me, anyway. It does not depict a heroic tale of glory. John Marston needs to find and rescue this woman called Jenny. He rides all through the desert and when he eventually finds Jenny, he accidentally tramples all over her with his horse. She flees in terror and John fails the quest. I love the part at the end where John & I realise that he has failed and he just stands there, in the middle of nowhere, looking around despondently.

Screenshots

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 off bandits and horse rustlers and protect the local hookers from being murdered in broad daylight.

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 your 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 this month. 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.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar (2010), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world, action-adventure game set in the western United States and Mexico in 1911. 

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, which, as you’ve probably spotted, is completely great. We are attempting to play 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 June, it’s Month 6 and I am thrilled to announce this month’s title.

As you know, we’re on an historical trajectory throughout this year. January and February were pre-history. March was Ancient Greece. April was the Middle Ages and May was the Enlightenment. This month, we are going to edge forward into the early years of the 20th century. We are going to spend the whole month experiencing the last of the American Frontier, aka The Wild West. Goodbye beaches and ships, hello horseback riding, shoot-outs, deserts and those cacti that look like a person holding up their arms. After five months of PlayStation, I’m moving to the Xbox this month, which should make an interesting change and expand my console gaming skills.

Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for this month.

Joy of joys, there is an expansion pack that has zombies. Now I know we have reached the 20th century in our historical journey. There will be quite a few zombies populating the autumn and winter of this year.

 

Year of the Console, May Review. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. It’s the end of Month 5 already. I’ve been quite busy this month, what with all the romance and going on holiday and I feel like I’ve barely spent enough time with this month’s game, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. I had to be quite dedicated about playing it last weekend to log enough hours to get a feel for the game (I managed to play 9% of Black Flag before running out of time). On the plus side, the fact that I feel like I haven’t spent enough time with it is a good thing, and a sign that I want more. We’ve now played 5 of 14 games and this is my second favourite game so far, after Ark: Survival Evolved (February).

As you know, we are following an historical trajectory throughout the year. This month was the 18th century. AC 4: Black Flag takes place in the Bahamas and Cuba and the Caribbean sea in between. Pirates plunder each other’s ships, attack the British Navy and run around Nassau and Havana, assassinating local bosses and recruiting more pirates. I was hoping for sunshine, glittering blue seas and to sail my own ship, and all this was granted. Here are some screenshots.

Assassin's Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528235950

Black Flag takes a while to get moving, as these games often do. The USP of the game is that you will spend as much time at sea as on land, but this only becomes true when you’re about seven per cent of the way through the game, by which time you’ve spent quite a few hours on dry land, running around Havana and trying to assassinate the military. This is a little bit frustrating when you bought the game because you wanted some seafaring action but the game design does a pretty good job of ensuring that you know how to climb buildings and rigging with the agility of a monkey, and fight competently with swords and pistols before you are allowed out on the sea firing cannons at other ships, which you will then have to loot.

Once you are finally seaborne, you feel the open-ended aspects of the game. Yes, there’s a prescriptive sequence of quests that you still have to follow, but around that structure there’s a lot of opportunity to pick and choose various naval combat, assassination and other types of missions, sail around, plunder mats and gradually do up your own ship. It was quite thrilling when I managed to get behind the wheel of my own ship for the first time, sail around the sea and start attacking things.

The NPCs are well animated and well acted. The dialogue isn’t too painful. The story is engaging without being overbearing. This month’s psychopathic hero, Edward Kenway, is a lot easier to like than last month’s Geralt of Witcher 3. Geralt was a horrible man who would rob the homes of dying families and step over their children on his way out of the door with pockets full of stolen loot. Edward has better morals. Yes, he kills a lot of people, often for not very good reasons, but he restricts himself to the Navy and other legitimate enemies. He doesn’t kill civilians, esp not kids. When he was practising with his pistol and shot a chicken, he felt bad about it because it was some kind of domestic pet. So as you can see, as psychopathic killers go, Edward is a lot nicer. This really helps with immersion and emotional engagement; so important for satisfying game play.

Combat is not very difficult, esp on land, which is good, as you don’t want to be wasting your time there. At sea, it’s just difficult enough to be challenging without becoming frustrating. The controls are somewhat automated, quite intuitive and well sign-posted, making gameplay easier because you’re not effortfully trying to remember what combination of buttons to use.

The scenery is gorgeous and everything I’d hoped for. The weather is fantastic. It occasionally rains but never for very long. Mostly it’s blue skies, white sandy beaches, lush green foliage, glittering sea, brilliant sunshine, birds, tropical flowers, the white sails of ships and the architecture of 18th century Cuba, expressed as little churches, courtyards and inns. Glorious. So nice to have gameplay in a pleasant environment. Steering a boat is masses of fun and I want to spend more time on the sea, exploring and going to different islands. It looks like a large map so there should be plenty to do. I will definitely come back to this game; after finally getting my own ship and taking to the sea, I’m a happy customer.

Assassin’s Creed IV: 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.

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.

Let’s have a tune. I quite loved this game. I didn’t love it as much as Ark: Survival Evolved because Ark doesn’t have any quests at all to constrain the player and also because I felt a huge amount of ownership of the flimsy little houses that I’d managed to build. In contrast, I wasn’t quite as emotionally invested in my ship, the Jackdaw. But this might change with a bit more gameplay, as the ship is gradually upgraded. Now let’s sing along with this traditional sea shanty by Cypress Hill.

Cypress Hill: When The Ship Goes Down

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Year of the Console as we move on to a new game and a new era of history, starting on 1 June.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Ubisoft (2013), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in the 18th-century Caribbean.

Welcome back to the super special TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 games in 14 months. Today is 1 May, it’s Month 5 and I am terrifically excited to announce this month’s title.

As you know, we’re on an historical trajectory throughout this year. January and February were pre-history. March was Ancient Greece. April was the Middle Ages, specifically 1272. This month, we are going to leap forward about 450 years to the year 1715, so we will see if civilisation has advanced any, after we spent most of April travelling around primitive, rural villages.

Yes, it is the 18th century, an age of swashbuckling piracy. Our hero for the month is Edward Kenway, a Welshman who leaves his home for a year to do a spot of piracy because he needs to start making some proper money. His ship meets with disaster and he soon finds himself washed up on a sun-drenched island in the Caribbean, where many pirate adventures await him, taking him to cities such as Havana and Kingston as well as out on the open seas.

Readers who by now are coming to know my taste through the Year of Console Gaming will immediately recognise why this game, not particularly new and the sixth in Ubisoft’s perhaps over-exploited Creed production line, made it into my list of must-play games for 2017. I hardly need to explain, do I. In theory, it has everything I want. Glorious sunshine. Beaches. Glittering blue sea. Palm trees. Tropical plants and birds. Ships. And not just pootling about on a raft, like I was doing in Ark: Survival Evolved, but actual galleons that have epic sea battles with other ships. That’s what I want. That right there. That is my idea of sexy.

Oh please oh please oh please let it be a good game. It is like looking at holiday brochures.

It promises large, open-world gameplay and is the first AC title to make naval exploration and battle just as important as land-based activities. I cannot wait to get started. I dipped my toe in the blue Caribbean water when I was having my Xmas holiday and the PlayStation was brand new and I really liked what little I saw of it so I am really thrilled now that I get to play this exclusively for a month. Wish me luck. I need to hit the beach running so that I can get out there on the sea for some proper adventures in the short time we have available.

Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for.