Tag: year of the console

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.

Year of the Console, April Review. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Welcome back to the official Year of Console Gaming that we are having here on TLYW. I can hardly believe it is the end of April already, which means it is time to stop playing this month’s game and give it a review. As you know, we are following an historical trajectory through 14 months of gaming. April represents the Middle Ages: I spent the whole month playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which is set in the 13th century; a time of peasants and rural villages and suchlike.

White OrchardWitcher 3 is a lot like Skyrim, as I expected. One critic remarked that W3 is to Skyrim as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings, and after a month of gameplay, I think that’s fair. Skyrim is more serious and I would say more atmospheric also the artwork seems a bit more imaginative. That said, I seem to remember that Skyrim makes you spend a lot of time fighting in dark, labyrinthine caves and I really prefer to be outdoors as much of the time as possible. W3 provides for a lot of outdoor PVE. You can ride your horse around the open countryside until you come to a cemetery or disused sawmill and if there are wolves or ghouls or drowners around that want to feast on your flesh, they come out into the open and you can fight them under the blue sky and the sun. I say that, in fact the weather in W3 is usually terrible. You can be riding through some meadows, following a stream and admiring the mountains in the distance and then just as you remember that you should take screenshots, the weather turns. It starts pouring with rain and there are miserable, howling winds. As a result, while there is lots of open countryside in W3, which I like, it is a bit too close to the real thing, in my view, what with the terrible weather and resulting puddles and mud. I felt like I spent a lot of time in muddy fields, ruining my hand-crafted boots.

witcher 3 a
What you think it is going to be like.
Velen
What it is actually like. Geralt stands outside in a howling storm. Oh look, it is raining again.

There’s a distinct main quest chain and for much of the first four levels you are going to be directed around and locked into the story, which results in what feels like a lot of time watching cut scenes and taking messages from one NPC to another. This is particularly noticeable as the first four or five levels seem designed to be slow paced in the sense that you don’t get much XP for anything that you do. You are going to spend the first few levels firmly in the starting zone and the game really makes sure that you explore it thoroughly, unlock all the hidden treasures, start crafting and learn how to engage in combat semi-competently before releasing you into the wild to take your chances in the larger world. This was initially frustrating but then by the time I moved out of White Orchard I was happy that for once I knew how to fight and how to get new gear.

These RPGs often suffer in the area of NPC dialogue, facial animation and acting. It’s hard to get it right. I found the Skyrim NPCs stilted and puppet-like, with wooden conversation. W3 is a bit better in this respect, but only a bit. Geralt’s adopted daughter is annoying, which doesn’t make you feel like going on a life-threatening, epic quest to get her back when she disappears. His wife, Yennefer, is horrible. She’s very attractive but she keeps saying sarcastic things that she thinks make her seem funny and clever when in fact she’s just being a bitch. Again, do we care if she and Geralt are permanently separated? Finally, there is Geralt himself. He is not badly acted, if you overlook his unlikely American accent, but he keeps having to make all these moral choices in the game and the implication is basically that he is a good guy. Except the game is also programmed in such a way that if you want crafting materials and saleable junk, which you do, then you loot them from crates and barrels and cabinets. Including inside people’s houses and no-one will raise an eyebrow or say a thing about it.

Eventually, Geralt will start crafting in a serious way, because he has realised he will need level 6 gear (ooh), and this will drive him into every house he passes so he can burgle it, in full view of the owners. His morals quickly evaporate and he robs the poor, the sick, the elderly. He robbed one family who were all lying on the floor of their house, apparently starving to death. Inexplicably, they had a silver platter and some emerald dust in the kitchen dresser (why didn’t they sell these items for food?!) and Geralt walked into their house, took their valuables and walked out again, stepping over the dying bodies of their children on his way to the door. Really nice. And that’s our hero.

Maybe that’s why I ultimately don’t care too much what happens to Geralt. He isn’t a very nice man, his personality doesn’t have much depth and his family members are unpleasant. That said, he is great at riding his horse and finding his way around and he knows how to have fun with fighting. The sword strokes and small repertoire of magic spells aren’t too hard to pick up and he certainly looks quite flashy and sexy as he jumps around, beheading things and showing off his special moves.

White Orchard
Geralt heroically slaughters a low-level bandit.

I managed to become a reasonably good fighter at level 4 and I could see how if I keep playing it, combat is probably really fun and satisfying as one’s skill increases at later levels.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt (2015), PS4. A single-player, open-world action-adventure game set in 1272.

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, seems to be bug-free so far. Combat and crafting are both pretty easy to learn – systems have some variety without being needlessly complex. There’s a really nice thing you can do when riding your horse, if you hold down the X button on the PlayStation, the horse will canter and automatically stay on the path, if there is one. Really helpful. Lets you enjoy the scenery and concentrate less on driving.

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. Build good armour and weapons, obviously. The main quest line takes off quite quickly once you get out of the starting zone and the Wild Hunt faction looks like an enemy worth fighting.

Return to?  Yes, possibly. It’s a strangely amoral and emotionally detached experience but combat is quite enjoyable and there are abundant quests.

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 May.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Welcome to Month 4 of the Year of the Console Game. It is 1 April and I am incredibly excited to announce the game that we will be playing throughout this month, as we move from Antiquity into the Middle Ages, on an historical trajectory that will continue for the next year. The game for April is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

I have already made it out of the starting zone and collected some screenshots, check it out. As you can see, it is going to be very outdoorsy, just the way I like it. Sun shining down. Snow on mountains. Rivers. Attractive sunsets.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Game of the Year Edition_20170328001645

Witcher 3 is an action RPG that is played from a third person perspective in an open world. According to Wikipedia, that world is 30 times larger than in the previous two games in the Witcher series and the practical upshot of that is that I am going to be spending a lot of time exploring, on horseback and occasionally on boats, which sounds perfect for me. It is set in 1272, so we have moved on from the craziness of Ancient Greece and have joined a society that is much more similar to the present day than anything we’ve played so far.

With its knights, rustic inns and many dangerous & fictional predators such as gryphons, The Witcher 3 is bound to feel like familar territory to any RPG gamer. There are obvious parallels with Skyrim, which I played on the PC and loved. One review of W3 said that Witcher 3 is to Skyrim as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings. To me, this says that Skyrim is the more intelligent and complex game, with better, more serious storytelling, while Witcher 3 is going to be about glamour and spectacle, but we shall wait and see if this comes true. I’m not against a bit of glamour and spectacle. I enjoyed Skyrim‘s subdued, almost monochrome, palette and austere, Nordic landscapes but I have the feeling that W3 is going to be more showy and if there are beaches and glittering blue seas, I will not complain.

There is a story, not one that you need to care about if you haven’t played the previous two games. Our hero is that blond guy you see in the pictures. His name is Geralt and he is searching for two missing people: his girlfriend and also his adopted daughter; an annoying child who looks disturbingly like a miniature adult. He’s going to travel around this giant landscape doing quests for people who might be able to give him some information. He will end up fighting various beasts and ghouls but will be aided in this endeavour by being a Witcher – a specially-bred monster-hunter who can do a bit of magic as well as swing a sword and use a crossbow.

Combat seems like it’s going to be fairly straightforward. Apparently, dodge, parry and counter-attack are essential skills for melee combat so I shall make sure to get some practise in early before I level up. Other than that it’s just a case of whacking things with the correct choice of sword or using one of only about half a dozen magic spells. I think the combinations of buttons are going to be simpler than God of War III and there should be less extreme button-mashing.

The Witcher 3 was developed and published by CD Projekt. It was released for the PS4 (and Windows and Xbox One) in 2015. It immediately won numerous Game of the Year awards. I think we are in for a fun month. I hope so. I will let you know how I get on.

Trailer:

Year of the Console: March Review. God of War 3 Remastered.

God of War 3 Remastered. Sony Santa Monica Studio (2010, remastered 2015), PS4. A single-player, third-person, action-adventure game set in Ancient Greece.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, in which we attempt to play 14 retro and contemporary games in 14 months, on the PS4 and Xbox 360, in order of the historical period in which they are set.

March was Month 3, in which we left behind two months of pre-history and moved forward into Ancient Greece, to follow the adventures of an angry man called Kratos who is trying to take revenge on his father by leaping up a big mountain and hitting things with flaming swords. Here’s where I’ve abandoned Kratos, probably for ever. Standing on a platform. You are supposed to grapple across to another platform but I kept falling off and dying until I couldn’t take it any more.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550

That largely summed up my experience, actually. This game was a tough one, the gameplay was well outside of my usual style and repertoire. There was a fair amount of puzzle-solving and there seemed to be a heavy requirement to remember combinations of Playstation buttons in order to execute dramatic combo moves. The combat is almost all melee. Being able to mash buttons on the handset very hard and fast is an essential skill and so there were significant periods of time where I was hammering buttons frantically while grimacing, clutching the handset awkwardly and making it all sweaty. Then I would inevitably die and have to do the fight again. It was not very dignified.

Everyone says the graphics are nice and they are not lying, it is fairly impressive scenery. This is a platform game so you have to move through the landscape on a set trajectory, which was unfamiliar to me as a player of open-world games; I kept wanting to change direction and finding that there weren’t many places to move.

Here are some screenshots of the scenery and general action.

I relied heavily on walkthroughs to help me figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and even then it took me ages to catch on to things like destroying vases and jars to gain experience points.

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 and I missed the glorious sunshine and unspoiled nature of Far Cry: Primal and Ark: Survival Evolved which we played in January and February.

Return to? Probably not, I’m afraid. The rewards weren’t sufficient to keep luring me back in for consistent play throughout the month. I think I completed about 20% of the content before giving up. However, it was certainly a learning experience and expanded my console gaming skills. I would never have played it if I hadn’t embarked on this Year of Console Gaming project and needed something set in Antiquity. So I’m quite pleased that it delivered this new experience even though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had.

It’s almost April, Month 4. I’ll announce the new title for the month on Saturday. I’m very excited to begin and to share the news so stay tuned.

God of War III Remastered

Welcome back to the Year of the Console Game. It is 1 March and I am super excited to announce the game that we will be playing throughout this month, as we move from pre-history into Antiquity, on an historical trajectory that will continue for the next year. The game for March is God of War III.

god-of-warGod of War® III Remastered_20150311214233

The setting is Ancient Greece and your character is that muscly guy who you see there, whose name is Kratos. Kratos is the son of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. In the earlier parts of this trilogy of games, Zeus has somehow betrayed Kratos, and now Kratos is out for revenge. This is going to involve leaping around wildly and hitting a lot of things with a big sword.

The God of War series is by Sony’s Santa Monica Studio and first appeared in 2005 for the PS2. It is critically acclaimed, was a flagship brand for PlayStation and is agreed by many players to be one of the greatest games of all time, so lucky me that I get to play it. God of War III Remastered was released in 2015 for the PS4, which is the version I am going to play.

This is really going to push the boundaries with my console gaming skills, which is what I wanted. Ark: Survival Evolved offered opportunities for puttering around quietly in a boat. Far Cry: Primal permitted me to spend most of my time in the bushes, firing arrows at things from a distance. God of War III is going to be something else altogether. This is old-school console gaming. I can expect:

  • constant hack-and-slash action that requires quick reflexes and the ability to remember combinations of buttons;
  • elements of platform gaming, which I haven’t seriously engaged with since the 1990s;
  • puzzle-solving, see above.

The need for fast reflexes and remembering complex combinations of buttons worries me a bit because I am old but I wanted a challenge so now I’ve got one.

Everyone says this is a gorgeous-looking game and that’s important. It’s going to be action-heavy and fiery and will certainly make a change from two months of unspoiled nature, dinosaurs and neanderthals. Here’s the trailer so you can see what I am in for throughout March.