Gaming

Gaming’s Broken Record

A look at some of the reasons games release while still requiring fixes and why our expectations and our anger are perhaps misplaced.

It seems to be a growing trend in the gaming industry to release games before they’re fully ready and patch the issues post release. To many, it’s as though players buying games at launch are made to feel like testers who are paying for the privilege of playing through all the bugs and glitches. People will point to the development of big titles like Mass Effect Andromeda and they will state that a game so long in development should release without issues.

Games releasing broken isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve been playing games since the mid 80s and there were titles back then that were more broken than anything released these days. It’s perhaps a bigger issue now due to the amount that we invest in gaming but it’s not new. Just look at the Atari game E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; it was so bad it ended up filling a landfill site in New Mexico. A fate that I’m sure a lot of other games should share.

The problem being is that making games is a complex business and there are a ton of factors that can lead to a game releasing while still having issues.

It is rarely the developers who set the release date of their games. Unless a developer also has their own publishing capabilities, they are usually reliant on a large publisher to fund development and ship the title. This means that the vast majority of AAA games are funded and shipped by major publishers. While Bioware Montreal developed Mass Effect Andromeda it was largely funded and shipped by EA. While Massive Entertainment were the lead studio on The Division, it was published by Ubisoft. While Bungie developed Destiny, the game was published by Activision. And so on… You can see this in the vast majority of AAA titles.

Being honest here for a moment, without the investment from big publishing firms the vast majority of AAA games would not see the light of day. The cost of making a AAA title has never been higher. Like any large investors, publishers want to see a return on the money they put up front. We’re not talking chump change here; even fairly average AAA games can have budgets in excess of £50m these days. It’s hard to obtain figures on the cost of making a game today as publishing companies don’t like to publicise the amounts they’re spending on individual projects. When we do get figures they’re usually conflated development and marketing costs, but a game like 2014’s Watch_Dogs saw Ubisoft invest around $68m. A bang average game but a pretty hefty investment from Ubisoft for what was then a new IP.

With so much money going into producing games, there’s pressure from shareholders and the companies’ own finances to make a return on these investments as soon as possible. You have to remember that they’re not investing money at launch; they’re putting the money in up front and throughout the development process meaning that on some projects they won’t see any return on their investments for several years. Many of the biggest publishers will have a number of titles in development at one time meaning they’re juggling hundreds of millions of dollars of investments.

As much as we’d love to believe that developers hold all the cards when it comes to releasing their titles, at the end of the day the ultimate say will rest with publishers. Publishers will have certain windows for releases each year where they believe they can maximise profit on particular titles. Once you know you’re in the final 12 months of development, you begin to get an idea of when to expect a release. You don’t want to release a first person shooter at the same time as the next Call of Duty or Battlefield as you’ll likely get hammered by the more established competition so the publishers want to make sure that their games are released at the most opportune moments. In order to make sure the game sells the publishers also need to get their marketing campaign into full swing early, meaning a lot of money is spent on advertising campaigns. Once they announce a firm date for release of a title, that’s it. There’s no going back. Everything is geared to getting the game shipped on that date.

For the developers, this represents their crunch period as they try to get the game ready to meet the release date. Anyone who has ever worked in the industry will tell you that this is the hardest time in whole process. They’re working every waking hour, they get no time off and it is break-neck pace to the finishing line. There’s a lot going on in this period and developers don’t get time to fix everything. There will be a list of known issues picked up by the Q & A Teams and the development teams work through as many of the major ones as they can before the game needs to go gold for shipping. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of today’s titles, there’s usually a fair few bugs and glitches that can’t be resolved before launch.

A bit like a snagging list for house builders, the issues that make it into the full release of the game are normally already identified by the Q & A Teams prior to launch. The developers will already be developing fixes for the issues but need a number of days / weeks following the game going gold to get those fixes tested and deployed via post-launch patches. Even great games developed and published by their own companies such as The Witcher 3 and GTA V have seen their developers need to deploy fixes in post-launch downloads. It’s pretty understandable that in such complex titles there will be things that are missed or just need a little bit too long to remedy prior to launch. When you don’t have control over the release date of your project, all you’re doing in the run up to launch is getting the game in the most stable form it can be and planning what fixes can be deployed later.

Any gamer will note that there are different kinds of bugs. It is one thing to have a horse that climbs buildings when you’re not using it compared to a bug that stops you firing your weapons or healing yourself. The first may be immersion breaking but the second can make the game unplayable. Game breaking bugs will usually destroy your playing experience very quickly making a game unplayable. Immersion breaking bugs can be comic at first but a ton of them can ruin the experience just as much.

With Mass Effect Andromeda there was a lot of anguish over the facial animations of the main characters. Okay, it was jarring at times but it was an immersion breaking issue, not game breaking. Disappointing perhaps, but not something that totally ruined the experience. Now I understand people being disappointed but the issue was over exaggerated to an incredible degree. People even ended up directing abuse at an individual animator as a result. Utterly ridiculous. Do you honestly think that Bioware weren’t aware of the issue ahead of launch? You think that nobody pointed it out? Of course they did. But how were they going to fix it when they had weeks to launch and they needed longer to put it right? They couldn’t turn around to EA and tell them to delay the launch. It doesn’t work like that with the major publishers. When was the last EA or Ubisoft game that you can remember being delayed? It just doesn’t happen with the major publishers. It probably should happen but it doesn’t.

I’m not saying that developers shouldn’t work smarter. There are certainly things that developers could do better to make sure that they can comfortably meet publishing deadlines (other creative industries manage it). What I am saying however is that we need to realise that there are a huge number of factors that might result in a game being launched with issues. It’s not as simple as, “The developers done fucked up.” Certainly on a AAA title, there’s never one person who can be singled out for blame over the quality of the released product.

As gamers we need to share some of the blame for the way the industry works. Gamers, no matter how much we might baulk at the notion, are consumers. As consumers, if we don’t like the products that are sold to us then there are a number of options open to us. We’re not “forced” to play broken games. Unless someone has you locked in their basement with a gun to your head, there is literally nothing forcing you to buy and play a game that is full of game breaking bugs. If you’ve bought a game that is broken beyond repair, don’t just bitch about it on YouTube and Twitter, you’re a consumer with consumer rights, do something about it.

If someone sold you a TV that didn’t work you’d take it back. You’d ask for a replacement or a store credit. You might, if it was a common problem with a particular manufacturer, just stay clear of everything they made in future. For some reason this seems to go out of the window when it comes to games. It’s as though the flashy trailers and bigger explosions have some memory jamming power over gamers. We need to be more discerning. If you love games, stop buying the shite ones. Stop pre-ordering titles for the exclusive items and the collectables. Stop lining the pockets of publishing companies that are only interested in milking you for all you’re worth. Don’t buy the DLC if it doesn’t add value to the experience. Wait for the reviews from reviewers you trust. Be more careful with your money. The reasons the things that we hate are even a thing in gaming is because gamers are buying into them in the first place.

I realise that this is easier said than done. If you love games like me, you’re always looking for the next great game and always hopeful that games will live up to how you imagine they’ll be. You will always hope that a sequel will build on the adventures you’ve already had and new IPs will blow you away. Truth is, it rarely turns out this way. So let’s try to be better at picking and choosing our games. Let’s make developers innovate. Let’s make publishers take more responsibility for the quality of titles they release. Let’s support the developers who do things well. Let’s help change the direction of the industry.

Gaming

Mass Effect Andromeda – Review

Developer: Bioware Montreal

Publisher: EA

Release date: 21st March 2017

Platform: Xbox / PS4 / PC

Price: £42.99

Bioware’s return to the Mass Effect universe soars more than it stumbles in compelling space opera.

History and Setting

I was late to the Mass Effect series, I only got around to playing it when Mark told me it was one of the best series he’d ever played. I picked up the series at Mass Effect 2 and loved it. I played it from start to finish within a few days. That first moment when your ship is destroyed and Shepherd dies in the vacuum of space… talk about a hook! The intrigue was immense and the set pieces were nothing short of spectacular. Mass Effect 3 I enjoyed a lot too. It wasn’t that I disliked the original ending’s outcome but rather the long conversation that led to that outcome. It was still a game I loved so I have been looking forward to Andromeda for a long while.

Andromeda leaves the old Mass Effect behind in the Milky Way galaxy for reasons you will discover during the course of the adventure. This game is set after a 600 year journey to the Andromeda galaxy. The Andromeda Initiative is a planned migration to the Andromeda galaxy by a number of arks featuring some of the main species in the original series. The player takes control of either Scott or Sarah Ryder, the son or daughter of the human Pathfinder on this epic journey, Alec Ryder. You wake from your cryo-sleep to find that the worlds identified as golden habitats, aren’t what were expected while a strange astronomical effect has caused all kinds of chaos to the planned migration. With no sign of a viable world to live on, the human ark must link up with the other arks at the Nexus (an arranged meeting point and a hub much like a streamlined version of the Citadel in the original series).

Initial disappointment

I started playing the game through the EA Access trial on Xbox. I chose to play as the standard Scott Ryder character rather than go through the character creation screen, mainly as I had a limited time to play through the trial. As the game began, following the explanatory cutscene, the first impressions weren’t great. The much publicised poor facial animations and textures were immediately apparent. While Scott’s skin and facial hair looked fine, his eyes and the lip synching were pretty jarring. While it is disappointing and a noticeable issue, it’s restricted to human characters. The aliens in the game look much better and it became less of an issue as I went.

The other issue while flying towards the first planet was the texture of the Scourge (the weird space phenomenon) and the planets. At least on the Xbox, these textures looked pretty poor and I was a bit worried that this would be the standard throughout but then the shuttle breaks apart in an electrical storm after entering the atmosphere and you’re free-falling into a beautifully rendered world. Down on the planet surface, the game comes alive.

Mass Effect™ Andromeda (6)

Movement and Combat

As well as the beautiful worlds, the character movement and animations in the open world are superb. You can boost jump, dash, run, take cover, shoot and melee with real smoothness and fluidity. While a lot of games use a sticky cover system, Andromeda uses a very fluid automatic cover system. When you move Ryder behind an object with his weapon drawn, he takes cover behind said object. He can switch his aiming shoulder with a quick push of the right stick. While it’s a departure from the sticky cover from the previous iterations, it works really well. The fluid nature of system makes it much easier to reposition and avoid flanking enemies and trust me, you will need this flexibility. While the AI isn’t anything special, they are far more aggressive than in the earlier games, they regularly force you to move around so it’s a lot harder to sit back and snipe your way through the game (although I still did this a fair bit in the more open areas). The combat may have changed somewhat but it retains the satisfying feel and the variety of weapons and special abilities means that there’s something for every play style.

The game allows for even greater flexibility by allowing players to switch between different profiles during the course of gameplay. This allows the player to switch out skills on the fly and take on different approaches to different enemies. You don’t have to do this, but the fact you can means that it is much easier to adapt to the changing battlefield. Sadly, there’s no such flexibility for the weapon loadouts and teammates. You are stuck with the weapons and personnel you choose when you disembark your ship unless you find a forward station nearby. Forward stations are dotted around each map, acting as fast travel locations and allow you to alter your loadout. This gives you some flexibility but it is a bit weird that you can’t just switch weapons from your inventory as you carry everything with you at all times. It’s a hangover from the earlier games that feels a bit of a forced handicap when there is so much flexibility to other aspects of the game. That being said, it’s possible to carry up to four weapons and a melee weapon with you at any time (after unlocking additional holster slots) meaning that you can be prepared for most situations.

For me, the combat is some of the best third person shooter action I’ve played. It’s fast, furious, there’s a decent amount of variety in the enemies and there’s a good mix between more open outdoor areas and cramped corridors filled with cover. Getting headshots feels suitably satisfying, as does getting grenade kills; chaining combos and slicing through enemies with melee weapons. Perhaps my only negative with the combat stakes is the Kett bosses all feel similar. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more variety there.

 

Writing

The other major criticism of the game has been the writing. Let’s not kid ourselves here, Bioware may be famed for great writing in their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series but every game has been guilty of clunky dialogue at times. It’s fair to say you’ll have seen the scene that features the awful line, “My face is tired.” This comes very early in the game and unfortunately is delivered by one of the most poorly voiced characters in the game. There’s certainly some, “did they really just say that?” moments but they’re not as frequent or as problematic as many critics are making out. There is some really great writing in there too and I feel this has been lost in all the noise and criticism of poorly delivered dialogue. The crew loyalty missions are generally superbly written with genuine emotional, tragic, comedic and dramatic set pieces. Although the crew are perhaps not immediately as memorable as the Mass Effect 2 and 3 crews, I did feel a genuine connection to them before the end. I particularly enjoyed having Drack in my company. The ancient Krogan is not only a great warrior to take with you into battle; he’s also got a wonderfully dark, dry sense of humour. His loyalty mission is a great set piece where the decision making took an interesting twist in my play through. The Liam loyalty mission was funny and, if played the same way I did, contains a massive nod to Star Wars. I won’t go into spoilers for the others but I really did enjoy these parts.

The story as a whole has a number of issues but is by no means awful. The beginning is supposed to be chaotic and messy as the Initiative’s plans go horribly awry but it makes for a messy and chaotic experience for the player setting off on their epic journey. It’s not an ideal way to start the game. It’s not helped that some of the first side quests you get are very mundane. The future of the whole galaxy is at risk but could you take a moment to see if this Turian really murdered his friend or not? The game eventually opens up as you gain more of a foothold on Eos, the second planet you land on. While some of the initial tasks are mundane, your actions are linked to the viability of the outposts you place on the planet surfaces. These tasks often revolve around you making life easier for the settlers, allaying fears and winning hearts and minds. As such, while the tasks you’re set might seem small and insignificant, they have a big impact on the morale of your people and this fits well with the overall story of finding a new home for your people and making them want to stay at the outposts.

There are some plot holes – like why did they put all their eggs into one basket with the arks? Surely it would’ve made more sense to have a variety of species on each ark in case something went wrong? Oh look, something goes wrong! Alright, we’ll give them this one for plot convenience but the story could’ve worked with mixed arks. There are a few moments during the course of the game where you’re left thinking, “Really?” That said, the overall tone of the game is well handled. There’s understandable conflict when the plans go off course and this has led to a series of events the player catches up with as the game unfolds. It’s perhaps not as political as the original trilogy but the old politics is still there, particularly between the Krogans and Salarians. There’s still plenty of intrigue, back-stabbing and delicate alliances that the series is famed for. Holding together the various strands of your alliance feels like a balancing act, especially with each faction looking for any excuse to break from the rest. In this environment, you’re handed more and more responsibility for decisions meaning you’re asked for your opinion on everything. It’s nice therefore, that many of the crew loyalty missions subvert this formula and allow you to leave decisions to your crew mates.

Planets

The whole point of this adventure is to try to find habitable worlds. The planets themselves all vary in size but there’s a sizable space to explore almost everywhere you can land the Tempest (your new Normandy). The majority of planets are so large and inhospitable that you need to utilise the Nomad rover to get you and your team from A to B and back again. Again, the vehicle controls superbly well and with upgrades can traverse all but the most vertical of obstacles. It’s quick, responsive and I spent ages just messing about trying to find jumps to throw myself from, especially fun when you find a landing zone that has low gravity… One thing I really loved about the fluidity of the system is that you can actually use you Nomad as cover if you encounter enemies out in the open world. Your character can take cover behind the huge wheels meaning you can defend yourself in even the most open areas. Be careful though, the Nomad is not indestructible (at least while you’re in it).

The worlds are stunning to look at and explore. The first world, Habitat 7, is a little bit underwhelming in comparison to the rest. It’s basically a world designed to help you familiarise yourself with the controls and advance the story. The other planets look absolutely stunning and as a result they are a pleasure to explore. I had spent hours on Eos and numerous trips back and forth before I realised there is a sizeable Kett base on the planet. I just hadn’t explored that way as I was focusing on the main story missions. This, at least for me was a wonderful discovery and shutting it down became a fun distraction.

 

Differing experiences

I have discussed the game with a few of my friends and it seems like we were all playing the game a bit differently. While I focused on the main story and crew side missions, some of my friends have decided to try to do every side mission on each planet’s surface. While I played almost exclusively as a soldier, others have been playing as biotics, technicians or combinations of the three. We’ve all had different experiences. Playing the game my way, there was a lot of back and forth between planets but the story felt as though it was being moved forward the whole time I was playing. Friends who have tried to clear all the activities on a planet have struggled to get into the game as much and are finding it a grind. The only grind I found was from the constant back and forth between planets with the unskippable cutscenes. While I found the cover mechanics really great based on my play style, other friends have found it frustrating and much more difficult than previous Mass Effects. My guess is that this must be related to the choice of character attributes. I played through on normal and although it is by no means easy, it also wasn’t that difficult. Yes, there were a few points where I got killed really quickly but these were generally down to me not realising a drop ship had dropped enemies behind me or I’d over-reached into a room and allowed myself to be surrounded (or I stood in the really toxic liquid!). The point being, if you’re finding the game to be too much of a grind, my advice would be to move on to another area or try changing your play style. You will inevitably be visiting each world on multiple occasions anyway so there’s no point worrying about doing everything in one go.

Mass Effect™ Andromeda (3)

Bugs

There were a few bugs evident; again these seemed to confine themselves to the dialogue interactions with NPCs. There were a few times the scenes didn’t display correctly with camera angles being stuck, scenes not displaying properly at all and multiples of the same NPC in the same scene. This is all symptomatic of issues with the animation processes, not necessarily a failing of the animators themselves.

Another bug has been that I’ve had my Nomad disappear from under me while driving on Eos. Funnily enough, this bug has also struck in another EA title, Battlefield 1 which also uses the Frostbite game engine. Driving along, minding my own business when the vehicle suddenly vanishes leaving me stood out in the middle of nowhere. Luckily it has only occurred once and not in a location where it cost my character his life.

Although it might be too much work to completely fix the facial animations, the rest of these bugs should be ironed out in future patches and Bioware have today released a statement to advise that they will be announcing details of their patch process on April 14th.  If you want to wait until after this to buy the game, that’s understandable but I’d say I didn’t experience anything truly game breaking.

Mass Effect™ Andromeda (5)

Summary

The game certainly has issues but it is by no means the disaster that other reviews would have you believe. The beginning of the game does not do it any favours but there are some superb set pieces, some great characters, some fantastic combat, some absolutely stunning worlds, some tough choices and some great concepts in here that it would be a crying shame for players to miss out on because of shitty, overly critical reviews.

There’s a ton of stuff in the game and it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. It’s not always made clear how things work. There were a few things I hadn’t worked out until I was 30+ hours into the game. Maybe they’ve tried to cram too many systems into the game from the beginning and could perhaps have left things out so that they could concentrate on the major components of the game. The Strike Teams and the Andromeda Viability Points, for example, feel a bit tacked on to me. Even if I can see how they fit into the overall narrative, I’m sure there are better, more fun ways of handling these activities.

The issues aside, there’s plenty to love about this game. I put around 60 hours into the single player campaign. There’s still a ton of side missions left for me to do and secrets to uncover. The memory triggers was one that I finished up today and without giving spoilers is well worth checking into for all the Mass Effect fans for how the stories tie together. The story has a satisfactory conclusion but there are a ton of threads left dangling that could tie into a sequel or, more likely, planned DLC. I was left satisfied but also wanting more and that, to me, feels like typical Mass Effect.

Uncategorized

Apologies

When I started this blog I promised myself I would produce content on a regular basis and I’m still committed to doing this but I realise it’s been almost four weeks since my last article was published.

Unfortunately, between working, looking for a new job, trying to play new titles and maintaining my relationship with my girlfriend, the blog has kind of slipped behind a little. I have lots of good ideas and I’m working on a few articles at the moment that I should get out soon. I’m also keen to do a review of Mass Effect Andromeda when I’ve finally got around to finishing it.

I will say this, although the latest Mass Effect has some flaws, it is very definitely not the awful game it is being made out to be and I believe that a lot of people are focusing on the negatives because it’s easy to do. All of my friends who are currently playing the game are enjoying it and we have some very different gaming tastes so it’s not like we’re afraid of telling each other when something sucks.

I’ll go into much more detail on this at the weekend, by which time I’m hoping to have completed the main story. I’m currently about 40+ hours in and have done a good mix of main campaign and side missions just in case people are wondering.

Thanks for your patience.

 

Gaming

Horizon Zero Dawn – Review

Horizon Zero Dawn – Review

Developer: Guerilla Games

Released: 1st March 2017

Platform: PS4

Giant killer robots rule the earth in this epic story of post-apocalyptic human struggle.

There’s something immensely unsettling about post-apocalyptic settings. The feeling that a world that is eerily familiar yet broken beyond repair just makes everything seem that much more disturbing. In Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerilla Games have created a game world that brilliantly captures this feeling. The world as we know it is long gone. Where cities once stood, heaps of rusting, twisted metal poke from amongst the prairie grasses, rivers run where once there were roads and civilisation has been reduced to a tribal state. While humans are trying to work their way back from the Stone Age, machines have flourished and taken on various animalistic forms (I’ll come back to these brilliant creations in due course).

Into this strangely familiar and utterly terrifying world comes Aloy. Her birth is shrouded in mystery, her mother unknown; she is entrusted to an outcast from the Tribe, a man named Rost. The outcast brings Aloy up as though she is his own daughter, teaching her how to hunt, how to scavenge for medicinal herbs and how to avoid and kill the machine animals which roam the world. It is here we learn the basic controls and start to get to grips with this most stunningly realised of worlds.  The first moment you get to control Aloy, you walk through the forest with Rost as he teaches Aloy about the medicinal herbs. The sun pokes through the trees and if you’re paying attention, you may spot the ants scurrying up and down one of the trees, carrying leaves as they go. Graphically, the only niggle I have is that the water effects don’t look as polished as the rest of the game. While there’s not a lot of time spent in the water, there’s plenty of it around in the form of rivers, lakes and streams. For some reason the water effects just aren’t up to the standards of the rest of the game.

While the opening is incredibly scripted and linear, the attention to detail in the world is absolutely phenomenal. You’d be excused for missing the metaphorical rails you’re riding on during the opening as, like me, you’d probably find yourself gawping at the gorgeous vistas. The characters, aside from Aloy, are not exactly engaging – at least not initially. There’s a lot of plot kept deliberately vague in the opening and Aloy’s outcast upbringing means that she is greeted with open hostility by almost everyone right from the off. Don’t get me wrong, the plot works well and Aloy’s humanity will melt some of the icy looks she gets from some of these characters as the game progresses. It just means that there’s not a lot of engaging interactions early on. I’d encourage players not to be put off by this, there’s plenty of humanity out there once you get going…

IMG_20170310_002931

I don’t want to give away spoilers in this review so I’m not going to talk about the story in too much detail. What I will say is that there’s a lot seeded early on and then a lot appears in collectables you can pick up and read, watch or listen to as you explore the world. I’d encourage you not to skip the conversations and info relating to the main quest line as it fleshes out the reasons for the world being the way it is. While the ending is satisfying, there’s a lot left unanswered or open-ended and the post-credit cutscene definitely screams loudly of a direct sequel.

IMG_20170310_002910

Enough about the story though, you want to know about the giant robot dinosaurs don’t you? Well there’s a great variety of beasties that come in a number of shapes and sizes. From the ubiquitous raptor-like Watchers to the 3-storey tall T-Rex-like Thunderjaws; there’s something for everyone. While they’ll all attempt to attack you on sight (even the deer-like Grazers), they have a variety of behaviours, attacks and weak points that you need to familiarise yourself with quickly. The game has a good learning curve. You start off with Watchers, they will alert other machines to your presence, blind you with a bright flash attack, fire small projectiles at you and jump at you. They can be killed easily from positions of stealth but can be a handful in large numbers. The first really challenging enemy is called a Sawtooth. You’re asked to kill one as part of the introduction and when you see the havoc it has caused before you meet it, you know you’re going to have a fight on your hands. The Sawtooth is a huge Sabretooth Tiger-like cat that towers over Aloy. It can’t be killed in one stealth hit like the Watchers and their Scrapper mates. This bad boy takes some tactical thinking and this will likely be the first time you need to use the tripcaster. The tripcaster is essentially a trap launcher that allows you to string out an electrified tripwire to snare larger machines. It’s a very handy skill to perfect, you will need to use these on the bigger machines to slow their charges and give you time to adjust. The combat with the machines is genuinely great fun. Every new enemy is a new puzzle to be solved. What works for one machine, doesn’t necessarily work for the next and you find that you have to quickly adjust strategies when your plans go awry. I loved this aspect of the game and the feeling of trepidation as you plan your assault is wonderful. There were a few occasions when my carefully planned attacks were thrown into chaos when other machines arrive on the scene completely out of nowhere. You will die in frustration multiple times – it’s inevitable. The first time I tried to fight a Thunderjaw, I died in about 5 seconds flat. The second time I tried to fight one, the fight lasted about ten minutes and I died. Third time I fought one (about 30seconds after the second attempt) it lasted roughly the same amount of time but I killed it. As I levelled Aloy up the enemies became progressively easier to kill but could still not be trifled with. Okay, I could kill several Snapmaw (huge crocodiles) at once, but slack off in a field full of Tramplers (giant bison kinda things) and I’d be dead in a few seconds. The machine AI will very definitely keep you on your toes.

IMG_20170310_002859

I started my play through on hard but I admit I had to tune it down to normal towards the end due to the sheer numbers of machine enemies in certain encounters. Trying to adjust on the fly while being relentlessly attacked from all angles by enemies that can kill you with one hit just got too frustrating. I probably could’ve found a way to avoid certain enemies and draw out others but I was getting caught up in the story and wanted to find out what happened next. The repeated deaths just got annoying. To be fair, the last few missions were still quite tough on normal difficulty so it wasn’t a total cheese.

The human enemies aren’t so much of a challenge, although it’s still very satisfying clearing a bandit camp using stealth kills and sniping sentries with headshots. This is where the game feels most like a fun of the mill stealth-em-up. It’s not really fair to say that but killing humans is definitely far less fun than taking on the machines. I don’t think this is helped by the sociopathic NPC called Nils who wants your help to take out the bandits. He’s less human than many of the machines you’ll meet in the game.

IMG_20170309_212223

Aloy, as a central character is great. She’s been subjected to a lot of unjust shit growing up and is treated as a sub-human due to being brought up as an outcast. She is unsure of her place in the world but is able to treat everyone with a level of humanity she has only been shown by Rost. She is influenced by other characters but she is her own person. This is demonstrated by basic conversational choices you can make in certain interactions with other characters. While the level of choice isn’t up there with the likes of The Witcher 3 or Mass Effect, the decisions you make can make a difference as to how certain things play out later in the game. Guerilla have created a strong female character who isn’t sexualised and holds her own with the men in her world. It would’ve been just as easy for this game to have a male lead and that’s why I like that Guerilla decided to choose Aloy. She’s central character done right. I went back and did an early side mission tonight, I think it is around level 7 or so. The interactions between Aloy and a Tribesman who wants her help are superb. After you complete the task and go back to the quest giver, you get the option to tell him that you spared the lives of the outcasts that robbed him. When he learns that Aloy was also an outcast his demeanour changes and he venomously spits hatred towards her. You can choose to put him in his place in one of three ways. I chose to try to reason with him, when the NPC doesn’t stop with the hate speech she tells him that all he has done with his hateful ways is succeed in shunning himself. Somehow it seemed very apt.

IMG_20170310_002917

There’s a lot to love about this game. It is truly gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so long using photo mode in a game. Ever. It is truly beautiful. The robot dinosaurs are great fun to take on. The game world and narrative leave a lot of scope for a sequel or two and Aloy definitely feels like she could be the new face of a stellar franchise. Although it has a few shortcomings, I get the sense that much of what Guerilla wanted to achieve was scaled back due to this being a new IP. There’s a lot of ambition here but I get the impression that there’s more to come. I really can’t wait to see what they come up with. It gets a massive thumbs up from me.

Gaming

Steep – A Review

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release date: 2nd December 2016

Platforms: Xbox, PS4, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch

Steep brings snowboarding, skiing, wingsuiting, paragliding and a whole new approach to the Ubisoft open world formula.

The Ubisoft formula has long been to have players immersed in grand open world experiences. Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, The Division, Ghost Recon, The Crew, the open worlds speak for themselves. You’d be forgiven for thinking Steep was more of the same. Sure, it takes place in an open world version of the Alps (and Alaska) and players discover more things on the vast map as they go, but this is pretty much where the similarities to the other Ubisoft titles ends.

Here they have created a world that is a vast playground. Sure, it’s filled with various challenges and stories for players to engage with but once you’ve done the first couple you can essentially go wherever you want and do whichever activity you enjoy most. The open world is your oyster so to speak. Yes, some of the most fun I’ve had in gaming in years has come from trying to better myself or my friends on the game’s readymade challenges, but there’s nothing forcing me to do these.

The game awards XP from pretty much everything you do. This means that you can do what you enjoy and still level up. There are six separate “styles” that essentially award you XP for different things. You enjoy exploring the mountain sides? Earn Explorer XP. You enjoy doing freestyle jumps and tricks? Earn Freestyler XP. You enjoy doing extreme stunts? Earn Extreme XP. You enjoy ragdolling your avatar down every mountainside you see? Earn Bone Collector XP. It seems whatever you enjoy you can find a way to make this a way to progress your avatar. This means if you really don’t enjoy the challenges, you can pretty much ignore them after you get to level 3.

steep-3

If you did this though, you’d really be missing out. Some of the challenges are superb fun. I can’t remember the last game in which I sat for hours to try to perfect one challenge. I’ve done that multiple times with Steep. Some of the wingsuit challenges in particular, at first glance, appear to be totally impossible. In fact, even after dozens of attempts some of these challenges still had me stumped. One challenge, La Fileuse, a friend and I spent a solid 3 or 4 hours repeatedly attempting. Why? Because we could see ourselves progressing. Slowly but surely we’d work out how to make the next checkpoint, then the next, pushing each other and learning from each other as we went. When I finally managed to nail the last check point, I was followed seconds later by my mate. Then we set about trying to outdo each other’s times.

The game tracks your best times and scores on various leader boards. When you’re grouped up you have a group leader board that shows how you’re doing in that particular group session, then you have a leader board among your friends on Xbox Live, PSN or Ubisoft Club (depending on your platform). Finally you have a leader board that shows the best of the day, best of the week and best of all time. I can honestly say that this level of comparison is a real boon for the competitive player in me. I push myself to improve scores and times to see if I can get on weekly and daily leader boards. I’ve not managed to hit an all-time record yet (some of the player base is quite clearly insanely good). I have managed daily and weekly leader board credits. My personal favourite is a wingsuit challenge called Spring Water. Here you have to get the highest score over a twisting and bending course, hitting checkpoints along the way. You get a higher score from flying as close as possible to the ground and going as fast as possible. My record score of over 63k is pretty good, but it’s about 9k behind the all-time best. One day perhaps.

Aside from the challenges, there are a number of community creations that will pop up on the map as you search for locations to throw yourself from. There are also “mountain stories.” These are activities that are voiced by the mountains themselves. It’s a little bit weird but a nice way of getting to understand what kind of terrain is going to be thrown at you on a given mountain. Some are fantastically steep and require nerves of steel; others have more gradual inclines but are peppered with ice fields or covered in forests. If I’m honest, I find these activities a bit extraneous as I’ve usually done a few challenges first and have a good idea of what the mountain is due to throw at me. By that point, I’m not really that bothered what the mountain has to say on the matter. It’s a nice idea though and maybe for those players who really enjoy exploring the map will enjoy these activities more.

So what about the sports themselves? How do they play? Well I think a lot comes down to personal taste. I prefer the snowboard and the wingsuit. Skiing is very similar to snowboarding but I find myself getting turned around too often, also I think the jumps and tricks look cooler with a snowboard. Doing tricks depends largely on timing the release of the right trigger just right. From there, it’s down to the speed and direction of the spin you want to put on your jump with the left stick while grabbing the board with left or right trigger combined with the right stick. It sounds complicated and it does take a little bit of getting used to but the reward for getting the controls down is a game with a huge variety of moves.

Wingsuits feel suitably fast and unforgiving. You mess up in a wingsuit and you’re going to get KO’d. Luckily there’s no death in Steep as my avatar would probably have died a few hundred thousand times by now. The wingsuit is controlled by the left and right sticks. The left stick controls pitch and yaw. By pulling back you slow down, by pushing forward you dive and pick up speed. You can turn left and right but need to be wary of losing altitude as you do so. The right stick allows you to twist left and right at speed, ideal for dodging rocky outcrops hurtling towards you at a rate of knots. I’m okay in a wingsuit, I can do well in a few of the challenges such as the aforementioned La Fileuse and Spring Water. There are people out there doing some incredible stunts though and I encourage you to check out some of the Steep stunt vids on YouTube.

steep-2

The weakest sport for me has to be paragliding. It’s okay if you’re looking to chill out floating over the amazing mountainous backdrop but otherwise it’s just not really fun. In the paragliding challenges you’re often looking to glide up to a higher summit by using updrafts close to cliff edges. I’m sure there’s more to it than this but it’s just too slow for me. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way as my friends who play all find it just a bit out of step with the rest of the game.

The upcoming paid-for DLC is due to add more sports including the Winter Sled, Rocket Wings, Base Jumping and Speed Gliding. The last three of these sports are due to be introduced in the final of the 3 paid-for DLCs, the Winter Sled will land in the second one.

Luckily, along with the paid-for content, Steep is also bringing free DLC expansions to the game. The first of these was part of the Alaskan wilderness has already launched. It’s actually really good too. There’s plenty of new spaces to explore, challenges to try and, for the stunt-inclined, lots more buildings and rails to grind on.

So the big question, is this worth a punt? I got Steep at Christmas thinking it would be a nice game to play between all the other stuff I have to play. I’ve spent more than 86 hours in the game since then. It’s certainly a game you can play between other titles; it can be a total chill-out game; a break from all the fighting and shooting. It can also be addictive as hell as you try to nail that perfect line or outdo that high score. It’s also the first game in almost nine years together that my girlfriend has really found fun. It got to the point I needed to set her up with her own gamertag so she can now keep track of her own progress. I guess I can’t give it a more glowing reference than that.

Gaming

Book Review: A Boy Made of Blocks

Author: Keith Stuart

Publisher: Sphere (29 December 2016)

RRP (Paperback): £7.99

Almost all of us feel lost at some point in our lives. An existential crisis is seemingly part of life. Why am I here? What’s my role in the grand scheme of things? Is there more to life than this? These questions seem to come to us whenever we’re going through tough times in life. Alex is very definitely having a tough time. He spends all his time working a job he hates to escape his responsibilities as a husband and a father. His son Sam is autistic and Alex struggles to understand what this means for them all. In avoiding his responsibilities at home, his relationship is stretched to the point we join the story – him packing his bags and heading off to sleep on his mate’s crappy air mattress; a thirty-something, reluctant mortgage advisor who runs from any semblance of responsibility. A few days later and the job he’s been hiding behind is gone due to a company merger and Alex is suddenly feeling very lost. Cue the inevitable internal struggle to work out where it all went wrong.

Okay, so Alex seems very mundane at first glance.

Keith Stuart’s debut novel could so easily have ended up as a very mundane story of middle-class self-loathing. But it doesn’t. Instead it soars into an emotional roller-coaster that broke my heart and filled with me joy in equal measure. The real star of this story is Alex’s relationship with his son, Sam, and the other key character, Sam’s autism.

Stuart writes from experience, his own son Zac suffers from autism. His experience pours from every page as he details the kinds of struggles that only the parents of autistic children could truly appreciate. There’s the frustration that Sam doesn’t do things like other children, he is slow to learn, doesn’t socialise well with others, a simple sandwich-filling could trigger Armageddon. The terror that Alex feels being responsible for Sam is palpable. He is continually bracing himself for meltdown. He lives in perpetual fear.

It turns out there’s an additional childhood trauma that amplifies Alex’s fears and his need to control everything.  Again, this is brilliantly handled. Showing how different people deal with grief in different ways and how such traumas can shape lives as his mother and sister are shown to have dealt with the tragedy in their own manner.

The story finds its rhythm as Alex and Sam connect through the Xbox version of Minecraft. Stuart, The Guardian’s games editor, again brings his own experiences to the fore here. He has spoken many times of the positive impact Minecraft has had on his own family and here he uses that experience to describe the bonding of father and son. He weaves a wonderful tale of discovery and adventure in the virtual world of Mojang’s block building masterpiece. While Sam is learning to expand his horizons through the virtual world, Alex is learning how amazingly intelligent and creative his son is. The journey of discovery works both ways culminating in a level of understanding that goes far beyond what Alex believes to be possible.

I read this book the weekend after I found out I was being made redundant. It pretty much shattered me into a million pieces over the course of a few hours. (As it happens, I could not have described the feeling of being made redundant any better than Stuart manages in those few paragraphs). It may have been that it caught me at a particularly emotional time but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it churned me up a few times. Okay, so I saw the ending coming for a few chapters before it got there but my God, it still left me in tatters.

I know this is written from Alex’s perspective but as his understanding grows you can’t fail to have some appreciation for how different the world must seem through Sam’s eyes. Creating an appreciation of what it is to be autistic in a novel is a truly stunning achievement.

I have a feeling there’s more to come from Keith Stuart and I very much look forward to reading what comes next.

Gaming

My Gaming History Part II

This article originally appeared on The Gamer Social where I am a regular contributor.

Moving on from the ZX Spectrum, my first console was the Sega Master System in 1990 (I know, I was late to the party). It came with a couple of games in the form of Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Afterburner and Super Monaco GP. I quickly started to collect others.

Alex Kidd was the original competitor to Nintendo’s Mario. It wasn’t anywhere near as good but for a nine year old, it was fun. Alex Kidd was a weird-looking character with a huge head and a tiny body whose main skill, aside from jumping was punching walls with a giant fist. The aim of the game was to rescue his brother from an evil boss called Janken. At the end of each stage the player would need to beat one of Janken’s mini bosses in a round of rock, paper, scissors. In a step up from the likes of Ghosts ‘n Ghouls, Alex was able to collect money and power ups throughout levels in order to buy vehicles and more power ups at the end of each area. The vehicles allowed the player to get through areas quicker and reach areas more easily. Although obviously aimed at children, it was tough and unforgiving like many of the games from the 80s. It was bright, colourful and the 8-bit graphics were a huge step up from the Spectrum’s overlapping colours and textures.

alex-kidd-in-miracle-world

Afterburner, was a huge graphical leap forward from the Spectrum version. The colours and scrolling horizon made it much easier to see what was going on while the enemies were much clearer and more recognisable making for a much better all-round experience. This was the first direct comparison of a game I’d seen running on an earlier system. There would be no going back. The 8-bit musical score was exciting and adrenaline-packed, adding to the action in a way that the Spectrum just couldn’t compare. I played this game for hours and hours, perfecting the barrel rolls and learning the spawning locations of enemy aeroplanes and helicopters. I loved every minute of it.

after-burner

Super Monaco GP was a bit more frustrating. Although I played it quite a bit, I found the Formula 1 cars were difficult to handle, with tons of under steer making the cornering around the tracks awkward. What I did find new and interesting was the ability to play 2-player split screen races. It was also the first driving game I could remember that had a rear view mirror (at least in the single-player game). You could also do some basic tuning to your cars to improve performance, choosing engine, transmission and tyre settings. Unfortunately, the cornering was so tough that I regularly ended up with the d-pad button imprinted on my thumb after every session.

supermonacogp

Joe Montana Football (1991) and Slap Shot (1990) were my first forays into American sports gaming. With Montana, although I understood the basics of moving the ball towards the endzone and scoring touchdowns, while stopping the opposition from doing the same, I didn’t really understand the playcalling aspect. With enough play time, even though it was a terrible game, I did begin to learn which plays worked at particular times and it really helped to develop my interest in the sport. The graphics were terrible, not much of a step up from the Spectrum, although it did have cool animations when you scored a touchdown or kicked a field goal. I certainly wouldn’t say I played it for its looks though. This was a game that fed into my burgeoning interest in the NFL after my uncle had bought me a Miami Dolphins shirt while he was holidaying in the USA. Slap Shot was an ice hockey title that had a similar graphical style with the main action being shown from a TV-esque angle to one side of the rink. There was a feeling of being on the ice with players sliding and bouncing off each other and the side of the rink. When you scored a goal you would get a pre-rendered animated “replay” of the goal. It wasn’t ever really very close to looking like the goal you actually scored though. The other great thing about Slap Shot was that you could have fights with the opposition players. Bump into them at the right time and the game would cut to a side on view of the two players who would punch each other repeatedly until one player lost. At that point, the loser would be sent to the sin bin. Before the 3rd period began, you’d get a cutscene of the managers in the dressing rooms laying into their teams about their performances. Again, like Joe Montana Football, it was utterly awful but before I played this game I had no interest in ice hockey and would likely have missed out on the Mega Drive NHL franchise without it.

Another sports title that landed on the Master System came in 1992 in the form of Olympic Gold. This game was launched around the time of the Barcelona Olympics and I absolutely loved it. It had lots of different events such as the 100m sprint, hammer throw, archery, swimming, diving and pole vault. The button bashing required to excel at the sprint and hammer throw was set aside in other events such as the archery and the diving. This meant there was something for everyone. The fact that you could play with and, more importantly, against up to 3 other friends and family made this a great game for gatherings. Each event took a maximum of few minutes to complete meaning that it was easy to set up mini tournaments with friends. I loved this social and competitive gaming and this was an ideal title for it. The graphics were also superb for the system and this obviously helped with the replayability.

olympic-gold

1992 also saw the release of Ninja Gaiden. A game that didn’t see a release in Japan or North America due to falling Master System sales, it was a massive hit in Europe. In the game you play as Ryu Hayabusa who you might recognise from other titles… Ryu comes home from his travels to find his ninja village destroyed and the sacred Bushido scroll stolen. Ryu must fight his way through various stages and bosses to recover the scroll. Having played Megaman on the NES at a friend’s house, this felt like the answer from Sega. Ryu could run, jump, wall jump, hang from platforms and swing up to platforms above while swiping enemies with his sword or blasting them with fireballs, ninja stars and other power ups. While some of the bosses were a bit more pathetic than others, there was a good variety of enemies and the game was generally really good fun. The whole game only took around an hour to complete but I did find myself replaying it on numerous occasions.

ninja-gaiden

There were other games I first sampled on the Master System. Games like Populous, Lemmings, Sensible Soccer, Speedball, Streets of Rage and Zool were all in my library but my head was turned by the arrival of the Sega Mega Drive.

The 16-bit Mega Drive was an absolute wonder. It came with Sonic The Hedgehog which was a system seller in its own right. It was brash, fast and colourful. The speed of the game was like nothing we’d had up to that point. It was a massive commercial success for Sega and the battle between Sonic and Mario was symptomatic of the battle between Sega and Nintendo. While I had a lot of love for Super Mario World on the SNES, Sonic felt faster and the enemies and level design were more interesting for me (I appreciate I might get some heat for this statement). That first Green Hill Zone alone was enough to win me over.

sonic

I’d had some great times with Nintendo at friend’s houses. Tecmo Wrestling, Megaman, Mario Bros, Duck Hunt were all superb fun. When the SNES came with Super Mario World and Final Fight, there was a large part of me that was tugged towards that console but the Mega Drive had been out longer and had loads more games available for it at that point.

By the time I picked up the Mega Drive it had already seen the release of games like John Madden Football ‘92, Ecco The Dolphin, ToeJam & Earl, Road Rash and Desert Strike. Desert Strike, like a 16-bit Operation Gunship, was an obvious hit with me. As were the follow ups, Jungle Strike and Urban Strike. Madden was a huge improvement on Joe Montana Football and my love of the NFL continued apace with the annual releases that followed it.

Ecco The Dolphin was one of those weird titles. It was more famous for the ingenuity of its design than it was for gameplay, story or its characters. It was a massively popular title but it wasn’t a huge amount of fun. This was possibly the first “big name” title that ever really disappointed me. This was a new experience and something that today’s gamers find on an all too frequent basis. The characters were dull, the story was boring, the gameplay was lacking any kind of fun. I was so bitterly disappointed by it that I ended up trading it to a friend for ToeJam & Earl. Now this was a game that could only have happened in the 90s. Two alien rappers crash land on planet earth and have to piece together the parts of their ship in order to get back to their home planet. It looked pretty crappy but it had a charm that was missing from Ecco. It’s hard to describe this game as it didn’t seem to fit preconceived notions of genre. It seemed to be something all of its own, a unique experience. It kept unveiling little touches the more I played it, for example the two player co-op revealed a whole other side to the characters you didn’t see in the single-player game. In co-op the characters had a whole other level of dialogue that made it a different experience playing it with a friend. It was touches like this that makes this title stand out in my mind as something out of the ordinary and far better than the utterly pedestrian Ecco The Dolphin. If I remember rightly, there was next to no combat in it, the only way you could fend off enemies was by pelting them with tomatoes which was a pretty rare thing following the all-action games of the time.

 

Violence was definitely not in short supply in Road Rash, another of my favourite titles. I actually preferred Road Rash 2, just because it was smoother than the first and the combat worked better but what a game. Here you raced motorbikes across the USA with the winner taking home prize money that could allow them to upgrade to faster and better handling vehicles. There were no rules on how you finished first, the idea was to win by any means possible. This meant taking clubs and chains to other riders and the police who tried to stop you. It was fast, violent and fun. It was kind of a Deathrace 2000 with motorbikes. What I absolutely loved about Road Rash 2 was the little 8-bit animated shorts that played out at the end of each race depending on how you did. These ranged from smashing into the back of vehicles, falling out of ambulances, being stuffed into the boot of police cars and all kinds of other stuff. It brought some levity to the end of races, even when you failed. These little cartoons (with tons of cartoon violence) were perfect to lighten the tone of the game which could otherwise have taken itself way too seriously. It also helped to lighten the frustration of getting knocked off your bike a few yards from the finish line. This ability for games to not take themselves too seriously seems largely lost in today’s market of ultra-realistic graphics.

road_rash_ii

I think it was 1993 when I got Flashback and Streetfighter II.* Flashback was a Sci-Fi platform-puzzler. I remember it having the most iconic animated cutscenes and the coolest player character animations of any game I’d ever seen up to that point. They’d used an early form of motion capture to get the 2D character’s movements to look realistic so he climbed, dropped, rolled, ran, ducked and shot like a real person. I loved this game with a passion. It was dark, difficult and utterly dystopian. It was so cool! This was the game that really made me love Sci-fi as a genre. If you’ve never played it, go and get yourself a copy or find it on an emulator. It still holds up amazingly well to this day. I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who has never played it but I thought it was brilliant. My mind may be clouded by nostalgia but I remember this game having a plot straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel. It was utterly amazing. It still ranks in my top gaming experiences of all time.

flashback

Speaking of which… Streetfighter II. What. A. Game. For me, the greatest fighting game of all time. While there have been technical improvements in the series over the years, this game stands alone as one of the best designed and perfectly balanced games ever created. My embarrassing secret? I sucked at it. I wanted to be great at it and poured God knows how many hours into it but I absolutely sucked at it. I became so embarrassed at how bad I was at it, that I actually hid it when friends came round in case they wanted to play against me. Yup, I was that bad. I think this game being so amazing and me sucking at it so utterly, completely ruined the fighting genre for me.

street-fighter-2

* There are also honourable mentions for Disney’s Aladdin, Streets of Rage and Gunstar Heroes which also launched in 1993. I credit Aladdin with the spiritual predecessor of the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time series while Gunstar Heroes was possibly the most fun run and gun game ever produced.

aladdin

1993 also saw the release of FIFA International Soccer and NHL ’94. This was the first year of FIFA, back when they were cutting edge, had no official team licensing and only contained international teams. They were both stunning games and provided simulated sporting experiences better than anything I’d experienced to date. They were both massively successful games and deservedly so, they were just so much fun. FIFA came at the right time for me, with the Keegan era underway in Newcastle kindling my love of the beautiful game. If you can remember names like Dieter Myer, then you knew FIFA when it was a truly great game.

1994 saw the release of FIFA ’95 (with club teams), Cannon Fodder, Earthworm Jim, Urban Strike and Mega Bomberman. This would probably be one of my favourite years for gaming.

Cannon Fodder, for anyone who was unlucky enough never to have played it, was a military strategy game from the makers of Sensible Soccer. It had a similar top-down, cartoony style with a real sense of humour to it. You controlled a squad of up to five (I think) soldiers who had to go behind enemy lines to undertake progressively tougher missions. The beauty of this game, aside from the anti-war message it promoted, was that it made you care for your squad in a way that no game had ever managed before. As your squad members would suffer permadeath if killed, you were genuinely heartbroken when you lost a soldier who had been through numerous missions with you. This feature may not sound so groundbreaking to our younger followers but this was the first game to make me really care for its characters. I’m not sure any game has managed to do this quite so well since.

cannon-fodder

Earthworm Jim was one of those bizarre titles where you wonder how the concept got off the ground at all. A super powered suit falls to earth where an ordinary earthworm, Jim, crawls into it and takes on its special abilities to become a super powered hero. I couldn’t remember the aim of the game but, after a quick Google search, I was reminded that it was to rescue a princess called What’s Her Name. The facial animations of Jim were funny, the level design was superb and the situations Jim was put in were often hilarious. This also translated to the enemies and bosses who were some of the most bizarre characters ever designed. This kind of carefree humour ran throughout the game with Jim being a quick-witted and comedic hero who often broke the fourth wall when he died or when he was left idle for too long. The concept was daft but it was done with such good humour and comic style that it worked really well. It was a huge hit at the time and is another title which holds up pretty well today.

earthworm-jim

Mega Bomberman was the Mega Drive version of Super Bomberman. If I’m honest, I preferred the SNES version which I played at friends houses whenever I got the chance. It makes my list because it was so addictive. Not for the single player game, which was actually pretty dull, but for the multiplayer which was incredible fun. I’d get ridiculously competitive with this game. The main aim of the multiplayer was to be the last player standing from up to 6 players or CPU controlled Bombermen. The idea was to kill your enemies by trapping them between blocked off areas and your bomb blasts. Power ups could change the kinds of explosions your bombs caused, extending their reach or firing them over walls, etc. It was quite tactical, requiring thought as well as good reactions to be really good at it. For me, this would’ve been my ideal E-Sport title. Someone make it happen!

mega_bomberman

Again, there could’ve been a hundred more games on this list but these titles were the ones that stuck out most when I looked back. I’ll give honourable mention to Theme Park, Castlevania, Mortal Kombat 2, James Pond: Underwater Agent and Micro Machines which were also amazing titles that I could’ve written about at length too. How about you? Which games stick in your memory from these days? Any glaring omissions from the Mega Drive / Genesis days that I should’ve played?