Review: The Last of Us Part II

I consider this post spoiler-free, but if you’re at all concerned, don’t read it, play the bloomin’ game instead of looking for blog posts and videos about it ūüėČ

There are no screenshots in this post apart from the featured image. This is deliberate, prepare yourself for two thousand words.

I recently tweeted “Here’s to staying up way too late and playing video games!”

This week has been one of those occasions for sure when my physical copy of The Last of Us Part II arrived on release day. Robbing myself of sleep was guaranteed.

Averaging 5 hours of play and then sleep, for 5 consecutive days. After a total of just over 25 hours, early on Wednesday morning, the credits finally rolled.

It had to happen this way, after 7 years of waiting, I had to know first hand what happened next. I did my best to avoid spoilers, all of the trash talk going on throughout Twitter, Reddit etc. It’s amazing what people get angry about.

Part I recap

Rewind back to 2013; the first console I’d purchased for myself, the PS3 Slim, was patiently waiting under the TV for this game I’d heard about, The Last of Us. Along with GTA V, it steered me towards the PS3.

It was amazing, despite my inability to play with a controller (I’d struggled with GTA V too) I pressed on through the 12 hour-ish campaign, it was remarkable. A truly gripping narrative, but what was achieved with PS3 hardware was quite the accomplishment. As a primarily PC gamer back then, I was awestruck. Maybe consoles weren’t so bad after all?

I also never played it again, until a month ago when I dusted off The Last of Us Remastered. This was picked up over 2 years ago, safe in the knowledge I would play it only when Part II was fully cooked and about to arrive. It would make me ready, emotionally more than anything, to jump straight into Part II and continue this journey.

The remastered version of the first game confirmed everything I remember from my only prior playthrough; an intense, frantic, and violent journey through the wastelands of civilization, punctuated with moments of absolute beauty. The graphical improvements amplified my feelings of immersion, a larger and better quality TV also didn’t hurt. It was great to be back.

Seven years of console ownership and thousands of hours of controller use surfaced some feelings I wasn’t expecting; sheesh, the combat is wonky. Maybe I wasn’t as bad at this as I remember?!

Some of it was the game, in my opinion. I played at a higher difficulty level this time and felt way more at ease, but there were definitely some dodgy moments of clumsy combat. I overcame them easily enough, so it didn’t ruin my enjoyment too much or slow me down as it had 7 years ago.

Part II, you son of a… I’m in.

So here I was, fresh off a playthrough of the remastered first game, with a couple of weeks to digest the story again. Confident in my controller skills, I was ready.

Let me be upfront here, without trying to spoil anything; what happens in the first few hours of Part II is ruthless, almost without context (until later on), meant to shock you, meant to make you angry. It was also inevitable.

The entire narrative is driven forward for the rest of the game by that moment, its why the game even exists. Without this story to tell, what else could this game have been about? You’re missing out if you bail at that point.

Story aside for a moment

We’ll circle back to the story again later, in much the same way the game continually circles around and threads plot strands together, there’s more to say about other things first.

A technical marvel

As a video game, something technical, but also a piece of art, everything is masterfully represented and executed here. Naughty Dog has squeezed everything they could from the PlayStation once again.

In my entire playthrough, there were only a few times where the seams were visible. The rare animation not stitched together correctly, slight drops in frame rate (on PS4 Pro where water is involved, as noted by Digital Foundry) and other totally minor things.

The visuals

Visually striking, you start with some stunning vistas, rendered to perfection, at the seemingly controversial 30fps. For me, this works fine, because it remains almost entirely consistent throughout.

As you progress through the story, you’ll be taken to several locations which are increasingly impressive, full of detail. There are so many memorable locations and views, I don’t even want to be that guy who spoils any of them for you, by taking screenshots.

It is also incredibly dark at times, not just in tone, but pitch black in terms of lighting, forcing you to fight for your life with only a torch to guide you, against some fairly tough enemies. Much of the game is played in darkness, rain, and snow.

The violence and gore, nightmare fuel

The environments have to look as good as they do, however, because the pendulum swings both ways. On the one hand, it shows nature reclaiming the earth, beautiful sunsets, stunning mountains etc. On the other hand, violence and gore are also rendered in the same kind of excruciating detail. If you’re upset by this kind imagery, you’ll be looking away often. How do you feel about murdering Alsatians? Best of luck to you.

In one section, I set 4 trap mines, as I expected to be rushed by the enemy once detected. Sure enough, they came for me, one after the other triggering an explosion. Once I’d dispatched their friends, I went into the room where the traps had been set. The walls and floors were crimson, with arms, legs, intestines, heads, all rendered in extreme detail, with uncanny wetness to it all. It was honestly disgusting, but over the years I’ve been de-sensitised to the sight of it, so I just moved on, “it’s not real” I acknowledged.

This is a great game if you need some more nightmare fuel.

The hills are alive, with the sound of death

I played the entire game using stereo headphones plugged into the controller, these to be precise. These particular headphones allow sound you wouldn’t otherwise hear with other headphones to shine through.

Playing late at night, when the rest of the house was totally silent, I was fully immersed in the stereo audio.

In one section, something is crawling around the ventilation, or somewhere above you; the sound is so subtle, but it really raised my heart rate. Playing through the TV, I would never have heard it.

The same is true throughout, very subtle ambient sounds, crunching of the ground underneath the enemy, distant clicks from the Clicker enemies, grunting from the Runners, wind whistling past your ears.

Every arrow in your shoulder, shot fired, explosion, Molotov, rustle of leaves as you walk through the undergrowth and whistle between enemies in the distance. Every squelch during a silent takedown with a knife. Enemies don’t always expire straight away, sometimes they’ll scream, silently choke on their own blood. Seriously, this is not for sensitive types.

Combat, punchy punches are very punchy

This was my only real concern going into Part II, would the overall combat experience improve from the first game? The answer is a resounding yes. Absolutely.

The dodge mechanic is the only wonky thing about it all, often the camera would spin around while I was dodging, showing my back to the enemy while they attacked me.

Maybe I just don’t get it yet, but this was very frustrating at times. I felt like I was fighting the camera more than the enemy, but I’ll work on this.

When the dodging works, it fits so well into other melee animations and the environment, the whole thing looks scripted, much as it did in the E3 demos of the past. It really does play as well as it looked in those demos, for a change.

You’re running through gaps in walls, dodging giant sledgehammers, returning punches, slashing desperately with a knife. You have to, in some cases, to survive at all. It’s all extremely satisfying.

Combat situations don’t always pan out the way you’d hope, you’ll die gruesomely, but when it does work and the dust settles, you’ll gather your thoughts and be desperate to do it all over again. More than once, I carried on when I knew I was doomed, or reloading the save would make more sense, just to get some practice and enjoy more of the combat.

Other notable points

The crafting returns, which has improved, I’m also happy to say there are way more resources in the maps on “Moderate” difficulty compared to the first game. This is necessary, otherwise, you’d be hard-pressed to defeat the enemies presented, unless you stealth a great deal more. I hate stealth!

Puzzles return too, slightly different this time, but still interesting. I’m not much of a puzzle fan, but these were completely understandable and fun to solve.

Accessibility options are well represented here, Naughty Dog is receiving huge praise for this, I can’t imagine what this means to people who need them, but it is great to see.

Overall, everything which isn’t story related is top-notch. This is a highly polished video game, the time gained delaying release was clearly well spent.

The length of the game

Here’s where some of the problems start to surface. The game is so arduous and exhausting, so intense in every way. I’ve seen tweets from people saying they’ll take their time, savour the game, reflect on what happens.

This is absolutely the way to go unless you’re impatient. At 20-30 hours it just feels a little too long, I was expecting something more succinct like the first game. I felt as though I was playing Part II immediately followed by Part III.

The thing is, its so addictive to play, I just had to keep going. I wasn’t rushing it for the sake of writing this or to prevent exposure to spoilers and so on. The story was just so intense, so demanding, I had to keep going.

Back to that story

The story is the other problem for me, but also many others.

It’s divisive, there’s a reason the internet has gone wild over this game. Spoiling the plot, review bombing on Metacritic, attempting to boycott the release, all the usual rubbish.

You’ll never please everyone, Naughty Dog knows this. For everyone who loves that you get to play as thingy-me-bob, there’s someone who hates Naughty Dog for “what they did” to the story, they’ll never forgive them for it.

I can deal with all that, but towards the end of the game, it seems to lose direction.

The actions on screen felt massively at odds with the character progression I’d experienced to that point. I felt forced to “do things” that didn’t seem right, given the situation, but in the end, shrugged it off for the sake of progressing to the end. I straight-up murdered people because I couldn’t find any bottles or bricks.

The ending

I’m saying nothing. No, I’m serious, go and play the damn game, or watch someone else play it if you don’t want to spend money.

It builds on the first game in every way, is fun to play (most of the time), scary as !@# in places, an adrenaline rush, a tear-jerker, mouth-open-OMG-moment-during-cutscenes kind of game.

The Last of Us Part II is everything you want it to be, but also nothing like you wanted it to be or hoped it would be. How could this possibly live up to your expectations, after the end of the first game?

If you have any passing interest, just play the game for yourself, no amount of reviews or YouTube videos can take the place of experiencing it first hand, then making up your own mind, like an adult.

I’ll be playing New Game+ (which shipped at release) and going for the Platinum trophy, which probably tells you I liked it overall. You might not though, but judge for yourself, don’t let the internet sway you.

We’ll be talking about this game until Part III comes along.

Review: GOG Galaxy 2.0 Game Client – Open Beta

I wrote about GOG Galaxy 2.0 last year during the “Launcher Wars”, which were sparked in part by Epic Software’s incessant desire to gobble up a bunch of exclusive or timed big name releases on PC. This is a practice which continues in 2020, with titles such as Assassins Creed Valhalla.

The aim of Galaxy 2.0 was to unite all of your PC digital storefronts and associated launchers into a single, universal library, under one client to rule them all. This isn’t a new idea, other options such as Playnite have been doing this for a while.

Automatic Update From 1.0 Isn’t Well Received By Some

Many people who use GOG.com have likely never bothered installing the Galaxy client, it is yet another launcher to think about. It’s mostly unnecessary as well, you can download DRM free installer executables from GOG.com and store them wherever you want. If you don’t wish to keep your games up to date, you don’t have to do that either.

Despite the Galaxy 2.0 client receiving regular updates and continually improving over the last several months, an immediate misstep, unusual for CDPR, is currently being observed by the very people they probably shouldn’t be pissing off.

Those choosing to install the Galaxy 1.0 client are likely the more serious GOG.com users, with the largest libraries. They want the convenience of downloading and updating their games like any Steam or Uplay user would expect.

Without any real warning, it seems 1.0 clients are being upgraded to the 2.0 open beta, which some users are finding rather unpleasant, a questionable decision in my opinion.

They apparently didn’t sign up for this or any beta. They’re finding ways to roll back and then prevent the update from happening again, such is their distaste for the upgrade. Poor show CDPR, not everyone wants to use beta software.

Connections to Third Party Platforms

Connecting your Steam, PlayStation and Xbox (amongst other) libraries is one of the main draws of Galaxy 2.0, so how does this work?

Under settings, you have the option to connect these and several other platforms to your Galaxy 2.0 client. Sign in to your platform of choice, and that’s it, Galaxy 2.0 can now synchronise information from that platform.

The open source nature of the functionality remains in place, with the community still working to fill the gaps left by CDPR, which are numerous. All the major players are covered to a degree, but if you’re the sort of person who uses the itch.io client you’ll be left wanting.

During the private beta, this functionality would routinely misbehave, losing connection and forcing you to log back in to services such as PlayStation Network over and over again. In the version currently rolling out, this appears to have stabilised.

On the whole, this functionality now works well, with much fewer disconnections from the various services I’ve tried, including Xbox Live, PSN, Uplay, Origin and Epic Games Store. More work needs to be done by CDPR to convince other platforms to open things up a little, allow downloads to be tracked and managed fully by Galaxy 2.0 for example.

I can’t help but feel like this will go the way of Windows Phone, where the likes of Facebook and Twitter ultimately pulled support for integrating their platforms into a “Social” feed natively in the OS, because this negated the need for users to open the dedicated apps. This harmed advertising revenue for Facebook and Twitter, which is how they exist in the first place. Valve and others will know this is the case for their own stores, if they allow Galaxy 2.0 to be too feature rich.

General Stability and Performance

This has been improved significantly from the private beta releases over the last several months, likely contributing to this becoming an open beta.

Frequent disconnection from “GOG Services” would restart the entire client throughout the private beta period, for me at least. Thankfully, this appears to have entirely stopped. I also haven’t experienced any crashing games, fingers crossed.

Playtime Tracking

This remains my biggest disappointment with Galaxy 2.0, despite some great refinements to the user interface around this feature. The simple fact is, playtime just doesn’t seem to tracked accurately at all. Not even close.

Countless hours spent playing GTA Online on Xbox One with the Later Levels crew have fallen by the wayside in Galaxy 2.0. It remains stuck on 18 hours, a figure which was accurate months ago. Repeated attempts to get this figure to update, let alone track again, have all failed.

Other Xbox titles don’t appear to have any time logged against them at all. Some of my Steam titles, which are in fact just a wrapper for Uplay installations, have duplicated playtime, adding the playtime of both platforms together. This places them higher up in my list of “Most Played” titles than they should be. Unforgivable haha!

There’s also a cumulative playtime chart on the “Recent” page, which is wildly inaccurate for me. Entire weeks or months suggest no play time occurred, which definitely isn’t the case.

Friends List Integration

Another disappointment, so far, we still can’t chat across platforms. I assume they’re still working on getting the platform owners on board with this, but it is desperately needed. Also seems rather unlikely.

We can now at least see our friends presence, but there’s seemingly no way of matching users between platforms, so you’ll see the same person in multiple places if you’ve added them to multiple platforms.

Game Launching

Multiple executables are supported, if you’re into modding your PC games.

Titles which are owned across multiple platforms are also catered for, with the option to select which platform launches by default per game.

You’ll still need to manage updates and downloads through the relevant client, for now, but launching games exclusively through Galaxy 2.0 should be no problem.

In Summary

I still think it’s a crying shame this is even a thing for PC users, or that Valve haven’t got their thumb out and done this stuff with Steam in the last 15 plus years. On the other hand, this has definitely ignited something over at Valve, between this and Discord’s meteoric rise over the last couple of years, the improvements to Steam have been coming steadily ever since.

You’ve got very little to lose by giving GOG Galaxy 2.0 a spin during the open beta, I’ve found it stable enough so far to use as my primary launcher. It’s quite amusing using Galaxy 2.0 to launch Far Cry 4 in Steam, just for Steam to launch Uplay.

I really wish the playtime tracking were a little more robust. I’ll be sticking with it for now over Playnite though, as the user interface is more to my liking.

Have you been using Galaxy 2.0? What do you think so far? Let me know in the comments.

Review: The Outer Worlds

Version played: Xbox One X (Game Pass), Playtime: 30 hours

It’s most rare these days for a video game to be released which just works. Thankfully, The Outer Worlds is such a video game, so you can dive right in and enjoy yourself for once!

Built on Unreal Engine 4, Obsidian Entertainment are well known for the buggy release of Fallout: New Vegas, but The Outer Worlds suffers no such fate. I’m happy to say, there were no technical issues at all for me, no frame drops, no falling through the world, I was just living out my space fantasy one evening after another. Everything feels finished, ready! My goodness!

The fact I’m even mentioning this is a shame and says a lot about the industry in 2019, but lets not detract from the task at hand here. We’re talking about The Outer Worlds.

Influences abound

There’s strong vibes of Futurama, Firefly, Fallout and just about every other RPG you’ve probably ever played. You could argue this game is influenced so heavily by these things it outright rips them off. The shy female mechanic, the vicar with a mysterious and potentially violent past, the barmy old man, the power armour (which I don’t think you have a hope of wearing, unless I missed something). It’s hard not to notice the similarities.

This is typical fetch quest too, kill this person (or facilitate peace) affair, sprinkled with a dusting of interesting characters you might actually want to talk to. The maps themselves aren’t big enough for this to become too much of an issue however.

There’s quite a lot of talking

Once you’re told the premise of everything, corporations own everything and everyone it seems, you can get stuck in making friends and influencing people. I spent the first 10 hours of the game doing little more than talking to NPCs, with the occasional shooty bits. In the end this started to bother me a little, because the action was good, although very brief each time.

If you don’t want to do all that talking, you obviously don’t have to, just shoot and smash your way around. The game will be much shorter if you do so, but you’ll probably still have fun along the way.

Soooo much talking, towards the end I found I could read it quicker than it was voice acted, but to skip the voice acting would be regrettable

All the characters I spoke to were well acted, interesting enough to keep talking to, thoroughly amusing or just downright hilarious. The world seems chock-full of people with things to say.

Particular favourites of mine were Parvati the mechanic, voiced brilliantly by Ashly Burch, who you meet very early on and can sign up to your crew, as well as Sanjar a little later on, head of an outcast corporation (Monarch Stellar Industries) and his assistant. Finally for me, was SAM, who I won’t spoil for you at all. I wish I’d spent more time with SAM. Lets just say, he’s very useful against other robots.

Ludicrously easy on normal difficulty

I didn’t struggle at all with this game, which is unusual for me, as I often suck at video games. Once you’re up to two companions, any of them really, set them to offensive mode and the three of you will just carve through most enemies, even the ones you may encounter and think “Oh !@# this is gonna be…. over, OK.”

Tactical Time Dilation, the games version of V.A.T.S. from Fallout, where the action is slowed down, makes it even easier, although the effect is well handled and does make for some satisfying shots on target.

There’s rudimentary modding of gear, weapons, you can do the same for your companions too, all of which I experimented with and felt was absolutely necessary to keep up. Prior to kitting out my companions with grenade launchers, miniguns etc, they were all a bit squishy. Oh, perhaps arming them to the teeth is what made the game easier? It was fun ripping through everything and everyone with them regardless!

There’s consumables too, but I didn’t use a single one of them, just sold them for the games currency, called bits. I suspect they’re more useful than I give them credit for.

There are more difficulty levels which incorporate survival mechanics, where the consumables probably make a real difference. This also offers permanent death for companions, something which would probably break my heart in Parvati’s case. She’s far too sweet to ever send off to her doom.

Ultimately survival is not my own preferred playstyle, I loath hunger meters and all that sort of thing, the pressure is too much and it makes the experience hard work, I just want to enjoy the story and combat.

Short and sweet

The whole experience was over before I was ready for that to be the case, the polar opposite to the way I felt playing Borderlands 3 before this. The game teases you from the start with places on the star map you believe you’ll visit. Some of them appear to be just for show in the end. The final act crept up on me very suddenly.

I delayed a few missions because they might be time consuming, difficult, both, or to maximise my time with the experience. Don’t bother doing the same; if you hoover up all the missions you can find, steering clear of the main campaign, you’re still going to finish this game in 30 or so hours, unless you explore every single square inch of every map. The time will just fly by.

Some enemies will take the fight to you, which is an endless source of amusement

The ending felt rushed as a result, but perhaps that was just my high expectations by that point. Obsidian made it clear months ago this was not some sprawling, fully open-world, 100 hour game; it is concise in every way, including in its limited run time.

Does the game warrant multiple play-throughs then? I think so, even just out of curiosity to see what changes; the one who plays nice, the strong idiot, the lone wolf, the absolute psychopath, the one who sides with the enemy. Perhaps your imagination is better than mine, but I’m not sure the game will cater to dozens of different styles. There are two main endings, but many different things that can change dramatically in between.

Hey good lookin’

This is a beautiful game, no question. It is extremely colourful, as a game about space and terra-formed planets should be. The skyboxes, oh my goodness. Echos of time misspent in No Man’s Sky haunt me. But this isn’t procedural, it’s all hand crafted in the Unreal Engine I believe.

A very pretty, vibrant and colourful game, it has to be said.

Hungry for more

It seems I’m not alone in wanting more, but is there anything else in the works? People are expecting to buy DLC imminently, but nothing is confirmed yet, to my knowledge. The game has performed very well and a recent visit to the studio by Eurogamer somewhat confirms there’s still a team at Obsidian working on the game, in some capacity. Is that more content, a sequel? Time will tell.

The studio is now Microsoft owned, they move forward without the fears being an independent studio can bring, they can focus on what matters, which is making video games.

I hope very much this is the start of something bigger, not too much bigger, but the worlds Obsidian have created here are ripe for further development, but hopefully, not exploitation.

Single player, and that’s absolutely fine by me

Personally I think the video game market is going through another shift back toward shorter single player experiences. There’s got to be a market for that, haven’t we rinsed the multiplayer annual releases of CoD experience to death now?

As we’ve all aged, got married, had kids, become busy at work or even all of those things together, we have less time for video games, but still want to play.

Because yoooouuuurr’eee gorgeous, The Outer Worlds, lets be alone together

I need to play this on the go

For the same reasons as above, I think there’s definitely a market for cloud streaming. Google Stadia launched today, in a very limited capacity.

There is a desire on my part to buy a Switch and play something like The Outer Worlds on my commute, I simply need to get my fix when and how I can these days. A version for Switch has been announced by the way, I think the game will suit this console very much and sell maaaany units, maybe even a few consoles.

The not so good

At launch, one glaring and hugely irritating problem which is being fixed the week I post this review: THE BLOOMIN’ TEXT SIZE! Once again, as with Borderlands 3, completely unreadable text from a normal distance on console, using a massive TV. I had to sit very close to the TV to read anything, but once again, I was not alone.

Developers everywhere; stop making your games with tiny text, especially on console!

In summary, spacers

Beautiful visuals, music, serviceable weapons, gear, mods, good level design, great voice acting, interesting lore, tremendous voice acting and overall, a good time that I will remember fondly when I start a new save.

Go out and get your own fix, this is a great, short, beautiful video game!

Review: Borderlands 3

Gearbox has managed to do something I fear Valve will never do: count to three.

After seven years, we’re finally able to get our hands on a “proper sequel” rather than a “Pre-Sequel” to the huge critical and commercial success that was Borderlands 2. I’ve personally put a fair few hours into the series, and I’ve very much been looking forward to this game since my early thirties.

When you wait this long for something, can it live up to the considerable hype and slick marketing, which we’ve most definitely been experiencing for the last few months for this title?

This review is based on around 40 hours of playing a single character in solo mode. By any normal standards, that would be enough to write a review, but in Borderlands, this is barely scratching the surface. This is a big, long game already, which will only get bigger. As such, I will very likely tweak this review over time as the game and my experience with it changes.

On the night of release, I’m busy completing my True Vault Hunter Mode play-through on Borderlands 2 on the Xbox One X, which I started from level 1 a couple of months back, by way of training myself to play with a controller. Until that play-through began, Borderlands 2 and Overwatch were the only two games left on the PC I wasn’t purposefully or at least capable of playing with a controller. In a truly poetic turn of events I couldn’t have timed better if I’d tried, I defeat Handsome Jack and the Warrior and watch the credits roll a little after Midnight. I then jumped straight into Borderlands 3.

Psychos return, including many screaming female and midget varieties not previously seen

This game has not been without controversy leading up to release, the only topic bothering me however was the Epic Games Store timed exclusivity for the PC version. It annoyed me so much, I chose to go with the Xbox One X version of the game.

After leaving my previous job with a Microsoft Store voucher and cashing in my own Microsoft points, I had £50 in Xbox vouchers to splurge, so the Super Deluxe version only set me back £40, said to include four story DLC releases in the future.

If Gearbox deliver on Randy Pitchford’s promises and the bar set by previous titles, that will be a great deal of content for comparatively little money on my part. Yes, I’m still on my frugal gaming kick.

Our journey begins once again on Pandora, home to the series since it began in 2009. Much of what you’ll see at the start is familiar, this looks like Borderlands for sure, only much shinier. It doesn’t take long for things to feel different though, and not necessarily in a good way.

There’s vaulting over things, rather than just vault hunting, there’s sliding too, which does give me the freedom of movement I’ve always longed for in a Borderlands game. From the very start, I’m reminded of the first Borderlands game, things feel a little clunky, not quite right. They’ve changed the models for the various containers, things sound different, things overall feel different. I’m immediately worried. Maybe this feeling can be put down to coming straight from playing Borderlands 2, maybe the move to console and controller? What have I done!

I persevere though, in the interests of diving into the story and safe in the knowledge that Borderlands 2 felt “different” from the first game, and I didn’t like that to start with either. I can happily jump between all entries so far in the series, each has their own feel, and that’s OK. Maybe Borderlands 3 will be the same in that regard. Several hours later, I’m comfortable, but this is where I start to notice other things. Bad things.

The story is dreadful, there’s nothing kind I can say about this, which makes me very sad. This is of the utmost importance to me, the primary reason I play the Borderlands series, or most video games for that matter. In the second game, I was fully drawn in to the lore. Handsome Jack was one of the best video game villains ever. The Calypso twins in Borderlands 3 are nowhere near as entertaining and they’re extremely forgettable. In fact, I won’t even mention them again, they’re that dull.

Where the story went very wrong for me

This could be seen as a possible spoiler, if you’re sensitive to such things, skip to the next section.

Lead writer of Borderlands 2, Anthony Burch, is gone from Gearbox now. That definitely shows, I was worried when he departed and apparently was right to feel that way. The way major characters from the second game are treated in this third instalment is a disgrace.

The way in which the Vault Hunters from the first game were introduced and utilised in the second game was just beautiful. In this third instalment, they’re wheeled in and cast aside as the unhinged plot necessitates, almost like Rick Moranis playing with his dolls again in Spaceballs. Clip is probably NSFW by the way!

Playing one evening, I had to stop for the night to process what had just happened, after one character was killed off. It seemed completely ridiculous, implausible and just downright nonsensical, serving an equally daft plot point and the introduction of a new character I’m now suddenly supposed to care about. I’m not the only one incensed by this, by any means. I took it personally simply because I spent so long investing myself in that character during the second game. The way other characters react to this death is just infuriating, “Oh well, that happened. BIG LOL.”

Characters such as Lilith from previous instalments in the franchise make an appearance once again, but their treatment is questionable. I suggest playing the game to figure out if she’s the character I’m referring to being killed off!

The situation with the story doesn’t improve, even by the end of the game. My feelings toward how that previously mentioned character was treated never go away either. In fact, feelings of negativity are further amplified by the manner in which other pivotal characters are treated, which is better overall, but still serves to magnify just how bad the first misstep was earlier on in the game.

I feel I will never be able to forgive Gearbox for this, even if they dedicated an entire DLC to that character. It just wasn’t the right thing to do and served no purpose in my eyes.

One saving grace is Vaughn, first introduced in Tales from the Borderlands, who serves the main plot throughout, with much enthusiasm and humour.

Rhys, also from Tales, serves the main story too, but I don’t recall the two characters properly interacting, which seems strange given their previous relationship. It’s possible I’m miss-remembering, or this is explained somewhere that I missed.

I get it, Gearbox, there’s lots of characters to keep track of here.

Other elements which grate

The balance in enemy strength and levels in solo, on the first play-through at least, is terrible. The boss fights in particular are grating. It took me a silly amount of time to take on one vault monster, who was at my level, with the appropriate gear. I’ve drawn the conclusion this is the first time I’ve played a Borderlands game immediately after it has released, so balance will probably be tweaked in later updates.

I did play Borderlands 2 a couple of weeks or months after it released, but I don’t remember this being an issue. Other encounters which I expected to be difficult were in fact extremely easy, and I was left dumbfounded as to how it could take two minutes on that occasion while other battles could take thirty.

The user interface is just completely horrible on console. It lags when you go into your inventory and switch between the tabs, something you do frequently in a Borderlands game. Worst of all however is the font size, which is microscopic even on my 49″ TV, I have to stand right up to the TV to properly read it; this is not a 10ft UI. Everything is too small, the mission descriptions, mission log, prompts, item cards, even the game-play tips on loading screens. Everything seems about 50% of the size it was in previous titles.

This is a worrying trend I’ve noticed recently, The Division 2 felt like this too, but with a semi useful accessibility menu which allowed you to change the font size, it was at least serviceable. Borderlands 3 on release gives you the option to change the font size for the closed captions, that’s it.

It’s too long. I never thought I’d be saying this, more Borderlands is a good thing, right? Well sure, but towards the end I was skipping side missions and still clocked in around 40 hours and level 36-38 to finish the main story. The pacing of the story just didn’t seem right at all, much like the first game and Pre-Sequel. One particular section of the game felt like it was taking a very long time, it also felt like I’d spent longer in that area than some of the more interesting places I’d have preferred to spend my time.

This was one of the boss fights I finished surprisingly quickly, given the build up.

It isn’t all doom and gloom

OK, that’s all the things I didn’t like, but it isn’t all bad. The list of good things is ultimately longer and ever growing, the more I play:

  • The graphics are phenomenal, Unreal Engine 4 shines
  • The art style makes great use of the engine too
  • The environments are larger and filled with more detail
  • The sound effects are terrific, everything punches very nicely
  • The weapons are numerous and vary wildly
  • The alternate fire modes of the weapons is a great addition
  • The legendary items and weapons are interesting and fun to use
  • Gunplay is finely tuned and great with a controller
  • Love me some grenade spam
  • The additional skill trees and abilities are brilliant
  • Sanctuary III is a great home base
  • Voice acting is top notch, Vaughn and the Psycho death one liners had me chuckling throughout
  • The rag doll physics add some hilarious consequences to the action, particularly in my play-through with Amara’s singularity phaselock and a singularity grenade mod both in play
  • Numerous quality of life improvements do just that, make the game much better on a technical and usability level

I could go on, but you probably get the point. Gearbox knew they had a huge task ahead of them in creating Borderlands 3. It was always going to be a massive game which made them a huge sack of cash.

In their pursuit of achieving this huge task, they forgot one thing; the story matters. Maybe not to everyone, but to many of us. We care about these characters, treat them with some respect, will ya?

If you can look past or have no interest in the story, this is more Borderlands, improved in every way. Otherwise, prepare to (probably) feel disappointed, as I and many other fans of the world Gearbox created have been feeling over the last month, since the game released.

There’s more content to come, I’m sure, so bring it on, my body is ready. We’re promised four story DLC packs and the free stuff begins with the Bloody Harvest DLC in October 2019.

Remind me, who are Valve and what was that game they were famous for never making?

If you’ve got some thoughts to share on Borderlands, feel free to slap them all over the comments section below; I’m always up for talking about this series.

First Impressions: Destiny 2 (PC)

After the Destiny 2 PC Beta, I purchased Overwatch. Whoops.

I was on the fence about Destiny 2, but playing Overwatch for a few weeks just kept reminding me of Destiny 2 for some reason. I knew I was going to buy this game now, but would it be on PC, or console?

After watching quite a bit of Destiny 2 being played on PS4 at EGX, a controller would not be an issue, but I just couldn’t live with the thought of 30fps. No thanks. I’m sorry, but in this case, it does matter.

So it’s finally arrived on PC, after waiting a little longer than our console cousins. Here are our first impressions.

This is not a port

No dodgy console port here! Vicarious Visions have done an incredible job, the full game, as was the beta, is silky smooth. There’s a laundry list of options available to configure, everything we’d expect as PC gamers today and then some.

For it to look this good on day one? Vicarious Visions, you spoil us.

There’s a staggering number of videos and blog posts out there about optimising your experience. I don’t have the technical ability (or time) to repeat what they’re all saying, but from what I’ve read, GameSpot has it covered nicely.

For me, out of the gate, the game chose great settings for performant and gorgeous visuals. It did a much better job of this than the beta, I didn’t have to touch a thing.

The “servers” and other technical issues

We had none. Zero. Nada.

There are reports, naturally, technical issues are being encountered. That is the very nature of PC gaming, with so many different configurations out there, some people will have issues.

Destiny 2 launched simultaneously across the world, so I expected a high load, not being able to log into Battle.net and so on. None of that happened to us, but after logging off, I did notice a few tweets starting to appear with people having issues.

The game has drawn attention already for allegedly banning players that use Discord overlay, or OBS and so on. Per this article on Bungie.net, the game was designed not to allow programs which inject code, so I suspect it’s more likely to be “other things” people have installed, doing nefarious deeds, rather than Discord. Perhaps their cheat detection is too aggressive? I’d expect Bungie to have the common sense to exclude things like Discord from their detections, before they start banning anyone.

Moving on then…

The pacing at the start of the campaign is a little off

Thanks to my inability to play games with any serious level of professionalism, as well as the multiple cut-scenes I had to watch, because story, it took me well over an hour to get to the point in the campaign where co-op becomes available. I guess this fits completely with the narrative, but it was still hugely irritating.

Starting a second character, I was able to skip all of that (and knew exactly where I was going), so it didn’t take anywhere near as long. After the bombastic opening, the pace dries up very quickly, making it even more painful than it might otherwise be.

Once we got a fireteam going, things really moved forward

Eventually we made it to the Farm, the games social area, ready to head out together as a team. This is where things got interesting.

We just plugged away at the game randomly, following story missions, taking part in public events, looking for loot. Before we knew it, 6 hours had gone by. There were numerous “That was awesome!” and “Please tell me you saw that?!” moments. The loot. Ohhhh the loot, we’re excited, can you tell?

What’s next?

The beta was enough for us to plonk down almost ¬£40 on a brand new game, something we rarely do on PC, but after playing for 6 hours, we don’t regret the purchase.

There are questions surrounding the longevity of the game; over in console land, the player base has been leaving in droves apparently. The site mentioned in that article has since pulled the stats they were providing, as they feel the data is being misrepresented.

We’ll keep going at the campaign for now, but inevitably, we will take one of each character class through, then the loot grind will begin. We’re seasoned at this thanks to Borderlands 2, so we expect to get a good amount of time out of the game.

How much time remains to be seen, but I believe some people’s expectations of hundreds of hours of content from day one, or 50 different “things to do” at launch are a little unrealistic. It takes time and money to make video games, especially one like this.

Hopefully the re-playability of the campaign weathers multiple runs, otherwise this could get old very quickly, but so far so good.

I think of it like Sunday dinner, my wife spends about 2 hours cooking, it’s all gone within 15 minutes! It’s always delicious though!

Have you ventured into Destiny 2, on console or PC? We’d love to hear what you think!

A Robot Named Fight

As you may know, I’m a lover of finger buffet gaming, I like to give everything a go if I can. I had never considered myself a lover of Roguelikes but games such as FTL and Rogue Legacy have opened my eyes to the joys and curses of permadeath. So when an email for “A Robot Named Fight” crossed my desk promising Alien abominations, labyrinthine randomised levels and permadeath, this gamer signed up. Let’s whet your appetite before I start talking with a good old fashioned trailer, which is also in the running for best quote of the year for “Face a relentless plague of Meat”…

So what is it? Robot bills itself as the best of Metroidvania and Roguelike games, with the Metroid vibe certainly at the forefront in my opinion. As you can gather from this the late 80’s/early 90’s vibe is alive and well in both visual style and musical styling, with a healthy dose of 90’s sound effects.

How does it play?

For those who are unfamiliar with the term MetroidVania , it’s a cross between Metroid and Castlevania, hence the name. This style of game is generally platform based with a large area 2D world to explore, with area limited by abilities you earn or find in your travels. Your general expectation for games in the MetroidVania Subgenre are tightly controlled levels to force the player to explore for the required abilities. A Robot Named Fight, however, is procedurally generated with each run being unique, yet it still manages to provide that tight experience of progression via exploration in power increase. Permadeath strips you of any upgrades you have earned and puts you back at the start, however any already unlocked abilities that you have previously found can appear any subsequent runs.

Robot also features local coop, with a second player taking control over a robotic sphere that has free reign around the screen but shares its health with player 1’s humanoid avatar. It’s an interesting cooperative choice keeping the core platforming gameplay intact for player 1 but balances that with increased risk with the shared health. It reminds me of the coop mechanics in apidya many years ago.

A Robot Named Fight will launch on Steam on Thursday, September 7th 2017. If you enjoy roguelikes, or even roguelites, then it’s an enjoyable play-through with a good amount of replayability. ¬†The press release advises it’s 25% off for it’s first week of release and has it down as $7.49 so in good old UK Quids I’d expect around ¬£5.99.

https://www.arobotnamedfight.com/

Thoughts On The Destiny 2 PC Open Beta

Destiny is another one of those games I’ll “get around to eventually” mostly because it’s only available on consoles. This presents me with two challenges, no one I know to play it with (they’re all mostly PC only), and having to play an FPS exclusively with a controller.

Neither of these things is especially an issue for me now, so I bought the game and all it’s DLC on Xbox One recently, although still haven’t played.

We’re in a position where Bungie believes a sequel will sell in droves and warrants a full PC release. I can still hope for a remaster of the original, because I would definitely prefer to play on PC, but I’m a story junkie, so I’ll happily jump between platforms if I need to.

Lets cut to the chase, the Destiny 2 PC beta was pretty impressive. Visually stunning, solid framerate, great audio, not a bug or glitch in sight for me. Co-op was flawless, no issues starting games, joining each other and so on. The only thing I didn’t get a chance to see was the “social space” made available in the small hours of the last day, because I was asleep for a change.

The general consensus among the four of us who played together? It’s good, but it’s not going to be worth ¬£50. That’s a whole other discussion, I think we’re a bit spoiled when it comes to the cost of games on PC.

Based on my experience of playing the beta, I think it will be a game worth playing. I felt some Borderlands 2 vibes and I was sold within the first few minutes.

With the console version being locked to 30fps, even on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, I think the PC version is going to sell very well, good job it appears to work already then, even with just under 8 weeks to go.

Destiny 2 will be released on PS4 and Xbox One on September 6th. The PC version will be released a little later on October 24th.

First Impressions: Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania has been billed as a faithful recreation of the earlier Sega Genesis/Mega Drive era Sonic Games. The wife unit considers that era of games to be the best and pretty much anything past that era and a tiny bit of early PS1 games to be dead to her. I personally could think of no harsher critic to throw this poor little game to, someone whose love for that Sonic era is unquenchable. Her cynicism towards new Sonic games was strong, I feared for it.

I nervously supplied the good lady with the PS4 Version and hoped she’d enjoy it.

Continue reading “First Impressions: Sonic Mania”

GTA Online: Gunrunning

The long awaited DLC finally arrived a little over a week ago, but is it any good, or just more of the same grind?

It’s been six long months since Rockstar released serious content for GTA Online, beyond some cars and adversary modes. In the latter half of 2016, we had three fairly substantial updates; CEO, Bikers and Import/Export. Rumours were, that was to be the end of the big updates, Rockstar hadn’t planned any further ahead.

This seemed doubtful at the time, but became more and more believable. In an interesting move, Rockstar told us about Gunrunning several weeks before its debut.

The discounts, double GTA$/RP and business sale bonuses have been coming thick and fast during this drought in content, in some cases even overlapping. It’s almost as if they were telling us to just hold on a little longer.

Well, we’ve done that, ¬†so what is our reward for waiting?

It’s primarily based in Blaine County

Rockstar have chosen to center the chaos in and around the top two thirds of the GTA map, which after 4 years is starting to feel a little small. This is a good move, most of us don’t get to Blaine County too often. I know the city better than my own at this point.

There’s some serious firepower available

Further expanding the war zone that GTA Online has become, there’s even more military grade hardware available for you to lay waste to all and sundry:

  • APC
  • Dune FAV
  • Half-Track
  • Opressor
  • Weaponized Tampa
  • Anti-Aircraft Trailer

You can also own a Mobile Operations Center, with which you can almost live out your Knight Rider fantasies, except we couldn’t find a way to get the Ruiner into it…

gta-online-mobile-operations-center

There’s Bunkers, underground properties which allow you to put supplies you steal or buy towards unlocking some of the goodies in the form of Research, which you can also pay GTA$ for if you’re impatient. You can split supplies between research or producing stock, or just one of them. The resupply missions are great fun with friends, but I suspect the amount of them you’ll have to do to unlock everything might make things get old a little quickly.

Beyond that, there’s; flying motorcycles, explosive rounds for the sniper rifle that can one shot pretty much anything, a bunch of military themed clothing, weapon upgrades galore, special missions (to unlock discounts for the vehicles above). It’s a pretty substantial update, taken at face value.

It’s open to CEO, Biker, and VIP

They’ve chosen the sensible route, making the business side of this content available to CEO’s, Biker gangs and VIPs. They’ve also lowered the bank balance required to register as a VIP, previously it was $1m, it’s now $50k. So this is pretty much open to anyone, if they can afford the bunker.

The escalation

After over 1200 hours of play in the last 12 months, I’ve started to get a little restless in this world Rockstar has created. I haven’t done everything it has to offer, even in all that time; I’m not a fan of things like adversary modes, deathmatches etc. I’m also not about to start doing things like that just for the sake of it, I would rather play something else entirely.

This just isn’t doing it for me, it’s more ridiculous toys, which are incredibly overpowered in some cases, people want to use them in things like contact missions, most of which were originally designed for players armed with nothing more than a pistol.

It isn’t really what GTA is about for me, but if you enjoy blowing things up, you’ll enjoy this content no question. It is fun taking on Merryweather and the military more regularly than just raiding the army base.

The future?

GTA has made a lot of money for Rockstar and Take-Two, it’s unlikely they’ll let it rot, unless they’ve got something better to take its place. At this point, we don’t really know what is next, but it’s nice to see Rockstar open up a bit about the future as they have recently. Shame about that mod nonsense though, nice one Take-Two.

For me, this game peaked with the Import/Export DLC in December. Stealing cars and driving fast down the freeway being shot at, weaving in and out of innocent drivers to squeeze a bit more profit out of it. It was some of the most fun I’ve had playing GTA Online, which is proving quite difficult for Rockstar to beat in my case.

That’s the beauty of this game however, perhaps Gunrunning is exactly what you’ve been waiting for, in which case, jump in and have some fun, while it lasts ūüėČ

Prey (2017)

A rollercoaster of emotions; frustration, enjoyment, awe, determination and exasperation to name a few.

The truth is, the harder I pushed to get through, the more I was punished, which just made me fight more (and quick save quite a bit).

From the beginning, it feels familiar

Prey of 2017 has absolutely nothing in common with the Prey of 2006, apart from the fact you sometimes hold a gun and shoot aliens with it. Prey 2006 really did annoy me, for multiple reasons, so I only played it once.

This is not the sequel we were promised when completing the Prey of 2006; sure it would have been great, judging from the gameplay we saw at E3, but that was canned, so forget about it. They’ve reused the name, that’s all.

To me, and many others it seems, this is BioShock in space. Simple¬†as that. I thoroughly enjoyed the BioShock games, so this just felt right. It was helped along by evoking feelings of playing the Half-Life series too, which are some of my all time favourite games. Not necassirly the combat, probably the “science gone wrong” aspect. Having almost exclusively played third person titles for the past 12 months, this was a welcome return to my roots as an FPS lover. I felt immersed.

Prey_TalosI_QC16

Not constantly full of action, don’t let the trailers fool you

The trailers I watched the day before launch were impressive, no question, the hype was real by that point.¬†They gave me, plus a number of people who’ve seen me playing the game since on Steam, the impression this game is balls to the wall action, akin to DOOM 2016. It isn’t.

There’s got to be some action though, right?

For me there was a fair bit of backtracking, thinking, preparing, avoiding confrontation completely, running away when caught or against the clock, and just outright hiding for a couple minutes at a time.

After 6 hours, I was still scrambling around trying to craft ammo and health kits just to stay alive, because every enemy I faced was a simple matter of, “do I have enough bullets or smarts to kill this thing before it kills me?” Mashing the trigger might get you out of this tight spot now, but will you have enough firepower for the next encounter? It isn’t guaranteed. At this point, I think anyone needing instant gratification would have long given up, but I was enjoying the struggle.

There were a few points in my playthrough where supplies were plentiful, crafting almost 100 shotgun shells made me feel like Rambo or something, it completely changes your entire experience when you feel you can go toe-to-toe with the Typhon.

It’s quite satisfying running straight at the humanoid enemies, pulling the trigger up close and personal, or spinning around planting one straight into a mimic that moments ago was the lamp you walked past. I felt so persecuted by this point I was truly out to erase these !@#ers from existence, every little battle won was celebrated.

For my first and only playthrough while writing this review, I completely avoided all of the alien powers on offer. As I progressed, I increasingly felt as if the game was expecting me to have succumbed to what was on offer, there simply wasn’t enough traditional ammo or the materials to craft them for me. I was determined to get through at least once using “traditional” methods of combat. Ultimately I achieved that, but it was challenging, even on the “easy” difficulty. It was also extremely enjoyable.

You need to pay attention

The game introduces new things to you at what feels like a rapid pace. It’s very easy to miss stuff, new enemy types, game changing items and so on.

There’s¬†neuromods (skill trees),¬†keycards,¬†safe combinations/pass codes,¬†maps,¬†suit/weapon upgrades,¬†tutorial popups, audio recordings, crafting,¬†status effects,¬†alien abilities and on and on.

Thankfully, the game does a good job of keeping track, making all of this information readily available and understandable. I confess to writing down a few pass codes before I realised that wasn’t necessary.

Despite what appears to be some blurry looking text in places, the interface is very clean and intuitive, with an appropriately sci-fi look, sound and feel.

Finding yourself in the heat of battle but can’t remember what weaknesses the enemy you’re fighting has? No problem, pause the action to take a quick look at your research data, then hop back out into the weapon wheel to select whatever is needed to subdue the beast before you.

Storytelling

As with BioShock, much of the storytelling is done through audio recordings left in the world, mixed in with some NPC dialog, although it really didn’t feel like I met many people who were still alive.

There’s also books and other reading material, sticky notes, E-Mail and so on throughout the world.

If all of this sounds like hard work, it isn’t, most of it will be found during the course of play, not much of it was hidden that I recall.

Prey_ZeroG_QC16

In summary

Two of the NPCs I saved inexplicably died, which was disappointing considering the lengths I went to saving them. Apparently I killed at least one of them, according to my stats, but I have no idea when or how. There’s also been reports of weapons disappearing and a few other niggles you’d expect during the first weeks of a title release. Bethesda, at the time of publishing this review, have released three patches for the PC version addressing many of these issues. To their credit, they are also engaging with the community via places like Reddit, asking for save files and the like, which is great to see.

The music, the general atmosphere, the constant threat that even the chair you’re walking past could at any second launch toward your throat, it all makes for a very amusing experience, if wearing a little thin at times when firepower is low.

Although I’ve finished one full playthrough and experienced a couple of the endings first hand, by no means am I done with this game. There’s simply too much unfinished business I need to take care of up on Talos I.

Now I understand the basics, I’m going back in to embrace the alien abilities and taking the fight to the Typhon. I feel it will be a very different game. No more hiding.