5 Games In 5 Months

SPOILER ALERT: The final paragraphs of this article contain end-game storyline references to The Last Of Us: Remastered.

My sister and her boyfriend recently celebrated their three month anniversary. There would have been flowers and sweet photos on Facebook and going out for dinner because he’s good at all that romantic stuff that eluded many of us at the age of 17.

Having been married for about a decade now I have to admit that I stopped counting three month intervals in my relationship a long time ago. But today’s article is based on what I think is an original and unique concept; celebrating the five month anniversary of the arrival of a PS4 into your household. I shall call it the Almost-Half-A-Year-PS4-Day Celebration and I think it will really take off.

It’s obvious from the limited amount of content added to this site so far in 2015 that this year has been a busy one. To be honest, the arrival of a PS4 at Christmas has been a powerful contributing factor as to why my gaming time has gone into actually playing rather than writing, but as I don’t get paid for blogging or have to meet deadlines it doesn’t actually matter at all. In fact I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

So in recognition of tomorrow’s Almost-Half-A-Year-PS4-Day Celebration, here are some highlights from that wonderful period of our lives (and yes, I’m now personifying my console and granting it ‘family’ status).

inFAMOUS™ Second Son_20150327095115

inFAMOUS: Second Son (PS4)

I can’t remember the last time I played a superhero game and liked it this much. Not that games like inFAMOUS have really been my first port of call at any point, but fairly or otherwise I tend to think of superhero games as being much along the same lines as branded superhero movies: nice to look at, but likely to be pretty shallow. InFAMOUS skilfully avoids this common pitfall, and while the side missions may not boast the greatest range they do hit a lot of right notes. The player always has the choice of blue (good) or red (evil) actions and quests regardless of their decisions prior to that moment, while surprising plot twists and even an additional DLC storyline keep things fresh as the game unfolds.

It must be a significant challenge for game developers to imbue their creations with a sense of vibrancy when much of the gameplay takes place in a single city or arena. By the time I was a few hours in the weather systems and day/night cycle Sucker Punch Productions employed had proven their worth in maintaining a sense of newness in this extensive urban environment. Exploring the Seattle riverside in a rainstorm has now made it onto my real life to-do list as a direct result, though when this will happen is anybody’s guess. No time soon, I predict 😦

Along with Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, inFAMOUS: Second Son has gone a long way towards redeeming open world games in my mind. The main storyline manages to maintain momentum well and offers immediate replayability with the option of becoming a supervillain instead of the hero. Who needs to buy GTA5 when you can be evil and shoot neon beams at your enemies?

Completion Mode: Hero Storyline, 100%.

Play it if you like… blasting stuff to bits, sticking it to the man through the genteel art of graffiti, black and white morality.

civ victory

Sid Meier’s Civilization V (PC)

The Civilization series hold a special place in my heart. I remember spending teenage days – somewhere around the turn of the century – at my mate Will’s house playing Civilization II for many hours on what was probably a very impressive 486 or Pentium PC. When forced to take a break we played Risk, built model WWII aircraft and tanks or swam in their pool. A psychologist may look at this as early signs of megalomania, but as neither Will nor I currently run a totalitarian dictatorship with world conquering ambitions, we’ve clearly chosen the aforementioned blue path. And yes, dictators like swimming pools too.

Back then we played Civ II to the point of ‘modding’ it for greater functionality than Sid Meier possibly intended. Our attempt at forcing it to provide a competitive multiplayer option involved establishing two cities belonging to the same civilization at opposite ends of the map and developing a standalone colony each. I can’t remember if we ever got to our plan’s predictable failure point, but my point here is that Civilization is a game that spawns passionate and dedicated followers. It is also a game that enables you to burn a vast number of hours without realising it, as there’s always another goal to be achieved in “just one more turn”.

After taking a lengthy break from the series and skipping the fourth iteration all together, I decided it was high time to end the drought and dig into Civilization V. The really bizarre thing about yearning to go back for yet another serving of what is always basically the same product (Pokemon anyone?) is that never in all of these 15 years or so had I actually finished a game!

There are many ways you can achieve victory in the Civilization series (e.g. destroy all the other races, beat them in a space race, make yours the dominant culture or religion, etc.) and I hadn’t made it to the end-game of any. I’d started games many times and enjoyed those exciting early stages of expansion and exploration. I’d made it to the mid-game a number of times, though in Civ III that’s normally when the game would crash irreparably, leaving me to walk away in frustration until the next urge to start afresh took hold. But never had I actually concluded a game. Until this week…

Without giving a blow by blow summary of a nearly 400 turn adventure, continental in-fighting between my neighbouring AI civs handed me an early lead and gradually removed local competition for resources. An uninterrupted mid-game in which I colonised one of the two remaining continents meant the glacial-paced (so many units and cities to oversee) end-game was very much a formality. As long as I kept happiness levels up by building new theatres and stadiums, my citizens were content to let me go on my warmongering way, annexing the cities of my competitors until a win by Domination was achieved. Surprisingly, when the long awaited moment came there was no burst of thunder, no spontaneous cheering from those around me or even a pat on the back from the cat to commemorate the grand conclusion of this 15 year journey. Only the victory screen shown above indicated my ultimate success as a leader of digital men.

History, as they say, is written by the victors, and this week I made sure there were no survivors to discredit this most special occasion.

Completion Mode: Domination Win.

Play it if you like: Risk, Age Of Empires, loading screens.

pokemon-omega-ruby-and-alpha-sapphire

Pokemon: Omega Ruby Version (3DS)

It may be another concerning sign of addiction, but this game was purchased with the sole purpose of adding one single Pokemon to my collection. Granted, when the full list of Legendaries was released my wanted list doubled, but I still can’t think of any other time I’ve paid full price for a game that I wasn’t really interested in playing.

Was it fun? I guess so…

Was adding a Groudon to my Legendary fire team worth the financial cost and sizable time requirement of completing the game? I suppose…

I readily admit that this may not sound like the most ringing endorsement ever given, but on the whole I have been impressed with all the Pokemon games that have been released since I reunited with the franchise a few years ago. Having not played at all between LeafGreen (2004) and Black (2011), the graphical and mechanical developments made in that time have been impressive. Obviously at the core of it all is the same game I knew and loved from back in the day, but now it looks better, plays better, and thanks to the wonderful world of Wi-Fi no longer relies on link cables or wireless adaptors when challenging friends.

Pokemon: Omega Ruby Version features a handful of tweaks to the gameplay (e.g. third-person flying in post-game regardless of whether you have a Pokemon with Fly in your party, EXP-SHARE available earlier in the storyline, faster online matchmaking) and builds upon the good work of previous generations. I’ve even come to appreciate the time saving value of the Super Training feature, despite being initially sceptical about the way in which it made EV training accessible to less committed players (yes, I was/am a Pokemon elitist). In reality it still takes a great deal of work to get to the point at which you can efficiently EV train numerous Pokemon, and the more experienced players will continue to excel in battle due to their superior knowledge and prediction skills.

The only downside I encountered with Omega Ruby was a narrative that seemed both convoluted and laboured in equal measure. I realise that my tunnel-visioned purpose of catching a quality Groudon has probably exacerbated this sensation, but it seemed like an awful lot time was spent in overly-philosophical dialogue that resulted in backtracking or having to work out how to access isolated areas of the map. If I were new to the series and experiencing the Pokemon universe for the first time the story would surely have been more inspiring and the pacing perfectly appropriate, so this shouldn’t be considered a criticism of the game; simply an unforeseen outcome of my unusual playing goal.

Since its inception, the Pokemon series has had such a solid core mechanic that the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage has always been carefully followed. I’m probably in the older demographic of players now and still find plenty of value in the new games, so it’s a fair bet that Omega Ruby’s successors will keep delivering for many years to come.

Completion Mode: Main Storyline & The Delta Episode. Now it just remains to snag a Shiny Ho-Oh.

Play it if you like: Previous Pokemon titles, collecting things, a truly epic (or possibly overly drawn out) story of redemption and triumph.

archery

Wii Sports Resort – Archery (Wii)

It may be cheating a bit, but I’m going to include the archery mini-game from Wii Sports Resort as one of my favourites of the last five months. I only stumbled across it when trawling through the old Wii collection at a holiday house, and after playing through the various other sports it was clear that the archery event was a standout.

As with Resident Evil 4, the Wii remote and nunchuk arrangement is a perfect fit for this game. It’s the kind of simple and effective system that makes you yearn for a more in-depth experience than just the four increasingly challenging target ranges on offer at the Sports Resort, and put me in mind of some of the classic games I’ve mentioned before that nail the simplest of gameplay mechanics in such a way that you can’t help coming back for more.

It almost goes without saying that an archery mini-game won’t have the same longevity as the other sprawling titles in this list, but for that particular time and a place when the only other option was to eschew digital entertainment in favour of one of those paper things (book?) or human interaction, this little blast from the past was on the money.

Completion Mode: Archery Event Only, All Difficulty Levels.

Play it if you like… archery, Wii, and a combination of the two.

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20150123072303

The Last Of Us: Remastered (PS4)

Where to start with The Last Of Us…

There couldn’t have been a more anticipated or more demanding start to the year’s gaming than with this Homeric epic. It’s tender. It’s creepy. It’s beautiful. It challenges both your gaming skills and your moral fibre to the point where upon completion you collapse back into your chair, exhale slowly and try to keep track of your mind as it goes on swimming through Naughty Dog’s haunting post-apocalyptic vision. Thousands of words of review and analysis have been written elsewhere, so I’m simply going to share the big question that stuck with me in the days and weeks that followed my Last Of Us experience.

What do your actions in the operating theatre near the end of the game say about you as a real life human being?

Following 30+ hours of slaying everyone in sight while they attempted to slay or eat me first, I entered the operating theatre to see Ellie unconscious and attached to monitors in preparation for a final, fatal surgery. The surgeon grabbed a blade and said something along the lines of ‘Get back!’ as the surrounding medical team froze. I tried to walk around him to rescue Ellie without further bloodshed, but Naughty Dog wouldn’t allow me that option. So I beat the surgeon to death, placing Ellie’s life and my own wishes ahead of someone else’s yet again. One of the nurses screamed “You’re an animal” which at this stage of the game seemed a pretty fair assessment. Only then was I able to grab Ellie and carry her to freedom.

I suspect it is the sign of truly expert charactisation that the forced ‘choices’ required to bring the story to its inevitable conclusion played so heavily on my conscience. How many games yielding piles of corpses a mile high can still manage to make you question yourself in that precious moment of resolution that cost so much to achieve?

The Last Of Us takes the player on a winding journey of loss, suffering, sacrifice and eventually healing, but the cost of the latter is immense. When you’ve been through so much with someone – albeit a digital someone in a zombie-infested wasteland – it follows that what was once morally inconceivable may now be just a regrettable necessity. As Bajo and Hex explored in Good Game this week, that underlying ethical shift forms the crux of a new wave of war and survival games that deliberately prioritise self-discovery and the broadening of perspective above simply having fun. I take for granted that my consideration of the moral quandaries inherent in surviving truly desperate times is a purely intellectual exercise. Playing and writing about video games at all is the kind of luxury most people in the world would never envisage, and so I am indeed thankful that the powerful and humanity-defining challenges presented in games like The Last Of Us are for me limited to playing out on a TV screen or computer monitor.

So when you’ve dispatched a thousand or so armed opponents throughout your voyage, what can the fictional lives of two or three unarmed nurses matter?

Somehow they still mattered enough that I couldn’t end them there.

Completion Mode: Main Storyline & Left Behind.

Play it if you like… zombies, protagonists you can care about, white knuckles.

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20150123072426

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