Merry Christmas to you all – and thanks for sticking around

It’s that time of the year, dear readers,  when gaming sites and outlets tell readers what their top games of the year were.

I can’t really do that here: Looking back, I realise I’ve not played a lot of games this year – and I’ve bought even less – but of those I did played, I enjoyed: Dishonored 2, Titanfall 2, Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Firewatch and Inside. I enjoyed much of The Last Guardian, too, but the experience was just marred too often by the at times too realistic animal AI of Trico, the game’s eagle/cat/dog creature, which made for a frustrating time –  and that’s a real shame.

I want to say thanks so much for sticking around and reading this blog. I really do appreciate it. I know the blog isn’t as flash as many around, or updated as regularly, or have a staff of hundreds that pump out stories by the dozens. I’m one man who loves video games and writing, and believe me when I say this blog is a real labour of love for me: I don’t get paid to do it, I don’t get sponsorship from anyone. I rely on the support of a handful of publishers who have stuck by me since leaving Fairfax NZ – and I appreciate that support and the support that you, the readers, give me.

I sincerely appreciate your support. It means the world to me and I appreciate every single one of you that visits the site. I might not be the biggest or the best or the most popular, but I hope you enjoy what you find.

This will be the last blog for the year as I’m going “offline” for a couple of weeks to spend time with my family, relax and recharge the batteries. Fear not, though, I’ve already got some content planned for the week I return and hopefully the support from publishers will continue and I’ll be able to keep bringing you game and hardware reviews and opinion pieces.

So, thanks again. Enjoy your Christmas and New Year and wherever you are, stay safe. See you next year.

Dead Rising 4 review: Jingle bells, jingle bells

Many of you may know that I have a teenage son, Mitchell, who is a pretty dab hand at stringing a few words together as well as a fine gamer (he can kick my arse when we play co-op). He’s a long time fan of the Dead Rising series so I thought who better to give Dead Rising 4 to than him. So I did. Enjoy.


In Dead Rising 4, you return to Willamette, the setting for the first game.

In Dead Rising 4, you return to Willamette, the setting for the first game.

Video games have come a long way from when they were first developed over 40 years ago. What was once a simple principle involving sending a little white ball from one side of the screen to the other between two white slabs, has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. The term “video game” is incredibly broad and continues to expand every day as new games that break the barrier of what is considered to be a conventional video game are developed.

However broad this term may be, zombies and video games go hand in hand. Raise your hand if when you think of video games, you think of zombies?( If you did in fact raise your hand, you probably shouldn’t blindly follow the instructions of an article.) All jokes aside, you wouldn’t be alone if you did put zombies and video games in the same basket. In fact, I probably would, too.

The Dead Rising series is potentially the most successful zombies franchise to date, ruling out Call of Duty zombies because technically it’s a game mode, not a primary franchise.

The Dead Rising series was the first zombie, beat ’em up game that I truly delved into and continue to thoroughly enjoy to this day. The fourth installment of the main series brings us back to its origins somewhat, as the original protagonist, Frank West, a photojournalist looking for his big scoop, is brought back with more badassery than ever before.

Dead Rising 4 is set in Willamette, just like the first game, but the world is immensely bigger. Unlike the first Dead Rising, you are not just limited to the confines of the mall the entire time, which is a welcome change, as you can explore the chaos that has unfolded in Willamette since the first outbreak. That’s right! I said the FIRST outbreak. Willamette has had a pretty unlucky run. DR4 is set sixteen years after the events of the first game, during the Christmas period, and one year after the events of Dead Rising 3, though feeling as if it acts as a soft reboot of the series. The Christmas theme does get a little irritating after a while though, I’m not going to lie.

I can’t help but feel as if Capcom have gone for style over substance in DR4, which is a real shame. For longtime fans of the series like myself who have been playing since the first game will feel a slight hint of nostalgia when entering Willamette’s Parkview mall, which was the primary setting for the first Dead Rising.

Willamette Mall in its Christmas livery.

Willamette Mall in its Christmas livery.

However similar the new Parkview mall appears visually, the flow just isn’t the same – something just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s the fact that not as much focus was put into the mall itself in DR4 because it only acts as a transition point from getting one from one side of Willamette to the other, rather than the setting for the whole game like in the original.

It appears as if the mall’s main focus is pointless areas like a lacklustre go-kart track and a shipwrecked pirate ship. I feel like this primary focus on these nonsensical areas took away the nostalgic feeling from the first game and didn’t add any memorable personality. Capcom really missed out on massive opportunity to capitalize on the nostalgia and bring back an iconic classic to excite the fans. Instead the new Parkview mall just doesn’t feel the same.

What I love about Dead Rising 4, though,  is that, yes there is a clear story to follow, (a fairly decent one too, I might add) but if you just wanted to mess around and free roam, there is nothing to stop you from doing so.

If you’re feeling so inclined as to “chop till you drop” without thinking too much, you can, which is a really awesome thing. I won’t say too much about the ending because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone if they decided to purchase DR4, but I will say that it pissed me right off (but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

If you’re a longtime fan of the series, this is a definite pick up, as it brings back that classic Dead Rising feel into a whole new story. I wouldn’t say that the story is amazing in comparison to some other big titles of 2016, but as far as a beat’em up story goes, it is pretty great. I do not believe that anyone would be disappointed or regret their decision in purchasing Dead Rising 4, as long as they go into it treating it like a whole new game and not some direct comparison to the original.

Nostalgia is a funny effect that often leads us to believe that what we have experienced in the past is far superior to what we have now, even if it wasn’t. So my advice is, do not play Dead Rising 4 and find every single flaw or gripe with the game and constantly think that it is sub par because they changed a few minor details. Entering with an open mind guarantees that you will enjoy the game. I think that’s where most reviewers have gone wrong. They treated it as a direct sequel to the original, rather than a series reboot.

What Capcom have managed to do is recreate the same sense of absurdity through the game’s crafting system. The crafting is still hilariously fun. There are so many different combos that make absolutely no sense whatsoever but still make for a truly enjoyable experience, there is no denying that Dead Rising 4 is fun. I can’t remember the last game that I played where it was possible to have so much fun by doing absolutely nothing. There is nothing better than coming home after a long, hard day at work, putting your feet up and slaying hordes of zombies with big hulk fists.

A Christmas wreath + a car battery = a whole lot of carnage!

A Christmas wreath + a car battery = a whole lot of carnage!

To this day, the Dead Rising franchise is the only series in which I can think of, where a player would trade an assault rifle for a knife and a pair of boxing gloves. That’s what makes the game so enjoyable. The fact that you can have so much fun with something so stupid as a Christmas wreath and a car battery is an incredible thing and really speaks wonders about what Capcom has been able to achieve with the series.

Dead Rising 4 was played through to completion on Xbox One using a code provided by Xbox NZ.

Win a copy of The Last Guardian & a The Last Guardian T-shirt

thelastguardian tlg_orange_phoAfter a wait of what seems almost like forever, PlayStation 4-exclusive The Last Guardian is finally out on the PlayStation 4, and thanks to the great team at PlayStation NZ, Gamejunkie NZ has one copy of The Last Guardian and a T-shirt to give away to one lucky reader.

The Last Guardian tells the journey between a young boy and a bird/cat/eagle beast called Trico as they have to escape the prison they both find themselves in. The two become inseparable friends as their journey through the game progresses.

You can read my thoughts here but  Trico can be, at times, stubborn and temperamental, just like a real animal. I’ve got a dog called Drew and he reminds me a lot of Trico with his mannerisms and behaviour.

I forgot completely about how much time I have for this so I’ve decided to make it really simple to enter the draw: In the comments section below or on the GamejunkieNZ Facebook page, I want you to tell me in 50 words or less, who would be your inseparable partner on a journey like that undertaken by Trico and the young boy in The Last Guardian. Tell me why you made your choice, as well.

As with all competitions, there are terms and conditions, so here they are for your reading please:
1) The prize is one (1) copy of The Last Guardian on PlayStation 4 and a The Last Guardian T-shirt. You must supply the PS4 yourself to play it on.
2) The competition is only open to those living in New Zealand and must have a valid New Zealand address that the prize will be sent to.
3) The competition is open from December 13 until 7pm on December 19. I will contact the winner by DM or email.
4) Entry is by writing in the comments section on the GamejunkieNZ Facebook page or on the comments section in this blog who would be your inseparable partner on an epic journey. Feel free to like the page as well (I’d be forever grateful).
5) The decision of the judge (that’s me) is final and the prize will be mailed out to the winner by PlayStation NZ. Hopefully it’ll get to you by Christmas, but no guarantees.

The Last Guardian: A boy and his dog/cat/eagle thing

The Last Guardian™_20161130214145The Last Guardian is about a boy and the dog/bird/eagle he finds himself with and their journey together.

It’s beautiful, it’s heart-warming, it’s charming, it’s emotional, but it’s also yell inducingly frustrating at times and shows the strain of it’s almost 9 year development cycle – but I love it to bits.

The game starts with the unnamed boy, covered in weird tattoos, lying next to the  wounded dog/cat/eagle, a shackle around his neck, chaining him to the ground. It’s rocky relationship to start with: The boy has to gain the trust of the creature by removing spears from his feathery hide and find him food, but as the relationship develops, the pair find they need each other to negotiate the game world and escape. Before too long the pair are inseparable, relying on each other to survive. It’s a story of survival and friendship.

Trico is undoubtably the star of the show: He’s a marvellous creation that exhibits behaviour unlike any video game animal I’ve seen before. He behaves and acts like you’d expect  say a cat or dog to: He cautiously puts a paw forward as he enters a room he’s not sure about, his eyes glowing brightly and wide open; He’ll suddenly scratch behind an ear, feathers fluttering around; He’ll jump backwards and forwards across towering pillars as he tries to keep an eye on you as you negotiate a puzzle; He’ll jump up and down in excitement after wiping out a troop of the game’s glowing eyed, armour-wielding warrior dudes out to get you.

He bellows and roars when he’s hungry and agitated, his eyes glow depending on his mood.  He cowers in fear when confronted by strange glass “eyes” until you’ve smashed or destroyed them. Trico is remarkable, remarkable beast and one that I quickly became very fond of.

The Last Guardian™_20161205231119But like my real-life Samoyed Drew, though, Trico can, at times, be too realistic, not doing what you want him to or go where you want him to. Just like my dog Drew.

At times, Trico is stubborn and unpredictable. Just like my dog Drew.

“Trico is like a real animal, ” people will say, “they’re unpredictable. He’s unpredictable. That’s part of his charm”.

Well, that might work in the real world where I accept I have to deal with my dog’s stubbornness,  but I play video games to escape the real world, not to face the same problems I face with my dog in real-life.

Trico’s stubbornness really came to the fore in two puzzles in the game involving water: Both took multiple attempts to solve – and a couple of complete restarts of my PS4 to kickstart the AI – before Trico actually decided to play ball and do what he was supposed to do.  I was literally yelling at him to do what I was telling him. These two puzzles became a frustrating trial-and-error scenario where he just refused to do anything I told him. Frankly, it shouldn’t be this hard to control a video game animal.

Look, situations like this didn’t make me like the overall experience of the game any less, but it did mar the experience at little and frustrate the hell out of me.

The Last Guardian™_20161130221348One of the other annoyances in the game is the camera.  Frankly, at times it’s a bastard, often obscuring your view so you can’t actually see what’s going on or where you have to go, especially in a tight spot where a jump is required, or zooms in so close to the action that your screen turns black, blocking your view.

For a game that has been in development for so long, there was plenty of time to get the camera right. Again it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me,  but I’d be lying if it didn’t frustrate me a lot and have me  yelling at the screen sometimes because I just couldn’t see what the hell was happening, especially when I was trying to guide the boy back onto Trico’s back while being attacked by armour-wielding warrior dudes that wanted nothing more than to kidnap me and pull me into the walls.

It’s strange: For every frustration The Last Guardian threw at me, something wonderful and magical happened next to calm me down.

The Last Guardian is a flawed game, there’s no denying that, and at times it shows its age and PlayStation 3-designed root (especially in some of texture work), but despite all of that, I can look past those flaws because  The Last Guardian is a beautiful game that tugged at my heart-strings with its telling of an incredibly emotional journey of boy and dog/bird/eagle thing. The more I played, the more I loved Trico and his mannerisms, frustrations and all.

The Last Guardian™_20161208195936

Something that took my breath away  was the sheer scale of the game, too: You can’t help but be impressed with director Fumito Ueda’s direction when you look at the size of the structures and environments of the game, especially when the boy is standing at the top of a massive tower and you see what lies beneath you.  The sense of scale is immense and you really do feel as if you’re clambering about a massive centuries-old forgotten city with crumbling towers, delapidated buidings and ruins.

Animation of Trico and the boy are also impressive, too, with Trico’s mannerisms so lifelike that you’d think you were watching your own animal (if you have one). It’s those little touches that give Trico and the boy those real-life qualities.

The Last Guardian is a flawed game, and I’d be lying if I said you won’t get frustrated playing it, because you will, but play it for the amazing story of friendship and adversity between a boy and a dog/cat/eagle thing and you’ll find a game that has a lead character that will capture your heart like it did mine and take you on a rollercoaster ride that will have your emotions on edge.