Category Archives: PC

What a year, eh?

Twenty eighteen was a great year to play video games.

It was a great year for triple AAA titles and indie games and looking back, I didn’t play as huge amount of games this year. I played more games on my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 than I did on my Xbox One, although, that has changed lately, with the excellent offerings Xbox has dropped on its Game Pass service lately. Make no mistake though: 2018 was a most excellent year for video games.

This year, I also found myself replaying some of my favourite games from past years, one of them being Titanfall 2, which is just a phenomenal game and I really hope spawns a worthy sequel [I hope EA is listening]. I also started replaying The Stanley Parable, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Civilisation V, all games that captured my attention when they released and found time from me this year.

I’d like to thank you, the readers, who have stuck by this blog as it’s lurched from year to year. There aren’t many of you but I appreciate every one of you that stops by the blog.  Apologies for not updating the blog as often as I should.

OK, enough faffing about: In no particular order, here are some of my favourite games that I played this year.

GamejunkieNZ most favouritist games of 2018

God of War [PlayStation 4]:

I’ve always been a long time fan of the God of War series but this year’s edition took it to the next level. I like to say it was “All killer, no filler” as it didn’t overstay its welcome with unnecessary fluff. Here’s what I said in my review: “Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is. Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.”

Red Dead Redemption 2 [PS4/Xbox One]:

It had a slow start but, man, once RDR2’s narrative about diamond in the rough cowboy Arthur Morgan got its hooks into me, I couldn’t stop playing – I actually thought about it while I wasn’t playing it and may, or may not, have shed a tear during a particularly emotional moment. Without a doubt, RDR2 is Rockstar’s magnum opus when it comes to characters that you’ll connect with and care about. “Hindsight is  a wonderful thing,”so the commonly uttered phrase goes, and in my case, it is entirely appropriate for Rockstar’s Red Redemption 2, a game I initially criticised on social media but now, with hindsight, and several hours of game play under my belt, I’ve changed my opinion.”

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus [PC/PS4/X1/Nintendo Switch]:

While New Colossus wasn’t as memorable as Wolfenstein: The New Order, it’s another fine adventure for BJ Blaskowitz, a character that has evolved with each gaming generation. The fact that it was on the Switch, too, is mind-boggling. My words: “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is going to have its detractors but I tip my hat to Panic Button: The developer has knocked it out of the park with this portable version and I’m glad I waited until now to play it, to be honest. It’s just an added bonus that I can also now play Wolfenstein The New Colossus on the toilet, if I’m that way inclined, of course.”

Yakuza 6 [PS4]:

I first fell in love with the Yakuza games on the PlayStation 2 and have loved the craziness of the series ever since. Sure, the Yakuza games are filled with Japanese nuttiness and the like, but the combat is engaging and the narrative never fails to deliver in spades. “Yakuza 6 is said to be the last game of the series featuring Kazuma Kiryu, which will be a shame, but what is also a shame is that the Yakuza series isn’t as popular as it should be in the West: It’s a series that deserves more attention from gamers thanks to its deep narrative and strong character development. I can’t recommend the series highly enough.”

Old Man’s Journey [Nintendo Switch]:

The hand-drawn art style just captures the emotional journey of an old man’s journey after he receives a letter from a family member. It’s a game of exploration in a land of pastel shades and weird angles. Here’s what I said: “Old Man’s Journey is a delightful game that manages to evoke an emotional story without the spoken work just by using hand-drawn art and the emotions they conjure up.”

Hollow Knight [Nintendo Switch]:

It’s described as Metroidvania-like but all I know it’s bloody hard at times, with dexterity and prowess needed avoid hazards and clear obstacles through a ruined kingdom over run by insects and other creatures. Perfect for short blasts and often spoken in the same breath as Dead Cells.

Grim Fandango [Nintendo Switch]:

It’s no secret that I have massive love for Tim Schafer’s point-and-click adventure game set around the Mexican festivities of the Day of the Dead and focused on deathly travel agent Manny Calavera, so it’s no surprise that the remastered version is on this list. I can’t get enough of this game. indicated by the fact that I own it on several platforms.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden [X1/PS4/PC]:

A game set in a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t all brown and irradiated, MYZ: Road to Eden feels a lot like the Xcom series and is best played stealthily, but it took me a while to get into that mindset, meaning I often went in all guns blazing, forgetting to take out units that could alert other units. You can imagine what happened. For this one, slow and steady wins the race.

Katamari Damacy Re-roll [Nintendo Switch]:

A crazy, off the wall game – from the days of the PS2 – where you have to recreate the stars in the sky [that your king father destroyed] by rolling a katamai ball around, sticking all manner of objects to it: small animals, pins, domino tiles, cards, plants. The bigger the katamari, the happier your father is. It’s as weird and crazy as you can imagine.

 

I’d like to thank PlayStation New Zealand, Xbox New Zealand, Bethesda, FiveEight Distribution, and the companies in both Australia and New Zealand [PeadPr, Huawei NZ, Oppo NZ, King Creative Media, Nintendo Australia, Acumen Republic, Samsung NZ, that have supported me this year with review product. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Halo Fireteam Raven: A pictoral essay

As I mentioned earlier this week, I was in Auckland for work so was able to head along to the New Zealand launch of the Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine at Timezone in Auckland’s Wairau Valley.

It was nice event, with like-minded individuals chatting, eating delicious nibbles, imbibing fluids and, of course, being among the first in NZ to play the dual-screen, four-player Halo Fireteam Raven arcade machine.

Short verdict? It’s good. It’s very, very, very good. Actually, it’s a helluva lotta fun, letting you fill the combat boots of a Halo spartan taking on the covenant hordes – with some mates along for the ride.

Feast your eyes on these images of some obligatory Spartans controlling Spartans in Halo Fireteam Raven & some video of the game in action.

Sadly, the machine was too big to to fit in my carry on luggage for the flight home a couple of days later.

 

No Man’s Sky Next: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a re-visit?

What a difference two years makes, eh?

In 2016, Hello Games (with, let’s not forget, considerable marketing support from PlayStation) launched procedurally generated space exploration game No Man’s Sky on the PlayStation 4. Hello Game’s  leader Sean Murray touted all the amazing things players would be able to do in the game and the hype just flowed.

Turns out, though, a lot of the stuff that Murray mentioned you would be able to do, you actually couldn’t. No Man’s Sky was a game that gave me conflicting emotions when it was launched. Here’s a quote from my review:“No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I’m not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.”

Looking back at my coverage of No Man’s Sky, it seems I, too, was caught up in the hype surrounding the game. I posted quite a few videos before release, and my review wasn’t overly critical, closing with “I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see to see what has changed.

Well, two years [and some other updates] later, and No Man’s Sky is the game it should have been at launch thanks to the recent Next update and it’s a great update (all the images here are captured using the game’s photo mode)   but it begs the question: Should Hello Games have just waited two years to release the game in a more complete state rather than release it when they did, half-finished ?

The answer is, of course, yes. The original game was rightly pilloried by gamers and critics alike because it wasn’t what Sean Murray at Hello Games promised it was. It also wasn’t what Sony hyped it up to be in the flashy trailers it sent to games writers like me. Gamers around the world bought it based on all these promises , and were swept up in the hype that only the games industry seems to be able to generate. Gamers thought they could do all these amazing things but were disappointed  when they found much of what they were promised was untrue.

I think it’s admirable that Sean and Hello Games have stuck with No Man’s Sky, despite all the criticisms and negative press, and kept updating it. I take my hat off to him and the studio. They could have easily said “Ok, game is launched, we’ve got our cash. Let’s jet off to a tropical island somewhere and hunker down” but they did. They stuck it out and supported the game.

I’m making my way through the game again thanks to the Next update and it feels like a completely different game from launch –   planets are more detailed and varied, crafting has been tweaked, there’s a third-person view for ships and your avatar, plus dozens of other tweaks – but the grind is still there. If you weren’t a fan first time around, I doubt new graphics and changed game play features will convince you to stick this out.

Sadly, though,  part of me feels that no matter how impressive the Next update is – and it is impressive, especially compared to the original game  – the damage has already been done for No Man’s Sky and a lot of gamers have already been burned by the launch state of the game.

It’s a sad indictment on the gaming industry that two years later, No Man’s Sky is now the game it should have been. As gamers, we shouldn’t  be content with paying for games then hoping they’ll get fixed into something better sometime down the line but it seems to be a worrying trend that is becoming more and more common these days.

If you haven’t played No Man’s Sky before – and Xbox One players can now see what all the fuss is about – then now is probably the perfect time to do it: It’s the game that it should have been at launch, and newcomers haven’t been burned by what happened before. That said, I’m sure owners of the original game (if they still have it) in their droves are revisiting the game thanks to the Next update, as I have done, but I think No Man’s Sky is a lesson for the entire games industry to take note of:  Don’t ship a game that promises things it will never deliver on.

Here’s some simple advice for game developers and (perhaps, especially, publishers/marketers): Delay the game until it does what you say it does. Don’t bow to publisher pressure to release a game way too early just because it wants the sales revenue.

As a gamer, I’d rather wait a few more months for a better game, and be satisfied, than buy a game that is half-finished and doesn’t let me do what you’ve hyped it up to do, and will never deliver on those lofty expectations.

Gamers will forgive you for a game that’s late but does what it says on the box.They’re  not so forgiving when you promise them the moon and all you hand them is a pebble.

OK, so to answer the question I put in this blog post’s title: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a revisit? Thanks to the Next update, yes, it is. I’ve still had the game crash on me since after a post-update patch (funnily enough, changing my PS4’s internal clock to Pacific Standard Time seemed to fix it), but the game is much improved on the original. It’s just a pity it took two years for that to happen.

 

Objects in Space: Old-school space adventuring

I first met Leigh Harris, the Australian behind indie game developer Flat Earth Game‘s Objects in Space (now in Early Access) during the early 2000s when he did PR for Rockstar and Take Two Interactive for Australia and New Zealand.

Leigh was an instantly likeable and pleasant PR man who, importantly, understood  how gamers and journalists thought, and more importantly, did whatever he could to accommodate me, a then-kind-of-full-time-games writer across the ditch in New Zealand.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be closely following Leigh’s fascinating journey as a game developer and co-founder of Flat Earth Games  after a career spanning PR and video games journalism.

Flat Earth’s first game was a crafting and city building game called Towncraft (2011), which I remember playing, I think, on my iPod Touch. Next came Metrocide (2014), a top-down stealth action game that had strong vibes of Blade Runner and Deus Ex to it.

When Flat Earth announced Objects in Space, I sat up and took a little more notice. Here was an open-world, stealth trading game set in a huge universe where you’re the captain of your vessel but have to manage everything yourself, managing multiple screens and controls to ensure success, taking on contracts to earn coin and generally be a jack of all trades out in space.I just seemed like an intriguing take on the space genre.

Think of Objects in Space as strategic management of space travel and adventuring where you have to take contracts, deliver goods, upgrade your ship and outrun pirates  rather than dog-fighting through the asteroids, barking orders at Mr Chekhov to set deflector shields to full and pointing photon torpedoes at fast-approaching enemies, threatening to blow them to smithereens.

In fact, combat is more akin to submarines waging a stealthy battle underwater than toe-to-toe laser battles (in fact, I think Leigh likens the combat to that between submarines and Objects in Space is complex and deep (very, very complex and deep)  but strangely satisfying, keeping me up at night when I’d told my wife I was going to bed in “10 minutes after I’ve done this thing.” (As you probably guessed, I didn’t go to bed in 10 minutes)

I bought Objects in Space for two reasons. One: It was genuinely fascinated in what Leigh and Flat Earth Games was doing here (and for around $20 I had nothing to lose) after following its progress over the past few years, and two: I wanted to support an indie developer/studio that I genuinely felt deserved to succeed.

I’m enjoying it far more than I expected I would as it has an old-school feel about it to the games that I grew up with as a child, especially the low-poly graphics. I grew up on Lucasart point-and-click games, games like Magic Carpet from Bullfrog, Ultimate Play The Game stuff on the ZX Spectrum. Objects in Space just appeals to that old-school gamer in me where game play was king and graphics took second place, and I love that about it..

I can’t say I really know what I’m doing most of the time (and what have the screens do) and must admit that I have no confidence in my abilities in how to successfully navigate the universe of Objects in Space but so far, my time with this space sim has been nothing but a joy.

 

 

 

Old Man’s Journey review

Old Man’s Journey, from indie developer Broken Rules, is a game for those moments when you want to contemplate and stop and smell the roses.

It’s a game for quiet times when you want something soothing and non-confronting.  It looks like a child’s water- colour book, full of pastel colours and memories of a younger time that make you smile.

The game starts with the titular Old Man receiving a letter from the postman than seems to concern him so he dons a backpack and starts on a journey. A long journey that sees him traverse hills, mountain villages, sea ports and everything in between by foot, boat and train – and have to avoid the odd flock of sheep along the way!

The quirk with this game is that you can re-shape the landscape to make paths for the old man to traverse. Can’t get across to that bridge? Just gently drag that background hill closer, enabling the Old Man to jump the gap and continue on. There are limits, though: You can’t re-shape the “line” the old man is standing on and you can’t stretch a hill further than it is capable of going.

Despite its shortness, Old Man’s Journey is punctuated by delightful moments: During a train journey as the locomotive races along the countryside, you have to join the track beneath the speeding train. If you click the bell in the lighthouse of a sea-side town, the Old Man reminisces about a wedding years ago (I’m guessing his wedding?)

If I had one criticism with Old Man’s Journey,  it would be the inclusion of “handcrafted, pressure-free puzzles (the developer’s words)”. An example of these puzzles is sometimes having to move on a flock of sheep that are blocking your path: It just felt a little unnecessary.

Old Man’s Journey is a delightful game that manages to evoke an emotional story without the spoken work just by using hand-drawn art and the emotions they conjure up.

Old Man’s Journey is available on Nintendo Switch ($US9.99), Windows PC, Mac and iOS/Android. Thanks to Broken Rules for providing a review code for Old Man’s Journey.

State of Decay 2 review: Brains, machetes & zombies

Image supplied

I’ve decided that when push comes to shove  I’d be useless when the zombie apocalypse strikes.

Of course, I’ve decided this after playing Undead Labs’ State of Decay 2, the new zombie survival game on the Xbox One (and Windows 10 PCs), but let me explain: I’d be fine when it comes to actually killing the aforementioned zombies.

I’ve got using machetes, chef’s knifes, baseball bats and tyre irons  to cave in zombie skulls and lop off zombie limbs down to a fine art but it’s the other stuff that you need to survive that I might struggle with. The keeping other people alive part.

You see, State of Decay 2, like the game before it (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my original review of State of Decay but I don’t think I rated it that highly, to be honest. I remember it was quite buggy), is a zombie survival game where you have to not only ensure your survival but also that of a rag-tag bunch of colleagues that have banded together to ensure the survival of the human race from the zombie scourge.

Success in the game not only revolves around killing the aforementioned zombies but by establishing bases, scavenging for food and resources and generally ensuring your fellow survivors are well fed, well rested, happy and, importantly of all, have all their limbs at the end of each day.

The game opens with you having to turn a ramshackle property into a fortified base: It means climbing cellphone towers and billboards, using the vantage points to search for anything that can provide supplies: medical centres, petrol (gas) stations, hospital, shopping malls and military barracks for anything – and everything – that will help in your survival. Scraps of metal can be used to build stronger fortifications and work benches that can be used to upgrade and repair weapons, and scavenged seeds can be used to grow crops for your fellow survivors.

State of Decay 2 is a zombie survival game where killing zombies is just part of it. Oh, and it also has permadeath. Let that sink in for a minute: If you or one of your squad mates dies, they’re dead for good. There’s no respawning: They’re dead, gone, kaput, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes …

Image supplied

State of Decay 2 brings some tension to the searching for supplies front as often you’ll be looking over your virtual shoulder for imminent zombie attacks as you sift through a chilly bin or a bookcase for stuff. You can do a fast search but it makes so much noise that you might as well yell at the top of your lungs “Hey, zees. I’m over here. Come and get some!

Something I learned early on was to survive for any length of time you need a vehicle but unlike other games, cars aren’t blessed with infinite amounts of petrol to keep them going. Some cars have a 1/4 tank, some will have 1/2 a tank. It depends – so you’ll often have to scavenge more fuel.

You can’t carry limitless amounts of supplies in your rucksack, either. Eventually, you’ll realise you can’t always take everything you want so sometimes it becomes a internal debate with yourself on whether you should take the boom box or the medicine (I’d take the medicine any day but that’s just me). I’ll say again: Getting a vehicle early on is extremely helpful as it means you can transfer backpack contents to the vehicle, freeing up inventory space.

State of Decay 2 has some promise as it’s much, much deeper than a zombie-fest game like,  say Dead Rising, and the spectre of character permadeath hanging over it means you tend to be more tactical in situations  rather than rush in all guns blazing but not all is perfect in this zee-infested world.

The game is buggy.  I played the game before and after a mid-review period 6Gb update was made available. At one point, a character I was talking to had no head. He just sat there on a bench, talking, with no head on his shoulders. It was quite disconcerting.

Character models are rough (with a couple of early characters that I met being downright scary looking) and for a current current generation Xbox One  game, I felt it look pretty last generation at times, to be honest, with flat and lifeless textures.

I lost count of the number of times I got a vehicle stuck on a rock that frankly it should have cleared easily, too. None of the bugs I came across were game-breaking  but it seems to be a worrying trend this generation of some publishers releasing games in a less-than-ideal state then patching out all the problems later. It’s a trend I’m not a fan off.

It’s also frustrating that if you want to swap to another character because you need another skill set or materials your current characters doesn’t have, you have to quit the current mission as you can’t do it on the fly.

No doubt, State of Decay 2 will find favour with fans of the series like the original did, and the inclusion this time of a co-op mode will widen its fan base (my son didn’t want to play co-op with me so I was unable to test out the mode for this review)  but personally, I’d wait until the inevitable patches start coming  to iron out the bugs before venturing forth into these zombie-infested wastelands.

Review code kindly supplied by Xbox New Zealand.

 

Age of Empires The Definitive Edition: Blast from the past

As far as real-time strategy games go, I spent countless hours playing the original Age of Empires when it came out God knows how many years ago (Mr Google tells me it was 20 years ago!). It was one of the first RTS games I played when I first got a PC, along with Westwood’s Red Alert.

Fast forward to 2018, and Microsoft Studios have released an Age of Empires for a new age of gamer (or those older gamers who hark back to their youth) but is it the Definitive Edition? I’m not so sure: Sure, it captures the magic of the original game but it doesn’t do anything revolutionary to the genre.

For those that aren’t familiar with Age of Empires, players start the game with a civilisation and have to grow it, researching new things and conquering other civilisations as you move through the ages. As with most RTS games of this ilk, there’s a lot of micro-management: Making sure you have enough resources to build new structures, enough food to feed the troops and enough soldiers and weapons to defend your clan from invading factions.

Campaigns in Definitive Edition include Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and Babylonian factions but fundamentally, they’re all the same basic idea with the same end goal: Grow your civilisation.

While the graphics and audio are crisper than the original (the game really does look great, boasting  4K visuals and much improved audio), sadly, some of the game’s wonky AI path finding has managed to sneak into the new game: I lost count how many times a villager just stood around waiting for the next command rather than continue the task he had been allocated until I asked him to stop.

One thing that might hamper the game is that it’s only available for Windows 10 on Microsoft’s store (so no Steam), something that might limit its market.

Age of Empires Definitive Edition will appeal to gamers who want to re-play the original on modern hardware but for RTS fans wanting something to really get their teeth into, they might need to look elsewhere.

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