The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 4: Amid the Ruins: A Rare Misstep or Meeting the Inevitable?

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series has been one of the most consistent in all of video games over the past two years. The first season won countless awards, 400 Days was a nice way to continue the story before the second season started and so far I have thoroughly enjoyed the season. However I have expressed some concerns for what I saw as potential problems with the series in the past. Unfortunately many of those problems showed themselves in Amid the Ruins resulting in by far the worst episode since this brilliant series started.

My main concern was regarding the doubled edged sword of having such a disposable cast of supporting characters. It is great that the series is unpredictable and that anyone can be killed at any time (except Clementine that I will get to later) but this also leads to not building any connection with these characters and resulting in me not caring what happens to them as a player. Characters arrive, sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad but it seems the end result is always the same. It is mostly just a matter of when will the inevitable happen?

It is of course in this inevitability that the zombie genre has made it’s impact over the years. The sense of impending doom makes even the smallest victories seem important but as the series goes on I do find myself becoming desensitized to most of the acton. For example, in the past some of the actions have really made me feel sad or unhappy with the choices that I made. But in this episode when things go crazy; I just didn’t care.

Most of the characters I can barely remember their names and when a new character appears I don’t even want to try and befriend them as I only really care about Clementine and her alone. Which brings another problem in itself. Playing as Clementine really makes her feel way more invincible than the previous season. Unless she is killed in a season finale and we then start playing as someone completely new, she’s completely untouchable. This results in a terrified little girl being an almost unstoppable killing machine and again takes any sort of consequence from any actions the game gives me. Clementine will always live and as she is the only one I care about surviving during an attack, the action becomes very stale and rather boring.

I really wonder if this is Telltale’s fault and whether they can turn it around or if it’s just an inevitable result of the genre. There’s only so far they can run with the concept before I become completely bored and just switch off immediately like I already have done with the TV show. At times this episode felt like a chore that I just had to get through and I actually felt relieved at the end. Not because of the stress of the situation or choices I had made, but that it was finally over with.

In previous episodes this season I talked about difficult decisions I was forced to make that I really took my time in answering and really felt reflected the way the character would react in that situation. But in this episode so many of the conversations felt completely flat and just filler until the next big set piece happened and X amount of the cast was killed off. The previous dynamic of Carver and whether he wants to protect or hurt the group has been completely thrown away in favor of a generic travelling on the road, avoiding zombies type of story.

The game still looks stunning, the voice acting is in the top tier for the medium and the sound is impeccable. These elements have never been in question. Ultimately this games stands or stumbles on the strength of it’s story and after the first season delivered so dramatically this season have been good but slowly got worse. I’m curious what direction the finale will end up in as there is no obvious end goal or motivation for the characters like Lee had. Now it’s just ‘survive’ and that just isn’t that compelling.

I really hope the season finale can completely eradicate the problems and concerns I have with not only this episode but the series as a whole. I have thoroughly enjoyed a vast majority of episodes but with a third season already announced I really fear the series could turn from nail biting to boring very quickly. Without any of character of significance except the protagonist I find it hard to care about my actions and Telltale should look to The Wolf Among Us to fix these problems as it didn’t just include a strong protagonist but an incredible supporting cast also. I have faith based on the series’ past that I can once again be enthralled in the story; but if the finale doesn’t deliver I may question whether to turn up to the next season at all.

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P.T, Silent Hills & the Strange Genius of Hideo Kojima

It started with a mysterious teaser during Sony’s Gamescom press conference on Tuesday. Entitled P.T, brief footage was shown along with reactions to players experiencing the demo and then the news that everyone could play it now by downloading it from the store immediately. Once the conference had finished I quickly went to download it as I’m a huge survival horror fan and was very intrigued by this new game from an unknown studio. The demo is very tense and atmospheric with no menus or tips on how to play; you simply start walking down a corridor in hopes of learning what on earth is going on.

Learning of what happened in the house via a radio report, suddenly it cuts out with a mysterious voice saying “Behind you, look behind you.” As I slowly turned around a demon was right in my face and let’s just say I let out a shriek that I wasn’t even aware I was capable of. After this initial scare, I settled down and became more intrigued in how to actually progress. I looked at ripped up pictures and started to progress to new areas, whilst still being terrified that the demon would show it’s ugly face once again.

Without completely delving into what else happens, I really liked the simplistic approach but it did seem very random how you do get certain events to trigger. Eventually the phone rang and I finally got to leave the house. As I walked down the street, the names Hideo Kojima, Guillermo Del Toro & Norman Reedus appear on screen before the name of the game that’s being teased is finally revealed: SILENT HILLS. Wow.

An incredibly creative way to announce a new title, Kojima seems to be really experimenting lately after pulling a similar stunt when announcing what became Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Given that this teaser does not reflect what the final game will become, what can we expect? Well judging by the short sequence at the end it’s not that crazy to assume The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus will be the main protagonist, also assuming the main game will be played in third person like previous games.

One thing we can learn is that clearly atmosphere and simplicity will play a part in Kojima’s vision of what a Silent Hill game should be. Whilst still very basic, P.T certainly made me feel very uncomfortable which is something only a handful of horror games have ever done and certainly not in the recent Silent Hill games.

Kojima has already said he wants this game to “make you shit your pants” which the demo certainly did. He also said back in 2012 “Silent Hill in a closed room setting and doesn’t require full action so that we can focus on the graphic quality. Enemy doesn’t have to be a lot or move fast. It only requires scariness by graphics and presentation. As being a creator making action game in open world, such game is very enviously attractive. ” You can certainly see that in P.T.

The other name attached is acclaimed film director Guillermo Del Toro. This one is more interesting as we don’t know in what capacity Del Toro will be involved. While more known for his film and TV work, Del Toro is still no stranger to the video game world. Most notably was a survival horror game called inSANE that Del Toro was to direct which is currently lost in development hell but supposedly not cancelled. Perhaps some of his work on this title will be used in Silent Hills? One thing Del Toro has proven himself on over the years is his monster design and I look forward to see what he can come up with inside Silent Hill‘s twisted universe.

What is most crazy from all of this is that I’m genuinely excited for a Silent Hill game again. Just like Resident Evil, these two franchises I have loved playing for years but in recent times have really turned into something I don’t enjoy. With the news of an enhanced Resident Evil remake and now this news also I am thrilled to see both franchises hopefully being treated with the respect they deserve. With The Evil Within also just around the corner, I really hope console survival horror is back to it’s best and horror fans certainly have a lot to look forward to. Even if Silent Hills probably won’t come out for at least another 12-18 months.

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Octodad: Dadliest Catch: An Indie Adventure that Brings the Laughs (PS4)

Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a premise you’ve probably experienced many times in videogames before. You play as someone who has settled down with a wife and children and you must perform regular day to day tasks. Oh, and you’re an octopus. In a suit. And everyone treats you just like a regular guy. OK, so it probably isn't something you see everyday but it’s from this ridiculous premise that this indie game is born and creates an experience that is very unique on the PlayStation 4 right now.

The challenge comes in controlling Octodad with the two sticks and shoulder buttons as things go about as well as you would imagine if an octopus was made to mow the lawn or create a cup of coffee. At times I became a little frustrated with the random element to controlling Octodad that seemed to never go away. However, the entire game and it’s humor relies completely on this mechanic and if things went smoothly it just wouldn’t be the same experience. The carnage and unintended havoc that happens from the most simplest of tasks is part of the fun and it’s in the face of these issues that it does feel rather great when you pull off what you were trying to achieve.

The game is relatively short, it took me under three hours to finish my first time playing. The trophy list is smart as it adds more of a challenge to the game such as throwing the ring onto your soon to be wife’s finger instead of just placing it. Trying for these more difficult approaches to scenarios adds more length if you crave more after the game is finished. While it would have been nice if it were longer, I’m glad the game continues to be funny throughout its duration instead of outstaying its welcome at any time.

There are a bunch of different environments to explore and cause havoc in and the game progresses at a good pace so you never get tired of a section, for the most part. Some sections require a stealth approach, while others focus on creating the least amount of havoc as possible. My favorite sections are when a simple task is hard to achieve. It’s a shame these sections are more towards the start of the game as the experience does fizzle out slightly the further you progress.

Octodad actually has a surprisingly good story and can be somewhat touching at times. The whole thing is tongue in cheek but when we learn of his origins and after he gets split up from his family I definitely felt more for the characters than I ever expected to before playing. It’s nice that from a crazy premise, the developers managed to create a decent story with interesting characters. And a very good villain throughout.

Some sections definitely drag on more than others however. Shopping in the supermarket is a joy and perfectly nails the tone of trying to complete simple tasks with hilarious consequences. But when in an arcade and we have to complete numerous different games before being able to progress, it does feel rather tedious. Some of the games are so luck based that I just really wanted to move on and the joke became very close to becoming annoying before eventually managing to progress to a more fun section.

Comedy in videogames is something that for many years was assumed to be kind of an impossible task. With timing being everything, and the nature of how we experience games in our own time it seemed inevitable that these elements would clash. This year, with first the release of the incredible South Park: The Stick of Truth and now Octodad: Dadliest Catch, it seems this idea of comedy not being possible has been completely thrown away. Even games like Goat Simulator show that games can make you laugh if they are approached in a completely different style to other areas of comedy. It seems in this still new medium that developers are finally starting to realize this more than ever before.

There is a co-op mode where up to four players can control different limbs of Octodad, just in case you thought he wasn’t hard enough to control in the first place (No one will think this). It once again cranks up the difficulty and therefore at times can be funnier but also maybe too hard for some of the more intricate sections of the game.

The Playstation 4′s commitment to indie titles has already become increasingly obvious with titles such as Outlast and Mercenary Kings finding great reception on a console you would assume owners would want to play blockbuster games on. Octodad: Dadliest Catch is another example of a fresh and unique title that doesn’t have next gen graphics or features but is still a very fun but somewhat basic game that should be played by anyone wanting a smaller experience and many, many laughs.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth: The Funniest Video Game Ever

It is a slight miracle that South Park: The Stick of Truth has even got released. This game’s turbulent history has been well publicized over the years from THQ’s collapse and switching publishers to it’s numerous delays. You would be forgiven in fearing the worst for this title. After playing the game for 30 minutes those fears soon evaporate and you quickly realize you are playing something special here. South Park: The Stick of Truth is not only one of the best licensed games you’ll play, it is a deeply rewarding RPG that will keep you entertained throughout it’s entire duration. As long as you don’t get offended by anything like fighting Nazi Zombie aborted fetuses or throwing your excrement at a enemy that is.

The story is straight out of the classic South Park playbook and if you’ve seen the recent console wars trilogy of episodes you will be immediately aware of what’s going on here. You play as a new kid who has moved to South Park for unknown reasons and you must simply make friends and settle in as much as possible. The boys are of course playing their usual role playing games and this time it involves keeping hold of the all powerful stick that controls the universe.

Once you have initially chosen you character class (four options including the aptly titled Jew) and given brief tutorials on how to battle, you are given freedom to most of the entire town to explore. Some areas are inaccessible due to needing keys or new powers that you will learn later in the game in classic RPG fashion, but initially the area you can explore is rather remarkable.

Pretty much the entire town has been plotted out for the first time in the show’s history and you can walk straight from your house, take a trip to see the goths hanging by the school, swing by the church and see if you can ‘find Jesus,’ or just go for a drink at Skeeter’s Bar. Huge fans of the show will find it incredibly fascinating to just walk around for the first few hours of playing and see all there is to offer in this world, and there is a lot.

Battles play out very similarly to turn based games such as Paper Mario in the genre, where you fight up to four enemies at a time alongside your buddy of choice which you can switch at any time from the likes of Butters and Kenny to fan favorite Cartman. Each character has their own special moves so you won’t just want to stick with one character as the fun you get from experimenting with each one is great.

I found the combat to be extremely rewarding, something which I did not expect going in. At first it seems slightly basic as you can rely on the same moves for a lot of the early enemies but as time progresses you really have to start thinking about what you can do in each battle. The difficulty progresses nicely to the point that by the end of the game you are pulling off combos and moves that you wouldn’t have dreamed of doing when you first started playing. Don’t let the game’s length fool you. This may not be a tradition RPG but it is certainly as fun to play as any I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

The game looks identical to the show, something which must have been harder than it looks to pull off. So many different areas are filled with gorgeous art that you will only see once, it is clear that an incredible amount of work and care has gone into making this the most faithful recreation of the show that we’ve ever seen. Growing up watching the show and now playing the game as a young adult, it’s really a dream come true to finally feel like you are in the show.

The sound design is perfect as all the characters are voiced by their TV show counterparts and everything feels just like it should. So many little touches have been made such as hearing Terrance and Phillip episodes when you walk past a TV to hearing so many songs from the show’s past when you walk into a shop such as the montage song or Sexual Harassment Panda’s theme tune.

The loot you collect which can be sold for money is mainly references from the show which ranges from every episode throughout the show’s history. Basically, if you have a favorite episode, there probably is at least one reference to it in this game. The fan service on display is unlike anything I have ever seen in a game before and the more you like the show, the more you are gonna love playing this game.

Outside of the main quest is a bunch of different side quests that have you meet tons of familiar faces from the show’s past. They range from the simple such as helping Stan fight his older sister Shelley to get his iPod back to the epic such as helping Al Gore track down ManBearPig, with hilarious consequences. These all help to break up the main quest and lengthen the game to be around twelve hours long to finish. This is short for an RPG but this isn’t a traditional RPG.

There is zero grinding involved in the entire game. You also rarely have to go to the same place multiple times, there are actually entire sequences you will only see once. With grinding and repeating content, they could have easily doubled the time it takes to finish but there really is no need. It feels like a complete and focused experience this way. Plus you can always replay it if you crave more like myself.

Character customization plays a huge part in the game as you can choose pretty much everything you see on your character. After initially choosing your characters looks you can change your outfit from hundreds of different options, each with their own battle benefits. You unlock more as you progress as well as buying them from the cash you procure. You can even change your characters looks by going to Tom’s Rhinoplasty for an expensive procedure. I’d recommend the Hasselhoff nose job for one of the game’s best jokes.

One of the big draws of South Park: The Stick of Truth is of course it’s humor and jokes as you basically get around twelve hours of new South Park content to dig into. I wouldn’t dream of ruining any of them here but I was astounded at how the game kept me both entertained and in hysterics for a majority of the time. Towards the end of the game when you would expect things to tail off it just kept getting better and one of the final sequences is one of my favorite things I’ve ever played in a video game.

I should note that I played the EU censored version of the game. The only parts that are censored involved anal probing and abortions and I have watched the respective sections online so I know what I missed out on. I think it’s actually ridiculous that the censors chose these scenes to censor as they are nowhere near the most offensive in the game. I think they just wanted to show they censored something to avoid the inevitable complaints, but really this is just a small footnote in what this game has to offer.

Some slight issues I had with the game involved not explaining some sections that greatly. The fart tutorials in particular did a horrible job of showing how they are done and I was stuck on how to get passed it for a few tries. In game they are really easy to execute I just felt that the tutorial was very misleading. Having beat the game twice already this is a very minor issue, but I feel I should mention it as it did frustrate me during my first time playing.

When it comes down to it you really have to ask yourself, how much do you like South Park? Even though I thoroughly believe that this game has very solid and fun RPG mechanics, it is still wrapped up completely in South Park’s brand of humor. If you don’t like the show it will be hard to put up with a fart joke for the 10th time in a row just to play the game. If you like the show then I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t have a blast playing this game.

As a fan who grew up loving the show and has faded in and out of love with it over the years, South Park: The Stick of Truth was a complete breath of fresh air and has invigorated the entire show for myself. After completion I immediately wanted to go back and watch old episodes and reminisce all the great moments that are so greatly represented in this game. I don’t think we’ll ever see a bigger love letter or faithful recreation of a TV show like this again and this is definitely one to soak up and enjoy for a long time indeed.

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The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2: A House Divided - Things Aren’t Gonna Get Any Easier

A House Divided is one of the more interesting episodes of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, across both seasons, so far. Clementine has been through a lot (to say the least) since she was first introduced to us. Growing up in this world has made her far tougher and grown up than she should be at her age and she has pretty much nothing left to fight for except herself and yet still finds a way to carry on. But perhaps most devastatingly the worst is probably yet to come, and that could be just around the corner in an episode that nicely sets up how the rest of this season will play out.

One of the best character introductions so far this season is that of Carver, voiced by the impeccable Michael Madsen. From the second he hits the screen you immediately feel unnerved by his cigarette and whiskey soaked tones, but there is also a slight sense of maybe he is just being unfairly represented. Just because you have a deep voice doesn’t make you a bad guy and this element of which way a person will go is something which is heavily present throughout the whole episode.

Trust plays a huge part in this world as knowing who to side with can really be the difference between life and death. This episode plays out like a civil war, with Clementine stuck right in the middle. We see two clear factions developing with people we both like and dislike on both sides, and choosing where to lay our allegiances is rather difficult. We are constantly being pulled both ways and it doesn’t feel nice.

Something as simple as choosing where to sit to eat dinner becomes one of the most difficult decisions you have to make as you don’t want to alienate either group. Ultimately you can only look after yourself and if certain people don’t like you, so be it. You can chose to align with a few individuals to help you along the way, but in the end it is just you against the world. A world that is out to kill you at every second.

There are more references to previous events here than we have ever seen before, pulling you in emotionally by bringing up the past. Lee’s presence is still felt as he is mentioned by name on several occasions and is a constant reminder of both the best and worst this world has to offer to a young girl trying to survive. It doesn’t feel gratuitous though, and makes sense in the story after the impact he has had on so many people to be a strong influence on the remaining survivors.

Many wondered if Clementine would return for this season let alone be the protagonist and we speculated how things may play out. Introducing an entirely new plot inside the same universe would have been nice but with how invested we are in this character, it would have been a complete waste of something special. It is becoming increasingly more obvious than ever before how important she is to this franchise, as this whole thing could completely fall apart without her.

New characters can come and go so quickly, it could become slightly close to all feeling rather pointless. If we don’t have enough time to establish a connection with someone, I really don’t care what happens to them. Without Clementine, we have no stakes. I hope other characters get enough time to build a status within the game, and this episode does this job far better than previously with Carver’s introduction, but perhaps having only one star of the show could potentially hurt the franchise in the future. Only time will tell.

Also present are some of the best dialogue scenes Telltale have crafted and they seem to just be improving as time goes on. The options we are given to certain situations all feel very natural and what we might actually say given the chance. It goes beyond just completely agreeing or disagreeing with someone and helps to further blur the already fuzzy lines of trust in the narrative.

The lack of action in the episode wasn’t a problem at all and perfectly showcased how it isn’t really needed. It didn’t feel dialogue heavy as the tension on offer did more than enough to pull me in than any scene involving killing a bunch of walkers ever could. When the story is at its best, it does the talking.

Also it is with great happiness that I can report I experienced zero issues with the game during my entire play through on the Xbox 360. Every episode of both seasons so far have at least some small frame rate issues and I wondered if it was just a problem with their engine which would never be fixed on this platform. It seems that is not the case and this small niggling problem I’ve had for sometime should now hopefully be a thing of the past.

The final moments are the perfect conclusion to the episode and one of the most tense situations we have ever been forced to endure. It equally sums up an episode while also setting up the next, a fine balance to strike which has been executed here perfectly. The length was exactly what we have grown to expect at this point and doesn’t drag or rush by too soon. I always feel left wanting more in the best way possible.

Since Telltale released the first ever episode of The Walking Dead back in 2012, I’ve slightly wondered when they are gonna finally slip up. Maybe release one episode that is way below the standard and we all ponder if they can get back on top. Sure, some episodes have been better than others but the overall standard of each episode has been incredible when you stop and think about it. If this were a TV show we would be applauding how it continues to deliver over and over again, and I only hope this fantastic trend continues throughout the rest of the season.

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What’s next for Irrational Games, Ken Levine & the BioShock Franchise?

Last week brought some very sad news. You can read about all the details here but the short of it is this, Irrational Games as we know it is no more. Ken Levine will be working with a smaller team and BioShock‘s future is in the hands of 2K Games now. So what does this all mean? Let’s first start with Irrational Games.

Ken announced he was “winding down the company” and will continue to work at Take Two with a smaller team of around fifteen people. Of course the worst part about this is many talented people will be losing their jobs and that really sucks. After building a huge team to finish BioShock Infinite, it was no surprise that they couldn’t keep the same team and lots of other development studios have already reached out to the effected team members in looking to recruit these people. Whether Ken will keep the Irrational name is still unclear, but it is unlikely at this point and it is a real shame this great studio is no more.

Hopefully all the developers will find work at other studios or perhaps even make their own, smaller indie studios. Maybe we get a bunch of new indie games come out of Boston due to this closure and it creates the next indie boom within the industry.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of this news is what Ken Levine does next within the industry. Ken is, in my opinion, one of the true auteurs of video game development and one of a very select few that I would argue could stand among the best film directors around. It is no surprise to me he has been tapped up by the film industry to write the script for the re-imagining of Logan’s Run.

With this project already ongoing I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken isn’t entirely ready to jump back into another project like Infinite that took around six years to complete. A smaller team to start pre-production makes complete sense and as the years and development ramps up they can always recruit when necessary.

And of course there is the future of BioShock games, which in complete uncertainty. With 2K acquiring the rights, you can guarantee we will see more games and don’t be shocked if it comes in the near future. It is well documented that Infinite wasn’t profitable after it’s long development period and they will want to gain more on that investment as soon as possible.

A sequel set in Columbia that uses all the previous assets and animations seems almost too easy for 2K to make within a pretty short time. It is highly unlikely that whoever the new studio that takes over the franchise will build their own world rather than just borrow from both Rapture and Columbia, an interesting idea could be a game that takes place in both worlds at the same time.

The positive is that the possibilities are endless and the thought of revisiting Columbia certainly doesn’t feel contrived at this point. Without the sense of wonder or the incredible narrative of Infinite the game certainly wont feel the same, but the amount of things still to explore definitely leaves future games with way more potential than you might first think, even without Ken at the helm.

I absolutely adore BioShock Infinite as a video game and won’t shy away from calling it one of my favorite games of all time. The fact that this news has happened is really unfortunate but also adds to the entire Infinite story. This game is fascinating from a development standpoint and we might not see chances taken of a huge ambitious project like this one for a very long time, at least outside of maybe one or two studios.

Hopefully the news doesn’t have a negative effect on the game’s lineage and be remembered as the project that killed the studio but rather something special that might not ever be recreated. The game sold well but with the costs over the years mounting it really needed to ship 15 million plus to become profitable, something which is just impossible.

I hope every single person that worked on the game that was laid off finds themselves a worthy project now this chapter has ended. Hopefully Ken Levine continues to put his creative output in this industry rather than elsewhere, be it smaller projects or ones of this scale. And I really hope that whoever takes over the BioShock franchise treats it with half the amount of care and love that it’s previous owners did with it.

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The Last of Us: Left Behind – Welcome Back to Paradise?

Single player DLC for story based games is a tricky one. The best stories are usually self contained and any attempt to try to add to that later always seem below par or rather pointless. Add to the fact that it comes eight months after the game’s release and doesn’t involve the main protagonist you would think this would be a recipe for disaster. Well Naughty Dog doesn’t care. With Left Behind, they have just delivered the best DLC since Rockstar’s releases for Grand Theft Auto IV. If you enjoyed The Last of Us in any shape or form, I highly recommend you to play this release. I promise you won’t regret it.

Left Behind shows us a different side to Ellie, one that further adds to the character and proves that this can’t be the last we see of her. She’s just too good for Naughty Dog to not include in the inevitable sequel. This time Ellie is joined by Riley, a character we previously only saw in the excellent prequel comics that were released. Set before the events of the main game, this is not the battle hardened Ellie we knew by the end of our time, but more fresh faced and innocent to the world around her.

Most of the game involves Ellie and Riley exploring an abandoned mall and plays out just like two teenage girls visiting a familiar place, of course set against a post-apocalyptic world. We see just how close the two were and the chemistry between them as they playfully make fun of one another and tell jokes. We see how the simplest things can cause such joy like playing around with water guns. This game is filled with touching moments like these that are best experienced for yourself.

Of course it wouldn’t be The Last of Us without some conflict and it plays out similarly to that of the main game. However this time instead of just fighting infected or survivors we come across both at the same time, something that wasn’t present before. This small change does have a big impact on how scenarios play out and is something that I really hope they build upon in the future of the series. Throwing a brick near some approaching survivors so they get attacked by infected and then slowly picking off what is left of the battle feels fantastic. Especially as Ellie who would rather avoid combat than Joel who isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty.

Speaking of Joel, this game does slightly lack due to his absence but not as much as I expected. To me, Joel is one of the all time great protagonists so he would have always been missed, but Riley and Ellie’s relationship as friends who have seen better times fills the void perfectly that is left by the lack of the father/daughter dynamic that progressed previously.

Left Behind isn’t afraid to pull punches and contains many moments that will shock and surprise you. Of course talking about them here wouldn’t be fair, but if you thought the opening of the game couldn’t be topped, I think they may have done it. Never becoming cheesy or shocking for the sake of it, everything plays out the way you would expect and the way the characters should react and is a fine addition to what is becoming an incredible video game story. If you were worried this DLC would feel sub standard to the main game, fear not.

Once again the game is absolutely stunning to look at and the different locations are beautifully well created. Perhaps the game’s crowning achievement is that of its voice acting, arguably the greatest the medium has ever seen. Riley is an exceptional new character and my only complaint is that it took this long for us to see her. Ellie is even better here than she was previously and it seems obvious she is the star of the show going forward for the franchise.

Some will feel short changed by the game’s length which only took me two hours to finish, but I don’t agree. As the end credits rolled I was left both fulfilled and wanting more. This is perfect as I am now even more interested in a sequel than I was before, hoping that everything we have experienced both here and in the main game will continue. The main game’s final moments now have even more resonance and I’m excited to see how Ellie’s story will continue. Left Behind is definitely worth the price of admission and is the perfect way to close this chapter or to start the next one. Now I’m left dying to find out what happens next.

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The Wolf Among Us Episode 2: Smoke & Mirrors: Deception Personified

The ability to release episodic content instead of a complete product can have both positive and negative effects. On one hand it means you are delivered a story at the pace the developer wants you to consume it, you have time to think things through and speculate what might happen next and are left chomping at the bit for when you will be given more. On the other hand it can slow the pace of a story down as you can’t completely remember all the intricacies and you could lose interest in a story that perhaps you would have been gripped by, where it say a book where you can read it at your own pace.

A four month gap is not what Telltale would have wanted for The Wolf Among Us and I have already said this shouldn’t happen for the next episode, so does it impact the story? It is testament to the writing that so far I am still very invested in the characters and world, even though I maybe had hoped for a little more in the long awaited return of the series. In today’s world of TV box set marathons and Netflix binges it’s rather painful at times waiting for new content but if you have the patience, you definitely won’t regret it.

Following Episode 1 was always going to be tough as it was so excellently executed in nearly every area. Being introduced to all the characters and their back stories as well as setting up what the main plot of the story will be was fantastic and trying to build upon that foundation is no easy feat. With a massive cliffhanger at the end of Episode 1, fans have been dying to find out more and that’s where expectations could have possibly exceeded what you should have expected.

A twist shortly after the episode begins does somewhat negate the impact of it’s predecessor but in the long term I think it makes for an even more interesting story, even if we are heading in a different direction to the one you could have possibly been speculating on for the previous months. The world and it’s rules are really starting to take shape now and feel very fleshed out. If the term “Glamour” isn’t a regular part of your vocabulary by now then maybe this game isn’t for you.

Bigby is becoming more interesting and layered as time progresses and is really starting to become one of the great video game protagonists. Choosing to be kind to some while mean to others is not just a basic button prompt but rather a personality trait that you are learning to develop. I find myself for the most part being nice to someone in the beginning as I would like to think people are willing to cooperate with a sheriff in the middle of a murder investigation. But if someone won’t help after being asked nicely or is being irrationally aggressive, I’m not afraid to get physical. Hell, last episode I ripped a guy’s arm clean off for being a jerk.

The supporting cast also isn’t just there to fill up the numbers but rather integral in both setting up the story and the key to solving what is going on. I am starting to feel sorry for The Woodsman after initially being very hostile towards him and wonder how many people know more information than they like to let on. Mr. Toad is still an hilarious character which is very well voice acted and it was nice to see repercussions from the actions of the last episode.

The introduction of Georgie is maybe the best scene in the whole episode as we see him in his natural habitat and are immediately filled with different emotions on how to deal with him. It is most likely that you wanted to hurt the guy and I don’t blame you, but ultimately he isn’t the worst person we will encounter during time in Fabletown. Perhaps the only flaw is that the entire cast can’t all get an equal amount of screen time. Where is the love for Colin?

Once again the only complaint to be had is the frame rate issues and lag that like to rear their ugly head on a rather unfortunate consistent basis. Prevalent in both the previous episode and in The Walking Dead, it seems to just be a problem with Telltale’s engine on Xbox 360. It is not enough to ruin the flow or break the gameplay but a seemingly small problem that, if fixed, would just make an enjoyable experience that much better.

The adult nature of the story continues in full force showing that Telltale really isn’t afraid of pulling any punches. We are tasked with examining a corpse, interrogating (with the option of torturing) someone for information, visiting a strip club, and also searching a murder scene. The dialogue again is excellent whether it’s Bigby’s interactions with Magic Mirror, Mr. Toad and his love of F-bombs, Georgie and his unique turn of phrase or Beauty with her almost heart wrenching pleas of innocence in the face of danger. The exceptional voice work combined with fantastic writing helps every single character develop their own personality which is the key to establishing the tone and setting.

Smoke and Mirrors is a fine episode that is keeping with Telltale’s high standards of late and is definitely a worthy addition for the season. By the time the entire season has been released I don’t think it will be remembered as the best or the worst but rather a solid entry that sets up more than it progresses. A long wait does unfairly impact this episode more than it should as I really wanted more, another unfortunate consequence of Telltale creating such a fantastic story. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode and am already looking forward to the next one. Let’s hope it comes sooner this time around though.

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Where Should Microsoft Take Gears of War Next?

If you missed it earlier Microsoft announced some pretty big news that affects the future of the Xbox One. They have purchased the Gears of War IP from Epic Games for all existing and future games as well as entertainment experiences and merchandise rights. Not only that they also announced that Black Tusk studios will be developing the next game in the series and that Rod Fergusson has joined the studio in a leadership role to oversee the future of the franchise. Thats definitely a lot to take in.

Lets backtrack slightly and look at the history of the series which shows this was pretty much an inevitability. After Epic finished work on the trilogy it was clear they had no further plans for the series and many key players at the studio left. After what now looks like pressure from Microsoft to release a new game, Epic worked alongside People Can Fly and released GOW: Judgment which is as close to a cash grab in a franchise you can get. It makes sense that Epic have done everything they want with the series and with it being Microsoft’s 2nd biggest exclusive franchise on the Xbox 360, it’s no surprise they want to continue releasing new games. So this deal pretty much benefits both sides.

So what does this mean for the series itself? The trilogy was wrapped up very nicely and Judgment showed that even with a nonsense story that made no sense, fantastic gameplay and entertainment can carry you a very long way as it was still a fun game. It would make sense to try and set up a brand new trilogy as it not only is the most profitable idea but it seems to be the in thing to do right now. That leads them with two options; use all the old characters from the first 3 games or start a brand new story with new characters in the same setting.

I think brand new characters is what would be best for the series as I really liked the conclusion in GOW 3 and wouldn't want them to start messing with it by trying to find ways to start the conflict once again. Of course trying to sell brand new characters even in a recognisable brand is very risky and something I think Microsoft have zero intention on doing. Considering how reluctant they are to make Halo games without Master Chief, which is a more well known franchise, this shows me the chances of a new trilogy without Marcus and co is very small indeed. Which is a real shame.

Of course there is no need to totally jump into a new trilogy right away. They could just make another stand alone game and try out many new ideas and concepts. After all, this is brand new hardware and an almost completely different team working on the series for the first time. Again history shows us Microsoft isn’t too worried about this after 343 Industries dived straight into a new Halo trilogy (They did Halo Anniversary but this wasn't a new game) so it wouldn't surprise me if they do the same here. Again, I just don’t think the business decisions they are likely to make reflect what I think is best for the franchise.

I personally love the Gears of War franchise. It gets a lot of hate for being a bro shooter but I still think it has by far the best third person shooter mechanics in any game and is still one of the most fun experiences I have playing with friends via co-op, horde or multiplayer. I do however find myself extremely reluctant to get excited about a new game. Some things are best left untouched and after an incredible trilogy, I would be happy if I never played another game in the series. I would rather see the talented people that made it do something else and this is pretty much what has happened.

There are two people that made the series what it is today more than anyone else. The first is Cliff Bleszinski who left Epic after GOW 3 and since then has been enjoying his retirement. He has talked a lot recently about wanting to form a new studio and create a new shooter for the PC and to me that is more exciting than anything GOW related in the future.

The 2nd person is Rod Fergusson. Him being involved in the future of the franchise is the only thing that gives me a glimmer of hope that the new games could be anywhere the quality of it’s predecessors. However even with Rod involved he is still only one person and with a completely new team and ideas on what the franchise should be, who knows which direction the new games will go in.

Considering the amount of money Microsoft had to spend to get this IP it wouldn't surprise me if their goal is to release a new game every other year alongside Halo so they have at least one game from the two franchises released each year. This is exactly what I don’t want from the franchise and it is with love and a heavy heart that I would rather see the series disappear than just become some annual thing that never feels new or exciting.

I will obviously reserve judgment until the game is released but as my favorite series from the last generation, I want experiences on the next generation to not be the same old thing as before. Hopefully they can make it feel like something new in a familiar setting but the chances of that actually happening are so slim, I would rather just keep the great memories I had with the franchise and move on.

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Mattallica's 2013 Prediction Results & 2014 Predictions

Better late than never. I just remembered I did some gaming predictions for the year of 2013 back in January 5th last year and I haven’t checked the results yet. Last year I got 3 out of 5 correct so let’s see if I can do better or fail miserably! These were posted on this very blog so you can go back and check and I’ll reveal my 2014 predictions after these results. Here are my 2013 predictions.

1. A Call of Duty game will NOT be the best selling game of 2013, across all platforms.

CORRECT. For the first time in 4 years, a Call of Duty game was not the best selling game of the year. Not much to add to this one other than I incorrectly predicted this in 2012 and the game that beat it ties into my next prediction.

2. GTA V will break the entertainment launch record (Overall income in 24 hours).

CORRECT. GTA V holds multiple records and one of them is best overall income in 24 hours. I was entirely convinced this would happen from the second it was announced back in November 2011 due to how high the install base currently is for Xbox 360 and PS3. A worthy holder of the record.

3. Sony will announce the new PlayStation before Microsoft announces the new Xbox.

CORRECT. This is a pretty boring one just because it was a 50/50 shot anyway. My thinking was that Sony would announce first because they wouldn't want to be chasing Microsoft like last time and it ended up being announced pretty far ahead of the Xbox One. A whole 3 months to gain goodwill with the public and it definitely helped create the good buzz the console seems to currently hold.

4. Smash Brothers on Wii U will be officially announced this year. It will NOT come out in 2013.

WRONG. This was pretty dumb on my part. Turns out the game was first announced back in 2011 so this was a silly thing to say. We didn’t see anything or even get a logo back then but it was officially announced by Nintendo at E3 2011 so I was wrong. It didn’t come out in 2013 so I could give myself half a point but screw that, this one was just plain wrong.

5. Metal Gear Solid 5 will be announced exclusively for the new PlayStation.

WRONG. This one I feel slightly unlucky on. We already knew about Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain had been shown but was not officially known as a Metal Gear Solid game so this prediction seemed completely unlikely to happen. Then The Phantom Pain was revealed as MGS 5 with Ground Zeroes acting as a prologue and suddenly this wasn't so silly. Unfortunately the game is coming to everything and isn't exclusive so no points here. Damn you Kojima!

So 3 out of 5 once again. Not too bad but considering they were pretty safe and one prediction had zero chance of being right, I didn't do so well. Here’s the exciting part, new predictions! Here are my 5 gaming predictions for 2014:

1. GTA V will be released for PC in 2014.

Pretty safe one to open things up. I’ve been saying this for over a year that the game would come to PC at a later date. Sort out the launch problems, get the DLC out and then port the game. I feel like if this doesn't happen then something very strange happened to Rockstar in 2014 that stopped it.

2. Fallout 4 will be announced but won't be released in 2014.

OK, so this is extremely safe but I want it to happen so I’m still going to include it. The leaks for this game are getting silly now and there’s no smoke without fire. I can’t see how we get past E3 and this game still isn’t officially announced by Bethesda. Just talk about it already!

3. Rockstar Games will announce their next game in 2014 but it won't release this year. It will be Bully 2.

This may surprise some people so I should give some context. A new Rockstar published game has been released every year since 2008 (GTA IV, Episodes from Liberty City, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3 and GTA V). I think most of 2014 will still be focused on GTA V. New DLC, add ons to GTA Online and porting to PC. I do however think towards the end of the year Rockstar will want to tease what they have planned for 2015 and I think it will be Bully 2.

They have talked about it for ages now and are clearly fans of the franchise and want to make another. Unlike games like Manhunt that never get mentioned, Bully pops up in developer conversations all the time. The team that made Bully then made Max Payne 3, and since that game shipped they seem to be working on something else. I also think it makes sense to release a somewhat safe game as the first foray on the new consoles. They won’t want to dive straight back into Red Dead until the install base is higher so I think Bully 2 is the perfect title for them to begin building open world games on the new consoles and will be lapped up by the hardcore community.

4. A Kinect based, instrument-free Rock Band reboot will be announced in 2014, coming exclusively to Xbox One.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about this as a possibility but I thought of the idea a few months back and think it seems like the perfect idea. I don’t know if the new Kinect is powerful enough to track individual finger movements so you could play air guitar and it know what notes you are hitting but if it can then this could be huge.

Rhythm games were massive at one point and I think if you can remove the need for silly plastic instruments you could potentially have a system seller on your hands. Again, I have no idea if this is even capable but if it is, the potential is insane.

5. Resident Evil 7 is announced. It continues the shitty, downward trend of the franchise and depresses survival horror fans around the world.

I saying this one with a pinch of snideness but I really hope I’m wrong. I hope the next time we see Resident Evil it is a complete reboot and starts things from scratch. New consoles is the perfect time as you don't need to rely on numbered sequels anymore but I can’t see it happening. What I see is RE7 announced, looks even more action-based with machine guns and helicopter crashes and makes me want to cut myself. I love this franchise too much to see it treated the way it currently is.

BONUS PREDICTION: The Getaway returns for PS4!!!

I included this as a bonus prediction as I’m one of the only people that want it to happen but I’m hoping this somehow serves as a self fulfilling prophecy. I wrote a post before about how I think Sony having it’s own exclusive open world crime game could be great for the system and considering they own the IP, theoretically nothing is stopping them. Except the fact that the previous games didn't sell that well and would cost a lot to make but those are just minor roadblocks right? I really hope so.

So there we have it. 5 more predictions that will make me look very silly in one year’s time. These are just for fun so let me know what your predictions are, however safe or ridiculous they may be. Until next time...

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