All That Remains: Was It Worth The Wait?

The difficult second album. Trying to follow up from something so loved is one of the hardest things to pull off in any medium. The stigma of whether you can continually reach the same level or whether it was just a fluke can be a very scary task. Expectations for Season 2 of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead couldn't be higher after the studio wowed us and picked up numerous awards for its first season in 2012. With a whole year of waiting beforehand, I couldn't wait to dive back into the world to see if lightning could strike twice for the series. And as far as first steps go, this definitely met my expectations so far.

After a quick recap of the first season we are thrown straight back into action however this time we are in control of the little girl we were first tasked with protecting, one little girl named Clementine. Make no mistake, Clementine is the star of the show here and Telltale know this. Putting her front and centre makes perfect sense after we established such a strong connection with the character and as soon as you start playing this episode you will remember all the struggles you went through previously.

The series is famous for it's gut wrenching, shocking moments and this episode certainly has its fair share of them. From the get go you will be tested mentally and will once again have to make difficult decisions under immense pressure. This is what the game is built upon and is still as powerful and meaningful as ever before.

There was however one section which I didn't feel had the same level of emotion as the rest. It involves Clementine coming across an animal and from the start it's inevitable which direction this storyline is heading. I felt it was cheap as its much easier to develop relationships with animals rather than humans in a short period of time and I felt it only served to give us yet another gut punch which was unjustified in the grand scheme of things.

Overall the game is incredibly tense at times and the sound design is excellent. It sets the tone perfectly and nails the setting of the universe. The episode features some action sequences which were very hit and miss previously but are definitely more fun to play this time around. They control similar to the combat scenes in Beyond: Two Souls, where you push the stick a certain direction to dodge that direction which works very intuitively.

I played through the game on Xbox 360 which is where I played all the previous content and my save file with all my previous decisions loaded fine. The game is still slightly laggy at times which was my biggest complaint with the last season which is slightly disappointing. It isn't immersion breaking but it can occasionally take you out of the experience. I hope it gets fixed in the upcoming episodes but considering its always been present I guess it's just something you have to deal with.

Towards the end of the episode there is a stealth section where you must sneak around a house to acquire different materials you are after. You can approach them in any order you like and the whole thing feels very tense as you crept past open doors as Clementine, worried you will be caught at any second. This is a completely new element to the series and I like that Telltale aren't afraid to try new things and adapt the series over time which help keeps the series fresh and exciting.

Visually the art style is unchanged and still looks as fantastic as it ever has. New character models and the subtle changes to Clementine are great and overall it is one of the most visually distinctive games on the market. Voice overs are excellent, with some lesser characters maybe less fleshed out than others, but most of the new characters are very well constructed and after a short period of time with them you immediately start to form opinions, be it good or bad.

One section which is bound to stand out is when Clementine has to make herself better after a rough encounter and is not for the faint hearted indeed. It seems to go on forever which I think is intentional and really is an unsympathetic, bleak scene which once again characterises this series perfectly. The end of the world is not a fun place to be and perhaps this series proves that point more than anyone else.

Overall the episode really feels like the aftermath of the first season, even the title says as much as Clementine is left completely alone in a scary world. The events that we previously went through meant something and we are now seeing the consequences, learning to survive without Lee for the first time whilst still using the techniques that he taught her. It really feels like the only way to connect the two seasons and with an interesting ending that forces you to make another split second difficult decision, it sets up the rest of season two incredibly well. Episode 2 can't come soon enough.

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Can Telltale Games Pull Off Their Busy 2014 Schedule?

If you didn’t know already, Telltale Games have been one of the fastest rising developers in the industry in the past couple of years. After the huge success of last year’s The Walking Dead which won countless game of the year awards, Telltale certainly have some ambitious plans for the future. As of right now the studio is currently working on FOUR episodic series for release in 2014. Let’s discuss what this means and without or not it is the best plan of action for the beloved studio.

The series which has undoubtedly gained the studio their most success is the aforementioned season 1 of The Walking Dead. Since the season ended what seems like ages ago back in November 2012 we haven’t had much to keep us interested. The nice but short DLC episode 400 Days arrived in July 2013 and since then we have to settle for just a promise that season 2 is coming. Looking likely to be arriving this month it will mark over one year between seasons and quite frankly I think that’s too long.

Of course these things take time but you really have to strike while the iron is hot and people are interested in your game. The industry has changed a lot since season 1 with the arrival of new consoles and you wonder if the momentum will continue for the new season. Will saves from previous consoles carry over or will some people have to go back to their old consoles if they want to continue their personal story? Lots of questions are hovering over whether Telltale can emulate the huge success with the new season.

Since The Walking Dead ended, Telltale have also started a new episodic series in the form of The Wolf Among Us. Episode 1 was released in October 2013 to great reception but we still haven’t got episode 2 yet and with TWD returning next we must assume it will be arriving early 2014. Is this too big of a gap between episodes which ideally should be coming every 1-2 months?

This brings us onto the new adventures Telltale are also taking up in 2014. Recently announced are the two new series in the form of Tales of Borderlands and a Game of Thrones adaptation. It is obvious that after their success in 2012 many people were interested in working with the studio and these two IPs seemed to big for them to refuse. But is it a good idea when they seem to already be struggling to hit dates? Let’s break it down.

History shows that Telltale like to take their time with things. 2013 so far has only produced Poker Night 2, 400 Days DLC, and The Wolf Among Us Episode 1. Compare this to what they want to release in 2014 and it seems pretty much impossible, but there is another way of looking at things.

Earlier in the year Telltale expanded to a new location and raised their number of employees from 125 to 160. Due to not releasing much content presumably this means there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes and all four series should already have a lot of work done on them. Telltale don’t like announcing things until shortly before they release them so it potentially means that The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead season 2 are further along than we think.

Again it is just purely speculation but in theory they could alternate now between the two series releasing one new episode a month and have them both finished by around August. They could then focus on their two new series for the rest of the year and pull off an incredible year of releases. That’s if everything goes to plan of course.

We ultimately won’t know whether they can pull it off until this time next year and while I’m rooting for them entirely, I do fear for the quality. The worst case scenario is that all the series become rushed to get them out on time and end up nowhere near their full potential. As someone who personally isn’t that interested in the two new announcements and hasn’t got around to playing The Wolf Among Us yet, I selfishly wish they would just focus on finally getting season 2 of The Walking Dead out. After all, one whole year of waiting already I’m worried they might not be able to recapture the magic that made us all fall in love with the series and Telltale as a studio in the first place.

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Is PS4's "Blue Ring of Death" A Genuine Concern For Potential Buyers?

You may have heard, but the PlayStation 4 launched last week in the US. It seems to be doing rather well, having already sold 1 million units and even with a pretty awful lineup of games, the system itself seems to be impressing everyone that has had the pleasure of using it so far. However, unsurprisingly every launch is not without it’s problems and Sony is not faring any different.

It seems a problem is arising, coined “Blue Ring of Death” after the Xbox 360’s insanely bad issue which rendered consoles useless after the red ring appeared, it seems that some consoles are suffering similar problems. It could be a whole host of issues that can cause the blue light and Sony have already released a long list of potential fixes if this happens to your console. You can read this list of fixes here.

However that’s where the similarities with the Xbox 360’s RROD ends. Currently this issue only affects apparently 0.4% of PS4's, which is incredibly small compared to the Xbox 360. The original systems manufactured were pretty much guaranteed to get it at some point, it was just a matter of time before they stopped working and the issue wasn't fully fixed until the slim console came and eliminated the problem.

Of course right now this problem could surface more over the coming months and then become a real issue, but right now it seem very unlikely. Sony are doing a good job of making things right for the unlucky consumers with broken consoles. It is unfortunate and while it is no excuse for a product you buy to not work but these things are bound to happen.

Early adopters of consoles are like guinea pigs to make sure things are working correctly just like day one online games players are pretty much beta testers. This is the risk you take, but it is still just a minor downside and the 99.6% unaffected seems to be very much enjoying their shiny new console. So I wouldn't let this change your mind on the console if you’re thinking about getting one. But you may want to just wait and see if things get worse, however doubtful that may be.

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Bioshock Infinite - Burial at Sea Episode 1: Rapture's Return a Worthy One

Burial at Sea is a tough sell. Following on from of the best gaming experiences I've played all generation it was always going to be hard to capture that same level of quality. The intrigue of the story, the excitement of a new location and the enchanting introduction of Elizabeth all created such a wonderful game and for Irrational Games to then go in a completely different direction is an extremely bold choice. But do they pull it off? Let's take a trip back to Rapture once again. But things may not be exactly as you remember them...

The opening of the game throws you straight into the swing of things as it has the leisure of assuming you already have some knowledge of the universe if you have already played Infinite. Once again we play as Booker DeWitt, tasked with mission of finding a little girl named Sally. However this time the motivation is that of one Elizabeth hiring the private investigator for his skills, though her own motivation in finding the girl remains unclear.

As you would expect if you've played any Bioshock game before the plot features a few twists and turns and plays out very similar to that of Infinite's final moments. While the same level of shock is nowhere to be seen, mainly due to the short length which I'll get to later, it is still an intriguing story that sets up Episode 2 very nicely. Seeing past Bioshock characters return is great (the Sander Cohen section being the best in the game) and I hope there will more of this to come in the next part to follow.

Maybe surprisingly the first third or so of the game features no combat whatsoever. I liked this change of pace as it really let's you take in the wonderful environment and world without worrying about killing enemies. Considering this is our return to Rapture it makes sense we are given the privilege of being able to take in the world in all it's glory and is a very nice way to start the game. However when the combat does return it is once again one of the most fun in the entire genre.

As you would expect the game does revert to more of the original game's combat with a more haunting and scary feel to the encounters which is a joy to relive as it reminds you what made the original game so great. It does mix the two styles of combat rather well however. While having nowhere near the same level of speed and verticality that Infinite possesses, the fusion of fighting splicers while using Elizabeth's abilities to create tears and the inclusion of a Skyhook rip off, it actually creates a new style that is unique to this DLC. Hearing the splicer's casually talking as you enter a room before even seeing them is super creepy and the sound design overall is top notch.

As I mentioned earlier the game is quite short. I went through very slowly, checking every room and getting all the audio diaries and the game took me roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish. I would like to go back and play through again on 1999 mode as I did with the main game, but the urge to replay the story after seeing the game's concluding moments isn't a factor this time round.

The game does feel slightly rushed which is probably my biggest complaint/disappointment with the DLC. The NPCs at the start don't interact like those of Infinite and the promise of seeing Rapture before the fall for the first time wasn't fully capitalized like I had wished. Having such an important moment in the franchise's history made is great and it's such an interesting period that I wish it would have been given the proper sequel treatment. Had this been a full retail title with a more traditional development time as opposed to around six months, which is still very impressive when you think about it, it could have been as special as Irrational’s previous titles.

One of my biggest fears going in was that this would feel more like DLC for the original Bioshock instead of Bioshock Infinite, and unfortunately that fear was correct. As I mentioned the interesting fusion of the two combat styles was an unexpected joy, but with the game set in Rapture and having a slower pace overall it lacked most of the features that made me fall in love with Infinite. Columbia itself I've always found a far more interesting setting, skyline combat was completely unique, and the interaction between the game's two main characters are all completely missing here. Elizabeth possesses none of the same characteristics that made her so memorable (this could be by design after certain events in the story), but I couldn't help but feel slightly short changed after being completely spoiled in every area by Infinite.

Burial at Sea's biggest flaw is having to carry the burden of the Bioshock name, something which many people consider to be one of the best franchises of this generation. It couldn't possibly have been as intriguing as the main games but considering how quickly it was made it is still a fantastic experience. If you love the gameplay and style of the series (particularly the original) then this is a fine expansion on the previous games. Just don't expect your mind to be blown again by Irrational so quickly after Infinite. I'm sure they're saving that for whatever they make next, but until then we still get a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit short experience, that leaves us counting down the days till Episode 2 even more.

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Xbox One vs PlayStation 4: Launch Lineup Debate

We are just mere days away from the first major new home console from either Sony or Microsoft in over seven years. The PlayStation 4 arrives this Friday in the US (2 weeks later in Europe) and the Xbox One launches the following week. The potential of what these consoles will go on to achieve is huge and over the years will grow and have their own identities. Of course they both offer a range of services outside of gaming but the main reason for buying these consoles is the games.

So what games are there? Launch titles are becoming notorious for the wrong reasons recently. Long gone are the days that a console ships with a game like Super Mario 64 which is then arguably one of the best games of the console’s lifetime. As the years go on developers get more familiar with the hardware and usually the games get better, for the most part. That being said, let’s check out what games will be available for both consoles at launch and what you should be playing, starting with the PlayStation 4.

There are two big console exclusives available on PS4 day one. The first is Knack, a family friendly mascot platformer that looks to be Crash Bandicoot for a new generation. It looks to bridge the gap between old school platform games but also add new ideas to the genre in the form of how the character changes shape and takes different forms. Obviously targeted at a more younger audience it is hard to say right now how much content is hidden away which core gamers can really get stuck into.

Having the title of the first ever PS4 game shown off, I hope Knack is a fun, memorable title and not just fitting the quota of ‘generic family launch game’. Only time will tell. The other exclusive available at launch is the core gamer’s offering in the form of Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone has tried to be for PlayStation what Halo is to Xbox over the years and never managed to fully achieve that goal. With no other next gen exclusive shooters coming to either console (more on that later) it could fill a hole in the market for players wanting to scratch the itch if they have grown tired of Call of Duty/Battlefield that has dominated the genre on current gen.

It is a shame DriveClub got delayed as the exclusive PS4 games at launch looks extremely bare at this point. Other than the two I mentioned this is a bunch of downloadable exclusives you can play at launch also. Resogun is a side scrolling shoot em up by the folks who made Super Stardust HD that hopes to be game that will have you chasing high scores to beat your friends for hours on end and will be free for PS+ members. Also free will be Contrast, a puzzle/platform game with an intriguing art style. Next gen versions of DC Universe Online,Flower, and Minecraft will also be present but overall the lineup is looking very scarce. Before we get into the games coming to both new consoles let’s examine the exclusives for the Xbox One.

Compared to the PS4’s two exclusives, the Xbox One is arriving with an impressive six games ready to go at launch that you won’t find on Sony’s console. The first three probably aren't anything to get too excited about as they are Zumba Fitness: World Party (also on 360 & Wii U), Zoo Tycoon (also on 360) and Fighter Within. The latter being a Kinect based fighting game with almost no details available so I would say it’s not one to look forward to. However the first of the three games you should be aware of is Ryse: Son of Rome.

Originally a 360 Kinect game but now a fully controller based Xbox One game by Crytek, Ryse could go either way. The game looks gorgeous and has a very interesting setting and could be a hugely entertaining game to just unwind and have a blast in. However, the early showings of the game weren't great as the gameplay looked to be QTE heavy (something which has been dismissed since but still remains unclear) and people that have got to play the game recently at events haven't had amazing things to say about it.

Next is the game I’m personally most interested in on either console, Dead Rising 3. Looking to try and walk the line between the ridiculous open ended gameplay that has always been a hallmark of the series but also trying to exist within a more serious tone, much like Ryse, this could easily go both ways. I think at worst you will still have a lot of fun messing around in the open world but if they pull it off we could have the definitive zombie game in our hands.

Finally is one of Microsoft’s biggest properties outside of their shooters, Forza Motorsport 5. If you’re a racing fan then you are most likely already a fan of these games and this looks to carry on the high standards of the series into the next generation. Racing titles along with shooters is the best genre to show off new hardware and running at 1080P with 60 FPS, the game just looks stunning.

On the digital side is a few nice looking titles including Crimson Dragon, an on rails shooter and a successor of sorts to Panzer Dragoon, Killer Instinct, the return of the famous fighting game and LocoCycle, a racing/fighting hybrid from the team that brought us ‘Spolsion Man. Shortly after release will see Peggle 2 and Project Spark, Microsoft’s take on LittleBigPlanet that looks like it could be rather intriguing to say the least. The absence of no exclusive shooter is a strange one but it seems that Microsoft are just counting on the entire COD crowd coming over to their console which probably isn't the worst assumption to make.

Games coming to both consoles include next gen versions of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, Madden 25, NBA 2K14, NBA Live 14, Need for Speed: Rivals, Just Dance 2014, Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Skylanders: Swap Force. These games really help fill the lineup nicely as they will all presumably be superior versions of the game and help to cover how little the support for exclusives is right now.

Overall it is pretty clear the lineups for both consoles is rather weak. The delays to Watch Dogs and DriveClub didn't help things, but this is pretty much to be expected. We know the big games are coming (Titanfall and Infamous: Second Son to name a few) and it makes sense for Sony and Microsoft to keep the bigger titles for down the line. The early adopters will buy the consoles no matter what and then when the dust is settled we will see what Naughty Dog, 343 Industries and countless other studios are working on for the new consoles. Until then there is still some interesting stuff to play, more on Xbox One currently in my opinion, and enough cross platform games to keep you busy until these consoles really start to build up momentum.

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Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 Resolutiongate: Genuine Debate or Disguised Fan War?

You've probably heard by now that there seems to be some controversy surrounding the resolution of some upcoming games on the new consoles. Of course wherever there is discussion of the differences between cross platform games, the fanboys come out strong and it is hard to discuss whether there is actually an issue to talk about or just the usual flaming when it comes to these kind of things. If this is completely news to you then let me give you a quick update on this all and what it could mean if you are still undecided on which new console to pick up in the coming weeks.

The main point of contention seems to be Call of Duty: Ghosts and the resolution it runs at on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The game is already out on current gen and Infinity Ward Executive Producer Mark Rubin has confirmed the game runs at native 1080p on PS4, but will be upscaled from 720p to 1080p on Xbox One. But what does this actually mean? Well until we see both versions alongside each other there is no way of telling exactly what it means but ultimately the PS4 ‘should’ look better. How much better is up for debate and may be so unnoticeable unless you really go looking for the differences.

This then leads to people already claiming the PS4 is ‘more powerful’ and ultimately the way to go. But there is more to how powerful a machine is and how well a game runs than just the resolution. Both games will run at 60FPS which is far more important and something which would be noticeable between versions. Also if the Xbox One is able to upscale to 1080p with no noticeable difference this could potentially leave more processing power to make the games look even better than on PS4. Again currently this is all speculation and until the games are out we are just guessing.

The most interesting part of the whole debate is how strongly people feel about this subject and inherently brings out an intriguing side of why ‘fanboys’ exist. I hate that phrase but it is an easy way to describe someone who loves everything one company does and tries at all times to criticize its competitors. Really this isn't an issue of resolution or power as if those things meant a huge amount to you then you would be a PC gamer. It us clear that’s where the best technical capabilities lie when it comes to games resolution so this is more of an issue, once again, of picking sides.

If you are buying a new console this year it is definitely a big investment and most people will feel the need to justify their purchase at any given time. This is why I believe ‘resolution gate’ started, not because the difference actually matters but because it is just another reason for people to justify which side they are on. In the end I believe the outcome will end up exactly like the current consoles. Cross platform games look almost identical with few exceptions and even if one console is more powerful, it is up to the individual developers to make the games look better. Not just a case of it will be better because it exists on a specific console.

If you are still undecided on the new consoles my advice would be like always. These consoles will share a vast majority of the same games and have very similar architecture over the next 5-10 years and all comes to personal preference. In the end I highly doubt anyone will actually base their decision on a brand new consoles on whether a cross platform game is upscaled to 1080p or not.

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Batman: Arkham Origins - Money Grab or Worthy Prequel?

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A prequel, seemingly rushed out in an attempt to cash in on a series' brand before the next generation of consoles arrive. This year we have already seen Gears of War: Judgment and God of War: Ascension. Judgment, just like Arkham Origins was made by a different team who made the series what it is, so it is no surprise I was cautious about this one. With Rocksteady looking almost guaranteed to be working on next gen Batman it was up to Warner Bros. Montreal to tell the story of how Batman met The Joker.

The plot takes place over the course of one evening which happens to be Christmas Eve as Black Mask hires a team of assassins to take down Batman. The assassins are of course a bunch of familiar faces from the Batman universe including Firefly, Copperhead and Electrocutioner. Whilst some are not instantly recognisable, it's great seeing all aspects of the universe being explored and not just the ones made famous by the films.

I found the story to be completely unexpected. In that what starts out as a cool premise, it develops very nicely over the course of the game and ultimately was very enjoyable. I feel that in trying to keep many things secret they did the plot a massive disservice during promotion of the game and without spoiling anything I will say that all the elements you want from a good Batman story are absolutely here.

The opening of the game sets things up nicely and gets the plot up and running very quickly and throws you straight into action. I must also take a moment to mention The Joker and the performance of one Troy Baker. Taking over from someone so iconic as Mark Hamill has to be one of the hardest jobs around and I feel Troy was the only person that could pull it off. His performance is incredible and his scenes truly are the best in the game. One sequence in particular which references one of my favorite films was stunningly well put together and my only criticism is that he isn't featured in the game more.

Of course no Arkham game would be complete without boss battles and this game is no different. They come thick and fast with varying difficulty and the result is a mixed bag. The most original is probably the fight with Firefly, but the execution ultimately doesn't quite fit the ambitiousness of it. Copperhead's was very fun and matched the tone of the villain and the multiple fights with Bane are again very solidly put together. There isn't anything as strong as the Mr.Freeze fight from Arkham City, but there still plenty of enjoyable battles throughout the game.

A lot has been said about the combat in the Arkham games over the years and it's wonderful combo system and the praise is warranted. When it ties together you do feel like a complete bad ass and it hasn't really changed here. My only problem is the challenge is increasingly getting harder in the form of adding more and more enemies to each encounter. At times when I'm fighting what seems like 50+ enemies my fingers can start to hurt from all the button bashing and I would prefer if they scaled it back slightly at times.

The stealth is still present and this to me is where the gameplay shines. It feels way more Batman to me when I'm stalking from above rather than running in head first using my fists instead of my brain. Some enemy filled arenas take the fun away slightly again by putting so many of them in one place you just have to wait till they split up unless you want to get gunned down immediately.

The game is somewhat open world, but not in a traditional sense. There is the whole map out there for you to explore, but the game forces you down a very linear path when you are playing through its story. With the inclusion of fast travel which I relied on more as the game progressed, it does take a level of exploration out of the game. Outside of the main story is all the extra content which is an insane amount. You can help the police solve crimes, go after the Most Wanted criminals which include more boss battles with famous villains and additional side missions. With new game plus unlocked after you complete the story you could easily double your time with the game if you explore everything there is to experience.

All of the best gadgets from previous games are back with the inclusion of a few new ones but nothing too memorable. The best new feature I enjoyed was the crime scene investigating you do via the detective vision. You scan for clues and even reverse and play the scene out to try and gain more information. It is similar to Remember Me's memory remixing but works very effectively. Especially when it is used for a pivotal story moment I thought it worked great and should be used more in the future.

The level of detail and attention paid to the Batman universe and not just it's main characters is incredible. All the usual hints and Easter Eggs at the greater mythology is here in full force and the amount of fan service paid is unquestionable. Even as a casual fan of Batman I thoroughly enjoy the little touches, but a hardcore Batman comics fan will absolutely adore this game once again.

Competitive multiplayer comes to the Arkham series for the first time in the form of the Invisible Predator game mode. It sees two teams of three people controlling the gang of either Bane or The Joker while also taking on the threat of two players of Batman & Robin. So that's 3 vs 3 vs 2. It sounds complicated and it sort of is but I won't go into tons of detail explaining as it's not really worth your time unfortunately.

Playing as either of the three player teams just controls like a bad Gears of War clone and isn't why I play a Batman game. The introduction of new gadgets specific to this mode is cool and it's a shame we can't use them in the campaign in some capacity as this alone isn't worth playing this mode for. I also struggled to find any games and this being the launch week of the game means the long term success for this mode looks troubled to say the least. With the huge amount of the content this game offers already its nice to try and add something new, even if it's something I really won't be playing again any time soon.

So have the new studio pulled it off? The short answer is yes. While nowhere near as revolutionary as Asylum (or City) but when it comes to a 3rd game in four years it is almost impossible to add new tricks to a series without changing what made it a success in the first place. The game looks and plays as good as the previous titles and ultimately tells a very enjoyable story. The ensemble of villains is as impressive as usual and the amount of hours of content presented is well worth the price of admission. If you, like me, was scared Arkham Origins was just an unnecessary cash grab then fear not. There is plenty of fun to be had here with the Dark Knight once again.

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GTA Online 1st Week Impressions: A Potential Diamond in Rough Shape

Last week saw the launch of yet another Grand Theft Auto product to the general public. After waiting over four years for new content we get two GTA releases in the space of two weeks. Some would say it is like waiting for a bus. Anyway, trying to build upon the most successful game launch of all time with GTA V, Rockstar looked to wow everyone once again with GTA Online. But things didn't exactly go to plan.

Rockstar warned us previously that there could be teething problems with the servers as the game rolls out and those warnings turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Most people couldn't access the game at all on launch day and the main problem seemed to be the tutorial which was broken and ultimately stopped anyone from accessing the game. It seems PS3 users suffered the most problems and some players even got their characters and money reset after already getting the game running.

Having finally got into the game on Xbox 360 late Tuesday night it has worked for me barring some connectivity issues of course. So server issues aside and if we assume the game will be running smoothly at some point, how is the game? Well first of all you must choose your character that will be causing havoc all over Los Santos.

The character creation system is a strange one. You chose the race of your parents and grandparents as well as assigning different skill points based on your characters daily routine and your characters face is created from these choices. As a collectors edition owner I got the choice to use Misty and Claude from GTA III and Niko from GTA IV as my parent options as well as John Marston from Red Dead Redemption for using the Social Club.

I went with Misty and Claude as parents and actually quite like the results. The nose and eyes in particular really look he's related to Claude and its a cool feature which should have included tons of different classic character options. Sadly this will probably be DLC down the line. Aside from this the creation system is unnecessarily complicated to hide the fact it's rather basic. It's totally fine but could have been way better with a few tweaks.

Once your character is ready you're good to go. After watching a few cinematics seeing our new character enter the city and the rather pointless tutorial ends you are given the freedom of the open world. You can rob stores, enter races or do jobs to earn cash. All of this can be done on your own or with friends (you get extra rewards for this especially if you are in the same crew) and plays out similarly to the main game.

So far the jobs are rather basic. It includes stealing cars for Simeon or simply interrupting a drug deal and stealing their money and merchandise before planning your getaway. I'll assume missions will get harder and slightly more complex as you progress as you also unlock access to more content the higher you rank such as the better weapons at Ammu-Nation.

Unfortunately what we all want to play is co-operative heists which aren't available right now. They will be coming at a later date as a free update and due to how advanced they are I guess it makes sense to ease players in with smaller missions to learn how online works first. This is what we are waiting for and hopefully will be worth the wait when it does arrive.

The overall layout and presentation of GTA Online is really poor. Everything is so hidden and hard to work out and generally could be so much easier. Just the basic level of understanding needed to play this game is rather high and will undoubtedly scare away many players. Being a hardcore Grand Theft Auto fan it isn't a problem, but if you aren't completely clued up and just play the game casually, don't expect to just jump into GTA Online and know exactly what you're doing for a very long time.

When the game works however there is definitely something special here. It is just a shame it is very well hidden. Exploring the world together with friends is just great and really does make the single player seem somewhat boring in comparison. The randomness that occurs when playing the game is what you will fall in love with rather than the scheduled jobs and missions which is really the essence of Grand Theft Auto and has definitely transferred well from the main game.

After really starting to enjoy my time and seemingly having the problems behind me, tragedy struck on Saturday. My character disappeared. I was rank 27 and I had bought an expensive apartment and still had $250K in the bank. This seems to be the worst problem right now and Rockstar have said they are currently working on trying to resolve the issue. I haven't made a new character in the small hope it gets recovered which means I can't play the game at all right now. I've decided to avoid it for the time being and hopefully come back when the issues are gone as the level of enjoyment to be had is outweighed by the frustrations at this point.

Overall the first week with GTA Online has been one of highs and lows. I expected issues especially on launch day and after the initial server issues it seemed to be going great. I played multiple jobs with my crew, started to build my empire complete with customized car and apartment and I really felt like I was seeing the start of something great. With my character now reset I'm left with the problem of waiting for an unlikely fix or trying to regain what I had achieved and then pray it doesn't happen again.

It is a risk I'm not willing to take and hopefully my faith in Rockstar will be repaid with these problems being fixed and then maybe in a month I can finally jump into this game and have an opinion, as right now there are just too many factors that make passing judgment on the game impossible right now. All I will say is you are better waiting currently as your experience of what could be a fantastic experience is probably going to be soured, which is a real shame.

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GTA V Post-Mortem: What can Rockstar improve for GTA VI?

The wait is finally over. Nearly 2 years after it was announced, Grand Theft Auto V is in stores and boy was it worth the wait. Having wrote countless posts speculating about the game before release it is surreal finally talking about the game having already played it for over 65 hours. The game has received insane reviews & is breaking commercial records everywhere. As a GTA super fan I am extremely happy with the game but it is not perfect (nothing is). Let’s dissect what the game nails and what perhaps could be improved upon in the next instalment

Note. This is solely playing devils advocate and trying to add a different perspective on the game. It’s obvious from all the reviews and if you've played the game how fantastic it is. This is merely talking about the minor flaws and criticisms I have with a modern day masterpiece. The only way you achieve perfection is if you seek it. So here goes nothing.

The open world in itself, which is undoubtedly the most important part of any GTA game, is almost flawless. Los Santos is huge and has so many activities to keep you entertained for many hours. It is bustling with life and has everything you could want ranging from random encounters and meeting strangers that offer interesting missions, partaking in a range of sports such as golf or the usual street races and base jumping. The whole map is given the same care and attention and the countryside is filled with gorgeous terrain and interesting sights to see. With the inclusion of wildlife also this really is one of, if not the best open worlds ever created.

When you consider how old the current consoles are it's extremely impressive just how amazing LS looks. This for me is the biggest achievement of GTA V as Liberty City lacked the replayability of past cities. This game really does have everything that will keep you coming back again and again even after your story ends.

The biggest flaw of the open world once again for me is the lack of interiors. The game is all about exploring the outside world and you don’t really notice it until you stop and think about just how many of the buildings don't have interiors. It has been a criticism of the series for years and I really thought this would have been worked out by now. It must not be a concern for Rockstar but being able to enter almost every building in Los Santos would have just been incredible and added that extra level of detail that GTA games strive to bring to the genre.

Underwater is a tricky one also. I wouldn't even mind if you couldn't swim like older games but with the scuba equipment, submarines and sharks it was clear before release that Rockstar was focusing on underwater more than ever before. The idea of being able to search through sunken ships was great in theory but that never materialised in the final game. Outside of when I had to for the story (which rarely happened) I haven't ventured underwater and don’t intend to. It seems like a waste of resources and needs to either have a reason to explore like the rest of the world which is admittedly hard, or just scrap it altogether.

The one area that did disappoint me the most was the story. Whilst it's not vital to a GTA game it is still a big part and I do think there are still many ways in which it could can improve. What started off as a rather unique take on multiple characters views and perspectives on trying to better their lives slowly turned into a more predictable and bland crime story. Stronger supporting characters such as Lamar started off strong but were then thrown to the side in favour of the three protagonists and it was hard to ever feel attached to anyone due to how much screen time each individual character got.

I also felt that the game suffered the usual problems in the form of its mission structure. At times I felt like I was performing pointless tasks for people I didn't even know or why I was doing it. My motivation was unclear and it felt like the typical busywork in GTA games. I definitely didn't feel this as much as past games but it’s still a small area of frustration which I know can be improved upon in the future.

SPOILER ALERT - Minor story spoilers follow

The endings in particular I really felt underwhelmed. Boiling down the final choice into three boring options felt like such an outdated feature that shouldn't be present in 2013. None of the endings felt that rewarding in my opinion plus I would rather there was just one true ending like in Red Dead Redemption as opposed to giving the player multiple options, none of which felt satisfactory. My actions over the course of the game had zero impact and none of the options presented I felt stayed true to the characters I had come to know rather well during my time with the game.

Some of the character’s actions and motivations also do sometimes seem rather odd with Trevor in particular being rather bipolar at times. This does suit his character somewhat being a unhinged psychopath but I also felt that he went through a bunch of character revisions in production which ultimately muddles him slightly. The times where Trevor came across as a rather intelligent and scary human being were fantastic. He was aware of how crazy his actions were, made reference to them and was in on the joke. Clearly inspired by modern day super intelligent movie villains.

Then there was the unfortunately majority of the time where he seemed clueless at how abnormal his behaviour was and at many times the butt of the joke. He was quite simply a dumb, deranged criminal and all the layers that were hinted out were thrown away in favor of an a more simple, comedy relief character. Still entertaining but really could have been something way more memorable.

Having said all that I want to reiterate these are my minor criticisms of a game I absolutely adore. It was completely worth the wait and met my extremely high expectations in almost every way. The whole package is just so well put together it's really unlike anything we've seen before in the genre. Once again it's up to Rockstar to push the envelope in almost every direction and it really makes you wonder how long they can stay at the top. Seeing as they've been there since GTA III, I wouldn't take any bets on that happening any time soon.

Overall this game is undoubtedly a masterpiece. It will go down as one of the best games of this generation and arguably one of the best games of all time. Continuing to set the bar for everyone, GTA and Rockstar look set to dominate for many, many years to come. Long may that reign continue. The real problem with the game though; how will they top this with GTA VI?

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Why Grand Theft Auto is Still the King of the Open World

When Grand Theft Auto III arrived back in 2001 it changed everything. The open world genre was completely reinvented and Rockstar had created the template which many others would use for the coming years. A vibrant 3D open world filled with it’s own pedestrians and police officers, it truly was a living breathing world that you could explore however you wanted. Since then there hasn't been such a drastic change in the genre. It has only been improved upon and made bigger and better. Stories are more interesting, the graphics more realistic, and the sandbox even more fun. Grand Theft Auto V looks to be the biggest and best GTA to date, but how do Rockstar stay on top? Let’s compare it to other games in the genre to see how good they really are.

The most important part of any open world game is undoubtedly the world itself. This is an area where Grand Theft Auto games always outshine its competitors with its incredible worlds based on real life locations. Whether it's Liberty City, Vice City, or San Andreas, no other series brings the same kind of nostalgia these places evoke in players. Due to being a twist on real life locations, these worlds have a sense of familiarity so they don't feel completely strange but are unique enough so that players have plenty to discover for themselves.

Many open world games are fun but have nowhere near the same level of creating unique game worlds. Take Crackdown for example. A really good game that I had a lot of fun with but I hardly remember the map at all. I barely remember any of the locations and certainly have no idea what it was called. Games can create worlds that are fun for the time, but none have the lasting effect that GTA worlds can have on players.

Inside the world is the sandbox itself and the tools the game gives you to have fun. GTA has always embraced this and no game really embodies this more than San Andreas. The game had base jumping, triathlons, gambling, basketball, pool and arcade games just to name a few of the optional activities available. These distractions from the main story are so important in any open world game and without them it would just be a linear story set in an explorable world.

The main other game to rival for a fun sandbox is most definitely the Saints Row series. What started as a bad clone has evolved into a completely different animal and carved out it’s own unique niche in the genre. Players are encouraged to be as ludicrous and over the top as possible and with the addition of superpowers in the latest title it looks to position itself as far away from Grand Theft Auto as possible and that’s a great thing. There’s no need for bad clones, but two completely different properties should absolutely enjoy their own success.

As I mentioned before every open world game also needs a strong story to tie everything together and is ultimately where the games succeeds or fails. GTA has also always had incredible strong stories whether it’s pulling from their favorite films or doing something ahead of it’s time, such as having an African American or Eastern European protagonist. Grand Theft Auto V looks once again to have an incredible story that ties three protagonists together through a series of heists across Los Santos.

Games that have tried to tell a good story within the genre have been quite rare with probably Sleeping Dogs coming closest. Watch_Dogs could perhaps have a rather unique story but that’s hard to tell from what we've seen so far with it’s heavy focus on hacking in the open world. Saints Row tells a silly story that aims to laugh rather than resonate with it’s audience on any interesting level and isn't trying to be something it’s not. Ultimately this is an area that GTA is head and shoulders above its competitors.

Visuals are important when wanting to construct a fully believable and vibrant world. Without them, you not only lose a level of immersion but also cheapens the experience overall. When Grand Theft Auto IV came out, it looked incredible. The most obvious step up from San Andreas was it’s outstanding graphics showing off GTA in HD glory for the first time. GTA V looks to be on the same level only with an even bigger map and more life going on inside it whether through it’s pedestrians or increasingly wildlife.

The final component is that of the increasingly importance of online modes. GTA IV was the first foray into online for the series and it was a mixed bag. Ahead of it’s time and still played five years later it was undoubtedly a success, but really was just the start. GTA V contains what looks to be an entirely separate game in GTA Online which comes two weeks after GTA V for players to access for free. This seems to be a huge step forward for the genre and if it’s received well could be where all other open world games look to copy in the same way GTA III had a similar effect.

So what is the defining factor that makes Grand Theft Auto so special? It really can’t be boiled down to one thing. When we break it down like we have the series clearly ticks all the boxes. What GTA does so well is that it doesn't make you think about all these parts individually but pulls them together so seamlessly and then executes them so perfect. A game may have one other aspect slightly better such as graphics but you won’t find any other that comes close to GTA in the amount of content it seems to completely master almost effortlessly. Other games will try and healthy competition is what keeps this genre interesting, but GTA won’t be giving up their crown any time soon.

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