By dankempster 4 Comments
It's the last weekend of January, which means it's time for my first monthly gaming recap of the year. In the absence of a decent title, I've gone down the lazy pun route and decided to post these entries under the blanket title of 'Post Game Dan-alysis'. You can think of them as companion pieces to the Gaming Agenda blogs I'll be putting out at the start of each month, basically breaking down how successful I was in getting through the games I wanted to get through while offering some brief thoughts about each title. If you'd like to get reacquainted with my Gaming Agenda for January to remind you of my aims for the month, you can find it here. I'm going to start trawling back over my month's gaming, because we've got a lot to get through before the time bell rings.
I chose to start 2014 pretty much the same way I ended 2013 - with a Zelda game on the go on my 3DS. I opted for Link's Awakening DX, which I bought from the eShop for about £5 towards the end of last year. It took me almost two weeks to get through, as I methodically explored the mysterious Koholint Island searching for the Instruments of the Sirens in order to wake the Wind Fish, and all in all it's a brilliant little Zelda game. Its world is one of my favourites from the series, and the dungeons and bosses are brilliantly designed throughout. Some of the gameplay mechanics feel a bit draconian now, but are understandable given the limiting nature of the original Game Boy and its two face buttons. I was particularly impressed by the game's built-in hint system, which proved invaluable when I was at a loss for what to do or where to go next, and kept me from ever having to resort to an online guide in order to progress. In a year when I'm hoping to finally see through all the Zelda adventures I own but haven't yet finished, Link's Awakening has set a mighty high benchmark.
An unexpected addition to my list of games played this month was Forza Motorsport 4. A friend of mine has been playing the recently-launched Gran Turismo 6 and periodically tweeting his progress, and his automotive antics have encouraged me to jump back into a racing game of my own. My relationship with driving sims has been a torrid one over the years, but over the last few weeks Forza 4's World Tour mode has done a great job of keeping me entertained. The way it constantly drip-feeds new cars to the player for gaining driver levels makes the game feel perennially rewarding, and the globe-trotting nature of the season structure has thus far managed to avoid my biggest complaint about this kind of game - namely the repetitiveness of racing round the same handful of tracks over and over again. Since I started playing it just under three weeks ago I've managed to race through six of the mode's ten seasons. I was thinking about pushing for the game's Bucket List Achievement once I'm done with World Tour, but I'm slightly less committed to the idea now - I'd rather just enjoy the time I do spend with the game than spend dozens of hours grinding races without having any fun at all. I think I'll see if the mood takes me when I reach the end of season ten, and just play it by ear from then.
I can't remember the last time I beat two games in one day. It may never have even happened before. But on January 12th, I did just that (assuming you're willing to call this its own game, that is). After beating Link's Awakening in the morning, I sat down with The Walking Dead: 400 Days in the evening and played through the whole thing in one ninety-minute sitting. To be honest, as a game player I found it underwhelming. The original Walking Dead series was already pretty lacking from an interactivity perspective, but 400 Days takes that design philosophy even closer to its extreme. It's in service of some pretty great stories, though - the cast and events of 400 Days are its strongest suits, with each episode packed with shocking decisions and grisly moments, and were justification enough for me to leap back into this world so lovingly adapted to the video game format by Telltale. If nothing else it's left me hungry for more, although I think I'm going to wait until all of Season Two is released before I play it - I played the first season last year at a rate of one episode a day, and I can't imagine doing anything else with the second season.
It's been almost seven years since I last played a God of War game, having played through both God of War and God of War II back-to-back when the latter was released in 2007. Returning to both games in 2014, it's comforting to see how well their action/adventure gameplay holds up. Visually they've weathered the passage of time as well, something the HD-ification process will no doubt have had a hand in, but which I believe is more down to the games' stellar art direction. Both games offer brilliantly paced adventures through gorgeous locales, mixing its distinctively visceral brand of combat with exploration and puzzle-solving in a way reminiscent of series like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia. God of War II is easily the better of the two titles in the collection, clocking in at nearly twice the length and boasting a ton of new gameplay mechanics and enhancements to justify the extra play time. That being said, I still think the original tells a better story, if only because Kratos' rage-o-meter isn't permanently set to eleven through the first game. It's been a blast coming back to this brutal, epic take on the mythology of ancient Greece, and I'm looking forward to playing the other four games in the series (GoWIII, Chains of Olympus, Ghost of Sparta and Ascension) later in the year.
At the time of writing this blog, I haven't yet started playing Final Fantasy VIII. I finished God of War II yesterday morning, and have prepped my PS3 to start playing this tonight. As a result I don't really have anything to say about it yet, beyond the fact I'm really looking forward to playing it. As one of only two titles in the series I haven't yet finished, it will be cool to finally put this one to rest. I'm definitely not going to have this one wrapped up by the end of the month, so you can expect to see it again on the Gaming Agenda for February next week, when hopefully I'll have played enough of it to have something worth pontificating over in this space.
And Some Other Stuff...
Games aren't my only passion, and they're by no means the only way I spent my free time this month. So I've tacked on this 'And Some Other Stuff...' section to cover the things I've been up to in January that aren't related to video games. I'm including them partly because they might provide more of an insight into the kind of guy I am, but mainly so I can get some use out of my favourite blogging device - bullet points.
- I've decided to revisit Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy to see if the books still hold up. They were my favourite books as a kid, but it's been a long time since I last read them, and I was curious to see how much of my fondness for them might have been rooted in nostalgia. Having just come to the end of Northern Lights, I can at least say with confidence that the first book in the trilogy is still a great read. It's also remarkably brutal and violent in places, much more so than I remembered it being. I've already moved my bookmark over to the second book in the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, which I plan to start tonight.
- I only bought one new album in January - Snake Eyes, the latest release from English punk-folk band Leatherat. It's a record that doesn't stray from the band's winning formula of rock guitars, frenetic drumming and jaunty fiddle-playing. It treads familiar ground lyrically too, with their two favourite subjects (social injustice and having a lot to drink) featuring heavily. All told it's a good addition to the band's catalogue, although it doesn't quite reach the highs of their second album Garden of Eden for me.
- On the subject of music, I wrote a little something about my favourite albums from 2013 over on my writer's blog. If you like music, or arbitrarily ranking things in lists, then you can find it here.
- I've spent a fair bit of time this month revisiting one of my unfinished writing projects, a novella called The Hawker, with a view to picking it back up and completing it before the end of the year. Right now the revisits amount to little more than refining the story map and making sure the narrative flows and makes sense, but it's very exciting to be going back to that world and its characters again.
So that's how my game-playing has gone down this month. There's still just under a week of January left, but I imagine I'll be spending it focusing on Final Fantasy VIII and Forza 4 rather than bringing anything new to the fore. I'll be back next week with a new Gaming Agenda for February. Until then, thanks very much for reading, take care and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VIII (PS3)