Thoughts on: The Walking Dead Season 2 - Episode Two.

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Oh Clementine, the troubles you've faced. In a world where danger and disaster lingers around every corner, it's no surprise you've been forced to grow up quicker than you'd like. The world in which you now live is no longer willing to let you simply be a young girl, you're faced with death everywhere you turn and must face up to your fears daily, just to stay alive.

Clementine is developing into a fascinating character, thankfully that awesome hat ain't going anywhere.
Clementine is developing into a fascinating character, thankfully that awesome hat ain't going anywhere.

That's what makes Telltale's The Walking Dead so special, portraying a world that never feels safe, filled with a populace that are complex and as troubled as Clementine is, struggling to cope with the world as it is after the zombie outbreak. The zombies have always felt like the background to the Walking Dead, thanks to the superbly written relationships between survivors and the choices you make, episode two of the second season highlights this quality throughout. After a somewhat slow first episode, the second season feels like it's matching the high quality storytelling found in the first season with a gripping episode two: A House Divided.

Without going into too much story detail, the tale of episode two continues Clementines time spent with the new group of survivors she meets previously. However we find out a great deal more about the group and their troubles, helping you feel truly invested in each and everyone of them. It's the biggest concern I had for season two, would Telltale be able to recapture the same love that players had for the characters of season one with this new group of survivors? Thankfully, at least in my regard, they do just that with episode two. In fact it's impressive the quality of investment put into episode two's numerous personal moment when the overall story arch continues as well as it does. While some episodes of The Walking Dead can feel like they don't add a great deal to the overarching story, episode two does a great job of getting this season on track and in some captivating ways.

Episode two features some of Telltale's best writing yet, getting season two on track.
Episode two features some of Telltale's best writing yet, getting season two on track.

It's clear Telltale have an idea of how they want the character of Clementine to turn out, whereas in season one she was this venerable little girl who must be protected and sheltered from all the dangers the world possessed, in season two she's becoming a strong and even trustworthy eleven year old who is more out to prove herself to everyone that she is no longer that scared and frightening kid. Depending on the choices you make in key story points, or even in the general dialogue between characters, Clementine feels like shes really developing as a character as captivating and fun to portray as Lee from season one. This is really emphasised by the introduction of Sarah, daughter of Carlos who she meets in episode one. Whereas Sarah is sheltered and protected by her father, Clementine sees the world for what it is and while Sarah isn't oblivious to their troubles, she comes across as a lot more innocent and inexperienced when compared against Clem. On the other hand it's as if Clementine as lost that child like sense of being that Sarah still possesses, playfully playing with items she discovers abandoned around the house.

The writing in episode two is a real high point for the season so far, helped by the early character developments made in the first episode. Season two looks set to go in some fascinating directions and it's somewhat comforting that this second season looks to have found a direction to head in. Characters are developed and I've found myself invested in the troubled tales of their pasts, caring about who survives and where their troubles might take us next. It's the real power of Telltale Game's The Walking Dead that remains as engrossing as it did in season one and it's only helped by the fact that this second episode of the second season is one of the best Telltale have produced.

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Thoughts on: Final Fantasy XIII

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Final Fantasy games are an odd bunch, despite it's beloved legacy as one of the industries best known franchises, it finds itself trailing behind as the Japanese role playing genre struggles to compete with your Elder Scroll's and Mass Effect's. No longer are they seen as pushing the boundaries of game mechanics and story, rather they are all too often judged as having outdated mechanics with a new coat of shiny high definition paint. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIII (13) doesn't do much to dispel these beliefs.

Gosh, Final Fantasy XIII is awfully pretty but there's not an whole lot to it.
Gosh, Final Fantasy XIII is awfully pretty but there's not an whole lot to it.

Yet, dare I say there is still a deep rooted charm in Japanese game design, something that might be called old fashioned but can still scratch a certain itch that few western games can. Maybe it's the level of detail developers have gone into revolutionizing your typical RPG game mechanics, resulting in battle systems that feel more experimental than successful or just maybe it's the fact that all these mechanics are rooted in a genre that as often defined gaming and that for folks like me it's a reminder of why we fell in love with video games in the first place. Ask most gamers to recall a great game from their past and there's a damn fine chance they'll mention a Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger or any one of the many JRPG's that have graced past consoles. Whether good or bad for the genre, it's these deep rooted fundamentals that continue to play a prominent role in all role playing games.

Final Fantasy XIII is most certainly not the best Final Fantasy game, in fact I'd argue it's one of the most forgettable even if it's held up by a battle system that at the very least, shows signs of real promise. Of course when a entry from such a renowned franchise falls flat, it's impacts are felt throughout gaming yet I'd argue that some of the reaction to Final Fantasy 13 can be held squarely at the current state of JRPG's generally. From the lengthy cut scenes (which I'm usually all for, but FF13's story just isn't that interesting) to the linear paths throughout, I can understand the disappointment that was felt by many upon it's release. There are moments of sparkle, where it comes dangerously close to reminding you of why you love the franchise, but they are few and far between. That said, it's certainly not the absolute disaster many say it is.

As much as I wanted to hate Hope, he ends up being one of the few likable characters.
As much as I wanted to hate Hope, he ends up being one of the few likable characters.

Visually speaking there's an awful like to like, from the wonderful detail put into characters to how lively and chaotic the real-time battle system portrays itself. However even these can't defend an oddly paced game, one that feels the very opposite of what the long highly regarded franchise is known for. Some might argue it's Square-Enix trying to appeal to the western audience, but reviews and general opinion show that the western crowd want something more, something different. But what? Maybe that's the problem with RPG's in general right now, as gamers we just don't what what we want and with a variety of gaming genres implementing role playing mechanics of their own, one must ask if the pure RPG can still truly exist and thrive?

Well now that I think about it, that's a rather rich thing for me to say. Hell I have copies of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Ni No Kuni and Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten on my shelf, ready to be played at some point. Disgaea 4 in particular is an odd one, a franchise I'd never heard of until recently and bought on the whim. I'm all for that 'trying something out of your comfort zone' right now. As for Final Fantasy 13, it's only right of me to admit that I haven't hated my time with it, but it as reminded me of the current state the genre finds itself. There are many who shout in internet forums how it's only western developers pushing the genre forward, to that I say "you're talking out of your chocobo's arse" because there are Japanese developers just as willing to take risks with their products. Look at the likes of Demon Souls/Dark Souls or Dragon's Dogma. Western and Japanese developers are trying very similar things, because at the end of the day if something proves successful and sells, isn't that what's important to these companies. So I put forward that maybe the current state of JRPG's isn't all bad and that one day we might find a perfect balance between the two methods of developing in the genre. Whether you like them or not, the Japanese role playing game isn't going anywhere and that's how I want it.

As for Final Fantasy XIII, you might have guessed by the amount I've actually talked about the game that it hasn't left a massive impression on me. Oh it's fine enough, it plays reasonably well and the battle system shows promise. But generally it's an all to linear affair brewed in with a tale that while charming in spots, ends up being forgettable. I can only hope Final Fantasy XIII-2 fairs a little better.

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Kingdom Hearts, an hunger for JRPGs and the future of SSX

Into the world of Kingdom Hearts.

Well dear reader, I have ventured forth into the world of Kingdom Hearts. It's not my first time, having first attempted to play this charming Disney/Square Enix RPG back on the PS2. But unfortunately due to my Playstation 2 console crapping out and the invasion of both the Xbox 360 and PS3, Kingdom Hearts took to the backburner and I've forever felt bad about that. A sequel and many many spin-offs later, I'm finally getting a chance to experience it fully with Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix on the PS3. Now I'll most probably write my thoughts on the game in greater detail at a later date and I'm only about sixteen or so hours in, but I'm happy to say my experience has been a mostly positive one, despite some clear indications that 'Hey, this came out two generations ago and it shows' slapping you in the face.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

For the most part the HD upgrade is a solid one, though considering the original Kingdom Hearts at to be rebuilt entirely from the grown up for this HD release, one as to give credit to Square Enix (the original data was lost entirely). With that in mind I'm most certainly having fun now that I've gotten past the almost painfully slow start. There is a real charm and joy in seeing Sora and other Final Fantasy figureheads mix it with many of Disney's most famous characters, call be easily charmed but as a kid I was a sucker for Disney movies, the likes of The Lion King, Aladdin and the Aristocats were on constant view in my household. I don't quite have the fondness for all things Final Fantasy, except for maybe Final Fantasy 9 and 10. That said, even I can appreciate a brooding evil looking Cloud now and again.

We mustn't forget that the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix package includes Re:chain of Memories and the bizarrely named 358/2 Days. Yes one of those is a nearly three hour long movie but I'm intrigued to see how Re:chain of Memories turns out with it's card battle system. But however you look at it, with Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix hitting sometime this year and Kingdom Hearts 3 coming to PS4/Xbox One, there is no better time then now to jump aboard the Kingdom Hearts train to see what all the fuss is about. I'm eager to find out myself.

A sudden hunger for JRPG's/RPG's.

On the subject of role playing games, I have of late had a sudden urge to play some other less well known RPG's. Why? I'm honestly not sure but there's a hunger to discover other titles that might surprise me. When I think back to these past few years, I've played it pretty safe when choosing the games I've wanted to play. But then I think back to the likes of Eternal Sonata and remember how that was simply a rushed purchase, with no knowledge of what the heck the game was about… well except that it was awfully pretty. Thankfully I had a blast with Eternal Sonata, even putting it as one of my games of the year, in fact I'm eager to check out the more recently released PS3 version. I'm forever thankful to Eternal Sonata for introducing me to the music of Chopin to, not bad for a game I bought on the whim.

Eternal Sonata, one of the most charming JRPG's I've played. Chopin's pretty kick-ass to.
Eternal Sonata, one of the most charming JRPG's I've played. Chopin's pretty kick-ass to.

I've been searching into the back catalogs of Xbox 360 and PS3 games to see if there were any other gems I might have missed. There were a fair share of RPG's released on both systems and I'm eager to learn more about a few. I will admit that I've decided to jump back into Final Fantasy 13 and Final Fantasy 13-2 with Lightning Returns hitting store shelves soon, I don't know but while I can appreciate how flawed FF13 was, I certainly didn't hate my time with it either and I think it deserves a second chance. With that in mind, I'd really appreciate if any of you dear readers have any recommendations for me worthy of checking out. I've looked at a few that might scratch my itch including Star Ocean: The Last Hope International and Tales of Xillia, to name just two.

Moby stares into the future, hopeful he shall return... one day!
Moby stares into the future, hopeful he shall return... one day!

The future of SSX, if it even as one?

To wraps things up I want to talk SSX or more specifically the future of the franchise. Now I loved the most recent SSX release, despite it's new direction which I felt didn't always serve the game in the right areas. But I worry we won't see another SSX game anytime soon, I hope I'm wrong of course but EA are in such a strange place right now and other than being the number one most hated game publisher/developer in existence right now, their future is one clouded in confusion and a lack of direction. So what of SSX? Well sadly I found it difficult to find any concrete evidences that SSX is part of EA's future, but maybe I've been looking in the wrong places. It's a shame to because SSX is one of the those franchises I'd describe in three simple words, bloody good fun!

I think I might have spoken about my wish for a return to the more SSX Tricky like SSX game in the future. The likes of the Mount Eddie DLC showed just how much fun that theme park like setting can be and in my personal opinion there were one to many dull courses scattered throughout SSX that weren't much fun to play. Hell, I'd even love to see some sort of SSX Tricky remix for newer consoles, I think that would be pretty damn awesome. What will be get? Only the future knows but I hope with all my heart we haven't seen the last of SSX. Deep down though, I worry the franchise isn't at the forefront of EA's plans. They have bigger issues to worry about to maybe, like all those angry Battlefield 4 players. Whatever they decide to do, we can only hope we haven't see the last of the SSX crew.

Thanks for reading folks, oh and don't forget to forward any JRPG/RPG recommendations that might be worth me checking out in the comments below. I'd greatly appreciate it.

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Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag Review (PC).

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Having been a long time Assassin's Creed fan, even I have to admit that Assassin's Creed 3 took the wind out of my sails. There was a part of me at peace with the fact that the franchise was past it's best and that was okay, after all some of my favorite games of the past generation were Assassin's Creed games. It's with that in mind that I took barely any notice of Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag since it's announcement. Whereas once I was on forums debating every little detail and trying to answer every mystery the games once hinted at, I found myself just not at all interested. But maybe that was in my favor.

Meet Edward Kenway, and a few of his colorful cast of friends.
Meet Edward Kenway, and a few of his colorful cast of friends.

Black Flag primarily takes place in the 1700's Caribbean. Whilst I don't wish to spoil many of the games intriguing twists and turns the main tale is told of Edward Kenway (yes, father of Haytham and grandfather to Connor). Whose dream of riches and adventure take him to the sunny shores of the Caribbean in search for the ultimate prize. Like past Assassin's Creed games it's the story which truly drives the adventure here and it's helped by Edward whose such a likable character. Edward is a very different figure to those we've seen before, less driven by beliefs and more driven by simple greed. However there are layers to Edward that are wonderfully touched on throughout his story and unlike Connor, he's a difficult man to dislike and feels like a more fleshed out and complex character to Connor hard outer shell which turned many off the Assassin's Creed 3 protagonist.

The Caribbean is gorgeous to traverse, be it at sea or land.
The Caribbean is gorgeous to traverse, be it at sea or land.

Much of what makes Black Flag such an enjoyable game comes down to a mix of better balanced mechanics and a world which is as detailed and intriguing as the story it tells. The Caribbean looks stunning, from the sunlit seas to the vast detailed cities that scatter the map. There's a general level of detail to the sound throughout Black Flag to, which helps sells this world from the crashing of the waves to the chatter of civilians, not to mention the superb sea chants sung by your ships crew. That's right, ship combat returns but on another level entirely as your ship is now your primary means of transport. Whilst this might sound tedious to some, ship traversal is one of Black Flag's most enjoyable features and you'll soon find yourself singing along with your crew as glide your ship the Jackdaw peacefully across the calm seas of the beautiful Caribbean. It might sound simple, but there's a real joy to be found in traversing this world by sea. Once you've visited one of the many locations scattered around the map, a quick travel system is offered for those who don't wish to travel by ship all too often. That said, ship combat plays a large part of Black Flag and to upgrade your ship you'll have to pirate vessels of all kinds to earn bounty enough for the most required upgrades. It's a system that can begin to feel repetitive as you board ship after ship, but the greater variation in what you can do throughout the world make this less of an issue.

Ship combat returns and it's never been better. Resulting in some captivating moments throughout.
Ship combat returns and it's never been better. Resulting in some captivating moments throughout.

One of the most striking differences between Black Flag and Assassin's Creed 3 is a simple one, it's just a hell of a lot more fun to play. I'm not sure if it's mechanics being re-balanced or better game design in general, but Black Flag feels like a welcome return to the likes of Brotherhood where you were eager for the next stealth section because it no longer drives you up the wall or leave you frustrated. Whereas AC3 suffered with gameplay sections that either felt unfair or frustrating, the gameplay in Black Flag feels fairer which results in a more much enjoyable experience. Only at a few points did I get frustrated with what the game was asking of me or find that the mechanics were obstructing my way. Most importantly of all is the fact that Black Flag makes you feel like a badass assassin again and in my opinion that's what makes an Assassin's Creed game great in the first place.

There's a great deal on offer in Assassin's Creed 4: Blag Flag, it's a pretty substantial game. From the lengthy single player campaign to multiplayer offerings, you'll find yourself satisfied for a good while, even if multiplayer will still only appeal to those interested in it's format. But what makes Black Flag stand out more than anything is the simple fact that it's the best Assassin's Creed game since Brotherhood graced us. There's a feeling that the franchise might be back on track after all and the intriguing story leaves many options open for the future games. Long time fans will appreciate the detail Ubisoft have gone into when it comes to the lore of the these games while new players will appreciate what is a great playing game in a rich and detailed world. There are a few niggling issues that still affect the franchise, but when you've been as pleasantly surprised as I have, these issues are easier to ignore and certainly don't rock the boat. So I'll stop with the boat jokes and tell you simply, that Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is a must play for all. Ahoy captain!

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A burst appendix and a ruined Christmas/New Year.

Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, the best in the franchise since Brotherhood.
Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, the best in the franchise since Brotherhood.

Oh what plans I had for this Christmas period, a time for me to complete those games I was so eager to finish and a time for me to wrap up my Game of the Year list for 2013. Yes there were games I wouldn't have the time to finish, but there were a few titles I was determined to experience before I wrote up my list. Sadly this didn't go as planned, instead I spent the majority of my Christmas / New Year period in severe pain and in hospital with a rather dangerous burst appendix. Now I won't go into details here, but as a doctor put it, I'm lucky to be here as the burst appendix caused all sorts of internal problems that could still cause me some problems in the future. After spending the vast majority of my time in hospital attached to a IV drip of antibiotics for days on end, I was desperate to get out of that place. I guess I did learn that me and hospitals don't get on. That said, I'm thankful I'm still here so that's something.

All this meant that my gaming plans went down the drain and I'm left unsure if I should even write up a game of the year list. There's part of me that enjoys wrapping the year up with a list of the video games that I enjoyed from the previous year, so maybe at some point it might be worth revisiting once everything a settled down. Yet I'm always left frustrated by the games I never got around to finishing. Right now I continue to adventure through the sublime Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and there are countless other games I'd like to wrap up to. 2013 was a strange year for many of us, it was a strange year in gaming in my opinion. Yes we had the typical big hitters and some superb indie hits, however it was a year spent waiting to see what Sony and Microsoft had in store with their next generation consoles. Hopefully 2014 should prove a more fruitful year for us all now that the Xbox One and PS4 have had a little time to settled down in the market. Plus what about Nintendo with the Wii U and 3DS? I have to admit I've found myself attracted by the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Windwaker HD, but enough to shell out £200 plus? I don't know.

I'm comfortable in saying that I most probably won't be picking up a PS4 or Xbox One for sometime, at least till all the creases have been ironed out and there's more on offer to tempt me. Having not long ago purchased a new graphics card for my PC, all my third-party games are happily being satisfied by the good old fashioned personal computer (AC4: Black Flag looks gorgeous on PC). In fact I've surprised myself lately by having even considered picking up a Playstation Vita before Sony inevitably release the new 2013 version with the less spectacular screen. Why? Well Sony have really been pushing the Vita's connectivity to the PS4 and the PS3 to some degree and there's at least a collection of titles that have caught my attention, the likes of LittleBigPlanet Vita and Persona 4: Golden. Who knows what I'll do, but it'll be interesting to experience a new platform again after what feels like forever since I bought new hardware.

Dare I even consider a purchase?
Dare I even consider a purchase?

So for now that's that, a little update I wanted to write. As for how I'm feeling, well a little rough to be honest but I'm getting there. I now have a butt-ugly scar for one thing, but like I said, I guess I should be thankful because having to rush to A&E after six days of severe abdomen pain is rarely a good sign. Thankfully I get to see what 2014 have in store for us all and that's pretty damn exciting.

Thanks for reading.

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Thoughts On: The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode One: All That Remains.

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Clementine is a young girl in a world which requires her to grow up sooner than she'd like, just to survive. From walking corpses to the fellow survivors who portray both the best and worst in humankind, the world of The Walking Dead remains as violent and unforgiving as ever. However she must face these dangers herself, face to face and that is at the heart of this second season of the award winning Telltale adventure game.

Clementine is a little older, not to mention a little wiser and braver.
Clementine is a little older, not to mention a little wiser and braver.

Taking place sometime after the events that concluded season one, All That Remains finds the player in control of Clementine, the young girl who so many of us fought to protect in the first season. Whilst she's certainly wiser and braver than she once was, there's still a degree of innocence to Clementine that makes her a noticeably different character to play. Lee had his past, his troubles yet Clementine is a girl whose innocence might possibly result in her death around every corner. It's an interesting story twist compared to Lee, but one that might possibly rub some players the wrong way. Don't get me wrong, playing as Clem is certainly one of the most interesting aspects to this second season, she maybe older but she's still a child and from a storytelling perspective, there's something captivating about experiencing this world from a child's view.

In many ways this first episode suffers from the usual issues that Telltale have faced with a new adventure series, in that the first episode can often feel flat as it attempts to set the scene for future episodes. That's the case for All That Remains because whilst there's some memorable moments it's clear this second season should not be judged on episode one alone. It's a reasonably short episode but one that certainly isn't without a few highlights, I won't go spoiling them though. Clementine's story certainly intrigues me and it's a real unknown where the story will go from here. Plus with your choices and decisions being imported from season one and 400 days, it's anyone's guess just how influential they will be in future episodes. But I feel the need to stress the point that episode one is simply setting the scene, those expecting revelations will most likely be disappointed with how season two kicks off.

Zombies confirmed!
Zombies confirmed!

The comic book artistic style of The Walking Dead is still as striking as ever and it's still great at giving the world a real atmosphere. Facial animations aren't great still, which is a shame because Clementine and cast sound as good as ever. Playing the PC version I came across no issues whatsoever, that goes for save importing to which is done at the very beginning, or if you don't have any save data from previous episodes the game will randomly choose choices for you. Controls are pretty much identical as are the way conversations take place, with that all too frightening timer returning requiring you to choose an answer in that allotted time. One small disappointment I noticed is the inability to turn off story-based notifications, these being the pop-up text informing you if a character will remember what you said and so forth. This is a feature I turned off in season one and it's a shame I couldn't seem to find a way to turn it off. Other than that, the PC version ran great.

It's always difficult to review an episodic game, it's because of this that I've decided to hold back from scoring it. Maybe once season two wraps up I can look at the season as a whole, but for now it's better I write my thoughts on each episodes when I can.

All That Remains is a solid starting point for season two, one that feels weak in spots but points to an open and unknown future for Clementine and the other survivors. It's this tease that will most likely keep players anticipated for future episodes, because once all is said and done this is still a great playing adventure game and one we'll most likely be discussing for a good many months to come.

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Thoughts On: Actual Sunlight.

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Part of me has always been fascinated by the depiction of depression in various forms of media, especially when considering how personal and unique it is for each and everyone who has been unfortunate enough to have suffered from it. In the years that I've visited mental health support groups on the web and the countless websites offering help and advice, I've realised how personal an individuals life with depression can be, it's a condition that never manifests itself the same way for each and everyone that faces it. Yes there are some standard symptoms but on a mental level I think we all experience depression in a very different way from each other. Through all this I think I've found the way video games portray depression the most interesting of all. The latest experience I was forwarded to is entitled Actual Sunlight and is a short interactive story of love, depression and the corporation. Written by Will O'Neill, it has recently launched a beta version of a 3D reworking of the game using the Unity Engine. which is free to check out for yourself. A 2D version is also available for $5.

Actual Sunlight tells the tale of Evan Winter, battling depression, love and the corporation.
Actual Sunlight tells the tale of Evan Winter, battling depression, love and the corporation.

Actual Sunlight is an interesting experience to say the least, much of it's content can be a little tough to take in if you've never experienced the pain of having anger issues, feelings of worthlessness and depression in the general sense, but much of what the tale of Evan Winter covers is something all human beings experience. It's clearly written by someone who hasn't just faced depression first hand, but still battles with it each and every day. At times the story is subtle, leaving you to put the pieces together yourself and it never feels particularly preachy either. That said it's one of the more interesting takes I've seen that covers these inevitable difficulties we face in life, whether we want to or not.

There are parts of Evan's story that will touch a nerve and the developer is forward in telling you that it covers many mature subjects which some might find difficult. There is an auto-biographical tone to Evan's story which might rub some people the wrong way to, especially when you consider what I previously said about life with depression being such a personal experience, I couldn't imagine being able to tell my story in the same manner. Some will find it's tone and tale a little rough and overly negative and I'd understand a dislike for Actual Sunlight, but I'd argue that that isn't the point, it's not a tale of total rehabilitation, it's a tale of one guy's struggle through life and in that regard I found it a rather fascinating experience.

Actual Sunlight 3D is currently available to download in open beta and makes for a striking visual change compared to it's 2D counterpart.
Actual Sunlight 3D is currently available to download in open beta and makes for a striking visual change compared to it's 2D counterpart.

We're not dealing with a self-help guide here folks, more like one guys experiences with mental health issues and how he perceived the world around him, and most importantly himself. From an outsider looking into the life of Evan Winter things can seem overly negative and downbeat, but if you've ever dealt with depression than that's exactly how it feels. The sky is continually grey, you never stop telling yourself that you're a worthless piece of crap and for some, suicidal ideation is an all too familiar neighbor. It's no fun and in my personal opinion that's what Actual Sunlight captures so well. It's an interesting insight into another individuals battle with depression, loneliness and struggle to cope with modern life.

It won't be for all tastes, yet there's part of me that smiles in the knowledge that games like these are still developed because there just another fine example of how varied and captivating the video game format can be in regards to telling a story or getting your message across. It's an often forgotten area of video games we all to often choose to ignore, however they continue to linger and for good reason because at the end of the day, it's games like Actual Sunlight that help many sufferers get their experiences across in a way they feel truly expresses the battlefield that is modern life. If I've at the very least captured your interest, then please check out the Actual Sunlight website where you can download the Actual Sunlight 3D open beta or choose the original 2D release available for $5. The game can also currently be found on Steam Greenlight, liked it why not show your support for the unique title.

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Thoughts On: Audiosurf 2.

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The original Audiosurf was one of the earliest rhythm puzzle games to capture my attention, it certainly wasn't the first of it's genre and it most certainly hasn't been the last, with many other games attempting to splice rhythmic musical interaction with a wide range of game genres ever since. But it was the most memorable for me and developer/creator Dylan Fitterer has been hard at work on it's sequel, Audiosurf 2.

Yep, it's still Audiosurf. With added Hamster Alliance, which is pretty kick-ass.
Yep, it's still Audiosurf. With added Hamster Alliance, which is pretty kick-ass.

Currently available through Steam Early Access, Audiosurf 2 is very much a direct sequel to the 2008 PC hit. However there's a few new tricks up it's sleeve that show real promise, even if things are a little rough around the edges right now. In some respects Dylan's decision to take Audiosurf 2 down the Early Access route is a smart one, after all the original Audiosurf was continually built upon with new features as the months and years went by and generally looked considerably different to how it did at launch. Of course with the game taking this warts and all method of release, Audiosurf 2 isn't without it's issues although rest assured it's still more than playable. But what is it about this sequel that's worth your attention.

In a single word: Mods. Yes we're talking modifications here and Audiosurf 2 opens up to all manner of mods that can dramatically change not just the look of the levels but also the game modes available. With Valve's Steam Workshop structure in play, you can mod Audiosurf 2 easily with a wide range of new visual styles and game modes created by Dylan Fitterer and the Audiosurf community. This is without a doubt the most striking difference in Audiosurf 2, allowing for a wide range of changes to the core game and one that currently gives the game an interesting twist, even if these mods mostly consist of visual changes rather than dramatic gameplay changes. That said, on the Steam Workshop you'll find a fun collection of early attempts at gameplay mods that have the potential to really spice up the familiar Audiosurf experience, even if the majority of the gameplay mods feel unpolished as of writing this.

Imaginaerum is just one of the many visual mods added through the Steam Workshop.
Imaginaerum is just one of the many visual mods added through the Steam Workshop.

The introduction of easily implemented mod support is without a doubt one of the more exciting features of Audiosurf 2, because no matter how I look at it, this is still Audiosurf. It doesn't look drastically different, though the visual mods currently available show real promise when it comes to changes modders can make to the cosmetics of the game. Still, this is Audiosurf and that feeling has been reinforced by the fact that many of the new features that have been added in Early Access are features that were found in the original Audiosurf. But maybe that's not the point, because fans of Audiosurf will be more than satisfied with what it's sequel is attempting to achieve and having the same familiar additions such as Audiosurf Radio and better song selection and searching will satisfy most players. It's just a shame that some of the more headline making features, such as the new wakeboard mode don't do a great deal for me.

Now of course it'd be wrong of me to criticise Audiosurf 2 for being more of the same, especially when one considers we're still in the Early Access stage here. The original Audiosurf was well supported even after it's release with new features so I still have high hopes. Plus we mustn't ignore the fact that Audiosurf 2 is more than playable with supported online leaderboards and a music search system that appeared to work well, though I don't have a large music collection so I can't be sure how well it handles those with a much greater collection than myself. Personally I've found myself using Soundcloud a great deal for a source of musical tracks/levels to play, plus it's implementation is trouble-free and easy to access, so there's always that option for those with small music collections.

There's clearly some potential in regards to mod support with Audiosurf 2, and it's clear that developer Dylan Fitterer is working closely with the community to provide tools and features that will only make modding the game easier as time goes by. There's already a fine selection of fun experiments such as a DDR inspired mode that provides one hell of a challenge. So if you found yourself smitten by Audiosurf's musically generated rollercoasters before, rest assured that there's still a great deal to enjoy within it's sequel. Let's hope that with the tools at hand, the modding community takes Audiosurf to it's heart and creates some truly fun and challenging modes for the community to play. We're already off to a decent start.

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WWE 2K14 Review.

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It might have a new name, but there's a lot that feels familiar about WWE 2K14, something that won't come as a shock for those familiar with this long standing wrestling franchise. While publisher 2K games might have purchased the rights to the WWE wrestling games after THQ's collapse, it's still long-time developer Yukes at the helm. However with 2K now involved, fans were hopeful they might be able to sprinkle some of the magic that has made their NBA basketball games so beloved by fans of the sport. The question is, do they?

Now in the interest of fairness, WWE 2K14 was in development whilst THQ were still in operation, so it's difficult to judge 2K's involvement from the get-go. We might have to wait for next years installment to see any noticeable improvements in this regard, yet don't be to quick to roll your eyes at WWE 2K14. For this is far from a bland filler game for the franchise as we wait for the inevitable next gen versions to most likely hit next year. Developers Yukes and the WWE have done a fine job of presenting the spectacle of sports entertainment in a way that's difficult not to find charming, even for someone who hasn't watched wrestling since the mid 2000's.

No one and I mean no one, can pull off the robe like the Macho Man Randy Savage.
No one and I mean no one, can pull off the robe like the Macho Man Randy Savage.

First of all is their successor to the well received Attitude Era mode seen in last years game. 30's years of Wrestlemania puts the spotlight on the ultimate event in the wrestling calendar, Wrestlemania. Setting up 45 matches spreading the length of WWE's history from the great days of Hulkamania to more recent spectacles such as CM Punk's rivalry with Undertaker. This mode allows the inclusion of some real legendary faces of wrestling, the likes of Hulk Hogan, Randy 'Macho Man' Savage, Big John Studd and so many more. Without a doubt WWE 2K14 features one of the best rosters the franchise as seen to date. While I appreciated the inclusion of the attitude era superstars in last years game (as someone who grew up watching that era) I can't argue with the likes of the Macho Man Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior who makes it first ever appearance in the franchise. The mode sets up historical Wrestlemania matches thanks to some splendid promos developed by the WWE, these do a great job of providing the history of famous feuds and even provide a bit of an history lesson for those unfamiliar with earlier eras of the WWE. In fact I'd argue that some of the best moments in the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode is relieving some of the earlier years, especially for someone who either wasn't alive or simply didn't watch wrestling back then. It's a mode that does a wonderful job of reminding you why the likes of Hulk Hogan are still so revered in wrestling.

In the ring, WWE 2K14 plays better than the franchise as in a long while thanks to quicker reversals and even quicker strikes.
In the ring, WWE 2K14 plays better than the franchise as in a long while thanks to quicker reversals and even quicker strikes.

That aside, this mode is mechanically identical to last years Attitude Era mode. You're still tasked with completing set objectives to experience well crafted cut scenes and earn unlockables, of which there's a great many to be unlocked. If there's any negative against the mode, it's that a few of the 45 matches included feel a little pointless and don't provide quite the thrill of the more established matches. Of course all this wouldn't mean much if the in-ring action isn't up to much. Last years game saw some improvements in animation and how wrestling is depicted, but poor AI and bugs meant that facing the AI was more of a chore than a charm. Thankfully Yuke's have fixed a great many of these issues in this years game. I'm happy to say that it plays better than the franchise as in a long, long time and while there are a few niggling issues here and there, the vast majority of the game is a pleasure to play. From a reworked reversal system, which makes matches flow with more speed and quicker strikes and grapples, the in-ring gameplay feels like a real improvement. Yuke's have also done a fine job of making the controls reasonably easy to pick up and play, with a better use of UI indications being used to highlight button presses and so forth. Unfortunately the targeting system is still as broken as ever, so matches with more than two superstars can prove a little frustrating, but long-time fans will appreciate the changes that have been made. Probably the best thing that can be said in regards to the AI in 2K14, is the fact that I've faced a much greater challenge in beating it on the legendary difficulty level, something that was never the case in WWE 13. Now it would be criminal of me not to mention the fact that things aren't perfect. Commentary remains awful with Michael Cole and Jerry 'The King' Lawler often repeating a line seconds after they'd already said it and even getting moves and reversals incorrect. Considering the high quality of commentary seen in 2K's NBA game, I can only hope that this is something that will be fixed in the future. Though not even 2K can fix the dislike I have for Michael Cole and his voice.

30 Years of Wrestlemania is a great trip through memory lane.
30 Years of Wrestlemania is a great trip through memory lane.

Another interesting addition this year is Undertaker's The Streak mode, which pits players with the task of finally breaking the Deadman's dominate undefeated Wrestlemania streak. Players can either face Taker to end the streak or defend it as the Undertaker, with a special difficulty level that makes Taker a real challenge to beat, we're talking greater than Legendary difficulty here folks. The Phenom even as a few tricks up his sleeve to, which only adds to the challenge you'll face when you take on the Deadman. Points are scored for various factors in a match, from the use of the resilience skill (in which points are deducted), how many finishes were used and if any weapons were used. Once you defeat the Undertaker you're given a score and placed upon the leaderboard. Defend the Streak is a little more basic, tasking you with defeating as many superstars as possible. If you were hopeful this mode would be a detailed look into the history Undertaker's streak than you might be left disappointed, however the added difficulty and score system makes this a real addictive addition and one that's already clearly popular with long-time players looking for a real challenge to their skills in-ring.

Universe Mode returns to, with a few changes. The rivalry feature being the mode substantial, this allows players to set up rivalries between two superstars or a tag team. Unfortunately that's the only rivalries that can be set up, and they can be setup for a given amount of weeks. Players can either create their own rivalries or have the computer do it for them. So what exactly does setting up a rivalry do? Well it basically provides the Universe Mode with some much needed structure as cut scenes will take place between matches and a very light thread of a storyline will develop as the weeks and shows go by. Sadly the rivalry feature feels very basic in function right now, but it's certainly a welcomed addition to the mode and one I could see being essential in the future for Universe Mode. Other than that there's only a few changes worthy of mention, for example the ability to now have a superstars attire randomize with each show instead of seeing them wear the exact same outfit week in and week out. One small change I appreciated regards superstar statistics, as it is now possible to see a superstars title history, how many times they've held a title and for how many weeks, you can even see how long they've lasted in a Royal Rumble and so forth. While superstar statistics aren't anything new to the mode, I think many players will appreciate the depth in which Yukes have gone in providing players with every bit of information this time round.

A short haired Triple H, and the whole of gaming weeps.
A short haired Triple H, and the whole of gaming weeps.

With the changes made to gameplay online benefits too as I witness more balanced matches than previous years. Whilst online isn't one of my favorite modes in the WWE games, I noticed an improvement in the way matches against other players played out and while I wouldn't go as far as to say there aren't any exploits at all, compared to previous years it didn't seem anywhere near as bad. Plus with 2K now looking after the franchise, one could hope that the much hated server issues that have plagued the series these last few years is at an end. Creation Mode as seen a couple of changes but nothing substantial. WWE fans will love the fact that you can now edit the entrance attires for all the superstars that have them and yes, that even includes Randy Savage and his rather splendid robe. Plus the fact that some superstars have so many attires this year, means that you can create, edit and upload to your hearts content. It's fascinating to see how far the WWE have come in allowing players to edit the superstars, arenas and shows over the years, especially when they were once so strict in what could and could not be changed.

So WWE 2K14 isn't short on content, even the 30 Years of Wrestlemania will keep you occupied for a good seven to eight hours. Plus with it's vast and impression creation suite, a satisfying Universe Mode and online that's still a blast to play with friends, it's fair to say you'll be getting your moneys worth and that's not to forgot the availability of user generated content to explore and play with. For long-time fans you'll most likely intend to or have picked this one up already, but for those who might have decided to skip this years game, know that WWE 2K14 is the best the franchise as played in a damn good while and presentation wise it's difficult not to be charmed by the attention to detail, time and effort put into this years game. Right now it's tough to tell what factor 2K will have in this franchise, but if this is the start of things to come than wrestling fans might finally get the wrestling game they deserve.

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Why I'm not jumping onto the next gen train... just yet!

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If you weren't somehow aware, the next generation of gaming consoles are about to hit stores and the homes of gamers around the world. Despite the countless next gen articles that are sprouting out on every gaming site out there, the launch of Sony's Playstation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One is being met with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Like any new launch, there's a degree of the unknown that excites the likes of me, especially in regards to what it will mean for the future of gaming. Yet unlike past launches, there appears to be more caution and skepticism than ever before.

To be fair both Sony and Microsoft face a very different market these days, even when compared to the launches of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. PC's have become a useful and sole source of gaming for many and thanks to services like Steam it's become easier than ever. The gaming market in general isn't as clear cut as it once was and we've been seeing that for the past two to three years as developers have taken it upon themselves to make better PC ports that offer better visuals, better performance and a better experience overall. Now I'm not going to go on a rant about the PC master race because that's bullcrap in my opinion. Consoles will always have a place for a large majority of gamers who don't want to fuss with components, drivers, operating systems and so forth. All they want is to throw in a disc and have it work as it always as. Yet it's a fascinating landscape when the likes of Valve are busy developing their very own SteamBox.

The whole market in general is a lot less sure of itself, it's clear games are going in an interesting new direction, one we might not always like but one I feel will be good for the industry as a whole. When I think back, it would have been insane of me not to consider picking up either the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 at launch because I'd know that I wouldn't be able to get those games anywhere else. However when I take a glance at the launch titles available, the ones that excite me are all games I know I'll be able to play on PC. Of course exclusives will be a factor, as will the likes of many sports games which never appear to get quite the PC treatment they deserve. But I'm left wondering if even these have the pulling power to attract the vast majority of console gamers. Would a gamer be willing to throw down £400+ and £40 for the game just so they can play a slightly better looking version of FIFA 14, when they already own a more than satisfying copy of the game on Xbox 360?

From my own personal perspective, I know there's value in being part of the crowd that jump on board a console launch early, especially if you're a frequent participant in the gaming community. Chatting about what you love, bitching about everything you hate and simply giving over your opinion is part of the fun of a console launch. Let's not forget the fact that gaming sites will be flooded with content based solely on the next generation of consoles for many months to come as we make the transition. It's easy to to feel left out if you don't own one of these new consoles at launch, but it's important to remember that these consoles won't come cheap so I suspect a great many of us will decide not to be part of the launch crowd this time round. There's certainly positives in jumping on board early, but when I think back to the previous generation I recall playing very little of my Xbox 360 at it's launch, for lack of games more than anything else and I worry that things would be the same this time round.

Weather you've decided you'll be picking up a brand spanking new Playstation 4, a shiny new Xbox One or even both, then it's going to be an interesting couple of months for you. With so many unanswered questions still lingering and the fact that there's still Nintendo's Wii U to consider, it's certainly going to be fun finding out. The next generation finds the industry unsure of itself, more than it's ever before. There's something both exciting and scary about all this, whilst we hate to admit it we gamers hate change, even when it appears we might be begging for it. It won't be an easy launch for either console with both having already drawn criticisms, for example the whole resolutiongate debate. But it'll be interesting to see how both Microsoft and Sony tackle these uncertain times. Me, well I'll be watching from the sides with great interest… that is until I feel the urge to jump on on board with the rest of you.

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