Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

A fairly epic fully open world tie in set in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings universe somewhere between the events in The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy themselves. You play a newly dead Ranger possessed by the infamous creator of the Rings Of Power, Celebrimbor. You are tasked with hunting down the top chiefs in the Dark Lord’s army in order to extract vengeance for the murder of your loved ones. In doing so you also complete Celebrimbor’s objective of preventing Sauron from being able to take physical form.

Gameplay is straight out of the Assassin’s Creed playbook complete with view towers that lift back the fog of war and shows you nearby side quests and collectables. The actual game map though is more expansive than a regular Assassin’s Creed city taking on the landscape of Mordor itself. It fills much closer to the open world Egypt of Assassin’s Creed Origins in this regard. On the combat front the game lifts pretty directly from Warner Bros Gotham franchise. The overall end result is a pretty tight game that offers a better Assassin’s Creed experience than anything Ubisoft have delivered since Syndicate. Certainly better than Valhalla or Watch Dogs: Legion and as an overall experience on par with the first Watch Dogs.

Shadow of Mordor is very much a game of two halves. The first part of the game is fairly restrained and feels like an overly long tutorial as you grind your character levelling and get introduced slowly to various game mechanics. The second half switches scenes to a more Uncharted feeling platform greenery domain and with it a switch in focus to a much more Assassin’s Creed stealth style gameplay. Overall you are left with a feeling that the second half the game could have been easily extended by a few hours and introduced much, much sooner.

While it does play a part during the first act, the games unique foe system really comes in to its own during the more stealthy second part with you slowly taking control of the five war chiefs. The Nemesis system, as it is known, allows NPC’s to have a life outside your direct interactions. As such they grow in stature when they beat you on the battlefield and remember you when you next meet them in the game world. The idea is you have a unique foe who you struggle to dispatch and end up having a personal beef with, adding to the satisfaction when you finally pick off that one difficult opponent.

Overall Middle-Earth is a well polished game that is fun to play in a way Assassin’s Creed have long forgotten with a single play story that fits the game between the two Tolkien franchises very well indeed.

4/5

Alien: Isolation

There seems to be some unwritten law that when I review a First Person game I have to mention how much I generally dislike the view point and how rare it is for me to play such a title. I then go on to explain how this game is an exception to the rule and a welcome surprise.

Alien: Isolation is one of those games. And a very welcome surprise it was too. The draw is obviously the Alien franchise and the love of the first two Sigourney Weaver movies. I’m pleased to say Creative Assembly, the makers of this masterpiece, have treated this source material with nothing but the upmost respect.

The game is set upon a space station that has come in to possession of the flight recorder for Ripley’s ill-fated ship from the first movie. You play Riply’s daughter, Amanda, in search of answers to what happened to mum. You arrive on the space station only to discover a world in disarray and the possibility that more than the flight recorder has survived the Nostromo.

In moment to moment gameplay it is very, very reminiscent of Dead Space just with an Alien franchise skin applied and a switch in perspective. This of course is no bad thing.

The primary gameloop is built around stealth and crafting. Getting in to any kind of fight and/or running out of essential supplies is often very, very deadly. Each level gives you a series of puzzles to complete while you desperately avoid just about every other inhabitant of Sevastapol Station.

5/5

#Watch_Dogs

This is the very first game in Ubisoft’s Watchdogs franchise. The games are a Grand Theft Auto style fully open world spin off from their hit Assassins Creed series set in an alternative modern world where a major new big tech, Blume, has sold it’s revolutionary ctOS city control system to big cities around the globe.

Over the years I’ve played all three Watchdogs games and this was my third complete playthrough of the very first game. And I must say despite unjust bad press at the time, they got it right first time. On release Ubisoft where promising a fully interactive open world environment in which you could quickly hack various aspects of the city and the phones of passing NPC’s with your in game mobile phone.

Many expected too much from the pre-release hype and on release the game was rubbished for not offering that fully hackable experience promised. Gamers and reviewers alike where quick to complain. Having played all three games though my opinion today very much matches that on release. They nailed it. This game is far more enjoyable and lives up to the city hacker promise far better than either of the sequels did.

The first game follows the exploits of hacker Aiden Pierce and his quest for vengeance following the death of his niece following a botched hit attempt on his life after a failed robbery. The game starts in the lobby of the Merlot Hotel with Aiden hacking the cameras with his trusty hacker phone and attempting to steal some cash. This sets up the cutscene with his niece’s death and the start of the quest for revenge.

Watchdogs plays much like GTA V and Sleeping Dogs with you travelling, usually driving, around a representation of a modern US city (Chigaco) getting to the next waypoint that starts the next story mission which is the same general mix of camera hacking and cover shooting. As with any good open world games you have the ubiquous tower location to unlock map detail and plenty of optional side missions to extend game time and distract you from the task in hand.

Chigaco is a fantastic city to explore. I’ve never been there but there’s something about the high tower blocks, transit system, surrounding suburbs, and road network that just lends itself to this type of open world experience. Much like the multitude of games centred around New York. It’s certainly a far better location than San Francisco in the next game.

As you progress through the game just about everything is hackable. Every passer by has a unique bio and it’s fairly simple to steal money from their bank accounts, which you can withdraw from conveniently placed ATM’s. You can switch traffic lights, raise bridges, and explode under road steampipes. One of the best aspects is the L-Train. Chigaco’s overhead light rail system. You can catch a train and ride the L. You could use it for fast travel, you can control the trains themselves, or you can just hop on board and enjoy the ride.

This is also the only Watchdogs game with a truly engaging story. Many complained of Aiden’s character being bland or miserable. And there was the long standing disconnect in all open world games between the story narrative and player agency which results in running over civilians and firing grenade rockets at police going against the overall hacker good guy story narrative. But it’s in trying to fix these things in later games that led to the series loosing its soul and ultimately highlights how good the first game really was.

There’s a lot in the way hacking and profiling works in this game that got lost in the two sequels. The push to use non lethal weapons and over promote the toy boys – either drone or spiders. And all the locations felt different. Unlike the third game which lost its London feel to a lot of cloned cut’n’paste environments.

I’d love to see a future game set in New York, centred around a good story driven central character, and a return of many of the core game mechanics that made experiencing this hacker world so enjoyable for the first time.

5/5

Resogun

Save all the humans! For the first two or three years, while the gaming community awaited Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, there was a running joke of this being the best game on the PlayStation 4 platform. While not really true the tongue in cheek humour does betray how good this reimagining of the 80’s classic Defender arcade really is.

I first come across Defender in the mid-90’s although I didn’t realise exactly what it was at the time. Public Domain libraries were a really big thing on the Amiga and it was common to send off a few Pounds in Postal Orders and get some high quality software through the post. There was a series of games disks called The Assassin’s collection and it was on one of those I got one of my favourite games – Oblivion, a spot on Defender clone.

Resogun was a launch title for the PS4, alongside Assassin’s Creed IV, so it was an important and much played title when the console first came out.

Housemarque did quite a bit more than merely remake a beloved arcade classic. They totally modernised and updated the experience for the modern era. If seaside arcades where still destination locations for the latest gaming experiences then this is exactly the type of game you’d want to play there. It’s a very pure arcade experience.

The game is a twin-stick shooter with your left-analogue stick controlling the player ship flying around a circular/donut hub planet, and the right-analogue stick controlling the direction of fire. If you’ve played any big 80’s shooter like R-Type, Scramble, Gradius or Xenon 2, then you’ll know what to expect with waves of enemy aliens spawning and flying around the screen in tight attack patterns while you dodge their hellfire of bullet storm and pick them off.

While all this is going on you need to protect the humans from being picked of. Those that are released from their boxes need picking up and carrying to safety before the enemies can abduct them and carry them off screen. Much like the original Defender. It’s this combination of classic Defender saving the humans and their take on how that games play area also rotated around, mixed with a modern update of the twin stick firing system and a more traditional SHEMUP waves of alien attack that comes together to produce a modern day classic.

The game also really shows off the power of this new generation of games machine. There’s a lot happening on screen, the (3D model) sprite count seems insane. And as the bullets hit the particle physics is just plane bonkers. You’d expect lesser machines to slow to a pedestrian crawl with all this happening at once, the PS4 merrily continues on at a leisurely 60fps.

And the new speaker built in to the Dual Shock 4 controller is amazing. It really pulls you into the action hearing constant action updates being given in this way. It’s a real shame more games never utilised the speaker to enhance the overall atmosphere. Even on the more modern Series X the speaker is something noticeably missing from the XBox platform that really should have become an industry standard by now.

5/5

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The game to buy (I bought) a PS4 for! Often wonder about peoples eye-sights when they talk about “diminishing returns” when talking about video game graphics. Coming from The Last Of Us and Grand Theft Auto V on the PlayStation 3 this was amazing, the cost of a brand new generation games console and a suitable plasma 1080p television to go with being more than worth entry fee for experiencing this Assassin’s Creed in name only in it’s best available rendition.

It’s possibly the least “Assassin’s Creed” of the franchise and widely regarded as the pinnacle entry. You play Edward Kenway, a pirate and accidental assassin roaming the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It’s the full on pirate life of plunder and the whole sailing experience marks the cornerstone the rest of the game is built around. So much could have gone wrong, especially with the combat, but Ubisoft truly aced it here.

Navel combat is a treat. Simple enough to grasp and get the hang of, but complex enough for skill, options and strategy to come to the fore. Circle your quarry trading cannon fire until you have them by the gang plank. Once you’ve hammered them to submission it’s time to swing over and board their vessel taking for your fleet or repairs to your own Jackdaw (name of your pirate ship).

On land this is pretty much regular Assassin’s Creed fare with the standard range of targets, synchronisation towers, loot boxes, and tailing missions. What’s cool is the seamless transitions from ship to shore. For the size of the map and the number of islands to discover it’s a wonder how you are almost never barred by artificial barriers (only used for current mission ringfencing reasons) and won’t see any obvious loading screens or transitions.

Black Flag is a huge open world experience that is just plain fun to play. This is the game where you want to go off story and just bum about with the side stuff, and there’s plenty of it. The variety of island locations really helps keep the necessary cookie cutter nature of the activities fresh. It’s fun to sail between islands, pick off a few ships, and then disembark to liberate another plantation or solve a Mayan puzzle before jumping aboard ship and setting off for the next dot on a map.

I last played this game about a year or so back. On that playthrough I was mostly running fast through the story missions. This left me with a somewhat underpowered ship at the start of the final mission. I quit the game there rather than grind out the necessary upgrades. This time I loaded up that old game save and had a whale of a time grinding through a few fortress take overs, assassination missions and general pirating to gain the money needed to refit the Jackdaw and finally complete the game (again).

On a side not this does show the importance of reliable game save backup’s availability. I’d switched from my old PlayStation 4 (where I was playing the last story run) to a new PlayStation 4 Pro (where I enjoyably grinded to the ending). This, for me, vindicates my choice of XBox Series X over PlayStation 5 for the next generation. While both consoles now force you to use their own cloud servers for backing up game saves, at least on XBox it’s a free service (PS5 requiring a Plus subscription).

5/5