IN DEFENCE OF FABLE

OK gamers as Meryl Streep said to Goldie Hawn in the film ‘Death Becomes Her’ as she shoots her in the stomach with a shotgun “you’ve bought this on yourself”. Yes readers it is you that has driven me to this, and possibly the extreme boredom bought on by a 2 week isolation, but instead of doing something constructive like cleaning the bathroom I have decided to write this – the limescale can wait as arguing about gaming is far more fun, don’t you agree? So onto Fable, there’s been a re-writing of history regarding Fable in recent years, even a recent readers feature said and I quote “Fable was never any good”, I’ve heard this sentiment a few times and though I respect everyone’s opinion and no opinion can be incorrect, your opinion is wrong and I don’t respect it. I should note that I am a Fable super-fan, so this perspective is going to well-balanced and totally unbiased…

The year is 2020, we are living in the world where an invisible virus that is destroying our way of life and we need distractions like gaming to take us out of the world we live in. It’s been an excellent generation for videogames, with Sony’s first party in particular nailing it with story driven action adventure games. But then when you look over the highest rated games a lot of them are humourless bores! The Last of Us though excellent is such a depressing couple of games I needed therapy after playing them. The recent Tomb Raider games have become so grim, dark and realistic it’s no longer fun to make Lara swan dive into a rock, sad times. Horizon Zero Dawn has a cool but ridiculous concept taken so seriously; they might as well have not bothered with mo-cap as everyone’s face was set to constipated the whole game.  It’s honestly refreshing when a game goes for comedy and in the AAA space as these have been very few and far between in recent years. Borderlands, Sunset Overdrive and Portal 2 are examples of games that have really worn comedy on their sleeves. So why are the majority of games so serious? That was something that made Fable really stand out among the brown and grey shooters populating gaming at the time. Fable’s world was a dark twisted fantasy not to mention foreboding, but it perfectly weaved in a marvellous Monty Python-esque sense of humour that’s so rare in videogames – it gave Fable a charm that’s missing from the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn that are held in far higher regard. Not only was this comedy, it’s British comedy (which is the best, sorry Americans), unafraid to be silly and sarcastic – from quests based around completing Gnome collections and to over dramatic Demon Doors that just want to see you get fat.

Fable managed to invigorate mundane quests that are present in most games in the genre but made them infinitely more entertaining with clever script writing and a silly morality system that was fun to mess around with. The social aspect of Fable was also a joy to play, finally you could live out your fantasy of farting to a group of people and getting the adoration and disgust you deserve. My Fable 2 experience almost ruined my love life, because I met my first husband in it, Roger the cobbler. He gave me a pair of boots for absolutely no reason other than love, that’s relationship goals right there, I love me some footwear – I’ve been searching for my Roger ever since. My real-life fiancé does share his Yorkshire accent but he’s yet to buy me boots that offer an armour stat boost, though he does buy me fried chicken when I’m hung over so it’s not all bad.

Yes Fable has a lot of short comings, the combat seemed to degrade with each subsequent entry and the third game was littered with micro-transactions and a ridiculous end game. Across the series the world was far too linear, never managing a proper open world with loading screens littering the game every 10 minutes as you travel from place to place. Never before has a game been screaming out for a densely designed open world like Fable. One has to remember though, that the 3rd game, which was undoubtedly the worst, was released a decade ago, so of course aspects of Fable will feel dated and not hold up under modern day scrutiny. Though after replaying Fable 2 last year what struck me was just how well the game stands up, it’s still incredibly fun and though the magic in combat is far too powerful there’s something really satisfying about unleashing lightning on 10 enemies at once, and the story is still a compelling tale with interesting side characters and a world you want to be part of.

As the new generation approaches, Fable is finally getting the revival it so deserves. Lionhead may be gone, but after playing the beta for Fable Legends that’s probably for the best. Playground Games the new developers of the series haven’t made a bad game and though all they’ve made is racing games, the recent trailer put my mind at ease. It would be extremely easy for them to create another fantasy RPG with a super serious tone, but I was relieved to see that Playground understand what Fable is – the new trailer said a lot in a short amount of time. We saw a grand scale fantastical world with its British sense of humour still firmly intact. Fable is now my most anticipated next gen game and I’ve seen absolutely nothing of it, but I can’t wait to return to this world. So Chicken Chasers, this is my defence of Fable. And it may not have convinced you otherwise, but Fable is great and always was, there’s a reason it’s being bought back. Now let’s get back to arguing about what console is better, now this Fable business can be laid to rest.

THE XBOX GAME STUDIOS TO WATCH IN THE NEXT GENERATION

It’s 2013 and the Xbox division isn’t in the best place, the end of the 360 generation had funnelled all their energies into creating gimmicky Kinect games and the direction of their newly released console was muddled under the stewardship of Don Mattrick. Despite this Xbox still managed a fairly appealing set of games for the launch of the Xbox One. Ryse: Son of Rome was a pretty, but shallow combat focused game that displayed the graphical prowess of the new generation, Dead Rising 3 provided fun zombie killing action with a silly and light hearted story and Forza 5 was a perfectly serviceable entry in the series. But it was the promise of things to come that truly excited; Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive, Lionhead’s Fable Legends and Remedy’s Quantum Break – sadly this excitement didn’t last with cancellations, shuttered studios, a gutted first party, not to mention some major disappointments.

Xbox Game Studios (formerly Microsoft Game Studios) were in a bad shape – Bungie the crown jewel in Microsoft’s proverbial cap had gone independent before the generation had even kicked off with 343 Industries Halo 4 receiving a mixed response from fans. Lionhead was a complete mess after Fable The Journey’s critical panning and Fable Legends failing to garner any hype. Sadly lesser known studio Press Play never really got off the ground, with their only major console game Max Curse of the Brotherhood releasing on rival platforms with very little fanfare and they were later shuttered along with Lionhead. And poor Rare were stuck giving CPR to the second generation Kinect. By 2016 Xbox Game Studios only consisted of 343, The Coalition, Turn 10, Rare and Mojang.

Everything changed from 2018 onwards with their studios swelling to 15 and with the upcoming Zenimax acquisition Xbox Game Studios will stand at a robust 23 Studios, it’s a massive turnaround luckily coinciding with the release of the new generation of consoles. These studios have a plethora of talent who now have the opportunity to really show what they are made of. Here are a few of my picks for Xbox Game Studios to watch out for in the new generation, I’m excluding Bethesda here as they haven’t been acquired just yet.

THE COALITION

The Coalition are an extremely talented team of developers, their work on the Gears franchise has been very good, scoring solid scores across the board. But it’s their graphical work that really makes them stand out, they have made 2 of the best looking games on the Xbox One, both of which had rock solid performance as well as being made in a timely manner.

It looks like the Coalition might be roped into making Gears for an eternity, however their trilogy looks likely to be complete with the upcoming sixth instalment. There has been a bit of acknowledgment that the series isn’t quite the draw it once was, it will be interesting to see if this studio will be allowed to spread their wings and create something completely new. They are a studio that can make a solid campaign and addictive multiplayer, if they get the chance to explore a new IP their future games could be worth getting excited for, and even if they continue making Gears, the franchise is still in good hands.

PLAYGROUND GAMES

Might as well get this out the way, Playground Games haven’t made a bad game yet. Their incredible Forza Horizon games have been the critical darlings of the Xbox One era. The studio really understand how to create compelling and stunning looking open worlds, not to mention their race routes are often devilish, challenging and above all fun.

Since being acquired by Microsoft the studio have expanded, creating a second team that will be responsible for the reboot of the beloved Fable franchise. The trailer shows that Playground know what Fable is all about, an intriguing fantastical land with a knowing comedic wink to it’s audience and British to its core.

This is a studio you should look out for because above all else they know how to make excellent videogames and it’s exciting to think of what the talent at this studio could do outside of the racing genre. It’s not only Fable that gets the juices flowing, Forza Horizon always delivers the goods and the fifth instalment is sure to be another genre defining masterpiece.

COMPULSION GAMES

Compulsion Games were part of Xbox’s 2018 acquiring spree, it’s studio that often flies under the radar and that’s completely fair. Unlike say Obsidian Entertainment or Playground Games, Compulsion’s game releases have been middling affairs. Their first game Contrast was a puzzle platforming game with a stunning noir style, with a visuals that harkened back to early Tim Burton films, the game looked great but also felt a bit empty and lifeless coupled with some obtuse puzzling and wonky controls it sadly didn’t quite come together.

Their follow-up game garnered much more attention especially with it releasing shortly after the announcement of the studio getting acquired. We Happy Few was a game with so much potential but sadly couldn’t quite live up to its ambition, a stunning art-deco aesthetic coupled with a brilliantly written and heart wrenching story about loss, the game had plenty of ingredients to be fantastic, but it was let down by clunky stealth gameplay, overly simplistic combat and a survival system that felt massively out of place. In general the game was a just slog to get through, which was such a shame as it had a so much going for it.

Compulsion Games has an ocean of talent and it’s very clear they were lacking in technical finesse and lumped with the budgetary restraints that many smaller studios encounter. The reason to get excited about them is these drawbacks should be alleviated by being part of Xbox, the studio will get the budget and support to reach the heights they’ve stretched for in the past.

NINJA THEORY

Ninja Theory were a massive get for Microsoft, similar to Playground Games they are yet to make a bad game, their reboot of Devil May Cry may have upset long-time fans but the game was a solid entry featuring a robust combat system and a well-told story.

But it’s their 2017 game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice that really caught the worlds attention. Hellblade set out to tell a complex tale about grief, through the eyes of a protagonist with realistic mental health problems including voice hearing and schizophrenia intertwined with a beautifully realised game world that gave levity to the character and plot. The game was created with between 10 to 25 developers that set out to create a piece of work that could be held up to the same standards as other AAA games but on a much tighter budget. Ninja Theory by and large accomplished this, Hellblade was an absolute masterpiece – though not a rick rollicking blockbuster, Hellblade’s emotional and personal tale was told at a much slower pace than most mainstream games, leaving some gamers wanting more, but for those that embraced the game found an experience unlike any other.

Ninja Theory managed this with limited means, imagine what this studio can do with a game that has no constraints. The in-engine trailer for Hellblade 2 (above) displays a studio that are doing everything they can push the boundaries of what they can produce, if the graphics present in this trailer resembles what we get in game, it’s going to look mind blowing – a true next-gen game. And that’s not all they’ve got cooking with Project Mara announced in January and another more mysterious project also in the works. There’s plenty to get excited about!

OBSIDIAN ENTERTAINMENT

Obsidian Entertainment are veterans of the videogame industry at this point, their prior work on the likes of Fallout New Vegas, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2, South Park Stick of Truth and the recent Outer Worlds they’ve proved time and time again they are one of the best in the industry at western role playing games. But even when Obsidian try something different like the survival game Grounded, they succeed because they know how to create crazy worlds, that are a joy to explore.

Obsidians biggest hurdle like others on this list has been a combination of limited budgets and time constraints. Fallout New Vegas is often touted as the best game in the series, but their limited time to develop the game led to bugs that detracted from the games excellence.

Avowed is the studios next game, we’re all hoping that Obsidian get the time and budget they need to create a game that can go toe to toe with some of the biggest and best Western RPG’s, they certainly have the pedigree. Obsidian seemed to fly under the radar during the Xbox One era, but what Avowed shows is a studio that has been fully reignited by the safety of being part of Xbox Game Studios.

TOP 5 ACTRESSES TO VOICE LARA CROFT NEXT

Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander may get most of the attention by playing Lara on the big screen, but Lara is still most popular in her original videogame form, with the voice actresses of the game often being unsung heroes. Camilla Luddington and Keeley Hawes have voiced the iconic woman most recently to varying degrees of success. I would argue Keeley Hawes embodied Croft incredibly well but was let down with poor scripts and silly storylines. Luddington fared a bit better with much tighter script writing and a lot more character development, but was let down with the character going down an overly glum route, which removed all of Croft’s humour and wit for something more depressing dressed as realism. With the survivor trilogy now over it may be time for a new voice actress to take over the mantle, maybe a return to the 90’s Lara or combination of old and new.

I’m looking at women that can take on the role in a similar way to Camilla, doing motion capture as well as vocal work, I’m looking at plausibility too. As much as I’d love Angelina Jolie to come back and voice Lara, that’s pretty unlikely – so I’m trying to feature actresses that actually could and would feasibly take on the role in a videogame. I’m keeping the actresses British, as even as a native Brit, Camilla could often sound a bit Americanised, so imagine an actual American taking on the role.

5. ELIZABETH HURLEY

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The one thing I’d really like to see done with Lara which has never really been done before, is showing the character at a different point in her life. The recent reboot games have given us a 21 year old Lara in the first game leading to a woman in her mid-20’s by the third game. The original games never really gave Lara a definitive age but I don’t believe they ever went further than her mid 30’s. Unlike Uncharted which gave us a Nathan Drake no longer in his prime, Lara has remained youthful – despite Croft being around for almost 25 years.

As of writing Elizabeth Hurley is 55 years old and she looks absolutely amazing! Of course as a voice actor Hurley wouldn’t need to play the character as the same age as herself, but I’d genuinely like to see a 55 year old Lara Croft, what would she be like, how would she act, would an older Lara still be obsessed with archaeology?

Hurley would be perfect in the role, she has the suitably posh voice, great sense of humour and natural sex appeal that the 90’s Lara would undoubtedly still have. Hurley hasn’t acted in anything particularly high profile in a fair few years and I would rank her bottom of this list based on the likelihood of game developers attempting to portray an older woman – but I do believe Lara Croft would be a decent fit for her.

4. KATE BECKINSALE

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There was a time when Beckinsale could have easily taken Angelina Jolie’s spot in the live action films and in the 2000’s she was one of the biggest stars on the silver screen, fronting the popular Underworld series plus starring roles in action films Total Recall and Van Helsing.

Beckinsale might be a little too famous to front a videogame, with her still being a big name, however in recent years Kate’s roles have been a bit more spread out, meaning she could conceivably have the time to take on the demands of a major videogame role. She’s also not opposed to voicing videogame characters lending her talents to Elder Scrolls Online in 2014.

Beckinsale ranks highly with me due to her immediate charm and effortless sex appeal, she has the perfect accent in her natural speaking voice and her playful exchanges on the Graham Norton Show shows display her comedic chops that could be utilised to play a perfect Lara in the vein of the original games. Her recent performance in The Widow prove she has the dramatic range to sell a multi-layered character that the more recent games portray, she would be an incredible get for the series, but I believe a bit far fetched.

3. NATALIE DORMER

38 year old Natalie Dormer broke out into mainstream consciousness in 2007 playing Anne Boleyn in The Tutors, a role she won critical acclaim for. But her most recognised role will be that of the manipulative and brilliant Margarery Tyrell in the mega hit Game of Thrones.

Within the film industry Dormer will happily take on smaller roles, with her even writing and starring in the film The Darkness in 2018, which shows a true dedication to her approach to taking on her characters. Dormer has even taken on a major role in a videogame, voicing a character in the often maligned Mass Effect Andromeda.

Dormer has everything she needs for Lara Croft, she’s British, she’s a superb actress that takes on every role with the upmost respect and passion.

2. DAISY RIDLEY

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Daisy Ridley was very nearly Croft in the most recent film, her commitment to the Star Wars franchise most likely was detrimental to her getting the role, she’s an adept actress and at 28 years old she is at the perfect age to take over from Camilla Luddington, if the next game was a straight sequel to Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Ridley certainly has the intensity and physicality to play Lara, her roles in films so far have been reasonably narrow, with Star Wars and Murder on the Orient Express being her only major roles. But playing Rey has shown her capability in playing someone whose emotionally complex as well as the physical demands of an action orientated character.

Ridley has been featuring in videogames for the last few years as well. Next year she will lend her voice along with James McAvoy and Willem Dafoe in the independent game 12 minutes as well as reprising the role of Rey in the EA Star wars games.

1. MICHELLE DOCKERY

My number 1 pick for the next Lara Croft voice actress is Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery. Michelle is a great actress with fantastic range and lets face it she’d be right at home in a grand manor. Dockery has the perfect accent, the dramatic chops, the biting wit and cheeky banter to make the perfect Lara Croft. One that can walk the line between Croft of old and new.

Michelle still works regularly in both TV and film and though her role as Elizabeth Crawley is well known to many people, taking on an iconic role like Lara Croft could be really cement her as a British icon.

Dockery is yet to star in a videogame, with her natural habitat being the London stage, but her roles across stage and screen have been incredibly varied from period piece costume dramas to Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, would adding an action adventure videogame to her long list of roles be worthwhile? I think so, which is why she tops my list.

Who do you think could take on the role of Lara Croft? Let me know.

ADDED BONUS – JESSIE GRAFF OR OLIVIA VIVIAN – BODY DOUBLES

Though I’d want an actress with real acting chops to take on Lara Croft in terms of voice acting and performance capture, I’d like to see Lara Croft’s physical model resemble that of a proper athlete. Lara’s parkour would require some serious upper body strength and yet Lara is a little lacking in the upper body muscle she’d truly need to achieve the feats she does in game (though she was a lot more muscular in Shadow of the Tomb Raider). So I’d love to see the Lara Croft body doubles to be modelled on real life super women, USA’s Jessie Graff or Australia’s Olivia Vivian. Though if either of them can pull off an English accent or if they have the acting chops to pull it off… then why not.

TOP 10 GAMES THAT COULD (OR SHOULD) HAVE BEEN GAME OF THE YEAR

We love ourselves a Game of the Year, a prize with such gravitas that it renders all other games obsolete. And we could argue for days whether a game deserves the accolade… *cough Dragon Age Inquisition cough* – but the games that win these top prizes are critical darlings, made by developers that are at the height of their creative powers.

But what of the forgotten treasures or the games that may have garnered acclaim and still missed out on the top prize due to their genre or themes or maybe they were just too ahead of their time. The games that did so much right but couldn’t quite elbow their way into the conversation. The games that didn’t quite shout loudly enough above the war cries of Kratos or the gun fire of Masterchief. Or the games that might have been beloved in their time but got lost or maybe there simply wasn’t a “Game of the Year” award when they released.

I’m taking a look back through the generations of gems that could have been Game of the Year, but just missed out.

10. Hellblade Senua’s Sacrfice (2017)

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Hellblade is a game that has resonated with so many gamers due to it’s ground-breaking attempts at depicting mental illness, developer Ninja Theory enlisted specialists in the field and interviewed people who suffer from voice hearing so that they could accurately depict psychosis.

Despite only having a team of around 20 developers, Ninja Theory didn’t let that stand in the way of their ambitions, delivering a haunting and compelling narrative about a woman desperate to bring her lover back from the dead. Intertwining this with Celtic and Norse mythology, Hellblade conjures a world rarely seen in videogames.

The game received incredibly high praise upon release and even won some awards including Best British Game from the BAFTA’s as well as performer Melina Jüergens scooping every acting award going. Unfortunately, Hellblade was the victim of releasing in a year with incredibly tough competition, juggernauts like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Horizon Zero Dawn, which all took over the conversation. But no one can deny the power of the narrative this game had and it’s unfortunate Hellblade wasn’t nominated for the top prize at either The Game Awards or the DICE awards.

Looking ahead, Hellblade is set to receive a sequel called Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2. Not much is known about the game, but with the developer now a first party studio for Microsoft and a team over twice the size of the original, maybe the ambitions of the previous game will be achieved in the follow-up.   

9. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (2004)

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It is exceedingly rare for a videogame to be better than the film it’s based on, Chronicles of Riddick was one such game. A first-person stealth game set in Butcher Bay prison, a prison no one has escaped from. So of course, your main mission of the game is to escape. The game comprises of three increasingly secure areas, with the challenge growing in tandem.

Unlike other shooters of the era the HUD was massively stripped back, something modern shooters have emulated, but for the time this was a rare feature. Stealth gameplay like dragging bodies out of sight and using your bare hands to take down enemies are now standard in games like Hitman but started out life on games like Riddick.

The graphics were outstanding, bringing the game world to life, the Vin Diesel character model in particular looked uncanny, a rare feat for a game released 16 years ago. Small details like bullet holes glowing red upon first impact and darkening as they cool really helped to immerse the player in the environments.

Escape from Butcher Bay received critical acclaim and was nominated for many awards, even winning “action game of the year” from Computer Gaming World, but sadly the game is often overlooked, with World of Warcraft and Halo 2 releasing in the same year, it was hard for a game based on failed film franchise to stay in the status quo. Riddick’s lack of a multiplayer mode may have dented some enthusiasm for it as well, but even now the game is fantastic and well worth a play, the remake Assault on Dark Athena on PS3 and Xbox 360 is also worth a go if you don’t own an original Xbox.   

8. South Park: Stick of Truth (2014)

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One game genre that often struggles to work its way into the awards conversation whether it’s in film or in games is comedy. Every game nominated for Game of the Year at the Game Awards has been a serious game, only The Outer Worlds’ nomination in 2019 being an outlier, but is The Outer Worlds really a comedy game? 2014 saw the release of South Park: Stick of Truth, a truly exceptional RPG with an inspired combat system, beautifully designed open world, fantastic South Park Easter eggs for long time fans and the best script written for a game that year!

Stick of Truth is brilliant in the way it both pays homage to many games whilst using them for comedic leverage. A great example is the self-aware audio logs found on the spaceship “it’s like they’re filler… useless filler.” A sentiment shared by many gamers but used in South Park to great comedic effect.

Where Stick of Truth really shines is the loving recreation of the quiet Mountain Town and the ingenious use of the characters within the game. You start the game as the new kid aptly nicknamed “Douchebag”, your silent protagonist gets involved in an epic fantasy game of wizards and elves reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with two sides vying to take control of the titular Stick of Truth. The game plays like a true RPG, with your character levelling up, learning new abilities and augmenting weapons with special attacks. The turn-based combat is simple to use but surprisingly deep, with each player taking it in turns to attack on a grid-based system – it’s fun and often challenging.

2014 is often thought to be a pretty-poor year for games with Dragon Age Inquisition getting most of the top prizes from most publications. I believe both Stick of Truth and the other comedic game released that year, Sunset Overdrive, were unfairly snubbed. Stick of Truth received favourable reviews and is still one of the best comedy games of all time and certainly deserved to be Game of the Year when it released. 

7. Tomb Raider 2 (1997)

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When Lara Croft debuted on the original PlayStation in 1996, she was an instant icon and is still one of the most recognisable faces in gaming. Tomb Raider 2 like some others on this list pre-dates many Game of the Year awards, this sequel actually released the same year that DICE gave their first ever Game of the Year (To Goldeneye if you’re interested).

But Tomb Raider 2 improved virtually everything from the legendary original and often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Massively improved graphics complete with moving ponytail, higher detailed environments, and less pointy breasts not to mention an improved storyline, fully controllable vehicles and who could forget locking your pesky groaning butler in freezer whilst exploring Lara Croft’s vast mansion.

Yes, the original game is still a ground-breaking masterpiece, but Tomb Raider 2 did everything better, so it’s a mystery why it is often overlooked when people think of the best games of all time. So many games owe a great debt to Tomb Raider 2 and in particular Uncharted 4’s jeep sections.

The game is very dated by today’s standards, the tank controls and confusing puzzles are a tough pill for the modern gamer to swallow. A Resident Evil 2/3 style remake of Tomb Raider 2 should be a no brainer, getting lost on the rivers of Venice, scaling the great wall of China, taking on sharks in 40 fathoms, whilst adding the improved combat of rebooted games… sign me up!

6. Twisted Metal 2 World Tour (1996)

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The Twisted Metal franchise is still a one of a kind series, unlike enduring car sims such as Gran Turismo and Forza, Twisted metal used its cars to tell unique stories and create utter carnage. For anyone unfamiliar with Twisted Metal it’s a bit like Overwatch or Fortnite, but with cars. You select one 14 characters and work your way through a series of unique arenas, destroying all other competitors in your path. There are various weapon pick-ups, like ballistic missiles and napalm as well as each character getting their own special move, such as ice cream missile, tournedos, and fiery skulls.

What sets Twisted Metal apart is the stories and the characters, despite a dark and gothic premise, there’s a sense of humour to the characters, plus silly and incredibly fun cinematics for each completion of the game. Twisted Metal 2 World Tour is the best in the series, ironing out and expanding on the ideas set in motion in the first game. Even in its day it would never have been considered a good-looking game, but that’s not why you came. You came for the destruction and fun, and it delivered on that in spades – not to mention excellent split screen co-op to play with a friend.

Twisted Metal 2 received positive reviews when it released, though it was overshadowed by the similar game Destruction Derby 2, as well as the first Tomb Raider and platformers Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario 64. Twisted Metal is a game franchise that has fallen by the wayside, with the last console release being in 2012 on the PlayStation 3.  The magic was unfortunately never quite captured again after this game, which is why I honestly believe Twisted Metal 2 World Tour to be the worthy Game of Year contender it never was.  

5. Psi-ops Mindgate Conspiracy (2004)

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Assassins Creed is now one of the biggest gaming franchises in the world, but who’d have thought that with the massively flawed first game the franchise would evolve to become what it is today. Psi-ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy is game in a similar vein to that, a flawed game with fantastic building blocks that could have, given time, become a premiere game franchise.  

It’s a fairly typical third person shooter, but the game uses a slew of psychic powers to differentiate itself. Similar to 2019’s Control, you start off with telekinesis to pick up and throw various objects and enemies around with gay abandon. But other powers become available as the game progresses, the most fun being ‘mind control’, allowing you to enter the mind of an enemy to either commit suicide, kill other enemies, cause a distraction or just to flip a switch out of reach of the player, it’s genius!

Psi-op’s is an absolute blast to play and the powers offered new and inventive ways to tackle a fairly typical gameplay cycle. Sadly, the story is a touch rote, with poorly implemented characters and bad voice acting, though it still has a B-movie charm that should keep you going to the end. The developers set the game up for further instalments, even ending with a sequel baiting “To Be Continued” though it’s been 16 years so it’s probably time to let the dream die.

With Halflife 2 releasing the same year, Psi-ops never really entered the conversation, but the game received favourable reviews from critics and is often cited as one of the top games in need of a sequel. But even on its own Psi-ops is a fun game to play and did things other games have yet to perfect, for that it deserves more love and maybe a coveted Game of the Year nomination.

4. Dead Rising 3 (2013)

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The first Dead Rising game is thought of very highly for good reason, it successfully evoked the feeling of being inside one of George A Romero’s zombie films with crowds of the undead that had never been seen on this sort of scale before. Taking a completely different approach to franchises like Resident Evil, its tongue firmly in its cheek, you fight your foes with a massive variety of weapons from the usual guns and chainsaws to the truly unusual like boomerangs, gumball machines and handbags.

The third entry in the series released as a launch game on the Xbox One turned everything up to 100. The hub worlds from previous games are turned into a fully open world with 0 load screens and the zombies on screen reaching jaw dropping levels. Weapons and vehicles can be customised like never before, with combo weapons and super combo weapons available, if you find the blueprints dotted around the world. Create items like Helmet bombs with Afro wigs and a stick of dynamite or of you really wanted to do some damage turn an ambulance into a “Shockdozer” and run and electrocute swarms of enemies in one go.

Though the story didn’t quite live up the originals, Dead Rising 3’s narrative was perfectly silly and still good enough to hold your attention to the end. For me it was the most fun of all the entries in the series, which was mostly let-down by some technical difficulties often experienced on launch titles. Dead Rising 3 had the unfortunate experience of releasing in one of the best years of gaming – The Last Us, Grand Theft Auto 5, Bioshock Infinite and the Tomb Raider Reboot were the names on everybody’s lips and unfortunately Dead Rising 3 never entered the conversation, but Dead Rising 3 could be the well have been the most fun game of 2013 – and it was certainly the best launch title for the new generation consoles. So maybe it deserves a bit more love than it got.

3. Zombies Ate My Neighbours (1993)

Many games from Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive era still get lots of love and attention, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country, Super Bomberman but one game that rarely gets the recognition it so rightly deserves is LucasArts Zombies Ate My Neighbours (or just ‘Zombies’ in the UK). A towering homage to B-movie horror films, a 42 level epic where your goal is to save your neighbours from chainsaw wielding lumberjacks, werewolves, giant babies and of course the titular zombies.

If you’ve never played the game, Zombies is a top down run and gun with a huge variety of weapons. These include water pistols, exploding soda cans, silverware cutlery, rotten tomatoes – the game certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, going for bright colours and zany humour rather than gritty horror. The two protagonists Zeke and Julie can each be played from the beginning either in in solo or co-op, both experiences are worth trying but beware going at the game solo, it is an enormous test and even in co-op the game is still very difficult. Most games get labelled “Dark Souls of…” when they pose any kind of challenge, but Zombies without a modern save system, means the game needs to be completed in one sitting, maybe Dark Souls is the “Zombies Ate My Neighbours” of the modern era. Each level requires you to save 10 neighbours, if they die before you get to them they do not come back on the next level, with pretty large labyrinthine levels, various meandering paths and tons of enemies, this is not the game for the faint of heart.

Even with a high difficulty it’s still an absolute blast to play – how could the game be improved… I don’t think it can, it delivers on exactly what it tries to do, a modern save system and better inventory management would be welcome additions but for a game of the era it’s damn near perfect. It’s one of the best games of its generation and certainly deserves the title Game of the Year for 1993.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2002)

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Most 90’s kids will remember the ass-kicking adventures of Sunnydale California resident Buffy Summers; the show still garners praise and conversation almost two decades after the show ended. Buffy spawned many different pieces of media during its run from novels and comics to an animated TV show. Many Forget that Buffy had 2 major console games, with the first being an absolute masterpiece.

The game came at a time when every big budget film and TV show would get a licenced Videogame and very few of them were particularly good, Buffy bucked this trend and received critical acclaim, earning 8’s and 9’s from most publications at the time of its release.

Developed by The Collective (later Double Helix) the game made use of the original Xbox’s hardware with incredibly detailed graphics, best-in-class motion capture, spot on hit detection and excellent voice acting from the majority of the TV cast (sans Sarah Michelle Gellar for some reason).

The game married a mixture of Tomb Raider style puzzle solving and platforming with a 3D fighting system never seen before, enemy AI was generally smart and aggressive giving the player a real challenge especially on the hardest difficulty. The option to pick up items such as shovels and mops was great addition plus a solid arsenal including; crossbows, flamethrowers, holy water vials and a reaper blade that could be thrown to decapitate foes from afar.

Despite stellar reviews, decent sales and high praise from fans the game was sadly snubbed in all major Game of the Year conversations, with games like Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Metroid Prime, Splinter Cell and Battlefield 1942 taking over the conversation. But if you have an original Xbox or if Microsoft finally make the game backwards compatible you may find the game still holds up incredibly well 18 years later, much more so than a lot of games from the time. It’s unlikely Buffy will make a comeback on our consoles, but I still stand by this Xbox exclusive being not only one of the best games of 2002, but one of the best games of the generation. (You can read the full review here)

NUMBER 1 : Jade Empire (2005)

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It’s hard to remember a time when Bioware weren’t making games that everyone hated, Anthem and Mass Effect Andromeda haven’t resonated with players making Bioware’s current gen output rather disappointing to say the least. But back in the early 2000’s Bioware were busy creating games that would cement them as one of the best western RPG developers in the world.

Hot off the heels of the tremendously popular and still beloved Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware decided to base their next game in ancient China. At a time when the films Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Matrix had reignited interest in martial arts, Jade Empire was well timed.

You take on the role as the Spirit Monk a master of multiple forms of martial arts, you could play the game how you wanted with whatever technique you preferred, as well as using Bioware’s signature morality and dialogue tree’s. Jade Empire played with morality more deftly than Knights of the Old Republic, making choices greyer so choosing one succinct moral path doesn’t always lead to the outcome the player may expect. The game boasts fantastic narrative that twists in unexpected directions, with Bioware’s signature loveable characters that range from a comedic slightly nuts inventor to your stoic potential lover.

Jade Empire certainly made an impact, the game was a critical darling, but low sales and releasing just before the Xbox 360 launched meant the game is now a forgotten gem. Games like the original God of War and Resident Evil 4 dominated the Game of the Year conversations, but Jade Empire was a truly remarkable game that not only deserved the spotlight back then, it should be remembered a lot more fondly now. Stand aside Resident Evil 4 and Shadow of the Colossus, 2005 belongs to Jade Empire.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER – RETRO GAME REVIEW

It’s crazy to think Buffy ended 17 years ago and started 23 years ago! The show still holds up today despite some questionable special effects and fashion choices. The reason it holds up even now is the witty and intelligent writing, believable characters and multi-layered protagonist whose super powers and destiny gave her an interesting dynamic, unlike a show like Charmed which featured a similar premise of powerful women fighting the forces of evil, Buffy’s grey morality and metaphorical demons made it a far more interesting watch and has maintained a huge audience 2 decades after it first aired.

Buffy had many media tie-ins from comic books to a failed cartoon series, but many forget that Buffy had 6 videogames based on the show, 2 of which were major console games. Today I’m looking back at the game that made me switch from PlayStation to Xbox. I was such a such a huge Buffy fan that this Original Xbox Exclusive was the reason I bought the console, not Halo Combat Evolved, but Buffy The Vampire Slayer released 18 years ago in 2002 – here’s my very first retro review of the game.

STORY

Buffy begins sometime during season 3 and works as an extra-long lost episode from of the show. The story starts with Buffy retraining to be a cheerleader to help out her friend Cordelia, they are interrupted when a group of vampires cut the power to the school and start attacking the students inside – Buffy then comes face to face with a super-powered vampire called Malik whose sole intention was to steal a book on spirit channelling. Malik turns out to be working for series favourite Spike, the stolen book summons a demon named Lybach who possesses Drusilla in order to manipulate Spike into doing his bidding. Lybach plans to resurrect old Buffy foe The Master using human sacrifices. It’s Buffy’s job to stop anything and everything The Master throws at her, including large shrimp demons, possession of Angel and crazy dream-like realms.

The game does an excellent job of slotting straight into the series, though with it’s 10-12 hour length it would likely be more of a 3 episode arc than a stand-alone episode. Joss Whedon provided support for the games writing process, and it shows, the witty dialogue from the show is present which makes it really feel like a proper part of the Buffy-verse. In fact the writing is so strong, especially with character interactions, it puts a lot of other modern AAA games to shame. Buffy deftly manages to provide a tense teen horror game with the comedic punches of the TV show and it really makes the game feel unique.

It’s an entertaining adventure that even in it’s slower moments doesn’t ever get boring, had this been a story-arc on the show I believe it would have been well-liked by fans.

GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS

For it’s time Buffy was a very good looking game, coming out within a year of the original Xbox’s life cycle the game really pushed the consoles graphical capabilities, featuring excellent character models that looked very much like their TV show counterparts and impressive lip-synching. Buffy herself looks great, but sadly Sarah Michelle Gellar decided not to provide the voice or likeness so the in-game model doesn’t look exactly like her but it’s close enough and thankfully the voice actress does an excellent Buffy impression and her performance is spot on – she manages to nail the characters quippy style while still possessing the vulnerability that makes Buffy so compelling. One minor annoyance with the game is Buffy’s repetitive quips to enemies or her inability to unlock doors, she seems to roll off the same spiel over and over – luckily there’s variety in some instances and her interactions with scooby gang are comically delightful.

Environments are also beautifully detailed and really bring the world to life, with fallen debris littering caves and tombs and destructible furniture you can sling enemies through. I was incredibly impressed by the games ability to recreate the TV shows locales with great accuracy. The high school is a particular standout, with the interior almost identical to the TV show, during my original playthrough I remember wishing the whole school was accessible as I wanted to fully explore this iconic place. Other elements also impress, particle effects are superb with vampires exploding into dust when staked and magical powers glowing with bright neon colours against the grimy brown and grey environments, it looks great. Lighting is hit and miss though, often being a little on the dark side, but well lit areas look good with god-rays of sunlight peaking through boarded up windows in Angel’s mansion for instance. A HD remaster with improved lighting would be amazing!

Buffy’s is a third person action adventure beat-em-up with light puzzle solving and platforming. It combines it’s ingredients very well, keeping encounters with enemies varied and interesting. On the hardest difficulty Buffy can provide a reasonable challenging, it’s not going to drive you to edge of insanity like Sekiro, but some fights require good timing of blocks and a good knowledge of the environment. Enemy AI is decent, vampires will throw projectiles at you when they are far away, but then pick up weapons lying around the environment to use against you in close quarters. On harder difficulties enemies will block your attacks so just button mashing won’t always lead to victory and requires the player to change tactics to gain the upper hand. The combat in Buffy is excellent, with a button designated for punches, kicks, jumps, blocking and staking, they can be combined in many different ways to unleash satisfying, yet simple combos. Buffy also has a few special moves which when deployed make Buffy glow purple, with time slowing down momentarily, these devastating attacks keep the combat fresh and when smartly used can save you in some of the trickier fights. These can be used when your slayer gauge (a gauge above the health bar) is adequately full, this is refilled when enemies are killed – it feels great to send an enemy flying with a super charged punch and really displays Buffy’s super human strength.

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Buffy also has access to a number of weapons, starting the game with just her fists and feet and a trusty stake. Later in the game Buffy will obtain (a pretty pointless) crossbow, bottles of hellfire and Holy water, a Holy water/Hellfire super-soaker, mops, brooms, shovels and a reaper blade complete with throwing wing. I loved the attention to detail in all these weapons, mops can be obtained in the janitors closet and allows Buffy to attack multiple enemies at greater range, but it’s slower movements leave her open to attacks, these weapons will also degrade over time eventually breaking to become a stake, it’s seriously cool. There are even environmental hazards you can use to your advantage, the depth here is rather surprising being able to launch a vampire into a boarded up window to let the sun decimate him or throwing others into wooden spikes to dust them hands free. Other details such as Hellfire/Holy water Vials that can be used as projectiles or combined with crossbow bolts to create super powered arrows or just to refill your super soaker make the games systems far more deep than other games from the era. There’s even an upgrade system whereby finding hidden power crystals in each level will allow Willow to upgrade your health and slayer power using magic.

Buffy herself is light on her feet and responsive, but her attacks feel weighty and powerful, the sound effects in the game are excellent with each punch and kick landing with a gratifying thud. The reaper blade in particular slices through enemies with metallic shredding noise that sounds great and really adds to the satisfaction of using the weapon. Music is also well done, the game knows when to be quiet and allow Buffy to have an ominous and tense atmosphere, but peppered throughout the game are moments where the early 00’s techno kicks in to build excitement, and boy does it work. Tearing through 3 vampires and a hell-hound to the upbeat soundtrack is one of the best parts of the game and isn’t used too often so it never loses its impact.

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A couple of the games less inspired moments come from either the far too easy puzzling or the slightly uneven platforming. Buffy’s jumps really far and often will stagger forwards if she goes off balance (she can’t bend her knees apparently – no wonder Riley broke up with her) this can lead to her staggering off platforms or just jumping further than you expect. Luckily Buffy’s auto-grab onto edges works very well so it’s rare you’ll even miss the ledges, it’s very much a minor annoyance and was only an issue for me during a level mid-game at the Sunnydale Docks which involved precise jumping on floating crates.

CONCLUSION

I have no qualms about calling Buffy the Vampire Slayer one of the best games of the Original Xbox generation, it combined superb visuals, a compelling well-written story, fun varied combat and top notch voice acting. Not only that but the game holds up remarkably well for an 18 year old title, more so than other classics from the console like Halo Combat Evolved in my opinion. Here’s hoping it will get the backwards compatibility patch it so rightly deserves.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Pro’s

  • Excellent and satisfying combat
  • Great soundscape and music
  • Voice cast give stellar performances and Buffy sound-a-like is uncanny
  • Very good graphics for a 18 year old game
  • Challenging but never frustrating
  • Decent story

Cons

  • Jumping can be inaccurate
  • Puzzles are far too easy

A GENERATION OF EXCELLENCE – PLAYSTATION 4 AND XBOX ONE IN MEMORIAM

It’s a tad early… there’s a Cyberpunk hole in my life that can only be filled by CD Project Red. I long for some Cyberpunky goodness, a role-playing game where I can finally have the ‘double E’ breasts and the 10 inch appendage I have always desired, nay deserved! But I’m here today to celebrate the lives and games of the soon to be departed Xbox One and PlayStation 4, a generation of excellence and a battle so one-sided Microsoft spent 7.5 billion to even the score. I am dedicating this article to the games that have tickled my adrenaline gland from 2013 to 2020. The death knell shalleth gong and CEX will become a graveyard of 8th generation consoles.

A disclaimer! I am no longer a big fan of open world games – please don’t march me to the gallows, but there will be no Horizon Zero Dawn, Death Stranding or The Witcher 3 – this is my list, my thoughts and my desires, though I am open to bribes so if you like Breath of the Wild that much I could be persuaded, as this list is so official it’ll render all other lists redundant.

5. Doom (2016)

I can’t tell you the satisfaction I got from shooting a demon in the face with a shotgun, especially the flying skeleton ones that look like a cross between Kelly-Ann Conway and Hellraiser. The balance is absolutely spot on, challenging but fair, fast and fluid, but weighty and impactful. Plus, that soundtrack! Though I usually prefer the melodies of a pop princess, there’s something about tearing through an enemy with a chainsaw to the sounds of an electric guitar that gets the blood pumping. The drawbacks of Doom really only come down to the boring storyline and lack of any characterisation of the protagonist, but if there’s any game that trumpets the gameplay over story argument it’s Doom. The Protagonist could be Amanda Holden and it would still be the most fun shooter of the generation. Call of Duty and Halo eat your heart out, in fact “Doomguy” would potentially eat their hearts out…

4. Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015)

Now I may be biased because Tomb Raider is my favourite game series and we’re all a bit biased aren’t we, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is a really good game! And don’t you be bringing your Uncharted 4 arguments in here. Rise of the Tomb Raider is superior because you play a lot more than you watch – also I dropped 1 metre onto the ground once in Uncharted 4 and Drake died – come on, Lara got impaled in the first reboot and still managed to parkour like Crash bandicoot with a limp. 

Rise is one of my games of the generation because it truly balances its elements better than Tomb Raider (2013) and Shadow. Rise’s story is just about strong enough to keep you engaged, with a worthy antagonist in Ana, giving Lara an emotional pull lacking in the other games, in the hands of a better script writer it could have been truly outstanding. Rise combines excellent combat, ingenious side tombs, varied platforming, and beautiful graphics! The semi-open world exploration is a joy to navigate. If only Lara would lighten up a bit, but then again if I had that mullet, I’d be a broody bore too.

3. Resident Evil 2 (2019)

I love horror and I love Resident Evil, the reasons why are that the games are so stupid and ridiculous whilst at the same time making my testicles in retract in fear – I don’t know how they do it! Resident Evil 2 is the best of the bunch and it has managed to become a genre defining experiencing in two separate generations. This is a masterclass in how to remake an old game, it feels familiar and yet completely new at the same time. Resident Evil 2 doesn’t feel nostalgic, it feels fresh and innovative. Just when you think the game can’t throw anything else at you Mr X comes along and creates another layer of tension. By this point in the game my body is has gone into a state of living rigor mortis. It’s a shame Resident Evil 3 wasn’t a worthy follow up.  

2. The Last of Us Part 2 (2020)

This game stayed with me long after I finished playing it and I felt like I was playing it for 42 years. The Last of Us Part 2 is a long game, I clocked well over 30 hours and I played it all very quickly – a side effect to being under lockdown and furlough, so I probably burned myself out on it more than I would have under normal circumstances. But looking back on my time with it, no other games characters have sucked me into their morally grey hijinks like The Last of Us Part 2 and no other games story has left me so emotionally confused, sad, angry and yet at peace. There are those that hate this game and I can totally see why, Naughty Dog removed most of their Hollywood blockbuster cliché’s and gave us a gut wrenching narrative that is a hard pill to swallow – it’s difficult to talk about it without giving away plot points, but I was a shadow of my former self after playing it – which could have been the malnutrition from playing the game for 12 hours a day without stopping.

But within all this lies a great stealth horror game, it certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel with the gameplay, and I was feeling fatigued by the gameplay loop by the end. Yet the Last of Us Part 2 still manages to rise above it all, leaving me with only the desire to relive this magnificent game again. You can read my full review here.

1. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (2020)

Yes, this AAish AAA side scrolling platformer is my number 1 game of the generation. Why? Ori and the Will of the Wisps uses a hyper pigmented animation style that resembles brush strokes and to put it bluntly, it’s gorgeous. The world is alive, with bushes and shrubs reacting realistically as you brush past them – wildlife both friend and foe animate smoothly and have a real impact in the world around them. Controlling Ori is a delight, he is nimble and responsive – starting the game with only a simple jump and the ability to scale a wall, and yet the game is still able to provide clever challenges with the small amount of skills at your disposal. As the game continues and you unlock double jump, dig and boost (among many others) the platforming difficulty increases, challenging the player to chain multiple abilities in one sequence – it’s unforgiving but never unfair.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is one of the greatest games of the generation. It’s a challenging, beautiful, enchanting, dangerous, near perfect side scrolling platformer, one that exceeds its predecessor in every way. It’s a must play. You can read my full review here

Honourable Mentions

Control (2019) Female Mick Hucknall uses psychic powers to make her office covid secure.
Halo 5 Guardians (2015) In space no one can hear you scream about how bad the single player is.
God of War (2018) Gordon Ramsey grows beard and starts using an axe to prepare meat.
Resident Evil 7 Deep south version of Australian soap Neighbours.
Alien Isolation Space Pterodactyl causes issues for Sigourney Weaver lookalike.
Hellblade Where’s your head at?

CRASH BANDICOOT 4: IT’S ABOUT TIME REVIEW

Since the days of the original PlayStation, platformers have slowly dwindled to the point of extinction, with only Mario still managing to sell gangbusters among the Call of Duty’s and Grand Theft Auto’s of the gaming landscape. Then Activision decided to revive beloved 90’s mascot Crash Bandicoot with the stellar N-Sane trilogy. A reminder of the devilish perils of 90’s imprecise controls and the simple pleasures of defeating short linear levels. The N-Sane trilogy’s massive success has led a direct sequel to 1998’s Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped. Forgetting the other games that followed was smart and this game feels like a true sequel to the original trilogy created by Naughty Dog almost 26 years ago.

STORY

Picking up where warped left off – long-time series antagonist Doctor Neo Cortex and N-Tropy escape their time prison and tear a rift in time and space, which means Crash and his sister Coco must collect the 4 quantum masks to repair the the rift.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about Crash 4’s story but the elements are light and act as a fun backdrop to the beautiful varied levels you’ll visit along the way. Nothing is taken seriously, which after games like Doom Eternal, The Last of Us Part 2 and even Ori and the Will of the Wisps it’s nice to play something comedic, it’s a great little palette cleanser but don’t let whimsical light hearted tone fool you, Crash 4 means business.

GAMEPLAY AND GRAPHICS

Crash 4 takes the player back to basics, you work your way through each level spinning crates, jumping over chasms and avoiding various obstacles as the perspective shifts from side-scrolling to running both away and towards the camera. New moves include wall running Prince of Persia style, rope swinging, rail grinding and a double jump which is available from the start rather than unlocked later as in Crash 3. These provide a refreshing update on the formula at the beginning of the game, but it’s with the introduction of the quantum masks that truly test the players skills. These 4 masks fundamentally change the gameplay and rocket up the difficulty in the process, the first mask Loli Luni has the ability to phase objects in and out of reality at the push of a button, giving your timing and reflexes a massive work out. I really enjoyed this mask along with 2 of the other masks these include a time slow down and gravity manipulation. They really changed the gameplay in new and interesting ways, having to play a section of the game upside down for instance is a massive head fuck, it turns the world literally upside down and it’s a genius and really rather simple way to change the way you play. The 4th power up is the ability that you actually unlock second in the game, a constant spin which I found frustrating and difficult to control and exasperated some of the main issues I had with the game.

Crash 4 is fundamentally very fun, but the sometimes the depth perception can be frustrating as you jump to where you think the platform might be but miss by a millimetre and fall to your death, the newly introduced ring often doesn’t really help either. Another annoyance is that the game renders the often life saving Aku Aku mask pretty much redundant as most of the games difficulties stem for bottomless pits that automatically kill you rather than obstacles. The difficulty also seems to spike pretty early on in the game compared to prior titles, with me having to toggle the modern mode on by about 5th level (retro mode plays like the originals 100 Wumpas = 1 life). That’s not to say all these levels are a ridiculous challenge all the time, if you ignore smashing crates and just run through to completion the levels can be conquered with enough concentration good reflexes, but as a Crash bandicoot purist ignoring crates felt like sacrilege. I found some of the levels unbelievably frustrating, with the Neo Cortex boss fight being a particularly hard, I died over 100 times! It’s controller smashingly annoying. Crash has never been an easy game and I can’t completely fault the game for the difficulty when it’s mostly just my poor skills, though at times it was frustrating more than anything else. Another thing that I didn’t like as much was the lack of a warp room, I missed the choice of being able to pick what level out of 5 I did first, instead 4 harkens back to the first game where you take one road to the end. Levels also combine far more elements compared to the originals, at times I liked this as it kept the levels interesting and varied, however some of my favourite levels in Crash Bandicoot 3 were the tiger ride levels, but in 4 you have to power through half a level of regular platforming before you get to these sections – it’s a small complaint and one that is likely very personal to me but it’s a change I felt wasn’t needed.

With that being said the game has some of my favourite levels in the series, the Mardi Gras New Orleans’s level being a particular favourite, as neon coloured ghosts with trumpets mix with a jazz soundtrack which is just a joy to play. The Indiana Jones style run into the camera levels the series is known for for return and they are all well done, and the boss battles are well designed and properly challenging for the first time in the series. There are also playable characters that act as palette cleanser for the usual Bandicoot levels. You get to play as Tawna who uses a grapple and wall jumping, Neo Cortex whose ray gun can transform enemies into platforms plus a dash that makes him able to cover long distances and finally Dingodile who uses a powerful vacuum cleaner to suck in boxes and glide through the air – each character feels fundamentally different but luckily none take too long to grasp, I only wish there were more levels available for them as they all felt rather fleeting.

Graphically this is a pretty game, beautiful colours, slick animations and brilliantly cartoony expressions from the character models. The levels are so varied and everything is incredibly well done, the foreground is of course well detailed, but even things in the back ground are alive and give the game depth and helps build the world.

CONCLUSION

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time is a worthy follow up to the original trilogy, it combines clever level design, beautiful graphics, fun story telling and new and exciting ideas that refresh the tried and true Crash formula. Don’t let the cartoony aesthetic fool you this is a hard game and will stress most gamers and even test your patience at times. But it’s still a good time and absolutely packed with content to keep you busy for multiple hours, for anyone that wants to 100% the game be prepared to feel the pain!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Pros

  • Pretty graphics and great world building
  • Slick animations
  • Cortex, Tawna and Dingodile levels are fun
  • Excellent level design
  • Great use of quantum masks, time slow down is particularly fun
  • Genius boss battles

Cons

  • Difficulty spike is steep and unforgiving
  • Akano quantum mask makes platforming frustrating
  • Lack of choice regarding the order you can the play levels
  • Depth perception can be a bit of an issue
  • Over abundance of bottomless pits

TOP 5 TV SHOWS THAT SHOULD GET MADE INTO VIDEOGAMES

The inspiration for videogames comes from far and wide these days; books, films, artwork and of course television. There have been some great adaptations of television shows from Telltale’s The Walking Dead series and Obsidian’s South Park Stick of Truth and then there have been some games that even fiery pits of hell would reject like Dark Angel or even worse *gulp* the game based on Australian soap Neighbours… yes that happened.

We are in a golden age of television with Netflix and other streaming platforms locking us into a cycle of never ending binge worthy entertainment that goes on forever, yes Netflix I am still watching The Witcher – stop shaming me for my couch potato habits! TV’s long-form storytelling lends itself to the arcs that videogames often do, so it’s a wonder that the AAA videogame space hasn’t dedicated more games to telling stories within these fantastic worlds.

Here’s my Top 5 TV shows that should be made into videogames! (Yes I’m aware some already may have adaptations but I mean big budget AAA stuff)

5. GAME OF THRONES

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This one is pretty obvious isn’t it. A sprawling fantasy featuring murder, ice zombies, nudity and dragons. So basically Skyrim… it’s a glorious world though, populated by honourable heroes and villains that make the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang look like Mickey Mouse. It’s dark, it’s violent and in the earlier seasons it had an incredibly nuanced approach to political espionage. It’s a shame the show ended with a thud rather than a bang, as the thirst for more Thrones seems to have waned some what. But as a proper game, I would love to see it get made, I want to visit Winterfell and call John Snow a “Bastard”, I want to urinate off the The Wall, I want my skull to be squeezed into rice pudding by The Mountain and more than anything I want to ride a dragon with long blonde hair that miraculously stays perfect despite the heavy wind resistance, in fact lets have Game of Thrones branded hair spray that comes free with every a copy of the game.

An open world RPG would be perfect in this world and maybe a game could do the story justice where the TV show fell down.

4. DOWNTON ABBEY

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OK hear me out on this one. I know that your mum likes Downton Abbey and the series is generally a very by-the-numbers period drama, but there’s one area AAA games will rarely dare venture without killing things, but why? What if a game were given a big budget to create a murder mystery (or just a mystery) game where the village of Downton and the grand house itself are your playgrounds and utilising the detective style gameplay of the Batman Arkham games, add in some Resident Evil style puzzles, Mass Effect style dialogue trees and we could be onto something. I mean, I doubt it would ever actually happen and if it did it might be utterly awful, but don’t forget someone made Fast and Furious Crossroads… if there’s room for that there’s room for a Lady Elizabeth Crawley hair brushing mini challenge.

3. STRANGER THINGS

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So this one is pretty obvious, combine a killer 80’s soundtrack, mutants from another dimension, telekinesis and weird occurrences happening in a small town and what do you get? Remedy’s Control, which was excellent. So why not give us a proper Stranger Things game, I want to tear through Hawkins as Eleven and break into a government building armed only with a sling shot! Let me peddle through the woods on a bicycle hunting a Demogorgon with “Material Girl” playing on my Walkman. In fact lets dot cassette tapes around the world so I can collect the ultimate 80’s playlist, actually forget the rest an 80’s music collect-a-thon as a game on it’s own sounds pretty amazing on it’s own!

2. THE HANDMAID’S TALE

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The Handmaid’s Tale has bought the book to life brilliantly and created a world unlike any other, a world of subservient women, of violence, of intolerance with reprehensible people that harm the innocent for their own gain. The great thing about the Handmaid’s Tale is that this world is so vast, that you could take the story of any woman (or man to a lesser extent) and still make a compelling story. What about a stealth action game where you take on the role of a female solider trying to get back to find the rebels. A game where you can utilise various disguises, whether that being the red robes of the titular Handmaid’s or dowdy green ensemble of the Martha’s. There’s small uprisings in this world, there are spies, there’s public executions and there’s fear. This is a world that in the hands of master story-tellers like Naughty Dog could really be something special. Blessed be the Fruit and may the videogame Gods give this franchise to someone worthy.

NUMBER 1 : AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER

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The Last Airbender has been abused! A film adaption so bad fans were ready to gouge their own eyes out rather than sit through another second of that abomination, the mangled corpse of that “adaptation” which made it to the big screen almost killed a franchise that defined children’s storytelling. Here we are awaiting another live action adaptation from Netflix when there is the perfect opportunity to use this world in a much better way! Like the Handmaid’s Tale this world is vast and historic, you could be an Avatar from any time period of your choosing, learning the ways of the elements in whatever order you like, as an enemy rises from the darkest corner of the world. Previous videogames in this series haven’t lived up to the potential of this phenomenal cartoon series and who doesn’t want the ability to bend fire, water, earth and air at will with cute animal companions. Come on game developers and publishers we’ve had enough Call of Duty and Assassins Creed to last us till the dolphins rise up against us to become to the dominant species on planet earth, so until then if you won’t make new IP’s, make these – I’d buy them.

THE SINNER SEASON 3 REVIEW

The advent of television streaming has lead to a true golden age of television, with the quality going far beyond what came before. Crime and drama are two genres that have been revitalised and the first season of The Sinner was a riveting ‘why-dunnit’ and managed to tell a different kind of crime story. Going into season 3 after the solid second season The Sinner struggles under the weight of it’s premise.

Like season 2 The Sinner does away with the characters of the previous season, barring detective Harry Ambrose who anchors the show. Season 3 centres on the aftermath of a car accident involving two old university friends Nick and Jamie and their complicated relationship with religion and fate. Aspects of the story are fantastic, challenging both the characters on screen and the audiences expectations, like the prior seasons the plot twists and turns in unexpected directions. It’s all held together by stellar performances, Bill Pullman and Matt Bomer in particular, who have great on screen chemistry. Bomer is a particular standout as Jamie, a troubled teacher who struggles under the weight of his own mortality and whose mental health questions how masculinity and men’s relationships with one another can affect those around them. The romantic subplot involving Jessica Hecht’s Sonya could have been explored further and comes across as an after thought, under-utilising the actresses talents.

The Sinner is generally a good watch and is constantly engaging, the central mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat, but there are bumps in the road. The series often makes you suspend disbelief, I often questioned whether some of the events that take place would ever happen in real life and whether Harry’s methods for solving his cases are not only inappropriate but against protocol. Characters do mention that Harry’s methods are unique but it just doesn’t seem feasible, it’s an issue I felt throughout the first 2 seasons but the most recent one intertwines Harry and Jamie so tightly it’s hard to imagine it ever unfolding in the real world.

The season also suffers from characters constantly monologuing about their thoughts and beliefs, this can make the pacing a little on the slow side in the mid-season but it does pick up again in the final 2 episodes, cumulating in an exciting season finale.

I’ll be interested to see if The Sinner goes for the fourth season, the quality is still high but the ideas are beginning to wear a bit thin. The intrigue of the working out why people are involved in the deaths of others has dampened considerably and with both seasons 2 and 3 not quite living up to the Jessica Biel fronted first season.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

MRS AMERICA REVIEW

Mrs America was completely unknown to me, I wasn’t aware of its creation and it was by chance I came across an advert on social media that caught my eye – Cate Blanchett was reason enough but the stellar all-star cast and an intriguing premise really sold me and got me on a BBC iplayer binge I’d not been on since Rupaul’s Drag Race UK.

Mrs America follows the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would change the constitution to give equalised rights to women, the story follows the lives of the women at the forefront of both sides of the political spectrum – including the second wave feminists fighting tooth and nail to get the ammendment passed and Phyllis Schlafly a famous right wing campaigner who lead the women of “STOP ERA” movement.

Cate Blanchett brings Phyllis Schlafly to life with an incredible accuracy, from the hardened stares, to the southern drawl and the biting wit the real life Schlafly possessed. It’s a terrifying recreation of a character that’s abhorrent in her views, it’s one the best TV performances I’ve even seen this year and if it doesn’t win her an Emmy or Golden Globe I’ll be shocked. On the other side of the political fence is Rose Byrne playing feminist Gloria Steinem, a woman still active today – Byrne plays the role to perfection like Blanchett there’s a sense of excitement every time the character appears on screen, in episodes where she is featured less, her presence is missed and manages to steal the lime light from others even on limited screen time. The clash of these two titans is a thrill, but oddly the two characters never actually come in contact with one another, it’s face off that would have delighted audiences but as it never happened in real life – it never occurs in the show.

All the performances are fantastic, there are no weak links here; Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Tracey Ullman and Sarah Paulson all do great work in their respective roles, playing close to the real-life counter parts with excellent accuracy and emotional weight. Sarah Paulson’s character is one of the few fictionalised characters in the show, which is why it’s surprising that the penultimate episode features her so heavily, it’s one of the few missteps in the series, though Paulson is great in the role – the fictional context of her dedicated episode feels more “Hollywoodized” than prior episodes that are often so close to the actual events the series could be classed as an educational dramatized documentary.

One of the biggest hooks of the series is how closely aligned to historical accuracy it actually is, so much so that I found myself looking up individual characters in the show to gain a better perspective of their roles in both the ERA movement and their past and future political careers. This is a clear sign of the series engrossing nature as I wanted to immense myself even more in this thrilling and frustrating world. Phyllis Schlafly is incredibly interesting despite her horrible political views, a woman of determination and high intellect – who can easily outclass her male counter-parts but due to her political leanings has be willingly side-lined by her male counterparts. Her stance in the show is intriguing and contradictory as she strives to keep women as housewives while also doing everything to further herself and her career away from her duties as a wife and mother.

The 1970’s has been beautifully realised in the show, from the cinematography, the sets and excellent costume design. Gloria Steinem long hippy hair with aviator glasses is absolutely iconic and as Brit who is totally unfamiliar with the women featured in the show I was instantly obsessed with each and every one of them. There are some pacing issues here and there, with such a large ensemble some characters can get lost in the noise. And one cannot help but see a certain bias towards the portrayal of the ERA ladies compared to the STOP ERA ladies, though I certainly prefer this to the other end of the stectrum – it’s a shame Schlafly’s supporting characters were given a lot more creative license rather than being based on real women, this makes the two sides feel a little disjointed at times and probably why the 8th episode “Houston” sticks out so badly compared to the rest of the series.

CONCLUSION

Mrs America is a fantastically acted, beautifully realised miniseries, whose subject matter is still relevant even today. All the real-life characters are compelling and the show will make you want to research the era in detail to understand the background even more. Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne steal the show, the whole thing is worth watching for their performances alone. So much love, craft and talent has been put into Mrs America, it makes it a must-watch for anyone who loves a political drama.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • The acting – especially Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne
  • The period costume design
  • Excellent production design
  • Interesting period of history, with accurate portrayals
  • Excellent cinematography

Cons

  • Sometimes a little slow to get going
  • Schlafly’s supporting players aren’t as well realised
  • “Houston” episode throws realism out the window