Why I Decided To Cancel My Nintendo Switch Pre-Order

There’s two weeks to go before the launch of the long-awaited Nintendo Switch – and I’ve just now cancelled my pre-order.

For those who knew me back in high school, I was a fairly relentless Nintendo ‘fanboy’, as you will. Not religiously so, but while I grew up with both Sega and Nintendo systems with Sony’s first two PlayStations filling in the gaps at my cousin’s house throughout our childhood, I’ve had a healthy mix of gaming stimuli throughout the years. But as I cast my mind back, the vast majority of my gaming ‘career’ has been spent on a Nintendo system. The Gameboy Pocket and its many later iterations barely ever left my hands. Whether it due to Pokemon, Dragonball or as a way to keep testing decks in Yu-Gi-Oh when my friends were unavailable, Nintendo handhelds have been my go-to for a quick, convenient gaming fix for as long as I can remember.

But the same can’t quite be said about their home consoles. Though they may not get the consistent use that my PC likely doesn’t appreciate, each time I boot them up for a particular reason, I usually treasure the end experience.

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And that’s exactly where my initial worry of the Nintendo Switch stems. After heading into Manchester to get some hands-on time during a public viewing event on Friday, February 17, I went in somewhat fearful of the future given Nintendo’s lack of transparency weeks before release and left the event accepting its death – so to speak.

I’m not writing off the console as dead on arrive. At least, not with a withstanding ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ placed above its tiny little head. Going hands-on with the Switch, physically, only reassured me that Nintendo knows how to put together a quality product. Other than the questionably cheap feeling WiiU gamepad, every Nintendo console or handheld has felt reasonably robust and well-packaged – and the Switch is no different. It’s small, sleek and feels great in its many configurations. I have no issues with that.

My issues arise from being a WiiU owner. From what we know or have seen from the Switch so far just isn’t enough to sell a sub £300 system to this particular follower. Of its release day games, 1, 2 Switch and Snipperclips are purely multiplayer affairs – something that doesn’t personally warrant me paying out so much for what could – and probably would – boil down to a cumulative total of maybe 4-5 hours of gametime stretched over a month period or reduced to boredom within the first day.

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Other than that, there’s Zelda. And while it’s the franchise I hold most dear in my heart, Breath of the Wild is not enough to give the Switch its first breath of life. During a 10 minute demo, the only thing I could think about was how often it would drop to what seemed to be sub-20 frames per second. A jarring drop that felt as if the game was winding down ready to pull to a halt. And while those issues vanished when played on the Switch screen itself, it only solidified my idea that the WiiU version will likely run just fine considering it renders at the same 720p resolution of the handheld. If the Switch version can be knocked to the same resolution when on the big screen, I’d highly recommend people do so. I’ve waited years to have Zelda back on the big-screen with speakers capable of doing its consistently brilliant score justice; so the idea of playing on a handheld with headphones for a smoother experience on a new console just isn’t a trade-off I could ever imagine doing when there’s a perfectly good WiiU in my front room.

Given its size, I honestly don’t expect the Switch and WiiU to be too far apart in terms of graphical horsepower – hence my reason for thinking a handheld Switch experience at 720p will be near identical to one thrown onto a TV by a WiiU.

So with a few games already out of the equation for me, the only other two left at the event would be Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – two games that wouldn’t even be available at launch.

Being a huge fan of the original Splatoon on WiiU, of course this one was a huge life-line in my decision to own a Switch at all. Sadly, however, it only ended up being that eased me into my growing decision to sit this launch out. Having only 3 rounds to try out the multiplayer segment made me think how hard it is to justify Splatoon 2 as a full-blown sequel worthy of a new machine. While it was clear we’d have much more creative freedom over our little Squid heroes this time around, the over-all experience felt like little more than a glorified DLC pack. More weapon types and maps were introduced throughout the life-cycle of the original Splatoon – and that’s all I could really see here. Nintendo being Nintendo, we know next to nothing of the game outside of its multiplayer experience. And while every inch of me hopes for a more fleshed-out single-player experience, it’s difficult to trust this hope will bear fruit. Without that, it’s more of the same for a lot more money. I could happily stick with the original.

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And the same goes for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I barely played much of my copy of the the WiiU ‘system seller’. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it felt like very familiar ground. It felt like I’d already played it a million times over with Mario Kart DS/Wii – much like I felt with Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. Sure, it could be interesting to have that graphical experience on a handheld, but it’s nothing more than a port of another WiiU game already sitting on my shelf.

Right now, I honestly see little reason for a WiiU owner to pick up the Nintendo Switch at launch. While I’m still compelled by the idea of playing graphically intensive titles on the go, the current line-up just isn’t enough for those who’ve already had similar experiences. For those who never bothered to pick up Nintendo’s greatest flop – I’m still torn as to whether to suggest a WiiU to them now, or to actually hope more ports arrive in the future. Passed up by many due to its unfortunate naming issues, the WiiU had a fantastic library of multiplayer titles that will likely only be built upon with the Switch. But for those able to accept how rare those opportunities can be, the Switch itself isn’t much of a single-player platform from the start. I’ll join in with the masses and agree that Nintendo is making a massive mistake in not packaging 1, 2… Switch! with each console to potentially mimic the word-of-mouth- sales potential that Wii Sports managed, but even with that, the Nintendo Switch just isn’t ready for Prime Time.

Will I pick up the Nintendo Switch in the future? Of course. Super Mario Odyssey will be the system’s first staple title. But without mention of Pokemon or Monster Hunter, for me, personally, it’s a hybrid system without a purpose. Nintendo are driving the hard bargain by asking for a wedge of cash in the hopes that we’ll help build their barren wasteland into a growing oasis; and I can’t advocate myself being the one to do that. Not again. Not at that price.

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Pokémon Sun & Moon Review

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It’s been a hell of a year for Pokémon. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the franchise has been rapidly reintroduced to the world with the smash-hit success of Pokémon GO before converting that rush into serious sales power directed toward the year’s major 3DS release with Sun and Moon. And while these versions lend themselves to a rather unfortunate acronym that last year’s ORAS skirted around – just about – these two celestial bodies aren’t quite the literal gems the 2015 remakes were, but they’re certainly out of this world.

Poor wordplay aside, Pokémon Sun and Moon are two of the finest Pokémon games to land in quite some time. I’m not going to leave that conclusion buried deep within the paragraphs of this review – I’ll just put it out there now. But while I was as hyped as any other trainer during the run-up to release, my playtime was severely lacking due to me just not clicking with the game as well as I usually would. Seeing the credits roll over a month after its release is something that’s incredibly out of character for me, but after pressing on through the slow start, I found a game that eventually reaffirmed my love of the franchise that essentially kick-started my gaming hobby back in 1998.

Just about everyone and their mother knows the general premise of a Pokemon game. You start off as a budding trainer, pick your starter Pokémon from the region’s professor and set out to capture and train more critters while training and battling against other Pokémon and their trainers. You go out into the wide world at an early age, test yourself against 8 gyms and fight to best the League while fending off the ambition plots of a criminal organisation that happily throws in the towel once a pre-teen beats them in an everyday Pokémon battle. It’s a formula that started a craze in the 90s and still gets used today, but Sun and Moon put a little spin on things this time around.

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While recent main-series Pokémon games have attempted to shake-up the status quo over the years, they’ve all ended up feeling mostly the same by following the same pattern. Sun and Moon, however, take place in the Alola region – a small cluster of islands that don’t quite adhere to the same progression conventions as familiar territory like Kanto, Unova and Kalos. Instead, trainers in training do battle against powerful ‘Totem’ Pokémon to clear the ‘Island Challenge’ – a series of trials that involve simple mini-games that usually equate to just running around and pressing buttons. The missions themselves offer up a chance for the island ‘Captains’ – and the eventual ‘Kahuna’ – to stand out a little more than your average gym leader, while the battles play more akin to the traditional JRPG boss fight against a strong, singular opponent. For the most part, anyway.

And honestly? It’s a breath of fresh air. While a few gym leaders in the past have had brief storylines leading up to their bouts, they’ve often had trouble really making a name for themselves in the narrative. And though some of the island captains share a similar fate, a good amount of them make numerous appearances throughout the story to help cement themselves as important pillars of the game’s overall tone. While some simple over-leveling could cause the Totem boss fights to become a walk in the park, going in unprepared can see your team destroyed as the powerful beast summons in reinforcements, quickly turning the tides as your single Poké-pal goes up against a buffed up big-wig and its equally capable support. The battles quickly lend themselves to some true strategic thinking that goes from the simple exploitation of type match-ups to working out how to combat the enemy’s beefed-up stats and partner Pokemon aiming to mess with your plans even more.

After a few last-minute additions to my team, I was left feeling relatively under-leveled for most of the battles, meaning I would have to either counter the the enemy on the fly, or come back with a real game-plan after surviving long enough to see the brute’s surprises. Rather than anticipating a gym leader’s preferred Pokémon type and demolishing them with a strong counter-pick, I was consistently switching out my active Pokemon to deal with a new threat in the middle of the brawl. Sure, you’re still aiming to best enough of these challenges to beat tougher island honchos much like the gym system of old, but it’s handled in a way that properly tests your understanding of the Pokémon meta, which makes for far more entertaining battles than a simple ‘Water beats fire’ whitewash.

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But even with the impressive new system of Totem and reinforcement Pokémon coming into play, the game as a whole still didn’t capture my heart straight away. While past Pokémon games have suffered from a weaker storyline tacked onto a game all about exploration and growth, more recent additions have attempted to build upon its weaknesses. And while the stories are certainly getting better with each new iteration, it’s ushering in some pacing issues – particularly to the opening hours of what used to be a fairly quick start.

The first island, with its trial and eventual ‘Kahuna’ battle, drags on far too long. While there’s nothing wrong with the island adventure itself, it felt as if the entire thing was just a glorified tutorial crammed with far too many character introductions. While past games would quickly show you the door, both Pokémon X & Y and Sun & Moon both fall victim by revealing too much too soon and taking hand-holding a little too far. By the end of the first island, I was feeling burned out and didn’t look forward to the rest. But with a pinch of perseverance for a franchise I’ve loved since its inception, I stuck it through. And it was certainly worth it in the end.

Both aided and hindered by the varied species of Pokémon scattered around the game’s first dozen hours, I was constantly spoiled for choice when it came to picking the team that was carry me to victory. While games like Ruby & Sapphire or Diamond & Pearl would usually result in similar teams involving your starter Pokémon, a bird, dog or rodent-type critter, Sun & Moon dish out a wide selection of both new and old Pokémon with every new patch of tall grass. It helps keep things feeling unique, but it can certainly be a problem for those short on places to gain fast experience points should they be a little too indecisive of which beasts to bring with them. And finally ridding the use of Hidden Moves means we’re no longer tied to artificial choices when it comes to picking out our single-player team.

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Thanks in part to the appearance of Totem Pokémon, the S.O.S system (reinforcements) and Z-moves, battling as a whole feels fresher than even when Mega Evolution made its way into the game with Pokémon X & Y. The aforementioned Totem battles bring a hint of competitive strategy to the single-player experience while Z-moves – which can be activated once per battle by having a Pokémon hold a stone that matches the type of one of their moves – breathes new life into Pokémon once thought to be too ineffective to be used by most players. S.O.S battles paired with the ‘Festival Plaza’ (a system similar to Black & White 2’s Join Avenue) means EV training is easier than ever, further lifting the entry barrier between single player and competitive play.

Without spoiling the overall story, Sun & Moon offer up a particularly strong narrative similar to that of Pokemon Black & White (and their direct sequels). Those accustomed to the doom and gloom of most of JRPGs would likely scoff at the light-hearted tone of most Pokemon titles, but while the main games often serve up the precursor to cataclysmic events before being thwarted by the player and a handful of story characters, we’re offered a more personal tale this time around revolving around Lillie, a mysterious girl with an equally mysterious Pokemon.

It’s one that certainly offers up its fair share of twists and turns – however predicable they may sometimes be – but its one that manages to make use of the series advancements across portable technology to have its characters show far more emotion alongside their actions. Instead of static sprites being carried by their text, we have full-body motion, facial expressions and stronger music playing a bigger part in a more personal tale. It takes a little while to get going, but it’s certainly worth the time of those skeptical of the more text-heavy, light-weight Pokémon plots.

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Without fail, Game Freak and The Pokémon Company have created another pocket classic. The slight deviations somehow revitalized a relatively tired system, yet the welcome, continued use of a 3D engine has ushered in a new age for the 20 year old RPG series. The vast amounts of character customization helps the journey feel far more personal rather than riding on the hope that you’ll identify with a shoehorned, silent protagonist; and totem battles bring the game more in-line with traditional JRPGs by acting as a way to better prepare the new generation for the game’s incredibly in-depth competitive scene should they decide to break through its simple surface.

Though there still isn’t much for single-player adventurers to do once the credits roll, the overall adventure spans more than enough hours to satisfy most casual RPG fans. It’s a welcome treat for the avid Pokémon fan, a fine point of return for a former trainer and the perfect entry excuse for anyone joining in for the first time.

Review: Final Fantasy XV

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Ten years in the making and Noctis and the gang are finally ready to take you on the ride of their lives. While the adventure itself doesn’t quite match up to the 40 hour average you’d expect a typical JRPG to spin its tale, there’s a strange string of circumstances blocking this one from being all that it should.

The whole experience of Final Fantasy XV kicks off far more quickly than most other story-centred games of its kind. Going in, you’d expect the same level of exposition and setup seen in titles like The Legend of Zelda (not a JRPG in the same respect) with its opening cinematic spinning its latest iteration of the green-garbed hero’s tale for 5 minutes before throwing you into an another 30 minutes of text boxes and tutorials.

That’s not the case here. We’re shown the faces of the 4 friends we’ll be carpooling with for double-digit hours as they’re shown the door of Insomnia’s citadel. Noctis’ father – King Regis – has struck a deal with the impeding power of the Empire and sends his sheltered son to fulfil part of their deal; wedding Lady Lunafreya Nox Flueret – a childhood friend of Noctis and the proposed second half of the land’s aged prophecy of a king eventually being chosen by the land’s crystal to deliver them from the darkness.

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Noctis, being the pampered pouch that he is, isn’t all too pleased with the goings on. Living a life as a Prince has its ups and downs; but being forewarned of his need to fill his Father’s boots once he’s gone, the young man has reached the peak of any pubescent boy where he’s completely sick to death of having his life run by others. His life of royal obligation has made him into a moody man-child who scowls at any attempt to encourage his progression throughout the game. It’s annoying for sure, but it’s a situation I feel many can actually sympathise with in their own way.

Rolling out onto the open roads of Eos headed straight for Altissia to meet the bride-to-be, things don’t go as swimmingly as Noctis and his band of merry men would have hoped. Failing them at an alarming speed, his mighty stead – a beautiful automobile by the name of ‘The Regalia’ – breaks down. Pushing it to the nearby Hammerhead garage, we’re introduced to one of the game’s many ‘outposts’; a place to pick up additional work, buy items, fill our faces with some incredibly convincing food and sleep on a bed that isn’t made of stone. It’s certainly a novel way to force a tutorial.

It acts as a fine example of how the four handle a less than ideal situation – something they’ll be seeing a lot of now that they’re away from the protective confines of the Crown City. It also gives us our first, and arguably the best, character quirk – Prompto’s impromptu photography. A collection of documenting shots you’ll see every time you put the boys to bed.

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Joining a ‘Hunt’ and picking up a quest or two is at the forfront of the experience here. Attempting to usher Final Fantasy into the open-world era, we’re free to push on ahead and take the Regalia straight to the next chapter of the game’s main storyline. So long as you can hack the troublesome combat, you’re good to rush to the end in one or two sittings.

But for those coming at this for the first time, learning to ‘live off the land’ – so to speak – is the best way to experience this ambitious world. Hunts are picked up by talking to ‘tipsters’ at each outpost’s eateries; the very same folks who’ll dish up a stat-boosting meal and scribble down key points on your map like rare items, dungeon locations and harvestable nodes. They’re certainly a handy bunch, and considering you can only pick up one of their many hunting jobs at a time, you’ll be going back and forth from their establishments quite a lot down the line. It’s all a ploy to get you eating their garbage, for sure.

But why are you doing these menial tasks in the first place? Isn’t Lady Lunafreya waiting for you? Well, Final Fantasy XV really isn’t like your typical Final Fantasy. The open world understands that enemies don’t just spur you into a loading screen every 4 steps off the beaten track. So when you’re getting wrecked by the Empire’s punishing machine guns in the later chapters, you’ll have to rely on other sources to buff up your party’s attributes. And while monsters certainly populate the land without a hunt being active, they’re a lot you’d expect in a ‘Fantasy based on reality’ – you might get a group of mobs in one specific spot and no more around there until they decide to respawn.

Grinding isn’t really a viable option early on, so you’ll be teaching the boys a lesson in helping your fellow man and contributing to society if you want to see them grow.

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And while, for the most part, it feels like the world of Eos is doing you a favor, the fate of the world feels the need to kick you around a little more than we would have hoped. Once nightime rolls around (which comes quickly) you’re almost forced into staying put until dawn breaks. Ignis won’t drive over fear of rogue daemons and while Noctis will happily take the wheel, powerful enemies like Iron Giants and Imperial ‘MT’s will both crawl out of the ground and fall from the sky to block your attempts to drive particularly far at night.

Though the chocobo rental service helps alleviate the pains a little later on, it seems like a needless system that actively attempts to force you into spending the night at a camp site to encourage a tiny amount of character interaction through a system that’s barely worth using. Sure, camping lets Ignis put your produce to good use by whipping up a nice meal, but you lose the best way of levelling up and pushing on ahead with the game.

Sleeping on the ground does nothing for your growth, while sleeping on a rented mattress like the gas station caravan or the luxury of Galdin Quay nets you anywhere between a 10% increase in the experience points you’ve gained since your last rest to a whopping 100% boost. You can either run a few quests and double their worth for a quick jump in level or opt to slice your potential gains and hard work in favor of a stat boost that could be matched by just shelling out a little extra cash at the diner. You’d be shooting yourself in the foot – especially when gil isn’t exactly hard to come by.

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Most of your time wandering around the same spaces of Eos will be your search for the tombs of the old kings of Lucis. On a quest to boost his powers by acquiring the weapons of his ancestry, there was no point in the game where I felt like Noctis’ ancient arsenal was of much use. Boosting particular stats in exchange for a piece of his HP per swing, it didn’t feel like a worthy trade when even much lower levelled enemies could shave of the vast majority of a character’s health in a single shot.

Combat feels unfair for the most part – for both sides. You either have your party fall victim to a group of lesser daemons through a mixture of janky AI and a wombo combo or slam down a single high-levelled target with ease. Making use of your allies changeable repertoire of skills helps along the way, but there’s only a certain amount your limited control can help the sorry saps. You can’t force them to hold a position, so there’s every chance they’ll stand and eat one-too-many swings and make a fight far harder than it should be.

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Between rolling through the fields of Eos and fighting monsters, toiling through the dungeons of the old kings is likely the high point of the game as a whole. Though the weapons barely feel necessary – at least throughout the story – the trips toward the land’s hidden tombs is about as close to a traditional Final Fantasy feeling as you’ll be getting until the end.

And while they aren’t exactly the pinnacle of dungeon design, they offer up that feeling of discovery you’d latch onto if you found a mysterious stone door sitting behind a couple of branches in your local forest. They’re not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re a welcome sight after bearing witness to the blight of Chapter 13 – a solo stealth segment that rids you of your weapons (and party) and feels like a Game Maker dungeon crawl that had 5 more rooms dropped into it for each year that went by without the game sitting on store shelves.

For the most part, Final Fantasy XV is an upstanding citizen when it comes to ticking the JRPG boxes. But it’s clear some of the design choices attempting to keep it from falling to some classical genre tropes eventually hurt it more than including them would have. It dodges lengthy cutscenes but loses its ability to tell a complete tale.

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The battle system falls victim to questionable AI and shaky camera while its own desire to offer up a sprawling world are shot down with the need to watch your step when it comes to juggling experience point gains with a story mission forcing you to lose your chance at boosting it through a strategic stop at a hotel. The entire experience lends itself perfectly to an open world design yet limits itself at every turn. There’s plenty of ‘post-game’ content to delve into much like any Final Fantasy game, so while the story comes to a close much sooner than the rest, there’s still plenty of reason to stick around if you really want to keep going.

Setting out to tell a tale of brotherly love and the pains of growing up, it’s only in the game’s closing chapters that we truly see Ignis, Prompto, Gladio and Noctis really feel like they’re in this together. Before that, it’s mostly needless arguing, pointless exchanges and a moody grunt-off between the Crown Prince and his bulky arms trainer. But that’s where Prompto’s photography really shines through.

If it wasn’t for each chapter telling its own story through the lens of his picture box, we’d never see the group band together in a way that doesn’t look like they’re 4 strangers forced into a play-date by their parents. You have to watch the ‘Brotherhood’ anime to see their past interactions as kids – yet even then you’re shown their awkward exchanges during the road-trip we expected to be like something similar to friends stealing their dad’s car to drive out to Vegas. The situation is a little more dire, sure; but they rarely give any convincing evidence to either possible scenario.

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It’s a shame, really. Every concept of Final Fantasy XV feels like it’s onto a winner; yet it never quite makes it the full way before tripping over itself. The battle system feels fresh but falters under the weight of heavy mob spawns and a troublesome camera, the story brings a tonne of worthwhile characters and lore but struggles to give either enough of the spotlight and the open-world system often feels far more closed and restrictive that we hoped.

The saving grace comes in the way of the cast’s solid performances alone. Without their help, the whole thing just wouldn’t feel worth the trouble. It’s difficult to explain the story in anything but the bare-bones basics and the combat can go from feeling fluid to aggravating in every other fight. The landscape of Eos leans too far to the the ‘reality’ side while the final fight feels far too ‘fantasy’. The whole game struggles to find its own balance when it puts itself on the scales of judgement.

It’s a fine attempt at something new, but while it heads itself as a ‘A Final Fantasy For fans and newcomers’, it isn’t the one either side should start or end with. It’s too much of an incomplete concept to stand as either.

(All images used were pulled straight from Prompto’s camera. He didn’t ask for payment. What a champ.)

Review: Gears of War 4

After a short, but noticeable 4 year absence from our screens, the Gears of War franchise was born anew last month with the release of Gears of War 4. The beginning of a new trilogy for the franchise, Gears 4 is the first to bring the series to the appropriately named Unreal Engine 4.

Though Epic Games were not at the helm of Gears of War 4, Rod Furgusson, series producer, actually left Epic Games to continue working on the franchise with The Coalition, formerly Black Tusk Studio. With Gears of War: Ultimate Edition already under their belt – likely as a training exercise to grow the team around the new engine technology as they inched away on the sequel, Gears of War 4 was put out to work just a year after the HD remaster project was officially out of the door.

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Taking place 25 years after the closing moments of Gears of War 3 – our apparent series finale – the franchise has taken a turn similar to that of other Microsoft-owned franchise ‘Halo’ in spawning another trilogy on the back of its last. But with Furgusson staying on-board to oversee the move to the ‘next generation’, is Gears of War retreading old ground or seeing the exact preservation it deserves after all these years?

There’s something to be said when the controls of a game you started 10 years prior come racing back into your mind the moment you see a chainsaw assault rifle placed into your hand. A familiar gun, view point and UI had me bracing behind cover and nailing one after another perfect active reloads and quickly showering my enemies with the bolstered bullets. Except this time, I wasn’t fighting familiar enemies. Not straight away, at least.

The reptilian locust horde of the past games had gone, instead replaced with some cheery sounding mechanical soldiers just as capable as their predecessors. They’d immediately vault over available terrain if it meant standing on my head, whether it put them harms way or not. Though they wouldn’t last long once I grew re-accustomed to the idea of charging head-long into battle with my Gnasher shotgun, I couldn’t help but feel I’d been down this same path far too much over the years.

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For the sake of context, each Gears of War campaign has always followed a few golden rules. You’ll have a group of AI squad mates around, ready to pick you up if you fall. But you’re also constantly encouraged to think strategically with each encounter as available object placement and enemy spawn points gently suggest where you should hold down to stand a better chance of blasting down your foes before they start to advance up into your personal space. While this isn’t so much a problem on the easier difficulties, where enemies fight more akin to a glass cannon, the rapidly scaling damage output of a swarm on Insane will quickly dictate the need to find a hold-out point with an easy escape route.

Playing on the Medium difficulty to enjoy the story on my first trip through the regurgitated planet of Sera, I came out of chapter 1 already bored of the surrounding area and struggled to see how it could get much better.

Under the promise of seeing John DiMaggio resume his stellar performance of Marcus Fenix, I pressed on. That and the fact I wasn’t too keen on calling time on a £50 purchase after a couple rounds of Horde mode on a map I’ve been playing since the 2006. I had to get my money’s worth – especially after waiting for years to be reunited with my Lancer.

But in the end I was left relatively disappointed. It was clear Gear of War 4 wasn’t looking to reinvent itself after all these years. Why would it? The original made a name for itself when even Microsoft wasn’t expecting anyone to buy into it. Though, just like Bill Gates himself encouraged, selling the game on the idea of the chainsaw bayonet payed off, and Gears of War cemented itself as a relatively uncomplicated shooter with enough violence and fresh ideas to get by in a time where the ageing gamer market wanted a little more story in their shooters while still being able to blow holes through their enemies in the most ridiculous ways.

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So why wasn’t I happy? I knew Gears 4 wasn’t going to be doing anything drastically new. It didn’t have to. At least, that’s what I thought. But after 8 hours of shooting at the same enemies before walking through a corridor knowing what lies in wait: (hint: it’s more of the same enemies), I’d grown tired of the rinse and repeat formula. There’s only so many times watching a robot or reptilian anthropoid explode on the barrel of my gun can reap the same rewards as it did 10 years ago.

And realizing both the mechaniod and locust (sorry… Swarm) horde made use of the same uninspired idea to throw wave after wave of ankle-biting enemies – whether the shock orbs or naked mole-men – didn’t do much to break up the monotonous task of pushing forward on the sliver of hope the story might not be completely riding on the coat-tails of its predecessors.

It didn’t pay off.

When you’re trying to test out a weapon that’s new for the series, it’s pretty difficult to put your trust in the new gadget when you’re having to roll backward and whip out your sidearm every few seconds because the developers thought it’d be nice to show you the hard work they put into the same floor-crawling enemies yet again – even though they’re carbon-copies of the Tickers and Wretches from past games. Sure, they look and sound different, but they hold the same principle at heart; to piss you off.

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Thankfully, Horde mode retains the fun of previous games. Though it takes on a slight tower defense shape this time around with the Fabricator being available to conjure up spike walls, turrets and ammunition at a price, the ability to move to fabricator between rounds means you’re not stuck defending a single location in a map and are completely able, and encouraged, to scout out each area looking for a place that might offer a little more fortitude to the double Swarmak onslaught coming your way in the later waves.

Sadly, there’s no Mortar this time around, but some of the Fabricator’s little tricks try to make up for that – albeit by stealing some of the fun in later stages when your allies to are just about ready to call it a night. The Hammer of Dawn saw a bit of an upgrade in this mode.

I can’t speak for the other multiplayer modes, however. Not yet. Though I demoed a few maps during the game’s open beta on the Xbox One console a few months ago and rather enjoyed my time; it clear not much has changed over the yers. Lancers will still peck at your knees until you’re on the ground, and everyone’s just looking for an opportunity to get up close and personal with a shotgun. It’s the same old Gears experience – just with less people hugging a truck in a vein attempt at spending 2 minutes to fly out of the map and get kicked within another 10 seconds.

So, in closing comments, Gears of War 4 keeps its cards close to its chest and does little to deviate away from the formula put into place over a decade ago. While a few of the enemies within the campaign offered a slight change of pace to the classic locust horde, it wasn’t long before feelings of nostalgia took hold and made me realize I’d seen its cheap tactics all before. There was little emotional ‘oomph’ in a tale that set itself up for a serious Father/Son fued, nor did its once powerful combat system exhibit the same feeling of raw, brute force it used to. Everything just felt much more tame in comparison to the hard-hitting moments of previous  entries

Horde mode is still a blast with friends, but the whole experience just seems to be growing a little stale now. So much so that I’m here purely for the story – and I can’t see that getting much better at this point.

 

Maybe save it for that movie you were betting on, guys? Hollywood seems open to those ideas again.

InFlux Review

The indie scene is growing at a rate nobody really saw coming. More and more budding games developers are leaving university with the newfound knowledge that they don’t have to go spend months, and perhaps years searching and relocated just to land a job in their preferred field. Instead, they’re turning their attentions to pulling up the cash to support themselves while they try to break into the industry through effort alone – creating a game from scratch and hoping for its success to catapult them into the big leagues.

InFlux is another example of a set of people looking to do just that.

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Originally starting as a mod concept, InFlux soon outgrew its skin and turned into a product of its own. Utilizing the Unreal Engine and the power of the internet, an Australian citizen pulled together a band of eager developers from across the world to have at it with the ambitious puzzle game.

InFlux plays out much like a modern day Marble Madness. As a mysterious sphere drops from the sky like a meteor, you instantly take control to roll free of the impact crater and explore the soothing wilderness you seemingly claimed as your landing point.

Rolling forward, you start to utilize your own momentum to push through the fields of swaying grass and rocky hills surround the area. Without even a hit of explanation as to why you’re both a ball and rolling around a peaceful utopia, you barely question the motive as you go forward just embracing the sights and sounds around you.

The sights and sounds never let up, but you do quickly come across what seems to be the point of the game – the gateway puzzles blocking your progression. Large obscure arrays of glass boxes are oftentimes in full view through the entirety of your journey, and it’s these mysterious houses that turns InFlux into essentially it’s only focus.

Torch-like relics situated outside each box puzzle act as a lock mechanism keeping you from entering each mysterious abstract construct. By using your alien magnetic repel and attract features, you travel each stage-like landscape looking to claim sets of glowing balls needed to power up the relics and, in turn, the puzzle stages they keep closed.

Exploring the areas of InFlux are most certainly as much of the appeal as the puzzle sections. While unpolished level design and clipping issues can often mean boosting your way through rocks, terrain and even the glass itself, you are awarded some freedom to combine your boost and weight against objects to propel yourself up hills, mountains and rivers to get a clearer screenshot of the impressive landscape.

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Though the collection sequences can appear tedious at times, the combination of the warm feeling environment and smooth, ambient soundtrack oftentimes takes the edge away from task.

Once in possession of area’s mysterious energy, a quick roll toward the gate torch will absorb the very essence you strived to collect and turn the solid glass entrance into a liquid-like surface much like the paintings of a certain post-millennium classic.

Being sucked into the glass chambers quickly reveals a world separate from the one you left behind. A flash of white light turns the hollow array of boxes into something much bigger than you set your sights on in moonlit grassy knolls.

The inside of each box is very different to the last. Some test your ability to control the sphere’s momentum and temporal boost abilities to reach the other side without falling into the endless depths below while others offer fully fledged rotating rooms of barriers, bridges, lifts and other spheres for you to pull, push and block between the former obstacles in whatever way necessary to get it through the exit gate alongside you.

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Circumventing each puzzle goal with the correctly coloured sphere still tagging along with you unlocks the inter-dimensional glass housing and its grasp – setting you free through another blast of white light and spitting you just a meter or two where you originally entered.

Without the gate stopping you from plodding onward, you roll forward through the disappointingly linear, yet somewhat eye-catching environments repeating the same gather and solve feature until you can go no further.

The game sticks to this simple, relaxing premise for a good hour or two – as if it’s purposely binding you to the through that it’s all a sea of roses. Eventually you’ll begin to progress through caves, mountains, volcanos and more wider-spanning fields of green with puzzle sequences growing in size and taking and taking increasingly higher levels of thought, attention and planning to figure out.

As you navigate each puzzle to find the core matching the coloured gates within, you’re constantly battling to keep the ball from leaving your kinetic grasp and rolling back down two stories of cube. Planning is key in solving each as a common obstacle of the puzzle boxes are the fact the exit gate is on the ceiling. Manipulating the twist of each puzzle is oftentimes the only way to get the exit within viable reach and the key to your eventual escape. But with each twist comes the risk of losing your key orb to the alternating gravity – that’s why it becomes paramount to analyse where each platform will end before flicking the switch and finding a suitable wall to lock you and your orb in place before you’re sent hurtling further away from your goal.

While some of the harder puzzles can be solved with sheer dumb luck, it’s enough to say InFlux very much revolves around your own ability to use momentum to your suit your needs; whether that’s to get from point A to point B or just to catch a different angle of the world ready for photoshoot. Whether InFlux was intended this way is beyond me, but that’s undeniably how it plays out. Despite its flaws in design and questionably confused gameplay style, InFlux provides a decent enough puzzle experience wrapped around a world of minor mystery. It certainly isn’t breaking into new ground, but it does make for some fairly satisfying moments of blissful eye candy and makes me wonder what a modern day Marble Madness game would really entail.

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InFlux, while crude at times, is a game made by a group of amatuar developers looking to unlock their own gates into the world of game development. While it certainly doesn’t shine in terms of craftsmanship, inspiration and attention to detail – it’s not one out to get your money. InFlux is available as a free download with the noble notion that those who enjoy the game can opt to throw some money their way through Humble Bundle, GoG and Steam. It’s as if to say the team themselves know InFlux isn’t the next Super Monkey Ball or Flower. It’s their heart, soul and energy. InFlux isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s certainly worth a look.

The Date Is (kind of) Set! – A Final Fantasy XIV Walkabout

Well after promising myself I wouldn’t spend too much time on Final Fantasy yesterday, I ended up saying on it until 4am. Doing what, exactly? Planning a wedding! Sort of.

I don’t really know how long it’s been now, but a friend I met on Twitter around November last year accepted my invitation (suggestion?) to try Final Fantasy XIV. I’d probably talked about it too much to the poor guy between our planned Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate sessions and playfully hinted that I wanted to introduce someone new to the game that had sapped my of so many hours over the last few years.

Anyway, somehow we struck a deal citing should they ever manage to achieve the Level 60 cap and hit an average gear item level of 200, we’d get married in-game. Purely platonic, mind you. It’s just a really cute quest line that allows you to rent out the game’s huge church and go through a ‘Wedding’ event cutscene with a selection of our nearest and dearest in-game friends.

They actually achieved the criteria some time ago now with the ‘Deal’ cropping up in conversation every time I’d forgotten about it. So we finally got around to going through the motions really late last night once my Breaking Bad binge was done and I’d watching Now You See Me again in preparation for the upcoming sequel.

So how did it all play out? Well, after donning the Platinum Wristlet signifying our ‘bond’, we were told how the idea first came along. Something about how a calamity much like the fall of Dalamud from 1.0 happened further back in the history of Eorzea. Around the 3rd Umbral(?) Era. The incident caused a period of strife among the people until a couple managed to stand together and come out on top – presumably advocating the idea of ‘Stronger together’. Considering it was Louisoix Leveilleur and the people’s prayers to the Twelve that saved them from Bahamut’s wrath, it seems only fitting that our first path on this journey was to traverse Eorzea and pay our respects to the symbols of the Twelve Deity of Hydealyn’s beloved kingdom!

And so, rather than buying generic bands from a vendor, we went to a good friend – who’s house we stole in the last post – and requested they make our rings. I saw it as the game’s way of asking someone to be the ‘Best man’ of the wedding – so I’m thankful they gladly did us the honor! Immediately after, we set out on our late-night journey across the continent making sure to mark each major step with a photo.


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Step 1.

Learning about the church overlooking the Black Shroud for eons. It was a beautiful place I fondly remember coming across on my really early travels in this game. Back in 2.0 I’m not even sure if Yoshida has even mentioned the possibility of weddings – he most likely did, but I can’t quite remember. Either way I was totally unware, so seeing this place on the map buried behind the snaking log paths of the Bramble Patch made me really curious as to what it was there for.

So you can probably tell I was really happy to hear it was to be used for the eventual in-game weddings!

Gridania and the Black Shroud has always been my favorite area of the game. I’ve had a thing for forests, rivers and the sights and sounds that come with them since my really early gaming days. Most likely due to the magical beginning moments of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – my first Zelda game and really one of my earliest — and fondest — gaming memories.


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Step 2.

Immediately after traversing through my favorite area, we trailed straight into Cameron’s; the city-state of Limsa Lominsa and the surrounding areas of La Noscea. It went from day to night more times than I can imagine with the sun setting near Camp Bronzelake yet the beaches of Costa del Sol practically noon-high. We spent a little too much time on the beach and ended up on a boat in the middle of ocean when we tried to get back into the city.

Made for some good shots, though!

Maybe you can tell why I opted for a slideshow for that part…


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Step 3.

Thanalan! A bit of a desert region. Lots of sand, unused railroads, cacti and rocks. Nothing much to see here!

We did spend a little time getting to know the refugees, though. Pete to the left wasn’t really too keen on talking face-to-face.

Though I guess it did lead into the last few areas rather well. Don’t get me wrong, Thanalan has it’s fair share of sightseeing spots (and the Gold Saucer); but apparently this leg of the trip wasn’t the one to give us the grand tour.


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Step 4.

Mor Dhona and the snowy hills of Coerthas! The only downside to this one was purely down to the route. For some reason we had to follow straight from Thanalan into Mor Dhona – but skip the Mark of the Scholar there in favor of heading into Coerthas first. The two marks in Coerthas couldn’t have been further apart, either!

So in all we had to walk through 5 zones just to go and backtrack again.

I’m sure it’s all worth it in the end, though!


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Final Steps of Faith.

After the long journey across Eorzea to gaze upon some tattooed rocks we decided to rest. It’d been a good 3 hours or so and seeing the sun rise at 4am threw me off a bit. I’m happy Cam stayed up so long to complete this part of the quest all on foot – the way it was supposed to be! I’m sure he was quite sleepy by the end, so I’ll have to apologize for that…

Fast-forward to the following evening and there was still work to be done. Claribet – our lovely wedding planner – was waiting on us to deliver the blessed rings from our travels to store for the day of the ceremony. With that we were ushered into the chapel – a place I haven’t seen the inside of in my 3 years on this game – and was immediately stunned (not by enemies). It’s a beautifully designed hall welcoming anyone who wants to go through with this sort of thing. And with us being on the upper-tier of the quest, we had the task of picking out colour schemes, entrances and, of course, the music to be played before and after the ceremony. It took a little while – with an ironic disconnect on my end causing Cam to think I’d left them at the alter – but we finally ironed out the little details and set the date.

Honestly, it’s a shame to hear people just doing this quest-chain for the gifts. I like to think the late-night walkabout we went through to pray to the shrines gave us both a chance to get to know each other even more than we have these past few months. I’m super proud to see Cam come from a confused Level 1 to a person eager to test themselves against the final frontiers this expansion has to offer. I’m happy to finally have someone who’s willing to give it all a shot, and I’m humbled to be going through with a plan I never thought would actually happen.

Oh and… surprise flashmob! I guess we set our date just as another was going ahead. The wheel keeps spinning.

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Thank you for all your hard work, Cam! I hope you’ll enjoy this game for a while yet, and I really do hope we can start to beat up some serious raid bosses soon!


Final Fantasy XIV – Round 3.3!

Guess what’s back?! It’s an incredibly convoluted post about how much I adore Final Fantasy XIV! It’s coming dangerously close to my 3rd year playing this game practically non-stop. Sure, I’ve had a few breaks now and then, but I’ve been around for practically every patch since the 2.0 transition – as much as I would have liked to have been a part of the ‘hellish’ 1.0 days, I couldn’t bring myself to drop a subscription to a game Square were obviously OK (zundu) releasing in an Alpha. A shame, sure.

I wanted FFXIV 1.0 to be like a fresh start of FFXI – a game I wished I could have been a part of during it’s heyday, but I made do with the re-working of Final Fantasy XIV under Naoki Yoshida’s leadership. His constant developer updates helped win the trust of the disjointed 1.0 playerbase ensuring 2.0 would be the game XIV should have been from the start – a complete experience rather than a non-player friendly, overambitious universe where the pots have greater detail than most major buildings.

So now that we’re into patch 3.3, it’s time to throw around loads of screenshots again! Dragons, floating islands, posing characters on a lazy day and otherwise doing everything OTHER than the major raid encounters;

 

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There’s a lot going on this patch! The great ‘Dragonsong War’ that brought us into gothic-styled state of Ishgard comes to a pretty explosive climax. Venturing through Sohr Khai to win one dragon’s promise to help us shutdown his hatred-driven brother, everyone instantly dumping hundred of millions of gil into the new player housing districts and scurrying into the Gold Saucer to lap up that 50% currency boost we all desperately needed to make the place worthwhile.

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If you thought this was the patch to rid us of the need to run the terribly dull Void Ark raid then think again! The new ‘Part 2’ in The Weeping City of Mhach makes it a little more barably knowing you’re potentially getting another iLvl 230 piece of gear on top of the 240 upgrade and a Grade V materia of your choosing – but it’s still a snoozefest. Pretty good time to catch up on TV shows on a second screen, though. Assuming you’re not a tank.

There’s also the line of people watching Nidhogg give Hraesvelgr a good stomping over on the other side of that bridge. That, or they’re wondering whether to jump after vote abandoning The Final Steps of Faith after a single wipe on launch day. Yes, people do that.

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There’s the Great Wyrm now in all his firey glory! Looks like everyone but me died. I’m not sure why, but it allowed for a decent shot of me getting ready to die to his Ahk Morn attack. Binding Coil of Bahamut Turn 13 eat your heart out.

Then we have me and a friend who started back with me during the 2.0 beta still chilling out in their house before me and Cam annexed the whole thing (see photo 3). There’s the triple Maw phase of the Ozma battle there too. And while Ozma might not play the same as those FFIX fans remember, he was still a cause for immediate carnage during that first week.

There’s a door for a lower floor of the Aquapolis too – a luck-based dungeon crawl occasionally spawned from a high-level treasure map!

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I don’t care if ReShade got in the way of that first shot, I still love it. Completely accidental placement of other players! Then we have the final boss of Weeping City who seems to be a version of Medusa who enjoys chugging bottles of shampoo to make her locks of hair form into very sharp objects!

And a dead moogle. I guess after beating them down in Sohr Khai we decided to punch some more in the Good King Moggle Mog fight. We really started to hate moogles pretty quickly in this game.

ffxiv_11062016_094836 ffxiv_09062016_143917 ffxiv_09062016_141526 ffxiv_08062016_235816 Patch 3.3 came with the much needed 2-week only boost to points earned in the Gold Saucer – Final Fantasy VII player’s idea of a fantasy Vegas or something. And with that came the only time I’ve deemed it necessary to subject a newly hatched Chocobo to the perils of ferrying me around a racetrack for the purpose of eventually winning me a spinning turtle to ride through the skies. For that, you need to train!

And there’s a huge Tonberry looking to carve lunch! Not sure you need that lamp in broad daylight, sir.

I don’t want to think about how many screenshots I’ve taken. There’s an album of 300+ on my Facebook page from 2.0-2.1 alone. Someone stop me.