Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Title: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Developer: Ubisoft

Genre: Action Role-Playing, Stealth

My playtime: 127 hours

My rating: 8/10

Well, I’m currently sat around, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Mr Amazon to deliver my copy of The Division 2. I cannot express how excited I am that it’s finally out, and how frustrated I am that it’s now almost evening and it’s still not here. Just my luck, Mr Amazon chooses today to deliver at 11.59 p.m. Anyway, I thought I’d do something constructive in the meantime and review another game I was very excited about: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

And I was right to be excited about this one. I cannot contain how thrilled I am that AC is heading in this direction. I know traditionally AC is an action-adventure franchise, and I’m not at all averse to action-adventures, but in my heart of hearts, I’m an RPG gal. Origins was a really elegant transition game, so that die hard fans weren’t shocked by a change in genre, but Odyssey is where the RPG potential of AC is really starting to bloom. And actually, this franchise is perfectly matched to this genre, as is evidenced in Odyssey. For the first time, I feel like I’m very much in control of my character. Being able to choose a female character is one of the highlights of this game for me. I played Evie as much as I could in Syndicate, but there were times in that game when you were forced to played Jacob, which I wasn’t too happy about. Committing wholly to Kassandra, however, felt like I could really own this character and hone my style with her, and be able to play as her throughout, with no annoying sidetracks into characters I’m not used to (ahem, Origins).

And then there’s the map, the sheer scale of this Greek world. It’s bloomin’ huge! I would often climb up to synchronization points just to spin the camera around and look at all the places on the horizon I could reach and explore. And actually, one of the good things about Odyssey is that there’s more motivation to go to each of these regions. Whereas in Origins, it was sometimes a slog to reach every question mark, in Odyssey, each region has a decent amount of diverse side quests (if not main quests), that make each region or island an interesting place to explore. There’s more motivation to do so. And they’ve really dug into Greek mythology for some of these places, which makes them even more fascinating and challenging.

One thing that I did not excel at was the decision-making. I’m terrible at decisions in real life, but for some reason, I have a real knack with choosing the “wrong” way in games. And these decisions are not straightforward. Most of the time, you’ll be lulled into a short-term decision that feels right, but the long-term consequences can be far-reaching and really quite bad. I made all those kinds of decisions. And then, of course, Sokrates pops up every now and then to judge you for all your bad choices and make you feel even worse. Top tip: whatever Sokrates asks you to do, do the option that seems bad at the time. To be fair, he’ll probably just judge you anyway. It also took me a while to get out of my AC head of trying to complete every single mission. I was quite shocked that a lot of the recurring missions you get from NPCs are to murder civilians without really gathering any evidence or differing points of view to see whether your victims actually deserve it. I felt really awful about doing that. And then it twigged: I didn’t have to! These missions aren’t obligatory, and you can just ignore them if they appear on noticeboards – if that’s your style. If not, murder away! Just be careful about the bounty system, as it takes ages for bounties to drop naturally (you can pay them off, but they do decrease with time, just a lot of it). But this is really the great and relieving thing about Odyssey: choice. I remember getting quite upset that completion in Origins meant having to kill war elephants, which I just did NOT want to do, because I love elephants, and in fact, never did. But in Odyssey, it’s all about what you want to do. The conquest battles, for example, were just not my thing. My melee fighting in AC has always been a weakness, and button-mashing battles just don’t appeal to me. But it didn’t matter, because I didn’t have to do them. It was just so pleasant to have this kind of choice about what I wanted to do.

To be honest, I think the civilian killing is the only thing that made me think that this game didn’t feel like an AC game. There has been a lot of stick about Odyssey not being anything to do with the actual assassin’s creed, as it doesn’t actually exist yet. But these things don’t just burst into existence overnight. They have to evolve, and Odyssey is a fantastic precursor game. Apart from the civilian murders, really at no other time did I think that this wasn’t an AC game. It’s such a good game in and of itself that it really doesn’t matter that there’s no creed or hidden blades. In fact, I really liked the Spear of Leonidas as my primary weapon. In Origins, I favoured the bow, but the bows in Odyssey are pretty pants. However, this spear was a more than adequate replacement. Once you level it up a bit, you can do some truly awesome moves with it that blow hidden blades out of the water. I’m going to be really sad in the next AC game when that disappears. Unless it’s replaced by something even more awesome …

So, in a nutshell, I think Odyssey is a fun, epic and promising evolution in the AC franchise. I didn’t care a jot that there were no hidden blades; this game is outstanding as a game on its own, and it is an engaging precursor to the actual creed. Hey, I’ve sunk nearly 130 hours into it, so it must be good. Hoorah for the direction AC is now heading in! It makes me feel like Ubisoft is really digging into the potential for the franchise, which is exciting and optimistic for future episodes.

Review: Shadow of the Tomb Raider


Title: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Developer: Eidos Montréal

Genre: Action-adventure

My playtime: 20 hours

My rating: 9/10

Well, I’ve just finished serving the big bad boss up some whoop-ass in the latest outing for Lara Croft, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so I thought I’d hit y’all with my review whilst it’s still fresh in my mind. Just give me a moment to blink away the bleed-through …

I am in reality. We don’t skewer each other with pickaxes. We don’t steal resources from impoverished civilians. And we definitely don’t poke holes in endangered species …

There we go.

I’ve been a fan of Tomb Raider since Tomb Raider II, the first game I was old enough to play (oh, the hours I’ve spent pottering around blocktastic Venice). So this has to be the longest-running franchise that I’ve eagerly anticipated each release date of. Lara has been with me ever since my age had double digits, so it’s fair to say she’s had quite an impact on my life. As a child, I so desperately wanted to be her, but now I’m an adult and the opportunity to raid tombs for a living has passed me by, I’m quite content to live vicariously through Lara as she adapts and flourishes into the fourth decade of my time.

I’m a fan of all three of these latest games, but I have to say, I am particularly impressed with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It really feels like the maturation of Lara in her current iteration. They had an excellent formula is 2013, but the brew is at its best in the final episode of this trilogy. I think this is mainly due to the proportions and qualities of this world, set in the Peruvian jungle. The hub areas are vastly bigger than they are in the previous two games, and more than that, there are actual side quests. Gasp! Yes, this is a real, living, breathing world populated by actual people. Previously, our Lara has been adventuring through fantastic settings with some truly epic locations (which can definitely be said for this latest game), but they were all lacking that certain something that made them feel lifelike: life. There are NPCs galore in Shadow, beset with the usual problems that NPCs can’t solve for themselves. Poor lambs. And because you spend time in these hubs, hunting out relics and documents or completing side quests and challenges, this game feels a lot bigger than it really is. Unlike vast open worlds in which you spend most of your time trying to find the fastest way to traverse them, you’ve got to poke your nose into every nook and commit suicide several times to reach every cranny to find every bit of hidden treasure (and I’m ace at finding every way possible to commit suicide in Tomb Raider – I particularly liked being blown off a ledge, breaking my leg and then being devoured by wolves). And there is some fantastic background information about the indigenous and colonial cultures in this area. I actually stop and listen to each entry, rather than just collecting for collecting’s sake, because it’s so fascinating. The challenge tombs are also much bigger than in previous episodes, with much more involved puzzling and problem-solving. The puzzling feels far more like a significant feature of the game now, rather than just a natty bit of fun on the side. I do love a good brain challenge, and this is Tomb Raider after all. The key is in the title.

There are some nice RPG touches in this game. Right from the off, you can customise Lara’s outfit and then collect other outfits with certain bonus effects (you can even skin her in old-school Lara – ah, the memories! That bloody butler!). There are a decent number of weapons to buy or earn, and a comprehensive skill tree that allows you to build Lara’s skills in a way that’s useful for your particular play style. My preference is to be stealthy (because I just panic when all the bad guys rush me), and Lara has learned a few new tricks in this regard. She can now apply mud camo and stick to muddy walls, ready with her trusty jury-rigged knife to savage the presumably half-blind guards. The only problem I had here was that Lara was a bit too sticky for me. It took a lot of joystick waggling to get her to peel away and run to the next cover. Not great when you have to time things exactly. But as compensation, you can now put lure traps on dead bodies, attracting the presumably half-brain-dead guards to your latest kill so that a proximity bomb can blast them into oblivion. That’s great fun! Probably my favourite feature for stealth kills.

But there’s not too much RPG stuff to threaten a total change in genre. I think they’ve got the balance about right. These days, gamers expect more from an action-adventure. People like to make choices and be in control regardless of genre. It’s fun and it makes the game dynamic and personal. And at this point, we’re really getting to know this Lara and understand her choices and behaviour, even if she does cock up on an apocalyptic level. I think that’s the other aspect of this game that really makes it stand out from the others. We see Lara at her worst and best. She’s like Percival crossed with an avenging angel who’s still too young to make wise choices, but when she cocks up, she makes damn sure she puts things to rights. This is a Lara that I can really get on with: rash and flawed, but ultimately courageous and righteous. And that is just the kind of dynamic hero/anti-hero that I like in my games.

So I’m really pleased with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I think the developers should all get cake for this game. They’ve done themselves proud, they’ve done the franchise proud, and they’ve made a lifelong fan very happy.

Review: Heavy Rain


Title: Heavy Rain

Developer: Quantic Dream

Genre: Interactive drama

My playtime: 10 hours

My rating: 8/10

I have to admit, I was very uncertain going into this game. I’d never played an interactive drama before, and I’m not a fan of games that force you to watch hours and hours of cutscenes that interrupt play. I’ve very recently signed up for PS Plus while the subscription was on offer, as I wanted to at least try it out for a year and see what I was missing (not to mention get into that bloody Dark Zone in The Division at last! That was a total waste of time, as I just died within minutes every time I stepped in there). Every month, PS Plus has free games to download, and Heavy Rain was a free game in July. I’d heard a lot about it, and it’s a predecessor of Detroit: Become Human, which I’d heard even more about, so with a little encouragement from my friends, I went ahead and clogged up my internet connection with it.

And colour my mind changed! I think I’m an interactive drama convert!

It’s only a short game – you could probably complete it in a day if you were dedicated – but it packs one hell of a punch into those few hours. The premise is you are essentially in something akin to a film, taking on the roles of the characters and exploring scenes and guiding interactions with other characters. The ultimate goal is to solve the mystery of the Origami Killer.

I think this is possibly one of the most challenging games I’ve ever played for two reasons:

  1. You have to make certain decisions very quickly, and I am a notorious overthinker who can take days to make up my mind over even the most trivial matters.
  2. I have this amazing ability to totally forget the anatomy of a PS controller under even the slightest whiff of pressure.

So you can imagine how stressful this experience was for me! And herein lies the reason for my conversion: the adrenaline was real, the fear was real. I spent a lot of time poised on the edge of my seat with my controller trembling in my hands as I pushed myself to make snap decisions and hit the right button at the right moment. And that stuff really counts. There are innumerable permutations in Heavy Rain, depending on the choices you make and the buttons you (fail to) hit, so your story won’t unfold exactly like the next person’s story. And this is real insight-into-your-soul stuff. This game confronts your personality with snap decisions about harrowing situations, and you’ll soon learn what kind of person you are if you weren’t sure already. I feel genuinely fretful after playing this game, and those scenes are playing on my mind, almost haunting me. Did I make the right call?

The good thing about this game is that, because it’s relatively short, you can easily go back and play it through on a whim, making different choices or succeeding where before you failed. It also allows you to restart from a certain chapter if you aren’t happy with the outcome of your first attempt. That was a real relief for someone who suffers from button paralysis and Indecisiveness Maximus.

But the thing is, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this game so much if it hadn’t been for the stress and the adrenaline and the edge of my seat. It is a genuinely thrilling experience. And I really appreciated the filmic atmosphere of the whole thing. Perhaps being a pluviophile has something to do with it, but there’s a real sense of looming threat and psychosis throughout. Just exploring scenes is actually a really satisfying experience in a game, and Heavy Rain really plays on that gaming preference (if, like me, you’re an explorer type!). The only thing that irked me was the movement mechanics. I actually found it really hard to just walk in one direction. Unlike most games that use the left joystick, Heavy Rain uses the R2 button for walking, and then you can change direction with the joystick. I really struggled at times to get my character to just stand in the right place to trigger an exploration button, but really, that’s my only gripe.

Heavy Rain is a fantastic mystery thriller to fully immerse yourself in. It’s challenging both physically and mentally, and it has certainly inspired me to play more interactive dramas.

The only question that remains is why does nobody in this rain-washed town own a single piece of Gore-Tex?

Review: God of War


Title: God of War

Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Genre: Action-adventure

My playtime: 50 hours

My rating: 9/10

I should start this review with a disclaimer: this is, in fact, the first and only God of War game I have played. To be honest, the previous episodes completely passed me by. I must have been too busy playing Assassin’s Creed! But the first thing that drew me to this 2018 game was some beautiful artwork and a huge feature article in my gaming magazine back in Autumn 2017. For me, the world and how it’s rendered is one of the most important features of a game, so I was immediately attracted to these stunning blue- and green-toned visuals. And it turns out that the concept art was telling the truth about what awaits in the game itself.

Although not a true open world (which is my preferred setting for my gaming deckchair), it still excels in its epic scope. Around almost every corner, through every canyon and behind every door is wow moment, the kind where you lift your fingers off the controls and leave only your right thumb rotating its joystick just so you can fully take in the scene. In amongst the stream of expletives uttered as I managed to die on a regular basis, the most common exclamation I made was “Oh, wow!” or “Oh my god, look at that!” Apart from the colour and the lighting, I think the real artistry lies in the height and the depth, especially, of each location. There’s a real sense of impressive scope, even in the relatively small areas of the world. You get to feel really small, which is a feeling that I always crave (living, as I do, in such a cramped and flat environment). Each area or realm creates real feeling and atmosphere. The battering winds, disrepair and unending jagged sea ice of Helheim give you a sense of the cold despair. The ethereal beauty and dusky nature of Alfheim give a sense of the endangered enlightenment.

And, yes, as I hinted above, I did die. A LOT. I’m not an amazing gamer; it can take me a while to get used to the feel of a game, and I’m especially slow at combat controls. I tend to take things far too seriously, and my mind and body go into a panic-freeze funk when the enemies approach. I will eventually develop a cool head in a game after a few hours of play, but God of War is not forgiving for gamers like me, even on the “normal” mode. There’s a really tough boss fight almost immediately, and possibly one of the steepest learning curves I’ve experienced in a game. But I would say the weapons you get to wield are fair compensation for the amount and deftness of wielding you have to do. The Leviathan Axe is definitely one of the coolest and most useful weapons in a game ever. And they really do make you utilise the full range of its awesomeness. This is the kind of game where experimenting really pays off in trying to solve puzzles or collect everything. My main tip for this game would be: look up and chuck that axe at everything!

Don’t get me wrong, this is not just an axe-chucking, beasty-slashing hack fest. There is that layer to the game (I mean, you can’t be a god of war and not decapitate a fiend or two), but it’s so much more complex than that. It’s so much more of a story than that. This game is really about a relationship, one between between a father and a son who aren’t particularly comfortable in each other’s company. Kratos is certainly not the most loving or encouraging of fathers. He spends most of the time calling Atreus “BOY!” in that marvellous Christopher Judge voice, and criticising him and generally being huffy and intolerant. But as the game plays out, there’s an evolution to their relationship that you cannot help but become completely invested in. Yeah, yeah, the game is gritty and violent, but it’s also funny and sweet, and every little interaction between the characters really means something. God of War is a very satisfying experience both as a gamer and as a human.

And, I have to add, as a story lover. I frequently went out paddling on the lake just to hear stories from Norse mythology. At first, it feels like these stories are just a bit of audio filler as you travel around the lake, but actually, they are really important to understand the context of the game. And in fact, nothing you do, see or hear in God of War can be classed as “filler”; all these environmental embellishments are critical to gaining the fullest and most rewarding experience of the game. Side quests, for example, are always optional, but here, they are central to Kratos and Atreus’s complex and developing relationship. You won’t get the intricacies and the nuances if you skip anything, or if you fail to notice the little gestures that pass between characters. Even when using the mystic gateways to fast-travel, you’ll hear stories or snippets of speculation that are crucial to understanding what’s going on. Every bit of content is all part of the story, which makes everything unmissable.

Apart from the total immersion of the story, the real standout feature of this game, for me, was the progression, something that has been well mastered here. Like I said, it’s not a huge world, but everywhere in it, they tease you with collectibles and puzzles that you can’t solve just yet because you don’t have the right equipment. Gah! It’s infuriating and excruciating! But it’s also incredibly motivating. And it adds yet another layer to the story-telling because each piece of equipment is acquired as part of the narrative. It also makes good use of a small world because it means you go back to each area a bunch of times with something new to do or discover (and a chance to spot more of those pesky eyes of Odin!). Everything is done at an appropriate time in the narrative, which makes the progression utterly satisfying and the game far less aimless than an open-world affair, where the player has more control over their own progression. It just all feels seamless without being contrived, because you still have control over where you go in the world (unlike something force-fed, like Unchartered, where you don’t get to revisit any location). And levelling up and upgrading gear is the same: you feel like you’re in control, but everything happens at an appropriate time and rate. It’s an extraordinary balance between the gamer owning their game, and the developer curating the gameplay.

And, you get to upgrade not only Kratos’s gear but also Atreus’s gear, and for me, the small boy with a bow was butt-savingly amazing in combat when my brain did its panic-freeze thing, so he’s well worth upgrading.

There are two areas of God of War that made me decide on 9/10 instead of the perfect score. Firstly, the game was too dang short! The world is pretty small, even if you do go to all the other realms, so I’d say 50–80 hours is the limit. Although I enjoyed the main story, and it’s probably one of the best main storylines I’ve played, there are only a handful of side quests, and I like to get lost in days’ worth of side quests to stall progressing through the main quests. Really, it was so good, I just wanted more! Secondly, the skill tree is entirely combat-focused, and there are quite a lot of skills to earn for each weapon. This may sound great for a gamer with excellent combat skills, but I just found it totally overwhelming. The number of button combinations you have to learn off by heart to use these skills is staggering, and most of the time, I just couldn’t get it to work because I couldn’t master the intricacies of the timings while in the heat of a battle. And anyway, in the end, I managed to play through the whole game with just the basic moveset and maybe a couple of special moves that I did manage to get the hang of, so these abundant skills for each weapon aren’t even necessary. Good news for me, but it does make earning new skills a bit pointless.

In the grand scheme of things, however, these personal niggles of mine didn’t in any way damage my enjoyment of the game. It is epic and seamless and really artfully woven. This is a real standout for me so far this year, and probably so far in my gaming history. It’s one of those above-and-beyond games where the quality of the experience lies in the details that have been so carefully placed. It’s a game, and it’s a real work of art. And you get to be BFFs with the World Serpent. What’s not to love?

Birthday Haul 2018

I’m not one for big birthday celebrations, but there is something about my birthday I do get excited about – books and games galore! I’m very lucky to have some very generous donors to my collection, so I thought I’d share my haul with you.


I’m a huge fan of the TimeRiders series by Alex Scarrow. In fact, it’s probably my favourite YA time-travelling series, as there’s a lot of detail in the actual mechanics of the time-travelling. A lot of books just skip over the technicalities and the inherent difficulties and paradoxes, but Scarrow faces up to them, which makes the suspension of disbelief a total breeze. They are also quite gritty and have some challenging issues in them. Here you can see books 6, 7, 8 and 9 to complete my collection.

I came to Andrzej Sapkowski through the game The Witcher 3, which is definitely fighting for top spot on my list of all-time favourite games. Alas, The Witcher 3 picks up on Geralt’s story part way through, with two preceding games. However, I’m massively put off going backwards in a series of games because of crappier graphics and gameplay. I think the only game series I’ve done that for without too much regret is Assassin’s Creed, after starting on Black Flag. So I thought I’d catch up with Geralt’s story by reading the books that the game was based on. No regrets in doing that at all! They’re actually really brilliant books told in a lovely narrative style, so I’ve now completed my collection with these five.

I also got Ready Player One, which I want to read before I watch the film (most important!) and A Court of Frost and Starlight. I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas (although recently I’ve not been so wowed by here stories as I was with the earlier titles), but I’ve heard some quite bad reviews of this relatively short instalment. Apparently, it just follows the characters going shopping and eating dinner, but I shall reserve judgement until I’ve read it myself.

I also bagged a couple of gaming presents. I’ve been excited for God of War for a long time now, even though I haven’t played any previous titles in the franchise (again, I don’t look back in gaming). But I absolutely LOVE Norse mythology, and Kratos sounds a lot like me – permanently grumpy! I’m going to read the Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology book first so that I’ve had a refresher course and can understand as many references as possible. My other gaming present is a face mask as modelled by Aiden Pearce in the game Watch Dogs, another big favourite of mine. I know what I’m sporting this winter!

I’m very happy that my mum dug deep into my Amazon wishlist and found this little beauty that I’d added as a “would be nice but probably can never justify buying” item. It’s a beautiful illustrated edition of a complete collection of Winnie-the-Pooh. And it’s flipping gorgeous! I have very distinct memories of being read Winnie-the-Pooh when I was a child, so this has great sentimental value for me too. I shall enjoy this little jaunt down Memory Lane!

Review: New York Collapse by Warren Merchant


Title: New York Collapse: A Survival Guide to Urban Catastrophe

Author: Warren Merchant (Alex Irvine and Ubisoft)

Pages: 175

Goodreads link

My rating: 4/5


I’ve been playing The Division over the holidays, as it’s my favourite Christmas-themed game (although I’m not sure there are many other Christmas-themed games out there …). Post-apocalypse + Christmas decorations. Yes please!

Anyway, I finished all the main missions but suffered a bit of Division withdrawal when I came off it. I don’t have a Playstation Plus account, so endless plundering in the Dark Zone is a no-go for me. So I did a quick search and found a tie-in book called New York Collapse: A Survival Guide to Urban Catastrophe by the pseudonymous Warren Merchant.

Now, I’m always a bit sceptical about tie-in media: films of books (we all know they rarely work), films of games (which work even less!), games of films, companion guides, books of games, etc. There’s always a bit of a sense of me-tooing and cashing in on fans. If a book carries the name of a game, it can get sales based on that and not necessarily on the quality of the book.

So with a bit of trepidation, but reassured by the abundance of good reviews, I bought New York Collapse. And I’m so glad I did!

It’s actually supposed to be the survival guide that crops up in the game. A character appears in echoes (playbacks from surveillance equipment) called April Kelleher, and you can see in the game some of the moments that she writes about in this book. The survival guide itself is a guide to surviving a TEOTWAWKI event (The End Of The World As We Know It). In the margins are the scrawlings of April Kelleher as she survives through the apocalypse in Manhatten, in parallel with the events of the game itself. Rather suspiciously, the advice centres almost entirely around an outbreak of weaponised smallpox in Manhatten. Handy, considering that’s exactly what has happened in The Division game. But that’s all part of the mystery that April is trying to work out while trying to survive in an extremely hostile environment, with the constant threat of infection, federal aid collapsing and gangs whittling down what remains of the civilian population. The survival guide is also full of puzzles that April (and you) needs to work out in order to locate the author, Warren Merchant, who is clearly trying to get her to meet him for whatever mysterious reason. He clearly knows more about what’s going on.

The book is really well produced to look like it’s been through the apocalypse and back. The cover is all torn up and there’s blood and muck all over the pages. Rather than just using a handwriting font, they’ve actually got someone to hand write the margin scrawlings so it looks authentic. On top of that, there are bits and pieces waiting to fall out, which are highly realistic apocalypse souvenirs and clues that April picks up. It honestly feels like this is April’s actual copy.

Although I have played the game, I think you could get a great amount of entertainment out of The New York Collapse even if you haven’t played or even heard of The Division. At it’s core, it’s a highly realistic, engaging and original post-apocalypse story. If you’ve played the game, this adds a little more context, and you’ll probably have a deeper understanding of some of the references, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. The only frustrating aspect is that you don’t really get an ending. If you haven’t played the game, this will probably feel like the first in a trilogy. It’s got that embellished-beginning storyline, with the ending feeling like that’s the point at which it’s all going to kick off. But alas, this is a standalone. Not being party to the Dark Zone in the game, which is where the end of the book points you, I have no idea what the outcome is of April’s story either. This vexes me because it feels a little bit like it’s pushing you to spend even more money than you already have, and when you don’t have much of a gaming budget, like me, it can leave you feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. I may never know what happens without resorting to Youtube, and where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, that’s why this has got four stars, not five. A book without a resolution and with a bid to drag more money you don’t have out of you can’t get five stars in my book of principles. In terms of production and intelligence and authenticity and the exercise for your own brain, this is a five star book. Whether you’ve played The Division or not, if you like apocalypses, conspiracies and you want to learn a bit about surviving in an urban environment, put this on your reading list.

Now I’m off to prep my go-bag.

Review: Horizon Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds (DLC)


Title: Horizon Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds

Developer: Guerilla Games

Genre: Action role playing

Playtime: 20 hours

My rating: 10/10

Here’s a nice Solstice-themed review. Solstice in that it’s a blizzard-filled new foray into my favourite gaming world – Horizon Zero Dawn.

Oh, it’s so good to be back in Guerilla Games’ post-apocalyptic Wyoming! If you’ve read my review of Horizon Zero Dawn, you’ll know how much I can rave about this beautiful world, and this snow-lined new addition is certainly no disappointment.

Although only a fraction of the size of HZD‘s main world, The Frozen Wilds is no afternoon jolly. It boasts HZD‘s strong storyline precedent and then dumps a whole load of exciting new content and challenges in your lap for good measure. Thought the thunderjaw was difficult to defeat? Those seem like easy game in the face of new machines the frostclaw and the fireclaw. At least you could shoot components off the thunderjaw and render it practically harmless. Not so the new bear machines! And just when you thought you’d sorted your combat tactics, it all gets thrown out the window with the new kind of corruption in town. Don’t think your fancy shield armour will help you here! It all adds up to satisfyingly challenging gameplay, even if you’ve thoroughly mastered the main world.

There may have been a bit of snow in the main world, but this is the knee-deep kind that drastically slows you down as you try and sprint away from your new adversaries. And when a blizzard hits, you’ll struggle to see your arrow tip in front of your face. It makes for a genuinely harsh and challenging environment. But it also makes for an incredibly beautiful one. Among my favourite moments, are forging through a sparkling, untouched blanket of snow and standing on top of a mountain at night, the sky glittering with stars and awash with the gently undulating aurora as the white world stretches out before me. This is a fantastic area for my trademark tootling around!

The NPCs are up to their usual beguiling standards. There’s a whole new host of characters to care about, and the Banuk culture and mythology is just as fascinating and engaging as any other HZD culture. Also engaging is the well-developed storyline that is no mere footnote to the story of the main world. No spoilers, but the events of TFW very much build on the HZD events, rather than just being an ignorable side note. It’s well worth playing even just for the new tidbits of information about the apocalypse. When I found out what was behind the problems in the Cut, I gasped and cried out the name in epiphanic exultation. It was genuinely marvellous!

I hope there is more HZD DLC to come. To be honest, I will lap up anything to do with this world! And I’m attempting to use the Force to persuade Guerilla Games to make another full-blown game. Who knows if I have any aptitude in the Force, but hey.

Review: Horizon Zero Dawn


Title: Horizon Zero Dawn

Developer: Guerilla Games

Genre: Action role playing

Playtime: 80 hours

My rating: 10/10

It’s been quite a few months since I finished Horizon Zero Dawn, but the new DLC, The Frozen Wilds, has inspired me to play again and finally write a review (I’ll write a separate one for The Frozen Wilds).

The truth is I’ve been a little bit daunted by the prospect of writing this review because I’m pretty certain I will not be able to do this game justice. I’m not exaggerating here when I say I have finally found it. I have finally found the perfect game for me. HZD embodies everything I want and need in a game for it to be a truly fulfilling experience.

It probably helps that post-apocalypse is my favourite setting for anything (books, games, films, the lot). I like to explore the human condition under adverse parameters, and HZD is a sublime mixture of the mesolithic and near future with a dash of jurassic thrown in for good measure. But it’s the way it all unfolds that is so sublime. You genuinely start off with no idea what is going on, and your awareness builds and builds with each carefully portioned nugget of story you play through. It really is like playing through a really well-written book. I know there are many different types of gamers, but I am both a strategist and a story-lover when it comes to gaming, and I find that often my story-loving side ends up less than fulfilled. I like to be fully submerged in a world with a robust story and a complex mythology, which is exactly what HZD provides. And more than that, it blends possibly the most engaging story I have ever played with some of the best gameplay I have ever played.

That’s really at the crux of why I am giving this game 10/10 and calling it perfect. Every aspect of this game has been done to the highest standard. Beyond the story is the gameplay itself. I’m quite a cautious player, lacking in confidence in life generally, but HZD is all about presenting you with challenges and building your confidence through them. It builds your anticipation with the mention of a thunderjaw, then you get to try and take one out with a helpful NPC, using an array of available combat strategies until you find the one that suits you, then you take one out on your own, and then they throw you in a pit with three of them to see if you sink or swim. That kind of thing anyway. The point is, you start off a bit wary of everything, and by the end you feel like a champion of all things, ready to take on any challenge because you have come to realise that perseverance and the dodge button really do pay off.

The RPG aspects of the game do not fail to live by this same building philosophy. The gameplay is not prescriptive, but you can choose a style that suits you as an individual player. An array of weapons offers you an array of combat tactics that you can experiment with until you find your style. You can build your skills according to your style, and chop and change outfits according to your needs. It’s a game that very much places you, the player, at the heart of the experience, and that’s the best kind of game in my opinion, the most fulfilling and rewarding.

And then there’s the world itself. I’m a huge fan of massive open worlds (as my friend puts it, I like to “tootle around” quite a lot in games, just exploring and adventuring to my own rhythm), and although this isn’t the biggest of worlds I’ve played in, it’s certainly one of the most beautiful and diverse. From snowy mountain sides to rocky deserts to steamy jungles and river glades, this land has it all. The graphics are dynamic and wholly believable and the animation is some of the best I’ve seen, with some of the most expressive faces and realistic movements. I actually found myself getting attached to NPCs, and I never get attached to those people. Normally, I just see NPCs as the facilitators of missions, but not so with HZD. I was genuinely caring about my allies and thrilled at changing their opinions of the red-headed Nora savage who was taking action to change their world for the better.

I think probably one of the best features of this world is the quality of the light. That might sound odd, but it turns a beautiful world into a truly breathtaking world. The same place can take on a range of characters depending on whether you see it by dawn, midday, dusk or night. The intensity of each phase of the day just makes the whole place sparkle. I am frequently to be found (in all my tootlings) just standing still on a cliff overlooking a river valley and watching it all in the changing light. Or taking my time surfing on the top of a tallneck because it affords the best views of the world (and a cheeky safe vantage point for picking off machines on the ground!).

The missions have a balance that few games manage to achieve, and that it the balance between challenge and frustration. It’s tricky enough that it’s never boring, but you also never reach the point where you’re throwing the controller at the screen. They are just pushing you to enable you to explore your own skills and limits. Really I feel like through playing this game, I have become a better player. It has actually upgraded my abilities as a gamer. And I’m not sure there’s many other games I can say that for.

Honestly, I could go on and on and on about how much I love this game. There are no flaws but one, and that is that it is far too short. I finished it in about 80 hours, but I could have just gone on and on for a 1000 hours and not gotten weary of it. I still get a thrill after all this time thinking about following Alloy’s red hair and clinking armour on the road to adventure through a breathtaking world. This is not a one-play wonder for me. I will be restarting this beauty again and again and again, until they make a follow-up.

And please, please, Guerilla Games, make a follow-up.

Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins


Title: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Developer: Ubisoft

Genre: Action-adventure, stealth

Playtime: 100 hours

My rating: 8/10

*SPOILER WARNING: I won’t spoil major plotlines, but I will be discussing some content and Aya’s role*

Well fellow Creedsmen, this one has been a long time coming, and I’m not just talking about the two-year hiatus since Syndicate. I’m talking about the four-year hiatus since Black Flag. We have been faithfully sitting on our hands, biding our time, waiting for Ubisoft to come back around to the good old days of Assassin’s Creed. And I’m so thrilled to say they have finally done it!

I want to describe Origins as the first truly open-world AC game, in the sense that this is a vast land including urban and rural locations that can all be accessed on virtual foot. I know Black Flag is open world, but locations are only accessible after sailing for vast distances on an ‘open’ sea. Not that I didn’t love the sailing, but there’s only so much interest at sea. And both Unity and Syndicate were entirely based in a single city, and in my book that doesn’t constitute a world. But in Origins, AC has finally begun to reach its potential.

Ancient Egypt is not only a beautiful world, but it is an extremely faithful one. Everything has been painstakingly recreated to be as realistic as it’s possible to get. The great pyramids are almost completely accurate in terms of their internal architecture, Alexandria is the centre of knowledge and culture that it really was and don’t get me started on the languages. Having a degree in linguistics, this is possibly the most thrilling aspect for me. They actually reconstructed Ancient Egyptian for this game. Reconstructing a language is no five-minute job. You have to study its modern-day descendants and work backwards to counteract all the changes that languages go through over hundreds or thousands of years. That is seriously impressive. And not only are the locals expressing the Ancient Egyptian equivalent of “He must be mad!” and “Sunday driver!”, but the Romans are speaking Latin – yes, actual Latin – and the Greeks are speaking Ancient Greek.

And I think that’s where the strengths of ACO lie. They have taken the tried and tested Assassin’s Creed formula, set it in a beautiful open world, but crucially they’ve also upgraded all the attention to detail. Origins feels like a genuinely authentic historical adventure.

I’m not saying it’s completely perfect. As glorious a world as it is, the experience of outrunning a sandstorm in the beautifully realised desert is counteracted by the 2D vegetation. I mean, are we really still in 2D-vegetation land? And the animation isn’t great when you compare it to something like Horizon Zero Dawn. The NPCs still have cone-clothing (you know, togas that stick out like solid cones so you can see their pants when they’re lying on the ground), and their faces lack a broad range of expression. Also, for such a huge and diverse world, the main and side missions are surprisingly short and lacking in diversity. To put it in perspective, it took me about ten days to complete ACO (all main and side missions and interest points), but it took me about three months to complete The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4. I know Assassin’s Creed is all about … well … assassinating, but there’s a real lack of diversity in side activities. They are pretty much all go to a location, stab someone or clear the place out, and collect a reward. It does get a shade tedious after a while, and I found myself sighing, “Oh, another Roman camp” upon approaching a question mark.

I think the most irritating aspect of this game is Aya (Bayek’s wife). I’ve no issue with her character per se. I love a female assassin and played Evie in Syndicate at any point where I had a choice who to play. My issue is that you spend hours and hours upgrading Bayek’s skills and equipment to the point where you think you can handle the big bosses at the end of the main storyline, only to find that you’re not playing Bayek at all. You have to play as Aya, who uses the least effective weapon in the game (IMHO), has no special skills or moves and because you rarely play as her character at any other point in the game, you really have no connection to her. This vexed me greatly. I know other people have raved about how wonderful the ending to ACO is, and I know it’s a great set up for previous and future episodes, but it really made me feel like all my efforts throughout the rest of the game were completely pointless. You literally cannot prepare or give yourself any advantage for the endgame fights. As a serious strategist, this is extremely frustrating.

Okay, gripes over. The improvements to the game almost entirely outweigh the flaws. I’m just going to say one word: Senu. I’ve never been so attached to an animal in a game as I am to this wonderful eagle. She adds a dynamic to AC gameplay that I’ve no idea how I’ve got along previously without. Not only can you see the layout of tricky restricted areas from above, but you can see the whole beautiful world from above. One of the best experiences is setting your mount to follow the road and then playing as Senu, watching yourself gallop across deserts and mountains from above while spying out which resources are heading your way. In fact, I found myself rarely fast travelling anywhere because racing through the world on horse- or camelback is such a rewarding experience in itself. I’d actually be excited to discover that my next mission was 9km away!

The other marvellous addition, or I should loss, for me at least, is the removal of those stupid additional tasks to get 100% sync on missions. I was never dexterous or calm enough to achieve any of those, so I rarely had the satisfaction of properly completing a mission. No more! I can actually feel like I’m achieving things in ACO, with or without flare. I thought I would miss the minimap, but actually it’s fine without it. The only thing I do miss is knowing when I’m about to step into a restricted area. Many a time I found myself charging into a pit of Roman soldiers completely unaware. I’m also grateful that the forays into the future (as Laila) are short and sweet. I personally detest being pulled out of great gameplay to go through these laborious future episodes that could quite frankly be done away with at no great loss, but Laila seems to be quite the assassin herself and has most of the moves.

I know I was a bit derisive about the side missions earlier on, but some of them are really very engaging. I really enjoyed the more era-appropriate missions like the stargazing and tomb raiding, ones where you have to use your brain a bit more to figure things out, rather than just hide-and-stab missions. I do love a good hide-and-stab (and I realise that’s the whole premise for Assassin’s Creed) but I’m just looking for a bit more diversity to keep my interests levels from dropping off. (On a side-mission side note, I will never finish this game 100% because they want me to kill elephants. I’m sorry, I simply can’t. I know it’s very historically relevant, but it just cuts a little near for me with the current state of elephant abuse in the world. They are highly intelligent and empathetic creatures, and I just won’t do it. I can kill all the humans on the planet, but I will not cut an abused elephant to death. Just no.)

So, all in all, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a huge success for the franchise. I will say it: it is the best Assassin’s Creed game yet. There, I said it. That doesn’t mean it is without flaws, but I am entirely optimistic that Ubisoft is heading in the right direction now. They lost their way a bit, but they listened to the players, they took time off to make sure their next offering was what we wanted and they have certainly delivered. From a longtime fan to a responsive developer: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Title: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Developer: Naughty Dog

Genre: Action-adventure

Playtime: 20 hours

My rating: 7/10

I’ve played all three previous Uncharted games, and I have to say I’m quite fond of these wee 15-20 hour adventure outings. I’ve been a gaming-life-long fan of Tomb Raider, and I was introduced to Uncharted as a male version of Tomb Raider. Generally speaking, I’m more of a massive-open-world-RPG-hundreds-of-hours-of-play type girl, but there is something very attractive about playing through a shorter, more concentrated story, as opposed to getting lost in days of side quests.

And in Uncharted 4, the story is really the strongest aspect of this game, and the way that the story is woven into the gameplay is really impressive. For example, when you’re fighting with your allies, they aren’t just present and plugging away and you’re just imagining that it’s a cooperative and bonding exercise. In Uncharted 4, it genuinely is cooperative and bonding. You can be mashing away on your buttons, and out of the blue, your brother hauls some thug off you and holds his arms so you can smash his face in. This makes the combat more than just plain old combat, it makes it part of the story and gives it that smooth, choreographed feeling you get in films. It turns my blundering about and button mashing into something stylish and purposeful.

The blending between gameplay and scripted storyline is seamless. You can be having a conversation while driving the car, ditch your allies mid-chat to poke around some ruin, and when you come back, they reintroduce the same conversation with a “Where were we?” type line. The car chase scene is probably my favourite for this kind of experience. I died a few times and blundered about a LOT of times, but somehow this game managed to stitch together all my blunderings into a coherent scene. There were such a lot of variables of behaviour that I introduced, but in the end it all seemed like what I did was on purpose. It made for a very satisfying scene, especially for Mrs Die-A-Lot over here.

There were points, however, at which I felt like the story was taking over from the gaming. There are a LOT of very lengthy cut scenes in this game, and at times I felt frustrated that it was starting to feel a bit like a long film interspersed with a few minutes of interactive gaming. This is the aspect of short adventure games that I don’t like so much: they can be over-scripted, and this is certainly the trap that Uncharted 4 has fallen into. Often I felt like it was heavily choreographed and I was simply pushing buttons in the right direction. This is probably just personal preference, but I like a game where my decisions have an impact on the dynamics of the game, or even just a game that allows me to make decisions. I know, I know, this is not an RPG. I’m playing Nathan Drake, not my own creation of a character, but the only decision-making that went on in this game was whether to approach a combat situation by stealth or by gunpoint.

I guess what I’m saying is there’s not much in the way of mental stimulation, beyond the strong storyline. Yes, there are a few puzzles (which is my favourite aspect of any adventure game!), but actually these dry up about halfway through the game and it devolves into pushing buttons in the right direction. On which point I would also like to mention that the controls are still a nightmare like in previous Uncharted games. I can’t even begin to count how many times Nate committed suicide because I was pressing the right buttons but he decided I wasn’t.

And while we’re talking about Nate, he can still be quite an irksome character. He’s still unbelievably dumb and overly trusting of bad guys (I was shouting the plot twist at him hours before he twigged himself) and he’s still painfully patronising towards his wife, Elena. All my innards twisted about themselves in a giant cringe when he uttered “That’s my girl” as Elena made a very easy jump that even I could make in real life. Even after she has proved herself more than capable throughout Uncharted history. I mean, he might as well have just patted her on the head and made me implode. And Elena is fulfilling that age-old male fear of wife forcing husband to give up all his dreams and adventures in life and completely emasculating him. That vexes me greatly, and I constantly wanted to smash her insensitive, selfish face in every time it appeared on the screen. It’s infuriating that this kind of male-female interaction is still happening in games. And worst of all, it makes me dislike the characters that I have to play with.

So overall, there are some really great gaming aspects to Uncharted 4, but there are also a lot of frustrating aspects. I originally got my hands on this game because the Official Playstation Magazine WILL NOT stop raving on about how it’s the best game ever made ever in the history of gaming ever. But I beg to differ. I can see what makes them excited about Uncharted 4 – it’s smooth and the story is very engaging and every scene gets me excited because they are all different and you’re not just repeating gameplay like many games demand… But it certainly doesn’t rank in my top ten favourite games – the cut scenes are dominating and some of the main characters are highly slappable and there’s not enough mental stimulation. It’s definitely worth a play though, just for the story alone, which is most definitely the standout aspect of this game.