When will I learn? Impressions of MotoGP 18

When will I learn? That is my main thought after playing MotoGP 18. As I mentioned in my post about another failed motorbike racing game – TT Isle of Man – I keep on playing bike racing games and they keep on being varying levels of awful. It’s about 15 or so years since a good one now but that doesn’t seem to stop me coming back for more. Perhaps this time I will finally accept the truth! (no, you’re right, I won’t)16-07-2018_23-21-19

I said a whole bunch of very uncomplimentary things last year about MotoGP 17. It’s fair to note that a lot of my specific gripes with it then have been fixed in this new edition. It looks much better now – like an actual modern video game rather than a mobile game from 2012! The overall presentation is much better too: the career mode feels worthwhile now and the little cut-scenes of things like the rider in the garage between sessions are now done well enough to feel genuine, rather than a pointless waste of space.16-07-2018_23-21-25

Unfortunately, MotoGP 18 is still bad in two key areas. The camera is still really disconcerting. This is because the pivot point of your bike is somewhere around the middle of it, rather than the ground. This makes it odd to judge what your line is going to be when coming out of turns. When you move the analog stick to the right the bike’s back wheel actually moves to the left on screen. This was a problem with bike games in the 90s, I would have thought it would be fixed now. Well it is – see Isle of Man TT. MotoGP 18 is just to be avoided.16-07-2018_23-21-58

Lastly, but certainly not least of this game’s issues is that it is just really really boring. It’s lifeless, uninspired and just no fun. I wonder if the developers were trying to make it more of a sim. Certainly braking and turning are more cumbersome than they used to be. But even that would be no excuse. The aforementioned Isle of Man TT, for all it’s issues, was not boring and that is a sim right through to it’s bones. Dull.

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REVIEW: God of War

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 10 Hours
  • Time to complete: 25 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

The relationship between father and son is what God of War is all about. Kratos and Atreus have their ups and downs, working together and working against each other, moments of anger and moments of intimacy. The development of their relationship is as wonderful to experience as any I’ve ever come across in video games and makes God of War a must play for anyone who loves narrative-driven games. It’s not quite backed up by gameplay that can be slow and repetitive and a plot that is bloated and convoluted but it’s worth getting through all that to see out the journeys of Kratos and Atreus, as individuals and as a family.

Like Father, like Son?
Gaming doesn’t have a good track record of telling great stories of relationships. Naughty Dog has completely cornered the market with Nate & Elena, Joel & Ellie, Chloe & Nadine. But, perhaps because most of the time the player journeys alone, even great games with great characters – Lara, Madeline, Aloy – don’t feature relationships that develop over time. 2018’s God of War walks into this space and sets a new, and pretty high, bar for the rest to follow. The game could just as easily be taken as being Kratos‘ journey as a world-weary cynic trying to hide from the world, as it could being Atreus‘ journey of growing up curious to explore it. For me though, the real wonder and joy to be found here is in the combination of these two characters – how they learn more about the people they come across, about each other and about themselves. I fear to talk too much more about this in case I would give away anything and ruin it. Spoilers here would be far more damaging to this game than any spoilers of the plot! Suffice to say that the most frustrated, apprehensive, shocked, fearful, exhilarated, amused, proud and pleased I felt during my entire playthough of God of War were all to do with the interactions between Kratos and Atreus rather than the story or the action. The development of their relationship is so good that anyone who enjoys storytelling should play this game to experience it. It is totally worth your time, even if the rest of the game isn’t quite up to the same level of quality.God of War_20180626225401

Slow and steady wins the race
Combat in God of War can be very satisfying in short bursts. I’ve already posted on social media and in a roundup about the Leviathan axe. It’s a total joy to use on enemies, as are some other tricks that Kratos has up his sleeves later on in the game. The combat is very violent. Even throwing the axe for ranged attacks feels very brutal – everything in the game feels like it has weight and a heavy presence in the world. On top of this there are the takedowns which can be performed on downed enemies with a well timed press of R3. They are in your face, gruesome and very very final. Plus there are quite a few spectacular set pieces, for example taking out large trolls using their own huge stone totems. But sadly, all this gets repetitive. I think this is a combination of two things. Firstly, the combat is almost too strong, too heavy, too violent. It means that it never becomes second nature to you – it doesn’t get out of the way, if you will. By creating combat that is so dramatic, the developers have ended up with combat that is a drama to use – fighting ends up cumbersome and slow. Second is that the number of different types of enemies is actually very low, whilst the number of enemies is very high. As such you do the same stuff over and over. Throw the axe, call it back, swing it and finishing move. And then again. Even in the bigger enemies are the same – the troll fights I mentioned before basically always play out the same.God of War_20180701222452

The never-ending story
The story, outside of Father & Son as I mentioned before, doesn’t do much to lighten the load either. Does the heavy lifting, more like. Unless you love lore-over-story then God of War takes far too long to do anything interesting. It took me ten entire hours – the full length of many wonderful games – to actually want to carry on playing for any other reason than the fact that everyone had said how good the game was. It’s a really really slow start. It must be said, I then really enjoyed the next few hours. Fantastic twists and revelations and heart-stopping moments. During this period God of War really keeps you on your toes: characters come and go, we learn more about people, realms and of course Kratos and Atreus themselves. For a while I was enthralled. After that though, the game drags like crazy at the end. Repeatedly you feel like you are coming to the final moments, only to have to go off on some additional superfluous and manufactured drama. There’s a truly amazing 12 hour game in here somewhere. I think the main issue is this: the story is not moved forward at the same time as the fantastic action set pieces. The best narrative-driven action games manage to combine stunning set pieces with dramatic twists or reveals in the story. Just last year on Playstation 4 we had two games that did that perfectly: Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. God of War, for the most part, has action for action’s sake and then pushes the story on via long conversations in cut scenes or whilst traversing the landscape. It’s good, but it’s not great.God of War_20180630090445

Conclusion
In a sense you already know whether you should play God of War – this review is just confirming it. There’s is so much that is great about the game but it can be a real slog to get to see and play those parts. As such it’s pretty straight forward: if you know you love complex stories and heavy lore then yes: you should play it. But if you’re not already sure that you are going to enjoy those aspects then no – you aren’t going to! Go with your gut.

Review4
Click here to purchase the game from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions: Madden NFL 19

I’ve had slightly early access to Madden NFL 19 due the trial I get with my EA Access subscription. Last year’s 18 edition was fantastic and gathered up a 5 star review from me – it was as smooth as any NFL game I’d ever played and had a trick up its sleeve in the Longshot story mode. So do those things hold up with the 19 edition? Well, no. So far, so disappointing. Last year I played the trial and immediately rushed out to get the game. This year, after just less than the allotted 10 hours of play, the trial has left me wondering if I’ll bother to play the rest of it at all.05-08-2018_23-46-58.png

Let’s start with the sequel to the Longshot story: Longshot Homecoming. First thing to note is that last year the trial only allowed you to play a certain percentage of this story mode, whereas this time I’ve already finished it – odd decision. Longshot last year picked up on the hopes and dreams of NFL fans and young players and built a story which, whilst having its ups and downs, was ultimately full of hope. There is very little of that here. Particularly the first half of the story all you find is despair and hopelessness. Devin Wade has moved onto the Cowboys roster in training camp (I assume this will just be whatever team you follow) whilst Colt Cruise is out of the NFL entirely, and straight out of luck too it seems. From here their stories play out separately right up until a section towards the end. Overall the story just isn’t as good: Longshot felt like a football story, with some added reality-TV drama. Longshot Homecoming though feels like it has had the football parts shoehorned in; really it’s just another down-and-out story and, to be honest, not a very good one. Added to that is that the gameplay elements, that formerly complimented the story so well, are very poor. There is a lot less playing and a lot less decisions to make. Instead you’ll do a lot more just watching and then taking a few normal Madden snaps (although these are also poor as you can’t choose the plays, so it’s worse than a real game). Where before it felt like everything you did had agency in the outcome, now you are just playing though a planned story – if you screw it up, most of the time you simply get another go. I have no idea how many interceptions I threw as Devin Wade this time around, because they simply did not matter.05-08-2018_23-32-56.png

This hints at what I like less about the rest of the game too: interceptions. Interceptions, and lots of them. Madden NFL 19 seems to have switched completely from last year. Running the ball was great in 18. Not easy exactly, but you could find enough success to make it worth it and it felt that when you had success it was because you’d played well. Now, it has gone backwards totally. EA has been making a fuss about ‘Real Player Motion‘ which is supposed to make it easier to control the players and do things like hit gaps as running back. But in my (admittedly short) experience there are basically no gaps at all it seems, against any teams, at any point in the game. Whether between the lines or outside, my runs almost always get stuffed straight away. But added to this, passing isn’t far away from impossible either. AI defenders now seem to have real life reactions and anticipation combined with supernatural catching skills. You’re forced to throw to make any progress but this just leads to interceptions galore. To be clear: I get them too! On defence, I will be trying to sack the QB when one of my AI defenders collects an interception, a few times every game.05-08-2018_23-33-47.png

I wonder if EA have tried to make the game more realistic and ended up here – but that is not what I want! I want fun first, and then make it as realistic as you can without losing that. It has to be said that is does look amazing. The Frostbite engine is in it’s second year now and with the added Real Player Motion animations, Madden looks as good and as smooth as it ever has. It’s all a real shame. I’m glad I have an EA Access subscription – the price of that is totally outweighed by this trial saving me from wasting the full price on Madden NFL 19. I may end up playing it anyway when it’s cheaper. What about you? Are you going to play Madden this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase Madden NFL 19 for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a 12-Month EA Access subscription from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Captain Toad Treasure Tracker

  • Released: 2018 (2015 originally on Wii U)
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: Wii U, 3DS
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 7 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Not really

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is another delightful and fun title from Nintendo that will appeal to gamers of all ages. It’s basically a set of mini-platforming levels; requiring you to time movements and take out enemies. Mostly though it plays like a puzzler; you will be problem solving and figuring out the right combinations to complete each level. It doesn’t reach greatness as it is too easy and too one-dimensional (excuse the pun) but that’s not really the point! Captain Toad is here to be a brief diversion from life, or whatever your ‘main game’ is, and it completely nails that purpose: just dip-in when you have a few moments and Treasure Tracker is sure to keep you entertained.

Puzzles Cubed
The majority of the early levels in Captain Toad Treasure Tracker are cube-shaped blocks that you need to navigate Toad or Toadette around. There will be various enemies – mostly familiar from Mario games – to try and stop you but otherwise the actual actions they can perform are very simple. They can’t jump, due to carrying heavy backpacks, so you’re limited to movement and picking things up and throwing them a short distance. You can also use the Switch’s touchscreen to move parts of the level around. This small set of actions, rather than being limiting, actually plays into the puzzle element of Treasure Tracker. The real goal here is to figure out how to traverse the level whilst collecting gems and find the star. Collecting the gems is essential as later levels will only open up if you’ve gathered enough of them. This is where the real unique element of this Captain Toad game comes in – rotating, twisting and revolving the entire level in order to discover the every detail of each tiny world – you’ll see different routes, hidden passageways and lurking enemies that are essential to completing your tasks in each level. It’s so clever. Moving the camera around your character to see more details is entirely standard in video games but this is the first time I can remember where you are instead moving the entire gameworld around to suit your needs (let me know in the comments below if I’ve missed any!). It’s unique and it’s a new perspective that makes Captain Toad Treasure Tracker fresh, even though it is so simple.2018071908165200-A6C056CABE0E1894654A3769FAF6D11E

Short lived
Unfortunately, that freshness eventually wears off. Firstly, the simplicity of the game eventually overcomes any novelty factor and secondly, there are a few other types of level; none of these are anywhere near as fun, or as different, as the standard ones. I played Captain Toad Treasure Tracker for about 7 hours and I really enjoyed the first 5 or so before monotony eventually settled in. The issue with the other levels is that they are so much more like other games. There are some where you are on a train track, shooting turnips at things to collect them, or boss levels that seem straight out of a Mario game. When Captain Toad is more like other games it’s shortcomings become more obvious – Treasure Tracker is a very good distraction but it’s too easy and too short to be a great video game.2018072008455300-A6C056CABE0E1894654A3769FAF6D11E

What’s New
Neither The Boy or I played Treasure Tracker the first time round – we’ve never owned a Wii U –  but there is additional content here for those that have. There are four new levels inspired by Super Mario Odyssey, but is that enough to make the game worth purchasing again? Well, I certainly enjoyed them – the music in each level is the same as that in the corresponding SMO level, which is great, and there is some variety in the four levels, they aren’t just one level with different ‘skins’ on. I really loved going back to New Donk City too! As I said in my SMO review, I think that is the best level in gaming, ever. Amazing how I played that level in Captain Toad and felt nostalgic for a game that came out only a few months ago! In truth though, these new levels don’t really add anything to Treasure Tracker itself. There are no significant new gameplay elements or wonderful new combinations of them, so if you’ve already completed Captain Toad on the Wii U then this really isn’t enough reason to play through it again. You’ll be better off finding out more secrets in SMO itself.2018071717345300-A6C056CABE0E1894654A3769FAF6D11E

Conclusion
If this is your first experience with Captain Toad though, you are in for a treat. The game is perfectly suited to being a brief interlude from whatever else you are doing, gaming or not. Treasure Tracker may not be epic or challenging but it’s cute, fun and interesting and now playable on the go thanks to the Switch. It’s fills a niche and fits it like a glove.

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk

RETROspective: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Why am I playing it?
I noticed someone on social media a while ago posting about playing a Buffy The Vampire Slayer game, so I thought it was about time to dust off the disc for the original one. I remembered it as having some really good melee combat and a story that, if nothing spectacular, fitted well with the tone of the Buffy TV show. All that is indeed the case but what I had forgotten about is all the little quips and comments that Buffy makes as she goes about trashing demons and staking vampires. ‘This time, stay dead‘, ‘now we’re cooking with gas‘, ‘sometimes in this job I just have to say “EWW!”‘ etc etc. Now we know where Nathan Drake gets his flippant attitude from!2018-07-08 09.56.23 1.jpg

How well does it hold up technically?
Remarkably well, yes. This is a 16 year old game, so it’s not going to be anything up to today’s standards, of course. That said, it looks plenty good enough to play. NPCs can be a little robotic in their movements but Buffy herself, whether running around or fighting, moves smoothly. There are no issues with collision detection – a common issue with older games in my experience – and although things like the walls and steps are unnaturally straight lines a lot of the time, I can forgive it as some of the levels were fairly ambitious for the time. A lick of paint is all that would be needed to get Buffy The Vampire Slayer up to modern standards. I wonder if they are working on backwards compatibility for this on the Xbox One? I can only hope.2018-07-08 09.56.26 1.jpg

Has it stood the test of time?
Just about. A lot of modern standards for adventure games are here, for example having to manage a health bar and also some kind of ‘special ability’ bar. Equally, the level of story intricacy and character development we get these days, in games like Uncharted The Lost Legacy or Rise of the Tomb Raider, has left Buffy The Vampire Slayer behind but it doesn’t take itself as seriously as those games in that aspect anyway. It’s very much the TV show to those blockbuster movies, if you will. Otherwise the main thing that was frustrating compared to more modern adventure games was the stop-start nature of it. There are significant loading times between levels and mini-breaks even between sections of a level. The structure has you going back to home base between each level to have a chat with your friends – modern games often find ways to get all that kind of thing done without slowing down the experience. Also, Buffy the Vampire Slayer does have auto-save but the length of time between each save can be very long at times, so replaying a section where you died can be very very frustrating when it takes 10 minutes just to get back to where you were. There is one fantastic and crazy level towards the end called ‘Dreamers Realm‘ where you have to complete a large amount of tricky platforming with no save-safety net: fall down and you are sent right back to the beginning again. That part alone took me a few hours!2018-07-08 09.56.24 1.jpg

Should people go back and check it out?
Absolutely – I have really enjoyed my time with it. Running around punching and kicking all manner of evil creatures is great fun full stop. My personal favourite is booting a huge spider into the wall so that it dies in a ‘splat!’ – very satisfying! If you enjoyed the TV show particularly, but also if you’re a fan of adventure games that value wise-cracking good guys and over-the-top bad guys more than serious drama, this will be right up your street. And for a bargain price second hand somewhere too – just gotta dig that old Xbox out!2018-07-08 09.56.20 1.jpg

REVIEW: Urban Trial Playground

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 4 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Taken alone, Urban Trial Playground is a fun and well-built arcade bike racing/tricks game. It is easy to pick up, the learning curve is generous and the presentation around the main game in engaging. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the combination of a price that isn’t justified, in either quality or time, and the existence of competition that is both cheaper and stronger make Urban Trial Playground hard to recommend. If you really must play a trials game on the Switch right now, then this will, very briefly, scratch that itch. Otherwise, spend your money more wisely elsewhere.

It’s fine
There are quite a lot of bits to enjoy about Urban Trial Playground. The controls are good, responsive and easy to pick up. You press A to accelerate and use the stick to balance the rider, including making back- and front-flips. So far, so standard – but there are a couple of nice touches; separate front and rear brakes and two ways of ducking and jumping. For the brakes they are split over the two triggers, giving you additional control when riding and looking to do tricks. My favourite touch was that the L and R buttons are duck and jump respectively, but these actions can also be done by moving the left analog stick down or up. I ended up using them both – the stick when trying to get big air from a jump and the buttons for avoiding obstacles and leaping short gaps. Level design is also good – the environments look good and are detailed enough to get by. I did enjoy how the vast majority of them are fairly reserved – there are only a couple of places in the whole game for silly stuff like triple flips etc. As I played I felt that the levels we enabling me to do some great runs, but not making it too easy. Finally, other than the main goal in each level (more on this later) you are also given up to 3 additional challenges. For example, make at least 5 back-flips or complete the level without crashing at all. These are a little bit of extra fun and are pitched nicely: you can just replay a level to get them, no need to nail the main goal and all 3 challenges on one run – I hate it when games do that.2018070313244900-F5309F473A10192E533AFB71939D7833

But only fine.
Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t give you enough to do to go around this decent basic gameplay. It’s far too short, for a start. I completed the entire game in only a couple hours and even going back to max out my stars and challenges on each level it only took me 4 hours. This down to a lack of content and also another issue: Urban Trial Playground is far too easy. I didn’t have to really try that hard at any point. There were one or two tricky challenges that required concentration, but they weren’t actually technically difficult. On top of these things, multiplayer is also lacking. The Boy and I were really looking forward to this after spending huge amounts of hours in multiplayer in Trials Fusion. We were let down by Urban Trial Playground in two areas. Firstly it only offers one type of game in multiplayer: racing. This is a shame, but might have been OK as that was the game type we enjoyed in Trials Fusion anyway. However, here you are just playing through the same levels as the single player on two separate screens. It feels more like time trials than racing and without level goals or challenges the joy/pain of winning/losing is pretty much non-existent. Both The Boy and I were disappointed at the end of each level, whoever had won. He gave up on the game entirely after only about 30 mins.2018070519575000-F5309F473A10192E533AFB71939D7833

Competition
I mentioned Trials Fusion (review link here) already and that is Urban Trial Playground‘s biggest issue. Trials Fusion, simply put, is better in every way. It has just as solid controls, just as good level design, just as interesting challenges. Plus it longer, harder, more fully featured. And multiplayer is wonderful – offline or even online. So if you can, get that instead. But what if right now you only have a Switch? Trials Fusion is not available to you. But wait! If you can hold off on fulfilling your bike trials needs until early 2019, Ubisoft are releasing Trials Rising (a sequel to Fusion) on Switch. And should you just get this for now, to tide you over? Not at this price. Trials Fusion is actually way cheaper right now and Rising won’t be much more. It seems odd to say, but despite what is good about Urban Trial Playground, there is just no reason at all to get it.2018070810535900-F5309F473A10192E533AFB71939D7833

Conclusion
Urban Trial Playground doesn’t really doing much wrong. It’s short lived but otherwise it’s a decent bike trials game for Switch owners. But if you have other consoles or computers to play games on then your money is much better spent elsewhere.Review2

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk:

Top 5 Video Game Weapons: Monthly Roundup July 2018

Please see here for previous Round Ups from 2018:
April: Top 5 Underappreciated Games
May: The Boy’s Top 10 Games Ever
June: Top 10 New Games at E3

I have recently been playing through the new God of War and one of the things that struck me immediately on starting that game was the Leviathan Axe. It’s a beast of a weapon anyway but the ability to throw it and then call it back is such a joy, every single time. More on that specific weapon later but it got me thinking about which weapons I had particularly enjoyed over the years. In truth there weren’t many! Most video game weapons are just tools with which to achieve the required goals rather than an end in themselves. They are pretty interchangeable – very often just collected from defeated foes. There are a few though, that have stuck in my head so here is the Top 5, in no particular order:

1. Battle Rifle – Halo
Of course, we all know about the iconic Assault Rifle from the Halo series, but in fact it was the less heralded Battle Rifle that I liked the most. It was first introduced in Halo 2, I think, and I loved it because it bridged the gap between the careful shot-making of the Pistol and the hold-the-trigger-down-until-the-magazine-is-empty nature of the Assault Rifle. It rewarded you for skill but was still very violent – a perfect combination!12-07-2018_17-22-20.png

2. The bayonet on the Lancer – Gears of War
The Lancer was a pretty decent gun full stop but it has been my preferred weapon in every Gears game because of the bayonet. Shoot from a distance but if you get up close then rev that baby up and shred those Locust hordes! What a gory and gruesome joy.12-07-2018_12-01-45.png

3. Tearblast arrows – Horizon Zero Dawn
The battles against huge dino-mechs were a highlight of Horizon Zero Dawn and the best of the bunch – the T-Rex-like Thunderjaw – could only be defeated (or at least, I felt it could only be defeated by me anyway!) by using Tearblast arrows from the Snapshot Bow to blast off it’s heavy guns and then turn those guns on the beast itself. It was huge challenge but thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding. Here’s the action:

4. Leviathan Axe – God of War
See here on our social media for a quick video of calling the axe back to you. It is just such a delight every single time! The axe is a good weapon in the hand too – be it repeated short attacks or a couple of heavy hits – but it’s the throwing mechanic that makes it unique. If you can kill one enemy with the throw and another as it flies back to you, then you’ve really nailed it!God of War_20180701124354_1

5. Garlic – Plants Vs Zombies
I wanted to have a left-field entry on this list and what better than an item from a mobile game, that isn’t strictly a weapon at all! Yeah, I know I am breaking my own rules but  just go with me. The Garlic item causes the zombies to move into other lanes, so with some well placed ones you can control them to only walk down certain lanes, where you can then concentrate your offensive weapons. It’s a genius move that opens up whole new possibilities for the game.Screenshot_20180718-103641_Plants vs Zombies FREE.jpg

What about you? Have any particular weapons from your video game past really stuck in your head? Let us know in the comments below.