Top 5 Open World Games: Monthly Roundup February 2018

Please see here for previous Top 5 Round Ups from 2018:
January: Top 5 Rocket League Showroom Battle Cars

Open worlds have been a significant thing in gaming recently. The early part of 2017 had The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn going head-to-head in the spring. They were both grand adventures set in a sprawling and varied open world full of possibilities. I did a compare and contrast post about those two games here. Further games like Assassins Creed Origins and the recent Monster Hunter World have continued the theme.lozbotw4

Recently I picked up the Hot Wheels DLC for Forza Horizon 3 and one of the things I noticed about it is how it is less open-world that the main game I had played a year previously. The two key parts of an open world game are the ability to go where you want and do things in whatever order you want – all within reason, of course! So, it got me thinking about my favourite open world games and whether or not that aspect was what made the game great.05-02-2018_22-35-04

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (review here)
Was the open world what made it great: Yes
Hyrule is the undisputed star of this game. In fact this game in general is the absolute definition of an open world game done right. The world was so big and so varied and every single new area you came across had something interesting to do, fight or investigate. For sure, everything else was great – the characters, the story, the shrines, the boss battles – but it was just existing in the world and experiencing everything it had to offer that made Breath of the Wild so great.lozbotw2

Horizon Zero Dawn (review here)
Was the open world what made it great: No
The broken state of the world in Horizon Zero Dawn is a spectacular sight to see. It’s quite the most beautiful game I’ve ever played – see here for a post about that. But actually that’s not really what it’s all about here. Sure, you can go about things as you wish but actually the story line was so gripping and spectacular that I wanted to plough on directly through it. It’s a great achievement of a living and vibrant world, but it’s still only a backdrop for a fantastic narrative.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170707221530

Forza Horizon 3 (review here)
Was the open world what made it great: Yes
The first Forza Horizon was a great racing game and it’s sequel opened up the world so that you weren’t tied to just the roads anymore. However, it was the 3rd edition that really got the combination right. Cars that were as fun to drive in a race as they were to just drive about the place and an absolute myriad of events and challenges to take part in dotted everywhere. This really was the definition of doing things in whatever order you want – there are always multiple options of what to do next and you can just fill your boots.08-02-2018_07-34-01

SSX3 (review here)
Was the open world what made it great: No
SSX3 took the somewhat on-rails gameplay of SSX Tricky and placed it all on three open mountains that you could descend as you wished, taking part in whatever events you liked. That was cool, and the long events that took you right from the very top to the very bottom were spectacular. However, that wasn’t the main draw – it was the spectacular tricks: doing uber tricks whilst grinding on a rail is something that has never been bettered in any extreme sports game.2018-02-08-03-35-28-1-e1518104985266.jpg

Minecraft (review here)
Was the open world what made it great: Yes
No round up of open worlds would be complete without Minecraft. Not only can go you wherever you want and do things in whatever order you want but you can even shape the world itself how you want! So, of course, the world itself is the key here. Whether it’s building your first tiny shelter, bravely venturing into the depths in search of resources or zinging about on a rollercoaster of your own creation, Minecraft is all about how you and the world interact.2017081613284700-773F9627E0AC611AA92DA55E307BD361

What about you? What are your favourite open world games? And was it the world that made them great, or something else? Let us know in the comments below!

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Reflections on 2017 – What an amazing year for gaming!

What an amazing year for gaming 2017 has been! There have been so many fantastic games released, across multiple platforms and genres. Early this year, when I began writing about the games The Boy and I were playing, I had no idea what a good time it was to start this blog! We’ve also been lucky with the retro games we’ve played, whether they were just catch up from 2016 or older games we’d never previously got around to. I have added more games to my All-Time Top Games List this year than any year before – 10 games have been good enough to get 5 stars here.lozbotw1

So here’s a roundup of the year, in reviews and awards. Please note that if your favourite game isn’t mentioned, just remember that I have probably just not caught up with it yet (Super Mario Odyssey, I’m looking at you). I’ll do a backlog catchup post later in the week to round up those.

2017 Reviews (by score and then chronologically)
5*
Forza Horizon 3
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Old Man’s Journey
Minecraft
Horizon Zero Dawn
Super Mario Galaxy
Madden NFL 18
Gears of War 4
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

4*
New Super Mario Bros 2
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Dirt 4
Fast RMX
Sonic Mania
FIFA 18 (Switch)

3*
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Super Bomberman R
NBA Playgrounds
Gone Home
Gran Turismo Sport
Hue

2*
Magikarp Jump

2017 Awards:
Best Game: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildlozbotw2
It was my desire to write about how good Breath of the Wild was that originally sparked the idea to start some kind of blog. This game is just endlessly entertaining, I genuinely never wanted it to stop.
Runner Up: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
There have been many great Mario Kart games over the years but with 8 Deluxe, Nintendo have perfected the formula. And for local multiplayer, there’s no better thing.

Best Platform: Nintendo Switch
switchIt’s not hard to see why the Switch wins out here given the best game awards above! But in its first year it’s fair to give the console some bonus points for the genius of its design and the ability to play anywhere anyhow, as well.
Runner Up: Xbox One.
This was a close run thing as both Xbox One and PS4 had 2 great exclusives in 2017. The PS4 loses out because it also had the biggest disappointment of the year (see below).

Best Multiplayer Game: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe2017050713184900-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5
As mentioned above, there is nothing even close to this for local multiplayer – in years, in fact, not just this year. It is absolute fun and the great combination of punch-the-air wins and heartbreaking losses only gets better with friends.
Runner Up: NBA Playgrounds
With Mario Kart dominating local multiplayer this year I turn to online multiplayer for the runner up. When I found a likeminded opponent who also wanted to play spectacularly – rather than just win – these games were exciting and ridiculous.

Most Unexpectedly Great Game: Madden NFL 1807-10-2017_22-39-27
I fully expected this to be just another annual edition of Madden until I played the new Longshot story mode. It was absolutely brilliant and elevated a good game to great.
Runner Up: Minecraft
I’d been avoiding Minecraft for ages – wasn’t sure if would be ‘my kind of game’. I was wrong. It’s fantastic and I spent untold amounts of hours being creative in it.

Wooden Spoon – Worst Disappointment: Gran Turismo SportGran Turismo™SPORT_20171020214155
Never before has a game given me something so good – in this case, the car handling model – and then given me no reason at all to enjoy it. Very disappointing.
Runner Up: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
After I really loved the first Mirror’s Edge I was looking forward to this. Sadly, whilst it maintained the enjoyable free running, it lost its heart and its storytelling.

Reflections on Ashes Cricket

The England Cricket Team are currently ‘down under’ – in Australia – for a test series that is nicknamed ‘The Ashes’. They are rubbish and are getting absolutely hammered by an Australian team that isn’t all that good. They don’t need to be – they just need to be better than their opposition. To coincide with this, we have the video game ‘Ashes Cricket‘. Can playing this game make up for the real life failings of the England team? No. There aren’t any other new cricket games at the moment, so this one has no opposition to beat – and yet I still can’t recommend it.Ashes Cricket_20171122230647

List of things that are good about the England cricket team:

List of things that are good about Ashes Cricket:

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Seriously, this game is terrible. It looks awful – it’s so completely bland and uninspiring and the players and umpires look totally unnatural. The gameplay is not intuitive at all, even for someone who has played cricket games in the past. In fact, the only thing I can say struck me as working well was the fielding – but of course you have to have already done some bowling before you get to do that!Ashes Cricket_20171122231507

Batting, which is inevitably the most important part of a cricket game, is the part that should work well. You use the stick to aim and press different buttons for different kinds of shots with the right timing. Yet somehow even this doesn’t come together. At one point I decided I would try and hit a six – I did, but more by luck than judgement. The game doesn’t give you any good feedback about your shot making, either on screen or via gamepad rumble.Ashes Cricket_20171123225133

In short, I really can’t be bothered to try and find more to write about this game. Just don’t waste your time with it. Instead – you can watch the real Ashes! Or maybe not that either.

REVIEW: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

This game originally began life intended to be DLC for Uncharted 4 but eventually grew into a game worthy of it’s own full release. As such, there was the risk that The Lost Legacy would feel like a lesser Uncharted game, whether by taking shortcuts in gameplay, being less ambitious in scope or not having such engaging characters and narrative. Well, fear not – Naughty Dog has once again knocked it out of the park in every way and crafted an adventure completely worthy of the Uncharted name.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023203721

Gameplay
The Lost Legacy doesn’t bring very much new to the party compared to it’s predecessors in terms of core gameplay. That said, the gameplay in Uncharted 4 was so close to perfect, why change it? Movement is smooth and natural whether you are just jogging through the landscape or climbing along dangerous cliff edges. Combat, both hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay, feels like second nature almost instantly. There really isn’t anything to criticise. You make more use of a jeep, during an early section of the game, than any time previously in the series and this works nicely too. One other small addition is the ability to shove a climbing knife into rough rock to give a handhold to reach higher areas – although this is ripped straight out of the recent Tomb Raider games, so it’s hard to call it an innovation. I’ve played through each Uncharted game and felt the core gameplay get better and better – if you jump straight into the series at this stage, it must be remarkable how well built it all is. A good example is how smoothly it moves in and out of cutscenes – to the point that ‘cutscene’ doesn’t really describe it – there are no cuts. Lots of games try and achieve that these days, but The Lost Legacy is the best demonstration of it yet.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026234644

Scope
As with any Uncharted game The Lost Legacy is full of amazing landscapes and crazy set pieces. It is slightly smaller in scope than previous entries as you don’t bounce around the globe in the same way – after the opening section the rest of the game takes place in one (massive, it must be said) location. If anything though, I felt that it was a more focused, fast paced adventure as a result so I don’t see that as a good or bad thing. The location itself – set in India in this case – has all the wow-factor you could want. From staring up at huge and ancient structures to marvelling at nature, the world both looks and feels remarkable – just as it has in every Uncharted. Something I particularly like is that Chloe has her phone with her and you have regular opportunities to take quick snaps of the amazing scenes. It’s great how your own amazement is matched by that of the characters you are playing as and with!Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171027093246

Narrative
Which brings us nicely onto the characterisation and story. Naughty Dog make a good game but what they really do better than everyone else in gaming, in my opinion at least, is tell a story. And then marry that story up with the great gameplay – they compliment each other perfectly. The Lost Legacy is no different. I wouldn’t quite be able to say that I didn’t miss Nate and Elena as I did miss the romance between those two. But otherwise the cast of characters here is just as engaging and entertaining as ever. Whether it’s in the throw away comments they make as the game goes along, the wonderfully detailed but natural interactions in cutscenes or even just the little graphical additions that round out their personality, these characters are as alive as any I’ve ever found in a video game. Check out this short clip to notice Chloe reaching out for a wall and adjusting her hair whilst she waits:videotogif_2017.10.27_16.09.39.gif

It’s utterly brilliant and plays in great combination with the story itself. No spoilers here but it is epic, as Chloe and Nadine‘s treasure hunt gets more and more entwined with needing to defeat the bad guy Asav. Relationships between different characters build, are broken or repaired and different motives get clarified as they all fight for what they want and sometimes, what they believe is right. This is just as much fun and just as engaging as any adventure film you could see – and you get to play the main role.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026171322

Verdict
Rest assured that even if The Lost Legacy is kind of pitched as Uncharted 4.5, it is a thoroughly worthy successor. It’s another stunning and wonderful slice of adventure for fans and an accessible entry point for any Playstation 4 owners who have somehow missed the series so far. It’s not even priced as high as a full game so just get on with purchasing it now! Impossible not to have a blast with.

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

REVIEW: Gran Turismo Sport

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Playstation 4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 20 Minutes
  • Time to complete: Probably about 10 hours for the Campaign
  • Multiplayer: Yes

Gran Turismo Sport may be the most frustrating game I’ve played all year. The actual driving itself is superb, stunning even. The handling feels so authentic that even an uncooperative car is a pleasure to drive around. But Polyphony has completely forgotten to give you any good reasons to do so. The game is so bereft of fun things to do that I regularly put the controller down in frustration and/or boredom, only to pick it up again moments later for the pure pleasure of nailing an apex.gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171027213614.png

The Drive Of Your Life
Let’s look at the good first. Gran Turismo has always described itself as ‘The Real Driving Simulator‘ but it has never dialed it in as perfectly as it has here in Sport. Of course, car handling has been well refined in these games for years. Project Cars, Forza Motorsport, F1 games – these have all done a great job recently. But the detail, and the balance between accessibility and realism, is perfected here. You can really feel the weight and movement of the cars underneath you. There’s a really lovely uncertainty as you swing through the apex of a corner – the car a little unbalanced as you simultaneously accelerate, brake, turn and change gear. Then it falls into place as you blast onto the next straight. It just feels totally right and driving around a great track like Suzuka in Japan, right on the edge of adhesion, is a real joy.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171103232210

Off The Line
Unfortunately, you are simply not given enough good reasons to drive. This is primarily an online game, so there is very very little content for you to get stuck into by yourself. And this isn’t a case of cutting away the fat – too much of what you are left with isn’t that great anyway. Where usually we would have some kind of career mode we instead have ‘Campaign‘ mode and GTs usual ‘Arcade‘ mode is here too. (It’s telling that I am even talking about Arcade mode – in previous GT games it has been close to irrelevant but here it gets a mention as there is so little else.) In Campaign mode you face challenges and then are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze for how well you do. It is in three sections; Driving SchoolMission Challenge and Circuit Experience.

Driving School is much the same as earning licences in previous GT games – you are given short sections of tracks and tips of how to complete them quickly. Before, however, they were a means to an end – getting into the career mode. Here they are an end in themselves and are rather dull as a result.

Mission Challenge is where the only real gaming offline takes place. Here the requirements can range from overtaking challenges, to one-make races, to ‘endurance’ races (side note – since when did Gran Turismo count a 15 lap race as ‘endurance’?). Some of this is good as it gets out of the way and let’s the driving shine. Those slightly longer races in particular are good to break up the stream of 30-second challenges. But even here there are huge problems. The worst is when a particular challenge requires you to make no contact with the other cars. Ridiculously, you also lose these challenges if they hit you, so don’t think about trying to out-brake them into corners. I ended up creeping around the track in these races concentrating more on staying out of the way of the AI rather than enjoying the driving. Horrible.

Circuit Experience does what is says on the tin – holds your hand around each of the (very few) tracks in the game, giving you time trials of all the difficult sections until you are deemed ready for the whole circuit. I thought maybe I could learn the tracks whilst I was racing around them, but in Gran Turismo, apparently not. Also very dull.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171031214605

On The Line
All of this indicates that Polyphony have firmly put all of their eggs into the online basket – the eponymous ‘Sport‘ mode. As such, it had better be great, to recover this game from the threat of mediocrity.

It isn’t.

You have the standard ‘Lobby‘ area where you can arrange to play with friends or jump into stranger’s games. This does work pretty well – the flexibility in setup of these rooms allows everyone to race the way they want. But every single racing game on the market has this functionality – it’s not enough to carry this game alone. Perhaps the idea is that they will build on Sport mode over time but for now it is very minimal and very restrictive. You get 3 daily races that take place repeatedly through the day and two championships that run a few times in the evening. It all works in a very slow and cumbersome way; from the long loading times (like, really long) to the inconvenient organisation of race scheduling (usually when you finish one of the daily races the next one you can enter is… the same one you just finished) to the format (you spend up to 15 minutes qualifying for a 5 or 6 minute race, with a completely pointless ‘warm up’ in between).gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171104091332.png

Not only does it feel like a drag but it’s not saved by the races either. Polyphony are obsessed with trying to make sure everyone is nice to each other so they have instigated something called your ‘Sportsmanship Rating‘. You are forced to sit through a long, pious and badly-translated (I’m going to assume that’s the reason – otherwise it’s just really badly written) talk about how important it is to be nice on the track before you can even get into Sport mode and then in the races your every move is tracked. You gain ‘SR‘ by going through sectors without hitting anyone (in other words, when you are at the back not making any progress) and you lose ‘SR‘ for making contact. Of course, much like in single player mentioned above, you also lose rating points if others bump into you. Finally, they seem to have tried to ensure this doesn’t get out of hand by ghosting anyone’s car who isn’t on the racing line. This works well if someone has forgotten to break in time for an upcoming corner – they just fade out and miss everyone – but it is still not right; in one race I was passed by a ghosted car that went right through me and then solidified again once in front. Perhaps some people have learnt to game the system.

It would have been better to simply let people race and then match those who repeatedly don’t race well away from the rest of us – but once again, Gran Turismo feels the need to hold our hands, and it falls down as a result. When I think about how quickly and smoothly online games like Rocket League work, or how well the additional online content is built in a game like Dirt 4 (on top of a proper single player game, no less) everything about Sport mode is a disappointment.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171026214043

Verdict
Gran Turismo Sport gets an extra star by virtue of the great handling model that Polyphony has created. The actual game that they have put together around it is completely average. If you have a few friends that enjoy racing online together – and have no desire to play any other parts of the game – then by all means make this your new destination. I can’t think of any other reason that you’d choose Gran Turismo Sport over other racing games.

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Click here to purchase Gran Turismo Sport on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Gaming Subscriptions 1 – Xbox Live, PS Plus

I’ve been thinking about the various gaming subscriptions that can be taken up on consoles recently. One way or another all of these things are ways to get ‘free’ games, although some come with other benefits too. I’m going to look at a couple of services that I currently subscribe to on the Xbox One – namely EA Access and Xbox Game Pass – in another post in a week or so but the obvious place to start is with the different console’s generic subscription services – Xbox Live and Playstation Plus.20171104090820.png

Online gaming
I have had an Xbox Live subscription since the fairly early days in 2003. Back then I mostly played MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 2 online and I’ve maintained it for at least most of the time ever since. It’s always been a requirement for online gaming on Xboxes and over the years the service has got better and better with more and more features. Playstation Plus wasn’t birthed so soon or so smoothly. Sony first began with ‘Playstation Network‘ features instead – which basically meant that each game had it’s own online services and there were no centralised features (or cost, to be fair). Eventually though, they saw how successful Xbox Live had been as a cohesive idea and PS Plus was born in 2010. I’ve only had PS Plus on and off – mostly because there haven’t been many games that I’ve wanted to play online since the subscription was necessary for that. In 2017, it has to be said, the two services are basically as good as each other: you get online play, additional discounts on new games, a few others bits like online game saving and monthly free games.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.06

‘Free’ games
Of course you are already paying for the service so that games you are given aren’t free, but just ‘built into the price of the room’, if you will. But this feature is obviously the main draw for these subscriptions for anyone who either doesn’t do much or any online play or who only wants online play on one console. My experience over the years has been that the games that come with Xbox Live Games with Gold are far better than the Playstation Plus Monthly Games. Perhaps it all comes down to taste but for me, I always look at the PS Plus games with a big shrug, but I regularly play through the games that I’ve got from Xbox Live. A recent example would be Gone Home and I have also played plenty of them with The BoyTrials Fusion and Hydro Thunder being recent examples of that. Of course, none of these games are particularly brand new – Microsoft and Sony don’t want to risk sales on those games. But if you are looking to supplement your current games with some interesting bits that you may have missed then these might be perfect for your needs.20171104091128

Nintendo
As of now, playing online on the Switch doesn’t require a subscription but that is going to change sometime in 2018 when they get their act together. This subscription will be similar in some ways – online play, game discounts – but doesn’t have the same features like free games or online saves. There will be some retro games playable, which is a nice touch and the service will be around half the price of the other two, so fair play really. Time will tell how well Nintendo execute their plans but certainly I’ve had no issues playing online on my Switch up to now, either docked or undocked.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.16.19

Conclusions
Whether you want to get one or both of these subscriptions may well be a no brainer – if you want to play online they are required. If it’s more an open choice to you then really this pivots on the free games they give away. I’d advise looking at the games that have been available the past few months and decide if it’s worth it to you. If it’s a choice between the two services – I would recommend Xbox Live.

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This was the original Xbox Live logo – good memories!

Click here to purchase an annual subscription to Xbox Live from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to PS Plus from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Currently, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End stands atop my All-Time Top Games list. So, obviously, I was looking forward to more of it with this not-quite-a-full-game-but-more-than-an-expansion addition of Lost Legacy. But that said, a major part of what I loved about 4 was the storyline – could the switch away from Nate and Elena be the downfall of the series? Well, I’m very pleased to say it isn’t – based on first impressions this is going to be another entry in the Naughty-Dog-can-do-no-wrong list of games.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171018223610

Gameplay wise it’s very very similar to Uncharted 4. It is very much an expansion from that point of view. In fairness, that means the gameplay is great so it’s hardly a complaint! By now everything you do from climbing to hiding to shooting has been honed to perfection and that all remains here.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023080003

I’m still too early in the game to say what the story is going to hold but what I have been enjoying early on is the banter between Chloe and Nadine. Although you only play as Chloe it feels much more like a pair of characters on an adventure. Before it was very much Nathan‘s story and the other characters, as fantastic as they were, just came along for the ride. Whether it was Sully, Elena, Chloe herself – they were very much just sidekicks. In Lost Legacy you feel like you’re one half of a team.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023212344

Essentially, for me, this game will be as good as it’s story. I only have an issue with it’s similarity to Uncharted 4 if it doesn’t deliver a memorable experience. Time will tell! But for now, if you’ve enjoyed the previous Uncharted games – this one doesn’t look like it’ll let you down.unchartede284a2_-the-lost-legacy_20171025201738.png

 

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