Longshot

I first started playing this year’s Madden NFL expecting much the same experience as last year’s – play a few games to get back into the rhythm of it and then try to win the Super Bowl with my Dallas Cowboys. I am currently doing exactly that and my full review will follow but this year Madden had a trick up it’s sleeve. In case you’re not sure what this is about, Longshot is Madden NFL 18‘s story mode and I enjoyed it so much I decided it needed it’s own post!25-09-2017_22-11-45
In Longshot you play as a young man called Devin Wade. I won’t give away too much of the story here but suffice to say that Devin is looking to get himself drafted by an NFL Team after stepping away from playing football for 3 years. As such, he doesn’t stand much chance but an opportunity to take part in a TV show called ‘Longshot’ might give him the visibility to attract enough attention from the NFL scouts. There are two things that make this game great – the story and how the gameplay and the choices you make affect your chances of making it to the NFL.25-09-2017_22-12-42.png

Story
The story itself taps into things that every NFL fan will know and feel well. Whether it’s playing sports in the backyard growing up, Friday night high school games or the grading and re-grading of college prospects leading up to the draft, Longshot does a fantastic job of tapping into feeling of all the football stories from real life. It would be easy for it to focus on the gameplay and let the story mode just be a bit of window dressing around that – that’s certainly what story modes in previous sports titles have effectively been. What sets this one apart is that it makes you care about the characters’ success, not just your own. There’s the former prodigy trying to make up for past mistakes, the underdog best friend whose enthusiasm pushes everyone, the old coach looking to make amends, the tv producer fighting to make a great show the right way. It’s like a really great football movie – except that you get to take part!25-09-2017_22-12-36.png

Gameplay
There are two aspects to the gameplay. Most of it has you playing football as you would normally expect but under certain conditions. These range from specific defined training drills to 7v7 games with different rules to full games. The vast majority of the time you are at Quarterback, although there is a little bit of time spent in the secondary on defense at one point. The other aspect is choosing dialog options and this can come in the form of remembering play calls on the training field to standard response-choices during cutscenes. All of this works well in two ways. Firstly it does a good job of teaching you how to play Madden. The whole Longshot experience is too long and too broad to be used as a training mode but actually, for an inexperienced gamer, it would be a good place to start to learn things like reading defences and situational football as well as mechanics of what buttons to press. Otherwise it also works well as every play you make (or don’t make) and every decision choice you pick plays into your pre-draft grade, which you can see in the pause menu at all times. This gives every moment of the entirety of Longshot a real tension and gravity. You will sometimes get a second chance to get things right, but even if you do, there’s a possibility that it will affect your chances of being drafted.
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Conclusion
Longshot does such a great job of walking the line between gameplay and story – it’s the perfect mix. This could be a standalone game and I would still recommend it, so it’s great as effectively a free addition to the Madden ‘package’. Look out for full full review of Madden NFL 18 soon. In the meantime, what do you think of Longshot? Or of sports game story modes in general?

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Click here to purchase the game on Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase the game on PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download code for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:

 

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The Annual Sports Game Merry-Go-Round

Every year in early autumn there is a run of sports games released. EA puts out its latest version of Football (FIFA), American Football (Madden), Basketball (NBA Live) and Ice Hockey (NHL). There are a few others that also compete in the space such as Pro Evolution Soccer or the NBA games from 2k amongst others. Each year reviews of these games are full of references to what has or hasn’t changed since the previous entry and whether or not a full new game can be ‘justified’. However, also each year these games sell really well, so there clearly is a market for the newer versions. As each edition is out now for this year I thought I’d take a look at a couple of the issues surrounding this merry-go-round that the industry has found itself in.25-09-2017_22-10-46

A justified update

Essentially this part boils down to: is a set of new kits, updated leagues (where applicable) and updated rosters with all the right players in the right teams worth the full price of a brand new game? In many ways it is hard to argue that it is; these games have regular roster updates through the season anyway and they have many kits available for each team as it is – downloading some new ones wouldn’t be a problem. But really the issue is not so much should EA and the others publish full new games but can they. At the end of the day, the only reason they wouldn’t do this is if people stopped buying them – which is clearly not the case. Those of us that buy these games year-in year-out justify the updates ourselves!

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If it ain’t broke

All that said, each game is always released to a fanfare heralding the changes and improvements to the game play since the last edition – but is this always a good thing? I have enjoyed each year’s FIFA update either more or less than the previous one depending on the changes made. Some have felt more restrictive – rewarding you only for playing in a certain way – whilst others have felt more open, allowing scoring opportunities from multiple different attacks. Contrast this with recent Madden updates; for the past 2 or 3 years only minor incremental updates to the actual gameplay have been made. When something is working, it makes no sense to change it for the sake of it.

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Multiple games in one

So, the developers and publishers of these sports games have no incentive to make huge changes each year but do want to make a show of having new features in order to compete in a crowded autumn of sports games. What can they do? The answer over the last few years appears to be new gameplay modes. Ten years ago a sports game would have had all the standard cups and leagues, some basic online play and probably a franchise/manager/master league mode for a more in-depth experience. These days sports games are essentially multiple games in one with the addition of modes like Ultimate Team, Be A Pro, story modes and other slightly different modes like Threes in the new NHL. On top of that the online play options are now hugely varied.2017093007194500-062DD3BC3CF59885A6762E5A30A14CD1

Conclusion

For the record, I look forward with bated breath each year to the new FIFA and the new Madden games and snap them up without fail. The chance to play with all the new players and teams without any hassle is enough for me to part with my cash. The decision isn’t so much ‘can I justify paying this money‘ as it is ‘I want that stuff and paying the money is the way to get it‘! As such, I for one am appreciating all the new modes that these games are gathering up over time. Particularly when they are as good as the new Longshot story mode in Madden NFL 18. Look out for more on that in my next blog post!

What about you? Do you look forward to these games, or are they a rip-off? Let us know in the comments below.

Splat Falls Flat

I came into Splatoon 2 not entirely sure what to think. I missed the first one due to not having a Wii U so I didn’t have any anticipation based on that. On the other hand though, it’s a first-party game on a Nintendo console so I definitely wanted to give it a try. Ultimately though, I find myself disappointed and I won’t be playing it any further.2017090818544600-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Initial impressions were good. The basic concept of collecting paint and spraying it about the place is great and the different weapons you’re given to do that all work nicely in their different ways. The Boy also enjoyed it to begin with – he never reached the point of online multiplayer but he tackled the first few chapters of the story and talked with enthusiasm about his exploits.2017090912351600-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Unfortunately, this is as far as it went for us. The game is a one-trick-pony and doesn’t have enough about it to keep it fresh for a long time. The single player game remains almost the same throughout leaving it to quickly become stale, lifeless and repetitive. Any new elements that are introduced just serve as inconveniences rather than new challenges. The boss encounters are decent but the slog to arrive at them isn’t worth it. In fact, after a while my favourite part of the story mode was the various staging areas where finding the entrance to a new level became an interesting puzzle. Lastly, you are given a small amount of lives to complete each level and no way to get more – fine in terms of giving enemy battles more edge but very annoying when you lose them from simply accidentally falling off the edge.2017091108140300-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Multiplayer is better but not great. My favourite mode was Turf War where your team needs to cover more of the map in your colour paint than the opposition within the time limit. The onus on splatting paint took the focus away from the rushed and confusing combat. This is supposed to be Nintendo’s take on the third person shooter but as with a lot of things that try and combine elements, neither ends up being that great. If you want a charming Nintendo game, go elsewhere. If you want a shooter, go elsewhere.2017090819052900-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04

Compare and Contrast: Zelda vs Horizon

Two games; both released early this year, both open world adventures, both universally well received. I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before I played Horizon: Zero Dawn and I consequently spent most of the first half of my Horizon playthrough thinking about how similar it was to Breath of the Wild. By the end however, I had found that it is in fact the things that are different that define these games and make them so very good.lozbotw2
Why they are the same
Setting: both games are set in fantasy worlds and allow you to roam around wherever you like and tackle the story in your own time. They have plenty of side-quests and side-tasks for your to complete to fill in your time and give you a reason to explore.
Story: both storylines are about a lone warrior fighting to save the world from a dark and powerful enemy whose many minions of different kinds are spread across the environment.
Combat: as fantasy games they both have bows, arrows and bladed weapons – no guns here. Ranged combat is excellent in both games. Health works very similarly using food and other things from the environment to bring lost health back up and also allowing for potions to boost health and other benefits.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170707221530
Why they are different
Combat: close-up combat is great in Breath of the Wild. You have lots of control over Link‘s movement and a variety of attacks and good timing is rewarded. In Zero Dawn however, melee combat is horrible. A hand-to-hand battle is something to be avoided wherever possible. Part of this however, is that the combat against the massive machines that inhabit the world works very well and by it’s nature this is ranged combat. Which brings us onto the real key difference…
Setting and Story: the key difference between the two games is how they tackle these two aspects and which is the focus of each game. Quite simply it could be summed up as this: Breath of the Wild is all about the setting, the open world and the experience of exploring it. Zero Dawn‘s focus is on the story and how the plot line unfolds. The story in the Zelda game is designed to get out of the way and allow you to enjoy the experience. In the Horizon game it is the opposite – the world is just there as a placeholder to allow the jaw-dropping story to play out.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170816213035

Neither of these approaches is wrong, by any means. I enjoyed both games hugely. However, it is interesting to note how two games that start from very similar places have so significantly diverged by their ends. And it is their end-states that prove to be their great strengths. I didn’t want Breath of the Wild to end as I just wanted to continue to exist in that fascinating world, looking into every nook and cranny. On the other hand, I raced through the final hours of Zero Dawn, desperate to see how the drama would unfold. This shows how game developers looking to build an ‘open-world’ game do not have to be constrained by that – perhaps we can stop referring to games as ‘open-world’ games and just enjoy whatever that world has to offer.lozbotw1

Click here to purchase the Zelda cartridge from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a download code for Zelda from Amazon.co.uk

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

Top 5 game mashups wishlist

Ahead of the imminent release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle I’ve been wondering what other game mash-ups would be fun! The way most franchises are held onto tightly by their developers these kind of cross-over games are fewer and further between these days.

Click here to pre-order Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle from Amazon.co.uk:

Anyway, without further ado, here is my wishlist of game mashups:
#1: Uncharted + Tomb Raiderphotostudio_1502726158087
An easy one to start with. Imagine Lara climbing slowly but surely up to the entrance to a tomb, smashing through the entrance and… finding Nate there already holding the treasure! This would be more of a character mashup as the games are ultimately very similar but I’d be intrigued to see some interaction between them. Presumably it wouldn’t take Lara long to get fed up with Nate’s wisecracks!
#2: SSX + Gears of Warphotostudio_1502836294220
You know you want to see Marcus Fenix on a snowboard! More over, snowboarding down a mountain with gun it hand mowing down bad guys James-Bond-style would be fantastic. Only question would be whether to keep the Uber TricksGears move too slowly to be spinning and pirouetting in mid air I think.
#3: NBA Playgrounds + Super Smash Brosphotostudio_1502811927255
Mario and his friends have gotten themselves involved in lots of sports over the years – tennis, golf, football. But there’s something inherently spectacular about larger than life basketball games like NBA Jam, NBA Street and recently NBA Playgrounds that would surely combine well with Nintendo’s cast of characters. I’ve love to see Princess Peach go up for a huge slam dunk only to get spectacularly blocked by Link – it would be like Smash Bros on the court.
#4: Halo + Mirror’s Edgephotostudio_1502803790661
For everything that was good about Mirror’s Edge the combat was quite poor, particularly the weapons. But what if you put all the parkour aspects – the leaps, the rolls, the slides and put them at the disposal of the Master Chief?! Sliding down a zip wire charging up a plasma pistol. Running through hails of gunfire up and over buildings and making it to safety just before your shield finally goes. This would be a spectacular game.
#5: Hot Wheels Race Off + Game Vehiclesphotostudio_1502836529885
This one is here partly for The Boy, who still plays Hot Wheels Race Off from time to time. One of the things he enjoys is when he has a car in the game that he also has the toy in real life. Well, what if we were talking vehicles from other games like there are a couple in Rocket League? The Junker from Gears of War, the Mako from Mass Effect, the Interceptor II from SpyHunter. That would be a great mashup to race them against each other. Actually, one of these vehicles has already been taken to the next level – The UNSC Warthog is already an actual Hot Wheels toy:
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What about you? What’s your dream game mashup? Let us know in the comments below.

Horizon Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode

Horizon Zero Dawn really is the most beautiful game I’ve ever played.
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I’m not just talking about the graphics per se. There have been plenty of games over the years that have looked stunning. Fifteen years ago I was amazed by the graphics in games. The grass in Halo on the Xbox was literally unbelievable the first time saw it. The way every room glowed in Resident Evil on the GameCube. The car models in Gran Turismo 4 on the PS2. What Guerrilla Games have done with HZD is harness great modern graphics to create something that is genuinely beautiful. I spend far too much time in this post-apocalpse world just wandering about looking for a great photo opportunity!
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Great graphics are really not necessary for great gameplay. Right now my favourite console is the Nintendo Switch (I go on about why here) which has far ‘worse’ specs compared to even the Xbox One and PS4 I own, let alone the PS4 Pro or the forthcoming Xbox One X. Breath of the Wild is a stunning looking game anyway. The Boy has sunk so, so many hours into Mario Kart 8 but he hasn’t commented on the graphics once. And let’s not even consider how important graphics are to Minecraft! Well done to Guerrilla Games for making graphical power serve a need, rather than be a need in itself.
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I wonder if this kind of thing will remain a rarity or if it will be more a focus for developers now they have such amazing tools at their disposal. All the talk around the Xbox One X is about the specs – 4k gaming and how many teraflops it has. I don’t even know what a teraflop is! What I do know is that on my, standard, PS4 I am stunned on a daily basis by the beauty of the world in Horizon Zero Dawn.
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Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Gold Wheels at last! MK8D is done.

Finally The Boy and I have completed Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and collected the Gold Wheels! 2017080820012500-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5See our previous post on Gold Mario (here) for our progress at that point. What we had left to do was beat the ghost set by the staff on all 48 tracks in Time Trial mode. It has taken a long time and a lot of effort but we are there!

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Here we both are in a race afterwards showing off our All-Gold Marios:2017080820160900-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5

The Top 5 tracks that we found the hardest were:
5. Dolphin Shoals
4. Cloudtop Cruise
3. SNES Rainbow Road
2. Big Blue
1. Wario Stadium
Most of them were reasonably straight forward with whatever character and vehicle customisations you liked but there were a few that really made you have to figure out what characteristics you needed to go with to get the best time. To beat our nemesis, Wario Stadium, we ended up with Bowser Jr, the Koopa Clown kart and Roller tyres.2017080820002100-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5

Thankfully it proved to be just enough! The whole process has been a lot of fun – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is such a good game, how could it be anything else?! Now when we play online we can show off our All-Gold Mario to the world!

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Click below to purchase Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on cartridge from Amazon.co.uk:

Or click below to purchase a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe download code from CDKeys.com: