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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First Impressions: Frederic: Resurrection of Music (iOS)

Another day, another rhythm game! I love them! This one is arguably even more random than Super Beat Sports, that I played recently. The gameplay is nothing unusual but here we have a story mode!IMG_0011.PNG

You play as the resurrected Frederic Chopin, who was a 19th century composer of piano music. For reasons yet unknown (I’ve no idea how far I am through but I doubt it is a long story mode) he has been brought back from the dead to fight the good musical fight against horrible modern music. Obviously!IMG_0015.PNG

Gameplay wise it’s essentially a piano-based version of the standard Guitar Hero/Rock Band where you see notes coming down towards you and tap on the screen at the right time to play the melody. The songs are all remixes of Chopin compositions – the remixes are in different genres to match who Chopin is meeting in the story, from reggae to hip hop. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the music – perhaps classical piano fans would be horrified but for me they’ve done a good job of combining recognisable piano motifs with more recent beats.IMG_0010.PNG

I picked this up to play on my iPad as the appstore were selling a bundle of this game and it’s sequel at a bargain price. It’s a perfect game for a large touchscreen, so I’d recommend that if you have that option – I think it’s also on Android and it’s definitely on Nintendo Switch.IMG_0016.PNG

I’ll play through both ‘Resurrection of Music’ and ‘Evil Strikes Back’, assuming they’re as short as I expect, and then I’ll get a review up. I can already see that the game’s strength, much like any good rhythm game, is going to be in it’s replay value but I will try and resist going back for higher difficulty settings and better scores until I have finished Frederic’s story.IMG_0012.PNG

REVIEW: Rocket League (Nintendo Switch)

  • Released: 2017 (2015 when originally on PC and PS4)
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours, but that’s not really the point!
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Every now and again someone comes along and does something so simple so well, that the rest are left to sit about wondering how they didn’t manage to nail it. Psyonix‘s Rocket League is the best example of this in gaming in recent times. The set up seems so obvious – it’s football with cars (or soccer, depending on where you are in the world!) – but this simplicity of concept hides a rock solid and surprisingly complex video game that is fun regardless of your set up, skill level or commitment. It truly is a game for everyone.2018013013152800-6F4D679ED7D2A016B654B265B956C5F0

Can I kick it?
From my own experience and from observing others the chances are for your first couple games of Rocket League you will have very little clue what is going on! Maybe once or twice the ball hits your car but essentially you are just driving around, very much on the fringes of the match taking place around you. This is fine, because you are just at the start of a long journey of learning, piece by piece, the intricacies that are built around the basic concept of bunting the ball into the goal. One by one the ideas of driving, boosting, jumping, collecting boost pickups, double jumping etc etc will slot into place in your head and eventually become second nature. All of these aspects work brilliantly together and thankfully Rocket League gives you plenty of space to play and enjoy at whatever stage you are at. The offline ‘Season‘ mode gives you a safe playground to develop your skills early on. To start with it’ll be a surprise when you win on Rookie difficulty but eventually it’ll be a surprise when you lose on All-Star. By then you’ll be more than ready to start getting into the real meat of this experience: online matches.2018013013261300-6F4D679ED7D2A016B654B265B956C5F0

Yes, you can
Rocket League‘s wonderfully smooth and rewarding difficulty curve will only continue when you venture online to play against real people. Further nuances come out of the woodwork; the best defensive lines to take, timing, rocket flying and more. The online experience itself is also second to none. The matches are as solid as your internet connection, easy to get into and you have plenty of options of how you want to play. Really, it puts to shame the online offerings of many blockbuster games. Aside from the standard game (‘Soccar‘!) you can also indulge in some Hoops (basketball with cars) or Snow Day (ice hockey with cars), a game called Dropshot, that is almost impossible to explain to the uninitiated – but it’s fantastic, and more. And most of these different modes you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or 4v4. 4v4 is literally called ‘Chaos‘ in the game, and the name is apt! All of this can be played offline, online casual or online competitive. No matter what you want out of Rocket League – it has it.2018020113301500-6F4D679ED7D2A016B654B265B956C5F0

Go on then
As if a fantastic, deep video game with options to make sure everyone can enjoy it the way the like wasn’t enough, Rocket League completes the circle with a little sprinkling of magic – customisation. Firstly there is the simple choice of which ‘battle car’ you will choose. I have previously gone through a few of mine and The Boy‘s favourites (here) but once again, there will be something for everyone. There are a number of standard cars, one or two that are unique to the format you are playing on (for example Xbox One has a UNSC Warthog, Switch has Mario and Luigi cars etc) and quite a number that are available as additional purchases. None of the cars are technically better than the others, but you’ll want to choose one that matches your play style. After that you can customise the paint job, things to put on it, the look and sound of the boost and much more. Each type has a few available at the start and over time you unlock more and more as you play. Scoring goals and winning matches is already super rewarding and these unlockables are the icing on the cake.2018013018154700-6F4D679ED7D2A016B654B265B956C5F0

Conclusion
There is basically nothing wrong with Rocket League at all! The only thing holding it back from getting towards the summit of my All Time Top Games List is that it is relatively narrow in scope – it’s all about driving a car into a huge ball. But that scope isn’t so small that it is restrictive and the focus on it has given us a flawless game that is deserving of being played by every gamer. Not only that, but it is a bargain as well! Just get it, end of.

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

An ode to Forza Motorsport cover cars

It’s been a recent tradition for me, since the Xbox One was released, that I fall in love with the car on the cover of each Forza Motorsport game. Is it that they just always choose a great car to adorn the artwork, or is is that something about the car being on the cover tricks me into enjoying the drive? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?!

With Forza 5 it was the McLaren P1. A thing of beauty that went like a rocket and other than some brakes that struggled to slow the thing down, handled very nicely as well.

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Then came Forza 6 and the Ford GT. Even more beautiful, particularly in blue. And although it didn’t have quite the acceleration of the P1, it flowed round fast corners like it was flying, a joy to drive.

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But now we come to Forza 7 and the Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fine car to drive. But on this occasion it is not my favourite.

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Instead that title goes to the Porsche 918 Spyder. As you’ll see below this car is very similar to the 911, which probably supports the theory that it’s all in my head! I really can’t think of anything I can complain about when driving this beauty. Speed, agility, balance. I’m going to be looking for 918s in future racing games for sure. And yes, I do have a thing for cars with those little wings on the back that go up and down!!

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What about you, what are your favourite cars from the racing games you have played? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to purchase the disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to buy a download key from CDKeys.com:

REVIEW: Super Beat Sports

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

At the end of the day, video games are meant to be fun, right? Sure, that fun takes many forms – competition, enjoying a great story, being scared witless even. But sometimes it’s great to have a game that is just fun for fun’s sake – in steps Super Beat Sports. I find it impossible to play this game without a massive grin on my face from beginning to end! Whether playing alone with headphones or in a long and loud 4-player session, Super Beat Sports just brings joy. It’s fantastic.2018011618115400-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

As you’ll know if you caught my first impressions post on this game, Super Beat Sports – as the name suggests, in fact – combines sports with a music rhythm game. It’s from Harmonix, the company that makes the Rock Band series. In Super Beat Sports though, instead of hitting drum beats or guitar notes you are hitting a baseball with all manner of different bats. Here lies it’s instant appeal – both sports and rhythm come, at least somewhat, naturally to everyone. Smashing a baseball out of the park, on the beat – it’s not a difficult concept to grasp, but it is an absolute ton of fun to nail perfectly over and over again! Within Super Beat Sports there are five mini-games. Each asks you to do a variation on the same sports-in-rhythm concept but the differences are worth digging into separately.2018011013373400-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Whacky Bat: 1-2 players, has single player levels
This is the mini-game that mostly closely resembles actual baseball. One or more characters ‘pitch’ balls at you and you have to make sure you’re in the right lane to then hit them back, in time with the music. This is probably the strongest mini-game for the long term – it’s the one that has kept me interested for the longest playing by myself. The harder levels increase the number of lanes and make you keep a hold of two different rhythms at times as the balls come down at different speeds. It’s brilliant.2018011617594900-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Net Ball: 1-2 players, has single player levels
This game has nothing to do with netball at all. It’s musical volleyball instead. Compared to Whacky Bat it removes the need to move at all but makes up for it with less warning when it will be your turn to play the ball. The joy here is in the melody you create by nailing it, rather then being locked into the rhythm.2018011618031600-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Gobble Golf: 1-2 players, has single player levels
This is more of a memory game – you get played the rhythm and then have to hit the ball in the right places to replicate it. As such it introduces aiming but it is the weakest of the games with single player levels to work through, as it goes by slower than the others. Really only good for multiplayer.2018011618101500-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Buddy Ball: 1-4 players, multiplayer only
This is the best multiplayer experience in the game as you can play with a full 4 players and it’s very easy to pick up. You are taking turns to hit the ball back and you can aim to hit it to different characters to change the speed and try and catch out the next player. The musical part of it starts to take back seat as you add players but it is still part of the overall feel.2018011618132100-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Rhythm Racket: 1-4 players, multiplayer only
This is the most complex mini-game and the one we’ve played the least. It can work well at times but here the musical element has almost completely gone and been replaced by more gameplay elements, so it loses something of the simple joy that the sports/music mashup creates. Still good, but only as an option – not your go-to mini-game.2018011618183000-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Still a 5-trick pony
All of this said, there is one caveat with Super Beat Sports. It’s such fun but, perhaps consequently, does lack depth. Sure, they ramp up the difficulty, but essentially, once you know how to play each game that’s it. This is where it’s strength as a multiplayer title comes in. Playing Whacky Bat with The Boy and laughing as we end up stood on each others heads, or getting into arguments over a game of 4-player Buddy Ball – everything that you’ve ever loved about local multiplayer is here in abundance and never gets old.2018011618205300-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Conclusion
The simple fact is that, at this price, this game would be fine if it only included the Whacky Bat game. Everything else can be seen as a bonus. There’s no way to find so much unbridled fun, particularly with friends, anywhere near this price. There’s a demo on the Switch eShop – I defy you to play that and not want to get the game! Fully recommended to anyone with a Nintendo Switch.Review5

REVIEW: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 35 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

There’s more or less no way in which a mash up of Mario and Rabbids should work. Mario – a beloved, veteran character of the video game industry – and Rabbids – those reviled, childish troublemakers. The fact that it works, and works so well, is a testament both to Nintendo for being willing to put their biggest asset at risk and to Ubisoft for making sure that the injection of the Rabbids was done with respect for the Magic Kingdom and it’s characters. Fans of Mario, fans of the Rabbids and, frankly, fans of video games, should all find this turn-based strategy game both challenging and hilarious.

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The power of three
The majority of your time is spent in turn-based battles with rogue rabbids. You have one move with each of your three chosen characters in every turn and each of those moves is in three parts – movement, attack and special abilities. Movement can be used in defence – for example, hiding Mario behind cover – or attack – like having Peach slide tackle, or ‘dash‘, an enemy. Attack is much as it sounds; get out a weapon and try and cause damage to the enemies. Lastly abilities can be anything from boosting teammate’s health, gaining extra power for a turn or putting up a defensive shield and many more in between. The main bulk of the game is in learning how each of these different attacks and abilities work for each of your characters and then working out how to unleash them in the best way to eliminate the enemies you face. It’s all surprisingly deep and complex for a game full of bright colours and craziness and that combination of challenging gameplay and fun characters is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle‘s core appeal. In the end I preferred a team of Mario (you can’t change him, but in fairness he’s great anyway), Rabbid Peach (thanks to her team-healing ability) and Peach (once well upgraded, her weapons cause widespread damage) but you’ll be able to play your way, and have fun finding out what that way is.

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What’s happening?
In addition to the battles, the main game offers up puzzle elements and wraps it all in a story line that serves to give all this a point but never takes on any significance of it’s own. In truth, that works well as the stop-start nature of a stream of turn-based battles would make complex story telling difficult. Instead the story is essentially a setting in which to place Mario and the Rabbids – it helps control the fun, if you will. Most of this is down to Beep-O. I won’t try to explain who or what Beep-O is here – you’ll have to find that out for yourself – but Beep-O brings a degree of order to the chaos and drives proceedings along. It’s through this that the game keeps a lid on the potential madness of having tonnes of both good and bad Rabbids marauding through the Magic Kingdom. Lastly, the puzzle elements are mostly fun and only one did I find difficult enough that it became frustrating. It’s mostly moving blocks around in particular orders or lining up paths to travel down. What they do well is serve to break up what might otherwise be the monotony of battle-battle-battle. They are a refreshing change and don’t outstay their welcome.

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Battles with friends
Outside of the main, single player, game, we also have two kinds of multiplayer here – co-op and versus. These both take place in arenas very similar, although not copied out of, the main game. Otherwise there is very little difference on a fundamental level to the gameplay here but the additional level of planning needed and the further things that can be pulled off in the co-op levels are an extra treat. The Boy and I have enjoyed these levels greatly; seeing how far we can jump, how many enemies we can take out in a single turn etc by working together. It’s a shame there isn’t a full co-op campaign but that is more a reflection that I want more of a great game than a criticism of what’s being offered here.

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Conclusion
2017 was completely full of great games and it is a fairly big surprise to see something with the Rabbids in being included in that! But the combination of the charm of Mario and the madness of the Rabbids, all baked into a great turn-based strategy game is amongst the best in one of the best years. It continues to be supported too – The Boy and I are also very excited for the upcoming introduction of Donkey Kong that was revealed in the recent Nintendo Direct Mini! Now is just as good a time as any to jump onto this crazy bandwagon.

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

Xbox Game Pass expansion – news and views

I recently posted some thoughts on Gaming Subscriptions (here and here) and talked about my conclusions from having an Xbox Game Pass subscription for a few months. Essentially, I found that it was probably great for newcomers to all that Xbox has to offer but for those of us who have played most of the games on the service as they came out originally, it holds little value.

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However, Microsoft has just changed the game (pun entirely intended). See here for the details but the short version is that from the release of Sea of Thieves in March, all Microsoft Studios games will be available on Xbox Game Pass alongside their release. That means that for your monthly subscription you get the pool of older titles that you have now and additionally get to play any new Halo, Gears of War, Forza and many more. Coming up soonest are Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2 and Crackdown 3.

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This is an immediate game changer for us consumers. If you are considering buying any of those games within a year or two of their release then the cheapest way to do it will be via an Xbox Game Pass subscription. Why pay £50 up front when that will get you 6 months of the game you want, plus everything else that the service offers?

Perhaps more interesting though is what this could mean going forwards. Will things like EA Access follow suit? If this is a success for Microsoft, other publishers will surely want to get on board with the concept. But on the other hand, perhaps this kind of deal only makes sense for a company who also sells hardware off the back of it. Xbox Game Pass wants to be the Netflix of gaming but it was more like a catchup service. Perhaps this change will enable it to have the same kind of success as Netflix has in video.

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One potential word of caution though. We have gotten used to new releases having the ‘standard’ version and also some kind of ‘enhanced’ version which either includes more content up front, of gives the access to it when it is released. No doubt Xbox Game Pass will only supply the standard version and leave us with add-on purchases for our season passes and extra cosmetic items. If this idea takes off industry-wide I can easily foresee a slow creep to where the ‘standard’ version is really more of a ‘basic’ version – a glorified demo, to tempt you in to paying for the full experience. That might not even be a bad thing but given the various recent controversies around additional downloadable content, it’s something to keep in mind.

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For what it’s worth, I can see this really shifting Xbox Ones in the short term. New buyers won’t need to worry about which particular games to get in their bundle – just get an Xbox Game Pass subscription and you’re set for a long long while. In the longer term, who knows where this will take us but as a consumer, I intend to reap the benefits whilst I can.

What do you think on this? Will you be getting an Xbox Game Pass subscription on the back of these changes? Let us know in the comments below!