Is This The End For Solo Gaming?

Copyright: Activision

With the recent announcement from Activision that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was to be multiplayer only with no solo campaign, my final piece of interest in this stale franchise disappeared completely. I have no interest in playing online with other players, hell I play video games to get away from people not to interact with them. But this move towards online multiplayer only gaming seems to be gathering pace and I’m worried that the 1-Player game will die out.

I used to play a lot of driving games and I was pretty good at them, or at least I thought I was until I made the mistake of racing against others online. My arse was handed to me and I was so far behind in one race, that the session actually timed out before I’d even crossed the finish line. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. It was all a myth, yes I could beat the AI, but actual fellow gamers? No chance. I was less Alonso and more Alonslow.

I also attempted to play Fifa online one year and I have to admit, I was that player whose connection was ‘lost’ during the game. In truth the only thing lost was my temper as I bicycle kicked my joypad into controller heaven.

Whilst I love playing games, I’m not particularly good at them. But I’m absolutely cool with that as for me it’s about the escapism, the experience, the emotions and not about uploading my speed run onto YouTube and claiming what a bloody good bloke I am.

I’ve recently been playing the Unchartered series and I have absolutely loved them. I’ve escaped to places I will never visit, I’ve been on the edge of my seat and I feel I’ve developed a man crush over the charismatic Nathan Drake. The thing I’ve loved most, however, is that the 40 or so hours I’ve spent playing the series has just been about me and a digital world I can lose myself in.

I don’t feel I would have got the same experience if some snotty tosspot from the other side of the world is shouting at me to ‘find cover, find cover, pick up the gun, oh come on you *bleeping* idiot, I thought you said you was good at this’ in my ear.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-multiplayer and I understand there is a need for games like PUBG, H1Z1 or Fortnite and that gamers have a lot of fun with their friends playing these games; but it’s just not for me. My worry is that studios, who seem to be on a mission these days to milk every last penny out of gamers, seem to be abandoning the solo playing, unprofitable games for more of these open world battle royale money spinners.

With the heavy rumour that another one of my favourite series, Fallout, will be online multiplayer only with the next game, Fallout76, I really worry. I guess we’ll found out at E3 whether or not it is true, but if it is, then my time in the wasteland is over.

So this is a plea to studios; please don’t abandon the solo player, some of us play games for the experience, to be wowed, entertained, to be immersed in a gripping storyline or beautiful world with no-one else around. We don’t want to stay in cover for 30 minutes until some git snipes us in the head or to be 7-0 down in 5 minutes or to be shouted at by someone half our age because we forgot to pick up an RPG and now we’ve accidentally fallen off the roof, or because we can’t remember the bloody dance we supposed to do because we’ve won a chicken dinner or something…

So please, I beg you, don’t make The Last of Us, The Last one for Us.

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The Quest is Over

When I started my blog, the idea was that I was trying to find a game which would not, at some point, push me to the point of launching my joypad. Today the quest is over and I’m pleased to announce the winner was… er, well no-one actually.

We’ve all done it, come to a point in a game where it’s harder than Chuck Norris dipped in vinegar, baked in an oven and covered in nail varnish. We rage quit or at the very least we shout at the game and boldly claim it’s cheating.

My problem is I can launch my joypad before the game has started!

When loading Gears of War 4, (a game as deep as a puddle), on my Xbox One X, I got the message we all like to hear, ‘Your game is ready to play’. As Matt Hardy would say “WONDERFUL”, the fact only 30% of the game has loaded is not an issue, I thought, as there must be enough loaded to start the first level.

Wrong!

I could get to the title screen, I could select menus, but as soon as I tried to start, a message along the lines of “please wait, game is still downloading” was displayed. It would be another 2 blooming hours before the game was actually “ready to play”.

It’s fair to say my Xbox One X’s pants were truly on fire and my joypad was launched before the game had even started.

And therein lies the problem. I will never find a game which does not frustrate me because the least little thing can frustrate me at times.

Load times frustrate me. Doors you can’t open frustrate me. Low waist height walls you can’t jump over, frustrate me. Jumpy platform games, frustrate me. Enemies dropping weapons and I can’t pick them up frustrate me. Writing this list frustrates me.

But games excite me, they take me on adventures and journeys which blow my mind, I live to game. All these frustrations, all these quirks, all those broken joypads are just more XP for my gaming CV. I need to stop looking for ones that don’t move me to the point of launching my joypad and embrace the fact that they do.

So I’ve decided to end the quest and I’ve realised that actually talking about them, hell actually deliberately finding them is more fun to write about than a game so perfect it becomes beige.

Vanilla Ice, yes please, Vanilla Nice, no sir!

And so my first small change in order to get me to enjoy my blog, is to stop looking for perfection and talk about the imperfections.

The quest has ended, but Launches Joypad continues…

Fallout 4

Fallout 4

My quest to find a game which does not frustrate me to the point of launching my joypad continues and this week I finally finished Bethesda’s mahousive game, Fallout 4. Did I find my perfect game or did it make me want to set the world on fire? It’s time to find out…

To paraphrase Douglas Adams; Fallout 4 is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to Fallout 4.

And I guess that’s half the problem for me…

When you have to do boring adult things, like work for a living, the 100 or so hours needed to fully appreciate a game on the magnitude of Fallout 4 is as hard to find as a helpful traffic warden.

This is a shame because Fallout 4 is brilliant, maybe not as good as Fallout 3, but epic nonetheless.

* Spoilers ahead * Fallout 4 moves it postapocalyptic vision to Boston and you play as a sole-survivor of a cryogenic vault, who during his time ‘on-ice’ witnesses the murder of his wife and the kidnapping of his son. As soon as he is thawed out he sets out on a quest to find his son.

And that is essentially the plot, (War and Peace it is not!).

But don’t worry futuristic and yet strangely set in the 1950’s fans, there is so so much to do, you will not get bored! Immediately you are dropped on the edge of a map spanning a million miles, with tens of thousands of missions, hundreds of thousands of characters and many other statistics I have just made up.

And that’s what I love about this game so much, you’re dropped in a vast map and basically told to go and have some fun. You can just do the storyline if you want, but you will miss out on Fallout’s quirky humour, the joy of finding a comic out of the blue which boosts one of your attributes or the pleasure of winning a persuasion argument and Fallout’s character popping up on-screen, giving you a wink and doing pointy gun hands at you.

The one criticism I do have is that it’s a bit easy. Fallout 3 fans will remember the power armour which, from memory, you don’t get until near the very end of the game. For some reason you are given one really early on and there are several scattered around the map for you to find. The fusion power things are plentiful and so if you ever do have a battle which is a bit tricky, it’s actually not an issue as you just pop back to wherever your power armour is stored and go straight back to battle and kick some mutated creature’s butt.

However, dear reader, this unfortunately is not the game which stopped me from launching my joypad. There are 2 main things which frustrated me to the point when the joypad suddenly levitated above my head.

Firstly there is the crafting system. One of Fallout 4’s new additions is the ability to ‘build’ a settlement. Now this is not a bad idea, but the mechanics feel like trying the hammer treacle to the wall. Also, it turns the game into Farmville, which is all well and good, but when you quickly realise that partaking in the crafting has absolutely no bearing on the game, it does feel like a bloated add-on which is sapping that vital time I do not have.

But the main thing which launches my joypad and I’m afraid it’s a hangover from Fallout 3, are the Pip-Boy controls.

They are so cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated. Menus, sub menus, lists, long bloody lists, another menu, oh dear I’m in the wrong menu, how do I come back out? No don’t come out of Pip-Boy altogether, oh crap here’s a mirelurk, where’s my weapon gone? Ow! you overgrown crabby bastard! *launches joypad*.

I think this is a leftover from the original PC Fallout games and I can imagine the Pip-boy works better on a PC, but for a console it doesn’t work. I will admit though that I didn’t discover the Pip-boy app on the iPad until late on and running this does make life a little easier. A touch screen Pip-boy does make more sense that the button crunching mess Fallout sometimes becomes. I hope they develop this concept further for future Fallout games.

But I do love this game and the 40 or so hours I did manage to find was a worthwhile experience. I love being able to explore vast spaces, with no pressure to follow storylines and the added Fallout humour just makes this a joy to play.

The 4K enhancement for the Xbox One X does make this a beautiful looking game and it’s a pleasure to see all the usual Bethesda bugs in glorious UHD. Dogmeat hovering above a chair, characters getting stuck in walls and the weird rainbow reflections texture glitch have never looked so good!

It’s far from perfect but it’s my kind of game and whilst it may make me want to launch my joypad, it doesn’t make me want to go full on nuclear!

30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 6

Day 6 – Most annoying character

They say familiarity breeds contempt and this is demonstrated by my nomination for most annoying character.

Fallout 3 is possibly one of the best games ever made, but boy is it a big game. A huge game. A lose your wife, family and friends where the hell did that 100 hours of my life go, game!

For that reason, you meet certain characters over and over again and there is one character who, because you meet her early on in the game and because she runs a supply store in one of the first towns you came to in the game, you meet her…. a helluva lot!

The most annoying character I’ve ever come across is Moira Brown, the Craterside Supply Store owner in Megaton!

She does nothing wrong per se, in fact she’s very helpful, especially early on with his sub-tasks and supplies which help boost your character, but the problem is you visit her a lot and whilst Fallout 3 is massive, Moira’s vocabulary is not.

‘Hey don’t mind the smoke. It’s perfectly safe to breathe. Really!’ is funny the first time, maybe the 3rd or 4th time, but by the 20th time of hearing it, I just want to launch my joypad. Get a decent extraction system in place then, (or just open the freakin’ door!).

‘Huh. Did you know the human body can survive without the stomach or spleen? Oh, what’s up?’. What’s up? Probably the fact this is the 80th time I’ve heard this ‘fun’ fact, arrrgggggh! Learn some new blooming facts will you? After all, I did spend 10 hours collating a freakin’ book for you! *launches joypad*

But the phrase that grinds my gears is ‘Good Hunting!’. I conservatively estimate she has said that to me around 200 times, just say ‘Bye’ or even better, nothing at all!

Sorry Moira, it’s not you, it’s me, I can’t do routines and the same old thing day after day and after hearing your inane chatter for the millionth time, I find you the most annoying character of all time!

Thanks for the Wasteland Survival Guide though….

30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 5

Day 5 – Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).

I feel I am most like Taneo from the game Incredible Crisis.

Incredible Crisis is a bunch of mini-games held together by the story of Taneo and his family trying to get home for his grandma’s birthday. As they try to get home, various obstacles and challenges get in the way and the aim is to beat these to get back to grandma.

Now it’s lucky I don’t work in the marketing department for a games studio, because I probably have not sold this game very well, but believe me it’s a lot of fun.

Apart from the fact we both wear glasses, are roughly the same height and have faces only our mothers could love, I relate a lot to Taneo.

For instance, we start the game with Taneo half asleep at his desk and if anyone happens to venture past my desk at 9.05am, a similar sight will greet them. He gets woken up and looks confused by an alarm going off, and again if you stand by my desk at 10am every Wednesday morning, you will see a similar sight thanks to our fire alarm test, (although my version usually ends with an expletive!). Then Taneo’s manager forces him and his colleagues to dance, OK, maybe that’s where the work similarity ends…..

But from this moment, I feel like I am controlling a character who’s very similar to me. The dancing turns into a dance moves mini-game, (think Just Dance but with a joypad) and when you mess up the moves, Taneo get’s a little frustrated, (measured by a silhouette of a head, filling up to the point where steam comes out of the ears!). It’s not the end of the world, (or indeed the mini-game), if you mess up 1 or 2 moves, but it annoys Taneo, very much like it annoys me.

And that’s the theme of the game, Taneo gets a little annoyed by things going wrong until it builds up and steam comes out of his ears. It’s like they took my life and put it into an unrealistic quirky Japanese video game!

But Taneo’s frustration comes from the fact that he is trying to do something nice, (get home for his Grandma’s birthday), but keeps getting things thrown at him, (literally, in some mini-games!) and that’s usually how I feel. I’m just trying to do all the good stuff, but life just seems to get in the way. Very deep, I know! 🙂

If you’re unfamiliar with Incredible Crisis, give it a go, it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the music is fantastic, (performed by the brilliantly named Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra) and it’s one of these games you can pick up if you only have 20 minutes to spare and can keep coming back to.

However, when you get to the Ferris Wheel mini-game, unless you are alone, my advise is to turn down or mute the sound as it’s a bit, well, fruity shall we say!

30 Day Video Game Challenge – Day 3

Day 3 – A game that is underrated

The problem with Saints Row is that it’s always compared to Grand Theft Auto, which as the series has moved on, is unfair.

OK, so the original Saints Row looks and feels like GTA4, however, SR was released 2 years BEFORE GTA4. If you want to do a fair comparison, you need to compare against GTA3 or the subsequent San Andreas / Vice City releases and that’s when SR starts to stand out.

SR looks better that GTA3, the city is bigger and there are more missions and more to explore. SR also has a better shooting system than GTA3, (although in fairness the game designers could have given you a blancmange as a gun and it would have felt better than the awful shooting mechanics of GTA3) and at least you get killed in SR because rival gangs outflank you rather than the fact the crosshair has a mind of its own and starts pointing at the sky, the road, the buildings, anything, anywhere except at the person you are trying to blooming shoot, (yes, that was my GTA3 launches joypad moment!).

Stilwater, the city in SR, feels so much more like a city with crowds and lots of traffic, GTA3, I’m afraid, does not. Honestly, go back to GTA3, have a drive around and tell me it does not feel sparse and more like a city which has been evacuated after a mad man has gone on the rampage with sawn off blancmange!

SR2, on the other hand, was released just after GTA4 and yes, it doesn’t hold a candle to it, although it’s still a decent game which looks more polished and resolved some of the repetitive issues of SR.

SR3 marked a watershed moment as the makers cranked up the humour in an attempt to stand out. However, despite a different city, (Steelport), visually it was not enough to stop it looking like a GTA game.

Then Saints Row 4 came out and everything went mad……

SR4 is just a funny, silly, action packed game that does not take itself seriously and looks, feels and acts in no way like GTA5, which unfortunately this game is often compared to. I’m sorry, but you just can’t compare the 2, it’s lazy, Volition, (the developers), took the game in a different direction.

They thought, ‘How can we make this different to GTA?’, someone said, ‘How about aliens invade?’, the coders replied ‘Hold my beer’.

The end result is the protagonist is kidnapped by aliens, dumped into a virtual reality version of Steelport and tries to beat the aliens using special powers such as super strength, lightning fast running speeds and leaping over buildings. Does this sound like GTA5? Of course not, the 2 franchises have moved so far apart, they only see each other at weddings or funerals.

People bemoan the fact that SR4 is easy and yeah, compared to GTA5, (which you shouldn’t!), it is easy, but do you know what? Sometimes, I just want a game I can pick up, not be too concerned about plots, sub-plots and character exploration and just enjoy myself.

GTA5 is brilliant, don’t get me wrong, but it takes itself too seriously sometimes, which dulls the clever humour and spot on social observations which are the backbone of the genre.

SR4 mission statement is ‘have fun’ and it delivers in abundance, the virtual world opens up the game to things such as a genuinely funny ‘Streets of Rage’ stage, a ‘Tron’ inspired mission and a ‘Metal Gear Solid’ section, (complete with cardboard box hiding).

So for me, Saints Row 4 is underrated because of the comparison of the earlier games with the GTA series. Yes, that was fair comment back then, but today it has its own style, look and gameplay. I just wish it was no longer viewed as GTA’s poorer relation, but as the humorous, daft, action packed, individual game which it is today.

Altered Beast

‘Rise from your grave’

In the early 90’s, on our way to school, we would pop into our local Sports Centre and play on the arcade machines.  The machine which stands out for me is Sega’s Mega-Tech, which was essentially a Mega Drive in an arcade case with around 8 different games to choose from.  The difference from other arcade games was that credits bought you time, rather than lives and so even if you were completely crap at games, you were still guaranteed x amount of mins of game time for 30p

The other good thing was that if you didn’t particularly like a game you could swap over to another game, providing you still had some minutes left.  I can’t remember the entire list, but I believe there was Golden Axe, The Revenge of Shinobi, Space Harrier 2 and a game which, for some reason, stood out for me and became a fast firm favourite, Altered Beast.

Around 1991, I finally had enough pennies to buy a Sega Mega Drive and off course, I had to buy the bundle which included that game I loved, Altered Beast.  Whilst I wasn’t disappointed with the game, (it looked and felt pretty much like the arcade version), it wasn’t long before the game made me launch my joypad!  Why?  I’ll come onto that.

The protagonist of Altered Beast is a Greek centurion who was happily resting by being dead, but is brought back to life by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena, (who used to sell posters) from an evil demon called Neff.  Zeus mutters the immortal lines, ‘Rise from your grave’, and the game begins…..

‘Power up’

Your character essentially has to fight the undead and creatures over 5 levels in an attempt to get back Athena.  These include skeletons, large snakes, creatures who look suspiciously like the cockatrice in Golden Axe, purple jellies and mutated running wasps with their sting between their legs which looks rather rude.

You also have to kill a bluish grey wolf, which due to the 16-bit graphics looks more like a dog, which then makes the game a bit disturbing; but you do get rewarded with a bluish orb which ‘powers up’ your character, so that’s good.

There are 3 orbs per level in total.  The first one makes your character a bit muscular and rips your shirt, the second turns you into John Cena and the 3rd turns you into a beast.  The type of beast, depends on which level, but there is a wolf, a cuddly bear and another wolf because by level 5 it appears the game writers ran out of ideas.

It’s getting these blooming orbs which makes me launch my joypad.  No matter how hard you mash the kick or punch button, these wolves have an annoying habit of ignoring the fact they’ve been punched hard in the face by a bloke who clearly does not miss arms day at the gym and they just bump into you and knock you over.  It’s so annoying!

Sometimes they jump of a platform onto you, no problem, you can crouch and aim a kick upwards.  Well, no, that doesn’t work because they just drop through the kick and knock you over onto your arse.  C’mon game, play fair!

Altered Beast is not a difficult game, in fact it can be completed comfortably in under an hour, but if you don’t get all 3 orbs before the end boss turns up, you have to replay the level again.  If you don’t get them by the time you reach the boss again, you have to replay the level again and so on.  Arrrgghh!

‘Welcome to your doom!’

The bosses are so easy in the game, that, do you know what, let me take my chance on him as a 6 stone weakling.  Honestly in level 2 the beast you become is a dragon who can emit electricity and the demon boss is a plant which fires eyeballs at you, (they smoked the good stuff in the 90’s), you just fly into the plant, emit electricity for 5 seconds and the boss is defeated.

The hard part should not be kicking an orb out of a dog!

Apart from that, the game remains a firm favourite of mine today.  It was one of the first games I can remember which had an actual human voice, (admittedly a bit grainy, but better than Populous’s, ‘Welcome to Populous’ which sounded like it was recorded on a wax cylinder chewed up by a dog who refused to give you his blue orb), it was easy and so one of the few games I actually completed and visually it was arcade quality or at least it was as good as that Mega-Tech machine in the Sports Centre.

I recently discovered Sega Forever, a collection of old Sega games relaunched by Sega that can be played for free on your smart phone / tablet.  Altered Beast is one of those games and that is good news as it keeps this classic game going for new generations to enjoy, (and for me to reminisce).

Not that perfect game I’m searching for, but damn fun still after all these years and with a price tag of ‘free’, well there’s no excuse to not ‘rise from your grave’ and to try it out.