The more games become my job, the less I play.

I wanted to play Uncharted 4 today and didn’t.

I might still, the day isn’t over yet, but I probably won’t. I’m recording Uncharted 4 for the channel right now. It’s my first time through, I’d probably have finished it by now, but I’m clearing an hour at a time, chapter by chapter because I’m doing it for the channel. Playing Uncharted 4 means getting out the little PVR Rocket, clearing the USB stick, turning of the PS4’s HDCP protection so I can get a picture etc. etc. etc.

I’m loving Uncharted 4. It might be my favourite entry in a series I love, but playing it for the channel is so different to just sticking it on and vegetating to Nathan Drake’s dreamy blue eyes. Commentating, making sure the footage is still recording, making sure I sound clear; it’s all work. Not very hard work, but work all the same. Playing a game I love for a few hours leaves me feeling refreshed and relaxed, recording leaves me drained.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and I love running the Youtube channel, but it’s strange how easily your hobby becomes your work. I try to hit three big streams or uploads per day, once that’s done, who wants to spend more time staring at a screen? Playing for fun takes place strictly between sessions of playing for serious, which is still fun, but not as fun as the other kind of fun play that I mentioned before.

It’s a good thing in a way. I set up the channel in the first place because I was spending too much money on games that were either consuming all my time so nothing really got done, or sitting on shelves unplayed. By making my hobby my work, I’ve really turned my life around, but I sort of lost my hobby in the process. I’ve had to actively pursue other hobbies. Netflix is a blessing. But youtube isn’t the sort of job that lends itself well to this kind of life. I find myself perpetually in the mindset of the self employed. If I have time to watch three episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events, I probably had time to log in and stream a bit of Minecraft, if I can kick back and waste time brushing my teeth, surely I could be answering a few silly little YT comments.

Working with games has made me a workaholic…

Well, except for the money.

And it’s not like I can kick the hobby completely, enjoy games only in my little circle of work and learn to love Films instead. I need to be up to date, even my outdated little channel needs a new game every now and then. Even I need to be up on the conversation, Nintendo Switches and Playstation Pros.

It’s not really a complaint, I love what I do. I want to do it for the rest of my life. I’d like to say one day that entertaining people pays the rent. I sit and I think about that and really, truly, genuinely, and uniquely sit back and think ‘there’s a job I’d feel satisfied to do’ and yet the deeper down this rabbit hole I get, the less I play. I spend time with games, sure… I have the controller in my hand for no less than five hours most days, but play?

I might never play again.

Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.

 

Star Wars VR mission At-AT

 

The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.

 

X-Wing Vr cockpit

 

Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.

 

VR cockpit Blockade Runner

 

Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.

 

Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission

 

If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.

 

Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR

 

At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.

9/10

Why is 7 Days to Die so ugly on PS4?

As a Youtuber who falls reluctantly under the label of “Minecraft channel”, I’ve had 7 Days to Die recommended to me a lot. I’ve held back because I don’t really want to reinforce that label, and the market is so flooded with survival crafting zombie games it sort of feels like covering the existence of drinking water at this point. Still, it recently went on sale on the PS4 so I thought I’d check it out.

I like it. It might just be because this isn’t a genre I’ve spent much time with really, (I stream Minecraft every day but I draw the line there. When I’m done with Minecraft’s quota on the channel I put it away and play something else.) but I found myself really drawn in to the realist take on survival. This has always been my favourite part of Minecraft, and 7 Days to Die doesn’t prod as hard as We Happy Few did, so it has all been rather enjoyable. It’s hit and miss at times, the UI is a nightmare from hell, but the sophistication and intricacy of the gameplay grabbed me. I just don’t get why it looks so hideous.

7 Days to Die ps4 graphics

I know the game is procedurally generated, but it honestly looks a mess. Minecraft gets away with basic visuals because it has a complementary style, this aims for realism and undermines it any time you actually stop to look at anything. Character models are hideous, tools like like crap, digging the ground turns everything in a mess of muddy textures, the supposedly frightening Zombie enemies sometimes look like pre-bought assets lumbering around in different lighting to everything around them.

I know, I know, PC isn’t much better, but there’s a reason for that. It came out longer ago, it has to run on wider hardware while being procedurally generated, and on PC once you get the gameplay right, mods can fix the rest. The PS4 entry has had a long time to tighten things up, and it just feels like a cheap rush job. It’s a shame because I really want to like the game. I can see myself continuing to play it and really finding a lot of fun with it, but I’m going have to do that in spite of awful visuals and an interface that makes no attempts to help the player out.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a quick port of a budget game, but trying to play it on the PS4 just shows how cheap, frustrating, and unrefined everything feels. Like the developers thought “people bought it on PC, this’ll do fine” without ever taking into account just how much customers can fix later on a PC game. I never wanted to like a game so much that felt like it was refusing to meet me half way at all.

Batman: Arkham Knight Illustrates Why Change Sucks Sometimes.

Oh Arkham Knight, what happened.

Back where it all began...

In a world of cookie cutter sequels and grey First-Person Shooters, Rocksteady’s Arkham series has been like a beacon in the fog, a light at the end of the tunnel. A comic book superhero series that merges multiple genres, and some of the most beloved characters into a beautiful experience for comic book fans. Before 2009’s Arkham Asylum, I had never played a game that felt so true to its source material. I probably still haven’t. Well paced, well written and lovingly designed, I still think it’s one of the greatest games ever made.

A sequel was inevitable, and while I didn’t love Arkham City quite as much, (perfection is hard to reproduce) the same attention to detail and affection for the characters was felt throughout. The series went open world, but the same attention to pacing, the same respect for restraint, the same care permeated every decision. Arkham City was a more ambitious title, and it lost a little cohesion in the process, but it knew what worked in Asylum and it tried to build on that. Even Arkham Origins, developed by WB’s side team managed to work with the formula and strike out in a few original directions. It was clearly a B-List title, but we all knew when Rocksteady got their final chapter out, they’d blow us all away again. Be careful what you wish for.

Batman-Arkham-Origins

It has been three weeks, and I’m still blown away. I’m blown away by how misjudged Arkham Knight is, I’m blown away by how such an anticipated game can be such a catastrophe on PC, and I’m blown away by how much of a mess the game is, even when it’s working how it should. How did the game get this way? In a word; Batmobile.

Arkham-Knight-Shot-01Batman’s iconic car has made a couple of appearances in the series before, but never as a playable vehicle. Perhaps anticipating series fatigue, in the run up to release, Rocksteady started shouting about the Batmobile to whoever would listen. It was playable, you could drive it anywhere in the city, call it at any time, use it in combat. What they didn’t tell us was that you would be forced to do all these things, all the time. All the bloody time. And more, a good third of the game is actually a tank combat game, forcing you to blow enemy tanks to pieces. Of course, Batman doesn’t kill, so the game goes to great lengths to remind us these are “unmanned drones” in a gratuitous example of writing a game around a stupid decision. The Batmobile permeates every part of the game. In the past, the Riddler set the Dark Knight fiendish riddles and complex brainteasers. This time around, most of the “puzzles” are basically race tracks. Occasions where Batman would pull down a beam or a pipe with a belt gadget have now all been replaced with lengthy car sections in which Batman must open doors and lower ramps to that he can use the winch on the car. It is no understatement to say that the Batmobile is Arkham Knight’s single most prominent feature. It is the focus of the game, it is a Batmobile game every bit as much as it is a Batman game.

936786And it’s such a shame because the Batmobile can be fantastic. Calling it at any time, using it to trump obstacles in an unscripted situation is exciting, and very rewarding. But when it’s forced upon you, it feels more like being forced to take your little brother with you to the mall. Nobody wants it around, and you can’t have any fun with it there, but you’re stuck with it. And like your cringe-inducing parents telling you what a great time you’ll have, the game itself keeps trying to sell you on the concept. Gliding over passing goons and nine times out of ten you’ll hear them discussing just how cool the Batmobile is. It has the effect of making Rocksteady sound massively insecure about the whole thing while all the time they’re cramming it down your throat.

If you want to see it for yourself, here’s me “enjoying” one of the first extended Batmobile sections:

 

Game developers are in a difficult position. Customers want sequels, they want their favourite properties to keep going, but nobody wants to play the same game over and over. The players, and the press, demand “innovation” and the publishers and the marketing department wants new gadgets to throw on the box. It can be hard to get the balance right, but the most successful franchises (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, etc.) have been those that found ways to innovate without disrupting the core formula. When they do (Assassin’s Creed III, for example) sales often take a hit, but it’s hard to think of a sequel that has changed the formula as much as Arkham Knight has.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that somewhere, underneath the tires of the Bat-Tank, there’s a very good game in Arkham Knight. Not on PC, of course, but if you’re lucky enough to play on consoles, then at times you’ll see some of the best set-pieces in the series so far. There’s a character driven sub-plot that, while the ending is super-obvious to anyone who has read a comic recently, is really well handled. The voice acting is pretty great, and there’s a first-person opening sequence that really captures the feeling of Gotham in Rocksteady’s eyes. There are long, extended sections where you aren’t allowed to take the Batmobile (and you’re supposed to feel sad about this) where the game really comes alive. Unfortunately, another tank combat sequence isn’t far away.

But in the end Arkham Knight is not a good game. It’s like a great painting with cartoon ducks scribbled over the top, and they’re nice ducks, and one or two ducks look like they’re part of the picture, but the rest of the ducks cover everything up so you can’t appreciate the painting, and they’ve painted in a sign saying “look at those fucking ducks.”