SPLATOON 2

The discourse in the build-up to the highly anticipated launch of Splatoon 2 was that “it’s just more Splatoon”. This may be a good or bad thing, dependant on how much you adored the original or how bored you were by it. But if, like me and seemingly the rest of the world, you weren’t a Wii-U owner, you probably hadn’t got to experience the joy that Splatoon has to offer. Alas, “it’s just more Splatoon” sounds pretty intriguing to me. It’s a hand that Nintendo will look to play more in the future following the success of the port of Mario Kart 8, seeing as the amount of people that have not experienced the great lineup of games the Wii-U had to offer. Expect to see a raft of ports and Switch versions in the years to come.

Anyway, back to Splatoon. Splatoon 2 made me wish I had a Wii-U so I could have buried myself in the original the way I have into this Switch sequel. It’s a game that thrives in the feel, and what I mean by that is that every moment and every action the game allows you to do feels so great. Whether it’s painting the landscape to capture valuable territory for your team or splatting your enemies to oblivion with dual wielding ink pistols, it all just feels sublime. I didn’t think I’d get drawn into this game as much as I did, but the way the gameplay feels is the main reason. In addition, the game oozes as much style as these cool squids ooze colourful ink. The emphasis on style, clothing and being ‘fresh’ is one that tracks with the overall style and aesthetic of the game and the character design; inimitably Nintendo but with a stark, modern twist.

As with all Nintendo products and releases, there’s going to be a few complications when it comes to online functionality and ease of use. This is my only criticism of Splatoon 2, and I don’t think it’s even as much to do with this particular game as it is to do with Nintendo’s philosophy in regards to online functionality. It seems as if they’re multiple steps behind the standard at which their competitors have set, and basic functions have been handed off to a substandard phone app which is equal to the online eco-system native to consoles at the start of the last generation. This attitude to online also works it’s way into the game design too, with the main complaint arising from the fact that each strand of game mode – be it the horde-mode-esque Salmon Run, run of the mill online play, local play and the actually really neat Story Mode – have their own levelling systems and gear upgrades, fracturing the progression in a way that seems counterproductive and reminiscent of the multitude of faction currencies from vanilla Destiny. Hopefully as the Switch picks up steam and the issues have been ironed out of the online app, these functionality issues can be relegated to the past, as it’s much more fun to focus on the terrific, compelling gameplay and the vivid, unique art than badly designed online decisions.

Besides that, it all adds up to create a package that feels perfect for the Nintendo Switch and with a surprising amount of content and modes for you to try your hand at. Not having sampled the original, the charm, style and sheer glee of playing Splatoon 2 hit me hard. I think I’m going to be splatting fools for a good long while.

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Restore Review #1

(Hello there, gang. So I’ve decided to start a weekly series of posts outlining the things I’ve been watching, playing, listening to or reading in the past week. This allows for a broader range of things to discuss and if I feel that I need to say more on a game, movie or TV show then a separate post will follow. I’ve been wholeheartedly slacking with this thing recently so this is an attempt to actually get some words up on this here site. Without further ado, let the inaugural Restore Review commence.) 

 


 

Week commencing 8th August 2016.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt DLC – Blood & Wine (PS4)

So this has been occupying the majority of my time for the last week or so, having recently seen and heard a lot of buzz for this latest expansion pack. After a period away from the game, it took a little while to re-acclimatise to the controls, systems and menus, but once that was under control, it didn’t take long to get sucked back into the world of The Witcher once more. The new DLC adds another extraordinary layer to what is already a stunning game. The whimsical nature of The Witcher comes to the fore and feels right at home in the new environment of Touisannt – a luscious region filled with vineyards, glowing sunshine and idyllic rolling hills. It’s as if Geralt has ventured to Tuscany on a wine-tasting retreat. I haven’t had the chance to get too deep into the main quest yet, but the side quests I have played have been funny, focused and extensive – one involving the retrieval of a statues stolen genitals a highlight. More content for what I consider the game of the current generation can only be a good thing and I’m excited to play more.

Tricky Towers (PS4)

One of this month’s free PlayStation Plus offerings, Tricky Towers gives us a unique spin on Tetris. You utilise the now famous tetriminos to build towers and complete a number of different challenges. It’s fun, but a little lightweight. A good time killer.

Overcooked (Xbox One)

So, Overcooked is a couch co-op cooking game and genuinely some of the most fun I’ve had playing a local co-op game for years. My friends and I were yelling instructions and barking orders at each other with more vigour than if we were playing a hardcore, tactical first person shooter. I never thought I’d be yelling ‘Where are the potatoes?! Chop me some fucking potatoes!’ with wholehearted sincerity whilst playing a video game, but any game that gives me that opportunity is a good one in my books. 10/10 for allowing me to channel my inner Gordon Ramsay.

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The Invitation (Netflix)

So this movie came to my attention via a tweet emploring folk to watch The Invitation, and watch it whilst knowing as little at all about it as possible. So sticking to that mindset , I’m not going to delve into why this film is so enjoyable, I’m just going to tell you to take a couple of hours, turn your phone off and enjoy it.

Stranger Things (Netflix)

So by now you’ve probably already heard all you need to know about Netflix’s latest original offering Stranger Things, but I’ve recently finished the show and feel the need to concur with the buzz which is currently surrounding it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show combine so many of the influences which it proudly wears upon its sleeve, yet feel so utterly fresh and new. Vintage Spielberg is the most obvious touchstone, yet there are notable traces of Stephen King, John Carpenter, Clive Barker and more than a shade of this years underrated Midnight Special. The performances are terrific, from the child actors to the manic despair of grieving mother Winona Ryder. If you’re looking for a new show to get stuck into, then look no further than Stranger Things, because it really is worthy of all the hype.

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Saga (Image Comics)

I finally caught up on the last couple of trade issues of Saga and I’m happy to report it’s still the best thing in the world. The wait between issues is slowly killing me, as the action and the situations that the characters have found themselves in is as fraught and dangerous as it has ever been. I don’t keep up with comics as much as I would like to, and most certainly should, but a new issue of Saga is of huge import, and the latest couple have not disappointed.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara (Doubleday)

I’m halfway through this extraordinarily dense yet intrinsically focused and in my opinion fundamentally important novel by Hanya Yanigihara. Her ability to capture the search for a true, adult identity in a post-collegiate world is incredibly poignant and resonates so much which me that it makes the initially ludicrous length all the more apt. Her treatment and handling of sensitive, often tumultuous topics are dealt with an adept touch. This novel is challenging, enlightening and wholeheartedly touching.

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Joyce Manor – ‘Fake I.D’ (Epitaph Records)

So I’ve been waiting for new output from one of my favourite bands, Joyce Manor, for some time now and here it is, in the form of the lead track ‘Fake I.D’ from their fourth album Cody, out in October on Epitaph. Carrying on and expanding on what they brought to the table with 2014’s Never Hungover Again, ‘Fake I.D’ is Joyce Manor at their catchy best, with inimitable hooks and a Kanye West reference for good reference. I can’t wait for Cody, October can’t come soon enough.

Camp Cope – Self Titled (Poison City Records)

So this debut record from Australian band Camp Cope has been on constant rotation on my phone and in my car for weeks, if not months now. The record is full to the brim with hooks and jams perfect for the summer time, but the lyrical content is proving the most interesting to me. Tackling issues such as the mundanity of work life, the balance between being secure and being creatively fulfilled and most notably, in ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’, the problems that come from being a young woman living in a society that is unbelievably still riddled with sexism. It’s a fantastic record and easily my record of the year so far.

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So there we have it. That was pretty damn fun to write. I hope you have a swell time if you do manage to check out any of these recommendations and be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you thought. Like I said, I’m going to try to do one of these once a week so be sure to check back soon.

 

Overwatch

So, it’s been a week since the much-hyped Overwatch’s release, so I thought I would write a little something about my experience with it so far. It’s safe to say that it’s nothing short of amazing, and I’ve played so much of it that it’s hard to think about doing anything else. I hear a little voice in my head saying “Hey, you. You could be playing Overwatch right now, you stupid idiot” every time I find myself doing anything which isn’t playing Overwatch.

I was a little apprehensive before playing the beta having initially got the game confused with games of a similar genre with similarly vague names, such as Battleborn and Paragon. Add this trepidation to the fact that a competitive multiplayer shooter rarely holds my attention beyond the first week of release and I had formed an idea in my head that Blizzard’s first ever shooter wouldn’t be for me. I’m happy to say that apprehension was swept aside when I got my hands on the game.

The first thing you notice is just how bright and vivid the game is; the environments are awash with colour and each character fits perfectly within said environment due to their eccentric art style and outlandish cartoon aesthetic. The character design reminds me of the importance of silhouette design in animation, and specifically the clarity of the silhouette and the role they play in order to tell a story. Blizzard’s character design is phenomal, not just from a narrative standpoint but from a game design perspective also. When you see the hulking frame of a Roadhog charging towards you, prepping to chain hook you, reel you in and shotgun you to oblivion, it strikes fear into you and makes you take evasive action. The same goes for practically every character in the game, all complete with a visual style which informs the player at a base gameplay level. The aesthetic design choices lend themselves perfectly to the gameplay with visual clues which act as indictors of specific attacks and specials, for example when you see Pharah launch in the air and prep her rocket barrage, you know you’re going to want to get out of there. The same can be said for the sound design, for example when you hear McCree say “It’s high noon” as he prepares his Deadeye ultimate, or when you hear the roar of the engine when Junkrat launches his rip-tire, you know that trouble is ahead. Good game design takes these all so often seperate components of a game and incorporates them into an overarching, uniform design philosophy, with every aspect of design informing and working together to create something great.

From a gameplay perspective, what there is on offer may initally seem slim, but on further inspection, the amount of variety is incredible. For players who are used to the shoot – reload – shoot – reload gameplay loop of run of the mill FPS’s such as Call of Duty, then they would feel right at home with Soldier: 76. Players that are more accustomed to the pixel perfect intircacy of twitch shooters such as Counter Strike may find joy with the sniper characters such as Widowmaker or Hanzo. Players that are regular players of MOBA’s such as DOTA or LoL will find the support and tank classes very familar and will be able to utilise them to their fullest. Although these are all good starting places for players depending on their usual genres of preference, the ability to switch up your character – even in-game – provides a huge amount of gameplay depth and has given me some of the funnest moments with the game to date.

Matches are often close and intense, with momentum swings happening on a regular basis. These swings happen due to key plays which are highlighted with a very cool ‘Play Of The Game’ feature which accompanies every post-game. The best part about this is the fact that support plays feature just as regularly as offensive. Moments where a player provided an incredible amount of support during an objective push mean just as much as when a player elimates the whole enemy team in one move. This puts the emphasis on the team as a unit, and encourages people to play and experiment with the support classes which aren’t always the most glamorous of roles.

So, all in all, Blizzard have done it again. They’ve taken a back seat, studied a genre, and innovated and built upon it to a level that others will have trouble touching. I can see this being my shooter of choice for the forseeable future, which is a refreshing feeling when it comes to a genre which I consistently struggles to hold my attention. Anyway, enough talking – I need to play Overwatch.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

As the credits rolled on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I was internally beaming at the fact that Naughty Dog have stated that they will not be making another Uncharted game. This isn’t to say that Uncharted 4 doesn’t hit the mark – it does in nearly every single aspect – but due to the fact that they have wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story and the characters that inhabit his world in the most pitch-perfect way that it would do them a disservice to return to it.

We reconvene with Nate and Elena as they are trying to make a go of living a normal life. “Are you happy?” Elena asks Nate as they lay on the couch after playing video-games and eating noodles. Although he says that he is, all signs point to the fact that a life of normality just isn’t for Nathan Drake. If he isn’t treasure hunting then he isn’t doing what he truly loves, just merely existing. Just as Nate has resigned himself to a normal life, his presumed-dead brother Sam appears out of nowhere and presents Nate with an opportunity to return to the life he had thought he had left behind.

Almost every aspect of this game improves on what has come before it, creating the best Uncharted game to date. The story is the best it has ever been, focusing on the hunt for a long-lost pirate treasure which leads Drake from the frosty mountain-tops of Scotland to the lush plains of Madagascar and everywhere between. The story forgoes any of the heavily admonished supernatural elements evident in the previous games in favour of a more grounded story. I was heavily invested in and cared about the goings on in a way which I hadn’t always done in previous Uncharted games, so much so that I was taking the time to read every document and item description in order to garnish more details about the fate of the pirate captain Henry Avery and his men. Although slightly overlong and drawn out in the latter stages, the story excels, and coupled with the perfectly pitched, more introspective character moments, you have a swashbuckling tale worthy of any medium – the perfect send off to Playstation’s leading man.

Mechanically speaking, the gunplay is better than ever, a feature of Uncharted games which is routinely criticised. I’ve never really had an issue with it myself, and here it feels great, and used in conjunction with the new rope swinging mechanics just feels downright fun. Leaping off a ledge away from an explosion and grasping a rope to swing round a cliff face before dropping onto an enemy, crushing your fist into his face and catching his shotgun as it pops up into the air will never not be fun, and it’s in these moments that make Uncharted special. The action set-pieces are fantastic also, rivalling those of Uncharted 2 and 3, most notably a terrific sequence involving a jeep coarsing through the cobbled streets of a coastal Madagascan town.

It would be unfair to come all this way and not mention the fact that I think Uncharted 4 is the best looking game I’ve ever played. That may sound like hyperbole, but every aspect of the visuals are outstanding. The animations and facial expressions allow for a greater depth of storytelling and an unmatched level of performance capture, whilst the environments are expansive yet intricately detailed. It’s no wonder that some people are saying that Uncharted 4 is the best argument against the heavily rumoured announcement of an upgraded PS4.

In all, Naughty Dog have created yet another masterpiece, sending Nathan Drake off into the sunset in the most beautiful fashion. Now it’s time to wait and see what they have in store for us next, and be it The Last Of Us 2 or something entirely new, it’s sure to be of the highest standard if their track record is anything to go by.

Dark Souls

With the release of Dark Souls III imminent, I thought it would only be right to put to virtual paper my feelings on the series. Five years ago, when I was a stupid 18 year old boy, I played Dark Souls for the first time. After dying an inordinate amount of times I decided that I hated it and swore to myself I’d never play it again. It took last year’s Bloodborne to pull me back in, the gothic scenery and Lovecraftian influences capturing my attention and holding it for 100 hours until I was in possession of the platinum trophy, having done everything there is to do in the game. My Dark Souls loving friends urged me whole-heartedly to give the game another shot. I thought it would only be fair to give Dark Souls another try, for I had matured as a gamer, a consumer, and most importantly, as a man.

So here I am in 2016 whole heartedly declaring that the Dark Souls series are amongst my favourite games of all time. I am a true believer. Praise the sun! I’m currently playing through Dark Souls II for the first time, and I’m finding myself dreaming about slaying skeletons and fighting demonic beasts, waking up in the morning itching to play. Bloodborne is a great entry point into the series, introducing you to the core concepts and tropes of these games in a refined and streamlined fashion, stripping away the added confusion that may arise if you’re jumping into Dark Souls for the first time. These games are magnificent creations in so many ways. The combat is exciting, brutal and hugely rewarding. The level design is clever, intricate and unique. The story is there for you to find and piece together if you look hard enough, the lore deep and interesting and tied to every item that you find in the game. Exploration is actively encouraged and rewarded in a way which games just don’t do in this time where streamlined, linear adventures are commonplace. All of these things, and more, add up to form the perfect package. I was a fool to be afraid and against it for so long, as seeing it and experiencing it for myself has cemented why I love video games so much. No other medium could enthral me the way in which this does, and it’s something very special indeed.

The Witness 

The Witness is a breathe of fresh air, both in terms of its art style and its design philosophy. The art and the environment are bold and genuinely spectacular. The way the colours and textures blend together in an always-aesthetically-pleasing way is stunning, as if Jonathan Blow (the mastermind behind The Witness and critically acclaimed indie-darling Braid) was challenging himself to make every game screenshot work as a beautiful desktop background. Also, the colours pop with vigour, so rare today in a games landscape so often populated with a muddy palatte of greys and browns.

However, it’s in the game design and its over-arching design philosophy where The Witness truly excels. The only tutorial in the whole game are two button prompts in order to tell you how to move and how to select objects. There ends the hand-holding of the player. The rest is up to you. See a vast castle with a detailed, intricate maze system on the perimeter? Go. Find a windmill with a mysterious tunnel which appears to carry on forever? Go! You’re thrust head first into the world of The Witness with no direction signs, hint popups or notifications patronising you like the majority of most games in the past couple of generations were crammed with. The Witness comes with no lifejackets, you just have to swim and see where the current takes you. 

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I skipped last years Assassin’s Creed game for two reasons. One, because the marketing emphasis in the run up to the launch of Unity was heavily focused upon co-op, rather than the long single-player campaigns that the series is known for and of which my interest is firmly placed. And two, because by all accounts each and every version of the game was an unrelenting train wreck full of bugs, warped textures and stop-motion frame rates, which is hardly an incentive to get stuck into the new release of a series of which my interest in was steadily and gradually decreasing.

So it’s a big relief to say that I really like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, because it is essentially everything that Unity isn’t. There is no tacked on multiplayer or co-op mode, it’s gorgeous and runs smoothly, and the characters, story and missions are unique, fun and interesting.

Set in the smoggy, rainy streets of Victorian London, Syndicate follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they strive to eliminate the templar presence which has a stranglehold on England’s capital. The game captures Victorian London excellently, portraying the disparity between the rich and poor with quality art and level design. You aren’t just slaying your enemies in grimy, smokey factories, you’ll be slaying them in magnificent, ornate manors and grandiose parliamentary buildings. The verticality of Assassin’s Creed helps in this aspect; as one second you could be evading pursuing aggressors through a dingy, cobbled back alley but with a couple of leaps and swings you could be scurrying along the rooftops of a factory owner’s mansion overlooking a vast, immaculately kept garden complete with patrolling Templar guards. The environmental and gameplay variety goes a long way in terms of leaving you wanting to keep plugging away at the interesting story.

The real hook in this year’s game however is the two leads, Jacob and Evie Frye. They bounce off of each other terrifically, not just conversationally and in terms of entertaining banter, of which there is plenty, but also in terms of personality and character motivation. Jacob’s primary motivation is to remove the oppressive Crawford Starrick, one of the most powerful business owners in all of London and the Grand Master of the British sector of The Templars. His focus is more politically leaning than Evie’s, and he cares greatly about removing the Templar threat, no matter the method used. Evie’s primary focus is that of locating the pieces of Eden, ancient occult technology which the Templars are anxious to get their hands on. She believes in its abilities and the power it possesses. She’s far more academical, more interested in studying and learning the history of the order of which she is apart of. Sure, she cares as much as anyone about overthrowing the Templar tyranny, but she wants to do it correctly, and in the right way. The contrast between these two playable characters creates a great hook on which to hang your campaign upon, and Evie Frye has emerged as my favourite lead character in an Assassin’s Creed game to date.

It all adds up to a complete and well-crafted package which brings the series back to its roots in a way which is good for all concerned. It’s a good feeling to be excited about something again, after a good number of years of dreading what will be wrong with the next issue. Welcome back, Assassin’s Creed. Please don’t let me down next year.