January Update

First progress update of the year and loads of updates and games played as I had some playing time over the holidays.

New game pickups

  • Gran Turismo Sport Digital Deluxe Edition (PS4)
  • Inside (Xbox)
  • Unravel Yarny Bundle (Xbox)
  • Wolfenstein II: The Freedom Chronicles (Xbox)
  • Undertale (PC)
  • Refunct (PC)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)

A number of new games picked up in the Christmas/New Year sales. That said I only spent about £30 on the above, as I had £20 in Microsoft vouchers. My one physical purchase was a Legend of Zelda game on 3DS but at only just over £10 seemed bit of a bargain.

Been playing (Grouvee)

  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Rage
  • Ashen
  • Gran Turismo Sport
  • Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
  • Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Hammerwatch
  • FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Overwatch

A lot of games started or played this month. I tried Forza Motorsport 7 again to compare to Gran Turismo Sport which I have just started. Fair to say both are great games that I need to play much more. I also started Ashen as this has recently hit Xbox Game Pass. Although early I feel like Dark Souls-lite or an easier Dark Souls is fairly apt.

Over the holidays I played some of the indie games in my backlog. I’ve reviewed Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and FTL: Faster Than Light. I still need to spend time with Hammerwatch. I wrote about what drove me to try Unreal Tournament and I’ve been trying to get into Overwatch recently.

Completed, Abandoned & Shelved

Completed Dear Esther: Landmark Edition, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and Rage. I probably won’t be that far behind in finishing with Hammerwatch or FTL but still want to play these games a bit more. Anyway off to a good start to 2019. Also I have shelved Hearthstone as I am just not playing at the moment.

So 3 games completed and 1 game shelved this month!

Updates

Loads of the stuff on the site. SSL encryption now fully enabled and upgraded PHP behind the scenes. Also did a number of minor edits and tidying up the site including: tiding up tags on some of the reviews and added a summary of games trackers to new Backlog page (was called rules before). I also tidied up my Grouvee shelves and games.

Up next

A few games on Xbox Game Pass I’d like to try. Also a number of games I stopped playing that I would like to return to.

FTL: Faster Than Light Review

During the past month or so I have managed to play a few of the indie games from my Steam backlog. Randomly nearly all games that were released in 2012. And of all of them this is by far and away the one I have my enjoyed the most.

Although I have to own up to a mistake. Only upon playing FTL:Faster Than Light recently have I realised I wasn’t playing it quite correctly when I first tried playing the game. At the time I realised that you could upgrade weapons, augmentations and crew members in the numerous stores found in the game. However I hadn’t realised you could actually upgrade the ship to power up things like shields, or weapons from the main screen. Therefore I thought it was a cool roguelike but a bit hard as I struggled in the latter systems. That said I was still able to reach sector 5 and unlock the Engi Cruiser ship!

FTL: Faster Than Light screenshot from the PC version.

Once you get the hang of the game (and yes, there is a basic tutorial for dummies like me) what opens up is a fantastic roguelike futuristic space games where you never know how each run of commanding your fleeing spaceship will play out. Whether this is a successful run or where one of the numerous alien ships will bring your run to a crushing end on the next jump.

The game is hard. Even on easy the game will kill you a lot. Particularly to begin with. With over 12 hours of so played I’ve seen my ships get wrecked far too often. The game will let you experience a massive range of emotions and it has some fantastically tense moments where you can literally come back from near death with only one bar of ship health.

There some things the game did which annoyed me or I didn’t like. There is no auto pause on enemy encounters once you’ve clicked on the dialog options. This mean you have to press the spacebar to pause every time which gets annoying quickly. And it would have been nice to see previous runs count in a progression model, even if it was cosmetics or something simple like crew names carrying over. However some of this is perhaps over analysing the game for what it is.

And for me of all the indie games I’ve played I think this is one of the best examples I have ever played. Although not a huge fan of rogue-like games it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful, simple yet complex and wonderfully diverse this game is. The highest compliment is that it makes me want to check out the developer’s next game (Into the Breach) even before seeing all the rave reviews that game has received.

But for now, engage warp drive…

Played the PC / Steam version.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Review

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was first released in 2011 for iOS, although on PC it wasn’t released until the following year. A bit like Dear Esther which I reviewed recently it’s been in my Steam library since 2012 after picking it up from a Humble Bundle at some point. Also like Dear Esther it isn’t a long game, taking under 5 hours to play through.

The game can be best described as an indie 2d adventure game with some puzzle elements and a small amount of action. However some of these felt more like a rhythm action game in certain sequences. Without saying too much the story centres on one character who ventures into the mountains shortly after coming across some non-player characters in the game. The story is split into parts which you must complete.

Superbrothers: Sword & Brothers EP screenshot

Audio is an absolute strength of the game, both in the soundtrack and the sound effects. The pacing as well, being perfectly in-tune to what was going on in game. A professional musician helped with the soundtrack and it shows. There is a fantastic pixel-like style to the graphics and the whole package is just very well put together, particularly for the less than five pounds the game sells for on Steam (in the UK). It is a very pretty and charming game than made an impact with me.

That said there are two main issues I saw with the game. Firstly the controls on the PC version didn’t feel great. The biggest issue is that the touch screen controls have simply been mapped to the mouse with no use of keyboard of even joypad controls. This lack of direct control really dampened the experience for me. It plays more as a point and click game but at times I was having to click more than once because mouse clicks simply weren’t registered because of the touchscreen controls expecting you to hold down rather than press quickly. On top of this in fights I couldn’t be precise when needed to and therefore resorted to mashing the mouse button which made these parts more irritating than they should have been.

Secondly the game time-gates content to a real world clock. You can adjust your clock settings although you lose a perfect percentage score at the end. And there is an in-game mechanical for changing phases however this is broken (whether intentional or otherwise) if events have been completed in a certain order. This meant I had to wait over a week just to be able to progress the game. I’m not sure that was really necessary. Other than that some of the puzzles aren’t about logical deduction and become simple trial and error.

This is probably a game best experienced on touch screen and portable devices not just because of the controls that have been designed around a tablet but also the gameplay which is suited as a more casual experience and therefore something you can enjoy on the move. Overall a really abstract, weird and unique experience that I enjoyed for the most part.

Played the PC / Steam version.

Party like it’s 1999

I remember playing the original Unreal Tournament in 1999 as if it was (almost) yesterday. Released at a similar time to Quake 3 Arena which was another seminal multiplayer twitch shooter. Neither game had a campaign and helped to usher in a new era of more multiplayer focused games. I have fond memories of the original Unreal Tournament. Maybe not as technically proficient as Quake 3 but was arguably the more fun of the two games with more weapon variety. Both games had many options for solo offline players with extensive AI-bot support and different modes.

Unreal Tournament screenshot

So having seen a streamer on Twitch recently play the new Unreal Tournament, which was first announced in 2014, I thought it would be worth a look. Particularly as it is a completely free game and available to anyone on the Epic Game Store.

I’m not sure where it ranks in the series of UT games. Also it is clearly unfinished in its pre-alpha state with menus looking rough and having placeholders within the UI. However even with all of that, it is incredibly fun and even better has a few of the old maps available to play.

It also has extensive solo modes against bots including challenges and the ability to set-up Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch modes. All with a XP progression system where you can unlock cosmetic items for your character on the way. Although don’t expect anything too extensive from this.

Whatever the current development state of the game it has still been immense fun playing an old-school, twitch, multiplayer shooter again. Particularly with some very customisable bot modes. It feels very familiar. There are things I could nit-pick at, such as the movement set where you struggle even to make simple jumps but I think that would miss the point given the game’s current state. It is a shame we live in a world where the success of Fortnite has apparently helped stop the development of this UT reboot since 2017. The Unreal Tournament subreddit has much more detail on this.

Anyway if you’re a fan of the UT series this is worth a look. Completely free on the Epic Game Store.

As a slight aside it also is one of only two games I’ve seen support my Corsair K65 Mechanical Keyboard out of the box. UT changes the key colours to highlight movement keys (WASD) and weapon numbers. A neat touch is that the colours match the weapon in the game.

Two more games trackers

When I originally launched this site I checked out a few of the different Games Trackers and noted my thoughts about them. I would then add to this when I came across the AllMyGames which I wrote about in November last year.

Since then I stumbled into this discussion thread on ResetEra: ‘We are getting closer to a Letterboxd for games’. This peaked my interest because also since setting up this site I have discovered Letterboxd and love logging movies I have watched in the Diary view. As well as tracking what’s coming up. Although as I’m not a serious movie fan my use case is limited.

However this led to trying out two new Game Trackers.

GG

Interestingly this advertises itself as Letterboxd for games. Like both of the game tackers mentioned here I love the visual presentation style, lots of screenshots, clean and simple design which seems to extend through to the feature set. The are some basic categories for Beaten, Completed etc. and the ability to add lists and make these public. And you can also follow your friends on the site to see what they are up to.

I do feel the site is a bit basic in what you can do at the moment. You can’t track how long you’ve played the game for, or record what format you own a game on. Also lacking an import from a platform feature so everything has to be logged manually. However a strength here is that it has its own mobile app on Android and iOS.

IGDB

Again a really nice presentation style. Kind of a cross between Twitter meets Letterboxd. Like GG mentioned above this seems quite basic at the moment in terms of the feature set but the developer seems very active and has mentioned big changes are coming for 2019. There is nowhere to log time played or other metadata. And it could do with more categories (called Activity Lists here). Although like GG has it’s own mobile apps on Android and iOS. I think the strength of this site could be discoverability of games through it’s community provided it gains an active and large enough audience.

I definitely want to keep an eye on both websites to see how they develop as they both look very promising.

I’ve also adding a short summary list of all the Game Trackers I’ve tried to my new updated Backlog page (was called Rules before).

A changing of the guard

Over the festive period the retailer HMV in the UK announced it was going into administration. Whilst in no way personally affected it did trigger some slightly irrational thoughts on what format I wanted to still buy films on. In the run up to Christmas I had purchased a few movies on Blu-Ray discs. However seeing the only national physical entertainment retailer in trouble (again) made me question whether it is time to finally adopt buying movies on digital. In part because there will inevitably be less choice where to buy a movie on disc as time goes by.

I’ve been a Steam user since the very early days (17 Sept 2003 – only 6 days missed!). Over the years I’ve watched Steam grow from a multiplayer network replacing the old WON system to the feature rich digital platform we know today. It continues to be the only PC Storefront or Gaming Client that automatically starts with my PC and has since the Windows XP days. It is where I gravitate towards when looking to buy any new PC game. But slowly it feels like that relationship might be under strain.

The news that Ubisoft won’t be releasing it games on Steam anymore isn’t necessarily a surprise. However the manner Ubisoft reached an agreement with Epic and will release games on the Epic Games Store alongside its own gaming client; UPlay certainly was a shock. It now means that some of the biggest western Publishers; Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda Games Studios no longer release games on Steam.

It’s probably only a matter of time for 2K and Take 2 Interactive (Rockstar) to follow. Indeed what are the odds now for Borderlands 3, an Unreal Engine game to follow suite. Probably a very likely outcome.

So why does this matter? One of the strengths of Steam was arguably having all your PC games in one place. Along with automatic updates, friends, voice chat etc. However if the games you want aren’t on the platform, then it doesn’t matter how good or feature rich the store is.

Certainly I’ve not been completely bought in to everything Valve has implemented on Steam. I hate the microtransactions they have implemented within the store itself (cards for badges). And crucially I also feel they missed a trick with in-game comms and streaming that has seen the rise of the new standards; Discord and Twitch.

Therefore for the first time ever I suddenly feel like I’m faced with the question of where should I be buying my next PC game from and hence my opening paragraph. Like my decision with movies for the first time ever I question if Steam is the best place to buy games. For example would Humble or GOG be better. With large western publishers and even some of the (bigger) indies rushing to a new PC Storefront there is now uncertainty around the Steam ecosystem. And certainly the fact developers receive 88% of revenue from the Epic Game Store is something that I am happy to support. But it is so disappointing that the dream of all games in one place is now most definitely over (arguably it was anyway) and it’s a case of installing multiply different PC gaming clients just to play a PC game.

I won’t be rushing overnight to rebuy all my games on any new PC Storefront but all of this does make me slightly lose faith in PC gaming. Along with the increase in certain hardware prices this is making me not inclined to buy new PC games. And indeed thankful that on my consoles all my games are in one place. With only one store to buy from.

My most anticipated games for 2019 (Updated)

With a new year upon us, I thought it might be wise to look forward to the video games I am most looking forward to that are coming out in the next 12-months. I have realised buying games at release isn’t always the best idea so I may pick up later on but will still be watching closely to see the reception to these. There aren’t a huge number of games this year that I’m that hyped for but the following nine games are the most interesting to me.

The Division 2 | Ubisoft – I have written about this one before. I loved the original game and this should probably be an automatic day-one purchase but I still have a few concerns; will monetisation be more aggressive, will the PvE end-game be focused on group activities, and will it have enough content for a more casual solo PvE player such as myself. Again these are probably questions that won’t be answered until after the game is out.

Updated 9th February: Private Beta impressions here.

Anthem | Electronic Arts – I may forgo this game given its proximity to the above. But still a game I’m intrigued by as it ticks a lot of the right boxes although I am nervous about how monetisation will work, as with most ‘triple AAA’ games these days.

Updated 3rd February: Demo impressions here. Not as interested in Anthem although still a little intrigued.

Days Gone | Sony Interactive Entertainment – Sony’s first party games have generally been massive critical successes this generation so this is definitely of interest.

Doom Eternal | Bethesda Games Studios – I still need to play Doom properly and complete it, but more of the excellent 2016 first person shooter should only be a good thing.

Outer Worlds | Obsidian Entertainment – I only stumbled upon this game (and the game below) following the recent uproar over the Epic games store launch. This has been compared to the Fallout games and looks really intriguing.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw | Double Damage Games – Space adventure game inspired by the likes of Wing Commander: Privateer. I used to love games like Wing Commander and Freelancer and this looks like a more modern version of the above.

Warcraft III: Reforged | Blizzard Activision – A game I missed at release and have never been able to get that far into despite the multiple times I’ve tried to play it. Therefore I was chuffed to bits when Blizzard announced this PC remaster at Blizzcon 2018.

Rage 2 | Bethesda Games Studios – I’m not entirely sold on this one so probably the lowest priority game on my list. Partly because it looks very ‘Doom-ey’ in the FPS gunplay and more of the same as the original. That said it looks to be more sandbox/open-world by design. I have enjoyed the original although it’s far from a classic so it might be an ideal game to wait on.

Possibly not 2019 releases (as currently no confirmed release dates)

Last of Us 2 | Sony Interactive Entertainment – For one reason, and one reason alone I’m generally hyped for this game. And that’s the stunning E3 2018 reveal. One of the few games that did leave me reasonably speechless. It looks stunning.

Cyberpunk 2077 | CD Projekt Red – I’ve stayed away from seeking much details of this game so genuinely don’t know much at all about it. But CD Projekt Red’s recent pedigree alone makes this of note. Also probably one of the most hyped games there is coming out.

Updated 16th January: A few extra games that I hadn’t initially known or thought about

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr | Zenimax Online Studio – Just announced to be releasing on 4th June 2019 (however early access for PC/Mac players). ESO is one of the MMO’s I’ve been playing over the past few years and this might be a good point to try and catch up on some of the content. I’ve written about this game before and regard it as one of the strongest PVE MMO’s there is.

Resident Evil 2 (remake) | Capcom – I’m not a horror game fan and haven’t played a Resident Evil game since 4 on the Nintendo Gamecube. However I do have fond memories of the first and second games on the PlayStation 1 all those years ago. Indeed the second game was arguably the high-point for the series or at the very least is right up there for consideration. The recent demo has got me intrigued to see this game and unlike the recent 7 or 1/Zero remakes might actually pull me back into the series at some point.

Don’t Pass on Game Pass

A while ago I wrote a piece stating that I was thinking about not renewing Xbox Game Pass. Apart from being annoyed at not having received a free month as part of an offer (something that Microsoft’s Customer Services never resolved), I was also not fully convinced of the benefits of the £7.99 a month service given I had played only a few games in my time with the service.

Since I got my second Xbox One earlier this year I had managed to use the free months included with the console along with offers and renewal offers to stack six months of Game Pass for less than £15. It had made the decision a no-brainer to try out the service and I enjoyed playing and complete a few games. However I was never 100% convinced the service was for me.

That said I often change my thoughts on things and this Christmas I think Microsoft have hit it out of the park with their subscription service. Ashen, Mutant Year Zero and Below are brand new releases that have debuted on Game Pass at the same time as being release on Xbox One and other formats. Indeed Ashen is exclusive to the new Epic PC Store. This is on top of other games like Life is Strange 1 & 2 and Ori and the Blind Forest all recently being added to the service. Whilst Game Pass has had day one first party titles on there, seeing independent games like Ashen and Mutant Year Zero launching day one is a very encouraging precedent.

Either way as noted in my December update the above along with some cheap prices on 12 and 6-month subscriptions was enough to convince me to stock up on my Game Pass subscription. As mentioned before there are still issues with the service, such as games leaving too soon (i.e. Fallout 4) and the lack of DLC. And whilst Game Pass is still likely to be the bane of my backlog having the opportunity to play a game like Ashen far earlier than I might have otherwise is enough to convince me that Game Pass might just become as mandatory as other services like Netflix or Spotify in the future.

Indeed Game Pass reminds me of the good vibe PlayStation Plus first launched to on the PlayStation 3 with it’s ‘Instant Game Collection’ in 2010. PlayStation Plus arguably changed the game when it came to adding value to mandatory online subscriptions which meant Microsoft had to adapt and offer free games as well. And whilst I don’t necessarily want individual publisher subscriptions (i.e. EA Access) Game Pass is a massive advantage for Microsoft right now.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

I purchased Dear Esther in 2012 for the princely sum of £1.74. It’s the perfect example of the sort of game that fills up my library on Steam. Anyway with a bit of time over the holidays I’ve managed to complete it. It is a very short experience and it doesn’t take much time at all to playthrough.

Dear Esther screenshot

I don’t really want to say too much about it because it’s one of those experiences that best enjoyed with as little knowledge as possible. Essentially it’s the original videogame that created the walking simulator genre that has since become quite popular. So a noteworthy videogame in that regard.

It’s difficult to summarise how I feel about it, as at times it feels too vague for want of a better word. That said it is technically well done, quite atmospheric and pretty in places. It’s also well voiced and the soundtrack in general is good. I didn’t enjoy it as much as other similar games and in that sense it’s hard to disagree with either those that don’t like it or those who enjoyed it and really appreciate it for what it is.

It’s worth mentioning that I played the Landmark Edition that was given away for free to owners of the original game to celebrate its release on consoles and includes a director’s commentary and was remade in the Unity engine unlike the original PC Source-engine release.

And finally just a note to say that the Steam Controller is pretty much perfect for this sort of game. I’m not a huge fan of that controller and prefer the main console controllers for multiple reasons. But here the Steam Controller works really well. Particularly the haptic pads which require less resistance to move.

Played the PC / Steam version.