Tag Archives: LBoG: Editorials

Game Review: 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin

I grew up watching seventies chop-socky flicks. Those distinctly cheesy, bad effects, badly dubbed, masters with long beards teaching students type of kung-fu films. Before Bruce Lee came along and revolutionised Hong Kong cinema, proving that kung-fu films could be so much more and even break down boundaries with Enter the Dragon, there was this unique brand of martial arts films that captured my heart from a young age.

SHAOLINS ROAD

Over the years, there have been a few games that have tried to emulate seventies kung-fu flicks. Titles like Shao-lin’s Road, Kung-Fu Master or more recently Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao, among others, have all tried to bring some of that Hong Kong, chop-socky love to gaming. From developer Sobaka Studio comes a new game hoping to capture some of that stylised kung-fu cinema magic with 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin. But is it Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury amazing or Jackie Chan’s New Fist of Fury atrocious?

The Plot

Set during the Chinese Year of the Water Monkey in 1572. You play as Wei Cheng, who’s parents were killed by Wokou (Chinese pirates) when Wei was a child. Taken in by his grandfather, Wei learns all about the family fishing business… as well as how to fight with a staff. Now a grown man, Wei’s village is attacked by bandits, his grandfather is killed and Wei is left for dead. Buddhist monks find Wei and nurse him back to health. This is when Wei learns those bandits were actually deadly Wokou. With the help of the monks, Wei sets out for revenge.

The Game

At heart, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is very basic scrolling beat ’em up fare. If you’ve ever played Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Battletoads (just not the new one) or similar, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Move around the levels and smack the crap out of bad guys with various attacks. Even though 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin does have that basic style gameplay, there’s a lot more going on beneath which adds so many more layers to the gameplay.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION

You have your standard quick-light attack, a slower-heavy attack, a thrust raged attack and a dodge move. Then there’s a deflect/parry move which is used for defence, stringing together moves by mixing things up will build your combo score, bigger combos give you more points. Finish levels to earn reward points and use those points to spend on upgrades and for your moves. You can swap your standard staff weapon for something else, with different weapons having different modifiers and abilities. Special equip-able items and footwear, numerous variables that allow you to create a character they meets your own playstyle. These weapons and items are earned just by finishing the various levels ion the story.

There there are the additional attacks by holding down the left or right trigger buttons and pressing one of the three standard attacks. You’ll soon be learning acrobatic moves and magical attacks that will cause enemies to float, slow down and even pull enemies toward you, all of which can be upgraded. The story is split into five different chapters, each representing a clan of the Wokou that attacked your village. With each chapter featuring multiple levels and a boss fight. The levels themselves can be really creative and often offer something unique along the way, fight in a sawmill and you’ll find saw blades that need to be dodged, storms can bring lighting strikes that can hit you and the enemies, levels in long grass will slow you down and make enemies harder to see. Honestly, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin really does offer a lot of little nuances that add layers to not just the levels but also the fighting itself.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 2

Different enemies have their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning you’ll need to experiment with your variety of attacks to discover the best way to deal with each enemy type. And if that’s not enough for you, the game still offers more. There’s co-op action so you and a friend can play though the entire story together. Either online or even some old school, couch co-op. There are little statues hidden on the levels which unlock amusing gameplay mods. Remember GoldenEye 007 on the N64 with it’s big head, paintball mode, etc? Well you have some of those style unlockables here too. Give your character a big body, the emeries big heads and so on, just to add a little comedic slant to your game.

I did manage to finish the game in one sitting, in around four hours or so. It’s not a huge title at all. There are twenty-five levels, which does sound like a lot, but each level can be finished in just a few minutes. Still, you don’t really want a title like this to needlessly drag on anyway. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and neither did it feel too short. Besides, even though I finished it, I am going back to find all of those secrets and even try to finish it on the hardest difficulty. I really enjoyed this slice of retro beat ’em up action.

9 MONKEYS OF SHAOLIN ACTION 3

Overall

The only thing negative I really have is that the game never really goes full seventies kung-fu flick style, aesthetically speaking. I’d loved for it to have had a Chinese language with English subtitles to add a layer of authenticity. Maybe some seventies style film grain (could be one of the hidden extras, I’ve not yet found them all). A funky seventies soundtrack. But those really are just very minor niggles. 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is fantastic and as an old school beat ’em up fan, this really scratched an itch.

Review: Ride 4

I do have a bit of a soft spot for racing games, grew up playing them and still very much enjoy the genre today. However, there’s one motorsport discipline that I’ve never really gotten into from a gaming perspective, motorbikes. I think the last time I played a bike racer was Super Hang-On in the arcade, back in 1987… maybe the original Road Rash.

Anyway, I’ve just never been attracted to motorbike racing in the same way I am with cars. I know nothing about the sport, nor do I have any interest in learning about it either.  So in that regard, I’m probably the last person that should review a motorbike racing sim… so here’s my review of motorbike racing sim, Ride 4.

RIDE 4 ACTION

If you have ever played any kind of racing game recently, then you’ll find things are pretty standard here in terms of game modes. Single races, where you can take any of the bikes out for a ride on any of the tracks in the game. There are 176 different bikes from 17 different manufactures. Brands like BMW, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, Triumph and more all offer various machines to ride on. Then there are the tracks, split over three continents, America, Europe and Asia. All three offer multiple real-life race tracks. Laguna Seca, Imola, Brands Hatch, Suzuka to name a few, thirty tracks in all to enjoy. So just pick a bike, pick a track and away you go for some single race action.

Then there are the endurance races. Pick a race length from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Choose your a bike, though you have to use a specially modified endurance bike. Select a track, tinker with the weather and time of day, time compression. Hit the track for a very lengthy race. There is also the basic time trial mode where it’s just you, your bike and the track. No opponents and no racing other than against the clock, a great way to learn the numerous circuits. There is also a career mode, which I will cover soon. But aside from the multiplayer mode (which I couldn’t really test with the game not being out as I write this), that’s about it for you racing options. Ride 4 offers pretty much what any other racing game offers, it neither excels nor falls behind in this regard, it’s all pretty much standard racing fare.

RIDE 4 ACTION 2

There are some nice features to play around with, a photo mode that is accessible from the pause menu, so you can take some snaps of your bike racing action. Of course you can tinker and tune your bike, buy new engines, transmissions and so on. You can even customise your rider, name, gender, info, riding styles and more. Then there is the editor where you can create your very own helmet and riding suit designs, you can even design your own unique liveries for the bikes. Ever played Forza Motorsport and its creation system? Same thing here. When it comes to the customisation, there really is a lot to get your head around with Ride 4.

In terms of looks, Ride 4 is a cracking looking game too. I know several of the tracks very well and they all looked fantastic. Tearing around Monza, Donnington Park, Interlagos and they felt like the tracks I knew. I’m not a bike person, yet the machines all seemed great too, I can’t say if they are authentic or not, but they are nicely detailed and looked like bikes… so that’s good. I did a race in the rain, which for me is the true test of how a racing game should look. Ride 4 looked stunning, reflections on the track, rain kicking up and hitting the screen, puddles formed on the circuit… it looked and felt like a wet race, ticked all the boxes for me. So far, so good. Until…

RIDE 4 ACTION 3

So that career mode I previously mentioned. Every good racer needs a career mode and I wish I could tell you how good this one is… but I couldn’t actually play it. From what I saw, it looked quite extensive. Split into three leagues, there’s the regional leagues (European, Asian and American), a world league and then the final leagues (superbikes and endurance). But before you can take part in those, you need to earn your licence by doing several tests. A time attack, lap on a test track, ride through gates, etc. Could I pass these tests? No. Oh I tried, I tried dozens and dozens and dozens of times. The tests are just too damn strict, from extremely tight times to beat to the test being a fail if you so much as put a millimetre of your bike off track (seriously, a millimetre). I did manage to do three of the tests after many, many, many attempts and a lot of time spent, but they got so frustrating that I just gave up in the end. I could not even get into the career mode to tell you what it’s like. I had to switch on all of the driving assists, and I’ve never done that with any racing game before. Yet, even with all the help the game offers… I could not do those damn tests to play career mode. I’ve had the game for over a week for review and I could not review the main part of the game.

I couldn’t work out if it was me or the game being really unfair and unforgiving. As I said at the start, I’m not a bike person… but I can play racing games… I think. I’ve never had this issue with any other game like this. I can race okay in the other modes, I can put up fight and even secure a podium or three in single races. On tracks that I know well, I could put in some decent times in time trial mode. It took a while to get used to riding the bikes in the game, they feel really heavy and you have to think about turning into and out of the corners about three turns in advance, but I got used to it. Yes, it is very different to racing a car around a track, I get that. I know I would never be able to ride a bike like this in real-life around a real track, but then again, I doubt I would ever be able to drive a Ferrari F40 around Monza in real-life on a real track… but I can do just that well enough in a driving sim. I just can not pass the tests to play career mode… even with the driving assists on. I became convinced the problem was the game.

RIDE 4 ACTION 4

But is it really the game that is the problem and not me the player? I’ll happily admit (and I already have, several times) that I’m not a bike person at all, so there is a very good chance the issues I have with the game are not really with the game, as I just don’t understand bikes. So, I did a little research into the previous Ride games. As of writing, the original Ride holds a metascore of 54 on Metacritic. Ride 2 holds a 66 score and Ride 3 has itself a slightly better score of 76. They’re not exactly great scores are they? Very average to above average at best. Getting better with each new game yes, but still not great scores. Quick side-note, all of those scores on the Xbox as I’ve been playing the Xbox version of Ride 4. So as a franchise, Ride isn’t exactly setting the racing gaming world alight is it? Perhaps it is the game that is at fault and not so much me, or at the very least, there’s a bit of both there? But again, I got on okay with the single races, etc. It’s just those damn tests for career mode, they’re too ‘effin strict and the game is just not accessible for newbies to bike games like me.

Plus, seeing as I was having such a disappointing time with Ride 4, I thought that may be my driving skills had dulled. So I loaded up both Forza Motorsport 7 and F1 2020 just to re-test my skills. I was tearing around tracks, racing, fighting for positions and really bloody enjoying myself too (without all the assists on too). It has to be the game, I may not be a bike person… but I know a good racing game from a distinctly average one and average is what Ride 4 really is.

I really wanted to enjoy Ride 4, I honestly did, but it’s just rubbed me up the wrong way. As someone who plays racing games regularly and a person who considers himself pretty good at the racing genre, I just found it too punishing for what it is and a very stubborn game to truly get into. Ride 4 is just very, very meh for what I did get to play.

The Next Generation Of Gaming, The Death Of Gaming Generations

Things are warming up as the inevitable release of the new consoles fast approach. As of writing, Sony are being very quiet about their new PlayStation 5, we’ve seen its design, but no price or release date yet… yet. However, Microsoft have been a much more forthcoming about their new Xbox Series X console. We’ve seen the machine and its little brother the Series S, we also have a price for both and a confirmed release date too of the 10th of November.

Still, come early-ish November, the next generation of consoles gaming will be here.  Just a few more months and your shiny new console of choice (assuming Sony have a similar release date to Microsoft) will be under your TV… but does it really matter anymore?

See, I’ve started writing an article looking back on my gaming history through the computers and consoles I’ve played/owned over the many, many years I’ve been gaming. As I’ve been writing said article and looking back on the machines I’ve grown up with, exploring how and why each gaming generation felt like a leap forward, I’ve come to realise that this new generation seems to be less of a leap forward and more of a baby step. I’m just not seeing the point of buying a new games console anymore. I mean, I will buy one, but there’s no real point.

I guess my first subject has to be graphics. I started out with an Atari 2600, famed being the Granddaddy of home gaming. Not the first ever home console no, but certainly the one that popularised video games at home. The 2600 was also known for its very simple graphics. I mean, here is classic arcade beat ’em up, Double Dragon on the system. 

DOUBLE DRAGON 2600

Basic and certainty very primitive, a far cry from its arcade source. But that’s the kind of graphics the Atari 2600 was capable of, and for that system, that is pretty damn good too. Anyway, after the 2600, I had a Commodore 64 and this is what the same game looked like on that system.

DOUBLE DRAGON C64

No, it’s still not arcade perfect… but it looked a damn sight better then the 2600 version. There’s more colour, the graphics are not as blocky, they are better defined… the sprites actually look like humans. It was very clear to me that there had been a major advancement, visually speaking. Now look at games today. Here’s a comparison image of a game (Gears of War 5) on the original Xbox One, the upgraded One X and the new Series X.

XBOX COMPARISON

What’s the difference? Just quickly go back and look at the two Double Dragon images above. Again, a very clear upgrade from one generation to the next, to the point where they don’t even look like the same game. And now, back to the Xbox comparison. Where’s the great advancement? Where’s the major visual upgrade? 

It’s not just Atari 2600 to Commodore 64 either. Look back through gaming history. Look the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit, from 16-bit to 32-bit. Look at the advancements when games went from 2D sprites to 3D polygons. Look even more recently when we went from SD games to HD. There was a clear and defined visual difference between game graphics. But now? As I said, what’s the difference?

Yeah, you might spot some very minor improvements with a 4K screen or even an 8K screen, if you are lucky to own one, which to be honest, most people don’t. But for myself, I only upgraded to a 4K TV a couple of years ago and to be honest, the difference going from my 1080p TV to a 4K one wasn’t exactly a major leap.

But this is my point, graphics are not ‘improving’ like they used to. Then even if you do want to get the best of of your console, you need to fork out on a better TV. We didn’t do that in the old days, the graphics improved because the hardware you were playing on improved. From a visual point of view, why buy an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5 when they are just offering the same level of graphics? Have game graphics plateaued and the only improvements we will see will be due to your TV? Yeah I know we will have better frame-rates, etc with the next gen and that is a good thing. But still, from a visual perspective and just looking at the graphics, why bother with the next gen?

Then there are the games themselves. Currently, there’s a bit of a trend for developers/publishers to offer a ‘free’ upgrade of the game you buy now for the next gen consoles. Graphics aside (which I’ve covered is pretty much nothing), what upgrade? The previously mentioned better frame-rates, possible quicker load times… and that’s about it for your ‘upgrade’. But my point is, if the game runs on the current gen perfectly fine and the differences between two are negligible to the point of hardly noticeable. Why not just stick with the current gen? It’s the same game right? Is a slightly smoother frame-rate a good enough reason to buy a new console?

I used to look at a new console and think it the games looked so much better. But now, unless you have a 70 inch, 8K TV and a magnifying glass, you really don’t see a difference.

It’s not just the graphics though. Going back to the Atari 2600, the music and sound was minimal, bleeps and bloops. Then we had the rise of game music composers such as Rob Hubbard (to name just one) in the 8-bit era and game music began to evolve. Through the generations, game music and sound has grown. It was with the more common use of the CD format in the early nineties when music and sound reached it peak because they could quite literally offer CD quality sound. from a quality perspective, game music and sound has not evolved for decades. I’m not saying there are no great composers anymore, just that from an audible quality perspective, its never really increased since the CD format.

Yup, eventually, the current gen will be discontinued. Yes some games will only be made available for the next gen too. But right now, just a handful of months before the next gen launch… is it really worth jumping ship to the next gen? Besides, the only reason the older generation will be discontinued is because publishers/developers will stop making games for that older system. But they don’t have to, do they? The hardware is not advancing from generation to generation like is used to, so why not just keep making games for the older machines, therefore negating the need for a new generation. I could play Cyberpunk 2077 perfectly well on a current gen machine just as I could on a next gen machine. Maybe at a slightly reduced frame-rate, granted… but the gameplay is still identical.

CYBERPUNK

Backwards compatibility is a major draw for me. It means I don’t have to keep two or more consoles under the TV with all those annoying wires running wild. I can have just one console and play (some of) my ever increasing backlog of games. But I can do that anyway, without having buying a new console. As just covered, the early games coming out for the next gen are also currently playable on the current gen too. So I don’t need backward compatibility because the games play the same regardless. See, backward compatibility only needs to exist due to the older system becoming obsolete… but it doesn’t need to be if games are still released on the console.

To me, it just seems like gaming generations are dying, if not already dead. The advancements are just not there like they used to be. The differences between the Xbox One (X) and the new Series X or the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 are so minor that they may as well not exist. I honestly think the death of gaming generations has finally begun. Thinking forward, where do you go from here? What amazing improvements could the future Xboxes and PlayStations possibly offer from this point on?

Digital gaming is on the rise, internet connections are getting faster and faster. We’ve already seen what TV and movie streaming services have done to the home viewing market. I have a BluRay player… yet I’ve not used it for well over a year due to being able to stream my entertainment. We already have things like Google Stadia appearing, Microsoft have been pushing their Xbox game (XCloud) streaming hard recently. It won’t be long until game streaming becomes normal. Just like sitting down to watch Netflix without the need of a physical machine or media to play videos, I think gaming will go that way, very soon too. If the consoles themselves can’t offer huge advancements (and they can’t), then consoles will become obsolete and gaming generations will no longer exist, and let’s be honest, they hardly exist now.

 

Roger Dean’s Psygnosis Art

I recently read an article on artist Roger Dean, this article right here. A really good read it is too, if you’re interested to learn a bit about Roger. Though it only really lightly touches on his work, and only in the music business… well it is an article on a music site. Anyway, Roger is famed for working with prog-rock bands of the seventies. Bands like Yes, Osibisa and others had covers designed by Roger Dean, he even designed the logo for Virgin Records in 1972.

VIRGIN RECORDS LOGO

Typical Roger Dean, he has a unique style that lends itself perfectly to rock album covers. Chock full of floaty rocks, twisted trees, dragons, strange creatures and… well, prog-rock stuff. Roger’s work has influenced people for years, so much so that James Cameron outright stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s style for his movie Avatar (not the first time James Cameron has stolen ‘borrowed’ from someone else). The whole thing went to court and Roger inexplicably lost despite overwhelming evidence that James Cameron most definitely stole ‘borrowed’ Roger’s art without giving him any credit.

Anyway, as I said, the article linked to above is a great read, but it only covers a small part of Roger’s amazing work. Criminally, it doesn’t even give a passing mention to his work on video games. Oh yeah, Roger did video games too. In fact, I was first introduced to his art because of one very specific developer/publisher and one of my all time favourite studios to ever produce a game.

PSYGNOSIS LOGO

Yup, Psygnosis and yes, that logo was Roger Dean’s work too. Psygnosis was born form the utter disaster of a game studio that was Imagine Software. I could delve into the history of both of those studios, I won’t because I wrote a book doing just that and more (buy my book!). If there was anything to sell a game back then, then it was its box-art, in fact back then, that’s all we pretty much had to go on. We didn’t have the internet to spread the word of a game, no streamers to showcase new titles. Yeah we had review magazines, but it was the box-art that grabbed you when you were browsing for games on the shop shelves. And no other box-art slapped you in the face for attention harder than Psygnosis games of the eighties and nineties.

But Roger’s first foray into gaming was not actually with Psygnosis, but for a title called The Black Onyx from 1984 from Bullet-Proof Software. It was one of the first ever Japanese RPGs and even paved the way for titles such as Final Fantasy. Roger didn’t design the original cover for The Black Onyx, but he did for the Famicom port which was subtlety renamed Super Black Onyx and what a cover it was too.

Black Onyx

That image there gives you the prefect introduction to Roger Dean’s style and Psygnosis fans should be able to see that beautiful imagery we all soon came to love. And that is exactly what this article is all about, me looking at some of my favourites of Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art and a quick look at the games themselves too.

Brataccas

BRATACCAS

Now this is a game with a lot of history (again, read my book, the link is up there ^^^), what started out as a doomed game at Imagine became the first ever Psygnosis game. The game itself was terrible, stiff and horrible controls in an action/adventure type thing that never really worked. Brataccas wasn’t a great game, but that art was stunning and that art is why the game is still so fresh in my mind. I have no idea what is going on there and the title is pretty hard to read, but that certainly is a striking image.

Barbarian

BARBARIAN

I always remember the intro to this game and the hulking, titular Barbarian cutting a chain with his sword… had nothing to do with the game itself, but it looked great at the time. As a game, this was typical early Psygnosis, it looked great but played terribly. A kind of action/platformer that relied heavily on trial and error gameplay. Plus it had a really obnoxious control scheme where you had to use the mouse to select an action from a menu at the bottom of the screen. This was actually the first Psygnosis game I ever played, hated it but it still has a special place in my gaming heart. Still, that box was pretty to look at. The almost muted and wonderful backdrop with that bright red dragon-thing in the foreground really stands out. Shame about the guy ruining a perfectly fine piece of art at the top.

Terrorpods

TERRORPODS

So this title was a strange one. A kind of FPS/resource management/defence game thing. Look, I have no idea how to explain this title. I remember my older bother would play it and I’d just watch, confused as to what the hell was going on. I did play the game properly for the first time when I was researching my book. As an adult, I really enjoyed it. It took a lot of interwebs searching for how to play the damn thing, but when I got to grips with how to play it, I very much enjoyed it. But that cover art, I don’t mind admitting that I was scared of that cover as a kid. Scared, but I still loved to look at it. It has a very Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds feel about it. Anyone who has seen the art of that masterpiece of an album will know what I mean. I think this is my favourite Roger Dean/Psygnosis collaboration.

Obliterator

OBLITERATOR

Pretty much the exact same game as the previously mentioned Barbarian… only in space! It also suffered from the same trial and error gameplay, same obnoxious control scheme too. It was a very pretty game at the time, but it wasn’t much fun to actually play. This art really puts me in mind of H.R. Giger with a very Alien-like thing going on. Yet it still has that Roger Dean trademark, prog-rock style that I adore so much.

Shadow of the Beast
Shadow of the Beast II

SHADOW OF THE BEAST

SHADOW OF THE BEAST II

Yes, a double Dean display here for Shadow of the Beast and it’s sequel. The first game was one of those showstoppers for the Amiga. It really was a stunning looking game with its moody graphics and parallax scrolling. Play-wise? It was scrolling beat ’em up/platform thing with pretty lax controls and a steep difficulty curve. The sequel was a lot better and features, perhaps my favourite game over screen on any Amiga game ever. But that art is just so… well it’s so Roger Dean. I have no idea what is going on in either cover, nor do I care either. I just know it looks amazing and I like it. Now, there was a Shadow of the Beast III but Roger didn’t do the art for that, and it really shows.

And that’s about it for Roger Dean’s Psygnosis box-art. He did do a couple of other things like the logo for the game Agony, but not the box-art itself. Well, there was one more box to look at I guess and one with a very interesting connection.

Fatal Rewind

FATAL REWIND

Originally released as The Killing Game Show on the Amiga, where it featured a rather bland and unimaginative cover featuring an eye. The game was a platform/shooter with a unique feature where you could rewind time if you died. But when it was ported to the Mega Drive, it was given a much better cover (ruined by the logo obscuring a good chunk of the art) and a cover from Roger Dean that has that War of the Worlds feel again… and there’s a very good reason why. If you look closely at the machine on that cover up there, pay attention to the head in particular. That is the same design as the one on the box-art of Terrorpods

DEAN COMBO

Same elongated nose on the machine, same shaped visor, same weed things growing out. Its the same machine but seen from a different angle and in a different colour. Yeah they are the same because they were drawn by the same man, Roger Dean. However, there’s also a good reason why they look and feel so War of the Worlds. Remember how I said the Terrorpods cover reminded me of the Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds album? Well, Roger actually pitched to design the art for that album (hence the birds flying around the machine’s head in Terrorpods) but was passed over for Peter Goodfellow, Geoff Taylor and Michael Trim, who ended up doing the art and illustrations of the album. So Roger just used his War of the Worlds art for the covers of those two games instead.

And just to finish up, here are a few of Roger Dean’s pitches for War of the Worlds that never ultimately made the cut.

ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 2ROGER DEAN WOTW ART 3ROGER DEAN WOTW ART

It’s a shame Roger never got to be the artist for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. As much as I do like the art that was used, I think Roger Dean’s is so much better and would’ve loved to see his finalised designs. Still, we do have some amazing Psygnosis box-art to look at. I also recommend that you check out Roger’s official site, it’s full of beautiful art well worth a view or several.

What I Don’t Like About Modern Gaming

The next generation of gaming is on the horizon. November-ish and well be playing on our shiny new XStation 6 and PlayBox 19 consoles. I don’t even really need a new console to be honest, I have such a backlog of games to get through that I really have no need to jump over to the next gen for a good couple of years or so… though I’ll most probably still buy one anyway… cos I’m stupid. Anyway, as an older gamer in his mid-forties, I’ve seen games and gaming in general evolve (in some cases, devolve) over the years.

Now, I’m not some old-timer who thinks modern gaming is crap. In many ways, it’s better now than ever… but in some ways, gaming is getting worse. So right here, I’m going to take a look at some of my gaming grumbles. Things that annoy me about modern gaming. From silly little niggles to a couple of quite serious issues. Get ready, cos and old man is about to yell at a cloud…

Installing Games

I remember a time when you’d buy a new game, rush home from the shops (pre-digital), excited to play your latest purchase. Removing the box from the bag, tearing away at that annoying cellophane wrap and opening the box. To then thrust the disc or cartridge (or tape if you really want to go back) into your console/computer of choice. Flick on your machine and (depending on format), you’d be playing your game instantly (negating load times). That was it, simple. 

C64 LOADING

But now, oh now you can’t do that can you? Now you buy a game, thrust it into your console…. then have to wait for it to install. Depending on the size of the game, install times vary from several minutes to an hour or more. Yes I know with some digital purchases, you can pre-install… which is nice. But you can’t do that with psychical games can you? So you just sit there, having to wait to play the game you’ve already waited several weeks and months (sometimes years) to play. I just miss being able to pop the game in and start playing it. That’s before I get in the need to buy bigger external HDDs because we now have to install games instead of playing them direct from disc. Don’t even get me started on day one patches…

Lying Loading Bars

I really don’t have a problem with loading screens, in fact, they can be good fun (see my next point)… but I detest loading bars or counters that just lie to you. Whether it be a simple straight line that fills as the game loads, a percentage counter that goes from 0 to 100%, a unique design/symbol that fills up. Whatever the method used to countdown the loading until you can play, the reason for them to exist is pretty simple. To let you know that the game is almost ready to play.

LOADING BARS

So why do we have loading bars that lie to us? I’ve played games that feature loading bars/counters that reach 100%… to then continue loading for a minute or so after they are finished. So they’re not 100% then? I’ve even had the converse happen with a bar that was two-thirds of the way filled up, for the game to start before it was finished. If your loading bar can’t keep track of a correct period of time to tell when when it’s ready to play, then why is it there?

We never had this in the ‘good ole’ days’, those micro-computer days of the eighties. If a game took four minutes and thirty-seven seconds to load, then that’s how long it took. It was never four minutes and thirty-eight seconds or four minutes and thirty-six seconds. It was exactly four minutes and thirty-seven seconds every single time. We didn’t have counters that lied to us, the game loaded when it loaded, no bullshitting.

No Loading Screens

It seems that one of the key features for the next gen is to remove loading and loading screens. The idea is to hide the loading within the game itself, therefore cutting out long pauses in the gameplay to create one long flowing experience.  But I like loading screens, I may not like lying loading bars, but the screens themselves can, sometimes, be really enjoyable.

From beautiful looking game art, hints and tips to just outright funny jokes and references. Plus there’s the fact they offer a nice break from gaming (when you don’t want to pause) to challenge yourself. I can’t be the only person who does the fridge dash when a loading screen pops up. Can you put the controller down, get from your seat and to the kitchen, open the fridge, grab a drink or snack and then back into your seat with the controller back in hand before the loading screen finishes? That’s what loading screens are for, to do the fridge dash.

BAYONETTA LOADING

But even if you remove the fridge dash challenge, loading screens can still be really great and part of the game itself. What about Bayonetta’s loading screens that let you practice the various moves and combos? Or take a look the cover/shooter Spec Ops: The Line as an example. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you here if you’ve never played it, but that game has some of the best and most amazing loading screens ever. They go from standard guff offering you game tips, to… well they change into something far more sinister and actually part of the narrative of the story. Loading screens can be great when used well and to see them go next gen is a bit disappointing… I’ll have to buy a mini-fridge for next to my gaming chair too. 

Gaming ‘Journalism’

I don’t consider myself a gaming journalist, I’m not simple enough to do that. I’m just a gamer with a passion and his own blog. I like to share my views and opinions, I like to throw in some gaming memories and so on into anything I write. For me, this is more of a personal thing than a job, it’s a fun hobby that I really enjoy doing. But ‘proper’ gaming ‘journalism’ I really do detest for the most part. 

Big name sites throwing together half-arsed articles with no passion or drive just to get traffic to their site. I really don’t like click-bait, I’ll never do click-bait myself. The headline of my articles tells you what you are going to get, and often I throw in extra stuff just for fun too. So you are getting more for you click. But there are so many ‘respected’ sites that thrive off click-bait and badly written drivel. But you know what annoys me more than anything else? Click-bait articles that are literally written about nothing.

GAME WRITING

Here’s a prime example of what I mean. Rare have a new game coming soon-ish (no release date yet, it’s all just guess work). The game is called Everwild and very little is known about it outside of its title. A few screens and trailers have been released, yet they don’t actually tell you anything other than give you a glimpse at what the game looks like. Anyway, here’s an article from trustedreviews.com about everything they know about Everwild. Now, in their ‘about us’ bit on the site, they bang on about their expert team of journalists and many years of expertise and so on. But the article is utter shit.

It’s these kind of ‘what we know’ articles that really annoy me. Other sites do them too, the amount of GTA VI ‘what we know’ articles I’ve seen over the last few weeks is astounding, the truth is that they don’t know anything. Just taking that linked Everwild article up there ^^^ as an example. they even admit they don’t know anything in the article about what they know. These quotes are taken from said article…

“Beyond a few trailers and screenshots, we currently don’t know much else about it.”

“It remains unclear exactly how Everwild will play”

Aside from a very rough outline of the (unconfirmed) plot, they don’t know how it will play, they don’t know anything about the gameplay mechanics, they don’t know a release date, they don’t even know what genre of game it will be. So they know nothing in an article written about what they know. It is quite literally an article about nothing. So why does it exist if it doesn’t tell you anything? Could they have written an article speculating on what the game may possibly be? Yes they could… but that’s not what the headline says is it? The headline very specifically claims the article is going to detail what they know. I guess the fact they don’t tell you anything means the article kind of delivered on it’s headline promise. They don’t know anything and the article delivers just that.

But, this is fast becoming a trend too. People are being paid to write articles that may contain plenty of words, but not any information. This is how the above article should’ve looked…

Everwild: Everything we know about Rare’s next big
adventure

TRUSTED PIC

EVERWILD

Nothing, we don’t know anything. See you in the next article about nothing.

TRUSTED PIC 2

There you go, that’s a far more accurate and honest article on what the headline promises. If you don’t have anything to write about, then don’t write about it. It’s pretty simple really. Destructoid, GamesRadar+,  Game Informer, IGN, GameSpot and more are all guilty of this shitty click-bait crap and articles that really don’t say anything. I hate that click-bait crap and yet, I keep falling for it regardless.

Not Actual Game Footage

This isn’t a new thing, in fact, it’s been going on for a number of years now. But recently, it’s become more and more prevalent. I’m talking about game trailers that don’t contain gameplay footage. Now, there are some exceptions to this. If a game is recently announced and in early development, then it is often the trend to release a teaser trailer that is purely a CGI movie. I don’t necessarily have a big issue with this as the game is in early development. I’m not a fan of these early teaser trailers, but I understand why they exist. So those are exempt from my rant. Also, live action trailers also get a free pass as I don’t expect them to have game footage… doesn’t mean they can’t though.

NOT GAME FOOTAGE

However, it’s those trailers of games that are currently out or are soon to be released and the trailer is part of the main marketing campaign for that game… yet they still do not contain game footage? Even worse are those trailers for games that are/soon released and have full computer generated imagery to sell said game, but that CGI is not of the actual game. Ergo, not actual game footage. Why? That means they have used a computer to create images for a trailer not in the game for game that is made from computer created images. What kind of backward thinking is that? They’ve just created needless extra work for themselves instead of using the already existing in game graphics to sell the product they are trying to sell.

Multiple Game Versions

You know what I miss? Buying a game and getting a game. That’s how simple it used to be. You picked up the game from the shelf, took it to the counter to pay for it and then, the game was yours. Now though, games are released in all sorts of different flavours that contain all sorts of extras and bonuses. I’m not strictly against DLC, but I am anti-crap DLC. But it’s not just DLC that grinds my nuts, but more so all the different versions of one game, even to the point where the one that sounds the most complete still has stuff missing. Seeing as Forza Horizon 3 is soon to be discontinued due to licensing issues, I’ll use that game as my example.

So, if I were to go to the Microsoft store to buy Forza Horizon 3 (currently on sale due to its being discontinued), there are three different versions of the game. There’s the standard game, the deluxe edition and the ultimate edition. Standard version is exactly that, just the base game with no extras. The deluxe edition though gives you, along with the base game, VIP membership and cars, Forza Hub App, and the Motorsport All-Stars Car Pack. Then there is the ultimate version of the game, this one you get all of the above and early access to the game (before it was officially released) and the Forza Horizon 3 car pass, which gave you every DLC car released for the game. It is called the ultimate edition so of course, you get everything for the game… that’s what the word ultimate means: being the best example of its kind. So there is nothing more to the game and you get everything with the ultimate edition… only you don’t.

There is still the matter of the Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheel and the Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain DLCs that you don’t get with the ultimate edition… so it’s not the ultimate edition then is it? If there is extra stuff outside of the ultimate version of a game… then how is that game the ultimate version? This keep happening too, different developers/publishers use different terminology, but the end result is always the same. Collectors editions are another thing I have an issue with because all the useless tat you get with them are just not for me, but I do know people who enjoy all that stuff. Still, have you seen the various editions for the up and coming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla? Standard version, gold edition then the ultimate edition. So that’s it then, no more because they have the ultimate edition right? No, because there is still yet another version of the game after the ultimate edition…. so not the ultimate edition then! There’s still the collectors edition… which isn’t the ultimate edition? If you don’t get everything with the ultimate version of a game, then it’s not the ultimate edition. The word ultimate, look it up.

ASSASSINS CREED EDITIONS

Why has doing something as simple as buying a game become so complex? Now, you have to research to see what version of what games comes with what specific content. And because these publishers don’t know what words like ultimate means, you the consumer get screwed over when you think you have purchased the version that is ultimately the best one when it’s not.

Games Are Getting Are Too Big

It’s all about size these days with AAA games. As the rumours surrounding GTA VI continue, I keep seeing people commenting on how it would be great to have all of the previous GTA maps in one game, a huge map that’s more of a state with multiple cities in it and similar ideas. Why? Don’t people think the map of GTA V was big enough or something? There’s that clip on YouTube that looks at map sizes over the years.

Not counting (pretty much) endless games like Minecraft, Elite Dangerous, etc and just looking at ‘normal’ maps. Some of them are stupidly big to the point where you don’t even see some of the map while playing the game.

But even some games with more sensible map sizes just have too much going on in them and soon become tiresome. Plus there are games that have huge maps and yet still offer way too much to do. I’m looking at the more recent (again) Assassin’s Creed titles. With both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, I personally gave up after putting in several hours. Seriously, I clocked up around thirty hours on Odyssey, which for me should be when the game is ending. Yet I popped up the map screen and I had only revealed about a third of the map. Plus there was dozens and dozens of icons for things to do that I just got completely bored with. Some say ‘at least your getting plenty of game for your money’. No, I’m getting bored for my money. If I’ve put thirty hours into a game and I’m still not even halfway done, that’s way too big. If I were to pay a normal price to watch a ten hour film at the cinema, the cost is irrelevant if I’m bored.

I’m older, I have kids, I write and other things like life get in the way. So my gaming hours are not as free as they used to be. These games that keep getting bigger and bigger, year after year just pass me by as I don’t have time for them. Smaller and more original indie games are the way forward, not these ever expanding open world things. Yet whenever a new game is announced, one of the first things the developers/publishes brag about is the map size. 

Wasted Licenses

So this is something that very recently came up on my radar. Licensed games do have a bit of a bad history. A game based on a movie or TV show is often just lazily thrown together just to cash in on the popularity of the IP it’s based on. Now, this isn’t new and you can find plenty of examples through gaming history of terrible licensed games. But, the idea of just farting out some old tat of a game based on a popular name really hit me hard today when I saw the trailer for the Cobra Kai game. I’m not even going to directly post in on my blog as it’s so offensively terrible, I’ll just do an external link instead.

That looks unbelievably shoddy. A lazy, shovelware game shat out because the show it is based on is pretty damn popular. For those not in the know, Cobra Kai (the show) is a continuation of the Karate Kid films, and you know what? It’s bloody excellent too. It’s a show that clearly has a real passion and drive behind it, one that does a lot of new things and yet still pays a lot of respects to its source material along the way. But just look at the game. That’s not respecting the source material. I love a good scrolling beat ’em up and I think that Cobra Kai is perfect fodder for a game of that style too… but it still deserves better then that poop in the trailer. You remember that The Warriors game? No, I don’t mean the pretty damn good version from Rockstar Games a few years back, I mean this one. That’s what the Cobra Kai game reminds me of… only difference is that it’s not 2009 anymore.

RAMBO

There have been other wasted licensed games too. Remember Rambo: The Video Game from 2014? I recall seeing the teaser trailer before the game was released and despite some pretty low standard graphics, the trailer made the game look pretty good. The cops stalking Rambo through the forest of the first film, it looked like it could be a really interesting action/survival game. You playing as John Rambo having to survive off the land, taking out the cops before they get to you. Building traps, finding places to hide, kill wild boars for food, etc. A blending of stealth, survival and action game, all using the Rambo film license… amazing. But no, what we got was a shitty on-rails shooter with terrible controls and awful gameplay. That’s how you waste a great licence and completely miss the point of the IP you are trying to capture in game-form. 

If you’re not going to respect the licence of the famed IP you are using, then why bother? (I already know the answer to that, it really was a rhetorical question) 

Grindy Games

I’ve already moaned about some modern games getting too big, but this is a different spin on the same problem. Games that make you needless grind out to level up to move onto the next part (yes, I’m looking at the recent Assassin’s Creed games again). This is just padding and forcing the game to seem bigger then it really is, or worse, make an already huge game pointlessly bigger.

Side quests can be great, a nice little distraction from the main story when you feel like taking a break. But I’ve begun to notice that games are getting into a trend of forcing you to level up in order to keep progressing through the story, and the only way level up effectively is to grind away at side quests. Meaning, they’re no longer side quests as they’re not optional. As previously mentioned, the recent Assassin’s Creed titles are guilty of just this. It’s like going to the cinema to watch the new James Bond film, it opens with the classic of Bond being on a mission before the main plot kicks in. It cuts to the iconic gun-barrel opening… to then force you to sit through twenty minutes of cute kitten videos on YouTube before you can watch the rest of the film.

DESTINY 2

Then there are games that are built solely around grinding. Games where you have to play and re-play the same sections over and over to progress. See the Destiny games for a perfect example of grinding to progress, and yet, they’re still popular. I just don’t understand why so many people want to play a game where they have to repeat the same bits over and over for little reward or progression. The fact that there is now a sub-genre for grinding games, I just find that a bit sad really.

Microtransactions

So this really is a big one and my final rant. My previous gripes were meant to be taken with a bit of humour. Yeah they still piss me off, but in the grand scheme, they are just minor annoyances. This however, this is a very serous problem with modern gaming. Microtransactions are the cancer of gaming and they need to be cut out before the cancer takes over.

It’s easy to put the blame of freemium games, ones that are ‘free to play’, but in order to progress (and not grind for countless hours), you really need to pay real money to get anywhere. These games are everywhere, usually found on mobile devices, but they have started to creep into console gaming now too. From one perspective, you can kind of see why the ‘need’ to include microtransactions in free to play games, as that’s the way these titles ultimately get funded… but then, when you take a look at some of the prices for in game items and so on, it really make no sense.

CURIOSITY

Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?, that experimental tappy-tap game from Peter Molyneux’s 22Cans studio featured a diamond chisel that allowed you to tap away faster, it’s price? £50,000. That is one of the more extreme examples of a one-off microtransaction i admit. But what really boils my piss is those games that have lots of smaller ones. Games that sell in game currency for real world money in various bundles, smaller single use items for lower amounts but ones that all mount up to so much more. I mean, here’s a story about someone who spent over £113,000 ($150,000) on the ‘free to play’ Transformers: Earth Wars game.

The thing is that microtransactions can and do become an obsession or even an addiction to people. Even worse is that many of them are presented like gambling machines, or loot boxes as the big name companies like to call them. It is gambling. You pay money to see a animated box (or similar) open and give you a prize. You have no idea what that prize will be, could be great, could be crap… it is gambling.

But things get worse because these things are not only found in free games. Big, AAA titles now have them, games that you already pay full price for are now fleecing people for every penny they may have. EA’s FIFA games with their FIFA Coins that cost real money, for you to spend on players to build your team. Let’s not forget the fairly recent NBA 2K20 gambling controversy. EA are not some small, independent game studio struggling to make money, they are a worldwide famed developer and publisher who bring in literal billions year after year. Rockstar Games with their Shark Cards of GTA Online are another guilty party. Rockstar Games who made the biggest and fastest selling piece of entertainment ever, who also bring in billions in profits.

But it gets even worse. A lot of these freemium games are often aimed at kids. Here’s a game called Coin Master

It’s a fucking slot machine and one you can pay real money to play it too. On the app store, its age rating is only a 12+. It’s a slot machine, you can’t play those if you are twelve years-old in the real world, so why is it okay in games?

This really is a a serious issue and there have been thoughts of making any game that features this kind of gambling to be automatically rated for adults only. For me, that’s just not enough. It’s quite clear to me that parents don’t pay attention to a game’s age rating, just look at how many kid play GTA, CoD, etc. Slapping an age rating on a game won’t do anything. Then there are certain companies who refuse to accept that microtransactions are gambling, they give them clever little names to try to create a loophole…

‘Surprise mechanics’? Fuck off with that. It’s gambling. See, this is what these companies will do if microtransactions are allowed to continue, they will worm their way out of the bad press by creating loopholes and buzzwords. As I said, these things are the cancer of gaming. The loopholes surrounding them need to be closed sooner rather than later. Slapping age rating on games won’t do anything, microtransactions need to be made illegal across the board, no exceptions. If not, then this cancer of gaming will be allowed to grow until its un-treatable. I have two small children and my eldest had begun to take an interest in gaming, but if this shit is the future, then I’ll be doing my very best to ensure my kids don’t grow up as gamers.

End rant!