Tag Archives: Little bits of gaming

I Need To Talk About The Red Dead Redemption II Ending

Oh this article has been bubbling away inside me for weeks now. See, I bulldozed my way through RDR II‘s story just so I could get to the ending ASAFP as I wanted to do a write-up for this ere’ blog. Since finishing the game, I’ve been mulling the ending over in my head and comparing it to the ending of the previous game. See, I really didn’t much enjoy the ending of RDR when I first experienced it. It’s a cruel and unforgiving ending that torments the player. However, after a while and finishing the game again – the finale to the previous game quickly became my favourite game ending ever.

John Marston Death

So obviously massive SPOILERS ahead and throughout this whole article. If you’ve not finished RDR II yet, stop reading now and go play the damn game. This is the only SPOILER warning I’m giving and directly after this paragraph is done, I’m going straight into huge SPOILER territory… you have been warned.

The Ending

So Arthur dies in RDR II. When I first started playing the game, I had already convinced myself that Arthur would die in the game. I mean, this is a prequel and seeing as the plot of the last game was John Marston hunting down his old gang members and given the fact that Arthur was not part of the last game… you could pretty much work it out yourself. However, through the course of the story, some gang members do just leave the gang. So a ray of hope was given that maybe, just maybe Arthur leaves the gang at the end and is still alive during the events of RDR. But that wasn’t to be the case. Arthur dies in this game and depending on your moral-meter (being good or bad), the ending slightly changes too. But before I get to the last moments of Arthur Morgan, I need to cover just what it is that kills him…

Arthur Morgan Dies

Arthur is diagnosed with Tuberculosis at around 50% of the story. It wasn’t until my second play-through when I noticed during the mission Money Lending And Other Sins III where you have to collect a debt from a farmer called Thomas Downes that he spits in Arthur’s face. Later his wife reveals that Thomas is ill and even later still during another part of said mission, Thomas dies. It’s that previously mentioned spitting when Arthur contracts Tuberculosis from Thomas. As the game continues, Arthur slowly dies in front of your eyes and even before he is diagnosed. It begins with some subtle coughing that you don’t really notice, the coughing gets slowly worse as the game progresses. Arthur’s skin becomes pale and his eyes bloodshot. Other characters will comment on how ill he looks, etc, and it goes on until the very end. It’s a marvellous piece of storytelling from Rockstar where Arthur’s fate sealed very early in the game, but you the player (and Arthur) are not made aware of it until much later. Playing a second time really brings the clever writing to the forefront.

This is what kills Arthur, not a hail of bullets as with John Marston in the previous game but a disease. It’s a slow death and one that unfolds as you play. Rockstar can be pretty damn cruel sometimes, they make you enjoy and even love a character… then they kill them off. They even kill off your horse in this too and it’s got some emotional gravitas to it. I mean, you spend a lot of time with your horse, you brush it, feed it and bond with it through the game. The horse becomes more than just a means for transportation and as he/she dies, Arthur comforts it and its pretty damn touching too.

Arthur and Horse

There was one thing I was doing whole playing my way through RDR II, I was keeping an eye on the story completed %. As the game slowly built to it’s finale, as Arthur’s time was coming to an end, as I completed the “final” mission… I noticed something. The story was only 70% complete. Arthur was dead but there was still 30% of the story left? That’s when the epilogue began, a fucking huge more than a quarter of the entire story epilogue. John Marston returns and you get to play as him for this final 30%. I was kind of expecting something like this. I thought they would do something similar given the ending of the previous game as after John dies, you control his now grown up son Jack. In RDR, you only play as Jack Marston for a single mission as he tracks down Edgar Ross and kills him for betraying John. In RDR II, you play as John for a huge chunk of the game. It’s got to be around 5-7 hours of the game.

John Marston Callback.png

John’s section of the game is very slow and plodding in an already slow game. Most of John’s story is about him going straight by turning his back on his outlaw days, getting a job on a ranch, making a bad decision and Abigail leaving him. It then continues with John trying to make amends as he buys some land and builds his own ranch, the ranch in RDR. You have to physically go out an buy goods and building materials too then actually build the ranch to entice Abigail back. The whole thing is very slow and very, very reminiscent of the ending to the last game where John works on his ranch, tries to build a relationship with his son Jack and so on. It all leads up to where RDR (almost) begins as Edgar Ross searches for John to get him to work for the government to hunt down his ex-gang members.

Everything ties up nicely indeed… but is it a good ending?

Honestly, I’m still not sure. Yeah I didn’t much like the ending to the last game at first but it grew on me and became my favourite game ending so far. But that’s because it was a shock, a ballsy move by Rockstar to kill off the main character. With RDR II, it just feels like a repeat. Arthur’s death is very, very different – but the point is, it’s still pretty much the same ending. A lot of the same beats are repeated, not necessarily in the same order but they are there. The slow working on the ranch, the death of the main character, the “surprise” epilogue, etc.

I enjoyed playing as John at the end, of course I did as he’s one of my favourite game characters, but I also think it dragged out a bit too long. Did the epilogue really need to be 30% of the game? It’s not just the ranch building and all that, its the fact you have to take Abigail out on a date, get a photograph taken. Before all of that when working on the first ranch you have to teach the rancher’s kid how to ride a horse, milk a cow. etc. It just began to feel like unnecessary fluff to drag out an already very long game. Maybe if the John Marston epilogue had been released as DLC later and not part of the main game. Maybe if the credits rolled when Arthur died and with John escaping with his family leaving me to fill in the blanks, leaving me with a sense of loss as with the previous game, maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more?

John Marston Ranch Building

I don’t know but after spending 50+ ours playing as Arthur Morgan and watching him die… that was enough for me. His demise was brilliantly written and realised. Yes I love John Marston and yes, of course they had to tie everything into RDR. I just think the epilogue as too much and superfluous.

 

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Into The Wonderful? GODS Remastered

Back in the 90s growing up as a British teenage gamer with a Commodore Amiga at hand to play on, there were two gaming developers that for me defined the decade. There was Bullfrog with games such as Theme Park/Hospital, Syndicate and Populous to name a few. And then there were The Bitmap Brothers who stood out from the crowd at the time as they posed for pictures in the gaming magazines of the day in shades next to helicopters (not theirs).

The Bitmap Brothers

They were the cool kids amidst all the geeky nerds other gaming studios had, the Bitmaps were the ones that developed games with a real passion and drive that pushed the limits of the hardware and even the people who played them thanks to the game’s punishing difficulty. They showed the world that games could be beautiful to look at and great to play at the same time. Titles like Xenon, Speedball, The Chaos Engine and GODS (yes the title is stylised in all caps) were sublime. I’m currently writing a book covering the best of British game developers/publishers, companies I grew up with and their games – you can check out the first three chapters (in the first draft) right here. One of the developers I cover in the book is The Bitmap Brothers and I signed off the first draft of their chapter saying how much I adored their games, especially GODS and how much I’d love to see a sequel or even a remaster. Well that was a few months back when I wrote that and at the time I didn’t know my wish would come true. Yes GODS, perhaps my favourite game from the Bitmaps (after The Chaos Engine of course) has had the remaster treatment and I’ve played it thanks to receiving a review copy. The good news is I get to play a remaster of one of my all time favourite games, the bad news is I have to re-write the ending of that chapter of my book. But the big question is, does GODS have a place in today’s gaming market?

First up, a very quick history lesson on the original. GODS was developed by The Bitmap Brothers and released in 1991 for pretty much every 16-bit machine at the time, though the Amiga original is still the best. Kicking off on the title screen with a brilliant tune by Nation 12 (A.K.A John Foxx) called Into The Wonderful. One thing their games always had was amazing music and GODS was no exception.

You play as the legendary Hercules on a quest to become a God by exploring and conquering the citadel of the gods, defeat the numerous enemies and four guardians to achieve immortality. GODS was an action/shooter/puzzle/platformer and was bloody hard too (all Bitmap games were tricky-dicky), this was our Dark Souls of the day. Controlling Hercules was pretty standard stuff. Walk left/right, die a lot, shoot bad guys, die a lot, find treasure that can be spent on upgrades, die a lot, play around with switches and levers to discover secrets, die a lot, make pixel perfect jumps, die a lot. Yup GODS was a tough cookie… but never unfairly so. It was a game where you had to play and replay levels over and over to not only to get the most out of them but also add a new bit of info to your memory for next time. Each time you played, you’d learn something new – remember an enemy spawn point to get the drop on them next time, learn a switch pulling pattern to discover a secret room with treasure, experiment with the upgrades to find out which one worked best for that particular level. GODS was a game that needed your upmost attention and I loved the hell out of it back in the day.

GODS Amiga Box

It’s now 2018 and GODS is back as GODS Remastered for the Xbox One and Steam. Developed by Robot Riot with cooperation from one of the original Bitmap Brothers, Mike Montgomery. GODS Remastered is just that, they’ve not messed around with the core gameplay and a few tweaks aside (that I’ll get to soon) this is the same as the original only with fancy HD graphics.

I did get a bit of a nerd-smirk when I loaded up the game and was greeted with a slightly updated version of the original title screen, 16-bit, scan-lines and all. I was instantly transported back to 1991.

GODS Remastered Old Title

But that old school looking title soon gives way to an all new HD one. GODS Remastered is a very faithful recreation of the original. The levels are the same, the enemy placement is the same, the puzzles are the same, the weapons the same… everything is the same. Well perhaps not “everything”, I was so looking forward to loading this up and being greeted by a updated/remix/remastered version of the classic Into The Wonderful intro music… but no. I believe there was a licensing issue with the song and so we get a new tune instead. Heaven to Hades is the new track and while I’m definitely disappointed about the lack of Into The Wonderful, this new music works and doesn’t sound out of place at all – still sounds very “Bitmap Brothers” if you know what I mean.

GODS Remastered New Title

With this being such an accurate remaster, I don’t really need to dwell too much on the game itself. Chances are that if you are reading this, then you are already aware of what GODS is and most probably played it a lot too. This is the same as the original but with shiny new HD graphics. I’ll even give you a quick look at the very start of the game and segue nicely into one of the new features.

Anyone who played the original will have the image of the very start of the game embedded into their subconscious with how may times we had to play and replay the levels due in part to the difficulty and the fact we loved the game so much we payed and played it over and over. You all remember that very first gameplay image right? With our hero, Hercules standing and the bottom left of the screen the first weapon over to his right, with a ladder leading up, as a gem spun above his head in a seemingly impossible to reach area. And you all remember what happens when you walk over to that first weapon. Well that opening screen now looks like this…

GODS Remastered Start.JPG

Oh yeah, that brings back some memories eh? It’s very familiar and yet new at the same time. You instantly recognise it – probably still have nightmares over it. Well a feature of this remaster is that if you feel a little nostalgic and want a trip back to 1991, just give the right stick a click and…

GODS Remastered Old Start

Yup you can switch between the HD remastered graphics and the original ones anytime you like. Though I’m sure they are not the original Amiga graphics as they look more like one of the console ports, possibly the CD-32 version – which is a shame as the console versions are not as good. But you know what? I found myself switching between the graphic modes a lot as I played just so I could see the differences between the two and compare how accurate all the background details were… and they are pretty much 100% accurate with the HD version having more going on. The HD graphics themselves are very nice indeed and while all new, they still look like they belong in a Bitmap Brothers game. The colour palette is more vibrant and yet it still maintains that use of plenty of grey they were famed for with splashes of orange/bronze. Yup GODS Remastered is a very pretty game that has lost none of the original’s charm. Along with the “improved” graphics comes some very nice lighting effects, shadows and such. Though if I’m being 100% honest, I much prefer the original 16-bit visuals and after my incessant flicking between the two, I eventually just stuck with the original graphics.

Another new feature is the saving. I’m sure veteran GODS players will remember that the game only had four levels (four hard levels) and each level was split into three sections. Clear all the sections in that level, beat the end of level boss and you would be rewarded with a password that would start you back at the start of the level. This meant there were only 4 passwords for the whole game, no checkpoints here folks, you fail at the end of level boss and you’d have to play the entire level from the start. Well GODS Remastered has gotten around that by having a auto save feature that saves not only after each fully completed level, but also in between each section that makes up each level. So fail at the end of level boss here and instead of gong back to the very start of the level, just load up the start of the section. For me, this makes the game a little easier and may put off some hardcore GODS players.

The controls are still as clunky as ever, and I mean that in a nice way. There’s something about the way GODS plays that feels right even though it’s a bit stiff. I mean, when Hercules turns around, he doesn’t instantly flip left/right, there’s a little animation that lasts maybe a second or so – but that second is pretty important when you have enemies spawning on either side of you. There is a little help added to this remaster as when you press the left/right trigger buttons, Hercules turns and shoots at the same time. It’s a nice little addition that can really help you out of a tight spot when you get overwhelmed. Plus there is the fact we now use modern controllers these days too. The original Amiga version had the disadvantage of using a joystick with one button, so everything you had to do in the game came from that single button. Playing on the Xbox One with it’s multi-button controller means you now have a button for jumping, one for shooting, one for using switches and one for picking items up. The whole thing makes controlling Hercules easier.

So far it’s all sounding really good… except I have a major problem with GODS Remastered. It’s a problem I can’t overlook and needs addressing. That problem is this…

GODS Remastered Pricw.JPG

£16.74? I mean, aside from the rather stupid pricing instead of £16.99 – almost £17 for this? Look I fucking love GODS it really is one of my all time favourite games but this remaster is bare bones, you get the original game with nice graphics… that’s it. There are no extras, nothing to add gameplay value. It’s a 27 year old game with shiny new graphics.

Okay so there are some new features besides the ones I’ve already covered. Finish the game and unlock a speed run mode… but let me ask you this – what is a speed run mode? I mean, people speed run games all the time and they don’t need a specific mode to do so. You know what is needed? A stopwatch. So all this game offers as a “bonus” is a stopwatch, you know that thing you have on your phone anyway. Then there are leaderboards so you can compete for the best score, achievements have been added and that’s all you get for your £17. Do you want to see how minimal the game is?

GODS Remastered Options

That’s the options screen… all of it, every single option in the game. It’s a volume slider and that’s all you get too. GODS is not a complex game I know but is that all we get, something I can adjust via the volume control on my T.V.? No button mapping, no screen adjustments, nothing other than a music and sound effects slider.

The game offers nothing new that justifies the price except the HD graphics and for me, I don’t think that’s worth £17 especially as I prefer the original 16-bit ones anyway. You get four levels. Now I’m no GODS master but I did play it a lot back in the day. I sat down to play this remaster and got the boss of level three on my first attempt… there are only four levels. I completed the game on my second attempt and I’m currently at the top of the world rankings leaderboard… well the game hasn’t been released yet so that’s hardly worthwhile – but still. There’s an achievement to speed run the game in under an hour. That’s how short this game is, it can be finished in less than 60 minuets if you know what you are doing. In fact, it can be completed in a little over 36 minutes.

GODS Remastered needs more to it. Bearing in mind that the original game only had four levels and while this remaster does a cracking job of recreating the levels – there are still only four. For a game that costs a shade under £17, it’s a joke. What’s needed is more levels created just for this remaster, maybe a level editor so people can share and challenge other players, new weapons and upgrades, armour/clothing that could offer gameplay benefits, play as different heroes, more secret rooms to discover.

You know what would’ve been nice? Ports of all the other versions from the Amiga original to the SNES, Megadrive, DOS, CD 32, etc… all of them just so you could see the numerous different iterations of the game and find your personal favourite.

GODS Remastered Action

Something, the game needs something to warrant that price-tag. I mean, there is already an unofficial GODS remake called GODS Deluxe from a few years back with new graphical options, the original four levels, four all new levels and even a level editor so you can create your own… and it’s FREE. Maybe not 100% legal and all but still, it offers a lot more gameplay value than this remaster does with it’s high price which is my point.

Yes it’s a remaster not a remake, I get that but for the asking price, gamers expect more for their money these days. Maybe this would’ve flown ten years back or so, but not in today’s gaming climate. I got a review copy for free and for free – GODS Remastered is utterly brilliant. You want the best (subjectively) looking version of GODS to play right now, then GODS Remastered is it. But if I’d paid full price for this, I’d be really pissed off because there is nothing here. This is a £6-£8 game, maybe a £10 at the most, certainly not £17. I don’t think I paid £17 for the game back in 1991 so paying that much for the same game (with “nicer” graphics) almost three decades later in 2018 is ludicrous. The little to none additions are not helping either… a speed run mode?

Just as a quick comparison – one of my recent previous reviews was for Horizon Chase Turbo. Another indie game that is hugely inspired by 90s arcade racers. It has a slightly lower price of £15.99 and yet in terms of content, game modes, replayability, unlockables and gameplay value, Horizon Chase Turbo is heads and shoulders above GODS Remastered as it offers the player a lot more game for their money… less money too. I’m sorry, but you just can’t release a bare bones game like this an expect people to fork over close to £20 for it.

Robot Riot

What Robot Riot have done here is commendable – I mean this remaster was not crowd-funded as is the norm these days. This was 100% self-funded and I have to applaud everyone over at Robot Riot for that. I don’t mean to piss on their cornflakes here. I really, really want GODS Remastered to do well, the core game is still solid and just as very playable today as it was back in 91. I just don’t think it’s worth the asking price and can’t recommend you buy it. Robot Riot either need to drop the price by at least half or add new features for free.

Again, take a look at the previously mentioned GODS Deluxe (Google it) as an example of how to do this right and add value to an older, much loved game game.

Overall, I do like GODS Remastered as its GODS, which is an all time classic game that still plays well today and think Robot Riot have done a cracking job recreating it, but it’s all just garnish with no real meat. It’s just a very bitter pill to swallow at £17.

If the original GODS is a fine, classic Rolex watch – then GODS Remastered is a cheap knock-off being sold to you by the “lucky-lucky” man on a beach in Benidorm, only he’s expecting you to pay over the odds for the knock-off.

Disappointing…

I Don’t Need No Education: Skool Daze Reskooled

One of my all time favourite games growing up was the ZX Spectrum classic Skool Daze. It was one of the first sandbox games. Granted, compared to the titles of today like Red Dead Redemption II, Skool Daze is nothing to shout about. But it was the first game I recall whee I had the freedom to play my way. Yeah there was a point and that point was to open the safe where your school report card was held so you could steal it. You had to learn the combination to the safe first and how you did that was really quite open for the time. You could walk around and explore the school at your own pace and ignore the main mission all together. Cause trouble, all while trying to avoid getting lines from the teachers as too many lines meant game over.

Skool Daze.jpg

Write funny and rude messages on the blackboards, hit students and teachers with a catapult/slingshot, jump around like a kangaroo, attend classes or skip them all together, get other students into trouble, etc. There was so much you could do of your own free will and Skool Daze is often considered a pioneer of the sandbox game genre. Skool Daze was a big hit and was followed by a sequel, Back to Skool. Giving you an bigger school to play around in and even including a girls school, more characters and ways to cause some trouble. The two games were stone cold classics and there have been numerous remakes and updates over the years. Even Rockstar Games themselves got in on the act with their Bully game.

Alternative Software.jpg

Enter Alternative Software (who have been around since 1985), the latest team to try to bring Skool Daze to a new generation of fans with their remake Skool Daze Reskooled. Only this is more than just a remake of the original game, this is a unification of both the original games in one. Yes, Skool Daze and Back to Skool all in one game with various updates to keep things fresh. First up I just want to mention the options, this game is full of options. Fully customiseable keyboard controls, gamepad support, audio sliders and even difficulty settings. You can tailor the game to suit your needs.

Skool Daze Reskooled Controler Options

Alternative Software have been wise enough to not mess too much with the core gameplay. If you played and enjoyed the original games, then you’ll find yourself slipping very comfortably into Skool Daze Reskooled. There are a total of four maps to play in… okay so one of them is just a tutorial to get you used to the game’s mechanics. The other three are the maps from Skool Daze, Back to Skool and then there is an all new map called Nu Skool (I’ve not unlocked it yet though) designed just for this game. The renaming of the main characters is also carried over from the originals and that was something I loved about the game. Yeah renaming a character is all too common place now, but back when Skool Daze first came out? I remember renaming some of the students and teachers to people from my school who annoyed me at the time and really enjoyed punching them in the face or hitting them with a well timed catapult shot… still did it with this game too. But Alternative Software have added a nice twist as you can now unlock other characters to play as and they each have their own strengths, weaknesses and bonus. For instance Eric, the main and only character available at the start is very average at everything, but keep playing and you’ll unlock other characters with better/different stats.

Skool Daze Reskooled Character Screen

The graphics are 2D, bold and colourful. Basic stuff but you really don’t need fancy high polygon counts graphics here. They suit the game well and pay homage to the original in plenty of ways. When you attend classes now (if you want to) you can answer questions and even learn something along the way too. I’ve had to brush up on my periodic table.

There’s a handy waypoint system showing you your next task and even a hint system in the pause screen to help you out if you get stuck or unsure of your next move should be. Skool Daze Reskooled even features achievements giving you some nice and funny goals to aim for. Plus there’s a nice little display that slides in and out at the touch of a button to tell you where you should be, whether that be in class, break time or whatever. Everything is well designed so you never forget what your goal is or where you need to be if and when you decide to go off and just mess around with the game mechanics… and you will. It’s just too damn tempting to punch that annoying swot, Einstein in the face and letting another pupil get the blame.

Skool Daze Reskooled Angel Face Lines

It’s a much smoother game over the original with vastly improved animations and frame-rates. The slow chugging along of Skool Daze is now a distant memory as controlling Eric here is a complete joy. Everything is so much brighter and easier on the eyes too. As much as I loved the original game, it was a visual mess and often found it difficult to tell which character I was in a crowd or even where I was a lot of time. Skool Daze Reskooled is just so much more easier to follow.

Skool Daze Reskooled Achievement

Available on Steam now for a very reasonable £5.99 as well as being available for Android and iOS at a slightly cheaper £2.99. But I think it plays far better on a computer then a mobile device. There’s a lot of game here for your money and any fan of the classic Skool Daze will not be disappointed. I’ve played several remakes of the game over the years (Klass of 99 is probably the most famous one) but Skool Daze Reskooled is by far the most fun, most accurate (while also new) and most gameplay packed version yet. If you loved the original as I did, go get yourself a copy right now and prepare yourself for a wondrous trip down memory lane. I doff my school cap to @AlternSoftware  for bringing back one of my all time favourites is such great style.

Now if you’l excuse me, I need to go and write “Mr Wacker is a wanker” on the blackboard.

Horizon Chase Turbo: OutRun Great or Spirit Of Speed Terrible?

One of my favourite games growing up was the Sega classic OutRun, that game is guilty of spawning my love for arcade racers – particularly those of that 80s/90s era. Sadly, its a genre that has all but faded away what with the advent of modern gaming. Racers these days are going for that ultra realistic kind of approach as seen in titles like the Forza and Gran Turismo series of games. Simple but fun racers are hard to find these days, those pick up and play racers without all the fine tuning guff. Still for every stone cold classic like OutRun there were several terrible arcade racers like Spirit Of Speed 1937 – Just trust me, it’s fucking terrible.

Aquiris Game Studio

Enter Brazilian indie developer/publisher Aquiris Game Studio and their attempt at reviving classic arcade racers with Horizon Chase Turbo. But is this an arcade hit or a coin-op flop? Horizon Chase Turbo started out as a free to play game for mobile back in 2015, but it has since grown into a “proper” title and has already been released on the PlayStation 4 and Windows earlier this year with it’s new turbo additions and tweaks but it has only just seen an Xbox One and Nintendo Switch release and I’ve been playing the Xbox version.

First up, there are a good selection of game modes to keep you playing. The only one available at the start is World Tour which is exactly what it sounds like as you tour the world stopping off at places like like America (specifically California), South Africa, Iceland, China and Japan to name a few. There are a total of twelve different locales to race in and each of those locales features multiple races with even more varied places. As a for instance, the first and only place unlocked at the start is California and yet within California you’ll race at San Francisco, Sequoia National Park, Los Angeles and even Death Valley. There are almost 50 cites to race in and over 100 tracks to tear around. As you play you earn points and said points are used to unlock new cars to enjoy and countries to race in. Unlock more of the World Tour and more game options open up. Soon you’ll find yourself taking part in Tournament, Playground and even Endurance game modes all with their own set of challenges and options.

Tournament mode offers you three different difficulties and each difficultly features multiple tournaments to ply your driving skills to as you and nineteen AI opponents fight for the top spot. While Endurance mode sees you racing on either 12, 36 or even all 109 race tracks in the game one after another. Which will take a good few hours to get through I’m sure.

Horizon Chase Turbo Trio.jpg

The Playground mode is an all new feature added to the Xbox and Switch versions with the PlayStation 4 and Windows version getting an update soon. I could sit here and try to explain Playground mode but I did get some info on the new mode from Aquiris Game Studio themselves:

Playground is a rotative competition that present 5 new races each time. They are time-limited tracks that will always bring something special to the table: Time Attack races with no opponents, changes in weather and time of day, mirrored races, infinite nitros, restrictions on which cars competitors can use.

Expect to see sandstorms in Iceland, volcanoes in California and new rules! You never know what the next season will feature.

Races come in one of 5 difficulty levels, meaning there’s something for every type of Horizon Chase player. Each race presents two levels of challenge for Playgrounders to take on: beating the computer opponents may be a challenge in itself, but you can always take it up a notch and fight to climb the leaderboards. Each race has its own leaderboard, Global and Friends-only, that stay online only for the duration of a season.

In Playground mode, each season brings a new set of surprises and a new place to compete.

Playground mode is immense fun as it throws you into a variety of races each with their own unique challenges and levels of difficultly. You might find yourself doing something as simple as racing a track in mirror mode or maybe you’ll be in a thunder storm at night with unlimited nitros and no HUD. With races that vary from racing on your own or against a dozen or so opponents. Plus the races will change regularly too so there’s always something new to experience and be challenged by. Playground mode is pretty damn amazing.

Horizon Chase Turbo is not a licensed game so you won’t be seeing any Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porches and the like – but you will find some very, very close imitations. The first two cars you have in the game are basically a Ferrari F355 and a Dodge Viper.  And it’s not all about supercars either as you’ll be driving this game’s version of a classic Mini, VW Beetle and camper van plus other everyday vehicles. The cars also come in numerous colours and you can unlock special races that will then unlock upgrades for the vehicles too. There are around 30 cars to unlock and drive and you know what, no pay to play, no lootcrates, no DLCs. You can unlock everything, all game modes, all cars, all races and all upgrades just by playing… you know, like we used to be able to do. Plus you can play four player split screen with friends… yes a local/couch multiplayer game – remember those? Horizon Chase Turbo Online also includes online leaderboards so you can compare your race times with players around the globe and even ghost cars so you can race against not only your friends but yourself and try to beat your personal best lap times.

Horizon Chase Turbo 4 player.jpg

Races are fast paced and enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve taken part in a race that has lasted longer then five minutes yet – and I love it. Speaking if the races, each one has tokens you can collect as you speed along. Collect all the tokens and finish first to get a Super Trophy. worth more points to unlock more goodies, so it gives you something to aim for even if you’ve already completed a race. There is also a fuel gauge so you’ll need to pick up fuel icons as you race. Horizon Chase Turbo offers a firm but fair challenge. I found myself blistering my way through the first three or so countries and races, but the AI gets tougher and the tracks begin to become more twisty and feature narrow roads which begin to push your driving skills.

Your driver comes up with quips and jibes as you overtake or crash, delivered via a speech bubble which is something taken directly from the Top Gear games on the SNES. But Aquiris have added a nice little spin on the idea as depending on which car you are driving, your driver will say different things, if you drive the Explorer car (this game’s version of the DeLorean DMC-12) the driver will quote Back to the Future with lines like “Great Scott” and “This is heavy”. In fact there are a few movie based cars to unlock each with their own references.

Horizon Chase Turbo DeLorean

The graphics really are quite something. They’re retro yet modern in glorious HD. They have that cartoon-like, cell-shaded look. Low polygon count but high in colour and vibrancy. The cars and scenery lack any real detail, but that’s the appeal. The lack of detail means the game moves along as a very speedy pace, this game is fast. Each country/city is represented by a scrolling backdrop that highlights famous landmarks such as The Golden Gate Bridge, Moai stone heads from Easter Island or even the Acropolis.

Horizon Chase Turbo is simplistic and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – in this case, simple is great. The controls are bare minimum, accelerate, brake, a button for nitro and then just turn… oh and you can blare your horn at opponents. No gear changing, there’s no tweaking your set-up, worrying about down-force, selecting the right tyres, etc. This is simple, basic racing. Select your car, its colour and hit the track taking corners at 140+ MPH as the colorful scenery blasts past you.

Initially, I was disappointed as the game isn’t very OutRun at all. But the more I played it, the more it dawned on me that I don’t think it intended to be OutRun. You remember that Louts Turbo series of games on the Amiga? They were published by Gremlin Graphics and went on to evolve into the Top Gear franchise on the SNES. Well Horizon Chase Turbo very much puts me in mind of those games. The graphics are of a similar style, the cars drive the same way, the sense of speed is the same and even the music is similar (well it was all composed by the same man, Barry Leitch). Horizon Chase Turbo is an imitation of some of the best 90s racers and a damn good one at that. It’s quite clear the guys and gals over at Aquiris Game Studios knew what kind of game they wanted to make with @Horizon_Chase, it’s obvious they have a passion and drive for those 90s arcade racers.

Horizon Chase Turbo Crash.jpg

I first put the game on aiming to play for an hour and thinking I’d get bored. Four hours later and I was still playing while writing this article at the same time, I only turned the game off because it was after 3 AM and my eyes were getting heavier and heavier. I just couldn’t stop playing, I’d unlocked the third locale, Brazil and wanted to see more – but fatigue eventually got the better of me. Let me put it this way, this game has made me stop playing Red Dead Redemption II… for a while at least.

I have since played the game a lot more and still thoroughly enjoying it. As I write this article, I’m a little over 50% way through the World Tour mode and I’ve dabbled a little in some of the other game modes too with Playground being the most fun, I can’t wait to see what crazy rules and races they have lined up next. I’ve still got a lot to unlock and enjoy. This is well stocked game with lots to unlock, new cars, tracks and even game modes. Horizon Chase Turbo is more than a game, it’s a time machine that has taken me back to that early 90s era when me and my brothers would play Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge on the Amiga 500 till all hours in the morning.

Horizon Chase Turbo is pure and simple arcade racing fun that I hope Aquiris Game Studio will refine and add new features too. May I suggest a track editor, overlapping tracks that use tunnels/bridges at the cross-point, jumps, race creator where you can set up your own rules Playground-style… this could be an almost limitless racing game.

Die Hard Games Retrospective

Yes I’m still celebrating the 30th anniversary of Die Hard as I’ve been doing throughout this year with numerous articles and I still have a few more to come including offering my own opinion on the biggest topic of every festive season. But before then, I want to take a look at the games based on and inspired by the movie series.

When I first started to think about this topic – only a few Die Hard games initially came to mind, that NES one, the trilogy thing on the PlayStation, oh and that arcade game. At first I thought this was going to be a relatively short article. But then other Die Hard games began to creep into my noodle, games I had played and long forgotten about. Plus a little digging around on the interwebs brought a whole slew of other Die Hard games to my attention. Turns out that John McClane has had quite a long career in video games over the years.

So let’s not dally around any longer, time to take on some terrorists, look at some Die Hard games and ask how can the same shit happen to the same guy twelve times?

Die Hard

Die Hard DOS

The first game was released in 1989 for DOS and developed by Dynamix, Inc. This game was a third person action shooter with some survival mechanics thrown in. With you playing as John McClane following the same plot as the film with you having to take on Hans Gruber and his men while trying to save hostages.

Featuring early 3D graphics and some EGA renditions of stills from the movie to forward the story. Strangely though Bruce Willis’ likeness is not used and McClane’s appearance is altered from the movie, he’s not even wearing the right coloured top – but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber is shown in all it’s early DOS graphical glory.

Gans Gruber DOS

You would have to go from floor to floor taking on terrorists as you scoured Nakatomi Plaza in search of items and weapons to help you survive. Take out a bad guys and you could search them too for ammo. Many of the films iconic action sequences are represented in the game including the throwing C-4 down the lift shaft, jumping from the roof as it explodes and of course facing off against Hans himself. The game features multiple possible endings from saving the day just like in the movie to Hans getting away with the money and killing Holly too.

Die Hard DOS Action

For the time, Die Hard was a very advanced game using not just action but also survival ideas to make a highly unique game… tough as nails hard though but if you persevered and learned all the game had to offer, then you would be rewarded with a great title.

Die Hard

Die Hard C64

This one was released for the Commodore 64 in 1990 and developed by Silent Software. It’s basically a port of the previous DOS game only a lighter version and changed to a side scroller due to the limitations of the Commodore 64. So gone are those fancy 3D environments. But don’t worry, Hans still shows up in glorious C-64, pixel vision.

Die Hard C64 Action

No real point in going into details with this one as it’s pretty much the same game as the previous one. Some of the survival elements were toned down to make the game more action-centric but still essentially the same thing as before. But hey, they got the colour of McClane’s shirt right in this one. This one is okay, it lacks the depth of it’s DOS bigger brother but certainly playable though.

Die Hard

Die Hard TurboGrafx 16.jpg

Also released in 1990 was this exclusive to Japan for the TurboGrafx-16 game developed by Pack-In-Video Co., Ltd. Very different from the previous two games we have seen so far with it being a top-down/arcade action title. While it followed the plot of the movie, it still used some creative licence along the way.

You start the game in a forest… just not like in the movie. The game features various weapons, like a lazer… just not like in the movie and the final boss fight is with an attack helicopter… just not like in the movie. As I said, the game uses some creative license. I suppose one could compare this to the arcade classic Commando. It has the same top-down viewpoint and its one of those run and gun type games with you shooting your way through dozens and dozens of bad guys.

Die Hard TurboGrafx 16 action

After you get out of the forest that is not in the film, the game does take place in Nakatomi Plaza and it begins to look a lot more like the flick. But the whole building is like a huge maze with branching paths and various doors to go through, you’ll find yourself getting lost pretty quickly. Still, it’s a decent game overall if a little frustrating, full of action and yeah it feels very Die Hard once out of the opening couple of stages and if you put those lazers at the back of your mind.

Die Hard

Die Hard NES.jpg

Perhaps the most (in)famous of the early Die Hard games. Released for the NES in 1991, developed by Pack-In-Video Co., Ltd. Another top-down shooter but very different from the previous game… but at least you don’t start out in a forest.

The game follows the same plot as the movie with McClane stuck in Nakatomi Plaza having to fend of terrorists and stop them breaking into the vault to steal the cash (bearer bonds in the movie). You start out with nothing, not even a gun, but if you manage to punch the crap out of the first bad guy, you’ll soon find yourself armed with a gun. Basically all you have to do is clear each floor of terrorists, find Hans and stop him. The main problem with this game is the time limit as there are about 3-4 minutes between each lock on the vault being opened and when all locks are opened, it’s game over. The time limit is way to strict and gives you little room to explore which is a shame because the game pretty much requires you to be a little stealthy/slow.

Die Hard NES Action.jpg

There are a couple of interesting aspects that include a foot meter. This is really a heath bar for your feet and the more damage your feet get (like walking on broken glass), the slower you move… yes like in the movie. Plus you can listen in on Hans talking to his henchmen via a C.B. radio… yes like in the movie. The story is played out with still cut-scenes taken from the movie, still no Bruce Willis though, but Alan Rickman is here.

It’s actually an interesting game with some great features, but that damn time limit really ruins this one as it forces you to run around like a headless chicken when you really need to take your time and explore the levels. The game features multiple endings once more including Hans escaping with Holly.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Die Hard 2 Amiga

Developed by Tiertex Ltd. and released for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and DOS. This one hit the shop shelves in 1992 and is based on the movie of the same name. Going for a first person view point, this was one of those light-gun games… without the light-gun.

Set over five stages based on scenes from the film and each stage split into three screens, kill the bad guys on each screen to advance to the next one, clear all three screens to move onto the next stage. You know these type of games, bad guys keep popping up, you shoot them and they drop power-ups, weapons and ammo. Occasionally a civilian will run in the line of fire instead of staying in cover (because they’re stupid), rinse and repeat. It’s a shooting gallery and not a good one.

Die Hard 2 Amiga Action

This one’s not very good at all, it’s just so damn dull and there are better games of it’s ilk around, even in 92 it felt 10 years out of date and that feeling is much worse now. The screens don’t scroll or anything, they are completely static. If you can stomach the game until the end you’ll get one of the worst game endings ever with a blue screen displaying “You completed your mission” and that’s it. Best to avoid this one.

Die Hard Trilogy

Die HArd Trilogy.jpg

This could be the most famous game based on the movies. Released for PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Windows in 1996. Developed by Probe Entertainment Ltd., this one takes the films of the then trilogy and melds them into one huge game. I think I’ll need to split this up into three sub-sections to cover as each game is different.

Die Hard: A third person action shooter based on the first film. Playing as McClane you fight your way up Nakatomi Plaza shooting terrorists, picking up ammo and weapons. Clear each floor of bad guys and move onto the next. I guess its pretty similar to the previous NES game I’ve covered… only without that annoying timer allowing you to enjoy the game at your own pace. Explore each floor, kill bad guys, save hostages, take in the badly dubbed lines from the movie. It’s very faithful to the film too and you’ll recognise some of the locales within Nakatomi Plaza. Yup this one is a stone cold classic that plays well and despite a little clunkyness, it’s still very playable today too. A truly great Die Hard game that does the film justice and it’s only the first third too.

Die HArd Trilogy Die Hard

Die Hard 2: Die Harder: Going for a first person view point, much like the previous Die Hard 2: Die Harder game I just covered, it’s one of those light-gun games… but with the light-gun if you had one or controller if you didn’t. Only this one is far, far superior to that other mess of a game. Taking place though numerous scenes from the film, it’s standard stuff, shoot bad guys, they drop ammo and weapons, civilians will run in the line of fire instead of staying in cover (because they’re stupid), rinse and repeat. The gameplay in this one is much more refined, it plays more like Sega’s Virtua Cop and less like the bland shooting gallery of the other one. There’s some impressive destructible scenery too. Not as good as the first part of this trilogy, but still damn good fun.

Die HArd Trilogy Die Hard 2

Die Hard With A Vengeance: Things are changed up again for the final third and now it’s a driving game. You race around New York in various vehicles such as taxis, ambulances, sports cars and the like. The aim it to find the many bombs Simon Gruber has placed around New York and ram them with your vehicle to defuse them… cos that’s how the bomb squad do it right? There are several power-ups that can be collected including turbo boosts, jumps and extra time. Oh yes, this game has a timer and I hate timers. Of course if you are chasing bombs, it makes sense that there’s a timer but I just do not like them. For me, this is the lesser of the three games in this trilogy but that being said, it’s fast paced and still fun – just not as fun as the other two.

Die HArd Trilogy Die Hard 3

Overall, this game is perhaps the best Die Hard game so far or most probably ever will be. It can be a little frustrating as the controls are very dated now and for me that third game is the weakest. Still as a collection you get three good games all in one that are both faithful to the films they are based on and yet also do their own thing to make for an exciting and entertaining trilogy of games. Oh and all three are overtly violent and bloody too.

Die Hard Arcade

Die Hard Arcade.jpg

Developed by Sega’s AM1 R&D Division and released (unsurprisingly) for the arcade in 1996 with a Sega Saturn port soon following. This one is based on the first movie, in fact, make that “inspired by” not “based on”. The game does take some liberties with the movie as I’ll cover next. It’s a scrolling beat em’ up kind of like Double Dragon or Final Fight only with fancy 3D graphics and environments.

So the story of the game does not follow the movie at all. You can play as either John McClane or Kris Thompsen (or both in two-player) who is an FBI agent I think (never played as her, why would I?) and you are tasked with saving President’s daughter from a skyscraper that I think is supposed to be Nakatomi Plaza from the first movie, the Nakatomi logo is everywhere. So it’s a very different plot. It’s standard scrolling beat em’ up fare, punch and kick bad guys, pick up weapons (one being a grandfather clock), take out more bad guys, get to the boss and kick the shit out of him.

Die Hard Arcade Action.jpg

There are a few QTE sections in the game that split up the levels and all in all, this one is pretty good fun to play. There’s no real depth and it’s very clear it had little to do with Die Hard. Makes me wonder if this was originally developed as an original game and the Die Hard license was slapped on at the last minute. I mean, the Japanese version has nothing to do with Die Hard at all and is called Dynamite Deka – which had a sequel called Dynamite Deka 2… and when that sequel was released outside of Japan it was called Dynamite Cop. So this Die Hard game has a sequel that’s not really a sequel at all.

But anyway, this is a good, all action game with both feet firmly in the arcade. Well worth a play even if it really has very little to do with Die Hard other than it’s name and lead character. It’s a short game and offers no replay value, but its a fun quick blast regardless.

Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas

Die HArd Trilogy 2

Yes the best Die Hard game got a sequel not based on any of the movies. Developed by n-Space, Inc. and released in 2000 for both PlayStation and Windows. This one is a whole new McClane story but still using that three different game concept from the other trilogy game.

Telling a story set after the events of Die Hard With A Vengeance with McClane going to Vegas where he finds himself cleaning up the mess after a prison riot where terrorist Klaus Von Haug attempts to take over Las Vegas with the help of some friends.

Die Hard Trilogy 2 Action.jpg

Okay so I’m not going to split this one up into three different sections as I did with the first game because you don’t play them separately. The three different game modes are here, the third person, the first person and the vehicle section – however they are all intertwined into one game instead of three individual games. So for instance, the first level would be a third person one then the next one would be a first person and the one after that would be a driving level and the game continues like that. Still that is if you play it in Movie Mode to follow the plot. You can also play Arcade Mode where you can choose which of the three gameplay styles you want, so you can play just the third person, first person or driving sections if you like.

This one is pretty bad. It’s a different developer from the first game and it really, really shows too. None of the three different gameplay styles work here and they all seem several steps backward since the first game. A very disappointing sequel to a great Die Hard game.

Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza

Released in 2002 for Windows and developed by Piranha Games, Inc., this game is a sort of remake of the movie. It follows the plot of the film to the letter, but still uses a little creative license to add some new ideas and even shows what McClane was up to when we do not see him in the film.

This one is a first person shooter and originally started out as a mod for Duke Nukem 3D. The development team even went to Fox Plaza (the real Nakatomi Plaza in L.A.) to ensure the game was as faithful as it could be. It uses music and sound effects from the game, even some of the cast provide voices… no Bruce Willis though. It really does follow the film well but still does it’s own thing along the way to expand the gameplay. It keeps things as close to the movie as possible to the point where the only weapons in the game are the only ones used in the film – so no lazers here.

Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza

It’s a pretty good shooter that does the film justice. Bearing in mind this was low budget and as I said, it started out life as a mod for another game too. Still with the limed funds and small development team, they made a solid Die Hard game that any fan of the flick will enjoy.

Die Hard: Vendetta

Die Hard Vendetta.jpg

Developed by Bits Studios Ltd. and released in 2002 for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Once more, another first person shooter, only this one tells a whole new story. Set several years after the events of the third film and McClane is now working for the Century City Police Department in Los Angeles along with his now adult daughter Lucy. Enter Piet Gruber, Hans’ son who kidnaps Lucy and you have to save her.

The main problem with this game is that first person shooters were everywhere back in the early 2000s and to stand out, they needed to be something special. Die Hard: Vendetta isn’t very special. It does a couple of interesting things like being able to take hostages/human shields and the enemies react depending on who you take. There a slo-mo thing called Hero Time where everything slows down but McClane moves at normal speed, so you can dodge bullets and take out bad guys easier. Plus the game has a stealth mechanic and the gameplay is pretty decent. But that’s all it is, decent.

Die Hard Vendetta Action.jpg

The story is trite and playing as McClane is not as fun as it should be despite some interesting mechanics. The game feels very unpolished but what is there is okay at best. Worth a look at least. This was the last “proper” Die Hard game too. All that is left are the final two Die Hard based “games” and they only need a quick look at too…

Die Hard

This one came out in 2013 and was developed by Goroid Games released for Android and iOS. Yes it’s one of those free to play games. Despite it only being called Die Hard it’s actually based on the most recent movie, A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s one of those endless runner type games with some shooting thrown in.

Die Hard Andriod.jpg

If you have played games like Temple Run on your phone, then you know what to expect. This is pretty standard fare and really offers little gameplay other than slide you finger left, right, up, down, etc. Nowt special here, but what is confusing is the next game…

A Good Day to Die Hard

Yes another game based on the most recent film. This one also came out in 2013 and also released for Android. Developed by Gameloft Software Ltd. So yeah, two games based off the same film but where as the previous one was an endless runner game, this one is a side scrolling shooter.

A Good Day to Die Hard Andriod

Playing as John or Jack McClane you find yourself in the midst of the action based on the movie. There’s some light platforming action along side the shooting. Take out the bad guys and continue through the level. Much more fun than the precious game but still a pretty shallow experience overall.


 

And that’s yer lot for Die Hard games. There are some great games with the highlight being Die Hard Trilogy from 98 – still good fun to play today. Some pretty good games such as 2002’s Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza. Then there have been some truly terrible titles with sadly more bad Die Hard games than good ones.

I’m still waiting for the definitive Die Hard game experience. I think a mix of that first part of Die Hard Trilogy melded with elements of Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza along with a pinch of the first Die Hard game on DOS and we could have an amazing game. But things seem to be drying up when it comes to Die Hard games. The latest film is in production as I type this but I doubt that will garner enough interest for someone to develop a full-blown game, I think the best we can hope is another Android/iOS free to play game. I don’t think we will ever see that definitive Die Hard game, I’m pretty sure we can say happy trials to that idea.

Lazy Journalism Vs Red Dead Redemption II

So this morning  I read the following little article written by Kate Lyons for The Guardian… Red Dead Redemption 2: game criticised over killing of suffragette.

Please give it a quick read as it’s not a long article, but if you don’t feel like it then I’ll give you the jist. So the article explains how in the game one can record themselves “beating, abusing and killing a suffragette character”. Which is true, yes you can. The article goes on to cover how some YouTubers are are making videos of the player abusing a suffragette character and uploading their footage for all to see and mock.

“However, days after its release, one YouTuber using the handle Shirrako uploaded a video of his avatar walking up to a suffragette character who is wearing a sash and calling out “Let me vote”, and beating her unconscious. The video, named “Red Dead Redemption 2 – Beating up annoying feminist” – has been seen more than 1.5m times.”

Now to be completely fair, the article does have a couple of quotes from people who think the YouTube video is pathetic… a couple. Yet the article’s main thrust is how sexist Rockstar the developer of the game are being. As the article goes on, it continues to berate Rockstar and even goes back to the tired old lowest hanging fruit with;

“In its Grand Theft Auto series allowed players to have sex with sex workers, then kill them so they could take their money back.”

Oh, so it must bee 2001 again already to bring up that overused and stale example. The article also goes on to say this about the YouTube videos…

“The videos raise further questions about sexism in video games and the gaming industry”.

Okay so this is what gets my dander up. Yes you can beat, abuse and kill a suffragette character in the game. You know what? You can do that with (almost) any non-story NPC in the game. It does not matter if they are male, female, black, white, rich or poor, etc. Yet the article fails to mention that and only focuses on the fact you can do these things to a suffragette character. Strange that eh? It has nothing to do with sexism at all if you can just as easily beat, abuse and kill a male character as you can a female one does it? Seems to me that Rockstar are being equally offensive (if you want to label it that) and not singling out females at all, ergo not sexist.

See, I loath articles like this that spread hate for the sake of causing a shit-storm and to get clicks on their page. This isn’t journalism, its just lazy writing. Look, I’m no fancy “journalist” writing for a reputable news site like Kate Lyons for The Guardian here. I’m just a guy with a passion and his own unimportant blog – but I, at the very least try to be a bit more level headed and do even the most basic of research for anything I write and publish. I don’t always get it right (I am only one man) but I at the very least try. Unlike those writing at The Guardian.

Red Dead Redemption II KKK.jpg

Yes you can go around doing things like beating, abusing and killing a suffragette character in Red Dead Redemption II… but you don’t have to, and for me this is key. Rockstar have created a huge open world with RDR II and given the player the freedom to do whatever they wish within that world and its rules. Last night as I was playing some RDR II, I came upon a random encounter with a KKK meeting. Now again you have the freedom to handle this situation however you feel. You can just ride on by and ignore the whole thing, you can watch as the scene plays out to a funny and fitting climax (showing Rockstar’s feelings on the KKK)… or you can do what I did and throw a stick of dynamite into the crowd of KKK members and watch them all die because you are disgusted with all the KKK are and stand for. As I said, this is key – the fact you the individual have the option to approach and deal with numerous situations however you wish. You don’t have to beat, abuse and kill a suffragette character (or any character) in the game but you can if you want. Just like you don’t have to deal with the KKK in the game, but can if you want to. Yet no one is writing news articles on how you can kill KKK members in the game but jump at the chance to cry sexism because of one little feature you can choose to do in a game full of varying and numerous other features.

Strange how you never see news articles covering the fact you can do plenty of good things in the game. I mean there is even a story mission where you help the suffragettes organise a protest into a nearby town, speaking out for women’s rights… but The Guardian article seems to fail to mention that…

Red Dead Redemption II Suffragette Help

Point is, the game allows you to be as evil or as helpful as you choose to be. You can walk up to strangers and wish them good a morning or you can insult and rob them instead. You can help random folk with everyday menial tasks such as moving bales of hay or you can tie them up, drop them on a railway track and wait for the inevitable to happen.

Then the article finishes up with perhaps my favourite bit of the whole thing…

“Rockstar Games was approached for comment.”

Why, what is the point? All Rockstar have done is provide the player with some tools, what the player chooses to do with those tools is completely up to them. What The Guardian should be doing is approaching Shirrako, the person that made the video and uploaded it for their comment. They were the one who chose to do it not Rockstar.

I’m sitting here tapping away on my laptop with the freedom to write about whatever I want. I could go into a tirade of racist, homophobic and sexist comments if I so wish… but you wouldn’t then go on to blame Dell who built my laptop or WordPress who publish this blog would you? You would blame me for choosing to write what I did. Much like how you can’t blame Rockstar for what Shirrako chooses to do in the game they created.

Also note how the comments for the article have been disabled? So not allowing people a rebuttal to refute the badly researched and written piece of “journalism”. Yes, they won’t allow comments on the article but I did enjoy this slice of hypocrisy from the “Since you’re here …” bit at the end where they beg for money…

it enables us to give a voice to the voiceless, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different to so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.

“Factual, honest reporting”? Yeah right. They misspelt bias and one-sided.

Red Dead Redemption II: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

So Red Dead Redemption II is a game I have waited eight years for. I adored the first RDR (Redemption not Revolver) and was more than happy to declare it my favourite Rockstar Games title… closely followed by Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In short RDR was a masterpiece of game design, the graphics, the story, the characters and the most important bit – the gameplay were all top notch stuff. It was a perfect coming together high quality ingredients to make a hearty meal.

Red Dead Redemption John

This sequel had a lot to live up to and the 26th of October 2018 couldn’t come quick enough. I had my copy on release day, installed the game on my Xbox as soon as I was able and when all was done with the game was ready to play, just seeing the title screen put a big ole’ smile on my face. I did a quick first impressions article a while back where I played the opening few hours of the game. But that was just a taster, a quick glimpse at a small section of this gargantuan game.

Now, things are a little different. I sit here in front of my laptop having just completed the game. So now I have a bit more gameplay under my belt and even seen the story out until its climax. But was it ultimately worth eight years of waiting? I suppose a quick synopsis of the game in in order.

So you play as Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang. A rag-tag gathering of murderers, thieves and con-men (and women). The gang is lead by Dutch van der Linde and after a particularly messy bank job that goes badly wrong in Blackwater, New Austin (from the previous game), the gang find themselves wanted dead or alive and on the run from the law. Hiding out in the snowy mountains of New Hanover during a vicious snow storm, the gang find rudimentary shelter as they hide away. They eventually make their way to a more habitable environment as they move out of the mountains and set up camp. You then embark on a series of missions to gain money so the gang can leave the country crossing paths with all new characters as well as some familiar faces from the previous game all while still being hunted by the police and bounty hunters.

Red Dead Redemption II Arthur

Okay so I’ll include my usual SPOILER warning here as I’m about to cover elements the whole game from start to end. However, I’ll keep story spoilers to a minimum and while the ending will be mentioned, I’m not going into details. It’s time to look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Red Dead Redemption II.

The Good

The game features stunningly beautiful graphics, animations and an amazing attention to detail. Quite honestly, this is the best looking game I’ve seen to date. There are times while playing when I’m not actually doing anything to further the story and just find myself admiring the scenery instead. I’ll hop on my horse and just go out for a ride for no reason other than to take in the vistas. From snowy mountains to lush green forests and arid deserts – there’s a lot to take in and enjoy before you even get to any gameplay.

Speaking of the gameplay, Rockstar have crammed a hell of a lot into this game. outside of the already sizeable story there are so many side-missions and distractions that you can spend hour up on hour just enjoying all the game has to offer without touching the story at all. Fancy a spot of hunting? Well this game has you covered and it’s a pretty in-depth hunting mechanic too. It’s not just a case of simply pointing a weapon at an animal and killing it, now you have to track the animals and learn about each species. Plus depending on how you kill an animal (pepper it with a shotgun blast, multiple rifle rounds or a single arrow) affects how much damage you do to the meat and pelt, which in turn will alter how much you can sell the items for. The hunting distraction in this is better than most full priced hunting games. And the hunting is just one example of many, many distractions you can lose yourself in outside of the main story. You can go play some poker or dominoes. Take a break from the action with a spot of fishing. Hang out in a saloon and knock back a few drinks, get drunk and start a mass bar brawl. You can even go out robbing folk. From just holding up a random NPC walking around to taking on a train. You can rob your way across the Old West in numerous ways.

The level of customization is also impressive. Arthur can grow his hair and beard or you can maintain him by visiting a barber for a trim or even a whole new look and style. I let my Arthur’s hair grow and he began looking like a member of ZZ Top in my game…

Red Dead Redemption II Arthur Beard

Your clothes can be customized too. From pre-set outfits to you designing your own unique look, change belts and even gun holsters. Hell you can even add little modifications like rolled up sleeves, open shirts, etc. Clothes along with Arthur will get dirty and you can change your duds or even take a bath… or you can stay dirty and smelly through the game if you like which will have NPCs making all sorts of comments about your hygiene. Honestly, there’s a lot to cover in terms of customization and details – I’d have to write a separate article to cover most of it. In short RDR II is a hell of a detailed game. But there is much more to cover.

The story is very compelling. I wasn’t too sure about it for the first few hours, but after a while the game and story really opens up. It’s around the 55 – 60% mark of the story when Arthur begins to question Dutch and his leadership and things get really interesting as the gang begins to break up. Arthur also learns something about himself (as do we the player) that really elevates him from slightly boring henchman following orders to a genuine and well crafted character you begin to feel something for. Everything comes to a head in the final act of the game as the fractured gang begin to fall out with each other. The ending (no spoilers) is a very satisfying one and brings everything together nicely connecting to the events of the previous game. I’m not sure If I prefer this ending over the one in RDR. See I loved RDR‘s ending, it’s my favourite game ending ever. So this one really had to pull something special off to impress me… and it kind of did. I remember being so pissed off with the finale to the last game that it took a while for me to realise just how genius it was. As I’ve only recently finished RDR II, I need a little more time to take it all in and mull over what I’ve just witnessed. It’s crackling finale no doubt about it and well worth the long slog through the game to get to it too. I’m more than satisfied and it brings Arthur’s story to a wonderful conclusion… and then some. I might leave it a few weeks and let in all sink in then do an article disusing the pros and cons of the ending.

Red Dead Redemption II Arthur Shooting

Which brings me to the man himself, Arthur. I loved playing as John in the previous game. He was a charming and charismatic guy. But right from the opening, he had no secrets, no real surprises. Pretty much his entire story was laid out from the off. John was a man wanting to change his outlaw ways by hunting his ex-gang members. That’s clear from the start of the game up to the end. With Arthur though, things are different. He’s a loyal and honorable gang member at the start. He follows Dutch’s orders without question and to be honest, I found that a little dull. But it’s later in the game when Arthur begins to doubt Dutch and some if his ideas/decisions where he really comes alive as a character. Arthur is a slower burning, deeper character and we really don’t get to know him fully until after the halfway point of the game. I honestly preferred playing as John form the first game more as his charm and personality goes a long way. But I’ll happily argue that Arthur is a better written character that shows some depth and wonderful characterization thanks to some impressive writing.

But it’s not just Arthur who becomes a compelling character. I also have to mention Sadie Adler who you do a handful of missions with and along he way she reveals more about her history which leads to a sensational shootout as a finale. Josiah Trelawny is a flamboyant and charming conman always looking for new ways to earn some money and often gets you tangled up in his schemes. Hosea Matthews who is Dutch’s oldest and closest friend who is loyal to the gang leader until the very end. And then of course there is John Marston from RDR who has some of the best moments in this game from missions to amusing dialogue and even some foreshadowing to events for RDR. Plus there is the relationship between Arthur and John which slowly develops as the game progresses. At first, Arthur does not like John. He feels he is not trustworthy, not dependable, a poor father to his son Jack and an even worse husband to his wife Abigail. There is a divide between the two characters that is all too clear – however as the story flows, the relationship between Arthur and John grows and they eventually become pretty close to the point that… well I’d be getting into some serious spoilers here so I’ll stop now.

Red Dead Redemption II John

There’s a huge amount of variation to the missions and how you choose to complete them. As an example, there’s one mission where you have to break a gang-member out of jail in a small town. How you do this is up to you. Do you use dynamite to blow a hole in the wall, use a (conveniently placed) steam engine with a rope to pull the bars off the window or do you just walk in the front door of the jail with guns blazing for a more direct approach? It’s really up to you as all three options both have positives and negatives. This idea is used for lots of missions, some are linear and give you little room for improvisation while others allow you to experiment and mix things up and try different tac-tics. Some missions will have you going in gung-ho and others will have you using stealth. One mission will have you dressing up in a tuxedo and on your best behaviour to attend a high class party, while another will see you causing (very funny) mischief after getting paralytic drunk in a local saloon with another gang member. Oh and of course there’s shootouts, lots and lots of shootouts.

The gun-play is pretty impressive with a few new features added from the previous game. You have the basic dot telling you where you are aiming, but then there is a reticle that begins large and gets smaller the longer you aim giving you more accuracy for each shot. So you can’t just spam the shoot button over and over as your shots will fly around with hardly any hitting your target. Plus you have to cock your gun after each shot too. Press shoot once to fire and again to cock your gun ready for the next shot. It makes the shooting a little more methodical and gets you thinking about your next move instead of just being able to reign hell fire down on your target.

The map itself is huge. I thought the one for the previous game was more than enough and it was. Well the old RDR map, New Austin is included within the new one for RDR II. There is so much to see and do that your eyes will be tired from all the movement. Then on top of the fact you really have two maps in the game, New Austin from RDR and RDR II‘s New Hanover which are joined together to form one huge map… there’s yet another “secret” location not included on the in-game map. As during the course of the story you’ll find yourself on a Cuban island with its own unique wildlife, missions and locations. Seriously, this game is huge. And the variety of locales on the map(s) is equally as impressive. From the typical muddy roads, wooden building kind small towns you’d expect that the typical Wild West, dirty cowboy and women of ill repute to populate – to larger, sprawling cities with brick buildings which attracts a more “higher class” of citizen. There’s even a working tram/trolley system in one of the larger cities.

Red Dead Redemption II Saint Denis

There’s just too much that this game offers to cover in detail here. I’ve not even mentioned the home heists, legendary hunts, horse customization and maintenance. The way you build a bond and relationship with your horse. The various interactions with NPCs from just saying hello or antagonizing them, you can try to defuse a disagreement or just call them out for a dual. How the weather can affect your health and stamina from being too hot or cold and how there are different clothing items to suit different weather conditions. The eating mechanic and how being overweight or underweight affects your health. Using gun oil to clean and maintain your weapons. What about the random encounters or stranger missions? I bulldozed my way through the game just so I could complete the story, so I’ve missed out on a lot of what the game offers. The list of things to do in this game goes on and on. I’ve only really lightly touched on a few of it’s features and there is so much more to enjoy.

The Bad

Okay so RDR II is not a perfect game and it has it’s issues. Some of which I’ll cover now. But before I do point out the bad, I just want to say that I don’t necessarily agree with all of these bad points – I’m just highlighting issues some players may have as a warning. Many of the negatives I’m about to bring up, I actually quite enjoy…

So let’s get the big one out of the way. The game is slow. It just has a much more laid-back approach to it’s storytelling and pace. I know some people will most definitely find this game a bit of a grind. Due to the size of the map, it can take a good while to get from one place to another. A journey from the area you find yourself in to where you need to pick up a mission then to the location the mission actually takes place can (sometimes) be a drag and you’ll find yourself traversing the map for 5+ minutes or so from one mission to the next. There is a lot of traveling to do in the game too and as the majority of it is on horseback, some trips can drag on a little. Still, there are various options to speed things up a little. You can put the camera in cinematic mode and let the game do the travelling for you. Maybe you’d prefer to go by train or even stagecoach? There is even a fast travel option that becomes available when you upgrade your gang’s camp. Plus you can break up the longer journeys with a little hunting, maybe find a random encounter and so on. Yes there is a lot of traversing, but I never found any of it dull. Still, I can see some people finding it all a bit tedious.

Red Dead Redemption II Horse.jpg

Some of the animations begin to grate after a while, especially when it comes to the hunting. Having to watch Arthur skin an animal can take 15-30 seconds depending on the size of the animal. Then there’s the crafting and cooking parts where you can set up a campfire and create food, medicines and ammo. Each and every time you have to watch Arthur (when cooking) stick the food on his knife, hold the knife over the fire for a while and then watch Arthur as he eats the food. You see how long it took you to read that? Well it takes even longer to watch it and you have to watch the same animations every single time Arthur cooks food or makes some medicine or ammo or skins an animal and so on. So prepare yourself to watch the same animations over and over and over.

The are some light RPG elements that will affect Arthur as the game progresses. Your health, stamina and Dead Eye (the slo-mo thing) all have their own depleting bars the more you use them. But on top of the standard ever decreasing bars, each of the three stats have cores. These cores will also deplete and the lower the cores are, the less the bars will refill. So you need to keep topping up the cores and you can do this by sleeping or eating. Then there are similar stats for your horse too and those stats also have cores you’ll have to top up. Yes there is an eating mechanic and I can see some people getting annoyed with it. To be honest with you, I never paid much attention to topping up my cores when I played the game and the only time I really ate was if my health was dangerously low. So while the eating mechanic is there, I personally never found it to be intrusive and you can play through the game without really worrying about it… I did. Then there is the  providing for the camp. Your gang camp has three main supplies that need topping up. There is food, ammo and medicine. This is where the hunting and crafting side of things come into play as anything you hunt, make or even steal can be donated to the camp to keep morale up. Again, I can see this slowing the pace of the game down a little. But again, this is something I never really bothered with during my play-through. I didn’t even donate anything to my camp until I was around 70% of the way through the game and I only did that to get the fast travel upgrade I never used. Like the cores, its just another element of the game that its nice to have there and can be used if you really want to – but it can just as easily be ignored too.

Red Dead Redemption II Camp

The controls can be more than a little finicky. As there is so much to do in the game and so many variables, that means the game needs a lot of button presses. Sometimes, there are too many button presses to do something relatively simple and at times it feels like a console’s controller is not up to the job. Like talking to a random NPC as you’ll need to hold down a button to lock-on to the person you want to talk to, this then brings up another load of button press options that’ll pop up at the bottom right of the screen for you to choose from. As it’s not as simple as just saying hello and depending on the locale, the NPCs themselves and even your situation at the time, what you can say to the NPCs changes so you need to keep an eye on that bottom right corner of the screen to ensure you give the appropriate response. Honestly I’ve turned a peaceful little town into a bloodbath just because I pressed the wrong button in response and accidentally antagonized some random guy when I didn’t mean to. Never mind trying to talk to someone while riding on a horse…

Red Dead Redemption II Weapon Wheel

There are restrictions to what and how many weapons you can carry. In the previous game, John could walk around with a small arsenal of weapons in his pocket. Multiple side arms, rifles, shotguns and others all ready and you were able to change between them as and when needed. This time around you are limited to only carrying one side arm (two when you unlock dual wielding), two larger guns – be it a rifle or a shotgun or a mix of the two, your throwing weapons like knives, dynamite, etc and a melee weapon like a knife. And that’s all Arthur can carry. But your horse can carry any and all weapons you have in the saddlebags. So you now have to think ahead and pre-plan the weapons you want for the mission coming up and decide what to carry before you get into the action. But if you do find you’ve equipped the wrong kind of iron, then you could always go back to your horse and change your load-out. This can be a little annoying if you find yourself in the midst of a gunfight and realise you need a long range rifle when you’ve come with two shotguns instead.

The Ugly

To be fair, this section is a little light on content. For the most part RDR II is a very handsome game in both its look and design. Yet there is still a touch of ugly mainly from minor bugs and glitches I have found while playing.

I was once doing a mission where I had to be stealthy and was accompanied by a gang-member. While I was crouching being as quiet as I could, a bug meant my companion was standing up-right with his arms out in the shape of a cross. There was no animation when he moved and he just slid around the map attracting all sorts of unwanted attention. Another bug saw Arthur’s ears coloured in bright red and that lasted for several cut-scenes. There are a few clipping issues especially if you let Arthur’s beard grow to its full length. Sometimes horses will spawn in unusual places.

Red Dead Redemption II Bugs

One time I went into a post office to pay my bounty and as I walked through the door, the graphics for the back wall hadn’t loaded in and you could see outside through the wall but the wall was still there as I couldn’t walk through it. My horse got stuck in a rock and I couldn’t get it out no matter how many times I whistled or tried to pull it out via holding the reigns. A common bug is certain gang-members not appearing at the camp when you need them.

I have come across a few minor issues that could do with a fix from graphical glitches to a few audio ones too. But nothing game breaking, just a few things that kind of annoyed me. Still, with a huge open-world game like this, you’re always going to get some niggles.

Overall

I guess the most obvious comparison for RDR II would be GTA V, makes sense given the fact they are both Rockstar games and a lot of the same people worked on both titles. However, I think RDR II is more like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. They both have similar problems with the slower pace, the finicky controls and the amount of traversing (especially on horseback), etc.

Witcher 3

I really didn’t think much of The Witcher 3 when I first played it for the very reasons I just stated. But the more I spent with the game, the more I fell in love with it until it finally won me over. RDR II is just like that too. The opening was good and I enjoyed it… but it still felt a little stale. Yet the more I played RDR II, the more I enjoyed it and by the time I got to the 50% mark in the story – I was hooked. It’s a slow burner for sure but well worth sticking it out.

In short, RDR II is a masterpiece just like its predecessor only much more refined and a lot more to do. I can see some of the slower elements not working with other people. The traversing can be tiresome, but I always found something to see and do along the way. The scenery of the game always kept me entertained as I galloped through forests and open land just in awe of what I was looking at. The light RPG elements can be ignored just as much as they can be embraced, just like the gang camp management. Spend time building your camp and trying to keep everyone happy if you wish – yet you don’t actually need to do any of it. I think this is something RDR II does very well.  There are parts of the game that can be embraced and played around with, but you don’t necessarily have to and you can ignore many of the distractions to just plough through the story… I did.

Red Dead Redemption II Horse Ride

I loved my time with the game even though I missed out on a lot of what it has to offer by blistering my way through it. There’s some impressive and engrossing writing from a character point of view as I went from not thinking much of Arthur to really enjoying playing as him as the story progressed. He’s no John Marston, but he’s close. The story itself is one I enjoyed and seeing how the Van der Linde gang go from a twenty two strong posse at the start of this game to the broken and disillusioned handful of people they are when the previous game kicks off was fantastic. It all builds to a very satisfying climax that ties everything up nicely and still offers a great little something to get your teeth into even after Arthur’s story is done.

I’ve been thinking of a way to quickly sum this game up and I think I have it. There have been some great games released this generation. However, none of them have truly blown me away and they’ve always felt like last gen games with improved graphics. RDR II looks and feels like an evolution in gaming, a genuine “next gen” game. I just feel sorry for all games that will be released after RDR II. Yes this was well worth the eight year gap between games and Its has left me wanting more RDR games in the future. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to start a new game. Only this time instead of speeding my way through the story, I’ll be going a much slower pace and taking in all the game has to offer. Play around with the distractions, do the side missions, etc. It’s time to head into the Wild West once more.

Horse

And I just got through an in-depth look at RDR II without talking about horse balls.