Tag Archives: Little bits of gaming

The Grand Tour Game

Okay so a few weeks ago I announced how I’m cutting back on this blog to concentrate on writing my books and I have been doing just that too (honest). But I have a little spare time and the kind folk over at Amazon Game Studios sent me a review code for The Grand Tour Game (thanks Will), so I thought I’d have a short sabbatical from my books and take a look at the game.

the grand tour game logo

The Grand Tour is an Amazon Video show fronted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May that is basically Top Gear after the BBC fucked up Top Gear. The game is a melding of the T.V. show and gaming to create an interactive T.V. show I guess where you get to “play” episodes from the show itself –  you can even watch episodes of the show from within the game too if you like, via Amazon Prime Video.

So I think the best way to explain this is to just go back to the very start. So the very first episode of the show has a very, very, very long intro that (comically) shows Clarkson leave his old job and teaming up with Hammond and May to begin their new jobs hosting The Grand Tour. That’s exactly how the game starts too, with the exact same video intro. The video then blends seamlessly into the first race of the game with you playing as Clarkson racing against both Hammond and May on their way to The Grand Tour stage to host the first show. That’s how the game works, you watch the episode and then when the car action kicks in, you take control.

The Grand Tour Game Duo.png

It’s all done very well indeed and the blending of the show itself with the game is wonderful. You do feel as if you are playing the T.V. show. The racing itself is very arcade-like. This isn’t trying to be a Forza or Gran Turismo style hyper realistic racing sim, this is stupid, silly, over the top arcade racing… and it’s great fun. The races are varied from simple one on ones, drifting challenges, time trials, drag races and there are even races with power-ups you can use to trip up your opponents. There are a good mix of races, challenges and cars to play around with and each piece of action always feels very different from the last. You’ll be tearing around The Grand Tour race track going for a fast time in a supercar and later find yourself doing donuts in an abandoned theatre in Detroit using muscle cars in an attempt to create as much noise as possible.

The Grand Tour Game  Smoke.png

There’s a lot of content here even though it’s not complete. See, as the game is very closely based on the T.V. show that means you get entire episodes the play round in. However, its not complete because there is only one episode in season one, one episode in season two and one episode in season three. So only three episodes in total to play with right now. But don’t let that deter you as each episode has loads and loads of racing in them with multiple scenes to enjoy in each episode. And the game is continually being updated with more and more episodes. Seeing as season three has just launched, Amazon Game Studios will be concentrating on that season for now and with each newly aired episode of the show, you’ll get a new episode to play in the game. There will be updates for the first two seasons too at a later date to eventually include each and every episode from every season in the show. But right now, season three is the main focus for the production team so that’s where the priority lies with the game. Honestly, that’s a lot of game right there as is even though it’s not finished yet.

Then outside of the singleplayer mode where you play the episodes from the show, there is also a local multiplayer mode… and it’s four player too. So you and three friends can get the beers in and throw insults at each other sitting on the couch while racing. I love it when games do this as split-screen multiplayer is dying out fast and I miss those days. But there is no online multiplayer which I thought was a bit odd. Yeah I love the old split-screen action, but sometimes you and your friends can’t all be together at the same time and online is the only option.

The Grand Tour Game Splitscreen.png

So it’s all good right? Well not exactly. The game is fun, it’s great fun but there are niggles. The cars feel a bit to heavy for me – especially from an arcade racer like this, maybe I just need to get used to the handling a bit. I’ve not played a racing game for a while (with the exception of Horizon Chase Turbo) so my racing game skills are a little stale to be honest – but the handling just felt sluggish. I think it would benefit from some control options, sensitivity and the like so you can tailor the controls to your needs. You can’t change camera and are stuck in 3rd person view. I hope they add different camera views in a future update as for this type of game, I personally prefer a in car view. Plus you’re also stuck with automatic gears, which I think will deter some racing fans. These are niggles that can be fixed and tweaked and I hope that @AMZNGameStudios will add new features, options and updates to improve the gameplay outside of just adding new episodes.

Overall, The Grand Tour Game is good, could be better – but what is there right now is good. It’s full of varied content – with more coming soon with each new episode of the show. It really does feel like you are playing the show and the seamless transitions are beautiful. Plus the game comes loaded with all that irreverent banter between Clarkson, Hammond and May as the trio needle each other though each episode. I can’t wait to see what stupidly ridiculous challenges lie in wait for future episodes.

The Grand Tour Game Road.png

It’s currently for sale at just £12 (or your county’s equivalent) on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and I say go for it. If your a fan of the show then you can’t go wrong and you’ll have a lot of fun. Go out and buy @PlayTGTGame right now. Well I’ve got to get back to playing The Grand Tour Game… I mean writing my books.

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Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

So I fucking love the T.V. show Black Mirror, I even did a write up of every episode from the first four seasons. A quick synopsis for those who do not know what Black Mirror is.

The show is an anthology T.V. series that uses technology as it’s backbone. Each episode is self contained and yet they all take place in one unique shared universe. These are dark and depressing tales often with a sting in the tail. Black Mirror is the brainchild of acerbic and satirical writer, Charlie Brooker. If you like miserable and dreary stories – then Black Mirror is perfect for you.

Season five is set to be released late this year and it had already begun filming last year. But it was pushed back from an earlier release due to something else. That something was Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. This is a special one-off episode.

This particular tale is one set in 1984 and tells of a young gaming programmer, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who comes up with and sells the idea of a video game that gives the player freedom of choice. The game is based on one of those amazing choose your own adventure books called Bandersnatch by writer Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter – legendary game designer). While writing the book, Jerome went mad and killed his wife.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Stefan

Stefan sells the idea to game publisher, Tuckersoft. But as Stefan delves deeper into the book and his game, things begin to unravel and history tends to repeat itself…

So this special episode is different to any other Black Mirror episode that has gone before it. You see, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is interactive. You get to make decisions for Stefan at certain points in the story and those decisions will shape the way the episode plays out. Some choices are very mundane from choosing which breakfast cereal to eat or what music to play (mundane, but still have an effect) to much bigger and important choices that will lead to one of numerous endings the episode has.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Music Choice.png

It has been said that there are five “proper” endings to the episode, but then there are so many branches you can take that lead to other parts that could be considered endings that even creator Charlie Brooker himself has said he’s not sure just how many there really are and everyone involved in the episode can’t agree on what constitutes as an ending, it has even been said that there are so many possible outcomes that some scenes may never be seen.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch aired on Netflix only a few days back on the 28th December last year. Yet fans have already been scouring the episode and creating flowcharts and maps to find each and every possible outcome. The view time can vary from 40 odd minutes to a couple of hours depending on your choices and around six hours of footage was filmed to be included for each path. I’ve been (I guess) “playing” this episode for a couple of days and seen a fair bit of it and various endings… but not all of them. But is it any good?

I grew up in the late 70s through the early 80s as an avid gamer, I remember and read a load of those chose your own adventure books back then too. And I really do love Black Mirror –  so this episode is seemingly tailor made for me. It’s like an amalgamation of many things I have a strong passion for.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch

The setting is amazing, the nods and references to 80s gaming and the decade in general is stunning and I broke out a nerd smile more than once throughout this episode. So many childhood memories wonderfully recreated through Black Mirror, the attention to detail is exquisite. Even the name Bandersntach is one that is carefully chosen as it references to a major misstep by one of the most influential British gaming publishers of the 80s (one of many subjects covered in my up coming book). There are great Philip K. Dick references, fourth wall breaks, self-referential writing and all sorts going on here. In that regard, I really loved this episode. I got so much enjoyment from just finding little Easter eggs and references, little sparks that kick-started memories from me growing up.

But as an episode of Black Mirror? It’s definitely one of the lesser ones. There’s no such thing as a bad episode of the show – but there are disappointing ones and this is one of them. The story is just a bit too bland for me and the characters not as well written as in previous episodes. The whole choice thing got tedious for me and I quite honestly just got bored of it all. I “played” though the episode four times, each time making different choices and I can’t really say I enjoyed any of them. There’s an element of Groundhog Day with you “resetting” back to a point and trying again, so be prepared to see the same scenes over and over and over again as you can’t skip them even if you’ve already seen it. A lot of the choices are so mundane they may as well not be there and there’s a lot of filler thrown in to pad out this illusion of choice thing.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Netflix Choice

There are some nice moments that made me smile, like Stefan realising someone (you) is controlling him and you can respond by telling him you are watching Netflix… which didn’t exist in 1984 when this episode is set. There are some fantastic gaming related choices that will mirror the game Stefan is creating and there are more than a handful of nods to previous Black Mirror episodes. It all gets very meta at some points (including one of the endings) and I love when writers do stuff like this. Brooker’s talent as a writer really does shine in some elements of this episode. But quite honestly, I’d have much preferred just having a “normal” episode without the choice thing with Brooker still doing all his fourth wall breaking and references.

But the story just doesn’t really do anything or go anywhere as it gets lost in it’s own gimmick. There’s no real hook, no punch as with other episodes. Give me White Bear, The National Anthem, White Christmas, Shut Up And Dance, Metalhead, Hated In The Nation or one of the other fantastic Black Mirror episodes in this format and it could’ve been something truly amazing. What you have here is a rather uninspired story that lacks the depth and whole Black Mirror ethos.

There’s a lot to find in the episode including an actual game you can play on a ZX Spectrum (you can play it another way too if you don’t have a ZX Spectrum handy) hidden away in one of the episodes. The game is Nohzdyve and it appears in the episode itself, the name of the game is also a reference to a previous Black Mirror episode too. It’s like an Easter egg inside and Easter egg. If you want to find it an even attempt to play it click here.

All in all, it’s a gimmick and one I just quickly got bored of to be honest. As I said, I “played” though the episode four times and I don’t see myself revisiting it to see the rest of the footage I missed. I saw one ending twice and the other two were just sight variations of each other. I’m really not all that bothered about seeing the rest, but I think I might enjoy it more if someone did and edit of the episode that just played out like a normal one with a defined start, middle and end.

To be completely fair, you can kind of watch it like that as you don’t have to chose anything and just let the episode pay out as is. It will select a choice for you and you’ll see a lot more scenes. But the episode will keep jumping back in time to a previous choice and select the other one to see the alternate path… it all gets a bit tedious as you watch and re-watch the same scenes over and over. As I said, I’d rather just see an edited version without the choices telling an A to Z story.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Reference.png

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a great idea, in places it’s brilliantly written too. But my enjoyment came from the 80s setting, the references, the nods to previous episodes, etc and not the whole interactivity thing – which I grew tired of. The story itself is one of the lesser ones in the Black Mirror library of tales. Maybe check it out for curiosity sake if you have a Netflix account, you might get a few hours of enjoyment from it.

It’s a nice little addition to whet the appetite while we wait for season five to come around. But not something I think will be revisiting.

The End Of Little Bits?

So I’m starting New Year with a possible goodbye, or at least an au revoir.

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now and enjoyed it immensely. I’m eternally grateful to anyone who has been following/reading and surprised I still get new folk following on a weekly basis.

But things are changing here at WordPress who host this platform… money things. See, I pay a subscription every year to keep this blog going and WordPress are changing what you get for your money. Basically they want me to pay the same amount but are removing features I currently get with the package I pay for – to then charge extra for those features. And after some thinking, I don’t believe what they now want me to pay to keep this site with the same features is ultimately worth it.

Money.jpg

It’s not just the WordPress greed that is forcing my hand though. Maybe the planets have just aligned at the right time? See, this blog has always been just a fun hobby for me – I didn’t expect one follower, never mind the amount I do have. 2018 saw more people reading my inane rants and views than ever before. But as I say, this was always just a hobby. My real passion lies with writing books.

Last year I shared my idea to write a book covering the best of British game developers & publishers. And by November, I’d finished the first draft of that book. I’m currently trying to sell the idea to get it published while I work on the second draft. Plus I’m two thirds the way through writing my first novel. A vigilante thriller that’s not as straight forward as it first seems. Then I’m currently writing my second short story collection as well as outlining future book ideas. Basically, I have a hell of a lot of writing ahead of me.

Old vintage typewriter

This is what I want to do – write. Last year I wrote more in those 12 months than I have the previous two years combined. So with WordPress wanting more money and my interests lying in my books – I’ve decided not to renew my current premium account when it expires on the 17th of April, 2019.

I do work full-time, have a 14 month old daughter, write books and with this blog too – I’m just spreading myself way too thin right now and something needs to be dropped.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Little Bits of Gaming & Movies for good. I’m not going to delete the site and all my articles will still be available, plus I can still write on this blog as and when I want – I still have 20 draft articles I’ve not published. But the domain name will change as I’ll no longer be paying for it as well as some other behind the scenes stuff too that will limit my options when I drop the premium package and go the free route instead. I’ll be concentrating on my books through 2019 and this blog will just be a background thing I can dip into now and then. They’ll be fewer articles overall as I turn my attention to bigger things. But who knows what the future holds?

If my writing career kicks off, I’ll quit the day job and be a full-time writer. If that happens then I’ll have more money and more importantly, time to invest into my hobby of writing this blog. Maybe, just maybe if things work out, Little Bits of Gaming and Movies will be back bigger than ever with me able to really create something better. Maybe a whole new blog that binds my love for games, movies and my writing?

I definitely don’t want to completely close the door on this. I really do enjoy writing this blog but needs must and my dreams and aspirations lie elsewhere right now.

Thank you

But I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed me and to anyone who sits there reading my views and opinions from you folk who’ve been around for years to the ones who have only just begun following in the last few weeks or so.

Little Bits of Gaming and Movies will be hibernating for a while. Occasionally waking up with the odd article through the year, but mostly sleeping through 2019.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.