The Game Jar’s Scariest Gaming Moments

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We don’t get scared. None of us do… Ok, well we might actually get a bit scared, especially when it comes to video games. So, given that it is Halloween, we’ve asked out writers to give us a moment of their gaming life when they experienced their scariest moment in video games. There’s no red rings of death or end level crashes here. No, we’re talking about the atmospheric, jumping, heart in mouth moments that only the immersive nature of video games can provide you. So here are our team of delicate souls that we call writers who have spilled their honest guts about how they’ve had to check their undergarments thanks to the scariness of video games. Feel free to tell us your scariest moments and memories too on Twitter and Facebook.

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Paul

When Sean first asked me to write about my scariest moment in video games. One thought sprung to mind – Duke Nukem Forever. However after taking my medication to help resolve the mental state recalling such a monstrous memory. Sean explained that it was meant to be a horror game – and then threatened to unleash the devils horde upon me for not complying. (*cracks whip*- Ed)

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With such encouragement I have been able to think of another scary moment. One that did indeed occur from a horror game and for the right reasons. I’m not normally one for horror games. I confess I’m not that big into horror what so ever, but there was one stand out moment for me though. One that made me jump from my chair and cry into my pillow at night.

The game in question was Dead Space. The moment was when I first heard the necromorph scurrying above my head in the ventilation system. The game was full of atmosphere, with its dark art style, clever shading and shadow work made you flinch at the slightest sound. I could hear the thing above me… I knew it was hunting me.

I felt the panic reaching out from the bottom of my stomach. I tensed, awaiting the inevitable fight that was to occur.
I was so captivated by the sounds of these alien monsters scurrying above me, I forgot to look around. When I did I fricking jumped! There was one of the monsters heading straight for me. I cut it down and then I heard a massive clang behind me. It was there right behind me. I nearly screamed with fright. Dead Space I salute you. You have been one of the few games that has scared the hell out of me and made me enjoy it!

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Tim

I, like many of you, have suffered through many a jump scare or an eerie moment. The sound of chainsaws and angry Spanish. The sudden appearance of Alma on the top of a ladder. James Sunderland sticking his hand into a toilet.

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But my scariest moment is a bit more of an existential dread: the first time I saw my dad playing Doom. Now, readers of this site surely know how deep and all-encompassing my love for Doom and its associated series is. It wasn’t always like that, dear reader.

My dad’s work always required him to have pretty good computers at home, and like any PC owner worth his salt he was always looking for the newest and most system-demanding games to test their mettle on. In 1992 (when I was, oh, five or six) there was no better game to test a PC with than Doom. He called some of his friends over and even let me stay up a little late to watch him play it, which I gladly did.

At first. This was clearly a BIG SCARY GAME FOR GROWN-UPS and I couldn’t deal with it. None of the monsters were cute! You used “real guns”! Everything bled! And the worst part was that it was in first-person, which terrified me in ways I couldn’t elaborate for years. In every other game I’d ever played up until that point, you could see the character. It wasn’t ME getting shot by robots, it was Mega Man, he just needed my help. Mario was the one going down pipes, not me.

Not so in Doom. All of that was happening to ME. Those monsters wanted ME dead. I pretended to not be scared until my mom told me to go to bed, and I didn’t sleep for days. I gradually forgave Doom, and it’s now my favorite game of all time. Partly in spite of how I was originally exposed to it.

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Andy

I should have known. The minute I walked in, the atmosphere became even more oppressive than it had been already.

Dark became darker. Unease became panic. Dead became undead.

I knew that those bodies – strewn all over the area and seemingly lifeless – would soon rise, but it was still a horrifying moment when it happened, exacerbated by the fact that the only weapon I had wasn’t really meant to be a weapon at all. Hell, I’d been using it to play basketball, no more than 30 minutes beforehand.

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Not only was I going to have to fight my way through, but I was going to have to do it through sheer improvisation. I quickly scanned the room for anything that could be used. All I found were circular saw blades and gas canisters. Far from ideal, but better than nothing.

I heard that first familiar moan and instinctively picked up a saw blade, blindly firing it. Got lucky. Took the head off first time, but that was only the beginning. Soon, several more surrounded me. I began picking up anything in close proximity. Blades, canisters, broken bits of wood. I gradually navigated my way through the area, and I could see my goal. A large elevator that would take me to safety.

So, of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Between me and that elevator lay several more of them. To be honest though, I was starting to feel a little confident. I strode forward with purpose.
And that’s when they came. Holy s**t, what the hell were they? Why were they moving so quickly? I ran as fast as I could to the elevator. In it was a single flammable barrel. I picked it up, swung round and fired in one fluid motion.

Only, one of them was right in front of me as I did. It wasn’t the only thing to die.

And that’s why we don’t go to Ravenholm…

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Alex

I’d like to preface this by admitting that I’m a coward. I don’t watch horror films, I rarely touch horror games. Please bear that in mind when I say that my scariest game moment came when playing TimeSplitters 2. Y’know, the cartoonish, silly, fast-paced PS2 classic which nobody else found even remotely scary? Yeah, that one. To a kid not well-versed in horror, even trope-filled horror spoofs can be terrifying.

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The first level was set in a Siberian dam, the mission deliberately giving off a James Bond kind of vibe. The opening cutscene hinted at the impending zombie menace, but I was brave, right? I could handle it. I settled in, sneaking around the base, offing masked guards and taking out security cameras with my silenced pistol. Twelve year old me was beginning to feel like a badass. And then it all went wrong. I take out all of the guards in an operating theatre, easy enough. The doors lock, the lights go out and all the guards get up and come after me. Except this time they want to eat my face. To finish the level, I have to head underground into zombie infested tunnels. Tame as this undoubtedly was to veterans of Resident Evil, Silent Hill and other, genuinely scary games, I was really, really uncomfortable. Something about the shambling gait, the stumble to avoid your panicked shotgun blast, the unexpectedly fast lunge towards you scared the hell out of me.

It didn’t help that at that time I had a propensity for getting lost in games and wandering around to try and find what mission trigger I had missed. Roaming around lost, with my fear of more zombies jumping out at me made me end up skipping that mission altogether, using a cheat code to get to the next level. Which, as it turns out, was even creepier and packed with more ghouls. I like to think that I’ve got tough since then. I can handle the first 5 minutes of Outlast, no sweat. Just don’t ask me to play any longer than that.

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Chris

I begin this tale of fear and heavy metal shame in a similar manner to some of the other writers here; I’m too cowardly for horror games. Because of this I avoid them, throw a little sci-fi in the mix and I might be forced to give it a look. Chances are, though, I’m going to avoid your game/film/tv series/slam poetry evening if it’s going to make me jump. Now pop on this Halloween themed hat I bought you, sit down listen to my tale. Don’t tell anyone, though, this is just us talking here, as friends.

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So there I was, 17 years old, I’ve got long hair and mostly wear t-shirts that let you know what metal band I like the most (it was generally Strapping Young Lad). I wear steel toe capped work boots that are black, because that’s more metal and bad ass than trainers. Obviously, due to how metal it was, I bought Doom 3 when it came out for the original Xbox. I also decided that playing it with my equally long haired, heavy as a really heavy thing, metal loving buddy was a good idea. What a dope.

I feared imps and cyborg pig things but little did I know it was the very things that wanted to help which would be my undoing. I don’t even think I thought anything when I moved towards the item box, what a little idiot I was. “BONK!” the game shouted. I exclaimed “OH!” in a manner only acceptable from Princess Peach. As it fell out of my mouth time slowed and shame jumped out of a wormhole to consume me. My friend laughed. “That’s enough of you!” I said and turned the Xbox off, attempting to own my shame. The laughter continued. I traded Doom 3 in and never let horror darken my door again.

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Sean

I’ve been reliably informed that my previous scary moment in gaming, that of the Face-Hugger from the original Alien Vs Predator game, isn’t the fright that it once was. So I’ve been having to wrack my brain for something more scary than the jumpy, hardly seen, alien insemination creature jumping out at you.

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So my first port of call was to look at Doom 3 where the tales of people, including myself, playing the game in the dark and having the trousers almost literally ripped off them was unavoidable. But my first scares actually came from a now well know game series called Alone in the Dark. I was around 8 or 9 at the time and the games that you had weren’t realistic… At all. So in a strange way I think you immersed yourself more in to the game, into the story and in to the atmosphere. As Edward Carnby drove up to that spooky mansion and the midi soundtrack increased with fear, you went on edge a little. As you entered and the door slammed shut behind you and your character looks around, that was it. I was already scared. By the time you get to the attic and the monsters start trying to get through the trapdoor, banging at the blocked entrance (if you blocked it), that’s it. You’ve gone to get the toilet roll.

I’m not that much of a scary game player in so much as I’m not easily scared. No masculinity propping here, I just think it’s down to these early experiences. I still jump when Slender comes at you, when the girl in the bathroom in P.T. appears, when a head crab comes out of nowhere in Half Life, a creeper hissing behind you, and even occasionally when people do quiet memes that end with the screaming girl from The Ring (what a game that could have made). But if it wasn’t for Infogrames and their moody trilogy of games that undoubtedly inspired Resident Evil, then I would be cowering in the corner as soon as a Dragar jumped out at me in a Skyrim dungeon.

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Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition – Review

 

The way I look at Sleeping Dogs and this Definitive Edition release is thus: If you were an adolescent man in the early 2000’s you undoubtedly have them in the back of your DVD collection. Or might have recently sent them off to a trade-in site. I’m referring to the Hong Kong Legends DVD releases that showed some of the early careers of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, before Chris Rock and Mel Gibson made them action names in Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon respectively. The thing is that these movies look cheap and, frankly, they are done on an extremely low budget with the stars risk taking, death defying (quite literally) stunts gripping us to the screen. That’s how I think of Sleeping Dogs; on the face of it, just another low budget action movie looking at the big guns and trying to emulate their limelight. But secretly, and in both cases it maybe one of the best kept secrets, they are actually incredibly good, enjoyable and have a great deal of passion in them.

Arguably the first non-Western set open world game on the market at the time in 2012, Sleeping Dogs quietly took up a respected position on the last gen consoles who were waiting for a delicious treat to fill their growing Grand Theft Auto holes, which it did. But to pigeon hole it as just that would be disingenuous to the game. That is certainly something that the Definitive Edition of the game has given light to. I never fully got in to Sleeping Dogs the first time around due to other concerns coming my way like education and that thing you do between getting educated and sleeping. So now was a great time for me to delve in to Hong Kong, without any real prior knowledge of the way the game worked except for maybe a couple of hours play.

For those of you who don’t know much about the background of the game you play as Wei Shen, a vagabond undercover police detective looking for a place to belong after the death of his sister due to drug addiction. You take part in an operation to infiltrate the Triads in your native Hong Kong under the supervision of another Hong Kong officer and a British superior. The game switches its dialect as freely as Hong Kong probably does from English to Cantonese and the island of Hong Kong with its high rises, its ports and unique autonomy from most places in design (get prepared to drive on the left) creates an environment that is second to none and full of character with places to explore and items to go and find. Even mini games galore and Karaoke! Put simply, in the first place, even before this new revamped edition of the game, Square Enix and United Front Games did a marvellous job.

The first things I instantly noticed jumping in to the former British colony were the things that have been lauded by everyone. The increase in draw distance helps just as much as the increased texture levels and lighting dynamics. The depiction of Hong Kong in the game is wonderfully claustrophobic and it creates a heightened sense of panic and unease with its density. The way the early part of the game gives you the busyness of the market and the reflection of neon helps the pace of the game no end. That’s not to say that the resolution upgrade isn’t completely without its flaws at times though. A few things haven’t had the same care and attention as others, which isn’t really that apparent or grating until you notice them. The cars don’t have the same kind of realistic curvature as those of a Rockstar game or Watch_Dogs. For the most part, the game has been upgraded in enough to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

But therein lies the problem. You can argue that, even with the graphical upgrade and even with the addition of the bonus content (which is actually a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the game), that there are some flaws in the game that could have been cured but haven’t. This of course means that there are flaws in the game and occasional glitches and issues. For example the radio stations are slow to change and the music doesn’t really play like a radio station but a temperamental old MP3 player. There are also a few sound glitches with the speech where the lines of dialogue seem to overlap other lines of dialogue. I had a sound bug at the final mission where a machine gun noise was constantly happening and I occasionally came across a few crashes. These kinds of glitches make the game a tiny bit frustrating when you actually realise this game could have been better than what it was before with a tiny bit more work. Although in the same vein, given that the game hasn’t changed, this is a positive. Much like the Anniversary editions of Halo, the core of the game has remained unchanged and that includes some of its much-celebrated gaming mechanics.

There are also a few things that could have improved in this regard too. Driving in this game very rarely holds much of a challenge other than learning how to perfectly control the hyperactive handbrake and I would have gladly taken a bit of a challenge in the types of cars and their handling. The camera can be annoying at times when in combat and occasionally countering the attacks isn’t as responsive as you’d like it to be. That is where my complaints end. There are many things that Sleeping Dogs DE does well and the combat system is one of them. The free flowing, combo-based melee martial arts combat is 99% of the time, fluid and exciting. It doesn’t have the quick to target striking of an Arkham game or Mordor but it doesn’t need it because it’s great as it is. The enjoyable variation of moves that are under your control give you the satisfaction of nailing exactly what you want to nail. The missions are fun and the parkour/free running element gives you that feel like you’re Jackie Chan, hanging on the back of a bus and flying through a gap that no human should possibly fit through or vaulting a fence they shouldn’t be able to leap over. Then you get the slightly hard to handle, never perfect, gun system. Guns are rare in Hong Kong supposedly and using them is even rarer in the game. Which is incredibly refreshing and when you do use them, the reward for getting the shot perfect is a lot better than just simply hitting a headshot every time. There’s recoil and occasionally wild shots, and it compliments the rest of the combat system well.

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There’s not much you can say about the design of the world that hasn’t already been said. Nor the story, which has been much celebrated for ignoring stereotypical tropes, Orientalism if you will allow a literary term. It’s a play detailing the lower end of the triad hierarchy and the rise to power of a man playing several ends of law-enforcing fiddle for his own ends and questioning his beliefs. It is enjoyable without being too over the top or over-egging the cliché’s that the genre is inevitably tied to. When you compare the story and the characterisations in the game to those of others in the genre, like Watch_Dogs, it gives itself a good outing even after two years. In fact, except that Watch_Dogs is graphically superior, Sleeping Dogs is in my opinion a better game. It has a more engaging story, vastly better voice acting and much more interesting environments to explore. Its clothing options are distinctly more varied and the characters, even though they aren’t perfectly synced and have occasional hangovers of the lesser textured versions, are far more enjoyable, believable and allowing of empathy.

The problem is when reviewing a game that has essentially already been reviewed is that you have to take the positives and the changes and critically assess them. So in that regard Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is good. It isn’t great though, but it is definitely very good. If you’ve never played the game then now is the time to start. If you have then I’d certainly recommend it for the nostalgia kick and for the fact that it is an overall much better game than Watch_Dogs, the only other next gen open world option for each console at the time of writing. But where its improvements highlight its understated and underrated quality, it also sadly highlights where it fell a little and where it has aged. It means that once again, and maybe this couldn’t be helped due to release dates, that it appears in the shadows as a stopgap for those waiting for the next Grand Theft Auto. But as shadows go, this one is a silhouette above the rest.

Summary

This is a welcome return for Sleeping Dogs and its a release that will make you enjoy revisiting the world or dipping in for the first time, especially with everything thrown in. The graphical upgrades are great despite a few gameplay bugs not being ironed out which could have made it better. Worth the investment and maybe shows potential for a sequel.

Good Points

– Great work on texture and lighting upgrades

– Excellent game and story to begin with

– Combat system is pretty awesome

Bad Points

– Driving isn’t really that challenging

– Occasional bugs and glitches remain

– The game feels a bit old at times

Why an 8?

When you have a great game to begin with, and get the option to port it across to better technology, why not? Sleeping Dogs DE is still fun, enjoyable, and an excellently created world and story. It’s a welcome addition to the next gen shelves and heres hoping this breeds more from Wei Shen’s adventures.

 

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

 

WWE2K15 – Preview

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Like an RKO out of nowhere, it’s time again for the franchise that layeths the smack down on the fighting game genre. WWE2K15 is the latest venture into the WWE universe but things are a little different this year.

When you first heard that 2K had taken the WWE franchise, you probably got very excited given their heritage with the NBA series. Last year though, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was a bit of the same old THQ thing. History, in case you don’t know is that after the bankruptcy and demise of THQ a lot of licenses, including WWE, were left in limbo. 2K jumped in and straight away brought on board the stalwarts of the WWE games Yukes and Visual Concepts. The 2014 version picked up what THQ had already done so it wasn’t that different to what was already planned or in production.

This year however is the first time that 2K have been able to guide the game from the start and their focus has been something that is in tune with what WWE want. That is a sense of a superstar and the progression of a career. One of the biggest problems, for me personally as a more casual WWE fan over the years, is the concept of the WWE Universe and what that translates to as a game mode. In my opinion it didn’t really settle you down or give you the feeling of definite progression and felt too much of a sandbox idea to work in a sports game. Of course the 2K specialty is a career mode and WWE is perfectly poised to benefit from it.

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The career mode starts with with you as a rough young potential who’s been brought in to the WWE’s training camp. You work your way up under the guidance of Bill DeMott in the Performance Centre and eventually get your way into the NXT ring as the path to career success unfurls before you. Rising through the ranks with the help of WWE superstars like William Regal, Vickie Guerrero and Triple H, much like you’d experience in the TV shows themselves, your journey will also unlock different options as you grow. Eventually facing the stars such as Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar and the like, this element of career progression takes you around the back offices and into some in-depth choices outside the ring, as well as fighting inside. This might seem familiar from the NBA career and that’s because it is. But it translates itself incredibly well to the WWE setting. How you perform unlocks the avenues for you to explore along with stat upgrades, the ability to train with other superstars and learn their moves, access different clothing and entrance options. You will work your way up and get decisions that also help your personality. You can mould yourself in to a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) by respecting your way to the top or cheap-shotting people in their happy areas or with a slap. This evolves the story lines your character encounters with other superstars and eventually for your title runs, this plays a key component in who you face. This is the journey of you and who you create and, much like NBA, WWE’s personal touches and customisation really give you an immersive experience as a superstar.

Immersive is another word that’s probably synonymous with 2K’s treatment of NBA but has definitely leapt in to the squared circle. A fairly large overhaul of the game could have been overdue anyway but this particular update has certainly addressed a lot of issues. Firstly, and I don’t say this lightly, this game is not only the most lifelike and realistic looking wrestling game ever, but arguably that can extend to all sports fighting games. Whilst the crowd is slowly getting better in their animations, etc, the real look of the game stems from everything around it. The ring has been completely remapped and the sounds re-recorded, the animations for the wrestlers have grown (there’s over three times the amount), and the biggest thing is the wrestlers themselves. The scanning of the wrestlers faces and complete attention to their bodies, tattoos, mannerisms and expressions is unparalleled in the genre and one of the best things about what 2K has brought to the franchise. Even Paul Heyman has had his strut motion captured. This level of detail has taken quite the effort from 2K, given the schedule of the wrestlers so it’s something that is front and centre of the new game and deservedly so. Secondly, the commentary and the television presentation has been reworked. Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler have re-recorded the commentary to be more about the story and less about move calling like previous iterations. It’s no secret that the NBA has had the presentation of television and commentary pretty nailed in sports games and they’re trying to transpose that to WWE and from what we’ve played, that’s been successful so far.

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A few things you’ve probably already heard of, which I shall reiterate for you here, is that there are several pre-order bonuses, one of them incredibly historic in wrestling history. The inclusion of Steve Borden’s character, Sting, is a first for WWE at all. Formerly only a WCW wrestler who kept himself loyal to one company during the great turbulence of the Monday Night Wars and then later TNA, Sting is quite possibly the greatest wrestler never to hit a WWE ring. His inclusion in the game as both his 90s surfer dude persona and that mid 90s reinvention of him as a gothic outcast based on comic book character The Crow is a big deal. Hulk Hogan is available on certain deals with both his classic and Hollywood personas. The roster is pretty big so there will be more information to come in future announcements and John Cena, love him or loath him, is gracing the cover and curating the soundtrack… You know he had a rap album, right? He’s qualified… More so than Jim Johnston obviously… The 2K Showcase mode is back too, this time featuring on two classic battles in WWE history. Those being Cena Vs CM Punk and HHH Vs Shawn Michaels. So to answer the obvious question, yes CM Punk is back in this game, despite not being a WWE employee anymore.

WWE games have been pretty locked down for a while in getting it around 70% right. But somehow the fun of those early wrestling games we all played, whether you were of the SmackDown generation, the No Mercy Generation or even older with the Steel Cage Challenge generation, hasn’t been the thing that came across in the THQ attempts of recent years. Possibly that was due to the direction of the franchise rather than the game itself. But WWE2K15 looks, sounds and plays in a way that makes me want to delve deep in to my DVD collection and relive old memories. Most of the feedback and suggestion of how the franchise could improve appears to have been listened to and, despite the delay in the next generation release of the game, will be worth the wait albeit setting a high bar for 2K to trump on a yearly basis.

WWE2K15 is out on October 31st for Xbox 360 and PS3, with the Xbox One and PS4 versions to be released on November 21st.

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Review – Styx – Master of Shadows

Styx, the Master of Shadows, is a goblin. To be precise he is the first goblin. In a fantasy world made up of elves and humans, Styx is there to rob them blind. Taken prisoner and forced to escape incarceration so he can steal the heart of a big underground tree – which the humans keep locked up and which the elves need the sap of to grow in – Styx travels through the world with stealth avoiding enemies and trying not to succumb to the overwhelming chances of death that surround him, whilst dealing with short term memory loss as to his supporting characters and what his plan was.

Sounds good? Maybe. But the game has done absolutely nothing to sell me in to that fiction, nor has it given me a gameplay system that I can enjoy in the meantime. I’m not particularly great at stealthy games and the lack of playing styles within the game definitely reflects that hole in my gaming ability. But I’m not taking out my frustration at the game due to my lack of skill. No, sadly, the game hasn’t reached something that I consider to be enjoyably challenging. It didn’t help that I was flummoxed for a few moments as the game told me to “Press Cross Button”, which I then realised was actually the X button. Lost in translation? Maybe, but there’s more to my conclusion than a simple case of incorrect terminology.

I’ll tackle the storyline first because the amnesiac trope doesn’t really get me going. In a game where you have started to lose your mind but can ably remember how to jump with confidence from beam to beam, pick locks, kill people and are able to use some fairly complex magic (I’m guessing it’s magic) to help your situations, it really holds no weight to give the character convenient memory loss. Of course it’s a cliche dynamic to help you get invested in Styx and explore this world but after a short time playing the game, this element of the story is completely unimportant to you as a player because everything else about it will begin to frustrate you. Its cutscenes suffer from poor animation and lip syncing, which you might forget or not notice as after the initial scenes, still drawings with voice overs for memory sequences and background plot information. These drawings are so colourful and vibrant compared to the games dull, dungeon inspired palette that they stick out quite badly. Not quite as bad as the lip syncing during the in game cutscene sequences though when they occur. The passiveness of the faces of every character, including Styx, and poor syncing make for a forgettable time where you should be enjoying/learning plot. Something about bootleg drugs them making Styx telepathic…  It doesn’t help that Styx appears to be American at times with a hint of Joe Pesci and everyone else is either a poor impression of the Oliver Twist style working class Britons or upper class governmental types. As much as I don’t mind a Dickensian cast this game doesn’t really benefit from it, especially as the dialogue either never changes or has very limited random bits of speech. It also doesn’t help that the game can’t decide if it’s humorous, dark or just fairly innocuous. So it adds occasional curse words to be edgy and a few one liners with the same amount of panache as a football pundit trying to drop a pun in to commentary.

It is a shame because, as a redeemable quality, the idea behind the worlds and dungeons is good and graphically, the game is pretty good as well with some nice lighting dynamics and interesting settings. Before they become too repetitive that is. Everything interconnecting to your hideout and the slight puzzle solving element gives a nice feel to the bigger picture and it had the potential to make you part of a situation and give you a grounding in the world. But the design is such that after the second or third trip through a level it becomes utterly repetitive, whether you’ve died a lot or are retracing yourself. The placement of health/amber potions and useful items are too few and far between and at times it seems that the one path (there are different options but it kind of ends up as a “all roads lead to Rome” style of design) you can take will eventually end up with you finding a fight. Which makes using cover, a key component in stealth games, fairly useless, although the cover itself isn’t particularly useful anyway, especially if you’ve been spotted. The great idea in the levels to go up as opposed to across everywhere gives you more of a stealth gymnastics vibe at times and as a gameplay mechanic it is very well utilised and enjoyable if you don’t fall to your doom repeatedly. You can see the inspiration of Assassins Creed in the scope of the art but it is sadly lacking in the end. Big scope is great but a fairly bland view with that scope is just showing where the idea hasn’t progressed fully to the finished product.

This world itself is utterly confusing because, despite it being a fantasy based game, it has no idea exactly what genre it is in. The mystical amber substance, which seems to be as close a combination between heroin and that drug from the movie Limitless as you can get, grants you certain abilities that, whilst presumably magical, probably owe more to complex genetic engineering. As a plot device it’s like a cross between a decent psychotropic Phillip K. Dick story and if the movie version of that story was butchered by Mel Gibson – possibly interesting but pointless in practice. The clone system (you can summon a clone of yourself), which is very useful as a scout party and getting in to nooks and crannies for mission progression, is hilariously implausible in the genre. The fact that when you are in the shadows and hidden, the game tells you this by giving a large portion of your body a luminous fluorescent orange glow is incredibly ridiculous for a stealth game. Although you can also make yourself invisible for an annoyingly short period of time. This lack of clear set universe parameters, especially as they are fairly unexplained in the outset, makes the game feel quite jagged and, much like Destiny, offers up some story that you instantly switch off from due to lack of setting to ground yourself in.

Problems in the gameplay start with the game being a “stealth or die” kind of game. We’ve had many great stealth game franchises over the years including Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, Hitman, the aforementioned Assassins Creed, and you could even include the recent Thief game in that. But in those games, despite the stealth element being paramount, you are able to smash your way out of a situation if it becomes tricky or overrun, or even hide easily. Styx is quite similar in that way to Manhunt except that Styx’s combat is almost non-existent. It is there so you can sneak up on people and murder them to get to your objective. Trying to fight basically means quick death and further repeating of the level (Advice: Save Frequently). There are fighting elements but these are all completely obscured by the fact that any fight you haven’t initiated can take up to ten seconds of parrying the opponents attack before you can kill them, but the AI will come in their droves within five seconds to defend their mate and kill you. Hiding as well is pretty tricky due to there being a lack of places to hide when you really need them and the AI pretty quickly finding you in those situations too.

Those aren’t the only problems. You cannot run from a fight really aside from dodging and rolling away, even on normal difficulty. You can dodge and parry, even kill, which is fine for a one on one battle. But if you’ve found that kind of battle then well done to you. Most battles involve two or more people being alerted and you being unable to defend yourself from the other two cronies stabbing you as the game locks you in to a singular battle. This becomes a far too common situation and problem as you play against the slicing idiots.

And they are idiots. The AI is awful. Both as an easily fooled obstacle to navigate past and as one who doesn’t see a lot or sees you from too far away and flash mobs you. They become pretty droll rather quickly and even when they introduce the weird blind bugs which I couldn’t seem to fight, they still don’t have a lot of challenge to them overall if there’s a long way around you can use. In fact, one thing with the gameplay that made it more fun for me, and much more enjoyable as a game, was to see how fast I could run through the level. As a redeeming feature, playing the game in the opposite way it has been designed isn’t a good one. But it did make for more fun progression and less of an environmental bore. You can get a lot of help from the Skill Tree but it’ll take you a good few hours to make any meaningful progression in to it and the fact that you can only upgrade yourself at your hideout (at the end of each level) will leave you probably 100 meters from the next upgrade for numerous deaths.

There are a few things that could have brought this up a few notches. There are 3 execution animations which happen randomly. I’d certainly prefer more of them and I’m sure I’ve got enough buttons on my PS4 controller to be able to choose them. The levels could have been a bit snappier and Styx himself is a pretty cool Goblin. I’d even have taken more than two weapons in the entire game and I’d certainly up the amount of potions and throwing knives that you can carry (two is by far not enough). Ultimately Styx just falls short of enjoyable. It’s a game you can certainly play if you really love stealth games but for what it looked like and what the introductory six minute cutscene teased, it is a bit of a damp squib of a game and if it is part of a bigger universe and plan then there’s a lot of ground to make up for Styx to become an interesting proposition.

Summary

Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth game that is clunky in its mechanics, lacking in any story engagement and has a poor combat system. Which sadly eclipses the good work of the idea behind the world and occasionally interesting takes on level design, making it challenging in the unenjoyable way.

Good Points

– Nice graphics and lighting

– Can present a challenge at times

– Satisfying when you finally pull off a perfect level

Bad Points

– Awful dialogue/lip syncing

– Terrible combat system

– Repetitive settings and poor AI

Why a 5/10?

Styx tried to be an engaging character stuck in a strange position of item liberation whilst fighting human oppression of the elves in their uneasy alliance. But the game behind Styx just isn’t good enough to carry the good points of the game to fruition.

 

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

 

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview with Matt Ellison

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On this day of DC Universe fun, we got a second interview in as many months with TT Games about LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. This time, Sean got some extended time to sit down with producer Matt Ellison from TT Games to talk about all the new things we’ve seen.

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We’ve just seen a lovely demo of the game, including London looking spectacularly small, Paris looking spectacularly small and Pisa looking very straight. What inspired you to go away from America and in to Europe with these levels?

It was always designed to be Europe actually. We do have Gotham as well so that’s American-ish. But it was an opportunity to show different things and different sights. It was really cool to be able to put London in there because we’re a UK developer and it was something we really wanted to do. Obviously Paris is very iconic and Piza with the leaning tower is very iconic and some of the other sites. It’s all things that are very cool that people recognise from a very young age.

As you say it allows you to have fun with those landscapes, like the Battersea Power Station having a load of toxic waste in it.

Yeah, stuff like that and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, it’s very cool to be able to show these things that people recognise because it gives you a different attachment to it.

lb3p2 You’ve got a very extensive character and sub-character list. As there’s so many, how have you managed to nail down which ones you wanted to do?

There are a few different things that go in to how we come up with the list that we ended up with. The first thing is the story, so the story governs which characters are going to be front and centre. Then we have the LEGO side of things. LEGO make their playsets and we always try to include all of the playset characters in to the game so if someone sees it in the game they can buy the toys. Then there are the ones we wanted to include. Some of the most famous ones, some of the more obscure ones, some of the more colourful ones, quirky ones and then we talk to DC to find out what’s coming up, who’s big right now, who should we be including. And they send us all the reference for the character outfits so that we can make sure they’re accurate and representative of what they should be. On this game more than any other we’ve been listening to the public. Throughout the game development cycle, we’ve been asking what characters people wanted to see and a couple of those have been added fairly late to the roster, but there’s so many people asking for them, we’ve kind of snuck them in.

There are so many different suit and sub character options across all the characters, how do you limit yourselves to stopping getting an OP character.

Five of the characters have 8 suits; Joker, Lex, Batman Robin and Cyborg have those eight suits you can cycle in between. But they have all these different mechanics and visuals and the visual representation of what you have to do in the puzzles remains consistent. So there are different characters you’ll have access to who’ll be able to do different things and as you unlock them, you’ll notice which abilities you’ve got and what you’ll be able to work through. It’s traditional with the LEGO games so people should know what they need and when with the characters and we’ll give them as many abilities as we possibly can. But they are all accurate as to what powers they can do and what they should have.

It’s quite a good position for the DC Universe especially with 3 TV shows based off it and as you announced at the weekend, the Arrow DLC pack is coming too based on the TV show with Stephen Amell.

It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to include this kind of add on content, which is totally outside of the game. But there is a way in which we can do something on it, so we can have a level, we can have these characters and find a way to include them into this and be part of this experience. Arrow was announced at the weekend and there’s The Dark Knight/Man Of Steel and you don’t normally get those kinds of opportunities – no one has done a Nolan Batman game before. So that’s the first time that’ll be able to be seen and we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to get the chance to do it.

You’ve been lucky as well to use different things from different studios and franchises, including the soundtrack, from Danny Elfman to John Williams. It must be quite good to have that freedom?

The Danny Elfman music we’ve used on previous LEGO Batman’s as well and it’s sort of tied to our Batman now, it’s part of his identity. But, as you hear that, it’s great that we have the relationship with that and it’s good that people are starting to relate it to our Batman. The John Williams theme from Superman is a must from LEGO Batman 2, that was fantastic and we had to include that again. Being able to add that to Wonder Woman as well is quite cool and again it’s something that people remember, especially that older audience we have. The younger kids probably aren’t going to know that so it’ll be something that the parents will recognise and be able to educate them a little bit about the history behind it. lb3p6

There’s a lot of artistic freedom with the game because you’ve gone outside of the confines of Gotham. How do you approach the new world that’s not as obvious on the page of the comics? 

It is slightly different. We knew we wanted to make this game when we were doing LEGO Batman 2 so at the end of it we teased it by having Braniac say that he’s located the Green Lantern’s power ring. So we knew that we wanted to go in that direction. The Lantern worlds have so much stuff in them, the planets are so unique all with different vibes to them, lots of different enemies to encounter – visually they all look very different which works very well in a LEGO game having all these different colours and all the Lantern Rings, it was quite effective to replicate visually. So it’s just a great opportunity to be able to explore the wider reaches of it all. You’ve got the Watch town and the Hall of Justice as well so there’s lots of places for people to enjoy.

You’re all big fans of the DC Universe in the studio, what’s been your favourite parts?

I like the characterisation of some of the characters we have in this game. Solomon Grundy is probably my favourite addition of the new ones. The way he’s animated is just fantastic, walking around like he’s a zombie – he’s very funny. Just being able to include more of these characters I think is the best thing because we’ve got 3 times the characters we had in LEGO Batman 2, there’s just so many of them in there. Like Polka Dot Man, Condiment King, they seem so random but in a LEGO game they just add to the humour and add to the fun of it.

With the voice acting talent you’ve got Troy Baker back as Batman so you’ve got quite the talent behind the characters as well. 

LEGO Batman 2 was the first LEGO game to have voice acting in it, we brought Troy Baker back for this because he’s fantastic, it’s a bit of a no brainer. The voice acting is something we’re really pushing so we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. So there’s much more script, we’ve got Josh Keaton doing Green Lantern, Scott Porter doing Aqua Man and even Adam West doing voice overs for the game, it all adds to the authenticity of the game and adds to the weight behind it when you’ve got guys that really know what they’re doing.

Especially with Adam West it must be good for his amazing alliterative, totally tantalising dialogue that he’s got going on during this. And his era is replicated even down to the comic book “Kapow!” phrases and noises from the 60s Batman.

The 60s stuff is brilliant and is by far the most in depth bonus level we’ve ever done. That was really something we went all out on. Again it is just an amazing opportunity and was always on the wish list to try and do. So to suddenly have it happen is just fantastic for us because it’s the origins of Batman from the mainstream platforms. And it’s just fantastic having him voice it, having those “Kapow!’s”, having the Batusi dance… It all adds to it and people who know that Batman will love it and even those who don’t, it will still be bright and colourful and brilliant for them to enjoy.

lb3p5 The game is coming out in November, how much do you think you’ve left out from what you wanted to put in?

I don’t think there’s anything possibly left out. By far this game got bigger and bigger and bigger the more we got in to it. The original concept of what this game was and where we ended up is far bigger than what it was originally going to be. Because these opportunities present themselves as you’re going through it. You know you think “wouldn’t it be great to add this” and you just do it. It just builds and builds and builds and we’re so pleased we’ve got a massive game at the end of it.

I want to ask about Batcow, because that is very, very, very, very niche. So, why Batcow?

I believe the story goes: One of the designers said “We should put Batcow in the game.” And everyone said, “Who’s Batcow?” and then he showed a comic that had Batcow in and Batcow got put in to the game. I think it is almost that simple but it is a genuine thing that exists and it’s part of the humour that we have in LEGO games that we can do things that are obscure, chuck these things and widen the scope of the DC Universe in this game and it’s a very funny thing to be able to do. We’ve got lots of obscure characters in there but there are all the ones that people expect as well.

I’m guessing many other characters came about the same way.

Well, sometimes. We’ve got Manchester Black in this game because he has Manchester in his name and apparently comes from Manchester. So it varies and some of them DC said “these would be cool to include” and others people have been asking for them and we like to give people what they want. There are more than 150 characters in the DC Universe but the ones we’ve got we’re happy to have in this game.

Well if you used them all, you wouldn’t have a LEGO Batman 4.

[Laughs] Yeah, I dread to think where we can there.

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Hands On Preview

lb3pft We’ve been furnished with some excellent news with LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham over the weekend. The list of characters, over 150 in total, is very quickly taking shape and we have some awesome new levels being revealed to play with.

LEGO games are LEGO games. Part of the big idea behind them is that they all have consistent mechanics. They are family games for children and adults alike, best enjoyed together. As such they all have, whatever the franchise on top of it, puzzles and gameplay that is instantly recognisable and transferrable from previous LEGO games. This ease of play and similarity with other LEGO games is key to the design of them.

It also makes them rather hard to review and preview. Because we all know exactly what we are getting. There’s some awesome things in LEGO Batman 3 that allows us to go in to further detail but for the main part, this is a fully functioning, comically entertaining LEGO game. The story is that (spoiler for LEGO Batman 2) Brainiac has the Green Lantern’s ring and is going to embark on a dastardly scheme to gain control of the Earth. There our heroes of the Justice League and usual suspects Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc will come in to save the day… Or at least prolong the saving. lb3p3

Different things occur which allow the characters to move a little bit out of their normal comfort zone thanks to the Lantern powers, especially from characters you wouldn’t normally expect. But in the scheme of things, the plot allows the game to move out beyond Gotham and out to other planets and  in to outer space. People who played the Star Wars games will easily recognise the flying/shooting mechanics and whilst the game is fun, it is never exactly challenging. But, see above… That’s the point.

You’ll also get some landscapes you’ve never seen before unless you’ve been in a LEGO shop recently. The game will take you to various European cities as well as Gotham, including our very own London. It’s interesting to note that all of the buildings like the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace could all be built with actual LEGO and the games are all designed so that you could actually build the things in them. Quite neat I thought, and maybe that’s something I should have known. Why the Battersea Power Station is filled with toxic waste, I don’t know. Maybe TT Games know something we don’t.

Speaking of what you should know, the list of characters goes way out of the established norms for Super Hero games. The DC universe has been well and truly pillaged of almost everything and the deepest darkest vaults of characters have come to grace the obsessive collecting we must achieve when playing a LEGO game. Niche people from Batcow to Condiment King to the real life comic Conan O’ Brien, director and Comic Book author Kevin Smith, the Green Loonton, the Darkest Knight (all Green Lantern off shoots) and DC Publisher Jim Lee. DLC was announced at the weekend with Stephen Amell voicing his TV Character of Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow along with other characters from that series. More niche with Toyman, Trickster, Manchester Black… The list actually can go on for a long time and will require you to have more knowledge of the DC Universe than you ever thought possible. lb3p4

The best thing so far for me is the 1960s Batman mode. You probably don’t remember the TV series starring Adam West but you definitely know the theme tune (ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ber-BAT-MAAAAAN). You probably only know Adam West from Family Guy. But the art and design including the alliterative brilliance of voice acting from West, KAPOW! exclamations with brass instrument sounds and even building the Batmobile (everyone’s favourite Dinky car when they were little) put you in to an amusing trip of nostalgia and if you don’t know the series which arguably shot Batman in to the mainstream then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Other touches exist around the game, like Troy Baker (don’t pretend you don’t know him by now) voicing the eponymous hero, the John Williams Superman music returns when Superman flies and that has even been stretched to Wonder Woman getting her theme played when she takes to the air.

All told, we’ll be able to review the game closer to the release date and comment on its great level design, its fun story and its excellent humour, most of which is already apparent. But it has all the hallmarks of a LEGO game. Which you have to say is something that TT Games have done very well. They have created constantly entertaining and fun games, whatever the veneer on top of their mechanics and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham promises to be no exception to that trend.

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

The Rising Cost of Add-Ons and DLC

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Somewhere along the line, we lost faith as gamers that we were getting all that we paid for. Downloadable Content (DLC) has become a sticking point for many consumers who believe part of the game they paid for has been held back so the publisher/developer can milk some more heard earned coin from your digital pocket. This is regardless of the price, although this in itself has become more of a sticking point since the Next Generation consoles and game development costs have pushed the price of games up significantly in the past 24 months.

It also seems the higher costs appear to be based around publishers Activision and EA over most other publishers. How do I get that? Well I could have done some very deep research but the truth is that I didn’t have to. Here’s a list of Season Passes on the PS3 Playstation Store… Yes, there’s a dedicated section for them:

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  • Call of Duty Ghosts – £34.99
  • Alien Isolation – £24.99
  • Defiance – £24.99 (It is worth noting that Defiance is now a free-to-play game)
  • Sniper Elite 3 – £24.99
  • Destiny – £34.99
  • Battlefield 4 Premium – £39.99
  • GRID Autosport – £24.99
  • Assassins Creed 3 – £25.99
  • Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag – £15.99
  • Little Big Planet 2 DC Comics – £19.99
  • Borderlands 2 – £19.99

 

I’ve only selected some here. There are a lot that are free or that have dropped in price like The Last of Us. But it is easy to see why people are beginning to get angry when they are paying arguably the cost of a new game (based on internet retail prices) for DLC. This is a new area for retail where the availability of internet speed has basically made the retail space redundant for them to sell this extra content and they can price it as accordingly as they want.

Why do I mention the retail space? Because before DLC was the done thing, it was Add-Ons. In some cases they are still called that but the distinction for me in the current gaming industry vernacular would suggest that Add-Ons are physical copies of this extra content. This is something that has been in gaming for many, many years. Sonic and Knuckles was one of the first physical game add-ons although this was also a game in itself. Westwood had several different releases for the Command & Conquer series. Heroes of Might and Magic, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, Half-Life… The list can go on and on.

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The biggest cash cow for this is undoubtedly the one that completely changed the market. It didn’t give the game much extra other than things to use in the game, and some extra spaces but that didn’t stop its rise to being one of the most profitable franchises in gaming history. The Sims had seven expansion packs which roughly retailed around $24.99/£19.99 from what I remember (I am looking for confirmation on prices and will update the article if they come). The Sims 2 had eight expansion packs and ten extra content packs. Although these all did add things to the games, if you had them all you would have spent well over $300 on getting them all. It’s hardly EA’s fault really. They had a product that people were willing to throw monumental amounts of money at and they said “fair enough”, and provided them with ways to do that. Regardless of your thoughts on EA, it was good business. And if the cost of their packages had an effect on the industry and kept prices stable then it would have been great. I suppose you could argue that historically, additional content for a game in the form of an expansion pack, or more common nowadays a season pass, has roughly been around half or 2/3 of the original game’s retail price.

That is possibly the problem though. There doesn’t seem to be any industry standard as to what a recommend retail price for add-ons or DLC should be. Partially because the content can vary so much as to what you get and partially because the publishers have to decide on the offset of profit versus development cost recovery. That’s sadly just business, any business. Regardless if us as gamers want to hear it, we should know that behind the art we love is a business that needs to survive under the insurmountable pressure of rising costs and international market difficulties. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for an argument or defending any one company here, but it needs to be said that there is a business behind us being provided with this entertainment.

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The problem with that business is that the regulation on it appears to be quite sketchy. PS Store, Wii Store, Xbox Live are all digital retail spaces. Physical retail stores (supermarkets, specialist retailers, etc) will also sell this content by code card. So there must be some portion of this that has to be compliant with fair pricing across the board. But the consumer does seem to get a bum deal out of all of this. When you buy Battlefield and Call of Duty (the latter arguably having the possibility to have the best selling game of the year, as it always does), you are paying around $44.99/£38.99 on average for the retail game and now with the next generation, that’s more like $64.99/£59.99. You expect to pay some money for some extra content but the amount of content that these games are providing, with mostly extra maps and gameplay modes (which the game must be ready to support at launch otherwise it’d be a major code rewrite), can cost a massive amount of money to the consumer in total. That’s not to say that you don’t get a lot of extra stuff though. In the case of Call of Duty Ghosts from Activision, the Onslaught, Devastation, Invasion and Nemesis packs (the Dynasty map is pictured), gives you 16 extra maps and some extra weapons along with episodic content for the Extinction series. In the case of Battlefield 4 from EA there are five extra packs, China Rising, Second Assault, Naval Strike, Dragon’s Teeth and Final Stand, making an additional 20 maps, three new game types and a load of extra weapons.

So much is available that the season passes seems to be the obvious way to get it all for a cheaper price. In the case of those two games (you can see the prices above on the Playstation Store list for the most recent releases) the season passes are nearly the price of another game. These are all for extra maps which you have no idea if you’d enjoy and in a way are forced to buy in order to continue your full enjoyment of the game. Why? Because someone WILL buy them and so will many others and if that stops your online enjoyment with everyone playing the new stuff you haven’t got then you either buy it or ditch the game. In the case of Xbox and Call of Duty, and Playstation with Destiny, these expansions are mostly exclusive to that console and the expansions are the selling point. Which when you think about it is a completely ridiculous concept when you just want to buy a game and could arguably be damaging to the industry. But again that is just business. Look at how television handles exclusivity of certain shows/licences to get subscribers to their packages or advertisers to their viewers, and how that’s damaged the public broadcasting sector.

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The price of those season passes you could argue is roughly in line with the price idea I made earlier and that the model is still fairly accurate; Half or 2/3’s of the original game’s retail price. But in the case of these games, like Destiny, we have no idea what we are getting for these season passes and if they quantify the amount of money we’re spending on them for the entertainment value we receive, regardless of work being put in. The two Destiny add-ons that are coming don’t appear to give us new planets or places to visit, but additional missions and story in the existing worlds. In fact we know so little about them that our cynicism is being unintentionally qualified. Watch_Dogs was another example of not knowing what the game will give us. We have a few extra modes for the in-game mini-games and now a new single player story add-on. But how much content is there that takes the developer more money than was already spent on the game at launch? How much money are these companies looking to make from the post-launch additional content? And how justified is it to market your game or your console’s exclusivity based on these maps/modes/skins/extras? Our cynicism is based around a game already having the additional content spaces ready and that the content we buy is merely assets for it, updates for it or just a patch that unlocks it. Before when this content was physically brought, we were kind of assured that there must be more than we had before otherwise what would be the point in having a new disk for it?

The rising cost of Add-Ons and DLC can partially be paired to the rising cost of games in general. But as the internet and journalism has begun to open the debate on this, and the gaming consumer becomes like any other consumer in a tricky economic climate, that being incredibly savvy and questioning, the conversation is only just beginning. Also with certain games being re-released with everything included some 12-18 months later for the same price as the original game, or with updated graphics for the new generation as well, this will add more focus on what makes good sense to a consumer. With the Christmas period around the corner and the publishers needs to release games on a yearly basis to maximise profit, we’ll see how this new generation handles the consumer when we feel that we are not getting enough for what we’re shelling out. I predict that some games will be guilty of doing less with their content in this regard and we can probably make predictions as to who will be more guilty than others. But in the next 12 months we’ll see how people will react to paying nearly 75% of the cost of the game for extra in that game, and I’m sure we’ll find out how much of that could have been included at launch.

[author]