Batman Arkham Knight – Review

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Riddle me this, Chiropetra loving friends: What ever shall we do when the Arkham game ends? This really is the end according to developer Rocksteady. Their trilogy (Origins was done by a different studio so it technically doesn’t count) has seen the most critically acclaimed Batman iteration since the Nolan movies, brought expertly to life with an excellent team of developers, writers, actors and artists. I’m actually a little bit sad about it.

It is kind of refreshing in this world that (regardless of your opinion on the games season pass) a franchise isn’t being milked to death, and by that I mean annual or bi-annual releases which, given the success of the games, could easily have happened. But there is a love here for the source material and the sense of achieving a great story rather than just making a great game, so this kind of closure is essential.

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Ok, enough pontificating, this is where I tell you that Batman: Arkham Knight is my game of the year so far and that I actually like the Batmobile. After the events of Arkham City, the game begins with some dirty work from Commissioner Gordon and everything being really peachy in the normally dark and rainy Gotham. This of course lasts all of 5 minutes before the work of Scarecrow ends up evacuating the entire city leaving it open to the evil machinations of the series super-villains at large.

So yet again, you have to go forth as the caped crusader and be the vigilante that kicks everyone’s ass. You’ll encounter various foes along the way, along with various allies and be flummoxed by the mystery of who the new villain, the titular Arkham Knight, actually is. All of this whilst trying to curb the spread of gang thugs across the abandoned districts, finding all sorts of lost firefighters who they seem to have exclusively kidnapped, solving The Riddler’s little treats across the city, and much more.

It seems with every Arkham game, the combat has got smoother, the fighting more fluid and the space more apt for the style of a character such as Batman. By this I mean that the halls of the Asylum have progressed to the cramped alleys of the City and now to the streets, rooftops, and buildings of Gotham as a whole. The space to fight and to have epic one man, or even dual takedown battles, really gets your excitement level up and makes you concentrate more on how far away flying objects are, how much there is to counter and how satisfying it is to get the timing just right.

One of the things this game certainly rewards, much like Arkham City, is Batman’s flying and gliding. At times, City felt a tiny bit claustrophobic, at the lower levels, towards the ground. Gotham is huge though and the space is there for you to fly around, get to the super high places, and glide between buildings and to really enjoy and explore the city. And as you upgrade your Batmobile, launching yourself in to the air is incredibly fun, seeing the metropolis of Gotham flash past you as you catch a current.

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Which is great because it is visually wonderful. The gothic dark beauty, evocatively creating the air of Burton’s movie direction and the lighting and building density of something like Blade Runner, is in abundance here. The super structures of business made of glass and steel mixed with the old industrial buildings of Founders Island are fantastic against the backdrop of the old and regenerating styles of Bleake Island and its imposing clock tower. Miagani Island shows some of that comic book juxtaposition of the fantastical and real life with the orphanage and Wayne Tower and the huge blimps always in the sky towards the eastern edge of the map. There’s an aesthetic and colour palette representing the dankness of grimy expired industry and modern chrome that, under the dark clouds and rain, only reflects the entropy it’s trying to counter or delay. It’s a stunning visual treat.

Flying around this city and even driving around it really makes you connect to the world, despite it being very different from most open world games and their maps. Mostly the connection is familiarity with the world around them in popular culture and history. But in the case of Batman it’s like being given the opportunity to explore a landscape painting, finding all of the tiny brushstrokes of life and colour. The missions that ask you to search for things (Riddler trophies and firefighter rescues) really do give you the opportunity to experience every nook and cranny, which is a wonderful thing.

The story reflects the character of Batman and everything that has brought him up to this point. The duplicity of his morals, the violence of his pacification and his single-mindedness dictate everything that happens in Arkham Knight, along with everything that has already happened in the franchise. The mysteries that surround what is happening keep you going from point to point and the non-story specific distractions are fun to keep you from going way too deep in to the Bruce Wayne introspective rabbit hole.

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Which leads us to the elephant in this room, the Batmobile. I like the Batmobile. The transition from ridiculous supercar to hovering tank is fluid, the arsenal and upgrades at your disposal are great and the driving is smooth and incredibly easy, especially if you aren’t normally a car guy. People that have played games with tanks in like World of Tanks, BattleZone and others will probably get on really well with it. The easy to read firing arcs of all the different enemy drones, encouraging the evasive action needed, make it an experience that isn’t jarring or too steep a learning curve. The puzzles that require the Batmobile all use a different part of the car and a different use of it as well, showing how man and machine can be quite symbiotic.

The criticisms I have is that the world occasionally doesn’t make a lot of room for the Batmobile when it is required, making the whole operation a little bit clumsy. That is something that isn’t helped by the controller layout with L2 on my PS4 pad activating the battle (tank) mode – normally L2 would be your brake or reverse in any vehicle. It’s something you get used to but you will slip up, especially if you do play a lot of games that involve driving. The other issue I have is how reliant of the Batmobile some of the missions are. There are many tanks and vehicles that the Arkham Knight’s militia employ and sometimes there are far too many to destroy or navigate in the casual missions.

The secondary problem with this is that it makes the side missions incredibly repetitive, especially if you’ve completed the main story. You kind of want to complete it but at the same time, it can feel very grindy and after awhile, the sense of achievement fades in to relief that it’s over, which is a far cry from how you feel throughout the main part of the game. In fact, it’s very similar to the work you need to do in another Warner Bros. game, Shadow of Mordor. A surprise hit of 2014, after the main story finishes there isn’t the greatest of incentives to fully complete it. With Batman, you can complete what you need to finish the game to your satisfaction but to 100% it and get the reward/achievement for it is a slog that you might not wish to partake in. But the other way you can look at it is that, if these are the only holes we can pick (well known platform issues aside) then Rocksteady have really succeeded.

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One thing I have to mention, as I’ve said it to friends that have played it and to those that haven’t, is that the voice acting in this game is phenomenal. As far as game voicing goes, we always look to big names like Troy Baker and Nolan North in recent times to turn out stellar performances, and they are present here too. But the Arkham series has had the magnificence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the past reprising the roles they voiced on the animated TV series. Arkham Knight is no exception to that style. Everyone is stellar, and one in particular is worthy of an award if such a thing existed, as the performance was just perfect. Tara Strong is brilliant as is Tasia Valenza and Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) makes an excellent debut as a video game voice actor with Commissioner Gordon.

The thing is with this acting talent and the strength of the story is that the presentation becomes a magnificent thing. Excellent use of the game camera can turn one moment of insignificance in to a brilliant cacophony of entertainment, terror and danger. Flashbacks are brilliantly utilised and the slow reveals of plot are magnificently constructed in the game environment. Whilst some games can just portray this in a cutscene or a filmic way, Batman: Arkham Knight has done it in a beautifully encapsulating way, without falling in to the gaming cliché of quick time events or removing you too far from the action.

All of this combined is why this is my game of the year so far. The future for Rocksteady is solid, with Warner Bros having invested heavily into the studio and hopefully giving them some solid franchises with which to work their magic, especially if they’re involved in anything regarding the DC universe. But for their Batman swan song, it is a lesson in how to create a brilliant game with a potentially saturated franchise and ultimately, how to end a story. The answer to the introductory question, we can only cry. Cry lots with sadness that this won’t happen again and with joy that it was wonderful while it was here. Thank you Rocksteady.

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The end of a great era of Batman games and a brilliant game by itself. A fantastic story, a huge beautiful city, wonderful gameplay, and superb visuals are only hampered by some subjective issues with the controls of the Batmobile and the repetitiveness of some side quests that overuse the vehicle. Batman: Arkham Knight is the greatest way to say goodbye to this wonderful series of games.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

  • Gotham is dark and beautiful.
  • Fantastic story and voice acting.
  • Excellent fluid fighting and gameplay.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

  • Some repetitive side missions and over-reliance on the Batmobile.
  • Slightly odd driving controls for Batmobile.
  • There won’t be any more Arkham games cries

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[tab title=”Why a 9.5?”]

This is my pole position contender for game of the year. I really connected with the voice acting and the artistic construction of Gotham. The colours, the light, the rain, the brooding… Everything made this an excellent vehicle to deliver a great story and the gameplay is expertly refined. I liked the Batmobile and the slight issues I have with that and the missions are the only things keeping this from a higher score.

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

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How To Write and Not Feel Bad About It…

… It’s impossible. Sorry. It is. Unless of course you are a soulless beast with no concept of emotional connection or self doubt whatsoever.

So writers will hurt people. It is an accepted problem that, because writers draw from their own experiences and history that it will inevitably hurt those around them. The same, although with a slightly more distant connection, goes for journalism and opinion editorial pieces.

Today I had a piece published that was admittedly a bit abrasive and via edits, reworking, drafts, etc, didn’t really get any less so and maybe lost the in translation of my snark. but I had an actual point which, given the subject, was going to be fairly forgotten. I expected this.

But I didn’t expect it to come across as abrasive as it was and there’s an irony that I commented on naivety and was probably guilty of it myself. I feel a little bad about because I don’t want to contribute to the ongoing problem I myself was commenting upon.

So you have to remember certain things. Firstly that the reason you write is for you. If you are lucky enough to make it a job then that’s great but you write for you. Even if it’s an op-ed that’s a popular/unpopular subject you aren’t (or shouldn’t) be writing to just be reactionary. It’s not becoming and very often is ill researched and makes you look stupid.

But at the same time, you need to be able to write about those things because that’s how the Internet works. People want to publish things that will bring people to read it, abrasive or otherwise. And that’s fine. So as a writer you need to be capable of talking about an issue and maintaining clarity, etc, and be ready to write about it because, that’s how you get paid.

Anyway, the internet works in mysterious ways and any issues will surely be lost to the forgotten realms in a few days. But I felt bad because I’d found out about my abrasiveness from people whose opinions and values I respect. Obviously they told me not to be silly. But still, I feel a little bad and I feel bad for being “preachy” for lack of a better term.

So how do you combat this bad feeling? Well you can’t. Not if you’re human.

Writing is filled with self-doubt because you are putting yourself out there. Imagine turning up to a nudist beach already nude and realising you got the wrong beach. That’s how writing can feel, especially when you relinquish the piece to the publisher. Any piece, that is. The only way to combat that is to be honest, and bullish. Admit when you’re wrong or you have erred but stick to your convictions and stride on to that bitch, grab a towel to cover your bits and act like you don’t care.

The thing is, because you are a human being with emotions and feelings and know that you’ll actually see the faces of the people you hurt, or pass them in the street, then it will feel awful. But if they know or care, they’ll forgive you. Unless you’ve really practically betrayed their trust then they might not but that’s an art vs privacy debate for another conversation.

Anyway, just needed to vocalise my thoughts a little. Carry on, internet.

F1 2015 – Review

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Formula One is the pinnacle of Motorsport. There is no denying, despite the rise in popularity of endurance racing, MOTO GP, rally and other disciplines, as well as the introduction of Formula E, that Formula One is still at the cutting edge of aerodynamics, engineering and now, hybrid racing. We’re almost two years in to the V6 Turbo kinetic recovery era and, despite the dominance of one team and certainly one engine manufacturer, the technology is well and truly at the forefront of design and evolution.

So it should also stand to measure that Codemasters’ latest iteration of their franchise, F1 2015, should not only reflect this but also embody it. We are well and truly in to a new generation of consoles now and this game is the first look at the new and improved EGO engine. The past two releases on the last generation of consoles were not anywhere near the standard we’ve come to expect of the studio. GRID Autosport felt like a shoe-in to make up for people upset with GRID 2 but it really fell flat and looked rushed. F1 2014 was a shadow of its former years, but with good reason. Unable to release on the now current generation consoles, Codemasters had to come to grips with a rapidly changing F1 rule book and a short amount of time to do it (as well as probably having to release annually due to contracts). The game and the studio were not ready and it showed. You could say it was their Red Bull/Renault moment.

Recently, the studio has won back some kudos thanks to the early access PC title DiRT Rally which takes the formerly “Colin McRae” titled series back to its time trial rally roots and successfully so. The hype for Formula One then is very much real among racing game fans who are excited to see this new engine look spectacular, excited for the changes in the rules, for performance to be expertly reflected, for an in depth setup changing option, and a great racing experience against both AI and online drivers. I can tell you now that three out of five ain’t bad.

Firstly the game engine does look spectacular but not in the way you would imagine. Sixty frames per second, perfectly replicated tracks, cars with up to date livery, and a smooth and exciting experience are all present and accounted for. But graphically, it doesn’t have the visual effects or the artistic panache of Project Cars (also published by Bandai Namco). Although it doesn’t really pretend to have them or even match that level of photorealistic detail in anything except the cars, or the swoon inducing lighting glares. In the effort of maintaining realism to an obsessive level, you won’t get the traditional gaming motion blur to replicate the feeling of speed. As part of the more realistic “broadcast” style, the game looks and replicates a television broadcast experience. For example the lack of natural light on an overcast day dulls the visuals, as it would on screen. Your TV camera won’t get the artsy motion blur we’ve been spoiled with for many different racing games. Surrounding scenery though can look a bit flat and the crowds/marshalls are still poor last generation blurred models (something Forza Horizon 2 is far better with). But other than those niggles it does work incredibly well.

Where there are the artistic sacrifices however, significant gains are made in other places. Wet weather and night races are exciting and incredibly tricky. The weather effects aren’t going to hit you like DriveClub would, but Formula 1 wouldn’t race in those extreme conditions anyway. It does the levels it needs to do well and with expert translation to the car, the handling and the track evolution. The cars and the AI have a massive increase of memory to race better and give you as a driver a more authentic feel. The heat haze from the car’s exhaust is not just a pretty effect as I will explain later. The crash particle effects and the ancillary features like the pit crew and a tablet for the garage set ups are all nicely done, as they always have been. The actual experience of racing, the broadcast chatters and the overall environment around you has been well refined.

What this does is make for the smooth, constant experience, that Formula One is. The gameplay has much more room for interpretation and even if you’re on a wheel or a pad (we played with both) the level of feedback you can feel from the car is extraordinary. You can tell when the back is just a tiny bit lighter, when your brake bias is just that bit too far forward, when the tires are cold and when the torque constantly throws you around as you accelerate out of a corner. Die hard F1 fans will be happy to know that a rudimentary understanding of what everything does and tinkering with set-ups is not only recommended but practically essential on higher difficulty modes. More casual players won’t have a problem getting to grips with the cars thanks to the level of assists but will struggle to race the AI without delving deeper in to the inner workings of an F1 car.

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The understanding will make your experience better and possibly more frustrating. In real life F1 there is an issue with overtaking that I now appreciate a lot more thanks to F1 2015. The heat haze from the exhaust isn’t just a load of hot air and a nice effect to see, it is potentially crippling to your race. One of the issues with the current aerodynamic rules and set ups in real life is how much turbulent air a car causes. Normally when you get in to the slipstream of another car, the reduction of drag should allow you to have less air resistance and close up on the guy in front. But now, the air from the car and the exhaust, combined with the squirmy nature of the modern F1 car actually leaves you with no grip at all. So much so that being under the rear wing of another car will impede your progress. Your car will list one way or another and you’ll be forced to heavily compensate to keep the car facing the right way through a corner, taking vital life out of the tires and combatting wheel spin. This happens regularly in F1 2015 and it’s a frustrating and accurate representation of the sport at present. The best tactic is to hold distance about a half second behind before a DRS zone, use the corner to catch up and have the momentum to leapfrog and be beside your opponent so you can cleanly pass or out brake him at the next corner.

You get the message that F1 is realistic to a point which might take away from the enjoyment of it as a game, but it is an F1 simulator so this is kind of what you expect. And whilst the addition of broadcast style presentation and new cutscenes is nice in a “Pro Evo 5” kind of way, they don’t really bring much to the overall enjoyment. New tweaks like your car being tended to on the grid for the race, rather than the garage, and a new race engineer voice are all nice though. The new feature for the in-car experience on consoles is the radio chatter. You can now directly ask your engineer about race updates. It’s voice activated so you can press the assigned button (L1 in my case) and just say a phrase to get information from your engineer. That’s using Playstation Camera, Kinect or a headset. You also have the entire 2014 team list and season (Caterham and Germany both present), as well as a day one patch that puts the Manor Marussia team in and updates the McLaren 2015 livery. The Pro Championship feature also gives you the hardcore full weekend, no assists experience that you can’t be bothered to manually adjust to in the normal championship mode, which is convenient.

Yet there is a list of things that really let F1 2015 down and it’s a list that grew longer the more I played it. The lack of a career mode is a well explained absence from Codemasters but it is an absence none the less. Personally, I find it a bit too forced to have your generic avatar with your name racing. I’d rather have a full team management mode or some kind of career progression system with a supporting formula. But its absence highlights that this game has three game modes: Championship/Pro Championship, Quick Race and Time Trial. The lack of a challenge mode is a bit of a shame as something like that could have compensated and has always enjoyed the kudos of leaderboards and the Codemasters RaceNet. Sadly, there is nothing in single player for RaceNet users.

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What about online? Well… You shouldn’t have asked really. Patches will surely come but my experience of the online game has been incredibly bad and practically broken. The “hopper” system that searches for suitable session types, ability levels and the like, is supposed to make it easy to find and partake in games quickly. There are different difficulty hoppers and a race challenge that changes to reflect the real life calendar. Except I’ve been barely able to connect to any lobbies, when I do the hopper is already three or four races in out of five and therefore is rather pointless competitively. The game somehow cannot fathom what position you are in either. One race I spent the entire time in 7th out of 9 racers, crossed the line and was rewarded with first place. There were no penalties or anything to cause it, I was just given it. I even got the trophy for it. Sadly this needs to be patched rather quickly, for PS4 especially.

There are a few other things as well such as graphical glitches in replays (the cars constantly leave a tyre trail), and occasionally disproportionately fast race AI (frustrating after your two hour slaving over a setup and getting nothing out of it). The Race Engineer talk back feature can be clumsy as I couldn’t find the talk button whilst racing with a wheel and couldn’t reassign it in the menu. The manual is impossible to do while racing if you don’t have a headset (far too clumsy), and (most importantly) didn’t work with chat headset that Sony supply with the PlayStation. I tested the crap out of it and it only worked with my Turtle Beach headset. I also found that the engineer’s voice level is too low, even at full volume with the other sounds adjusted, and that the saturation of engine noises during races is so similar that, again even with levels adjusted, it’s practically impossible to hear your own engine. I’ve spent a lot of races either visually glued to the rev limiter or, after a couple of laps, changing gears by instinct. Maybe this is better with headphones or a good sound system, but on a TV it’s very difficult.

F1 2015 is a fantastic leap forward for the series, and game the engine and playability shows good promise for the current generation of gaming. Whereas many have struggled to get their visuals across or to hit a specific frame rate, F1 has sacrificed the right things in the right places graphically to make an enjoyable experience. But the whole thing kind of feels like an incomplete project. The game feels complete (which could be slightly worrying if you over think about what you don’t like), but it’s very obvious that the work, the improvements and the refinement in everything around the engine and the basic racing mechanic is not. Ultimately the game desperately needs a large renovation of its multiplayer set up and quickly, but fans should enjoy the single player experience even if it isn’t the immersion they crave for just yet.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

F1 2015 feels like a Formula One game. All of the detail, the graphics, the setups, the torque, the wheelspin, the frustration of riding in the wake of another car… All of it is good and a great reflection of the sport as it currently is. But it does feel like it’s a project that is still a work in progress with numerous glitches, absent modes and a very broken multiplayer. One for the die hards who will happily enjoy and wait for more.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

  • Smooth 60FPS graphics.
  • Up to date 2015 season and bonus 2014 season.
  • Excellent translation from car’s handling to controller.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

  • Broken Multiplayer.
  • Absent Modes.
  • Occasional Glitches.

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[tab title=”Why a 7?”]

I’m a massive fan of Formula One: the sport. Therefore I will and do enjoy the game version. Critically the game itself is rather good as a single player experience and I’m sure a few hot patches for AI and driver performance will help in balancing everyone else’s experiences. A career mode would have been great but I’ll take its absence in lieu of having a bad career mode instead. The current issues with the multiplayer though are very poor and need to be fixed soon, and all these little glitches and issues sadly detract from what has been a promising outing.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game and tested with the DualShock 4 Controller and the Thrustmaster T300 RS wheel.

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Tour de France 2015 – Review

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There is a strange allure I have with licensed sports games. I just want to play them, just to see what they’re like. The more common sense person in me says “Don’t be a dick, Sean, that game is £40 and you’ll play it for a week maximum.” It’s this reason why I owned the TNA Impact game, the Rugby League games back on the PS2 and even golf games. I’ll look at a game like the Tiger Woods Masters game and think “Wow, that’s cool! I want to play it” despite my interest in golf being a rather shoddy back 9 at my local course when I was 17 years old. But I am a fan of racing and every year, cycling grows in prominence, especially in the UK. We have some of the best riders in the world right now and the legacy of our success from the 2012 Olympics is still rather strong here.

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We have some great names like Sir Chris Hoy (who’s interestingly making the leap to motor racing with the Nissan Le Mans team), Sir Bradley Wiggins (who presumably has a career as a Rhys Ifans lookalike as well) and, according to Tour de France 2015, Chris Frame and Mark Civendash… Yes the heavily licensed video game version of cycling’s pinnacle event is missing arguably two of its greatest stars. Their teams are licenced like Team Sky and Ettix Quick-Step but they aren’t. It’s one of the oversights that have dulled this experience for me as, believe it or not, I was very interested to see what this game was like.

One the face of it, the game is a less leisurely cruise though some of France’s greatest scenery among a throng of computer controlled cyclists vying to be the famed Yellow Jersey. Or if not that, one of the many sub-event jerseys like the polka-dot climbing leader or the green sprint one. You can race through these multiple stages and sub-races in your own pack or as part of the peloton and work your magic through the many stages of the competition. Great if you’re a video game playing cycling fan.

Not so great if you aren’t or if you’re hoping this would be a good entry in to the sport for you. Very little is made clear about the event. Where as most mainstream sports games are quite simple in their scoring and how someone wins, cycling is not and you will quickly become frustrated that it’s not a first past the post scenario. The game manual does help a bit but there’s very little clear indication in the game as to what exactly you’re racing for. How you get the overall lead isn’t particularly obvious, or how various people regularly affect the overall standings as you’re racing and what you’re supposed to do about it. Climbs and sprints, yes, very obvious, but everything else? No. There are also single rider objectives that you can meet for bonuses but even still, they are rather unclear if you aren’t a cycling aficionado.

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Which is a shame because one thing that Tour de France 2015 gets really right is the strategy element. Your one button click wheel can control your entire team remotely to plan and strategise exactly what you need to win a stage. Get your people up for the sprints or the climbs then get them to hold defence as you slavishly avoid the wind on the wheels of another before timing your breakaway to perfection. Micro-managing everyone’s energy levels for the best parts of their particular race along with your own wall hitting risk (which you will do), and timing when to top that up with a quick supplement will distract you from the fact that the game doesn’t make the experience that enjoyable.

There’s a commentator/team manager whose received pronunciation voice wobbles like Griff Rhys Jones trying not to sound welsh but accidentally slipping. It’s such a weird combo that you could imagine Coogan and Brydon lampooning it over a chilled chardonnay and a Boudin Blanc whilst following the tour via the regions lavish eateries. At times, the man adopts the tone of an overly worrisome elderly gentleman who bears more resemblance to Lance Corporal Jones than a professional cycling coach. Don’t panic though, as he’s there to guide you with all 8 lines of dialogue he has… Repeatedly.

This package leads to frustration as during vast parts of the game you are in the French wilderness minding your own business, expending far too much energy. Your control method can be adapted of course to however you play but it is essentially one button at a time. You press square to hold behind another rider or RT to pedal. You can then tap X to attack. All of this expends a lot of energy for your rider before you get to a big climb or sprint so you can either run your own race or languish in the peloton for the duration. Then if you want to try your strategy you’ll bumble along as you reach to keep hold of your racing button and select your teammate, ultimately losing grip and slowing down massively or steering in to a verge.

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Oh well, at least the game looks good, right? Well no surprises as to what you’ll see anyway, lots of fields with copy and pasted corn, sunflowers, motionless cattle and their human counterparts with their cars parked up on sides manically waving flags and shouting what I assume is complimentary encouragement to you in french. It’s all rather static and a little bit sterile. I mean I’m not expecting Euro Truck style immersiveness but when the Tourmalet climb appears pretty much out of no where on the horizon and your limited camera movement and one view cannot see its imposing form really approach, it’s a bit annoying. Looking back to the peloton, every rider has the same face and body and this only changes when you get a podium screen. Crowds will mob the course as you approach a climb before sliding hastily away when they realise they’re in the middle of a bloody road, and I do mean comically slide. Like an old Quake style stereoscopic no clip mode. And whoever decided that it was a good idea to give the sound department all of the Vuvuzelas from the 2010 world cup and make them the crowd horns and noises should really have thought better.

I’m making a little light of this situation obviously but it is a game that doesn’t give too much to you and probably expects you not to be asking that much from it in the first place. There’s an local multiplayer mode, a Pro team mode for those who want to create their own team of super riders to earn the yellow jersey and a challanged mode. One thing I’d have liked is a freeplay mode so I could have done individual stages but other than that, the game has everything it needs and it has the strategy right, if not the gameplay to pull it off. For the price, it is one for cycling fans who enjoy it but if you’re a more casual fan of the sport or even just the event, then you’ll probably find it frustrating.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Tour de France 2015 does exactly what it says on the box, it replicates the premiere cycling event with loads of licensed content and real stages you can enjoy. What it has in strategy though, it lacks in cohesion and end quality. With a little more adventure it could be a really good game though. Fun for fans of the sport and virtual representations, maybe not for more casual players.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

  • Almost completely licensed teams/riders.
  • Great representations of the race stages.
  • Excellent strategy system and micro-management.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

  • Graphically a bit poor.
  • Confusing objectives.
  • No open freeplay of stages.

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[tab title=”Why a 6?”]

This isn’t a bad game, it’s actually quite a clever sports strategy game given that it isn’t a management sim. But the one button control and the lack of coherence over what your aims are and how to employ the strategy is rather frustrating and alienating those without the knowledge. A few niggles add up to more and dampen your experience but the promise is there.

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

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Returning to Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls Online

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Returning to Tamriel brought some mixed emotions to me. Originally, I was going to review The Elder Scrolls Online again, a year after I last did this with its original release on PC, with it’s new Tamriel Unlimited moniker. Surely enough had changed and moved in that year on that I could go back and almost revise my review, I thought, but as the hours I was sinking in to it became longer and the reviews from other sites started coming in, I realised I couldn’t do that.

That’s because, despite improvements, nothing has really changed and the games positives and negatives are still exactly the same. It was actually quite nice to see so many people pointing out the exact same issues I had last time out, and even one of my friends I’ve been accompanying on our MMO adventure making reference to a major frustration of mine. So, instead of a review (because to be honest I’d be giving it exactly the same score this time around) I thought I’d give a brief summary of what I’ve learned now that I’ve spent much more time in Tamriel, and how ‘unlimited’ it really is.

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Money is Pointless

 

On the one hand, TESO has solved one of life’s biggest problems with the overly wealth-biased capitalist oligarchy that we live in. On the other hand, it does it at the ‘expense’ (pun intended) of any mercantile or crafting activity, save for a few well-subscribed guilds. Money is really quite insignificant in The Elder Scrolls Online. You need it to buy a horse and to increase your inventory space (more on that later), and that’s pretty much it.

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Since the abilities of the mounts all got normalised to be the same with no advantages, there’s no point saving 40,000 coins as opposed to 10,000 coins for the cheapest yet identically able horse. Other than that you can craft things and sell them to the merchants for an infinitesimal amount of money compared to the time and effort you have put in to scrounging for the crafting components. I have brought Starmetal so I can craft in my native style from a merchant but only at the start. Now I find everything while adventuring so my only reason to spend money with merchants is gone. There are guild traders so you can buy and sell items, a little bit like an auction house, but to even access them you need to have a guild of fifty active people which, if we’re honest, is bloody stupid if it’s a game you’re going to play with a few of your mates. I’m pretty sure if you’ve got ten friends then chances are 4 of them don’t even play video games and two of them probably don’t even like fantasy games or MMO’s so you’re bollocksed really.

Of course the lack of the auction house does stop people completely ruining the economy of the game, but the complete lack of it and the lack of incentive to actually do things which turn in to financial gain equally cripples the economy. It’s incredibly communist in its workings how the foraging and set prices for all commodities means that, whatever amount of gold you may have, you actually have no advantage or disadvantage whatsoever. Of course this is the way of the Elder Scrolls games, money is relatively unimportant to the world where everything is outside. But it is very relevant to an MMO.

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The Battle Against Inventory Space is Real

 

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It’s weird how “over encumbered” is a struggle we never really fully deal with. We want all the things so having to mercilessly scrap, sell and destroy things seems like a sad process. Much like when you’re going through all the old band T-shirt 21 year old you brought and 31 year old you looks at with envy at how thin 21 year old you used to be.

But MMO’s have their version of this problem and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Limited inventory space is and obvious thing for any game but the limits in TESO seem to be far too small. You have two storage spaces in your bank and your own inventory (and a Guild bank should you be lucky enough to have one). This fills up on average 4,867,308 times per gaming session. Here’s the process:

Go explore/visit dungeon > Search crates/boxes > Pick up crafting items (jewels, provisioning ingredients, etc) > Fill inventory > Destroy things to get actual reward for mission/dungeon > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Then there’s this problem:

Get items > Deconstruct everything for crafting > Fill inventory > Empty in to bank > Repeat.

Or there is:

Construct items for crafting writs > Fill Inventory > Bank Full > Scavenge for items to compete writ > Unable to refine items as inventory full > Scream > Repeat.

This is quite literally the only use for money and, because there isn’t really an economic system so you can actually be good at getting money, it takes a lot of time to make enough to unlock the extra spaces in either your own inventory or the bank. It’s a slow process filled with lots of frustration that can either be cured by not picking up anything (which feels a bit soulless) or by visiting the main city every 15 minutes to unload and consolidate what you have over and over again.

There are a few other ways to get around it like training horses but pretty much every way to increase your capacity and therefore your skills involves money. There’s also only one bank per area and the areas have between three and four towns. The lack of that accessibility really hampers the game and the exploring experience unless you’re loaded. And there is one sure fire easy way to get rich quick…

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Plunder Thy Booty

 

Stealing was “nerfed” very early on in the game’s life, but really it is quite stupid. I have almost every racial motif and a load of recipes, not to mention trinkets that I can pick up every 15 minutes or so from the boats at the docks. A lot of these things have come from my friend who is now a master thief. He has spent so long levelling up through stealing and making money by fencing stuff that he’s actually missed a lot of story.

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The annoying thing is that it’s very addictive and you can regularly make something like 1,500 gold per day at a minimum. There are obviously a few issues to hamper your experience like the stolen items taking up inventory space (they don’t stack with normal items) or the fact that getting caught can be a chaotic experience of running away followed by a lonely experience of avoiding anything resembling an NPC that can hurt you. But once you’ve done it a few times and got used to it, it’s the easiest way to make guaranteed money.

In fact it’s so easy, it’s overpowered. You can go down to the city’s docks at any time to see two or more people sneaking around checking every crate and barrel to sell everything, just to make a quick buck. The reward for stealing far outweighs the rick and it feels like a lot of measures that have been taken to stop people ruining the game have in fact helped to ruin it in some places.

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It’s not all frustration though. The console version is a very impressive conversion of the game. The controller has been very well adapted to the hotbar MMO design (a bit like Dragon Age Inquisition has, to be honest) along with easy to locate sub menus, which are well designed. My only gripe is that jump and action are combined but you can change that at the sacrifice of another button in the options.

Graphically the game is very nice. It’s a very different world to Skyrim but is definitely at a higher texture resolution. There’s the occasional lag for the texture streaming but it all works rather well. The only issue there has been the occasional downtime and PSN issues that have occurred. The game still suffers from being a single player story/quest system in a MMO environment but the group events like the Dolmer’s and boss battles make you feel rather grateful for the appearance of others. It’s also a world that makes you want to explore it and methodically complete it, much like its Elder Scrolls cousins.

I’m honestly glad I’ve returned to Tamriel, despite what might look like a typically British spat of moaning. For a console MMO it is the right mix of non-subscription and casual Elder Scrolls fun whilst still having the dynamics of the franchise and lots of playability. If you’ve got a lot of people or make a lot of friends in game then I’m sure the dungeons and guilds are a much better experience, but even for a small group, it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t visited before, you probably should.

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