Adam’s Top 5 Video Games of 2015

Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be sharing our top 5s of 2015, from everyone who writes here at The Lost Lighthouse. This time Adam will go through his favourite 5 video games of the year.

I’m taking a quick break from the depths of writing my PhD thesis to write about some of the things I actually cared about this year. This time it’s my favourite video games released in 2015. Of the various things my misguided attempt at a doctoral level qualification has taken from me, the spare time to actually play video games is probably the most felt. Also video games are expensive and I’m incredibly broke. As such, I’ve only actually played five games this yeah (at least that came out in 2015. I also played the incredible Transistor). So this was really just an exercise in picking which order they go in for me. All of these games were played on PS4.

5. Fallout 4 (Bethesda Softworks)

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The above is part of the reason why Bethesda’s latest installment of everybody’s favourite huge, sprawling post-apocalypse sandbox game is only number 5 on my list. After months of rumours and speculation, details of a new Fallout began to emerge and in November it was finally released. Now due to my heavy work load right now and general state of being very busy (and leaving my PS4 in London over Christmas), I haven’t finished the main story yet. I have however pumped a lot of time into the game, completing a lot of side missions and doing a large amount of world exploration.

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Let’s talk about that world, as a way of kicking off with the good about the game. The world is stunning, as long as you look at it from a distance. While the post-apocalypse trope of a colour palette heavy in browns and greys is definitely present, ‘The Commonwealth’ is densely packed with a lot of interesting scenery and locations to interact with. The storyline so far has been relatively engaging. I don’t really care about my missing son, but the shadowy Institute is intriguing and the return of certain organisations on unprecedented scales is an interesting inclusion. The world really lives through the side missions though, many of which are not only engaging but incredibly enjoyable too (my favourite so far is The Silver Shroud).  The combat mechanics are unchanged for the most part, so the V.A.T.S. system is back and still a lot of fun.

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Now for what I don’t like, and I’m just going to rattle through them. Feel free to discuss them in the comments! The UI is not great, and any changes have not improved things from Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The graphics, while not the be all and end all of a game, should really be better at this point especially for the character models. The dialogue system, previously a big part of Fallout, has been stripped back to make you feel like a passenger in what is largely otherwise a shooter, rather than a participant in an RPG. I have yet to see the point in settlements, and the user interface in building and interacting with a settlement is horrible, likely the reason why I have no desire to spend any more time doing it. While I do enjoy the crafting aspect for weapons and armour, having this and the base construction in the game means that almost every piece of junk in Fallout is worth keeping, and every location contains more crap than you and your companion can carry. As such, I’ve spent probably about 40% of my playtime hefting junk around and either selling or scraping it.

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But for me the biggest issue with Fallout 4 is the glitches and bugs. There has been a lot of comment online about this, which largely seems to boil down to this being something you expect and accept in a Bethesda game. I don’t really see it like that, and this is probably the first time I’ve really had a problem with it. With limited time and money to play games these days, having a full price game be released as a bit of a glitchy mess doesn’t hold water with me. Weapons disappearing, enemies floating, corpses janking around ruining the desolate quiet of a vault. This is why it bothers me. These games are about immersion, and every time I see my companion get stuck in a wall or I fall through the world it takes me completely out of it. Sure they’re working on fixes all the time, but I’m reaching the point where I want games to just be finished properly when they come out.

 

4. The Order 1886 (Ready at Dawn)

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Speaking of a game that was finished, The Order 1886 was the first game I played this year (I reviewed it over here). I liked it a lot. The gameplay was a bit heavy and reminiscent of a clunkier Gears of War, but it wasn’t bad. The story was interesting, succinct and well-paced and while it ultimately didn’t quite deliver on the promise of alternate steampunk Knights of the Round Table supernatural beast hunters, with the very few instances of actually fighting monsters either shockingly easy and repetitive or relegated to quick time events, while the rest of the game was spent shooting ‘rebels’ and other humans for reasons that were never made abundantly clear other than waving around the word ‘conspiracy’, it was a satisfying plot that I enjoyed.

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The game wasn’t particularly long, in fact many said it was far too short for a full price game. I clocked in around 7 hours for my playthrough, and I was fairly defensive about the length in my original review, while also decrying the debate as generally oversimplified. However, since I completed it I really haven’t felt any compulsion to revisit the game. I’m not really sure what that says about it or it’s value. Saying that, it remains the best looking game I’ve played so far on the latest console generation. Despite it being a largely drab and grey trudge through Victorian England, it was stunning to look at and I really enjoyed it.

 

3. Mad Max (Avalanche Studios)

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This one snuck up on me, as it would probably have totally passed me by if I hadn’t been swept up in the Fury Road fever this year. Instead, I actively made the decision to pick up this new Mad Max game over Metal Gear Solid V, due to it’s reasonably positive if not stellar reviews and the fact that I was fairly sure it would be an easier game to pick up and put back down for short gaming stints, making it better for taking breaks from working and avoiding getting so engrossed that I waste hours on it. Fortunately I turned out to be right about that, but more fortunate was how much I ended up loving this game for all of it’s simplicity.

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Set before Fury Road, with a somewhat tenuous link to characters in the film, you play as Max after having the Interceptor stolen and being left for dead. You ally yourself with a mechanic, and slowly modify a rusty frame to an armoured ‘Magnum Opus’ capable of driving across the Plains of Silence to freedom. The game is another big sandbox environment, as you drive around finding scrap for your car, fighting off raiding parties, taking down War Boy camps with your fists and limited shotgun ammo and helping your allies thrive, while trying to outrun sand storms and stop Lord Scrotus and his minions. In essence, you just drive around and blow stuff up. And it is incredibly fun. The game’s only real let down is that it is very repetitive. The map is studded with scavenging locations, and each of the 4 allies you meet along the game require the same things from you. A lot of it is extraneous, but useful for completing the game. That said, there are some very fun and unique missions, like driving through the Underdune – a network of tunnels that was once an airport, now home to the nocturnal Buzzards.

 

2. Bloodborne (FromSoftware)

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Second from top for me this year is the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne from ‘Souls’ creators FromSoftware. A grueling, Groundhog Day style trial-and-error endurance experience where you spend most of your time dying. A lot. But it’s the sort of game that makes you think tactically, commands your full attention, tests your ability and ultimately rewards you for it. As a hunter, you wade through scores of the crazed residents of the town of Yharnam, feral beasts and huge, hulking monsters. Each time you finally figure out how to beat a boss and ‘Prey Slaughtered’ pops up on your screen, you feel an immense satisfaction and a real feeling of earning it.

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The game itself is beautiful. Well, beautiful if you like heavily gothic surroundings and grotesque monsters. Halfway through the game you enter a sort of nightmare realm, while everything takes on a deeply Lovecraftian slant, including horrific beasts that cling to the huge buildings around you that you can’t attack… but get close enough and they can attack you. My flatmates described this as the game they’ve enjoyed watching me play the most, I expect in part because of the surroundings, but likely also due to my reaction to the difficulty level of the game – swearing my head off every time I felt like I was unjustly killed, even thought it was probably due to me not paying enough attention. It happened a lot.

 

1. Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios)

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My favourite game of the year is likely a little predictable for me. As a huge Batman fan, I’ve always been extremely impressed by the Arkham games (at least the Rocksteady ones) for not only capturing the ethos and feeling of a mixture of the best Batman comics and Batman: The Animated Series, but also managing to create gameplay that makes you really feel like you are being the Batman. Easy to control combat that looks brutal yet elegant, stealth that combines technology and fear to take down foes, and detective work to put together a case. This third installment from Rocksteady is their final Arkham game, though there isn’t a doubt in my mind that WB will be back with more.

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Scarecrow is working with the mysterious ‘Arkham Knight’ and his militia army, and using an overwhelming force and seemingly hundreds of drone tanks they bring Gotham to it’s knees. Batman must prevent them from poisoning the city with fear toxin, while figuring out the identity of the Knight and putting a stop to their plans. Along with a few new tricks, like the hugely satisfying fear takedown, Bats also finally has the Batmobile – less a car in this incarnation and more of the personal tank of the Christopher Nolan films, able to speed around at huge speeds before transforming into a combat mode complete with missiles, stun guns and a huge cannon – to be deployed against drone tanks only. While feeling hilariously overpowered, the Batmobile has been successfully deployed in much the same way as the hand-to-hand combat was for the first time in Arkham Asylum – it’s very easy to feel like a total badass with it. The one drawback? I get the feeling Rocksteady were very, very proud of their new toy. So much so that the Batmobile is shoehorned into missions and situations that feel totally unnatural, to the point that it is essentially overused.

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The main plot is an exercise in escalation, in an understandable trajectory from the first game until now. But it’s a very enjoyable superhero tale with some very well deployed twists, some less well deployed twists (I may have seen the identity of the Arkham Knight coming a mile off due to my familiarity with the comics, but it’s telegraphed very clumsily and out of nowhere a couple of hours before) and a huge climax. The side quests are even better than they were in Arkham City, once again drawing from the extensive rogues gallery (some of which were extensions of side plots set up in that game). For every one that fell a little flat, like the Hush sequence, there were excellent scenarios like ‘The Perfect Crime’.

The only issue I have with the extra content like this, which was the same as the previous games, is that while I can suspend my disbelief in general for superhero antics, it is physically and temporally impossible for all of this to occur in one night. Equally unbelievable is that with the city in such dire peril, you’d take some time out of saving it to capture Man-Bat or train Azrael. Maybe leave them to tomorrow Bruce? Or even just have the plot take place over a couple of days. Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight go to ground for a day or two, and while the Batcomputer checks up on some leads you start cleaning up some other problems in the city? Whatever. It’s really a tiny and slightly pointless complaint, really just brought about by overthinking things. Ultimately, this was a great game. Unless you tried to play it on PC.

 

London MCM Comic Con – Day 2: Panels – Felicia Day and Arrow

Adam headed off to the MCM Comic Con Expo in London this weekend. This is what he saw.

I was running a little late on Saturday morning (no reason, I was busy eating cereal and watching Person of Interest) but still managed to make it in time for the first of the two panels I wanted to make it to throughout the day.

Felicia Day – Geek Goddess (actual name of the panel, I didn’t come up with that)

Felicia Day

Felicia Day is hands down, one of the most genuinely charming and funny people I have ever seen in person. If you don’t know who she is, Day has acted in a whole host of genre television including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, in addition to starring in her own web series The Guild and creating a veritable nerd empire with the Geek and Sundry Youtube channel, which we at The Lost Lighthouse are pretty big fans of.

Day came out and spoke pretty quickly, admitting that she had already drunk a lot of coffee that morning. The set up of the panel was largely a Q&A, where fans queued up next to some microphones and shot some questions towards the stage. Before that, she talked briefly about her upcoming book ‘You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost)’ (which you can preorder on her site here), Welsh mouths and being so cramped on the tube at 6 15am that she and another person were basically inside each other (“I don’t even get that close to my friends”).

Then the questions started, There was, admittedly a huge bias towards questions regarding her character on Supernatural. I have yet to get round to watching even a single episode of Supernatural, though I’m sure I would actually like it (especially as it has Mark Sheppard in it), so a lot of this flew over my head but sounded fairly interesting. A recurring theme of the Q&A was how “very killable” she has turned out to be in her television work, and how she likes to try to make herself heavily whenever someone has to carry her in a scene.

Due to her involvement with Tabletop on Geek and Sundry she said her favourite board game at the moment was Lords of Waterdeep, a D&D strategy game, and how she used to freak out about people’s greasy hands all over her game pieces when she invited friends round for board games and pizza. She was asked about the character based on her in Dead of Winter and for tips on how to survive with her character, to which she responded that the character was overpowered and he advice was to just “play better”. With regards to Geek and Sundry, while not revealing much, Day spoke about the content they have coming up revolving around shorter, faster shows in particular.

The rest of the Q&A (aside from even more Supernatural questions) was filled out with fans asking for advice on getting in to acting and following your passions, and also a very nervous girl bringing Day some fan art that she genuinely seemed to appreciate. In fact she spoke about how she gets very attached to gifts from fans, only mentioning one she threw away – a sculpture of her made of hair, which to me is mind-blowingly terrifying but I guess if you really try to see the compliment in it it’s kind of sweet? Maybe? The last question asked about how she got into using YouTube as a medium, and she described the internet as somewhere where we can “be who we are and not be ashamed for it”, which is something I’ve never really thought about. I get so caught up in how genuinely awful people can be and regularly are online, that I tend to overlook what it has actually done not only for our counter cultures, but what a force for good it has the potential to be and often has been.

UPDATE – If you want to watch the panel, MCM have put it up on their YouTube channel here

 

Arrow: Heroes & Assassins (again, what the panel was called)

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I’m a big fan of the CW’s Arrow show, aired over here in the UK by SkyOne. Based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, the show follows Oliver Queen (played by Stephen Amell) in his quest to fight crime in Starling City, while dealing with an increasingly powerful array of villains. For this panel, Willa Holland (who plays Oliver’s sister Thea), Karl Yune (Maseo Yamashiro from Season 3) and Rila Fukushima (Tatsu Yamashiro, also from Season 3) had all come over to London to discuss the show and field some Q&As from the assembled fans (if anything the room was even more packed than for Felicia Day).

There were questions about the martial arts on the show, which have only increased through the third season with the League of Assassins storyline, and the cast guessed that they probably do around 30% of their own stunts (Yune said almost none, to which Holland objected) but Amell tries to do as much as possible. They were asked what super powers any of them would like to have, with Holland immediately answering The Flash or “Bridget Allen”. She revealed herself to be a pretty big DC comics fan from a young age, to the point that when she got the chance to do some of the more bad-ass stuff Thea gets up to later on in the series she got pretty emotional (I would have too). I always like hearing when an actor playing a character in any sort of adaptation I watch is actually a big fan of the source material. It doesn’t detract from a performance when they’re not, but it does enhance my appreciation of their work when they are!

I was actually, somewhat embarrassingly, taken aback by how friendly and personable Willa Holland was, as aside from her substantial character progression in season 3, I have only ever seen her play fairly bratty characters (which is a ridiculous thing to say, as playing negative characters doesn’t guarantee you are a negative person any more than playing a nice, funny person guarantees that you’re not a a bastard in real life). All three of the Arrow cast members at Expo were genuinely nice and interesting people. Yune got a fair few questions about some of his more emotional scenes near the end of the season, which he preferred out of the flashbacks and current scenes (he went flashback) and what his experiences as a Korean-American were like with finding roles that weren’t typecast or stereotypical. Fukashima started off fairly shy and quiet, and while she did have a interpreter to help her with a couple of time she was struggling to express herself, she came into her own later on and it was interesting to hear about her experiences preparing for Arrow and how they compared to her work in The Wolverine playing Yukio (I totally did not connect that it was her).

Of course someone asked them which they all preferred, DC or Marvel, near the end. Holland, whether it was genuine or just brand loyalty/towing the company line, answered incredibly quickly, while Yune and Fukashima tried to be diplomatic before falling on DC’s side. Finally, someone asked the fairly complex question of whether any of them thought that the comic book/superhero adaptation bubble would be bursting any time soon, to which Yune replied that the fascination would last forever. A nice thought, and I certainly hope it will, but nothing lasts forever. To quote The Vision, “that’s what makes it beautiful”.

Two things that I found slightly odd about the panel were due entirely to the nature of the crowd. Firstly, more than one question was repeated later on by someone that either wasn’t listening, was hoping to catch the cast out or had just joined the queue and heard their question asked, and decided to ask it again anyway. Fukushima was asked more than once, for example, about potential inclusion in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow series, despite already answering that they are kept largely in the dark about those sorts of plans, and anything they do know they can divulge yet. The second was concerning spoilers, and people’s reactions to when they were said out loud by the fans asking the questions. On the one hand, the Arrow season finale only aired this week in the UK, and last week in the states. On the other, I find it odd that anyone would go to a panel involving the cast of a series that has aired it’s season finale without actually watching it. Some outrage even came when events were mentioned that happened in earlier episodes too. Despite that, the cast dealt with it well and skated round spoiling anything themselves, calling people out for spoiling plot point for others too. This panel was an interesting look at the making of the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next in Season 4.

 

I’m going to be heading to a few more panels on the last day of London Comic Con, along with checking out some more cosplay and spending a few hours looking around the art in the Comic Village. More on all of that tomorrow!

Adam

 

 

 

EGX Round Up – Part Two: The Order 1886 and Mortal Kombat X

Adam and Kii went to EGX in London on Friday. Here is Adam’s coverage.

On to part two of my EGX round up from last Friday, where Kii and I received our first press passes to check out and cover the gaming expo. After a healthy dose of survival horror (see part one!) we went back down to the main floor to check out a few more games (and to give Kii a break from all the horror!).

 

The Order 1886

There were probably four games I was most looking forward to trying out at EGX. I have already talked about the first two, Alien Isolation and The Evil Within. The Order 1886, the Playstation 4 exclusive from Ready at Dawn and SCEA (due out February 2015), is another and the last I actually made it to. We wandered around for a while trying to figure out where it actually was, before realising it was in the same Playstation demo booth as Bloodborne (the other game I was very keen to try) and Until Dawn. So to try any of these three games you had to join the same queue, taking around 30 or 40 minutes, with an attendant coming through and splitting us up depending on the game we wanted to play. The Order was the most popular, so the queue was the longest, but to play another game in the same booth would mean re-queuing from the back of the line again. As such, I didn’t get the chance to play Bloodborne so we could get to some other game, but The Order was the game I really wanted to check out.

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The Order 1886 appears to involve a squad or division of enforcers that hunt and battle supernatural threats in an alternate, steampunk inspired Neo-Victorian London, utilising a variety of advanced weaponry (another character was using a weapons a lot like a Proton pack from Ghostbusters) to fight various creatures and violent criminals. In the demo, you play as Galahad (I’m not sure if you get the chance to play as multiple characters or just this mutton-chopped badass), and The Order join a group of constables who appear to be engaged in suppressing armed rebels or terrorists. Galahad is equipped with a Thermite rifle, which involves firing a combination of a flare at the enemy and spraying them with rapid-fire thermite rounds, which alone do little damage but upon contact with fire cause a huge ignition, setting enemies aflame. Lots of fun.

The demo doesn’t give too much away in terms of story, but hints at supernatural elements, for example a team member is grazed by a bullet and instantly heals the wound by drinking a tincture from a vial around his neck, and it shows off the Neo-Victorian environment. As this is just a snapshot of the game however, nothing is spoiled regarding where The Order are heading or why they are fighting these people. A succinct demo, that showed off the gameplay and the setting for the game, and left me wanting more by the end.

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The unique setting of The Order 1886 has me hooked, and I enjoyed the gameplay a lot. There was a fair amount of cover-based shooting, which isn’t a new mechanic but if you are going to use it it is important that it works and fits the game style. This felt like the system perfected by Gears of War, feeling heavy as you duck behind cover and move with all your gear without being sluggish. The only part that worried me was that around halfway through the demo the system froze, and one of the attendants came over and kindly rebooted it for me so I could start again from the beginning. A few minutes later, the same thing happened to the lady playing to my left. Now clearly this isn’t occurring on a level that is worrying the developers if they still felt they could show the demo at the expo (and it is a relatively early demo too), and it didn’t happen to me a second time through. But crashing for two people next to each other isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, unless it really was a total coincidence. However, I’m not worried as I am sure it is something Ready at Dawn are aware of, and with over four months before release I am confident that issues like this will be ironed out. Aside from that minor point, I am still very excited for The Order 1886 and will be keeping an eye on it as it gets closer to release.

 

Mortal Kombat X

This was actually one of the first games we tried out, while we were just wandering around the convention floor when we first arrived. Mortal Kombat X was developed by NetherRealm Studios, and we found it in one of the Playstation booths so played it on PS4, though it is also coming out on Xbox One. I won’t pretend that I play many fighting games anymore, but when I was younger I was pretty in to Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur and even way further back Killer Instinct on the SNES (I also love Smash Bros.). I never seem to buy new fighters because I only really get a lot of enjoyment playing with people live in the same room, but I always really enjoy them when I get the chance to play any beat em up round a friend’s house. The first trailer for Mortal Kombat X was very pretty and moody, so I was looking forward to the chance to try it out.

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Kii and I faced off against each other, she choose Ferra and Torr and I chose Cassie Cage, and we fought on a stage called ‘Kove’ (we get it Mortal Kombat. Everything has to be spelt with a K). The graphics were very nice, which only highlighted the gore to come, and the fighting stage was fun with a few things to throw and other interactions to try out. Kii was a lot better than me, as she plays fighters more often and there was some overlap with the DC Injustice: Gods Among Us game that NetherRealm also developed. However, I still won. Because I am a badass. Or she let me try out my X-ray move which put me at a significant advantage in the last round. Whatever.

This was a whole heap of violent fun, the X-ray mode particularly being hilariously gruesome. As we played this downstairs, we actually were trying the censored version of the demo, with the full version only being upstairs in the 18+ section. Fatalities were blocked on this version, resulting in a victory that lacked any sort of fanfare. However, aside from that I don’t see how this was a censored toned down version. The X-ray mode attacks were all insanely violent and gory. I think Cassie Cage’s involved popping the opponents testicles, which you got to see, and others showed hands being shoved into chests, ripping at internal organs.

Am I going to buy Mortal Kombat X? Probably not. Will I play the hell out of it when I visit Kii and allow her to beat the shit out of me on it? Definitely. If fighters are your thing, this is shaping up to be another great Mortal Kombat game.

 

Come back tomorrow for the final part of my EGX round up!

Adam