Sunday, 28 October 2018

Fallout 76 Beta Thoughts!

When Fallout 4 was announced I went to my local Game and pre-ordered the Pip-Boy version the very next day. They hadn't even put it into the till system yet, but I knew that I needed that game in my life. And let's face it, the idea of wearing an actual Pip-Boy was really cool - it turns out the idea of it was much cooler than the reality, but it makes for a sweet collectible so it's fine that I only used it for about an hour, right? In my defense I had a rubbish phone at the time that didn't quite fit and left a lot of space around the edges. Maybe it'd be better now...

I had adored Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (actually my favourite out of the two) on Xbox 360 and had spent countless hours exploring the Wastelands these games provided me with. I never actually finished the story on either of them. Call me stupid but I didn't want the game to end. I liked knowing that I could go back to it at a later date and it'd still be there. I completed side mission after side mission, but never to this day have I seen the campaign through to the end. I will. One day.

Fallout 4 was different. It grabbed me and it didn't let me go. I found that I wanted to complete the story first this time, so then I was left alone to explore the vast reaches of The Commonwealth at my own speed. I raced through it. I didn't even look into when certain alliances would stop you progressing with others like I had in the past. I played it how I wanted to play it. It was a revelation. I am not completely cured though. I still have unfinished business in the Commonwealth. I have the DLC, but I am yet to get past the first area of Far Harbour. I guess I'm not ready for my adventures in the Commonwealth to be over just yet.

When Fallout 76 was first shown I was unbelievably excited. Then they started talking about it being multiplayer, and my excitement started to wane. By the end it had been completely dampened. Not only was this game going to be full of other real people - who could attack you if they wanted - but there was a big push on the building elements of the game, something which just hadn't gelled with me in Fallout 4. And even though the Power Armour would be an unbelievably cool addition to my cabinet, I just couldn't bring myself to commit to it. I still haven't pre-ordered it.

My god do I regret that decision now.

I chatted with one of the guys at Bethesda about the game and basically asked him how well it plays as a single-player experience as I truly wasn't interested in a multiplayer Fallout game. He told me that he had spent a fair few hours adventuring alone and it had felt like a 'real Fallout experience'. But then he told me about the fun he had had when he had teamed up too. And my interest piqued a little.

I was lucky enough to be provided with a beta code for Fallout 76 last week. I couldn't make the first wave of testing as it started at midnight and I have two small kids, but I made sure I was home and ready yesterday for the 10pm start. I needed to see whether my first impressions had been right.

They weren't. At all. This game is A LOT of fun as a team. It was a bit annoying to hear the tell-tale sign of someone trying to hit my character as I chose how she would look. But then I heard the strains of a guitar, and when I had finished creating my character I was looking at another player sat in a chair playing the guitar. They then got up and waved at me. It was nice.

Interestingly enough, whilst the Fallout 76 announcement had left me feeling disheartened it had grabbed the attention of my husband, who has NEVER played a Fallout game before. He had little to no interest in them at all. But learning that it was multiplayer had him listening. Maybe it was just knowing that I could save him in this one...

So we teamed up the minute we walked out of Vault 76 and made our way through some quests together, stopping at some abandoned cabins along the way to forage for supplies. We were soon kitted out with bowie knives and pipe pistols, and even a bit of armour. The quests all worked seamlessly - ones that I had triggered updated on his screen and vice-versa - and amazingly we only encountered one bug! A Feral Ghoul who kept regenerating his health. Small scale bug for a Bethesda game, right guys?!

And then a little sign came up the side saying the servers were going off in eight minutes. Two whole hours had flown by. I can honestly say I hadn't looked at my watch (or my phone!) the entire time I was playing, which has to be a good sign, right?

I am not going to talk about the story missions we completed - though honestly we got sidetracked by side missions so there weren't actually that many. I just want to tell you a little about my experience with the game. There were plenty of other people running around the area I was in. But I didn't encounter any trouble, not a one turned their weapon on me. However a lot of them waved, or stood patiently whilst I was using the crafting station. I have since learned that you have to be Level 5 to be able to attack other players though, so maybe that could change.

Fallout 76 so far for me feels like a Fallout game. But one I can share if I choose. The world is rich with stories to pick up, and places to explore and I didn't feel like that was ruined by having a tag-along. I really expected that I would. But actually it was quite nice. This doesn't mean that I'll only be playing with friends though. No one can take my alone time with Fallout away from me.

It's hard admitting you were so wrong about something, but this time I have to hold my hand up. I should have driven to Game the day after the Power Armour version was announced. I will regret not having faith in Bethesda for a long time. Especially if I ever look on eBay at the helmet...

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition - Review (Switch)

I know I've already reviewed Prison Architect on Xbox One, but when the email came in about the Switch release in the middle of the school summer holidays - with many more days filled with my kids stealing my Xbox off me stretching before me - I couldn't believe my luck and replied instantly basically asking the lovely PR person to save me from the new hell that was Fortnite whenever we were at home.

Now they're not re-inventing the wheel with Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition. If you've ever played the game before, you know what you're getting yourself in for. The Switch edition does come loaded with all of the post release DLC too though, which is an added bonus. And also you can now play it on the go, which is basically what we've always wanted for a sim game, right?? It can't be just me.

Cue to me telling you that I've now ran a prison from outside my kids' school, inside the seventh level of hell that is the Legoland Discovery Centre on an after school visit and in the waiting room for the doctor's - this last one more times than I'd have liked. I know that people might be sick of reading how people want game x, y or z brought to the Switch, but there is a good reason for it and that reason is THAT EVERYTHING FEELS BETTER ON THE SWITCH!

I mean, seriously, I have put more hours into the Switch version already than I ever did on the Xbox One. It just suits me better at the minute and I'm so grateful for all of the support that the Switch has received so far from other developers and publishers.

I haven't encountered any major issues with the game running in either docked or handheld mode, which is pretty great. I did kinda expect that there would be the choice of using touchscreen controls, though, and as of yet there aren't. This isn't a major problem for me, in fact I don't really like touching the Switch screen. But I know that could make a huge difference for some Switch owners out there.

I'm not sure whether I would tell everybody to buy this game. If you haven't played it before and are interested in the concept, go for it. It's a very fun game. If you've played some of it, enjoyed it but haven't had the chance to play the DLC yet then I'd still say that this package offers you something too. Obviously, this decision is yours to make, but I am in no doubt that my favourite place to play this game is on the Nintendo Switch, and I did already own it on the Xbox One and the PC.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Smoke and Sacrifice (Nintendo Switch) - Review

Smoke and Sacrifice is available now on the Nintendo Switch and is priced at £19.99. There is a launch discount running at the moment that takes the price down to £15.99.

The beginning of Smoke and Sacrifice is quite something. It throws you into the game as Sachi, a new mother living in a village that believes they have to sacrifice a child to a Sun God for protection. Guess who just got picked as sacrifice? Yep, you got it; Sachi's new little boy, Lio.

Walking through the village before the sacrifice you are thanked, even celebrated for what you are about to do. One woman comments that sacrifice's shouldn't be named, to save yourself from a little of the pain. Whoops. Seems Sachi is something of a rebel. You have to go pick the baby up and drop him off under the watchful gaze of a laser beam.

Just as you're feeling completely disgusted with yourself and your actions the game then skips you forward seven years. Sachi is still living in the same village and dines't truly believe her son is gone. Then the protection surrounding the village fails and monsters attack the village and its people. Sachi is sent to find the village priests but in all of the confusion they're nowhere to be found. She heads into the temple and is transported to a completely new world and immediately sets out to see if she can find her sacrificed son.

I feel like I've given you more story than I ever have in a review before, but honestly these aren't spoilers. What I have described is literally the first fifteen minutes or so of the game, probably less. But I wanted to speak a little about those opening moments, to give you an idea of what the game is about. It started off looking so charming, but is much darker than I expected. It's a survival game with something actually at stake - you have to survive to see if Sachi can find her son. Don't worry though, no spoilers from here on out. Guess you'll just have to buy Smoke and Sacrifice if you want to find out what happens to Sachi and Lio :-) (or watch it on YouTube or something).

The new world is very different to the one we started in. Its gloomy and smoke-filled, and has monsters and something called Drear's roaming around. They're friendly enough and will set you tasks that start off simple enough and are actually helpful to Sachi. They'll teach you ways to keep the smoke at bay, craft weapons and even a warmer jerkin, and later some fur boots, so that you can enter another biome to continue your quest.

The crafting in this game starts out simply enough, with you being able to make nothing more that make-shift weapons and items. Eventually though your crafting recipes will increase to include much tougher weapons - even elemental ones.

I feel like the crafting system is much deeper than I initially expected given how simplistic the combat is. That's not to say that the combat isn't good, because despite it's simplicity - you literally just bash one button over and over until your foe dies - it is both fun and challenging. There is a dodge button too and you WILL need to use it. In a way playing Smoke and Sacrifice made me think of Kingdom Come: Deliverance. If you read my review for that, you'll remember that I liked that you played as someone who was rubbish at fighting. He was on a learning experience, just like the player. He got better as I did and it really helped my enjoyment of the game. Smoke and Sacrifice is exactly the same. Sachi isn't a warrior. She's a mum who's been thrust into a terrible world and will do anything to find her son.

The monsters in Smoke and Sacrifice don't always have to meet their end at the hand of whatever weapon you've managed to cobble together either. You can set traps, tame some of them, and even milk some of them to help heal yourself - as long as they're stunned first. And trust me, healing is important in Smoke and Sacrifice.

Smoke and Sacrifice is a fantastic entry into the survival game market. Yes, some of the tasks set can feel monotonous, but it's not so bad as to ruin the enjoyment of the game. The manual saves at terminals set at intervals around the world are something I really enjoyed, but I know they're not for everyone. Remember though, when playing on Switch you can just put your console into sleep mode if you suddenly need to stop gaming. The game looks gorgeous and playing a survival game with a story you really want to get to the bottom of makes a nice change to. I think Smoke and Sacrifice would be a valuable addition to anybody's Switch library.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A Normal Lost Phone + Another Lost Phone (Switch) - Reviews

It's really difficult to review games like this. As you know, I never want to ruin story for you guys, I just want to give you enough information that might help you make your decision on whether you want the game or not.

I thought I'd do these games in a single review because, even if the stories differ wildly the core gameplay and ideas are the same. You have found a lost phone and you want find out more about who it belonged to, cos you're nosey like that.

Now, obviously, if you find a lost phone in real life this sin't what you would do. You would hand it in to the appropriate person - be it at a shop or a train station etc. - and go about your business as usual, never thinking twice about it again. But in these games you get to play out your nosey fantasies, deep diving into somebody else's phone, reading their emails and texts, scrawling through their pictures and even having a good ol' gander at their dating profile.

Now I played the first one way back when it was first released and I adored it. It felt so different to any other game available on the market and managed to paint a fantastic picture of a character, even though you never get the chance to meet them. It was unusual. The "story" - that is to say the information you find on the phone - was brilliant and it really did stick with me. Both games deal with difficult issues, but I think the first one in particular shone in this regard.

Now we all know that we should have pins and locks on our phones and these lost phones are no different. Luckily for us, there is enough content on these phones that isn't locked behind a pattern or code. But to progress you must find the Wifi password for the town, or information that will help you with the pin code on their profile for example. These were really interesting puzzles - nothing too difficult that you find yourself having to reach for an internet guide but certainly not always simple enough to feel like it was easy.

There is no part of me that wants to go back and play through these titles again, they were deleted from my Switch immediately after I finished to make way for other games. This isn't a bad thing, but obviously after you have cracked all the codes and found out who the phone belonged to, your drive to do it again is going to have vanished. You've done it. I have to admit, it felt nice to park a game quite so definitely. It certainly isn't something I generally do, I mean I have a very full 5tb drive on my Xbox One - just in case I ever feel the need to play that game for five minutes again one day.

I would say that if you're interested in trying out one of these games I would recommend A Normal Lost Phone more than Another Lost Phone. I felt like it dealt with it's own particular issue in a less clumsy and obvious way and the puzzles in general were just generally slightly better. Only slightly, obviously, because at their core these games are exactly the same. I just feel like there wasn't as much thought put into Another Lost Phone - the story felt rushed and the puzzles were a little too easy.

I do think that you should give one of these games a go at some point though, they really are interesting, though they do deal with subjects of a sensitive nature. This is done very well in both cases, but I definitely think A Normal Lost Phone shines slightly brighter than Another Lost Phone.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Shoppe Keep (Xbox One) - Review

Shoppe Keep is available now on the Xbox One and is priced at £10.39.

When I saw Shoppe Keep appear in the Xbox One Store I was pretty damn excited - I love a good management game! I have whiled away many, many hours on games that have allowed me to manage hospitals, restaurants, malls, game dev studios, vets, hair salons, supermarkets, you get the idea. I guess I like being in control more than I realised.

Shoppe Keep is unlike any management game I have played before. My time as a manager of all the types listed above was spent in a more passive position I guess. You know, a view from above, a few neat little screens that allow me to micro manage every aspect of my budding business. Shoppe Keep literally puts you on the shop floor. You embody the shop keeper and oh wow it's harder than it looks. You will have to physically restock your shelves (until you can afford to buy a bot for it anyway) with times that you've had to wait to be delivered. It's a difficult balancing act that I have to admit I hadn't envisioned.

Worse still you have to deal with the people who decide they just don't want to pay for your beautifully crafted sword or cuirass. Some will rather childishly knock the item off the shelf and leave, but others will turn to crime. They'll swipe it and run, leaving you to either take the loss on the chin, or chase them down and kill them. There's no in-between. If you do choose to kill them don't forget to take the item back from their cold, dead body. I thought it would do it automatically upon their death but it doesn't, meaning that the first few times I was robbed I literally chased them down for revenge and left the item for the homeless. Bit pointless of me!

All of this would be much easier to deal with if the controls were easier to handle though. Shoppe Keep was originally released into Early Access on Steam quite a while ago and it shows. The controls are unintuitive at best and actually obstructive at worst. There is no active tutorial -  just a few screens of text to search through to learn even the most basic parts of the game like building your shelves, or unsheathing your weapons. It is less than ideal, this game would have really benefitted from including a small beginner store that showed you the basics of the day-to-day running.

I've had a lot of fun with Shoppe Keep but it really annoys me that after a number of hours it is still the control system that I struggle against the most.

ACORN Tactics (Switch) - Review

ACORN Tactics is available now on the Nintendo Switch and is priced at £8.99.

Strategy games feel so natural on the Nintendo Switch. I think we can all say that we have enjoyed a good little strategy game from time to time, even if it isn't the genre of game you generally turn to when you want a few hours of entertainment. I have put countless hours into Defense Grid 1 and 2 on the Xbox in the past, I just find that gameplay loop completely addictive. But I have to admit that - on the Xbox One anyway - seeing games like Defense Grid next to the big AAA titles I often found my head turned. I mean, if I'm getting to use the TV for anything other than a kids' TV show then I want to make the most of it!

I think we all suffer from something I like to call "backlog guilt" from time to time. You know you have those big releases queued up, and in some cases you bought them on release day, intending to play them straight away. Now though you can pick it up for a tenner and your £40 copy is still in the shrink wrap on the shelf because you kept getting distracted by newer games, or by the gems you had forgotten you owned. It's a struggle I'm sure we're all too familiar with. There are so many games released these days and we all typically have less time to play. The Switch changed that for me and I'm SO incredibly grateful for it.

You see now I can jump into a casual little game in handheld mode, whilst my kids are playing Minecraft. One that I used to feel guilty about playing after I'd got my kids to bed and I could have been playing a more cinematic game. I love that my Switch library offers huge variance in the type of games I can play without making me feel guilty about abandoning other games.

Anyway, I've digressed a little. ACORN Tactics is a neat little strategy RPG that sets you in a post-apocalyptic world where humans live on man-made islands in the sea. These little islands are now being invaded by aliens and it is up to you to save us. It's a fun little story set across 25 missions.

If you've ever played a SRPG before then you will know what you're doing from the off. You move your battalion of mechs around the island board and kill the aliens. Each turn your mech can move and shoot - if an enemy is in range, of course. You create your mechs in your garage but there isn't as much room for customisation as I had originally thought. You basically pick the size of the mech, which dictates which weapons it can carry and you can choose a colour and a name for your creation. It's all very standard fare - snipers, shotguns etc.

There are perks you can pay for along the way, but I have to admit to finding purchasing these tiresome. You always unlock a new perk when you have ample coin available for it and I never found myself having to make a tough choice between upgrades because I didn't have enough for both, so it just kinda felt like extra button presses for the sake of it.

If you lose your mech in a battle they are gone, which can hurt. They are easily replaced in the garage though so it is easy to brush yourself and get back into the battle. Your mechs level up with their kill score though, so you do lose some of those perks when you let your mech fall in battle.

ACORN Tactics is a fun little game but it does play it safe. It's cheap though and kept me interested whilst I was playing through it, I just wish that there had been something a little different about it.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Millie (Switch) - Review

Millie is available now on the Nintendo Switch and is priced at £4.49.

There are a lot of games on the Nintendo Switch eShop that started life as a mobile game. Millie was originally released on mobile and Steam a few years back for a little less money up front but a fair few micro transactions once you got stuck in.

I hadn't really heard of it until it came to the Switch store. I was intrigued. I'm almost 30 and so I spent much of my teen years playing Snake on my Nokia 3310. No phone since has ever been as loved. Millie looked enough like Snake to pique my interest, so I fired off an email and got to playing it the minute the code came through.

Millie isn't a Snake clone. It's actually more like what would happen if Snake and Pac-Man had a baby in that you do grow as you eat pellets but the pellets are spread around a maze-like level a la Pac-Man. And these maze-like levels can be incredibly tough to get around when you get bigger every time you eat.

There are 100 levels that are spread through three environments and the first few left me feeling pretty confident. I was doing alright. But then the levels suddenly seemed to get a lot bigger and it was a hell of a lot tougher to not keep smacking Millie's head into her butt. I had to give up on my perfectionist preferences pretty soon. Until then I had been getting every last pellet and not bumping Millie into herself at all, but I soon began moving to the exit the minute it became open and after I had quit out a couple of times because I had made Millie headbutt herself, again, I gave up on that too and accepted the time penalty that came with it humbly. Ish.

You do get some items that will help you along the way, but I tried to stay away from them for as long as possible. It's not possible to for long though. Well, I guess it probably is, but I don't know how much fun you'd have. As I mentioned before, the mobile version had micro-transactions built in. These micro-transactions included things like scissors that cut a little bit off Millie (ouch!), and clocks that allow you to rewind slightly after you've got yourself into yet another pickle. Luckily for us Switch players these are bought with the stars you earn in game, rather than real money. I did find it annoying though that after using some of them in a level only to have to restart it anyway, I lost what I had used. I was kinda expecting that you'd get them back if you failed the level after using them.

Millie is a fun little game, but wow does it test your patience. It would have even the most seasoned of gamers moaning with frustration, especially in the later levels. Kids might enjoy the first few levels they would definitely tire of how tough it is a little later on.