games

The Very Best Games of 2016: My Top 3

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Last year was really quite amazing for games, and while I have neither the cash nor the time to play them all (for that you’d probably need a good job and Bernard’s watch), I played my fair share of killer titles. Most of the cool kids do a top ten or a top five, but I’ve decided to spend some quality time here with my top three, as well as mentioning a few runners-up. See? I’m cool in my own way.

RUNNERS UP

// Dark Souls III: It’s my least favourite of all the Souls entries, but its bosses, level design and sense of progression once again put other games to shame. Read a little thing I wrote about it here// Inside: the developers of the celebrated 2010 platformer Limbo return with something every bit as twisted. Many have debated its themes of mind control and manipulation, but it’s the gameplay that truly shines. In spending six years working on an experience that lasts three hours, Playdead created a nigh perfect video game with innovative mechanics that are a pleasure to control. It’s deliciously, darkly atmospheric, and the finale is magnificent. // The Last Guardian: This puzzle-adventure followup to the 2005 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus was certainly worth the wait. Though bogged down by an unwieldy camera, the relationship between the young protagonist and huge bird-dog-cat-thing Trico is beautiful and believable. It’s quite possibly the best use of an AI companion in games. // Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: Nathan Drake’s concluding adventure is big-budget cinematic gaming at its absolute finest. The story and voice acting are spectacular, it looks phenomenal, and its set pieces are so jaw-dropping I almost couldn’t believe I was playing them. The series’ previous forays into the supernatural are abandoned in favour of a compelling historical mystery surrounding the Caribbean pirates, and it’s all the better for it. Did I mention it’s about pirates? // 

And now, on with the show… (more…)

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Live the Life: The Best Pirate Game Never Made

jolly roger

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that pirates are awesome. My fascination with the Golden Age of Piracy (1650 until around 1726) really began when I was at university and decided to write an independent study on the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. I found the subject of piracy so interesting that I chose to write my final year dissertation on the pirate port of Port Royal, Jamaica.

Golden Age pirates were without a doubt criminals, and many were bloodthirsty murderers, but there is something about their lives of freedom on the Seven Seas that people have found captivating ever since Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This book is also responsible, however, for popularising a whole host of pirate cliches that still dominate our perceptions of these figures today. Buried treasure sure is an alluring concept, though in reality it was a rare practice, and as cool as plank-walking might seem, the single recorded incidence of it wasn’t carried out by pirates. Talk Like A Pirate Day may be a fun diversion on 19th September, but of course real pirates didn’t actually talk like pirates at all.

I’m sorry if it disappoints you to learn that pirates weren’t as yar-har-fiddle-di-dee as you might have previously thought, but the reality of piracy is far more enthralling than a couple of swashbuckling types with stripy shirts, eye patches, peg legs and hook hands.

Did you know, for example, that Blackbeard never killed a single person before the battle that ended his life? He instead created a terrifying persona, growing a huge, monstrous black beard, lighting fuses in his hair and spreading stories about how he was the Devil incarnate. He was known to take some of the men down to the hold, close all the hatches and set fire to gunpowder, filling the space with thick smoke for a game of last man standing. He would always be the last man, sat calmly in the corner, breathing in the smoke like a beast from hell:

‘Let us make a hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it.’

– Blackbeard

As mothers tucked their children into their beds, they would say ‘beware Blackbeard, for he will take your soul’, telling them horrific stories of the man called Edward Teach in order to scare them into being good boys and girls. Even Blackbeard’s own crew swore he had supernatural attributes, reportedly seeing strange shadows and ghostly apparitions on the ship.

As you probably assumed, Teach was not a demon, but simply a very clever man. He knew the power of reputation, spreading the Blackbeard myth to instill a crippling fear into anyone who might come across him. If you saw a ship approaching yours flying the Jolly Roger of Satan himself, a dark man standing on the deck with smoke billowing out of his flaming head, you would give him what he wanted. Blackbeard never killed anyone because he didn’t need to.

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Blackbeard’s flag

With pirates being as awesome as they are, they’re a natural fit for video games. That said, I feel that to this date the ultimate pirate game still doesn’t exist. The wildly successful Sid Meier’s Pirates! came close for many (regrettably I am still yet to play it), though most modern gamers will be familiar with pirating through the lauded Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

AC IV puts players into the fancy boots of pirate Edward Kenway, who in series tradition joins the ever-present Assassin Order to war with the equally ever-present Templars. The game gives you command over a ship, The Jackdaw, and a shanty-loving crew and allows you to sail the Caribbean, battling and plundering other vessels on the high seas. It was barrels of rum – uh, I mean – fun, but it was still emphatically an Assassin’s Creed game rather than a straight pirate game, requiring you to progress through Edward’s linear story rather than experiencing the true freedom of piracy.

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Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

It is with this in mind that I have come up with the features that I would have in my dream pirate game. If this were to be made, it would be the pirate game to end all pirate games, the holy grail of virtual sea doggery. Without sacrificing fun and exciting gameplay, it would be an accurate representation of piratical life and allow muggins in his mum’s basement to experience the immersive thrills of being a savvy, scurvy-ridden lad with a cutlass and a rag-tag band of drunk, toothless cutthroats at his side. This is the past. This is the future. This is the past colliding with the future. This is the… puture. Ahem. Full sail ahead. (more…)

Video: 2015 in Gaming

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Back in September I applied for a writing job with legendary video games website VideoGamer.com. To my excitement, I managed to make it all the way through the application process to the interview stage.

And so it was one chilly October morning that I traveled to the Big Smoke on a rather pricey train journey to meet and be interviewed by the VG team. Though there was some stiff competition and I ultimately didn’t get the position, I was given some useful feedback that has definitely encouraged me even more to pursue a career in this stuff!

The application required me to complete two game-related tasks: one game guide (which you can read here) and one free task in which I was asked to talk about five games I have played this year in any way I see fit. After much non-nit-related head-scratching, I decided to carry this out in video form, so I grabbed a couple of friends and a plastic axe and ventured outside to pretend to be a television presenter and be stared at by many a Newport chav.

Considering that busyness and workery left me only one day for script-writing and one for filming, and that the editing process made my elderly laptop attempt seppuku, the finished video actually turned out pretty well, and I didn’t get stabbed by a Newport hoodie.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Rhys Jones, who calmly put up with me fudging my lines for hours, and Ben Morris, who, as well as having an idea involving goats, pulled off a trick in Rocket League that I will never be able to match in my entire life. Both of them gave up their time at very short notice to help me out, so for that I’m incredibly grateful. I’d also of course like to thank Tom Orry and VideoGamer for giving me such a fantastic opportunity, and for being generally awesome people.

Without further ado, here’s the video. Enjoy!

Music used:

Tom Durbin – ‘Wadi’ & ‘Tiye’ from KV55 EP

BEAMSTAR – ‘Dreams of a Distant Coast’ & ‘Hollywood Air’ from Coastal Dreams

And thus endeth the Word of Tom.

Weekly Games News – 13/11/15

friday 13th

Murder! Money! Collector’s Editions! It’s my pick of the games news from the past week. Please feel free to not read it, but know that you will never be welcome here again. (more…)