No Man’s Sky Review – Should You Buy?

No Man's Sky Review

No Man’s Sky, the long anticipated space exploration game, released recently on both PS4 and PC. The gaming community hyped it up since its first announcement. But did it live up to expectations?

I have invested around 25 or so hours into the game so far since its launch. I wasn’t particularly over-excited for No Man’s Sky. It looked enjoyable, and I love space games. However, I was also satisfied with my repertoire of available space exploration games as it was. With that in mind, I cautiously watched from the sidelines, avoiding too many spoilers, and looked forward to the game coming out so I could try it for myself. It’s safe to say I didn’t buy into the hype too much.

That said, I do very much enjoy No Man’s Sky. I also have a lot of criticisms for it. It is not without its flaws, and at the moment it seems that the gaming community is divided: either they love the game and think its perfect as it is, or they hate it and scorn Sean Murray for his somewhat misleading statements leading up to the game’s release. I fall a little in the middle.

Here is my No Man’s Sky review after spending a substantial amount of time in game, exploring three systems and numerous planets (both inhabited and completely empty.)

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Stardew Valley Review | An Addiction Blossoms

Getting Started in Stardew Valley | Stardew Valley Review

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always really loved the idea of taking a step back from “modern life” and getting absorbed in the simple life of farming and living off the land. For that reason, the adorable new game Stardew Valley really appealed to me from the get go — a cute, pixelated indie game that focuses almost entirely on farming? Sign me up!

Now that it’s been out for around three weeks, and I’ve become thoroughly addicted to it, I’d like to share my thoughts in my Stardew Valley review.

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Layers of Fear First Impressions Review

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Being a huge fan of horror games, I absolutely had to pick up Layers of Fear. Described as a “psychedelic horror”, you play a painter who is feverishly attempting to complete a true masterpiece while going mad in the process. Having watched several streams and videos, I knew I would enjoy it.

I wanted to share with you guys my first impressions of Layers of Fear, in the form of a review of all of the currently playable preview.

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Alien: Isolation Isn’t For Me (Game Review)

Alien: Isolation Review - The classic sci-fi enemy, the Xenomorph.

Alien: Isolation Review - Why the game simply isn't for me.

This week, Alien: Isolation has been nominated for a lot of BAFTA awards; in fact, that’s an understatement, as apparently the tribute to Ridley Scott’s franchise has picked up the highest number of nominations at this year’s awards ceremony. And I find myself sitting here wondering: WHY?

As a disclaimer, I’m generally not a huge fan of games that rely heavily on stealth, and I’m not going to say it’s a bad game, because evidently a lot of people enjoy it and it has a lot going for it for it to have received so many nominations for awards. However, it’s clear that nominations are not based on quality of game design, as a large number of players have a game-breaking bug not two minutes into the game, completely preventing progression without repeatedly restarting and crossing your fingers and toes in the hopes that maybe this time the door will be unlocked. I encountered this bug while streaming the game and it took 45 minutes of trying various “fixes” posted on the forum before a few game restarts finally seemed to resolve the problem and allow me to progress.

The fact that this has not been fixed, or at least hadn’t when I played a month or so after release, is absolutely astounding. Perhaps it has been fixed now, but the game has left a bad taste in my mouth. Because of my horrid first experience with the game, I just can’t seem to see it being an award winner.

I did persist after finally getting past what my friends have deemed as “Door-Gate 2014”, and honestly my opinion on the game didn’t improve. I feel like the gameplay is pretty lazy, as it seems so far that my entire purpose is to simply avoid vents with acid dripping from them, and walk relatively swiftly in the opposite direction of androids. Don’t get me wrong, I got a few decent scares out of being grabbed unexpectedly, but it was always a case of me not seeing the vent or not knowing an android was coming round the corner, and I corrected it next time I attempted the same corridor.

Alien: Isolation Review - Artificially inflated difficulty grinds my gears.

The one thing that really grinds my gears, however, is the lack of saves. I’ve had a big debate with others who enjoyed the game, who feel that infrequent saves are a good thing and should be preserved particularly in a survival horror setting. To some extent, I agree: the feeling that if you screw this up that’s it is incredibly powerful. However, I don’t feel that punishing your players is ever a good idea, regardless of genre. And frankly, the infrequent save points felt incredibly punishing. If I complete a significant milestone that was difficult for me to accomplish, then enter an elevator and return to my start point to tackle the next task, I expect there to be a save, either autosave/checkpoint style, or a save point for me to use when I’m about to enter or exit the elevator. Several times I accomplished multiple milestones, only to make a silly mistake and have to go back to the beginning where my last save was, which was unfortunately several milestones back because there had been no opportunity to save between.

One might say that it’s my fault for making a silly mistake, and sure, I’ll grant you that. But what if it weren’t? What if I encountered yet another crippling game bug like the door that never unlocked at the beginning of the game and required me to restart? What if my game crashed? Should I be punished for those too despite them not being my fault? To me, as a gamer and not a game designer, it just seems like good practice to include regular save points, at the very least after each major milestone is completed.

I’m not saying that games shouldn’t be difficult, but this practice of withholding checkpoints from players and making them replay long portions of the game if they screw up feels like a lazy way to artificially inflate difficulty, rather than making the game truly difficult and terrifying in itself. There were parts that were difficult, but most of the time I found them frustrating rather than challenging, as I mostly had to hide behind objects or in rooms repeatedly to wait for patrols to pass.

Again, I want to reinforce that I don’t think Alien: Isolation is a bad game. It has been nominated for awards in gameplay, music and design categories, and I know plenty of people who have played it through and enjoyed it immensely. However, that is not to say that it is above criticism, and I feel like there are a lot of areas the game could be significantly improved. I can even see how enjoyable it might be to try and play cat and mouse with perhaps the scariest sci-fi creature of all time. Sadly, from my poor first impressions of the game due to a game-breaking bug plus having to repeat the same 20 – 30 minute section of the game due to making a mistake or getting lost and not having a save to keep me going, one thing has become quite clear: Alien: Isolation just isn’t for me.

Elite Jumps Into Modern Gaming (Elite: Dangerous Review)

Elite: Dangerous Review - Exploration can be incredibly rewarding when you find beautiful systems like Acrux.

Elite: Dangerous makes me feel incredibly small. With a realistic rendition of our very own galaxy, 400 billion stars each potentially with a system full of planets to see and scan, it would take over 12,000 years for one person to visit every single system if they only stayed in each for literally one second. Feeling small is an understatement; I feel positively tiny.

I have never encountered a game in my years of gaming that has made me feel like this before. I played Frontier: First Encounters — also known as Elite III — about 10 years ago, but even then I only darted between a few familiar star systems to deliver medicine and make money off other people’s plight. I didn’t really think about how big that game was; I just shot pirates and delivered my cargo, hoping I didn’t pop on the way. Most of the games I’ve played and truly enjoyed have felt pretty big, but I’ve felt like a massive part of them, and I’ve known I will explore every inch of the game within time. I will finish every achievement, complete every quest, tie off the storyline in a neat little bow and be done with it. Even the biggest games I’ve played, even the most open, have had some sort of finality after a while.

Elite: Dangerous Review - I know I will never see it all, so I want to spend my time wisely.

Not this one. I am very conscious of the fact that I will never explore every little nook and cranny of the Milky Way. I am reminded often that I have to decide where to spend my time, because I can’t see it all. And that’s surprisingly nice, for a change. There is so much for me to do that, instead of being overwhelmed or confused, I find myself cramming all of my time into doing the things I enjoy the most, and seeing the things I wish I was able to see in real life. Just the other day, I posted a video of the Acrux system, a stunningly beautiful system full of stars that glittered with a myriad colours as I scanned each and every one. That is something I will never achieve in my lifetime, but Elite: Dangerous has made that possible for me.

Elite: Dangerous Review - I still feel small, but like my decisions and actions matter.

And yet, where space makes me feel pleasantly insignificant, like no matter what I do it ultimately doesn’t matter (and that’s reassuring!), I feel like everything I do in E:D has an impact. I can help overthrow galactic governments. I can hunt down interstellar terrorists and pirates, and make people’s lives that little bit easier. I can actually see the changes I am causing, even if they’re small, on the balance of power in any given star system or region of space. While the game is a sandbox, there are still some hefty decisions commanders will need to take on their journey through the ‘verse. Will you side with the extravagant and powerful Empire, who wiped out an entire species in order to set up their new home planet? Or will you prefer to stick with the corporate and arguably corrupt Federation? Alternatively, will you fight alongside me with the Alliance?

Or if you wish to steer clear of politics and blowing people up, you can always explore the vastness of our galaxy, alone or with friends, and do some interstellar sightseeing. When all is said and done, how will you become Elite?

You can buy Elite: Dangerous now for £39.99 / €49.99 / $59.99.

Game Review: The Sims 4

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Sim interactions & relationships are very much improved.

When a company comes out with a follow-up game to an incredibly popular, long-standing series like The Sims, there’s always the risk (and arguably the reality) that they won’t be able to please everyone. In fact, there’s a very big chance that they won’t end up pleasing anyone. Luckily, that doesn’t seem like it was entirely the case with The Sims 4.

I’m a long-standing fan of the series, and have been playing ever since getting my first computer as a preteen. I owned nearly all of the expansions, and invested countless hours into Sims legacies, often documenting them on various community sites for other people’s (and my own) entertainment. So, when The Sims 4 was announced it seemed like a no-brainer that I’d pick it up and continue where its predecessor left off. Except…there was a lot of content missing from the most recent game in the series. Among some of the most shocking of these missing features are swimming pools, toddlers, and a lack of open world to name but a few.

However, I picked it up all the same and gave it a try, and frankly I’m really glad I did. A lot of the changes they’ve made have been vast improvements, such as their self-proclaimed “smarter Sims”. It’s now easier to see what’s on your Sim’s mind, what they want, and how they’re feeling. This also directly influences your Sim’s personality; if your Sim is in a bad mood, that’ll be reflected in the actions they take. Angry? Maybe your Sim will take that out on their little brother, or in my case, on the giant teddy bear upstairs in your little brother’s bedroom. Your Sims also have goals, not just one single aspiration, giving a lot more options for development of a character. This isn’t even scratching the surface; there’s a lot of new career options including professional gaming and livestreaming, games development, and a more dedicated author career path.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Building has been made a lot smoother, with emphasis on making it easier.

Building is also a lot smoother. I don’t personally use the room-building method — which allows the player to modularly build their house by slotting in rooms one at a time — but it’s definitely made things a lot easier on people who aren’t comfortable with normal building in the game. I’ve found myself inspired to make prettier houses all over again, whereas by the time I’d reached the third game I was bored and using the same style of house over and over.

There’s no doubt that when it comes to the player’s Sims themselves, though, they’re the focus of the new game. The character development and relationship options are much more realistic, the facial expressions making the characters seem more approachable and lifelike (without bordering on Uncanny Valley!), and the social interactions far more fleshed out than they’ve ever been at all ages.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - Missing features & bugs can get frustrating.

That doesn’t mean that The Sims 4 is perfect. The missing features do get to you after a while. Most of them are unimportant: I don’t really miss swimming pools (except for the chance to kill unwanted Sims off easily…), and toddlers were an annoyance to me more than anything. But things like the lack of open world do get frustrating, and I can’t fathom why so many careers are missing. Since I’m playing a sort of legacy, it’s bothersome that there’s no particularly expensive, large lot to waste all my money on, and that babies are just objects that can’t be moved from their bassinet. They’re also incredibly annoying!

I also didn’t like some of the changes they made that were meant to be improvements, such as only having three traits to begin with and having to unlock more traits as you play. That sounds like a great idea, but I’ve been playing the same family for over 20 hours and none of my Sims have unlocked additional traits yet. They haven’t got enough lifetime achievement points to do so! That makes me wonder how it’s possible with a normal Sim lifespan, as I currently have it set to “Long” just to make sure I achieve everything I want to.

Some of the lacking or “crippled” features do make it feel like the game took a massive step back, sometimes back as far as The Sims 1 if you remember the babies there. I’ve also encountered quite a few bugs, such as my recurring maid never showing up unless I exit the game and restart, in which case she apparently “showed up” while I was gone, but she still hasn’t actually cleaned anything. The game is meant to be pretty stable, but first of all, I’ve had several crash-to-desktops that have resulted in several hours of lost gameplay, and secondly it only utilises 4GB of RAM as it’s a 32-bit executable.

All in all, the game is fun, and I’m glad that I picked it up. But frankly, I’m more glad that I got it for a reduced price from a third-party retailer. As much as I love The Sims and am enjoying its fourth installment, I don’t think it’s worth shelling out the €60+ for it through Origin. Maybe if they fix a few of the issues and implement a few more features without them being DLCs, but otherwise I’d suggest waiting to pick it up from somewhere on sale if you’re interested in playing it. Otherwise, you can watch me streaming The Sims 4 on my Twitch.tv channel beforehand, if you’d like to see what it’s like before you buy.

Game Review: The Sims 4 - I'd recommend picking it up, but not for the current price tag.

Game Review: 7 Days to Die

Game Review: 7 Days to Die

Survival horror games are a genre I’ve been enjoying for years, with a focus recently on fairly nasty multiplayer such as DayZ. I picked up 7 Days to Die in this year’s Steam summer sales as a refreshing change of pace from constantly fighting with other people to try and focus more on the survival aspects of the games. I’d been interested for a while but it’s still in Early Access, and you all know how I feel about Early Access games! So I wasn’t willing to pick it up at full price.

However, this is one game that I’ve discovered doesn’t live up to the usual Early Access problems. While I still reel at the term and the idea behind it, I have had a lot of fun trying to figure out how to survive and haven’t noticed too many issues that I normally encounter with an Early Access game. Most of my first night was spent running from one undead dog who just wouldn’t give up no matter what I did, and eventually building a house with traps around the outside that I kept walking into and injuring myself. Yeah, I’m that guy.

The game is very sandboxy, in that you can go anywhere on the map and build whatever defences you want to protect yourself. You can grow food such as corn or blueberries, hunt animals for food and skins for crafting, and craft tools and weapons, or even build houses and fortresses. 7 Days to Die features both singleplayer and multiplayer modes, with multiplayer being as large or small scale as you want. I spent most of the weekend playing with just myself and my fiancé, meaning we didn’t have to worry about people who were just out to break your defences down for fun. While that certainly has its place, I wasn’t in the mood, and it was nice to be able to switch off.

Game Review: 7 Days to Die

One of my favourite features, however, is that you can add someone to your friends list. Something so simple, but such a vast quality of life improvement for a game that benefits greatly from collaboration. This allows you to see each other on the map if both players accept, and makes it easier to team up to fight the zombie hordes together, or indeed other players if you decide to play on a larger multiplayer server.

It isn’t a horror as such, but it is quite frightening to be running around at night and realise that those shambling zombies you avoided so easily in the daytime? Yeah, they get a new lease of life (or unlife?) during the night or in dark areas, meaning they’re significantly faster and much more dangerous as a result! They also will break anything, including walls, windows, rooves, the floor — literally anything to get at you and your delicious brains. You will start to smell if you carry around fresh food as well, particularly if it’s on your toolbelt, making it much harder to hide even underground or in a structure, so it’s worth storing food safely to avoid being attacked. The game forces you to be inventive with your creations to make sure you reduce the chances of your house being destroyed, or you being killed.

Like Rust, placing a sleeping bag or bed will create a respawn point for you, which makes the game significantly easier with regards to sticking with friends or near your house, where all of your gear has been stored in storage chests and gun lockers. Aeroplanes will fly overhead and drop supply drops from time to time, with bottled water or food, or even weapons if you’re lucky.

Game Review: 7 Days to Die

7 Days to Die is fun but not without its downsides, however. Combat is still a little buggy, and while running away from a zombie I would dodge in to smack it in the face and would somehow hit — wait for it — a blade of grass which would soak all of my damage, meaning the zombie clocked me one on the head and I died. Most unfortunate! Also, zombie dogs can and will climb ladders to attack you viciously when you least expect it. I have died several times when there was nothing nearby, and I wasn’t bleeding out. It seems that a zombie hit me when I was on low health but there were no zombies in my near vicinity, so I’m not sure how that happened.

The audio is also a little buggy, with zombies screaming equally loudly regardless of how far away they are. This makes it pretty difficult to tell exactly where zombies are, which is somewhat interesting but mostly just frustrating for someone who relies on directional sound to figure out when someone is sneaking up on them.

I would still recommend the game if you enjoy games like Minecraft or Rust for their survival and building aspects, but if you’re on the fence about it try to pick it up during a sale, or wait til it comes out of Early Access. Definitely a fun game though, with a lot of scope for improvement too.

Game Review: 7 Days to DieScreenshot source: Official 7 Days to Die Website

How I fell for Titanfall

Titanfall Review: Wall-running is the coolest thing ever.

Titanfall Review: Some pretty cutscenes from the campaign.

I would normally do a First Impressions post about a game when I pick it up, but considering I’ve fallen head over heels for Titanfall since getting my paws on it last week, I don’t know if a First Impressions would honestly do it any justice.

While I have noticed some problems — there are some minor issues with hit detection, and I have already encountered a few blatantly obvious cheaters — I can easily look past the few flaws I’ve met, and the fact that it is kind of a rehashed Call of Duty with giant robots because the game makes me feel like a badass. I wasn’t sure if it would live up to the hype, but after five minutes in the tutorial and my first wall-running experience, I was legitimately giggling with glee.

For those of you who don’t know me, I played Quake III: CPMA semi-competitively (on a local level in local tournaments) and was pretty damn good at it. But without going into too much detail, movement was my jam. I loved rocket-jumping, strafing at ridiculous speeds, and drifting. Admittedly I was better at shooting rockets and grenades at other people than using them to propel myself, but I loved flying around corners and surprising people. With guns. So when I discovered I could run along a wall, bounce to a nearby wall, and then practically somersault from wall to wall for extended distances before landing on a roof and kicking someone in the face, I was sold on the spot.

Titanfall Review: Life is better with a titan.

My favourite moment of sheer badassery so far has been spotting a teammate fighting with an enemy in an upper floor room. I sprinted along one wall, sprang across to the wall of the building they were fighting in, climbed the wall sideways and flew through the window only to kick the enemy in the face as he tried to propel himself out the window in escape. I felt more like a boss than any game has made me feel in a long time.

A few gripes would be that all of the weapons are hit-scan, so pretty much point and shoot regardless of range, and matchmaking can be a bit frustrating at times. I’m also in the camp of people who thinks the smart pistol is silly, as it auto-locks onto nearby targets — this takes longer for pilots (ie other players) than for NPCs — making it a little easier in theory to use, however I don’t find it enough of a deterrent to stop me from having fun.

Do I think the game is worth it? Hell to the yes. However, I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea. Non-FPS gamers will probably hate it anyway, and if you really didn’t like Call of Duty you might find the weapons feel a little weird at first. I was always more of a Battlefield player, but I did play COD2 and MW1, so I was at least vaguely familiar with the “feel” of the game. Why did I end up loving it when COD wasn’t really my game before? One sentence from the TV advert really summed it up for me:

Life is better with a titan.

Game Review: Gone Home

Spoiler Alert!
Please read with care if you haven’t already played Gone Home.

Game Review: Gone Home, an interactive story adventure game by the Fullbright Company.

I picked up this gem during the Autumn Steam Sale as several coworkers had recommended it to me. Since it was 75% off, I figured why not? I decided to play it last Sunday evening, over some delicious warm food and a cup of tea. I can honestly say that was the best choice I made.

Gone Home is strangely soothing and familiar. The story is told beautifully, and despite the fact that I was constantly squealing, “Aliens!” as I found clues (seriously, The X-Files was circled in the TV guide, and there was an “I want to believe” poster in my sister’s bedroom…) I was genuinely surprised. The game was not at all like I expected. It was suitably creepy, but in a way that made the entire story feel more real. Gone Home is a first-person story adventure, and you play the part of Katie, returning home after a trip to Europe. Your family, however, are gone. You try to find out what might have happened to them, and as you move through the house, you find clues that trigger journal entries by your sister, Sam. Her voice plays as she reads the journal to you, as though she’s left a note just for you.

The game builds in intensity, and you come to learn that your sister had fallen in love with her best friend, Lonnie. The story then becomes about your sister’s self-discovery, as she comes to learn more about her sexuality. The discovery is lovely to witness, and difficult as well, as you learn more and more about their developing relationship and the prejudices they face. My chest hurt when I learned that Lonnie was going to be deployed, leaving Sam behind.

Game Review: Gone Home - my heart started to pound as I climbed the stairs into the attic.

The game finally reached a crescendo; the metaphor of you climbing to the top of the house, up the stairs into the attic to the finale was not lost on me. I remember feeling my heart start to beat faster, and a lump forming in my throat. I didn’t know what I expected to find in the attic now that I finally had the key. When I read the final note from Sam, I fought back tears, and then I looked around the attic and saw the beautiful photos of her and Lonnie: their hands interlocked, the heart-shaped locket she saved up for dangling between their laced fingers; the chest pocket of Lonnie’s military uniform… The ending credits played and I burst into tears. My chest hurt, but it was cathartic. I tried really hard to hold back, but when my fiancé turned to me to ask what was wrong I smiled and the tears flowed freely.

It was only two hours of gameplay, but it was one of the most beautifully written stories, and I felt like I was truly a part of it. The game is a work of art, and it hurts that it’s over. I recommend it to anyone who wants to be emotionally involved in a game. I’d even recommend it to my mum, and she doesn’t play games! Hell, I’d even give you your money back if you didn’t enjoy it. Thank you to the Fullbright Company for letting me experience this masterpiece.