Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the games that I was most excited for leading up to 2017. With its intriguing juxtaposition of sophisticated, animalistic machines and gorgeous countryside, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m happy to say that my hyped anticipation was well-rewarded.

Many were very curious as to how Guerilla Games – a studio best-known for its gritty, dystopian FPS franchise Killzone,  would handle something as revolutionary as an open-world action-RPG. It’s clear that they did their homework, because Horizon Zero Dawn is a marvelous effort in plant-gathering, skill-tree climbing, and general open-world exploring.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a humanity, largely reduced to hunter-gatherer tribes scurrying between the clunking paws of mechanical creatures scrapes out a meager existence. A new, rather peculiar population rules the world – straight out of David Attenborough’s fever dreams – that of a robotic imitation of various stages of Life on Earth.

Primitive combat with a futuristic spin

The game’s narrative centers on Aloy, a strong-headed and determined young lady, supremely talented in the art of disassembling creations millenniums beyond her and her counterparts’ development.

That’s not to say that humanity lost its ingenuity, far from it. Although some of Aloy’s contemporaries do their best to repel these abominations of nature, many have become very crafty and ingenious, our heroine included.

Not everything wants to kill you in this game

Aloy and the others courageous and forward-thinking enough try their best to salvage fallen machines, turning their scrapped appendages and components into weapons and tools. Aloy is also, of course, an adept hunter-gatherer, excelling at hunting more organic wild animals and gathering medicinal plants, both essential to staying alive and well.

Although our main character is determined and independent, she harbours much sadness and uncertainty. Without giving too much away, Aloy isn’t the most popular member of her tribe, for reasons not revealed until much later on in the game. She is eager to prove herself, but what she truly wishes for are answers to her mysterious and difficult existence.

Some machines are just plain evil

My main concern going into this game was its major focus on archery. Although I do enjoy archery in games like The Last of Us and Far Cry, bows and arrows are rather difficult to use on console.

Using an analog stick to aim this slowly reloaded, one-shot weapon can be quite a clumsy affair. Horizon Zero Dawn has made archery more accessible and user-friendly, becoming an adaptable staple, rather than a showy novelty as it is in many games.

Aloy has many burning questions you need to help her answer

Even if it isn’t your strongest point as a gamer, you will soon get to grips with its mechanics and become a proficient archer, feathering the snapping robots with all manner of projectiles.

Despite archery being the bread and butter of this game, there are quite a few other stretchy weapons available to keep the scrap coming. Slingshots that lob bombs (both explosive and elemental), bow-like weapons that lay wire-traps down, and some fancy contraptions to unlock later on.

You need to adapt to the many different kinds of environments

Aloy also has a wide range of outfits to unlock, all meticulously detailed. These new threads will provide buffs to various defense statistics or improve your covertness. Having a bunch of suits at hand means that you can constantly swap back and forth between them, using the inventory, to best handle a situation.

Most of Aloy’s progression in this game heavily depends on exploiting your environment for resources. Be it more advanced ingredients protruding from the rumps of machines, or medicinal herbs, all of your expendable items require an industrious upkeep. This means that you will be spending much of the game scouring the plains for herbal remedies, shafts for your arrows and volatile canisters to fuel your explosive ammunition.

Each machine has its own strength and weakness, and you will soon work out a strategy for taking each one one down

While this hefty administrative side to the game may seem tedious, it makes for a lovely break from the endless cataclysmic fights with some of the more ferociously terrifying automatons. Gathering all manner of pretty flowers and hunting in the many scenic locations is very therapeutic.

The varied juxtaposition in this game makes for a phenomenal aesthetic and design. The gorgeous, sprawling countryside and its ever-changing geographic makeup is a mesh of flora and fauna intertwined with the rusting remains of a supremely advanced civilisation.

The game excels at making you feel small

It’s amazing just how different the environment becomes according to the weather and position of the sun. The varyingly dazzling and dull colours of the world around you ooze and flow back and forth, providing a very romantic and lifelike portrayal of nature.

The fashion and technology of the different human groups in this game seem to have pioneered their own unique contrast as well, giving birth to what I call Palaeolithicpunk. Their garbs and tools are a fusion of impressive lumps of robotic scrap weaved together with earthy threads. A lot of characters wouldn’t look out of place at a forest trance party or Burning Man.

Some machines are exceptionally loaded with goodies

The design of the two-dozen or so robotic enemies in this game is also astonishing. From the more passive herbivore-like machines resembling deer and horses, to the wickedly monstrous and dinosaur-like, each machine comes with its own personality and complex design. Some machines are happy to graze unperturbed and will often run from you on sighting, while others exist to ambush or just plain crush any human that stumbles into their neck of the woods. Machines aren’t your only worry, though, as there are many humans that have resorted to banditry and more nefarious tasks…

You will spend a lot of time exploring abandoned cities

While Killzone has always mostly been about storming your way through with a traditional run-and-gun design, Horizon forces players into a far more tactical and careful mindset. You are, after all, just a small, squishy human taking on hordes of cybernetic juggernauts.

Machines will generally wander about in packs or herds, often as a motley crew. Approaching each production line requires a unique dedication to observation and trap-setting. Sneakily outmaneuvering a cluster of deadly robots, while setting plenty of traps, all the while envisioning the paths they will take once explosively disturbed.

There are various fun ways of navigating the terrain

Once your cunning plan has been set into motion, or once a machine stumbles into an electric/freezing/burning/explosive trap, all hell breaks loose. Depending on how Machiavellian you were in the pre-emptive stages of your assault heavily decides whether you will become a victor or pink porridge.

Successfully decommissioning an enigmatically volatile series of electronic beasts rewards you with a shimmering field of loot. The sparking dump that replaces a once majestic scene of lumbering clockwork organisms provides the player with a myriad of invaluable resources, for both inventory maintenance and upgrade.

A glorious weather system

Aloy may begin her quest with glorified sticks and stones, but in time you will be slinging all manner of fearsome wire and rope gadgets. You will always have to employ care and conservativeness in your playstyle, though, as the clunking automatons only get progressively more lethal and staunch as you wander further from your comparatively mild beginnings.

Many open world games have a massive amount of ‘fetch’ side quests: merely retrieving trinkets for NPCs and the like in endless, unimaginative chores. Horizon Zero Dawn has a lot of ingeniously loaded side quests, each richly charged with engaging dialogue and subplot. Many side quests also cleverly link up to the main story, shedding glimmers of clarity on the main mysteries.

This T-Rex bad boy is going to take a lot of arrows to drop

This game is just phenomenal. It gives you everything you need. An admirable protagonist, a massive amount of addictive content, a captivating plot, and gorgeous graphics. Horizon Zero Dawn has set the benchmark for modern open-world games.

10/10

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian has finally found its way into the disc trays of PS4s. After a ridiculous level of obscure, backhand changes to schedule in order to delay it to PS4 (paraded as technical difficulties needing work), we can finally tell if it was all worth it or not.

Personally, I believe so, but many others would disagree with me. The game is undoubtedly and very obviously flawed. Most of the reviews and opinions I have come across echo the same annoyances I had with the controls, camera work, and the big feathered fella’s obstinacy.

These issues are either overcome by the individual, and the love shines through, or they allow it to diminish their overall opinion of this title. While I was definitely irked by its faults, I absolutely adore this game.

You’ve got to keep calling for Trico to follow you along

An unfathomably massive and intricately designed environment, a very lovable duo and their teary bond, creative puzzles and thrilling platform action. Maybe I’m being biased, being such a massive fan of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, but I always try to judge games as independently and objectively as possible.

My biggest complaint is the glaringly low framerate the game suffers from on a standard PS4. Unless you have a PS4 Pro, the game will not run altogether smoothly. Having being delayed specifically so that it could shine its brightest on the current generation of consoles, this is a serious screwup. It’s just plain bad optimisation.

Plenty of leaps of faith in this one

Those that have not played the previous two masterpieces in the series might very easily be put off with its rather unsteady controls and gameplay. The protagonists in these games tend to scrabble about a lot, which although lends a much more organic feel to characters, may deter players used to characters that stop exactly when you let go of the analog stick.

The camera also has some issues. It will often pan all over the place, making keeping track of your progression difficult every so often. This is especially the case with more claustrophobic spots where it just doesn’t know where to go.

It’s great having your own personal elevator

I feel that its undoubtedly sizeable issues cannot restrain one of the most beautiful and soulful games to come out recently. Being a Fumito Ueda game, everything is very enigmatic and surreal. There is a constantly spiritual, otherworldly ambiance that carries the game. Playing The Last Guardian really does have a very dissociative effect on the individual.

The game takes you on a puzzling journey through a multi-dimensional citadel. A young boy inexplicably finds himself trapped inside this sprawling building, face to face with an initially frightened and quarrelsome ‘Trico’ – a chimera of sorts. Their budding bond and progressive relationship are, of course, the game’s main emotional drive.

One of the most divine relationships in any game

Trico is completely adorable, if not a little uncooperative. He will often stare at you ineffectually as the little man furiously stamps his feet shouting orders. But that is ultimately all part of his naughty charm. Trico resembles the best factors of domesticated house pets, the avatar of cat memes.

Trico may appear placid most of the time, but he harbours a well of repressed terror, pain and fury that comes gushing out whenever confronted by his clanking tormentors. Throughout the entirety of the game, you will often encounter strange suits of animated armour. They are hell-bent on abducting our young protagonist, all the time throwing spears at Trico, who will go berserk and begin tossing the empty knights around like toy soldiers with aggravated vim.

You’ll spend a lot of time on the sunny edges of your majestic prison

These encounters season relatively relaxing puzzle-based platform activities, which are very creative and enjoyable. There is a very unique spin thrown in here, as you and your beast must work together in order to solve puzzles requiring a mixture of human ingenuity and monstrous strength, height, and leaping.

That’s pretty much the lion’s share of the gameplay. You and your companion fight and think your way through each section of this immeasurable prison, searching for a way out. It’s the sheer level of emotional bonding you get to do with Trico that makes the game so wonderful. That, and some pretty nifty puzzle and platform design that doesn’t ever get stale or repetitive.

Some very interesting puzzles, requiring a fair amount of brainstorming

Trico is one of the most animated and life-like non-human characters in any game. The only creature that comes to mind with as much believable personality is the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation.

Trico will spend much of your time together blinking at you quizzically as you hammer commands away trying to get him to do what you want. However, the amount of cute, silly, frantic and violent behaviour you will witness from him will undoubtedly fill you with much wonder for this very enigmatic monster.

The stage design is jaw-dropping. It gives the feeling of infinite, inescapable imprisonment

When you think you have him/her figured out, he/she (or the game in general) will introduce some new aspect to their history or makeup to keep you dumbfounded. Much of this game and its plot and characters – as fans of this series will tell you – is open to interpretation. It relies on the player to narrate what they feel is happening, rather than constantly force-feeding you rhetoric.

This game is definitely for a very niche group of gamers. It takes much patience, a sense of wonder and a love for puzzles. If you think this game isn’t right for you, don’t bother with expensive disappointment. However, if the opposite is true, you are in for a wonderfully emotional journey.

9/10

For Honor

For Honor is a very ambitious project, that of bringing three very different kinds of historical warriors together in a balanced manner. Pitting Nordic vikings, European knights, and Japanese samurai together is something many historians would scoff at. Somehow, Ubisoft has managed to pull it off.

My time spent with the medieval slasher so far has mostly been enjoyable. The only major issue being that many people struggle to find matches due to its odd online calibrations, myself included.

As For Honor uses its own brand of P2P connections rather than traditional server hosting. This means that many people sit for lengthy periods of time in search of others across the world. This isn’t such an issue if you’re in a place like Europe or America, but here in South Africa we really struggle.

The medieval world has gone completely bonkers

The multiplayer mode spans across a period or season of war between three factions, all vying for control of the world in an endless struggle for domination of what remains of a largely obliterated world. Each player individually commits wartime resources to conquering a certain region, the faction reinforcing a region the most taking it.

The buildings that host the bloody skirmishes within an occupied region are then decorated with the winning faction’s cultural regalia. So far, the samurai have often taken the lion’s share of the map, leaving the burly vikings and upstanding knights swamped by oriental invaders.

The Warden is probably the most adaptable and accessible character in the game, excellent for beginners.

Members of winning factions receive juicy rewards, such as new gear. Through battle, shopping and winning rounds, players can upgrade their heroes with all manner of armour and weapon upgrades. Each new item brings a change in your stats, generally upgrading one aspect of your being while lessening another. It’s a trade-off you need to think carefully about, tailoring each hero according to your strategy and general play-style.

There is also a massive cosmetic aspect to getting new stuff, the fashionable prowess of your heroes being very important. Outfitting your characters with gnarly bits and bobs also plays a big part in intimidation and the psychological aspect of the game. Seeing a hulking Scandinavian stride towards you all skulls and spikes is certainly fearsome.

The roaring Kensei, an absolute whirlwind when played right.

The level of detail and personalised attention that has been slathered onto each pauldron, greave, and blade makes for a stunningly majestic host of gleaming warriors. The game in general just looks amazing, with its global geography and architecture being playfully respectful to each region and culture it represents.

Many players have, however, been put off this game due to the microtransactions, which allow you to purchase an entire arsenal, effectively catapulting your heroes to supreme power in minutes.

The first thing any newcomer should do is start off with the tutorial, which grounds you in the game’s mechanics. For Honor employs a creative method for blocking and attacking. Using the right analog stick, players position their guard in different directions, deciding the automatic blocking stance, as well as which angle you will attack from. This mechanic is the meat of the game. Synchronising your stance with an enemy’s attacks is the key to staying alive. You will also need to mix up your stance and style in general in order to keep your opponent guessing long enough to deliver agonising blows.

There are various grizzly execution finishers for each character, as the Shugoki over here is demonstrating.

Much of the rest of the move-sets are relatively common to hack and slash games. Light and heavy attacks, dodging, stunning blows and sprinting.

The more advanced mechanics come with feinting and parrying, as well as the more tricky special moves in each hero’s repertoire. Feinting involves successfully deceiving an opponent with the suggestion of an attack, following through with an actual one from an unexpected angle. Parrying is deflecting an attack in a way that causes your opponent to stumble, rather than just a normal block, which you can follow with a punishing riposte.

There is a colourful range of special attacks each character can employ. From the unstoppable heave of a giant axe, to the sneaky, lung-puncturing poke from a dagger, to the disorienting pommel strike.

The 4v4 Dominion game mode is absolute mayhem. Here we have a Warden calling in a catapult strike.

Another big part of the game is throwing each other off cliffs or into fire or spikes. While many players consider this approach to be a shameful affront to polite head-splitting, I must recommend mastering both the employment and countering the WWF aspect of this game. Not only is it a very entertaining part of the game, it’s an essential ingredient for becoming the ultimate warrior.

If you manage to land a guard-break, which is basically a stun, you can follow the move up with a throw. If your opponent happens to be near a spiked wall or precarious precipice, you can choose to end them wrongly right there and then. Such tactics will immediately bring a sweaty, heated clash to a dreadful, immediate end, causing a salty eruption in someone else’s home.

Don’t just hammer buttons in a frantic craze. This game requires a cool head and steady hands.

Some characters, such as the gigantic Lawbringer (that looks like a Dark Souls boss, rather than something you’d see climbing up a ladder in Jerusalem), excel at bullying their opponents, tossing them about like unruly children with one hand.

Successfully stringing these mechanics together takes a while to master. The journey from squire to knight is undoubtedly filled with much trial and error, as your brain and hands begin building the necessary connections needed to master this tricky game.

After practicing a bit in the tutorial it’s straight into global war. My first duel was a thrilling baptism into cyber medieval martial arts. I decided to try the one-on-one duels first, using the basic knight, the Warden (one of twelve available characters). My enemy chose some kind of samurai. We then found ourselves standing at opposite ends of a corridor in a snowy castle. I approached him cautiously, trying to remember the controls and mechanics. We honed in on each other, and then the hacking began. Fast and unforgiving, For Honor forces you into a locked state of fidgety concentration as your hands work furiously to keep up with a person on the other side of the world in the exact same state.  I often find myself leaping out of my chair with excitement when a long and tense series of duels reaches its climax.

Slamming the butt of your sword into an enemy’s chops is an excellent way to throw them off balance.

The single-player campaign, while well-written and involving, didn’t hold my attention for long. Although I would like to see how such an intriguing spin on world history would pan out with such lovingly fleshed out groups, it’s basically just the duels and battles seen in multiplayer with bots. I’d much rather bash about (or be bashed about) by real people.

That’s not to say that playing with bots isn’t an integral part of the game. Practicing heroes you are unfamiliar with against AI is a great way to get to grips in a calm and collected manner.

Bring out your personality and taste through the lovely level of character customisation available.

The online community in For Honor stresses an unofficial code of honour. You are expected to be chivalrous. Greeting your opponent with an emote, resisting throwing them off cliffs or executing them with a shaming decapitation are the requirements for becoming a 21st century Sir. While I generally try to be as proper as possible, I can’t help being Iago every now and then.

This is, after all, a video game, not The Hundred Year War. Childish antics are all part of the fun, something well-known to well-seasoned multiplayer veterans.

Whether you’re a medieval enthusiast, or just like the idea of whacking people with giant swords, For Honor is a very enjoyable game. It has an often-times frustrating skill curve you need to overcome if you want to cleave your way up the ranks. Despite its connectivity being something of a joke, it’s a great game.

8/10

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

If you are a survival horror fan then you have probably become relatively disillusioned with the genre’s progression over the past few years. The term ‘survival horror’ has even become a rather redundant term for many games – which claim to be so – but are actually just spooky shooters.

Fear not, for Resident Evil: Biohazard (or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil as it is known in Japan) has come to the rescue of what perhaps isn’t the most popular type of game, but is certainly one of the most thrilling and engaging.

Welcome to the family! Each member poses a massive threat to your existence. Maybe not granny having a nap after too much large intestine.

As a massive survival horror fan, I can honestly and proudly say that we are now very much surviving the horror once more. Whether you’re a newbie to this type of game, but enjoy having your nerves scrambled, or are by now a deadpan veteran to scary games, you are in for an absolute treat (provided you don’t suffer from motion sickness).

Like any great survival horror game (or any horror story for that matter) Biohazard involves an unwitting protagonist called Ethan Winters goose-stepping headfirst into a grizzly and very lethal nightmare; completely ignoring very blatant indicators of more than likely dismemberment. From this point onwards, you are trapped in a foul and unforgiving world, viewed very intimately from the first person. Let’s just talk about how real the camera work is in this game.

I mean, why wouldn’t you go in there?

Biohazard, being a first person game, means that all of the diabolical happenings are right up in your face, removing the barrier between television and living room, injecting the terror straight into your perception in a fourth-wall-shattering display of witchcraft.

Seriously, Biohazard is going to get behind your eyes and under your skin. You are going to experience the violating discomfort and woozy proceedings afforded only by games like Outlast (from which Biohazard certainly took queues).

Speaking about taking queues, Biohazard is a melting pot of goodness. It seems to have taken the best parts of classic survival horror titles such as early Silent Hill titles and the above mentioned hit, American horror blockbusters like Evil Dead and The Chainsaw Massacre and, of course, the winning elements of the Resident Evil franchise in general.

After a rather mouldy decline into schlocky, action-heavy drudgery, Capcom have reincarnated their much-loved phenomenon with as much visceral calamity as can be fit into a Blu-ray disc.

Gorgeously haunting architecture and detail

“So, what is this game even about?” you may be wondering if you haven’t been following its development or hype. Without giving too much away, our seemingly nondescript hero finds himself submerged in crap when he haplessly waltzes into what looks like a derelict house, which actually turns out to be hosting various kinds of abominations and a very twisted family. The kind of family you’d have family dinners with on a Sunday – you know – if they weren’t completely deranged, sadistic, horrendously strong and seemingly invincible.

As for gameplay, prepare for a shocking rollercoaster through some tough as nails backwater bungholes. It is completely thrilling. Gone are the days of mowing down hordes of lumbering undead. Biohazard’s fights are tough, and they require you to be as observant as you are adaptable if you wish to win this one.

What are you doing in there, son?

The enemies in this game require outsmarting, because physical force alone just isn’t going to cut it. The average person is going to endure a lot of chopping, gouging, and evisceration, as they frantically scramble about each grizzly arena in search of victory.

You will certainly be doing a fair amount of your own daring handiwork. As you’ll soon discover, Ethan isn’t shy about getting his hands dirty either.

Seeing as you’re an ordinary citizen free of any military training (as many previous Resi heroes possess), don’t expect to be lining up headshots or filleting creeps with a bowie knife. Ethan is just an ordinary guy trying to make the best out of a very unsanitary situation.

Count your bullets and get your accuracy up to scratch

Biohazard successfully develops this theme, as his pistol slightly sways when being pointed. A reliance on makeshift weapons and tools makes up the meat of your inventory and progression.

This doesn’t mean that Ethan can’t hold his own in a fight, as you will quickly find out. He’s not afraid to go toe to toe with meanest of monsters.

The graphics are incredible. The gross, gloomy environments, nefarious characters, and other grizzly mise en scène are phenomenally cinematic. The gore has been lovingly detailed and orchestrated, the crescendo coming in the boss fights, which are truly a sickening spectacle to behold. Here one must keep their head as whatever crazed, mutated juggernaut tries to splash you against a wall. Combining the environment, your inventory and sheer brutality, each fight is a ferocious puzzle. The boss fights in this game are nefariously exhilarating.

Each area is obsessively filled out with spooky knickknacks. The efforts taken to create the most lifelike horror experience are astonishing

Biohazard’s short story might be its weakest point, but it is still very intriguing. You’re not only doing your best to survive in this madness, but trying to rationalise it too, trying to piece together small moments of clarity to get the bigger picture. It’s a short and sweet affair all in all, but you might very easily want to play it again, especially if you missed out on some of its secrets and collectibles.

9/10

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Treyarch (who make the quirkier Call of Duty titles) have delivered a loaded sci-fi barrel of laughs with Black Ops 3.

With the explosive campaign, boosted online and classic zombie mode, there is a lot here to keep you busy.

In other words, the people at Treyarch have looked at different sci-fi games and selected some cutting-edge parts to upgrade the CoD-machine with.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Robots and spaceships and stuff. Oh, and archery!

The campaign is set 40 years after the events of the previous Black Ops, in a world devastated by natural disasters, forcing humans to consolidate in massive cyber-cities.

You take on the role of a special operative, who after being dismembered by an evil Chappie, is mechanically rebuilt into a cyborg supersoldier.

Being a supersoldier means you can now jump onto a wall and dash along it before jumping back onto the ground or a parallel wall.

You can also thrust into the air for a short period (thanks, Destiny). This introduces a fun platform element to the game, an effort to dilute the repetitive run-and-gun drudgery seen in every Call of Duty for far too long now.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Go online for some speedy, acrobatic salt

The protagonist is also jacked into the Direct Neural Interface, a kind of matrix which allows one to manipulate and communicate with machines as well as other humans connected to this system.

Players can now hijack instruments like turrets and drones to lay waste to dozens of enemies around.

There is, thankfully, a 4-player max co-op mode in the campaign, zombie mode and online multiplayer.

The usual corridor-shooting has been swapped for impressive and expansive stages that look a lot like the various planets’ designs in Destiny, such as the snowy industrial complex on Earth and the ruined city claimed by greenery on Venus.

The Destiny influence is so strong I actually wouldn’t be unreasonable calling Black Ops 3 a fun Destiny.

Stages, character model design, abilities, gameplay and overall look and feel have been emulated from the Bungie epic.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
This guy enjoys slamming his power tools into the ground, causing a shockwave

The campaign quickly became boring. The momentum-based movement system doesn’t help break the monotony of advancing through swarms of enemies, neither do your various cyber-abilities, which let you immolate robots (who are actually a lot of fun to shoot to pieces), release a hive of machine fireflies to burn humans and various other cyber-spells.

It’s just not enough, CoD campaigns are the reason why so many people have become desensitised to murder and war.

A realistic difficulty mode has been added to the campaign, in which one measly bullet will kill you.

The campaign has a few recognizable actors in it. With Christopher Meloni as Commander John Taylor, Rachel Kimsey as Rachel Kane, Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Hall, Tony Amendola as Dr. Yousef Salim and Sean Douglas as Jacob Hendricks.

Sports fans might recognize Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch who makes a cameo as a villain.

maxresdefault.jpg
Zombie Mode has been very nicely fleshed out

There is an individual experience-based leveling system in all three modes – campaign, online and zombies – which gives you access to more weapons, perks, customisation, and upgrades.

This means three ladders to climb and a lot of hooks to keep you glued to the controller/mouse trying to augment each character as much as possible.

I haven’t properly played a Call of Duty game in several years, but the basic formula remains for the multiplayer.

The basic movement and procedure of a round feels pretty much the same, despite all of the handy augmentations.

A lot of bells and whistles have been added, mainly inspired by Destiny, from what I could gather.

The standard game modes remain, such as Team-Deathmatch and Free-For-All as well as the Pick 10 system from Black Ops II.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
With your robot arms you can now lift Gundam guns

Don’t get me wrong, sameness isn’t always a bad thing; the multiplayer is highly enjoyable and smooth.

Despite many hard-core gamers discounting this franchise as a run of the mill, low-skill shooter for the masses, it is intrinsically a solid FPS.

Of course, a lot of work has been put into making multiplayer feel varied and evolved.

The whizzing acrobatics described earlier translate well to the multiplayer gameplay. Having short aerial-battles reminiscent of The Crucible in Destiny and running at each other along a wall all-guns-blazing is great.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
It’s an honor getting the final kill, can’t say the same for being the final kill

Online there are various classes one can choose from called ‘Specialists’, each with their own back-story and abilities.

The 9 Specialists include characters such as a hooded archer that can shoot explosive arrows and scan the area around them, to a sniper that can shoot chain-lighting which bounces from foe to foe.

There are a few Specialists that can only be unlocked at higher levels.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Find the class that best suits your skills, but don’t forget to try them all out

A kill streak affords the usual map-scanning and artillery functionality, as well as a class-based special move that is unleashed using the top two shoulder buttons – just like in Destiny.

These range from slamming the ground causing an instakill shockwave (just like in Destiny), to scanning the area around to reveal enemies.

A swarm of killer robot bees can be unleashed on a victim and you can split yourself into several illusions.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Lethal cybernetic upgrades needed to survive in scary robot dystopia

As for Zombie mode, two stories have been introduced, Shadows of Evil and The Giant.

Shadows of Evil introduces a new tale and characters whilst The Giant continues the previous Black Ops’ zombie mode story with the same characters.

Zombie mode was a big part of my teenage life, so it’s nice to see the fundamentals have been left unchanged in this installment.

Zombies spill out of ruptured plank-defences as each round revolves around eliminating all undead pursuers.

New areas are unlocked by paying the toll at each gate, each newly-opened area exponentially increasing the chaos and number of attackers.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
One of the most enjoyable cooperative experiences

New touches include being able to temporarily transform into a tentacle-ridden monster that can easily crush surrounding enemies, gumballs which provide perks and again an experience-based system that allows you to purchase more guns and upgrades.

All-in-all, I was very impressed by how much quality entertainment has been brought to the table this time, despite the mundanity of the campaign.

Call of Duty tried hard this time with Black Ops 3 to address its cookie-cutter existence, and largely succeeded in a rather borrowed manner.

Score: 7/10

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

The latest hooded, rooftop-prowling Assassin’s Creed takes place in 19th century London during the tailgate of the industrial revolution.

Being set in a city which was the forerunner of mankind’s evolution into mechanised economic renovation, expect all of the grime and cruelty your hateful history teacher lectured you all about.

Child labourers being beaten by bloated managers, cavernous factories and crowded working-class suburbs are all common sight in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
M’lady – a stunning rendition of industrial age London

London is also, however, extremely beautiful. With golden spots such as Hyde Park, the Royal Palace and the River Thames, a gloriously flooding contrast between gritty squalor and imperial glory becomes your sandbox.

This time the evil Illuminati-like Templars (we still haven’t managed to topple after a thousand Assassin’s Creeds) have seized on this booming progress, capitalizing on poor little urchins and unfair labour practices.

I must confess; I actually don’t even know just what the hell is going on story-wise anymore in this series.

Assassins Creed is a franchise I drop into every few games or so, just to see how it has progressed, but the story always seems confusing and roundabout to me.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The beatdowns in this game have been excellently and brutally designed

At some stage in the series, I was chatting to some Annunaki star people, there are some glowing orbs that give its holders untold power that everyone is scrambling after, and history is members of the future’s playground thanks to some pseudo-science fantasy

Ignoring the plot for a moment, Ubisoft always make such grandly accurate environments, paying loving homage to whatever era they are simulating. London circa 1868 just looks too real, with its billowing factories and majestic landmarks still present today.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The twins are building an army, yours to command

You’ll spend a good amount of time up high just admiring the scenery, and the intrepid tourist will seek out as many of the iconic buildings and streets as possible.

This time you play as two rascals known as Evie and Jacob Frye, assassin twins hell-bent on taking London back from the Templars, one borough at a time.

Together, you will become heroes for the salt of the earth, a dreaded knife in the back of heartless, industrious tyranny.

Each twin comes with their own fighting style. Initially, Evie prefers knocking bowler hats off mutton-chopped heads with her cane, while Jacob relies on his brutish brawling skills, punching the cranberry sauce out of enemies.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Stealth killing Mary Poppins style

 

You can of course mix and match methods of brutality, with a myriad of abilities and equipment at your disposal.

Both have the hidden blade and can flash death before an enemy’s eyes before he or she can say ‘Cor Blimey!’

Both twenty-somethings make Jack the Ripper look like Jack the Real Estate Agent. The twins will keep you satisfied with a wide variety of very painful-looking yet entertaining killing animations typical to this series.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Your gang is filled with different classes of colorful rogues

 

The Templars have subordinated a widespread gang known as ‘The Blighters’, the muscle they use to quell any opposition from bleating workers and would be rebellions. These brutes will be constantly patrolling the streets and buildings in swathes.

In response, Jacob and Evie start their own gang to match The Blighters called ‘The Rooks’, which somehow instantly becomes highly populated with miscreants. Members can be recruited like in GTA: San Andreas to back you up in skirmishes reminiscent of Gangs of New York.

This feature definitely mixes up the gameplay, which by 2015 is now becoming rather mundane.

Just standing still and watching your soldiers bruising the other team is delightful enough.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
This time you’re a working-class hero

 

Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, I laughed hard at the fact that Syndicate is in many ways a 19th century GTA. You can actually hijack horse-drawn carriages and perform a drive-by with your primitive pistol.

Even more hilarious is ramming your horse head-first into other carriages, its mighty cranium demolishing them and sending its occupants flailing in all directions.

After all, London is a big place; parkour just isn’t going to cut it as your sole means of transport anymore.

Comical archaic road-rage aside, the combat and free running feel pretty much the same as every other Assassin’s Creed before.

I’ve been playing these games since I was about sixteen, and each one honestly feels like the same hood, different hunk.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Become a dashing force to be reckoned with

 

The thing that keeps me funding this franchise after all these years is just how great the killing and climbing looks and feels.

Nonchalantly shanking someone in a passing fashion with your hidden blade so fast they stumble in shock for a few seconds before keeling over is a wicked approach I never tire of.

Stalking someone from the rooftops like a seriously pissed off pigeon before plummeting several stories onto their spine is my dream method of taking out someone.

Being a bit of a history nut, I love nothing more than exploring every intricate map Ubisoft has created, immersing myself into the architecture and culture of times gone by.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
It takes a bit of observation before taking the leap

 

An expansive skill tree has been set up which can be shamefully climbed in no time through the power of microtransactions. If you don’t have the time to grind, or have the funds to skip jumping through hoops, you can buy experience point boosters.

You can also buy crafting schematics, treasure maps, and in-game currency.

It’s as if Illuminati-Templars now run the gaming industry, providing shortcuts to success to rich Swedish children.

Purchasable cheats aside, the skill tree does not take the exhausting effort you’d think the implementation of costly XP boosts would push you towards. The time-friendly player will have plenty of exciting new moves in no time.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
There are some very viciously tasteful weapons available

 

Both Jacob and Evie have their own skill tree, but XP is shared. Earning a skill point allows a purchase in both their sets of augmentations.

The skills involve standards such as learning to jab two baddies at the same time (which should be called Double Penetration) on the ground or after leaping off from a roof, but Evie and Jacob come with their own tailor-made sets of abilities.

Each twin has three branches to navigate under their own respective tree. For example, Evie can learn how to become invisible whilst standing still (TEEMO!) and Jacob can earn significant beefiness to health and defense.

Free running has become unnecessarily tweaked. You now have to hold down the X button to climb and hold down O to descend, meaning you have much less thumb access to panning the camera with the right analog stick.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The environmental changes due to the weather systems and day and night cycles are art

 

I don’t know if developers thought they were being innovative here, putting a spin on age-old controls, but this is a cumbersome change that seriously hampers gameplay and forces me to do funny things with my hands to be able to jump about and look around at the same time.

Another thing that annoys me about the free running is how the character will often bounce in the wrong direction commanded, a lot of the movement suffering from quite a lot of jerkiness.

While much of the architecture seen in Assassin’s Creeds set in older periods is a lot simpler, the mechanical nature of many settings now requires a more calculated approach as machinery and modernised metallic structures are harder to climb than more historical creations.

A crafting system has been implemented, and by looting the multitude of chests scattered across London you can gather materials necessary to craft a plethora of weapons and items.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The grappling hook thing is great for escaping a jam, as well as cutting down cumbersome climbing

 

Fun new toys have been introduced to the game, such as the Rope Launcher – Assassin’s Creed’s version of a grappling hook – something I adore to have in any open world game.

While you can fast travel, the hideous loading times means the Rope Launcher is a preferable alternative to speedily navigating London.

Love it or hate it, Assassin’s Creed is here to stay, and it is now more powerful than ever.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is undoubtedly a very impressive game on the surface, but enjoying the meat of it all depends on whether you can stomach anymore of its exhaustively tried and tested rigmarole.

Score: 7.5/10

Bloodborne

Bloodborne is easily one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences out there. At its heart, it’s a miasma of obscurity. Players are catapulted into a chaotic world free of proper direction or guidance.

We wander seemingly aimless through terrifying alleyways and forests with little clue on navigation and even less on what comes next.

 

Bloodborne
It’s a nightmarishly picturesque world

 

Players were continually stepping into treacherous new areas, only to fall face-first into smoldering pits of darkness, surrounded by deadly fiends crawling out of the wood-works, or in this case Gothic masonry.

This is what makes Bloodborne so wonderful, you never know what to expect, and never know just what the hell you are getting yourself into.

Everything is cloaked in mystery; characters, enemies, environments and the plot are just one big murky swamp we love swimming in.

 

Bloodborne
Whether you’re plumbing a ghastly sewer or exploring an arcane library, keep your wits about you!

 

Bloodborne is hard. How hard, you may ask? Let me put it this way: I didn’t think I was going to make it through the first stage. I was immediately faced with a brick wall of adversity, one I didn’t think I’d ever smash my way through.

Just fighting the most basic group of creeps was like trying to exorcise the Devil from someone using a YouTube video of a dog drinking water.

Bloodborne
Hacking at crazed plebs has never been so gratuitously thrilling

Few things have made me curse loudly in aggravated bitterness so frequently. Making such sweaty progress only to be drop-kicked back to the last checkpoint clocked about an hour ago is magnificently endearing.

The potion FromSoftware concocted made from despairing degradation and jubilant triumph makes for some interesting psychology.

The finely-tuned reflexes and systematic button-tapping required for this fluid foray can be a bitter pill to swallow for those unfamiliar with Souls games, but once digested, the game becomes a constant flow of garish exhilaration.

It was absolute bliss turning the tide on my tormentors, realizing that I could play this game! Maybe I’d even play it again on ‘New Game +’ (The same game, just much harder).

 

Bloodborne
Boss fights are the bread and butter of Souls games

 

Playing Bloodborne is like being transported into Edo Japan and becoming Miyamoto Musashi’s apprentice.

At first, he constantly beats you with a log for your piggish ineptitude, but in time you are meditating side-by-side under a waterfall, the crashing logs harmlessly splintering off your scalp.

In no time, however, you are magically reduced back into a chubby good-for-nothing and have to repeat the whole process again, and again, and again – pure, unadulterated joy.

 

Bloodborne
Bloodborne’s version of a bonfire

 

I experienced such ominous despair whenever I sensed a boss-fight was about to begin.

My heart sank and the hairs stood up on my arms whenever a colossal hellion skulked out of the shadows, knowing I’d be spending hours turning into days hacking at it.

One particular boss, Vicar Amelia, probably earned me the highest amount of retries I’ve spent on any boss in any game, ever.

Granted I was still pretty green to Souls games at the time – this foray was just complete insanity.

 

Bloodborne
Grab your friend and go tag team on a boss

 

Eventually, I managed to crush her though, and I jumped for joy. This sense of jubilation is rarely felt in many games; it’s the same feeling as finishing a lengthy raid or disarming the bomb surrounded by unaware enemies.

The boss fights are just complete savage adrenaline.

Sure, you spend a good amount of time on your knees, but once you find your way forwards and implement a sound strategy, the sense of competence produces complete elation.

 

Bloodborne
The creature design has been grotesquely detailed

 

 

Story-wise, the game centers around a gothic town called Yharnam besieged by a mysterious and devastating curse that has driven its population insane, and worse. People are starting to mutate into ghastly monsters, the few sane and unchanged individuals cowering in the shelter of their homes.

You play as a hunter, a skilled member of a syndicate tasked with eliminating such abominations, tasked with entering Yharnam and bringing bloody order to a place gone to hell.

Yharnam’s gloomy streets and cathedrals are just the beginning of your quest, as you plough your way through forests, universities and more mystical locations. You will soon begin piecing together a story entailing a damning thirst for power and knowledge that turns humans into the unspeakable.

Bloodborne

Bloodborne is an absolute treat for newcomers and veterans to FromSoftware’s punishing trials. Its hasty make-or-break nature is a fantastic change from Dark Soul’s more sludgy clunking.

10/10