Games

Can poor gameplay be masked by excellent storytelling?

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Games are now becoming such storytelling masterpieces that it’s becoming more common to hear of them being adapted to film. The Last of Us, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed are currently going through the adaptation process right now but, importantly, they are games that are critically acclaimed (though the later Assassin’s Creed games are somewhat less so).

Often, the first ideas we have of upcoming games are about their story and with months of coverage before they even get released, it’s totally possible to completely buy into a game before you’ve even seen any actual gameplay footage. This happened to me with Murdered: Soul Suspect; the more I read about the premise and the story, the more excited I got and couldn’t wait to play.

Read the full article at This Is My Joystick.

Film Reviews, Films

Secret Cinema presents Back to The Future: The Verdict

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After nearly a week of cancellations, the Secret Cinema finally opened its doors to legions of Back To The Future fans on Thursday 31st July. The event, which saw the building of the fictional town of Hill Valley from the hit movie, and stage the Hill Valley Fair, was held in a secret London location. Though punters were sceptical in the lead up to the event, and on the journey from the unmentionable train station to the event itself, all doubts were erased as soon as you set foot onto the property.

Secret Cinema really live up to their name, and all information was withheld until the last possible minute, including the location of the event which was emailed out to revellers just the day before. Unusually for a Secret Cinema event, the film was disclosed which helped to create the hype – normally customers don’t even know what film they’re watching until it rolls on the night.

Armed with dress codes and new identities, attendees could put in as much, or as little, effort as they liked. The result was overwhelming, and it made you feel a part of something special. The word ‘immersive’ has been paraded around a lot in relation to the event, but rightly so.

Read the full article at Filmoria.

Games

The problem with Delsin

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inFamous: Second Son was the PlayStation 4 game we were all waiting for. The first proper foray into the capabilities of next-gen gaming. For those familiar with Sucker Punch’s previous PS3 titles, it would be the chance to see where the story of conduits would go post-Cole, but for those taking their first venture into the world, it would be a new opportunity to get behind some superpowers of their own.

There’s no doubting that inFamous: Second Son is a great game, with some spectacularly beautiful graphics and brilliant gameplay, but the experience was marred by the unlikeable main character, Delsin Rowe. Cocky, arrogant and immature, the Second Son protagonist epitomises the worst of all the qualities we’ve become accustomed to as comic books and superheroes continue to bombard popular culture.

With two playthroughs for the good karma and bad karma endings, it can feel like a long ride when the main character just feels like a complete jerk. So just where does it all go wrong for Delsin?

Read the rest of my article at This Is My Joystick.

Uncategorized

The end of How I Met Your Mother

After nine years on our screens, the final episode of How I Met Your Mother aired this week.

A long time in the making, the show has kept audiences hooked for nine seasons, waiting to find out how Ted did meet the mother.

Full spoilers for the show finale follow. You have been warned.

In true How I Met Your Mother style, the finale pulled a lot of punches and kept me hooked throughout, with plenty of moments which left me gasping, and at one point, crying.

I feel like the finale was a good end to the show, if it had ended with “And that’s how I met your mother.” Unfortunately, it went on and Ted found himself once again at Robin’s window with a blue French horn.

My first real gripe with the episode was something that went on to make a little more sense as the episode progressed. Barney and Robin divorcing. Totally left-field, considering up until that point, season nine had been about them getting married in the first place. All of a sudden it was like those 20 episodes didn’t matter, and it was over with a quick “We got a divorce.” Barney and Robin have always made sense as a couple, they’ve always been on the same page, unlike Ted and Robin, so to see the back of their relationship was a little sad but ultimately makes sense, given the direction of the story as a whole. Case in point, I previously gave them the top position in my list of favourite pop culture couples (see here).

For my next problem, see: goodbye to the apartment. It’s all a bit Friends-eque, really. Yes, adults grow up and they have to move out of their 2 bedroom apartments, but couldn’t they have just done it and transitioned quickly? I get that it was the scene for Lily voicing her fears that Robin wouldn’t be there for any of the “big moments”, but I feel like this big moment could easily have just happened off camera. The move felt a little cliché to me; goodbye to the apartment, goodbye to the show. At least there was no ceremonial key returning.

Whilst we’re on the subject of the apartment-leaving Halloween party, Robin saying Ted was “the guy she should have probably ended up with” was quite infuriating. Hasn’t Robin had enough chances with Ted? Obviously, at this point, I didn’t know where the episode was going but it left a sour taste to think that Ted only seems like a consolation prize to Robin, and she only wants him when someone else has him.

The episode wasn’t all bad, though, and despite my whining, I did like it a lot. I stopped investing in Lily and Marshall as a couple quite a long time ago, but they had some good moments. However, my stand-out moment in the episode goes to Barney, when he holds his daughter for the first time, showing what a talented actor Neil Patrick Harris is as he managed to convey enough emotion in a seconds-long scene to bring tears to my eyes.

After spending all of season nine getting to know the mother, she’s killed off in an instant. The mother, or Tracy, as she’s apparently known, isn’t even given an on-screen death and her rapid health deterioration lasts all of one scene. After nine seasons, I feel like I’ve invested more in Ted than to have him just run back to Robin once he’d had the opportunity to get married and have a couple of kids.

Something that really stood out to me from the finale was when it comes to light that Ted and Tracy haven’t gotten married despite having their children. As an audience, we know that all Ted has ever wanted was to get married and have two children, presumably in that order. We know Ted has the daughter and son he always wanted, so it stands to reason that he would have gotten everything else he wanted too. When it was revealed that Tracy was pregnant, I for one assumed that the wedding would be brought forward, not postponed. The realisation that everything I’d assumed about Ted and Tracy’s relationship was wrong, coupled with the divorce of Barney and Robin perhaps opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t know where things were going.

I understand that the writers have had the ending planned out from the get-go, but to spend nine years constantly reiterating that Robin isn’t the mother, that Ted and Robin don’t get married, only to have Ted run back to Robin feels like a bit of a let down. Ted isn’t one of my favourite protagonists ever, and probably wouldn’t even make it into a top ten list, but I feel like he deserved his happy-ever-after with his wife and two kids, and I feel like he’s been denied of that.

How I Met Your Dad, constantly billed as a stand-alone spin-off of the original series, has a lot to live up to, and despite the promises that it will be a whole different set of characters telling a different story, it feels like it’s not really the end for the original gang.

My prediction? How Number 31 met Barney.

Games

Release day quandry

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Alongside my PlayStation and television there is an ever-growing pile of games I refer to as my “to-complete pile.” Each time a new title is released, the pile grows and I feel a little worse about myself.

As pictured below, the games that I’m so heavily avoiding are some of the best games to be released lately, and LEGO Marvel (which I’ve since obtained the platinum in).

Currently, my pile sits in the order I want to complete the games in; of how annoyed I’ll be if the plots I’ve so carefully been avoiding are suddenly spoiled for me. Not playing these games is exhausting. Constantly on the alert for spoilers from podcasts, articles and loose-lipped friends, these are games I am going to go back to, games that I loved playing. That I will love playing again.

“I’m not going to buy any more games until I’ve finished the ones I’ve got” has become a catchphrase of mine, but as release day for a new game rolls around, I get caught up in the hype and want to be instantly involved. I don’t want to work through the pile just to get the new game, I want it now.

I’ve recently managed to restrain myself from buying both Thief and South Park: Stick of Truth on their own release days, and have made an internal promise that I’ll be caught up with my gaming pile by the time Watch Dogs rolls around.

Using new releases as an incentive brings about it’s own issues. If I really do want to make it through these games before I buy anything new, I have to add new titles to my ever-increasing list of spoiler-blocking.

With game developers bringing out so many worthy games in recent months, the urge to buy new games gets stronger and stronger. With each new release that I deprive myself of, I feel like I’m learning a valuable lesson about the perils of spreading myself too thinly across too many games.

Films

Oscars 2014 Predictions

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As we sit on the precipice of the 86th annual Academy Awards, Culture Shack looks ahead to give you predictions of the top categories. The past year has been a real bumper crop of exceptional films, leading to some really tough decisions to make with my predictions.

Best Picture

Perhaps the category I struggled to predict most, this year’s Best Picture nominees are of an extremely high standard. Nine very different films, both thematically and stylistically, I’m backing 12 Years a Slave to pick up the award.

Best Director

An award which I’d happily see collected by any of it’s nominees, I’ve plumped for Steve McQueen to win for 12 Years a Slave. If found the winner, then McQueen will be the first black recipient of the award.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

In terms of pouring themselves into a role and completely taking on a character, the Academy Award should be given to Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. Competition is tough for the men this year, with strong performances for very powerful characters from all five actors.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

For sheer performance factor and forcing the viewer to truly believe in and invest in a character, the award in this category should go to Cate Blanchett for her turn as the titular character in Blue Jasmine.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

For this category, I really think there’s only one name worth mentioning; Jared Leto. As Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, Leto delivers a truly breathtaking, emotional performance.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Having to reign in my inner Jennifer Lawrence fangirl and taking a subjective look at this category is difficult, and a much as I would love Jennifer to win her second Oscar, I think that the deserved winner of the category is Lupita Nyong’o.

Games, Platinum Review

Platinum series: The “worth it” games

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October 11th 2013. The date my 38th platinum trophy pinged onto my screen. The game was New Little King’s Story on PlayStation Vita. The game, though time-consuming, was by no means difficult. Users of trophy hunters haven PS3 Trophies have rated the game a 3.14 in platinum difficulty.

Though the low rating is pretty much in line with my own personal rating, due to the length of time and the effort that went into obtaining the platinum (9 different endings, seriously?!), the game is definitely one I’m proud to have the platinum on.

Glancing over my platinum trophy list, there are a few on there that I can’t say stretched my abilities too much, but I’m proud of and pleased to have on my list. In this article, I’ll give you pointers on which games to look at that’ll help boost your platinum ego.

1. The Walking Dead

If you haven’t playing Telltale’s offering to The Walking Dead universe, then you are sorely missing out. I’ve already written a review waxing lyrical about how much I love the series, but it has the added benefit of being an easy platinum trophy. The game rewards you heavily for simply playing; there are no choice based trophies, and all trophies are obtained throughout the course of the game. Simply play the game to the end and you will be granted the platinum trophy, and can rest assured that you’ve played one of the best games ever to be created.

2. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom

Majin wasn’t a game I was familiar with until I saw it featured on a list of easily obtained platinum trophies. The premise of the game is essentially that a young boy sets out to free the world of the darkness that is taking it over, and in his quest is joined by a strange monster, Majin. Though the end of the game required quite a lot of grinding to level up, and to make sure I’d used each type of attack enough, nothing stands out as having stood in the way of the platinum. Majin was a fairly enjoyable action adventure game, with an engaging storyline, and worth a play.

3. L.A. Noire

First off, L.A. Noire is a simply breathtaking game, one of my favourites of the last generation of consoles, if not of all time. The fact that the platinum trophy is also fairly straight forward also adds to the allure of the game.

4. Any game from the LEGO series

The LEGO series of games are dangerously addictive, and easy platinum trophies to boot. The only danger with the games is that they are somewhat prone to glitches, so always worth treading with caution. I personally had to play LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 twice due to a glitch, but due to the fun nature of the games and the sheer replayability factor, what could have been a laborious task was actually still fun. The more recent LEGO games also have the bonus of having separate trophy lists for PS3 and PS Vita.

5. Heavy Rain

Another brilliant game which essentially allows you to get trophies as you play. A walkthrough may be needed as you replay to mop up trophies based on certain decisions, but there are plenty out there. Again, there aren’t really any difficulty based trophies to worry about, so you’ll be rewarded for completing the game (albeit several times).

Games

Eurogamer 2013: Assassin’s Creed 4, The Sims 4 and LEGO Marvel

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Having gone to Eurogamer with the intentions of sampling some games I might not otherwise entertain, I walked around spying the likes of FIFA 14, Forza, Minecraft, and thought “Not really my thing. Best to stick to what I know I like.”

What I know I like is Assassin’s Creed, so I headed to the demo booth to play the new title, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The queue was a little daunting, with some people criticising the gameplay of those already participating the demo. One comment that I overheard was, “That guy’s a retard.. He’s died three times in two minutes.”

As I neared the beginning of the queue I prayed that I would be on a station that others couldn’t see; my assassin skills in AC:3 left a lot to be desired, and I really struggled with the change in combat mechanics. As luck would have it, I was ushered to a TV and console (PS4 again, that race is yours, Sony) which was in full view of the queuing public.

As the demo started, it was a bit of a let down. Not in technical terms, but the demo didn’t really ask you to do anything specific. Whereas Tearaway and Octodad took you through a mission, AC:4 just left you to your own devices. I spent much of my time sailing around, before attacking a passing ship (I won the battle, thankfully), but was all too aware that I wasn’t experiencing much on the ground stuff.

I hopped off the ship and swam to the nearest island. The water mechanics in the game are breathtaking; there was a tide, meaning I had to swim faster just to get anywhere, and there were also some quite big waves. Sitting about a foot away from the scene, I can honestly say I was getting a bit seasick. Once on the island, I headed towards the nearest synchronisation point, because, well, it’s Assassin’s Creed, and you’ve just got to really. As I got to the top of the point and looked around, I could see just how spectacular the graphics were, and just how much effort has gone into the game. Definitely one to get excited about.

Sticking with my theme of “what I know I like”, I joined the main arena and headed to the eight or so computer stations showing The Sims 4. I’d have liked a demo of the gameplay, like in The Sims and The Sims 2, with good old Bella and Mortimer Goth (or their new generation equivalents, but there is plenty of time for that between now and the 2014 release the game is currently slated for.

The demo was in fact, the create-a-Sim screen. Plenty of fun to be had, and I’ve spent more time than I care to mention creating Sims in the past. The create-a-Sim screen of The Sims 4 really shows just how far the game has come. You can customize every inch of your Sim, from pupil size, to the way they walk, as well as some of the same old features; athleticism, bust size etc.

As I’ve already said, I would have liked the demo to show a bit more of the new features the game has to offer, especially surrounding the new ways of interacting with people and how moods affect certain situations. What I did play was enough to get me excited about The Sims 4, and the potential it has.

To round off my Eurogamer experience I spent some time with LEGO Marvel Superheroes. If there’s anything I love, it’s a LEGO game, and LEGO Marvel looks set to build my infatuation.

Capitalising on the continued success of superhero films, LEGO and Travellers Tales have ventured into creating favourite Marvel characters as little blockheads. I was lucky enough to play a level in story mode and then experience all free-play has to offer. Though a lot of the characters were unlocked, I am looking forward to seeing which characters made the cut and we’ll get to experience in LEGO form.

LEGO Marvel follows the same game mechanics as previous LEGO games, continuing with the new introduction of voices for the characters. I anticipate enjoying the game, I’ve never been disappointed with a LEGO title, and with a different trophy lists for PS Vita and PS3, am looking forward to having two new platinum trophies in the bag.

Games

Eurogamer 2013: DualShock 4, Tearaway and Watch_Dogs

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Eurogamer wasn’t just about games for me, it was the opportunity to see new hardware in operation and experience it before many of my peers.

Ergonomic and comfortable, the DualShock 4 is a work of design genius. The controller has the same familiarity as its predecessors; picking the controller up, you know exactly what to do, what you’ve always done.

The controller manages to make things fresh and exciting with the introduction of the touchpad, share button and light bar. Unfortunately, the games that I played at Eurogamer didn’t utilise these features so I’ll have to wait for the PS4 to come out, like everyone else, to see what the controller has to offer and how it will fully impact on my gaming lifestyle.

Moving onto more games, I headed to the Tearaway station. Tearaway is a PlayStation Vita game from the creators of Little Big Planet, Media Molecule. The game has a distinctly similar feel to the studios previous releases, with a cutesy character exploring a world filled with other cute characters.

The demo serves as an introduction to the game mechanics, showcasing just how much the game utilises the Vita’s many features. This is perhaps to it’s detriment as at points throughout the demo I saw my own face beamed into the Tearaway world, this may be exciting for younger gamers to see their faces in-game, but for me felt slightly unnecessary.

There was a point in the demo where a character wanted me to take a photo of him wearing a crown I had made him, and the Vita’s camera sound went off. This puts me off a bit as I see the Vita as my out-of-the-house gaming device, and as the noise can’t be turned off and isn’t muted through the use of headphones, it means everyone will hear the sounds; on the train, in the office.

However, having said all the negatives, Tearaway was a perfectly lovely game, just what you’d expect from Media Molecule, if not a little predictable. I felt obligated to give up my seat at the station, but could happily have kept playing if not for the small queue forming behind me, though I think I was at the end of the demo anyway. Tearaway looks to be a must-own game for the PS Vita, and a real boon to the back catalogue as many gamers look to the Vita as a cross-functional hardware for the PS4.

Next up, into the Watch_Dogs booth. There was quite a queue for the game, but I had anticipated that, and settled in for the long haul. Once into the booth, which was sectioned off from the rest of the world, the audience were seated to watch a demonstration of one of the missions played in the game. Interestingly, the game was being played on a PS4; a signifier that Sony are winning the race? Time will tell.

Watch_Dogs, a sandbox game, appeared to handle much like a Grand Theft Auto or a Saints Row, but as it wasn’t an interactive demo, I can only go by what I’ve seen, not from what I’ve played. The hacking software used throughout the game looks easy to use, but at the hands of a professional gamer, it probably would.

Though I found the Watch_Dogs presentation interesting, it’s completely different watching someone playing something than getting to experience it yourself. As the game has multiple ways of completing missions, it would have been good to at least see the variety, rather than just the way the developers want you to see it. The game still looks like an interesting IP, and one that I’ll definitely get along with my next generation console.

Games

Eurogamer Expo 2013: Octodad

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This past Thursday I attended the Eurogamer Expo at London’s Earl’s Court. The four day event gives the opportunity for gamers to get hands-on with some of the biggest upcoming releases and to experience some indie gems that might otherwise have passed under their radar. Eurogamer 2013 featured some special guests everyone wanted to meet; the PS4 and Xbox One.

The reason I went to Eurogamer was to get hands-on with some new titles. I’d never imagined that the first game I’d play there would be the most talked about indie game of the moment, on the most anticipated console of the next generation.

Straight into the expo and my heart sank at the sight of the PS4 queue. Wanting to get my bearings a bit more, I wandered round, still in the Sony area naturally. Behind the main PS4 section where AAA titles such as Knack and inFamous: Second Son were being showcased, was a slightly smaller area of about 10 stations where some indie titles were being played. The best part? No queues. At all.

I jumped at the chance to get acquainted with the PS4, and grabbed a controller to begin the demo level of Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Before long, I was acutely aware of a small queue forming behind me. Two boys in their 20s shuffled forwards to ask me about the game, which took me aback – everywhere I look, everything I read has been filled with Octodad, it’s been everywhere in my life.

I explained the plot synopsis whilst the boys watched me play, sniggering at Octodad’s awkward movements. I passed the controller over, eager show how difficult the controls are and restore any damage done to my gaming reputation.

Each limb of Octodad is controlled by a different button; L2 for the left legs, R2 for the right legs, L1 to switch to arms which are then controlled by the analogue sticks. Movement in the game felt nigh on impossible, especially when one of the primary objectives of the game is to act as normally as possible so that the humans don’t suspect you’re an octopus. This makes for some frustrating moments as you attempt to navigate Octodad to a certain point, pick up a specific item and drop it in an exact place.

After completing the demo I walked away with mixed feelings. Sure, Octodad is a new, exciting concept to take forwards to the PS4, but damn, that man-octopus thing is hard to control. In the brief 10 minute play I had, I definitely felt some anger surfacing. On a larger scale as a full game, I can picture there being some controller-throwing moments. And boy, what a controller….