My (kind of late) thoughts on E3 2015

So after coming back from a holiday that took place at the same time as E3 2015, its safe to say that I had plenty of gaming news to catch up on. Fantastic technologies and video games that were announced has, in my opinion, made this years’ E3 one of the most exciting. Owning a PS4 has never felt so good, as Sony, in my eyes, have won the exclusivity battle, with so many great games coming out so soon. There were many great games announced I would like to talk about, but I have whittled it down to a top 5 that excited me the most.

1. Horizon Zero Dawn

A great announcement of a new game from E3 was Horizon Zero Dawn. A fresh take on a dystopian story, Horizon displays the effects of our modern world overrun by nature, and most peculiarly, robot dinosaurs. Blending concepts of prehistoricity and modernity brings a fresh take on the theme of man vs machine. The environments look stunning with cities overrun by plant life, and skyscrapers merging with trees and plants. The gameplay looks really interesting as it would seem that you need to be quite tactical when entering each battle, and boss fights look very challenging, needing to utilise a range of fantastic looking weapons from bow and arrows to rocket launchers. Overall, this looks like a very exciting game.

2. Unravel

An interesting addition to the 2D puzzle-platforming genre, Unravel looks like it will be incredibly fun but equally challenging. Controlling a character who is made of yarn you must unravel yourself to progress through each level, traversing through rocky passes and forests, and using objects like kites to attach yourself to in order to solve puzzles. What I loved about the video attached is the insight into how the creative director conceived the idea for this game, and seeing his enthusiasm for the game makes me think that the finished project will be as inspiring as his words were.

3. The Last Guardian

Possibly one of the overall favourite announcements from E3 for those dedicated fans who feared the shelving of this game, The Last Guardian gameplay trailer surely did not disappoint. An absolutely stunning world that features a young boy as the protagonist who can command a large beast companion to help him traverse obstacles and solve puzzles. I love the mix of design in the game, with a cartoon-esque design of the boy, and the rest of the world, and his companion very realistic. The animation of the creature companion is very detailed, being able to display a range of emotions which makes you feel connected to the creature only through a short trailer. The gameplay looks entertaining with some very tense moments, accompanied by some fantastic music. This game looks like it could hold a lot of potential and I am excited to hear more about it.

4. Star Wars Battlefront

Immediately into this trailer you are met with classic Star Wars music playing in the background of a classic Star Wars world, controlling a Rebel troop who shoots Stormtroopers making the sound of the classic blaster. Yes this trailer completely evokes classic Star Wars, but with next gen graphics and mechanics, it has built on these classic themes and will most definitely bring one of the most immersive experiences to the Star Wars world. With the many options between playing as a standard troop, piloting many of the Star Wars world’s vehicles, and taking control of Jedi Luke Skywalker, this game looks as if it will provide countless hours of fun, with an amazing looking online multiplayer mode to boot.

5. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Although the first game was not the most critically acclaimed, it is one of my favourite games, with its focus on free running and mix of combat, and an interesting storyline, it really appealed to me. Catalyst looks to improve significantly on these aspects, and with the removal of the use of firearms, the melee combat aspect of the game, judging by the trailer, looks like it has massively improved. The combination of next gen graphics and an open world gives Catalyst the possibility to be a fantastic game that hopefully will gain some more praise than the first game.

What were your highlights from E3? I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments section!

Hoenn is where the heart is: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire Review

So after writing a post about the demo of the game almost 8 months ago, I have finally gotten around to playing the full version of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire. Playing all three iterations of the third generation Pokémon series religiously a decade ago (obviously I still haven’t yet accepted that I am an adult!), it was great to play through one of my favourite entries in the Pokémon series that has been stunningly rendered into 3D.

If you have played the original Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald games and are looking for a nostalgia hit in the remakes then you will not be disappointed. When beginning the game a nifty take on the usual Professor introduction takes place where the original introduction is used, but then zooms out showing your character playing the original game on a Game Boy, something I found to be quite inventive. The infamous trumpet-centric original soundtrack transitions into the remastered soundtrack, equalising the feeling of nostalgia and awe at the new take on it. Game Freak have masterfully utilised 3D to provide a deeper connection with the world you are entering, using different camera angles and a lot more 3D integrated cutscenes than had been previously used in Pokémon X and Y.

The game takes you through mostly the same storyline, but with a few new characters, some updated dialogue, and new story aspects to incorporate Mega Evolutions which was introduced in the last series. This did not overtake the original story however which I had initially feared, but flowed through it quite well. Once you have finished the main story crux by defeating 8 gym leaders around the Hoenn region and then the Elite 4 and Champion, you are able to continue your adventures in the Delta Episode, a newly written story arc for the series which incorporates old and new Pokémon lore, and was a joy to play.

What was great about the third generation Pokémon games was that it introduced, in my opinion, some of the most fun mechanics in the Pokémon series, and the remakes have wonderfully adapted these to the new generation. In the original games I would spend a lot of my time searching for the perfect spot to make my secret base, exactly as it sounds a base you could make in trees, bushes, or caves which you could design with a variety of decorations. This has been greatly adapted in Alpha Sapphire, with the beautiful redesign of the original decorations you could find. And now with easier access to the internet through the Nintendo 3DS, visiting friend or strangers secret bases to exchange flags and battle has become extremely easy, and greatly increases its replay value as it is fun to seek out new bases and see what other players Pokémon teams are like. The third generation games also introduced two types of bikes, the Acro and Mach bike, which could be used in different ways to overcome certain obstacles. This mechanic has maintained its usefulness in the remake, and looks great, especially the rails that can be accessed by the Acro bike, which had minimal definition to visualize what they were in the original series.

What I loved about the 3D remaster aspect of the game is that it is the first time in the Nintendo 3DS world that we have been able to see the Japanese aspects of the game rendered so beautifully, as Pokémon X and Y was inspired by France. Going into the houses and seeing the rooms decorated in a Japanese style in 3D almost makes you feel like you are vicariously walking into a Japanese home. Using 3D has also meant that a certain flair that can be seen in the Pokémon anime can be translated to the video games, with gym leaders striking a pose before battling, characters showing a range of emotions through facial expressions, and the updated Pokémon contests which now feature a cosplay Pikachu.

The introduction of the Pokénav plus which allows you to search for a certain pokémon in your current area has increased the chances of finding elusive shiny pokémon, but also allows you to find a pokémon you want that may have a move it wouldn’t usually learn, making it a lot more fun creating a diverse pokémon party. The Buzznav app which I had originally thought would be quite interesting, turned out to be quite dull with mostly the same things repeating in its feed, and becoming even more clogged once you had connected with others through the internet. The integration of the PSS system on the bottom screen which had featured in Pokémon X and Y remains the same, but for the better as it is one of the most handy and fun additions to the latest games.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Alpha Sapphire, as it was a testament to the original games, blending the nostalgia of the original story and environment with updated graphics, music, and exciting new additions to the story. It felt more like it was made for the 3DS with the integration of more 3D cutscenes and interact-able areas than had been done in Pokémon X and Y. With its updated secret base system and the integration of the popular PSS from the previous games, the game has plenty of replay value and I’m sure I will continue to play with it over the summer. My only qualm with it is that it has made me wish that a 3D remake of the first two generations of the Pokémon series will happen, a very unlikely possibility in the near future.

The Unfinished Swan Review

After finally subscribing to PS Plus a few weeks ago I was eager to try the free games up for grabs available in May. The Unfinished Swan immediately jumped out at me as something I would like to play first. I hadn’t played a proper adventure/puzzling game in a while and The Unfinished Swan really satiated that thirst.

The game’s story focuses on a young male protagonist who has recently lost his mother, a woman who loved to paint yet never finished any of her pieces of art. The young boy’s favourite painting of a swan *cue the title* mysteriously turns blank, with swan tracks leading into another painting. Here the gameplay starts as the boy enters this world of his mother’s paintings. The screen switches from its storybook like cutscene to a screen of white, with only an aiming reticule seen. You aren’t told what to do, leading me to originally think the game had froze, however by pressing every button I was met with a black blob of paint shooting out from the reticule. This starting level requires you to use strategic painting to reveal dimensions of rooms and obstacles to pass, something I have not seen in a video game before and was astounded by the simple, yet ingenious idea.

Making your way out of the first room, you emerge into a forest. A simple yet stunning style creates a sense of mystery and awe.
Making your way out of the first room, you emerge into a forest. A simple yet stunning style creates a sense of mystery and awe.

With little music, only the sounds of faint wind chimes and the occasional swan sound, this could easily have been tailored to a horror genre, tied with the fact that you cannot see what lies ahead. However, as you progress through the first level, shadows are introduced making it easier to work out where you are going and what lies ahead, and a lighter tone to the story emerges. In later levels colour is added, making it even easier to visualize your surroundings. It was a shame in my opinion that the whole game wasn’t like the beginning of the first level as I found it to be a clever concept for the game. However, with the introduction of shadows and colours, the gameplay still managed to keep me enticed and provide many aesthetically pleasing scenes.

Coming across this labyrinth was a sight to behold. Although I half expected to bump into Jareth whilst exploring it.
Coming across this labyrinth was a sight to behold. Although I half expected to bump into Jareth whilst exploring it.

Later levels use the paintball mechanic in different ways, such as changing to a water balloon to grow vines, granting access to high places. This kept the gameplay interesting, and had you on your toes trying to work out how to overcome certain obstacles. In a later level you must use your projectiles as a way of hitting lamps in a dark forest to light the way through. With the threat of spiders lurking in the dark who will attack you between these lampposts (almost giving me a heart attack when I realised I had my PS4 controller on full volume!) you again are kept thinking on the best way to traverse through the forest. The last level allows you to create 3d objects by shooting two paintballs to determine width and height. A fun idea, yet I think it was introduced too late in the game to be used to its full potential as a puzzling mechanic.

Although only a short game, The Unfinished Swan is unlike any game I have ever played before and so this made it an exciting playthrough. Its simplistic style adds to the feel of the game, with an enticing storyline that may appear simple on the surface, but will have you pondering the reality of its depth once you have completed it.