This is a warning to all villains satanic,
to terrorists and Chinese and those who are Hispanic.
And you’re doomed to violence verging on the volcanic,
If you’re from nineteen-forties and even partly Germanic.
Because I’m armed with weapons and vehicles titanic,
And people keep saying that I’m messianic.
Basically, now is the right time to panic,
If you’re not American and fairly gigantic.

Context is something that I’m just not needing,
The premise is simple and hardly misleading,
Just make sure that all that you see ends up bleeding,
And when you’ve killed more than smallpox, just keep on proceeding.
Regardless of whether their force is receding,
Or if they’ve put down their guns and are desperately pleading,
They’re just dandelions, and we’re here for weeding.
Besides – they’re so poorly armed, they can’t stop us succeeding.

Joel Franey, 2015


Like so many good things in the gaming industry, Valve did it first and best. “Meet The Heavy,” the first animated trailer for Team Fortress 2, was released in May 2007, featuring the Eastern-European colossus getting overly excited about his minigun, like somebody on a train trying to explain YuGiOh cards to a stranger.

It was a funny little video and since then there have been about a dozen separate TF2 shorts to promote the game. But recently I’ve started to see others like it, most with that detailed animation style and emphasis on character humour. The funny thing is, they all keep coming from a certain type of game.

The free-to-play market is one of those things that started out with so much potential. Good games could be released to the public for no cost, and if they provided a good experience then players would be motivated to donate money for additional gameplay benefits, or even just to show their appreciation. Loadout is a good example of this – a fun game that doesn’t require any money, but unlocks more options if you do feel like putting some cash into it. Everybody wins.


Why don’t you at least be honest, Final Fantasy? Have the characters beat the bad guy to death with wads of cash or something.

Then it became this horrible, bastardised version of what it was. You weren’t downloading a game any more, you were downloading a platform onto which you could basically rent gameplay for a short amount of time. Then a barrier would be thrown up again, and the game would demand more money like a baby demanding regular feeding, only a great deal less lovable.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Dungeon Keeper Mobile and Final Fantasy All The Bravest are probably the most offensive examples, particularly the last one. In FFATB, you essentially just pay a micropayment, at which point the game will briefly play itself for a little while, until it gets tired and needs more cash.

Nothing could have been more insulting, it showed what Square Enix really thought of its fans. This kind of mentality is what leads to publishers thinking of customers as “whales.” You know what I mean, and you who think like that know who you are. “They’re just profit on legs, and any way we can cut the money out of them is to our advantage.” You know, it is possible to make some green and still retain your mortal soul. It’s easy – look at what EA does, and then do the opposite.

But anyway, for some reason I’ve kept seeing animated or even live-action trailers for free-to-play games online, and it’s weird. Clash Of Clans, Boom Beach, that Game Of War trailer with the distractingly buxom goddess – it’s baffling to me how these things help, because they’re inevitably unrepresentative of the game itself. If they showed tiny little sprites blipping around a cut-rate management game, that would be fine, that would make sense. That would actually be the game they’re selling you, but they’re not showing you that. They’re doing character jokes, and physical comedy, or having that chick with the enormous rack ride in slow motion in front of the camera, just to give you no credit whatsoever.

Cleavage Queen

Game Of War would like to remind you that breasts exist. Thank you for your time.

And I’ll admit, some of the trailers can be cute or funny. I laughed at a couple of the Boom Beach ones, but I didn’t laugh when playing the game. It was just boring. But I think I now know why they do this, they’re trying to make that TF2 lightning strike twice.

See, one of the things that raised TF2 above the level of the average shooter was the characters. They all had distinct visual personality with exaggerated features and physiques, and would often make funny, conversational quips during matches. The online trailers served to reinforce those personalities and flesh them out, until we were playing with genuinely likeable characters whom we could understand and appreciate properly. Whenever somebody asks me my favourite class to play as in TF2, I’ll usually say the soldier. But when I’m asked my favourite class in total, I usually say either the Spy or the Medic, both of whom make me laugh and are truly amusing archetypes.

BB Gameplau

I think if you show this gameplay to somebody for ten minutes straight, it has the same effect as a beer with a roofie in it.

But these free-to-play games don’t have that. All they have is boring gameplay with financial barriers added in, so what do they do? They try to inspire personalities in their little sprites, and hope we get attached, hope we feel invested. Look at Clash Of Clans – the games don’t tell you jack about all these disposable minions and how they feel about things, but the trailers would have you think otherwise. The barbarians are nuts, the archers are sensible and the wizards are egotists.

It’s fairly empty, but it’s all they can do. It’s like giving names and character traits to all the furniture in the living room, in the hope that people will enjoy sitting on it more. They won’t – it’s still bland, basic furniture – but they don’t want to risk showing us actual footage. They want players to think that it’s all a wacky, sitcom-esque series of jokes and one-liners behind the cash wall and the dull gameplay.

Boy, are they in for a disappointment.


Who doesn’t love stealth? Everybody loves stealth. It allows us to avoid boring people at parties, steal cookies from those who are distracted, and creep up to the window of the women’s changing room with a camera so that you can – well, I think you get my point.

But stealth in games doesn’t always work right. I was playing Hotline Miami yesterday, and whilst bashing skulls like they’re piñatas is definitely fun, there was one level in which you had to sneak around all your enemies, and being spotted instantly sent you to a game over.

Basically, the game’s design allowed well for insane gut-chopping action, but struggled when it came to creeping about. But why is this? Surely stealth is just regular movement, only out of the view of enemies, right?

Nope. If it were that easy everybody would do it. There are ways to do stealth well though, and here are my top tips.



What do you mean I can’t kill people? I want to get my stab on!

This was perhaps my greatest issue with the Hotline Miami stealth section, and probably my greatest bugbear with stealth games in general. Don’t tell me I’m dead just when I get spotted, because it’s absurd. It’s like being failed in a shooter because you missed the target once.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that being spotted shouldn’t be a problem for you. In a stealth-orientated game, going in quiet should always be the easiest and healthiest option. But you need to have a back-up plan of some sort. Dishonored and Thief allowed you to swordfight your way to safety, and even Alien: Isolation gave you a flamethrower to push back the Xenomorph when it finally noticed that a skinny girl in Reeboks had been giving it the slip for twenty minutes. But these options tended to be more dangerous, and that’s the best way of doing it. It allows for panicky moments of adrenaline, switching gears from “softly, softly,” to something more along the lines of “AAAAAGH!” Classic.


Even if you’re letting us screw-up the stealth and still get to play, there are going to be times when we decide to make a mad sprint to choke out a guard. And then, as he turns around and sees a player character descending on him with murder in their eyes, he manages to get out a single meaningless noise, before being given the bear-hug of sleepytime that all video game protagonists learn on their first day.

But oh wait, that little squeak he managed to get out has echoed around the warehouse and to every human ear within, and now they’re all headed for my location with heavy ordinance. Yay.

Yes, being spotted should remain a problem, but there has to be a slight gap between visual contact and every alarm bell ringing like mad, because it gives the player time to react. The Batman: Arkham games get this, because whenever a goon sees you he has a moment of terrified flinching before remembering that he’s holding an assault rifle, and it gives us time to choke him out, or punch him in the jaw, or throw a bit of metal at his skull whilst we dive for cover. It’s not long, maybe a second or two, but it works. Developers, take note.


This is probably the most common offender, because it’s so often symptomatic of games that don’t have stealth as a core mechanic but want to crowbar it in. Basically, you need to establish what rules we’re working with. Are we invisible if we’re just in shadow? How close do we need to be to an enemy? Is sound going to be an issue? If players don’t know, they’ll just err on the side of caution and be too tentative to get anything done, and they’ll just get pissed off when they do eventually get seen.

Mark Of The Ninja is a good example of demonstrating how you do visibility. When you bumble around in plain sight, you’re rendered in all the primary colours the animators had to offer as normal. But when you move to a point where bad guys won’t see you, like ducking into an alcove or pretending to be a charity worker on the street, you go completely black and white except for a few aesthetic choices. That’s good, that works. It also shows how far the sounds you make can be heard, which is a useful feature, and I remember This War Of Mine doing the same thing. It worked in both of those games, and it’ll work in others too.



Look, let’s be reasonable here.

This might seem surprising after I’ve spent the last three sections demanding changes in gameplay in the player’s benefit, but I actually don’t want gameplay that’s easy, only fair. For example, Dark Souls is hugely difficult, but it’s fair,rarely taking anything away from you permanently and rewarding effort when you finally win. Whereas enemy snipers in the easier game: Sniper Elite V2 (retch) are very unfair, because they’re impossible to notice until they’ve shot you at least once. How the hell am I supposed to react to something I’m not aware of, Sniper Elite V2? “Sorry, you’re breaking up,” it giggles, spawning another couple of snipers who immediately start to line up a kill.

Stealth is at its most intricate when the enemy knows what they’re doing, where they act like thinking creatures. The worst stealth has always had guards on short circular rounds, guards who forget about you once you’ve passed out of their sightline. It’s like I’m infiltrating a base guarded entirely by goldfish.

Again, Alien: Isolation is a good example of this, as the Xenomorph is actually intelligent, learning as you make mistakes and utilising the knowledge that its gained, not to mention taking large, unpredictable routes that can constantly surprise you, creating tension and jump scares through organic means. At one point the bastard saw me emerge from inside a locker, and even though I managed to drive it off with the last of my flamethrower ammo, I later saw it tearing other lockers open to search for the tasty treat inside, like the caramel in a Creme Egg. Ugh, gives you chills, am I right?


Admittedly, this doesn’t always apply, but there’s enough games that don’t take it into consideration that it needs mentioning. If you’re going to let us sneak up and suffocate guards, make sure we have the speed to get to them without alerting anybody. There’s something surreal and absurd about approaching an enemy from behind, only for him to stroll nonchalantly off at a pace I can’t match, at least not without making a racket he’ll notice. It’s like dancing the conga with somebody who doesn’t know you’re there.

Head smash

No, it’s a stealth game. Really, I swear it. Oh, shut up and start swashbuckling.

It doesn’t have to be running, or even that uncomfortable crouching walk that all protagonists like, (which is actually a lot more awkward on the knees than you’d think). Dishonored made the smart move of adding a short-range teleport, that allowed you to bamf around like Nightcrawler on a sugar high. Stuff like that is not only useful, it’s fun to use, so get creative. As we’ve said before in the super-sandbox article, individuality and personality can be the lifeblood of a game.

So those are the five steps in how not to be seen. The first three are the biggest offenders, but they’re all valuable points when it comes to the ancient art of pixel sneaking. Maybe one day we’ll finally manage to get these points hammered home as an industry. Though judging by how unwilling developers seem to learn them, it will probably be around the time that the consoles on which we play these games have attained citizenships.



Bloody hell, what did I just see? The Microsoft HoloLens was one of those things that I hadn’t even heard of until I saw it demonstrated, at which point I had to pick up my jaw where it was dragging against the ground. Sorry, when did we get interactive 3D holograms? I kinda feel like I should have been informed earlier, that’s some Iron Man tech if I’ve ever seen it.

The HoloLens looks good, that’s the long and short of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an extravagance, and I’d rally against it being pushed into games in which it didn’t fit, but there’s a lot that would work with this new device. Pretty much anything in which you take a top-down view would fit nicely, though I’m baffled by the choice of Minecraft as an example. I can think of much better games that would suit it, like XCOM and Civilisation, or maybe even something like Hotline Miami. Who wouldn’t want to see a tiny digital psychopath, charging around with a katana in full hologram mode? Or peer down on a simulated battlefield like some disinterested general, pushing little soldiers towards the enemy with the tip of your finger?


Foolish mortals! Your tiny, cuboid world is nothing compared to the might of Giant Glasses-Wearing Man!

The HoloLens looks best suited to tactical gameplay, and I hope it gets the attention it needs. It’s the best kind of gimmick, that which adds to the experience of gameplay rather than distracting from it. That said, I expect the technology will probably cost too much in the foreseeable future. Maybe get it when it’s going cheaper in 2020, but show your support for it now, otherwise we’ll be seeing more sputum like the Wii U controller.


Oh EA, why? No, that’s not me reciting random letters from the alphabet, it’s what I said when I was watching the fifteen minute Battlefront gameplay trailer.

It started off so well. I was really getting excited, because it was the sort of thing I wanted to see from E3, that I wanted to see from every presentation. Pure examples of core gameplay that’s mostly unedited and untampered with, why is that so much to ask? And I was as surprised as everybody else seeing EA resorting to such an honest advertising method, it would be like the government in 1984 suddenly spinning on their heels and turning into liberal hippies.

But the video seemed like a good thing, and the gameplay itself looked pretty nifty, especially bringing down the big AT-AT with a satisfying crash and hearing all the rebels wooping, like boozed-up frat boys crashing their friend’s car. There’s also interesting elements such as air strikes, which should add to the chaos a fair bit, and the playable heroes look pretty badass – basically, I was getting invested.


God, this is easy. I just can’t that horoscope prediction out of my mind, though… “You should beware of starships with wire guns.” What on earth could it mean by that?

But then, right at the end, they went and spoiled everything. In what was probably the most scripted bit of gameplay ever to emerge from E3, a single rebel hears the hum of a lightsaber activating behind him, and turns to see Darth Vader and several bodyguards looming over the poor squaddie dramatically.

And right then all my enthusiasm for the game trickled out of my trouser leg and started to make the room smell. EA had decisively shown that they were happy to show a gameplay trailer, but had thrown the whole thing into suspicion. How do I know that anything I saw was really valid, that it wasn’t the eighth take on an attempt to get that perfect shot? I don’t, quite frankly. And for that, they get a big thumbs down.


Oh, god, it looks like the angry brigade is back. Should I take my steroids now, or just wait until my soul patch has grown in and my douchebag bandanna has arrived in the post?

There’s always been something terribly cringeworthy about the Gears Of War franchise, the kind of thing that makes me want to roll my eyes and throw the disk away. I think it’s the way it seems to have so little self-awareness, the way it really believes it’s cool. And yet watching Marcus Fenix and chunky squad growl their way through the previous games was only boring and slightly irritating, because everybody on that team seemed to be utterly one dimensional.

Think about it. Fenix was basically angry 24-7, to the extent where he probably had to shout abuse at his cereal before he could eat it. Cole’s character was “Eighties action hero” and anything else got lost in the planning stage. Even Dom was no more than “Misses his wife quite a lot.” Yeah, OK, whatever. Why do we care about her, though? I guess the thirteen year old writing this shlock must have neglected to ask that question. There’s a reason that Bulletstorm felt the need to make fun out of this sort of thing, and it was right to do so.


He might look cool, but whenever they get back to base he just won’t shut up about his Magic: The Gathering cards.

And then there’s the visual design, stuck halfway between the worst parts of Warhammer 40k and Halo, with a bit of grungy Half-Life thrown in for good measure. Everything is so overdone to the point where it looks silly. You can’t wear normal kevlar and helmets, even simplistic power armour like Masterchief. No, you have to fit inside a big, bulky flak jacket with glowing lights dotted all over it, that covers your chest and nothing else. You get given guns that are stupidly big and look more like farming equipment than firearms, and to top it all off we add the worst elements of fashion from a biker gang and set these wankers lose to fight the alien menace.

I can almost hear the protests of a confused recruit. “But sir, what if I get shot in the arm, where there’s no protection? What am I supposed to do then?”

At which point his sergeant stops doing weight-lifting and wearing tank tops, and other manly things, and spits his cigar out with rage. “What? You mean to say you haven’t built up enough muscle to render yourself bulletproof?! Get straight back in the gym, young man! Also, you’re going to be a main character, so put that helmet down! We’re getting you a headscarf and an over-designed weapon. And I’d better see a chinstrap beard by the time I get back!”

It seems that Gears 4 has taken all of these complaints and ran with them, at least in the gameplay trailer. Yes, that elaborate cutscene was a gameplay trailer. We have them bumbling around for several minutes, trying to fit through doorways and making snarky jibes about pondwater (no, really), before we see a lightning tornado and a monster, at which point it just sort of ends.

Well, at least it was quick. Thank god for smell mercies, eh?


You know what? To hell with E3 for now, I have something I really want to talk about. A game from 2011, one that you almost certainly didn’t play. I don’t think anybody played it, because I’ve never met anybody who has, and I know more than four people. And it wasn’t like this was some minor indie game, it was made by Ubisoft, it was enjoyed by critics and the few who tried it. But somehow this great title slipped under the world’s collective radar. How did that happen? Surely when a goose lays a golden egg, people should appreciate that, not just roll it to one side and look again under the bird again to see if a platinum one shows up.

The golden egg in question is Driver: San Francisco, and I love it because it’s a racing game for people who don’t like racing games. Everything seems to be making the effort to shed the dull, overused mechanics of regular driving games for a more unique approach.


Cars! They’re like airplanes, but less interesting.

D:SF is an open world game in which you play as John Tanner, a man who has never left a car seat in his life. I assume so, anyway. I only say that because I’m several hours into the game, and Tanner hasn’t been pictured out of a vehicle’s driving seat yet. Even when he went to get coffee, the game just quickly cut to a scene of him and his buddy back in the car with their drinks in plastic cups, like it was terrified that the idea of Tanner using his legs for anything other than pedals might freak us out completely.

It might sound like I’m railing on the story, but I’m actually not. The whole thing has kind of a 70’s cop show feel, in fact it reminds in particular of two shows. The first is Starsky and Hutch, for obvious reasons. Two police investigators driving around in an iconic-looking race car and performing insane stunts to catch a man who is almost as evil as an EA marketing executive. It’s so light-hearted and goofy, it’s hard to dislike it. Even if you drive down the street or head-on into traffic, nobody even gets killed, they just throw themselves unfailingly out of the way or shout angrily from their crumpled cars, which I like. It keeps the tone light and fun.

The other show it reminds me of is Life On Mars, because one of the first thing that happens in the game is that the hero gets mashed by a truck and is put into a coma. Whilst the real Tanner lies drooling in bed with his partner sitting next to him, we play as Tanner within his dream world, and it’s from that aspect that the most interesting part of the game comes up. See, clearly John read one or two comics as a kid, because the second he gets shoved into the land of nod he gains the power to astrally project himself, leaving his body to float above the city, before possessing other drivers and taking control of their cars.

This is probably my favourite part of the story, when Tanner gets over the shock of gaining this power and loses himself in the joy of living life with no long-term consequences. He bounces from person to person, enjoying the momentary flashes of other people’s lives, and the game manages to get some fun ideas for missions from that fact. The best bit is where we take over the body of a teenager who’s learning to drive for the first time, being mercilessly bullied by his instructor whilst he cowers in fear. At which point Tanner, the offspring of Michael Schumacher and Evel Knieval, takes over the kid and decides to freak out the mean ol’ teacher by performing the kind of tricks that get your vehicle classified as a weapon of mass destruction.


I think he’s chewing me out for having crashed into an old lady’s hatchback again. Not that I’d know, my mind is about six miles away by now and looking for more cars to break.

The “shift mechanic” is one of the best things I’ve played all year. Chasing a runaway car? Just take over a civilian vehicle ahead and smash into it from the front. Crashed the car you were driving? Just warp to the next one along with no loss of flow. It’s such a simple idea, so beautifully executed. I spent a couple of hours with a seventies mix on my iPod, just driving around and performing side missions, cackling every time some punk went straight into the front of a fire truck that “mysteriously” swerved to meet it.

It does have flaws – buying cars seems pointless when you’ll have dumped it for a new one a little way down the road, and vehicles tend to slide out of control a lot, but these are minor issues. Driver: San Francisco is currently in the Steam Summer Sale for less than three pounds, but even at the full price of ten quid it would be worth the money.

I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt here, that we must give everything a chance to surprise us. I never expected D:SF to be this awesome, but I’m glad it is. Maybe there is something in every genre to delight us, even if we don’t expect it to, something that we can appreciate and –

Whoa! I continue this train of thought and I’m going to have to play MOBAs without bias. Yeah, time for me to stop.


Well, well, well. Of all the things to pop back up out of the woodwork, who expected Doom? Nobody born after 1995, that’s for certain. I was surprised that anybody remembers what Doom is this far forward.

But yes, the new Doom game was revealed at E3, and it’s got all the subtlety and temperance of a suicide bombing, though I don’t think it’s without its charms, in a weird, homicidal way. It seems to have shrugged off the sludge of modern shooters pretty well, avoiding aspects like cover and regenerating health, whilst focusing more on psychotic murder sprees and beating a monster to death with its own leg.

I have to admit that I started grinning when the double-barrelled shotgun made a sound like a sledgehammer coming down on a bob-bomb, and all that was left of the victim was a couple of surprised legs that slumped to the floor a moment later. I’m even willing to ignore the fact that this was stolen from Bulletstorm, so happy was I to see something that was just so… Gleeful? Is that the right word? I hope it isn’t, but I suspect that it is.

You can’t help but be slightly stunned by how much Doom clearly delights in wretched amounts of gore. Gunshots leave visceral splatters, melee takedowns involve terrifying feats of brutality, and one puzzle is solved by watching a monster kill someone before finding the victim’s corpse, so that you can rip his arm off and slap it on a palm scanner. How about next time we just go with a keycard, yeah?

Doom hands

Look, will you hold still? I’m just trying to get the sand out of your eye!

I will say that I hope that Doom doesn’t try to do horror at any point. The gameplay made it clear that the Marine is the most powerful thing since Superman on steroids, so any attempt to threaten him is going to seem silly when he’s just ripped out a demon’s intestines and garrotted it with them. You can’t say it’s not tonally consistent for there to be horror, but I’ll be honest – it would surprise me if any demon had a kill-count anywhere near that of the protagonist’s by the end of this game. Perhaps I’m getting the wrong impression, maybe this is the set-up for an Alien: Isolation style game in which you play a frightened Revenant, trying to avoid the evil, unstoppable Space Soldier who will think nothing of murdering you in the most awful way possible. Huh. Now I kinda want to play that too.

I do wonder if it’s in Bethesda’s interests to resurrect Doom from the grave this late. The old Doom titles have a great lineage and demand respect, and nothing pisses off a fanbase more than a company bastardising the memory of an old franchise so they can make some cash from name recognition. Thief, Syndicate, Prince Of Persia, XCOM, and the embarrassing mess that was Duke Nukem Forever, they’re all examples of this. The only way to get away with that is to make the best game you can, and I’ll be damned it if doesn’t look like they’ve done that.

Let me add that I much preferred the Doom presentation to the Fallout 4 one. That’s what I wanted to see, Bethesda, ten minutes of uninterrupted and varied core gameplay giving a good indication of what we’re going to be experiencing, not dialogue trees and the most boring combat scenes in the game. If village maintenance reared its ugly head in Doom, it would get a fist pushed so far into its face that it would be able to smell its own brain. And speaking of utter absurdity through violence, let’s look at the game properly.

Doom scanner

The most intellectually sophisticated thing in the gameplay trailer was centered around ripping off a man’s arm. I’m strangely OK with that.

As mentioned earlier, the guns look nice and cathartic, with two exceptions – the plasma rifle and the chainsaw. The former is easier to explain, it just looks boring, making generic pew-pew noises with no sense of weight or impact to it. But the chainsaw seems odd, almost a bit pointless. The game already established that we can kill an enemy if we’re close enough, and not only that, we can do it quicker than the chainsaw, which takes longer and runs the risk of breaking flow. Though that isn’t going to stop me from using it often – I mean, it’s a chainsaw for killing demons. Even if I had to break my fingers every time, I’d still do it, because IT’S A FUCKING CHAINSAW FOR KILLING DEMONS.

I’m also very much in favour of how the game keeps a fast pace by having enemies drop health. Good action games like Saint’s Row 4 have remembered this, it’s a fantastic way of rewarding reflexes and going on the offensive, and of course Doom is nothing if not offensive. I like how you move really fast, I like that there were no directional icons when the puzzle bit came up, I like how you can hold more than two weapons, and I’m definitely going to find a place in my stony heart for the Heavy Assault Rifle, a gun that wouldn’t look out of place on top of an aircraft carrier and was so powerful looking I’m pretty sure you could bring down a planet with a couple of clips worth of ammo.

So at the end of the day, I guess Doom looks pretty good. I’ll be interested to see what kind of story there is – “Hell invades Mars” is all very well for the nineties, but I’d like to see a bit more thought put into it this time, just to contextualise it nicely. But if that hits the mark, then I’ll definitely be on board. Here’s hoping that E3 was actually honest today – because if not, then I’m going to be very disappointed.


Right, it’s eleven in the morning, a couple of days before I normally get up, but today I’ve made an exception, to bring you the cutting edge in gaming news. I hope you all appreciate the sacrifices I make for you lot.

Actually, I was watching the last episode of Game Of Thrones season 5, but because of that I had something to watch whilst it was loading. Killing two birds with one stone, or perhaps that should be shooting two of them down with one burst from a plasma rifle – yes, it’s Fallout 4 again! It debuted at E3 last night, and after watching the presentation I feel very strongly about it, but only about the fact that I would like to see some actual gameplay to feel strongly about.

I started to get suspicious when they cut away from the entrance to the vault and the detonation of the bomb, having only gone through character creation and a couple of dialogue trees in the video so far. Hold on, I thought, I was just getting into that. Why have you pulled away from the game literally as it was getting good?


Welcome back, Robo-jeeves. Can I swap you out for the dog that’s following me? You seem like a better conversationalist.

“We don’t want to spoil anything,” explained the presenter, and then went about spoiling the fact that everybody else in the vault died and you’ve been asleep for two centuries for some reason. Sounds engaging, I thought. Could I possibly get to see that? This is basically the stuff you’d put on the back of the DVD after all, and I’d quite like to see something that wasn’t completely scripted. If you’re going to warble on about player freedom, then you could show it to us.

Either my wishes fell on deaf ears or somebody behind the scenes had lost the video file they were looking for, because the next ten minutes were Bethesda talking about the collector’s edition of the game and some free-to-play app that I couldn’t have been less interested in. Fast-forward, fast-forward.

Ah, we’re back. Oh shit, it’s crafting.

Alright, some of it looked interesting. I like the manner in which you hammer bits of weaponry together, because that’s in keeping with the theme, but the house-building dynamic made me rear back like a viper. No, no, no. I know Bethesda aspire to create something for everybody, but this just looks dull. The most boring aspects of Skyrim and the last two Fallout games were always the house management mechanics, and adding turrets isn’t going to spice it up much when I could just wander out to find enemies myself.

I realise I sound like a downer here, but there is stuff I like, and most of my beef is with the manner in which it was presented. I like how Power Armour can be tweaked and seems like more of a vehicle than actual clothing, and when I saw the jetpack I began drooling uncontrollably, a bit like that dog that follows you around.

Speaking of which, I do have some demands about Muttley. Firstly, if it can’t look after itself than I will drop it at the first Deathclaw nest I see and be on my merry way. I’m not interested in playing post-apocalyptic Nintendogs, that animal is going to have to feed and heal himself. Secondly, I suspect that he’s going to glitch a lot, so please, please have that fixed before we get the game. I thought it was cool that you can send him to get stuff for you, but even in the presentation he had to stop suddenly and wrenchingly turn to face the right direction, not to mention that Bethesda games have history of glitchy behaviour.

What else is there? Well, the Pip-Boy now seems more intuitive than the average brain operation, which is nice, and looks less like a badly-made menu system and more like an actual tablet device, though I don’t know why they bothered putting in archaic minigames inside it. If I pay fifty quid for a cutting-edge title, and it immediately asks me if I want to play Donkey Kong, I’m going to politely decline, thank you.

There’s not a lot to be said about the combat, mostly because we didn’t see it much. There was one boring conflict with the most standard enemies and weapons you can get, and then there was just a highlight reel featuring a lot of flash and no substance. Why not show us a low-level fight and a high-level one, so that we can compare the two? By the time I could work out what I was seeing, it had already flicked to the next bit. I hope there weren’t any epileptics in that audience, they’d be in more trouble than the molerats.


Look out! That molerat’s wearing a high-visibility jacket!

Fallout 4 still looks good and whilst the graphics are still letting it down, the actual visual design continues to be superb, capturing the atmosphere and sense of history well. But I’m worried the game is spreading itself too thin, because we really didn’t see much, even though it was trying to show us everything. One fight, a sped-up crafting demonstration, and all the less interesting bits of the plot, and to top it off, the presentation still had to be padded with the dull-looking app and the Collector’s stuff. Look, Bethesda, why don’t you show me what this game is actually like before you try to convince me to buy the version that costs over a hundred bucks?

I’m inherently suspicious of gaming promotion and E3 in particular, but there’s almost nothing to be suspicious of here. If the game isn’t finished, then say so, but this was just weird. It spent so long bouncing between unconnected threads that we didn’t focus on any one thing long enough to understand it. I hope that wasn’t intentional, but like I said, E3 makes me very wary.

You know what I wanted to see? Half an hour of the best gameplay it has to offer, uninterrupted, unedited and live. Fallout 4 seems to be interesting, and it’ll probably be really good, but nothing makes me nervous like the feeling I’m being manipulated, and this presentation gave me that feeling quite badly. It didn’t help that after watching it and feeling kind of average about the whole thing, I was greeted online by an unnervingly rabid fanbase, who’d either been watching a different presentation to me or had all been smoking weed in preparation. It was like stumbling through the doors of some weird cult and suddenly wishing you could leave as fast as possible.

Anyway, what’s next? Battleborn? Yeah, let’s do this.


Yes, we’re back, and yes, I know that Game Of Thrones has already had video game adaptations, though I should point out I haven’t played them yet. Telltale’s approach to the series is in my Steam wishlist, but I haven’t gotten round to buying it.

Anyway, last time we focused on what games would translate well to our TV screens. I voiced an opinion, everybody in the universe agreed with it, badabing badaboom. High scores all round, especially to me.

But this time we’re looking at what TV can bring to games, and whilst HBO’s softcore-porn-and-hardcore-violence series has been a huge success, it seems it hasn’t quite brought its A-game when it comes to the world of interactive media. The best translation is apparently the Telltale one, and even then it’s considered one of their weaker titles, at least in comparison to gems like The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderlands.

But it seems to me that they’re all going the wrong way about it, because the key to Game Of Thrones has always been the enormous scale of Westeros. The decisions of an elite few shape the destinies of many, so why not reflect that? Get that right, add in some nude shots and throat-slitting, and you’re golden.

The duo

Of course, some Kings you could let die, to gain morale instead of losing it.

The idea I’ve been tossing around is a sort of hybrid of Sid Meier’s Civilisation V, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Star Wars: Battlefront, with a bit of Shadow Of Mordor thrown into the mix. As you’ve probably guessed from this crazy cocktail, this might get a little complicated, so bear with me. Then again, if you’re a fan of the show, you can probably deal with complexity.

Firstly, you pick a house, and I don’t mean a nice two-bedroom semi-detached with a garden. No, you pick one of the seven houses to be a member of. Targaryen, Stark, Tyrell and so on. Each one will give you different perks accordingly, such as a bigger budget for the Lannisters or uglier soldiers for the Ironborn, that sort of thing. You could even pick the The Night’s Watch to fight against White Walkers, which would be fun.

Then you get your base somewhere in Westeros, like Winterfell or King’s Landing. You spend money and resources on certain aspects like technology or expanding your lands. Perhaps you fill your halls with food to prepare for an enemy siege or the threat of winter.

Then we have war! No, I don’t care why or who with. It could be one of the wars mentioned in the show, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember that George R.R. Martin’s massive world has some history behind it, so we could always play something from its past, or just take a little creative liberty.

So what then? Well, you play the game like a general for a bit, moving your armies around to prevent the enemy getting close to your base, protecting your resources and making tactical decisions. You spend money when you have to, take it back when you can, maybe run the risk of being indebted to Littlefinger, who will have demands in return.

And what happens when armies clash? Well, you drop down to join them. You take control of a commander in real time, fighting your way across the contested land and moving soldiers to strategic points, but still getting stuck in and slashing your way across the battlefield if you have to, which is where Battlefront and Shadow Of Mordor come into it. If you die, you take control of another commander, but your army loses morale. It might not even be a battle – you could demand the assassination of a target, only to play as the assassin. And if he fails, it’s permadeath, and your next attempt becomes that much harder when security is bolstered. Of course, you could always just bang the local red priestess and get things sorted that way.


Think about it. Talion’s already got the job of standing on a big wall to keep out all the uglies from proper society. Swap out the bear cloak for a big black feathery thing, and the boring elf ghost for Ghost the dire wolf, and we’re ready to roll.

I guess I want to make combat a living, breathing thing. It’s always annoyed me how in otherwise superb games like Civilisation 5 that a whole battle – its strategy, its ideals, its people, its equipment – are all just boiled down to a vague percentage and a yes/no option. It just seems a bit lazy, a bit unworthy of the concept. What if I win, but I’ve committed soul-destroying horrors to do so? What if I lose, but the death of my men motivates other powers to get involved in some way? I don’t want it reduced to just statistics. It would make it too distant, and of course, we want to see the fight itself. We’ve earned that much.

Speaking of other powers, I definitely think that contracts and secret deals should play a big part of this game. Game Of Thrones is nothing without its nasty political backstabbing and two-faced advisers. We touched on Littlefinger (ew) and the idea of going becoming financially indebted to him with some rather worrying consequences. That should be part of a major aspect to the game, in which you can talk to many influential figures across the land and try to make decisions that benefit you. Well, I’d like to borrow some livestock, so how about a payment of ten grand a month for a year? Oh, you want my armies, do you? Well, how attached are you to that daughter of yours? I’ve seen her giving me the eye, and I think we can come to some sort of arrangement.

Ahem. Moving on.


We may have to rethink the “child murder” policy, my Lord. It’s starting to affect your standing in the polls.

The endgame should of course be victory in war, but there should be multiple ways of doing that. Either a straight battle, in which you march to the enemy’s king and lop his head off; or perhaps a battle of the minds in which you destroy the morale of his kingdom. Cut him off, quarantine his lands, prevent any trading with the outside world and watch them starve. Then it’s only a matter of time before the civilians and soldiers surrender and bring the monarch to you. It’s evil, but when did that stop a Game Of Thrones ruler?

I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of this one. I like proper combat like in Shadow Of Mordor, and I like tactical stuff, but the two rarely work when they’re mixed into one. But what we’d have here is one influencing the other. Imagine that you move your army on the map to go against another military force, and the reports say that this should be an easy win. But when you get there you screw up on placing your soldiers, you have eight commanders killed and everybody gives up and goes home. The battle is lost, and suddenly you have to deal with the result.

Actions influencing decisions, decisions influencing actions. Round and round it goes. It would be complex, but intuitive, like Civ V. You can work it out as you go, because it all makes sense. Yes, stockpile food when you can afford to. Yes, put the archers on that high point. No, I don’t want to swap a dragon for that quilt your mother made.

And of course, never, ever go to any weddings. It’s just not worth the risk.


You know how I like to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon? Well, sometimes I like to lie on the sofa with a bar of chocolate and a good book. Other times I like to go for a walk, which reminds me of how much I hate the countryside and the outside world, at which point I go home and head straight for the sofa again, Cadbury bar at the ready. But mostly I think I like leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper, picking up lorries with my bare hands and shooting lasers out of my palms, all done through the power of spandex and suspended disbelief.

Everybody has their own way of relaxing.

I really like the superhero sandbox genre, because if you’re lucky they’ll be some fascinating new take on the whole thing. Running, driving, shooting, occasionally climbing, there are a billion games that offer those kinds of activities, and it’s very rarely new or original.

But playing as a super-powered ponce in tights usually means that driving around in a car is the choice for noobs, when you can always just bounce up into the ozone layer with a single push of your radioactive thighs, and drop down to make a crater in your chosen location. Why use a gun, when you could charge straight at your foe, deflecting his machine-gun fire with your nose, and headbutt him into the next postcode? Why pick a lock, when you could bash it down with single flex of your unrealistic pectoral muscles?

But there’s some things I wish I saw more of in superhero games, things that always seemed like obvious choices to me, points that they so often miss, and we’re going to start with a particular bugbear of mine: what’s the obsession with gliding?

Don’t get me wrong, I guess gliding is vaguely cool, but it always seems so agonisingly close to the more exciting option, that of unrestricted flight. The very few games that allow the player to fly are always really kick-ass, but so many others get all coy when the option is brought up. All the big super-sandboxes contain gliding, yet there would have been nothing wrong with letting us take to the skies that I can see. Let me show you what I mean.

Prototype contained gliding, when there was nothing in the map that would have been ruined by flight. Crackdown 2 opted for gliding, yet another mistake it could add to its roster. Saint’s Row 4, intended to be one of the craziest games in world, only allowed true flying with the “Gat Out Of Hell” stand-alone expansion release, and even then it had to be within the designated areas. And sure, I guess it wouldn’t have made sense for Batman to get that upgrade to his cape in Arkham City, but why not let us get in that fighter jet he has and zoom around in there?


Gliding! It’s like falling, but less interesting.

I think there’s something irritating about gliding, because of the fact that it means you constantly fall short of your destination and break all flow of movement. You know what I mean. Leaping from the Empire State Building to the next skyscraper along is awesome, and even if you miss, you land with a crash and can just bounce back up with the next jump. But if you throw yourself towards it and start to glide, it’s slow and painstaking, breaking any sense of flow, and of course, you’re constantly uncertain if you’ll actually make it there, which makes it all the more infuriating on the times where you don’t.

On the regular occasions where you do fall short of the rooftop, you end up scraping your head against the side of the brickwork for a bit, as you slowly and embarrassingly float down like a discarded piece of paper, cursing the harsh mistress that is gravity and wishing that stupid kid could’ve gotten his own balloon back. What an inspiration to the city you are, masked hero. And now your secret identity is safe even without the mask, because you left most of your face peeled off against the east wall of the Chrysler Building.

OK, it doesn’t have to be flying that you swap it out for, but there’s enough games where you can pretend to be a disinterested kite that I think gliding is something we’re saturated on now. Why not think of something new? 2004’s Spider-Man 2, one of my favourite comic-book games of all time and the first truly brilliant super-sandbox, treated the webslinging as something dynamic, and it really was. It was something you actually had to work at, timing your swings and measuring angles to maintain the fastest speed possible, making it very organic and fun, treating it less like a method of travel and more like an extreme sport.

So movement needs to be as engaging as possible. Don’t just give us sprinter’s legs and a hang-glider before you call it a day, go for something a bit more. But what about combat?

SP 2

Look, I’m sorry you’re getting mugged in an alleyway, but I’m having too much fun!

To my mind, the name of the game here is power fantasy. Fine, sometimes it’s going to be smart to throw something of equivalent strength at the player, such as a giant monster or another berk with superpowers. But individual human enemies should be as easy to take down as a drunk Essex girl in a nightclub, and I can tell you why.

Combat is often at its most fun when we’re fighting vast waves of highly inferior foes, knocking them down until they have a new appreciation for tenpins in a bowling alley. The numbers make up the difference in strength, and of course, no matter how it goes you’re still going to look like a badass, because even if you lose, you’ve downed forty people armed with assault rifles along the way. One of my favourite sequences in Arkham City has you fight infinitely spawning enemies, but they’re all as substantial as water balloons and go down in a single hit. Now that was fun.

But if you drop next to a mugger with an uzi and barely have time to say “What’s all this, then?” before he turns around and reduces you to Swiss cheese, then you’re going to feel a bit ineffectual. Even if you win the game at that power level, the inevitable city-sized boss fight at the end is going to seem a bit silly, when you know deep down that Smackhead-Joe and his brakka-brakka toy could have sorted it out just as well. So keep the player powerful, or at least the most frequently powerful figure with the exception of big bosses. It makes it nice and cathartic.

And finally? Well, I’d quite like to see some cool new powers. That’s a stretch, I know, I don’t think there are many good ones left, certainly not many original ones. It’s a good thing that abilities aren’t copyrighted by superheroes as they’re acquired, or else things could get problematic. “Well Timmy, you were the perfect distance from that lab explosion to gain superpowers, but I’m afraid that the legal team have advised against the standard stuff like flight, strength and laser eyes, so that just leaves you with the ability to turn your bones into jam.”

Actually, whilst it might be a little tricky to think of new abilities at this point, I still think it can be done. Even reskinning the old stuff goes a long way to giving a new sort of feel to a game, just by how it looks and how it affects enemies.

Say if you’re making a water-themed character, why not tweak the dodge function, so instead of him just rolling to one side like everybody else, it has him turn into water, so an attack passes harmlessly through him? That sort of thing can make a big difference. And swapping out generic energy blasts and fireballs for something else more memorable, like a cheese grater beam or a gun that shoots tigers, is the equivalent of a funky signature at the end of a letter. It might not be enough to truly change our opinion of the content, but we will appreciate the individuality of the experience. And superhero games at their best have always been individual, a new experience that really stands out when swinging swords or using firearms inevitably becomes tiring or mundane.

Basically, that’s the lifeblood of a super-sandbox. Originality. Excitement. Something to throw away all preconceptions and focus on the good time you’re about to have, as you take to the skyline and discover that you want powers that you had never even thought of before.

Think about it – who wouldn’t want to play a game where you’re bitten by a radioactive cactus, or exposed to the energy derived from a basket of beach towels? Everybody would be craning their necks to see what was happening. And I’m not saying that I’m planning a game in which you get the proportionate strength and speed of a Kookaburra. Or a game in which you realise that your power to vomit missiles comes from the fact that your father was a Harrier jet. I’m not confirming that at all. But I bet you want to play them. That’s the true power of the innovative super-sandbox, people want the experience, they want to feel super-human.

On an unrelated note, can anybody help me make a Kickstarter account?


You know, I’ve heard it said that good things come to those that wait. It’s one of those stock-phrases that people say when they’ve exhausted all statements with any meaning or logic, like “Every cloud has a silver lining” and “You never know, the doctor might be wrong, you could live another ten years.”

The fact of the matter is that all this waiting business is a provably untrue saying, because if that were the case I’d have gotten a lot of things I really wanted, purely by the merit of having sat around expecting them for absolutely ages. Power, wealth, women, and of course Bloodborne coming out on anything that’s not the PS4. God damn you Sony, you son of a bitch.

Let me be very clear here: I don’t own any of the next-gen consoles. Neither the Xbox One, the PS4 or the Wii U will ever make it into my home whilst I still live breathe. If I wanted to lose cash that fast I’d just go to a comic shop, or move into a district with a steak restaurant. So before you all tell me just to buy the sodding console, I’ll tell you that I have something better, and it’s called a PC. How do I know it’s better? Well, for one thing, the next-gen consoles are all trying to bridge the gap between themselves and PCs, so not only am I right, the consoles themselves agree with me.


I’m sorry, little ones. We’re not going to be on Steam in the foreseeable future.

But it’s bloody (ha ha) annoying, because I really want to play Bloodborne. Really, really want to play it. I love Dark Souls, as is well-documented at this point, and Bloodborne seems to be Dark Souls with guns and highwaymen’s coats. Sign me up, please.

A lot of people seem to be hoping that Bloodborne will be released on the PC later, because it seems to be well-suited to it and all the other Souls games have made the transition. And whilst I’d absolutely love it if the game was ported over, I really doubt it will be. I mean, it’s not impossible… Just depressingly implausible.

You see, I know there was a petition done online to ask for a port, and whilst I’m all in favour of that, it was aimed at the wrong people. Almost 50,000 signatures went straight to developers From Software, shrieking inanely for a computer version, but they’re not in control. It’s the publishers who need to be pleaded to, but there won’t be any luck there, because the publishers are Sony themselves.

Yes, Sony, who own the PS4 and would rather die than let a rival competitor get one single sale from a product that they had a hand in. Do you really think From Software care that much about the Playstation? Of course they don’t. They just make games, it wouldn’t have mattered to them whether it was for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Cthuhlu or whoever, as long as they can sell their game, they’re happy. Fair enough.

But Sony have a lot invested in keeping ol’ Bloodborne on the Playstation. Ever since their failed investment in The Order: 1886, Sony have been looking for that perfect PS4 exclusive to really cement some sales. They have Uncharted 4, yes, but that’s not out yet, and only one person bought Knack, because he thought it was the album with “My Sharona” on it.

But Bloodborne is kicking ass when it comes to sales, having moved over a million units already, more than Sony expected. It’s a critical success and it’s also visually striking, making it an effective poster boy for the PS4.


I believe this is a fair summary of how PC gamers think From Software has treated them.

So why would Sony give permission to lend it to other platforms? Well, they wouldn’t. At least, not any time soon. Maybe when the sales die down it will consider selling the rights to the PC, but that won’t be for at least a year when all the PS4 sales have been exhausted, and it’s possible by that point that there might not be a high-enough demand for it.

Sony have said themselves that there’s no plans to release it on the PC and I believe them, though of course they would say that either way. Even if they’re going to send it to Windows and Mac, they don’t want to mention it in case we feel the need to have a brain aneurysm and buy their shit product before they do.

So we can’t expect a PC-friendly Bloodborne soon, and probably shouldn’t at all, much to my sorrow. But since the Steam Summer Sale is up now, I feel happy enough that I can deal with that. This War Of Mine? Yes, please. Hotline Miami? Oh, I’ll have one of those. Farming Simulator 2015? Erm… Maybe another time.