Thursday, 17 March 2016

Rob's Roundup - 2016 to Date

A bit of insight before I start: as a method of keeping on top of my backlog (which some might remember I've come up with methods for in the past here and here), I keep a list of things that I've completed during the calendar year. This doubles up as a method of tracking what I've done when it comes to the end of year writeups, and adds a competitive edge with my previous year's total. It's such a good method that I'm amazed it didn't make its way into my pieces.

Historically, I've only kept this list for my own use as a written list in my bedroom (Abandon hope all ye...etc.), but over Christmas and New Year I started to realise that I needed to improve it. So, to this year: The list has taken on a digital component, in the form of a spreadsheet, and I thought it might be cool to talk in brief on the things I experienced to some degree of completion during the last few months.

Let's do that then!

Gaming

Fallout 4 - Xbox One (Also out on PS4 and PC)

It sort of goes without saying that when you sink eighty hours into a role playing game, you probably quite like it. While the settlement missions got on my tits after a while, this is probably the first Fallout game of the modern series that really kept me engaged where the storyline is concerned. When it comes to Bethesda RPGs, I tend to spend time dicking around in lieu of the story, but in this case I found myself doing that far less often. A really strong entry in the series, and one that I'll probably revisit once I've cleared out a few more games.

Obviously, it also goes without saying that vaporising a giant mutated scorpion into a pile of red smoldering dust is always fun no matter how many games I play which contain it as a mechanic. Always.

Detective Grimoire - PC

I can only presume that the character of Detective Grimoire started his life in a Flash game on a website like Newgrounds. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, I mean purely that it has that sort of vibe. I played this game on Steam, and got the impression that it was the second game featuring the character as there were some minor references to characters appearing again.

Detective Grimoire is more in line with classic point-and-click adventure games, albeit with less of the batshit-crazy mindset of someone like a Tim Schafer or a Ron Gilbert. The puzzles have a much more simple solution than the 90s-era fare, but the game still has a decent sense of humour and stuff like that. For the price, particularly as it's prone to going into Steam sales, I'd definitely recommend it as a quick blast of fun (I finished it over a few lunch hours, to give you an idea).

The Stanley Parable - PC

Speaking of short but sweet experiences, I had a run through this game for the first time in January. I can only express my disappointment in myself at having left it so long, as this game is really charming. While there isn't a huge amount of puzzling, and the game could be seen as a "walking simulator" in the same vein as Dear Esther (not that there's anything wrong with these experiences, by any means - some of the visuals in Dear Esther are nothing short of stunning), the game is worth the price of admission simply for its clever premise and really amusing narration.

I was put in mind of Stephen Fry's dulcet tones during LittleBigPlanet while playing The Stanley Parable, as the narrator employs a similarly relaxed delivery to great effect. It's dry, accessible and affordable. A bit like silica gel, but tastier.

Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition - Xbox One (Also available on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U)

A game described by my E14 colleague Brad Harmer-Barnes as possessing the best name he'd seen for a video game in ages, Guacamelee is also bolstered by being a really enjoyable game with tons of character. The game has a lucha-libre and mariachi theme running throughout which comes through in everything from the art style to the music. Now, for all I know, a Mexican person might view this game as a slap in the face much like an Italian being asked when-a their Dolmio day is, but unfortunately I can't speak to that knowing no Mexican folk personally as I do (though I'm fairly sure any dealings I've had with them have been pleasant throughout my life). All I can do is tell you whether or not I enjoyed the game (I did, quite a bit) and leave it to you to evaluate your own cultural sensitivities.

I will say, however, that this game is pretty punishingly difficult towards the end and will frustrate the easily frustrated given the chance. If you can get past that, however, what you'll find is a really bloody fun game with a lot of 'corazón'.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - PS4 (Also available on Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Now, Call of Duty as a franchise has a certain reputation among a lot of gamers, in particular those of a certain console-loathing master race. However, my opinion on the subject does not synchronise with the popular (or at least vocal) consensus on this one. I find the Call of Duty games to be really good shooters, although admittedly I have not paid full price for one at any point since they went modern (maybe not even before that point). The reasoning is simple, and it's that I don't really do multiplayer competitively. Simply put, I am shit at it. The appeal of the games, therefore, is purely the campaign and occasionally the cooperative multiplayer elements (like Zombies and such), thus I feel justified in waiting for the price to drop on the games. If I could buy the campaign individually at a lower price, I would, but for now at least this does not seem to be workable.

Advanced Warfare is one of the best I've played in the series since the emphasis on more modern time periods began, and there are a ton of touches that elevate it above others in the series that I've enjoyed. The addition of more interesting technology like Smart and Threat grenades (the latter of which paint all hostiles with a more visible red hue allowing you to either aim at or outmanoeuvre them) allow for different styles of play, and the variety of guns along with the combination of different types of scopes make for some fun experimentation in the early part of the game and keep you constantly on the lookout for the gun you like except with the target enhancer or the reflex sight. Having played a small portion of the multiplayer, it's pretty standard fare for the series, but with the aforementioned additions making it enjoyable. All in all, if you can pick it up cheap then I'd definitely recommend it for the campaign alone. More games need Kevin Spacey.

Books and Comics

The Tales of Max Carrados - Ernest Bramah

I picked this one up as a freebie before Christmas, and had a chance to listen to it as an audiobook in the New Year once my commutes picked back up. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read (although "listen" would technically be more accurate, as it was an audiobook narrated by the aforementioned dulcet Stephen Fry). The character of Max Carrados is introduced in a similar way to someone like Sherlock Holmes, as a character who knows a ton about his chosen speciality and is all too keen to flex his intellectual muscles.

There's not a lot to say on the book really. It was quite short, which if you're maintaining a list like me is always nice as a quick win. It's to the point, with the minimum of fuss and a good pace, and it tells an interesting story. What more could you ask for? Stephen Fry? I just mentioned that he narrates it! There's nothing they haven't thought of!

World War III - Written by Keith Champagne/John Ostrander, with art by Pat Olliffe and Tom Derenick

I had never heard of this volume before I saw it reduced in a comics shop near my work, but the premise sounded interesting; how would the DC Universe cope without the Trinity? What would happen if, say, Black Adam suddenly went all sorts of mental and decided to just pummel his way through the rest of the superheroes? Well, if that's a question you've always wondered the answer to, then look no further than World War III!

The pacing in this book is frantic, with the action constantly moving at a tremendous velocity (much like the train I'm sat on as I write this). If, like me, you find faster-paced stuff a little harder to follow if you're tired or stressed or awake, then you might find this book hard going at first. However, I would say that it's worth a read. The heroes in it are tested constantly, and the story is sufficiently action-packed without leaving absolutely everything unexplained.

Movies

It's been a thin 2016 for movies thus far for me. Part of the problem was that I didn't take a cinema trip at all this year so far, and another was that I needed a lot of gaming time to de-stress as a few personal things (no problems, just important things) took their toll on my energy levels. Some watch movies in that situation, I play games. Different strokes for different folks, right?

Terminator Genisys - Alan Taylor

There's not much I can say about this movie, to be honest. It was...fine, I guess. They've gone a bit silly with the time travel timelines, but then the concept was always fraught with some issues. The performances from the cast are fine, with Arnie as usual providing the small smatterings of comedy throughout. What was cool was Emilia Clarke's performance as a Sarah Connor tired of being told how her future will play out, and trying her best to go against the flow. I liked that, it was a cool way of handling the soft reboot.

If I have one gripe with the movie, it's the handling of John Connor's story as a nanobot-infused Terminator. Now, that might feel inherently like a spoiler, but the reality is that it's not because it was in the trailer. *That* is the gripe I have. When 2015 brought us The Force Awakens and the masterful job they did of keeping almost all of the plot points a secret, it just goes to show that it is possible for movie makers to keep us in the dark about big movie plot points. The fact that they not only didn't keep it a secret, but threw it in the bloody trailer, is something that I will never quite understand.

TV and Anime

The Thick Of It - Armando Iannucci

I'm somewhat late to the party on this show. It passed me by initially, although a lot of the Peter Capaldi rants found their way into my ears through popular culture and my sister, who has always been somewhat of a fan. I can only express my bewilderment as to how it took me so long to discover this show; it's nothing short of superb, and January saw me churn through the second series all the way through to the end of the fourth.

What's great about it, in my opinion, is the way the characters are portrayed. You can easily feel sympathy for the characters and certain aspects of their lot in life, while also at the same time recognising their flaws. Chris Addison, for example, plays one of the most put-upon characters in the series in a lot of ways, and yet you can see ways in which he's a complete tosser. Now, I follow Chris Addison on Twitter, and have even been lucky enough to see him once or twice out and about in London. "Tosser" is not the vibe I get from him at all, and yet he pulls it off in the show in a way that is all the more impressive given my impressions of the man behind the character of Ollie.

I'd be willing to bet that Peter Capaldi is a lovely man in real life, as well. I have to speculate on that one, though.


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