Out with the old…

2016-17 has seen an increasing number of ‘retro’ boxes released or announced; Atari’s mysterious machine, NES/SNES Classic and SEGA’s new Megadrive/Genesis. What this draws attention to – among other things – is how far the industry has travelled in a relatively short space of time. With this thought in mind, it has become apparent that much of our lexicon has become outdated. Similar to plastic guitar periphals, motion controls and Bubsy the Bobcat, certain words and phrases used everyday in gaming forums (literal and figurative) are archaic and in need of updating. 

Adventure – Once confined to 90’s PCs, ‘adventure’ games (inclusive of point and click) have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Grim Fandango along with several other Lucasarts titles have been pointed, clicked and dragged into the 21st Century. Obtuse gameplay with one linear yet baffling pathway usually defined these games – requiring the player to put together the random assortment of paraphernalia to trigger the next part of the adventure in question. The term ‘adventure’ encompasses more than these though. The spiritual successor to these games are surely the Telltale Games series which apes the point and click mechanic albeit with more choice over the story elements. Perhaps these games are more greatly defined by their slow-burning, intricate stories and the term ‘adventure’ is in lieu of saying so. Yet the label ‘adventure’ is not always indicative of this as exemplified by Sonic Adventure (cheap shot I know – love it really!). So what is an adventure game? What should we call games like Discworld, Minecraft Story Mode or Life is Strange? ‘Walking simulator’ doesn’t seem to cut it…

Arcade – This is a place we went to in our youths to pay money to play games. It is not – I repeat, not – a genre. A common tag line of certain games is it boasts ‘arcade’ style gameplay. Highly doubtful as the last game I played like this – Fast Racing RMX – didn’t create the urge to ram 50p into my Switch or make a rude username to appear in the lap time records. Perhaps this though is the spirit of the term: chasing high scores. Playing through bite size chunks of gameplay and repeating until one refined the experience. Should then, the term be ‘high-score-a-thon’? ‘Arcade’ covers too much to encompass all it consumes at present; racing, fighters, sports…the list goes on. 

dlc – The worst offender on the list. I’m not going to talk about horse armour but just think how silly this sounds. My PS4, Xbox One and Switch are crammed with fully fledged retail games which were downloaded. Fallout 4, Destiny and Mario Kart 8 all sit shackled to my consoles yet free from the constraints of physical media – safe in the knowledge they can never be traded in. They are all downloaded content. So why is an expansion referred to as ‘dlc’? Why have we not got a more elegant name for a term which – in addition – has got some quite negative connotations? Then there’s cloud based games like PlayStation Now which has games advertised with ‘all dlc included’ yet you never download the game or the additional material. Think about it. 

Indie – Taking root in the now defunct Xbox Live Arcade era and blossoming through last gen and now, smaller games (or downloadable content…) seem to be tagged with the term ‘indie’. This happens in music too. ‘Indie’ is an abbreviation of ‘independent’ meaning the band – or game – is being created sans a record label or publisher. An accurate example of an ‘indie’ game would be Thomas was Alone or Super Meat Boy. However, larger studios have got in on the act challenging the notion that all games must be £45 upon entry. These include Child of Light or Journey. They are not independent, rather the opposite. What they have in common with many ‘indies’ is the smaller game size. 

Platformer – Sonic and Mario are different. You can almost see the design meeting SEGA had when establishing their mascot. Sonic is fast and Mario is slow in comparison. Mario is red with blue clothes so Sonic is blue with red clothes (sneakers). Mario is the anti-hero, the everyman thrust into danger to save the girl, whereas Sonic is bold with an attitude. It doesn’t matter who or what he’s saving he just does it – like a Nike advert. In fact, the original Sonic 1 instruction booklet translated the back story incorrectly. Japanese players thought the Green Hill Zone took place on Earth yet in the West we believed it to be the fictional world of Mobius. I digress. The thing they have in common, is jumping on platforms. Fast forward twenty years though and the worlds – whatever they are – they inhabit are hard pushed to be described as ‘platformers’. A term which has been coined to describe the 3D iterations of these games has been ‘collect-a-thon’. In Super Mario 64 you had to collect the stars to restore power to the castle which unlocked more doors so you could unlock more stars to find more doors which led to Bowser. In Banjo-Kazooie you found Jiggies which were the missing pieces in paintings which when complete allowed you to enter said world and find more Jiggies in order to…you get the idea. In 3D Sonic games you collect Sonic Emblems just because. Anyway, the platforming elements of these games have fallen by the wayside – especially in 3D Sonic which would be better classified as ‘rollercoaster’. 2D platformer sits fine but what do we call the 3D ones: adventure games? 

RPG – ‘Role Playing Game’ encompasses everything. When I picked up a Pong paddle, I was playing a role. When I play Virtua Tennis, I’m playing a role. To be more specific, the ‘role playing’ part is generally attributed to the development of skills and powers throughout the game. This is why many games are described as having ‘RPG elements’; open world stealth with RPG elements or sports simulation with RPG elements. So what then is an RPG if most games these days could be classified as having features of them? Skyrim: Elf simulation with RPG elements? The term has transitioned from a genre to a mechanic. What is it which defines a game with RPG mechanics – like Darksiders 2 – from a RPG like Final Fantasy 15? What is Zelda: Breath of the Wild? 
Which games-related terms would you like to see changed? What will we be describing, classifying and labelling games in 10 years time? Who decides them? Who watches the deciders? 

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Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Goty Edition

Version reviewed: PS4

Recently discounted on all formats, with a stay of execution as the sequel has been delayed, this 2014 open world adventure is worth another look.

The premise of this game is work your way up through Sauron’s army to avenge the death of your (a ranger called Talion) family. It is like someone put the film Gladiator in with a Lord of the Rings box set in a blender. Before emptying the mushed up contents though, the designers Monolith threw Rocksteady’s Arkham series in too. The combat of this game, as well as controls and traversal, are straight out of Gotham City. As mentioned in this month’s pennilessdads podcast, the game has some loose links with the films but the strength of the game is not the iconic setting of Middle Earth.

Heavily borrowed fighting mechanics aside, by far and large the most fun is taking out the various levels of Sauron’s minions. Defeating a war chief leaves room at the top for an underling to take his place. Later in the game, you gain the ability to brainwash key members of the forces of Mordor and build your own army. Bugging out from a fight to quickly heal then return and finish off your foe is extremely satisfying and reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 5 which was released a year later.

It would be easy to recommend this package for Tolkien-ites however this is a game which should be compelling for most audiences. This does not include children however. Strong language as well as violent moments – much more adult than either of Peter Jackson’s trilogies – mean this is one for mature players. 

Despite the open world setting, the variety of gameplay missions (stealth, elf-shot bow challenges, brawl arenas etc etc) keeps you occupied between warchiefs. The main story never outstays its welcome and paced nicely. If you want to sink 40+ hours into it you can or you can simply whizz through the story missions. Again, the lore of Lord of the Rings is present yet – like Arkham – the licence enhances the excellent gameplay rather than becomes the main focus. For £11.99 on PSN recently this is essential! 

Destined?

I’m going to buy Destiny 2. There are some games that I always want on my HDD ready to jump into. That’s Destiny. I’m going to buy it digitally – at full price. Not many games can demand that decisiveness of purchase. My modest gaming budget for September into October is going to Bungie. Judging by how many hours I spent on the original, it will be a wise investment. 

Last week, the first Destiny 2 gameplay was revealed. This footage wasn’t for me; this trailer would be to get new players in. My mind was made up already. What could they possibly show me? Then I watched it. The familiar sight of the Tower being decimated – loot and all – wipes the slate clean for new guardians to join the fight whilst at the same time drawing a line under Destiny 1 for existing players. The horrowing sight in the linking corridor to the Speaker’s area got me. This trailer was for me. The attention to detail of the robot I’d passed thousands of times (usually to find Xur, not the speaker) still sweeping diligently amid the chaos yanked on the memories of hundreds of hours of play. That’s Destiny. 

Before Destiny, games had hype and noise around them but I remember something being different about it. I had been very passive towards it in the build up. ‘Online’, ‘co-op’ and ‘shooter’ were not in my vocabulary. Although Halo had grabbed my attention briefly it had been more out of curiosity. September 2014 – I remember watching let’s plays of the game pre-release and something hooked me. It looked fun. I’d played Halo because I felt it was part of the rite of passage as an advocate of the medium but Destiny looked fun. I didn’t have any idea what I was watching until after I’d bought the game a few weeks after release. The footage was of a warlock sliding, shooting and – storming the moon. More and more footage was watched before I finally took the plunge. 

At this point in life, my first born was nearly one and although not as penniless as I am now (it really hits you after child number 2 FYI) time to play games was in decline. No longer could I get away with sneaky PS4 sessions whilst she slept on me. Now she could talk and wanted to do stuff. Destiny’s loop of short jump in, jump out missions, familiar strikes and I’ve-only-got-5-minutes-let’s-do-a-patrol fit my new lifestyle perfectly. It was comfort food. How many times did I – along with 2 other random guardians – take down Sepiks Prime? It was familiar, easy to slot into mid game – comfort food. Put any seasoned Destiny player into those original strikes and I guarantee they will know immediately what’s going on and what they need to do. That’s Destiny.

Destiny 1 and all it’s add ons sucked me back in twice again over the last 3 years. No other game has seen me return to it so often. My recent ‘lost weekend’ (read: month) with Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminded me of each time Destiny pulled me back, thrusting a rocket launcher into my hands. It will be interesting to see if Zelda: BotW has the longevity Destiny had. It never bothered me the complaints about the story or my robotic companion. Destiny is the best gun play in any game. Any FPS which doesn’t follow the control scheme or make that satisfying pop of sparks when you make a Fallen headshot seems wrong.

Hiding behind those boxes on Mars. Pegging it through the Dust palace. Bugging out as the last guardian standing. Geeking out over Firefly alumini voice actors. Sitting down when a mission’s complete. Having your phone next to you to figure out exactly how you get the things to make your things better. As Cade 6 told us in that first trailer, that’s all gone now…

I can’t wait to do it all over again. That’s Destiny.