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Editorials

Deus Ex – A Tale of Two Women

Deus Ex – A Tale of Two Women

Last week Ion Storm’s classic first-person RPG Deus Ex turned 20. The week before that I had written about the game for the first time, having played it through again over the winter, totally unaware of its imminent birthday. I don’t know why it took me just shy of two decades to write about given its enormous influence on my creative life (I first picked it up in…2002, by which time it had made its way into the Sold-Out Software range). It might be that I owe it something of a debt.

But so much has been written about Deus Ex over the years that I knew there was little value in going over the usual talking points. I decided instead to explore what it was like to be a part of this most immersive of games, with its rich, conspiracy-laden world. It meant venturing into the margins of its story, where a surprising amount of Deus Ex’s…let’s say purpose resides. And it meant talking about two characters that have always stuck with me and to whom I wished, in some small way, to tip my hat.

So, here it is. Happy birthday, Deus Ex. This was for you, in more ways than I knew.

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Our Life in Games – Chris

Our Life in Games – Chris

During the peak (or low?) of lockdown, you might have seen the Facebook trend for people to post images of their favourite films, albums or games without any words to go alongside. I was tagged in one with the focus on the games that have impacted upon me, note impacted, not just favourite. Rather than a wordless Facebook post, writing about ten(ish) most impactful games right here on The Reticule is the best way to highlight these games that have shaped my gaming life. While we’ve often talked about Our Years in Games, or even Our (Reticule) Decade in Games, I decided to take things back a step, and look at my life in games.

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The Witcher 3 – Five Years Old

The Witcher 3 – Five Years Old

A browse around any mainstream gaming website (sadly, there are rivals to The Reticule out there) over the past day or so would have revealed that we have passed the 10th anniversary of the release of Red Dead Redemption and that The Witcher 3 has turned five. And as I look through our archives, it saddens me that we have not covered this game as it deserves. Somehow we managed to deliver not one, but two Verdicts on its predecessor. Even then, I ended up writing about it myself as well. The third one though? Apart from a mass of pre-release coverage, the most we talked about The Witcher 3 was in Our Favourite Games of The Reticule Years.

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Now is the time for a Switch exclusive Assassin’s Creed

Now is the time for a Switch exclusive Assassin’s Creed

The news of Assassin’s Creed Valhallah coming this year is wonderful, it’s just a shame that it isn’t making its way to the Switch. Ubisoft should do the right thing and grace the Switch with an exclusive.

It is unlikely to happen, Ubisoft are all in on the next generation with Valhallah, and I certainly wouldn’t be expecting a port of that to make its way to Nintendo’s machine, even if the long rumoured upgraded version was ever to see the light. But Ubisoft have an established relationship with Nintendo, just look at the success of Mario and Rabbids and the special version of Starlink. They have also shown a willingness to engage with the platform as shown by the recent Remastered releases of Assassin’s Creed 3 and the Assassin’s Creed Rebel Collection.

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The Reticule Guide to Isolation Gaming

The Reticule Guide to Isolation Gaming

We all know that things out there in the real world are scary right now, and many of us are entering into social distancing and isolation. But, games are here to help you get through these tough times, and we here at The Reticule have no shame in offering some thoughts on the games to play in these troubled times.

Grand Strategy Fun

My first choice here would be Hearts of Day, but you can substitute it with any number of Paradox Interactive’s other grand strategy titles, they all offer similar thrills. Hell, if you are feeling bold you could start with Imperator: Rome, hit Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis (and maybe even Victoria) before finishing up with World War Two.

The hours you can while away with these are immense, but you don’t need to do it alone. They all offer some level of multiplayer action, and I had a very enjoyable campaign some years ago with friend of The Reticule and ex-Gaming Daily editor Craig Lager in Europa Universalis.

Find yourself a Discord server with some friends, and get stuck in. The intrigue of building alliances and waiting for a stab in the back will make or break your friendships…well, hopefully make them. The pace of the games also ensure that they are a good social space allowing for plenty of time for general chit chat amongst the empire building.

If the Paradox titles lack the fighting that you desire, the Total War games are quite an attractive alternative.

Football Manager

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I talked about the wonders of a long-term game in Football Manager 2020, but you can also take it online with some friends. Draft a squad of superstars and create a mini tournament to battle for managerial supremacy.

If you have family members indoors with you, then simply add another manager and take it in turns managing your team. Take charge of two teams in the National League and see who can take them all the way to the top. It’s a perfect game for multiple ways of play.

Twitch and eSports

I’m not one for Twitch, but Jon runs regular sessions on Escape from Tarkov while a friend who regularly plays retro classic Age of Empires 2 revealed that a recent tournament had 32,000 people watching. Twitch really is a great source of social community interaction, and with Half-Life Alyx coming out this week, many more will be signing in to experience Valve’s latest.

Even Formula 1, the most steeped in tradition of sports is going online with a virtual series to replace the real world action. Surely that will appeal to both gamers and F1 fans?

Battlefield 2

I’m going classic with this one, but you can replace this with the modern games or something like Call of Duty. But for me, BF2 is the one. While it requires some third party support these days, there are still plenty of servers active, and the squad play is like nothing else out there. Find five friends, grab a Discord server and take to the battle. Playing as a squad in this game is like nothing else out there, and it runs on old enough kit to pull your PC out of the loft and still get into the action.

The Sims

All by yourself and missing your friends, family and work colleagues? Build your own little community and embrace your nice…or not so nice side!

Switch Games

The Switch has a brilliant library of games, both first party and third party. If your TV is being taken over with some Netflix bingeing, then take your Switch out of its dock and dive into a deep RPG like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, or get the family involved in a Mario Party game.

The online setup on the Switch isn’t great, but great times can be had with a combination of face time and Mario Kart.

The New Releases

Doom and Animal Crossing have just come out. Rumour is they’re both a bit good.

Stay Safe!

All told, please…stay safe.

Half-Life: Alyx – Missing Out

Half-Life: Alyx – Missing Out

Way back when, Half-Life and Valve were the biggest topics doing the rounds. The hype for the release of Half-Life 2 was unprecedented in the PC landscape, with equally unprecedented levels of debate doing the rounds about the introduction of Steam as the delivery tool for Valve’s blockbuster.

Now, with Half-Life: Alyx just days away from release, I see news stories that pre-loading of Valve’s dive into VR has begun, and I wonder when a game last had pre-loading. Maybe I’m so complacent with fast fibre connections and a lack of time to spend playing new games on the day of release that I don’t keep track of pre-loading details, but hearing about the pre-loading for Alyx sparks a memory of the good old days.

It also reminds me of how Valve fumbled the ball with the franchise. The idea of episodic game releases came and went in the blink of an eye, yet the ending of Episode 2 sticks in the mind as the mother of all cliffhangers, especially for someone who started their games writing life on a Half-Life fansite in halflife2.net.

Valve were for a time the masters of storytelling when it came to first-person action games. I’d argue Arkane took that title and ran with it with the Dishonored series, but Valve were breaking new ground with Half-Life 2. Fellow ex-writer at halflife2.net, and now one half of the writing team behind A Place in the West, Ross Joseph Gardner penned a great piece on the storytelling innovations seen in Half-Life 2 and its episodes.

I would love to allow myself to become invested in the hype for Alyx, I yearn to be taken back into the world of Gordon, Alyx and the G-Man. But…Alyx is a VR game, and one exclusive to a subset of PC headsets. It might be the game which pushes VR towards the mainstream, but the capital investment required to have the requisite hardware will push Alyx beyond many, not to mention the motion sickness worries that put people off VR will likely limit the impact Alyx will have on the broader gaming world.

I don’t doubt that many people will watch others venture through Valve’s new adventure through streamers or lengthy Let’s Play videos which will do a lot to share the experience widely.

But, will that replicate the wonder of the tram sequence from the first game, or your first interaction with a Combine soldier? I don’t know how others will feel, but I would want to experience that moment myself.

I’m going to be missing out on a series that I once held in highest regard. I wish Valve would release a non-VR port of Alyx, but there is also a large part of me which is exceedingly happy that Valve are actually returning to the Half-Life world.

For those lucky enough to be in a position where you will be able to play Alyx, please savour the experience and feel the excitement of pre-loading and waiting for the hour of release.

Late to the Arthur Morgan story

Late to the Arthur Morgan story

Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that I received for my birthday last year, but one that I’ve only just started to get into properly. It’s a game that many seem to love, but what took me so long?

When I first tried to get a flavour of the tale that Arthur Morgan spins, my venerable PlayStation 4 (no Pro here) was hooked up to a run of the mill 32” TV. Things looked fine, but it certainly wasn’t the visual tour de force that I had read so much about.

I’m not too stuck up when it comes to visuals, but the early moments were a let-down. Was that due to the setting of the opening to the game? Stranded in the snowy north and trudging through waist high snow drifts all made for a slow and particularly monotonous start visually. Combining this with an awkward control system and a screen that failed to show the game off in its best light, my attention was soon grabbed by the stupendous Resident Evil 2.

Campfires, a moment to sit back and take it all in.

Returning to present day, a flick through my pile of shame revealed that Red Dead was still sat there, unloved for nearly a year. With a 50” 4K TV acquired in the meantime, I decided that a second attempt at walking in Arthur Morgan’s shoes was required.

Again, I found my first hour or so back with the game was tortuously slow. Apart from one fine assault on an O’Driscoll camp, there was simply so much snow to wade through. Even my introduction to hunting was a let-down, the deer wisely running away despite barely a noise being made save for the soft crunch of snow under feet.

While things started to pick up steam upon arrival at the camp near Valentine, it was another couple of hours until I felt like the training wheels were taken off and I was able to get out into the wild and really enjoy what the game had to offer.

Even when the game does start to let you of the leash, inventory management is still a pain, while I have no earthly idea what the difference is between health cores and health bars. A tonic doesn’t seem to keep me alive, but some crackers will? A bit less time spent on animating horse testicles and on general usability could have gone a long way.

Doing my best to recapture that infamous Witcher pose.

I know I’ve been quite negative, but undoubtedly there is such joy to riding around in this world and soaking up the atmosphere. I was a massive fan of Deadwood, and the aesthetic of Westworld is up there among the very best in all of entertainment which makes me wonder why I couldn’t get stuck into the original game. Did that too suffer from the same problems of a slow start and poorly communicate controls and basic survival.

Perhaps what I appreciate most about the open world of Red Dead 2 is the laid-back nature of it all, even when you are being guided step by step in the beginning, you never feel rushed.

A look at your map might reveal a couple of mission markers, but there is never an overwhelming feeling that you are being constantly harried with quests, locations that you must visit or collectibles to find. It perhaps shows the difference between open world games that are happy to take you on a narrative journey, and those open world games where any and every RPG element the developers can think of gets shoehorned in.

Rainbows, everyone loves them.

The nature of the missions is a joy. An early trip into Valentine with a camp member led to drunken frivolity, a journey north to hunt a legendary bear was a chance to soak up the wisdom of a peer….and of course some of the robberies and assaults on hangouts stand out as best in class cinematic action experiences.

I don’t think Red Dead 2 is perfect, and it’s safe to say that I won’t be bothering to explore the online aspect. Trotting my own version of Roach around the plains and forests, an occasional spot of hunting all punctuated by brilliant missions suits me fine.

Yes, I’m late to the party with Rockstar’s latest, but I’m happy that I stuck with it and can start to fully appreciate what it has to offer.

 

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

It was great fun. That’s it, no introduction needed. I’m going straight for the jugular on this one! Despite previously being somewhat of a skeptic on anything VR related, I also believe in a lot of cases it’s hard to have a stong opinion on something without first having an experience with that something. And so I had my first experience of virtual reality with my Oculus headset awkwardly strapped to my face and my touch controllers waving around clumsily as I entered the VR world of SUPERHOT.

I loved the original SUPERHOT on PC and soon became accustomed to the feel of my two motion controllers and headset within the game itself. I did almost lose my balance a couple of times early on but familiarized myself with the movements the game demanded of me with my previous experience with the PC version. With a game like SUPERHOT VR there certainly is a lot of movement involved. Every level is essentially a combination of dodging bullets, disarming enemies, shooting at unusual angles, picking up throwables from the ground, shelves and desks, punching enemies, dodging their attacks and so on. It definitely qualifies as light exercice and while I loved my time in the with the game, this is not the experience I look for in every day gaming.

The way I like to think of my enjoyment of this particular VR game is that it reminds me of going to the arcades as a kid. The enjoyment of having lots of small experiences that are super fun for short bursts before you move onto the next thing. And so I found myself after twenty or so minutes of SUPERHOT VR wanting to move onto something else. I ended up playing four or five different games in total but returned to SUPERHOT once more before I ended my session because I enjoyed it the most.

The immersion factor was much higher as is expected for the VR version of the game. It gave me a new appreciation of just how to take out each enemy and in what order, although aiming felt very different. Those moments you get in SUPERHOT PC where you pull of a really cool move felt even better in VR and things like flicking bullets out the air with your weapon, catching enemy knives and guns and swordplay were the highlight of my playtime. I would definitely be up for experiencing more SUPERHOT VR and VR in general in the future but I am yet to be convinced that this would ever replace my normal gaming set up.

Battlefield V – Back to the Front

Battlefield V – Back to the Front

Disposable Heroes is one of those thumping anthems from Metallica’s Master of Puppets album, a song like many from the Heavy Metal giants that deals with death, war and destruction. There are two lines from the chorus of Disposable Heroes that ring in my ears when I dipped back into Battlefield V recently:

Back to the front
You will do what I say, when I say

For all of the improvements to the action since I pondered the open beta last year, this is still a game which tries valiantly to focus its attentions on squad play and teamwork, but which falls flat when playing on a public server with randomers.

Playing as a squad was the key to success in Battlefield 2, (the naming conventions of this series are worthy of an article all by itself). A commander oversaw the big picture of the battle, sent orders down to squad leaders and, as long as you weren’t playing on Strike at Karkand, people tended to follow orders and work together.

It was a game that didn’t need a dedicated 5v5 quasi-competitive mode (which has now been canned) as in private clan matches (-=256=-, represent!) things were simple enough to get into a 16v16 game with vehicles and squads galore, or lock things down into an infantry only mode with smaller numbers.

Modern online gaming is all about instant gratification. Whether that’s through rewards and new gizmos dropping like flies (and Battlefield V is more composed that Battlfield 3 and 4), or more pertinently the matchmaking that gets you into a battle straight away.

It’s great that from a click of a button on the main menu that you can get into a battle which will be somewhat tailored towards the current Tides of War chapter that is providing a through link for the regular live updates that are being deployed to Battlefield V. But by dropping you into a random fight, with everyone chasing their own personal daily, weekly and Tides of War objectives, you just don’t the same teamplay that I made me fall in love with this series in the first place.

Case in point, I joined the start of a conquest (still the classic game mode) battle on the new Greek map, Mercury. Based on the British led invasion of Crete in 1941, this is a stunning, sun-kissed map that arrived as part of Chapter 3 – Trial by Fire. I would love to explore this in a singleplayer mission, and that’s how it ended up feeling when I played it as a squad leader.

Without knowing the map layout, I made an immediate move towards the Marina capture point. With the sea sealing off one potential flanking move, and hill to launch the attack from, I made a sharp move to the flag to start capturing it. Before advancing, I’d ordered my squad to attack the flag and was foolishly expecting them to join my move.

They didn’t. Two of my squad mates sat on the hill overlooking the flag, sniping away, while the third was in another corner of the map entirely. Left to try and capture the flag by myself, I was soon overwhelmed by an enemy squad who were moving together as a cohesive unit.

A frustrating moment for sure, and I experienced similar problems over the rest of my time with the game. I think people need to listen to some Metallica to learn what war is about, and how to follow squad leader orders.

My gripes aren’t anything new. This is how the series, and most online gaming, has been for years when you don’t play with a dedicated group of friends. Buddying up with randomers just doesn’t happen as much anymore.

Despite this, the game seems to have come a long way since I played that open beta last year. Combat feels more balanced, the new maps add a new dynamic to proceedings and the Tides of War seems well set to provide people will regular targets to work towards.

Future updates will see more maps, and probably additional gamemodes that will just add to confusion, along with the welcome inclusion of the Pacific Theatre. Fighting on some of the tropical islands will be quite something in what is a stunning game.

Back to the front? For now, but we’ll see whether Destiny 2‘s rebirth takes me away.