Recalling Memories Retold

On rare occasions a game comes out of the blue that completely floors you. This is one such game.

I will start and finish this article using the same phrase: 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames.

On Monday 3rd September, my first official day as a games journalist, Mieke and I were lucky enough to get hands on with 11-11: Memories Retold at Bandai Namco HQ in London. I knew absolutely nothing about this game going in, and it completely blew me away.

Set during the First World War, 11-11 is a story of two individuals on opposite sides, each reluctantly thrust into war. Harry, a Canadian photographer voiced by Elijah Wood, and German zeppelin engineer Kurt, voiced by Sebastian Koch are drawn together as 11-11-18, when the Great War came to a close, approaches.

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Source: Bandai Namco

I’ve been gaming since the late eighties. A question that’s been on my mind of late is: “what makes a perfect game?” and 11-11 is a strong candidate to answer that question. Developed by Aardman Animations – of Wallace & Gromit fame – they truly understand the unique potential for storytelling that comes with an interactive medium.

Ultimately the reason I play games is immersive escapism. Being responsible for driving the narrative forward or, in some cases, actively shaping the narrative through gameplay-based decisions is where gaming trumps all other mediums. With books, movies or television the audience is merely a passive observer of events, but as gamers we become responsible for not just what is happening, but how it’s happening as well.

The ‘perfect’ game to me is one that understands that exclusive quality of the medium, where the focus on interactivity and immersion is first and foremost. 11-11 does this in a manner quite unlike any other. If you’ve ever wondered what an oil painting in motion looks like, then look no further.

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Source: Bandai Namco

At first, this totally original art direction threw me; everything looked blurred, with details deliberately out of focus. A few minutes of adjustment were all it took to settle in. This distinctive visual style not only singles the game out but serves a storytelling purpose as well. War is difficult to comprehend. It is overwhelming, terrifying and confusing, and that fact is reflected in a visual style that deliberately obscures details.

The sound design, too, is fantastic. The vocal performances are sincere and heartfelt, and the fact that an actual German plays a German character does not go amiss! The beautiful orchestral score and the often literally explosive soundscape all make for exceptional high quality, and an often harrowing experience.

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Source: Bandai Namco

I played this game for twenty minutes, and yet I am already fully invested in its world and its characters. Kurt, the German engineer, is compelled to go to war after he learns his young son is missing. Despite not being a father myself, I instantly felt an emotional attachment to his plight. Kurt is not a soldier; he is thrown into war because of the love he has for his son, hoping to find him.

Harry is an enthusiastic and naive young man, sold on the ‘adventure’ of photographing war. Very early on, he learns he was mistaken to believe the propaganda and promises of those who convinced him to risk his life photographing the battlegrounds.

After only twenty minutes with these two I absolutely need to see where their stories go and how they are connected.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Another important element of narrative-through-gameplay is that we don’t do what every war game has done thus far. We’re not soldiers here; this isn’t about killing the bad guys. We’re an engineer and a photographer, a father and a young man. We are not triumphant heroes or warriors. At one point we’re even a cat.

Yes, you read that right, 11-11 has you play as a cat (and how, I might add). This cat has the most cattish controls of any cat/cat-like character in gaming history. The animation and control scheme for the animal are *perfect*. This is genuinely difficult to admit as a dog lover, but this game really knows how to cat!

As for why we play as the feline? The developers have mentioned that it is important to offer a different – or rather, indifferent – perspective on human warfare. We’re set to play as other animals through the game too.

As promised, I will end how I began. 11-11: Memories Retold is the reason I love videogames. I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy and experience it in full.

11-11: Memories Untold has an initial release date of 9th November 2018, and will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

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Post-gamescom with Bandai Namco

Hanging out at Bandai Namco’s head office and playing video games isn’t a bad way to spend a Monday, it turns out.

As desperate as I was to be there this year, gamescom 2018 just wasn’t a possibility. Sometimes the realities of life override the role I take as a member of the enthusiast press. This meant I spent a week bitterly scrolling social media, watching everyone have an awesome time whilst I was stuck in the UK.

Fortunately for me, Bandai Namco offered those of us who couldn’t make it to gamescom the chance to play the games available on the show floor in the tranquillity of their office in Richmond. I’ve actually already been to one of these press junkets approximately a year ago, but this was the first foray into games journalism for my ‘new hire’, Tim.

Sadly the giant Pacman machine that I set a high score on during my last visit wasn’t present. In its place was a delightfully macabre statue of a skull, promoting one of the eight games playable at the showcase, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan. Incidentally this was the first game I played.

Coming from Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games, Man of Medan is the first of an anthology series titled The Dark Pictures. This reminds me a lot of a hidden object horror anthology series I used to play called Campfire Legends, so I’m hoping Dark Pictures will be just as enjoyable.

Man of Medan takes place on an abandoned ship which, as the protagonists discover, is filled with the undead. There wasn’t much by way of gameplay – it felt more like a tech demo than a game – but what the demo lacked in comparison to more action-heavy games, it certainly made up for in atmosphere. The groaning wreck is dark and eerie; the tight corridors are filled with rust and stagnant puddles and there’s an awesome sense of foreboding about what could be around the next corner. Tim experienced some texture issues, and we both felt the controls needed polishing, but our consensus is that this has the potential to be a fantastically terrifying game, reminiscent of old-school survival horror.

Having played it first, Tim described One Piece World Seeker as ‘Japanese AF’, which is a fairly apt description considering it’s based on the One Piece anime. Players assume the role of rubber-limbed Monkey D Luffy as he explores a colourful open world, an island ravaged by war. The art design reminded me in particular of Ni No Kuni, similarly bold and bright.

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Source: Bandai Namco

However, whilst the world is vast and interesting and the combat mechanics themselves are fun, the gameplay is repetitive and rapidly becomes a little tedious. What’s more, enemies respawn, meaning if you slip off a cliff and end up on the path below, you’ll have to fight the five guards you just defeated once again to reach the spot you were at previously. This, factored with the apparent inability to lock-on to enemies and the loose controls made what should have been an enjoyable experience an unnecessary annoyance. It was confirmed in an interview during gamescom that earned ability points could be used to upgrade existing abilities and unlock new ones, so hopefully this should take some of the monotony out of it, but with release not too far away it’s slightly worrying to feel like so much polish is still needed. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Next up for us both was 11-11: Memories Retold. Now, the only way I could accurately describe this to people if they hadn’t seen any promotional material would be to say it’s like playing an oil painting. The art style is so beautiful and unique that it’s impossible to fully appreciate if it’s not in motion; screenshots look like concept art. Whilst I did really love it, it was Tim who was truly blown away by 11-11 – to the point where he’s written an in-depth article about it –  and it’s easy to see why.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Set during World War One the game follows two concurrent storylines, flitting between each at various intervals. One story is that of Harry, a young photographer from Toronto, the other is that of Kurt, a worker in a zeppelin factory in Germany, both of whom end up serving in the trenches. Harry is tasked with photographing the war as experienced by a British Army general, and Kurt enlists in order to find his son after learning he is among several officers from his regiment listed as MIA. During an incredibly heart-pounding sequence, players take control of first Harry as he goes over the top and traverses No Man’s Land and then Kurt as he fetches ammunition and water for his fellow soldiers. With bullets flying left and right, Harry’s fear of death at the hands of the enemy is palpable, something which is taken up to eleven when he and Kurt find themselves in the tunnels beneath the trenches face-to-face. Suffice it to say we were both wide-eyed when we’d finished the demo.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Of the four games available on that particular machine, Twin Mirror was the one I saved for last. I’ve been intrigued ever since the trailer during Bandai Namco’s E3 presser. Developed by Life is Strange devs Dontnod Entertainment, Twin Mirror tells the story of Sam Higgs, one of the most unsympathetic protagonists we’ve ever played as. Waking up hungover in a hotel room, Sam tries to piece together his drunken night after discovering his bloodied shirt in the bathroom; he’s not bleeding, so whose blood is it?

In order to reconstruct his memory Sam must retreat into his mind palace where he constructs a sort of simulation he can manipulate. Options for his movements or interactions can be watched or altered, and players can shift into the real world to look for clues that might help him solve his mystery. Initially I couldn’t think of what the mind palace reminded me of aesthetically but I’ve now realised: it’s very reminiscent of the Void from Dishonored.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Tim wasn’t as gripped by Twin Mirror as I was, but colour us both intrigued. Sam is an unsympathetic drunk, who came face-to-face with a garishly-dressed double of himself. It’s clear he’s a figment of Sam’s imagination but is this because he’s simply insane, or does he have a split personality? Seeing as the double appears fairly prominently in the promotional artwork for the game I’ll hazard a guess he’s going to play a significant role. Maybe this will be another exploration of mental illness, continuing what is a growing trend. The first of three episodes is set to release next year.

Venturing back out into the main area Tim got a hold of Soulcalibur VI, only after I had displayed my immense lack of skill at fighting games by having Geralt of Rivia, this instalment’s guest character, repeatedly beaten up and booted out of the ring by Xianghua. I did, however, manage to win one round by blasting her with Igni and then subjecting her to the wrath of my sword, so at least I have that going for me. I am not ashamed to say I’m not a fan of fighting games purely because I suck at them, although for what my opinion would be worth, Geralt’s fighting style had been captured to a tee. It was genuinely as though he’d been plucked from The Witcher 3 and thrown into a ring. He is quite slow to move and attack, but deals hefty damage.

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Source: Bandai Namco

Decidedly more of a fighting game expert than me (and a long-time Soulcalibur fan), Tim made it his mission to play as every character on the roster by the end of the evening. He was very impressed with Grøh, one of two new characters introduced in VI, in particular his side kicks. In fact, he describes the animation and character design as ‘very cool’, and particularly enjoyed the new mechanic where time would slow to a crawl, broken by the first person who manages to block or attack (I don’t remember seeing this, but then I probably didn’t press the right buttons to trigger it).

Although we did play both playable missions for Ace Combat 7, we found ourselves bored by it. I played the VR build that was available the previous junket I attended and found it surprisingly enjoyable, despite my relative inability to use PSVR as a visually impaired person. Perhaps it’s a game that can only really be enjoyed when fully immersed, or perhaps it’s purely that it’s just not our cup of tea. Either way, it wasn’t a game we lingered on.

 

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Unlike me, Tim does not suck at Soulcalibur

Though we didn’t get a chance to play Jump Force as there were only two available machines, we did go head-to-head in My Hero One’s Justice – I politely declined Tim’s challenge of playing 1v1 in Soulcalibur because I knew I’d be beaten instantly and I’m a terrible loser.

Based on superhero manga/anime My Hero Academia, this is my kind of fighting game. It’s crazy, it’s zany, it’s bright and silly. Picking a main character and two sidekicks from the roster, players then brawl in a 3D environment that’s totally destructible. As in the source material, characters are Quirks, people born with superpowers. These powers can be utilised to great effect during fights which, combined with destructible environments is a recipe for pure fun and carnage. The visuals are incredibly bright and have a distinctly comic book feel which suits what I’ve seen of the source material perfectly – I am not the best person to talk about this, however. Tim, ever the serious martial artist, wasn’t particularly impressed with how silly it was and immediately voiced his preference for Soulcalibur and Tekken (I won almost every fight against him, which I’m sure had nothing to do with his comments whatsoever).

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Source: Bandai Namco

And just like that it was over all too soon, as is the case with any gaming event. We left with some stylish Twin Mirror postcards, buzzing with conversation about the past few hours (in Tim’s case this was mostly just 11-11). Thanks a lot to Bandai Namco for having us for the afternoon, for giving Tim his first taste of life as a games journalist, and for giving us so much awesome content to look forward to in the coming months.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Four Things I’d Like to See

Once I’d recovered from bursting into flames at the news of a new Creed game, I thought about all the awesomeness the game could include.

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The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Ubisoft. For the most part it’s a series that has seen great success, but also has a flop or two (I’m looking at you here, Unity). As a fiercely loyal and long-time devotee to this franchise I will defend it to the bitter end, but I also concede that it needed a hefty break, and then a reboot.

Thus, Assassin’s Creed Origins came along and blew the series out of the depths. Bursting onto the scene with its entirely reworked controls, RPG-style skill and weapon management options and one of the most harrowing stories in Assassin’s Creed history it has earned back a lot of respect for the series. With it being such a successful game, and rightfully so, it was inevitable for there to be another instalment of the series at some point, whether it was a sequel, an expansion such as Death of the Outsider was to Dishonored or a brand new story entirely.

Thanks to this leak, that new instalment has now been confirmed ahead of Ubisoft’s E3 press conference in a little under a fortnight; Ubisoft have now released an official teaser for the game.

Provided there are no additional leaks between now and the press conference, we’ll have to wait until 11th June for any solid details – I’m banking on a cinematic announcement trailer and an approximate release date at least. Until then all we can do is take what we do know and run with it: the game is called Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and it seems to take place in Ancient Greece.

How exactly this will fit into the timeline, I am not sure. The Ancient Greek civilisation ended when it fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BCE, which is a century before Bayek and Aya founded the Hidden Ones in 47 BCE. However, with the Order of the Ancients supposedly founded in 1334 BCE, during the late period of the Greek Bronze Age, it’s not unreasonable to assume the game might take place much earlier (although having said that, the use of the Spartan helmet suggests Sparta might play a prominent role, meaning the game would indeed take place from 800 BCE onwards). Irrespective of the Age, whichever form the Assassins take are likely to be similar to Bayek as a Medjay, total badasses but lacking the iconic hidden blade.

Whatever Ubisoft has decided, it’s certainly not going to stop me from speculating on details until the day it’s released and spouting nonsense about what I’d like to see, so here are four things I think would be damn awesome if they were to crop up in-game.

1. The Olympics

An undeniable gem of Origins is the gladiatorial arenas in Cyrene and Krokodilopolis, where players can pit Bayek against the arena bosses, or the relentless horde mode and kick some major Roman butt. Killing a dude three times your size with an axe thrown from the other side of the arena, all whilst breaking the neck of another other massive dude is hella fun, there’s no other way of putting it. So with Ancient Greece being the birthplace of the Olympic Games I think it would be an enjoyable side-activity for our hero to venture into the stadium and try his hand at the various events on offer. This may be slightly tricky, seeing as all athletes were stark naked throughout and so far the franchise has been careful to retain character modesty – Bayek’s bathhouse towel, anyone?

Nowadays Olympic sport is chock full of rules and regulations to ensure not only that the athletes play fair but also that they can participate safely. Although cheating was not condoned – cheaters were forced to pay for a statue of Zeus by way of punishment – there were no rules concerning safety. In sports like boxing or wrestling athletes routinely had their eyes gouged or were savagely bitten; boxing in particular allowed athletes to continue punching their opponent even after they’d been knocked out. Winners would be dressed with a wreath of leaves, something replicated when Athens hosted the modern Olympics in 2004, and would be welcomed home as a hero.

With combat and chariot racing already having appeared in Origins it wouldn’t be a tremendous surprise for them to reappear in the guise of the Olympics. Having a boxing event would mirror the brutality of the fight clubs of Syndicate, which stand out as one of the best side-activities available in the game. Personally I would love to see another opportunity for those sweet multi-kills to appear again, and this would definitely be it.

2.THIS. IS. SPARTA.

Thanks to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (and later Zach Snyder) most of the world is familiar with a fictionalised version of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans fight a heroic last stand against Xerxes’ 30,000 Persians. In reality the battle was fought between King Xerxes I of Persia and an alliance of Spartans and Greeks (among others) led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and whilst the last stand did contain those 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians remained at the very least.

It wouldn’t be the first time prominent battles have taken centre stage in the Assassin’s Creed universe, but the inclusion of this battle, fought in 480 BCE, would certainly make sense if Sparta does play an important role in the plot. The Templar Order’s reach has almost always been much greater than that of the Assassins, especially by the time we get into the modern day timeline, and having a heavily outnumbered Assassin army face off against a vast sea of Templars would be epic and befitting of the struggle the Brotherhood has always faced against an enemy much greater in numbers.

3. Mythology Galore

We all know at least a little Greek mythology, whether taught to us at school, discovered on a trip to a museum with family or learned via the humour of the Horrible Histories book series. Achilles, invulnerable after being dipped into the Styx as an infant with exception of the heel by which he was held; Heracles, the son of Zeus and gatekeeper of Olympus; even the Styx itself, the boundary river that the dead must cross to reach the Underworld, ruled by Hades.

Origins placed a lot of importance on Bayek’s belief in the Egyptian gods and the afterlife; I would expect Odyssey to do the same. The Greeks believed that at the point of death the soul separated from the body and arrived at the river Styx ready with a coin under the tongue to pay Charon, the Ferryman, to row them across the river – he would turn away souls that had not received a proper burial. Once at the entrance to Hades the Judges would decide where the soul would go: to Elysium, where the heroic and righteous lived a happy afterlife alongside those related to the gods; to the Asphodel Meadows, where normal souls who did not deserve damnation but hadn’t achieved greatness were sent to rest; to the Mourning Fields if the soul had wasted their life on unrequited love; to Tartarus if the soul was wicked and had earned eternal punishment.

To prevent the dead from leaving, the gates of Hades were guarded by Cerberus, the monstrous multiple-headed dog. Now, wouldn’t that be a helluva fight? Imagine that: your soul is trapped in Hades but you must escape, and to do so you might fight this monstrous beast that has many mouths with which you tear you in two.

With plenty of other mythological creatures and deities to choose from there are numerous other opportunities for the game to face the protagonist off against some otherworldly foe. I for one really enjoy the Trials of the Gods battles in Origins, with Anubis remaining my favourite, and it would be thrilling to have a similar set of battles in Odyssey, whether it’s against a Harpy or Hydra.

4. Stupid Freakin’ Trojans

One of the most famous tales to come out of Greek mythology is that of the Wooden Horse of Troy. After years of unsuccessful war with the Trojans, the Greeks hatched a plan to enter the city by constructing a giant wooden horse and hiding a select number of men inside and leaving it outside the city gates. The Greeks pretended to surrender and retreated; the Trojans, thinking the battle won, pulled the horse inside the city in victory. Overnight, the men hidden inside snuck out to open the gates for the Greek army and the city was invaded. (To be honest they were asking to be sieged: I mean if I found a giant wooden horse outside my front door I wouldn’t then wheel it into my flat! As Dave Lister says in S05E02 of Red Dwarf, “Are you telling me that not one single Trojan thought ‘hang on a minute, that’s a bit of a funny pressie? What’s wrong with a couple of hundred pairs of socks and some aftershave?’”)

As comical as it is to imagine forty men crammed inside a wooden horse, it would present a prime opportunity to weave in some direct Assassin-on-Templar action. Perhaps Troy is a city controlled by the Order of the Ancients and our protagonist is one of the Greeks inside the horse, ready to sneak his way past patrolling guards to open the gates before dramatically clashing swords with his foes. Or maybe the city is an Assassin stronghold about to be infiltrated by the Order and eliminated once and for all, giving the Order ultimate control over the land.

With the Trojan War coming to an end in 1180 BCE it would be fitting for it to be the latter, The Order of Ancients establishing their power by seizing an Assassin city. This also gives an exciting possibility: if Origins told of the birth of the Assassin Brotherhood, then perhaps Odyssey will tell of the birth of the Templars?

As previously stated this is pure waffly conjecture on my part, and I have to try to make sure I don’t get too excited for what might not come to pass. All I can do is what everyone else will now be doing: eagerly awaiting the impending announcement at E3. In the meantime, however, I’m going to locate a copy of Groovy Greeks and head to the British Museum for some important research!

Dishonored’s Top Five Missions

My personal top five missions from one of the many games I sold my soul to.

This week, 9th-12th October, Dishonored celebrates its fifth birthday. Today marks the anniversary of its European release so what better time to fawn about my favourite moments of the game.

Whilst I’m not denying its sequel set the standard gameplay-wise, the original Dishonored’s nine story missions still provide a tremendous amount of entertainment and replayability. Bolstered by the arguably stronger DLC missions and the addictive Dunwall City Trials, Dishonored still retains a deserved place on my list of Favourite Games Ever. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. Its lore is deep, its characters well fleshed out. The world is one of ruin and decay, with the rat plague eating Dunwall and its inhabitants into nonexistence and gangs running rampant. The Empress murdered, her bodyguard falsely accused of the crime and the rightful heir to the throne kidnapped, the story is not a happy one, but it’s engrossing and gut-wrenching and emotive. In short, it’s a masterpiece.

As with any listicle, the content of this one is purely subjective, and these points aren’t in any kind of order. I did decide to include the downloadable content for consideration, even though I’m aware it was all released after the vanilla game (plus, they’re too good NOT to include).

1 – The Surge

The final mission of The Knife of Dunwall, Daud returns to his hideout in the Flooded District to discover he’s been betrayed by his second-in-command, and the base has been stormed by a group of zealous Overseers.

This mission is a bit of a pig to complete regardless of how you go about it, but the sudden spike in difficulty hits nonlethal players the hardest. Stealth players rely heavily on the use of Daud’s powers, both to track enemy movement but also traverse around obstacles. In this mission, not only are there heavy patrols on every floor, many Overseers carry the dreaded Music Boxes, meaning Daud becomes powerless when in their vicinity. This, combined with the sheer number of enemies, makes it exceedingly difficult to traverse the dilapidated ruins of the district.

It’s precisely this difficulty that makes the level so satisfying to complete from a gameplay standpoint, especially without harming a soul or once being spotted. Imagining the horrifying realisation in an Overseer’s mind that Daud has managed to evade the tool built specifically to repel him is the best part for me. But what truly makes this mission stand out is the story, especially as we now know the canonical outcome. I’m a sucker for any kind of villain redemption arc, which is why I always played Daud in low chaos. Being a paid killer, Daud has always just shoved his blade into his target without a second thought, but when faced with the prospect of it being Billie Lurk, the lieutenant he’s raised from childhood, he’s put in a unique position. It speaks volumes to his character development, and humanity, given that we know he spares her. He can choose to do this regardless of chaos level, but I like to think the low chaos outcome is the canonical one: instead of tranquilising Lurk in combat, she gives herself up and kneels before him for beheading, only to be gently dismissed and exiled. I do not doubt that from the moment she departs Daud hopes he will encounter her again, and I’m super glad that he does (even if it is for all of five minutes before he DIES, GODDAMMIT).

2 – Bend Time Massacre

Sometimes all a person wants to do is kick back, relax and simply kill a shedload of people. (Note: this website DOES NOT condone real-life mass murder; remember the lack of Netflix behind bars). Whilst total annihilation is possible in the main campaign, this particular Dunwall City Trial allows one to do just that without consequence; no extra rat swarms, no extra Weepers, no terribly bleak ending. Just murder, and lots of it. Delicious.

Across the six rounds, players face an increasing number of enemies to eliminate, different time limits and a larger number of kills required to pass the level. From the moment the glass is smashed, Bend Time II is activated, giving a set amount of time to unleash a massacre before time resumes. Points are awarded for creativity (or ‘flair’), clearing out a level in its entirety and skills such as headshots. At the beginning of each round, a small supply of equipment and ammunition is available, along with a few powers. Each successful win also triggers a bonus round, a one-chance round to gain points by completing a specific objective such as using only one weapon or killing a particular target.

What makes this challenge immensely enjoyable isn’t the ability to massacre everyone before you, watching limbs scatter and nobles cower as they stare at the grenade at their feet in horror. It’s the satisfaction of plotting out a strategy and then watching it come to life. Having an infinite amount of time and a full view of everyone in each room means one can be meticulous about where to shoot this crossbow bolt, or to whom to attach that springrazor. Watching time start and all hell break loose is a pleasure, and with that I have established myself as an utter masochist. Excellent.

3 – Dishonored

Dishonored as a game effectively begins when Corvo Attano escapes from Coldridge Prison. Given the key to his cell by a bribed officer of the City Watch – he can be rescued from his own execution by Daud in The Brigmore Witches – Corvo’s only instructions are to escape the prison and find a hidden cache of equipment, which he does with relative ease. This is a man who, despite being brutally tortured and presumably starved for six months, still manages to overpower the guards, blow up the blast door and disappear into the sewers, either leaving a trail of blood or loud snores dependent on playstyle.

There’s nothing especially deep or complex about this mission, either in its gameplay or its story, barring the introduction of the loyalist conspiracy at the end. It’s easy, with fewer and lower-level guards on patrol, plenty of cover to hide behind and no alarms to bring a hundred more guards running. What makes it memorable is the fact that it takes place before Corvo has received his Outsider’s Mark and therefore has a wealth of powers at his disposal. Armed with only a sword, a gun and his wits, Corvo still manages to escape the prison – doubly as satisfying if done with nobody being aware of him leaving his cell until he plants the explosives on the outer door. This mission does its job of establishing the protagonist as a force to be reckoned with, a man not to cross else end up dead (or slumbering beneath a pile of your mates).

4 – The Golden Cat

Tasked with eliminating the twin Lords Pendleton and retrieving Emily, all of whom are holed up at Dunwall’s best brothel, Corvo treads the familiar path through the Distillery District to the bathhouse as it prepares for its grand reopening following an internal plague outbreak.

As with many of the nonlethal punishments for the targets, death is perhaps kinder, and this mission is no exception. Sure Corvo can enter the brothel, find the twins and kill them in cold blood, but what I love about this mission is the ability to eliminate them without even having to go near them. Acquiring the combination of a local art dealer’s safe for Bottle Street Gang leader Slackjaw results in the twins being kidnapped, disfigured, and worked to death in their own family-owned mines, although this is the first time the player is presented with a real plethora of choices in regards to taking out a target. Storm The Golden Cat and slaughter them all? Do it. Have Slackjaw’s lackeys take care of the twins? Sweet. My personal favourite is to gain the safe combination but kill the twins– a bonus is getting to steam one of the twins to death in the Steam Room because it looks like an accident! – and then deliver the combination to Slackjaw anyway, after picking the safe clean.

Some of the best parts of his mission are the little details, such as a drawing of a Golden Cat by Emily that’s visible on Madame Prudence’s desk, the two courtesans in the dressing room talking about how cute they think the girl is, or the audiograph Emily records after her arrival at the Hound Pits Pub safehouse, detailing an exchange between Prudence and Custis Pendleton as he casually strolls into her office stark naked making his demands.

5- The Flooded District

The seventh mission of Dishonored marks a huge turning point in the story. Upon realising just how powerful a man Corvo is, the loyalists betray him, having him poisoned and dumped in the river. Fortunately for Corvo, boatman Samuel is not corruptible like his former allies and, whilst he does accept the payment, he puts only half the poison into Corvo’s drink and leaving him a hair’s breadth from Daud’s hideout.

I have a love-hate relationship with this mission, but ultimately it remains one of the best. It is long and complex, although it’s not the first time Corvo encounters the Whalers: during the Golden Cat, three lie in wait for the bodyguard as he traverses Bottle Street. Taking these three out is no real problem, but when faced with a district crawling with them it becomes exponentially trickier. The Whalers, able to leech some of Daud’s abilities, can Blink from spot to spot, making their patrols more widespread – instead of just one rooftop, they will patrol two or three.

I’ve never attempted to complete the mission without first collecting Corvo’s gear, thrown into a nearby warehouse, although it is possible – Corvo will then be stuck with any sword he picks up rather than his folding blade, and will be without a crossbow for the remainder of the game. I strongly urge everyone to explore the warehouse though, because it’s this mission where I find the game’s continuity is at its finest. If Campbell is branded a heretic in mission two, he can be encountered in the basement of the warehouse as a Weeper. The District is also full of Overseers, the remnants of the zealots’ storm of the Whaler’s hideout in The Knife of Dunwall.

Most importantly, however, this is the mission where Corvo finally gets to face the man who murdered the Empress (and the mother of his daughter). Here Corvo faces a dilemma not dissimilar to the one Daud will have faced in The Surge. Does he kill the assassin and avenge Empress Jessamine’s death? Or does he sneak in, steal his money and then leave, thereby sending him a greater message: look how close I got and you were unaware. Canonically of course, Daud is spared, escaping Dunwall for the sunny heat of Karnaca where he’ll eventually resurface. Perhaps I’m too emotionally invested in this series and its characters, but I could never bring myself to kill Daud, regardless of how high a chaos level I was sporting. Makes me wonder if Corvo can see Daud’s inner turmoil and understand his weariness, or if he simply spared the killer to prove he was still above him.

So there it is, in black and white. My top five missions from Dishonored. Do you agree? Disagree? Have no opinion whatsoever? Feel free to share, and watch this space. After all, the game does have two sequels full of content to rank – I need only the flimsiest excuse to boot up my Xbox and play through this series well into the afterlife.

EGX 2017: AKA The Time I Actually DID Meet My Favourite YouTubers

The story of sleep deprivation, great games and how I almost fled when faced with my faves.

Quick PSA to start off with: regardless of whether the distance is less than a mile, under no circumstances decide it’s a good idea to move house unassisted the day before a taxing, four-day event.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been a total idiot to do just that I wouldn’t have struggled so much, having closed my new front door a mere two hours before I needed to leave for Birmingham on Thursday. A chronic sufferer of insomnia, I am accustomed to completing a variety of activities without sleep from simply popping to the supermarket to snowboard lessons, but I was dead on my feet by lunchtime.

It’s a real shame my first day was something of a write-off; this was my first experience of EGX, with me being either unavailable or simply unable to spare the funds in the years prior. Being only a fraction of the size of gamescom, even at its busiest EGX still felt like navigating St Pancras during the off-peak hours, as opposed to facing the stampede that killed Mufasa. Regardless, trying to find a place to sit that wasn’t the floor could be a challenge, and one could face a long wait for the games with as few as a single monitor.

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Mario Rabbid from the Kingdom Battle booth

The last time I was at the NEC was 2011 when I attended Girlguiding UK’s Big Gig with my unit (ironically also one day before a house move, although this was my parents moving me to university halls, rather than me moving alone into a one-bed flat). This, however, took place in the arena rather than the exhibition centre, so the place was utterly foreign to me – a challenge for anyone, let alone the visually impaired. EGX didn’t appear to be signposted either, you really do need to know where you are going (fortunately I ran into a group of lads who were also looking at the nearest hall directory in bewilderment, so it wasn’t just me).

Despite its relatively small size, it’s an event that would still be difficult to experience in one day, and I’m feeling a bit sad that I had decided to leave a day early and miss the Sunday. With a plethora of video games – this includes a large retro gaming zone – and board games on offer, there is plenty of choice in what to play (some might argue a bit too much choice). I only managed a fraction of the games on my list.

I’m still trying to work out my comfortable number of demo slots and interviews, so this time I only had four – I will point out that a fair few devs I approached simply said ‘oh cool, just come along and play, and we’ll have a chat’ rather than offering me an actual slot, which is absolutely fine. Typically I had the two trickiest on day one, the day where I had almost zero brain function. QUBE 2, which I demoed at Rezzed, was first on my list, although being a newer build, showcasing the very start of the game rather than a much later stage with far trickier puzzles, I found myself having much more success with it than last time.

Shift Quantum was the other appointment for that day, and hands down one of my highlights of the event. A side-scrolling platformer, players must use the ‘shift’ mechanic to get to the level’s exit by reversing the level’s colours: to put it simply, black-on-white become white-on-black, although this also flips the level map. It’s this shift mechanic that allows the player to traverse across ledges that were previously just free space, or drop down a gap that was previously a wall. It’s a game that truly requires some outside-of-the-box thinking, and is an excellent stimulator for those brains that enjoy being bent into an intricate pretzel.

I checked out as soon as I had roughly typed some notes into Word on my iPad, promptly taking a cab to my hotel and passing out within minutes of being shown to my room; the fifteen minute journey from the station to the hotel was a battle to remain conscious – I sort of wished I bought my roll of duct tape with me so I could tape my eyelids open.

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Liv experiencing life as a house mouse

Feeling much more refreshed on Wednesday morning, I made a beeline for the Assassin’s Creed Origins booth where I took my place in the queue (where I met two awesome new friends!), wondering if I was going to be chivvied away at the same point I was at gamescom. Happily, I can report that definitely wasn’t the case: after the end of the mission we played in Germany we were allowed to play for a while longer, giving me the chance to test the mechanics of the game a bit more and explore the new skill tree, which is extensive and fully aimed at tailoring Bayek’s abilities to the playstyle of the individual.

Wednesday also saw my best friend come up for the day, partly to hang out with me but also partly to support a mutual friend and his game My Last Son, showcased with the National Film and Television School. With Liv not really being a gamer, I was somewhat worried she would find the day a drag, but fortunately this wasn’t the case, with her finding enjoyment in a few games, including fellow NFTS title House Mouse VR, wherein she played a house mouse attempting to bring food back to his home, whilst avoiding the family cat.

Her primary objective, however, was to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra, which she did manage to do whilst I was away playing Lake Ridden, an unsettling and mysterious first-person puzzler involving a thirteen-year-old girl attempting to find her sister in an eerie garden. It’s a game I’m sure I could spend hours on; it does very little in the way of hand-holding, requiring you to search every nook and cranny for clues or components to solve puzzles. Whilst the puzzles featured in the demo – noth the press-only level and the public demo – weren’t overly fiendish, they did require a fair amount of exploration. Thus, the sense of achievement upon completion is significant.

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The stage is set for an epic battle of the channels

Much like gamescom, Saturday was my proper ‘hardcore gaming’ day so I did just that, playing as much as I could in the limited time I had. Whilst I did play a bit of Metroid: Samus Returns, and my final game of EGX 2017 was a crack at the levels of Ni No Kuni II I hadn’t played at Bandai Namco’s press junket in July – read my colleague’s write-up of that here – I focused primarily on the indie and NFTS titles, which ranged from the more standard to the downright bizarre. Purrfect Date, a game where you effectively date a cat, springs to mind. (My ‘date’ ended in irritation on my part, but seeing as I ‘dated’ a cat named Snooty Booty, I’m not shocked).

My penultimate stop was (predictably) the inaugural Showdown of the Week at the EGX Theatre, which involved Ellen failing to correctly guess Luke’s favourite dinosaur, Andy gradually becoming more evil the longer he wore his top hat, plenty of gratuitous violence and terrible charades (sorry Mike), with Outside Xtra ultimately securing the coveted trophy with a landslide win via the cheer-o-meter.

My one appointment for Saturday was with the Square Enix Collective where I demoed puzzler The Turing Test – a game that’s effectively a cross between Portal and The Talos Principle, both of which I love – eerie point-and-click adventure Goetia and cartoony brawler Deadbeat Heroes. Deadbeat Heroes would be my pick for ‘game that I enjoyed more than I expected to’. Brawlers aren’t usually my cup of tea but the action is just so zany and addictive that it’s hard not to try and try and try again if you fail (which is easy, because the later levels in the demo were HARD).

However, all of the above pales in comparison with my true highlight of EGX 2017 as a whole. Six months after being only five people from the front of the queue at their meet & greet, I finally got to meet Outside Xbox/Xtra.

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Note Luke’s split legs to reduce his height

Having failed to drum up the courage to join the meet & greet queues alone, the conflict about attending the session with Liv by my side was real. Being an incredibly anxious person and not having any chewing gum on me – my staple for fighting anxiety attacks – I did feel secretly glad that I would’ve had to duck out of the queue for my 3pm appointment, seeing as it took Liv until gone 3:30pm to reach the front.

Skip forward an hour or so, when we’re collecting Liv’s suitcase from the cloakroom. Call it a moment of pure serendipity, but just as we were starting to make our way back towards the entrance to the hall, I go to nudge my way past a stationary group and almost walk straight into Andy.

I’m going to throw up my hands and admit that, as pure panic gripped me, I actually turned on my heel to sprint as fast as I could in the opposite direction (complete with arms flailing behind me like noodles). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a strong instinct to flee, not even as I was wheeled to theatre for my radiotherapy. Liv, ever the excellent wingman, promptly cornered them and did the introductions as I tried not to collapse. (Kudos to Mike for using my snowboarding as a conversation starter because otherwise I can’t guarantee that I would’ve been enough at ease to speak in coherent sentences).

I suppose all there is left to do now is say a million thanks. Thanks to EGX for having me once again, and thanks for being such an awesome experience for my first venture representing my own website. Thanks to all the devs for your incredible talent and dedication to this industry. Thanks to Liv for being a Top Wingman (and just generally Top Friend). Thanks to Outside Xbox/Xtra for a bunch of stuff I’ve already thanked you profusely for, but not least for being awesome, kind and hugely entertaining.

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Appropriate attire for the Gratuitous Violence phase

Now to while away the time before Rezzed, very impatiently. It’s only seven months, I’m sure that’ll be enough time to finish a game or two…

REVIEW – Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

My review of what I consider to be, well and truly, a masterpiece.

I’ll preface this by clarifying I’ve only played through once; a semi-lethal run without much exploration, ignoring all but two contracts. It still took me fourteen hours. (This factors in the eleventy-billion times one particular insta-kill enemy sent me to oblivion, but more on that later).  As with the previous titles in the series however, the way Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is played is entirely down to the individual, so my play time isn’t saying much.

Being a tremendous fan of Dishonored, I’ll swallow anything related to it I can get. The Knife of Dunwall in particular stuck out as a true highlight, Dishonored at its peak. I’m not alone in thinking that Daud felt far more fleshed-out than Corvo as a protagonist, although this may partly be down the gravelly tones of Daud’s voice actor Michael Madsen. For this reason I was itching to see Daud reappear as more than just a passing mention, and my prayers were answered. My first-class seat on the hype train was booked from the moment this game was announced.

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Billie reuintes with Daud

Although the old assassin does play a role in Death of the Outsider, players instead step into the boots of his one-time apprentice and second-in-command, Billie Lurk. Tasked with one last contract from her old mentor, Billie sets out to find a way to enter the Void and eliminate the Outsider himself. In true Dishonored fashion there is a choice in how this is achieved, although I took the lethal route.

Death of the Outsider plays virtually identically to the previous games. Billie has a small arsenal of physical weapons and supernatural powers at her disposal, although in this instance she is not branded with the Outsider’s Mark. Instead he takes her right arm and eye, replacing them with what amounts to pieces of the Void, allowing her powers to draw energy from the Void itself and for her energy meter to replenish itself fully over time. This dispenses with the requirement of collecting mana potions, leaving Billie with mostly unlimited use of her powers.

Being that the game is only an expansion, Billie’s skill set is more limited than Daud’s for example. There is no upgrade tree for her active or passive abilities, nor can she purchase new powers by collecting runes. The powers she does have, however, are unique to her character whilst remaining comfortingly familiar.

Billie’s Displace power is something of a cross between Blink and Emily’s Shadow Reach from Dishonored 2. As well as allowing her to cross wide gaps or climb to higher places, it also allows her to transport herself to the exact same spot occupied by another person: it transports her into that person and they explode from the inside out (this does cause Billie damage). This is termed Displace Interpenetration and is undeniably the coolest ability in the game.

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Billie’s Displace power, with her ‘marker’ in place

She also has Foresight, the ability to project herself in spirit. Much like Dark Vision, it gives her the ability to mark enemies to view their movements/lines of sight through walls and identify bonecharms, useable items and important objects in the environment. The caveat with this power is that it drains her energy incredibly quickly, and she can’t stray too far from her physical body, making it sometimes impossible to scope out a heavily-guarded location from afar.

Semblance is her third and final power, although I only used this twice. Similar to Possession it allows her take the form of an unaware (human) NPC, although in this instance she is simply mimicking their outward appearance rather than using them as a meat suit (I found out the hard way impersonating a guard with this power does not trick Arc Pylons). It is a useful tool if you want to simply walk through a guard outpost, or if you’re trying for a ghost run and find yourself facing numerous enemies without much chance of picking them off one-by-one or navigating around them from above.

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An Envisioned Cultist marked with Foresight, showing line of sight, patrol path and patrol end

One difference is the inability to upgrade Billie’s existing powers or purchase new ones. This omission is logical, seeing as Billie’s powers do not stem from the Outsider’s Mark and therefore runes would be of no use to her. Certain bonecharms can be found that do affect her supernatural abilities, such as extending the reach of her Foresight and increasing the number of enemies she can tag. Some of the passive powers from previous games can also be obtained as bonecharms, such as Agility.

As well as Billie’s unique powers, the game also introduces the original Clockwork Sentinels, featured heavily in the trailer for the second game, which were included due to them being a fan favourite. These Clockworks, whilst being decidedly more sinister in appearance thanks to their grinning faces, have the advantage that they do not, I repeat NOT, have the ability to see out of the back of their head.  (As someone who hates the Clockworks in Dishonored 2 with the passion of a thousand suns for that very reason, I thank you Harvey).

The game itself spans five missions, starting with Billie’s rescue of and reunion with Daud and culminating in her facing the Outsider. Set in the gritty underbelly of Karnaca, players can find familiarity in not just getting their asses kicked by the game’s difficulty but also exploring the nooks and crannies, looting items for coin and of course listening to the same handful of NPC voice lines. Players will recognise the Royal Conservatory from Dishonored 2, which makes a reappearance as the setting of the fourth story mission. Karnaca is as visually striking and atmospheric as it was in Dishonored 2, the buildings much more dilapidated but still strangely pleasant. The atmosphere of a world awash with dangerous secrecy is palpable, especially in the final mission where an already creepy abandoned mine becomes a horrific eldritch world filled with crazed cultists and the aforementioned insta-kill enemies, the Envisioned, creatures that are remnants of the original cult responsible for creating the Outsider (by sacrificing an innocent teenage boy).

In addition to the main campaign objectives, Billie can also pick up a number of contracts from the black markets. These are optional side quests that pay a handsome amount of coin, or sometimes a bonecharm. Some contracts are simple, some need specific requirements to have been met. They vary from theft to multiple assassinations, and inject some true variety into a formula that can sometimes feel a bit monotonous.

The biggest difference, one that has been met with a mixed response, is the lack of a chaos system and with it the lack of the core message of the previous games: any decision, however big or small, affects the world around you and those in it. Ultimately, Billie killing civilians or sparing the Overseers bears no effect; there are no extra swarms of hungry rats or bloodflies, nor are the sewers crawling with Weepers. Ultimately, the impact of whether Billie is an unseen phantom, a blood-soaked psychopath or somewhere in between ends with the player’s own decision of how to play. I will say not having to worry about a chaos level made it far more comfortable for me to hack, slash and shoot my way through the game in places where I would’ve thought carefully about leaving everyone unharmed.

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Nice little Prey Easter egg in the bank’s archives

Much like the previous games, the true strength lies in the holy trifecta: terrifically complex story, brilliantly written characters and astounding voice performances. The raw emotion audible in Billie’s voice after Daud’s death is heartbreaking. The relationship between master and apprentice is an example of unconditional trust: even after her betrayal in The Knife of Dunwall, Daud knows he can still count on Billie. The fatherly affection he feels for her is obvious in the diary entry he writes at the beginning of mission three, and his final audiograph in mission four. I’m not ashamed to admit listening to it made me cry.

Billie is driven by her loyalty to Daud and the will to complete his dying wish, but is also conflicted thanks to her own guilt at the life she led before. If you choose to kill the Outsider, there’s a tiredness within Billie as she resigns herself to being ‘just a murderer’, conceding that killers never change despite being given the chance. It’s this gem of writing and voice acting that means the ending, a simple action rather than an action-heavy brawl with a deity, was a fitting climax to the tale. This is all interwoven with Daniel Licht’s emotive soundtrack. Sometimes eerie and sinister, always somewhat bleak, each note of the ambient music ripples through the tense atmosphere of the game and provides a perfect backdrop to the game.

There’s a strange, hollow feeling that grips me as I write this. It’s the feeling one experiences at the end of an era, when the stories of beloved characters have come to their conclusion and been laid to rest. The entire series was a true masterpiece, an obvious labour of love packed with detail, and for this reason I think Death of the Outsider is a truly fitting swan song that is likely to stay with me for a long, long while.