I’ve been meaning to write more about video games. I’ve generally been meaning to write more and, given that video games are a primary hobby in my fairly limited spare time, I reckon it makes sense to combine the two.

I was fortunate enough to come by a PlayStation 4 this Christmas, which has given me plenty of new avenues of inspiration for just such an article. So many new avenues, in fact, that I haven’t really formulated a complete essay on any one game. Finding myself in that thoroughly first-world situation, I thought I’d just jot a scruffy round-up of my experience with the PS4 thus far.

stick-twiddle

Right stick: operational.

The Console

Without turning this into a dry system review, I can note that I am generally very pleased with the PS4. My most recent point of comparison, console-wise, is my recently-usurped Xbox 360. Apart of the expected performance upgrades, I have to say the interface is a considerable improvement. Having everything available from one, central row of options makes it feel like everything is right at your fingertips (thumbtips?). A drastic change from the 360’s interface which had too many menus buried within menus.

Not that everything on the PS4 is rosy: I do get the odd ‘Where am I?’ moment whilst browsing the store, but the top-level navigation there makes it pretty easy to bail and dive back in to find what you’re after.

I said I wasn’t going to turn this into a dry system review, so, I’ll stop now.

Streaming

Actually, more system stuff.

One of the new features is native streaming integration and I have toyed around on a few evenings, broadcasting via Twitch. Generally getting set up and underway is pretty easy, assuming you already have a Twitch account and, although not packed with features, it’s a pretty tight experience.

Getting audio right requires a bit of fiddling. Settings for headphones and mic are fairly comprehensive, but there’s no way to easily mix mic volume against game volume. It requires a little trial and error, working out a good mic volume and then using the in-game menu to drop music and SFX levels. It would be great if this was built in to the streaming settings and you could set up a mix which didn’t affect your non-streaming sessions.

Actually Playing Some Games

So, games.

Far Cry 4 was bundled in with my console and, having heard good things and being a bit of a Tolkien nerd, I also got Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor to mix things up a bit. I grabbed Surgeon Simulator and Nidhogg whilst they were on sale and, having signed up to PS Plus, I have since acquired Apotheon, Rogue Legacy and Transistor for free. So, for someone who maybe grabs an hour or so to play of an evening, I am swamped. Not complaining.

I haven’t completed any of them, so I can’t really offer a final opinion on any. Here are my thoughts to date:

Transistor

I’ve heard good things, but haven’t found a moment to start it. I liked Bastion, if that helps.

Far Cry 4

This one is problematic for me.

In terms of fun, this game is not lacking, provided your idea of fun is shooting a grenade launcher from a rickety gyrocopter or hunting man’s oldest foe, the honey badger:

Here, I take no chances.

Conveniently parking the issue of whether or not such a lot of wanton death and destruction should constitute so much fun, there is no shortage of activities to do or living things to turn into former living things.

My gripe with the game is that the general chaos of the open world doesn’t sit very nicely with the story they’re trying to tell. To be completely fair, I haven’t finished the game so I can’t comment on the narrative in its entirety. That said, the plight of a region torn by civil war – a theme I’m not sure should be invoked lightly – is constantly undermined by the amount of violent frolicking which occurs. It’s hard to take things seriously when an emotional outpouring by one of the main characters is preceded by your arrival on the back of an elephant.

Also, there’s too much first-person stealth.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

I like Tolkien and games with interesting systems so this one’s a win-win for me.

Although the story is a little rote, I really think this game is deserving of the praise it’s received. There’s an invigorating sense of progression and, although the power fantasy might not align itself faithfully with Tolkien’s writing, it is rewarding to feel progress in a game which starts out relatively tough. It’s no Dark Souls, but the first few times you get outnumbered by uruks and captains you’re likely to be on the receiving end of a knuckle lembas, if you feel me. The gradual acquisition of new skills means that you feel a little more prepared as each encounter arrives. Having said that, you still can’t switch off and mash buttons.

All in all, I’m enjoying Shadow of Mordor a lot, and chipping away at it as time allows.

Nidhogg

I’ve only dabbled briefly here, as Nidhogg really requires a second player in the room. I’m a big fan of a good local multiplayer game, so this 1-on-1 fence-‘em-up is something I’m excited to play more of. Also, you can throw your sword.

Even during the brief spell I spent with it, this has already provided considerable merriment. It’s all about that riposte.

Surgeon Simulator

This one wasn’t new to me, having bought it on Steam after seeing it at the Eurogamer Expo a couple of years ago. I grabbed it on PS4 as it was on sale for next to nothing. It’s a silly, light experience, but the option to have a second player control your other hand means this will no doubt provide a fun multiplayer diversion at some point in the future.

I did go through each operation, though not in every location. That eye transplant: so gross.

Apotheon

Apotheon came out of nowhere, arriving gratuit as part of February’s PS Plus lineup. The art is great: visually really interesting and an appropriate nod to the aesthetic of Ancient Greece. Retro.

In terms of gameplay, there’s a nod to the ‘Metroidvania’ style, although exploration is light and most quests entail going somewhere, fighting everyone with a spear and then coming home. There’s a decent mix of weaponry and armour to experiment with, though the seemingly obligatory degradation of weapons can prove frustrating. Apparently a few bits of kindling bound together with a hoplite’s dental floss passed for a doru back then.

It’s just deep enough to have kept me playing, through fairly frequent crashes have been spoiling things of late. Sort it out, Alien Trap Games. Ode on a Grecian Burn.

Rogue Legacy

Ah, Rogue Legacy. The first few times I crossed the threshold of Castle Hamson, I thought ‘What fresh hell is this?’. Countless deaths later, I still feel much the same way. It’s a compulsive, somewhat masochistic experience.

This one has been a grower in much the way Spelunky was. In many ways, they are similar games. In many ways, they are not. Spelunky, for example, occasionally lets you take a breather. But it doesn’t let you play as a near-sighted, hypochondriac shinobi, so…

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