Five Fearsome Horror Games of the Last Decade

“just because the 31st of October has passed, it doesn’t mean Halloween can’t remain for a few days thereafter. Enjoy my Halloween horror videogame picks”

Hands up, I’m a little late with this one. But just because the 31st of October has passed, it doesn’t mean Halloween can’t remain for a few days thereafter. After all, no matter what the supermarkets show you, it ain’t Christmas yet! So without further ado, enjoy my Halloween horror videogame picks.

The Walking Dead Telltale Series

Telltale’s The Walking Dead follows zombie apocalypse survivor Clementine across four emotionally gripping episodic games. Growing up and evolving from a little girl hiding in a tree house through to adulthood, as a more than capable survivor, The Walking Dead offers a new and refreshing perspective to the hugely successful TV and comic franchise. From an emotionally provocative perspective it is arguably better than its parent’s narrative. As you make your own informed decisions as the story progresses, Clementine’s world develops around you as a result of these choices. Some choices literally play with people’s lives. The series began in 2012, and really put Telltale Games on the map. The Final Season however, marked the final chapter of Telltale as a development entity altogether, before it was even completed. Thankfully, Skybound Games saved the license, and Telltale has since been reborn. The Walking Dead is a perfect harrowing tale, perfect for Halloween, that few will ever forget.

The Evil Within

The Evil Within is Resident Evil-creator Shinji Mikami’s latest horror franchise. As expected, it is a highly-crafted, horrifying and intricate and immersive story that invokes tension and anxiety.. Whilst investigating the scene of a gruesome mass murder, detective Sebastian Castellanos encounters a powerful force that allows him to wander amongst the dead. The Evil Within is not for the faint of heart. Mikami has created a horrific, twisted world, as well as a formidable challenge. Halloween doesn’t get much more interactively harrowing than this.

The Wolf Among Us

Another entry from the ill-fated but now resurrected Telltale Games, The Wolf Among Us is a very different tale to The Walking Dead. Based on the DC Vertigo comic series Fables, this episodic adventure pits you as Bigby Wolf as he investigates the murder of a woman in the mystical enclave location of Fabletown. As the investigation develops, the choices made not only progress this very dark fairy tale, but also lay out the difficult path of Bigby as a protagonist. Nothing is as it seems, and there is more than enough horror-laden mystery and violence to satisfy any Halloween urges. More good news – A sequel is on the way.

Dead Space

Another ill-fated developer tale, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Visceral Games perfected the third-person survival horror formula with the original Dead Space. Engineer Isaac Clarke and team venture to a mining spacecraft after a blackout in communications, only to quickly discover it has been overrun by monsters. The monsters, who turn out to be mutated versions of the ship’s crew, require Isaac’s various nifty, upgradable cutting tools in order for them to be eliminated.

Before Alien: Isolation hit our screens, Dead Space was the perfect substitute for old-school survival horror. The required limb cutting instils both panic and preservation in equal measure. There are jump-scares and uneasiness aplenty, set against a bleak yet fantastic looking visuals. Possibly its greatest success is all this comes with a minimal plot, as the action does all the talking.

Zombi U

Zombi U was an early pleasant surprise for the Nintendo Wii U, and arguably the best non-Nintendo title to use the second-screen dynamic. Inevitably, it received a much bigger audience when it was ported to PS4 years later. Set in a zombie-apocalyptic London, you guide survivor after survivor through a Zombie-laden English capital with the hopes of escape. As you scrounge for weapons and health, you soon realise that to survive you need to avoid zombie combat as much as possible. When you die – and you will – you pick the trail up as a new character, with anything collected left where you previously bit the dust. Its a bleak, slower paced affair, with the feel of a George A. Romero movie. Only this time, you’re in it.

Oh, what’s that, no Resident Evil 2 remake, even with the featured image as a nod? Red herring! I am still yet to play it. What are your Halloween horror choices for this past spooky season?

My Top 5 Games of 2017

2017 was some year for video games. The Xbox One and PS4 showing their true capabilities. The arrival of the Nintendo Switch. The impact of the Nintendo Switch. I cannot comment on PC and 3DS because i’m a poor man who cannot afford all of the games and systems. Man i’d love a gaming PC.

Anyway, back to 2017. Here are the 5 games I enjoyed the most. Before you skim down and click away in anger, there are some notable mentions that didn’t qualify. This is simply because I only had limited experience with them, despite first impressions being excellent.

Notable Mentions

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch):-

I am yet to own a Nintendo Switch. Note the word ‘yet’, because there are a few games already that make it scream ‘buy me’. Super Mario Odyssey is absolutely one of those games.

With just an hour or so into Odyssey, I am already in love with it, and in awe of it. The mysterious Cap Kingdom. The landscape of Cascade Kingdom. The beautiful Sand Kingdom. I’ve barely scratched the surface but I already know i’m in for something special.

Yakuza Kimawi (PS4):-

Whenever i see Yakuza, I immediately think of Shenmue. The combat is certainly familiar. This remake of the original, which I missed the first time around on PS2, oozes coolness. Like Mario Odyssey, I’ve only managed but a few minutes, but I can already tell this is going to be a time-devouring experience to remember. It is certainly reminiscent of Shenmue in all the right ways. Did I mention I miss Shenmue?

And now, let’s see what’s behind door #5….

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#5 – Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PS4)

Those that know me won’t be surprised by this entry, given that I love football. But even this, the 17th installment of Konami’s football series, took me by surprise. Up until the series’ transition onto the PS3/Xbox 360 platforms I was always a PES guy. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 is still the greatest football sim known to man. That’s just scientific fact.

I did jump ship to the much-improved and package-heavy FIFA series from ’09-’17. But I grew tired of FIFA’s increasingly unbalanced gameplay. After a taster of the series’ improving game with 2015/2016, I’m back for 2018. And it was worth the wait for many reasons.

First and foremost, Master League. The greatest league mode of any video game football simulation, is back in my life. It’s had a few media-style tweaks that are pretty pointless, but mirror today’s media-heavy approach. Getting yourself a edited data patch online adds to the experience much more. It isn’t official, but allows you to emulate competing in the Premier League, Serie A, etc along with the Champions/Europa Leagues, which are officially licensed. It can be life-consuming, but exhilarating no less.

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But what about the football itself? Master the basics and even the most novice players will be stringing one-touch passing moves together. The key is build up play, and it’s as precise as you want it to be. Passing/crosses/build-up is everything. Like the real thing.

Expect a challenge the other way, also. Defending isn’t easy with the games biggest gameplay issue: slide-tackling. Regardless of position, any tap of the slide button means a full-on tackle. And most likely a foul. That aside, you can press as freely and as high up the pitch as you want, and instruct team mates to do the same. Or not, if that’s your tactical nuance.

And finally, the cost. I managed to get PES 2018 Premium Edition for £38 (before trade-ins). FIFA 18’s standard cost is typical EA at £50/55. Plus EA want you spend even more within the game also. Don’t fall for it.

PES 2018 is an excellent football title. That data edit patch is a must for any true football fan to want it, and it’s worth a few minutes of hassle. As Konami would say, the pitch is ours. With PES 2018, you can make it yours.

Next, what’s behind door #4?

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#4 – The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (PS4)

I reviewed this back in June. Check it out for the full low-down.

Off the back of the shocking ending to season 2, Telltale’s 3rd season certainly raises an eyebrow or two. Firstly, another change in lead character was initially disappointing. Disgraced baseball player Javier Carlos is an initially flaky individual, particularly around his family. But in true Telltale storytelling style, enough backstory is presented to make your own mind up. And more importantly, make the decisions. But fear not Clementine fans (me included), for she still plays a pivotal role in this penultimate season.

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There isn’t any change to the Telltale formula, but it’s fair to say there doesn’t need to be. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Telltale’s success is in it’s storytelling. Don’t like how certain decisions turn out? Then it’s worth a replay to see how things differ.

You want character investment? Telltale have become masters of that across most of their series. But The Walking Dead is still their best work. And come the end A New Frontier, you won’t be left wanting. Except for the next series of course.

And now for #3….

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#3 – Sonic Mania (PS4)

Well. Sonic Mania is quite the renaissance, isn’t it? Classic Sonic graphics, classic Sonic gameplay, classic Sonic characters. And while it starts out as an HD remix of sorts, revisiting levels from Sonic 1 + 2, Sonic Mania quickly becomes so much more.

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Granted if you were never a Sonic fan then 1) what is wrong with you? and 2) this could be the one to get you invested. Christian “Taxman” Whitehead has successfully created a brilliant hybrid of Sonic’s best 2D elements. On top of that, there is plenty of new content to justify Sonic Mania being a whole new adventure. And unlike Sonic Generations, the last decent Sonic title, none of that 3D third-person rubbish. It simply doesn’t work for the world’s most well-known hedgehog.

But Sonic Mania does work. On all levels. It has odes to the best Sonic has had to offer over the last 25+ years. Granted, of the 13 Zones on offer only 4 are wholly original. But most have originally developed ‘Acts’ designed against old backdrops such as the Green Hill and Chemical Plant Zones. There’s even a tribute to Mean Bean Machine thrown in for good measure. Add on top of that a host of unlock-able items/modes through in-game special stages, plus Chaos Emeralds to capture, and that’s the longevity sorted.

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And the special stages in particular are a nice addition. Reminiscent of the Sonic CD equivalent stages, they are nostalgia-tinged throwbacks to the 16-bit era. The Mode-7 racetrack-style courses are fluid and fast; something your reactions need to be as you collects rings to keep the timer going, and orbs in order to catch up to each Emerald. And you’ll want to collect them, for it is the only way to fully complete Sonic Mania.

At less than £20 it’s well worth it, whether you’re a fan or a newcomer. Sonic Mania is a retro-based reminder that 2D Sonic is and always will be the best Sonic.

And for my #2 pick of 2017…..

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#2 – MLB The Show ’17 (PS4)

Now this is most definitely the surprise pick of the year. I don’t watch Baseball. I don’t know any current rosters. Hell I can barely even name 10 teams. But such was the praise for Sony’s twelfth MLB installment i’d have been mad not to at least try it. And boy does it ever hit a home run.

MLB The Show ’17 is possibly the most comprehensive sports sim I have ever experienced. Given my little knowledge of the sport, the excellent tutorials get you up to scratch with little fuss/expectation. You can pitch/bat with whatever camera view suits you best, or even choose whatever TV coverage style you want. There is local co-op, online play, season mode and a franchise mode, which gives you control over and above the team on the field.

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The fielding and batting mechanics are pretty much perfect. You can swing with the tap of a button or with a swing of the analog stick. You can control all bases in sync or individually. The amount of functions and features goes on and on. To list everything MLB The Show ’17 has to offer for beginners through to seasoned professionals would simply be too much.

One new feature of note is the Retro Mode; a simplistic single-game mode that provides an excellent, top-level game of baseball for single/co-op play. It is visualised with 8-bit style block-graphics and thinner backdrops. It is an excellent mode to pick up the basics of the rules and batting/fielding timings.

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I haven’t even touched on the ‘Road to the show’ mode, where you create then guide a player through their career. From managing the bases to your contract, your social media profile to your attitude.

MLB The Show ’17 is incredible value for money. I picked this up for half price a few months down the line, but come March I will be looking for the best price for MLB The Show ’18. It is quite possibly the best sports sim series ever made.

And finally…..#1

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Come on Rey TELL ME!!!

#1 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

I think it’s fair to say that most who have experienced Breath of the Wild would make it their top pick. BotW is a genre-defining, mind-blowing experience that just has to be played.

The open-world environment is simply huge and awe-inspiring. The physics engine is tremendously detailed. The visuals are incredible, beautiful and, as a whole, is a brilliant adventure. Breath of the Wild takes elements from its already-greatest hits, as well as a few others (Skyrim being one example), and expands them exponentially.

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There isn’t much left to say about Breath of the Wild that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. But there is a reason it has appeared on almost all 2017 Game of the Year listings. The anticipation alone led to 4 million sales for the Nintendo Switch, a perfect jump-start for Nintendo. It also served as a perfect swansong for the under-performing Wii U, managing to shift just over 1 million copies.

It’s release on the Wii U is something I am thankful for. Being 1 of the 1 million to own a copy on Wii U, it gave me the chance to experience one of the most immersive worlds ever committed to code. I urge you to do the same if you haven’t already. Breath of the Wild isn’t just the best video game of 2017; it’s the best game in years.

So that’s my top games of 2017, what were yours? Leave a comment below!

Review – The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (PS4)

The third season of Telltale’s eponymous series is possibly the most curious yet. Telltale’s approach to storytelling has become familiar over its various franchises. Potential outcomes have become more obvious through familiarity than merely being predictable. This latest Walking Dead installment attempts to skirt around such expectations and take it up a notch.

Like the previous entries in the series, Telltale’s Walking Dead tries to keep you guessing, whilst also filled with moments of genuine emotion. Given the formula is pretty much the same throughout, the first two series were always going to have one over it’s third instalment. There is nothing new here other than the continuing plot line from previous seasons and animation improvements. The voice-acting is once again among some of the best in video games. I certainly didn’t expect anything different formula-wise; in fact, I’d be disappointed if it had changed.

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So, Telltale mechanics? Check. Emotional and difficult choices? Check. Best Walking Dead season so far? That’s much harder to answer. To delve into the specifics of the plot would be unnecessary and spoiler-ific, but of course any previous experience of the series will steer your mind in the right direction. The only reveal I will share – and possibly the most disappointing element of the game – is that you are no longer in control of Clementine in the main story. This time it’s Javier Carlos, a disgraced baseball player who’s current zombie-filled plight is as difficult as his family history.

Despite the lead character change once again, the game’s success still revolves around what decisions are made. Moreover, it can be replayed to enact the alternatives if so desired. There are moments that feel too cliched however, or forcing shock value upon you.

On the whole though Telltale’s formula is more hit than miss; the final chapter has a number of loose ends that tie up really well, leaving a sensation of hope that was missing from the end of the first 2 seasons. It also leaves off with a lot of potential story-lines for potential future seasons. I did find some of the new relationships hard to buy into, with a reliance on flashbacks to mold the character you want. There are mixed emotions to the more abrupt deaths that occur. A simple “oh, they’re dead” is as much emotion as can be spared for certain characters, with little time for reflection.

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Telltale rose to prominence due to the introduction of this meticulous formula back in 2012 with its first season. It may not seem they can quite recreate the success that first season had with this one, but Telltale have certainly proven they are far from bereft of ideas. You won’t be left wanting once A New Frontier ends, with multiple narratives introduced and addressed along the way. The expectation is solely on the stories and how they are delivered, nothing more.

A New Frontier this is a fitting entry into Walking Dead lore. If you’ve experienced the previous Telltale seasons, then you know what to expect. And by the end of A New Frontier, despite it being the weakest entry so far, is still well worth your time. Your jaw may drop from time to time, and there’s plenty of trauma and emotion throughout. But don’t forget that in the long run none of this will probably matter.

Emotional, inquisitive, dramatic yet also comforting, A New Frontier will keep you hooked from start to finish with another solid season.

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Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1: A Parent’s Tale

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Warning: This article contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead season 1. If you haven’t finished the game yet, bookmark the post and come back when you have. Seriously. Spoilers.

Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series is the benchmark of episodic video gaming. Never has a video game been so simple in it’s mechanics yet present so many conflicting and complicated narratives to deal with. Episode by episode the stakes were raised, culminating with Game of the Year awards for the first season back in 2012.

The fabulous storytelling Telltale equals if not betters that of the comic book and TV show. Regardless of the medium, The Walking Dead is a universe tinged with tragedy, unrelenting tragedy. After all, what is there to look forward to during a zombie apocalypse?

Another common theme is children. In the TV/comic series, you have Rick Grimes and his son Carl, a boy who is mentally forced into adulthood by the zombie apocalypse and its dangers.

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Telltale’s incarnation presents Lee and Clementine, a father/daughter (but-not-really) relationship brought together in unlikely circumstances; Lee, a convicted murderer of his wife’s lover, escapes his police escort vehicle after it, and the escorting officer, meet their end via nearby walkers. With Clementine, she is spotted by Lee and found to be home alone with only her tree-house keeping her out of harms way.

Given that Lee is the main playable protagonist it is easy to forget, sympathise or maybe even empathise with this initial murderous narrative. Especially given you are tasked into ensuring his survival as if it was your own. This is a somewhat polar opposite to Rick Grimes, who is a man of the law. But as the chapters unravel, Lee often becomes the voice of reason, recognised by many as as leader, and is looking out for the child all the while. Just like Rick.

Eventually it is revealed that Lee had always wanted a family of his own. His wife’s long-distance work and eventual extramarital affair ended those prospects, regardless of Lee’s subsequently murderous actions. I’m not crazy enough to condone murder of course, but this narrative is repeatedly thrust upon you to test how you may or may not reason with it, and the others around you. This includes Clementine, who is only 9 years old by the end of the first season. Her eyes and mind are already being forced wide open to a world a child should never have to endure. For Lee, this is a chance at redemption. That redemption comes in the form of Clementine.

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There are many characters that come and go in The Walking Dead, but Lee and Clementine’s relationship is the bedrock of the first season. It’s how it starts and how it ends, regardless of the decisions you make. Being a father of two myself, it is a relationship that grew deep in my heart. It toyed with my emotions if Clementine went missing; room by room searches provoked only feelings of dread. Not only does protecting Clem becomes Lee’s primary focus, it became mine also.

I’ve played through season 1 twice. Once in 2012, and again in 2017. Both times I made choices based around Lee’s position at that moment, but in fact I was making the exact choices that I would make, not Lee. At first I often decided to lie to save Clem’s feelings, and felt bad for doing so. I think it’s fair to say we’ve all told a little porky here and there to stop a child’s train of thought.

However, a lot has changed in 5 years. My then infant daughter is now well into her seventh year of life, and absorbing information like a sponge. Even from age 4, the cortex begins to operate at the same level as an adults. Moreover, from age 4 a child’s brain is twice as active as any adult due to the increased consumption of glucose. It makes perfect sense, as children grow and develop into adults. This also means they are more likely to trust and accept what is in front of their eyes, what they are told and what they experience is what life is. And it is this ongoing narrative that almost every conversation with Clem is asking of you.

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It was evident on the second play through that I found myself being far more honest, not just with Clementine, but others also. This is where Telltale have succeeded the most; for all the black-and-white answers you can give, there are shades of grey that can equally be successful, or not so, in different ways. Even at Clementine’s young age, she easily determine’s Lee’s criminal misgivings from the simplest of half-truths. The challenge is how you deal with that, as it is unexpected of a child only a few years old.

Then there is Duck. Remember him? Hyper little thing, around the same age as Clementine. Duck is evidently far from ready for any catastrophe due to Katjaa’s mothering ways, and I would expect no less from most mother’s in the same situation.  In both play-through’s, my instinct was to save Duck instead of Herschel Green’s son. But this first major decision is a trick; Shawn dies no matter what you pick and is merely a points scoring exercise with Kenny, Duck’s dad. Telltale, you bastards!

Back in 2012 my son was an excitable, full-of-beans young man who was rather hyper at times, but equally affectionate. So like Duck, the potential was there for him to get into trouble, or not be fully aware of the dangers (hardly zombie danger, but still) around him until it’s too late. Throughout Duck’s eagerness my instincts were always to protect a child. Even though he wasn’t my own. Between a grieving mother and an increasingly unstable father in Katjaa and Kenny respectively, my inclinations were toward being their voice of reason in a world of tragedy and chaos.

When Duck meets his end after being bitten in chapter 3, the first time I took the mantle of putting him down before he returned as a zombie. This is of course a decision that 1) I hope to never ever have to make in real life with my own or anyone’s kids, and 2) I would also be the one to pull the trigger. I have no idea how I would cope with that level or manner of loss. In fact the thought makes me physically sick. The second time however, the added years of parenthood hit me. I found myself telling Duck’s father, Kenny, who had just witnessed his wife shoot herself in the head with Duck about to turn, that he should finish off Duck. I just couldn’t do it. Damn this game. For some, such choices may seem flippant as it is but a video game. But such decisions ripped at my conscience. Such decisions should never have to be made. And it makes for heart-pounding entertainment.

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This brings us poignantly onto the final scenes of the first season’s final episode. People’s accounts have detailed being visibly upset or distressed at what is the ‘parent’s’ final moments of the game. It truly is a heart-wrenching scene of which I felt distinct sadness for. Unlike any other in a video game before in fact. All I kept hoping for was for Clem not to die, with the feeling of dread rapidly increasing at the prospect. Despite this, it was also incredibly touching to see how Lee and Clem’s rapport had built up to this point. I’d like to think it’s a similar rapport I’d have with my own daughter, given a similar situation.

In both instances, I ensured Lee was hand-cuffed to the radiator and encouraged Clem to shoot him before turning. I’m not sure if I could deal with Clem seeing a zombie Lee, and am only tentatively contemplating replaying the scene if a different way. Even by not triggering a particular outcome, Telltale is challenging me. Toying with my emotions.

Following Lee’s tragic departure from the series, the focus becomes purely on Clementine. She becomes the playable protagonist. In my mind, there is no one better to encapsulate the series than Clementine. She is this Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes. Visibly older, mentally stronger, Clem is now a hardened survivalist. But still just a child. The decisions you make are now hers, and not of a guardian.