The end of 2013 has seen the release of the latest generation of console gaming. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One (I still chuckle at that name, sorry Microsoft, it’s just a silly name for your third console regardless of all of it’s extra ‘all in one’ features) were released with unprecedented hype and expectation. We’ve seen scenes reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead with shoppers mobbing stores worldwide in an effort to get their hands on the shiny new consoles. Personally I find it very uncomfortable to watch some of the scenes that have played out, and I consider myself a lifelong gamer.

But I’m sitting here and thinking, why? Why are people clamouring for new consoles that to my eyes don’t actually have any games that are worth playing yet? Why do people care so much? Sure, both the PS4 and Xbox One have the latest iterations of Call of Duty and Battlefield. They both have the latest sports games and each has one or two exclusive launch games, such as Killzone: Shadowfall. But none of these games are exactly what I’d call “next gen”. If I wanted to play COD or Battlefield, there’s a heap of those on PS3 that I haven’t played yet. Or hell, I’d just play Call of Duty 4. A game that was released over six years ago and has yet to be topped. But that’s a story for another article.


Still the most shocking moment in any military FPS that I’ve played.


I count myself as a rather serious gamer. I love open world games like GTA, FPS’s like Call of Duty and Western RPG games such as Baldur’s Gate. I enjoy strategy and horror games. I’ve owned practically every platform from the last twenty or so years.  There’s not a major game series out there that I haven’t played at some point. I watch trailers and Let’s Play videos. I read articles online. But I just don’t care about these new consoles yet and I know exactly why: because I am a gamer. I love playing new and exciting video games. I’m not rushing for a PS4 because there’s no bloody games out there that are actually ‘next gen’ yet.


Oooh. Shiny.


Oh sure the new games might look pretty but the likes of Killzone, Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA, NBA etc haven’t changed anything up. They’ve just got a new lick of paint on top. It’s the same kind of FPS that we’ve all been playing since the early 2000’s and even before: ultra immersive shooters with a veneer of ‘realism’. Nothing ever changes in these games any more. Sports games explain themselves and get a pass, how much can you really change up something based on a real sport?

Obviously the consoles have only just been released. Is it really fair to expect revolutionary games right off the bat? Well. Yes. Actually it is pretty fair. When the PS2 released we saw games such as TimeSplitters and Tekken Tag Tournament. Games that pushed the boundaries of their genre and vastly improved on what had came before them. In short order we had games such as Metal Gear Solid 2, Grand Theft Auto III and Gran Turismo 3. When the Xbox released we saw Halo: Combat Evolved. With the PS3 and 360 we swiftly saw the birth of the HD console games, as well as a massive explosion in the popularity of games outside of their core fanbase with the Wii as well as the rise of an independent industry that had full support from the publishers which lead to beautiful games such as Journey. What do these new launch games promise exactly? Sadly it just seems to be more of the same that we saw in the last generations. Nothing game changing.


Yes. Videogames are art,


But there is hope on the horizon. There are a clutch of games in development that to me define the idea of progress. Games that look absolutely brilliant. Very few games in the past have excited me as much as a few of these games I’m talking about. These games are: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Watch_Dogs, The Evil Within, Infamous: Second Son, Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Elder Scrolls Online.


This is what I think of when I hear “next gen”.

Until those games, and other games that make me feel the same way I do about them are released, I have very little interest in this new generation of consoles.


The Real Mid Card

xmasfireSandow gets put out – Source: World Wrestling Entertainment

It’s Christmas time and last night I sat down to watch the penultimate episode of Monday Night Raw for 2013. From Austin, Texas WWE presented Raw Christmas. Let’s get into it.

– The Authority came to the ring to the open the show, each wearing red Santa hats, even Kane. Randy Orton came to the ring and awarded himself the night off, which they didn’t seem to mind.

12 Divas Jingle Bells Match: This match included some very hot Christmas outfits, some pretty impressive moves and even the disturbing presence of Vickie Guerrero. Natalya, Alicia Fox and The Bellas did a good job, to be fair to them. Natalya got the win with the Sharpshooter.

Sin Cara v Curtis Axel: The Mexican continued to build momentum with a tremendous performance and a good win over the former Paul Heyman guy. JBL…

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Grand Theft Auto V:
Thoughts and Musings



Well it was a long time coming, but its finally here. I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto V almost non stop over the last two weeks and I can’t see myself taking a break for quite some time. It’s even managed to drag me away from Skyrim; which I thought would be impossible for anything other than Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The long and short of it is this: I am convinced that this is the best game that I’ll ever play. Well, at least until Rockstar announces the next GTA; which I hope will be set in either London, Vice City or a completely new city based off New Orleans.


It’s somehow managed to not only meet my expectations (which were pretty damn high let me tell you!) it’s surpassed them. This is in sharp contrast to GTA IV, which let me down in the end by not having much to do once the storyline is finished, after I was hyped to breaking point. Don’t get me wrong, I hold GTA IV as one of the top twenty games ever developed. That Rockstar North were able to develop that game for release in 2008 is as sure evidence as you’ll find of their absolute genius in the field of videogames.


But GTA V is on a whole new level compared to IV. It has improved every single area of the Grand Theft Auto experience and then added several new layers. Why this wasn’t a next generation game; I’ll never understand. I guess it really is true that the best games always come out towards the end of a generations life. The last two or three years have seen the release of undeniably the best games that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (sorry Nintendo readers, I’ll never understand the appeal of the Wii, and the Wii U legitimately has no games that I want to play or that I can’t already play on my PS3. I’m sorry to break it to you so publicly but the latest Mario, Metroid and Zelda games or remakes of the classics really hold no appeal at all if you weren’t playing them back in the day. I was a SEGA kid) have to offer.


Games like The Last of Us, Sleeping Dogs, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3 (say what you like about the disappointing and confusing endings, which I will be writing an article about soon, the game itself is incredible) are wondrous achievements in video games. In my opinion GTA V is better than all those games I mentioned and then some. Rockstar really are masters at their craft, matched only by Hideo Kojima’s stealthy team in Japan.


To start with the first thing I have to talk about is the driving. It’s strange, but with GTA games you never really take the time to really enjoy the driving. It’s the absolute core of the game but it’s always been something that you just did without thinking. In the III-era (III, Vice City, San Andreas and Liberty City/Vice City Stories) the driving is ridiculously arcade like, different types of cars don’t really handle any differently than one another, some just happen to go faster than the others. More Crazy Taxi than Project Gotham Racing.


When it came time for the current generation, Rockstar switched it up to a more realistic (though that’s only from what other people have told me, I can’t drive so I don’t know if it is realistic) style. Different classes of cars handle very differently from each other and you can’t make breakneck turns and instant stops like you could in the III era. I enjoyed this style a lot more than the older games, even if it was more similar to driving a boat in San Andreas than a car. It was more challenging and very rewarding to manage to drive across Liberty City without causing untold billions of dollars of vehicular damage.


With V it feels like something of a blend of the two. Driving is ridiculously fun and addictive. The more pricey cars are capable of insane feats of turning and stunts that wouldn’t look out of place in the latest Fast and Furious movie, especially while using Franklin’s special driving ability. You can bob and weave through the lanes of traffic on the many highways with ease. At the same time, the cars have real weight and you have to keep your eye on the road for other motorists. Driving feels like a proper racing game. Don’t get me wrong it’s no purist simulator like a Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport but it reminds me a lot of Rockstar’s own Midnight Club, Need for Speed Underground or the legendary Burnout games.


Another improved element of the driving is the traffic on the roads. In previous games (and especially GTA IV) other traffic has a bad habit of disappearing at times, usually when you’re going full tilt. It was very weird to be bombing it over the Broker Bridge and straight through the heart of Midtown while only seeing a few other cars (most likely cop cars, which seemed to outnumber civilian cars 10 to 1) on the road. Having been to Manhattan and even crossed the real Brooklyn Bridge at a snails pace, I can tell you that that is nothing like the real life traffic of New York City. It’s more like the traffic in Pelsall on a Sunday morning.


With V there is a constant level of traffic that you have to drive through. There’s never a part of the game where the city looks and feels anything less than a living and breathing metropolis. In the dead of night the side roads are quiet and only a few other drivers can be seen, during rush hour it’s a furious melee of cars that jostle through the roads and highways in the heart of the city. It’s an awesome sight to behold, especially on the freeways and it really helps with immersion.


Speaking of the city, Los Santos is mesmerizing. Like I just said, it looks and feels like a real metropolis. While I haven’t been to Los Angeles like I have New York, so I can’t give first hand experience, the city feels like it looks in all the great LA based movies: busy, packed, violent in the wrong areas, colorful and vast. At times the game feels like you’re driving through a scene of Heat or Lethal Weapon.


HD Los Santos is a far cry from the hard boiled and depressing HD Liberty City (again, not a pop at IV, it was designed that way). It’s vibrant and lush, it looks like a lovely place to live. The only true comparison I can think of is that this must be the same way that I felt when I first played Vice City back when it was first released. To go from a Liberty City that I knew like the back of my hand to a vividly colorful place like Vice City was a shock to the senses. It’s the same thing here, with extra servings of high definition for good measure.


It’s also deceptively big. On the paper fold out map that GTA is famous for the city is dwarfed by the countryside of Blaine County and when I first saw the leaked map a few months ago I was really worried that the city would feel too small in comparison to the countryside. My experience so far has been the polar opposite of that initial reaction and I’m also really pleased that so far the bulk of the story has taken place in the heart of Los Santos rather than the surrounding countryside, which I’ve barely explored except when forced to by the enforced switch to Trevor after the first heist.


Going back to GTA IV I had the opposite initial reaction. Liberty City looked humongous and I couldn’t wait to drive around and get lost in the warren like streets. However once all three islands are unlocked you realize that its more a trick of the game, while I’m not saying the HD Liberty City is by any means small, on foot the city is as colossal as it seems but it is very easy to get from the bottom of Broker to the far side of Alderney (in other words, from one side to the other) if you can drive well enough at speed, especially on a motorbike or in a high end SUV. It doesn’t feel like you’ve traveled anywhere. It doesn’t help that much of Liberty City is very samey looking, with little difference in architecture between neighborhoods, except of course on Algonquin. But I suppose it is true that due to the way that Liberty City (and indeed the real metropolitan New York, and most American cities it seems) is laid out in grids and boxes, you’re constantly traveling in nearly unbroken straight lines. So it makes perfect sense that it takes less time to get from point A to point B.


Los Santos on the otherhand goes completely the other way. My initial impressions from the map blueprints couldn’t have been further from the truth. It’s an absolutely huge and varied city and it feels like it takes ages to get from point A to point B. I haven’t even tried driving from one side to the other yet (which isn’t to say that I haven’t seen all of the city, I have, just not all at once yet). Again maybe it’s just some kind of perception trick by the Rockstar wizards, maybe I’m just not used to the city and so I don’t know my way around well enough yet, maybe its because the streets twist and turn into each other rather than neatly arranged boxes, but the city feels as if it never ends.


If you go online into the fandom, particularly, you’ll no doubt find the odd person still claiming the city itself is way too small. They say this while completely ignoring the highways, wilderness and ocean, and also claiming that “San Andreas had it right”. My opinion on those fans is that they’re simply spoiled and feel entitled in some way. Rather like Jimmy de Santa. Rockstar could give them the entirety of planet Earth pole to pole and they’d cry foul because they can’t go to the moon. They pull pixel counts and digital inch and mile figures out of their asses because they had wildly stupid expectations and most likely can’t get over the fact (through their 2004 tinged nostalgia glasses) that San Fierro and Las Venturas didn’t make the cut in 2013’s version of San Andreas. When it comes to San Fierro (my personal favorite single city of the III era) and Las Venturas all I’ll say is this: downloadable content. Or, y’know, you could just play San Andreas. Seriously, it’s still one of the best games of all time. You can even download it from the PlayStation Store of Xbox Live Marketplace.


Another amazing part of the game is it’s soundtrack. Bearing in mind that music taste is completely subjective to each person, I think that GTA V has the best radio stations and soundtrack so far. Rockstar have achieved something that I never thought they could ever do: I firmly believe that Grand Theft Auto V’s radio stations are better than Vice City’s.


It has an incredibly varied and diverse selection of tracks and stations. No single radio station feels like the same and I haven’t gotten tired of one yet. With GTA games I usually find two or three stations that I listen to, while the rest get at best a few short listens out of curiosity over the course of the game. That’s not the case with V, in fact I hardly ever bother to change stations when I get in a new car. Particular highlights are Station X, full of classic Californian hardcore punk, and Worldwide FM, an electronic and world music station filled with some of the best driving music seen in the series and that can give the latest FIFA soundtracks a run for their money with the diverse world music.


I also have to mention the in game soundtrack that has been implemented. Rockstar have really outdone themselves when it comes to that element. This was another new feature that I was worried wouldn’t work in the final game. I was concerned that the background music would become intrusive, popping up all the time and getting in the way of or even replacing altogether the traditional radio stations. I have to say that I was really surprised at how well it was pulled off. After learning that The Alchemist was at the heart of production I wasn’t surprised.


This new style of soundtrack is again diverse and varied but each song fits the mission and section that it’s used for. Jumping out of a plane at 10,000 ft? Have some gentle piano. Chasing a towed boat across a highway? It’s time for a pounding beat and driving guitar chords. Every time a new piece plays it’s a welcome addition. The only fault I could find is that there’s no option to have it on all the time!


I mentioned earlier that V improves every element of the gameplay. Perhaps nowhere is this more noticeable than with the shooting and cover system. The shooting in this game makes even GTA IV look archaic and makes me laugh out loud when I remember the convoluted shooting system of the III era (when it’s harder to shoot someone in your game than the first Resident Evil, you’ve got problems). Switching between targets is fast and fluid, popping off rounds gives a pleasant kick. Switching weapons with the wheel, lifted straight from Red Dead Redemption, feels like second nature. It’s not just on par with dedicated third person shooters like Gears of War or Mass Effect, it’s better than those games at doing it.


The only problem with the shooting comes from the somewhat bizarre decision to not implement a crouch option. This is especially confusing as GTA IV had that option from the start. I suppose I could argue that the cover system takes it place, but there have been a few times when simply being able to crouch down and duck my head would have saved me from getting shot down in a hail of bullets. I hope this will be addressed at some point in a patch or update.


Another improved element is the aggressiveness of the police and their ability to take you down. The police are hyper aggressive compared to earlier games and take absolutely no prisoners if you decide to tangle with them. Which I do, often and at high velocity. While some sectors of the fandom have decided to whine at this new level of viciousness, I’ve felt that it’s added a new level of tension and urgency to firefights and car chases. Especially out in the wilderness and mountain passes. My answer to the dissenters is simple: it’s not Rockstar’s fault that you suck, get better at laying down suppressing fire and get in cover!


Speaking of the wilderness, Rockstar have again outdone themselves. As I mentioned earlier I was a little worried that the focus of the game would switch to the wilderness and countryside. I view GTA as being synonymous with and rooted in an urban environment, a GTA game lives and dies off the quality of its city and everything else is just a side order. This is why Vice City is still being played a decade on and why I doubt many people will be replaying GTA IV very soon now that we have the infinitely more diverse world of V to enjoy. No offense Liberty City or the rabid GTA IV fans.


But my fears were unfounded as the vast bulk of the story takes place within the confines of Los Santos. Don’t get me wrong, you spend plenty of time out in the Alamo Sea, Paleto Bay and Sandy Shores. But the main heists and other missions happen in LS. It’s having the added option to abandon the busy city and head out to get lost in the open plains and mountains of San Andreas. It’s so much fun to grab a Sanchez dirt bike and try to successfully scale one of the many mountains (easier said than done) or jump into a dinghy to explore the reefs and numerous ship, plane and train wrecks in the humongous Pacific Ocean.


Red Dead Redemption clearly had a huge impact on the development of GTA V. I think it was my having played (and enjoyed) Red Dead so much that led to my fears about GTA V in this regard. With Red Dead having a huge wilderness to explore was essential because of the Western genre. Think of the amazing vistas seen in the Sergio Leone and John Wayne classics. Red Dead needed the same epic backgrounds and time spent on foot. GTA doesn’t need that because you always have something to look at in a city, plus you’re nearly always in a vehicle. I guess I was worried that Rockstar would neglect this city in favor of their new playground. But the effect on V is that it has opened the game up so much. It’s especially noticeable because of the complete lack of wilderness in GTA IV, except for Middle Park.


Animals have also made a series debut. With the coyotes, sheep, sharks, horses and dogs GTA has something that it’s never had before and its surprising how well it works. The animals manage to seamlessly blend into the background and it looks completely natural. Why wouldn’t a deer be chilling on the mountainside? While I haven’t sampled the hunting side missions yet, I can tell that they will be a welcome change of pace.


Graphically the game is absolutely gorgeous. While no doubt online you’ll find the odd naysayer pointing out a few low textures and jagged edges (that person most likely a PC gamer, who can’t play GTA V yet. In my opinion the biggest obstacle to PC gaming seizing absolute control of the gaming market isn’t price, hardware turnaround or install problems, it’s the PC gamers themselves who crow about how much better their handcrafted system’s are than our mass produced consoles. It would be like if Jay Z and Kanye West walked into a local pub and started boasting about how rich they are. It’d be true, no doubt, but it wouldn’t make them many friends) here and there, I am blown away by GTA V. It’s certainly the best looking game I’ve ever seen, at least until we see more of The Phantom Pain and next generation games are released. The surrounding’s, the characters, the cars, the sky, the pedestrians, everything looks amazing. Better than any person could have foreseen Grand Theft Auto becoming back in 2001.


Yet another improved element of the game are the types of missions and activities that you have to take part in over the story. The Grand Theft Auto experience can basically be boiled down to two types of mission: you either have to drive somewhere to pick something up or you have to kill a bunch of rival gang members. Most of the time it’s both. Every GTA game is based around those two parameters and the cleverness of the game is in hiding this fact from the player and making them think they’re doing a different task each time. San Andreas did a brilliant job with this sleight of hand, while Niko’s story in GTA IV in my opinion did not. The Ballad of Gay Tony improved on this element immeasurably, while The Lost and the Damned embraced it.


GTA V has the formula boiled down to perfection. Different types of weapons make a huge difference, such as the sniping missions. The new three way storytelling also helps in this area. But V has a diverse bunch of missions and it never really dawns on you that all you’re doing is the two same things over and over again. It changes between characters and areas, between which side of the city you’re on.


With GTA IV it becomes noticeable at an early stage that all Niko really is is a thug and and assassin for hire, it’s even hilariously discussed a bunch of times in the dialog, with even Niko hanging a lampshade on his lot in that virtual world. But with V the greater ambition and specialized skills of the three characters really comes across through both the story and the missions. You can feel Micheal’s elation and relief as he’s being dragged back into the life he unwillingly left behind, Franklin’s desperation to escape the gangbanging stereotype and Trevor’s absolute lack of morality and regard for his own safety.


The three way dynamic is another element that I was worried about. I thought that with most video-game writers unable to develop simply one compelling character and story, how could Rockstar manage three all at the same time? I needn’t have worried and I’m left wondering just why other games haven’t been doing this for years. The three way switching and characters makes GTA V feel even more like the movies that influenced the early development of the series. It feels like you’re playing through Infernal Affairs or The Godfather as the story twists and turns around the characters. I can see a lot of third person shooters and open world games embracing this new innovation, as they have with most of Rockstar’s other ones over the years. In particular I would love to see what Naughty Dog, Kojima Productions or BioWare could do with the concept.


Michael de Santa is the most traditional of the characters. He’d slot right into GTA III or Vice City with no problem and he even bears a remarkable resemblance to Tommy Vercetti, you can even dress him up just like him with grown out hair, clean shave, Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans! Franklin Clinton is the central character, the one who the story revolves around, and is most like CJ from San Andreas but with one key difference: while Carl was content to simply go on banging for Grove Street even after the insanity that unfolds over the course of San Andreas, Franklin wants to get as far away from Chamberlain Grove (V’s version of Compton and South Central) and the petty squabbles between the Ballas and the CGF as he can. He doesn’t want to not be a criminal, don’t get me wrong, he just wants to make a hell of a lot more money doing it. As he says in an early mission: he’s not afraid of dying, he just wants to do it while he’s doing something that matters. Trevor Phillips on the otherhand is a completely different story.


The only true comparison I can make is that he’s like having Heath Ledger’s demented version of the Joker seen in The Dark Knight as a player character, without the restrictions of a 12A rating. Helped by the amazing voice and motion capture acting (in fact all three player characters have incredible voice acting) by Stephen Ogg; Trevor is a character that I’m constantly changing my mind about. I think I have him all figured out and then he’ll do something to completely change my mind.


In the build up to the game I thought that I would find Trevor an annoyance, someone I’d play as because the game forced me to, not because I wanted to as I did with Michael and Frank. I thought he’d be a simple and immature character, a one dimensional cipher made up to give the player free reign to wreck anarchy. I viewed him as a half assed answer to the criticism of IV’s Niko, where there was a clear disparity between the story (where Niko is defined by regret for his actions) and the players actions between missions.


When it came time to play the game I found that I couldn’t get enough of playing as the insane meth head. He’s a complex and riveting character that simply has to be seen to be believed. I’d be very interested in playing an expansion set during the missing nine years between the fateful heist that kicks off GTA V and the present day, perhaps seeing more of Trevor before the meth and psychosis fully took hold. While he’s certainly the cipher for chaos that I thought he would be, he’s no mere cardboard cut out for the player.


It’s strange but I feel that GTA V could have been about any of the three characters on their own, but would have been worse off for it. It would be enjoyable for sure but there’s something special about this group of criminals, something in the dialog between them on the long rides and during the shootouts that has elevated V beyond merely being a new GTA game. It’s a completely new beast in the field of videogames. I think that the story of V is easily [at least] the equal of anything that Hollywood has to offer. In fact GTA V would have made the perfect GTA movie script.


The only weakness I’ve found in the story is the heists that the game is based around. While all six are diverse and great fun and a few of the later ones (the Paleto Bay bank job in particular) astounded me with the way they played out, you don’t actually make that much money off of them. In fact in only two of the six, the Jewel Store heist and the Union Depository heist, did I walk away with some serious money and in at least two of the others I didn’t get anything at all in return for my efforts except advancing the story. They didn’t seem to be that much different in design and function from any of the later and more ambitious missions in previous games.


Perhaps it was how I tackled the missions but it wasn’t nearly enough money in my opinion. I’ve finished the story and there’s already some things that I know that I’ll never afford, the golf club and two of the cinema’s come to mind. The only option I can see to get the funds is to grind for hours on the pedestrians pocket change and stores, or trust in the strange alchemical fluctuations of the Liberty City Exchange (as I don’t have access to the Internet from home, I can’t access the BAWSAQ). But I have a feeling that this is an area of the game that will be greatly expanded on when it comes time for the downloadable content. As they stand four of the six are simply a bunch of really fun extended missions.


It just feels a little strange given that the game was heavily marketed as giving the player a lot of money to play around with. In previous games it got to the point that you had hundreds of millions of dollars stockpiled, but nothing to spend it on. With V it’s the reverse, there’s a lot of stuff I want to buy but I can’t afford them. I’m definitely missing some side mission pay offs but I personally don’t feel like I’ve gotten to play around with that much paper, except after having finished the game and even then, as I said, there’s things that I can’t come close to buying even if I added up all three character’s bank accounts together. Which you can’t do.


Another slightly disappointing aspect is the lack of a singular charismatic villain. GTA’s have always thrived off this, giving the player a truly hate-able nemesis to want to kill, Catalina from III comes instantly to mind. With V there isn’t really what you’d call a traditional Big Bad. Instead there’s a triumvirate of villains who slyly slot into the position and the ever present threat of Merryweather Private Security.


It’s not really a weakness though, the story is the best one yet, it’s just something that stood out a little at the end. There wasn’t the sense of triumph over adversity that you got in Vice City when you took down Sonny Forelli and the traitorous Lance Vance, or the roaring rampage of revenge seen at the end of GTA IV.


In GTA games the player is almost always working for someone who has ultimate power over the hero. Whether it’s Don Salvatore Leone, Ricardo Diaz or Officer Tenpenny. But with GTA V, the trio are purely working for themselves. Except for the FiB taskmasters, Michael and Trevor are actually the closest there is to traditional “boss” characters in the game. Trevor’s even a CEO, though he is one of only three employee’s of Trevor Phillips Industries. It’s an awesome switch up in my opinion and one that I hope will continue into the future. It’s good to be the boss.


To sum it all up I have to go back to the point I made: this is the best game I’ve ever played. Rockstar have managed to squeeze every single ounce of power out of the current (soon to be last) generation of consoles and put it all on screen for the player to behold. The game world is absolutely immense and a pleasure to drive through and inhabit. If you haven’t already played GTA V then what is wrong with you? Get down to the nearest shop and get a copy. You owe it to yourself as a gamer. Grand Theft Auto V is as good as it gets.

GTA V review!

The Real Mid Card

GTA-5-Wallpaper-Full-HDFranklin and Chop – Source:

Grand Theft Auto V:
Thoughts and Musings


Well it was a long time coming, but its finally here. I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto V almost non stop over the last two weeks and I can’t see myself taking a break for quite some time. It’s even managed to drag me away from Skyrim (hyperlink to Skyrim article); which I thought would be impossible for anything other than Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (link to TPP article). The long and short of it is this: I am convinced that this is the best game that I’ll ever play. Well, at least until Rockstar announces the next GTA; which I hope will be set in either London, Vice City or a completely new city based off New Orleans.

It’s somehow managed to not only meet my expectations (which were pretty damn…

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The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

Thoughts and Musings on an Epic Adventure


(Warning: Minor Spoilers abound!)

Skyrim is one of the most popular games of the current (soon to be last, which makes me chuckle when I realize I’ve now lived through nearly five video-game generations) generation of both console and PC gaming. The Elder Scrolls IV – Oblivion was one of my favorite games I’ve ever played. I got completely sucked in by that game and its detailed and expansive world, it seemed like the land of Cyrodil was a living and breathing place.



I had seen the pre-release trailers for Skyrim and was really impressed. The graphics were gorgeous and it seemed Bethesda had done the same again, making a new world for gamers to get lost in. As the game was released I looked on with envy. I didn’t have a current generation console at the time (I now have a PS3, which will suit me well until the PS4 drops in price) and playing it on my laptop was completely out of the question, it would probably spontaneously combust during the install alone. But I finally got Skyrim around two weeks ago and I can firmly say it was worth the wait.

For those who don’t follow the Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim is one of several different provinces that make up the land of Tamriel. It is part of the Empire and is populated by the hardy Nords, who also happen to make up the vast majority of Imperial citizens, or at least the peasantry. Tamriel is watched over by the Nine Divines, the gods of this world. But there are also a bunch of Daedric Princes, demonic demigods who rule the plains of Oblivion and often get involved in the affairs of mortals.

In Skyrim, you take up the role of a previously anonymous adventurer who has been captured by the Empire while trying to cross the border into the land. This is a common theme in The Elder Scrolls, the player always starts in shackles. The Prisoner soon discovers that he is the Dragonborn, he may have a mortal body but he has the soul of a Dragon and is the only known warrior capable of truly killing a Dragon by devouring its soul.


Which is really convenient as the Dragons have just made their return after millenia of supposed extinction. The player character is even inadvertently saved from his execution at the start by the Big Bad of the game, Alduin the World Eater. Ah the glorious coincidences that make up the vast bulk of great fantasy stories!

This sets the stage for a truly epic adventure through the nine holds of Skyrim and beyond. The foundation of the game is simple exploration and it is this element of the game that is so engrossing and absorbing. You simply get lost as you walk the mountains (so many mountains) and paths of the land and delve into the many, many dungeons and barrows that dot the countryside of Skyrim. Trying to simply get from point A to point B can start off hours of branching stories and side quests.

This is helped along by the incredible world building that Bethesda has undertaken from day one with the Elder Scrolls games. There are hundreds of books in the game that fill in the detailed backstory of the world. There are countless references to previous Elder Scrolls games, with even a possible appearance by the player character of Oblivion. The characters seem like living and breathing people, helped by the awesome voice acting. While not quite on the same level as BioWare’s Mass Effect games (then again nothing else is) when it comes to random NPC’s, an incredible amount of detail was put into the people of Skyrim.

Another great element is the way you level up and make yourself more powerful. Rather than going for the traditional ‘points and attributes’ style that has served fantasy role playing games so well, the character advances his skills through use. Bash someone’s head in with a mace or an axe enough and you’ll advance your One Handed skills, brew up loads of potions and poisons and you’ll soon master Alchemy. Every time you advance your skills enough you then get to level up and choose to raise your Health/Magicka/Stamina and pick a new perk, for example a thief would choose one of the Sneak perks. This style of advancement is amazingly addictive and it allows you to craft your own play style. I typically play as the classic Thief, creeping through the shadows in crypts and sneak attacking whoever is unlucky enough to be in front of me without them ever knowing where the arrow that killed them came from.

It’s a truly beautiful game. The graphics are astounding, especially the environments and particularly the views from the tops of the mountains and the night sky. Inside buildings the lighting is incredible and everything looks great. The only negative about the graphics would be from a design perspective as things tend to look the same all around, with only minor differences. But to be honest I only started noticing this later on, when I had been through a fair few different dungeons. Plus when a game looks this good it’s not really fair to hold things like that against it. The moment you start playing it’s clear why this game took five years to be released.

Another negative is the games set pieces with Dragons, and it’s difficulty level with more elite classes of foes. Truth be told the Dragons aren’t really that impressive, or challenging from a game-play point of view. After your first encounter with Mirmulnir in Whiterun every dragon seems to be the same. Every dragon has the same routine of fly about, land, fly about and then land. If you’re playing as a ranged character like an archer the supposedly all powerful Ysmir are disappointingly simple to take down.

This is harshly countered with the more elite types of enemies, such as the Draugr Dreadlords or the Falmer Stalkers. If you aren’t prepared you’ll swiftly get your ass handed to you. Particularly if they are a mage or have a two handed weapon like a bastard sword or battle axe. In contrast your own attacks only seem to chip away at their health.

In my opinion it isn’t really balanced that well at all. As you reach higher levels it’s especially noticeable. It really hit home for me when I started the Dragonborn DLC and reached the Temple of Miraak quest, which is the second quest of that DLC and the first combat based part. It was really disheartening to repeatedly get killed by one particular enemy (the aforementioned Dreadlord class draugr, the Gatekeeper) meanwhile earlier in the main game I’d been swatting dragons like bothersome flies.

I actually rage quit at a couple of points, and believe me it takes a lot to get me to rage quit a game. It’s not fun in the way that punishing games like Dark Souls are. It’s not challenging, it’s unfair when you’ve gotten used to the more common enemies. It doesn’t spur you on for the rest of the game, it makes you not want to play any more. Maybe I’m just a bad player?

The biggest negative in the game however is the diabolical user interface, such as the pause menu. It’s clearly designed with us console players in mind, which I fully appreciate, but it doesn’t really work as well as Bethesda hoped. It’s not sleek like a Mass Effect or a Metal Gear Solid, it’s clunky and slow.

Why can’t I map a button to go straight to the world map? Why are there two different buttons that essentially do the exact same thing (I’m talking about Start and Circle/B) when they could all go under the same one and be navigated with the shoulder buttons? Why is it so unresponsive while auto-saving?

The load screens are really annoying too after a while. I can easily see why they’re needed, it’s an absolutely huge and detailed game after all, but there’s only so many times I can look at a spinning werewolf or alchemy table; or read about how the different holds track crime separately before I start dreading opening doors.

It’s just a little confusing to see that Skyrim needs one to go from an entrance hall of a castle to it’s dungeons, but outside in the huge world you can practically walk from one end of the realm to the other without having to stop once. I guess it’s just one of the realities of video-games, it’s got to load at some point I guess.

Another slight negative is the mountains in the game. If you’re not on the path laid out it’s scarily easy to get lost in the crags and be unable to progress without going back to the bottom of the mountain and try not to lose your way on the path. But this somehow manages to help the immersion factor. The player feels like the Dragonborn when you’re going up the massive slopes. This is especially noticeable with High Hrothgar on the Throat of the World. High Hrothgar is where the Greybeards are and it’s where the Dragonborn has to go. It’s an epic climb to the top and you’re relieved when you reach the temple. It feels like you’ve just climbed a big ass mountain.

Another great element is the music in the game. It’s old school Hollywood blockbuster worthy. Jeremy Soule continues to make great music for the Elder Scrolls games that helps with the immersion and world building. Of particular note is the player characters theme, The Dragonborn Comes, which plays whenever a Dragon notices that it’s fighting the Dragonborn rather than a random guy and promptly lose their shit. It wouldn’t sound out of place at all in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

In conclusion, Skyrim is a great, great game. Well deserving of the praise heaped upon it by the gaming media and the legions of adoring fans. On the otherhand, Skyrim is a Bethesda game, so there’s the occasional issues with bugs and glitches, but personally I think these are overstated by some corners of the gaming media. Reading some comments you’d think it was unplayable but I haven’t really noticed many bugs. Perhaps I feel this way because I’m coming into the game two years after release after the game has been patched and such.

Skyrim has shot into my list of favorite games, replacing Oblivion, and it’s one that I’ll be playing for a long time to come. Skyrim is one of the main factors in my decision to invest in a gaming PC, I can’t wait to load up some of the mods I’ve seen online so I can get the best Skyrim experience possible.

Story: 09/10

Graphics: 09/10

Immersion: 10/10

Music: 09/10

Voice Acting: 08/10

Game-play: 09/10

Game life span: 20000000/10

Overall Rating: 09/10

The PlayStation 3:

Rejoining the Video-game World

On Wednesday 8th August 2013 I purchased a new PlayStation 3. I paid £130 for 120GB of the finest that Japanese gaming has to offer. It’s a big moment for me, I’ve been out the loop gaming wise for nearly three years now. I used to live it large: an Xbox 360 and a PS3, along with a huge television and speakers to play it on. Unfortunately stupid decisions in my personal life cost me all of that.

But now I’m back and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve got a swanky FullHD LED Samsung television to go along with it and some of the games that I’ve been wanting to play since they were released but instead had to settle for the occasional LetsPlay or demo play through around friends. I’ve got a couple of BluRay movies as well. Another aspect that I’m looking forward to a a lot more than I thought I would is being able to play PlayStation 1 games through the console.

In this article I will be summing up my gaming history and telling you about a few of my favorite games. I figured it might be a good start in my drive to post a lot more (I’ve been seriously slipping on the blog front, though I have been writing articles for me friend Craig’s wrestling blog which can be found here) while I also spruce up the page a little too.

My gaming life started sometime in 1994 or 1995. My mother had just bought a Mega Drive for me and I’d spend hours playing classic games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Golden Axe, Earthworm Jim and FIFA Soccer. Times were good. I was a young (four or five when I started gaming) boy and I couldn’t get enough. The bright colors and addictive music were a constant escape and source of comfort.



I continued with the Mega Drive (also adding a Master System at some point) until around 1996, when I got something for a Christmas or a birthday that would go on to change my life in many ways. I got a PlayStation. The PlayStation was a whole new world compared to the Mega Drive and Master System, it’s games were a lot more complex and longer and I also had the ability to save my progress, unthinkable only a few short years previously.

Through the PlayStation I was introduced to the games that would go on to define my media enjoying life. Though the PSX game library started off simple, it would soon grow to include bonafide classic video-game series and the ones that hooked me in closest were mainly from Japanese studios. Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Silent Hill were all games that I became completely absorbed in.

Metal Gear Solid‘s incredible storyline, the movie like cinematography and presentation in it’s cut scenes and it’s peerless graphics were like crack to me. The philosophical and sociological ideas put across were huge mind openers to my 8 year old self and kicked off a love of history and science that still holds strong today. Resident Evil introduced me to the concept of zombies and Silent Hill terrified my young self. Another game that I have fond and dear memories of is MediEvil. The awesome platform and hack and slash game still remains one of my favorite games.



For me the PlayStation era can be summed up with these games: Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Dino Crisis, Dino Crisis 2, MediEvil, Grand Theft Auto, Crash Bandicoot, and Silent Hill.

When 2001 came along my mom was ready. In December 2001 I received as a gift a PlayStation 2. This was huge for me as it was also the first time I had a DVD player in the house so I could watch all my favorite movies again. On that Christmas Day I got two games with my console: WWF SmackDown: Just Bring It and Grand Theft Auto III.

I’d say it was around this point in the story is when I properly became a gamer. I started buying magazines, I started calling cheat hotlines (youngsters may not know about these, this being before I entered the online world) and I’d spend hours playing games instead of doing chores, my homework or whatever trivial nonsense you have to do at that age.


Grand Theft Auto III was another edition of a series that I loved. I had played GTA, GTA: London and GTA 2 when I had my PlayStation but truly the games didn’t really impress me that much. But when it came to GTA III I was well and truly bowled over. The incredible scale of Liberty City and the full soundtrack and voice cast was astonishing to see. Here was a series where I recognized the humor and one that seemed to embrace my love of movies, particularly classic mafia stories like The Godfather and Goodfellas.

Another game that was soon to release at this time was the peerless Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This was a game that improved on every aspect of the original and made so many improvements. I consider it to be the Aliens of video-games, the perfect sequel. The intricate and mind bending storyline was divisive but I couldn’t get enough. It is still to this day my favorite video-game and one that I look forward to replaying on PlayStation 3 through the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection.

Other great games of the PlayStation 2 generation that I loved are of course the incredible Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Those two games are probably the two that I have played the most and are two of my favorite games of all time. In particular the soundtracks to these two games had a huge impact, introducing me to many new genres and classic songs.

During this time I also had a Xbox and GameCube at certain points. With these two consoles it was about games. I bought the Xbox to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Fable. With the GameCube it was for Resident Evil, Resident Evil Zero and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. But during this time my main love was the PlayStation 2.

During this time the games that I loved are: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry, God of War and Mercenaries.

Skip forward to 2008. I’m now 18 years old, about to leave school and head off into adulthood. There was also a game that was coming out that I was looking forward to so badly: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I was obsessed by this game. It was released on the day of my last ever examination and I remember being so happy on the walk home. I had bought a PS3 a few days previously after having held off on joining the current generation. But I just had to play that game.

In the end I was rather disappointed by MGS4. I don’t know what it is but for some reason I felt really let down by the storyline developments and the direction of the game play, which seemed to be heavily oriented to the action side of the game. For me, MGS has always been about stealth, about making it through the game without being spotted. I will say that the presentation of the game is absolutely incredible and while its not something I particularly enjoy, the shooting side of the game is awesome and is one of the best action games that I have ever played.



However there were other games to be enjoyed. Grand Theft Auto IV chief amongst them. This is another game that is divisive in it’s fandom. While it has many camps and factions I would say that is firmly set in two different sides: GTA fans who appreciated the darker and more detailed storyline and city, and GTA fans who wanted something more like San Andreas. I’m a member of the former group. I loved GTA IV and especially the boggling detail to which Rockstar Games went in it’s pastiche of New York City. Maybe it’s just because I have been to New York but I really loved Liberty City.

At some point in 2009 I had the dumb idea to trade my PS3 in for a 360. While I did enjoy playing games like Fable 2 and the awesome Mass Effect series of games I never seemed to have much luck with the 360. I went through a series of red rings of death and other hardware malfunctions. Very frustrating to a (now) stoner gamer.

The games that I loved during this time, which goes from mid 2008 to around early 2011, include: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Grand Theft Auto IV, Resident Evil 5, Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes From Liberty City, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and FIFA 11.

So we get to the end of the tale. I’m sitting here typing this on my laptop as The Dark Knight BluRay plays on my television. Fully back into the gaming life I have been playing the games I have, as well as taking a new step and buying my first digital game. I bought Mass Effect from the PlayStation Store and it’s downloading as I type. I can’t wait to replay that game.

With my console I have also bought a few games: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Batman: Arkham City, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Complete Edition, Sleeping Dogs, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, FIFA 13 and Injustice: Gods Amongst Us. I’ve only really started playing Arkham City and Metal Gear Solid 2 so far but I’m easing myself in. I’m going to start a career on FIFA, going to go through Deus Ex and Sleeping Dogs and just really enjoy playing the whole of GTA IV with the DLC included which I’ve never done before and Injustice and Arkham City as I’m a huge Batman and DC Universe fan.

I’m really looking forward to it and I’ll be writing a few things as I go along.


My PlayStation Network ID is: doctorstrangeSF

The Real Mid Card

This is another great piece of work from our Ring of Honor correspondent Steven Forrester. Check out the rest of his stuff here, and thanks for reading.

Top 5 ROH Matches
2002 – 2010

In this article I will be listing my top five matches from Ring of Honor from 2002 to 2010. I have chosen this period as I believe that between those 8 years is when the promotion was at it’s finest and most pure, and also when it’s best matches occurred.

A future article will go into the three years (and beyond) after those, but I feel that ROH is a very different beast than it was during it’s infancy and it’s apex. Extensive talent raids have cost ROH a solid core of it’s best wrestlers with no sign of WWE or TNA slowing down in their poaching of talent. From Bryan Danielson to Austin Aries…

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