Editorial: January 2019

Welcome to January’s new-look editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds-up all the happenings here at Later Levels along with the games we’ve been playing. This New Year has been an eventful one and we have quite a lot to chat about – so let’s get stuck in.

Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 896
  • Twitter: 427
  • Facebook: 55
  • Instagram: 136
  • Twitch: 56
  • Posts:

  • Published: 20 posts
  • Most viewed: Triple-A: down or up?
  • Most liked: Leaning on your backlog
  • Most commented on: Triple-A: down or up?
  • My favourite: Ellie, Overwatch and the need to stick together
  • Games played:

  • Guard Duty (PC – preview here)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online (PS4)
  • The Shapeshifting Detective (PC)
  • Vane (PS4 – review here)
  • Blogger highlights:

  • Lightning-cognition: Good GOTY! by AmbiGaming
  • Create Your Own Conspiracy Theory by Alex from McWritestuff
  • The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Adventure Game by Rendermonkee
  • Media Hangovers: How to Overcome by The Hannie Corner
  • Resident Evil 2: Rabbit Hole Involving Windows by Hundstrasse
  • Blog life:

    UK Blog Awards, #UKBA19, gaming, finalist, badge

    After November’s bombshell, there was another F-bomb moment when an email from Lauren at the UK Blog Awards popped up in my inbox. Not only had Later Levels been nominated for the 2019 event, the site had now made it through to the finals – how the flipping-hell did that happen? The other bloggers in the gaming category are seriously talented individuals so it’s an honour to even be named in the same group as them. I’m very thankful to the anonymous person who thought Later Levels was good enough for a nomination – you’re far too kind.

    That’s not the only special thing that happened in January however, for my blogging-other-half Ben made his glorious return! He’s been absent for a year or so now due to work and family commitments but the Later Levels door has always been left open for him. He kicked off with a great post about his love for God of War’s Leviathan Axe, then moved on to the brilliantly-bonkers Mortal Kombat 11 – and I wouldn’t be surprised if you soon see some posts from him in the new Reviews and previews category.

    Real life:

    wedding, Kim, Pete, Ethan

    Some big news: Pete and I got married in early January. It was something we’d decided to do only two months ago and we wanted to keep it a secret for as long as possible so it could be a quiet, fuss-free event. We wed at one of our favourite restaurants in a very small ceremony (complete with music from video games); had a lovely lunch with far too much bubbly afterwards; then went back to work the next day (it was about as low-key as you can get). We’re now in the process of surprising the rest of our family and friends with the news, which is proving to be interesting.

    In other news, last week I attended a Mental Health First-Aid course and this is something I have Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie and Ian from Adventure Rules to thank for. They made me aware of this training during a discussion in the comments of a post about mental health and I knew I had to sign up. The timing is incredibly appropriate as the next Time to Talk Day is taking place on 07 February 2019, and I’ll be doing my bit to raise awareness and reach out to anyone out there who may need a friend. You can find out more by visiting the Time To Change website.

    Gaming life:

    Pete, Zelda, cat, PC parts, building

    This month we said goodbye to my old PC, as she finally called it quits after several years of accompanying me through digital adventures. My husband (wow, that’s weird) wasn’t too upset by this however because it meant he could indulge in what he calls ‘techno-joy’ and arrange a new machine ready for GameBlast19 next month. Thank you to everyone who helped finalise the schedule for our 24-hour stream by voting on the games you’d like to see us play – full details are now available on the Later Levels Twitch channel. Let the countdown begin!

    I’ve been playing so much ESO over the past month and there’s a post about that coming next week, but I also had the chance to check out a couple of new games. These were at opposite ends of the enjoyment scale: Guard Duty entertained me immensely while Vane unfortunately fell flat. In February I want to tackle The Mystery of Woolley Mountain demo, a title which keeps popping up for me on various recommendations, along with J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars now that the developer has very kindly sent me a bug fix.

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 01-25 February: Question of the Month
  • 07 February: Time to Talk Day
  • 23-24 February: GameBlast19
  • 26 February: The Normal Happenings Blog Awards
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • Is it really over for the adventure genre?
  • Love Your Backlog Week with Livid Lightning
  • Something special for Valentine’s Day
  • Lessons learnt from this year’s GameBlast19 stream
  • Heaven’s Vault preview (hopefully)
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    Resident Evil 2: not going back to Raccoon City

    Resident Evil 2 is all over the gaming world right now and with good cause. The remake looks utterly brilliant and is smashing it in the reviews. I was also asked by someone if I would be picking up and I had to say no.

    Partly because my gaming time is limited and I don’t want to spend it wetting my pants (the main reason for not playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard) but also because I remember it the first time round. Yes, I’m of that vintage, but this isn’t a ‘games were better back in my day’ thing. It’s about experience.

    It’s like the dogs through the window in Resident Evil. I’ll never have the sensation of shock and surprise of the unknown again. I expect the dogs now, I know where they’re coming from and I know when. It would be the same with the Resident Evil 2 remake. I accept that the design is different and the levels changed but I still won’t have that sensation of delving further into the station with Leon or Claire as I did in the 90s.

    But what it did do was make me think of any other games that had such an effect on me that I simply refuse to play through them again. Not because I think they’re bad games, far from it in fact, but because I don’t dare sully the memories and experiences I have of them.

    The first two are relatively straight forward. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has been a mainstay in my greatest games of all time list for 25-years now. An amazing story, beautiful twist at the end, absolute pinnacle of top-down Zelda gameplay and in glorious yellowy-green and black screen of the Game Boy.

    The next is Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube. Which, to explain why that seems against my opening couple of paragraphs, is because I played it in a time before I had kids and was stronger of stomach. I’ll never forget the switch in gunplay, the fear that only a chainsaw could bring and an utterly insane story. Insanely brilliant. Finished it once, put down the controller and never picked it up again despite multiple remasters being available.

    Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, clouds

    The big one, however, is Journey. I wish I had the words to explain the feeling I had when I made it to the end. I can remember just sitting there on my sofa, PS3 controller in hand trying to process the wave of emotions that had just hit me. I still can’t do it now but it was in that moment, that I knew games were art. They were more than just a fad, or something for kids, or a medium to be looked down on.

    Journey affected me as much as my favourite song; it drew out emotions like the greatest cinema. It, to me, announced that gaming was more than pictures on a screen.

    I would say it was my gaming epiphany.

    Amen.

    Guard Duty: referencing the classics

    Since getting back in touch with Emily Morganti, she has put me onto some great adventure games. There was detective-drama Lamplight City which asks some interesting moral questions; Unavowed, a title of character and choice recently nominated for Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival; and most recently Mage’s Initiation: Reign of the Elements, an upcoming release which cleverly combines point-and-click and RPG elements.

    So when I received her email regarding comedy-adventure Guard Duty, I knew it was going to be something I’d enjoy. If Emily’s superb taste in games hadn’t been enough to persuade me to request a preview key straight away then the screenshots she sent over would have given me the final push. There was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity to play something that featured so many little references to classic adventures such as Simon the Sorcerer and The Secret of Monkey Island (more about that later).

    This project is Sick Chicken Studios’ unique take on the genre and tells a story about love, loss and the end of the world. That’s exactly what Agent Starborn, time-travelling Lieutenant General of the Guardians of New Haven, is facing in 2177: an alien-like creature is threatening to exterminate all human life and our hero has his gun pointed right at him. But it seems as though it’s too late to stop the monster and disaster is unleashed, as as laser splits the Earth into two and the scene fades to black.

    Although players will have the opportunity to also play as Starborn in the full release, the setting then changes to 1,000 years earlier in Medieval Wrinklewood. Tondbert Roughskin, part-time drunk and three-quarter dwarf, is slacking on his duties as Night’s Watchman after partaking in a few too many birthday beverages (we’ve all been there). He unwittingly lets a mysterious stranger beyond the town walls and wakes up in the morning to a quest to save the kidnapped Princess Theremin – along with a raging hangover and missing set of armour.

    Adventure genre elements that frustrate a lot of players are obtuse puzzles and pixel-hunting, and I’m very pleased to report that neither seem to be here. In the few hours I’ve spent with Guard Duty so far I didn’t once become stuck or get confused about the solution to a challenge. Everything is logical (in as much as it can be in a comedy game): use a rope to climb out of a window when the trapdoor is stuck, use a net to trap a slippery frog, attach a photo into a library card to make a somewhat-sticky fake ID.

    I encountered one dialogue tree puzzle and due to the number of branches available, I thought I must have missed a vital piece of information in another location. I hadn’t however and after thinking it through properly, I realised what the answer was right in front of me and actually made sense. It seems as though the developers have really considered the design in this respect and it’s good to know that gameplay time isn’t superficially extended through needless backtracking.

    Guard Duty, video game, pub, inn, drink, Tondbert, knight, stranger, conversations

    Sometimes adventures can be overwhelming with what seems like an endless to-do list: go here to get this thing to give it to someone who’ll exchange it for the item I actually need to progress. This is where Guard Duty’s integrated list comes in handy and I found myself referring to it several times throughout the preview whenever I’d lost sight of my current goal. The fact that it appears to be written by Tondbert himself – complete with spelling mistakes and doodles – was a really nice touch that added to his character.

    All of the art is impressively created by one person and it’s clear they’re a fan of the classics. I loved the Simon the Sorcerer poster stuck to the wall of Tondbert’s bedroom and punctured with darts; and although I can’t be sure, some of the characters throughout Wrinklewood look very similar to those in that series. There’s references to Monkey Island too: the silhouettes of Guybrush and LeChuck can be seen chatting over a pint in The Drunken Monk, and I laughed when the protagonist enquired about find leather jackets in Sam’s Previously Owned store.

    More modern titles make an appearance also, and I couldn’t help but smirk when I saw the Assassin with a broken leg sitting in a pile of hay in one corner of the town square. This character asks you to spare some change and fulfilling his request results in a nice little achievement with a very apt name. Throw in some film references for good measure (‘No time for love, Dr Jones!’) and what you’ve got here is something that combines the best bits of our favourite media.

    At three-and-a-half hours in, the preview build ended and left me with a cliff-hanger: is Tondbert dead after falling down a hole while trying to rescue a knight from a huge snapping Wrinkleworm? Is this it just a bad nightmare? Is he going to wake up and save both Princess Theremin and the world? What’s the connection between our unlikely hero and Agent Starborn, and will the events in Wrinklewood influence the future of Neo London in 2177? So many questions yet to be answered.

    Guard Duty, video game, knight, Tondbert, Gap, catapult, tree, vulture

    The game surprised me in many ways and, while I expected it to be a pleasant enough experience, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I’m kind of gutted I didn’t know about the Kickstarter campaign back in February 2017 because it really would have been worth making a pledge. There are a lot of adventure games out there which say they’ve redefined the genre or are inspired by the classics, but it’s been a long time since I’ve come across one which does both as well as Guard Duty seems it will.

    The full title is due for release this spring and is on Steam right now for anyone who wants to add it to their wishlist. While you’re waiting, why not give Sick Chicken Studios a follow on Twitter or check out more screenshots on the official website.

    Versatile Blogger Award: testing times

    I’ve finally managed to write a response post to a Versatile Blogger Award from Jonez over at NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog received just after Christmas. I’ve known him for a while now and his blog is well worth a follow if you’re not already doing so. He crams so much into so little time (I’m envious) and still manages to write a variety of articles about gaming and more.

    Last Friday’s post featured facts to help you get to know a little more about me once you’d figured out which of them were true. However, this one is going to be all about you: have you ever wondered which video game character you’re most like? Read on below and answer a series of ten carefully-crafted (ahem) questions, which will allow me to see inside the hidden corners your mind and select the perfect pixelated spirit guide for you.

    The questions

    1.   What’s your favourite video game genre?

    A:   Platformers
    B:   Point-and-clicks
    C:   Action-adventures
    D:   RPGs
    E:   I like a variety of games

    2.   Choose a platform:

    A:   NES
    B:   PC
    C:   Switch
    D:   PlayStation 3
    E:   Sega Saturn

    3.   What word best describes you?

    A:   Friendly
    B:   Resourceful
    C:   Courageous
    D:   Strong
    E:   Intelligent

    4.   What’s your biggest flaw?

    A:   Being a sore-loser
    B:   My partner
    C:   Being a goody-two shoes
    D:   My desire to kill anything bigger than me
    E:   Being too independent

    5.   What’s your guilty pleasure?

    A:   Cake
    B:   Pirates
    C:   Lycra
    D:   Shouting at people
    E:   Trapping people in fridges

    6.   What’s your favourite song?

    A:   Jump by Van Halen
    B:   Treasure by Bruno Mars
    C:   Don’t Say a Word by Ellie Goulding
    D:   Shout by Tears For Fears
    E:   Single Ladies by Beyoncé

    7.   What would you prefer for dinner?

    A:   Mushrooms
    B:   Meat with condiment
    C:   Grandma’s soup
    D:   Sweetrolls
    E:   Venison

    8.   What would be your perfect job?

    A:   Maintenance worker
    B:   Mayor
    C:   Councellor
    D:   Jack of all trades
    E:   History teacher

    9.   What’s your dream holiday?

    A:   A weekend on the canals of Venice
    B:   A Carribbean cruise
    C:   A horse-riding week
    D:   A stay in a remote castle
    E:   A tour through the Greek islands

    10.   What did you think of my test?

    A:   It’s-a super
    B:   Stop it, you monstrous maggot mating ground
    C:   <silence>
    D:   More painful than an arrow to the knee
    E:   It’s a weapon more powerful than you can ever imagine

    Your result

    Mostly As:   Mario

    Mario, video game, Super Mario, plumber, moustache, man, faceAmiable and good-natured, you like the simple pleasures in life (such as cake). You’re not afraid to slay a few dragons for the princess in your life however and will jump through hurdles whenever your partner is threatened. Just stay away from those dodgy-looking mushrooms.

    Mostly Bs:   Elaine Marley

    Elaine Marley, video game, face, woman, pirate, earrings, bandanaAlthough sometimes impatient when those around you can’t keep up with your intelligence, you’re a caring and gentle soul. That doesn’t mean you’re a damsel-in-distress however: you’re resourceful and quite capable of saving yourself. Now go out there and kick some zombie-pirate butt!

    Mostly Cs:   Link

    Link, The Legend of Zelda, video game, face, boyThe strong and silent type: you may not say much but when those closest to you are in need, you’ll be right by their side. Some people may think of you as an annoying do-gooder – but give you a few glasses of Lon Lon milk and you’re the life and soul of the party.

    Mostly Ds:   Dragonborn

    Dragonborn, video game, Elder Scrolls, Skyrim, warrior, face, armour, helmet, shout, screamYou may annoy your friends by continuously pushing them over the edge (ie shouting them off of cliffs), but if someone needs a job doing then you’re the person to do it. A master of many skills, you’re able to adapt to any situation and overcome the highest mountain.

    Mostly Es:   Lara Croft

    Lara Croft, video game, Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, woman, face, dirtAlthough some may see you as being too independent for your own good, underneath that cool exterior lies a passionate heart with a thirst for knowledge and adventure. Be careful that your desire for powerful ancient artifacts doesn’t leave you with a debilitating curse.

    So how do you fare in this totally-scientific-and-not-at-all-lame test? Thank you once again to Jonez for the award, and enjoy the rest of your week!

    Xbox One X hits the spot

    I’m writing this as a 40-year old. An age I never thought I’d get to (because 40 is ancient, right?) and yet somehow a month of being 40 has passed in the blink of an eye. I’ll be 50 before I know it, which is even scarier.

    This may seem like an odd way to start this post but it’s a slight bit of background as to how I came into possession of an Xbox One X; my parents bought me one. Isn’t that awesome? 40-years old and they have accepted that gaming isn’t a fad of mine but my actual, genuine hobby. There’s hope for us all.

    Question is: is the console really that powerful? Can it really live up to the hype? Does it boost games as much as they say?

    The answer, in short, is effin’ hell yes.

    In the past I’ve written about my preference for framerate, or more precisely lack of slowdown, over graphical fidelity but now I’m in the privileged position of being able to have both. Microsoft have been very clever and made sure all of their first-party games are enhanced for the console and it really shows, especially as I have a 4K television to get the best out of the machine. I’m also comparing against an Xbox One S, not an original Xbox One.

    Cleverly, and as with some titles for the PlayStation 4 Pro, you can choose whether the Xbox will prioritise graphics or performance. If I’m honest I’ll go for performance every time because once I’m playing I can’t really tell the difference in how realistic a wall looks but the smoothness in how everything moves is noticeable.

    The only difference to this is Forza Horizon 4, which goes from looking like the real thing in graphics mode to looking almost like the real thing but smoother in performance. Either way it’s absolutely mindblowing when you’re old enough to remember when games like Pit Fighter and Mortal Kombat sold themselves on photorealistic character models back in the nineties. I can’t wait to see how Mortal Kombat 11 looks on this beast of a machine.

    That’s not the only one though: Gears of War 4’s campaign now runs at 60fps and looks stunning. I’m slowly playing through it again because it’s really that good. Halo 5 is mindblowing and I’ve already mentioned Forza.

    But these are all Microsoft-published games, first-party products that you’d expect to use the technology to the max. What about third-party offerings? Well, I’ve had a chance to look at two so far and – thanks to Game Pass – will be able to try a few more in the coming weeks. What I can say is that Destiny 2 looks sharper and more crisp but the real difference is with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. In performance mode it runs gloriously and leaves the PS4 for dust.

    The best part though is how quietly it runs. I love the PS4 Pro but on the more demanding games the fan is so loud I can’t hear the television! The Xbox One X? Quiet as a mouse.

    If you have a 4K TV (and the means to afford the console) I heartily recommend you take the plunge. I feel it would be a harder sell if you don’t have the TV as yes, silky smooth gameplay is lovely but not £450 lovely.

    Long story short: I’m chuffed to bits with the kit and if you’re able to get your hands on one, I think you will be too.

    GameBlast19: game schedule announced!

    Here’s the latest on our plans for GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon for SpecialEffect. This amazing charity puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games using a range of technology, making a positive impact on confidence and rehabilitation. Take a look at this update on the SpecialEffect website or click on the link to see all Later Levels’ posts about the event.


    Unfortunately I have some upsetting news to share in this update: I’m sorry to announce that my PC sadly passed away shortly before Christmas. We had some good times together over the years and, although I maybe should have shown her a little more attention during the past few months, I loved her like she was one of the family. Her memory will forever live on in the digital lands we explored, the characters we met and the games we played together. May she rest in peace.

    Pete, Zelda, cat, PC parts, building

    Alright, so it’s not that dramatic and it’s not all bad news. Pete and I had been planning to a upgrading to a new machine anyway and this situation gave us the push we needed to finally get around to doing it. The parts for the new addition to our family arrived a couple of weeks ago and we spent a weekend putting it together, taking slightly longer than expected due to a couple of minor issues. After a bit of tinkering and several cups of tea, we had a new PC that’s going to see us through 24-hours of games for GameBlast19.

    ‘And what exactly are those games?’, I hear you cry. Well now we can reveal all as the results of the GameBlast Bytes Battle are in! We’ve been asking you lovely lot to vote for the titles you’d like to see us play on Twitch since November, and the winners can be found below.

    Date Time Genre Game Votes
    Saturday, 23 February 2019 08:00 GMT Platformer Crash Bandicoot 73.91%
    11:00 GMT Community Overcooked! 52.63%
    14:00 GMT Virtual reality Moss 72.22%
    17:00 GMT Action Hellblade 73.91%
    20:00 GMT Adventure A Way Out 80.95%
    23:00 GMT Horror Until Dawn 58.33%
    Sunday, 24 February 2019 02:00 GMT Shooter BioShock 73.68%
    05:00 GMT RPG ESO 63.16%
    08:00 GMT Stream ends Sleep 100.00%

    Over the next few weeks, Pete and I will be running a number of test streams so we can properly set up our equipment so we’re ready for February. Drop in and join us in the chat if you’re free – any feedback on how our microphone and camera are doing would be very much appreciated! I need to finish up J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars after the developer very kindly sent me a bug fix recently, and finally get started on Detroit: Become Human, so I’ve got a couple of games to play through before GameBlast19.

    All money raised via our JustGiving page goes directly to SpecialEffect, to enable them to continue their wonderful work and help many more physically-disabled gamers across the UK. We’ve already received a few very kind donations and are already at 10% of our £500 target for the charity, so we’re off to a great start!