Doom Eternal: Pure and joyous carnage

The last few blog posts have seen me talk about how video games can help us maintain our mental health through the low points in our lives. However with this post I’ll be taking a short break from this subject to talk about how FUCKING AMAZING DOOM ETERNAL IS!!!

(Ok maybe too many exclamation points but bear with me)

Doom Eternal is the sequel to the Doom reboot which came out in 2016. Doom 2016 happens to be one of the best first person shooters I have ever played. The controls were silky smooth, gamplay was challenging, and the soundtrack is the best I’ve ever heard from a game (it helps that I’m a big fan of heavy metal). In all honesty there isn’t much in the way of criticism I could level at the game. So how do you follow up such a game in a sequel? Easy, you dial the whole fucking thing up to 100!

In the original 2016 game you played as “Doomguy”, a space marine who wakes up from ancient slumber in a research facility on Mars and then proceeds to slaughter endless hordes of demons with a dizzying array of weapons at your disposal. The story was pretty bare bones and not really fleshed out, but when the game play is this good who cares?

Now in the sequel the demons have invaded Earth, and it is your job to prevent them from wiping out mankind completely. The story is a little more fleshed out than 2016, with more characters and lots more backstory, but let’s be honest, no one playing this game is looking for some deep narrative with thought provoking characters. They’re playing this game to fuck up some demons whilst heavy metal pummels their ear drums.

ID Software, the developers of the series, have taken a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it approach” to the sequel, and it works like a charm. Instead of doing a complete over-haul of the original, they’ve instead built on it’s blueprint and refined everything almost impeccably. As with the previous title different equipment with reward you with different resources. Killing a demon with your chainsaw will net you ammo for all your other weapons, but this also uses up fuel. Glory kills, where a weakened enemy will start to flash different colours allowing you to a brutal; execution, will reward you with health. However they have added additional features, such as the flame belch, a shoulder mounted flame thrower that when it sets enemies alight, they will start to sweat off armour shards to provide you protection. You also have access to two different grenades, a frag and a freeze variant, which can be changed on the fly for different scenarios. However each one of these different items have their own cool down timers, where you have to wait a certain amount of time before they can be used again. This means that every fight you go into requires a certain degree of planning and forward thinking. Do I waste my flame belch at the start of the fight, or save it till towards the end when I know more dangerous demons will spawn? Do I use my freeze grenade on the mob of smaller demons in front of me, or do I save it for the charging Hell Knight coming at me from across the arena? To the untrained eye the game might seem like mindless carnage, but there is a lot of intelligent design at play here.

Again I have to heap a huge amount of praise on composer Mick Gordon, who has returned from 2016 to provide the game’s amazing soundtrack. I can honestly say the game would not be as good without his blistering guitars and pummeling drums to drive the adrenaline through your body at break neck speeds.

All I can say is, killing demons has never been this fun.

Video Games & and Depression Part 3: How games can help with social distancing.

Across the entire world, people have been told to stay at home in order to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. And if you need to leave your home for essential supplies such as food, medicine or daily exercise, you MUST stay a minimum of 2 metres away from other people. This is what is termed “social distancing”. This approach to combating the virus has brought a seismic shift in our daily lives. We can no longer pop to the pub to see our friends for a few Friday night drinks after work. We can’t visit our extended family and loved ones. Normal life has essentially been put on hold for the foreseeable future. I would imagine some people have adapted quite well to this change. My own father for example, is perfectly content with his own company (and doesn’t like other people much anyway), so having to stay away from other people bothers him little. However myself and along with many others are finding not being able to physically meet with those dearest to us challenging, and this can have an impact on one’s mental health.

This is where video games can come in and provide assistance.

It is true that video games can be an isolating activity, but it doesn’t have to be. Contrary to what people might think, gaming can in fact be a very social activity. The other day I was feeling depressed and low about the current state of things, and was in dire need of an activity of distract myself. I messaged a friend to see if he fancied a couple of matches of “For Honor”, a game I’ve touched upon before. We connected online and played a few matches, and then he invited a couple of his own mates to join us. I went from being depressed and low to laughing my lungs out within the space of half an hour. The whole interaction was as if I was in the same room as these people. After we were done my housemates asked me if I was ok, because apparently all they could hear from my room was “For fuck sake!”, “That was bullshit.”, or a scream of “YES!”. I told them not to worry and that contrary to what they thought, I was actually enjoying myself.

Playing online with my friends has even helped me “e-meet” new people. In reality I probably would never have met my mate’s friends in real life at a pub, so gaming in fact provided me with the opportunity to meet others with like minded interests.

I’ve spoken previously about how gaming as escapism should be used wisely, and not as a means of brushing other issues under the carpet. However in the current climate, where for many of us who are experiencing moments of severe loneliness with no end in sight, video games can be used as a platform to connect with others in a way few other pastimes can.

Video Games and Depression 2: Venturing into Uncharted Territory.

As mentioned in my previous post, the other game included alongside Journey is Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. This collection of games includes remastered versions of the first three entries of the Uncharted series which were originally released on the PlayStation 3, now for the PS4.

In the series you play as Nathan Drake, an adventurous explorer with a wise cracking attitude (imagine if you combined both Lara Croft and Indiana Jones and you’d understand where I’m coming from) as he travels the world in search of undiscovered treasure whilst trying to beat the bad guys. Pretty bog standard story line when you write it down correct?

These types of games would certainly not be my usual go to, but currently playing through the second game I can automatically see the charm. Nathan is a brilliant and charismatic hero. He’s the kind of guy who could steal your girlfriend but you’d still want to hang out and have a couple of beers with him. He’s that likable. Then you have the cast of support characters, Sully the wise mentor of Drake’s with a New York accent and constantly smoking a cigar. And then there’s Elana *swoon*, the pretty and smart reporter and Nathan’s love interest. All these characters are filling pretty standard stereotypes, but the voice acting and animations elevate these above the usual fodder.

In terms of game play you will predominately spend your time shooting bad guys, being in car chases, escaping from near death experiences, and figuring out puzzles in ancient tombs. The series is well known and respected for bringing a Hollywood blockbuster feel to games that you would normally experience in a cinema.

But to get to my point, how has a game like this helped me with my mental health? Within the first couple of hours of the game, I feel like I’ve known these characters for years. They are so well developed and the dialogue between them so realistic, it’s easy to forget they are made up of polygons and code rather than flesh and blood. Experiencing low mental health in the midst of a lockdown is a challenging time.  Sometimes having stories to escape into with characters we connect with is exactly what is required.  I would normally caution people suffering with mental health problems that escapism can be bad in too high a dosage, as it presents a way out from facing your problems.  But in the right amount, it can be a healthy reprieve from the negativity happening around us.

I’m curious to see how the relationship between Nathan and Elena develops during the course of the series. Having seen a couple of spoiler clips, I’m considering making a post comparing their relationship to real life experiences of my own. Until then, I’m content with just enjoying the adventure at my own pace.

Video Games and Depression Post 1 – Journey

I started writing this blog post on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and surfice to say it was a bad day for me. My depression hit me hard, which is made worst by the fact I was having to manage a hangover on top of it. It’s times like this that I look towards one of my favourite pass times to take my mind off the negativity that had enveloped my head.

In an attempt to motivate their fanbase to stay at home to combat COVID-19, Sony have recently announced “Play at Home Initiative”. The scheme has two facets to it: 1) Sony have announced a fund to help struggling indie developers during the crisis. 2) They have given away two games for free to help keep people entertained whilst stuck in doors. This includes Uncharted: The Nathan Drake collection (which is a series I have a feeling I’ll post about further down the line), and little less known game by the name of Journey.

Journey is a game released initially in 2012 on the PlayStation 3 from indie developers Thatgamecompany, and happens to be one of my favourite games of all time. It’s also the best evidence I can think of which supports the argument that video games are a form of art.

In Journey you play an unnamed character dressed in robes, travelling the desert on a mission to get to the top of a mountain in the distance. Pretty simple and straight forward right? The game never explains to you why your travelling to this mountain top, who you are or how you’ve even ended up in the middle of the desert. Quite frankly the game doesn’t need to. By leaving these parts of the story unexplained, it allows the player to imprint their own ideas into it’s narrative.

So why has this game left such a lasting impact on me? First of all the landscape is gorgeous. It’s not the most photo realistic scenery you’ll see in a game, but the desert that surrounds you feels like it’s taken straight from a painting. And there’s barely anything for miles around, apart from some ruins left over from a civilization we will never really learn more about. The area is free from distraction and allowed me to reflect on the feelings I was experiencing.

You will also not meet much in the way of other characters during the course of the story, apart from in visions that give you extremely vague bits of lore. However the game has an answer to this, in the form of multiplayer, but not in the way you would expect. The game allows other players going through the same area as you to share in your world. What impressed me was how seamless this was. I could turn a corner, and I would see the exact same character as myself just there, as if it was a long lost friend waiting for me. There’s no warning or notification telling you that another player has entered your world. There just there. There’s also no way of speaking to the character, apart from pressing the square button to make a single note sound. Think of it as the games form of morse code.

But I digress, why has this game impacted me in the sense of helping me through my depressive state. When my character looks off into the distance and sees the top of this mountain, at this giant imposing rock that looks impossible to traverse, I see myself looking at my own mental health. Depression can be this monolithic wall, this black barrier that wants to stop you from reaching any form of happiness. As you slowly climb the mountain in Journey, you’ll come across monsters that will try to hurt you, and a snowy tundra that will significantly hinder your progress to the point where you can barely walk. When walking up the mountain that is severe depression, it can feel like every step you take takes a monumental amount of effort. But Journey teaches you you don’t have to do it alone. People can show up unexpectedly during life to help pick you up and show you the way.

By the end of the game, as you reach the light at the top of the mountain, you are still not shown what exactly your character has traveled so far to see. But for me the light represents Hope. Hope that if you keep pushing and not succumbing to your own personal doubts, no matter how hard that may be, there’s still Hope that things can get better.

Journey remains the only game to make me cry. Did I cry this time? Absolutely I did, I could barely keep it together by the end. Do I care? Absolutely not.

How video games and art can help us navigate the storm of depression.

I’ve decided that instead of doing my usual game reviews I would instead tackle a subject that I’ve wanted to touch upon for quite some time. I’ve been initially hesitant to do it, as the subject in question reveals aspects about me I’ve tried to keep private. However in light of the current wold wide situation, I think it’s now important more than ever to address it.

Since my early teenage years, I’ve had on and off again severe depression. It comes and goes without me having any control over it, and is usually brought about by major events in my personal life and my own anxiety. Without going into detail, the past month has been one of the most stressful and taxing periods of my life for as far back as I can remember. This isn’t helped by the whole world being under lock-down in the wake of the COVID-19, which has only accentuated the issue.

In previous experiences with tackling my depression I’ve used forms of art, such as music, video games, books and film to try and make sense of it and escape from it. However as I have become older and through the advise of the people closest to me, I have found that it is much better to face the metaphorical elephant in the room rather than run from it. But I do truly believe that video games, like any good form of art, can offer not just a form of escapism but also help us to learn more about ourselves, and help those with mental health issues navigate the eye of the storm.

So for the next few posts I will be talking about video games have helped me to learn more about my mental health. I’m not sure yet how this will be structured, but chances are it will be a journey that will be both revealing and in some ways scary. However if these posts help even one person deal with what they may consider an insurmountable obstacle, then it’s a journey well worth taking.

Jedi Fallen Order – The “Dark Souls” of Star Wars Games

Since as far back as I can remember, I have always been a fan of Star Wars.  One of my fondest childhood memories was staying home sick from school one grey afternoon and watching all entries of the original trilogy back to back.  I even remember throwing a tantrum at my mum for not buying me trainers with the face of Darth Vader on them.  And ever since then the franchise has held a special spot in this 29 year old nerdy heart of mine. 

Recently I was lent a copy of the latest AAA game Star Wars entry by a friend, “Star Wars – Jedi Fallen Order”.  My friend described it to me as game who’s combat heavily borrows from From Software’s Dark Souls series.  As a fan of both Star Wars and the DS series, I thought this was a match made in heaven. 

Now that I have completed the game these are my thoughts…..

The first thing I picked up on within the opening hours of the game was that it unashamedly wears it’s influences on it’s sleeves.  It’s like some weird video game Frankenstein’s Monster.  As already mentioned the game borrows heavily from the Dark Souls series.  Enemies typically deal a lot of damage, and you have to carefully plan your dodges, parries and attacks when the moment is right, otherwise you will get punished.  Whilst I have enjoyed this aspect of the game for the most part, it lacks the precision and polish of From Software’s output from whom it quite obviously admires.  However as you play a Jedi in this game you do in fact have access to Force powers, the integration of which adds a  unique flavour to the game play loop.   You can use the Force to push enemies away, slow them down, or pull them towards you.  What I like about this cocktail of different ingredients is that you never feel overpowered during your playthrough.  In the films the Jedi Knights are portrayed as these almost super-human warriors who can cut down anything with their lightsabers.  Problem is putting this in a game would, well, make it very boring.  There would be no challenge.  In Fallen Order however even the most basic of enemies can pose a real threat when attacking in large numbers.  These keeps you on your toes and hyper aware of your surroundings. 

Another key influence is that the game obviously takes a page out of the Uncharted book of explosive set pieces.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to slide down the side of a mountain or falling bit of debris whilst at the same time manoeuvring past obstacles or avoiding enemy blaster fire.  Whilst the first few times having to do this was entertaining,  it loses it’s impact after the seventh or eighth time. 

The game also takes notes from the MetroidVania manual of game development.  Some areas of the early levels are inaccessible until you’ve unlocked certain abilities later on in the game.  This would be an interesting addition if you were given more interesting rewards than a new poncho for your main character to wear, or a new paint job for your droid companion BD-1.  It also doesn’t help as well that the planets themselves aren’t that interesting to explore.  They all share the same colour palette of very dark colours.  Whilst I appreciate that the story of the game itself is dark and gritty, a change of colour here and there would have helped to spice things up a bit. 

Overall the game has it’s moments, but it lacks consistency, and a lack of a unique identity.  Did I still enjoy my experience? I can definitely confirm I did.  But I would probably suggest getting this on sale rather than full price.

Finally finding a fighting game I enjoy in For Honor.

Fighting games have never been my genre of choice. The very first games console I ever had was the Nintendo 64, and along with it my dad brought me Mortal Kombat. I enjoyed it for the most part (the incredibly gory fatality kills were very stimulating for my 10 year old mind), but I was never actually good at the game. Since then all the other major franchises in the genre, Tekken, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur passed me by.

Fast forward to March 2019, and one of the games included in that months PlayStation Plus free games is For Honor. I knew nothing about the game apart from the combat supposedly having that deliberate, Dark Soulish feel to it. Being a casual fan of Dark Souls PVP, I thought I’d give it a go.

A really quick rundown of what the game is about, it is set in a world where a cataclysmic event has brought three factions, Knights, Samurai and Vikings to war witch each other. The single player campaign teaches you the core mechanics of the game play, how to attack, block, guard break etc. But the real meat of this game is in the online multiplayer. I played the campaign without too much difficulty, but I was not prepared for the steep learning curve playing against other people would bring.

For the first few months at least, I was getting absolutely destroyed by players more experienced than me. Bearing in mind For Honor came out in 2017, you can imagine that there are quite a few players who are very adept at the game. However I stuck with it, and since then I have felt my skill improve slowly but surely.

I have struggled to get into competitive online games. I occasionally play Rainbow Six Siege with friends, which is fun with a well coordinated team. But as someone who predominately plays solo, I’ve struggled to find a competitive game where where I don’t feel punished for not playing with others. With For Honor I can get in from work, play a couple of rounds of duels with either other people or the AI and notice my skill grow. And that is incredibly satisfying.

A year on I am still a novice at the game. I watch YouTube videos of epxert players performing parries with their eyes closed (not literally), consistently feinting into guard breaks like its second nature to them. But I know all of that comes with practice.

Yes the premise of Knights, Vikings and Samurai battling it out is pretty outlandish, but give it a go and you’ll experience one of the most rewarding and deep combat systems out there.