Horizon Forbidden West Review (PS4 Pro)

After a bit of “Bla Bla”, I opened my Horizon Zero Dawn review with the following statement.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

In the later parts of the review, I summarized the overall experience like this.

Horizon Zero Dawn feels excellent. It is one of those games that makes you feel empty once you beat it and put down the controller.

Both quotes express an extremely high bar of quality that Forbidden West is going up against. I am delighted that Guerrilla Games did not disappoint and delivered an incredible sequel that improves the experience in almost every aspect. Aloy’s second adventure has a couple of downsides resulting from modern Open World side activity design. However, compared to the exceptional setpieces you encounter during the main missions and the core gameplay, these are minor gripes you might choose just to ignore.

Forbidden West ups the ante further regarding the elements that matter to me in a modern (action) adventure game. It will be a benchmark in storytelling, character, and mission design. Zero Dawn was already excellent when it came to cutscenes. Lacking were only the dialogue sequences with other characters. Forbidden West changes this dramatically, and it looks and feels so much more organic now. Other key gameplay elements have also improved, like overriding Tallnecks or exploring Cauldrons. But more on that later.

Lucky me, I did not have to wait five years to enjoy this game as I did with Zero Dawn. However, were I inclined to get the absolute best experience, I probably would still have to hold out that long. A PlayStation 5 continues to be unbelievably hard to come by in Germany. But not to worry, there was no need for me to get into a crouching position again and hide in the shadows while I watched somebody play on YouTube. Horizon Forbidden West still looks and plays great on the PS4 Pro. Keeping in tradition with my first Horizon review, I wrote the first words on April 23, 2022. I might actually get this review done before the year ends 😅.

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Horizon Zero Dawn Review (PS4 Pro)

Let me start this review with a big fat spoiler: Horizon Zero Dawn has one of the most beautiful worlds and world-lore ever conceived. The period that the authors cover is mind-blowing. Never has an apocalypse, the events that lead up to it, and what happened afterward been stretched so far apart as in Horizon Zero Dawn. It is called a post-post-apocalypse scenario for a reason.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

There, I said it. Feels good. I had this one on my chest for a very long time while I was procrastinating instead of crafting this review as promised in My Year in Video Gaming 2021 story.

(Takes a deep breath <inhales> … <exhales> and starts from the beginning.)

As I start writing this review, February the 6th, 2022, Horizon Forbidden West is just around the corner. Five years earlier, also in February, Guerilla Games released a completely new franchise that became an immediate success. It was one of those games that are said to exist only on PlayStation – a narrative-driven single-player adventure with an incredible focus on detail, quality, and polish. My kind of jam. But there was a slight wrinkle, though. As a PC player that had no intention of purchasing any type of console, and Sony not yet being in the business of also releasing their flagship titles on PC meant there was no point in waiting for a port. What does a ravenous gamer do in such a situation? He carefully presses CTRL and sneaks into a dark corner, hiding and unable to be seen by other PC players. He then shamefully turns to a trusted YouTuber and watches the spectacle in absolute awe and with envious contempt for himself.

About five years later, the former greedy PC gamer has now turned to consoles for his fix. Consequently, it was about time to experience Horizon Zero Dawn for myself. I have raved about this masterpiece to my sister, and she ended up buying it but then sat on the PlayStation while it gathered dust. To satiate my hunger, one day, I grabbed my PS4 Pro in one hand, my sister in the other, tossed both in the trunk of my car, drove home, and we ended up enjoying the game together. Good things come to those who wait, and I have waited long.

(No PlayStations have been hurt in this depiction of events.)

Let me dive into the details in my usual manner and tell you what I liked about Horizon Zero Dawn and what elements were not so optimal.

Enter the review
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My Year in Video Gaming 2021

2021 has been a challenging year, for obvious reasons, but also in other personal aspects that are not part of this little essay. Despite all the trials and tribulations, I have probably never played so many games in just one year – some of them in Coop and others all on my lonesome. Many of them I finished, others I, or we, aborted. But not only that, I have also managed to transition from PC gaming to console gaming – a long-held goal of mine.

As always, I am pretty late to the party because I have trouble motivating myself to write stuff, despite having the ideas and mentally developing concepts for them. Much thinking, few doing. One of my 2021 issues.

(I am surprised I managed to get this huge Halo Infinite review out the door.)Here is how this will go. I am starting with a story about why I replaced my gaming PC with consoles and a laptop. Then I transition into my experience with said consoles, and I conclude this gaming year review with the list of games I have played in lonely-mode or Coop. Don’t worry. I didn’t go Halo Infinite on every game. I kept it short-ish because the list is astonishingly long.

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Halo Infinite Review

When you look back at the history of video-based media, how many games or movies come to your mind with such an iconic theme song that it always evokes a particular feeling whenever you hear it? A theme that you immediately recognize and that conjures specific scenes or gameplay moments you are so fond of? Off the top of my head, I can think of two: The Imperial March from Star Wars and Halo’s invigorating battle soundtrack. Halo is back, infinitely better than Halo 5, and along with it, its recognizable music. I suggest you set the perfect mood and open the link above, and then come back and read my review of Halo Infinite. Start from the beginning because I linked directly to the battle music part (but that is also a good choice).

Now, is it even worth getting in the mood? If you ask yourself, I hope you do not mean my writing 😉. I hope you ask that question because you are anxious for a good game but afraid you might get disappointed. When I read and watched many reviews from known media outlets, I found very different opinions and wasn’t sure what to think. IGN mainly had positive things to say and was very upbeat in their Halo Infinite podcast episode. In contrast, the Germany-based Golem.de website found rather harsh words for some parts, mainly storytelling and the new AI (more on that later). The most common denominator among all of them was the excellent feeling combat. Looking at the complete experience, I think I land somewhere in the middle between Great and Mediocre, and if you are still curious, I will tell you why.

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The Ascent Coop Review Xbox Series X

Do you know the feeling that you occasionally get when watching a gameplay trailer, and you immediately want to get your hands on the game? Like, right now? This sensation does not come around too often for me, and two games managed to do just that last year. One was Outriders and the other one The Ascent, which I am discussing today. I am not sure what exactly did it for me, but probably because it reminded me of something I played in my youth. In 1999, a game named Expendable made the rounds, primarily due to its stunning visuals at the time. Back then, it demonstrated the power of a graphics feature called Environment Mapped Bump Mapping to enamor the game’s textures with depth information and more perceived detail. The core visuals will not excite anyone in 2021, but that game was full of effects and did not hold them back. Expandable still puts on quite a show. 

Games like this are a rare breed and seem to catch my eye whenever one pops up. A more recent example of this type of game that I am aware of is Halo Spartan Assault and Halo Spartan Strike – of which I played the first one. Combine this with stunning visuals in a futuristic, gritty, cyberpunk-themed world, and you get The Ascent. Because it is 2021, no game can make do without some RPG elements. Thus, you get to create your character, level up, and collect loot along the way, making shooting stuff more enjoyable.

And enjoyable it is. Once you get to the point where your brain can cope with the twin-stick-shooting mechanics, and you start to both move and aim in the right direction, The Ascent begins to make a lot of fun – especially in Coop. I discovered how the game works with another player, which is always more motivating than figuring out weird concepts alone. After a while, it started to feel right, and I wanted to continue playing weekend after weekend until we had beaten the game – and that is a good sign.

Here is my report on The Ascent in Coop mode: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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Xbox Series S – Is It Any Good Or Do You Need a Series X?

In a recent blog post (that I somehow accidentally deleted; thank you to WordPress for having a Trashed section from which you can restore), I already summarized my first impressions of the smaller variant of the new Xbox consoles, the Series S. Now that I have had the Xbox Series S for a couple of months, it is about time that I go into more detail.

There are a few reasons why I bought the Series S:

  • Overall hardware shortage, especially GPUs because I wanted a PC upgrade
  • The Series X was available nowhere or only overpriced (even worse for PlayStation)
  • It was the only console of the new generation available in Germany for MSRP

Before I took the plunge, I was very conscious about what to expect. I watch Digital Foundry videos regularly where their team investigates the performance and target resolutions of many console games, old and new, among other things. From my experience with connecting my PC to my 4K TV, I was confident that a resolution of 1080p is actually good enough for me to enjoy a game. Sure, I can see the difference to 4K. But my TV does an excellent job of upscaling, and the picture does not wash out and become a blurry mess. Therefore, the Series S should not disappoint. And it didn’t. There is a caveat, though, and I will address it in a later section of this probably pretty long wall of text that is going to come.

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Titanfall 2 Review

It has been a long time since I have played a first-person shooter in single-player mode. The last playthrough was probably the original Half-Life as a Let’s Play on YouTube about three years ago (I expected it to be longer, though). Since then, it has mainly been 3rd person shooters or action adventures. The majority of 1st person shooting games I have played are the Borderlands franchise and Counter-Strike until version 1.6. There have been a couple of others, of course; big names like Half-Life 2, Doom, Unreal (Tournament), Serious Sam, and so on. But that was at a time I would now call my youth. I like the skill aspect of shooters, but other than that, I have not found many that got me interested in a way that made me want to continue to play them. I have barely played through any of the previous games (Half-Life 2 being the exception 😉). In the here and now, I am looking for a well-told story and character development. And by that, I mean the main character’s personality and the relations the character has with others, not a role-playing system.

I have heard many praises about the quality of Titanfall 2, despite it not being a huge hit. When I discovered this game for a whopping 2.99€ in the Xbox game store, I figured why not try it out. Since I usually try to write reviews for games I find noteworthy in a specific way, be it good or bad, there must be something about Titanfall 2 that made me mash some keys on my keyboard and publish it on the Internet. Is it a Witcher 3 or a Battlefield 4? Curious?

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Xbox Game Pass, Play Anywhere, I Think I Get It

The start of Q4 2020 was supposed to be an incredible time for PC gamers – or gamers in general. Firstly, Microsoft and Sony released their latest Next-Gen consoles, the Xbox Series X and S and the PlayStation 5. Secondly, AMD and NVIDIA battled it out in the GPU market, and AMD unleashed the Ryzen 5000 CPU family that ate Intel’s 10th generation for breakfast. And lunch. And supper, and dinner, and as a snack in between. Unfortunately for Intel, the only thing the 11th generation of Core Processors can do is hold AMD’s beer. In theory.

Excellent Hardware, No Stock, High Prices

I think by now, about six months later, we all know how things played out. It is not about having the best performance anymore. Instead, it is about who can get products on the shelves or into retailers’ warehouses so people can buy them. It seems like the price does not even matter. Some affluent enthusiast gamers may be more willing to overpay for their hobby, and first-time builders might not know any better. I am neither in the first nor in the last category. I could afford new PC hardware, but I am not willing to overpay a single Oren for any of it. The reasons for these prices are manifold, and many YouTubers discussed this very topic in many a video.

The story I want to tell you today is how all of that brought me into Microsoft’s console hardware and gaming service arms. Well, I guess I kind of already spoiled the reason: PC hardware is ridiculously overpriced, let alone readily available to buy. But there is more to it than that.

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My First Time Playing Battlefield, I Quit After 15 Minutes

I recently purchased the smaller of the Xbox Series, and it came in a bundle with three months of Game Pass Ultimate. As part of Game Pass Ultimate, you get access to EA Play games and, therefore, some of the Battlefield franchise. Since I have never played this game before, and I was in the mood for a simple shooter, I wanted to try it out. I am only interested in the single-player campaign and have no interest in the multiplayer modes. Hence, I base my thoughts on the single-player experience.

The idea of the introduction is not bad. You find yourself trapped in a car with the rest of your squad. It is apparent that there was an accident, and one of your buddies is badly injured or trapped and cannot get out. The situation is intense because the car is sinking in a lake or river or some other large body of water. Panic starts to break out, especially since your leader wants you to leave him behind. He hands you his handgun and orders you to shoot the windows so you and your fellow soldiers can get out. They, on the other hand, do not want to leave him behind. And from there, the game rewinds to where it all began.

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Ryse: Son of Rome Review

Germany-based company Crytek is best known for its Crysis and early Far Cry games and the CryEngine technology. Ryse: Son of Rome is probably not as well-known, and it certainly is not very popular. The game’s Metacritic score is 61, and the user score is 6.8. The biggest complaint I was able to ascertain was a lack of freedom and extreme repetitiveness. While I cannot argue with that, I also see it as a strength instead of a weakness. If you want to know why I encourage you to continue reading.

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Linux Gaming: Middle Earth – Shadow of Mordor; Get it to run, and run it fast

Gaming on Linux is a challenge because only a few companies take the time to create native Linux ports of their games. It is even more challenging when those natively ported games do not run at all or do not run well. One of them is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I have bought this game specifically because it has a native Linux version – and because I remember that it was well received by media and players.

This game has two issues:

  • It refuses to start in full-screen mode.
  • The performance is terrible.

Let’s go through these two issues and see how they manifest and how to fix them.

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Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Review

It was until the end of 2019 when the Star Wars franchise was blessed with another game that truly deserves to be part of the Star Wars universe. The last good Star Wars game I played was Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic – and that was 2004! There were a few others in between and I may have played some. None left a lasting impression though, or otherwise I might still remember bits and pieces of them. And what did players get in recent history? Battlefront is what comes to mind. Well, it may have the Star Wars branding and characters and weapons and sounds. But to me, Star Wars is about a science-fiction fantasy story, a fairy tale if you will. I am not interested in a multiplayer shooter when I think about a Star Wars game. I am interested in an adventure and an adventure is what you get with Jedi Fallen Order. Is it a good adventure? Well, that is what I am here to tell you about.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order is a story driven, 3rd person action adventure. You play as a young Jedi that is hiding on a scrap planet until one day the Empire arrives and turns his life upside down. From there you fight your way through imperial troops, wildlife, and some zombies. Kind of.

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is my first Assassin’s Creed ever. The first time I encountered Assassin’s Creed 1 I did not really like the concept. It felt weird to me that the actual interesting and cool gameplay was constantly interrupted by the modern-day stuff. It also did not help the game’s case that the German translation was atrocious. I had to revisit this series a few years later to get more interested. I did so by watching videos on YouTube where all cutscenes had been edited into one large video, effectively turning the game into a movie, sans the gameplay. Ultimately, I have come to like the presentation of the main stories. They are interesting enough and the cutscenes are of very high quality. As a result, I have seen about four or five of these “movies” and watched some gameplay of AC Origins. This really caught my attention and because Odyssey was supposed to be even more like an RPG, I snatched myself a copy once there was a good deal for it. But honestly, given the time I have spent with this game so far, the full price would have been warranted without question. I have finished the game including the DLCs, I am close to 200 hours and I think I am ready to share my thoughts.

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GTA V: Play Your Own Music Library on Radio

GTA V was available for free on Epic’s Game store recently and so I snatched a copy. There is the option to listen to your own music as one of the radio stations. Unfortunately, GTA V does not ask you for a location of your music. Instead it expects that you copy the files you want to listen to to a folder in your user directory. Now, although my collection isn’t insanely huge, I still do not want to copy 30 GB of files. There is a better way though, one that I have not found on any other site: A Junction Point.

This is a symbolic link from where GTA V expects the music file to where they are actually located on your computer. This way you are not wasting any space and changes you make to your collection are immediately reflected in the game.

mklink /J "C:\Users\<Your Username>\Documents\Rockstar Games\GTA V\User Music" D:\Music

Remember to use quotes around paths that contain spaces.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: A Reason Not To Play?

The next Assassin’s Creed will let you play as a Viking that is trying to settle in a new world with his tribe. I am genuinely excited about the setting. As a person that likes Metal music, I have certainly come in contact with Norse Mythology by ways of Amon Amarth and other bands. There is also a bit of that in some of the Marvel movies and a lot of that in the Netflix show Vikings.

Now what does that have to do with not wanting to play Assassin’s Creed Valhalla?

It is about the premise. You and your tribe sailing to England and taking land by force. The last part is the important one: “taking land by force”. From what is known about the game at the time of writing this blog post, one central element of the game will likely be that you and your comrades must raid random villages to expand your settlement. That means threatening or even killing innocent people, robbing them of their goods and burning down their houses. You are basically starting a war and civilians will be caught in the crossfire. That is what I have an issue with.

It is a similar experience with the Netflix Vikings show. I am not sure if I should like it or not – ignoring that sometimes it moves very slowly and treads on the brink of utter boredom.

I am not averse to violence in games. Apart from the Anno series and maybe some racing games like Dirt, almost everything I play revolves around violence – now that I think about it… that’s kind of sad. But I do not want to swing the anti-violence Mjölnir and debate whether violence in games is good or bad. I am certainly not that morally correct, at least not in video games. However, there is something about purposefully harming innocent civilians that makes me think twice.

It is too early to know anything for sure and I am basing my opinion on trailers and discussions that you can find on the YouTube. It is just something that came to mind and made me think about it for a moment. It depends on how violence in general, and with regards to the raids in this game in particular, is implemented. I hope it will not just be a mindless slaughter.