Why Play… ‘Stardew Valley’

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Welcome to Stardew Valley, a quiet little town isolated from the rest of the world. When your grandfather passes away and leaves you his farm in his will, you pack your bags and begin a new life away from the hubbub of the commercial world to learn what it takes to become a farmer.

With the option to create your own items out of the resources you have collected, Stardew Valley is more than an homage to Harvest Moon.  It takes what made Harvest Moon such a success and adds a factor that minecraft players would find familiar. Additionally, the game also incorporates a level up system for each different skill the player may use on and around their farm such as farming, foraging and fishing. With each level the player will find using those skills easier to use and ultimately will discover that a good farmer uses each and every one of these skills in order to maximise their daily success.

However, it isn’t the game mechanics that make the game such fun to play but the relaxation that the game provides. This quaint little town that holds its own secrets, villagers with their own unique personalities and backstories and the bright 8bit pixels all create a tranquil charm to get immersed in. Most importantly, the game’s music also ties in a warm calming atmosphere that changes with each passing season.

Despite the soothing tone though lies a darker realism to the game. As you play through your first year as a farmer and start making friends with your neighbours, you realise things are not at happy as they seem. Through a number of cut scenes brought about by filling up villager’s friend meter, the game begins to explore a number of adult themes such as alcoholism, depression and PTSD.

Moreover, Stardew Valley also holds a negative view of the free market seen between Pierre’s general Store and the JoJa Mart; the freedom to choose where to shop has a tendency for major corporations, with the money to sell items cheaper, to end up monopolising the market and forcing their competitors to go out of business. Yet, the player does have the option to ignore the evidently exploitative nature of JoJa Corp and have a different experience to the game by buying a membership card from the Hypermarket.

The success of Stardew Valley is in the fact that it doesn’t force the player to do any specific job they don’t want to. Instead it allows us to play the game as we like. Whether it be to get rich, make friends or discover the secrets of the valley, the player will find themselves immersed in a small town and its community that one can’t help but wish existed in order to get away from our hectic lives. Stardew Valley is proof that sometimes the simplest things in life can turn out to be the best.

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5 Video Games worth playing in Co-op

Trine Series (PC)

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A physics-based platformer, the trine series follows 3 unlikely heroes group together to save their unnamed kingdom from all kinds of evil. All three characters (a knight, a wizard and a thief) have unique abilities from the other two; the knight has the strength to move objects as well as a shield to block attacks whereas the thief has a bow and arrow to attack from afar and a grappling hook to swing to areas. Finally, the wizard has the ability to conjure planks and boxes but no hostile attacks. This ultimately gives the game its co-op magic, by implementing teamwork successfully, you and two friends will find yourselves having built a special bond between one another as you have all come to rely on one another as the game goes on.

Monaco (PC/XBox)

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Ever thought to yourself you would make a great thief? Thought about performing your own heist with your friends but scared of the repercussions? Then Monaco is the game for you. Playing from a bird’s eye view, Monaco allows for up to 4 players to take part in cunning missions to perform heists and avoid guards (similar to the 1990’s arcade game Bonanza Bros). Each player can choose from a group of trained professionals to control, each with their own specialties such as the pickpocket who uses his pet monkey to collect coins, the lookout who can see every NPC in the level when not running despite everyone only seeing through line of sight and the mole who can eat through walls. What is most important about the game is talking to your team about how to go about the heist. Having each other’s back makes the level run smoothly and leaves you all believing you have what it takes to begin a life of crime.

Streets of Rage series (Mega Drive)

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Although these games may be difficult to play 2 player now as its console is out-dated, these beat ‘em up games were always a favourite of mine. You fight a crime syndicate on the streets pummelling the corruption out of the city until you reach the boss behind it all, Mr X. A fairly simple series, the games are easy to finish in a couple of hours but what makes it so enjoyable playing it in co-op is its simplicity; you do not have to worry about tactics or concentrating on what you are doing, giving you plenty of time to catch up with your friend.

Gain Ground (Mega Drive)

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Another Mega Drive game, Gain Ground is worth playing. The game centres on a simulating system that goes berserk and holds heroes captive, three characters decide to enter the simulator in order to free the hostages. Players must complete each stage by either reaching the exit zone with all their characters or killing all enemies. However, you can also save hostages by collecting them and exiting the stage with that character, this will give you another hero to play with on the next stage with their own unique ability. This game is made interesting as players can use co-op tactics to kill enemies and save hostages as well as aid each other out when an enemy has one of you pinned. Additionally, an element of sacrifice is added as only one player can save and use a hostage so one will miss out on a ‘life’. As an arcade game, Gain Ground can keep you and a friend occupied for an entire day and you will only realise once it’s dark outside.

Lego Series (Playstation/Xbox)

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Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Marvel, DC, Jurassic Park… Lego, is there anything it can’t do? These games allow fans to geek out with one another and the best thing is you don’t have to be an avid gamer to play as you don’t stay dead for long. Simply put, Lego games are simple; build and destroy! When I play with my good friend Bry we spend less time following the story and more times completely obliterating Hogwarts – and they thought Voldemort was evil! This is what makes the games so fun, although I love video games; you don’t have to, to enjoy the game. Just pick up a controller (and a cocktail or two), choose the character you always wanted to play as and let rip.

5 Beautiful yet Deadly Game Locations

Skyrim (Elder Scrolls Series)

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If you’d take snow over a beach and plenty of sun then Skyrim is the place for you. Skyrim is set in the northern most province of Tamriel and holds natural beauties that can’t be seen anywhere else; the Northern Lights, the Dwarven built Markarth and a mammoth frozen in ice are all sights that no pilgrim would want to miss. But be warned that Skyrim also holds many dangers lurking between its snowy peaked mountains. Most people live in squalor, scraping out a living mining in caves or hunting game both of which can lead to death. The caves are infested with giant man-eating spiders and hunters can find themselves hunted by big bears and trolls. However, the biggest hazard is the dragons which have, with very little warning, woken up from their slumber. Revel in the knowledge that, unlike the locals, you can fully enjoy the sights of Skyrim without living in squalor.

Archylte Steppe (Final Fantasy XIII)

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Underneath the artificial world of Cocoon lies a large expanse of untamed wilderness on Gran Pulse that hasn’t been destroyed by overpopulation. Yet, since humanity hasn’t made much of an effect over the land, the Archylte Steppe has kept its harsh evolutionary nature; survival of the fittest. Large beasts such as the Behemoth King fiercely roam the area as do other beasts such as flans and giant wolf-like creatures named Megistotherian. However, the largest creature that roams the Archylte Steppe is the titan that lunches on the herding Adamantoises; gigantic creatures that’s size give them little reason to fear the more ferocious creatures on the plains. Despite the threat of wild, aggressive animals, the large expanse of land remains a beautiful untouched area where Cocoon can be seen in the sky. This otherworldly image adds to the splendour of just one area of the remarkable Gran Pulse.

Banoi Island (Dead Island)

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An island paradise off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the island is barely touched by civilization. Consisting of plenty of beaches, a delightful top of the range hotel, an untamed forest and a small local town to explore, Banoi has everything you could ask for in a holiday. However, if Banoi still sounds a bit too relaxing for you, never fear! There is still the taste of adventure in the shape of flesh eating zombies that would rather a taste of you. The living undead come in various shapes and sizes so why not pick up a paddle or create your own weapon and help replace the beautiful sun-soaked island with its own blood-soaked beaches. You might end up tore in two from a horde of walkers but at least the cocktails are free right?

Albion (Fable Series)

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Albion is a country filled with mystery and lore, where morality plays a huge part in its culture. Magic is evidently in its air and the smart are rewarded chests from huge talking stone faces called Demon Doors. Although Albion appears a nice place with scenic lakes, monuments and waterfalls, most places are extremely dangerous for the casual visitor. Paths are guarded by bandits to hijack passer-byes, the Silver Pines is overcrowded with balverines at night and hobbes have set camps in almost every cave. If that isn’t enough, Albion has found itself in the midst of revolution on several occasions and ultimately ruled by a mystically appointed Hero who has the power to massacre entire cities if they chose to. If one thing is clear, Albion is not a safe place for the common folk who have been unlucky enough not to have been chosen to be a hero by the blind seeress.

Unnamed Kingdom (Trine Series)

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This kingdom once stood as home to a great king who kept peace over the land. However, after his death, the residents all abandoned the area. It now lays untouched from human intervention. The flora has once again begun to creep its way back into the kingdom, entwining itself around the ruins of the once proud towers that stood watch over the kingdom. With locations such as the Astral Academy enveloped by the moon’s glow, the colourful crystal caverns and the mystical dragon Graveyard to discover, this unnamed Kingdom is positively gorgeous to look at. However, there is a reason the kingdom has been abandoned; a skeletal army has made it their home and they refuse to share it. Additionally, nature itself has also been affected by the dark presence of the undead; bats and spiders have begun to prey on the unaware and, perhaps most disturbing, plants have evolved to shoot fire. This ruin of a once great civilization remains beautiful to admire from a distance but enter into it and you will soon realise that its awe is just as dangerous as what lurks inside.

5 Most Emotional Video Game Character Deaths

Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII)

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Originally released in 1997, she has one of the most recognised video game deaths of all time, showing just how emotional her demise truly is. She was a temporary playable character before leaving the party and later is found praying at an altar. However, the chance encounter is short lived as the moment she recognises Cloud Strife she is stabbed through the chest by the antagonist Sephiroth in front of their eyes. It is only revealed that she was killed because she was the only one to protect the planet from Sephiroth’s plan to use the ultimate destructive magic; Meteor. She succeeded in summoning the power of Holy just before her death. The scene is made more emotional when Cloud takes her body out into the lake in order to return her to the planet’s life force. In doing so, Aerith not only lives on through the planet ultimately enforcing the planet’s life stream against Sephiroth’s Meteor but also within our hearts as a purely beautiful tribute to her life.

Thane Krios (Mass Effect 2 & 3)

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If you kept him alive through Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission then his death is even more so emotional. Sure you knew he was dying from Kepral’s syndrome since the very beginning but that doesn’t soften the loss of the religious drell assassin. While helping fight off the Cerberus attack on the Citadel, Thane is stabbed through the stomach by Kai Leng, an assassin sent to kill the Salarian councillor. Due to complications concerning his illness though he is told that he will die soon. Shepard can visit him in the Hospital where he will be joined by Thane’s son Kolyat. In this scene Shepard can join in a prayer Kolyat and Thane are reciting, it is only afterwards that the prayer was intended for Shepard and not Thane. Despite his violent and immoral job, Thane asks for forgiveness for each kill showing a sense of mercy which makes his death perfect for his deeply spiritual character as he dies surrounded by his family and friends with few regrets. The truth that Thane accepts his death only adds to the effect his death has on the audience. So much so that you can’t help but feel that justice has been served when Shepard stabs Kai-Leng with the omni-blade stating “that was for Thane, you son of a bitch”.

Angus “Grim” Grimaldi (Tomb Raider)

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Grimaldi is the helmsman of the expedition ship Lara was part of, The Endurance before its ultimate destruction by the supernatural storm. Using the skills he learnt while living in Gorbals, he manages to escape the clutches of the Solarii Brotherhood and find Lara. However, just as he does, the brotherhood catch up with him and attempt to use him as a hostage to get Lara to surrender. A man unwilling to be used as a hostage he lunges himself off the edge, falling to his untimely death but taking a number of Solarii men with him. Although his death is sad what truly made his death so emotional for me was that I was certain that he would turn against me at some point. Instead though, he was genuinely one of the most selfless characters in the game; going as far as to sacrifice his own life in the chance that Lara will survive just for a tiny bit longer and free the rest of her crew.

Cortana (Halo 4)

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She has been by your side throughout the entire Master Chief franchise, the artificial intelligence has assisted you with your objectives from the beginning and there is nothing you wouldn’t do for her as evident when she begins to malfunction. With no way to fix her AI issues she sacrifices herself in order to save you from the Didact by fragmenting her various personalities and uploading them into its computer; basically tearing herself apart. Although she is an AI and can therefore be replaced with one exactly the same, she won’t be the same Cortana we know and love. What truly makes her sacrifice even more moving is how she uses the last of her energy to manifest as a solid hologram in order to say her final goodbye to Master Chief but also to actually physically touch him for the very first time. My only comfort is that although she hasn’t a blue, humanoid figure, I can always find Cortana on my Windows Phone.

Serah Farron (Final Fantasy 13-2)

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A victim of fate, Serah Farron was at the wrong place at the wrong time; finding a door that lead into the Bodhum Vestige she was chosen by the Pulse fal’Cie, Anima, to become a l’Cie (a person cursed to fulfil a focus or become a monster). As if this wasn’t cruel enough, Serah was later chosen by her sister Lightning to help save the world from being destroyed by a man named Caius Ballad. With the new and sudden ability to glimpse into the future and the fact that every time the timeline is changed, the resulting shock may kill her, Serah and her friend Noel Kreiss persevere and ultimately defeats Caius. However, by changing the present so extremely the future is changed dramatically resulting in Serah’s death. Her sacrifice hits home as she has been the protagonist throughout the game and, unlike other games that result in the protagonist’s death’ Serah’s death takes place after the final battle when everything seems to be fixed. Noel’s desperate yet futile attempts to prevent Serah from seeing the future thus stopping her from dying and the happy music that plays (Charice New World) adds to the emotional impact of her death with her final words ringing in our ears ‘It’s the end of our journey…Thank You’

‘Arkham Origins’ send a chill down the public’s spine with ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ DLC

The trailer for the new downloadable content (DLC) for Batman: Arkham Origins has arrived, and is aptly named Cold, Cold Heart, in reference to the Hank Williams song of the same name, that is heard as covered by Troy ‘The Joker’ Baker during the original gameplay’s credits.

However, this DLC will contain much more than a few extra costumes or challenge maps. The teaser-like trailer, which first debuted on episode 204 of DC All Access, seems to suggest that the origins of one of Batman’s frostiest foes, Mr Freeze, will be the focus of this add-on.

For those unfamiliar with Batman’s rogues, Mr Freeze is a villain who uses cryogenics in his weaponry but is only motivated by a desire to save his terminally ill, cryogenically frozen wife by any means necessary. From the trailer, all that has been determined is the plot will centre on the GothCorp Company where the Wayne Foundation has awarded someone as the Humanitarian Of The Year.

This anti-villain is hoped to create a new open world, narrative-based DLC that will feel more like, as WB Games Vice President of Production suggests, a “mini-chapter” for Arkham Origins, whereby Batman will need to adapt his bat suit in order to overcome the extreme cold he is sure to run into within this DLC. The creators claim that through the use of a new inventory, such as the Extreme Conditions Suit, gameplay will forever be changed.

It is no surprise for the game developers to create a DLC about Dr Freeze however, as he has become a favourite villain of many a Batman fan. Additionally, there was speculation as to why he was not in the original plot already as, having been set around Christmas Day, it seemed like the perfect narrative to introduce him into.

Be prepared to feel a chill in the air this spring, as Cold, Cold Heart will be released on 22nd April.

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Game review: ‘Trine’

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5/10

Everyone has their own opinion on what the tell-tale signs that make up a good co-op game are. For some it is defending each other from rampaging zombies; equally, some find some sort of sadist satisfaction in bludgeoning and shooting one another up instead.

However, for me, any co-op game that keeps you immersed in its world with your best friends beside you, just as engrossed as you are, is key.

But since we live in such a culture where society’s attention span can be compared to Hammy from Over The Hedge on ecstasy, finding a decent co-op game to always come back for more can be difficult. Enter Trine

With 3 characters; a wizard, a knight and a thief, the game, guess what? Yep, it allows up to 3 players to fight spiders and skeletons in order to stop the dreaded Lich King from destroying the world. Yet, do not believe for one second that this is merely another fighting game; if anything the hardest battles present is with gravity. As a physics based platformer, finding new and ingenious ways to progress through the magical and beautiful landscapes become this game’s forte.

With a cliché storyline and repetitive villains, this may seem like another game to play once through and then ditch, but what really makes this title great is not actually the game itself, rather those you play it with. It has a unique local 3 player co-op style that allows even those who do not enjoy first person shooters to participate in a game which allows for random conversation with those around you (you won’t believe how random until you listen back to a recording of you playing). But beware, the heated argument one may find themselves caught up in with the wizard after standing on his magic created box one too many times.

This game may not exactly have been the Grand Theft Auto V of 2009 but with plenty of tea, a couple of like-minded friends and an entire day to play; this game will create its own magic that will equal the fairy-tale narrative seen within.