Those who know me will know I enjoy playing video games, especially on PC (though I enjoyed my Nintendo Switch a lot when I was in hospital in June, and for the recovery period after). As I’ve been able to play a fair amount this year I have had some thoughts about games that I’d like to share.

So what have I been playing?

If you have spoken to me at all in the past eight or so months, you will know that a game I favour currently is Red Dead Redemption 2. Since purchasing it at Christmas, I have played through it three times and I’m on my fourth play through of the Story. But what has drawn me to this game? I have been taken in by the world, which features a lot of wide ranging environments, from the snowy Rocky Mountain state of Ambarino to the sticky humidity of the Lemoyne swamps through the rain-soaked eerie forests of Roanoke Ridge and the bracing yet beautiful heartlands, not to mention the diverse state of West Elizabeth with it’s rich Big Valley with the arid Great Plains to the south, and the desert state of New Austin making a return from the first game, and not to mention the off-of-the-map Caribbean island of Guarma being available to explore for one of the chapters of the game. This plays host to a very gritty yet emotional storyline that calls you to be a part of it, to take the rains as Arthur Morgan and ride with the rest of the Van Der Linde gang on some of their last great adventures together as a gang.

Not only do you experience the story through the eyes of protagonist Arthur Morgan, but you can see the world growing around you, with houses being built and trees being cut down as you progress through the storyline. With this being a Rockstar game, you also are given an insight into socio-economic trends of the time that the game is set, including the fallout from the American Civil War, with its effects being especially felt in the Southern state of Lemoyne.

The cherry atop this beautiful cake made of bits of the old West and possibly a deer carcass that Arthur found while hunting in the Grizzlies is that its soundtrack is amazing. Stand-out songs for me include D’Angelo’s I Stand Unshaken, Rhiannon Giddens’ Moonlight and Mountain Hymn and That’s The Way It Is by Daniel Lanois. Willie Nelson even loaned his pipes to the soundtrack with a version of the song ‘Cruel Cruel World’.

So with this game having left such an imprint on me that I was comparing my stay in Hospital in June to the final stand-off in the game, what could I play next that could finally drag me away from The Five States?

I guess the answer to this would be that the game also has to have a sprawling beautiful world that can be explored on horseback. Enter The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve started playing this game on the Nintendo Switch after I found it on sale in June. This is a game that I am currently unable to finish as I’m finding it difficult to fight off one of the Shrine masters. That said, the storyline appears to be quite gripping, and I do like the crafting element of the game (something this game shares with Red Dead Redemption 2 and a lot of other modern games). This game also has a fantastic soundtrack, and like Red Dead Redemption 2 it uses musical cues to help establish what is happening (for example the music could start speeding up and take on a sinister tone when an enemy is nearby). I will have to keep pushing through Breath of the Wild as I am finding it to be a fascinating game, though I struggle to see the text if I were to play the game in handheld mode.

So what am I looking forward to? Well, I hear Rockstar are looking to remaster GTA 3 and it’s spin-off titles, and if they are successful, they could be re-mastering the original Red Dead Redemption. I hope that they do this as I have found the original game difficult to play. I find the horse-riding mechanics disorientating, and I have also found that the game does not have as much contrast as I would like. This is something it shares with GTA IV, as both games seem to almost have a grainy quality, but with not much in the way of colour, whereas GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2 had more saturation and appeared clearer to me.

Two games I am looking forward to this year however are Bus Simulator 21 and Forza Horizon 5. As someone who is unable to drive, but who has always been interested in driving, I find that I like to sometimes live vicariously through driving titles, from racing games to simulation titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Bus Simulator, and to titles like Grand Theft Auto V that allow you to drive cars, but then to get out and walk and have things to do at a destination.

While modern gaming has brought me many hours of joy both on PC and on Console, there are certain trends I do not like.

First of all, I am not keen on the Subscription idea of games, because as we have found with movie streaming services, they can give the with one hand, but easily take the awayeth with the other. That said, I feel it can be a useful way of playing new games without having to pay full price for them, as prices for games recently have gone up quite dramatically. I would prefer Xbox Game Pass over Google Stadia, because at least you are able to play games locally on your own console, and you don’t have to pay both a subscription fee as well as for each game like you have to with Stadia. I have never felt comfortable with the idea that my apps and data aren’t stored on my own device where I have the last say in what happens to them. That, and I cannot afford to be taking out all these subscriptions.

Another thing I hate in modern gaming is micro transactions. These more often than not appear in mobile games, but we are starting to find them in full-priced games (think Star Wars Battlefront 2). Game companies are also focusing solely on online multiplayer games rather than single player because they have found that they can have people paying small amounts for in-game purchases to give them an advantage during online play. ‘But Jay!’ I hear you cry, ‘Couldn’t you just grind until you save up the money to purchase the required items in the game without paying real money for them?’. Well, technically you could, but as we have seen with Rockstar on GTA Online, these items cost so much that one could not realistically expect someone to commit to the sheer amount of grinding that would be needed to earn the in-game currency needed to make these purchases. Not only that, but any time you try to do things on games like GTA Online to make money, the game will literally alert other players to your activity and encourage them to try and stop you. Do they make the money that you would have made? No! So companies like Rockstar will literally encourage people to grief (the act of constantly killing a player in an online game) others “just because”. I am not a strong player, I will freely admit that, but this makes it so that other people would not want to play with me as I would become a liability, so I will wind up playing in an online world solo, and that makes things even more difficult. What I would like is more single player content. Rockstar have been so obsessed with GTA Online that now the game has been around for, and subsequently released for, three generations of game consoles, whereas during the PS2 and XBox era, they made three GTA games for that generation of consoles.

We are at the point where people are excited to play remastered versions of the games from yesteryear as there has not been as many compelling games around to play if you are not into constantly fragging your friends on the latest full-price Call of Duty game. Sure we do HAVE some amazing games just now, but I am finding that a lot of the games are just much of a muchness – that is if you are looking only to the Triple-A studios. There have been a lot of great games from smaller developers, things like PC Building Simulator and House Flipper are often titles I will dip in and out of, and I always look forward to new map areas for Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator.

So what do I think of the hardware we have now? I think that the hardware just now is fantastic, were you able to purchase it. Thanks to the chip shortage and scalpers, Xbox Series X and S consoles and PS5s are not easy to come by, and the newest graphics cards from AMD and nVidia are practically made out of unobtanium. I think more needs to be done to try and deter people from scalping, so that the rest of us can enjoy the newest generation of gaming hardware.

Sorry for the long rambling post. Those are my current thoughts on the state of video games at the moment, but whatever you like to play, I hope you enjoy your game.