Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Last of Us - Left Behind DLC

What is the measure of good DLC? As an extra chapter to my favourite game of last year, it's an incredible addition that fleshes out Ellie's past and her character. But as an individual purchase, it is incredibly short and expensively priced with little new to offer in terms of the game's mechanics.

That there is the bad half of it. Stopping to smell the roses and enjoy the scenery, this DLC takes little over two hours to finish. Note that the scenery itself is wonderful to look at, gorgeously rendered and artfully created, but it doesn't offer all that much which is new to the post-apocalyptic world. It's another ruined building which our heroes progress through, the likes of which was seen all through TLOU. The combat works in much the same way as it did before, with Infected and Hunters searching for Ellie and needing to be avoided and distracted with thrown bricks.

That would be damning if this were as sequel, but for DLC I have no complaints. I was given another excuse to explore a post-apocalyptic environment and maneuver the dangers therein, so I quickly fell back into familiar old habits and was thrilled to do so. It was a reminder of how much I loved using the bow, getting the run around on my foes, and setting traps. The muscle memory flowed back, and the old tricks still worked. It's the perfect excuse to dive back in the world of TLOU.

The real draw here, in more ways than one, is the narrative. The game cuts between two days in Ellie's life. The last day of her childhood, when she and her best friend Riley were bitten, and the first day she had to survive without Joel, immediately after his injury in TLOU. Young Ellie is unprepared for combat, so the sections of the game which take place in winter (while Ellie looks for a first aid kit to fix up Joel) feature most of the peril and danger. This winter-half is great, and serves as a top quality addition to a missing chapter from the original game. It features the combat I was just talking about.

The majority of the game features Riley (Ellie's best friend, who we know died before TLOU started) and Ellie having one last day together in a ruined shopping mall. This is really what Left Behind is all about - the friendship of the pair and what Ellie lost when she was bitten. It is great to behold, and you can really get drawn in to the emotion of it all. They truly feel like the best of friends, and knowing how doomed they are makes it all so bittersweet. The narrative here is wonderful, and is masterfully crafted in terms of tone and acting, in a manner I would have thought beyond the reach of mere video-games.

It really is the relationship between the two which drives the game. Knowing what Ellie lost when Riley died, and how that later makes her react to Joel in TLOU, expands on her character in a meaningful way and is an emotional to experience. The way the two friends treat each other and experience the world together is astoundingly well acted and feels deserved, like honest emotions tied with heartfelt actions. Even more, since the game ends with the bite, and we never get to see the last hours on earth the two spend together, it still feels like unfinished business. The game ends before giving these two close friends the time to react. Maybe that was deliberate. Maybe that is why it is... Left Behind.

Still, when all is said and done, it is inescapable that £12 for two hours is too high a price. Except I was quick to pay it, and would do so again in a heartbeat. I love TLOU. I adore it's setting and story and combat and all. Make of that what you will.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Royal Flash

Harry Flashman is a damnable rouge. He's a drunk, and a cheat, and a coward, and a liar, and he's one of the most fun characters I can think of. These books are historical fiction, set in the 19th century, which is a brilliant time for adventurers like Flashy to get into trouble.

Flashman's (fictional) memouirs take him all over the world. From Victorian London, to his service in the British Army, to his adventures in the United States, to Africa and beyond.

The first book told of how Flashy was forced, by circumstances of his own creation, to join the British Army and be sent to Afganistan. While there he did his best to run away from danger, avoid any real hard work, and sleep with as many beautiful women as he could.

Flashman is basically the Sterling Archer of the British Empire, but with more running away from danger.

That first book, simply titled Flashman, is one of my favourites, and so I was greatly looking forwards to his second adventure, Royal Flash. Sadly, Royal Flash is much the disappointment. It hinges on one joke: what if the famous adventure novel The Prisoner of Zenda was actually based on a misadventure of Flashman's? A tale of royalty, lookalike imposters, plots, counter-plots and doomed love affairs, Flashman is forced against his will into heroic circumstances against great peril, and in doing so the story loses almost all of the fun.

Flashman has no agency over his own actions in this book. He is forced, by Otto Von Bismark no less, to do everything he does. And while Flashy complains bitterly about it all, he mostly just goes along with things, as a pawn in someone else's story. There is little opportunity for him to get up to any fun, and the adventure plays out much the same as it would with anyone else in his shoes.

The whole joke relies on the reader being familiar with The Prisoner of Zenda, but since that tale has fallen into relative obscurity, the value there was lost on me completely. It's a thin joke, and not enough to sustain the novel.

There are still some excellent passages. Flashy's unfriendly rivalry with Bismark, in steeple-chasing and in a short boxing match, make for two great sections. But the main plot of the thing is a plodding affair, which has little meaning on the story of Flashman's life.

If I were setting out to read the series afresh, I would give this book a miss. It is not essential to the larger tale of Flashy's life, and there's better stories to read first. As a series however, I love Flashman, and loudly recommend it to everyone.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Fantasy Football - February 2013/14

GW24, and Ross buys RVP! Back from injury, he plays 77mins and scores a goal against Stoke. I win the weekend with 61pts. Lallana, Mirallas and Adam Johnson all score important goals. Annoyingly, I had John Terry on the bench and started Jonny Evans. That's a mistake which cost me 6pts. Everyone captained Suarez again.

In transfers, Andrew let Giroud go for Negredo and Jon swaps Clyne for Shaw.

GW25, and Jon wins with 71pts. Andrew made 68pts, as Skrtel and Hazard earned 38pts between them! At the same time, I only made 27pts. I had Sterling on the bench, worth 14pts, and in total I lose 41pts on Andrew. A crushing loss.

I quickly transfer out Adam Johnson, who's fixtures turn awful, and bring in Tom Ince. I also get Skrtel, he who'd just earned Andrew so many points. Ross and Andrew both bring in Adrian as a back-up GK, while Jon lets Janujaz go for Mirallas.

Midweek GW26, and a February storm postponed Everton v Palace and Man City v Sunderland.  Jon Hackett wins the week with 73pts; his is the only team with 11 players. Two goals for Adebayor were good news for Andrew and Jon, while Suarez had his first dissapointing match since Boxing Day. I only made 41pts, losing 17pts on Andrew and falling over 100pts off his lead, with 13 weeks left in the season.

Transfers, and there is only one. Jon swaps out Henderson for Sterling. Everyone else keeps the same squad.

The month ends with GW27, and James wins the week with 61pts. I come second, Giroud was my star player. He scored twice, assisted and earned 3bpts. Suarez fails to score again; he has only one goal for the last six weeks. Meanwhile, Sturridge has scored 9 goals in 7 games since returing from injury - a lucky thing no-one has him in their team!

In end of the month transfer news, Andrew drops Negredo for Rodriguez (SOU) and brings in Petr Cech, while Ross makes three transfers, the biggest of which is dropping RVP for Adebayor. RVP scored 3 goals in 4 games, so he's been doing well for Ross, but he is very expensive. I let Eriksen go out for Snodgrass in.

Febuary over, and I've had a poor month. I lost 40pts on Andrew, which all boils down to GW25. He remains in 1st place, and that could be the end of the title race unless something dramatic happens. Jon won the month with 254pts, but remains 4th overall behind Mike, for now.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Fantasy Football - January 2013/14

Note: January allows each player an extra wildcard to refresh their squad. I won't be covering this in depth as it's allows for such a huge number of transfers to take place. Intead, at the end of the month I will take stock of what manager did with their w/card.

GW20 starts the new year, and the second half of the season. Mike Hackett wins with 51pts, everyone having a low scoring week. Suarez scored, but was the only striker to do so. Walcott had a strong week, taking 11pts.

There was a long gap after GW20, to allow for an FA Cup weekend. Walcott was stretchered off injured as Arsenal beat Spurs. He ruptured his ACL, which will rule him out of the rest of the season and the World Cup. Everyone who had Walcott swaps him out. Andrew, Jon, and Ross all bring in Hazard, while I got for Ozil and Mike goes with Oscar.

GW21, and I win the week. 79pts as Welbeck, Giroud and Suarez score four goals between them. It was a high scoring week all round, as Ross earned 72pts and Andrew 70pts. Everyone but Jon and Andrew captained Suarez. Rooney remained injured; I'd brought in Danny Welbeck at the last minute.

GW22 is a  low scoring week. Andrew won with 67pts. He had both Yaya Toure and Adebayor. Everyone captained Suarez, who earned 10pts. I lost 28 points to Andrew, after two good weeks of closing in. This was followed by another FA Cup weekend.

Transfer news, and Andrew let Oscar go for Januzaj. In the real world, Manchester United bought Juan Mata from Chelsea, Newcastle sold Cabaye, and Chelsea bought Matic and Salah.

GW23 and Suarez has another great week, 22pts as captain. Andrew and Jon are the only ones not to captain him, they chose Hazard who gave them 6pts. Meanwhile Giroud scores his third goal away from home in a row. The winner of the week is Mike with 78. I earned 17pts more than Andrew, continuing to close the gap, and remain second place in the league.

With Suarez on such good form for so long now, he's an automatic armband choice every week. Everyone has him in their teams, and choosing an alternative captain seems to never pay off. Sadly, with such a clear homogonised captain choice, the league becomes static.

As January ends, so ends the transfer window.

Wildcard Reports: Andrew, Jon, and Mike all played theirs before GW21, after the FA Cup break. Andrew dropped Negredo and Rooney for Giroud and Adebayor and used the money he saved to upgrade his midfield. Before he'd had Sterling, Kasami and Ramsey; now he fields Eriksen, Hazard and Oscar. Jon swapped Giroud for Adebayor, replaced Walcott, and and shuffled his team without too many major changes. Mike dropped Giroud for Negredo, and made room for Oscar and Lallana. James played his w/card before GW23, swapping out Coleman and Zabaleta for Koscielny and Azpilicueta, Mirallas and Cabaye out for Mata and Yaya Toure, and Rooney and Lukaku out for Aguero and Bony. James was the only person to choose Mata. Ross also played his before GW23, shuffling his team and making many minor changes. Negredo to Aguero and Kompany to Kolarov, for example. He brings in Eto'o as a differential.

I played my last wildcard at the very last minute, before GW24, having waited to see if any real world transfers catch my eye. I only made minor changes, getting rid of Ozil and Januzaj for Lallana and Sterling.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Fantasy Football - December 2013/14

December is a busy month. GW14 comes mid-week, and Luis Suarez scored 4 goals, an assist, and 3bpts. He's captained  for 48pts by everyone except Jon & James (who still don't have him). Yaya Toure and Hazard also score major points, and Mike Hackett wins the week with 100pts. I made 83pts, my highest week this season.

Still, there's disappointment as well. Fabian Delph scores a 13pts week, with a goal, an assist, and 3btps. But I've left him on my bench! RVP's slight injury means he misses a third game in a row, and my two Chelsea defenders again fail to keep a clean sheet. And, despite a great week, Andrew scores 1pt more than me.

Transfer news. Paul drops Benteke, who hasn't scored since GW4, for Negredo, while Ross swaps Rooney for Aguero.

GW15, and Mike Hackett wins with 72pts. I have a good week, but not good enough, and Mike moves ahead of me into second. Suarez had another great week, but he'd been captained again by all who had him. I had no real points coming from anyone other than Suarez - my two Chelsea defenders again let we down, only 1pt between the two of them! It's been a disasterous move to double up.

It's a sad truth,  but it's been estimated that 50% of Fantasy Football players become innactive by the end of December, as poor results hit their motivation. James is the first to declare himself out - 259 points off first.

Midweek transfers, and Ross drops Benteke for Lukaku, James drops Giroud for Lukaku, and Jon finally goes Sturridge out for Suarez in. The failures of Beteke this season have been remarkable. A terrifying prospect in August, a true goal-machine, and considered a must have for all fantasy teams. Now, he hasn't scored since his injury in September.

Then it happens - RVP injured, out for a month. It's been a tough 15 weeks for RVP owners like me. Honestly, while it's been only a relative failure, it's been a massive disappointment. I transfer him out for Aguero.

GW16, and Mike Hackett wins again, this time with 93 points. Suarez has another incredible week, yet only Mike and Ross had stuck with him as captain for double the rewards.

Aguero picks up an injury while Arsenal lose 6-3 to City. He could miss 10 weeks with a calf injury. I bring in Rooney, only for him to have an injury scare. Ross drops Aguero for Negredo, and James finally get in Suarez. Paul Hackett is forced by injuries to make four changes at the cost of -12pts.

GW17, and everyone captains Suarez. He scores two, gets an assist, and 3bpts, but this doesn't change the league at all. I win the week with 84pts, thanks to Januzaj, Coleman, and Mertesacker all having strong weeks.

Then, I win a second week in a row! GW18 is on Boxing Day, and points are hard to come by. However, Rooney was my Captain, and he brought in 22pts. People with Suarez captained lost out. After this, I climb back above Mike Hackett to reclaim second in the overall league.

An injury to Ramsey forced me to upgrade to Theo Walcott. Paul brings in Soldado, Andrew brings in Negredo, and Jon swaps Ozil for Walcott.

GW19, and Paul Hackett wins with 61pts. He captained Soldado, who scored his first goal since October. I was second with 56pts, thanks to Coleman, Evans, and Metesacker. GW19 also marked the end of Quarter 2, and the half-way mark of the season. Mike Hackett won Q2 by 7pts, with Andrew behind him, and myself next with 4pts less.

Luis Suarez had an unbelievable month. He earned 91pts on his own in December, and those who captained him every week made twice that. In comparison, Giroud has only made 96pts all season.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Fantasy Football - November 2013/14

The end of October marks the end of the first Quarter of the season. Q1 had a clear winner in Andrew and a clear loser in James, with over one-hundred points between them. The middle of the table, however, is far closer run. I finished 2nd for Q1.

The League Table at the end of Q1

The transfer news going into GW10 was fairly quiet. I sold my two Spurs defenders (Vertonghen & Naughton) for two Chelsea defenders (Ivanovic & Terry) ahead of their strong fixtures. Paul sold Soldado for Benteke, while Andrew sold Moses & Grandin for Morrison & Lallana. Everyone else shuffled their bench players or saved transfers for next week.

GW10 was won be me. I captained RVP, and he scored, assisted and won 3bpts. I played five defenders, and they picked up two clean sheets - Ivanovic & Terry losing 2-0 away to Newcastle. Andrew had Rooney as captain, as did James, and Wayne did exactly as well as RVP. Every other striker failed to win points. (No-one in our league has Soldado anymore, not that he would have helped.)

In preparation for the next week, both Andrew and I buy Aaron Ramsey. He's been the breakout player of the season so far. James drops Michu for Nasri and Lukaku for Sturridge, and Paul drops Vidic for Coleman. And then, at the last minute, David Silva picks up an injry that will keep him out for the month! Ross, who'd only just brought him in, is forced to sell him for Nasri, and Paul to sell him for Yaya Toure; they both take a -4pts hit for their bad luck.

GW11 is full of suprise results. Chelsea rescue a draw at home to West Brom, Newcastle beat Spurs 1-0 at WHL, and Man City lose to Sunderland. This is a curveball which throws off quite a few teams - and that includes my own. I only made 32pts for the week, Coleman and RVP the only players to score any meaningful points. Doubling up on Chelsea defenders has gone horribly so far. Between two of them they've only earned 3pts over two weeks! Luckily for me, Jon does even worse. He only made 21pts and dropped down to fifth in the table.

The real deciding player is Luis Suarez, who runs the show as Liverpool beat Fulham 4-0. The only real differnce between teams this week comes from their Sturridge/Suarez choce. He scores twice, gets an assist, and earns 3bpts for a total 16pts. (The only other striker from our teams to score was RVP; it was a poor week.) Sturridge played only 75mins and earns only 2pts. Teams who captained Sturridge lose out - James, Jon, and myself. Andrew, Paul, and Ross, however, captained Suarez, gaining 32pts. This dramatically shakes up the table, and it's all down to one player and one decisive captain choice. Suarez has made 64pts in the last six weeks, and Sturridge only 40pts.

I immediately transfer out Sturridge for Suarez.

There's a long international break between GW11 and GW12. There are some minor transfers, but nothing major. Paul and Mike both bring in Cabaye, while Ross make room for John Terry. In injury news, RVP is again suffering from those same groin and toe injuries, Benteke still isn't fully fit, and Sturridge has a slight injury.

GW12 is won by Andrew with 73pts, who stretches his lead at the top of the table. He captained Rooney for 22pts. Jon came second for the week with 71 thanks to two Lampard goals, and I was third with 65. My two Chelsea defenders provide clean sheets, while Suarez, Mirallas and Giroud are all in the points. Ramsey has a second unspectacular week, after I've brought him in.

Not everything went according to plan in GW12. Through some terrible brain-fart, I put Luke Shaw in my starting eleven and left Mertesacker on the bench. Arsenal went on to beat Saints 2-0, and Shaw notched 1 solitary point. Meanwhile Mertesacker picked up 11 points for his clean sheet, assist, and bonus, of which I recieved none. I would have won the week if my brain had been working! Stupid mistakes cost points, and I lost out.

Injury news, as Sturridge does his ankle on Friday afternoon before GW13. In response James and Ross both transfer him out, at a -4pts cost, for Aguero and Rooney respectively, but Jon still has him. Ross and James also both feel done with Ozil, James bringing in Ramsey and Ross gets Walcott. James also made a third transfer, Nasri out for Mirallas. Meanwhile, Andrew brings in Ivanovic for Huth.

GW13 starts, and Suarez is chosen as captain by all who have him. (Only James and Jon are without Suarez now.) Suarez plays 90mins but does nothing else, to the disappointment of all, but this doesn't affect the table much at all. Paul wins the week with 74 points, Jon is last with 45. Chelsea again failed to keep a clean sheet. Ramsey has another great week, scoring twice and earning 3bpts; Ross & Jon are the only two not on the bandwagon, and they lose out despite having other Arsenal midfielders (Walcott & Ozil respectively).

The Overall Table, as it stands at the end of November.

In the head-to-head at the top of the table, Andrew beat me by 7pts. He's outscored me 4 out of the last 5 weeks, and has 42pts more than me for November. The key difference between our teams now is that while I have RVP, he has Wayne Rooney. With small niggling injuries, RVP has missed the last two weeks. Rooney has totalled 24pts in those two games, and has earned double-figures 4 times from the last 5 weeks.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Fantasy Football - October 2013/14

October started off with GW7. Suarez is most sought after, and four different people move to bring him in. Andrew and Mike (at the expense of Soldado), Paul (for Negredo), and Ross (for Rooney.) This means Ross now has both Sturridge and Suarez, and that Suarez is now more popular in our league than Sturridge, by 4 teams to 3.

Everyone in our league (except James) captained their Liverpool striker. They both played the full game and scored, but Sturridge was awarded 3bpts while Suarez was awarded none. That's an extra six-points for Jon, Ross and myself over the Suarez teams. Amalfitano came good for me again with an assist; apart from him and Yaya Toure, there were no good point-scorers from midfield for anyone in our league!

James, with Ozil as captain, lost the week. Andrew and I both won the week with 44 points; Andrew becoming the first in our league to hit 400pts overall. It was a bad week for strikers, except for Lukaku who scored his fourth goal in three games. Soldado was dropped, having not scored since GW2. Giroud hasn't scored in three weeks. Benteke is still injured. RVP played 90mins for the first time since his injury, but failed to score or assist. All of a sudden, goals from strikers seem to be drying up.

With none of the big teams keeping clean sheets either, it was only the Liverpool strikers captaincy that inflated point scores the week. That explains why James lost out so heavily. For everyone else, GW7 was evenly paced, and left our league table mostly unchanged.

With a long international break ahead, the gap before GW8 gave lots of time to tinker. I brought in Adnan Janujaz, the Man Utd teenager scored two goals in GW7 and was priced at only £4.6m. He became something of a hot property. Also popular is Lukaku, James loses Lambert for him, and also buys Januzaj. Jon decides to be rid of Soldado, for Lukaku. Meanwhile, Paul brings in Januzaj and Mata for Ben Arfa and Kasami, and Ross drops Dzeko for Benteke, who's back from injury.

The RVP situation continued to define my team. Excluding penalties, RVP hadn't scored in 14 of his last 18 league games. Worse, he now seems blighted by regular minor injuries, David Moyes once again confirming he's doubtful the Friday before a game.

GW8 was a key week as, apart from Jon and Andrew both captaining Lukaku, everyone had a unique armband choice. The clear winner was Mike with 73pts and captain Giroud winning him the week. Mike's team contains three Arsenal players and three Liverpool players, a risky strategy which pays off when those two teams play well. I came second for the week with 66pts and rose to second in the league table! That was thanks largely to Mirallas and Silva, two players I'd kept faith in over a few doubtful week. (Jon lost the week with 44pts, a tally which would have won him GW7.)

The League Table after GW8

RVP had scored a goal, which was great news, but then things took a turn for the worse again. His ongoing injury concerns continue with both groin and toe problems. He missed a midweek Champions League tie, and yet again was a doubt for the weekend.

In the mid-week transfers, I sold Jose Enrique for Vertonghen, and Jon gave up on waiting for Walcott to return from injury, upgrading to Ozil. Despite being the top point scoring midfielder in the game, Ramsey is still only owned by Paul and Mike Hackett, everyone else clearly thinking his form cannot possibly last.

GW9 and Andrew, with a team unchanged from GW7, earned 81pts. Paul also earned 81pts, and I totaled 74pts. It was another high scoring week, Mike with 55pts coming last, but a poor one for midfielders - not a single midfielder over 9.0 delivered returns beyond a clean sheet. Meanwhile, all of the popular strikers were in the goals. (Except for Benteke, who missed a penalty.) The real winner was Luis Suarez, who scored a hat-trick and 3bpts. Paul Hackett captained him, for a 34pts haul!

All said and done, October was a tremendous month for me. I won the month with 184pts, claiming second in the overall league. Andrew earned 173pts this month, and he stays top of the overall table, while James came last of the month with 127pts and stays last overall.

The in-form players of the month. The Suarez vs Sturridge choice was a crucial one across our league, Suarez the clear winner this month.

The Table for October.