As the events of Red Dead Redemption II unfold and we see Arthur’s story come to it’s natural conclusion the extensive epilogue gives the player a glimpse of what life looks like for the remaining members of the Van Der Linde gang.

In this short section you play as John Marston and with the help of Charles and Uncle set about building a home for John, Abigail and Jack.

This my favourite moment in the game. It is the perfect palete cleanser for what has gone and what is yet to come. A brief moment of joy, adopted familial togetherness and a renewed sense of perspective. This scene creates a subtle transition in preparing the player to culminate their respective narrative journeys and lay the foundations (no pun intended) for the events to follow in Red Dead Redemption.


Photograph 01_Night Light (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Silhouette (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Bathed (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Brutal Beauty (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Theatre (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Gotcha (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Hero Pose (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Who Needs Nate? (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_God Rays (@davidrushe – 2019)

Photograph 01_Move Over Uncharted (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_01Photograph 01_Follow The Leader (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_02Photograph 02_Early Morning Glow (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_03Photograph 03_Moon Kiss (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_04Photograph 04_Camp Lamp (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_06Photograph 05_Evening Hue (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_05Photograph 06_Dusty (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_07Photograph 07_A New Path (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_09Photograph 08_Uphill Struggle (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_10Photograph 09_Horizon (@davidrushe – 2019)

rdr2_08Photograph 10_Glow (@davidrushe – 2019)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Metal Gear Solid V (MGSV), more than I usually do, it’s occupying much of my free thinking time. With 162 hours on the in-game clock and 75% completion I do the most logical thing, I start playing Watch Dogs 2. The original Chicago set hackathon from Ubisoft was a very enjoyable experience. Despite the controversy surrounding its apparent visual downgrade, the game provided me tens of hours of both offline and online fun and a shiny platinum trophy to boot.


In Watch Dogs 2 the action moves to a new city with a new protagonist. The games colour palette sees a major overhaul, with the somewhat drab and dreary tones of Chicago replaced with the technicolor triumph that is San Francisco. It is the gaming equivalent of Dorothy entering the door in to the Land of Oz. Our new hero Marcus is a cheeky hacker chappy with some nifty parkour skills and an endless stream of pop culture utterances to boot. Who in 2019 doesn’t remember the Los Locos song from Short Circuit 2? Just me? Oh dear, I’m showing my age.

The game features a narrative that progresses naturally despite the open world setting. In short; big bad corporations doing big bad things on one side, with Marcus and his trusty hacker crew on the other looking to save the day. It’s hardly original but it’s simple structure doesn’t get lost with the distractions of the open world setting. Typically games of this ilk often suffer from poor pacing, but not Watch Dogs 2. In the case of MGSV the principle theme of revenge following the exploits of Skullface in Ground Zeroes is hampered with the numerous subplots that Kojima throws at the player. The appearance of The Man on Fire (Volgin from Metal Gear Solid 3) and Eli (young Liquid Snake) create two such that on the one hand have no tangible context (The Man on Fire) unless you have played Metal Gear Solid 3 and are introduced (Eli) without resolution. As a longtime fan of the series with a history of both characters I was left feeling cold when they no longer were part of the games plot development. In Watch Dogs 2 core story missions and optional side missions all feed into the broader narrative of the world. Where Ubisoft shine in open world narrative story telling, Kojima Productions sadly fail quite badly.

MGSV is unique as it is the first time in the Metal Gear Solid series that the game ditches linearity and carefully curated design principles of past titles in favour of an open world approach. It was a bold move for a team who built their reputation on considered curation and it the leap in to the unknown exposed a weakness in their design. The two ‘open worlds’ are set in Afghanistan and along the Angola-Zaire border region. They can’t really be considered open worlds so much as they are large levels. Both areas feature  settlements and buildings with detailed interior environments. The landscapes are desolate with little to interact with and little to do. Now before you say anything, I don’t expect to see Snake entering various races or fishing, but could typical open world tropes have improved things in the case of MGSV? What if Snake had liberated a village or settlement from enemy control? His actions and interactions with inhabitants of the environment could have allowed Snake to gather information to aid his overall quest and create a tangible link between the world and the player. His actions within the world could have led to a more emergent narrative allowing players to have a unique story experience like Telltale Games or Netflix’s Bandersnatch. Another benefit from this component would be in relation to the games hidden karma system aka the ‘Demon System’. Your in-game actions; killing enemies, harming animals or developing nuclear weapons manifest with the increase (or decrease) of the shrapnel ‘horn’ sticking out of Snake’s head. This key game feature is never explained another example of the game’s inability to do the basics correctly.
I don’t believe that the empty and featureless landscapes of Afghanistan and Angola-Zaire tie into the subject of emptiness that is often attributed to the ‘phantom’ element of the games title. To me they are evidence that the Kojima Productions team were not sufficiently experienced in non-linear approach, failing to strike a balance between the key ingredients required in successful open world design; of exploration and opportunity.


Watch Dogs 2 on the other hand is a game that truly understands its open world setting. Coming from Ubisoft, the connoisseurs of the open world, the city of San Francisco and its surrounding environs are fully exploitable to the player. Not only is environment hackable with Marcus’ phone taking control of traffic lights, bollards & even vehicles to cause havoc and distraction, but his hacking skills can interact with members of the public. The game expands on the mechanics of Watch Dogs with a new addition; the ability to create conflict between gangs and the police. Need to get into a heavily patrolled area? Simply use your phone and call it in. Marcus can plant false evidence or identify someone as a traitor to have a gang attack a rival gang or the police. This will lead to both groups going to battle with one another whether it is to take out the traitor or arrest a corrupt officer. Marcus to sit somewhere safe, use his tech remotely while the chaos unfolds before he swoops in an completes his task with minimal fuss.

The games upgrade system allows you to improve Marcus’ skillset to take full control of the open world. The upgrade tree allows you to create a snowball effect with the deep hacking mechanic, creating chaos throughout San Francisco or multiple hacking strands turning gangs and cops against each other in a seemingly never ending loop.  This mechanic is an excellent design decision allowing the player to change the way a mission can evolve and how the player can interact with the world. Despite the extensive range of available weapons to Marcus, I chose to play my campaign as someone who would shy away from the direct use of violence instead relying on the tech to do most of the heavy lifting. This incredible mechanic allowed me to peruse a more peaceful approach for Marcus creating my own internal karma system.


Should you wish to pursue a more direct approach to missions, you can of course use weapons to do so. The weapons can be created at your various hacker safe houses with the use of 3d printer, with your new fully customisable weapon available seconds after you choose to create it. MGSV also allows you to create new weapons through your research and development team on Mother Base, but unlike the instant gratification of Watch Dogs 2 the game makes you wait in real time for your latest upgrade.

Aside from weapons Marcus has other tools at his disposal. His remote control car and drone can also give you a stealthy approach and reconnaissance advantage. Tools in MGSV like the Walker Gear allow rapid transition across the desolate landscape reducing the overall pain in the player’s proverbial ass. The infamous Battle Tank is so unworkable that Kojima and co leave it unfinished (like much of the game) in a Mother Base hanger never for direct use by the player.


Upon reflection of Metal Gear Solid V in the wake of playing Watch Dogs 2 it is less than favourable. Whether it is design decisions that Kojima and co opted for from the open world approach, the poorly paced narrative, a number of unexplained gameplay features, the pointless episodic structure and the unfinished state of the game, it is a sad end to the Metal Gear Solid series. On the flip side, Watch Dogs 2 with its refined gameplay mechanics, upbeat characters, lively setting and an open world ripe for interacting with results in game so incredibly open-ended you can reply the same mission over with different strategies every time. You can opt to sneak into areas using non-lethal takedowns, or a full-on shoot-em-up approach with assistance from your jumper or drone buddies make me believe that Watch Dogs 2 is the game Metal Gear Solid V wishes it could have been. The leap in quality from the original Watch Dogs to the sequel is self evident, much like the leap between the first and second Asssassin’s Creed games. I do hope that Ubisoft have faith in this series and continue to build on the incredible foundations that Watch Dogs 2 has established.

I would encourage those of you who have yet to play Watch Dogs 2 to find a copy and play it, you might even find yourself quoting Metal Gear as you do; hey Watch Dogs 2 “you’re pretty good”.


Run faster, jump further, climb higher, there are no limits.

This formula is intrinsic to many modern adventure games. The envelope is always being pushed to give gamers the ultimate escapist experience with the most physically charged and gravitationally challenging mechanics with every new release. Whether it is traversing seemingly never-ending chasms or free-running your way to the top of the city’s tallest tower, anything is possible so long as you never stop moving.

Assassin's Creed® Syndicate_20151026184444

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (Ubisoft 2015)


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami 2015)

In a world that is always on; with social media feeds that are impossible to fully absorb and a continuous dump of unfiltered and unchallenged information, we are constantly pushing the sprint button in both our real life and our gaming life. At first glance the space for contemplation and pause appear to be diminishing. I have always been a fan of first-person shooters and third-person action adventure games; Assassins Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter, Doom and Wolfenstein have been firm favourites of mine since my early gaming days. As I have grown from gaming adolescence to fully grown adult (debatable) with a wife and young family these types of games have always proven staples within my gaming portfolio. Hours spent at work and attempting to have quality time with my family mean that these weighty and fast paced experiences are not as doable as they once were, instead I searched for a slower experience to pause and think.


Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (Chinese Room 2016) @davidrushe

Thank heavens for the walking simulator, namely Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I have had both Either One and Gone Home on my hard drive for the best part of the year and a half but have never ventured further then the initial install. With the inclusion of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture in the PS Plus in November 2016 I decided it was time to change things up and slow the pace down. Almost immediately I was hooked by the tangible world of Yaughton and the surrounding countryside and its cast of characters. At first I was taken aback at the lack of a sprint option, with the only ‘sprint’ option being nothing more than a brisk walking pace you might use when trying to weave through the crowds at rush hour. I quickly accepted the restrictions put in place by the developers, seeing it not as a hindrance but instead finding it be thoroughly liberating. The inability to race through the world and check off all the major story cues and gather all notable collectables in an attempt to work my way towards a platinum trophy was a blessing. The restricted movement forced me, in the best possible way, to immerse myself in the world and the (former) lives of its inhabitants. I found myself attempting to open every door, every gate and interact with every object in the environment I could find. By the end of my first playthrough I was sad to leave the world in which felt part of even if only as an observer during those few hours.


Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (Chinese Room 2016) @davidrushe

The game captured my imagination and unlike other games which I have loved I did the unusual thing (for me) and immediately started my second playthrough. There was something so palpable and real about the residents of Yaughton that I couldn’t leave them. For me the game is the perfect balance between narrative and player interaction, the inability to run does not handicap the player, instead it allows them to stop, pause and meditate. As you wander through Yaughton and its surroundings you begin to unravel the threads of this tangled storyline, meandering through undulating landscapes kissed by the sun in the distance with nature and the light as your companion. In the past year we have seen Brexit, Trump, the never-ending cycle of violence in Syria among other events and tragedies, the deliberate and absorbing experience of the digital world in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture makes me yearn for the real world to take a moment and pause.

Since penning this rumination I have returned again to start my third playthrough to clean up my missing trophies and experience the majesty and wonder of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture one last time. I will endeavour to take with me the lessons of my Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture experience; making an effort to slow down, listen and bear witness to the majesty of the world around me before it is too late.


It was ten years ago that I did two things for the first time in my life that I have never done since. The first, I booked a day off work to coincide with the release of a new game and the second, I attended a midnight launch. To some this might seem like an odd thing to do, but I imagine most people reading this have been there, done that, bought and in some instances worn the merchandise.

The game that caused me to take these drastic steps was non-other than Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV) by Rockstar. I always try to avoid the hype train with games, but when the game in question was going to be the latest entry in the widely successful GTA series it was one train I felt compelled to board. After the mammoth success of the GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas during the sixth generation of consoles the franchise had not only become a recognisable and controversial brand, but a highly selling series one too. The series selling 60 million copies between Playsation 2 (PS2) and Xbox during the sixth generation. Like the latest Marvel, Star Wars or James Bond film, GTA was now immortalised as an event. The annual success of each new game would pave the way for the annualisation of future franchises like Call of Duty and Assassins Creed.

The new game would take the best elements from the PS2 / Xbox era, marry it with a new engine, high definition graphics and give players a chance to return to the most famous city in gaming; Liberty City. Rockstar would allow the game to percolate in an attempt to create the definitive GTA experience. They released mood trailers months apart to whet our appetites giving gamers a glimpse into what the upcoming entry had to offer. The initial reveal introduced a new protagonist; Niko “perhaps here things will be different” Bellic who seeks to leave his criminal past behind and start anew in Liberty City. While the American Dream is high on trope-scale, it does seem fitting; a new console, a new game, a new protagonist, a new start. Only time would tell how truly different things would be.

At my local Game I waited patiently to collect my reserve copy for the midnight launch on 29th April 2008, enjoying the carnival atmosphere with fellow gamers keen to get home and delve into Rockstar’s latest offering. When I finally returned home in the early hours of the morning I booted up the game, my excitement levels were at fever pitch. After the initial opening cutscene I guided the new protagonist to his cousins Roman’s apartment. That night I played for a little bit more, slowly exploring the reimagined Liberty City. The original belief that Niko was in Liberty City to live the American Dream is proven not to be the case, as we find out he was betrayed by a fellow army colleague during the Yugoslav Wars and is seeking revenge for this deception.

The character of Niko is well written and performed, his deeply harrowing backstory rooted in the Yugoslav Wars of 1990s Europe is handed with care throughout. His actions and need for closure leave him with little choice but to flee to Liberty City in order to end his misery and pain. The ensemble cast, the sights and sounds of Liberty City and the mission variety would lead GTA IV to top games charts for many months, with the game selling north of 25 million copies worldwide. Despite the technical advancements of the seventh generation of consoles; the graphical advances and richly detailed open world, I found myself losing interest in Niko’s journey. I became increasingly irritated by the constant calls from Niko’s friends, interrupting the ebb and flow of the experience with requests for bowling and drinking activities. Despite the innovations over previous titles, I felt that the game had not reached the heady heights of previous GTA games. Perhaps the game could never live up to the enormous hype, my disappointment being a by-product of unrealistic expectations. My Stockholm syndrome-like tendencies with regard to ‘hype’ would return for the 2015 release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but that is a story for another time.

Fast forward ten years and I have just returned home after collecting a second hand Playstation 3 (PS3) with Red Dead Redemption for a steal at only £40. In the days that followed I pick up the Metal Gear Solid HD collection, Max Payne 3 and after listening to Cane and Rinse No.75 (again) I decide that another trip to Liberty City is required. Like Niko I too have unfinished business to attend to.

The return to the sixth generation of consoles was a consequence of the ever-increasing sameness of current gen fodder. The advances in graphical fidelity this generation can’t be denied. Gone are the various shades of brown of the PS3 and Xbox360 era and instead our eyes are awash with the colour palette of 1080P, HDR and 4K visuals. In unison we all find ourselves as the gaming equivalent of Alice walking through the door of Wonderland to bask in the pixelated perfection of Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War and Assassins Creed: Origins. But something is increasingly evident even as I not only play these games and watch trailers for upcoming titles, these titles all feel, look and play like a ‘modded’ version of each other. From the position of the camera, the HUD set-up, the movement of the protagonist, it is like I am playing the same game over-and-over-again, simply reskinned.

Having listened to enough retrospective reviews of games I have played, it was time for me to relive my past experiences and see if an older, wiser me (ha!) would have a different perspective. I loaded my pristine copy of GTA IV and like Niko I waited to see what Liberty City had in store for me. Immediately I was transported back to 2008 when Michael Hunter’s ‘The Soviet Connection’ theme kicks in. I marvel at the opening scenes; the camera direction, the creative use of credit font, the perfect synthesis of music score and the unfolding drama. Rockstar have always been masterful in setting the tone in the opening moments of their games, GTA IV is no exception. Crime, sexual perversion, PTSD, immigration and cultural identity are all touched on in under ten minutes.

This is no mean feat, most narrative driven games can barely deliver one theme with competence, let alone several within the time it takes to boil an egg. After I reunite with my inebriated cousin Roman and call him out for forgetting his mother tongue, I hop behind the wheel of his car and drive to my new residence. Despite a decade away these early hours in GTA IV are very vivid in my memory, intrinsically linked to the uniqueness of its purchase.

Despite this familiarity, it is like I am playing the game for the first time. The impact I should have felt then is being felt now. Returning to these early hours in Liberty City so many years later make me appreciate the ambition of Rockstar and their attention to detail in their latest playground. Whether it is the smoke emanating from sewer grates in the road, flies circling overflowing rubbish bins in side streets, or the sound design with pedestrians offering their two cents and the different soundtracks being played by passing vehicles, the city is living breathing organism.

The urban design of this opening island is impressive. The architecture of the Broker and Dukes is well researched, capturing the urban landscapes of Brooklyn and Queens. Despite having never visited either, with only tv and film as my frame of reference as I amble around the brownstone terraced homes and low-rise apartment blocks I am overcome with a feeling of the strangely familiar.

As I reach Algonquin, the game’s version of Manhattan, and it is here that the game really takes off. The island is laid out more in the form of a grid structure, less organic and earthy than Dukes, Broker and Bohan and is enveloped in by an over-engineered network of roads. Some of the open greenspace in Algonquin does offer an escape from the claustrophobic architecture of the city skyline. I lose myself as I explore the sights and sounds of Easton (East Village), Purgatory (Hell’s Kitchen) The Triangle (Midtown Manhattan) and Star Junction (Times Square). Like a tourist I am constantly refreshing my map to find my way. But much like any time spent in a new environment, after a short while I find myself recognising landmarks, Star Junction, Middle Park (Central Park) and Rotterdam Tower (Empire State Building). These icons become wayfinding tools in this congested metropolis acting as a calming reassurance in the fast-paced nature of life in Liberty City.

The sights, sounds and smells of Liberty City (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

The inclusion of a choice system in the game giving players the ability to decide the destiny of several non-playable characters during the story is a welcome addition. Players can choose the fate of key characters such as; Playboy X, Dwayne, Clarence, Francis, Derrick or Ivan, making me feel like I partaking in an open world Telltale Games experience. The outcome of these decisions do not hinder the development of the story, they have no impact on trophies or achievements, instead they make me feel that I truly am Niko.

My agency in opting to retain whatever empathy is left in Niko’s soul could not be underestimated. It is at this point in my time in Algoquin that I embark on the infamous bank job; ‘Three Leaf Clover’ with my latest crime buddy; Packie McReary and his extended crime family. It is the most sophisticated mission by far within the game. The structure of the mission and actions required in carrying out the robbery of the Bank of Liberty are a wonderful example of Rockstar balance the choreographed set pieces and the creative thinking of the player engagement in the open world sandbox to accomplish the mission.

It is the stand-out mission in the game, mature, well designed, overflowing with humour of writers Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries and is unlike the game’s other fetch quest-like missions. The success of ‘Three Leaf Clover’ would form the foundation for the structure of missions in GTA V.

The standout ‘Three Leaf Clover’ mission with Niko and the McReary family (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

The final area to unlock in the game is Alderny City. It is the game’s attempt to represent New Jersey. By my reckoning its inclusion is a step-to-far taken by the developer. Given the real-world proximity of New York and New Jersey I understand the urge to include it, but the final land mass you unlock doesn’t introduce anything we haven’t already seen earlier in the game. While the Alderny State Correctional Facility features in the development of the end game narrative, and the surrounding Actor Industrial Park features in a few missions, it is at this juncture where the games pacing starts to slow. Alderny City, like many of the latter missions is filler.

Rockstar should have focused the player’s freedom to the boroughs of Bohan, Broker, Dukes and Algonquin. These locations are very detailed environment with a real sense of life and vibrancy, Alderny adds nothing to the wonderful recipe that Rockstar prepared for us to consume. Instead its inclusion is the equivalent of one side-dish too many ordered, with only a few bites taken and little flavour, the dish like me is left to go cold.

While Alderny doesn’t ruin my experience completely, it does detract from what was a wonderful re-experience for me. In most open world games, fatigue usually kicks in somewhere within the midgame experience. Attempting to strike a balance in progressing the story and allowing the open world toolbox to test the limits of the player’s imagination, is one that no developer in my experience has perfected to date. Ubisoft have in recent years created many wonderful open world environments; The Division, numerous Assassins Creed and Far Cry titles coming closer and closer to striking this elusive balance. But Ubisoft’s obsession with their icon, collectable and side-quest filled maps is their ultimate undoing.

The strongest selling point of any open world design is one where player agency is held supreme, but this lack of linearity and developer led curation is also its biggest weakness. In the context of GTA IV the inclusion of Alderny flips this on its head, the feeling of fatigue for me crept in as the game approaches what should be the most anticipated part of the game, the conclusion.

As the game begins to conclude Niko’s traitor is exposed. I opt to spare the life of Darko Brevic, Niko’s former army colleague of who betrayed him and his unit by accepting $1000 for their lives in order to feed Darko’s drug addiction. When I confronted Darko I found a man forever tormented by both his demons of substance abuse and the guilt of his actions. In choosing to spare his life I believed it was the right thing to do.

Having spent tens of hours with Niko I realised that despite with his inherent darkness and rage, his compassion for his cousin was evidence of empathy. Whatever goodness remained in this flawed person was worth salvaging. To kill Darko would not change Niko’s past, instead his present and future would be forever tainted by murdering his former colleague. My brief time with Darko confirmed this was the right route to take as it was not my place to punish his actions, his miserable existence was punishment enough.

The final act of the game was once again to give Niko the choice in how to deal the with second antagonist of the game, Jimmy Pegorino. Unlike my decision to take the high road with Darko, I opted to take the ‘Revenge’ path with Jimmy instead of taking the ‘Deal’. This was in part formed by my memory of the previous playthrough in 2008 and how ‘Revenge’ would see a happy ending for the much maligned Roman. The consequence of this action would see Niko’s date Kate McReary (Packie’s sister) being gunned down outside the church immediately after Roman and Malarie’s nuptials. I choose the lesser of two evils. After I complete my final mission and the credits role I find myself marooned on Happiness Island (Ellis Island) in the shadow of the Statue of Happiness (Statue of Liberty) and I feel that I have given Niko a chance to be finally be at peace.

Revenge a dish best served with an AK47 (Rockstar Games) Picture via: @davidrushe

As the sun begins to set I look back to the artificially lit skyline of Algonquin, like Niko, I too am at peace. My return to Liberty City after all this time has given me a newfound perspective and appreciation for this place. My view of this flawed creation is ultimately renewed by the goodness deep within and much like life itself, the empathy I preserved in Niko offers hope.

I can now say with great certainty, that this time, things were different.