Eclectic Reader Challenge – Award Winning

looking-for-alaska-coverThere are so many award winning titles I could have chosen for this category. I began searching for books that had won multiple awards, for the sake of the category. The more I looked, the more I struggled to find something to settle on. In the end, the book I chose was a single award winner, the winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association. Looking for Alaska by John Green. This young adult novel may have only won a single literary award, but it has won a magnitude of awards in the hearts and minds of the people who have read it. This is the first John Green book I have ever read. This particular title has been on my mental “to read” list for a really long time, a couple of years at least. So many people have asked me if I have read it then expressed how much I needed to read it when I replied that I hadn’t read it. But now I have. So this single award winner was my Eclectic Reader Challenge Book of the month for January.

This book is the kind of book that sticks in your mind. I am a somewhat slow reader, I generally can’t polish a novel off in one sitting. But Looking for Alaska pulled me deep into its’ tale of teenage suffering, so deep that I managed to read over half of the novel in one hit, without surfacing for air. At first I thought this was a simple tale of teenage life and the friendships that are formed, the trials and tribulations of high school life. But there’s one heck of an unexpected plot twist that you only see coming when it’s far too late and you’re completely unprepared for it. The characters are authentic, Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter – the narrator of the story – is relatable and likeable, Alaska is the kind of girl that you want to dislike at first but you just can’t, you can’t hate Alaska Young.

I feel as though this is a very important book. Every teenager should read this book. Scratch that, everybody should read this book, because we were all teenagers once. This book has some important lessons about friendship and life and death. If you’re looking for an emotional tale that involves heavy doses of teenage angst, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Looking for Alaska. John Green has a fantastic writing style and I am really looking forward to reading more of his works in the future.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review (PS4)

The year is 1715, it is the Golden Age of Piracy and you find yourself in the boots of Edward Kenway, a young Welsh privateer-turned-pirate who unknowingly finds himself in the middle of the struggle between Assassins and Templars.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was the first game I played thoroughly on my PS4. And I also must admit, Assassin’s Creed IV is the only game in the series that I have played comprehensively. That sentence may make some people want to stop reading right here, but stick with me. I purchased Black Flag for the pirates, a very decent looking pirate simulator, almost entirely ignoring the Assassin’s Creed affiliation altogether. But if you continue reading, you will discover whether or not this game has converted me or not.

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Throughout Edward’s journey, you explore real historic locations – Kingston, Havana and Nassau, and rub shoulders with the real mccoy of pirates – Charles Vane, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Benjamin Hornigold, John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Anne Bonny, making the experience as authentic as possible. Much like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, this game romanticises the world of scallywags and swashbucklers, but I am perfectly okay with that. I will continue to live in belief that pirates were so damn cool.

The ocean is your playground. You can navigate the Jackdaw to any location, whether completing an objective from the main mission, engaging in one of the many side missions or just exploring the small islands dotting the map to find chests of gold, loot and shipwrecked survivors that you can rescue to join your crew. You are free to attack British and Spanish ships alike, which are scattered across the ocean, from tiny Schooners to gigantic Man O’ Wars armed to the teeth. You can survey them from afar to see if their cargo is worth the trouble, or you can do as I often do, and just attacked every ship within eyesight. This can become troublesome when you become wanted by pirate hunters, who become more difficult to defeat as your wanted level increases. You can reduce your wanted level by bribing dock officials or releasing captured ships. The map of the West Indies is divided up into sections and the further south you travel, the larger and more powerful the ships become. That being said, the ships also carry much more cargo so they are much more rewarding to loot. Defeating the forts that are scattered across the map unlock fast travel points and reveal more information, displaying all the collectables in the area. The Jackdaw becomes seemingly invincible as you continue to upgrade her, adding more armour and many more guns. I felt an odd sense of pride when the Jackdaw and her brave crew would send a Man O’ War to Davy Jones’ locker. Drag her to the depths, boys!

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Assassin’s Creed IV leaves no detail unconsidered. This game is beautiful. Stalk through the bushes and you’ll see individual leaves and blades of grass. The Jackdaw will creak and groan as you travel, the wind in her sails and the waves crashing against the hull. The crew will sing sea shanties. Every little detail has been taken into account. I didn’t purchase Black Flag on PS3 or X360, but the game looks fantastic on the PS4. The water was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, the way the sea would sweep across the deck of the Jackdaw as you sailed through the waves. Edward’s clothing moved as it should, whether he was walking on land, climbing the ratlines of a ship or swimming under water.

The addition of a companion app for iOS and Android is a real treat. Once connected to your console, the app allows you to connect to your game from anywhere at any time. Of course the app is limited, but you can look at the world map, study your treasure maps, check your progression tracker, control Kenway’s Fleet and look through information on the Animus Database. I particularly enjoy listening to the sea shanties I have collected through this app. It may not do a lot, but it is exciting to see this kind of app being made for games. It gives gamers something to look forward to in the future.

Black Flag features some of the best video game music I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. The album is available for purchase on iTunes and includes the official soundtrack from the single player story and multiplayer, as well as a selection of sea shanties from the game. I am a little disappointed that not all of the sea shanties are featured, a couple of my favourites aren’t on the album which is a shame, but thankfully the AC4 app fills that void.

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag was a fantastic start to PS4 gaming. I enjoyed this game immensely. Edward was the kind of character that is easy to relate to, extremely likeable and he represents what it means to be truly free. I may have completed the main missions, but the game still regains replay value with still so much to explore. I can continue to enjoy sinking ships and hunting various sea creatures and looting every last chest. I can conclude this review by stating that I thoroughly enjoyed this game, so much so that I really want to go back and play the older Assassin’s Creed games. In a way, it chronologically makes sense to play Assassin’s Creed III after IV. Or perhaps I’m just trying to make up excuses. Alas, I am converted. I am an Assassin’s Creed fan.

 Here’s a snap of my own personal AC4 loot!Image

Formats: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU and PC

Price: $79 (PS4, XBOne) $59 (PS3, X360, WiiU and PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: 29/10/2013