Another month is gone, just like that, but I will say how slow did January take to end? was it always 70 days long? perhaps its just my age catching up with me finally, but this month has been full of new favorites and old faithfuls making January a little easier to deal with.

Products (Covering hair care and makeup)

Bed Head Shampoo and Conditioner – I got these, surprisingly not at a salon or some fancy shop, but Home Bargains at the wonderfully cheap price of £7 each! considering you can buy a single bottle from a salon for about £20… I am happy with my little bargain, these two are perfect for dyed hair but they did other hair types too.. if you see some, I recommend grabbing some because good product at a good price is very hard to come by.

Maybelline Colossal Mascara – I have not changed the brand of mascara I use since I discovered these, in the days of those tiny brushes I loved the bigger brush.. less likely to poke myself in the eye if I use one of these and when everyone else was doing those tiny brushes, they did the big ones and I love them.

Home

Fake Flowers – I hold my hand up, I am a flower killer, I cannot keep anything alive in my home, its amazing i’ve managed to keep three children and a cat alive if i’m honest, but flowers and plants… do not seem to last very long, so I have a wonderful collection of silk flowers that last all through the year and if you see them from far away, you cannot tell the difference. I got this stunning lot from Amazon shortly after I murdered a tomato plant (which you can read about here if you are interested) and since then its grown from this little bundle to some fake Gerbera Daisies, which are my wedding flowers, and some delightfully realistic but fake succulents for the bath room and I don’t care that I am the worst flower mother in the world, my home is full of fake ones and that’s good enough for me plus they make wonderful flat lay photo props!

Children

Baby Boden – I am an eBay addict, I use it almost all the time for anything from things for the home to when I did up my Bugaboo Frog.. but I have been using it to find clothing for my youngest and Baby Boden have so many wonderful items with the humble robin on, seeing as that is her name it was only fitting that I find all the outfits I could locate with a robin on them and I think I did very well don’t you?

Gel-A-Pen* – I did a little review of this product which you can give a read here but Amelia has been obsessed with it since, shes sat with me and made some bracelets and has asked me to get some more pens and being the wonderful.. pushover that I am and that I also enjoy playing about with these pens.. I have!

Entertainment

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Top Gear/The Grand Tour – I discovered Top Gear back in 2007, I must have watched it earlier on because its been on British television since the 80’s, but when I found them again I was welcomed into a fandom, a world full of other fans who loved these three idiots in fast cars and I fell in love with them and their dynamic and when the Top Gear I knew and love ended I noticed a little hole in my life, I didn’t realize how much these idiots meant to me until a fracas happened and they were taken off air to be replaced with other people, BUT they got lucky and The Grand Tour started, which is on Amazon Prime, and my world started to feel better.. and then during a time when some bad things happened in my life, which of course I wont go into, but it caused me to have multiple panic attacks a day, I started using Top Gear to take my mind off it all and I came away from a day of binge watching Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May feeling better and briefly anxiety free..

Its sad that these three men brighten my day, make me feel better and never EVER fail to make me smile and laugh.. even when my day feels dark and lonely.

Elder Scrolls Skyrim – I have sort of spoken about Skyrim before here in a silly little tour of the world but I love this game, I have spent hours upon hours playing it and I have restarted the game many times over.. this time I have modded it and it looks stunning! its at least 7  years old now but stepping back into that world when it was remastered for the xbox one, was like stepping into the world the first time I played it! if you are ever looking for a little escape I highly recommend you pick up Skyrim.. its just the best game I have ever played.

Music

Rainbow – Sia – Back in October my mum and I took Amelia my middle child to see the My Little Pony movie for her 6th birthday and naturally I brought the soundtrack because I actually enjoyed the film and the music that came with it, this song was played at the end of the film and it actually makes me a little weepy when I hear it but its also been stuck in my head for about a month when it came on random on my ipod, its such a great little song and I love the beat that it has.

and there you have it, my monthly favorites for the month of January, what have been your favorite little treats from this month?

until next time

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Products sent to me for review are marked with a *

Youtube –

I love YouTube, I have always loved it, I remember spending days looking up music videos and other silly things on it..

But these days, YouTube is very much a job to many and there are lots of wonderful groups of people who make content that can brighten and bring joy to so many.. one of these groups is Achievement Hunter..

 

I discovered this group of idiots back in 2012, I cannot remember exactly what I watched first but I knew I wanted to watch more.. Achievement Hunter is apart of an even bigger group called Rooster Teeth and over the years that I have watched them, I have seen this group grow and become one amazing enterprise, They have a expo called RTX which was just an american expo but this year they came to the UK with RTX London, I was so sad I couldn’t go but I aim to get there next year if they are coming along.

Just the other month they joined in with Extralife and raised $1 million for them which is utterly fantastic!

Others love makeup guru’s or parenting vloggers, I am a big fan of a group of nerds playing video games for a living and I don’t even care!

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From @_TrevorC twitter (minus Gavin)

Love these guys!

Until next time

Mummy Cat

x

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X IS FOR XCOM

Hello, Dann here again. Yes—I’ve managed to sneak onto Sarah’s blog again, and this time for another entry in her alphabet thing! So obviously, being me,  it’s games again (it’s always games), and today is the letter X. Coincidentally X is for XCOM, and it’s a doozy.

I’m going to be talking about XCOM and X-COM, two sides of the same intellectual property. To clarify, I mean I will be ‘cracking open a nest of vicious history spiders’.

While it’s most definitely the more recent XCOM (2012–present) games which has generated the most discernible noise for the long running franchise, and even led to a massive surge of titles inspired by it, many of the elements from the title; the unforgiving combat, and careful resource management are faithfully transmuted from the old series, X-COM, to the new. As a matter of fact, the modern series (bar War of the Chosen) is at its worst a distillation of the memorable moments from the Julian Gollop led earlier entries.

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Later in the game you can have a mass of well-equipped meat-shields, survivability remains low.

The original title in the old series, UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-COM: UFO Defence in North America) was notorious for being ultra tough. You’d start the first mission with a dozen rookies, and most of the time you’d fail to get half of those —possibly very delicately named— soldiers off of the landing craft. It was then an uphill battle in order to gain a foothold, to build bases around the world and develop a force strong enough to push back against the alien invaders.

In a gaming age when people were used to having to get the most out of the games they were purchasing, plenty of people stuck with it and grew to love both the depth and extent of the game, and the volatility of your squad line-up; Colonel Howes could be torn asunder by an errant shot, and the onus largely fell on the player (with the rest on the random number generator).

It channelled both the scorching heat of conflict—of snap decisions both successful and not—while also requiring the player to take on the chilling gaze of the architect, of the general, of the merciless commander sending a unit to sacrifice as to flush out a location and secure a win for the many, for a future, for a chance to exist for a moment longer. Losing a soldier, even a valued one, could get enough people back to base in a good enough condition to weather another week — enough time to get a new plane in the air. It was a game of trying to control a rolling snowball, and if you made the right choices and the right sacrifices, then by the midpoint you could be actively pushing ack.

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Compare the above to this, a massive, multi-generational gap.

It was hard, but by gum was it rewarding! Every successful mission was an inch crawled towards victory, every soldier lost was a hero towards defending the human race, every movement taken was formative to the future of the planet.

Then, long story short, there were almost a dozen spin-offs, through various companies, including the curious Terror from the Deep —with it’s obtuse difficulty— and Apocalypse, which was actually from the original developers, but took on a political aspect, with multiple factions at play.

This all at a time when the industry was still trying to find its feet, with new genres springing up left-right-and-center and publishers and IP-holders attempting to swing their properties towards the next big thing. It must have been unbelievably hard to sell slower paced games in a time when the core audience were imagined as sugar-guzzling teens.

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A massive jump from projected 2D sprites to animated, cinematic 3D.

So, now we come to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Launched in 2012, the rebirth of the series was spearheaded by a small team at Firaxis—a studio under Take Two and 2K Games who were best known for working on another favourite of mine, the Civilization series.

Where X-COM had sprawling maps and over a dozen units under your command, XCOM’s maps were smaller and more dense, but at your most you could only command six soldiers in any one battle. It made for a concentrated, sharper version of the first game, removing a lot of of the micromanagement (how many missiles to take,) and streamlining the base-building by making it more of an ant farm than a conventional base-builder. Importantly though, the tension of taking rookies on missions was still there, and the game’s ability to signal that the mission is going awry with brutal misfortune is still most definitely present.

An outstanding series of extra content followed the game’s launch, each slotting into the core game’s campaign, adding extra characters and missions to the game.

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Are we human, or are we danc… robots?

Then came XCOM: Enemy Within, which launched as stand-alone, although was much more like an old-school PC expansion pack. It added in a new resource, a bunch of new enemies, weapons, items, technologies, as well as a range of cybernetic, implant and psionic options for players. Once you’ve grafted Hernandez’ head and torso into a gigantic mech frame, and implanted Fitzwilliam with all sorts of strange creations, are you not as bad as the genetics-warping aliens you are trying to fight back?

XCOM 2 launched (on PC) early last year, and saw players switched from the defence against aliens to the offence as they organised an insurgency against a (XCOM:Enemy Unknown alt-history) victorious alien-human alliance.

What with the player being on the offensive, yet severely outnumbered, and fighting as a guerilla force the gameplay took on a variety of major changes. A stealth phase was added, a melee enabled class was added to the game, and a third layer of play which revolved around moving your base around the world to establish and connect with resistance groups, was added to the game. As expected, technology had shifted too, a lot of hacking elements were added, and the way that the aliens were set to bring XCOM to an end shifted as well.

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Oh, and the ‘thin men’ of XCOM turned out to be snake lassies.

New enemies were added to attempt to counteract the common tactics of players of the previous titles; a unit which could create deadly rifts which unload weapons in one turn and detonate the next, an enemy which disguises as innocents, and a hulking mechanical brute among other things.

Small expansions, as with the first game, added further enemies (in the form of alien champions) to this, as well as deepening the already impressive character customisation options which were available.

The motherload, however, came in the form of 2017’s XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. WotC was actually what I was going to write this piece about before I got carried away with background on the series. It’s an expansion by the traditional format, and it also launched at full price, and justifiably so — it contains changes and alteration to almost every aspect of the core game, completely reinvigorating a game which had yet to go stale.

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One of the chosen. Utterly deadly unless you have full control of your squad.

WotC adds a mass of changes including a zombie-esque enemy which serves as a deadly environmental hazard during a lot of missions, three new friendly factions (which are then like classes, highly specialised classes), and the three titular Chosen. Each of the Chosen are specifically tailored to fight effectively against respective new classes, but they’ll also grow in power the longer they remain undefeated. Not only are they an increasing threat in how they modify the campaign by tweaking and altering events, but they can also appear in almost any of the game’s missions — enough to turn a rough mission into an unforgettable one.

Most importantly for me, the new content changes the game from a game where you had time to carefully plan your next movement around the world map, to one where you were regularly being dragged around the map. The first six or so missions of WotC were each introducing new mechanics, one battle ending for another to begin shortly afterwards; no time for rest, and a heavy rotation for the surviving team members. With extra characters in the cycle of the front line the expansion’s bond and tiredness mechanics come in, the latter demanding people are rested (to keep that rotation going) and the former making allies who fight together be able to perform extra abilities.

The change of pace, the added variety, and the added danger, all worked together to somehow make XCOM even better, and WotC has easily helped further validate Firaxis’ skill with the XCOM IP.

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Where XCOM was always a struggle against a —strictly sci-fi— alien menace. Phoenix Point looks set to channel the body-shock horror movement.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Julian Gollop successfully funded his spiritual successor to XCOM: Phoenix Point. A game which combines XCOM Terror from the Deep’s underwater origins of the enemy with the very curious, and scientific reality, Pandoraviruses. In his new title players will fight strange mutated creatures which cover the land in a strange fog which infects life — leading a faction in the fight back against them (an attempt to discover a cure) you must also deal with other human factions who each have their own interpretation of the aliens role and how to address their presence.

As it turns out. Now is a very good time to be a fan of squad-based strategy games.

Recommended Reading:

Julian Gollop, creator of the X-COM series, on PC Gamer talking about how XCOM is undeniably a genre of its own now:

www.pcgamer.com/the-gollop-chamber-xcom-is-now-a-genre/

Rob Covell, one of the amazing writers over on a website I help run, writing on his own blog and talking through an XCOM 2: War of the Chosen Playthrough:

https://iplayedthegame.wordpress.com/tag/xcom/

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Another month has swung past us, why must this year go so slowly? but one month ends means another monthly favorites, I did a poll on my twitter about if I should stick to my plan and start monthly favourites in January OR do one for the rest of the year and all the votes said do November and December as well..

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Here we go…

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Home – These two candles from Next are by far my new favorite scents! Mulled Wine and Gingerbread, I got them in a bit of a wim and was a little worried they would be to sickly as some scented candles can be, but while they are strong in wax form once lit they are wonderfully subtle scented and are delightful! If you see them please try them out, there is reed defuses too in the same scents, they do a little gift set too which you can try all the scented candle range.

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Treats – Its that time of year, hot chocolate season and I have been obsessed with these lovely little things from Options, strawberry flavored and delicious! I found them when I was doing Slimming World a few years back and have loved them since! they taste very similar to the strawberry creme you get in the selection boxes.

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Beauty – Two for this month, or three depending on how you look at it, these two eyebrow products are my absolute favorite, I have tried everything going besides getting microblading and these have been the two best ones I have used, one is a mascara for your little eyebrow hairs and the other is a pencil.

Imperal Leather do this amazing bath product, I found it last year but in a bubble bath form and they have also got a shower cream version which I needed to get! it smells exactly like cherry bakewells, you can smell the pastry! its delightful!

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Baby – I am obsessed with baby clothes, and seeing as my little girl is called Robin, I have taken the opportunity to go out there and find all the clothes I can with robins on them, this one is from Boden but I found it on ebay, its so pretty in person and she looks cute while wearing it! I have found a few more Boden items on ebay which I will definitely show you when they arrive. who can resist that cute red breasted bob!

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Entertainment – Gaming again for my entertainment, we dont really watch much tv in our house but we do play a lot of games and lately I have been sitting down enjoying Rainbow Six Siege with a few friends on my xbox, its a lot of fun, you have four game modes, Terrorist Hunt, Protect the Hostage, Extract Hostage and Disarm Bomb and the aim of it all is to win hah, it has an offline mode which you play with 4 other people against bots OR if you are feeling adventurous there is a multiplayer mode which you play against other people around the world. I have had so much fun on this game lately and there is a new update coming soon with three new characters you can play as. exciting times haha

Animal Crossing New Leaf on the good old DS, which Mr S got me for christmas last year, I keep forgetting about it but once in a while I pick it up and play it like crazy, its just coming to the end of the year in my little town and the snow is starting to fall, you are a Mayor in charge of a town, you have to help build things and talk to the villagers who change often.. its really relaxing and i’m trying to get into a routine where I play it every day so I don’t put it down and forget to pick it up again in a months time.. if you have a DS I highly recommend you pick it up as its just such a lovely little game to take your mind off things.

Music

‘I feel sexy and free, like glitter is rainin’ on me’

While this is now classed as ‘old’ its such a lovely upbeat song that I have listened to a lot lately, nothing special about it, its just a lot of fun to dance to.

and that’s it

Until next time

Mummy Cat

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Hi all, Dann here for another guest post.

Sarah asked me to, being that I run a video games website, write a nice, short piece on some horror games—about five, she said— for Halloween. I’m not that organised though, spooling off a list of about 25 games and starting to write out long segments for each rather than throwaway paragraphs. The deadline looms though, so here is the first few of the games from the alphabetical list.

It’s something I’ll gladly continue to compile if there’s a want for it,so if you (dis)agree with the list or simply enjoyed reading it then please let Sarah know and I’ll finish off the rest for ya’ll reading pleasure.

Alan Wake

Remedy are probably best known for the Max Payne series, or even their recently released Quantum Break. Regardless of how people know them however, anybody who has played any of their games knows that they always bring a cinematic brilliance to their games: from Max Payne’s Graphic Novel story and TV/Radio asides in game, to Quantum Break’s live action sequences and amazing visual finesse when deploying the protagonist’s time abilities.

Alan Wake, to me, is superior to both of those series. It merged the story of the ‘author-trapped-in-their-own-creation’ with a dark sense of humour, a game full of characters and moments far too ridiculous to be exist in reality, yet done in a way where you laugh and continue pushing back against the darkness.

My personal highlights in the title come in the form of the faux Twilight-Zone style segments which play out on the TV, the unrelenting FBI agent who continually slings insults at the titular protagonist while pretending not to know their name, and the foreshadowing delivered through the torn pages littered around the game world. Above all of those, however, is the fact that you almost always meet the villain of the ‘episode’ in the story, and when you face their possessed, shadowy form they often cite mundane and boring information in a haunting, jarred manner; the first haunts you along a path, all while talking about how healthy going for a brisk ramble can be.

While the game was definitely more of an action title than a ‘survival-horror’ there were times where ammo management was key, and if you hadn’t scavenged then you’d end up very short-handed. Strangely this became rarer the further you got along in the game, and not  through learned resource management… You see, the game is split up into chapters stylised as TV episodes, and your equipment is completely reset between them. It’s a very cool gimmick, but underlines the odd distribution of ammo in the earliest levels.

The best way to get ahold of Alan Wake these days is through the Xbox store as a download, as far as I know. There were some music licensing issues which saw the PC versions removed from select storefronts, but I’m unsure if this impacted all platforms.

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Contagion

Back in the PS2 era Resident Evil had a co-operative, multiplayer mini-series called ‘Resident Evil: Outbreak’. It had players make their way through various locations, working as a team and using their character’s unique abilities to solve problems within the levels. It was a truly amazing offering, and completely unprecedented — nothing like it had happened before.

As a big fan of the earlier Resident Evil games (Outbreak was pre Resident Evil 4, and so had the cool fixed-camera, tank controls of the earlier games) there was NOTHING that was going to stop me from playing this super-cool, co-operative Resi~ game with my friends from school.

Well, actually, there was. The PS2 Network Adapter was not properly supported in the UK. The interface was reportedly a clunky mess, the technology didn’t play well with our networks, and so—over here— it bombed hard.

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Oooh, tag yourself! I’m budget-Brad-Pitt!

ANYWAY. We’re not here to talk about Resident Evil: Outbreak, but it segues perfectly into what makes Contagion brilliant. Contagion is—at its core—co-operative, first-person, Resident Evil 2.

Slow moving zombies are the absolute business, and the game’s launch campaign took place in an overrun, locked-down police station. Enough to make fans of RE2 raise an eyebrow. Better yet, players had to make their way through the PD, scavenging bullets, not getting surrounded, and carefully moving from objective to objective, solving basic fetch-and-retreat puzzles.

It’s now four years from launch and the game has accrued a decent following. It’s gained a lot more modes and maps, including a few hold-the-fort/horde levels. Interestingly there’s also Steam Workshop support as well, although the vast majority of items there are new textures for weapons, player phones, and characters.

While I’m a little bit disappointed with the lack of Workshop supplied maps, it’s definitely worth mentioning that the pathway through the game’s maps do vary; locked doors, blocked corridors, and other objects have their locations assigned as the map loads, meaning that you can never be truly confident that you know the way through the level.

£6.99 on Steam at time of writing, Contagion is an absolute steal.

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Tag yourself! I’m guy in blue shirt with a headache!

Contagion is only available on PC for the moment, and as far as I know only on Steam.

Deadly Premonition

Deadly Premonition is easily one of the most divisive titles I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying throughout my many years of playing games. It captures the ridiculous quirks we awkwardly chuckled at during old movies, and the strange, ‘secret-world’ moments of most of David Lynch’s works. As a matter of fact, if you enjoyed even a smidgen of Twin Peaks then you’re likely of the mindset where Deadly Premonition will, simply, click with you.

Players control an FBI agent sent to investigate a brutal, disturbing murder in a quirky, Pacific Northwest town. It’s not just the town that is quirky, everything is. The FBI agent talks to an invisible friend, and reads messages from coffee; even the most mundane, trope citizens have quirks and secrets, and there are hidden messages everywhere.

The game is especially feature rich as well, besides from the main story there’re a lot of extra jobs and side-missions which can be completed around the game’s open-world. Not only this, but each of the characters have a routine, giving the game a feeling more reminiscent of slice-of-life games or titles like Shenmue and Yakuza over the likes of GTA & Saints Row.

The biggest negative of the game then, is the combat. Combat is a mandatory section of the game, with clunky aiming and strange warping monsters bookending most of the game’s story missions. While the game has a PS2-era aesthetic, the combination of warping monsters and early Resident Evil style tank-controls is abrupt; it’s like if Resident Evil 4’s running zombies were to be faced off with Resident Evil II’s slow-turning and rough three-height aiming. It’s no surprise that it was added in late, and it’s a shame it was.

Despite this, Deadly Premonition is definitely worth experiencing for it’s strange setting and characters.

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Deadly Premonition launched on PS3, Xbox 360, and —later— PC. I believe it remains available on each of those as we speak.

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Dead Rising

The first Dead Rising (previously Xbox 360 exclusive) was an unforgiving game which both encouraged player death and questioned almost every zombie, horror game trope. At the start of your journey the game feels unfair, and it does a pretty poor job of teaching you how to get better—feeling over-engineered at best, and unfair at worst—until it all suddenly clicks.

Where previous games had equipped you with blades and guns, Dead Rising allowed you to use hundreds of items from around the mall. Where previous games had funnelled you down a set route with no timer, Dead Rising offered an open world but with timed missions mandatory for a main-story finish. Where previous games had put two-or-three zombies into a room to force you into a little combat before you navigate onwards, Dead Rising dropped hundreds-of-thousands into an open mall and taught you that even in dozens they were really just environmental hazards.

In fact, I might go as far to say that the first Dead Rising was very much the Night of the Living Dead to the games horror scene: If you were getting killed by zombies it was because you didn’t know the rules, or you were just really unlucky. That said, you will die. You’ll die to start again with your unlocks, or you’ll die against the game’s real villains, the psychopaths: people mad or driven mad by the situation on hand.

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signing off

Dann.

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