Battling Barry must be a top priority for Everton

Everton v Chelsea - Premier LeagueIt was a goal preventing block that instantaneously endeared him to the Goodison faithful.

Following a rare mistake from goalkeeper Tim Howard, Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o had the Everton goal at his mercy. But just as the Cameroonian thought he had equalized for Chelsea with the simplest of tap ins, a lunging Gareth Barry deflected the forward’s goal bound effort away from goal and behind for a corner, and drew widespread applause and cheers galore from all four stands of Goodison Park.

Barry’s block proved to be as vital as Steven Naismith’s winning goal, in the clash with the Londoners last September, and in turn helped to kick start Everton’s 2013/14 season. And it is of paramount importance that the Blues ensure that the 33 year old, currently a free agent after being released by reigning Premier League champions Manchester City earlier in the summer, puts pen to paper on a permanent stay on Merseyside.

The triple deadline day loan signings of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Barry himself last September, along with the permanent addition of James McCarthy, ensured that the former England international’s arrival slipped under the radar somewhat amongst Evertonians, such was the excitement that surrounded the additions to the playing ranks of Messrs Lukaku, McCarthy and Deulofeu, and there were even some sections of supporters that disapproved of the deal to bring him to Goodison Park for the season, attesting to his poor performances for England at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a prime example of a player supposedly past his best.

The former Aston Villa captain swayed those opinions throughout the course of last season, however, with a series of composed, mature performances that aided Everton in securing a fifth place finish in the Premier League, and with it a return to European football for the first time since the 2009/10 season. Barry was also consistently praised by fans and fellow squad members alike for his range of passing, positional awareness, ability to break down opposition forays forward and composure in the centre of the park, with James McCarthy stating that he would learn much from the veteran midfielder a mere two weeks after both had made the switch to L4 from Wigan Athletic and Manchester City respectively.

It is these attributes, alongside Barry’s experience, influence and professionalism, both on and off the pitch. that has led to calls for Roberto Martinez to make the defensive midfielder a permanent fixture on the Blue half of Merseyside and, with rumours over the last forty eight hours stating that Barry is on the verge of pledging his future to Everton on a three year deal, it is clear to see that Barry’s temporary switch at Goodison Park was a positive one for all parties.

Undoubtedly, there will be concerns raised over Barry’s wage demands (he commanded £100,000 a week whilst at Manchester City, according to reports, which Everton will be unable to match) and over the potential length of the contract itself, considering Barry is in the twilight of his career, but they are few and far between, and considering that these minor hurdles are not related to Barry’s performances in the Royal Blue jersey it is perfectly reasonable to assume that a agreement can be reached.

With any luck, Evertonians will be seeing Barry adding to his thirty two appearances thus far for Everton next season. Opposition strikers better prepare themselves for some miserable afternoons in front of goal if that’s the case.

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My Games of E3 2014

e3The dust has settled, the crowds have dispersed and the Los Angeles Convention Centre falls silent for another year.

E3 2014 is officially over, and whilst it may not be considered as grandiose as last year’s event (come on, two next generation consoles being unveiled was always going to be hard to top), this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo still had much to celebrate, with games, games and more games on show to the video game industry and fans alike.

And what better way is there to celebrate this year’s installment of the global phenomenon than by rounding up a selection of titles that particularly caught my eye over the course of the three day event (in no particular order):

Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac Games)

sunset

Colourful and humorous, with a hefty dose of over the top action, Sunset Overdrive is looking to break the mould when it comes to stereotypical third person shooters. Set in the fictional world of Sunset City, players are tasked with saving this metropolis from the OD’d; humans who have become mutated by a new energy drink called Overcharge Delirium XT. With customisable characters, a whole host of weapons that can be crafted and a reliance on performing parkour-like, acrobatic moves, Sunset Overdrive seems like a sure fire hit for Insomniac Games when it launches this Autumn.

Available 28th October, exclusively on Xbox One

Evolve (Turtle Rock Studios)

evolve

Aiming for evolution (yes, pun intended) as opposed to revolution, Evolve was still a stand out hit amongst many industry insiders at E3. Based around a cooperative style of play, players can either fight alongside one another as a four person crack team of hunters, or singularly as the monster in matches that introduce a 4 vs 1 combat system. Hunters are, naturally, tasked with bringing down whatever behemoth they face off against, whilst the monster works to increase its size and mass, by consuming resources around itself, before eventually attempting to take down the group of hunters. With Turtle Rock Studios already lauded for introducing the world to Left 4 Dead, players can expect big things from this next title.

Available 21st October, on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC

No Man’s Sky (Hello Games)

nomanssky

Most likely brought to the attention of the global video gaming community following the flooding of Hello Games’ studio and offices down in Guildford in the UK, No Man’s Sky is very much the quintessential exploration/adventure game, with each individual player beginning their journey upon their own procedurally generated planet. Couple that with a vast universe, where players may play for days on end without encountering another player, aesthetically gorgeous graphics and fluid, uninterrupted animations between traversing the galaxies and planets, whether on foot or via space craft, and No Man’s Sky is certainly shaping up to be one of the most ambitious next gen titles to date.

Currently slated for release on Playstation 4, release date TBA

Tom Clancy’s The Division (Ubisoft Massive)

thedivision

This game certainly needs no introduction. After wowing audiences at the 2013 E3 event, Tom Clancy’s The Division is easily one of the most eagerly anticipated titles set to be released within the next 12-18 months. Set in New York amidst the outbreak of a deadly disease that causes society within the United States of America to teeter on the brink of collapse with a five day period, players will take on the role of a member of the ‘Strategic Homeland Division’; a unit of tactical agents tasked with preventing society from completing falling apart. The Division is Ubisoft’s first venture into the realm of the MMORPG genre, with the company building an entirely new engine from scratch, dubbed the Snowdrop Engine, for the sole purpose of creating a dynamic, ever changing environment within The Division. Expect this to be a best seller.

Available on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC sometime in 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios)

arkhamnight

This final installment to Rocksteady Studios’ Batman Arkham series needs no introduction. The concluding part to one of the most beloved superhero video game series, Batman: Arkham Knight expands on its two predecessors by tweaking the already impressive combat system, as well as introducing new gadgets and Batman’s iconic Batmobile, which will allow players to tear around the streets of Gotham in search of crime to combat. With a story set one year after the events of Batman: Arkham City, and with a raft of well known villains set to return, Batman: Arkham Knight is set to wrap up this well lauded trilogy and prove that superhero video games can be successful.

Available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC sometime in 2015

Halo: The Master Chief Collection (343 Industries)

halomccollection

Set for release around the tenth anniversary of Halo 2, Halo: The Master Chief Collection celebrates the story so far of Xbox’s most recognisable hero. Comprising all four Halo titles with Master Chief as the primary protagonist on one disc, Halo: The Master Chief Collection will be a must own title at a price of $60 (around £40). As well as all four story campaigns, the collection will also include every online multiplayer map from all four games, an all new live action digital series, executively produced by Ridley Scott, named Halo: Nightfall and a pass code to take part in the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta during the Christmas period. New and old fans of Halo alike would be foolish to pass up on the opportunity to own this collection when it is finally released.

Available 11th November exclusively on Xbox One

 Inside (Playdead Studios)

inside

Considering it was only briefly showcased during Microsoft’s E3 press briefing, very little is known about Inside, the next game from the studio that brought us the eery and atmospheric Limbo. However, following the critical acclaim that saw Limbo go on to become one of best indie developed titles in recent memory, much is expected of Playdead’s next title.

Currently slated for Xbox One (and potentially Playstation 4/PC), released date TBA

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Monolith Productions)

som

Another gaming release set to arrive in the Autumn, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a brand new, original story line that exists within J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe. Taking place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, players take on the role of Talion, a Gondorian ranger who, alongside his family, is brutally murdered by Sauron’s armies whilst keeping watch at the Black Gate. However, Talion is resurrected and imbued with ‘wraith-like abilities’, before travelling deep into Mordor to exact his revenge. With the innovative ‘Nemesis system’ ensuring that no two play throughs are the same, along with the ability to upgrade and customise Talion to suit the player’s needs, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor could be a surprise hit amongst gamers during what is set to be an already busy release schedule.

Available 7th October on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC

Games galore as Microsoft delivers at E3 2014

mse32014Twelve months is a long time in the video game industry. Game release dates can be pushed back to allow for improvements and tweaking, companies can be created or go bust, colleagues can fall out over the most inconsequential incidents and pretty much any ‘unknown’ game can become a worldwide sensation.

For Microsoft, this time a year ago they were given something different entirely: a reality check.

Despite finally unveiling the Xbox One, their next generation gaming hardware, amidst a host of other announcements, the ego of this globally renowned company suffered a severe bruising thanks to Sony’s hailed “For the people” E3 2013 press briefing, as well as attracting criticism for unwanted features such as the much maligned 24 hour online check in requirement.

With this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo press briefing over and done with, and with the expo in full swing as we speak, has Microsoft been able to haul back its reputation as a potential leading light within the gaming industry once again?

The answer is a categorical ‘yes’.

From the moment that Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division, proclaimed that their showing was to be entirely devoted to games, right through to the gaming montage that signalled the end of the conference, gamers across the globe were treated to ninety minutes of trailers and game play footage for upcoming new and existing IPs and in doing so, Microsoft laid down the gauntlet to Sony, whose own E3 press briefing was still to come.

At the time of publishing this article, Sony have already taken to the stage and impressed with a number of their own first and third party titles but, regardless of arguably stealing the show from Microsoft once again due to their line up of games, the globally renowned American corporation can have plenty to be optimistic about following this year’s showing.

And it was one of Xbox’s instantaneously recognisable franchises that drew the loudest applause and cheers from Microsoft’s seminar.

Despite being leaked online a few weeks ago, Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One was Xbox’s biggest crowd pleaser, and with good reason. Released in time for the tenth anniversary of Halo 2’s original launch, The Master Chief Collection comprises all four Halo games, with Master Chief as its, well, chief protagonist, compiled onto a solitary disc. With the opportunity to play any campaign level, at any given time, across any of four games’ campaign arcs, any of 100 online multiplayer maps from each game on dedicated servers running at 1080p, access to the online multiplayer beta for the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians and a brand new live action digital series (named Halo: Nightfall, which acts to serve as a bridge between Halo 4 and Halo 5) executively produced by Ridley Scott, all for the price of £40 ($60), Halo: The Master Chief Collection looks an absolute certainty to be a best seller for both 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios when it hits shelves on 11th November of this year.

Halo: The Master Chief collection was the stand out announcement during Microsoft's 2014 E3 press briefing

Halo: The Master Chief collection was the stand out announcement during Microsoft’s 2014 E3 press briefing

Gamers were also given a brief glimpse into what they can expect from Halo 5: Guardians as well, with a brief trailer for the multiplayer beta, and a teaser for the plot of the single player campaign (was that the Arbiter’s reflection in the visor of that other Spartan?) leaving fans with enough to tide them over until the Master Chief collection arrives in the fall.

Sunset Overdrive, the new IP from Insomniac Games, also garnered positive media attention following its brief presentation. After a brief trailer had given a general overview of the game’s plot (it helped that Insomniac poked a bit of fun at the bloated modern day FPS shooter market too), Ted Price, co-founder and CEO of Insomniac, took to the stage to play a 2-3 minute demo of the actual game, showcasing how players can navigate the open world environment, flaunting a few of the multitude of combination weapons, that the player can create, to take down the mutants, as well as taking on one of the ‘special’ infected mutants known as the Herker; a hulking tank-like monster with what appeared to be a digger’s bucket for a left hand/forearm. Aesthetically, Sunset Overdrive looked absolutely gorgeous, with vivid and bright colours giving the game a more vibrant, comical feel. Add a dash of over the top carnage and some humour, and Sunset Overdrive is looking like another hit for the Xbox One when it lands on 28th October.

There were other exclusive titles for Xbox users to look forward to also, including Forza Horizon 2 (Turn 10 Games) Scalebound (the new IP from Platinum Games) Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios) and Phantom Dust (Microsoft Studios), whilst a first trailer for a new Crackdown title, also by Platinum Games, was shown as the show was closed out, and Microsoft will be hoping that these first party developed games will help the company attract new and existing fans to Xbox One in the coming months and years.

Sunset Overdrive received plaudits from media and fans alike during its brief stage demonstration

As always, there was the usual slew of third party developed titles that were showcased at the event as well, with the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Fable Legends, Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt all drawing polite applause from the assembled crowd. Microsoft was also keen to stress that some new third party titles would be delivering content to Xbox One owners ahead of their rivals over at Sony, such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Evolve and Tom Clancy’s The Division, which will ship downloadable content to Xbox One owners first ahead of Playstation 4 users, and Inside, the new IP from the creators behind the critically acclaimed arcade title ‘Limbo’, which will debut first on Xbox One in early 2015.

There was even time for a world premiere trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix, whilst new downloadable content for Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5 was announced as being available to download as the press briefing was ongoing.

Phil Spencer thanked fans for their ongoing support towards Xbox One

So, was it a stunning showing from Microsoft that left people eager to rush out and purchase an Xbox One, if they did not already own one? Not entirely. There was a definitive lack of a new or existing IP that left gamers with their jaws on the floor, and there was the small matter of not pushing home the lower price point for the Xbox One as of 9th June, but consider this: Microsoft really took a beating following their press briefing at last year’s E3, so much so that they have gone back on almost every commitment that they made for their new system, and even for a corporation of the size of Microsoft, that takes some doing. This time, there was no messing around. The ‘thank yous’ were kept to a minimum, presentations were concise and to the point, and the trailers and game play gave gamers a tasty snippet of what’s to come.

All things considered, Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference can be considered as a triumph. Admittedly, what was said and shown would be deemed a triumph compared to last year’s damaging showing, but a triumph is a triumph no matter how you look at it.

Microsoft certainly has a lot to be positive about and thanks to a briefing full of enticing looking games, maybe, just maybe, their reputation will begin to rise once more.