Assassin’s Creed 3 review

As Gamestyle mentioned in the preview for Assassin’s Creed 3, pre-orders for this game are at a high. On the 25th of October, just under a week before release, Ubisoft confirmed that AC3 is the most pre-ordered game in their history. Expectations are through the roof for the fifth major AC game, but can Ubisoft meet the expectations?

Without going over too much old ground, AC3 picks up where Revelations left off. Our main character Desmond is in possession of one of the Apples, and along with his companions Shaun and Rebecca, and his father William, is heading to the central vault. This vault, as advised by the messengers of the First Civilization, is where they will be able to save the planet from a solar flare that will engulf the planet.

With a great amount of difficulty, Gamestyle will keep this review spoiler free. But after some said that the story of Ezio went on for too long, AC3 has a new hero in the guise of Connor. There are however, various unknown elements to the story that were kept tightly-wrapped in development. Players will go through several twists and turns with the story, and any thought that perhaps AC was becoming stale will instantly disappear. After the ‘straight in to the action’ approach of the previous two games, AC3 has a more gradual build up which may not be enjoyable to all, but it is all worth it in the end. However, we can talk about what we do know, and that is a new character and setting.

Gone are Altair in the 1100’s, and Ezio in the 1400’s. The playable character is Connor, a half English, half Native American man, and the location is the USA in the 1700’s. The differences jump out right away. Whilst Altair was silent and moody, and Ezio was cocky and forward, Connor is actually…nice. The typical picture that is painted of Native Americans is that of respect, and peacefulness. Connor matches this perfectly. Polite and calm, it is a pleasant change to the typical gaming protagonist. The setting is what is really noticeable however. The older AC games often came across as being somewhat bland. Town areas blurred into one, and there wasn’t a great deal that stood out. AC3 and the USA however, really is a whole new world. The game feels alive. There are port areas, living sections, bars, shops and everything else that would be expected in a town. The NPCs are more active also, with conversations and actions coming across as much more natural. This is all noticeable from the start, but the greatest part of AC3, is the Frontier, or the area between cities. Forest, plains, canyons and settlements, everything is there, and it is absolutely stunning. It would not be too far fetched to compare it to Skyrim, that great is the level of detail. Weather conditions are a new feature, with the snow being a particular beauty. Whilst it is clear that AC3 is pushing the 360 to the limits (also being a two disc game), Ubisoft have made one of the most visually impressive games out there.

Trailers and previews revealed many additions in actual gameplay, and this is where AC3 really stands out. Whereas previous games revolved around simply finding hidden items, and purchasing various objects, AC3 is so much more. Again, listing all of them would spoil the game, but a couple that have been revealed include hunting, and naval warfare. The hunting is reminiscent of Red Dead, and involves tracking animals, setting traps, and skinning them. This gives the players materials for trade, such as meat and fur. The sailing aspect however, is something straight out of the films. Sailing along the seas, controlling the sails and firing the cannons, all that is missing is Johnny Depp on deck.

Assassin's Creed 3 Screenshot

The base of operations (or Homestead) has also been greatly modified. Now in the form of a worn down country manor, the player no longer just watches the upgrades happen. NPCs are recruited to live on the land, which increases available supplies. Hiring lumberjacks (or the 1700 equivalent), gives supplies of timber for example. All of the mini games and side quests are just as immersive as the main story, and add another dimension to the game.

Linked to all of the side quests are various clubs and challenges. Performing certain requirements will result in the player being invited to join a club. For example, killing X amount of animals will gain an invite to the hunting club. These range in difficulty, and are well worth completing as they net the player much needed cash and other rewards.

In terms of controls, AC3 has been tweaked slightly. The right trigger still causes more attention attracting moves such as running, but there is no longer a need to hold the A button for free-running and climbing, as the right trigger causes it to happen automatically. Large jumps that could cause damage still need to be triggered with A, but generally it is a much smoother system, which should result in less misplaced jumps or unintentional movements. The combat system has also changed, and is no longer as easy as previous games. Holding block in armed combat does not work anymore, and each individual attack has to be blocked. From this, counter or disarm moves can be performed. As is the way for many games now, AC3 is yet another to borrow elements of the fighting from the Arkham games. This has resulted in more fluid battles, and due to the increased number of animations, they look even better than ever.

Due to the more advanced time period, firearms are now a bigger part of AC3 than previous games. This is not to mean that the game will descend into a shoot ‘em up however, as we are still running on basic gunpowder. So that means one shot, and then around 5 to 10 seconds to reload. Swords and stealth is still the primary choice, especially when up against large numbers.

The multiplayer mode returns, and as expected, has been improved. Again using the ‘story’ of being an Animus training programme, the player has a variety of modes to choose from. These range from a simple mode where the aim is to assassinate a target, to team based capture the flag. It is great fun, although is very unforgiving for lower level players. Something of note is that some customisation options are unlocked through the single player, which gives another incentive to 100% the single player mode.

A more unusual feature to be discussed in a game review is the historical content. There were concerns before release that Europeans would be portrayed in an excessively negative light in this game. What Gamestyle found however, was a fair and balanced view of the event, with arguments both for, and against, the American Revolution. In fact, it was even funny at points, with Desmond and Shaun (a proud Englishman) arguing about the events. So not only is this a fun game, but it is educational!

Annoyingly, the only negatives that can be levelled at AC3 are technical ones. As is almost to be expected in a large game, there are lots of bugs. The collision system isn’t always accurate, leading to limbs disappearing through walls for example. Guns can be found floating in mid-air. A particularly amusing glitch during reviewing involved Connor jumping a fence, and for some reason being catapulted 500 feet straight up in the air. However, Ubisoft are on the case, and there is already a patch for some issues on release. As these bugs can be ironed out, it is not a huge problem just yet, but they do need to be looked at.

Quite simply, one of the greatest stories of this gaming generation has just released its greatest chapter. Some complained of a lack of extras in the previous games. In this case, they will be complaining that they don’t know where to start. AC3 is one of the best games this year, and even the minor flaws can’t take that away. This is a must buy for fans of the series, and is a reasonable starting point for those who are yet to play any of the previous games. Hopefully this isn’t quite the end of Assassins Creed just yet, as the levels in the present day were very enjoyable indeed…


Pid review

Pid screenshot (Xbox 360)

Everything about Pid screams subtlety, it really does. From the opening title screen, there is no flashy graphics or splash screens, just simple a simple downplayed menu. It is a theme that carries on throughout the game, emphasising on the little things, to guide you through the game.

Pid is about a young boy named Kurt, who after a bizarre event on a school bus, finds himself stranded on a strange planet. Kurt main objective is to get home, it’s all he wants to do. He will encounter many odd inhabitants on the planet, some willing to help, but others who will stand in his way.

Pid is essentially another puzzle platformer, but it does stand out from the crowd, using the mechanic of gravity to navigate the various areas Kurt will find himself in. Our protagonist finds himself in possession of an orb, that he is unable to remove from his person, no matter how hard he tries and which can be used to manipulate gravity via the beams the orb can project.

This mechanic is used in various ways, with the main being allowing Kurt to navigate to areas that would be unreachable without the gravity beams. Stepping into the beam will allow Kurt to travel in the direction it is facing. On the floor and he can jump in and travel upwards, on a wall and it can push him horizontally and on a slope diagonally. This becomes useful when trying to avoid the various traps littered throughout the world.

It’s not just the environment that is affected, the gravity beams can also be used to defeat the various enemies. Pushing them into traps, or even just forcing them out of the way. They can even be used in a more stealthy manner, by allowing Kurt to travel around an enemy undetected. In fact, the is actually a lot of choice when dealing with the enemies, allowing you to find the best way through.

It’s not just a case of using the beams anywhere and everywhere though. As in a game like Portal, there are certain surfaces where the beams cannot be placed, meaning you have to find other ways to navigate through, some enemies too are totally unaffected by the beams gravitations effects. Yet this isn’t random or hard to work out, as mentioned before Pid is about subtlety and colour plays a huge part of that.

If an enemy is coloured red, then they can be manipulated by gravity and manoeuvred or killed in one of the ways mentioned before. However if they are coloured in blue, then you will need to figure out other ways to dispose of them, or find a way past.

The visuals play a huge part in the experience thanks to the importance of colour and the hand painted look of the world mixes well with the characters making them really feel part of the scenery, you can easily spot the different enemy types, but they stand out as a totally separate entity, everything just feels natural.

There is more to Kurt’s arsenal than just the gravity beams too, he can pick up other weapons that will aid him on his journey, from basic bombs, which will destroy enemies and break down walls, to smoke bombs that will help Kurt stay hidden. It all fits in well and adds a decent amount of variety to the game.

However, despite the lush visuals and clever mechanics, there are times where the game does feel a bit repetitive and sadly a little dull. It’s not even that you reach a point in the game and just want it to end, there are just points where it feels like a section could have been written out, where you are just repeating something you have done a few minutes prior. It doesn’t quite ruin the experience, but it does come close at times. Which is a shame as on the whole Pid does deliver a fine experience and one that offers something different.

The game will take around eight to ten hours to complete on normal difficulty, but for those who want a sterner test and are willing to go through those tedious sections a second time, there is a hard mode, which is actually true to it’s word for once. Hard means hard, levels remain the same, but added to each or various other distractions designed purely to hinder your progress. Now whether you find this enjoyable or not, depends entirely on how much of an artificially added challenge you like, some will love it, other will hate it, but it is an option and added choice is always welcome.

Pid isn’t going to stand out as an all time classic of the generation, it won’t find itself mentioned in the same breath as a Limbo, or a Braid, but what it does, it does generally well. It is a fine game to pick up and play through, but despite its wonderful understated presentation, it isn’t one that will stay with you once finished.


Pool Nation review

There have been some excellent pool and snooker games over the years, from Virtual Pool, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Side Pocket and the more recent World Snooker Championship. Yet on XBLA the choice has been a little lacking, so the release of Pool Nation is very much welcome. Is it worth departing with your points for?

Pool Nation does nothing out of the ordinary, it does however play a good game of pool. Physics are solid and the balls act as you would hope. Which in the main is all you can ask for of a game such as this. It has most of the variations of the game on offer beyond just 9-Ball and 8-Ball too.

In single player you have the option to play a tour mode, which is limited to 9 and 8-Ball, but these take you through other forty match-ups in each variation. There is a slight twist to just playing and winning each game too, as well as that each match-up also has a star system, similar to that found on many iOS games. In each game you are given a set of objectives that earn you stars, these range from simply winning a game and potting a certain number of balls in a row, to playing jump shots or getting a points target. It adds a little extra to the basic monotony of play and win.

Also, rather than just having a straight up pot to win, the game encourages you to try fancy shots, by rewarding you with skill points. Take an easy simple pot and you will still get points, but take a more difficult shot, such as a swerve, jump or combo and you will earn more points. On the whole there is no real value to the points you earn, but they are required to earn stars on many of the matches you’ll play. Your top shot is also registered on leaderboards, so for those who like to out do friends, the incentive is there to add some flare to your game.

Outside of tour mode there is versus, which allows you to play against the AI, or local multiplayer. Here you can change up the game type too, adding 3-Ball, Straight, Rotation, Golf, Speed and Killer games to the mix. It does add to the experience too and offer up a nice change of pace to the standard pool options.

The stand-out mode in Pool Nation though is endurance. Here you basically have to just keep potting balls and stay on the table as long as possible. Starting with nine balls on the table, new ones are added every few seconds and the game ends once there are twenty four on the table. There is no time limit as such, but achievements can be earned for lasting past certain time landmarks. It is fast paced and will really test your nerve, especially when you hear the alarm stating that it may soon be game over. It is easy to find yourself spending hours in Endurance alone, as you try to beat your best time.

Online has options of ranked and unranked games allowing you to play most of the game types from versus, with the exception of golf and speed. There is also a tournament mode to play online too, which offers up 9-Ball and 8-Ball variations, with the objective here to basically win three games in a row of your chosen game type. The online play is fairly solid and feels no different to the single player in terms of physics and speed, with the game mostly unaffected by lag and connection issues.

The controls are fairly well done, with the left stick used to aim the ball, then various options to change the spin, angle of the cue, fine tune the shot and the angle you are looking from. A nice touch here is the ability to lock your the power of your shot, pull back on the right stick to get your desired power, then tap the right should button to lock the power, allowing you to then finish aiming your shot properly, before pushing the right stick forward to take the shot. These options are yours to use as you please, but in certain modes the aiming aids, can be switched on and off, depending on what challenge you want from the game.

There is no official licence here, so don’t expect to see the stars from the pool world anywhere near the game, instead you face off against fantasy characters, each with a little mini bio about their background and skill-set. The presentation too is fine, with games taking place in various locations rather than being stuck to official venues, this seemingly gave the design team a lot of freedom, so expect to see lots of colourful locations.

Overall, Pool Nation does nothing new for the genre, but it does play a good game of pool, that is easily accessible from your XBLA library. It is worth having for the Endurance mode alone, if you are a fan of pool, then this is a must own title and at 800 Microsoft Points, it is a bargain.


Forza Horizon review

Forza has been embroiled in a long battle with Gran Turismo over the years, as fans of both would spring to the defence of their chosen title to claim that it was the best sim racer of on consoles. However for Forza Horizon, developers Playground Games have chosen to go in a new direction.

Instead of structured races on the famous circuits across the world, Horizon takes to the open roads of Colorado. Gone are the structured menus of previous Forza games and in come events and options that must be driven to to enter. It’s more Test Drive Unlimited than straight up racer.

It is a new developer too, as Turn10, while overseeing development have handed over to Playground Games for the most part. From the start it is obvious that it was a good decision. Visually Horizon is every bit as stunning as previous Forza games, the Colorado locations are a beautiful backdrop that really do immerse you into the game, offering up many opportunities to take some amazing photos.

Yes, the photo mode makes a welcome return, yet offers up a lot more variety thanks to the the glorious setting of Colorado. The usual options are back, offering up little new, so you still can position the camera, choose a range of visual effects and choose between basic and big shot options, which can then be shared on your store-front or on Simple to use, but the photos that are already coming out are jaw dropping, it is very easy to get lost in the photo mode as you try to show off just how beautiful everything is.

Another returning feature is the ability to paint and decorate your cars, again this isn’t feature light, it’s as in depth as it was in Forza 4. The ability to import all your old designs is there too, so had you spent many hours creating designs to be used on your favourite cars, there is no need to start from scratch. There are limitations of locked designs however, but the fact that some things can be imported is very welcome. Again all your designs can be shared on your store-front, where you can also buy and download other peoples shared vinyls and designs.

There is one area that will split opinion right down the middle and that is with the presentation. Horizon takes place at a festival, with the idea being that every year the worlds greatest street racers descend on Colorado and take place in many events to show who is the number one. This adds a little bit of a story to proceedings, as you battle against various characters as you level up through the game, earning new wristbands as you go, with said wristbands replacing the traditional levelling of older games.

The characters you come up against range from making you want to turn the sound off, to mildly irritating., Well, depending on your demographic that is. That said, as your progress the interruptions of the narrative become less frequent and a little less galling. If you’ve played Dirt 2 or Dirt 3 then some things may feel a little similar, as the design of events splashes and the general look of festival area are very reminiscent of Codemasters efforts, it’s no bad thing though, as Codemasters know how to do presentation, so if you are going to be influenced, it may as well be from the best.

Where Forza Horizon does excel though is on the track… Sorry! Road. There were some slight fears about how the developers could possibly transfer the sim handling of the previous games to a semi arcade open road experience. Well they did it and they did it well. There are no options for tuning cars in Horizon, but upgrades are still possible and the handling has been tweaked rather than reworked, to make it a lot more controllable, but without really neglecting what made Forza stand out originally. In truth, the team at Playground Games has got the balance between arcade and simulation nigh on perfect. If anything it throws up memories of Project Gotham Racing, which is very, very welcome.

Speaking of PGR, there is at least one thing that is a direct influence of that series. The Kudos system is worked into Horizon, although under a slightly new guise. Players are rewarded not only for how they perform in races, in terms of wins and such, but also for how they drive. Style type points are awarded drifting, reaching top speeds, making passes, near misses, drafting and more, chaining these together will earn multipliers which help get more and more style points.

So what are the point of these? As well as competing in races and events, there are numerous sponsor challenges that can be met, which will earn you more credits to buy more cars. There is also a popularity meter, with the aim to be the most popular driver at the festival. You start in 250th place and the better you drive, the more entertaining you are, the more popular you become. As you become more popular new events unlock, with the proviso being that these are special events that only the most popular can enter. It is a nifty little way of rewarding you as well as keeping you driving around the open world between events.

If you’ve played Test Drive, or even Burnout Paradise you’ll be familiar with the layout and how to access events. Instead of bringing up a menu and choosing an event, then starting it. You are encouraged to drive from event to event and sign up. While you can unlock way-points that allow for fast travel, this will cost precious credits (apart from fast travel back to the central festival area), so has been designed to keep you behind the wheel as much as possible.

Aside from the main events and the showcases, there is the ability to drive up behind any one of the 250 other racers at the event and challenge them to an on the spot race, which will earn you even more credits. This does nothing more than earn you quick credits, but is a nice distraction between just cruising from one end of the map to the other. There are also discount advertising hoardings that can be smashed, these will earn you discounts on upgrades. There are nine hidden barns across the map too, clues as to their locations are given every now and again and these contain some rare classic cars.

That’s not all though, there are speed cameras and average speed checks too, yet unlike being flashed by one of these on the M6, you won’t get a ticket for speeding. Instead your speed is recorded and added to the leaderboard so it can be compared to your friends instantly. Seeing yourself less and one MPH off your rival’s best speed is infuriating and you will find yourself trying to go back and show them who is boss.

Rivals and leaderboards are integrated throughout the entire game, whether that be via speed cameras, or leaderboards for each individual event. Yet unlike other games where you get a simple leaderboard, Horizon lets you earn rewards for beating your rivals. At the end of every event, you are then shown a screen that is almost mocking in nature, telling you that a rival has completed that same event faster than you did. The offer of credits for going out and trying to beat their time instantly is often too good to pass up.

There is multiplayer too and whilst the action is excellent and plays just as well as the single player game, it is a shame that it is a totally separate affair and not integrated in any real way, bar being able to still find discount signs and earning credits. You need to leave the single player experience to play online. However, once online there are plenty of options, ranging from the standard circuit races and point to point, to infected, cat and mouse style events. You can also free roam around Colorado with up to sever other friends and even create some races on the fly by setting a way-point for everyone to get to.

At the end of every race, you are rewarded for your efforts, it is in levelling up that things have changed a bit. You still get to level up depending on your performance, but instead of set prizes you are shown a slot machine style reward system that can earn you either credits or a new car, what you win is totally random though.

You can find existing games, set a party or search via a set of custom rules. The best time comes from entering free roam, where you and your friends can take part in a series of challenges across the map. There a tons of these too, that range from quick speed based challenges, to taking certain cars from one point on the map to another, it is simply a joy to play. It makes online every bit as fun as the single player, but the niggle that you need to leave one to go to the other, just takes out from the experience somewhat, this however is only a minor niggle.

Forza Horizon isn’t exactly ground breaking, games like Test Drive Unlimited and Burnout Paradise have already tried the open world experience. However Forza Horizon does it better than both and offers up an amazing experience that doesn’t stop giving from start to finish, it is simply glorious.


Just Dance 4 review

The Just Dance series stands alone as the go to part dance game across all consoles, making use of the various aspects of each console. Kinect on the 360, Move on the Playstation and the Wii remote on the Wii. The forth (main) entry in the series hopes to bring a load of new features, but is it worth the upgrade?

Just Dance 3 was a fine game, offering up plenty of fun, ideal for those party nights at home. Just Dance 4 offers over 40 new tracks, from artists such as Flo Rider, Jessie J, Justin Bieber and more. But it really needs more than just new music to be worth a purchase, otherwise simple DLC would have sufficed. Luckily Ubisoft have managed to add some more modes to the extra tracks.

The basic game play elements are back and pretty much unchanged from before, it is in the new modes that the game starts to stand out. The Dance Battle allows players to go head to head in a dance off over five rounds with one being crowned champion at the end. It adds an excellent competitiveness to the game, making players face off against each other. The five rounds are well balanced and will mean players aren’t having to wait around for too long to get their turn, nor are those playing feeling overly rushed. It really is a hit when everyone gets involved and can create quite the atmosphere.

Away from simple head to head play, each song has up to four different dance routines at any one time. This can see a group of players taking to the stage at the same time, each playing their part in the action. The different routines too mean that there is variety to the action and different people of different abilities can still get fun out of the game (drunk or not). It is a major improvement over previous titles.

The workout mode returns with new sessions and more personalised programmes. Truth be told, this is a great way to stay in shape, while still having plenty of fun. Whilst not as demanding as some of the fitness games out there, it does come across as a hell of a lot more relaxed.

Visually the game remains similar to previous efforts, with the colourful on screen avatars choreographing each routine, with the colourful and hype backgrounds keeping things looking as funky as possible.

What you get out of the game really depends on the sort of person you are, what music you like, how active you want to be and how happy you are to strut your stuff in public. It’s not a game that will appeal to metal heads, however it isn’t a game that was designed to appeal to everyone. It is aimed squarely at those who simply love to dance, have a bit of showmanship about them. To that end, it really does succeed.

The track listing does have an impressive amount of variety, from Barry White’s ‘You’re The First, The Last, My Everything’ to Brittany Spears’ ‘Oops I Did It Again’. It is a mix that should get some reaction from everyone who plays at some point. It is possibly the best opening list Just Dance has had, with more to likely come from DLC later.

When games like this start to get later into a series, a staleness can appear, however Just Dance 4 manages to keep things fresh, the new tracks, new modes and improvements to returning features see this as a solid entry, it is an essential purchase for fans of the genre and another reason to get up and hit the dance floor.