Knytt Underground Review

For many years Nifflas has been developing games on the PC. The two most notable of these titles are Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Within a Deep Forest had players taking control of a sentient bouncing ball that had to save the world from a bomb. The game focused on the bouncing physics of different types of balls of different weights and materials. 

Knytt focused on a little hero of the same name needing to find parts to fix a crashed spaceship so that he could get back home. The mechanics here dealt with the notion of climbing and sticking to walls. Both of these games have now been combined to create Knytt Underground which marks Nifflas’ first move into the realm of console gaming.

Split into three chapters, Knytt Underground has players take on the role of the mute Mi Sprocket as she explores a huge environment. Her aim is to look for human artefacts and complete quests in a Metroidvania style. The first two chapters act as short tutorials to help players understand the mechanics of how Mi and then Bob the ball handle. By chapter three the two characters have magically been morphed together allowing players to change from Mi to Bob at will.

This allows for some situations requiring lightning reflexes as you change from Mi to the bouncing ball mid-air to cannon off the landscape at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles in order to reach new areas. As well as the bouncing and climbing there are different coloured plumes of smoke which give temporary abilities. These range from turning Mi invisible, making her jump higher or turning her into a set that can shoot horizontally or vertically.

Everything is designed as a means for you to get to another locations and this is where Knytt Underground really works well. Nifflas games before this have always focused on short bursts of quick reflexes and skill. When Knytt Underground asks players to do the same it comes to life in a flurry of ever changing physics and colourful plumes of smoke. (Note to developer – a colour-blind filter would really help with those plumes of smoke)

However, in Knytt Underground there are often long stretches of exploration through empty screens to reach these areas. Sometimes the beautiful graphics and sound create a haunting and ambient environment which you don’t mind trekking through. At other times it can all be a little dull as you wander through empty screen after empty screen.

When Knytt Underground works it works well but when it doesn’t it feels empty and lifeless. This isn’t helped by the seeming lack of progress you make. There are numerous quests and items to discover but on completing or collecting them it doesn’t seem to mean much. Of course it all adds up in the end but the game could do with tweaking its risk reward system to help players feel a greater sense of achievement after they have overcome some of the incredibly fiendish screens.

It is worth highlighting just how lovely the game looks and sounds. This game is beautiful and the music is of the highest standard. We expect no less from a Nifflas game and in that department Knytt Underground can never be faulted. When transferred to the Vita (Knytt is cross buy), it looks all the more beautiful.

The Vita seems to be the natural home of Knytt Undeground, which makes it all the more surprising that save points are often miles away from each other. There are a lot of them, but instead of putting them at the start of tricky sections (like in Within a Deep Forest ), they are often located away from the area requiring players to back track.

Back tracking is something that can begin to hinder the experience. We lost count of the amount of times we trekked along a tunnel for five or six screens only to reach a character telling us we needed to bring a certain item to them. This then meant trekking back through all the screens again. There really isn’t a need for this and you wonder if the game would have benefitted from a slightly smaller, more focused, map without many of the empty screens.

Overall, Knytt Underground is a promising start for Nifflas in the realm of console gaming. The look and sound of the game are gorgeous and easily rival the best Playstation Network games. The game itself gives players a huge world to play around but many may well feel that it lacks focus and a real sense of rewards for the skill you need to show in order to progress. Those looking for an adventure set at a slower pace will love it while others will be left wanting a bit more excitement.

escapeVektor Review

Some games feel like they have been designed from the ground up to be the perfect fit for a system. This is the case with escapeVekor and the PS Vita. However, it is a game that has also found a home previously on Nintendo’s Wii and 3DS, but here it is, finally for the Vita and the wait has been worth it. 

The game is best described a Qix on a predefined path, mixed with a touch of PacMan and visuals straight out of the movie Tron. It has a very simple premise, very simple design, yet is one of the most challenging games you’ll play.

From the moment the game starts, you are presented with some clever design, as you are approached by Vektor, who needs to escape the system’s CPU and can only do so with you help. You have to guide him through the various zones and nodes avoiding and beating the enemies as you go. It isn’t a background story as such, there isn’t some deep meaningful tale that must be told. It is there purely to add charm to the gameplay and style, which it does rather well. It is a game that oozes charm.

It couldn’t be simpler to play either, the game is split into 27 zones, with each zone having various nodes. Each node is a level that Vektor must complete to move on to the next and escaping that zone. To best explain how to beat a level, you need look no further than the opening tutorial. You are presenting with what is basically a square, you guide Vektor along all for sides, once all four sides have been covered, simply my moving over them, an escape portal appears, which Vektor must reach to escape the node. Simple stuff.

As levels progress, the nodes layouts become more and more complex, as do the enemies and traps that are designed to make your escape as difficult as possible. it starts off small scale, but it very quickly ramps up in size and difficulty. Luckily there are various upgrades that will help you overcome the increasing difficulty, such as a speed boost and bombs. You don’t just get to use these though, they need to be earned. Completely cover a line and a boost is earned, cover all four sides of an area and you get a bomb.

For such a simple game, the depth in which you can complete a level is quite astonishing, from using boost to evade enemies, using bombs to destroy enemies within the blast radius, to leading them into the various traps around each node. Yet depending on how you tackle each node, will also affect your potential score. You get points for covering lines and areas, you get points for destroying enemies. This causes you to decide whether to simply escape and use your weapons to survive, or whether to push for a higher score.

Most games would make that decision fairly easy, as you’ll have at least a couple of lives, meaning it is possible to take a risk or two. Here though you get a single life per node, a single bloody life. Run into a trap, get killed by an enemy and it is over, you need to start again. This wasn’t so bad early on, as levels were fairly short, but later down the line, when you have just about managed to survive to open the escape portal, the game decides to dangle a carrot. It will open the portal, but will also open up another area to cover, it teases you, it wants you to fail, it sits there mocking you, telling you to gamble and go for the higher score. What happens? You go for the better score, you have survived this long, you know you can do that little bit extra… DAMN IT! You die, you have to start again from scratch, but you do not learn, you simply cannot help yourself, you make the same mistake again and have to start again from scratch, over and over and over!

It should be infuriating and to be honest, it is, there were a few times where the Vita could have been launched across the room in pure frustration at the silly little mistakes that were made and forcing another restart. But it is that same frustration you’d get playing Trials HD or Evolution, because the gameplay mechanics and the level layouts are so well constructed, you know it is your fault and that you need to overcome your own mistakes, it isn’t a game bug, or poor design. In the same vein as a Super Meat Boy, escapeVekor takes influence from old school games, where there was meant to be a challenge, where things were meant to be difficult, so you had a real sense of achievement. It gives you that, as you finally beat a level that has had you replaying twenty times over, you feel a sense of pride that you did it.

This is a digital distribution title only, so can only be picked up on PSN, but imagine a scenario where we didn’t have these new channels for getting games to our systems. A world where everything was still retail, there would be no room for a game like this amongst the Uncharted’s, Halo’s and Call of Duty’s of this world. However because this can be released relatively risk free via a PSN or Wii eShop then it has a home, it allows word of mouth to really spread it will eventually infect everyone’s systems and it deserves to. It is one of those games that takes you by surprise, as you go from liking the concept and thinking it is something you’ll play for a little bit, to consuming your gaming time to the point where you cannot let go, not until you beat it.

escapeVektor will make you want to tear your hair out, it will make you want to force harm upon your PS Vita, but it won’t let you, you will not help but come to love it’s hateful ways. This is down completely to some clever design and a focus on what should make a game like this work. Simply put, you must buy it… but buy a wrist strap to protect your Vita too.

Star Trek The Game – Release Date Announced

Already the winner of multiple E3 awards as one of the most anticipated new games of the year, Paramount Pictures and NAMCO Bandai Games today revealed the release date for STAR TREK The Video Game – April 26, 2013, in Europe and Australasia!

Moreover, the legion of eager Star Trek fans and gamers will be able to place their order soon, as STAR TREK The Video Game‘s preorder program will be starting in the coming weeks at participating retailers. STAR TREK will bring an original adventure to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC at retailers and via digital download for PC and PlayStation 3.

All pre-orders for the game will include access to the “Elite Officer Pack,” which features exclusive items and unique uniforms for legendary characters Kirk and Spock, who play front and center in a completely new story created especially for  STAR TREK  The Video Game, written by BAFTA award winner Marianne Krawczyk.

The exclusive “Elite Officer Pack” will include:

  • Stealth Pack – Kirk and Spock stealth uniforms, plus Starfleet Type IV Stealth Sniper Rifle and extra ammo
  • Brawler Pack – Kirk leather jacket costume and Spock Vulcan Science Academy costume
  • Kelvin Pack – Kirk and Spock  U.S.S. Kelvin uniforms, plus  U.S.S. Kelvin Hand Phaser
  • Academy Pack – Kirk Academy Uniform, Spock Officer Dress Uniform, plus Academy Phaser
  • Kobayashi Maru Pack – Kirk and Spock  Kobayashi Maru uniforms

You can find out more about STAR TREK The Video Game at

Surge Review

FuturLab is a relatively new development company, but already they have a strong record in the realm of portable gaming. No matter what they produce it seems to raise the bar with regards to what we expect from our mobile devices. Our love for Velocity is well documented but since then The Brighton based studio has been developing a number of Playstation Mobile games, the latest of which is ‘SURGE’

SURGE is a puzzle game which utilises the touch screen. The aim is simply to connect blocks of the same colour to one another with an electrical current. Using your finger you need to drag from one block to the next to create as big a chain as possible. Like all good puzzle games the premise is simple but in practice it all becomes highly addictive.

The idea is to clear the screen before a pressure gauge explodes. In order to stop this happening you need to clear an entire horizontal row an open valves at both sides of the screen. This releases the pressure and adds a point bonus to the blocks of corresponding colour. On top of this ticking time bomb there is a normal time limit as well. When that expires more blocks fall into the screen. It starts out simply but by the end descends into panic stricken madness of the best kind.
Along with the standard coloured blocks are a number of special ones. These consist of things like bombs (which clear the screen of all blocks of that colour), wild card blocks (which can be used as any colour), and blocks which continually change. The best special block though is one which, for a short period of time, changes all the blocks to the same colour allowing you to rush for a quick clearance and chain bonus.

What really elevates the title is its presentation. The theme of electricity is constant through the design and the blocks glow with neon colour, the electrical lines drawn to connect them fizz satisfyingly and the sound track gives off an industrial electro vibe. This keeps the adrenaline pumping and the enjoyment high. When everything starts working together it creates a real state of flow that’s hard to match in many other puzzle games and gives a real gravity and impact to the game.
Adding to the competitive side of the title are online leader boards and in game trophies. When you start a new game the name of the person who has the score directly above you is plastered right in the middle of the screen for a few seconds. This adds to the ever growing reasons to keep coming back for just one more go.

There is one problem that could do with being addressed though. The game doesn’t contain any sort of colour blind filter or way of identifying blocks in any way other than the colour they are. This won’t be a problem for most of you but for some it means high scores will remain permanently out of reach. It only really comes into play with the yellow and green blocks – which are near indistinguishable to someone with partial colour-blindness. It isn’t enough to ruin the game but it does become incredibly annoying at higher levels when speed is everything. The addition of some kind of symbol for the colours would be most welcome if it could be implemented in the future.

Overall though, SURGE is another example of FuturLab making us expect more from our mobile games. This is a cut above almost all other mobile device games in terms of presentation and is another utterly essential game for those that want something they can play on the move. The studio seems to move effortlessly from strength to strength and we look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD Review

More ports, more HD makeovers. It’s time for the inhabitants of Oddworld to go on daytime TV to receive a make over from a style guru and show them just how beautiful they can be. 

The amount of games coming over from the PS2/XBOX era show just how wonderful games were, yet how they were visually limited by the technology they were running on. We’ve had Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Sly Raccoon, Devil May Cry, Prince Of Persia and more. Not all have been successful, but those that did work have managed to allow gamers to relive some classics how they remembered them, giving each the rose-tinted glasses filter. The latest to come is Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, from developers Just Add Water.

If you have played the original, which was criminally not as successful as it should have been, all you need to know is that this is a perfect port of a wonderful game, so drop you money and get it now. If you already have the PS3 version, then spend the extra money, support the developers and get the Vita version too. If you have never played Stranger’s Wrath, then you’re probably not alone, it was an exclusive for the XBOX, along with previous title Munch’s Oddysee. So what makes this game so special.

In truth, there isn’t anything ‘special’ about the game, it is a solid action title that switches between first and third person views, with a well balanced mix of platforming, puzzle and shooting. What it did though was craft a game that mixed the various gameplay elements, along with the humour of Oddworld to create something that was simply a joy to play. It is as simple as that, a game that was created just to let you have fun, something that is often gets lost in modern gaming.

Players take the role of Stranger, a Bounty Hunter who is need of an operation, so needs to take down and collect outlaws so he can receive his bounty and get his operation. That is the initial build up anyhow, the story does take some surprising twists which are mainly told through cut-scenes. Stranger isn’t much of a talker, so the game isn’t really dialogue heavy, but it is engaging and you will find that you have a fair amount of empathy for the characters as you progress.

As mentioned, the game is played using a mix of first person and third person views. Whilst in first person Stranger will have his weapon that shoots live ammo, that must be collected as you move through the levels. The live ammo really is live, as it is made up of various critters dotted around the world. Each of these critters will have a different abilty, from being able to wrap up an enemy so you can disable them temporarily, or one that acts as a decoy, allowing you to separate one bad guy from a group, others that can be set as traps and so on. It is a system that works really well, especially as you have two types loaded at any time.

What this also does, is allow for a certain degree of strategy, making sure you have the right ammo for the right scenario. How you approach a single enemy, will differ from how you take down a larger group. It’s not just in numbers that matter, the location will have a baring too. You can force some to jump into water and drown themselves, or take out exploding barrels to kill any enemies near by. Whether you can use certain parts of the area to your advantage will depend on how well you manage your ammo and how well you can hunt and collect it.

Whilst much of the action is pretty much a case of being given a bounty to collect, then going ahead and collecting, there are a few times where this changes up, the bosses you encounter are challenging, but without ever coming across as unfair, not totally under-powered. They are each rather unique too, which helps keep things fresh. There is no QTE style events that plague many games now and the whole thing is just really well put together.

The Vita version of the game does have a trade off or two against the PS3 and PC versions of the game (no 360 port right now, despite the original being exclusive to the XBOX on consoles). The HD visuals do look stunning on the Vita’s OLED screen, but it does have the slightest visual downgrade in comparison, a few lower-res textures here and there, but that is it really. The other thing is because the Vita lacks the L2 and R2 buttons then some of the controls are mapped to the touch screen and rear touch pad. Yet on the whole this works really well, you double tap the screen to change views and use the rear touch to melee attack whilst in first person. Unlike other Vita games, this never really feels tacked on, nor does it feel like a case of using touch, because it is there. The decisions for the differences in control are obvious and for the most part it works really well.

The only minor niggle, is that you can often find yourself accidentally catching the rear touch and melee attacking for no reason at all. It is really sensitive and you’ll likely find you need to adjust slightly how you hold the unit. It is only a mild annoyance though and you’ll soon be able to overcome it. Everything else though works just right, it is a game that shows why twin sticks were needed on a handheld and why games like this were never possible on the PSP.

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is a rare example of a game that works just as well on a handheld, as it does on a PC or home console and whilst the pacing of levels may not be best suited to playing on the move, it does feel like the game you wanted when the PSP was introduced. Sure it has taken until the Vita to get it, but you are able to play a proper console quality title in the palm of your hands. No compromise  no  cut down version with large amounts stripped out, no half baked port. This is what was dreamed of when handhelds started packing more punch.

The Oddworld games are fondly remembered by those that played them, yet seemed to become the forgotten franchise after the move to HD consoles, however along with the recent HD releases of Munch’s Oddysee for PS3 and the Vita release of Stanger’s Wrath, there is hopefully a rebirth on the way. It is a series that deserves to be alive, that deserves to have exposure and deserves most all to be played by as many people as possible.

Stranger’s Wrath was a fine game back in 2005, it is just as good in 2012. It has been given the best treatment possible for it’s re-release and it is quite possibly one of the best console to handheld ports to date.


Why the Playstation Vita is the best thing to happen to me this year…

Well in a gaming sense at least. Life has been pretty busy this year, I have a six year old son who does hockey training twice a week, as well as playing hockey games. It means I spend more time away from home at this point in my life, than I ever did before. That in turn means less time to sit down with a home console or PC.

That is the only reason my gaming time fell away. However, I found I wasn’t enjoying it as much, I was playing games out of habit more than anything, or for the purposes of review. I had a reasons to play, but none of the reasons were for fun, or because I absolutely had to play the latest and greatest. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the games I have played. Far Cry 3, Trials Evolution and one or two others have really stood out and have been fine experiences. Yet still if I hadn’t had to review them, I likely wouldn’t have spend as much time with them as I did.

It’s hard to put a finger on why I have had a change of heart in 2012, I still don’t watch TV, I still have no interest in Pop Factor, Celebrity Jungle, Essex thingy or any of the other popular TV programmes that friends and family always mention. I still have plenty of time to myself, when my son is in bed and my partner is at work, I would still turn on the XBOX and play some NHL 13, Forza, Rayman Origins, etc. Again more through habit than anything else. That all changed when I finally acquired a Playstation Vita.

I couldn’t afford one upon release, much to my dismay. I wanted one, I wanted to be there day one in the queue to pick my unit up. However having a family means there are always other priorities, therefore it wasn’t to be. I kind of ignored it after that, not wanting to be green with envy. That’s not me though, ignoring it didn’t last long, so I checked various threads on forums, looked at the games, checked out the opinions of others. What I found was more negativity towards the system than I expected, lack of support, lack of games and generally not living up to expectations. I felt like I had dodged a bullet in many ways.

In November however I was given the chance to get one, as a reward for doing a bit of  work for someone. It was a second hand unit, but hell, it was kind of free. It only came with Reality Fighters and Resistance, both games that didn’t exactly convince me the masses were wrong. Neither game was all that great, Reality Fighters in particular was awful. So a quick trade later and I picked up Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048, because even if there was nothing else, it could at least be my Everybody’s Golf machine. It has become much, much more than that though.

Literally days after getting the machine, Sony outlined what was coming for PS+ and all of a sudden things looked bright. I was getting Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Mutant Blobs Attack and Chronovolt, all for free (well the cost of my sub, which I had anyway). For a start, Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048 are fantastic games, the former being just what one would expect and the latter being stunning on that OLED screen, honestly just wonderful to see.

Uncharted was a bit of surprise too, I had heard mixed reviews about the game, yet when I finally played it, I was blown away, aside from the odd crappy QTE boss, it played so well on the Vita, it look all kinds of wonderful too. Bend (not Naughty Dog) were off to a perfect start for a launch title. It was that good in fact, that I played through every day and finished it within a few days. It wasn’t the visuals or the actual gameplay that stood out for me, it was the structure. it managed to keep the epic feel of the PS3 Uncharted games, but I found I was able to play either a few moments before setting the Vita down, or play through a few chapters. It was a lesson in how to do a handheld port of an existing major franchise.

Next was Gravity Rush, which was a brand new IP and that too really struck me in just how good it looked. It wasn’t as stand out as Uncharted, but again I was drawn in to the game and playing a bit every night. Then something hit me, I wasn’t doing this out of habit, out of some kind of obligation. I had no reason to have to play these games. I hadn’t put down any of my hard earned money, I wasn’t even having to review the games. I was playing because I wanted to, because I was having fun. Somehow this machine that is supposedly set up for failure, had given me back something that had been missing for a while.

I had my passion for gaming back. I would look forward to finishing work, so I could get some time with the games. Enjoying the time I had on my own so I could get a proper session going. My collection was growing too, having already completed Rayman Origins on the 360, I wanted it again on the Vita, so I picked up the game. Then there was Little Big Planet, which for me is the best of the franchise to far, a game that felt like it was created especially for the system. Hustle Kings, Virtua Tennis 4, Lumines and other PSN titles were added. I had promised myself that for this system I would make sure I played one, before even entertaining a new game, but a few bargains later and I have enough games to last me beyond a year already.

It’s not all good though, Modnation Racers is a bit of a let down, something that should thrive on the Vita, just doesn’t work. Poor frame-rates, really slow loading times and a clunky UI means it does just sit there, like the ginger stepchild, unloved and unplayed, it is the one game that feels like it would be a chore to play. Maybe one day when I have absolutely nothing else to play. Which for a system that ‘has no games’ should be soon right?

Wrong, as I said above, I have a enough content to last me at least a year. Because I own Wipeout HD on the PS3, I automatically get that content for free as DLC in Wipeout 2048, I have all my PSP and PSOne titles that I can play, then there are the Cross-Buy titles that already exist and that are also coming. Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, which allows not only Cross-Buy, but also Cross-Play. I can play on my Vita, against my partner or son who are on the PS3, it works amazingly well too. Games like Motorstorm RC and Hustle Kings, also add to my PS3 library thanks to Cross-Buy, there is so much to be happy with.

How can I forget to mention Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, a lesson in how to port a full console title to a handheld. It is identical, every level and character is reproduced to perfection, with only the slightest trade off in graphics. It’s a shame there is no Cross-Save with the main game, but it is that good, I don’t mind playing twice over. Need For Speed: Most Wanted too, I only have that for the Vita, purely because it is better than the console versions. It plays like a full blown home release, but here it is in the palm of my hand. There are also some fine free to play games too, with the absolute stand out being Treasures Of Montezuma, which is essentially a clone of Bejewelled, however is a clone that is more than welcome and if I am being honest, has a levelling up system that makes it more enjoyable than PopCap’s effort. Honestly, if you have a Vita, try it.

Another let down though is Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, it’s not awful as such, but it feel like a missed opportunity, released more to have the brand on the console, rather than for a great gaming experience. As I mentioned in my review, it felt like the team who made it, were doing so based on old ideals of handheld ports, rather than trying to bring something that was designed for the Vita itself. However on the whole there are more excellent games, than there are let downs.

Even moving forward, my most anticipated title of 2013 is Persona 4 Golden, a Vita title. P3P on the PSP was probably my favourite game of the system and hearing other’s experiences with P4G has more then whetted my appetite. I could of course get it on import, but I have enough to get through as it is, that I can wait until my will power fails me, upon seeing it on a shop shelf.  The naysayers will continue to predict the death of the Vita, however, should Sony decide to kill the system early, I will feel I have more than had my monies worth, just based on everything available already.

I have barely scratched the surface, I am yet to play Virtue’s Last Reward, WRC 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Disgaea 3, Escape Plan, FIFA, Frobisher Says, Jet Set Radio, MGS HD Collection, Ratchet & Clank, Mortal Kombat, New Little King’s Story, Pinball Arcade, Sound Shapes and more. Those are just the released games, there are bound to be some that will come that are yet to be announced, plus as previously mentioned a whole load of classic PSOne and PSP titles.  Who can tell which of those will also see PS+ releases.

Let us not forget too, that the Vita isn’t even a year old yet. For my money it has the strongest one year catalogue of any system before it. Sure the hardware has lacked the sales Sony had hoped, but I honestly believe that is mainly down to some awful marketing more than anything. With PS+ onboard, Sony should really be pushing the system now, creating bundles which include a subscription and making sure the world knows about it. It needs to show off the potential of the system, show it isn’t just another PSP, that it is now a whole lot more. Show off the games properly, shout from the rooftops… THIS IS THE VITA!

Up until November, I was considering how much longer I can continue gaming for, it is an expensive hobby when you just aren’t feeling it anymore. Now though, I feel I am back, I look forward to new releases, I look forward to playing games again. It is all down to my Vita.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Review

Sony’s under performing handheld has been in much need of a boost. So what better way to give it that boost, than the biggest gaming franchise on the planet today. Hopes are that Nihilistic could produce a port that would bring gamers flooding to the console and kick start something special. 

The portable version of Call Of Duty is a mixed bag, it does do some things well, but in many areas it is simply lacking and underwhelming. Rather than having a huge cinematic experience that players are used to on consoles, this version contains ten separate missions, each with a quick voice over intro, before thrusting you into the action. Players take on the role of two well known Black Ops character, either Woods or Mason, yet in all honesty, it doesn’t really matter. You could be playing as Donald Duck, or Mickey Mouse, as there is no real character or depth to the missions, in fact the story is instantly forgettable.

Each mission lasts around five to ten minutes and the action comes constantly, with each area within each level acting as more of an arena than anything. Even though the main Call of Duty games are similar in function, the smoke and mirrors effect to disguise that is a lot more effective. Here you can tell you are moving from one mini arena to the next, shooting a bunch of enemy soldiers and moving on. That’s not to say the action isn’t fun, it can be, however everything feels like it is over way too quickly. More meat is definitely needed here.

To try and pad things out each mission has three star ratings depending on difficulty, so should you really want to get more time with the game, then feel free to play through each difficulty level one by one. The problem here, is that despite being fun on an initial play, that fun factor doesn’t remain on repeated plays. There is also a time-trial mode, however that again is limited in content, giving you five areas to get through, shooting targets and basically finishing as quick as possible. A glorified training mission is what you are getting here. It is again fine for a few goes, but soon becomes tired and dull.

The only other single player mode is the equivalent of a horde mode, or zombies, as you face off against waves of enemies, trying to survive for as long as you possibly can. There are various maps on offer and like other such modes, after each wave you can pick up bonus drops that can help you with upcoming waves.  The areas here are a lot more interesting than in the main game, they are much more open and the enemies come from all corners, making it a much more challenging experience.

This is still Call Of Duty, so multiplayer is a huge factor and when it works, it works rather well. Limited to four on four, with all the usual modes available. The maps are designed well, meaning that despite having only either players per map, the action is still close and constant. There are some issues with connecting to games, but that should be fixed and patched soon. When you do get a game, there are no complaints, matches are smooth and hardly any lag is noticeable. Once again, the usual stats are there for you to see, so you can compare your performances against others.

The gameplay is a mixed bag, at times it feels like a very good port of its bigger brother, aiming is precise and you are able to pick shots like a pro. Then at other moments it feels like you are fighting the aiming, you feel you are lined up, but shots aren’t hitting or having any real affect. What would work wonders here, is Nihilistic taking a pace out of Bend’s book and adding in some gyro aiming, that is the way to make use of the Vita’s capabilities. Instead you are left with touch screen grenade throwing and melee. It just doesn’t feel right, now for an FPS, as you need to remove your hand from the right stick and at times the fire button to launch a grenade, which leaves you vulnerable to  being shot yourself. Using the rear touch as a modifier button would surely have worked better here.

It is a tough one to call with Declassified,  there is plenty of potential there, but the execution is lacking. Content feels very watered down and it appears that the wrong capabilities of the Vita have been used. It comes across as a old ideal for a handheld game, the watered down port of a full title. This could have and should have been a chance to create a special title for Sony’s machine, showcasing to other developers what can be done, instead you’re left with something that doesn’t quite live up to that.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse review

Fingers crossed, let this be the one. The videogame version of an animated TV show that isn’t terrible. The Simpsons and South Park are two of the big hitters to have failed recently, but can Family Guy turn it around?

Surely everyone must know all about Family Guy by now? First aired in 1999, Seth MacFarlane’s brain child is now a global phenomenon. Well known for staying at a consistent standard, and by being slightly less offensive than South Park, this award winning show is loved by many. Spin offs have followed in the form of the Cleveland show, and American Dad (to a degree), and even the film world is now being tested with Ted. But, there is yet to be a successful game. There was a Family Guy on Xbox and PS2 that received average scores, and an online multiplayer game is still in development. This is the first next-gen game that they have released, and Heavy Iron will be hoping that they can keep the Family Guy ‘hot streak’ continuing.

The plot for this game is a continuation of the ‘Road to the Multiverse’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through parallel universes) and the ‘Big Bang Theory’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through time to stop evil half brother Bertram from killing Stewie’s ancestors). Where an original plot would have been nice, the developers have taken the safe approach of sticking with two of the more popular storylines. A version of Bertram appears and announces that he is assembling an army throughout the Multiverse in order to destroy the main Family Guy universe. Whilst the story is classic Family Guy, everything else sadly starts to drop in standard.

The graphics are poor, and that’s being kind. Even bearing in mind that this game will not look realistic, this is just a rough effort. The show looks much sharper on TV than in this game. Texture mapping is average, and the characters are blocky and poorly detailed. This game is on a par with PS2 graphics. Accuracy is spot on though, and the player will never be confused as to who’s who. They may still be wondering if they have been in some kind of accident though. Levels have a good mix putting the parallel universe them to good effect, featuring a drunk student level, a Christmas level, and an Amish universe amongst others, and each are recognisable, and look different from the last. This is the redeeming feature for the graphics.

Is the humour good though? Do the actors lend their voices to the game? A big yes. But, there is a massive draw back. Most of the lines are recycled from the show. So for the real fans, the target audience, they will be hearing the same jokes that they have heard a hundred times before. And they will hear them another hundred times as each line is repeated on loop. Half of them don’t even suit the level, and it gives the impression that the developer just picked a list of their favourite quotes, and threw them in the game. Credit where it’s due, the cut scenes that have been created for the game are fine, but the level content is more tedious than fun.

Gameplay is an over the shoulder shooter. Controls are simple, and it is very easy to pick up and play. A child could play it, if it was aimed for them. The player controls either Stewie or Brian, in a ‘drop in drop out’ style, or both can be played in co-op fashion. Both have their own weapons, which does mean slightly different tactics depending on which character is being used. The level targets are very simple, generally revolving around collecting certain items, and returning to whoever told you to get them, or finding a certain number of item’s in the level. It harks back to older platforming games, and is enjoyable, if repetitive. Levels end with a boss battle which is the only time the player really needs to think or use strategy, as the rest of time it is pretty simple. Money is found / earned in the levels, and this can be spent to buy upgrades and different costumes and the like.

There is a multiplayer mode, which lets you control a greater variety of characters, but it is local only. Whilst it is playable, there are just too many better options for a modern gamer out there, and this would be no more than a fleeting novelty. There is also a challenge mode, but it is very much more of the same, and is neither challenging or long lasting.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is completely frustrating. It shows enough moments to make the player think that it’s going to be half decent, and then it just punches them in the face like a giant chicken. The graphics are average, and the audio is just annoying. The main impression that shines through is that the developers got bored halfway through making it, or just rushed it to make release deadlines. This would make an excellent PSN or XBLA game, and would be worth paying top price for. But as a top price full release game, this should be a lot better.

LEGO Lord Of The Rings review

LEGO games have become quite the staple in this current generation, bringing together long time gamers and the often maligned casual gamers in a way other games haven’t been able to do. Simply because they are instantly accessible, but without being too dumbed down. They appeal to nearly everyone.

Many major franchises have been given the LEGO treatment, with Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Batman and possibly the biggest franchise of them all, Star Wars. Now it is the turn of Lord Of The Rings and whilst the core appeal of LEGO games remain, this has become somewhat of a slight change in direction.

Players will still move through various levels based on famous moments from the films, smashing and collecting as they go, but the hub world is now the most stunning ever seen in a LEGO game. Middle Earth in LEGO form is just a joy to see. Fans of the books and especially the films will instantly recognise the different areas and there a plenty of little nods to the lore of Middle Earth. It has been said before about LEGO games, just how wonderful they look and again here the same is true, one of the best looking games of a generation. Not because characters and locations are looking as realistic as possible, but because the care and attention that has gone into making a fully fledged world look just the way it should, using the mix of LEGO pieces and some fully rendered areas. The balance is just right.

Gameplay remains as pick up and play as always, however the opening level is a bit of jump into the deep end. It will throw you off slightly, as you take on a big boss early in the game, needing to switch between characters to lure him in and get the right attack. Whilst long time gamers will be able to get through this relatively pain free, it can be difficult for certain co-op partners. It is a short opening though and pretty soon it starts to feel like any other LEGO game.

Another new addition is how side quests are implemented. It feels almost like Travellers Tales have spent the year playing plenty of Fallout, or Skyrim and decided that would work well in a LEGO game. It does, it adds a lot of longevity to a game that already has hours of play. Now you can navigate the world hub and be given mini quests that have no baring on the main quest, these will then reward with bonuses and unlocks in the form of new characters, red bricks, etc. It still keeps within the spirit of previous games, but the change is more than welcome.

Again as with previous LEGO titles, a deep knowledge of the story previously is not all that important, but for those who are knowledgeable, there is plenty of amusing and recognisable moments littered throughout. Voices, which first made an appearance in LEGO Batman 2 are back for Lord Of The Rings and once again add to the overall experience, that fear of doing such a thing ruining the charm can now be put to bed. It isn’t dialogue heavy, but the little cues fit in really well. Looking back, dialogue wasn’t as important to a Indiana Jones, but such is the more complex nature of a Lord Of The Rings, it would be easy to get lost with the story without it.

It may be possible to fly through LEGO Lord of the Rings’ eighteen stages in a couple of sessions, but that isn’t what these games are about. They almost beg you to play through again and again, completing each and every one to 100% and here again this is no exception, there is easily twenty plus hours of pure fun top be had. With the only downfall being how achievements are handled.

Whilst most are achievable in co-op, there are still a fair few that can only be done by the lead profile. Which is a shame when playing in co-op is the perfect way to approach a game like this. In fact, Gamestyle haven’t played a LEGO game in single player in who knows how long. It is lucky then that they are so fun to play, as you’ll be completing it all over again with a friend, or family member as the lead profile.

Co-op is again limited to local only with no online option available. Whilst this should really be a negative to beat the game with, it isn’t. There is a certain charm about playing this entirely locally, sitting down as a pair and working through, sharing the workload and occasionally getting into smashing battles with each other, as you go for the same objects.

There really isn’t a better feel good game on the console, that just brings gamers of all types together like this. It brings back memories of how social gaming used to be, before we had online capabilities. Being able to bring a family member into the action, whilst you still enjoy the core experience the game offers is not an easy thing to achieve, but here Travellers Tales have managed it.

LEGO Lord Of The Rings is another in a long line of classic LEGO games. It is fun and accessible. It is easy to lose an entire evening to its charms. It is the most well rounded of the LEGO titles too, whether a fan of the books or films, or not. It is one game to rule them all.