The Last Of Us Review

The Last Of Us is a Sony exclusive from Naughty Dog, makers of Jak & Daxter and Uncharted. It may be the most important game of the next generation, despite being the swansong from this generation. 

This is going to be a two part review of sorts. We’ll start with the game itself and avoid spoilers, then give you a score, we’d suggest only reading past that if you have finished the game.

What you have with The Last Of Us is a game that does the gamey parts really well, but intertwines them with a story in a way that has never been seen before. This is in part not only to fantastic game design, or movie standard writing, it is mainly down to the fact that Naughty Dog are treating the audience with a huge amount of respect. They don’t feel they need to spell out every little mechanic of the game, or explain why we must approach parts in a certain way. They assume intelligence, rather than a lack thereof.

This is evidenced in the way the game approaches combat. It is part cover shooter, part stealth, but at the same time it is neither of these and at times very much both at the same time. As said, the developers assume intelligence, they believe that the audience given a particular situation will work out their own way through. So when the game throws up a set piece, it doesn’t immediately say… “this is a stealth section” or “this is where you expend a few bullets”. Why would it, if you put yourself in a situation like Joel will often find himself and Ellie in, you would likely want to avoid interaction that could lead to potential death, engaging would only be a last resort and that is how you approach any potential volatile situations here.

There isn’t a specific stealth mechanic as such, you don’t have to press any buttons to enter cover. All of this is handled naturally, by crouching down you are moving slower, edging your way around the environment, whether you are facing combat or not, if you are walking by an upturned table, walls, filing cabinets, desks, etc then you will see Joel naturally move around them, touching them to maybe steady his balance, that sort of thing.

So because you don’t need to make any special inputs to go stealth mode, or find cover it leads to a really interesting way of approaching combat. If you are behind cover, then you are behind cover as simple as that. If you are in a spot where you should be hidden, then you are hidden. It adds a degree of tension to scenarios that haven’t felt this natural before. It also means that should your stealthy approach go wrong and all hell breaks loose, then it isn’t a forced try again, or pretty much game over. You adapt and survive, even if it means turning round and running for your life.

The AI on the enemy side is fairly clever too, if they know you are around, they are on alert, they will hunt you down, so even if you manage to run away and get hidden again, the dynamics of that battle have changed completely. You can still sneak around and try to take out enemies quietly, but you know now that they are also hunting you.  No two fights are ever really the same, even if they come across as similar.

There are some AI issues, namely with any partners you have. They can often pop out of cover, or make a lot of noise and they simply won’t be detected, the enemy AI too can sometimes be oblivious to a sudden lack of buddies around them who were there all of five seconds ago. They also will not really notice the dead boy that suddenly appeared. This is an issue with games going back a long time and it is a minor indiscretion that can be forgiven as it isn’t game breaking and happens a lot less than you’d think when you look back at the experience you have had.

So that’s the combat side of things, it is pretty damn good because it doesn’t follow any of the tried and tested methods. Exploration whilst being a bit more in keeping with what we are used too, still feels fresh and the game almost forces you to want to go off the beaten track of what is essentially a very linear journey. You see, thanks to a system that has you foraging for useful things, you feel that as you do move through the game, you need to find those essentials. You need to find ammunition, or you have no choice but to stop for a moment and see if you find the items needed to make a molotov cocktail, or a health pack.

This has been done to death though, so what makes it work so well in The Last Of Us? This time it is an understanding of the real world. Everything you collect weapon wise needs to be carried, so you look at Joel and you’ll notice every weapon he has is attached to him in a fashion, whether it be holstered, or attached to his backpack, or even inside of that backpack. Swap out an available weapon for another and Joel will have to stop, take his pack off, open it and swap. It’s a little touch, but it means you have to be prepared at all times.

This real world logic also means that items you find can only be carried to a finite number. You can stock up on health packs, home made bombs, shivs and such, but not to an endless amount. Why should it be endless? You take only what you can carry, which is hit home during a moment in the game (we’ll touch on this in the spoiler section) to great effect.

This leads to some clever and well thought out difficulty curves. It isn’t a game that starts off easy and just gets harder. What happens in The Last Of Us is the story drives the difficulty of particular situations. There are some really easy parts where you may be suddenly stocked up to the eyeballs, taking out small pockets of enemies (either human or infected) with  comparative ease, when all of a sudden a change in the story sees you come out of another encounter with literally nothing, having expended all your stocks just to survive. This in turn will leave you on edge, hoping and begging that the next encounter isn’t right round the corner, because if it is… well then you are screwed.

Good gameplay and a great story (we’ll get to story soon) aren’t all that is needed to make a game stand out as one of the greatest ever. It is the little touches, the love and care from all involved to add the attention to details that bring everything to life. The characters don’t just interact during cut-scenes, they do so throughout gameplay too. Which in itself isn’t anything new, but the attention to detail on how they interact is what makes it truly special.

The characters not only talk to each other with some recorded dialog, which never feels like it is canned chatter, they also talk with body language. If Joel is making a point about something, he will use his arms, much in the way we would in natural conversation. As Ellie and Joel become warmer to each other you start to notice their body language towards each other change. Ellie goes from arms folded and nervous to a lot more open as the game goes on. You also hear how the voices change over time. Joel’s voice being colder and more abrupt with characters he meets and doesn’t trust yet, compared to  warmth reserved for other characters. Mood also plays a part, if there are moments of quiet reflection the body language and voices are different to if there is a moment of panic.

It is the same with the attention to detail of the world around. Nature has started to reclaim the planet and the mix of the world we know being eaten up by nature is a sight to behold, but it is the things you don’t immediately notice that make it so special and done so right. Light is so natural that you don’t sit there and comment to yourself just how well done this is. You don’t notice as such that the game cuts off huge areas of the world, if it doesn’t want you to go somewhere, there seems to be natural blocks that you as a single human being will not be able to get past, so you happily leave it be without questioning the stupidity of not being able to get over a knee high wall.

The Last Of Us as a game in its own right is sublime, the mix of combat, exploration, setting and story telling are mixed together in a way that we have never seen before, not to this level anyway. Naughty Dog have raised the bar to new heights that likely have other developers quaking at the prospect of meeting these new standards. Hopefully though it is a dev team laying down the gauntlet that others will try to emulate and eventually beat.

10/10

**WARNING STORY SPOILERS BELOW**

The Last Of Us is a game that will go down as one of the most important of all time. Why? Because it is honestly the first time a game has handled adult themes and stories in a way that as we said about the gameplay, assumes intelligence. It doesn’t descend into cheap tricks in the writing. Adult doesn’t all of a sudden mean nudity, sex, violence and swearing for the sake of having nudity, sex, violence and swearing. It doesn’t contain some of those things, but it contains them with the right context.

The ‘No Russian’ part of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was cited at being adult content by some. Yet this was frankly an embarrassment to the idea that games could tell an adult story in an adult way and set back public perception a fair way. Other games have also tried and always seemed to fall short, often failing at the same hurdles, why does the character need to do this, why are they acting in this way. The Last Of Us takes cues from TV, Movies and Books and sticks hard and fast to the concepts, fitting the game around the story it wants to tell rather than making the story fit the game and having things happen for the sake of action.

We have an opening that is quite simply one of the most emotionally distressing I have ever witnessed in a game. Yet these are characters we don’t even know yet. Hell one of them isn’t even the character we thought we’d be seeing. Who is Sarah? We know she is Joel’s daughter, but isn’t this meant to be a about a girl called Ellie? Yet here we are controlling Sarah before even Joel. What we know is something bad is going to happen, we expect it to happen, yet still it pulls at the heart strings, you feel the tears coming as Joel holds his daughter in his arms as she dies, not attacked by the infected, but shot down in cold blood by a soldier… It is shocking and already you emotions have been pulled all over the place.

It is the very next scene though that shows a level of maturity that is new in gaming, yet is a trick used in film and TV… 20 Years Later…

Twenty years have passed since Joel lost his daughter, we haven’t witnessed what happens in those twenty years how he dealt with her death and why he is where he is now. Other questions are also raised, what happened to Tommy? Is he alive? Dead? All those thoughts happen in a few moments before we are introduced to… Oh, not Ellie, but Tess. You expect to be off to find Ellie in some fashion instantly, but instead you are fighting a cause that has nothing to do with Ellie, it does leave you a bit confused, but you roll with it anyway.

When you do finally meet up with Ellie, you start to get a handle on how Joel dealt with the death of Sarah, he is cold towards this kid, he sees her as a package. We have a man that is emotionally shut off it seems and will reluctantly do what he has to do for the good of the cause. This leads to a moment where a life is laid down to protect the greater good, yet it isn’t Joel doing anything for Ellie, in fact he is still indifferent to her, in fact he would rather not being doing what he is doing. Yet Tess having become infected herself is willing to lay down her life to allow Joel and Ellie to escape.

It not here though that the bond between the two characters starts to form. There is a lot of resentment on both sides, Joel especially as he clearly doesn’t want to get close to someone who reminds him of his daughter, someone who has (albeit indirectly) been responsible for the death of someone else he clearly cared about.

There isn’t really any one moment where you can pinpoint as the moment Joel changed towards Ellie, it is something that happened naturally over the course of the game, with much of it happening in the chunks of time cut from the story, where things are left a little to our imagination. There are two exceptional standout moments where this is done to great effect.

One is after meeting Henry and Sam. These are two people who have a relationship that is clearly a lot stronger at the time than Joel and Ellie. As evidenced when Henry can either save Joel, or run and keep Sam protected. He choose to protect Sam, yet here we see Ellie and Joel’s bond has come on somewhat from the first meeting. Ellie could have run, but she stays and fights. Later they do meet again and the reactions of the characters to what had happened previously is real totally how you’d expect it to be handled.

Anyway, the huge cut of time happens immediately after a touching moment between Sam and Ellie. Sam is infected and turns, Henry is forced to shoot his brother to save Ellie. You know exactly what is coming next as Henry becomes emotionally unstable in an instant and turns the gun on himself and pull the trigger… Cut to black…pause for a moment… FALL.

It is clear a period of time has passed and rather than immediately have to see the characters deal with what had happened, by extending the cut scene and having to mix that with gameplay that would need to have them continue to talk about it, or enter into battles that would seem out of place. The writing basically moves the story ahead a few weeks leaving us to fill in the gaps.

Another moment is just after Joel is critically wounded. Ellie does everything she can to save him and help them both escape the immediate danger. We are left knowing that Joel is weak and basically bleeding out, with little to no hope of being able to save him with the supplies on hand. We hit a moment and then fade to black… WINTER

We are then controlling Ellie and have no clue what has happened to Joel. He’ll still be alive, he is the main character. Yet the way Ellie is talking to herself, he is dead isn’t he. Yet there is no time to dwell, you need to start hunting a deer. Ellie needs to survive and it is clear a fair amount of time has passed again, she is a lot more skilled than she previously was. Maybe Joel is dead? Yet without doing a bit reveal Ellie makes it known that Joel is still alive in her first meeting with David. It is subtle yet very cleverly done.

Winter is one of the standout levels of any game ever made, the change in the mood is well handled and David will go down as one of the all time most evil characters in a game. Yet he isn’t evil for the sake of it, the world he is in has driven him to where he is and his desperation to have Ellie whilst dark and disturbing are clear. The writing has handled the character of David in a very mature fashion. Again a cut is used from Winter to Spring for us to fill in the gaps, yet this time the mood is different.

As the Joel and Ellie get closer to there goal there is something very somber about their attitudes and rather than having a cut-scene where the characters have a heart to heart, they instead use a moment of normal gaming mechanics to convey there is something up, as Ellie usually quick to help with a ladder is sat with her head somewhere else completely. This is then offset by one of the most beautiful moments of the generation. Up there with crossing to Mexico in Red Dead Redemption, or coming out of the Vault for the first time in Fallout. The parading giraffes is a moment of pure tranquility, one that just worked to perfection to set up what was to come, one last moment of peace.

The ending of the game too is not one you’d expect from a game. After shooting your way to Ellie you are confronted by a surgeon and a couple of his assistants who are about to perform the surgery on Ellie that could find a cure to the disease that has all but ended the world. Yet here is a man that is a broken emotional mess. Whose actions on the surface come across as entirely selfish, caring for his own needs over the greater good.

This is a man who by saving the one person he didn’t want to get emotionally attached to, has betrayed the one person he had possibly loved in the twenty years since he lost Sarah. Tess knew the importance of Ellie and gave her life to do her part. Yet her is Joel, having killed a surgeon, who as far as we are aware, is doing a good thing by finding a cure, just so doesn’t have to feel the pain of losing someone else he loves.

He goes from killing to survive, doing so on instinct, to acting in what appears to be a more cold blooded nature. Coming from the lift, he shoots Marlene stone dead and again another cut as we come to Ellie coming around in the car, as Joel fills her head with reasoning as to why he has saved her. Then the moment she asks Joel whether he has been lying and the look in her eyes as the response comes back. Such raw emotion in a scene that is totally out of the blue for a video game.

There was no violence for violence sake, everything felt like it was done with perfect context. The writers and those that acted in the game all deserve a lot of credit, it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had with a controller in my hands.

Hotline Miami Review

There have been times in the past where some corners have wanted to destroy videogames, due to them warping the minds of our youth. Those people would refer to certain games as ‘Murder Simulators’, so it is with great joy we get to review an actual murder simulator. Hotline Miami is a game that revels in the violence and makes it super fun.

Essentially Hotline Miami is a simple game where you enter buildings and slaughter everyone whom you come in contact with. Why are you doing this? Because of the innocent sounding phone calls you receive that may ask you to ‘go on a date’, ‘eradicate the pest problem’ all everyday requests. What these calls have though are subliminal messages that say “KILL EVERYONE”, or so the voices in our head say.

Whilst the basic premise of Hotline Miami is simple, as is the execution, it is actually a very difficult game to win. It combines elements of twin stick shooters, high score chasing and puzzle elements. Using the left stick to move and the right stick to aim, then attacking with the right button, the controls are very simple. but getting through each level will challenge even the most experienced gamers.

Enter a building and start off killing the people you see, then move through the building doing the same, clearing each room and floor until you get to the end. What makes it difficult is that is takes just a single hit, or shot to you to end the level, making sure you start from scratch. Rather than being a lesson in frustration, it pushes you on, making you determined to learn the best route through. You find yourself planning a route on the fly whilst all the time slaughtering everything that moves, including dogs! (so not one for PETA supporters)

It’s not just finding a route through to keep yourself alive while murdering everyone else, you get points for the various kill styles, so mixing it up will earn you bigger points, as well as getting combo kills, by ending the lives of many enemy guys in quick succession. It all adds up for chasing that high score and a rating at the end of each level.

It isn’t also just as simple as entering a room, killing everyone and moving on either. It can be possible to enter a game of cat and mouse as you try and use the rooms to your advantage, pop in to a room, hit a guy with a baseball bat, run out of the room as you get spotted and then slice the guy who is chasing you down with the knife dropped by someone else. There are plenty of ways to approach each level and that stops what could be a repetitive game becoming dull.

You can also use guns, but guns make noise and attract attention, this again can be useful for some tactics, if you are looking to draw some victims to you, but can also prove troublesome when they hear a gunshot and descend on your location at the most inopportune time. What is amazing, is that none of the levels are long and drawn out, many are over in seconds…Once you have worked out the way to beat them that is. You can spend ages retrying each level until you nail it and just like a game such as Trials Evolution, it has an instant restart that stops the constant restarts becoming frustrating. The reward at moving on is that feeling of accomplishment.

The game originally released on PC and this version is Cross-Buy for both PS3 and PS Vita and we at Gamestyle are in love with the Vita version. That isn’t to say it is a poorer game on the PS3, just that the screen on the Vita was almost made for Hotline Miami. The retro visuals are super crisp and it really does hark back to the old 16bit days, the violence is over the top, but never feeling gruesome mainly thanks to the fantastic art style. Anothing reason why the Vita version is superior, is that you can sit back with the console in your hands, headphones on and just be totally immersed in murdering in various ways.

The Indie revolution has started and this is pretty much a flagship title, a game that shows why the Vita is a perfect fit for the Indie games, why they work so well and why they can be so fun. Hotline Miami is a game that you simply must own, it will be the best £6.49 you will spend, whether you have it on PC already or not!

Limbo Review

Limbo first burst onto the console scene around three years ago in the Xbox Live Summer of arcade event. It then took a while to make its way over to the PS3 and now we finally have a portable version to enjoy on the Vita. It’s been a long time coming but is Limbo still worth your attention?

For those who haven’t had the chance to experience Limbo yet, what awaits is a platformer with a style unlike any other. The game follows the journey of a small boy as he makes his way through a dark and nightmarish world. The colour palette is almost exclusively monochrome and you are going to die gruesomely over and over again.

The visual style and tone is the main thing that sets Limbo apart from other platform games. The somewhat abstract approach helps to build a stunning atmosphere which envelops the player in dread and gives a constant warning of dangers to come. As you progress you will see different types of environment given the nightmare treatment. What starts out as a forest will soon give way to gloomy industrial areas and platforms buzzing with sparks and spinning saws.

The visuals look incredible on the Vita screen and the sprite size and landscape has been scaled well. The only thing which doesn’t quite work as well is the flickering darkness around the edges of the play area when the game focuses you through a vignette. On the smaller Vita screen this can often be off putting and distracting, whereas before it was a subtle mood building effect.

The gameplay itself is fairly simple. Your character can jump a small distance, move objects and climb. Most of the gameplay is about creating make-shift bridges and things to stand on in order to reach the next area. There are also quote a few areas that require quick and precise timing in order to progress. Sometimes you may need to get two boxes to drop at the right moment and use them before a saw cuts through them while at others you’ll be out rising water. Everything is used well and Limbo never over uses any of its ideas, always moving the player onto something new in terms of level design and threat.

One of the more unique obstacles to overcome is the brain bugs. Every now and then a bug will drop on our hero and cause him to walk continuously in the direction he is facing. The only way to turn him around is to move into one of the rare patches of sunlight that pierces the gloom. This creates a new kind of threat as you have to move objects and overcome traps at the pace the game sets rather than on your own terms. The sections work well and the gimmick never becomes over used.

Speaking of threats, this is a game that takes great pleasure in killing you. Bear traps adorn forest flaws and electricity always seems to be coming right at you. Giant spiders and shadowy humans are on hand to chase you and if that isn’t enough there is always the risk of simply drowning or falling into a pit. Though you will die, the frustration is eased by the near constant auto saving. This means that you will always reappear near to were you die without the need to cover ground you have already been over.

Limbo always has been a special game and that certainly hasn’t changed in the years since its release. The main issue facing the Vita version is that many gamers may well have experienced it already. The lack of any new additions to draw people in may also be a problem. This aside, Limbo remains an essential title and its move to Vita has been realised well. If you haven’t played it yet then this is an essential purchase as it offers a unique experience not found anywhere else.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Review

Who would win in a fight between Superman and, well, pretty much anyone? Superman obviously, it’s a problem that all DC products whether they be games or movies will run into. Why would Superman need a Justice League when he can pretty much destroy planets by giving them a mean stare?

Injustice: Gods Among Us, the latest from Mortal Kombat makers Netherealm Studios, does try and answer this somewhat in the Story Mode which see’s our worlds heroes transported into a parallel world where Superman has gone completely mental. While not on par with Mortal Kombat, the story mode in Injustice is still a whole lot better than most other fighting games. Once you get past the clichéd use of parallel Earths, a staple of DC Comics stories that needs to be put out to pasture, you will find yourself drawn into the story as you progress from fight to fight.

The fighting is, as expected, very reminiscent of Mortal Kombat. Combo’s play a huge part in building attacks and an X-Ray style super move is here, once again by pressing the L and R triggers simultaneously. These super moves amaze in their spectacle. Superman for instance punches someone into orbit before smashing them down to Earth, Batman runs your opponent down with the Batmobile and Aquaman submerges everything under water before unleashing a shark. They’re completely insane, but in a hugely satisfying way. Another element of the comic book insanity are the stage transitions. These send your opponent hurtling through walls, crashing through floors, usually with hilarious consequences. None more so than a cameo from Batman’s rogues gallery during the fights set in Arkham.

A new addition to the combat is the clash system. By pressing the correct button before being hit you’re able to enter clash mode. Here you’re able to wager parts of your super meter, coming out on top results in some health being regenerated, failing means you lose health. It’s at times a confusing system that really adds nothing to the game, it’s rarely needed, and after many fights online has rarely been witnessed.

Online was always a weak area with Mortal Kombat, and Netherealm have gone a long way in trying to rectify the initial problems that game had at launch. While games are easy to find, with enough modes and challenges to keep you occupied, it still falls short of what Capcom produces. As anyone who plays online fighting games will attest, any slight semblance of lag can scupper your chances of winning. And unfortunately for the player not hosting there is still enough of a button delay to frustrate. That said, if you don’t care about your win/loss ratio and are just here for the spectacle, there’s still tons of fun to be had.

Those not wanting to venture online will still find plenty of single player content to enjoy, and not just the Story Mode. Battle Mode is your standard ladder, made different by a number of different Battle types that can be unlocked in the armory, such as fighting all the heroes or starting each fight with a quarter health. On top of this you have S.T.A.R Labs features a set of challenges with each character, which will test even the most skilled fighter. And naturally costumes, concept art and the like are unlocked with XP earned throughout single player and online. Injustice is certainly a full price package.

Not just relying on the spectacle of having DC’s greatest villains and heroes square off, the gameplay at the core of Injustice shows that Netherealm are one of the companies at the forefront of the fighting genre. If you’re not into your comic books then a lot of the games appeal might be lost, but for fans of the genre and DC, this is a match made in heaven.

GRID 2 Review

GRID 2 is the sequel to the fun and immersive GRID from Codemasters. There have been changes under the hood as well as on the bodywork, but does this new title have what it takes to storm to first place?

Gamestyle have been fans of this series from day one and we are not talking about GRID, we started on TOCA Touring Car Championship on the PS1. What Codemasters produced was a fantastic racing game that felt as close to a simulation on the console as you would get. Fully structured, licensed championships that could be set to a few laps, or full length races.

It had an in car view that was ahead of its time and really made you feel part of the action, as well as AI that felt alive, seemingly adjusting to your racing style, remembering how you had been in a previous race, it had that something special. Of course there was the damage engine too, that at the time felt like a breath of fresh air.

As the games progressed though, through TOCA 2 Touring Cars, World Touring Cars and eventually the TOCA Race Driver series, the licences slowly fell away and a story driven game was introduced. yet again the immersive nature remained and the games had that something special. Race Driver 3 was the only real let down in a solid series.

Race Driver GRID was the title for the early stages of the 360 era and it changed things up again, removing the full on story telling of the Race Driver series and adding in a progression based feature, but once again it was immersive, challenging and ultimately a ton of fun. Especially when you set the game to PRO mode, which locked the camera to head cam, stopped any use of flashbacks and also restarts. It meant you drove not only to win, but also to survive. No trying to risk it all on the start, having to decide whether to attack or protect a position, knowing that at anytime a mistake really did mean race over. For our money, not other console racer has come close to the feeling GRID could give if set up right.

So when Codemasters announced that they would be doing away with the head cam in GRID 2, we will admit we were very dissappointed, as we were in the 5% that did use that camera, but we aren’t ones to let that stop us playing, the series has been a favourite and we want to love this as much as we have the others.

The racing in GRID 2 is a fast and frantic as it was in previous titles, the various opponents have their own driving styles and the AI still feels a lot more alive than in other titles. Mistakes can be made and are made, by yourself and by the opponents, which makes races feel alive, for the short time they are on anyway. GRID 2 seems to be suffering from the same ‘quick races only’ syndrome that has plagued most modern day racers, 3 lap races are par for the course, which means you are forced somewhat to be aggressive and take a lot of risks as you make your way from a random grid position to first, it also means that the tense action of a race is over all too quickly.

You may find yourself sat behind a rival as you try and find a way through, but rather than try and force him into a mistake, or look for the right opening over a number of laps, you are having to make some all or nothing moves as take too long and the laps are just eaten up. It would be nice to have the option of longer races, rather than sprint after sprint, after sprint.

That said, when you are in a race, your concentration is at 100% and action is fast and tense, which is exactly what you want from a racer, even if your time on the track is shorter than you’d like. The lack of a head cam does diminish the intensity a little, but we can live with bonnet cam… Just!

The progression through the game is similar to that of GRID, but with a few little changes. You are now aiming to become the star of a new race series known the the WSR. You will battle with other rivals who have the same aim as you, to become the face of the series and worldwide superstar. There are some neat touches here, with fans being earned by winning races, completing promos and winning new cars in special events. The is a fair amount of popular culture references too, using the likes of social media and YouTube style presentations to try and add life to the off tack parts. This is shown off by  the odd video presentation of analysts on ESPN Sportscenter in an attempt to add some real life feel to the game.

On the whole is works, but it is just some smoke and mirrors, as the single player progression feels very linear, you need to position in a series to proceed as the game funnels you down a certain path, essentially becoming a series of ‘race, win, proceed’ whereas it would have been nice to see how a scenario would progress down different paths depending on how you performed.

There are other little gimmicks thrown in to the mix too, such as the live routes that can be played both in single player and online, where the course is changing throughout the race, so no map to help you know when a corner is coming, no learning the best routes through the lap. It should add a bit of a level playing field to a race, but at times it felt like the AI had a bit of an advantage and almost knew the route ahead of time. Online though it really works as a mode and a great way of bringing everyone to an even keel.

There seems to be less track races in GRID 2, with seemingly more of the action taking place in city areas or mountain roads. Though these races are fun and the settings are spectacular, we do miss driving blind around Le Mans at night. That said though the locations you will drive are challenging and if we are honest remind us more of PGR than they do the game’s own roots. We haven’t found any of the course to be tedious and we cannot wait to get back to them once a race is over.

GRID 2 is far from a bad game, it looks absolutely showroom stunning, one of the best looking racers of the generation and a wonderful way to sign off before the PS4 and XBOX One show us what that can do. It just isn’t the follow up to GRID we were hoping for, to the point we went back to the game to make sure there wasn’t some rose tinted specs clouding our judgement. We loved GRID and it is still our favourite racer of the generation, GRID 2 is a competent follow up, but doesn’t quite reach those new heights we were hoping for.

Gravity Rush Review

The simplest gameplay mechanics are always the best. In Gravity Rush it’s, as the name suggests, gravity. Being able to navigate your character through environments by changing the direction of gravity is a simple idea, but one that Gravity Rush takes and runs with. But can one idea really make the game worthwhile?

Gravity Rush is a third person adventure/action RPG that follows the adventures of Kat, an amnesiac (yes, that old story) who at the start of the game seems to fall from the sky before coming across a mysterious black cat. The cat, who she calls Dusty, allows her to control gravity, and thus leads her on an adventure to save the floating city of Hekesville from the Nevi menace. Kat meets a number of interesting characters on the way, with cut scenes presented in comic book like fashion, panels and all. In fact, the whole game looks delightful, a very Miyazaki-like style flowing from the character designs to the floating city.

As the main gameplay aspect, being able to navigate environments using gravity has to be a quick and painless experience. Thankfully it is. Pressing the R button allows Kat to float, then after aiming in the direction you want to travel another tap of the R button sends her flying in that direction. It soon becomes second nature and walking anywhere becomes a complete afterthought as you fly off skyward to your next objective. There is, however, a limit on how long you can use your gravity abilities before hurtling back to the ground. This is aided by the upgrade system. A huge array of purple gems are littered around the city, collect them and they can be used to upgrade everything from your health to the strength of your combat powers. And you will need to upgrade your attack because if there’s one blemish on this otherwise excellent package, it’s the combat.

Combat is basic at best, infuriating at worst. Each enemy Nevi you encounter will have a glowing red orb somewhere on their body. This, as you’d expect, is their weak point. Sometimes these can simply be kicked, other times they require cleverer use of your gravity powers. The problem arises from the camera. In the heat of battle, when you’re flying all over it’s easy to lose track of the enemy, as well as the ground. And although Kats hair will always flow towards the ground, chances are you’ve lost your bearings so much that there isn’t a ground to land on. Combat becomes infuriating during latter stages of the game when you’re overrun by so many Nevi, it taking so long for you to lock on your flying attacks, that before you know it you’ve been shot by a dozen red projectiles. Thankfully checkpoints are common.

It’s really a testament to the story and sense of adventure that you get from the world of Gravity Rush that the Vita wasn’t thrown down in a fit of rage. Navigating environments is an absolute joy and with each new area of the city that is discovered an array of new challenges and adventure awaits the player. And even once the game is complete an option to jump back in is given and it’s really hard to resist the allure of collecting more upgrades and replaying old missions. It’s just a shame the main story had to end so abruptly. It didn’t feel like long before a “point of no return” message appeared, with an ending that seemed a little rushed with a number of questions left unanswered.

Despite the shortcomings of the combat, Gravity Rush can still stand alongside some of the best games on the Vita. With its wonderful art style oozing character, it’s a game that once you start; it’s really hard to put down.

The HD Adventures of Rotating Octopus Review

Like Velocity, Rotating Octopus character has made the leap from being a Playstation Mini to a fully native Vita title. It’s a pretty straightforward conversion with very little changing apart from the look of the game. But for those that haven’t experience Dakko Dakko’s endearing character before there is much here to enjoy.

The game sets itself out as a number of single area arenas filled with different obstacles for the octopus to navigate. You start with three lives and must complete an entire worlds levels in one go in order to progress to the next. Losing all of your three lives will see you returned to the first level of the world to start again.

Rotating Octopus Character is in perpetual motion as it spins around the level sticking to whichever surface it comes into contact with. You can change direction and head off in the other way, but the real skill comes from leaping from place to place and completing levels without the need to alter your direction.

The goal of each stage is to collect the hidden octopus’ spread around the area. Some of these are visible from the start while others will drop in as you progress. On latter levels players are required to bounce balls and balloons out the way and move sandcastles in order to reveal any that are hidden away. As well as finding the octopus’ lost friends you can also pick up raindrops and acquiring enough of these will give you an extra life.

It sounds fairly simple and in principle it is. However, this can be one tough cookie of a game to crack at times. Each new world introduces new enemies and hazards and things get hectic very quickly. The stationary barking dogs of the first world are easy enough to get by, but the snakes and mad fez hats found only a few worlds latter are incredibly tricky at times. Couple this with level design thought out to make things as awkward for you navigate as possible and a tight time limit and you suddenly find yourself amidst a series of real twitch gameplay levels. You’ll need fast reactions and the ability to think up new strategies and approaches on the move in order to succeed.

The game is perfect for short bursts of play and each level will only take a few minutes to complete – that’s as long as you don’t keep dying and having to restart. The limited amount of lives does add tension to proceedings but it can also lead to a fair amount of frustration as you find yourself stuck on one of the later levels of a world and continually have to go through eight or nine others just to reach it again. That said, many of the super tough levels tend to have an abundance of raindrops in them to keep you stocked up with lives. On these occasions it’s just a case persevering until you eventually prevail.

The upgraded visuals really help to bring out the artistic charm of the game and it helps add a more defined humour to the graphics and level design. The sound is also joyful and good fun, though the noise of rotating octopus moving around continually can become a touch on the annoying side when you find yourself continually crashing into things.

In terms of size there is a substantial amount of content on show. Aside from the plentiful main worlds there are also a host of challenge levels which unlock one by one. The urge to try and finish stages without changing direction or in a quicker time is also continual draw.

Overall, this is another mini that is more than welcome on the Vita in a native form. Beneath the cute visuals is an excellent and tough piece of reaction based gaming and we can see many Vita owners drawn to it for far longer than they probably expect to be. It’s tough but fair and offers something a little different to what is currently on offer. We recommend you give it try and we’re sure we haven’t seen the last of the Rotating Octopus Character either.

Overall 8/10

Quell Memento Review

Quell Memento is another game that has come to the Vita off the back of a run on smartphones, it seems to be a bit of a trend of late, but is it a welcome one? 

The idea of Quell Memento is simply to move orbs around the screen to complete objectives, in as little moves as possible. It is a simple premise and one that works very well. It create a puzzle game that proves to be challenging, yet ultimately very relaxing at the same time.

The use of moves based scoring, rather than time allows gamers to take their time and plan their moves accordingly, which in turn means there isn’t any pressure to work as fast as possible against a time limit, or increasing speeds. It works as more of a brain and trainer as you use logic and planning to master each level.

To be honest, there is a chance you have played games that are very similar, but it is how Quell Memento mixes up the goals of each level that keeps things fresh. Some levels have you simply moving your orb to collect pearls, others have you switching blocks from one colour to another by moving past them. There are other levels that have more on common with games such as Prism: Light The Way. There is a lot of borrowed ideas here, but that doesn’t matter as the team at Fallen Tree Games have done a fine job in bringing all these elements into a single game and made them feel like a very well thought out cohesive package.

There are 144 levels in total split into different worlds containing 16 stages each. Each world is themed as mentioned above with the different goals and each level gets progressivly harder as you play. However the increasing complexity is offset by the fact you begin to understand the mechanics more and more as you play each stage. It really does give you logic a test in a way games like Sudoku and Slitherlink would. At first glance a level can look daunting, but a few minutes taking it in and it becomes clear as day.

Usually when a puzzle game adds in a pointless story for no other reason than to flesh the game out, we at Gamestyle will have a little moan about the pointlessness of it. However Quell Memento does have a story of sorts, but it is narrated in the background in a very subtle way and we suggest you take it in as it is a lovely narration about love and loss. It has no apparent baring on the game itself and you can either ignore it completely, or take it in and enjoy what it has to offer.

Aside from the main goals of each stage, there are also little hidden bonuses up for grabs, such as finding hidden jewels, or secret levels by breaking open specific blocks. Though these aren’t needed for completing each levels main objective, those who are completionists will love the opportunity at some extra game time.

If we were a little greedy we would ask for more content from a game that has entertained and tested us from the moment it was downloaded. This is one of the finest puzzlers on the Vita and we simply cannot recommend it enough.