Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun has been a massively underutilised franchise when it comes to the world of video games. There are countless Dungeons and Dragons titles but only four set in the murky shadows of mega corps and monsters.

Of the four games, one of them was a Japanese only Mega CD title and another is a team based shooter which doesn’t really keep the ethos. The ones fans will remember are the excellent SNES version which saw Jake Armitage taking on a Dragon and the Genesis title that never made it to European shores. To say gamers have been starved of Shadowrun fun is somewhat of an understatement but that could all be about to change.

Shadowrun Returns is a turn based strategy game set in an isometric viewpoint and is about as old school feeling as a new game gets. It’s very close in mood and graphical style to the SNES game and benefits immensely from it. The areas of the city are dank and polluted and neon tinged signs cast light over the many citizens that walk the streets in this imagining of a dystopian future. 

Conversations are carried out via dialogue trees with pictures of the characters face to the side of them. There is no voice acting or animation here but it doesn’t really detract from the game and if anything adds to the retro feel.

The story goes that your friend has been murdered and now it’s up to you find out who the killer is. At first it seems a fairly standard tale but there are a few decent twists to keep you on your toes and what starts out as a neo-noir thriller will soon go off into all sorts of strange and gruesome directions.

You can build your character from scratch from five races and a host of different class types which at least on the surface adds some depth and replay value to the game. In practice we found the classes that deal with robots or computers had their skill sets somewhat underused (especially in the beginning), with the combination of magic and guns often the best way to proceed. We’re hoping future instalments will flesh these classes out a bit more as the basic rule set is solid.

The game is split into three different sections. There’s the part where you run around the area talking to people and looking for clues, the turn based combat sections and parts where you enter the matrix. The first part plays out like a point and click adventure, all be it in a confined area.  Combat can occur quickly and it’s always nest to be prepared and ready. When combat does occur your characters are given a number of action points to move, shoot and cast spells. It’s not ground breaking but it works simply and effectively enough. You also have to keep an eye on characters strengths with Trolls and Orcs better at taking damage than Elves for instance.

Most of the time you’ll have a team of four and you’re missions will generally be to get into somewhere, retrieve a person or object and get out. Sometimes you just have to kill people but it becomes a step by step process of running to cover, concentrating fire and carefully moving forward. Mistakes can be costly and if you die you’ll start the whole sequence again. This is one of the flaws of the game as missions can be around an hour in length and you’ll often have to go through all the dialogue and adventure part of the game again if you die.

A quick save would have been pretty useful as well in case you need to step away from the PC, but as it is we only have the auto save which kicks in at the start of each new area. Just make sure you are sensible with your gear as being auto-saved into a difficult place means there may be no way to get out alive if you haven’t brought the right supplies or team. This can be somewhat frustrating considering you won’t know what you need until you get there. All auto saves are stored though and players can simply go back a few steps if thigns get too bad.

The matrix sections of the game are also a little dry. They play out in much the same way as normal combat with the Decker moving around a virtual system setting up combat programmes and fighting drones. It would have been nice to distinguish this more from the normal combat but it works.

The game also comes with a detailed level editor and this is what is going to keep it going in the long term. The rule set is solid and there are already a ton of levels available that users have created. There are dedicated projects to bring both the SNES and Genesis games into the game as well. The standard game is a round twelve hours long and it’s likely you’ll be left wanting more so it’s well worth digging into some of the mission packs out there.

Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a positive return to form for the series. It’s not perfect but everything is in place for a bright future. The game as it stands now is solid, well written and will provide a good few hours of gameplay. A few more side quests and a bit more variety wouldn’t have gone a miss but it’s an easy world to get drawn into and any fan shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a streamlined turn based strategy game set in an interesting world and we can only see it getting better and better in the future.

Atlus announce new Persona projects

It’s been a busy day for Atlus as they announce a ton of news regarding future projects in the Persona series.

First let’s start with the one everyone has been waiting for. That’s right. Persona 5 exists! Announced for PS3 with a scheduled date of Winter 2014 in Japan, unfortunately that means it’s likely to reach European shores late in 2015. The trailer below doesn’t really reveal a lot, but hey, at least we now know Persona 5 is real!

Next up we have Persona Q for the 3DS. This one definitely having a different style to other Persona games. Little is known other than it’s a dungeon crawler from the team behind Etrian Odyssey and features all your Persona 3 and 4 favourites. Due for release in Japan on June 5th 2014.

The weirdest announcement comes in the form of Persona 4: Dancing All Night. A rhythm game for the Vita with dancing Persona characters. Because why not?

And finally we have the news that Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold is coming to the PS3. Certainly exiting times for Persona fans.

Castlestorm Review

CastleStorm is at its core a tower-defence game where you have control of one tower where the basic goal is to destroy the enemy and their tower while attempting to stop another opposing tower from destroying your own. The developers of this game are Zen studios, those of Zen Pinball fame so quite the departure for them.

As the quite light hearted story goes, the Knights & Vikings have lived in peace ever since their Goddess cried during their last war, resulting in two enormous gems falling from the sky. These gems are magic life giving gems. Both sides stopped fighting but nothing is always as it seems, the ‘story’ does raise a few smiles throughout although mainly used as a precursor to the levels that you play. The main way to complete a level is to destroy your enemies castle or to steal their flag. Get that back to your castle and it is game over.

With the campaign, you mainly control the ballista, which is used to fire a variety of projectiles and objects towards your enemies castle and men. Controlling the ballista I found to be somewhat awkward at times as precision was required for aim yet trying to manage this using the left stick was somewhat unwieldy resulting in the ballista spinning round and round quite often which was somewhat of a disappointment.  Attempting to line up a shot with the ballista so sensitive can be so frustrating. You do have the option of using the D Pad although this is the opposite with being incredibly slow to use.

Controls are simple and effective in the main, enabling you to cycle through weapons, troops such as infantry units, ranged units and even some air units. Weapons range from the traditional stones and javelins to the more unusual such as exploding apples. Not only do you control the ballista but you also control a knight on the ground who you can deploy to fight against incoming ground troops, Sir Gareth.

With the castles at either end of the playing field, using these can be a time sink in themselves. Selecting rooms to add after collecting gold on the battlefield to assist you in upgrading your home.  Which ones you select have a direct impact on the equipment, units , spells and projectiles that you can use in play. Placing an important room to the front of the castle, which is then demolished by the enemy can spell disaster for you.

The presentation of CastleStorm is really nice, the characters have a slight cartoon look to them which suits the game nicely. Particular mention goes to the soundtrack, which was produced by Waterflame, who you might remember scored Castle Crashers also. The light hearted soundtrack fits the game perfectly. The colours in the game really stand out on the screen without being overpowering on the eyes. Zen really have done a stellar job in bringing this to the Vita.

Overall there is a lot CastleStorm has to offer with a reasonable size campaign and multiplayer options too. Minor control niggles aside, if you are looking for something to play other than Angry Birds on the Vita you could certainly do with picking up a copy of this to see you through those winter (K)nights.

Angry Birds Star Wars Review

Angry Birds are everywhere, phones, consoles, merchandise, you name it, there is something with an Angry Birds label of some description, so to have another iteration of the series hit consoles is no big surprise.

Before getting into the game, we have to talk about the price point. For a game that is mere pennies on iOS and Android, it can feel a bit off paying nigh on full price for the same game on the consoles. Whether you pay that or not, is totally up to you, for this review we are focusing entirely on the game, rather than the business model.

You already know if you like Angry Birds, you haven’t been able to avoid it, the are an obscene number of games, from the original, to Seasons, Space and now Star Wars. The gameplay hasn’t really changed all that much, just a few tweaks here and there and a new skin each time.

As with the earlier versions, you fling your bird of choice into structures across the screen, trying to destroy the pigs that are dotted around them. The game uses a physics based system and in all honesty is nothing but a simple time waster. It isn’t a deep game when you first start playing, but try to get three stars on every level and you will sink a lot of hours into the game.

Being a quick pick up and play game, makes it ideal for Android and iOS devices, something to do on journeys, or during work breaks. Which makes a console version initially feel a little needless, especially when it is disk based. Yet there are a few things that work better on the larger screen.

First the graphics are crisp. It is so much easier to see what is needed in a level, as even zooming out, you get a better understanding of where to aim, simply because it isn’t being squeezed onto a minute screen. The other thing that works is the physical controls. Whilst touch screen is good for many things, when it comes to this sort of game, using the analog stick to aim and a button press to fire, just feels so much better, to the point it feels wrong going back to a touch screen.

As mentioned, the overall play is the same as it ever was, however the Star Wars theme allows for a few niceties compared to the standard editions. Hearing the various bits of music from the Star Wars universe never fails to raise a smile and the character models are well implemented too.

There are some very clever uses of abilities based on the characters from Star Wars, Yoda for example can use the force and fling objects across the screen, Hans Solo can shoot lasers, Luke can use a light sabre to break blocks and destroy pigs. In truth these are simple variations of what has come before, but it does work well.  Levels too show a decent understanding of the Star Wars universe.

Each environment is recognisable to any fans of the series, with levels grouped across various planets, progressing through Tattoine to the Death Star. Between levels there are various scenes set around the Star Wars films and will be instantly recongnisable to fans of the films. They are a little amusing, but do lack the charm of something like the LEGO Star Wars games, which also use the licence.

Angry Birds Star Wars isn’t the greatest of games, it is a tried and tested formula that offers little new and is cashing in on both its own success and the success of one of the biggest movie franchises in the world. It does however do what it does as well as it does. If you enjoy the franchise as a whole, then you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this version, but it is one for fans of the series only.

Remember Me Review

Altering memories, amnesia, a futuristic cityscape, whenever elements such as these are introduced to a game our initial thought goes to Total Recall. Maybe at first it feels like reaching for a comparison, but then you’re introduced to a character called Quaid, and you realise that it’s clear first time developers Dontnod Entertainment took a little inspiration from Hollywood. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ideas of its own, even if some are a little underdeveloped.

The story focuses on Nilin, a memory hunter who at the start of the game has no memories of what happened to her. The story then unfolds as Nilin joins forces with some guy called Edge and begins her quest to bring down mega corporation Memorize and regain her lost memories. When you’re dealing with this sort of plot it won’t come as a shock that some things aren’t quite what they seem and it certainly does intrigue enough to make it through the campaign.

On the surface Remember Me is very much a third person action game, taking cues from other games in the genre. Combat is almost reminiscent of Batman (albeit with its own more unique ideas) and platforming is very much in the Uncharted mould. The downside is it tries to ape these games, but fumbles more than it succeeds. Combat is the more interesting of the two, allowing you to build your own combo’s. Defeating enemies earns PMP which in turn helps unlock Pressens. These Pressen are used in the Combo Lab to create various combos, ranging from simple three button attacks to the more complex nine button strings. The more tactical aspect of creating combos are the various types of Pressens that can be unlocked.

“Power”, “Regen”, “Chain” and “Cooldown” are at your disposal. Power works exactly as it sounds, with Chain essentially doubling the impact of the previous Pressen in the combo. Regen is used to regenerate health and Cooldown is used to regenerate S-Pressen energy. S-Pressen’s being powers unlocked throughout the game, ranging from controlling robots to stunning every enemy around you. It’s combining these elements into combo’s that is at the core of Remember Me’s combat. Low on health? Quickly alter your combo to utilise more health regeneration sacrificing power in the process. It’s just a shame the feel of the combat is a little off.

The impact of each blow landing never feels like it’s hitting with much weight. Particularly when bouncing from enemy to enemy, it feels like the damage you’re doing is miniscule and you really need that feel of impact to communicate whether your combo is working as expected. Many times combos got broken because the correct button was pressed too late or soon. It’s a shame when the core concept is interesting and feels unique. This becomes most infuriating during the many mob encounters or boss battles where you will desperately need to chain together attacks to stay alive.

Platforming fares a little better, if it is a little too streamlined. There is always a yellow marker pointing you to directions on which you can climb, so it’s not exactly challenging, with the exception of the Uncharted-style set pieces that feel like the bargain basement alternative to Naughty Dog’s spectacle.

Spectacle being something that Remember Me is trying to accomplish. There are very few games out there that could benefit from a larger budget, this is one of them. It often feels like the ideas outweigh the amount of money available to the developers, the Neo-Paris setting is a beautiful world; it’s just not one that’s fully realised. First stepping out into the big city is a highlight, it’s just that further exploration of this world doesn’t flesh it out in any meaningful way.

The most interesting aspect of the game is the way Nilin is able to change characters memories. There are certain story beats requiring Nilin to enter the memories of people and changing what they remember, using this to change how people react and behave. When inside the memory you’re able to rewind and fast forward the memory, picking out certain elements in the environment and interacting with them, whether it be unfastening a seatbelt or moving a table. There are a number of objects to interact with in each scene and the key is to find out the correct pattern of interactions needed to complete the objective. These are clearly the most interesting element of the game, but are few and far between, and as they play into the main story they feel very linear in their design. Just imagine if you could change characters memories during battle, maybe gaining their trust, or take a leaf out of Syndicate’s book and making them commit suicide. It’s an idea that we wish was more fleshed out than what it is in the final game.

For a first time developer, Remember Me appears highly ambitious. And while it’s got some neat ideas it never quite does anything substantial with them, instead providing an enjoyable, if forgettable experience.

New Uncharted Announced for PS4

With the Playstation 4 just going on sale in the US, Sony took the time to unveil a teaser trailer for a new Uncharted game. The game was initially teased by Lord of the Rings actor Dominic Monaghan who last month said he was “excited for the new Uncharted” before later posting a picture of himself at the Naughty Dog offices.

Little is revealed, but Naughty Dog have said there are numerous hints within the trailer. The short tease (and we definitely mean tease!) is below.

 

Final Exam Review

You know the drill, you are attending your high school reunion and all of a sudden there is a sudden monster outbreak. Final Exam on the PS3 puts you right in the middle of that common scenario.

Final Exam is a sidescroller that’s starts with little plot yet lots of gameplay from Mighty Rocket Studio. With four playable characters to choose from the start each with their own special skills and upgradeable stats, there is a lot of bang for your buck. The ‘premise’ of the game is four former high school friends are heading back to school for a party when they are met by a monster infestation. Standard.

Each character within the game possesses a skill tree, which can be upgraded by completing certain objectives and clearing each level. These skills are health, damage & grenade/gun damage. You can also upgrade your special abilities too with new combos.

Once the game begins after you have chosen your character, it quickly holds your hand while showing you the basics. Sometimes when you start some games, the handholding aspect can overstay its welcome, thankfully here it manages it just right. Fighting in the game is via combos, which works well and allows moves to be strung together fairly easily with a charge move to belt enemies across the screen giving you some breathing space at the same time. Each character has a gun and grenades also, these come in very handy when being chased or cornered by a horde of monsters although ammo can be in short supply but you can pick up some more throughout the levels.

Final Exam is quite similar in design to Metroid or Castlevania with its level design, as you complete objectives such as taking something from one part of the level to another or simply to find something to assist you. Interestingly, while you are traversing through the levels, enemies come from all angles and if you have to climb a ladder to get to where you need, expect the enemies to follow. Beware picking up an item to take to another part of the level and walking away from any enemies that spawn as they will follow and attack until you stop and kill them.

There is no possible way of losing track of where you need to be within a level either as you have a handy guide pointing in the direction you need too. I found this really useful, as in Super Metroid I got lost quite a lot. Although in Final Exam you don’t have a map, its not needed with your guide anyway.

Graphically the game uses cartoon cuteness for the characters, levels are well drawn and really quite large too. For those completists among you, there are lots to pick up in each level. Don’t expect a lot of one on one enemy fighting as you get set up quite regularly by hordes of enemies which must be defeated in order to progress through the game. This has a tendency to bring a lot of amusing and satisfying moments, using enemies to smash into others, charging your moves to put some space between you all, giving you precious seconds to regroup. Combat is simple but very effective in Final Exam.

There is also both local and online multiplayer in the game, the only difference is more enemies to defeat and some more objectives also to balance out the extra player(s).

There is a demo available on PSN, PC & XBL which allows you to play the tutorial and the first chapter of the game either solo or coop. Overall, Final Exam is a fun game played solo or online or locally with others. Give it a try, you might just like it.

Team 17 Return to Third Party Publishing

Industry veterans Team17 are to re-enter the third-party publishing arena after a hiatus of almost two decades. For those who may not be aware Team17 started life as a publisher almost 23 years ago, publishing classics such as Alien-Breed, ProjectX, Superfrog, Assassin, ATR, Super Stardust, Apidya, Silverball and many more! This rich heritage resulted in the company being awarded the prestigious title of “Software House of the Year” in 1993 Golden Joystick Awards.

The first title to be signed and announced by Team17 is indie game Light, developed by Brighton creative Just a Pixel. The game is currently in Steam Greenlight being funded by Team17’s publishing team. Steam users can vote to have Light added to Valve’s Steam service here:  http://bit.ly/LightYes.

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Why now?
Ultimately, the timing is right; Team17 is in a very fortunate position with a wealth of personal experience to share. Team17 has an incredible community running into many millions that we can cross-promote within and raise awareness for new IPs and specifically indie games, which are very close to our hearts and something we stand up for. Team17 is home to an awesome digital publishing team who have topped every digital chart from PC, console and mobile over the last couple of years. Most importantly, Team17 make games as well and know first-hand just what it takes to make a game and take it to market correctly across all platforms.

Sounds good?
Team17 help you realise your game’s full potential, contact publishing@team17.com. Team17 will work with you directly to create tailor-made packages designed around your individual needs. These can include a wide range of professional services from funding, lifecycle management, brand building, audience cross-promotion, PR, marketing, localisation, QA and much more!

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About Light:
Light. Developed by Just a Pixel. © 2013. Published under license by Team17. Team17 are trademarks or registered trademarks of Team17 Digital Limited. All other trademarks, copyrights and logos are property of their respective owners.

About Team17 Digital Ltd:
Founded in 1990, Team17 Digital Limited is a leading independent developer and digital publisher headquartered in West Yorkshire (UK). Team17 publishes games for PC, console, mobile and handheld devices and other digital platforms. Visit www.team17.com for more info.

About Just A Pixel:
Just a Pixel is an indie developer based in Brighton founded in 2012. Visit www.justapixel.co.uk for more info.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts Review

As sure as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, when November rolls around you can expect a new Call Of Duty and 2013 is no exception with the release of Call Of Duty: Ghosts.

The thing with most of the ‘bigger’ titles being released right now is that we are getting current and next gen versions. Seeing as the PS4 and XBOX ONE aren’t quite ready for shipping yet, we’ll be looking at the current gen version, but hope to bring you coverage of the next gen version at some point.

One of the things that was noticed about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was that despite it being a great game, it was clear that it had pushed the PS3 to its limits, with some framerate and graphical issues. Here though on Call Of Duty: Ghosts there is no such issues, it clearly packs a punch in the visual stakes, but there doesn’t seem to be any hit on performance, which means the usual silky smooth experience.

As far as being a Call Of Duty game goes, this is pretty much by the numbers. The Call Of Duty series is the gaming equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie. It will do the over the top story which acts as a vehicle for huge set pieces where explosions and action happen on a near constant basis.

The opening of Ghosts starts with an apocalyptic event, which is played out through a couple of different perspectives, seen from on the ground and in space. The very opening part is impressive as you really are unsure exactly what is going on, earthquake? Terrorist attack? Natural disaster? The game then cuts to a new scene to explain exactly what has caused this event to happen. Much like the opening of a game like Half Life, you are pretty much on rails here, playing out a glorified interactive cut-scene. This is a good approach though, as it keeps you invested in the story setup better than a simple movie introduction would.

That is the thing about Call Of Duty though, it is essentially an action movie in the guise of a videogame. You are playing though various acts on a predefined path, you cannot alter the outcome. That is OK though, it is something that works for the game, whether you like that format or not, is your choice.

There is always the multiplayer options and there are two real options here, the traditional online action of the new alternative to Zombies in Extinction. As per the last round of Zombie, this is a mode that is a little bit Left 4 Dead mixed with Tower Defence elements. You can a partner basically take on waves of aliens.

You move through various sections taking down the incoming alien infestation, collection rewards for you efforts, which can then be used in turn to buy upgrades and special attacks. You have a skill tree to improve your character which, as well as the possibility of buying bigger and better attacks. The idea of teamwork is promoted heavily here, as with different classes available. The the mode is also a lot more enjoyable when played with friends, working together with well balanced classes as you move through the various levels.  This really is a bit of a standout mode for the game and where you can realistically spend much of your time.

The basic multiplayer is pretty much as you will remember, with tons of modes on offer for all ability levels. The maps on offer allow for fast paced close quarters combat. Some maps are stand out as really enjoyable, with a few duds in there also. You’ll soon get a feel for the ones you like.

New to the multiplayer is the chance to create various soldier types, you start with one, but can unlock new types the further you progress in multiplayer, by earning squad points. Each soldier can be a custom name, appearance and even create specific loadouts of each.

One thing that cannot be argued about a Call Of Duty game is just how stunning it looks and sounds. With a decent surround sound setup along with some amazing visuals, you really do feel like war is going on around you. Just moving around environments is impressive enough, but when everything goes south and there is destruction and all hell breaking loose, then you can really start to appreciate the efforts that go in to creating the special effects.

Because the game is fairly linear, is allows the developers to create some stunning looking set pieces. It isn’t open world, so what is happening around you can be concentrated on, without really worrying about what will happen if the player decided to leave the action and check out something in the distance. The team behind Call Of Duty have become masters of smoke and mirror.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts won’t be for everyone, but you know exactly what you are going to get. The single players offers a thrill a minute rollercoaster ride, whilst the multiplayer is as competitive as ever. Despite the next gen version waiting in the wings, the current gen version of Ghosts looks and plays as good as ever.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

A New Assassin’s Creed is upon us, but this time the series takes to the high seas and a swashbuckling adventure as we are introduced to Edward Kenway.

Some may argue that Assassin’s Creed II was the pinnacle of the series so far and they’d be right. It was the game that took the promise of the original and tightened everything up to create a fantastic experience. Assassin’s Creed III felt like more of  cash in, a game that seemed to be on a downward spiral and split opinion across the board.

Assassin’s Creed IV though hopes to bring the series back to the heights of its better days, creating a world and story that you don’t want to leave. It is a game that is being released on both current and next gen consoles and marks the first title to span this round of hardware generations.

At Gamestyle, as much as we’d love to wait for the PS4 version, we simply couldn’t, so we grabbed the PS3 release and set sail. The game has the usual setup, with you starting off fairly ill equipped for an Assassin, however the writing for the reasoning is much better here than in previous games. Edward isn’t actually an Assassin at all, the opening segment explains why he has donned the robes and why he is now on his mission and whilst it is a little cliche, it fits well for driving the story forward.

The opening hour or so of the game will see you introduced to the characters, the main plot of the story as well as the mechanics of the game, both new or old. Again as seems to be the trend right now, this is weaved into the game in such a way that it doesn’t feel much like a tutorial, with the mix between learning, narrative and gameplay combining well to immerse you into the world.

The environments are stunning too, probably the best looking game of the series so far and a fine way to bow out of this generation. However, there are some noticeable issues that show that this is a game that was geared towards the next gen. Whilst the game looks stunning, there were times where characters would clip through each other, the framerate would go from one extreme to the other and there would be other little graphical oddities.

During segments where you were running through built up areas, whether escaping capture, or chasing a target it got to a point where you would feel rather nauseous and disorientated. The need to take a few moments to look away from the screen just to gather yourself again. This is the clearest indication that this game is pushing the PS3 to its limits and beyond. We can’t wait to get our hands on the PS4 version just to experience the game again at its optimal performance levels.

The reason we want to play again, is that the core game is a joy to play, much like Assassin’s Creed II, Black Flag doesn’t feel like you are grinding through, or hoping for the end to make an appearance. Uncovering new areas, finding treasure maps, stalking and taking down targets, all feel great to do and you simply forget where the time goes, going on side missions because you want to, rather than feeling because you have to.

The game is still set in the Animus, but this time you aren’t playing as Desmond Miles and the Animus project has moved on to something that appears a bit more above ground. You now take on the role of a research analyst for Abstergo Entertainment, as you relive the memories of times past to open up stories to be used for entertainment. There are a couple of nods to the previous games, but these are more of a lip service than anything. Thankfully the bulk of the action takes place where you want it to, right in the past.

In fact, it is a shame that the need is there to still jump into the modern era at all. The adventure of Edward Kenway is strong enough to keep the game flowing on its own. It would be great to see the series just concentrate entirely on the the main part of the game, as there is enough world history for the writers to dip into that the modern day stuff will hopefully just fall by the wayside.

What makes the game such a joy to play is the freedom you get. It seems that the developers have learned from the mistakes of Assassin’s Creed III and removed a lot of the hand holding that ruined the experience. From the very beginning you can simply ignore the main mission, whilst you set off to get lost and go on a journey of discovery. Whether that be by land or by sea.

The times you spend on your ship are just as memorable as those on land. As you venture out to sea you really feel in control of an impressive vessel, you feel vulnerable whilst engaged in battle and mighty when simply sailing to discover new worlds. Chris Columbus had nothing on you, you are Master and Commander.

Combat on foot is excellent too, early on you feel as though you lack the advantage, you are of course without the skills and the arsenal to be the ultimate assassin. Yet as you progress you start to feel like you can control any situation, you have learned more skills, you have better weapons and are the one in charge.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the best of the series since the Assassin’s Creed II without any shadow of a doubt. The experience is broken a little by some current gen restrictions, but not enough to ruin the overall experience. It will clearly be a better experience on the PS4 than the PS3, but whilst you wait, you will have a wonderful time being a pirate!

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD (XBLA) Review

We are massive Castlevania fans at Gamestyle so any release of a game, even an HD overhaul of a portable title is going to get us excited. We quite liked the 3DS version so ventured forth with some intrigue to see if this port holds up as well.

For those unfamiliar with the original, this is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.

Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.

This was an utterly stunning looking game on the 3DS but the transition to the big screen hasn’t quite gone as well. Character models and animations seem a bit stilted at times and brutality seems to have lost some of its impact. The graphic novels tyle cut scenes seem somewhat odd in their new setting and losing the amazing 3D graphics is also a blow that the visuals never fully recover from.

The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. he strong sound is more effective on the big screen and the dramatic orchestral scores add a more serious and  sinister tone to the world.

The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.

Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress.  This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.

Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.

Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive, a shame as this could have been addressed from the 3DS version. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights – which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.

During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.

Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.

Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. It’s still that a dark and forbidding fairy tale told that worked so well on the 3DS. It doesn’t quite fit as well here but it does manage to create some of the same atmospheric, dark and brutal adventure and if more people get a chance to experience it then that can only be a good thing. Its home is clearly on the 3DS though.

Batman Arkham Origins Review

Batman is back for another round with the villains of Arkham. Gadgets, stealth, fisticuffs all return in this ‘prequel’

Arkham Origins would suggest that the third game in the Arkham series is a full prequel, an origins story. Why the Bruce Wayne became Batman. Yet it falls short of being that, what may have been a very interesting concept ends up being a by the numbers sequel with an excuse to bring back characters that may have been killed off in previous games.

The game starts with Batman trying to hunt down the main villain of the piece ‘Black Mask’. This intro obviously acts as a tutorials for newcomers, but also a way of telling the audience that this is indeed a prequel, with a different commissioner, and lines that suggest that Batman hasn’t yet become as well known as he is in the other games.

This opening segment is actually well done, as it introduces the various gadgets and mechanics of the game in short space of time, leading up to the first boss fight with Killer Croc. Batman has everything at his disposal and you are thrown right into the action.

The gameplay is the same as you will know and love from the other games in the series, with fights flowing in a natural organic way, as you combo from one villain to the other and once again you feel like you are the Dark Knight himself. Brushing off the legions of henchmen as they try to stop from completing your missions. Smashing the faces in of one guy, before vaulting over another, to kick another just never seems to get old and the Batman games have perfected this mechanism over the years, so much so that other games have tried to copy how the team have integrated free flow fighting, but without as much success.

The core concepts of the game remain and are still essentially broken up into traversing around the environment, before entering into glorified arena battles with various numbers of thugs, before reaching a boss fight and progressing the story. Some sections are full on out in the open fights, with others requiring you to take a more stealthy approach. These are arena battles, but the clever use of smoke and mirrors does a wonderful job of drawing you in and making you fully immersed.

Being the Batman means you have a whole arsenal of gadgets at your disposal and whilst most of these have been seen before, there are a couple of variations because of the timeline of the story. No Mr Freeze, means that cryo-grenades are replaced with concussion grenades. There are areas around Gotham that you can see where you need to use these gadgets, whether that be to get to new areas, unlock secrets or more, you know as per previous games that you will only get to these parts after upgrading your toys, which is now part and parcel of the series. It is tedious having to go through the same upgrades again and again, but that thirst for completion, that desire to have what you cannot initially obtain, drives you forward.

The world around you is vast and there is a lot of traversing to get from location to location and despite the use of fast-travel when certain points are unlocked, Origins, as with Arkham City seem to lose something when compared to the tighter quarters of Asylum. It doesn’t make the game tiresome, but the gaps between the real fun parts are far more dragged out. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the City felt alive, but it is simply a barren wasteland most of the time, bar the interactions with the various groups of thugs are pre-planned story driven moments.

As stated, the game really stands out in the combat sections and away from the main game, there are the challenge rooms, which literally take the best elements of the game and make a whole new game from them. Basically these are target driven scenarios where you attempt to beat the set criteria to earn medals, which in turn earn you XP which can be used for upgrades.

These are where you will have the best time, as the the action is concentrated into bite sized chunks and does away with the exploration side of things. There is a decent amount of variation here too which keeps things really fresh. The only down side is that these are locked until you reach certain points in the game, when it could have been a totally separate part of the game.

This entry into the series is the weakest of them all, but that is like comparing Disney Pixar films to each other. The worst Batman game is still better than most games that see the light of day, but the setting and storyline of Origins just feels like a bit of a misstep. Visually it is as stunning as ever, the combat is like a carefully considered choreography and there is a ton of content to keep you going. It’s never a bad thing to have more Batman in your life.