Indie Stuff

“That girl is an indie Cindy, Lego haircut and a polka-dot dress. I don’t care if she thinks she’s indie, how she’s different is anyone’s guess.” So sang Hadouken, a fairly awful band who redeemed themselves slightly through that lyric alone. While they were clearly singing about the age-old tradition of supposed non-conformists conforming to their particular group’s idea of non-conformity, the theory can also be applied to videogames – at least, if it absolutely has to be for this introduction to work.

Indie games are supposedly different somehow. They’re meant to be purer, made for the hardcore that can appreciate gameplay over big-budget graphics. Indie games are the honest hard-working games that are doing good things for the industry. But are they really? Is there actually that much difference between an indie game and one from a major developer, and should we even care about the distinction? Over the past five or so years, probably more now, we’ve been inundated with innovation. Or so people would have you believe. From the early days of Xbox Live Arcade we were being told there were gems to be found, but it wasn’t until a year or two later that Braid and the other first big hits from small teams started to appear. Super Meat Boy was an undeniable classic and Shadow Complex showed how polished these ‘indie’ games could be. For many console gamers it was possibly their first introduction to the idea of buying new releases at £10 price points with instant access via download. There was some element of novelty there. Pretty soon you had all the re-releases of old games, or re-workings of old ideas, making appearances too. People started realising what was possible and consumers gathered online to demand the games they wanted. ‘Release Return Fire!’ I shouted alone.

This online throng with their ‘Take My Money!’ memes were soon to have their metaphorical offers be all too gladly turned into real opportunities to hand over cash through the likes of Kickstarter. In some ways, Kickstarter is a great idea that allows people to create content for those that want it, without having to involve cash-grabbing middle-men who have their own ideas as to what people need. In other ways, Kickstarter can be a massive popularity contest where the personality involved is more important than the project. Sometimes it’s just a bit of a laugh, like the guy that raised thousands for his potato salad, and that’s fine, but are the general public really any wiser about choosing what deserves funding than the faceless corporations who tell us what we want?

No. That’s the answer. The general public, and I can’t stress this enough, are really fucking stupid. Look at the government. We, or at least the majority of the population that unfortunately represent ‘we’, put those people in charge. You can’t trust us with anything and if deciding what videogames get made is important to you, then you shouldn’t trust us with that either. I am, of course, not saying everything that’s crowd-funded is shit, just that a lot of it is and there’s a weird refusal to say so that isn’t there with traditionally funded games. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe people feel more empathy for the Shoreditch-based software start-up that some hipster and his mates put together with their parent’s money before turning to you for a couple of million so they could make their ‘gorgeous’ pixel-art puzzle platformer where you shift time in silhouette, with Oculus support for another 500k. If so, why?

Why, also, should I give a fuck who makes a game? When did these people become celebrities? I want the faceless, dull geniuses back. So often I hear that so and so is involved with this, or that they’ve moved over here to do something else and I just think, why should I care? I came for the games, not the people that make them. This isn’t music or movies where the people involved are actually in the product. When you play a game you’re not watching the programmer perform in any literal way, although I suppose you could make some wanky argument that you are if you’re incredibly pretentious about coding.

In recent years the indie gaming ‘scene’ (which is an incredibly annoying term) has become like a ridiculous parody of itself. One, perhaps genuinely talented, person or company will make a half decent game and then there’ll be another ten or more ripping it off for a quick cash-in. While there is still some true innovation, that a lot of people seem to believe only indies can provide, there is also a huge amount of crap that is somehow finding funding, not through merit, but through the popularity of the person behind it. That cool guy with a million Twitter followers, who has the jovial personality for podcasts, will always get the funds for his derivative piece of pretty whereas the nerdy 14-year-old genius who might be the next Miyamoto won’t be given the chance because he’s not cool enough. This is the danger with these things; it’s all about exposure and the people that are the best at getting it are seldom the people that should.

Those faceless corporations offered a form of curation for the industry that’s slowly eroding. It’s better now that it’s easier for more people to make games but we need to ensure that it’s the right people. There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of hipsters making a game, if it’s good then great and if it’s not it will eventually be found out. Let’s not make it about the people though, let’s make it about the talent and the product. In the old days, when it was hard to get into the industry, all you had was your skill to prove yourself to a company who would judge you accordingly and may or may not give you a job and therefore the opportunity to make a game. It didn’t matter what you looked like or how popular you were. There were many downsides to this but it did mean that we got the best people making our stuff. Now you need to be a ‘self-facilitating media node’ to even get your foot in the door.

People will back whatever they want and that’s their right, all I’m saying is: ‘be careful.’ Think about what you’re giving your money to as much as whom. There are some fantastically talented people who want to make you great games but there are just as many who want you to pay for this generation’s shovelware. Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general can be an incredibly powerful and democratic thing that will provide us with great games we might not otherwise see, but only if we use it in the right way. That means funding what we want, not who we like. At the same time, let’s not forget or ignore those faceless corporations who still churn out some great stuff from time to time. If it weren’t for the Nintendos and Capcoms and Konamis, these cool kids would have no one to rip off.

Now, who wants this tenner to make Return Fire for the Wii U?

 

Final Fantasy XV Preview

This is not your father’s Final Fantasy. There is no ATB, no magic, junctioning or materia, no Prelude. No job system, no battle transition and Victory Fanfare only plays after a good night’s sleep.

This is also not Kingdom Hearts. This is not a button-spam, dodge-happy, camera-crazy brawler masquerading as an RPG. In fact, it’s entirely too easy to define Episode Duscae by what it isn’t, because as a demo of a game nine years in development and generously described as “60 percent complete”, Duscae is little more than a tease.

What can we tell you? Episode Duscae is named for the region in which the demo takes place, a sprawling marshland filled with gargantuan beasts, scrappy scavengers and the occasional imperial dropship of magitek robots. With so many elements purposefully kept absent from the demo, there remains a handful of key takeaways: graphical fidelity and the stability of the game engine, the adaptation of the franchise and getting to grips with the combat mechanics.

There is one thing that is immediately apparent in the demo: Duscae looks incredible. Following on from the suffocating corridors of XIII and the roster of smartphone titles similarly for little but to discredit the brand, Duscae opens to the kind of expansive environment that feels appropriately unknown. Grass and banners twist in the wind, textures are crisp and palpable and the bestiary is as impressive as any eight-armed Gilgamesh. The landscape is convincing and intriguing to explore, and it is a joy to wander.

But the demo is not without blemishes. While the main cast and enemies are glorious, incidental humans look distinctly 360-standard, with unconvincing animation and poses that are at odds with their environment. Worse, Duscae suffers from moments of excessive slowdown, be it more understandably during some of the more evocative moments or just walking down sparse roads. How reflective the demo will be of the full game remains to be seen, but the amount and severity of slowdown is cause for concern enough.

Duscae has been “shielded” from the main storyline, save for some loading screen blurb about visiting the archaean Titan in Cauthess, a premise that is never clarified. In lieu, you’ll glean insight into the main party cast of Prompto, Gladiolus, Ignus and main character Noctis through a handful of cut scenes and a lot of incidental dialogue. Contrary to their boy band image – of which Gamestyle insists is no less ridiculous than your average Master Chief or Marcus Fenix – your compatriots are affecting company. Derived strictly from anime tropes, the work put into making them distinct shines through, from their dialogue to their running animation and mid-battle tactics.

More disappointing is the somewhat regressive Cindy, the busty open-top, short-shorts mechanic at equal ease with a CDR valve as she is with the party’s lingering gaze and staid flirting. While it remains to be seen whether there is a justifiable stance on Cindy, or indeed whether it warrants justification, as a character to stand in their own right but it is a shame that the demo approaches its close with such a step backwards after showing so much promise.

However the meat-and-potatoes of the demo are firmly in giving players their first taste of combat. An early combat tutorial gives three main instructions: hold L1 to dodge, hold square to attack and press cross to warp. Director Hajime Tabata has stated that his vision for the combat is less focused on technique selection and more on timing and spatial and environment awareness and after experiencing it firsthand, we can see the potential. While holding down square will see you through most battles, players will miss out on the flair and panache of mastering switching between evade, attacking and adjusting their weapons that are sequenced in your attack will leave you all the more satisfied. Duscae is also keen on encouraging intimate knowledge of its combat mechanics, providing as much as 250 percent additional experience for rounds with multiple parries and no damage taken. Needless to say but as we have done so excessively in this paragraph, Gamestyle is very keen on the combat. However we will make one concession to the message board dwellers; the tutorial is underwhelming and wholly inadequate.

Clearing the main demo will take approximately 120 minutes, although fully rinsing the demo brings this closer to five hours. There are a myriad of collectables, optional bosses and some hidden details when you take advantage of some of the demo’s bugs. It is a lot of money if you’re not interested in Type-0, the game in which it is exclusively bundled with, and while Gamestyle can’t necessarily recommend forking out £25 on eBay for an elusive code, Episode Duscae is a very enticing, very promising glimpse into what might be the far future. It is an ideal demo, generating little but hype. Consider Gamestyle hyped.

Block N Load Preview

I can’t think of a game in recent years that has left me as conflicted as the Block N Load beta. I spend much of my time getting frustrated with odd crashes and minor bugs, but clearly forgiving them as this is a beta, then all of a sudden just having a wonderful time. Yet finishing up unable to decide if I want to play the full release or not.

So what is Block N Load? You see, that is where things are difficult, because it is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

It is part Minecraft, part tower defense, part FPS. It is as though fans of Minecraft, Team Fortress 2 and Orcs Must Die all got together and couldn’t quite decide on the best overall concept for their game, thus went for throw everything into the mix and see what happens.

Yet, at the same time, that is doing the game a major disservice, because despite the mix of genres, it feels like a coherent experience. Not perfect, still needing a lot of work, but coherent none the less and that is because the team managed to gate off each of the mechanics really well.

The set up allows you to build and set up defenses to help protect your base or help achieve one of the many goals depending on game type, once that timer hits zero it becomes all out war as the fast and frantic action takes over.

Once again the FPS mechanics aren’t overly complicated and fit well with the pick up and play style of the game, using the well known controls to allow you to jump right in. The fact that the FPS part of the game is competent helps keep the game fun, as you never really feel like you are fighting against sub par mechanics.

In the beta there are a healthy amount of environments to battle in and six character types which do a fine job of adding variation to each session, in fact thus far the claims of the developers that no two games will be the same has pretty much rang true, but it will be interesting to see if that holds up later down the line.

I managed to put a good number of hours into the beta and I’m torn, I really don’t feel any particular need to keep playing right now, but I am looking forward to the full release and will certainly dip back in to see where this ends up.

This works as a taster, but we do recommend just waiting and seeing what the full game turns out like.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Review

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is a visual novel coupled with a take on strategy role playing, from Toybox Inc. It tells its tale across thirteen self-contained episodes, each lasting around 30 minutes to an hour, which makes it nice for a quick pick up as you know you won’t be committed for too long.

Each chapter follows a basic premise, whereby someone has a problem with a ghost and your crack team head to the location to put the ghoul to rest. The story is not complex, however each episode held my interest, and is well written. A modicum of interactivity is provided via the rare choice, and the expression wheel that occasionally appears. This allows you to express yourself by choosing an action, shown as a heart or a fist for example, and then one of five body parts. This had no real impact on the story however; no matter what choices I made my character appeared to be a massive pervert or douchebag. The wheel did not make it clear what action I was likely to be taking, thus following numerous failed attempts to do the right thing, such as comfort or handshake someone, which ended up trying to fondle them instead so I gave up and went for the kiss option every time for my own personal amusement.

After all the talking, the hunt to bust the ghost begins. The battle is primarily presented via a top down view of the location, and icons representing your team and ghosts (when you can see them). Each of your squad has a number of action points that are used to move, change facing, and perform actions, and once the orders have been given both your team and the ghosts enact their moves at the same time. This leads to combat being quite random as it is hard to predict where the enemies are going to move to; even though it gives you a predicted conal effect they don’t always move as far as you expect and you often find yourself attacking empty space. A turn limit also applied to each encounter, so missing with attacks is frustrating and I found myself running out of time on a few occasions. If one of the ghost hunters or a foe is successful with an attack, the camera switches to a first person view of the team member involved, and damage is dealt accordingly. It may be that the randomness of the combat is to add to the suspense however it was just annoying and it often felt like I was unnecessarily wasting time.

Upon vanquishing the ghost there’s some more talking, the client’s problems are conveniently resolved, and the credits for that episode roll. The monster of the week format works well here, and the TV style presentation did make me smile.

Between missions you can upgrade your team’s items and buy traps to make combat easier, but the interactivity of the game is lacking and there is little replay value once completed.

The presentation is good and lots of detail has gone into the character portraits during the visual novel sections, a personal favourite was the shopkeeper whose hair and apron were, inexplicably, blowing in the wind. The music is rocky and catchy, and I found myself humming along on a few occasions.

Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters fills me with mixed emotions. I enjoyed the simple story, however the combat is too random to be enjoyable. Those looking for an easy to follow story will get something out of it, just don’t expect to do so twice.

Armello Preview

The king is dying from a mysterious infection and demonic creatures stalk the land. The animal clans are at each others’ throats and only one faction can seize the throne. It’s an instantly appealing setup for a digital board game of shameless opportunism and back stabbing, evoking fond memories of old classics like Moonstone and Talisman. In our Lets Play from a few weeks back we gushed about the production values on display in Armello, its lavish Saturday morning cartoon intro, slick UI and high quality artwork. This isn’t a ropey, cut and run Early Access project, the developer’s enthusiasm and belief in the game shows in every detail.

Four players wander around a hex grid kingdom completing quests, playing spell and item cards and stomping over each other’s ambitions. It’s engaging just clicking around, exploring the board, getting in scraps and soaking up the atmosphere even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing. A limited tutorial flashes up context sensitive advice and explanations but new players are left in the dark when it comes to basic strategies to follow. Even the in game manual has trouble walking you through the more intricate mechanics and I had to fall back on the currently incomplete developer wiki at times.

The Quest system presents further confusion. Character specific quests crop up in random locations requiring player stat checks to complete them, but there’s no indication of the probabilities involved. Even when the outcome text describes abject failure the game frequently still rewards you for the effort. Exploring dungeon spaces on the board is equally problematic, a random chance of reward or penalty but without an explanation of the balance of possibilities. This is compounded by clumsy execution, quest information doesn’t show up while other players are taking their turns’ leaving you feeling isolated and uninvolved. Infuriatingly the screen doesn’t always centre on players at the start of their turn, exacerbating the problem as they scamper about off screen. After four sessions I still wasn’t sure if this was down to my fidgeting with the mouse and keyboard or an inconsistency within the game itself. Coupled with a limited field of view that fogs out the further you pull the camera back, it starts to feel like the tabletop and videogame aspects of Armello are two sides that don’t fully mesh.

Beneath these surface irritations there’s a great deal of substance for players with the patience to uncover and decipher Armello’s many overlapping systems. There are stealth rules, AI factions roaming the battlefield, a day and night cycle and multiple win conditions. The themes of decay and corruption in the back story are superbly depicted with a mechanic involving the mysterious ‘Rot’ infection where a losing player might find themselves in a stronger position after multiple deaths. Players are rarely truly out of the game and the potential for massive upset and snatch victories is always lurking in the multiple card decks.

Like all Early Access multiplayer games, there’s a cloud hanging over Armello. Over my time with the game, I failed to find an open multiplayer match and played mostly against the AI. Private matches proved effortless to set up and while this is a game that shines when played with friends it still needs an active online community. There’s always the worry that the core community might move on before the final release. That would be a great shame as this is a deep, cut-throat game, albeit one that still needs some work. It’s unclear at this point how much will change before the official release but Armello is a game that shows great potential.

GAMESTYLE PLAYS VIDEO

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review

Seriously, Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas may as well have started with that famous quote and dressed its main character in green, such are the clear influences from a certain series. What’s more, this is a port of an iOS game, which should lead me to a rant about how awful this game is and how it doesn’t deserve any of your hard earned money.

But beyond all my expectations, I couldn’t help but love Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, because if you are going to make a game that sits in the same genre as a Zelda game, then you may as well go all in. Zelda is the best game at being Zelda, there is no doubt about that, there is very, very little you can do to change the format and still be good and the developers at Cornfox & Bros to their credit know this and run with it.

What stands out is that despite the clear influence, Oceanhorn has a charm all of its own; the characters are their own style, the story differs enough from the Zelda games, the worlds, whilst similar, also feel like their own thing and rather than feeling like a ripoff clone, it feels like a game made by a team who loved the Zelda games and wanted to show how much by making something themselves and you know what? They only went and nailed it.

The other fear I had was knowing this came from an iOS background, that is something that really did set alarm bells off in my head, because my past experience with iOS adventure games ported to consoles and PC has never been great. But aside from a few UI instances that feel built for mobile, the overall experience works wonderfully with both keyboard & mouse and a controller. It feels like a console or PC quality Indie game, so once again huge kudos to the devs there.

It almost feels like a pointless exercise going over the various game mechanics, because you will immediately feel at home with them. Certain actions are bound to certain keys; from melee attacks, shields, range attacks, potions, items, etc it feels very familiar and adds to the experience exceptionally well.

The length and pacing of the game is spot on too, there is around 10-15 hours of content here depending on how much exploring you wish to do and the sense of discovery and progression is finely balanced so that you never once feel bogged down in a certain area, or that you might be missing something.

The one influence that does feel a little cheap though, is the sailing sections, which are right out of Windwaker and Phantom Hourglass. It is both this and the reveals of opening chests where I sat back in my chair and thought to myself…”This is going a bit close to the sun”

Where the rest of the game feels like a loving homage, these two things come across as a straight ripoff and despite being well done, it does put a minor downer on things.

However, it is only a minor downer and if you are a fan of Zelda games but don’t own a Nintendo console, then pick this up instantly, it really is a fine game in its own right. If you do own a Nintendo console and love the Zelda games…well pick this up and enjoy something you already love!

Game of Thrones Episode Three: The Sword in the Darkness Review

It might have taken three of the six episodes in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, but it finally feels like the game is doing the source material justice. The Sword In The Darkness is quick-moving, tense and full of difficult decisions made by people under unfair pressure. Just like the books and the TV show.

The episode opens in Essos, where Asher is trying to get to Meereen to raise an army of sellswords so he can go home and help his family. He’s accompanied by his friend Beskha and his uncle Malcolm, and pursued by his enemies The Lost Legion. It’s a great opening section: there are actions I took that make me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken them; there are difficult decisions to make, including one where I made a choice I didn’t want to make because I thought it was the ‘right’ thing for the character to do; and those decisions lead to surprising consequences. I was fairly sure what the consequence of my action would be, knowing how events usually play out in A Song Of Ice And Fire, but I was wrong. Something unexpected happened. Not shocking, as is often the case, but unexpected nonetheless. And because I was wrong about what the consequence of my actions would be, it’s safe to say that there’ll be even more unexpected consequences leading from it further down the road. All of which makes me wonder if I ought to have made a different choice.

That’s exactly what I want from this game. I’m not interested in insta-death sections that make me retry a sequence. I want to be constantly wondering if I’ve screwed things up beyond salvage. Right from the start, The Sword In The Darkness gives me that. It’s not all good, mind you. The opening section has more of the dreaded QTE elements, but I really should stop complaining about that. Telltale clearly like them, so they aren’t going away. Ditto with the other things I hate about the series: the ugly oil painting effect and the shoddy frame rate (actually, I’m not certain Telltale like the frame rate, but they’re either unwilling or unable to do anything about it). Having said that, the oil painting effect seems lessened in this episode, and the QTEs don’t seem as frequent or as irritating. Perhaps I’m just used to them now though.

The opening section doesn’t outstay its welcome, and just as I’m wondering whether I’ve screwed up royally, I’m playing as the other characters in swift succession. Telltale’s writers really seem to have found their stride with this episode. Mira’s politicking in King’s Landing is creating more problems than it’s solving, and my attempts to smooth over issues caused by decisions I made in previous episodes are only causing more difficulties for her. Gared’s settling in at the Wall, making his vows, and becoming brothers with the other Night’s Watch, when all of a sudden his uncle Duncan appears to bring the issue of the North Grove up again. I’m glad he did, as I’ve been waiting for that to happen, but since I’ve kept it secret from everyone but Duncan, it places Gared in an awkward position. He’s supposed to have forsaken all his previous ties to House and family, but now here’s this mystery rearing its head and causing internal conflicts for him (and me). And later on another wrinkle occurs that could really cause problems for him in the future.

Rodrick’s situation in Ironrath isn’t getting any easier either. Possibly based on my screwing things up in the previous episode, the Forresters’ situation is more tenuous than ever, and things are getting even worse as more Whitehill soldiers arrive and start throwing their weight around. More difficult decisions need making, and there’s a definite sense that no matter what decision I make it’s not going to solve all the problems. Or even any of them, knowing Westeros. It’s unfair and I love it.

Well, I mostly love it. The few problems I have tend to boil down to situations where I don’t know what I’m choosing between and don’t trust the options I’m given to properly represent what I want to happen.

This happens in other games too – in the first Mass Effect I wanted to arrest a criminal, so chose an option that said something like “he can’t be allowed to just walk away from this” which resulted in Shepherd shooting the criminal in the face, which caused me to swear at the game quite a lot – and it’s no less irritating in Game of Thrones.

The biggest offenders in The Sword in the Darkness are Rodrick’s choices. I never quite knew if he was going to say what I thought the text choice suggested, or if he was going to do something else. It occasionally felt like the characters had been talking about whether to go left or right, and then the choices I was given were between ‘this way’ and ‘that way’. Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often (and I guess it’s possible I’m reading too much into the choices anyway so it may not be a problem for most people), but it puts a bit of a dampener on an otherwise tense and compelling episode for me.

Having said that, I thought this episode was much better than the previous one, and it’s so much better than the first episode that it doesn’t really feel like it was written by the same people. With The Sword in the Darkness it finally feels like things are moving. The choices I made in previous episodes are having consequences, the choices I made in this episode felt difficult and weighty, and when something happened I didn’t want to happen, I was wondering whether it was my fault. In fact, I’m going to have to start another playthrough right now, all the way from the beginning of episode one, just to see if I can make the ‘best’ choices.

Game Of Thrones Episode Two: The Lost Lords Review

But with no new George R. R. Martin novel due this year, and with weeks remaining until the TV show returns for season 5, Telltale have a monopoly on new A Song of Ice And Fire content, so I slightly reluctantly jumped back in for episode two.

I’m glad I did. The Lost Lords solves many of the technical problems I had with Iron From Ice, and is an all-round improvement. When I finished episode one, I couldn’t see how my choices stacked up against other players’ in-game. I got a rather terse message telling me to go to Telltale’s website. That’s fixed for episode two (and I checked episode one again, out of curiosity. It’s fixed there too), with all my choices present and correct, along with a percentage of other players who made the same decisions I did. That was another problem I had with episode one: when I did go to Telltale’s website, only two of my choices had been recorded. There was a well-publicised issue with the Xbox One version of the game where it would forget any choices you might have made in the previous episode, but I didn’t experience that either. Everything worked as it ought to. The animation seems better than it was in Iron From Ice, too. I didn’t see any characters randomly spasming or disappearing and appearing this time, although character movements are still a bit stiff and unnatural.

The pace of the episode is better than in the first instalment. There are more characters (four, as opposed to three last time) and the game moves between their stories much more frequently. Last episode I had a real problem with Gared, whose story was deathly boring. This episode, he’s got slightly more interesting things to do. Mind you, his is still the least interesting plotline, and it’s unclear how it’s going to tie into the larger narrative, but it’s a definite improvement.

It’s not all good news though. Several issues that I had with the first episode are still annoying me. The frame rate is still lousy (which is a rather poor show given the Xbox One’s power and makes me wonder if the Telltale Tool, which Telltale use to make their games, might be just too long in the tooth these days). Occasional lines of dialogue stutter or restart. The “oil painting come to life” effect that Telltale have chosen for textures and backgrounds is still incredibly ugly to my eyes and makes it look even more like the game is melting. Worst of all, the insta-death quick time events – which I hated in Iron From Ice – aren’t just present, they’re everywhere. Previously, they were only in Gared’s part of the story. Now every character has them, and they are spread pretty evenly throughout the entire episode. In a type of game which is all about shaping the narrative through your choices, having an instant fail state is jarringly out of place. It wouldn’t be so bad if you still managed to survive whichever encounter the QTE took place in, but there was another consequence. That’s what happens with the dialogue choices after all, which are really just another type of QTE. But instead, if you fail one of them, you die and have to retry. It’s irritating, it doesn’t fit the game, and it’s very disappointing to see Telltale increasing their frequency.

But what of the story? It’s the most important thing in Telltale games, after all. In my opinion, The Lost Lords’ story is a definite improvement over the previous episode’s. I thought Iron From Ice’s story was dull when you were Gared, who had nothing of any interest to do and had all the QTE’s. I found playing as Ethan better than Gared, but his plotline felt rather like a fanfiction story. All the ‘Game Of Thrones’ aspects were present and correct, but they were rather predictable. The game was at its most interesting when you were Mira, politicking in King’s Landing.

This episode, things are much better. Gared still doesn’t have any real agency, but at least he’s acquitting himself better than the bumbler he was last time. He’s at the Wall, meeting other new recruits and rubbing shoulders with Jon Snow.

Asher Forrester, one of the two new characters this episode introduces, is the dull one this time around. He’s in Yunkai, and is summoned home to help with the situation at Ironrath. The problem is, he needs an army to do so, and he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t get one this episode, either. He doesn’t get much of anything done, but at least he has a companion to chat to. The banter he shares with this companion, Beshka, is often easy and amusing (and always well-acted) but occasional lines fall flat and seem a bit heavy handed. Overall, Asher’s story is inconsequential but it’s better than nothing, and better than Gared’s was in the first episode.

Mira’s story is still the most interesting, seeing the player navigating the deadly currents of King’s Landing. It’s eased off a bit from last episode, although you do get to see the consequences of some of your previous choices, which is very satisfying. And Tyrion makes another scene-stealing appearance which is always welcome.

The final playable character is Rodrick Forrester. Believed dead through all of episode one, he’s returned to Ironrath grievously wounded, and has to pick up the pieces left by his brother Ethan’s fateful run in with Ramsay Bolton at the end of episode one. He’s also got to bury his dead, court a prospective wife and manage the presence of enemy soldiers in his home. It’s a tricky situation, and the one in which The Lost Lords feels like a genuine Game Of Thrones plot, rather than a weaker version of the Stark family’s story. Rodrick’s story is the one that affected me most, even to the point of me getting something ‘wrong’ and wanting to play it again to see if I could change the outcome. It also has the least quick time events of any of the plotlines, which is a huge relief.

Overall though, very little of consequence happens in The Lost Lords. This episode feels very much as though it’s preparing for some bigger events to come, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does mean that some will feel short changed by the dearth of decent ‘moments’ in this episode: it’s all very low-key, even when it’s trying to be dramatic. Personally, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the first episode, but that’s an opinion I’m not certain most people will share.

I’m a bit cynical about Telltale’s ability to pull off anything very interesting with this series: they can’t change the events of the show, so nothing too momentous can happen. That means the story will have to be more intimate, but so far the Forresters feel like a weak copy of the Starks with a dash of a couple of other families thrown in. They don’t really have their own identity. There were a couple of glimpses of interesting character developments in this episode, but glimpses won’t be enough to sustain an entire season of the game. It will be interesting to see if Telltale can make me care about what happens to them, especially if the next episode’s release date comes after the new series of the TV show premieres. At the moment, I’m feeling relatively positive for the next episode: I want to see what happens with Rodrick and Mira. Gared’s still pretty bland, and Asher will need to do more than just swan around Essos bantering with his companions, but by the end of episode two there’s a feeling that something’s building. Let’s hope it doesn’t build for much longer before it starts to deliver.

 

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Review

I have played most of the Final Fantasy games over the years, missing out the MMORPG affairs and sucking so badly at others that I had to give it up as a bad job. I have only completed 3 of the games though.

The first being Final Fantasy VII, which was my first foray into this world, followed by Final Fantasy VIII and then going back to Final Fantasy III. I have come close to finishing others, such as Final Fantasy X, but always hit a point where it was just too much effort to push through and knowing I had other responsibilities.

Why am I giving a brief rundown of my Final Fantasy history? Well because Type-0 was a glaring omission on my part, a giant gaping hole that mocked me from afar. My first introduction to this game was in a busy and difficult period of my life, I knew of it, but also knew I would never have the time to get into it.

So fast forward a few years and here it is, the HD remaster of one of my major missing blocks and it isn’t coming to the Vita, despite being a PSP game. I was angry, I was dissapointed, but I sucked it up though and jumped in to the Xbox One version.

What is the first thing I can say? Well it is certainly a Final Fantasy game, sitting through long drawn out cut-scenes with nonsensical dialog and writing, which surround rare glimpses of gameplay and end up really frustrating you.

But, you watch it anyway, because you know at some point things will open up and the balance shifts quite drastically. Honestly though, I really didn’t care for the characters this time around, they didn’t stand out to me like those from other games and the writing was almost painful. So yeah, it is a Final Fantasy alright.

One thing you can never do, is compare another game to a Final Fantasy, it’s not like playing a tactical team based first person shooter and describing it as ‘like Battlefield’. Because you can barely describe one Final Fantasy game as similar to the another and it is the case here.

Type-0 HD is an ARPG, which sets it apart from many of the mainline releases. The real time battle system works a treat as you control a single member of your party, whilst the AI controls the other two. You can switch between members on the fly and use this system against some of the harder enemies.

What really impresses is the AI characters in your party, unlike in a lot of games where there is an over reliance on AI, this does a great job of making sure your party members are actually being helpful and not just getting in the way.

You have a choice of 14 different members to take with you two at a time and each has their own unique strengths, weaknesses and personalities. You’ll want to be sure to have a ranged character and a melee character in the party and get that balance right, especially when taking on the tougher enemies, but when one dies reserves can be called up.

Now there are two things at opposite ends of the scale, one that really impressed and one that was as annoying as hell. So let me start with a bit of a moan.

To go into a mission you have to go through a tedious process of walking the halls of the academy (where the story is set) and get to a door leading to the overworld. You need to do this time and time again, with no apparent way to just skip this and get there from a menu, it adds a level of tedium that more often than not has you thinking about whether it is worth starting the next mission quite yet, or just taking a break.

But on the flip side, there aren’t any two main missions that ever feel like they are copies of each other with slight adjustments to the layout. Each one feels very fresh and often there are some real changes to the mechanics, such as taking control of a cannon in first person to take down a crap ton of dragons.

It is a bit pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it works and just about breaks up the monotony of grinding certain areas.

The final thing to cover is the HD port itself. As this is certainly two sides of a coin. Some of the upgraded visuals are stunning, with character models lovingly updated to look like they fit in a modern HD game, but on the flip side, others look like they were handed off to the intern or work-experience kid to do.

This wouldn’t be as big an issue if both weren’t often in the same scenes, as it really does become jarring. The other minor annoyance is with the camera, which has a load of effects that can make you feel a little sick if exposed to it for too long.

Overall though, if you are a fan of ARPG or the lore of Final Fantasy, then you can’t go far wrong with Type-0 HD, it has many flaws, but the overall enjoyment factor will certainly outweigh that.

Gamestyle LIVE – The Ideas Men

Brad, Steve and Andrew take a break from the negative side of gaming and the serious discussion and look at the good ideas that appear in games.

Ideas that have stood out in bad games, ideas that have made a game even better and maybe even as couple of their own.

The still can’t help themselves though and have a bitch and moan about Ubisoft, but also remember that this is the one true Jekyll and Hyde company.

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Victor Vran Preview

Well, you do now) first foray into the murky, bloody, button mashy, loot pooping world of action role playing games. And if there’s something gaming needs it’s ARPGs, because loot really does make the world go round. Shut up, it does.

Well, it needs ARPGs like Victor Vran, because reasons. Like when looking to redefine the key bindings and preparing my Razr Orbweaver and mouse for a sound button mashing, I noticed there was a pad configuration option. Diablo III on consoles worked incredibly well and it makes me a little sad that Blizzard have no plans to put the pad control method into the PC version, but that’s probably because it would take some major ground up reworking the UI and what have you. So having that in Victor Vran was a pleasant surprise.

Going by the boss battle in the first dungeon you encounter, the pad seems to be the control method that the developers want you to use, because dodging (mapped to LB on the 360 controller) is completely essential to staying alive. The addition of a dedicated jump button and mapping a movable camera just adds weight to the notion, especially in a genre where a locked isometric camera is the norm. How notoriously change averse PC gamers will take to that remains to be seen.

Much of the game is business as usual. You stomp through the various gothic looking locations, laying waste to all and sundry and looting their corpses for weapons, potions and gold. The combat is a little lacking in feedback, but is generally fine with you being able to switch between two weapons sets each with 3 moves. Dodge and jump can be used to ‘cancel’ abilities, and switching between weapons while hacking up the evil hordes becomes a skill worth learning to make the most of the cooldown periods.

There are no classes as such, nor skill trees. Haemimont have taken a rather daring approach, letting the loot drops enable creativity to take precedence in your builds. With the attack abilities being locked to the weapon types, the variety comes from mixing your two weapon loadouts. In addition, there are varieties of potions, outfits and Demon Powers (essentially super abilities) to equip into one of the two dedicated slots for each type. The downside to this is you have to wait for the loot drops rather than unlock them through considered skill tree management, but it has the potential to be a very flexible system.

The last component to the character build is Destiny Cards, which add variables like critical hit chance, extra health, extra damage and the like. Each one has a fixed cost, and you can equip as many as you want as long as you have the slots and you don’t exceed the amount of Destiny Points you have to spend.

Victor Vran is an interesting prospect. It brings some intriguing variation to a well tread genre in the character building, if not the combat. But there’s something missing, some spark that makes it fall short of being a compulsive bugger, preventing it from really sinking it’s teeth into you and refusing to let go. In its current state the compulsion to grind gear and replay areas isn’t there. In theory the challenges for each area are a good idea for replayability, but the rewards don’t make it worthwhile. Hopefully Haemimont can find that elusive compulsion with tweaks and balances to what’s already there.

If you want to try the game in Early Access you can get it HERE

 

GS Plays: Warlocks vs Shadows (Steam)

Brad is joined once again by Steve as the have a look at Oceanhorn… sorry, we mean Warlocks.

Both guys jump into Warlocks knowing absolutely nothing about the game they are about to play, but leave wanting to see more once it leaves Early Access.

There is a nice amount of humour and the game itself is pretty easy to play; doing what you want from an Early Access title, leaving you interested enough to go back later.

It was called Warlocks when we played it, but is now apparently called Warlocks vs Shadows. We may be wrong, but we don’t think we are.

It’s Adventure Time!

Anyway, check the video below!

Warlocks is in Early Access on Steam

GET IT HERE

 

Watch Now

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Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time Review

Following on from the events of episode one, it sees Max further trying to get to grips with her newfound power, now with the help of her rekindled friendship with Chloe. As the episode progresses it appears to show that the constant use of time manipulation may be starting to take its toll on the body and mind of Max.

Everything I loved about the first episode is thankfully present. The indie movie aesthetic is here, complete with excellent music choices and art style, and the continuing story of Max is an interesting one.

However, what I hated also makes a most unwelcome return. I’ve come to the conclusion that my main issue with the time travel mechanic (that it doesn’t make sense if you stop and think about it) will never change. As I already said in the previous episode’s review, if you hold LT then time rewinds around you with the exception of Max who stops in a stationary place, something that the game plays fast and loose with. Though in the games defense the puzzles rely on it working this way, as with each rewind, items you collect stay with you.

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The other issue being the faux-teen dialogue and lip syncing. It reminded me of Juno, a movie I despise with a passion, it so desperately wanting to capture that snappy Joss Whedon feel, but fails quite badly. When certain characters are talking normally (usually the adults) it’s fine, but when the teenage characters are interacting (Chloe and the school bullies being prime examples) it becomes cringe inducing in a lot of areas.

But, and it’s a massive but, after recently playing Tales of the Borderlands, this game has one thing going for it, actual gameplay. A little harsh maybe, but I feel like in these two episodes I’ve controlled the main character more than the entirety of The Walking Dead Season Two. During the initial scene you get to walk around your dorm, interact with other characters, and if you so choose, use your time travel powers to save someone from getting hit in the head with toilet paper.

And this is the first area, there are a few other places you’ll end up. And if you so choose you can walk around, interact with everything around you and soak in the sights before triggering the next story beat. And when the story moments are triggered, be prepared to make some tough decisions.

Honestly until the game’s, quite incredible, conclusion I had no idea there were so many choices that I unwittingly made along the way. Some events I completely missed, though whether these will play much of an impact on the story unfolding is unknown at this point.

There’s one slight gameplay blemish where you’re forced to walk around and hunt for some bottles to use as target practice, an unnecessary diversion that reeks of extending the games playtime. But other than that, in a world where these types of games are putting storytelling ahead of gameplay, it’s great that something has managed to hit the right balance between both.

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It’s hard to go into too much detail with these types of games, but the ending is one of the most impactful I’ve yet encountered with these episodic games. So good in fact that it was this huge moment where something clicked in my brain and I was able to forgive all the games faults.  And like all good “choice driven” games, although you can rewind time and select the other options, nothing is ever black and white. It makes each choice matter and you will be staring at the choices for a long time before selection.

To use a television analogy, if episode one was the pilot, then episode two is the second season. A shaky beginning giving way to a great follow up as it finally gets to grips with its mechanics and characters. I have no idea where the story will go from here, and that’s what makes it all so exciting.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged Review

With a three month gap since the last episode, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Tales from the Borderlands existed. While a great debut, the Borderlands lore doesn’t have the enticing nature of a Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Understandable, those examples are two multimedia properties with millions of fans around the world, and the Borderlands universe gets a mixed response to say the least.

It would be a shame if this gets ignored because of the license attached, because it is the best bit of Borderlands fiction written thus far, unsurprising really when it’s coming from the ever reliable Telltale Games.

Like episode one, Atlas Mugged features the two main characters Rhys and Fiona telling their tale to a man who has them imprisoned. Naturally as the characters are telling the story, certain things get embellished. Such as Fiona managing all sorts of motorbike acrobatics, something that Rhys is quick to draw attention to. It’s the interaction between these two characters that made the first episode so enjoyable. Now the second episode has a new player in the form of Handsome Jack.

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At the end of episode one, we were left with the appearance of the ghostly Handsome Jack and with him come the best moments of this episode. While the previous episode tried, and ultimately failed, to bring the comedy chops, Atlas Mugged fares a little better. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but the dialogue between Rhys and Handsome Jack is enjoyable and well written.

Again, this episode flips player control between Rhys and Fiona so naturally it’s not long before the characters find themselves split up again after another great action sequence; Tales from the Borderlands is continuing to be the series to show off Telltale’s action set pieces. While action beats in their previous games were usually slow, methodical affairs, here it’s akin to a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. And they’re seamless too.

The game is technically impressive, it looks great, the framerate is impressive and transitions between scenes no longer have that horrible choppiness (something which in the past was always a problem with Telltale’s console output).

One thing that has always been my pet gripe with the latter day adventures of Telltale was the almost complete eradication of the puzzle element. The first season of The Walking Dead was the last time I feel like I had to think about what to do, everything since then has just been storytelling with puzzle solving pushed out of the picture completely.

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There’s one moment in this episode where it’s like they wanted to give the player a puzzle to solve, but panicked halfway through, leaving it in such a way that it can be solved by just clicking on things. While I’m not looking for obtuse Grim Fandango-style puzzles, something which challenges the brain a little would be most welcome. It’s especially bizarre because the game actually has an inventory. You pick up things, they go in your inventory, yet this affects nothing. You can’t combine items or do anything fancy with them. It makes me question what the point is.

Aside from that pet peeve of mine, from a storytelling perspective the game does go from strength to strength and you’re always wondering what situation led to Rhys and Fiona telling this crazy tale to their captor. Another character from the Borderlands fiction makes his debut and it’s a welcome one. And like all good episodic games, it leaves it on such a good cliffhanger (and decision) that you will be back to see what happens next.

At this point in time, Telltale have a formula and whether you like it or not they are sticking to it. While again, this is a solid entry in their impressive library of products, I can’t help but ask myself, how much longer can they do this before it becomes stale?

Once Upon a Great A’Tuin – Revisiting Discworld

He entertained millions of readers with his wonderfully satirical, bitingly incisive and always humanistic series of novels. He is greatly missed.

“What does Terry Pratchett have to do with computer games?” you may ask. Well, in 1995, his Discworld novels formed the basis for an adventure game titled simply “Discworld”. The game saw the wizard Rincewind fulfilling a quest set by the pre-eminent centre of wizards, the Unseen University, to rid their city of Ankh-Morpork of a fire-breathing dragon. Were this set in any other fantasy realm, this would have likely been an heroic quest for the mighty Rincewind and his fellow wizards from the Unseen University as they gathered allies and/or magical trinkets and went on to save a grateful city from this terrible threat.

But this is not another fantasy realm: this is the Discworld, and in the Discworld Rincewind is a cowardly wizard with almost no magical powers; Ankh-Morpork is both the greatest and lowest city on the Disc, filled with a populace mostly willing to ignore the dragon terrorising the city so long as it doesn’t affect them personally; the dragon itself is mostly indifferent to the city, only popping down from its perch atop the spires for the occasional snack; and the Unseen University is prompted to act not as an act of goodwill, but as a PR stunt to ensure that Ankh-Morpork continues to fund the wizards’ sedentary lifestyles.

It is in this setting that Rincewind’s quest begins… once he’s figured out how to open the gates to the university so that he can actually leave.

Alas, I can’t start this retrospective without mentioning Discworld’s most glaring issue: it is an infamously difficult game, with long-winded, obtuse puzzles being the order of the day. There’s even some pixel-hunting to be done, just in case you’d missed out on the joy of slowly scanning your cursor across every screen in an adventure game in the hope of finding hidden items. At least developers Perfect Entertainment avoided that other cardinal sin of adventure games, the ability to die or get permanently stuck.

Fortunately, with the rise of the internet (you may have heard of it, it’s this thing that allows you to connect to a vast network of computers and access all sorts of information!), walkthroughs aren’t hard to find, so the worst puzzles can at least be solved without having to root out a printed guide of the game. And, frankly, it’s worth that hassle.

Even the most long-winded puzzles are brightened up by excellent writing and voice acting, provided by the likes of Eric Idle, Rob Brydon, Jon Pertwee and Kate Robbins. The comedy, while not quite up to Pratchett’s standards, comfortably belongs in the upper echelons of computer game humour,* blessed both by excellent comic timing and endearingly daft character design: behold the great warrioress “Red Sorkam”; avatar of the goddess Mothra, destroyer of cardboard cities; who spends most of her time complaining about the ridiculous outfit forced upon her, and the amount of men she has to slay for looking at her in a lecherous manner.

Meanwhile, for players unfamiliar with the novels upon which it is based, the developers included a nature-documentary-style narrator. Said narrator pops up every so often, complete with blackboard and pointer, to excitedly explain the more obscure and interesting trivia about the places, people and general things that you encounter within the game, providing illumination for those unfamiliar with the novels and entertainment for those already au fait.

Of course, the game doesn’t only feature original creations, with Discworld stalwarts dotted across the game, including major turns from the Librarian (a wizard turned into an orangutan by magical accident, and who is highly offended by anybody mistaking him for a monkey) and Death (the Disc’s benign incarnation of the Grim Reaper, who SPEAKS ONLY IN ALL CAPS), not to mention Rincewind’s indestructible, sentient trunk on legs, The Luggage.

While not penned by Terry Pratchett – his involvement with the game was purely editorial, making sure that the characters and storyline met up to series expectations – the game adheres closely to the style of the novels, which works much to its benefit. As much as it delights in poking fun at genre tropes, as much as it plays up to the fact that fantasy worlds really wouldn’t be a nice place to live, the Discworld is really about offering commentary on human society and all its weaknesses… and also its strengths.

You may be playing as a feckless, wimpy sorcerer, but your heart is in the right place. Characters may be selfish and lazy, institutions bureaucratic and incompetent, but they are rarely malicious. And though your quest may be to get rid of a dragon, don’t expect that violence is going to be the answer. For all its fantasy trappings, the Discworld series always extolled the virtues of peace, raising acts of benevolence and intelligence far above those of vengeful heroics, and the game stays true to those ideals.

If you enjoy adventure games, the Discworld novels, or simply like the sound of adventuring your way through a fantastically-executed parody of a fantasy world, you owe it to yourself to seek out and try Discworld. The PC version is completely compatible with the ScummVM environment, making it trivial to get working on PCs, Android devices and pretty much any other modern hardware that can have software installed on it, so you’ve no excuse not to. What better time to get (re)acquainted with this classic adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s most famous series?

*with the possible exception of a running joke involving donkey carts which quickly overstays its welcome… though it does, eventually, have an excellent payoff.

PS – Rincewind would get a second game: the excellently titled “Discworld II: Missing Presumed..?”, in which he set out to restore Death to his rightful place; Death having disappeared and so ceased to carry out his duties, leaving a lot of grumpy undead in his wake.

Discworld II addressed the issues of extreme difficulty that plagued the first game, and gave the player a considerably wider-ranging variety of locales to visit, offering a whistle-stop tour of some of the Disc’s more famous neighbourhoods. It also moved to higher-resolution, cartoon-style graphics, somewhat evoking the style of Lucasarts’ Curse of Monkey Island – or rather the other way around, with Discworld II predating that game by a year.

The trade-off for the sharper graphics and wider range of environments appears to have been a shrinking of the game, with the end in particular feeling rushed, but Discworld II was a worthy sequel, and is well worth of chasing down. Similar to the first Discworld, the PC version is fully compatible with ScummVM.

There was also a third Discworld game made – Discworld Noir – but it’s more of a curio; much darker (literally as well as figuratively) than the first two games, and starring a character invented for the game, it’s enjoyable enough but a lot less Discworld-y than the previous games. It’s also nigh-on impossible to play on a modern PC, and the Playstation conversion was… not great, so you might want to give it a miss.

 

Persona 3 The Movie: #1, Spring of Birth

The premise is off. Unlike feature adaptations such as Dragon Age: Dawn of the SeekerHalo Legends and Mass Effect: Paragon Lost that provide side stories to the main event, Anime International Company (AIC) attempts to take the full scale of Persona 3 and encapsulate it in a film. It’s a logic that’s not hard to support – Dawn of the SeekerLegends and Paragon Lost are notoriously weightless, little more than overproduced fanfiction. How better to bypass this problem than giving us the main event. But the obvious question remains: how to distil a 90+ hour RPG into a feature length anime?

AIC has a partial solution; turn it into three feature films. But the absence of parity between 90 and six is all too apparent, and is an ambition that goes unfulfilled in this first act.

Persona 3 The Movie: #1, Spring of Birth slowly tells the opening of P3, as orphan protagonist Makoto Yuki arrives at Gekkouhan High School, unwittingly experiencing the mysterious phenomenon of the Dark Hour – a midnight time period hidden from normal humans where shadows roam and the school transforms into Tartarus, a labyrinthine tower purported to contain the secrets to the Hour. Yuki is swiftly recruited into the afterschool club Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) where he joins fellow Persona-wielding schoolmates Junpei, Akihiko, Yukari and Mitsuru in their investigation.

A tantalising synopsis, but dedication to the source’s plot and pace (elements that are both usually something to endorse and too often the first casualties in adaptations) mean that is everything audiences are getting with this first-of-three. Director Noriaki Akitaya chooses to focus on getting the band together and developing Makoto’s few characters tell from player-controlled avatar to independent personality. Unfortunately both fall short under the 91 minute runtime, with P3’s excellent and nuanced cast of characters reduced to tropes and Makoto’s own development protracted to the point of frustration.

This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Shin Megami Tensei games. The openings are often painfully protracted, following a silent protagonist that has yet to develop, surrounded by accomplices they have yet to connect with in an environment alien and seemingly impenetrable. This will be an understandable pain for anyone familiar with Persona 4: The Animation, the 25 part anime series based on P3’s successor, and of which the early episodes were also mired with a similarly sluggish pace. Put simply, it starts as work.

Where Spring of Birth does succeed is the style. A colour palette that eeks out the supernatural within the urban setting with delicate aplomb, drawn and animated to high standards, and while the significance of the Evokers – gun-like devices aimed at the head to draw out your Persona – never quite matches the striking imagery of watching schoolchildren kill themselves to fight monstrous beasts, some of the initial summon sequences are unsettlingly captivating to watch. Similarly, the music featuring remixed tracks from P3 remains compelling, and main battle theme ‘Mass Destruction’ will undoubtedly stick in your head.

P4A eventually develops into one of the finest computer game adaptations, with the all-too glorious payoff for your graft a fascinating and engrossing series, indulgently stylish and self-aware yet earnest and charming. Just as the games are. Much of this is accomplished without relinquishing that initial protracted pace – entire episodes are dedicated to side stories and character development the series is famed for, wilfully ignoring the prime murder mystery story.

Conversely, it is hard to imagine the P3 feature films being granted either the runtime to be necessarily generous to its characters or distilling the plot into something cohesive while keeping the languishing Persona charm. The second film, #2, Midsummer Knight’s Dream was released on 7 June 2014, with #3, Falling Down dated 4 April 2015 and despite these initial reservations, Gamestyle will certainly be checking them out.

VERDICT: YAY

Gamestyle Live – Grand Theft Kiddo

Well, that’s what the media would have you think anyway. In this week’s Gamestyle Live, Bradley, Steve and Andrew tackle that subject head on.

They discuss the role of videogames in today’s youth and how much of an effect they really have. How much is down to parenting, or other influences.

They also talk about how games handle mature themes and what is actually a mature game?

Is the world that much different to when we were kids?

Also, stay tuned next week as your hosts get their creative hats on and tell all about their own gaming ideas!

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Dungeon Of The Endless Review

Recovering magic amulets or defeating Balrogs, that sort of thing. Flimsy pretexts for facing almost certain death and food poisoning from eating goblin corpses to fend off starvation. Dungeon of the Endless takes a different tack. Your spaceship has crash landed 12 floors deep in a dungeon and your only hope is to lead your squad of heroes to the surface, carting your stricken vessel’s power crystal with you. The type of everyday scenario we can all relate to.

Amplitude are a developer with a penchant for tabletop gaming rules and systems so it’s no surprise that Dungeon of the Endless (DOTE from here on in) looks and feels like a dungeon crawl board game. Gameplay is a compulsive mix of turn based exploration and tower defence. Each turn you open a door revealing another room in the dungeon, generating resources and potentially triggering a wave of attacking monsters. Combat plays out in pausable real time, you rush your heroes from room to room, triggering skills and placing defensive modules in an effort to keep the hordes from reaching and destroying your crystal.

Key to your survival is “dust”, a resource found through exploration and defeating monsters. The more dust you have, the more rooms in the dungeon you can power and build defences in. Since monsters can’t spawn in powered rooms it’s vital for both exploration and planning your escape route to the next level. Dust is stored in your crystal and any damage it takes depletes your supply causing the lights to flicker out across the dungeon, powering down your defences and providing more areas for enemies to spawn. Powering the rooms around your crystal, setting up your defences and chain of production and establishing a safe perimeter is an oddly comforting activity. Watching in horror as that security crumbles around you is hugely compelling. Once the elevator to the next floor is located it’s time to reconfigure your power grid, uproot your crystal and make a thrilling dash to the exit while swarms of enemies descend on you from the darkness.

In addition to dust you can generate industry, science and food points, either through building resource modules or exploring the dungeon. Industry is vital for modules, science for levelling those modules up and food for healing and levelling your heroes. The relationships between the four resources aren’t immediately clear but given time you start to suss the subtleties of DOTEs economy. Further depth is provided by dynamics within your squad. You start with two heroes of your choice but quickly discover other stranded space travellers and natives who’ll join you. Some are team players, bolstering allies when fighting side by side. Others are loners reducing the overall effectiveness of heroes in the same room. On top of this each hero has a range of passive and active skills that skew towards different specialities; exploration, module operation, defense, support etc. Each layer of the system is paper thin but they all serve to add shades of complexity to team management.

Visually DOTE is spectacular, drawn in gloriously blocky DOS era style pixel art. Environments are suitably dank and atmospheric, high fantasy and sci-fi themes mashed together with great enthusiasm. Rooms are packed with spot effects and tiny details like cardboard tiles from a tabletop game come to life. Your heroes stride around with animations reminiscent of Treasure classic Guardian Heroes and the monsters slither, crawl and ooze with character. All this is accompanied by a moody soundtrack, one part John Carpenter to one part Mass Effect, which ratchets up in intensity when the action gets manic.

There’s a vein of daft humour too. Guns fire hails of projectile rice and equipping hipster scarves draws aggro from enemies. The text based dialogue occasionally strays too far into wackiness but I grew to appreciate the rogues’ gallery of flawed, oddball heroes and find my own personal favourites. Wrapped up in all this is a subplot of conspiracy and betrayal revealed slowly through scribbled comments in the game’s art gallery and snippets of dialogue that unearth character relationships and background lore. It’s no Dark Souls but it’s a welcome layer of intrigue that fuels the urge to play again after each traumatic defeat.

Traumatic because the difficulty level is utterly merciless. I’m not ashamed to admit that after the 20+ hours I played I failed to beat the game on “easy” mode, normal being locked until you’ve successfully navigated your way to the surface. The closest I managed was a crushing defeat on the final level. Dozens of less successful attempts saw me subjected to dramatic reversals of fortune, slow declines from level to level and heroic last stands. There’s a snidely titled “Too Easy” option for players with the strength of character to swallow their pride but I couldn’t bring myself to use it.

Where DOTE falls just short of classic status is its lack of the vast range of moment to moment interactions a traditional roguelike provides or the domino effect systems of modern titles like FTL and Spelunky. The stuff of anecdotes and unforgettable play sessions. Amplitude’s knife edge balance of team and resource management seemingly has no room for such dynamic storytelling. It excels as a game of long term strategy and short term gambles, complex interplay between your heroes and resources, countless dilemmas and tough calls. Mechanically it makes for an oddly dry take on the genre despite the high production values but still an addictive and unique one.

TxK Review

When Jeff Minter announces a game for any console you take notice. The man has been a legend in gaming for a long time now. Whether you have liked all is output is another thing, but he sure knows how to make games and has a long history of doing so. So when he announced his latest game was for PS Vita, excitement grew, when it was known to be a sequel of sorts to Tempest, those levels went through the roof.

TxK is pure score attack, with simple mechanics that make the game easy to pick up, but with such depth that it becomes very difficult to master. It has that perfect blend of ideas that make it nigh on impossible to put down.

The basics of the game see you control a vessel and you must shoot the enemies that come towards you on the screen, with each level being set on a different geometric shape. You start a level, destroy all in front of you and move on to the next. You move left or right and shoot, shoot, shoot. It really is that simple.

However even after spending a few moments with the game, you realise it that much deeper and there are many nuances that make this an incredible experience. Clearing enemies produce powerups, collect these to get points bonuses or ability upgrades, such as being able to jump, or more effective bullets, even an AI Droid that will help you mop up your foes.

The power ups you get though will only be available for that level you collected them on, each new level resets your abilities to the beginning again. The same goes for a single use bomb. You have one of these for each level and unlike other games where you are almost punished for using an all clearing weapon, this rewards you by giving double points, so make sure it is used in each and every level, ideally when the action is at its most frantic.

Each of the enemies have a different ability and whereas some feel easy to get rid of, others can be harder to hit, some will attack back, that sort of thing. Again what really works here is how each level is different, you can move from one level where you feel under tons of pressure, to another where you are the one in control. it means that even if you get into a groove, you never really get into an auto-pilot mode.

There are bonuses to be had between levels also, where you move through rings to collect bonus points, however, should you collect enough triangles from in level powerups, you can enter a bonus level which is also just joyful to see and do. It adds to a game that is both relaxing and frantic at the same time.

Jeff Minter’s games tend to let the gameplay speak for itself and it is no exception here. The visuals are very basic looking, but it works for the mechanics and in it’s basic wireframe look, it manages to look beautiful, with colour taking over and infecting your eyes in the best way possible. If it had gone for some kind of amazing art style, it just wouldn’t work, the visuals along with a stunning soundtrack take you into gaming nirvana.

With a pair of headphones, you will lose yourself to this experience, as you go back time and time again to better yourself, yet in truth you have become hypnotized by the amazing blend of visual and audio wonder, mixed with gameplay that just teases you to keep going.

Being a score attack game first and foremost, there are leaderboards, both global and local, with a mix of overall and friend based boards, covering the various game options of Pure, Classic and Survival. The one issue there is here, isn’t to do with the game itself, but more a Sony wide problem, where the friend limit increase for PS4 seems to affect all other games. You will notice that friends you know have played, will not show on your friends leaderboard at all time, which can become frustrating, however as said, that isn’t a problem created by this game.

We usually write a paragraph to wrap things up, but we just want to go back and play more…

Shiftlings Review

If you don’t like fart humour, then you may be put off Shiftlings from the very start, because that is the central concept of the game, as you use farts to help a bumbling duo of aliens through 50+ levels in the puzzle platformer from RockPocket Games.

The first thing that struck me about Shiftlings was how nice it was to look at. I must admit I was expecting something a little rough around the edges, but visually it is really well crafted, with some lovely animation in the characters and main level elements, backed up by attention to detail in the background areas. It brings each and every level to life.

It is the gameplay that has me torn though, because at the start it works really well, each of the two aliens you control has an airtight spacesuit on and one of them has got some serious gas, so when he farts, his suit blows up into a balloon. Imagine that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and you are pretty much there.

To overcome a puzzle, you essentially need to work with both characters, farting to switch the gas between suits, which are connected via a pipe. With me so far? This pipe works as a tether, which means you need to think about how you approach each new problem, knowing they can never be too far away from each other, but there is some leeway still.

Now as I said, this all works well at the start and you plod along happily going through levels, solving problems and moving on. It is very competent in that respect. The main issue comes later, when it becomes clear that this is designed to be a co-op game and therein lays the problem.

It is a game that is perfectly playable in the most part in single player and if anything early levels are setup for that, you switch characters with a touch of a button and what you are doing and with whom make perfect sense, but later on this becomes frustrating to do on your own and it is at this point where it seems like a shift was made in the design process to focus on the co-op side. This can be done locally or online which is a nice touch.

I grabbed a partner and sure enough the later levels lost their frustrations and the enjoyment factor crept back in, but we also went and tried the earlier levels in co-op and they became tedious, to the point where you felt one of you was more of a hindrance than a help.

It is a shame, because had this been separate entities that focused one mode to the single player and another toward co-op, I’d likely be shouting from the rooftops about how you must have this game. Sure it would need a few more levels created for each mode, but it would have been a game that came out of nowhere and really impressed.

As it is though, I can’t find an angle in which to really sell it to you. It’s not one I can say to get if you love co-op, because early levels don’t fit properly and I can’t recommend it for single player as you will hit a point where it becomes frustrating…So!

If you are the sort of person who has the time to play two fifths of a game in single player, but can then get someone else to jump in for the remaining levels, then Shiftlings is right up your street!

I feel bad saying it like that, because it is a fantastic puzzle platformer, and individually I really did enjoy the levels, especially as I got to play them in the right environment.

Unfortunately this is the equivalent of getting all six numbers on the lottery, but on two separate tickets. You win a bit of money, but you were so close to the jackpot!

Game Of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice Review

In October 2000, I was in my second year at university. The excitement of moving into a new student house had faded. Tuition fees and rent had hacked a scary hole in my meagre finances; far too many trips to various pubs, clubs and bars had further deepened that hole. My course reading list and essays were already worryingly large and I was beginning to panic about what I would do once university was over. I therefore did what any self-respecting socially awkward geek would do, and ran away to Westeros. I devoured second-hand paperback copies of A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings in a couple of weeks, then guiltily spent more of my dwindling cash reserves on a new hardback copy of A Storm of Swords, the third novel in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. I reached the ‘Red Wedding’, and was so shocked by it that I put the book down for a couple of hours and walked to the university campus: a rarity for me at the time.

The point at which I put the book down all those years ago is the point at which Telltale’s Game Of Thrones series begins. The Red Wedding occurs a couple of minutes into the game, although you don’t get to see it. What you get instead is an irritating series of quick time events, with no instruction as to how to play, and insta-death if you fail one. QTEs are so well-known in games these days that a tutorial probably isn’t needed for most players, but I know several Game of Thrones fans who aren’t gamers but are interested in Telltale’s series. They wouldn’t have a clue how to complete the opening few minutes, and would likely just give up. It’s not the most auspicious way to start, and the irritation it causes is compounded by a frame rate which drops alarmingly in places, stuttering audio and a weak script.

During this lacklustre beginning to the game, you take the role of Gared, squire to Lord Forrester. His job in this episode is really just to annoy you with QTEs and to introduce the player to the Forrester family, who are mentioned in a single throwaway line in A Dance With Dragons. Hopefully he will get more to do in future episodes, because if he stays as uninteresting as he is during this first instalment, it will sour me on the whole series.

Luckily, he’s not the only playable character in the game. I understand there will be five in the series as a whole, but in this episode you’ll only get to play as three of them. There’s Gared The Dull; Mira Forrester, who is a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing; and Ethan Forrester, who is in charge at the Forrester’s home fortress at Ironrath. The Forresters’ stories are much more interesting than Gared’s, and for the most part, better constructed too.

Ethan and Mira have some tough decisions to make in the aftermath of the Red Wedding, where their father learns what happens in Westeros when you’re noble and good and more concerned with acting honourably than with saving your own skin. Mira is tasked with playing politics and trying to influence Margaery Tyrell (and through her the Lannisters) to look kindly on the Forresters. This means she has the dubious pleasure of verbally sparring with Cersei and Tyrion, both played with consummate skill by the actors who portray them in the HBO series. Natalie Dormer is also on hand to voice Margaery, and this helps Mira’s section of the game to feel the most like an episode of the Game of Thrones TV show.

Ethan is too young to be given the responsibilities he suddenly finds himself saddled with, and there’s a pleasing sense of trying to cope with things you don’t understand and events you can’t control to his story. This is heightened by the fact that the player is thrust into the situation in the same way as the character. You’re never given enough information to be certain that the decision you’re making is the ‘right’ one. At one point, a thief is brought to Ethan for judging, and you get to choose what punishment to mete out. You’re not told what the usual punishment for the crime is, though, and so when the cryptic “[someone] will remember this” text appears after you make your decision, you’re not sure if that’s because you did well or not. This feeling really lends itself to the world of Westeros, where in the books and TV show there never seems to be an objectively ‘correct’ choice.

This sense of not knowing enough about the wider world becomes a drawback on the personal scale though. In both Mira’s story and Ethan’s, I made a choice and was told by someone close to the character that I’d acted strangely. Not knowing Ethan or Mira’s personalities, I had no idea what they would have done in the situation. I chose according to my own judgement, and based on the reactions of people who know Ethan and Mira well, I chose ‘wrongly’.

That’s not to say that I was punished for my choice. I have no idea whether the choices I made will have an effect on the larger story at all, either good or bad. But in what is in my opinion more of a role playing game than an adventure story, not being properly able to play the role I’m assigned, and having that inability mentioned by another character is a bit frustrating.

More frustrating, however, are the myriad technical problems with the episode. I’ve mentioned the frame rate already, but it’s really shocking at times. I was playing on an Xbox One, and given that there are rarely more than a couple of characters on screen at any one time, and the environments are all pretty stylised and stationary, there’s no excuse for dropping below 30FPS. The frame rate issues would be baffling but excusable if the rest of the game was perfect, but it really isn’t. Animations are stilted and awkward at times. I noticed one character sitting down at a table and, rather than resting their hands on it, they were hovering a few inches above the table. Similarly, characters’ hands wouldn’t actually be touching doors when the doors opened, limbs would occasionally twitch in anatomically impossible ways, and on a couple of occasions, dialogue lines stuttered and restarted.

The character models are oddly unnatural too. Characters that Telltale have invented themselves look stylised and slightly cartoonish, while characters from the TV series look far more realistic. This creates a very strange effect where neither look quite right. And the backgrounds! Where to begin? Apparently the idea was to create an effect as of an “oil painting brought to life”. To me, it looks variously as though the environment is melting, or as though the textures have been copied over from a PS1 game. It’s not too bad if the environment is completely static, but if anything is moving (characters, flames, wind, leaves and so on) it looks appalling.

There’s also an irritating bug which as far as I can tell still isn’t fixed, where some or all of your choices won’t be remembered and posted to the Telltale website. I encountered this on my first play through (only two of my choices were posted) but when I restarted and played through the episode again, all of my choices were available on Telltale’s site.

Overall, it feels like a very rocky beginning to a potentially exciting series. Plagued by technical issues (on Xbox One, at least), odd stylistic choices, occasional iffy writing, but nonetheless with a definite feel of George R. R. Martin’s world. There was nothing in the game to match my experience of reading the Red Wedding, but it has definitely whetted my appetite for the next series of the TV show, so that’s something at least.

As for more Telltale episodes? I’m ambivalent.

Unmechanical Extended Review

In Unmechanical, you play as a robot, one who does not speak but simply plods along on its merry way towards the goal, to find your friend who got sucked into the machine. There is no text or speech throughout the entire game. A wholly silent narrative. The game has been available on iOS & PC for some time now (actually, a few years having been released in 2012) and has just been released on PS3, PS4, XB1 & Vita.

Controls in this game are as simple as the story, you propel yourself along and you have a small tractor beam with which you can carry & drop objects from point A to point B as required. Easy eh! Well…

The developers of Unmechanical, Talawa Games & Grip Games, have managed to create a puzzle game with a clever, yet silent story. The puzzles range from simple puzzles, such as the early ‘Simon Says’ type puzzle with different coloured lights. Simple? Oh yes, but later on the puzzles can really provide a challenge. Thankfully there is a hint system in the game for those who feel the need for a little helpful nudge to get you on your merry way again.

Visuals in the game are a somewhat muted affair, lots of silver & machinery with electronics. Not unsurprising given the name of the game really. This is not to say the graphics are bad, in fact each area you find yourself in is always interesting to look at, exploring each section with your silent partner in crime floating along.

So what exactly is different in this release? Puzzles are less obtuse as some were before, with smaller game areas & less challenges.

Overall, Unmechanical Extended is a lovely way to spend a few hours lost in a silent world taxing those brain cells with an adorable main character too. Something to play as a family, definitely.

 

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype Review

A classic styled scrolling shmup, Soldner-X2 feels very much like an also ran. A decent game, that unfortunately brings nothing new to the table, it’s like playing a long lost game from fifteen years ago – fancy visuals aside.

A little harsh maybe, because it’s still an enjoyable game (especially once the difficulty picked up). What starts off as a light challenge will soon turn into bullet hell towards the end, but once you reach that point the game ends. Well, kind of.

You see, throughout the levels by destroying enemies you’ll sometimes find keys, collecting these unlocks the latter levels. It’s a good way of adding longevity to what would otherwise be a short experience, but I would’ve personally preferred a greater variety of levels. There is some additional DLC that you can get if you buy the bundle on the PS Store, which is a little cheeky of them. They’re good levels mind, and do give the game’s story, (which is rather pointless to say the least), a conclusion.

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Additionally there are also leaderboards for the high score fanatics. This on top of challenges that get unlocked in the main game (such as completing specific levels without losing a ship).

From a gameplay perspective Soldner-x2 doesn’t do anything new, but what it does, it does rather well. With a good range of pick ups and weapons, an interesting combo mechanic and clever enemy design it’s a game I certainly found entertaining.

Enemies come in all shapes and size, a giant robot that bears a strong resemblance to one of the bosses from Starfox 64 is the first one you encounter, then it gets even crazier as you get deeper into the game. Bosses each have a weakness (usually indicated by something glowing), other than that there’s not much in the way of tactics. Just shoot till everything blows up, dodging all the bullets as you go. And sometimes dodging environmental hazards.

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The first level shoves you straight into an asteroid field forcing you to burrow your way through a seemingly endless amount of floating rocks, one of the later ones set on an ice planet has you dodging giant icicles. And there’s also the floating airship you have to navigate, because it’s a shmup, so obviously there’s a floating airship level. Graphically the backgrounds all look nice and sharp, though it’s the enemy ships and explosions that really showcase the game’s style.

The main tactical element will come in the variety of power ups and the combo metre. Rings that looked like they escaped from Sonic The Hedgehog will appear once enemies are destroyed, collecting them will keep your combo meter fully charged. Then there are the power ups, which collecting makes your currently selected weapon more powerful. The main issue with this is, despite having three weapons to cycle through, it’s the standard one that you’ll use most of the time. There’s another that almost acts like a shotgun and another that fires lasers in all directions, but really you’ll just concentrate on charging up the one and forgetting the others even exist.

There’s not a lot else to say really, Soldner-X 2 feels far more at home on the Vita than on a console and if you’re craving some shmup action then you could do a lot worse.

République Remastered Review

Fundamentally a cross between a point and click adventure and a stealth game, République Remastered has one main goal: to tell you its story.

A PC conversion of a mobile game, you would be forgiven for immediately hearing alarm bells, however République Remastered has updated the graphics and adapted the controls to work superbly with a keyboard and mouse. As an episodic game, the PC version currently grants you access to the first three episodes, with the final two scheduled to be released this year.

République Remastered begins with you answering a phone call from a distressed young girl, aptly named Hope. Fearing being erased, which sounds like a bad deal, she begs you for help and the action picks up from there. You soon learn of a totalitarian society, ruled by The Headmaster, also known as the Overseer, where anything that threatens his ideal is banned and everything is monitored in order to maintain the order of the place.

I should point out that you are, essentially, playing yourself in this game, or at least a version of you that has hacked into the security system. In your position of an interested observer you are free to use and control any camera, and switch between them at will. This is performed via a mode known as OMNI view and this is also your primary tool for gathering more information about the world via the collectables strewn about. Unfortunately this exposition usually involves looking at a static picture of an item while a voiceover, be it a description or a conversation, plays out. Your options here are to sit through it or skip the entire piece of dialogue. Whilst I was engaged in République’s narrative, I couldn’t help sighing on reaching a new area and seeing three or four of these together – knowing that I would be listening, and not interacting, for a while.

Your aim soon becomes to aid Hope in escaping from the facility she lives in, however she is not an action hero so stealth is paramount here. To guide Hope to the next destination you use your position as a fly on the wall to scout ahead and learn the guard’s patrol routes, before moving her through the area, hopefully undetected. Hope’s movement is, for the most part, intelligent, naturally hiding behind objects and she has some subtle behaviours that make her feel a little more alive, for instance peeking round a corner, or shuffling slightly away if a guard gets too close. However there were a couple of occasions where this did not work, and in one instance Hope stood up from the perfectly safe hiding spot and walked directly into a guard. This was only a minor annoyance as Hope will defend herself if she has the tools to do so, and the penalty for being caught is to have any items confiscated and be slowly escorted to the nearest confinement cell. Getting past the guards isn’t difficult with a little patience and I only let Hope be caught once. As luck would have it this was during a rare backtracking period, and the guard ushered Hope straight through the area. More stealth sections would not have gone amiss yet this means that they have yet to outstay their welcome and the odd puzzle breaks up the wandering.

République is good looking, with small details supporting the place you have found yourself in. Some well-known voice actors have been brought on board to provide the dialogue, which is of an expected high quality. The Headmaster is particularly enthralling to listen to, which accentuates his character as a likeable, alluring leader. The sound design is also good, with small details such as replicating the electronic interference noise when a mobile phone rings.



Each episode has been better than the last so far, which bodes well for episodes 4 and 5 when they are released. So far each episode has ended on a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The result of all this is a polished and thoughtful stealth game which takes a backseat to the contemporary, cautionary tale, with strong characterisation. I’ve tried to avoid talking too much about the story and setting, as it was these that piqued and held my interest, and the best experience of the game is one where you discover this for yourself.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

I have heard that on my landline so many times over the last year…so that’s the tenuous opening reference done. Now on to the review.

I liked Hotline Miami, nay I LOVED Hotline Miami, it had the right balance of clever puzzle solving, mixed with a tight control scheme and an ultraviolence setting that set the tone wonderfully well. So Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should have had me drooling at the mere thought of playing and it did.

However, things weren’t quite as I was expecting but let me explain why. I am not against violence in videogames, nor any medium of entertainment, I indulge in it, I crave it at times. I have played games in the past, even as a much more naive teenager, that have seen me do some of the most atrocious things. I got great pleasure out of maiming body parts in Soldier of Fortune, I got a moody copy of Thrill Kill. Carmageddon? I took great pleasure in killing innocent bystanders. I know and have always known the difference between what is real and what is fake.

If it works in context, then that’s cool and it worked in Hotline Miami, but something in Hotline Miami 2 just felt off to me and I cannot quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t disgusted by anything I saw, but it felt like this was trying to find an edge, a way to cause some controversy maybe? Who knows, all I know is that the graphic scenes didn’t sit right with me.

I wanted to make sure something hadn’t broken in my head, maybe I had changed in the months since first playing the original, since playing other ultraviolent games, or watching some sick and twisted films from the 70’s and 80’s. Nope I still enjoyed those, I even had a prolonged session on Hotline Miami, such was the enjoyment I got.

But this, this sequel made me feel the total opposite and the more I tried to justify the game, put the blame squarely on me, the more it got to me. But I could skip story stuff, just play the game and ignore everything surrounding it, I’ve played many games before where the story is gubbins and has been completely ignored just to enjoy the gameplay, so I would do the same here. Right?

Well…again not quite. In the original Hotline Miami levels were laid out in such a way that is was a mixture of puzzle solving, trial and error and reaction times. You went in, learned the layout, where the enemies were, where they could appear from, what the smart moves were and how to do it all in a beastly fashion.

Completing a level was satisfying, but failure was all part of that too, you learned from your mistakes and tried new things, it was all put together in a rich tapestry of awesomeness. Here though as much as it has the same general concepts, it also loses some of magic that made the first such a fine game.

There are a lot more offscreen deaths, where you simply have no idea where the enemy has attacked from, meaning that you often go into some areas trying to figure out a route, but end up relying on blind luck and whilst you can clearly move the camera around, it still doesn’t account for how much better the enemy AI is at spotting you well away from the action.

Even the maps seem to be a tiny bit worse, as though all the best ideas were used in the original, the same with how levels start out. There was always an element of slight randomness with enemy starting positions, but you could always factor that in to your next approach, because it still seemed to follow a pattern, but here that randomness seems to be too much, positions change a lot more drastically from turn to turn that planning becomes secondary to hope.

So far, everything about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is worse than Hotline Miami, the story seems off, the gameplay isn’t as tight as the original and it has made minor changes that really do alter the way you approach the game. So it is awful, correct?

That’s the thing, despite all of that, it is still a damn good game. Had it not been for the fact it is a sequel to Hotline Miami, if it has been a new IP or the original had never existed, then this would have been wonderful (bar the story, but I still cannot pinpoint why I hate it), but it does live in a world where this game has been done better by its own predecessor.

It’s like going to see Toy Story 3 after watching the first two. You know it is good and technically a brilliant piece of entertainment, but it just isn’t as good as the first two films, they nailed it first time around and probably won’t be bettered in their franchise. This is how Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number comes across. A technically competent game, but lacking that little something it’s original had that made it special.

The Deer God Review

Whilst we are somewhat taken aback by this development, we have naturally hired the skills of an Animal Communicator, Dorothy Buckingham, to ensure the review is delivered in a timely fashion.

 

DOROTHY: So, I understand you’ve been playing The Deer God, a 2D platform game, prior to your transformation?

[The deer joyously nods]

 

DOROTHY: Excellent. I assume you’ve found that more difficult since you became a deer?

[The deer forlornly nods, raising his hooves one by one]

 

DOROTHY: Yes, I can see that holding a joypad with…

[The deer bristles]

 

 

DOROTHY: What’s that? You had problems with the joypad before? Wait a second…you found it pre-configured for a 360 pad, but you were using a different pad which spoiled the button prompts?

[The deer appears confirmational]

 

DOROTHY: Apart from that, what struck you early on with your experiences with the game?

[The deer appears to move into a monologue, pacing around in squares, sighing happily at the sky]

 

DOROTHY: You appreciated the 3D-based voxelly-pixelly art, the sense of tranquility? You thought the art was impressive, the animation smooth?

[The deer runs and hides behind a tree]

 

DOROTHY: Andrew, come back.

[The deer jumps out from behind the tree, landing slightly awkwardly]

 

 

DOROTHY: You found the foreground objects made it difficult to judge certain jumps in the game?

[The deer appears tranquil again, but then runs away rapidly, performing a series of agile, carefully measured leaps]

 

DOROTHY: So, despite the feeling of tranquility and nature, you found that the game encouraged you to sprint, taking the platforming as it comes?

[The deer frowns at a spider, then jumps over it and sprints again]

 

DOROTHY: You found the combat functional, albeit uninspiring, so it was better to avoid it where possible?

[The deer jumps on an owl. And a stag. And an eagle. And a monkey. And..]

 

DOROTHY: There’s lots of combat then? Much too much?

[The deer nods and eats some berries]

 

DOROTHY: Ah, you also didn’t really understand why the game required constant eating? That like the combat it didn’t really seem required in the game?

[The deer shrugs]

 

DOROTHY: Oh. You were just hungry. Fair enough. But that does apply to the game too?

[The deer nods]

 

 

DOROTHY: And what about development throughout the game? Is it a simple platformer?

[The deer goes into elaborate charades, pretending to wield a whip and then rolling into a ball and through a narrow hole in the wall]

 

DOROTHY: Metroidvania aspects then?

[The deer nods, although with an air of confusion]

 

DOROTHY: But you didn’t find those aspects particularly well communicated?

[The deer nods, lets out a relaxed sigh, then looks confused again]

 

DOROTHY: You feel the atmosphere and the setting were prioritised over communicating the minutiae of the game to the player, generally to the detriment of the game as an experience?

[The deer is quite impressed that the animal communicator is able to ascertain such a precise opinion]

 

DOROTHY: I am a professional. I’ve worked with a psychic horse, you know. He could communicate with the dead, but then he got famous and left me behind.

[The deer looks incredulous]

 

DOROTHY: OK, I know someone who worked with him. But he could definitely contact the dead.

[The deer looks incredulous]

 

DOROTHY: No, I can’t really back that up. But they said so.

[The deer nods, slowly. Then taps his face on the animal communicator’s watch]

 

DOROTHY: Have you got somewhere to be? Oh, you’re saying that this isn’t a massive game?

[The deer nods, twice.]

 

DOROTHY: Both? So you want to wrap this up then?

[The deer nods. Then suddenly drops dead!]

 

DOROTHY: So you sometimes die in the game?

[Nothing]

 

DOROTHY: Ah, so permadeath? How does that work then?

[The deer shrugs, then looks forlorn]

 

DOROTHY: Ah, for the most part if you avoid combat you can make good progress, often unlocking young deer to reincarnate into, but when death does occur it feels quite cheap and unnecessary, adding nothing to the experience?

[The deer nods once, then angrily bellows]

 

DOROTHY: That when a death is caused by the controls, or the view being obstructed, it’s really rather annoying?

[The deer runs and jumps, appears tranquil, kicks a porcupine]

 

DOROTHY: So when it’s going well, it looks good, the setting is great and you don’t mind occasional bits of combat?

[The deer mimes falling off a cliff on to spikes, then looks bemused at the spikes]

 

DOROTHY: But then it all goes wrong, and when have there even been spike pits in real life?

[The deer starts to dance. It’s quite embarrassing]

 

DOROTHY: David Brent? Ah! Awful bosses. The game has awful bosses.

[The deer dances again]

 

DOROTHY: That bad?

[The deer nods]

 

DOROTHY: Anything else?

[The deer shrugs and looks confused]

 

DOROTHY: You spent most of the game not really knowing what to do, but somehow completed it despite that? But despite that, you recommend it, but it falls short of what it could have achieved?

[The deer nods, lays down, pondering his existence and the nature of life as a concept, but not in a wholly satisfied manner]

 

Andrew The Deer has since been shot and served as rather delicious venison burgers, his antlers hanging on the walls of Gamestyle Towers in memory of his time spent here.

FlameOver Review

No we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it.

Yeah! A Billy Joel reference right off the bat, which now means that song is stuck in my head and is also likely stuck in your head too. Sorry about that!

When I first heard of Flameover my thoughts were immediately turned to a game I remember enjoying plenty on the Playstation… Rosco McQueen. It was a flawed game, but the idea of fighting fires in a videogame is one I’d like to see explored further, because as yet I can’t think of many games that have handled it well.

Until now!

Flameover has been cleverly described as a Pyroguelike which is frankly brilliant. This is a Roguelike in every sense of the word, but one that tries to fool you with the intro and all the marketing beforehand.

It has cutesy graphics for a start, which wouldn’t look out of place as a casual game on a mobile device, so that adds a sense of believing this to be casual. It is a twin-stick shooter too, which whilst not all being easy, are very simple to understand and play and the first few moments are tame, slow and relatively easy.

Then you enter a door into a new area and all hell breaks loose, you are running out of water, fires you have put out are reigniting, there are people and cats to save, they are now dead, you are being burned alive yourself and you are now dead! DEAD!

What in the blue hell just happened there? Was that a tutorial? What was I meant to do? Was I meant to be that bad? That’s not cute, I just watched a cat and a person die in a terrible inferno…that’s…that’s not right.

On the surface Flameover is a simple game with a nice casual feel, but boy is it a wolf in sheep’s clothing, because it reveals itself to be one of the most brutal roguelikes I have ever played. It is right up there with the liked of Binding of Isaac, Spelunky and Rogue Legacy.

But at the same time it is different, in those games you go into the randomly generated levels without knowing what you will face, here the enemy is clear, fire and time.

You have to not only put out all the fires in each level you play, but you need to rescue people and animals, manage your water levels and keep an eye on the clock as it ticks down. You also lack some freedom, as you can’t just burst into a room and spray, because the heat will kill you, meaning you need to consider your approach to each new area. The problem is, the time keeps ticking down.

If the timer reaches zero, it isn’t game over as such, but you will be haunted by Death and if he catches up and touches you…well then you have failed and you’ll need to restart.

What Flameover has though is a permanent upgrade mechanic, which means you earn money as you fight fires, which you can then use to upgrade various elements and make the next run easier. You must though spend the money you earned in a previous run, as that will not carry over. Similar to how it works in Rogue Legacy.

So here is the thing with Flameover. It doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from the crowd, apart from trying to deceive you before you get into it. But then it doesn’t need to,  it plays to its strengths and plays to them well. It has easily become a game that goes on my regular rotation on the Vita, one I will try to spend a small amount of time with each day, or at least every couple of days. It can sit proudly with some of the best Roguelike games on the Vita.

GS Plays: Carmageddon Reincarnation (Steam)

It’s a shame it gets ruined by the smell of rotting flesh from all the people that have been brutally murdered in a sick and twisted way for our pleasure!

This Gamestyle Plays is for Steam Early Access title Carmageddon: Reincarnation, which Steve thought he was quite good at until Stainless Games decided to make the AI more aggressive than a UKIP canvasser.

Enjoy his poor performance and completely noobish attempt at a let’s play! He’ll get better once he gets over his crippling affliction of saying “Erm” a lot. Promise.

Carmageddon Reincarnation is in Early Access on Steam

GET IT HERE

 

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Gamestyle Live: Videogames X Youtube

Probably the most influential change to video games in the last couple of years is the rise of the Youtuber, or Twitch Streamer.

Because of these, the likes of PewDiePie, Giant Bomb, Jim Sterling and many others have become established names in gaming circles. They have Youtube channels that earn them enough money to not only make a living, but to live fairly handsomely in many cases.

Bradley, Steve and Andrew tackle the subject, but as usual they veer off-course and end up talking about everything but at times. All whilst still raising some important points.

Also, stay tuned next week for the thrilling conclusion and the start of Shark…nay sorry Violence Week!

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DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition Review

While the trend of re-releasing last gen games on new hardware isn’t always a welcome one, I do like that DmC is now available in “Definitive” form. It’s a game that sales wise did okay, but they weren’t the figures that Capcom were hoping for. Unfortunately with bigger, more powerful hardware, the AAA game has to sell a ridiculous amount of copies to just break even.

So, is this the definitive version of the game? Well, yes and no. On the plus side it has all the DLC that came out, from alternate costumes to new modes. On the downside, technically there are a few issues, some of which I can’t remember being in the original release. Graphically it still looks good (not The Last of Us good), but a decent upgrade. There were however a few performance issues that soured it a little.

During the first boss cut scene the game actually froze for a couple of seconds before the “loading” message appearing, which did break up the flow a little. A few overlapping audio issues occurred during a later level (Dante somehow managing to speak over himself) and weirdest of all, moments where it seemed like the camera was getting caught on the environment. Almost as if the skybox wasn’t quite big enough, so as I jumped forward in the air the camera refused to follow before snapping back behind Dante once I landed. So there are some technical quibbles I have, thankfully the core experience is still as good now as it was two years ago.

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Controlling Dante is a joy. What starts off with a few combos and a sword quickly turns into a deep and rewarding system with plenty of ways to dispatch the demon hordes. With angel and demon weapons, as well as your trusty sword and guns, you’ll soon be juggling everything in your path, getting an SSS rank along the way. Although, it may be my lack of skill since, but I’m finding it a lot more difficult to hit that top rating than I was originally, which makes me think it’s been tweaked slightly for this version.

What really got the most mixed reaction (aside from Dante’s new look) was the story, and new attitude of our hero. Somewhat baffling to me, as I never saw old-school Dante as having much of a character. Anyway, new Dante is certainly your typical angst ridden protagonist, but he does have somewhat of an arc as the story progresses. From not caring about anything to wanting to protect the world, the story here I feel is more interesting than people gave it credit for.

The story also helps set the stage for some excellent levels and boss fights. From ruined streets to a crazy, demon infested nightclub. Limbo (the world that exists in parallel to the real one and Dante is able to travel to) allows the art and design team to really go crazy with the environments. Floating platforms, upside down towers and the like are all commonplace. Then there are the bosses, giant, scene stealing creatures, or in one case, a holographic head. And with plenty of hidden items, upgrades and harder difficulties, replay value is surprisingly high for such a single player experience.

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As already said, the definitive edition contains all the DLC that came out. While some are cosmetic (old Devil May Cry costumes for instance), others have a lot more meat to them. The Bloody Palace (unlocked upon completion of the main game) is essentially an arena mode where you have to beat wave after wave of enemies.

The other big piece of DLC included is Vergil’s Downfall. Set after the events of the main game, it’s a nice add-on, however it almost feels like it was made on the cheap. The cut scene quality takes a drastic nosedive as what were superb in the main story are now reduced to low rent motion comics.

At its base, the core DmC gameplay has also been tweaked with the amount of damage certain moves do reduced, alterations to the parry system, and this is on top of a new Turbo mode (which speeds up the game by 20%) and new difficulties. It’s clear that Ninja Theory have taken on board the criticism and improved the overall experience.

I was slightly sceptical when DmC was announced as the latest in a long line of re-releases on the current crop of hardware, but Ninja Theory have exceeded my expectations. If you have yet to experience the game then this is the perfect time to do so, if you’ve already played through it, then there’s still plenty new here to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Cities: Skylines Review

So I’ll go for a Journey reference instead…

Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Goin’ anywhere
Just a city boy
Born and raised in South DETROOOIIITTT!!!

That’s it, I am happy now. So on with the review!

I’ve grown up admiring the city building genre, but never really getting to grips with them. I loved Sim City, but soon found out I was barely scratching the surface, I extend this to the likes of Theme Hospital, Theme Park, Anno, basically anything that required me to build and then run something over a long period.

I sucked at those games, but they were still fun even for my wretched brain which just couldn’t handle the statistics and attributes that seemed to be changing faster than I could process them. Yet still, I enjoyed these games… then, then something changed, either I was different now, or these games were just becoming awful.

Well with the latest SimCity from EA, named SimCity, not to be confused with the 1989 original which was actually good. the 2013 version made me realise that it was the games that were getting worse and it had little to do with me. But hey, I’m not going to spend a review for Cities: Skylines bitching about EA.

You see Cities: Skylines is without a shadow of a doubt the game that the 90’s versions of these games deserve as a spiritual successor and what is most impressive is that for how fully featured and polished this game is, it was built by a team of just a handful of people, yet it outshines many of these games that have been built by large teams.

The first thing you notice is just how intuitive the controls are, most of the moving around is done on the mouse and with a combination of button clicks and movements, you soon become a pro with the camera.

The building side of things is well thought out. The basics of adding roads is clearly marked as to what can go where, what overlaps there maybe and how much room there is for building around them. This meant that within minutes of loading I had a very basic main central road, which then broke off into different areas for residential, commercial and industrial.

To confirm these areas it is a simple case of marking them with a colour, which again uses various techniques such as painting, filling in, marquee tools and precision painting to colour the area you want your different parts to be.

When you have decided on your layout, you then have to sort out water and electricity and once again the visual clues are clear and concise, showing you where you would need to lay powerlines, where your water pipes should go, etc.

Looking at the waterflow and the areas where wind will have the most affect will help you decide where to put wind turbines, your water pumps and waste pipes.

You start off with a few basics, but as soon as you hit a new milestone you unlock more parts to add to your fledgling town, such as medical centres, schools, refuse collection, emergency services and more. You also get the ability to enforce policies on your world, either overall or on a district by district basis.

What I really liked about all of this, is that it isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, it still takes a lot of work and planning ahead on your part, but thanks to an intuitive and user friendly interface, any failings are down to you and you alone, rather than battling the system itself.

Handy little things such as emotion bubbles will alert you to problem areas, such as some districts not getting enough electricity, or that there are water issues, so a quick click to see the issue, followed by a few logical clicks on the interface can clear up any mess you may get yourself into.

Other ways in which the population can let you know about what is going on and how they feel is via Chriper, the game’s own social network, where people may complain about things, or even give a shout out to your wonderful work… they mainly complain.

Even though initially there are a lot of restrictions in place, you soon unlock more and more and the world you get to play with expands and grows and boy does it grow. It can actually get a little overwhelming after a few hours of play as you start to have massive city areas that need to work with farming, industrial, etc. and have a carefully balanced eco-system.

It should feel too much like work but the team at Colossal Order have produced something special with Cities: Skylines and it is one you simply must check out if you have even the slightest interest in the city building genre. This is a hell of a triumph.

GS Plays: Armello (Steam)

Well they decide to go all out war, that’s what!

Armello is a video game posing as a board game and unlike many others, it seems to be completely original and built from the ground up as a video game idea.

Bradley is joined by Matt as they take a look at Armello and try to figure out what in the hell is actually going on. The game is currently in Early Access on Steam and as the lads found out, it is one of the most polished Early Access games out there, but that doesn’t quite stop it from having a fair few issues.

Armello is in Early Access on Steam

Bradley is joined by Matt in the latest Gamestyle Plays

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Sunless Sea Review

It’s almost tailor-made for me. A steam-punk, alternate history, Lovecraft-inspired, text-heavy, slow-paced, story-based single player Rogue-like game. On paper, it’s perfect. In action, it isn’t. It comes close, but the places where it falls down seem all the more glaring in contrast to the many things it gets right.

It’s 1888. Thirty years ago, something happened and London fell into a vast subterranean cavern. Unlikely as it seems, plenty of the population survived, and got on with their lives in the newly christened ‘Fallen London’. The city is now on the shore of an inky Unterzee in which Lovecraftian things swim and the various islands that dot it move around through some incomprehensible means. You play as the captain of a steam ship, and you will explore the always-changing Unterzee. You’ll try to achieve your main goal (what that is will depend on how you set your character up, but it could be to gain enormous wealth, to find your father’s bones and return them to London for a proper burial, or several other aims). You’ll recruit officers and try to achieve their main goals too. You’ll meet strange and interesting people, and complete jobs for them. You’ll have to keep your ship supplied with fuel, and your crew supplied with food. You’ll try to manage the creeping, building terror that all who explore the Unterzee experience. You’ll desperately attempt to stop your crew going mad. You’ll fight pirates, sea creatures and monsters, and you’ll die. A lot. Sunless Sea is a Rogue-like, after all. It has a slower, more dreamlike pace than many games of its ilk, and it’s possibly a little more forgiving, but death is still constantly around the corner. You’ll be starting many, many new captains in your time with the game.

When you do start a new captain, you’ll get to choose various attributes for them: Their name, what they look like, what their background is, and what their life goal is. Once that’s done, you’ll be in charge of your squat, under-powered little ship. You’ll be given a crew, a mascot and an officer. You’ll have a map, but the only thing that will be marked on it – unless you inherited the previous captain’s map, but more on that later – will be Fallen London. All the rest of the map is a forbidding, featureless black. You’ll also be given a small amount of fuel so that your ship can explore the vast darkness of the Unterzee, and some stores so that your crew don’t immediately have to resort to cannibalism. The rest is up to you.

You set sail from Fallen London, and as you explore, your map is updated accordingly. Your plucky little vessel has a single gun and a light. The gun is used for shooting things, as you might expect. The light is a little more complicated. Your crew, it turns out, are afraid of the dark. They’re right to be: there are hungry, incomprehensible things out there waiting for you. Using your ship’s light allows you to see further, and calms the crew’s fear a little. Their terror still increases when you’re away from port or one of the few light buoys dotted around, but more slowly than if you have your light turned off. The drawbacks to using your light are that it increases the rate you burn fuel at, and it also means those ravenous, hunting things can see you better. Balancing your crew’s terror, your fuel reserves and the need for stealth (especially at the start of the game) is an interestingly delicate mechanic. Let the crew get too terrified, and they go insane, which causes bad things to happen and can end up with you being killed or set adrift. Burn the light too much, and you will be attacked by pirates, giant crabs, living icebergs or something equally bizarre and deadly. You’ll also very possibly get killed. Or if you’re lucky and manage to avoid the horrors swarming the Unterzee, you could run out of fuel, and end up starving to death or killed by the hungry crew….

One way of staving this sort of demise off a little is through developing your officers’ abilities. They offer bonuses to various attributes with such interesting names as veils, iron, hearts and mirrors. Each attribute does something different.  Veils is your stealth attribute: it allows you to hide better in the inky darkness. Mirrors allows you to see more clearly through the black. Iron is how good at shooting you are. Hearts is how good at resisting the terror of the Unterzee the crew are. Upgrade your officers’ attributes and your ship will fare slightly better. It’s a long, slow process though, and you’ll need to do other things too.

Another way to stay alive longer is to visit as many ports as you can. In these ports you can reduce terror by giving your crew shore leave, you can buy supplies and fuel, and you can upgrade your ship if you have the money. You can also, theoretically, trade. However, in my experience, there’s so little money to be made by trading that it isn’t worth attempting.

Speaking of money, there are various ways of making it. The most reliable (but least profitable) is to produce reports on the state of the many ports in the game. The Admiralty back in Fallen London pay for this information, and they’ll pay for a new report each time you visit a location. They don’t pay very much though, so you’ll need to supplement this activity by finding mysterious artefacts for various shady characters, doing ‘favours’ for disreputable sorts, ferrying passengers from one port to another, and several more commercial ventures.

You can also gain supplies and fuel through combat. Kill one of the many different monstrous zee creatures and you can usually gather food from its remains. Attack another ship, and if you destroy it, you can often gain fuel or supplies (or both) from the wreckage. Of course, the downside to attacking zee monsters or other vessels is that they fight back, and you may well end up dead.

Luckily, when one captain dies, the next one you start is their ‘successor’, and you’ll get to choose a ‘legacy’ for the new captain. This could be the old captain’s map (very helpful, as it means the ports in the Unterzee will be in the same place); some of the old captain’s attributes; a weapon and so on. The legacy you choose will be informed by how well the previous captain did – there’s no point choosing a weapon if the previous captain only had the starting equipment, after all – but it does help ease things for your new game, and give you a sense of incremental progress. That’s a good thing, as along with the Rogue-like frequent deaths, there’s plenty of grinding at the beginning of the game, and without the legacy system, it would become frustrating very quickly.

Of course, as with each of the mechanics in Sunless Sea, there’s a downside to every legacy. If you choose the previous captain’s map for example, you don’t have to discover every port again. However, when you discover a port for the first time, you gain ‘fragments’. Discover enough fragments and they form ‘secrets’. You use these secrets to increase your officers’ attributes. So if you’ve already discovered most of the ports you will find it much harder to improve your officers’ skills.

The mechanics all fit together well, with each one having an impact on at least one other mechanic (even if only slightly in some cases). That’s not to suggest Sunless Sea is primarily about the interplay of mechanics though. Stories are the beating heart of this Lovecraftian maritime horror. They’re everywhere: almost every person, port, officer and unknowable uncaring deity has their own story for you to discover. These stories are Sunless Sea‘s real strength, but they’re also where it falls down slightly.

The narrative part of Sunless Sea shares most of its DNA with Fallen London, Failbetter’s previous game. That was a browser-based text RPG with a dreadful free to play mentality, chock full of timers and currencies to buy and interminable grinding. Thankfully, Sunless Sea has done away with most of that, but some aspects still remain, and they’re the weakest part of the game.

The grind, for instance. As I mentioned earlier, it’s too much at the start of the game. The routine of getting the same missions from the same people with the same text every hour or so can get very wearisome. The game’s stories open up the further you get into the game, but in a Rogue-like, where death is pretty common, the opening is far too samey. There’s also a curious bleed-over from Fallen London in some of the terminology, which is unexplained. You’ll occasionally be told about the ‘storylet’ you’re reading, or that one of your ‘qualities’ has changed. You’re never told what a storylet or a quality is or does though.

It can be overly laborious to do simple things at times, too. If you destroy a pirate, you’ll be greeted with a screen full of text saying that you’ve done so, and you’re given a single choice: to scuttle the pirate’s ship. On clicking ‘scuttle’, you’re taken to a new screen where you’re told that you’ve recovered some cargo – “you now have one of the following: a cache of curiosities” – again with only a single choice you can take. You click ‘okay’, and are presented with another screen telling you that you should open the cache. On the next screen you’re told what’s in the cache. That’s four screens full of text to click through every time you defeat an enemy ship before you find out what cargo you got from them. It’s perhaps forgivable that Sunless Sea wallows a bit in text: that text is, for the most part, fantastic. There’s a palpable sense, when you’re reading the reams and reams of text, that Failbetter Games love language. There’s a playful, tactile, sensuous use of words. A sense of otherness is deftly created with a single phrase here and there. A world of shadows populated by half-seen, unseen, unseeable horrors is conjured, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit. As pleasurable as it is, though, it’s slightly inconsistent.

Names, speech and locales are all fantastic, but the overall realisation of the world falls just short. Failbetter occasionally replace ‘s’ with ‘z’ but without any sort of consistency. Sea becomes zee. Sailors become zailors. Soup becomes zoup. Sulphur retains its ‘s’, though, as do most words. I wondered if perhaps the s/z shift was something to do with liquid (sea is a liquid and so is soup…) but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Zee-monsters, for example, swim. Why they don’t zwim, I have no idea. And for all that, the game throws hundreds of thousands of words onscreen whenever it possibly can, sometimes it’s far too vague to be satisfying. For example, you’ll scout round a port and your captain will pick up some rumours and secrets. You, the player, will never learn what they are though. You’ll literally be told that you pick up rumours and secrets, and that will be that. It’s very unsatisfying being informed I know a secret but not what that secret actually is, or at least what it concerns. “You overhear some rumours regarding unrest in the Tomb Colonies” would be far more interesting than simply “You overhear some rumours.”

Another picky problem is that the tone of the game is occasionally at odds with itself, which is unfortunate. Sunless Sea does a fantastic job of creating a dream-like atmosphere of unnamed dread and inexorable menacing disaster, but then the atmosphere will be punctured by a character saying or doing something silly. That’s not to say I want a relentlessly grimdark game. I appreciate a bit of levity. But Sunless Sea doesn’t get it right, somehow. The levity comes at the wrong times. I can’t put my finger on why, or say when it should come instead but it’s an irritant all the same.

Of course, the fact that I’m complaining about something being not quite right in an indefinable way is a sort of backhanded compliment. The game is so well-written for the most part that what wouldn’t even be a noticeable issue in most games becomes one of my big complaints in this one.

Unfortunately, this is the over-arching impression I take away every time I play Sunless Sea. I love my time with it. I delight in the language, I love discovering new places (even if I’ve discovered them in a different place previously) and unlocking more stories. But there’s always a niggle. A slight hesitation; a vague annoyance. A feeling that the game could be better, and that it should be. This isn’t a potentially good game that’s crippled technically, or full of bugs, or badly designed. it’s an extremely good game which just doesn’t feel properly finished. It’s not quite a final draft. It’s still damned good fun though.

 

Helldivers Review

That’s it, that is my one and only Starship Troopers reference. I want to make loads more, but I will resist. Why? Well this is essentially Starship Troopers the game, or at least a game heavily influenced by it. That is what we call a wonderful thing. So…would you like to know more?

That’s it, done now. Helldivers is essentially a brutally hard, top down twin stick shooter at its core. You, as one of the Helldivers, must protect Super Earth from alien bug scum, so that the ideals of our way of life, freedom, democracy, etc can be spread to those lowly lifeforces that are human!

To be honest, the story and the setting isn’t exactly original, but boy does it have some standout moments, that at times will leave you with a massive grin across your face, this is a very self aware game and it plays to that perfectly.

It isn’t the story or the writing that you come for though, it is the tough and testing gameplay that really helps this stand out from the crowd.

The opening tutorial is generic and slightly dull, as it teaches you the basics of movement, combat and how to call in the all important drops (which I’ll come to in a moment). So far it is all same old, same old. But then it lets you loose.

After getting a galaxy overview map, similar to what you may see in the Mass Effect games, you choose an area to play, enter that area and get going…well, not before finding others to join in with you and earning that spinning cape trophy…because why the hell not.

Now Helldivers would have been a fantastic game based off the core gameplay mechanics alone, the controls are finely tuned and it feels very satisfying moving through each level and engaging in combat. It would have been fine with that, but the developers decided to step things up a little by adding full on friendly fire and a little more to make it that much harder.

In most games with co-op features like this, the idea of friendly fire is a nightmare and often turned off by default, but in Helldivers it is a central part of why the game is so bloody good. Of why you embrace its difficulty and learn to love it.

Enemies aren’t always easy to take down, which often leads to you and your team needing to work together on one enemy, or split across numerous enemies and whilst this is nothing new as such, the fact that your mate going to town on one enemy could see him getting in your way, or trying to shoot through you means you really need to think about how you attack.

You can be revived but losing one man can make things even harder and when you lose one player, others will quickly follow. So you need to be completely aware of what is happening around you and most important of all, you must communicate. Let others know what you are about to do, do that and you might just survive.

It’s not just friendly fire from your team-mates’ weapons you need to worry about and it isn’t only the clever AI that will try and work together to destroy you. No it is your Strategems too. These are drops that are designed to help you in battle

At any moment in the game you can call in a supply or weapon drop via a series of key presses, these drops come from above and if you happen to be in the way…DEAD. One of the drops is a turret which picks up on movement; even if you called for it, you can still be hit and killed. Luckily there is a dive to ground button which will see you safe from the bullets should you be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So what about these Strategems? Whilst the idea of calling for upgrades, weapons, health, etc in a game isn’t new, it is the mechanic used here that really impresses. You press a button to start a drop, then you see your option with a series of directional inputs next to them.

So for example you want to call in an ammunition refill, you press the call button and then enter the code up, left, right, up, up, down. That will confirm the Strategem and in it drops. Initially I did wonder if this was a silly gimmick and a bit of a convoluted solution to a problem that never existed, but it soon becomes second nature and you start to learn the codes, meaning you rarely need to actually look at what you are calling for and those precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

All the weapons, your character and even the Strategems are fully upgradable throughout the game, which once again adds a level of tactical thinking to how you play, what sort of combat style suits you best, which weapons should you upgrade, that sort of thing and it all works really, really well.

In the last year or so, gamers have seen a lot of games with promise fail to deliver, but in Helldivers you have a game that has not only delivered, but delivered in a box made of solid gold. It is an utterly joyful experience where you embrace the difficulty and beg for more.

 

GS Plays: Cities Skylines

Rather badly, so we had to start again. But then we were rocking and rolling!

 

Bradley invites Steve to check out new city building game Cities Skylines, but manages to ruin his early work by not understanding how roads are supposed to work. But these boys are professionals and manage to turn around the town’s fortunes… by quitting and starting from scratch!

This is all pretty much Bradley’s fault though and nothing to do with the game which is so well made, it is hard to believe it was done by such a small team and does the city building genre the justice it deserves after a few years of utter trash.

Cities Skylines is out in March 2015 for Steam

Bradley is joined by Steve in the latest Gamestyle Plays

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Pneuma: Breath Of Life Review

It isn’t all that often a game’s initial screen is a lesson in how to pronounce its title, but that’s what Pneuma does, but even then /’ nju:ma / doesn’t quite explain it properly. So it pretty much got known as Breath of Life in the Gamestyle offices.

Now as for what Pneuma: Breath of Life is. It is the latest in an ever growing trend of wandering, narrated, puzzle solving based games. To be honest it can be summed up pretty easily. If you had a scale that started with The Stanley Parable at 1 and finished with The Talos Principle at 10, then Pneuma: Breath of Life would be sitting around the 5-6 mark.

 

Now that isn’t the score, that is purely the game mechanics in a nut shell. You wander around the world that you have been given whilst a voice narrates exactly what you are doing, whilst solving pretty simple puzzles to progress. As you can see, it is slap bang in the middle of those two games mentioned.

But is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it the best of both worlds, or are you better off going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?

Well the easy answer is no… mainly because you can play this on a console, which neither of the other two are available on yet and secondly, it is a pretty damned good experience, although it can take a little while to realise that.

The game opens by trying to be mysterious and not revealing much, as you start in total blackness, with the narrator, the voice in your head, telling you that maybe you are a God and you can create light…and sure enough there was light. This is the opening path that takes you into the early puzzles and one thing that is lovely here, is the way the world builds itself around you.

Starting from emptiness, you start with basic 3D modelled shapes of stairways, walls, etc before seeing colour added, all as this is narrated to you, but by going back the way you came, you can also see this all undo in real time. It creates an amazing sense of progression even this early into the game and throughout it also keeps you pushing on. There have been many moments where I have said to myself, let’s leave it here for now, only to be intrigued enough to carry on that instant, just to see what this new area may be like…oh that’s finished now too.

The narrator is the one thing I am undecided on with Pneuma: Breath of Life. I kind of hate his voice, it just doesn’t fit as well as narrators in games like The Stanley Parable, Bastion or Transistor, it lacks the charisma that those have, but at the same time he fits the world really well and I couldn’t think of something that could sound better. It really is an odd feeling, you want him to be quiet, but when he does stop talking, you miss his voice in your ear.

Here is what I do like about the narration here though. It only fills in clues to puzzles once you have finished one of them. So the first puzzle you come across is a gate that opens and closes as you get nearer or further away. There is no explanation as to why this is, but it is only when you get through, you get a confirmation of what you did and how it worked, but again not as a straight up point by point description, it is a little more cryptic than that.

Another thing that impresses, is that even though the bulk of the puzzles follow a very similar mechanic, the game at no point felt repetitive, there was enough variation that you had to continue to think about your approach, even thinking outside of the box to come to the simplest of conclusions.

This brings me to the pacing and length of the game. First, this isn’t a long game by any stretch and can be finished in a few short hours, with very little encouragement to play through again, but by the same measure the pacing is absolutely spot on and I do mean spot on.

You start a new area and discover how this set of puzzles will work, you complete the first, then take on the next few as they get a little more complex, then as you get to the point that you feel you have done as much as you really care for in this level…BANG! There is the room and the teleport to the next area and a new set of puzzles and ways of solving them. This was happening every single time and I must say I can’t think of a single game where the pacing was that perfect. Others have been close to perfect, but this, in my opinion was actually perfect.

So to properly answer my earlier question Is Pneuma: Breath of Life the best of both worlds, or are you better of going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?

Those two nail their individual ideas better than Pneuma, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a wonderful game. If you are after something that will test the grey matter a little, then Pneuma: Breath of Life is a game you must own.