Out There: Omega Edition Review

Countless light years from home with a broken gas probe, my only means of collecting fuel. The materials I need for repairs might be somewhere in this star system, on either of the barren balls of rock and ice on my scanner, paradoxically close and distant in the void. Unreachable either way. As I prepare myself for cryo-sleep I dwell on the chance, however remote, that I might be rescued. But more likely I’m stranded. Done for.

Your first game over in Out There stays with you. A melancholy snapshot of what the game sets out to be and it’s worth remembering that initial feeling when it happens a second time. Then a third, fourth, fifth… because you will die a lot in Out There and 90% of the time it will be because you ran out of fuel.

At its heart this is a game of exploration, mystery and tough, frequently blind, choices. A freak hyperspace accident has left you stranded in interstellar space, our solar system a speck on the far corner of your star chart, a seemingly impossible goal. It’s a cosmic road-movie of a game whose universe obeys the laws of the Roguelike even if its combat free gameplay makes it a genre outlier. Progress is made through deciphering game systems and learning probabilities over countless failed attempts to make it back to Earth.

Developers Mi-Clos have done a fine job of breathing life into their procedurally generated galaxy. Random encounters play out as mini text adventures detailing inexplicable cosmic phenomena or chance encounters with other life forms. The writing is occasionally clunky but hits home far more often than it misses with concepts and situations ranging from pulpy fun to the genuinely profound. Play for long enough and you’ll start pulling at the threads of a wider narrative where the truth behind your place among the stars remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Visually, Out There is simple but admirably slick. Alien landscapes, the roiling surface of gas planets and imposing black holes are all depicted with understated, painterly majesty. Even tiny touches like the marker showing the location of your ship dwarfed by cosmic scenery, or the little radio bleep icons indicating other ships subtly feed into a grand sense of scale. Underpinning all this is an ambient soundtrack that barely makes it’s presence felt until the critical moment when early dangers are overcome and your ship is better equipped for the hardships ahead. Haunting female vocals, first sinister and then euphoric, kick in and the universe spread out before you is suddenly a warmer, more welcoming place than it felt a moment ago.

But despite the heady atmosphere and memorable writing, Out There is frequently a drudgery of random misfortune and dull resource management. Your need fuel to continue your journey, you need iron for repairs, you need oxygen to breathe. All of this can be found by drilling and probing planets but yields are random and you’re never more than two or three unlucky, behind the scenes dice rolls from arbitrary perma-death. Where most Roguelikes frequently throw brutal encounters your way there’s usually some scope for mastery of the combat systems and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. There should always be lessons in death, about managing risk, about moment to moment tactics and long term strategies. This is where Out There’s suffers the most, there’s no lesson to be learned from repeatedly running out of fuel in the opening game through pure chance.

To add insult to injury you’re saddled with a pedantic, fiddly inventory system. One that forces you to dump resources unnecessarily because of quirks in its multi-screen layout, or prevents you building ship upgrades because the space they would take up is occupied by the materials needed to build them. All of this is further compounded by an interface originally designed for tablets where the icons you need from one moment to the next are on opposite sides of the screen. Perfect for two thumbs but a pain in the arse to navigate with a mouse and no keyboard shortcuts.

Out There is a flawed game but it hides an epic story to be uncovered, a piece at a time, with each doomed interstellar foray. A hidden chronicle of galactic history laced with great skill into the fabric of the game. Dialogue snippets, text descriptions of strange artefacts and abandoned structures, even the nature of basic ship upgrades all have implications in the light of previous discoveries. It‘s a game full of strange ideas and strange visuals evoking hazy recollections of sprawling, wonky 16 bit games like Captain Blood, Captive and Reunion. For all its faults there’s nothing quite like it out there.

Brad and John’s Game Reviews – 29th May 2015

Brad and John take a look at the charts and releases for week ending 29th May (Friday).

We give you our thoughts on some of the standout titles each week as well as having a more in depth talk about one that we really feel deserves the attention, whether that be positive or negative.

This week The Witcher 3 gets more discussion time before the focus switches to Farming Simulator 15 and a lot more.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks)

This Week’s Top 10

4. FIFA 15

Anyway, details below on how to catch this weeks show.

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Gamestyle LIVE – The Last One

Brad, Steve and Andrew say goodbye to Gamestyle LIVE this week.

With Gamestyle being an indie site, with no revenue, it can often be the case that life gets in the way and makes it impossible to carry on as you want.

Steve and Andrew will be parting ways with the show this week to pursue other areas. We wish them both the best of luck, but want this one last show.

Stay tuned though, because when one door closes another opens. We also have details on The GScast in the show.

Anyway, details below on how to catch this weeks show.

Reviews and Ratings

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Broken Age Review

In the current climate, perhaps doubly so when writing about a game by Tim Schafer, it is important to declare interests. I should declare that I was one of the backers of the Kickstarter, to the tune of $130. I should declare that, since I was mostly playing GTA5 I didn’t even bother playing the Steam version that purchase gave me, I bought it again for another eight quid on my phone.

With such an obvious declaration made, I think you should now know that this is going to be a positive review. And it will be, a thoroughly positive review. A review that will at some point declare this game to be “a beacon of true hope in an industry struggling to offer individual visions”, that will speak about the Kickstarter using the phrase “implemented flawlessly”. A positive review that will compliment the creators for making something “that publishers simply wouldn’t have allowed to come to fruition”. A review so positive it’ll conclude “I am proud to have invested such a sum of money in this game”. And that’s a lot of money.

I should declare why I wanted to invest that money too. Well, we’ve all got our favourite adventure games but it was The Secret of Monkey Island that was the one I fell for. It’s probably The Secret of Monkey Island that you can trace pretty much my entire career back to. There were certainly clunky bits, but there were some beautiful puzzles and the writing, such as the fight scene behind a wall, wasn’t just a gaming memory, it was a childhood memory. I played a fair number of point’n’clicks after that and then they went away. In the strictest sense they didn’t, but there wasn’t that feeling of there being another around the corner.

I should also declare that, although I’ve only started watching them since completing the game, that the Player Two documentaries are some of the most interesting videos recorded about videogames ever. If the rest of the Kickstarter had occasional wobbles, this bit was implemented flawlessly.

I should declare that, and have thought so from the initial glimpses through to the final game, I think the art style of the game is perfect. It looks like a dream of a pixel game, both metaphorically and literally how dreams of pixels look. Which is amazing. I should probably declare I didn’t back Thimbleweed Park for the same logic, although I am looking forward to it.

I should declare that throughout the development, I’ve been on the side of the developers. Running out of money after raising so much seemed inevitable from the first moment, raising more may go against the true idea of the original Kickstarter, but it allowed the game to be completed. Perhaps the celebrity voices were a bit unnecessary, the casting doesn’t seem wholly ideal in some of the more famous cases, but it’s a nice thing to have.

And whilst I’m on that topic, I should declare that I don’t have a problem with big indies going to Kickstarter and receiving vast sums whilst smaller teams struggle to receive anything. The big successes have encouraged more devs to try Kickstarter, even if that means more have also failed.

I should declare that I really wanted to like this game and that in lots of ways I do. I do consider it a beacon of true hope in an industry struggling to offer any individual visions. This is genuinely a game that publishers simply wouldn’t have allowed to come to fruition. It’s too expensive to make, too unique. It doesn’t really feed off nostalgia whilst also not really doing anything new and so exists in one of those hard to define niches that publishers so hate.


…whilst I am proud to have invested such a sum of money in this game, to have helped it come into being…

…it’s just not very good. The first part is utterly simplistic with only two or three puzzles that you’ll notice are actually puzzles. It’s a warming and welcoming game, but it’s closer to a children’s story book than it is to Monkey Island. Perhaps always intended, perhaps a reaction to the feedback on the first part, the puzzles in part two are much harder but they’re, sadly, not much cleverer. Some rely on trial and error, some are relatively obvious but punish the player with long hikes around the map if they don’t get it right first time, others are just incredibly badly sign-posted and still more are easy to work out but then take ages to complete even when you know the answer. Quite how the game can feel like there are too few locations all over-loaded with solutions and almost every puzzle requiring a hike from one end of the map to the other and back again is mind-boggling. This is a game with a lot of walking, large chunks of which can’t be skipped. Cut-scenes are very cute once, but have to be skipped every time afterwards. Controls on a PC feel basic so they can be worked on a touch screen, controls on a small touch screen don’t feel anywhere near precise enough. Environments in Part Two are simply the first ones re-used, which feels slightly cheap. Understandable, but a little bit disappointing.

And the story? It’s almost great. It’s certainly well written and it feels warming and interesting, the dialogue is funny when it tries to be and it does evoke childhood in the way it tries to. There is a slight irony to playing a game written to evoke someone’s childhood in a game backed to evoke your own childhood and that never really feels resolved, this doesn’t ever feel like a game that was made for its pre-made audience, it’s very much its own beast. A strange decision, but not a bad one. Due to that and the lack of a single focus in the story it doesn’t quite keep your interest, slipping into the background behind whatever you are doing. That your irritation at a particularly bad puzzle is often more powerful than the urge to see the end of the story, even in what is clearly the (incredibly pernickety) finale speaks volumes. Upon completion it does feel pretty much worth the effort, although even then it is still a little bit confused and there are unanswered questions.

As the credits roll and my name scrolls past amongst hundreds of others, Broken Age confirms itself as a game that will always make me happy that it exists. I can’t imagine it will be a game I ever play again, nor will it be a game I can ever wholly recommend to anyone else. It is the most lovely and individual failure gaming has seen in years and that is genuinely a good thing, even if this is not a good game.

Toren Review

It’s taken me a while to write this review, because even after finishing Toren, I was still unsure what I felt. I couldn’t make up my mind if I enjoyed my time with it, or if I felt like I was just going through the motions.

There was lots I will take from it, but I still found it a bit forgettable. It looked lovely, but also didn’t leave an impression. Had an interesting story, but one I didn’t feel overly invested in. I am so torn on what I want to score this game.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have played some bad games that are bad and this is far from bad, it isn’t even average, it is more than that, but then it isn’t great, but it is better than good. I want to tell everyone to play it, but I don’t know if I can.

Let me back up for a second…what is Toren?

Well, it is an adventure game with an initially lovely art style which tells the story of a young girl as she grows, with a story told through some lovely poems. The game doesn’t give you any real context at the start but it does grow as she grows and the poems do standout.

There are some wondrous moments as the game progresses with something that feels really special near the start, which is where I think I find myself torn. The opening was so breathtaking, so fresh feeling it almost set the rest of the game up for a fall.

Despite the puzzle, battle and exploring mechanics working really well together, they go from being fun and engaging to just a bit meh, but with teases of greatness mixed in too. I say battles, but these are actually pretty rare, contentrating on the exploration and puzzles more than anything else.

If you have played any 3D adventure platformer you’ll be very at home with the puzzles and rarely do they push you, but neither are they mind-numbingly easy, they are simply competent, which is fine, but there are times you want to feel challenged and this simply cannot deliver that.

Whilst the art style is lovely, it just feels rough, even running on a good PC, they want to leave an impression, but the impression you get is that the extra polish this game probably needed was abandoned for whatever reason.

It is also a short game, I finished it in an afternoon. Now again, I don’t know if I see this as a good or bad thing, I have no desire to go back, but neither do I feel like I wasted an afternoon. It was like sticking a film on Netflix sitting there, watching, having a decent time but not taking much in.

At the end of the day Toren is a game that you won’t hate, but you won’t love. It is one that you will play, move on and forget for the most part. If you have a gap in your gaming time, you’ll do a lot worse than Toren, it just won’t blow you away.


Project Root Review

Back in my younger days, I loved the Strike games, Desert, Jungle, Urban and have wondered why they have never really been seen again as a popular genre. Sure, there was Renegade Ops, which is absolutely sublime, but the ‘Strike’ sections were only a part of a much bigger thing.

There have been other games too, but many of them have failed to deliver the experience I enjoyed when I was a kid. I could emulate, or find other ways to play those originals again, but having played so many duds I feared I was remembering with rose-tinted glasses.

So when Project Root came along, I was interested, but wary, it looked to have the same core style as a Strike game, but it was all future modern sci-fi types and I have been burned before.

I really shouldn’t have had those fears, because after a session with Project Root, I had finally found a game to satisfy my needs, it isn’t a perfect game and I do have some issues, which I’ll come to in a moment, but for the most part, I could pick it up and play it like a Strike game and have a lot of fun.

You take on a mix of airborne and ground enemy types, which need you to use your different fire buttons depending on who you are aiming for, there are a mix of missions, which usually result in going here, destroy this, kill them. It is pretty standard stuff and for the first few times I was playing I was really enjoying myself.

Then the problems started to hit, unlike a Strike game, it didn’t feel like there was any point to what I was doing, the progression is there, so you can do upgrades and things like that, but I didn’t feel any need to want to push on and in the end felt like I was doing so just so I could play enough for the review.

The reason for this is that it is hard and I don’t mean that good type of hard like in Ikaruga and Dark Souls or that sort of thing. No, this is a lesson in frustration when it comes to difficulty. It is little things, like being attacked by off screen enemies that you are yet to encounter or even see, bullets that chase you, but home in too accurately and for too long. It is inevitable that you will die, because the game wants you to, but not in that way where you learn from it and go again. It really is very hard to concentrate on your task ahead or defending your ship when you are playing a guessing game of who is attacking you and where from.

Now this really is a shame that these two things let it down, because engaging the enemies you can see, both ground and air based is a joy, the fire-fights with them feel well balanced and like they are giving you an actual battle, rather than being annoying cannon fodder.

Another thing I felt, was that the upgrade system didn’t actually do much to turn the tide in my favour in the long run, which got to the point where I felt it was unnecessary and the game may have been better off without it. It’s not just a fault of Project Root, it is a modern gaming thing, where unless there are upgrades or skill trees, then there must be something missing, which isn’t the case at all and developers need to stop shoehorning it into games, it isn’t always needed and Project Root is a case in point.

Had Project Root focused on creating enemies that will give you a solid battle and built the game purely around that, then this could have been a special title, as it is though I came away feeling underwhelmed and frustrated, having played a game that just didn’t live up to some wonderful potential.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

The Witcher 3 is a big game; that much is obvious from the start. Just how big only starts to become apparent after a good few hours play. This ‘review’ is based on what I’ve played so far, not the whole game which you might usually expect a reviewer to have played. As such, it should be treated as a rough guide, perhaps like a friend’s comments when you ask what they think of a game they’ve bought.

Most of the people that have played The Witcher 3 have likened it at various points to Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption and it’s hard to argue with the idea that it lies somewhere between the two. Early claims that it isn’t truly open world are a little ridiculous but it’s correct to say that you can’t go absolutely everywhere right from the start; you are walled in to a large tutorial area of sorts. This works well in my opinion; it stops you from wandering into much higher level enemies and dangerous scenarios while teaching you the basics across a fairly wide variety of early missions. I found this first area offered enough intrigue to keep me playing until I’d mopped up all the quests I could find, before moving on to the main game.

Compared to previous games in the series, The Witcher 3 feels more immediate and dare I say ‘console orientated’. I played through a good 10 hours of Witcher 2 before starting this and found it to be a decent enough game but too bogged down in tired mechanics and predictable tasks within the quests. Navigation was a nightmare too, with needlessly complex town designs made worse by having a single marker with no indication of how to reach it. Not a problem on its own, but when combined with other issues it made getting around a pain. This new game solves all of that straight away by having a much better world design and a dotted line on the mini-map to show you the route you need to take. If all of this sounds a little too hand-holdy for you, you can turn it all off, but for those of us who don’t have the time to get lost it works well.

Gameplay mechanics have also been drastically improved, in my opinion. Combat, which felt indirect and loose in the previous game, now has more physicality to it. This gives the player a greater feeling of control. It’s important to remember, though, that this Is a huge RPG first and foremost and fans of combat action games won’t be holding it up as a pinnacle of that particular genre. At first you may think there’s not much to it, a few mashes of the buttons will despatch most early foes with little bother and it’s not much of a spectacle. As you progress and level up a couple of character traits, however, things get more interesting. You can start to tailor your Geralt to your style and will soon be unleashing ‘special moves’ of sorts and employing more interesting tactics as you meet more formidable opponents. It’s not Bayonetta, but as RPG combat goes it’s pretty good. Signs are the game’s form of magic and involve fire attacks and mind control among other options. They are interesting choices to have but a little finicky to get to grips with. You also have a range of bomb options and a crossbow but these all feel like alternative approaches that don’t immediately spring to mind when a fight ensues.  Overall it works well enough for me and the only combat issue I’m beginning to be concerned about is that things can start to feel a bit samey. You get better at fighting to a point, and it’s enjoyable to do so, but once you find something that works for you it seems that you can just keep doing that for every battle. This may change later on and, of course, it’s partly down to player choice, but those wanting to be forced to change their approach may have to do so voluntarily or increase the difficulty in the hope it will mean they have to.

One of the main things that got so many people hyped about Witcher 3 is the graphics and they are indeed very good. I’m playing on a fairly decent PC with a mix of high and ultra settings for a steady 60fps but cannot comment on how it looks on consoles, my understanding is: pretty good. For more in-depth insights into the visuals, take a look at one of the many high-res videos that are all over the internet – I’m the wrong person to comment on how it looks really; I don’t ever seem to be as impressed by graphics as most people are, placing more emphasis on frame rate myself. Fans of such things will not be disappointed though, the game looks great in almost all instances and appears to be well optimised for a range of PC specs. I have heard about many bugs and issues people are having, mainly on console versions, but I haven’t experienced anything myself which is pretty amazing for a game of this scope. I am incredibly picky and strict with anything like that and am a firm believer that games should only be sold as finished products when they are indeed finished. If I have issues with a retail version of a game I will mark it down heavily and explain why, I don’t care if it’s patched later, it should not have been sold in that state. The reason I’m ranting is to make it clear that I’m not forgiving anything here, I’ve genuinely had no issues (so far) and can only speak from my experience. I am aware that many people are having huge problems so it might be worth a Google to learn more about whether they’re likely to affect and bother you.

Back to the game itself then. It is huge. Not just geographically but in terms of what there is to do. You can spend hours and hours in the first area, clearing your map of all the markers that appear, only to realise that you’ve still probably missed some stuff. Eventually you move on, eager to see what awaits and oh God it’s a completionist’s nightmare! You find yourself in a huge area with even more quest markers, which themselves seem to increase exponentially as you complete each one. On the way to one area you’ll be distracted by something and open up a whole new sub quest, many of which offer at least an hour of gameplay. This is all well and good for those that want to spend the next year playing this game and it would be wrong to criticise a game for having too much content, but it can start to feel a little diversionary. It’s not ‘padding’ really because nothing prevents you moving the story forward and ignoring these side quests. It’s also not that the side quests aren’t great enjoyable adventures that are worth playing through. It’s just that so many are presented to you at once that it can be a little overwhelming. It’s genuinely hard to keep track of everything and perhaps a little more pacing would have benefitted the game here. If this sounds a like an odd criticism, let me explain. I might be in the middle of a quest when I unlock or discover another one. Now, I can leave the quest I’m on and go off on the new one but I, like most people I suppose, usually stick with what I’m doing before moving on. However, I now have the lure of this new mission on my mind and maybe rush through my current task, especially if I have a good idea of where it’s going and just want to see it through. It sort of spoils what I’m doing a bit. This is where drip-feeding things maybe one or two quests at a time could perhaps keep the player more focussed on the task at hand and therefore appreciate and enjoy it more. It’s an embarrassment of riches really. When there’s so much to do at once it’s hard to really get into any one thing. The game is like an RPG version of a giant Steam library just after a blowout sale; there’s so much quality stuff that’s popped up that you don’t know what to do. An odd criticism then, but one that I feel is not completely invalid.

My approach has changed from the opening area where I wanted to do everything. Now I’ll do a few side quests before the main story mission, do another few, then main story etc. The game does offer a guide of sorts by giving you recommended levels for each task. There’s nothing to stop you taking your level 10 Geralt into a level 35 quest but the little red skull does suggest it might be time to mop up some more side stuff and beef up a little first. It’s a handy pointer for those unsure about what to do next and is a subtle way to suggest, if not force, some grinding, which in this game takes the form of all those side missions. For those who might want to try a harder quest in the hope of getting better armour and weapons, be aware that these are level restricted too. I have a pair of trousers that I’m not allowed to wear for another two levels. This is kind of ridiculous but it’s just part of this genre and I understand why these things are necessary – it’s not irritating really, just silly.

My personal issue with these games has always been whether they can hold my interest. Often what happens, as with Skyrim, is that I go in all excited and do everything before getting a little bored. Usually this is precisely because I’ve been doing everything and getting bogged down in minutiae without progressing the main story and reaching new areas that might otherwise have kept me going. In this, I’ve made sure not to do too much in one place and have been utilising the freedom to move on to new areas. However, I am starting to realise that I probably don’t want to do everything. As enjoyable as it is, it’s hard for any game to hold your interest for over 100 hours. Not just any game, but any piece of entertainment. Think of those great, revered TV series, very few of those are over 100 hours long. You can get bored of anything, no matter how good it is. What you get out of the Witcher 3 will depend very much on your own temperament and you know, more than this review can ever say, whether you want it or not. I would certainly recommend it because, even if you don’t see all it has to offer, you will definitely get your money’s worth – I already have with plenty left to go. It’s a fantastic, sprawling adventure and I’ll happily say it’s the best one of ‘these’ games I’ve played. Part of that is down to the fact that it’s the most recent one and therefore enjoys a technical advantage, but it is also genuinely good. It’s hard to put a score on a game like this as the sheer size and grandeur are hugely impressive, but should those things influence what you say about the actual ‘videogame’ itself? Its fighting is maybe a 7, its very infrequent platforming is maybe a 5 at best and its RPG elements are perhaps a 9 or 10. No individual gameplay element is astounding or ground-breaking but to get them all working together to create the sense of adventure the game provides is truly impressive. It’s not the videogame Mario is and it’s not the artful piece of storytelling something like the Godfather is, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good and for the sake of £40 it’s a must.

Rogue Legacy Review

You’ve probably already heard of Rogue Legacy. Available on other platforms, it’s finally making its debut on the Xbox One. And it’s still very, very hard.

Seriously, you’re going to die. A lot. Then you’re going to start all over again. And yet, you’re always going to come back for more. It’s the addictive brilliance of Rogue Legacy that will get its hooks into you and not let go.

A platformer/roguelike, you control a chosen character and must venture through a randomly generated castle, defeating enemies, bosses and avoiding traps. Before you eventually end up dead. Did I mention it’s very hard?

As each of your chosen heroes succumbs to the dangers of the castle, it’s then passed on to their heir. You get to choose a character, each coming with specific traits and weaknesses. Some characters end up with dwarfism or gigantism, others can have blurry vision making it difficult to spot incoming attacks. There are less visual ones, such as magic being replenished with each item destroyed, or simply being able to take more damage. It’s probably Rogue Legacy’s most unique trait.

Each time you die though it’s not the end of the world. Money you gain remains, so you’re able to build up your base with new abilities, increased health and new weapons and armour. It does make the first few hours a bit of a grind, but once you gain enough experience and money you’ll be making slow and steady progress to each boss. Luckily, once the boss is defeated they stay dead, so not everything resets with every death. There’s also a way (once bought) that can lock the castle down, so it stays the same. You will earn less coins in the castle though, but it’s a good way of easily retrying a boss battle instead of trekking through the castle again due to teleporters that are located outside the boss room.

The random nature of the castle makes everything feel different each time you play. I guess, because it is! Although certain areas are always located in a specific direction, each room is randomly generated. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and only come across a few enemies or hazards, others can be best described as bullet hell.

Rushing through the rooms is the best way to get yourself killed. Slow and steady is the best way to approach each area, because while it’s devilishly difficult, if you die then you’ve really only got yourself to blame. Enemies always have a set pattern and it’s about learning how to approach each situation that will get you through the game. It’s wonderfully designed. And it controls perfectly.

The only major issue with the game is the opening couple of hours. Those with short attention spans may find themselves getting stuck early on and abandoning the game, which would be a shame. The start is all about grinding for better equipment and abilities before you can finally push for that first boss room.

As a game where the developers have stated it was inspired by Dark Souls, it’s safe to say Rogue Legacy won’t be for everyone. It’s a game where you are continuously pummelled into the ground until you get better or give up. Those that persevere though will be greatly rewarded.

The Future Value of Everything You Own

Right now on ebay you can buy a copy of Secret of Mana, cart only, for £30. There are fully boxed versions going for up to £200. If I still had the copy I bought in the mid-90s I could cash in, assuming any of these listings actually sell.

In recent years we’ve been inundated with special editions in tin boxes with collectible art books that retail at double the standard price or sometimes even more. Rarely do any of these hold their value, let alone increase in a way that makes them worth buying. I usually avoid special editions but I did get sucked in by the recent Bayonetta ‘First Print Edition’ on Wii U. Partly because I loved Bayonetta and partly because it’s one of a few games that might actually have some of the elusive internet cachet that leads to things commanding silly prices. The original game’s official guide book can be found for as much as £400, though I doubt it ever sells for that. Ico, in its original PAL cardboard arty box, was another supposed ‘rarity’ of sorts that I could have made a bit of money on had I had the foresight.

As I look at my stack of games now, I can see that almost 25 years of gaming and an obscene amount of money has left me with ten Wii U games and some worthless last gen tat, the value of which is lower than the cost of the additional calories carrying it into town to sell would consume. Everyone has their own metaphorical copy of Tiger Woods 2009 lying around somewhere. The ten Wii U games are interesting though. The fact that they’re there is due in large part to the fact that Nintendo games have always seemed to hold their value. Most of the ten are still for sale at full price, if you can find them, and it has the strange psychological effect of making them still feel relevant in a way that last year’s FIFA game never can. Another reason I still have them is because they’re great, timeless games that I want to keep and, with the Wii U being how it is, I don’t feel like I can sell them now and then pick them up again at a cheaper price when I want to play them in a year or so. They just won’t be there.

As we move inevitably towards the big, bold digital future all of this will change. Our cloud-based gaming libraries will eventually be filled with a decade’s worth of long-deleted sports games and will ultimately become the virtual reincarnation of the racks in those Gamestation stores that were full of Road to the World Cup ’98 for 50p a pop.

The point is, most games are eventually worthless. Apart from the few outliers that I touched upon above, almost everything you buy will lose all of its value, and that’s fine. As long as you get your money’s worth it doesn’t really matter, but all any of us are really doing is renting. If I buy PES 2015 and sell it a few months later, maybe to fund PES 2016, then all I’ve really done is paid the difference to rent PES 2015 for 10 months or so. There is nothing wrong with that but it does remove all value from the previous game and means that each iteration has a very small window in which to make all of its money before it’s seen as essentially worthless.

As someone who’s always traded games, right from my very first console in the early ‘90s, I perhaps have a more cold-hearted business-like attitude than someone who could maybe afford to hold onto things a little longer. I’m certainly not unique though. In the last 10-15 years trading and the whole pre-owned market has become huge and almost everyone does it. Any sentimentality about ‘building a collection’ is the preserve of the nerdy enthusiast in a world that went mainstream a long time ago. People have always said that games are becoming more like movies but so too has the way we consume them. In the ‘80s and ‘90s people regularly rented videos as a way to watch films; you might buy the odd one you really liked but amassing a huge catalogue was relatively rare. Whilst videogame rentals were a comparatively short-lived experiment that perhaps didn’t appeal to the gamer’s mindset in the same way, we’ve still ended up with a similar set-up where nothing is permanent, except for those few that really want it to be.

When you spend what is becoming the ever fluctuating £40 on a new game, what are you expecting from it? For me, it depends on the game. If it’s a football game I expect it to be my go to 30 minute bash for the next year before the new one comes out. If it’s this month’s hot new release, however, I expect to enjoy bashing through it in a week or so before quickly trading it in and maybe getting £30 back for it. I’ve pretty much just rented it for a tenner. Any extra modes or DLC will be ignored in favour of getting that maximum resale value. Occasionally though, you get a game like Super Mario 3D World (yes I know, again) which is just a masterpiece and instantly stakes its claim for permanent residency. These are the games where real world value goes out the window and something else takes hold, the games where you start to think you’ve conned someone by only paying £40 and, as such, would not accept double that yourself (were other copies not available of course). This is probably why I still have all ten of my Wii U games.

I do have other games though. My 360 sits in the front room with maybe 50 XBLA games on its hard drive, some of which are games I would have kept anyway and some of which I’d dearly love to be able to sell. In amongst my physical ‘last-gen tat’ I have SSFIV and Vanquish, both excellent games that are kept because of their quality and low resale value. As a long time game trader the digital future didn’t appeal to me but I’m starting to come around to it. I’ve had a Steam account since 2003 but never bought anything until recently as I hadn’t previously had a PC for gaming. I have 32 games in my account now and most of them were freebies, gifts, or small purchases for a couple of quid. I have no qualms about a digital game’s lack of resale value when it only cost that notional £10 or so ‘rental’ fee that I pay as a trader anyway; you’re not losing anything and always have the upside of being able to play that old golf game in 20 year’s time. Except do you? Will the servers be working? Will PCs remain compatible with older games? Well, who really gives a fuck? It’s all ultimately worthless anyway and who has the time to care? Gaming is a self-curating hobby and what’s good and matters and has value will always stick around in one form or another. What doesn’t will just fade away, and in a digital future it can just disappear into greyed out text, forever to be scrolled over as you click and load up another game of Road to the World Cup 2018

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 22nd May 2015

A new podcast for your enjoyment joins the Gamestyle line up. Brad & John’s Game Reviews is a weekly podcast where we look at the latest charts, recent releases and upcoming titles.

We give you our thoughts on some of the standout titles each week as well as having a more in depth talk about one that we really feel deserves the attention, whether that be positive or negative.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks)

This Week’s Top 10

6. FIFA 15

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Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review

This is the latest in a barrage of Hyperdimension Neptunia games that have all been released in a flurry this year.

Departing from the usual JRPG format of the previous games, this is a spin off which presents itself in the form of a Musou type action game. The general idea behind the Hyperdimenson games is quite pleasing, however the execution often lets them down. This spin off though is cut from an entirely different cloth, given that it’s not developed by the usual creator of these games and is instead developed by Tamsoft who have already established themselves in this genre.

Following suit, all of the main characters who have been available in the previous games are available to play here, including the CPU’s (Personified console goddesses) themselves (Neptune & Co) as well as their younger sisters; the CPU candidates (Nepgear & Co). Follow them around the parody filled world of Gamindustri as they embark on a raucous romp where they endeavour to complete all of the quests dealt to them and bash as many monsters on the head as is goddessly possible. They are joined on their adventures by two new playable characters – the journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu who will report on their every move.

Essentially this is a ‘Gotta smash ’em all’ type game akin to Dynasty Warriors. To progress in the game our heroines must complete quests – which in all fairness are quite linear. The methodology is as follows: 1. Pick a quest 2. Note the requirements for completion 3. Begin thrashing around like a fish on acid 4. Kick ass! 5. Rinse and repeat.

The repertoire of quests does not really change that much. There are a few ‘special’ quests that supposedly have different clear requirements but they aren’t really that hard to figure out or that different from the main quests themselves. More variety in the quests would definitely not go amiss.

Depending on your perspective you’ll either love or hate the damage feature of the game which involves half the characters clothes magically flying off and becoming tattered. The result of which is that they therefore expose themselves to the world – exactly the same as in Senran Kagura games. This franchise is no stranger to having slightly ecchi (pervy) tendencies and the dialogue even pokes fun at itself and points out this fact. Love it or hate it though, this fan service is there to stay until you manage to unlock an unbreakable costume later in the game.

There are a total of 10 characters to pick, each with their own unique weapons and fighting styles, each character has a normal attack and a strong attack which you can mix & match to create various combos with. There are also a couple of special attacks that require SP to use – these can be used to temporarily clear a large number of mobs. As you slaughter enemies, the EXE drive gauge will fill, once it is full enough, the characters have the option to transform into HDD mode which is essentially a stronger version of themselves that resembles the dragoon mode from the Legend of Dragoon (if anyone actually remembers that…). Whilst in this mode, there are a couple of special skills that can be executed which will pretty much mutilate everything in sight.

You can fight solo or play with two characters – the more two characters fight together the higher their lily rank will become, this will unlock special bonuses such as increased EXP gains and eventually a double team combo which is guaranteed to wash away anything that stands in their way – go nakama power!

The combat is fast and fluid with excellent optimisation for the PS Vita, the frame rate is top notch and the cel shaded style works really well along with all of the colours being astoundingly eye popping on the OLED screen. The characters and the art in general are incredibly well drawn and a pure pleasure to look at. The level design itself is fairly generic though, there’s a forest level, an ice level and the classic lava level as well as a few levels that pay homage to older games such as Mario Bros and Tetris.

Character stat increases, new weapons and accessories are handled in a slightly different way to normal; whilst characters do level up in the usual way, acquiring upgrades is done by accessing the medal collection. Upon defeating enemies, some of them drop medals. Once a certain amount of medals have been collected you can then unlock stat increases as well as gaining new equipment. This means that you have to keep fighting in order to unlock everything.

The plot is fairly thin and is more of a background distraction than anything else, it loosely manages to take the characters and general story forward and whilst at times, the banter between characters is interesting and slightly amusing there are other times where it totally misses the mark. The crux of this is that you don’t really care about the plot at all! Both characters Dengekiko and Famitsu are attempting to get the scoop on each of the girls’ antics and in order to get these stories, quests need to be completed… and written about, THAT.IS.IT!

The English voice acting is dubious at best and half of the characters virtually sound the same, the Japanese is a notch above and comes as the recommended choice. My only real gripe is that some of the characters’ dialogue is overly cutesy. The general soundtrack on the other hand blew me away, I really did want to listen to it as I fought my way through endless hordes of slimes, animated flowers and cubes. Like the looks of the game itself, the wide array of tunes on display here is nothing but a joy to listen to.

The two extra modes which are unlocked after beating Chapter 3 don’t really add any further depth to the game. The Gamindustri Gauntlet where you can create your own 10 fighter tournaments and battle it out until the end is much more dull than it sounds and the same goes for the Neptral Tower which involves climbing a long tower filled with randomly changing enemies.

Overall, this is an attractive and amusing game that is pleasing on the eye as well as the ear and that is great for a fun quick blast in the middle of the day, during your commute or simply whenever you feel like it. It would get repetitive quickly if it were on a console but it suits the nature of time-limited handheld gaming perfectly. If you are a fan of the genre and like crazy button bashing over the top combo-creating anime style games then it is definitely worth a go. It isn’t the best game ever but by no means is it the worst either.

Invisible, Inc. Review

I like to think that I can play strategy and turn-based games as well as the next person. The truth is though, I fumble my way around until something works, which often means I am replaying the same missions time and time again in what is nothing but trial and error. But I do like them, they tend to be well put together games that demand your time.

Invisible, Inc. is no exception either and being by Klei Entertainment, the makers of the wonderful Mark of the Ninja, means you know you are in for a quality product. Whether the game is any good or not, is another story, but you at least know it will be well made.

Luckily though, the gameplay is sublime, mixing turn-based mechanics with stealth, as you take your agents through various levels to complete the quests bequeathed unto them. That may well be recovering some information or something a bit darker.

What really impressed me from the very start is how many options are open to you, but how intuitive everything is, so you can concentrate on sneaking and advancing. There are various shortcut keys, but all actions can also be performed with button presses and going through menus; essentially choosing a way to play that best suits you and for me, it was using a mix of both shortcuts and mouse clicks, but it really does feel like second nature once you get going.

The opening mission was an interesting one, it was easy when looking back, but it did test considering it was an introduction to the game. Each agent has limited moves per turn and every action will use up your action points, so you find yourself really trying to plan ahead (as far as you can see anyway), planning enemy moves so you can sneak by, or lure them into position so you can take them down. All the while trying to uncover secrets, complete your mission and escape.

It’s not just you though, you have Incognita, an AI system that can hack systems to create diversions, provide information, trap enemies and so on, but she isn’t an all powerful entity, as she has a limited amount of power, with each action using up that power, so you’ll need to hack terminals to provide power to Incognita over the course of a level so she remains useful.

Secrets and money you earn can be used to upgrade your agents, making them much more useful in the field, such as seeing further, having more Action Points per move, etc. This provides a wealth of options as you go further into the game and keeps the balance pretty much spot on.

One thing I found is that it is a pretty tough game and despite being well balanced you will be on your toes at all times, with failure quite often an outcome. But that really doesn’t matter, because another thing that hit home, was that this is a giant game of cat and mouse for the most part and it’s an absolute joy to play and feels great when you beat a level.

The ‘story’ is pretty interesting too, but is full of secrets and unanswered questions, which leaves me hoping we will see some future content that will answer some of those questions. At the very least there is Steam Workshop support which has me very excited to see what the community can come up with.

I came into Invisible, Inc. expecting a game I could say was very nice and well put together, but one I struggled with, instead I continue playing knowing I am having a wonderful time and enjoying every second I am a super spy.

Life is Strange: Episode 3 – Chaos Theory Review

Continuing the story of Max, the last episode ended not only with that moment, but also a rather ominous eclipse. Following this, Max and best friend Chloe are ramping up their investigation into the disappearance of Rachel Amber aided by Max’s time rewind powers. Her power allowing her to rewind time to specific points, changing the outcome of certain events, and if you choose, changing a particular dialogue path you went down.

Back during my review of the first episode I mentioned that if you actually stop to think about it then the time travel mechanic makes zero sense. Well, that’s sort of back with a vengeance in episode 3 as the puzzles you encounter actually integrate these logic breaking moments into the solution.  For instance, being able to pick up items, rewind time and then still have them in your inventory is actually used to solve a puzzle. Something that I did by accident because it doesn’t make any sense!

Most mind bending of all is the fact that as you rewind time Max is stationary as everything else moves around you, which I also mentioned in my episode 1 review. Something I was finally able to accept in episode 2, but is again brought to the forefront in episode 3 as this unique mechanic is used to get into a locked room. And again, it took me a while to figure this out as years of time travel movies and video games has hammered into me that this isn’t how time travel is supposed to work.

On the plus side though, puzzles! Seeing as Telltale Games are moving further and further away from actual gameplay into more interactive fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with that) it’s good to see that a developer can meld puzzles and story together in this way. And it’s all done with quite a lot of style. Of course, if you’re reading this then chances are you’ve already played (and hopefully) enjoyed the first two episodes. The almost drawing like art aesthetic is quite brilliant, and almost made me look past the, at times, poor lip syncing when characters speak.

The first few scenes of Chaos Theory aren’t the strongest, a few character moments that don’t say anything new and feel very much like treading water before the big moments occur. And the love it or hate it dialogue is back with a vengeance. Chloe once again the wise cracking sidekick who sounds like she just dropped out of a badly written teen flick. Whenever she refers to her step father as “step douche” it makes me violently want to strangle something. Shame because she’s an interesting character when she’s speaking like a human being.

Despite the slow, pondering start, the pace soon picks up as new powers are discovered and difficult decisions are made. Decisions still managing to never be black and white, providing a great balancing act where every choice could have positive or negative repercussions. And just like all good episodic games, the cliffhanger ending is enough to bring me back to see exactly what it all means.

While Chaos Theory may not hit the highs of episode 2, it does carry on its tale of loss and mystery with aplomb. A few pacing issues aside, episode 3 manages to further cement Life is Strange as an episodic title that could end up on a few game of the year lists at the end of the year.

Making a Game by Yourself on Zero Budget

Early last year, I released Rocket Drop on all of the mobile stores (I’ve since removed it from the stores). It was a cheap-and-cheerful endless runner of a game. Not fantastic by anyone’s standards, but an entertaining distraction nonetheless. It cost precisely nothing to build, and was the result of less than a week of overall development. It did, however, give me a way into indie development; a low-risk, low-stakes development cycle to get an understanding of the production process and how the release system actually works. Plus, any sales from the first release were essentially a bonus (no development costs = 100% profit!). I also built it alone, which is a common practice for app developers these days. The low barrier to entry that the Unity engine provides makes this an option, but to someone attempting it for the first time, this can seem daunting, so here I’m going to talk about a list of resources and common practices that I’ve developed over time.


Congratulations! If you have the time and disposable income to read this, then you are in the top 39% of the world’s population! It also means you have a computer, so that’s your development hardware taken care of. Out of that 39 percent, you have a 63% chance of owning a smartphone already. If you’re in that 1.75 billion, you won’t have to pay for hardware.

I do advise that you should have more than one device to test with. Apple advise that you “test on many devices” before submitting any apps, but nobody does that because it’s expensive. In my experience, the minimum set to test with is one low-end and one medium-range device. There’s no point in testing on a high-spec mobile device, because of course your game will run at your target frame rate on a high-spec mobile device! Testing for lower end platforms helps to determine a minimum spec, and it “keeps you honest” in terms of content authoring (you’re less likely to create bloated game models if you need your app to run on a tablet from 2009).


Yeah, you need to learn how to do this if you haven’t already. No way around it. In terms of what to code with, I recommend Unity because it’s very intuitive for content authoring, it solves most of the problems inherent with releasing on multiple platforms, and it is extremely well-documented (you can type almost any error message from Unity into Google, and someone will have already solved it online). It’s also free to use and distribute with, but only if your annual sales are less than $100,000. Statistically, as an indie mobile developer, you only have a 25% chance of making more than $30,000 in your lifetime, so this is a good deal!

NOTE: If you’re developing Unity apps for iOS, be prepared to do a lot of reading! Compatibility between Xcode and Unity is always a bit of a shaky subject with each release of either program (when I authored Rocket Drop, the free version of Unity iOS didn’t work). Also, you’ll need to buy a Mac if you don’t already have one, because you can’t compile iOS apps on a PC.


If you intend to be a single-person studio, you need to be able to make art as well as code. It’s a rare skill set that can handle both. The standard workaround for this is to build an art-style on retro 2D graphics (this has an added benefit, in that nostalgia-bait is an effective marketing tool). However, this approach is starting to fall out of favour, as there are only so many 8-bit score-attack platformers that the market can take, so making the jump to 3D can be worth it! Having said that, there is still room for innovation in 2D art.

In either case, content authoring for 3D can get expensive (Maya and Photoshop are not cheap!). But there are free alternatives to literally everything a games artist would need to create great content. Anecdotally speaking, the user experience for free software is worse than that of their commercial counterparts, but their feature set is always competitive. Plus, they’re free!

  • 3D Graphics: Blender
  • 2D Graphics: GIMP
  • Normal Mapping: NormalMap-Online

When you get into trailer authoring for your app, Windows Movie Maker is a decent place to start (honestly, it’s not as bad as everyone says!). But when your trailers start to become more adventurous, I’d recommend a high-end video editor such as Lightworks or VSDC. Of the two, VSDC is easier to work with, but Lightworks has more features.


Having mastered both art and code by this point, you are now clearly some kind of unstoppable super-developer that can do anything. Good for you! Why not write your own music?

I recommend using LMMS for this. It’s free, it’s multi-platform, and it supports plug-ins for both general midi and VST. It also has a massive learning curve and minimal documentation, so you will need to set aside time to learn this tool! If you’re writing your own music, definitely spend some time downloading VSTs for your virtual instruments. I wrote the music for Rocket Drop using general midi, and in retrospect, the music sounds pretty awkward in that game.

Alternatively, you could use royalty-free music instead of writing your own. Royalty-free music is usually cheap. However, if a song is licensed under creative commons, it’s actually free to use, but not to sample (provided you credit the original musician!).

In terms of audio, there are plenty of sound effects available for download, either through public domain, or through the creative commons license. Alternatively, you could record your own sound effects. Some of the plugins that come with LMMS allow for plenty of “8-bit” style noises. For other effects, you can record from real life. For example, the engine noise in my game Chaos Ride is a sample of the noise my car made when one of its spark plugs broke!

Releasing the game:

Actually releasing the game is the only part of the development process where you will have to spend money. All of the various app stores have a one-off charge to submit apps; Apple charges $100, Google and Windows each charge $25 (though the Windows fee also lets you develop for Windows 8).

Scott is an industry veteran who has worked on a number of high profile games such as Burnout and Battlefield: Hard Lines. He also ran a start-up company by the name of sc0tt games for a brief time.

Space Beast Terror Fright – Preview

The first thing you see after firing up the current build of SBTF is a high score table in the ugliest 90s neon font plastered over the ugliest 90s 3D rendering of a space station corridor. What follows is the most harrowing, thrilling FPS I’ve played in years.

With a name so on the nose even Ronseal would be jealous, SBTF does exactly what it says on the tin. Playing as a lone marine (or split screen with a squad of up to 4) you blunder your way through a deserted space station trying to overload the facility reactor all the while being stalked by, well, space beasts. There’s no point beating around the bush, SBTF is Space Hulk. It’s Aliens. It’s James Cameron to Alien Isolation’s Ridley Scott and the purest distillation of its inspirations you could hope for.

Your helmet visor and the massive gun that sits at the side of your screen totally obscure your peripheral vision. The corridors are narrow and labyrinthine and you’re expected to memorise the station’s procedurally generated layouts on the fly. It’s an oppressive, claustrophobic game where getting disoriented is as dangerous as the creatures hunting you down. Faced head on, the aliens are cannon fodder but if one gets the drop on you then it’s instant death. Luckily there are sentry guns to activate and data terminals granting you power-ups ranging from gun upgrades to heat vision, turning combat into a glorious mess of Technicolor vomit. Each short lived game has a natural curve of escalation. The marines establish their defences and power up while the beasts create more hull breaches to spawn from. It takes just enough time for a favourable situation to turn sour for creeping dread to set in before near inevitable rout and carnage.

I emerged from my first play session brutalised and clinging to a single thought, “I hope they leave this just how it is”. Since then developer Nornware have wasted no time in adding an easy mode and navigation power ups. While they do make for a better, arguably saner game, I can’t help pining for that first horrific experience. There’s potential here for adding all the trappings of a modern FPS but apart from online multiplayer and LAN support there really isn’t anything else the game needs. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a massive old school list of game settings that let me drop out all the unnecessary extras leaving the core experience intact.

For the bare bones of a production in the earliest stages of early access SBTF is already worthy of your time. It’s a tense, bleak experience where survival is a rare occurrence and your frequent death offers some of the best jump scares gaming has to offer.

Not A Hero Review

All hail Bunnylord! Bunnylord is the only choice! VOTE BUNNYLORD!

Get used to Bunnylord, he is going to be a big deal by the end of 2015 as for me, he is already the character of the year, in fact he is pretty much the only politician I actually like and want to see and hear more of. He is clearly a psychopath, but he is upfront and honest with that. His mantra of kill everyone is one I can get behind too.

In all seriousness, there are a couple of things that really standout beyond just the gameplay and that is the character and writing, which continues a trend in Indie gaming of just getting better and better and better. More and more we are getting settings, characters and stories that just standout and can make you feel an entire spectrum of emotion.

Not A Hero does this with humour and some degree of satire. The cut-scenes between the levels are just the perfect length with the right amount of filler to push you along and a story that you get a vested interest in. There are moments of quiet smiling to yourself to laugh out loud hilarity.

Bunnylord, whilst being the main character is not actually a playable character and by never playing as him, but just doing his bidding, you can just feel his psychopathic tendencies. You know what you have to do is morally wrong, but at the same time you just know you have to do as he wishes, or face the consequences.

Well, there are no consequences of which to speak, but that again is a testament to the writing that you still feel the need to follow his orders to the letter. Which is just as well, as there are a series of challenges per level you must complete. These range from finishing in a certain time, getting kill-streaks, not getting shot and a ton of others too, offering plenty of variation to what is essentially a one trick pony for the most part.

I don’t say one trick pony as a negative, I mean that in the best way possible. Not A Hero sets up the core mechanics of the game early and sticks to it right to the very end. Essentially your character (one of many to choose from) will enter a level with a basic task, such as kill everyone, arm this bomb, that sort of thing. Then by using a mixture of cover and sliding, you go mental shooting and blasting everything in sight.

Everything fits together really well, levels are short and feel more like a mix of basic puzzling, with a splash of combo based systems from the likes of the studios own OlliOlli games. The more you play a level, the better a run can and will be.

The only thing lacking for me, is that this is a score attack game, without the score. It honestly feels like I could go back time and time again to improve a run, trying to get better scores, and whilst I can check out an impressive set of stats, it still feels like it misses that friendly competition that Roll7 nailed in the OlliOlli game. Which in the end is a shame, as it kind of means that when it is done, it is certainly done. However, you really don’t want it to be done, you want more. More please Roll7, MORE!

Each of the characters you can choose from have their own personalities and skills, which can help or hinder on a per level basis, favourites of mine are Cletus and Jesus, which I won’t ruin for you, but I just loved their vocabulary and played as them both a lot just to hear them more.

Not A Hero is a wonderful game in its own right, but also a perfect snapshot of where the Indie scene is right now, with a combination of writing and gameplay that puts many big budget titles to shame. It is well made and feels so amazingly solid, it is just a shame it is over too quickly.

A Love Letter to ActRaiser

Well unless you’re Phoebe Cates in Gremlins, for whom the festive notion of chestnuts roasting on an open fire has an altogether darker meaning. But for the majority of us, Christmas is the most fun a kid can have, and the excitement begins three or four days before the day itself, building to a crescendo on Christmas Eve when thoughts of what might be under the tree makes sleep as hard to achieve as a sub 12 second lap on Mario Circuit 1.

In the build up to Christmas 1993 I’d been as subtle as a foghorn in a library about what I really, really, really hoped Santa would bring: a SNES. Damn, those lush grey curves and the promise of Street Fighter 2 in my house was too much for my young mind to take and it was boggled. Deciding a SNES is what I wanted more than anything else in the world, I set about Operation SNES accordingly. The chief tactic being to leave a magazine advert for the desired console in the one place I knew my dad would be a captive audience: the family bathroom, specifically next to the porcelain throne where the male Cookes would regularly do some of their best, and most prolonged, thinking.

Imagine the excitement on my little ginger face then on Christmas Day when the last, suspiciously console-sized box plucked from under the tree was handed to me! But what’s that? A smaller box? It must be a game cartridge! Oh, my giddy aunt, what treat did my p-unit deem worthy of my Christmas play time?! I tore off the paper, looked at the box, and mouthed the game’s title silently. Act…raiser. Huh?

“The lad in the shop said it was very good” my mum said with all the confidence of one of Kim Jong Un’s lackeys telling the Great Leader his morning toast is burnt. Bemused by the game’s strange name I cautiously fired up the SNES… and was immediately intrigued by the triumphant horns and ActRaiser logo rippling into view. Maybe the lad in the shop was on to something. Back then my only experience of games loading had been of a few Amstrad CPC464 tapes a-bleeping and a-blurping. This hypnotic load screen was truly a brave new world.

With fresh anticipation I started a new game and suddenly I found myself in what appeared to be heaven, being asked by a little cherub to create a name for myself. Still reeling from the majestic intro I came up with the super creative ‘Ben’, completely ignoring the then default tendency to be juvenile. The same could not be said a few years later when co-creating a team of female celebrities called ‘Babes XI’ on Sensible World of Soccer and selecting an all-pink kit because somehow this made the players look naked… So, yeah, teenage boys will sexualise pretty much anything. I think Pamela Anderson was very good up front for Babes, fnar and, indeed, fnar.

Sir Ben! The game called me Sir Ben! Okay, this is already great, I thought to myself. Later the game would tell me for perhaps the first and only time in my life that I was diligent and hard-working. Bless you, ActRaiser. Within moments of naming my avatar I was descending from Cloudworld or heaven (the Japanese was a little more explicit about the religious undertones) via the magic of mode 7, plunging into the dark depths of some sort of Hell Gate and a side-scrolling 2D hack ‘n slash world. It is worth noting here that, even now, ActRaiser’s soundtrack, composed by the brilliant Yuzo Koshiro, is absolutely bloody fantastic. I’ll wait here while you pop to YouTube and fire up one of the game’s compilations.

You back? Right, so coupled with this 16-bit audio masterpiece was the aforementioned hacking and slashing through woodland filled with nefarious beasts until, oooh change of tempo, you tackle the first boss. By now I was giddier than a tumbler on a merry-go-round. The opening of ActRaiser is a tour de force in how to capture the hearts of gamers and I can’t recall too many other games that have left me so compelled to continue within such a short space of time.

Yet ActRaiser had another trick up its sleeve beyond just very enjoyable hacking and slashing. Polish off the first boss and suddenly the town of Fillmore becomes your playground as the game switches to being a God sim, and your new quest is to guide a formerly down-on-its-luck civilisation to prosperity. You do this by rebuilding the plucky peoples’ homes and forging a path to the monster lairs dotted around the reclaimed land. Once these lairs are sealed, better structures can be built and your burgeoning civilisation can develop further, in turn increasing your hit points and SP, which is used to meter our miracles. A win win for everyone involved, well, except the monsters of course, but they deserve it for being so monstrous. They should have thought through their career path a little more.

The pairing of side-scrolling action and a town-building simulation is one rarely bettered in real life, let alone videogames. Reese’s peanut butter Oreos might come close to achieving the same level of shouldn’t-work-but-does harmony but kudos to Enix for rolling the dice and welding too very different game genres into something so beautifully right. As the game continues, more lands unlock and your population grows. Each land contains two side-scrolling levels, each one a warped nightmare of increasing difficulty, with inventive platforming and decidedly vicious bosses. Eventually, once all lands are rid of beasts and all levels are conquered, you move to Death Heim for the final confrontation with Tanzra, the game’s uber-villain. Although between you, him and a battle for the ages apparently set in space for some reason, lie all the previously vanquished end level bosses, back with increased speed to dish out even more damage. I’m not going to lie, I never defeated Tanzra, and he remains my Moby Dick. Or just a dick.

ActRaiser sold around 620,000 copies worldwide, which is about a 10th of what it deserved but did at least lead to a sequel. The follow-up, despite being a solid game, did away with the God sim aspects of the original. Without the sim mode, the sequel lacks a degree of charm. It is Wayne’s World 2 to Wayne’s World; enjoyable but missing something that made the first iteration so enjoyable. At least the downturn was not as dramatic as the drop in quality from Caddyshack to Caddyshack 2 or Grease to Grease 2 (the makers missed a trick by not just naming that particular sequel ‘Greasier’).

Happily ActRaiser was given a new lease of life in recent years on Nintendo’s virtual console. In these times of HD polishes and nostalgic reboots I’d like to think someone, somewhere shares the same affection for the original and is primed to release a souped-up version. It is said that we shouldn’t look back because we’re not going that way, but sometimes a glance over a shoulder can remind of us great moments and bring them back to the fore. If there was a videogame Hall of Excellence that we could all visit and play until our hearts are content, ActRaiser would sit in a pristine SNES atop a velvet cushion, ready to woo with its many, many charms.

So the lad in the shop was right, ActRaiser was, and still is, very good. In fact, he may have undersold it. ActRaiser is superb, an all-time classic and one that will remain a personal favourite, nestled comfortably alongside other treasures such as Resident Evil 4, Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, SWOS and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Were it not for the lad in the shop, my love affair with videogames might never have happened, so to him, whoever this knight in a (probably) polyester shirt is, I say thank-you. To the rest of you, seek out ActRaiser and discover the joys that enraptured a thirteen year-old many moons ago and still continue to offer delights to this day.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD

Another post / remaster to cover, but unlike some, we really don’t mind these happening. They bridge a gap between major releases and don’t actually stop progression. Anyway, I digress.

I reviewed the Vita release of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD and pretty much enjoyed the experience, it is always good to go back to a game you played in your younger days and find out it still holds up today. However, I am not going to talk about that today, this is more a story of why I am grateful for the option of another port. If you want to find out what I think of the game click this link!

I am still playing Final Fantasy X on my Vita, I don’t play it for huge chunks of time, but I do like an hour or so every now and again, it is a bit of a safety net of a game for me at the moment. The thing I have to put up with now, as a father of an 8 year old, is everything I get, he wants, or at least shows interest in and this is certainly the case here.

He is mesmerised by the visuals in the cut scenes and wants to play along with me, however he doesn’t have his own Vita and I won’t let him touch mine, it is my precious! So having heard there was to be a PS4 port of the X/X-2 collection, we jumped at the chance to pick it up so we could share the experience properly on the big screen.

There is one thing I love about this port and it is the ability to import my Vita save data, which whilst only being a minor thing, means I can carry on where I left off and despite it not being a new thing, there is always that fear you need to jump through some hoops…I’m looking at you Borderlands: The Handsome Collection! But that isn’t the case here, the process is very user friendly.

Let me get back on point. As a family we rarely watch much TV, mainly because most of it is trash, so we get the stuff we want via Netflix and other such services, but also because we love playing games, so a game that can be very story heavy is a great way for us to sit as a family and enjoy some entertainment. Final Fantasy X/X-2 is a perfect game to allow us to do just that.

Despite firing up my save initially and playing a couple of hours, we decided instead we’d use the family profile on the PS4 and play it through together. Again an hour here, couple of hours there, fitting it in around our other activities (mostly down the ice rink for my son to do ice hockey training).

That’s the thing about the old style Final Fantasy games, you don’t need to dedicate 5-6 hours at a time, every single day to get the most from them, or to play them competently, it is easy to play, leave for a while then go back.

Despite an initial overload for this article, so we know enough had been played to write about it again, it will now be treated like a tradition weekly TV show, we’ll sit down one evening as a family, play for an hour (maybe two) and then move on until the next week. It is just great to be able to share these experiences with the ones that you love.

I am going to recommend this, but with a slight caveat. If you have played and are done with the Vita release, there isn’t really anything to push you to picking it up again, unless you are really sure you want to play it once more on another format. For everyone else, pick this up, enjoy and share the experience.



7 Day Roguelike Jam 2015

For long term fans of the genre, the steady bleed of Roguelike mechanics into mainstream gaming has been an achingly slow process. Procedural generation, loot systems, countless overlapping layers of simulation and a cavalier disregard for human life all tried, tested and honed to perfection in ASCII. Filtering in to the wider gaming world over the course of decades. The potential to chop, change and experiment with the guts and DNA of game design, free from worries over production values has always been massive. Even now, when the genre can finally boast mass recognition, the tradition of lo-fi Roguelikes pushing the limits is still strong.

15th March was the closing date of this year’s eleventh annual 7 Day Roguelike Jam and a huge chunk of my gaming time since then has been spent wading through the finished entries in search of prime loot. There’s nothing here with the depth of Nethack or the sprawling scope of Dwarf Fortress, but there is invention and re-invention and some endearingly janky games.


Chitinous Crooks:

Lobster knights, guard snails, crab mercenaries. This game was made for ASCII visuals and letting your imagination fill in the blanks. It kicks off with a blurb about nefarious crustaceans using a stolen magic jewel to drown your home town and then you’re off to do battle in the briny halls of the lobsterfolk. Chitinous Crooks looks and handles like an old-school roguelike but in reality it’s a very modern take on the genre, stripping away all the RPG elements and leaving you with a limited supply of one use spells. It’s a tense, tactical little game where flight and stealth are frequently more important than reducing your foes to chowder. If you’ve never played a traditional roguelike, ASCII warts and all, this is the perfect game to find your feet.



My initial experience of RobberyRL was a full two minutes trying to type in my character name and accidentally sending the browser window back by pressing backspace. Once I’d overcome this first hurdle, safe in the knowledge that no-one saw me, I was faced with a side on, turn based stealth game. Game balance, presentation and interface are all borderline impenetrable but the novelty of navigating vertical space in a turn based game, scooting along rooftops, hiding in trees and sniffing out hidden passageways was enough to keep me playing. Levels are designed by hand instead of procedurally generated, allowing the player to learn from their mistakes and perfect run-throughs. An ultra lo-fi distant cousin to the Tenchu series.


Seventh Saga:

For my money, the most visually impressive entry this year casts you as a demonic overlord laying waste to an idyllic, chunky 3D landscape. The developer notes mention Dynasty Warriors and army level skirmishing and although the finished game doesn’t live up to the initial concept there’s still a definite sense of the epic. Sweeping across the landscape conquering settlements and destroying hordes of enemies is pure, dumb fun. There isn’t much Rogue in this Roguelike beyond the traditional turn based movement and some very primitive levelling mechanics, instead what you have is the bare bones of something with great potential.



Worth a mention for sheer strangeness, Hellion is an attempt to turn a Space Harrier / Galaxy Force style shooter into a turn based game. The mind breaking task of trying to interpret the positions of flat sprites in 3D space from turn to turn is most of the appeal, with a thin strategic layer of resource management and weapon configuration on top. It’s an odd little game that stretches the edges of the genre more than anything else that came out of this year’s jam.



This is as close as a turn-based game with ASCII visuals can get to being a no-holds-barred action game; Strive has you ploughing through waves of respawning enemies in open arena like environments. It’s surprising how well sniping exploding barrels, well aimed grenade lobs and back peddling with dual wielding shotguns translates into turn based combat. The notes I scribbled down while playing mention Doom, Halo and Warhammer 40K which says it all. The interface and controls are slick and the design philosophy is one of instant gratification above all other concerns. A perfect way to decompress after ploughing through countless other roguelikes.


Gamestyle LIVE – All Growed Up

A bit of a change this week on Gamestyle LIVE, as we take take discussion in a more serious direction.

Brad, Steve and Andrew discuss mature themes in games, how they are handled, both the good and bad. What constitutes maturity and why it still seems games struggle to deal with certain themes.

The look at the likes of GTA, Alice Madness Returns, Never Alone and more and discuss how games treat their audience has more to do with maturity than just the content alone.

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State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition review

Let me admit something, when I first saw and heard of State of Decay on the Xbox 360, I turned my nose up at it. I just wasn’t interested in another zombie survival and crafting game, even at that point it felt like there were just too many of them. This was before they infected Steam Greenlight and you couldn’t move for Unity asset zombie crap. Continue reading “State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition review”

Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses

I have to admit I was slightly sceptical about what to expect when my husband sent me a link back in September advertising the third instalment of the Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses concert series for one night only at Wembley Arena on the 17th March – but I agreed to go along.

The time whizzed by and before I knew it we were at Wembley Arena on the second row surrounded by thousands of people all wearing similar Zelda t-shirts. The venue was set out with seating across the arena flooring as well as the fixed stands to provide quite an intimate setting for such a big space. The stage spanned the width of the arena and had a large screen setup behind the orchestra.

The concert lasted about two hours and was spectacular with each new song causing cheers and whoops from the crowd. Fans were treated to staples including the theme music from “A Link Between Worlds”, theme music from the remake of “Majora’s Mask” as well as symphonies recounting storylines from “Ocarina of Time”, “Wind Waker”, “Twilight Princess” and “A Link to the Past”.

The screen at the back of the stage showed a mixture of cut scenes from all of the Zelda games as well as some gameplay, with the occasional shots of the orchestra spliced in for good measure. Fans were particularly enamoured with the short videos some of the lead designers of the Zelda series, Shigeru Miyamoto and Elji Aonuma, as well as the Zelda franchise composer Koji Kondo thanking the fans for all of their support throughout the growth and development of the iconic series.

I have never been to an event with such a great crowd atmosphere and am looking forward to going to some more game related orchestral events in the future.


Bloodborne Guide Book

Guidebooks aren’t something I go for. The last one I bought was for Homeworld, way back at the turn of the century.  I mean, come on, we have this thing called the internet.  Stuck on a boss?  Just google it.  Unable to continue a quest? Just google the quest. But every once in a while a game comes along that is so captivating, oozing such quality that, even after finishing the game, you want to know more.  No, not more. Everything.

Bloodborne is one such game, if you give it the chance.  I’ve already reviewed the game itself, and now I have the pleasure of putting in a few words for the game’s official guidebook.  Let’s get the obvious out of the way: It’s massive! This isn’t some glorified softback magazine, it’s a hefty hardback volume. It’s not some mere walkthrough, it has in-depth information on almost every facet of Bloodborne.

Some may be upset at the book’s lack of detail on the actual lore of the game. It’s a fair complaint, but there is a rather insightful interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki at the back of the book that sheds some light onto perhaps why: Miyazaki-san really likes his games to be open to interpretation, so while this guidebook will confer upon the reader the knowledge to beat certain enemies, or traverse certain areas, it leaves the hows and whys to the reader’s imagination.

Much like my review of Bloodborne, I don’t want to go into specifics here in case I spoil things for anyone still playing the game for the first time.  In fact, this guidebook shouldn’t be for your first play of the game.  For successive runs through the game however, I’d say it’s essential.  The sheer wealth of knowledge it contains is invaluable, it’s the kind of extensive tome you would expect to find in Rupert Giles’ library. If you love Bloodborne, this guidebook is an excellent companion piece.



After a week away, thanks to bank holiday and family time, Brad is back for some more Bloodborne action in this week’s Bradborne.

It is a session of learning and re-learning with much frustration but it all comes together late on again with the opening of another shortcut in preparation for the next leg of the journey.

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Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Not being familiar with the Shantae series I had only rudimentary knowledge that I’d picked up from friends deep into the pixel-art-power-up-hunting-platformer genre. Sounds like something I made up to avoid saying ‘Metroidvania’ but I assure you, it’s a real thing. *Cough*

Look, in all honesty this is barely a review. Gareth reviewed it on the Wii U and gave it an astronomical 9 out of 10, so for me to go over it all again and blurt out my incredulity at how this game got a 9 is pointless. It looks great with fabulous animation and art direction (even if the abundance of jiggling pixelly boobs is a bit disconcerting) and the soundtrack is also rad as fuck, but it has all the problems this type of game has, like massive gaps without a save point so when you die you’re doing a large section again. Of course, one man’s problems are another man’s boons.

Basically if you like pixel-art-power-up-hunting-platformers with a strong aesthetic and a decent challenge, you’ll enjoy Shantae. If you’ve played the previous Shantae games, I’m assured you’ll enjoy this one. Personally, I wouldn’t pay £15 for it but I’m one of those heathen bastards that prefers enjoying games than being punched in the bollocks by them.


Sure, if you like this sort of thing. Whatever, man. I’m not your mum. It’s your money.

Project Cars Review

Did you know it is okay to like Burnout and iRacing? That you can get enjoyment from Ridge Racer and Forza? Gran Turismo and Midtown Madness? However it seems that the racing game genre is one that seems to actively split a community, it is us vs them. This is too realistic, this is too arcade.

I have always been slap bang in the middle myself. My favourite racing game of all time is TOCA Touring Car Championship and despite it aging a bit badly and generally being surpassed, it is still the game that perfectly mixed the accessibility of an arcade racer with the attention to detail of a sim, whilst also recreating the exhilaration of racing. It is THE GAME that made me a fan of racing games.

The problem for me is that despite improved graphics, better physics models, etc no game since has struck that perfect balance. There was no forced career path as such, no unlocking of cars and being able to grind to earn the right to race other ones. It was based on a racing series and that was it. Here is the championship, here are the cars, you decide how you want to approach it.

I love Forza and Gran Turismo, both play really, really well, but still maintain that idea of locking out content until you play enough and the game decides you are now worthy of purchasing the next car, or going to the next championship. It forces you to have to win races in a stupidly short amount of laps, or mix the cars on the track so that the racing doesn’t feel as close as it should. It is something so many racing games get wrong.

So let me say this before I go deep into this review. Project Cars, despite any flaws I discuss has just joined TOCA Touring Car Championship as my all time favourite racing game and here is why.

From the very first moment you load the game, nothing is locked out, nothing is hidden behind a progression wall. At no point are you told that you need to finish first in this three race championship to unlock this car in this new event. It is 100% open, you can drive what the hell you like, where the hell you like, you have full control.

There is a career mode of sorts, but again it is up to you how you approach this. Of the 8 tiers and 3 disciplines on offer, you can choose to start at tier 1 and the 125cc karts, or maybe even tier 3 touring cars, or skip all of that and go to the top tier and races the GT1 type events or Formula A (F1) championships. Do whatever makes you happy.

Want just short 3-4 lap races to burn through a season in a weekend? Go ahead! Want to race full 100% distance events? Sure why not, do all the practices, qualifying, race 1, race 2 all in real time! It is your game and you have the right to decide how you play it. This is finally the racing game I want, it gives me the structure to enjoy it the way I intend and it does so without needing to alienate anyone else, because they also get to do the same.

For that reason alone Project Cars sits proudly atop the podium with TOCA Touring Car Championship.

Well, not alone, because even I am not dumb enough to love a game based on options alone, it is supported by one of the most intense digital racing experiences I have ever had.

Snetterton, Renault Clio Sport, in practice, I was having a nightmare with a particular part of the track. That bit where Brundle turns to Nelson (or for normal people a couple of corners late in the lap), I kept either getting opposite lock and veering of the track, or was losing obscene amounts of time as I took it cautiously.

I finished practice 19th out of 20 and in all honesty just wanted that race weekend over with. The plan was to go into qualifying get a few laps in to set a time and likely start from the back of the grid. I go out early, set a time that put me into 6th, just as the heavens open, I drop to 9th as a few other cars complete a mostly dry lap but I sit in 9th until the end of the session. Hurrah, I nice boost.

An uneventful first race sees me jump to 7th on the start and I get round a couple of laps before making a mistake at Brundle and dropping to 20th and dead last. I spend the rest of the race trying to get used to that corner and eventually make up a few positions to finish 16th, giving me my starting spot on the grid for race 2. Same distance, only this time with a mandatory pit stop.

I nail the start and jump from 16th to 9th by the time I exit the first corner. An incident at the 3rd allows me to jump to 5th with a bit of distance to carve out some lap times. I follow 4th place around for much of the next 3 laps and I notice I am getting caught by 6th, so I decide to pit early, which so happens to be the same lap as the guy in front.

I exit the pits down into 11th but still 4 seconds behind the guy originally in 4th. He makes an error which I try to capitalise on and end up going hard on the brakes, I get his position and all seems fine. By the time the pit-stops are all done I find myself in 3rd, defending my position well, but all of a sudden my front left is going away from me and I am losing grip in vital corners.

I have no choice but to let one car by as he is just all over the back of me and is going to take me at some point, then others start to gain on me, so I take the decision to nurse the car home and just get the most points I can. I end up finishing 8th which was pretty disappointing at the time, but it occurred to me. I was too aggressive on an overtake on coldish tires and it had essentially destroyed them for the last few laps.

But here is the thing, at no point was I looking like winning the race, but then I didn’t feel I had to. The only punishment for not winning was a lack of points in that championship season. The only damage was to my pride. I could go again in the next races and try to make it up. It wasn’t stopping me progressing. Which in turn meant I was able to enjoy the game, rather than getting annoyed at not performing well enough to get to that next bit of locked content.

That’s the thing about Project Cars, if you set it up to your own preferences, it becomes your game, you aren’t bound by many of the boundaries set out by most games these days. There is no level to meet, no requirements of you as a racer, it is you, your car and your track. I wasn’t having much fun with the Karts, so personally I decided to skip them…Guess what? The game doesn’t care, it doesn’t force me to push through them and I love that.

Are there faults and flaws? Yes sure, if you have an AMD card on PC at the point of writing, you are having to play with some much lowered graphical settings, to the point it wouldn’t have looked out of place during early PS3 / 360 era.

On the Xbox One version there are many frame-rate dips which get annoying as well as some hard crashes and in the rain at night, it can become almost unplayable. But there will be some patches at some point one would imagine.

On both versions you do need to do a lot of tinkering with control settings to get the right feel and sometimes maybe changing this depending on the sort of car you are driving. So the controller settings for a road car will differ massively for an open-wheeled car. In all honesty, I can understand why this may be, as Project Cars is closer to a sim, meaning each car should feel like a different driving experience. That being said, a newcomer, or casual racer shouldn’t have to deal with such a thing to get the most out of the experience and does need to be improved on. .

The AI is very erratic and whilst I like that on the whole, because they do make errors and it doesn’t feel like you can have 40 odd different personalities on the track at any time and hell, even makes me not yearn for other humans to race with. I can see why many will not, having a race ruined by an idiot making a kamikaze move on the last chicane. But, hey, that happens in the real world of racing and you deal with it.

So here it is…Project Cars, a game that has been years in the making, had many delays and has been built up to an insane level of expectation. Where does it fall at the end of the day?

If your racing needs are completely fulfilled by Mario Kart and pure arcade action, then sure this isn’t for you and if iRacing is the least you expect from a sim, then again this won’t replace that. For everyone else though, despite some flaws that ask maybe a bit much of the user to get the most from the game, then this is a must have racer.

For me? I finally have a modern racer to allow me to lay my sweetheart to rest. Sweet dreams my dearest TOCA, I will always remember you, but now it is finally time to move on.


Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review

The Old Blood does get off to a little bit of a ropey start mind. After a short cut scene explaining the mission, you’re soon captured and thrown in jail. Then it’s forced stealth time!

With nothing but a pipe for defence it’s time to sneak around, taking out hulking, mechanical Nazis where one misstep can result in you getting shot to pieces. It’s a dreadful start to the game and may even put some people off. The best thing about The New Order was the way it integrated stealth, but didn’t require it. Get seen and it’s time to grab your weapons and go in all guns blazing. Something that’s almost impossible in the opening situation our hero B.J Blazkowicz finds himself in. These giant robot Nazis are able to shred you to pieces easily, and if you haven’t already dispatched one and taken their gun then it feels like it’s literally impossible.

Manage to make your way through this however and the gameplay that made The New Order such a surprise soon appears. The game almost feeling like it’s split into combat arenas. As you progress you’ll come to areas with enemies patrolling. It’s always advisable to use stealth initially, as there are a couple of enemies that call in reinforcements if you get spotted. Unlike the first section, get spotted and you can fall back on the shoot everything that moves tactic. Sometimes it’s actually more enjoyable, because the weapons are just a delight.

The shooting feels so tight and responsive that when stealth fails you won’t bemoan your clumsiness, you’ll just shrug, grab your machine gun and kill everyone. With The Old Blood there are some new weapons to play with, such as a pipe that can create some gruesome looking melee kills, bolt action rifle and a new type of shotgun.

As for new enemy types, there are a number of tougher ones you’ll face. One type in particular ventures a little closer into spoiler territory. Although these were shown briefly in trailers, I won’t go into too much detail in case you want to go in pure. Let me just say, they add a different dynamic to how you approach the combat.

With a whole host of new additions it’s understandable why this has been positioned almost as a whole new game. There are challenge arenas that are unlocked as you play through the game and there’s even sections where B.J can go to sleep and you end up playing Wolfenstein 3D, albeit with The Old Blood’s protagonist model.

It’s no surprise that it pays homage to its roots (posters from the original game and even a Doom character toy can be seen), because deep down the game as a whole feels very old fashioned. There’s none of the hide behind cover until all the red blood disappears from the screen. This game is all about armour and health packs. Although it does recharge up to intervals (25%, 50% etc), it does mean you’re a lot more conscious about your health situation. Firefights at times descending into panic as you’re foraging for whatever health, armour and bullets you can grab from the battlefield.

If for some reason you never opted for The New Order then this could be the perfect introduction. Opening chapter aside, The Old Blood is just as good as its predecessor with excellent combat, nice visuals and an intriguing story. Then when you’re finished, buy The New Order as well, because it’s great.

DiRT Rally – Early Access Preview

And if your co-driver in DiRT Rally says “Don’t Cut” you sure as hell do not cut!

I had long given up on the rally genre. Colin McRae in the PS1 days, Richard Burns Rally and even the PS2 era WRC games all did a fine job of either being a super sim, or recreating the feel of rallying. By the way, the TV replays on WRC during that PS2 era are yet to be bettered in my humble opinion.

However, these types of rally games fell away as the introduction of the DiRT series changed up the format. There were still normal rally stages, but now we were introduced to many other formats of racing on mud, some welcomed and others not.

Many would lay the blame at the feet of Codemasters for this change, but in truth Colin McRae himself saw this new market for his own racing career and was really beginning to promote the X-Games style events, it was only his sad and untimely death that meant he never did get to fulfill his visions of redeveloping the sport.

So when games such as DiRT2, DiRT3 and DiRT Showdown moved further and further away from the traditional rally format, it seemed we would forever just have our memories of games gone by.

Now, I personally had a lot of time for the DiRT games, I liked the X-Game events, the wheel to wheel to wheel action, the various types of vehicle and even the much maligned Gymkhana events. Most of this was indicative of what was popular in the rally scene at that moment in time. Ken Block was rallying, he was the face and there is no doubting his talent.

New Rally games tried to reverse the trend, with WRC being relaunched by a new studio and going down the traditional format route. However, these games lacked that certain something. Neither were they complete simulations, nor did they full recreate the thrill of the sport. Licences and careers modes would do nothing to make these the must have games of the genre and in the end they became competent distractions.

So anyway, I was sitting there one afternoon, plodding along with reviewing another game when I get a message telling me about the new DiRT game… “DiRT4” I say to myself and go to look for some kind of announcement trailer. But instead I found something very different indeed.

An Early Access game for £23 on Steam, by Codemaster and released to no hype whatsoever. This has to be a new low for Codies, the once great publisher of some of my favourite games of all time. This is going to be awful, full of bugs and completely destroy the DiRT name.

I looked at the trailer, some screenshots and listened to some very early adopters. All of a sudden, it became harder and harder to hang on to my cash. I kind of want in on this, for the first time I have a good PC and I can give this a go. I’d had mixed results with Early Access games, so I wasn’t completely scared away.

Anyway, I bite the bullet, pay for the game and install.

I go through a bunch of menus, because essentially all I want to do is strap myself in and drive. Wales! Yes of course Wales, where else would I start. 5…4…3…2…..1…… Hit the gas and go go go… 2 corners in and I am into a ditch and needing to recover my vehicle.

It is clear from the very get go, that this isn’t a casual rally game and that I would need to rethink my approach. It was going to take many, many attempts to learn how the car handles and how it will handle different surfaces, etc. All of a sudden a quick test turned into a full on shakedown, trying to get the most out of the car as possible.

A rally car should feel like you are fighting to stay within the limits of control the whole time, striking that perfect balance between getting the best time and just keeping the car facing forwards and DiRT Rally succeeds at this nigh on perfectly. I come away from stages almost shaking from the pure exhilaration and the concentration and focus needed. It really is an amazing experience.

Yet here is the thing, this is a game with a severely limited number of cars and courses, it is in Early Access, yet it feels so much more complete than many, many full releases. As a game on its own merits, it is a fantastic package, but as Early Access this is something special.

Already included are career paths, daily, weekly and monthly community challenges, custom and private leagues with a working external website to keep track. All of these in my own experience so far have worked great, especially custom leagues.

Setting up a private league with set rules such as no restarts and forced headcam is wonderful to see and my participation in these has been wonderful. I may be 2nd from last, but I know that was due to a mistake, which meant I went from a good pace to game over almost, nursing the car to the end of a stage just so I can get it fixed and try to make it up next time.

Essentially, if you were put off by previous DiRT titles, because of the presentation, the fact that the disciplines were too fractured and the overall tone, then this right here is the rally game for you. Even at this stage it is something special and you need to get in and get muddy right now.

Gamestyle LIVE – Unplayable Teaser

Oh Konami, what have you done now?

Brad, Steve and Andrew discuss the week that was, including what on earth is happening at Konami. The removal of P.T from the store and maybe even revoking the licence of anyone who has it.

Also on the menu is recent Kickstarters, spiritual successors and much, much more.

Anyway, details below on how to catch this weeks show.

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Omega Quintet Review

He was wrong, of course. The likes of Persona, Final Fantasy, Demons and Dark Souls, and the pinnacle, Bloodborne, all prove him wrong.  But he wasn’t completely wrong.  When Fish made that remark, he was likely talking about games just like Omega Quintet.

Imagine a world where evil monsters, called Blare, have ravaged most of the land, with only pockets of society left.  The only thing that can fight off the Blare is song.  Yep, singing. Enter the Verse Maidens, talented songstresses on standby to combat the Blare at a moment’s notice.  But wait! There’s only one Verse Maiden left, let’s call her Madonna, and she is getting old, struggling to keep fighting the good fight.

Ah, but Madonna’s agent has been busy recruiting young ladies to succeed Madonna. Enter Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna.  Madonna is none-too-pleased, and beats these new recruits whenever they annoy her.  However, the young ladies pull through, and are ready to make their debut as the world’s new Verse Maidens.  Just as they’re about to combat the Blare for their debut however, in comes Cher, Madonna’s old teacher, with her very own Verse Maiden trained in secret: Katy Perry! Katy steals the show.

If you’re still reading this, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “what the fuck did I just read?” Well, spare a thought for me, having to actually play this game and wonder, just what the fuck have I been playing?  This game is an embarrassment; but the sad thing is, the embarrassment is not down to its combat system, which is actually pretty decent, if a bit  run-of-the-mill in terms of JRPGs. No, the embarrassment is due to the game’s outrageous sexualisation of its heroines, the teenage girls who take centre stage. Yep, we’ve got cut-scenes involving wet t-shirts with heaving bosoms, and crotch shots of teenage girls, one of which is presumably no more than 14 years old.  It’s disgusting. This is everything that’s wrong with Japanese game development.

What’s worse, this game has a PEGI rating of 12.  So let’s hypothetically put this game in the hands of a 12 year old girl.  During the game, said young girl will see characters being told that once they hit the age of 30, they’re past it, useless, and have to be replaced with younger women. And don’t even think of not looking anything short of beautiful, else no-one will want to look at you. What kind of messages are these for young children just hitting puberty?

I’m willing to bet that question is probably not what was going through the developer’s minds when they were drawing these cut-scenes.  They had other things on their minds, probably with a year’s supply of kleenex to hand. But let’s not dwell on that, shall we?  What about the actual game?  Well, as I said, the combat system is actually decent, and the game does a good enough job of gradually introducing you to its many systems.  But it does get tiresome after a while; I was very thankful for the fast-forward feature to skip the more lengthy attack animations.

Visually it’s a very mixed bag.  The artwork in the cut scenes is done well, even if it has all the taste of a Newcastle United fan in a cheap Soho strip club, but the environments are dire.  We’re talking PS2 quality design with a HD lick of paint. Truly woeful. The actual storytelling and dialogue don’t fare any better either, and the game is not good at all at giving the player some direction. Often I was left wondering, “where do I go now?”

On the other hand, aurally the game is very good.  The music is probably the best thing about the game, with catchy tunes and soothing violin passages. Additionally, the voice acting from the lead actors is decent, granting the game’s heroines some genuine personality, even to the point of making them somewhat endearing. Of course, that just makes such overt sexualisation of these characters all the more shameful.

Everything else is dire. Omega Quintet is a perfect example of what is wrong with Japanese game development.  There’s a decent combat system hidden beneath a pointless story that only serves as masturbation material for its target audience. It’s utterly shameful, and is to be avoided.


Amiibo Fever

“Amiibo” is a word that is getting pretty close to being banned in our household. For some of you this new Nintendo Skylander-Infinity style may have passed you by until now, yet for others it has become an obsession.

November 2014 saw the launch of the first wave of Amiibos – small plastic Nintendo figures on bases with chips which interact through near field technology with the WiiU controller and the New 3DS with a select few Nintendo games such as Super Smash Brothers, Mario Party 10, and Mario Kart 8, as well as several upcoming games titles including Splatoon, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. For example, in Super Smash Brothers, the Amiibos can be used to spawn characters for use in-game, however they offer limited functionality in most other games and tend to unlock in-game bonus features such as costumes, music, and weapons.

The plastic figures are well made with great attention to detail and make an impressive display whether kept in their boxes or taken out to be loved and played with – which therein lies the problem, as collectors worldwide clamour to get the latest waves to add to their collection. Nintendo obviously hadn’t expected these to have been such a hit and subsequently there is a mass shortage meaning it is almost impossible to find the vast majority of the 41 Amiibos (35 for Super Smash Brothers and 6 for the Mario Classic Collection) which have already been released in your local shops for £10.99 to £14.99. This means that, currently, to obtain the full collection available to date you are already looking at around £450 to £615 at retail price…

Facebook and Twitter groups have been setup to try and help genuine collectors track down pre-orders and complete their collections. I’m not ashamed to admit that having received a notification I got up at 3am to hide in the bathroom with my iPad to make sure I got my pre-orders in before they sold out. The current record for pre-orders selling out appears to be the recent release of Jigglypuff and Greninja on the Nintendo store this month which were officially sold out within 30 seconds.

Yet there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the poor Amiibo hunter as there has been no definite indication of whether reprints of the earlier waves are going to be available at a later date, and so many are having to resort to eBay to complete their collections with prices reaching as much as £60 for a rare Amiibo.

Furthermore, another 17 are already starting to appear for pre-order – 3 for Splatoon, 3 Woolly Yoshis, 6 available to pre-order for Super Smash Brothers and 5 to be announced.

Something that has become very clear from all of this is that Nintendo have once again managed to recreated that “Gotta Catch ‘em All” craze in the Amiibo.

Guns, Gore & Cannoli Review

Then add brains for taste!

Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a pretty simple side-scrolling shoot-em-up game that would fit well back in the 16-bit era. It barely does anything of note to make it stand out from the crowd and it is as cliched as you can get. Yet, I cannot help but love the game.

You take on the role of Vinnie, a 1920’s Mobster who has been asked to do a job by a mob boss, but it soon transpires that this will be no ordinary job, as the streets are awash with the undead. So that is 1920’s mobsters vs zombies… Ok, I can go with that.

There are three things that you really need to know about this game that will help you decide if you want to but it and it has nothing to do with liking or hating games with zombies.

1. Aesthetics

The art style is really well done, with the game having a nice animated feel to it, The movement is smooth and it is as clear as crystal. It does a fantastic job of giving the setting an authentic 1920’s feel and it is clear a lot of time and effort has been taken to get the atmosphere just right.

It isn’t just in the graphics this has been done, it is also with a really well composed soundtrack that adds that final element to tie it all together. From the moment you enter the game you believe in the setting, which is amazing when you consider this is a cartoony looking game.

There is nice variation to the levels and the characters that do a great job of highlighting progression, as well as making it clear how different enemy types work, which leads nicely to….

2. Gameplay

As mentioned in the opening, this isn’t a game that tries to redefine the genre, instead it plays it safe, which in turn means it can take tried and tested methods to put together ideal mechanics for this sort of game.

You move left to right, have a fire button, a reload button, weapon switch button, jump button, projectile button and that is pretty much it. Pick ups are automatic too, which means you can concentrate on clearing levels as you go.

For the most part it is all platforming and shooting, but there are a few designated arena areas, where you may need to wait for a timed event, or clear a certain amount of enemies, but these still feel like they have a nice pacing and are enjoyable rather than annoying.

By not trying to do anything majorly different, Guns, Gore & Cannoli stays a challenging but fun experience for the entire game and it is also one that really doesn’t try to outstay its welcome.

3. Character

There is always a danger that focusing on a setting and single character type, can lead to a game just getting under the skin enough that it can be grating. Especially when it is written as a comedy.

As we all know, games that try humour can and will often get it wrong, with too many in-jokes, or lines that just don’t work on the whole and even a main character that is hard to like.

Credit again then, because the writing here is spot on, Vinnie is likable and his lines don’t get tiring or too repetitive. The ‘reference’ jokes are well realised and don’t try to be too clever and rather than trying to be laugh out loud funny, the writing here keeps having you raise a smile as you go and maybe a little chuckle.

By getting the above three things just right, Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a game that you can pick up, finish in a fairly short amount of time and move on. It won’t leave a lasting impression and it won’t be one you remember in years to come with fondness, but it will give you an enjoyable time whilst you play.

And do you know what? Those sorts of games are more than welcome in my book… Capiche!

Age of Wonders III and Eternal Lords Review

since the last Age of Wonders game, so the franchise certainly hasn’t been milked to death. The newest version of the game is also already into its second major expansion after Golden Realms added a host of new features and the Halfling playable race. With all this in mind I don’t mind saying that it was somewhat intimidating jumping into the series as a relative newcomer.

Age of Wonders III is a big and imposing game and the sort of thing that requires several hundred hours of play to work out all the subtle nuances. I’m no stranger to the in-depth, life-consuming, strategy genre and have played far too much Civilisation, Football Manager and Sim City over the years. However, I can’t claim to have played Age of Wonders for a couple of hundred hours. I can say that what I have experienced so far may well certainly lead me to in the future.

The biggest problem new players will face is just how much of the game there is and the fact there is no tutorial or proper manual to help you out. The game is a hex based strategy title which can either be played in a traditional turn based sense or with simultaneous turns taking place. Your goal is to defeat the other leaders on the map in much the same way as games like Civilisation.

The lack of tutorial isn’t helped by the onscreen interface being incredibly awkward to navigate. Important icons and information are difficult to find (especially when you don’t know they exist), and onscreen text and descriptions are very small, despite the fact we played it on a 40 inch screen. There is also a lot of detail and terrain and the maps. This makes the world look alive but it’s not easy to find units you have set to camp and good luck if you’ve misplaced a fairy anywhere. If you’re colour blind you’ll just have to say a small prayer before going into battle.

There are other similarities to Civ as well as the basic premise. You build up cities in much the same way and add new types of buildings and units. Hexes containing resources are important to the growth and development of your cities and you can send out settlers to find new places. That said, Age of Wonders has a lot of other things going on as well.

For starters you can pick from a number of mythical races to play as such as Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and Elves. The Eternal Lords expansion also adds Frostlings and the catlike Tigran races. Each race has its own bonuses and penalties and also unique units with which to play. Once you have picked your chosen race you then need to pick your hero which can take the form of just about any class rolling around the fantasy spectrum. Warriors, thieves and wizards are all here with their own sets of unique traits and skills to consider. The Eternal Lords expansion adds the Necromancer class which allows you to create all sorts of havoc with various undead creatures as well.

Once you have raised your armies, combat can either be very in-depth or a more simple affair. Armies can be formed by stacking a combination of six units together. There is little restriction in how you do this so you can create balanced stacks or ones consisting of just archers or cavalry if you wish. When you encounter another army, combat can be handled in one of two ways. You can take the Civ approach and have the result auto-decided based on terrain, strength and modifiers or you can handle the combat manually.

If you choose the manual combat option you are moved to a contained map where the individual units from your army stack can be manoeuvred around. This gives far greater flexibility in combat as it allows for the use of tactical skills and magic and that may be enough for players to overcome larger odds. It’s a bit like having a world map from Civ where you enter a map battle from something like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics and it’ll take you as much time and thought as that staggering combination suggests. The most important thing though is that either approach works.

On top of all this there are mysterious places to discover and Eternal Lords adds cosmic events which change the course of play as well. You can also find caves and tunnels and venture underground to find treasure. There’s roaming randoms to deal with like wild boars, bandits and dragon hatchlings and even the odd ruin to adventure into. There’s certainly not a lack of content and even without the expansion you’ll be busy for longer than is probably healthy.

There are three main ways to play the single player portion of the game. You can create a random map and battle against a set number of foes (the mode most closely resembling Civ), you can enter a scenario with set conditions or you can take on one of the massive campaigns. The first campaign you are given has an Elven princess betrayed and was where I was expecting the tutorial to be. It isn’t. There is also a more intermediate campaign and a downright difficult one added via the Eternal Lords expansion which unsurprisingly focuses in on the new class and races added. The fact we encountered a bug in the very first part of the Elven campaign which required a work around to finish the level didn’t help much, but by the end of it we felt we were beginning to get the hang of a few things.

Overall, Age of Wonders III provides something a bit different for strategy fans. The fantasy element sets it apart from other games like Civ and all the core mechanics work well. It’s the sort of game that once you get into it you’ll never really need much else. The biggest problem for newcomers is going to be breaking down than initial barrier so that you have enough of an idea about what is going on and what is at your disposal. It’s definitely worth digging into though and I love the variation of the different races and classes.  It’s epic, magical and ambitious with tons of content. The Eternal Lords expansion adds even more quality and if you’ve been thinking about getting into something big then you should really give this a look.