Zombi Review

Originally released in 2012 as a WiiU launch title, ZombiU was considered an underrated gem by those who picked it up. Fast forward three years and it has now been ported to Xbox One, PS4 and PC under the name Zombi.

In its original release this was considered a game that made great use of the WiiU gamepad and the second screen functionality, yet as part of the port this is probably the most major change, with that function being removed completely.

I understand the thought process behind this, as unlike with the WiiU, the aforementioned platforms don’t have second screen as standard. So making sure it can be played without the need for a second screen makes perfect sense.

However, all three platforms have options that can allow for a second screen. The Xbox One has apps for tablets, as does the PS4, along with the Vita and the PC has the ability for using a second monitor. So it is a shame that there isn’t a way to play using second screen stuff as an option.

That being said, the way the game works is by using a similar idea that you may have seen in Bloodborne, whereby you can access inventory screens, maps, etc but the game will never pause for these, meaning you are always in danger, which adds to the tension as you progress.

It is a fairly solid compromise overall, but it is a shame I can’t utilise technology that is already out there.

Zombie games on the whole for me are becoming rather tiresome and I honestly think they have had their day for a while and a break is much needed. Yet at the same time, I really like the approach Zombi takes. At no point do you ever feel like you are going through the motions, or that you have levelled up to a point where progression feels monotonous as you just get more and more zombies coming at you.

There is always this feeling that an encounter will spell the end of your life and you honestly look to take the path that allows you to avoid zombies as much as possible. Whilst a single zombie can be taken down with comparative ease, as soon as you run into a group, battling them head on will almost certainly lead to your early demise.

You will die in this and you will die a fair amount, which brings me to a feature I really like. Zombi uses a system similar to that of a roguelike, whereby death is permanent. You do get to start again with a new character, but to gain all the resources left in a previous run, you need to find the dead character and take their stuff.

Whilst this may not seem like a new mechanic for those who have enjoyed the many indie titles on offer these days, it still feels like a fresh and interesting idea in a supposed triple-A title and for a survival horror game it allows the fear factor to be increased, especially knowing you can and will be incredibly vulnerable for the most part.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though, as some of the mission structures boil down to little more than fetch quests and whilst there is variety, the fact it relies so heavily on these means it can get a little tiresome at parts.

It is a shame, because the actual survival side is absolutely fantastic and the overall story is played out really well and there were easily times that I was completely buying in to the zombie apocalypse. The London setting works really well too, making use of known landmarks, tube stations and the general feel and look of London housing areas.

Visually little has changed from the WiiU release, but that isn’t to say the game doesn’t still look bloody impressive, because it does. However, there are a fair few framerate issues throughout your time with the game. It can often drop a lot and even for someone like me who doesn’t care if a game is 30 or 60fps, the fluctuation does become annoying.

If you played ZombiU on the WiiU, then there is very little reason to pick this up, it isn’t offering anything you haven’t done before, but for those of you that either never picked up a WiiU, or given this a go at any point, then it is well worth a go. Especially being released at a budget price of around £15, there is a lot of value here.

This is a game that could well have been a classic, but a few issues within the game structure and a port that needs cleaning up just stop it from being one.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 – Escape Plan Bravo Review

Continuing Rhys and Fiona’s hunt for the Gortys pieces (and in turn leading them to a vault), and again all being recounted in flashbacks to their masked captor, this episode plays out almost like a heist movie. The Gortys piece being located deep inside a Hyperion space station. Obviously, in space and under heavy guard. Requiring a rather brilliant planning sequence where everything goes off without a hitch. Obviously, the real heist won’t be as lucky.

The trademark humour is still present and once again, like the last episode, does a better job than in the first couple. Gortys is still as endearing as ever and Episode 4 continues the trend of having one of the best opening credits scenes not just in Telltale Games history, but all games. It’s really that good with an amazing song choice that gels with the on screen comedy perfectly.

A good mix of action and storytelling, there is however one slight comedic mishap. There’s a running gag involving Hyperion workers using their fingers as fake guns, which in turn leads to a ridiculously long QTE sequence that is supposed to be funny but just ends up falling flat. Probably because Gortys and Loaderbot aren’t involved, the two robotic sidekicks being at the forefront of all the best gags. There’s also a little bit of sadness mixed in with a change in tone that could’ve felt out of place, but really works with the scene it’s placed in.

If there’s one way Telltale is to be praised for their recent output it’s that they’re finally getting to grips with console hardware in a way they haven’t before. It looks great with none of that hideous slowdown as it transitioned scenes like in previous games. Which is a blessing for a game like Borderlands where the action is prominent, if it loses the smoothness during those scenes then the game would quickly fall apart.

As the penultimate episode, Escape Plan Bravo mostly succeeds at setting the stage for the finale. But as has been the case for a lot of the series, as someone who has tried the vast majority of Telltale’s recent output, fatigue has started to set in.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 28th August 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 28th August (Friday).

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The guys have a look at some of the new entries in the Top 10… of which there are none as the long summer means few changes to the current top 10. Yawn.

Luckily there is plenty to talk about from the new releases with reviews and discussion for Until Dawn, Madden 16, Capsule Force, Risen 3, Gears of War Ultimate, I Am Bread and more.

There is also plenty to look forward to next week as the guys anticipate “Hideo Kojima’s” Metal Gear Solid V, Mad Max, Danganronpa: Another Episode and Rugby World Cup 2015.

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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Risen 3: Titan Lords Enhanced Edition

I’ve never played a Risen game before, not for any particular reason, just that it was always on a list of ‘Maybe I’ll give that a go when I run out of other things to play”. Yet since the original release in 2009 I have never run out of things to play.

That’s still the case in all honesty, but my PS4 has been a little bit neglected of late aside from Bloodborne so what the hell.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of mid-tier games, I think they are the bread and butter of gaming and for me, Risen 3: Titan Lords sounded like a bonafide mid-tier title. Which meant I was expecting something that would be full of little frustrations, but that would ultimately not ruin the overall fun factor.

As much as I want to shout from the rooftops that this is a perfect mid-tier addition to your library, I fear I cannot and there are many, many reasons for that.

Firstly the game feels extremely clunky. The character movement seems to lack any kind of smoothness and even feels like you are walking through mud for the most part as you explore the world around you. This gets even worse during combat.

You have some pretty simple controls, using R2 to parry attacks, the X button to attack back, holding it for strong attacks and R1 to use a secondary weapon. Having things be this basic should allow for you to really get into fights, but if anything you feel like you are fighting against the controls, rather than just the enemies.

There seems to be this odd delay between making an attack and trying to get a parry in and this isn’t just a timing thing either, because it feels like if you try and press a different button before an animation has finished, it won’t even register the press.

I’ve not got an issue with animations finishing, in fact I like that as it means you really need to consider your movements. So if it was just a case of being countered during an animation, then I could accept that. But to feel like my button press isn’t even registering, even if it means having an animation delay, that just makes things feel off.

However, you do get used to the system after a short while and learn to live with it. Sometimes a staple of the mid-tier game and in all fairness, you can get some decent battles going which can be fun.

Yet that fun is short lived, because again, the character movement is clunky and cumbersome for the most part, meaning it can be very difficult to focus on the enemy you are currently engaging with. This is magnified somewhat by an awful camera system that at points started to make me feel unwell.

It just seems to move all over the place, like there has been some kind of cinematography element wanted, but not quite being understood. This means that when you move to one side of an enemy to attack, the camera will struggle to keep up, or will try to change to another angle. Again this, combined with the animation issues and combat mechanics, means it all feels very awkward.

The story is something I am unsure on, even at the point of this review. Compare it to the likes of The Last Of Us, where the acting and story is well written, crafted and acted, then it falls way short of expectations. But on the flip side, compare to mid-tier games from the previous generation and it can stand with the best of them.

The main protagonist speaks very little, using a supporting cast to do most of the dialogue and they are a mixed bunch, with some being decent characters and others just not likable at all. But I think overall it has a decent pacing to it and keeps things moving well. It just isn’t a standout story that you will remember in years to come.

Exploration and minor puzzle solving is a key part of Risen 3 and for the most part they have a positive effect on the game as a whole, but again there are times when camera issues can make some areas a bit of a chore to look around.

There are various things you can find that allow you to upgrade your character, clothes, weapons, rings, etc and it borrows from the likes of Diablo III for a quick select option which works rather well.

Another part of the game that did impress was in the visuals. Despite the overall clunky nature of the game, it looks pretty damned beautiful in places, especially when outside. The natural elements such as foliage, water, beaches, temples, etc all look lovely and I was rather surprised by how much time I spent just admiring the scenery.

But in the end I think that sums Risen 3: Titan Lords up. It has some lovely elements, some solid ideas, but lacks cohesion overall. More time needed to be spent on the mechanics or fighting and movement, because it unfortunately ruins a game I really wanted to like.

Fairy Fencer F Review

The latest in a slew of JRPG’s that have been heading towards the PC recently, Fairy Fencer F serves up last year’s PS3 adventure with an extra helping of dessert, although the only real change to the PC version is the inclusion of a 1080p resolution option, slightly sharper graphics and an option to play using the mouse and the keyboard, full controller support comes as standard.

This bright and happy RPG is brought to you by Compile Heart and as such it shares some similarities with the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, most notably the battle system and dungeons are very similar in style. You play as Fang, a laid back, generally lazy guy who is content with simply eating and sleeping his way through life. Upon hearing a rumour that if he manages to pull a certain sword out of a stone all of his life’s wishes will be granted for him, he gives it a go, succeeds… and lo and behold, he inadvertently becomes a Fencer.

Almost straight away, a colossal quest is dumped upon him by the fairy Eryn who appears from the sword (Fury) that Fang just released from the ground – it is her duty to resurrect the goddess which can only be achieved by acquiring enough furies (weapons containing fairies who can then be fused with a human in order to create a greater warrior otherwise known as a Fencer).

Initially Fang does not take this revelation too well as all he ever really wanted to do was chow down and not do a lot until the end of his days (this becomes a bit of a running joke in the series). Eventually, he succumbs and agrees to help Eryn, where on his adventures, he is quickly joined by Tiara – a stuck up girl who also has a bit of a masochistic side. He is later joined by Harley – a fairy researcher, Galdo – an energetic young man who loves eating almost as much as Fang, Ethel – a rogue fencer whose only reason for existing is killing and Pippin who can only be described as a green cat-like humanoid. There are also two optional characters that can be recruited if certain conditions are met.

All of the characters have their reasons for joining and whilst they are fairly one dimensional in their personalities, the dialogue is generally quite fun and humorous and unlike the Hyperdimension Neptunia games there isn’t really too much dialogue to flesh out their personalities further. In a game with a combat system as fast paced as this one, it works like a treat. The cut scenes in which the plot is advanced are to the point, the characters do not beat around the bush with unnecessarily drawn out dialogue and they will most likely only last a few minutes which definitely works in its favour.

Next onto the really fun part, the combat – which is blisteringly fast and quite frankly, the most interesting part of the game! Each Fencer’s weapon never changes and so instead, you have the option to upgrade it using WP – which is a ubiquitous form of currency that can be used to pay for learning new attacks, new spells and a wide variety of skills. Over time, you’ll acquire different attacks and unleash massive combos upon enemies which are pleasant to watch. Each character also has their own special skill, for example Fang has a ‘Serious Face’ mode which is quite amusing as he does 1.5x normal damage. However, this also consumes SP at the same time.

In order to plough through dungeons at light speed, you’ve got to utilise your furies and engage in a ton of ‘world shaping’. In order to awake either the goddess or the vile god, you’ll have to pull the swords out of their stone cold bodies – this can only be done by using a fury. Once a sword has been successfully removed from the bodies of the gods, the furies will then be imbued with their power – which effectively enables you to stab the furies into the earth and alter the properties of the dungeon based on what powers they have – you can easily gain 100% exp, increased money and item drops from this process although it can be a bit of a double edged sword as with each power up there is a power down – so choose wisely.

The game utilises a tension system so after X amount of being battered or vice versa, battering enemies, your tension gauge will fill up and you’ll be able to Fairize, which is essentially where you can transform into a more powerful version of yourself by combining with your fairy. Visually this does look quite cool although on the whole the graphics are quite simple – on par with most Hyperdimension Neptunia games and looking somewhat like I’d imagine a HD version of Rogue Galaxy (yes, it’s a PS2 game…) might look like.

When not in battle or in a dungeon, the game plays out like a standard visual novel – the art is fine and the colours are vibrant but the characters are quite static overall. One of my gripes was that the FPS of the game would randomly drop during battles for no apparent reason – this occurred both on my laptop and my desktop which is a much more beefy machine so I can only attribute this to poor optimisation of the game.

The game effectively consists of a dungeon – plot – dungeon – plot mechanic which is fine although approximately halfway through the game – it does a ‘Bravely Default’ style manoeuvre and you end up back tracking through a number of dungeons which are exactly the same as what came before. Battles are also far too easy and this takes some of the fun out of it given that it’s almost impossible to die (unless you deliberately choose to kill yourself by going mad with ‘world shaping’).

Musically the game is also swings and roundabouts, some of the songs are quite nice and the song that is heard when the game loads up is quite good although some of the other tunes aren’t really memorable and won’t stick in your head for very long, the sound effects are standard and the English voice acting got on my nerves after 10 minutes as usual. Luckily the option to switch to Japanese is included as standard.

Overall, it’s a solid JRPG with an addictive battle system which is let down by the repetitive plot, minor technical glitches and generally being way too easy.

Dream Review

Whilst Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has been getting the bulk of the attention in August (2015), I have found myself playing another exploration game. Dream, by Hypersloth, and despite having reservations due to being burned by other games in the genre that just lack that something, this actually kind of impressed me a little.

As with many of these games, Dream has a wonderfully realised world for you to wander around in. It is gorgeous to look at and you feel like you are actually in the world that has been set out for you. Unlike other games though, this has been set in our protagonist’s dreams, which allows for a fair amount of creative license, which in turn allows the developers to really branch out.

The structure is very familiar if you have played any of the plethora of other games in the genre, such as Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and the aforementioned Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. You walk around in first person as a story slowly unravels around you and your reason for being becomes clearer and clearer.

What I liked about Dream though, was that it seems to follow the ideas set out by Gone Home, where there seems to be enough structure to the story that you want to push on to find out what comes next. It helps too that there is a decent amount of interaction to help things along.

You see, for me, that is the problem with a lot of games in this genre. Sure they look nice, but the story is either too loose, or it lacks the interaction for it to feel more than a glorified tech demo. It is why Gone Home remains my favourite and EGTTR wasn’t my cup of tea.

Not everything in the world is interactive, which can get a little frustrating, especially early on when there are a couple of arcade cabinets in the dream world that tease they may do something if you interact with them. Therein lays the biggest problem with Dreams.

You only get an indicator something has an interaction to it when you get right up close, which in itself is fine, but when the rules as to what is and isn’t interactive aren’t set in stone it can make actually wanting to check annoying.

A lightswitch in one area can be used, but not another, this screen will do something, but this one won’t. It means that at times you just know going over to an object may be pointless, but you can’t risk leaving it, just in case.

All it needs here is some kind of sound or visual cue, just to alert that something of interest is around. Again this is frustrating, because at other times, the protagonist’s internal monologue will give some indications. Such as telling you you’ll need to get to this item from another direction.

These are only a few minor things, but they do add up to take away from the experience on the whole, which is a shame, because everywhere else I found that the game shone very brightly.

A nice touch as well, is some light puzzle elements, that will get you thinking but also make you feel like you have some control over moving forward, that you aren’t simply along for the ride. Most of the time these work wonderfully, but I found one or two that seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as the story was taking shape. Especially as you’d get a bit of an overview from our hero!

The protagonist in this case is Howard Phillips and it is clear from the opening moments he lives a dull and unfulfilled life, but when he sleeps his subconscious takes him into a world that is the complete opposite.

As seems to be popular in games at the moment, the lead is British and his narration is both relaxing and at the same time has you listening intently. He isn’t talking constantly, but will jump in at just the right moments to uncover a little more of the story and give a bit of reasoning as to why you are where you are and seeing what you are seeing.

Overall this is a fine package and a title that has somewhat surprised me as to how much I enjoyed it. Those minor annoyances stop it being a classic, but it is certainly better than most games of this type. If you liked anything else in the genre, then this is certainly worth £13 of your hard earned cash.

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Review

That said, it is deeper than you may think, the combat does have a lot of different elements to it, making it far from than just a mash the buttons type of game (though there is plenty of that too). With four characters that can be switched on the fly and with each carrying two weapons there are plenty of combo opportunities. And although I say its “deeper than you may think”, bear in mind my thoughts of what the series is were rock bottom. So it’s still not exactly the high tier of action games.

On top of your usual attacks, as the ridiculous story progresses you’ll also get the opportunity to transform into, well, to be honest it’s something for the furries out there. As a meter fills a click of the LS and RS causes your character to now grow animal like qualities (yes, even a tail). Don’t worry though, if it’s not to your liking you can still change the outfits at the main menu with new costumes being unlocked as you progress.

I think the main problem is the action for the most part is just hammering the same combo over and over again. This despite being able to purchase a good amount of different combos in the store. Playing on the Normal difficulty there were a few moments where I had to switch characters as they were about to die, but for large stretches it didn’t require much in the way of skill.

Like Dynasty Warriors, a bunch of mindless zombies come rushing at you, and while there is some variety in the enemy types (particularly later on) they don’t really require much thought. There are, at times, patterns to memorise, but once you’ve got that down it’s just a simple dodge and attack, rinse, repeat. That is until you reach the final section of the game where the difficulty ramps up exponentially as you’re forced, for pretty much the first time, to spend the points earned to acquire new weapons, items and combos.

Unfortunately the enemies are just mindless idiots. Most action sequences in the game require you to dispatch everyone before you can move onto the next section. And unless you’re close up to them they won’t bother coming to attack, with the last enemy usually just hanging out in the corner waiting for you to kill him. Or more often than not stuck on the geometry. Yes, they are zombies so mindlessness is pretty much par for the course, but I still expected them to come after me and not wait for me to trigger them once I come into contact. The game is very low budget in that regard, which also comes across in the graphics department. Graphically it very much lives up to its b-movie stylings. There are very basic character models and environments, at a glance you could easily mistake it for a last gen game.

But unlike say an Earth Defence Force, it’s neither funny nor entertaining. The story is just nonsense, which I honestly can’t remember unless I look at the Wikipedia page, and the voice acting is excruciating. Cut scenes either portrayed with in-game graphics or comic book style panels can thankfully be skipped so you can quickly get back to the action.

With numerous items to be bought, a story mode that’s perhaps the right length for what the game is, and having to manage characters and weapons (which degrade over time) it’s clear that there is a lot of thought gone into Onechanbara. It’s just a lot of content that’s begging for a better game.

Hero Generations Review

It’s been an odd couple of years.

Not too long ago a game like Hero Generations would have blown minds. A Roguelike, town building crossover game where you play as the successive descendants of your original hero? “Finally, someone made that weird thing I’ve been daydreaming about all these years…” In 2015 though, it’s business as usual. Hero Generations finds itself up against stiff competition in a world of Rogue Legacies, Darkest Dungeons and Sunless Seas. Where developers Heart Shaped Games have set themselves apart is despite making a game full of the requisite doses of death, doom and eldritch horror, the overall result is overwhelmingly cosy.

This is a game to wallow in. Much of the moment to moment gameplay is lightweight monster bashing and loot grabbing combined with lush storybook visuals and floaty music that stays just on the right side of twee. There‘s fun to be found just exploring and bumbling around the narrow confines of the game world and although death is permanent you have to go out of your way for it to be a genuine threat. The real meat of the game is to be found in building up towns, expanding transport links around the map and ensuring each successive hero garners enough fame and fortune to woo a mate and continue the family line. The range of available buildings and the effects they convey are wide enough to support varying strategies but structures slowly fall into ruin when neglected. Without diligent planning the grand designs of one hero become crippling obligations for their offspring. It’s a game of mapping out and perfecting routes through the game world over successive generations where resources can be gathered, repairs made and the long term fortunes of your lineage are kept in delicate equilibrium. The satisfaction to be found managing the economy of your home region makes it tempting to remain rooted in your starting area but soon enough a prophecy of global destruction rears its head forcing you further afield.

The clockwork microcosm of Hero Generations’ game world plays tricks with your perception of time. The lives of individual heroes are fleeting but your grand strategies play out with dreamlike slowness while as the world around you remains timeless and unchanged. Even the countdown to the end of the world is measured in generations. In a genre obsessed with mortality as a way of enforcing difficulty Hero Generations’ philosophical approach stands out.

There are a few technical and presentation hiccups with the game only running in windowed mode at a few preset sizes and the 1080p option maddeningly doesn’t fit a 1080p desktop. In combat or towns the background art is a narrow strip framed by acres of wasted screen real estate and out in the gameworld the wobbly headed, paper cut out characters always feel slightly too small to appreciate the wealth of little details. It’s a shame that a game with such charming artwork fails to present it in the best light possible.

Hero Generations offers players a roguelike sandbox where your theories and hunches on how to exploit its systems and untangle its mysteries can be tried and tested within a single play session. It’s a relaxing antidote to the casual disregard for player blood pressure that permeates many higher profile roguelikes. Genre diehards might protest the lack of difficulty but the depth is there for players content to meander at Hero Generations’ own pace.

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture Review

Everyone loves a good story. Even better are the great tales that are told with passion, and real verve.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, from Brighton based development studio The Chinese Room, tells many tales. Ultimately it’s the tale of two recently married scientists, doctors Stephen Appleton, and Kate Collins. It’s June 1984, and Stephen returns to his hometown, the fictional rural village of Yaughton, along with an apprehensive Kate to work for a year at Yaughton’s observatory. Their project? An astronomical pattern they have been studying, with an alignment event due to occur sometime after their arrival.

Your journey begins after this event. The once sleepy village of Yaughton is now deathly silent. As the game’s title strongly suggests, everybody’s gone. You’re left to piece together what happened from the small recordings of Dr Kate Collins dotted throughout the village, aided by a mysterious orb of light that does its best to guide you. And it’s the light that makes Rapture so very interesting.

Whether you follow the mysterious orb religiously, or stroll away to explore (which you absolutely should do), you will happen upon short scenes artfully depicted by the mysterious light. These scenes are little snippets of what occurred in the run-up to the alignment event. The genius in these scenes is how they’re portrayed. The Chinese Room brilliantly sidesteps the usual problems of bad lip-sync and plastic hair, the scourges of cinematic scenes in videogames for decades, by simply not conveying such details. It’s the conversations between the characters, superbly performed by the cast, that paint their own portraits in your mind’s eye.

Rapture also eschews the usual trappings and tropes of the first-person genre. The game is as devoid of action as Yaughton is bereft of denizens. There is little to no interaction from the player, you won’t so much as speak a word to anyone, let alone fire a weapon. You are simply an observer, and it’s absolutely wonderful. In our current era of unprecedented player agency, this reversion to simplicity is somewhat refreshing. Rapture’s graphics really help sustain the sense of wonder. Under close scrutiny some of the texture detail is lacking at times, but the simply stunning lighting model more than makes up for that small failing. Rapture is, overall, simply breathtaking to look at.

On a technical level, there are some issues. In addition to some slightly low-res textures and noticeable pop-in, the framerate could indeed be better. Rapture sometimes chugs along, which is a little disappointing considering how little actually goes on. Additionally I did have one instance of the game crashing, and also got stuck in scenery with no way out and no way to load a previous checkpoint. I had to restart the game. The checkpoint system is also a little odd, their triggering doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, and if you run into one of the issues I just mentioned, you may find yourself retreading a fair bit of old ground after a restart.

What’s particularly great however, is how Rapture seems to have captured rural Britain circa 1984. Putting aside a few minor discrepancies like the use of mobile phones (chunky or not, you’d be extremely lucky to find just one, let alone several), and a petrol station selling unleaded (didn’t come until ‘86), The Chinese Room has nailed it. Upon entering one of Yaughton’s houses, I was suddenly five years old again, as if entering a school friend’s house for the first time. No game, film, or any other media has ever evoked that kind of memory from me before. Combined with the stunning graphical style, and the complete emptiness of the village, the overall feel is relaxed yet deeply unsettling. The Chinese Room really has achieved something quite unique.

Throughout your time casually strolling through Yaughton you will get to know some wonderful and some not-so wonderful characters, witness heartwarming moments, and endure even more truly heartbreaking ones. Superbly complimenting all these moments is the stunning musical score from Jessica Curry. Honestly, and you’ll have to pardon the cliché here, but her heart-wrenchingly evocative score is Rapture’s pièce de résistance. It’s spine-tingling, and so good I’ve purchased it. In fact the overall sound design is outstanding, making great use of surround sound to set its more dramatic pieces apart from the game’s quieter moments.

Of course, all of this would be fairly meaningless if Rapture’s main story was rubbish. Thankfully, it’s mesmerisingly brilliant. The Chinese Room’s writing is sharp, weaving together what are otherwise disparate tales into one coherent whole that runs the gamut of human emotion. The game’s final chapter does almost spoil it all by bashing you over the head with the mighty hammer of exposition. But overall, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is an enthralling tale, told with aplomb, leaving just enough to interpretation to provide a satisfactory conclusion for everyone.

GS Quick Look: Skyhill

Brad and John find themselves stuck in the penthouse of an apartment block and wonder why they need to even bother going down.

Skyhill is a turn-based, roguelike, survival game where you must escape the Skyhill Apartments during some kind of outbreak / invasion.

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Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 21st August 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 14th August (Friday).

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The guys have a look at some of the new entries in the Top 10, which hasn’t changed much, but sees a re-entry for Dying Light at number 10, as well as a return to top spot for LEGO Jurassic World.

Brad then waxes lyrical about Mike Bithell’s Volume, as well as talking about despite being a good game mechanically, Pure Hold’Em just cannot work as a videogame.

Elsewhere they guys look forward to Madden 16, Gears of War Ultimate, Mega Man Legacy Collection and more.

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

This Week’s Top 10

5 FIFA 15

Anyway, details below on how to catch this week’s show.

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King’s Quest Review

This is a review I should have written a while back. King’s Quest Episode 1 has been out a while now and most reviewers will have already covered it. It’s taken me a while because I needed to find the right time to play.

I was a huge fan of the original 1984 game (which I didn’t play until into the 1990’s in all fairness) and it is one that has stayed in my memories ever since. So when during the Playstation Experience in 2014 Roberta Williams and Ken Williams stepped on stage to announce King’s Quest for a modern era, I was jumping with joy.

What was special about the original game, was how well told the story was, it seemed so far ahead of its time to my young mind, I loved the characters, the setting and the progression. It felt magical, like a story book come to life. It has also aged well and I can still play it to this day.

However, there is a new King’s Quest out and by golly is it amazing. It is as though technology has finally caught up with the visions of our biggest talents of the eighties. This is one epic adventure that from the very first moment will gets its hooks in and never once let you go.

Everything about King’s Quest just feels like perfection to me. Starting with the visuals, this is a game that is art coming to life. The style is comic / adventure book enough that it just feels warm and welcoming, but animated so well it really feels like you are playing an animated movie from the likes of Disney. I found myself hammering F12 on my keyboard taking screenshot after screenshot for my desktop background.

Next is a story that is so wonderfully written it brings this version of King’s Quest into a very unique group of games that can really stand with writing in film and literature. It is fantastical, but the writers know their subject matter and treat it is the respect it deserves.

What’s more, this is a game that is episodic and boy does episode one end in such a way, that the wait for episode two will be painful. I need to know what happens next, because they cannot leave me hanging like this. I felt dumbfounded at the end, lost that it ended at that point.

That is because not only is the writing fantastic, but the voice acting and performances are woven together in a way that you really feel for all the characters, whether you like them all or not, it doesn’t matter, you simply feel something for each and every one of them.

The overall gameplay mechanics too are just right. The interaction is held back enough that you can enjoy the story as it unfolds, but active enough that you feel you are having an influence on proceedings.

Puzzles you encounter are childlike, but they also won’t stump you to the point it is affected the game moving forward. There are Quick Time Events, but they too are handled well and generally you feel at one with the story.

This truly is a game that is the sum of its parts, all the above working together to create a well oiled machine. None of the parts on their own will set the world on fire, but together they create something rather magical.

It’s not a game I have been waiting thirty years for as such. Hell I didn’t even know I wanted a new King’s Quest, not until that night in December 2014, but now it is here, it has filled a hole in my gaming life, whilst at the same time ripping it wide open as I wait for the next episode.

If you have any interest in good story telling, then you have to own this, this is a top of the class game in both its own genre and just overall.

GS Quick Look: Volume

Brad turns it up to ELEVEN for a quick look at Mike Bithell’s wonderful Volume.

If you only buy one stealth game this year make sure it is Volume. I mean seriously do that, vote with your wallets here people. Get this over Metal Gear Solid V, because in all honesty this shares more in common with the best bits of MGS anyway.

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Pure Hold’Em Review

I like poker! Actually scratch that, I love poker and specifically No Limit Texas Hold’em. For me it is the perfect mix of strategic play, learning statistics and getting into somebodies head psychologically. When I was taught to play, I was told it is rarely about the cards, but more about the personalities on the table.

So when I got a chance to get on to Pure Hold’em from VooFoo Studios I was happy to see how they handled this noble game.

In terms of presentation, mechanics and the like, it is extremely well done, it looks lovely and the idea of placing you at the table, whilst not new, does a great job of immersing you into the game. You can style the cards and table to your heart’s content and the game moves at a really good pace.

In fact, there is nothing technically I can find wrong with it, you have a mix of pickup games and tournaments, that mix in an XP system that lets you earn credits to play with. As a simple poker simulator I can recommend it.

This is a solid game and VooFoo Studios can add another successful simulation to their repertoire, along with Pure Pool, Pure Chess and Backgammon Blitz. They have proven themselves master of the table game and I hope to see more in the future…Pure Draughts anyone? No? Just me then!

But here I have a major problem with Pure Hold’em and let me reiterate, it is nothing to do with the job VooFoo Studios have done, they can hold their heads up high. However, poker does not work as a videogame, it shouldn’t be one because the two main aspects of it are removed in this form.

What makes poker such a fine game, is that there is a huge amount of risk. You buy-in to a game and have real money on the line. This could be at a cash game, where you take in whatever funds you have, or tournament type tables, where you buy in a certain amount and everyone has the same amount of chips at the start.

Both work because you have risked something to play. Personally I stick purely to tournament rules, as I find cash games can often be weighted poorly to those with the bigger funds and less to lose. I made the mistake once of entering a cash table and it destroyed my play style, thus never again.

Anyway, the point is you have a real investment in the game and this just doesn’t come through in games like Pure Hold’em, because nothing is real, there is no real risk, no real investment. Believe me I understand why there cannot be, but for me it is like playing soccer professionally but removing the officials and not bothering keeping score.

Sure there is online poker where real money can be wagered, but again this, whilst having the risk involved, removes the other major element… reading and reacting to real people.

I am not talking just about whether they fold a hand, raise, call, working out if that half pot raise is a ploy, or if that all-in move is one of confidence, or one to get others away from the hand. I am talking about reading your actual opponents.

You see you may only take a single glance at your cards and barely take in what has been put down on the flop, turn and river, because you are working the hand in a different way, you are studying what other players are doing at any one moment, what they have done before, how does that line up with this hand. Does this player always try to make a move from the 4th spot? Or is this new and does that mean he has something?

It can be watching their hands, facial expressions, the way they look at their cards, the way they put chips in, the time they take, how much they talk, or do they go quiet for a reason. You only get all this sat at a live table with real people with something to lose or gain.

I don’t begrudge people who want to play for fun, nor those who want to play online for real, but for me it means that this is but a small fraction of what makes poker…well poker.

It’s a great tool for teaching people how to play, learning hands, the base techniques and such, but this is only for fun and not for poker enthusiasts unfortunately.

Groundhog Play

…Or the fun to be had in banging your head against a brick wall for hours on end.

Like many of us, I’ve spent a large portion of the year having my arse handed to me by Bloodborne.  I remember one particular night where I made absolutely zero progress.   No new shortcuts, no levelling up, no new items and a big fat zero next to my blood echoes.    For two straight hours I ran up the stairs in Cathedral Ward, pass the Church Servants, under the legs of the giant and through the big wooden door to face Vicar Amelia and every single time she destroyed me.  Sometimes it took her no more than ten seconds.  Other times she prolonged my agony, toying with me for ten or fifteen minutes before sending me back to the lamp empty handed.  As I turned off the PS4 it occurred to me that I had been doing the exact same thing over and over again for the entire evening.   But I didn’t feel frustrated.  I didn’t feel angry.  Weirdly, I kinda enjoyed it.

I wasn’t always like this.  As a kid, the inflatable chair in my bedroom doubled as a handy punch bag for when Dr Doak refused to be in the right place at the right time so I could unlock the invincibility cheat in Goldeneye.  My SNES pad is covered in bite marks; a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Luigi sailing past me at the last corner on Super Mario Kart.   I got so annoyed playing the VHS board game Atmosfear one night that I burst into tears, much to the amusement of my parents.  “It’s only a game!  Stop taking it so seriously!  Now off to bed, you’ve got work in the morning”.

I’m kidding of course; I was no more than 14 years old if that makes it any less embarrassing.  But something did happen to me in my late teens when I realised that your time spent winning only accounts for a tiny fraction of your time playing video games.  If that’s the only bit you’re enjoying then the whole enterprise is a spectacular waste of time.   Now don’t get me wrong, winning is still pretty damn good.  When Vicar Amelia finally fell I played it cool in front of my wife by leaping from the sofa and roaring “GET IN” so loudly I was in danger of waking up the children.  But cumulatively, I think I enjoyed the journey far more than the destination.  The anticipation and the hope that next time, maybe next time, I’d finally do it was what drove me up those stairs so many times.  I doubt my victory cry would have been quite so ferocious had I swanned in and taken her out on the first go.

Getting the balance right between a stiff challenge and an unfair one must be enormously difficult.  I can only imagine the kind of testing that went into ensuring Dark Souls was tough enough that some players would never see past the first boss but fair enough that some players would be able to finish the game with their character wearing nothing but their underpants.  Whatever dark magic it is that From Software manages to weave into their games that makes staring at a loading screen for thirty seconds feel like a well-deserved respite rather than a momentum killer, this is far from the norm in games that take pleasure in telling you how rubbish you are.

Normally, the most important device that keeps you coming back is the instant restart.  It’s pretty safe to say that if you’re playing a game that has a dedicated button for starting again, its rock bloody hard.  I’m currently spending a lot of time with the excellent PS4 platformer N++, which allows your character to commit harakiri at the press of a button.  And that’s just as well.   Last night I was playing a level where I knew within the first two seconds if I’d pressed X at the right time to make the initial jump.  I could handily explode my little stick ninja moments before he was frazzled by the lasers and get quickly get back into the action;  fortunate for someone as ridiculously impatient as myself.  I must have attempted this level well over thirty times but I’m itching to give it another go this evening.  I daresay this would not been the case if I was forced to watch dying animations over and over again.

Trials is another perfect example.   I find these games ludicrously frustrating and yet utterly brilliant at the same time.  I’ve never actually finished one and I’m way off the standard of those emotionless motocross robots you see on the leaderboards, sailing through the levels without a single fail.  As soon as I get to the extreme levels, the sounds leaving my living room sound like a docker struggling to start a lawn mower.  Engine rev, swear, repeat.  And yet, I keep coming back.  I’m not one of these guys who “likes to be punished” (if you get my meaning), but the fact I enjoy being punched in the face by a video game over and over again does make me wonder if I’ve got some masochistic tendencies bubbling under the surface.

I’ve talked about my love of PS2 rhythm action game Frequency elsewhere on this site, and although I’m fairly good at it, it did take its own twisted pleasure in making me feel inadequate.  One of the most twiddly and combo heavy tracks is “Smartbomb”.  Back in the days before online leaderboards (sounds like a million years ago now) I was part of a high score thread on a forum that had become fiercely competitive, particularly because I lived with two of the other competitors at the time.  Getting over 3000 points on Smartbomb and joining the “3000 club'” was a sign that you had made it.  A true badge of honour.   Could I do it?  Could I fuck.  I dread to think how many hours I ploughed into that one song alone.  Sometimes I’d play the introduction for an hour straight. I think I may have done myself some long term damage as that song has become my hold music; if I’m thinking of nothing else it starts to creep into my head.  Thankfully, for my own sanity, I did get there in the end. But the victory felt somewhat anticlimactic.  It was the struggle that I had enjoyed.

I guess I should be grateful I had a feeling of success at all.  Playing Geometry Wars 2  amounts to little more than a series of crushing defeats with the tiniest glimmer of victory.  The lack of a defined goal, other than making the numbers go higher, means that you never really win.  I don’t think I’ve ever finished a go and thought to myself ‘yes, that was the absolute best you could do’.  I’ve always been at fault.  I always could have done better.  Then, to add insult to injury, they put the score of the person that’s higher than you on your friends list in the corner.  Constantly judging, constantly mocking.  Of course, this teasing does nothing but drive you on; right until you exceed their score. YES!  At which point they’re instantly replaced by another smug chump.  The game switches alliances to anyone but you.  It despises you.  But you love it all the same.

This mechanic of a thousand losses to every win is portrayed fantastically in Super Meat Boy.   I am utterly besotted by this game and can’t wait to get reacquainted with the little cube of flesh when he makes his debut on Sony platforms later this year.  At the end of every level, you get to watch every failed attempt all over again.  A hundred Meat Boys set off but only one of them will make it.  You get to relive every stupid mistake, every agonisingly close attempt until just one little guy is left giving you the thumbs up.  Nice work player!  It took you three hours and you killed me repeatedly but you got there in the end!  Shall we do it again?

One of my favourite bands, Hot Chip, once sang “over and over and over and over and over. Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal.  The joy of repetition really is in you”.  They’ve got a point. Games like this will always drag me back.  I am a sucker for the restarting cycle of self-hate; cursing my ineptitude before pressing start for another go.  And like Bill Murray trying to woo Andie MacDowell, I’ll keep going until I get it right.

Blues and Bullets Review

Blues and Bullets is a game that sort of came out of nowhere for me, I remember seeing a trailer or short video for it at some point and thinking it look nice stylistically, but it wasn’t at the top of my must play list.

You see, as much as I loved The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, I haven’t ever really got on with other games of this type from other developers, as they generally lack that spark that made those Telltale games so special to play. Hell even Telltale have failed to nail it with other attempts in my opinion.

However within 20 minutes of playing Blues and Bullets I was hooked, it had a wonderful setup and it pulled me in very early.

Now we have a policy here at Gamestyle that we will never write any specifics about a story, as we feel it is wrong to spoil it for our audience, so this will be no exception. However, I will say that a lot of care and attention has been put into the writing here and the path you take is exceptional and I never expected to be as engrossed as I was.

The game focuses on Elliot Ness, the former leader of The Untouchables, but in the realm of Blues and Bullets he is living out his retirement years running his own diner…yet it doesn’t end up as simple as that for him. It has a wonderful setting and pacing to provide a story that you never want to leave.

What impresses me most about Blues and Bullets, is how well it plays as a game. It follows many of the leads set out by Telltale, but somehow manages to feel a lot smoother, with transitions between cut-scenes and gameplay feeling very natural.

The dialogue between characters also feels very natural and not as wooden as you get in many of these games, with the few exceptions. The noir style makes seeing on screen prompts for interactive areas very easy and allows the game to flow, rather than feeling like you are being held back or forced to look for the less obvious parts.

This is an episodic game and this is only the first part, so it will be finished in a few short hours, but because of the wonderful pacing and how this first episode ends, you are left begging for more. Not many games have managed to nail that, but Blues and Bullets has once again managed to exceed all my expectations.

These episodic adventures are becoming more and more commonplace, but whereas many are really average at best, it is games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Life is Strange and now Blues and Bullets that rise to the very top.

This is only part one and how this fares overall will depend on just how well future episodes are written, but the pilot has set the scene for something wondrous and it is all in the story now, because the overall mechanics are spot on.

If you have any interest in fine storytelling, then you owe it to yourself to pick this up. If you are a little concerned about it, then episode 1 is just £3.99 and I promise at the very least you will get that value from it.

GS Quick Look – The Cat Machine (Steam)

CATS!!! Cats are either loving pets, or they are sneaky devious pests that control us more than we control them.

Brad & John look at another side of cats though, the ones that work tirelessly to keep the earth spinning to allow us to exist. Did you know that happens?

Well according to The Cat Machine from developers Cranktrain, that is exactly what happens, as you will find out in their new puzzle game.

Brad kinda likes what he is playing, while John isn’t quite as convinced, but check it out for yourself.

Check the video below!

Watch Now

The Cat Machine is available now on Steam for £6.99


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Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 14th August 2015

Brad and John take a look at the charts and releases for week ending 14th August (Friday).

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The guys have a look at some of the new entries in the Top 10, which start and end with Rare Replay, plus a re-entry for Minecraft.

The guys still can’t get their heads around FIFA 15 still being high in the charts so close to the releases of FIFA 16, especially when it is now cheaper to get EA Access for a couple of months, so it must just be the Playstation contingent. In the end, they decide it is hard to blame EA for their business practices, when it quite clearly works!

Discussion moves to Rare Replay, before talking about how let down they are about Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture and are Indie Games getting to a point where hype levels are destroying their overall reception upon release.

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
9 F1 2015

Anyway, details below on how to catch this week’s show.

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Submerged Review

One of the things I love about games, over any other type of media, is how a genre and your definitions of that genre can develop over time. Submerged is a fine example of that for me.

Essentially Submerged is an atmospheric wandering simulator. From the start you are pretty much in control of what you do and where you go. Yet at the same time there is a fairly regimented story there, that progresses in a very linear fashion.

The game is set in a future (maybe) where the world has been partially submerged by the world’s oceans, what once were vast concrete cities, with roads and buildings, are now just water, with only the tallest of buildings leaving any clue to the world left behind.

The only form of travel seems to be in a boat, as you make your way around the world the game has set out for you. You play as Miku, a young lady who has arrived at this mysterious city with her wounded brother.

That is pretty much all you’ll get in terms of story setup, as the game only unfolds as you reach various points and unlock more of the narrative. Well I say narrative, because there is none as such. You are presented with a kind of tribal drawing set with each new part of the story, that gives clues as to what has happened and what is happening in front of you.

It is an odd concept, as it is a game that feels like it does need an overall narrative, but the mystery of trying to establish this story in your own way works in a way that somehow feels any voice work would ruin the experience. It is sort of caught between two ideals and even after finishing I am still not sure if I am one hundred percent on board with the direction chosen for storytelling or not.

Submerged also has its own fake language, which I personally love, as it brings another mystery to the table. Is this earth? If so, how much time has passed? If this was some kind of disaster, how many people were wiped out that a common language couldn’t survive? Or is this something else? A fantasy land? Another planet? Again if so, how are there so many recognisable things from our own world?

Some clues are given as you progress, but everything is left open enough that you can fill in the blanks with your own imagination and I love a game that can do that.

The game itself though has left me torn, as I said at the top of the review, this is a wandering simulator type experience that has evolved somewhat and tried to do something different with the genre and in doing so it both succeeds wonderfully, but also holds back the overall experience.

By allowing you to discover things at your own pace, you have a wonderful sense of freedom, sailing around in your boat is such a relaxing experience, as you come across various landmarks and wildlife, happily going about their own existence. I could happily spend hours on the water.

I can do this because the water effects, the the lighting, the buildings, the plant life, the wildlife is all fantastically realised and is quite simply beautiful. The dynamic day/night setting also really changes how the world feels and when you first encounter a sunrise you will have your breath taken away.

Yet along with this there is also a need to parkour your way up the sides of buildings to actually progress the story and whilst it is nice that there is this separation, it also changes the overall feel of the game to a point it becomes a little disjointed.

Scaling a building is very linear by the fact you need to follow clearly marked hand and foot holds and despite there being different paths up, you know after the first one that your goal is set and you pretty much have to do what the game says, which is completely at odds with the freedom of being in the boat.

Aside from that, despite there being various collectibles on each building, when you reach the target, the game forces you back to a starting point with your brother, meaning you need to go again to find the building, before scaling it again to find anything you left behind.

This becomes a frustration when some areas have you exploring a lot around the edges and taking different paths, this is where it would have been better to allow you to choose either progressing the story of continuing to search.

It should be a minor bugbear really, but it just takes you out of the experience enough that you almost want to ignore the story completely and just sail around. Which of course you can do, but the story itself is interesting enough that you do want to see it through.

Also, if you are just intent on doing story stuff, this is a game that will end in a few short hours, but if you are the sort who loves to collect everything, or just take in the wonderful world around you, then you will get so much more from Submerged and so many more hours.

I was really looking forward to playing this and on the whole I haven’t been let down, but there are a few design decisions that would have made it so, so much more rewarding.

Absolute Drift Review

I may be considered an odd fellow with this opinion, but I really really like the Gymkhana stuff in DiRT 3, it was probably my favourite part of that game personally. Yes I was in the minority there, but I would have loved a game that was just pure Gymkhana mechanics. So Absolute Drift…COME ON DOWN!

The first thing I noticed about Absolute Drift, is that it is a game that screams Indie. It has a unique visual style which is very minimalist and it focuses on a core mechanic rather than trying to throw everything into the mix to appeal to everyone.

Using a top down view, you basically drift your car around a number of large playgrounds, to complete challenges, before taking on smaller tutorial areas, challenges, events and the like. The layout was initially a bit strange, but boy it is great just throwing your car around an open area and doing pretty much what you want. Then at your own leisure, choosing to do a score attack, or another challenge.

What strikes me though is how difficult the car is to control, there is no hand holding here, no easing you into things. You will gain control for the first time, try to drift and end up spinning out. You’ll repeat this a number of times, before you even try your first proper objective.

You will then fail said objective, before somehow just about getting it, but without being in full control. Then you’ll try something else and fail miserably again, then another, it’s time to fail again and again and once more for luck.

Yet after a while you start to feel one with the car, you learn to control a drift under a digger, pull off a fairly controlled donut and do proper controlled spins in a designated area. You do all this, feel proud of yourself, do a score attack on a track and see how far down the leaderboards you are.

This isn’t game that is designed to be frustrating and to its credit it never feels like that. The handling, whilst unforgiving, is designed in such a way, that when you get used to it, you can pull off some marvelous drifts. You can get so much control that you can drift a car round a marker within inches and feel in complete control.

But you have to earn that right. It is the same as learning to skate, learning to ride a horse, learning to drive, etc. You think you know the basics, you have seen others do it, but when you try you realise there is a long road ahead to get to even a competent level. But just like those things mentioned, when it clicks, it really clicks and you feel wonderful having been able to learn this for yourself.

There isn’t an obscene amount of content within Absolute Drift quite yet, but what there is will be enough to keep you busy for a good while. Leaderboards mean you will be taking a lot more runs at each of the challenges and score attacks, as you try and increase your score and to be perfectly honest, there is something really relaxing about just drifting around the large areas between levels.

By stripping the game down to the absolute necessary mechanics, Funselektor Labs have created what I consider to be the best drifting game on the market yet. It removes the arcade feel of DiRT 3’s Gymkhana modes and gives you something that feels a lot more realistic despite the overall aesthetic.

I was intrigued by the game when I first heard about it, but after a number of hours of playing it has far exceeded my expectations. It may be easy to throw it into your pile of shame after the first hour or so, due to the steep learning curve, but those who stick with it will be handsomely rewarded.


Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 7th August 2015

Brad and John take a look at the charts and releases for week ending 7th August (Friday).

Despite a bit of a break it seems that there isn’t much movement in the charts and the summer drought doesn’t help things either.

After a quick run through the charts, chat moves on to Absolute Drift, Kings Quest, Magic Duels Origins, Five Nights At Freddy’s 4 and finally Galax-Z, before looking ahead to Everybody’s Gone to Rapture and Toy Soldiers: War Chest

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

This Week’s Top 10

5 FIFA 15
8 F1 2015

Anyway, details below on how to catch this week’s show.

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Gamestyle Podcast – Gamescom Sort Of

After a short break due to Brad being on holiday (in the south of Spain in Mojacar to be precise and lovely it was too) the podcast is back.

This week talk should have been about Gamescom, but instead the gang (yeah sure, gang) manage to talk about almost everything but. Politics, the state of sport in the UK, why eSports can continue to grow, why watching games being played instead of actually playing them is becoming more of a thing and some other stuff too.

Bradley is joined this week by John, Barry and Natalie.

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Thank You For The Music

“Kick! Punch!  It’s all in the mind!”

From the very first moment that Chop Chop Master Onion instructed Parappa the Rapper to join him in his karate-rap fusion I was hooked.  Here was a title that brought gaming right down to its bare bones.  Just press the buttons when I tell you to.  Sure, it was wrapped up in the surreal tale of dog meets flower, dog gets flower by learning martial arts from a vegetable, but at its core it was as simple as it gets.  You could play it with one hand.  Heck, you could play it with one finger if you wanted.  Just press the buttons when I tell you to.

From these unusual beginnings, the rhythm action genre gradually expanded until it became one of the most lucrative in the industry.   First we made characters perform and then we performed ourselves.  The beat matching broke free from the screen and spilled into the living room.  The sound of strum bars clicking, drums clackerty-clacking and vocalists murdering the high bit in “Creep” filled lounges the world over.   The video game charts resembled the album charts.  Paul McCartney was at E3.   There was a 102 button guitar controller.  “This will never end” the suits cried. “It prints money!”

Then, the day the music died.  The whole enterprise collapsed under its own weight. Sales nosedived, the DLC stopped and plastic instruments were in the loft next to the Christmas decorations.  When the new generation of consoles arrived, vast libraries of songs were ripped from beneath the T.V and consigned to the graveyard of dead formats.   Unloved, forgotten and inaccessible.

But maybe not for much longer.  Harmonix and Activision are both investing heavily in revitalising our interest in annoying our neighbours by releasing Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live within weeks of each other, in what a lesser person might dub “Rocktober”.  A sequel to Amplitude was successfully funded on Kickstarter and is expected later this year.   Can they really convince us that it’s worth coming back when these games are in essence broadly similar to the rapping 2D dog we took control of nearly twenty years ago?

They had me convinced from the very first note.  Rhythm action games may all seem mechanically identical to one another but they offer experiences of creativity and accomplishment rarely matched in other genres.    They can elevate the simplistic and routine into unforgettable victories.  In Space Channel 5, Sega produced one of the most rousing, epic, air-punching finales in the history of gaming.  That it takes barely two hours to reach this point doesn’t matter.  That during those two hours you are more-or-less performing the same actions to the same theme tune is a footnote.   The toe-tapping, hip-swinging, finger-clicking journey it takes you on is so involving, so charming and so damn groovy that all its shortcomings fizzle away like one of the games out-funked aliens.

Similarly, the strength of the core concept of these games can even save them when that core concept plain doesn’t work.  Gitaroo Man contained button matching sequences that fell far short of the beauty of its analogue stick approximation of twiddling on a guitar.  And yet, the game was a rip-roaring success; taking you on a loveable coming of age story told through a multitude of musical genres including pop, reggae, hip-hop and samba and a distinctive comic book atheistic. But it was the aptly named “Legendary Song” that saw the game at its very best.  Serenading a girl under a tree at sunset with a gentle acoustic number completely changed the pace of this usually frantic game and brought many a lump to a player’s throat.

INIS, the studio behind Gitaroo Man pulled a similar trick with the DS game and cult classic Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan.  For me, this game represents the absolute peak of the character driven, story based rhythm action games that were forged by Parappa.  Taking control of an all-male cheerleading troop with a supernatural ability to burst through the door when you’re at your lowest ebb, these heroes help the needy through life’s difficult situations with the sheer power of dance and encouragement.  Be you an office worker trying to catch the attention of a dreamy superior or a concert violinist with a bit of tummy trouble on the train, these guys are there to give you a good shake, a slap on the back and the self-belief to see you through.  Told through smart comic book visuals and a fantastic J-Pop soundtrack these short stories were often genuinely life affirming but never were they more beautifully delivered than in the tale of loss explored in the infamous “Over the Distance”.  Here, much like during “Legendary Song”, INIS played with your expectations, scaled back the bombast and noise, and told the heart breaking story of a deceased man trying to communicate with the partner he left behind.  Often cited as one of the most tear jerking moments in gaming it was in the playing that this level reached its classic status.  Ouendan was truly magnificent to play.  The bottom screen was littered with numbered circles that you either tapped or dragged in sequence.  At the highest difficulties this transformed play into an epic dance as your stylus skipped and spun across the touch pad at fantastic speeds.  “Over the Distance” still required high levels of concentration but the pace changed, the moves were gentler.  If the rest of the game was high octane breakdancing, this was ballet. It was elegant and considered and tackled emotions that are sadly rarely explored in video games.

Of course, rhythm action hasn’t just made us move with our fingers but move with our bodies too.  I still remember the first time I saw a high level player draw an audience at an arcade with his lightning feet on Dance Dance Revolution.  It looked so damn cool!  Soon after, dance mats found their way into homes up and down the nation and the gaming audience began to expand into the untapped audiences that Nintendo would later woo with the Wii. This was a party game that anyone could pick up in a matter of seconds but mastering would take time and dedication.  Most of us would never look particularly accomplished (I got fairly good at it but always resembled a drunken dad stumbling round the dance floor at a wedding) but it’s always the first machine I seek out whenever I enter an arcade.

The logical conclusion to dance games was arguably the saving grace of Microsoft’s Kinect, Dance Central. One of the ill-fated peripherals biggest issues was that it was terrible at understanding what you wanted it to do.  When this was flipped and it was dictating to the player it could turn you into Fred Astaire.  Packed with chart toppers and dance moves that asked you to mime putting on a tiara, it asked the player to give themselves over to the camp fabulousness that pop music is so famous for.  Those that did found a game that not only served as a vigorous workout but as a reminder at how much fun it is to get your groove on, even if it’s space requirements did make it an oddly solitary experience.

The same of which can’t be said for Sony’s Singstar; arguably the only series that can truthfully wear the “party game” moniker.  Singstar has often been criticised for being more restrictive than traditional karaoke but for me this is completely missing the point.  The scoring system is integral to what makes these games so special.   It gives you something to aim for rather than just shouting drunkenly at the top of your lungs (although this particular style of play is obviously more than welcome when the situation demands). The score cap of 10 000 points always seems tantalisingly close, playing with your perception of how good you actually are and allowing you to believe that you might actually be a measly hundred points away from Minnie Ripton.  The clean and some might say clinical graphic style meant that play was instinctive and it is telling that this system was lifted almost wholesale when Activision and Harmonix introduced vocalists to their instrument franchises.   But truly it was the inclusive atmosphere that made the series such a success.  Playing in co-op and totally smashing a harmony generates the kind of camaraderie that hundreds of team shooters can only dream of.  Cleanly and successfully holding a long note and then posing for the camera was a moment of high-fiving excellence.  Singstar is perhaps the simplest expression of the rhythm action mechanic.  You don’t even need to press a button anymore.  Just do what you do anyway and sing along.

Nintendo’s alternative take on rhythm action went in the opposite direction and made us do things we would never have dreamed of to music.  The Gameboy Advance game Rhythm Tengoku, which has spawned sequels on the DS and Wii, married a surreal sense of humour to some truly magnificent tunes and was one of the finest original titles on the system.  Often playing like a game of Simon Says, it combined beat matching to situations as varied as Japanese calligraphy, teaching a monkey to dance and plucking hairs from an onion.  Each stage had a memorable, distinctive track which then culminated in the ingenious remix levels.  These grouped together five stages and then blended the actions and music in a frenzied but brilliantly designed finish.  Rhythm Tengoku shares a development team with Warioware and it frequently shows; in the simplistic cartoon visuals, unusual choice of challenges and quick-fire, relentless nature of its play.  In fact, it can be argued that Warioware often displays rhythm action mechanics itself.  With its ever increasing tempo, catchy musical intros and simple inputs you often find yourself matching beats, albeit in a more detached fashion.

And Warioware isn’t the only title to have trends similar to that found in rhythm action without strictly falling within that genre.    The PSP launch puzzler Lumines never actually required you to clear the stacks of blocks in time to the music.  But to do so would rob the game of a good deal of its appeal and playing with the sound turned down is simply unimaginable.  The same can be said of the celebrated and astonishing shooter Rez, which weaved its soundtrack deep within the gameplay until separating the two became impossible.   Both games allowed you to play alongside the featured artists and join them in the composition of the tracks without ever actually punishing you for doing your own thing.  In many ways they are actually more expressive and creative than traditional rhythm action games.  In other ways they encourage you to actually make the music worse, sticking in out of time drum fills and guitar twangs in order to chase a high score or save your bacon.  Regardless, both titles are essential for anyone that enjoys games which integrate music into their play.

Lumines and Rez were also highly praised for their visuals and there are elements of their neon, techno art style in what I consider to be one of the finest games ever made.  Frequency became an obsession for me and playing it now gives me an instant rush of endorphins as I take hold of the pad and my muscle memory kicks in.  Frequency is what happens when you try and turn a Dualshock into an instrument; cramming an entire bands worth of drums, guitars, synths and vocals into three measly buttons.  Then, by introducing a scoring mechanic and power ups, it forces you to not only play the track well, but to play the game well too.  Routes through the ever twisting tunnel are meticulously planned, gaps and silences are carefully exploited and split second decisions are the difference between glorious victory and crushing defeat.  Frequency also boasts a brilliantly plotted difficulty curve.  Tracks that once seemed impossible to finish quickly become your bread and butter as you return to try and eek another few hundred points from their notes.  There comes a point for all players when they feel a disconnect between what they see on screen and what they’re consciously interpreting.   Zone gaming at its absolute finest; the inputs going direct from the screen and into your fingers, bypassing your brain entirely.  You’ll ask yourself “how the hell did I do that” as you dance from instrument to instrument like a techno Roy Castle.  Frequency’s intensity and purity was diluted somewhat by its sequel Amplitude, which is sadly the basis for the forthcoming game successfully funded on Kickstarter.  But when the core mechanics and gameplay are so ridiculously moreish it’s impossible to not be excited at another chance to take a ride along those undulating lanes.

Which bring us back neatly to the plastic instruments that are attempting a comeback later this year.  Rock Band 4 appears near identical to the earlier games in the series, preferring to allow cross generation compatibility and access to its already vast library of songs to reinventing the wheel.  Guitar Hero Live sees Activision go in the opposite direction, creating a whole new guitar and button layout and first person, live action visuals.  Which will prove the more successful remains to be seen, but in their earlier incarnations these games provided some of the greatest wish fulfilment in the entire medium.  Whenever I play a shooter or RPG, I’m still a guy sat on a sofa with a pad in my hands.  But sometimes, just briefly, when I’m playing Rock Band, I feel I’m genuinely playing sold out arenas with my best friends at my side.  The trick it plays is infatuating, turning the talentless into talented.  The sense of teamwork is wonderfully integrated, encouraging you to forgo your moment in the high scoring spotlight to bring one of your band mates back from the brink.  But crucially, it’s just so much damn fun to play. The differing levels of difficulty allow you to choose between stern tests for your dexterous digits or you can elect to stick it on medium and prance around your living room like a lunatic.  The breadth of options is vast, particularly in Rock Band 3 where you can even learn to play the songs for real if you’ve got the kit and the motivation.  The introduction of keyboards was like a whole other game and added to the already embarrassment of riches that the drums, guitars, microphones and two and a half thousand compatible tracks offered.

Regardless of how well the new games do, I for one will be dusting off the drums for another smashing up until my hips go.  Whether I’ll be doing this on a PS3 or a PS10 is up to the public at large but I urge them to give it another try.  There’s nothing else in gaming quite like the flair and thrill offered by some plastic tat, a fridge full of booze and a group of close friends.

Tembo the Badass Elephant Review

2D platformers are certainly back on the menu and Tembo is the next in line to make its way out into the world. There is certainly still room in the market for well executed spins on the genre and it’s been a while since I’ve played a game where you get to control a commando elephant sent to save the world from an invading alien menace on an island shaped like a peanut.

Tembo certainly looks the part with large and colourful levels filled with graphical flourishes and lots of personality. Our hero conveys lots of heroic emotion through his expressions and the enemies look suitable shocked when a giant elephant lands on them. Rescuing the many captives around the levels also sees them ride on top of our hero as the destructive elephant parade smashes through just about everything in its path.

There aren’t that many levels to get through but each of the three main areas offers something new for players to get used to and they are suitably distinctive from each other as well. You start out in the city before moving to the Donkey Kong Country inspired highlands and then finally to the island’s Sonic inspired amusement park. There are some chase sequences thrown in as well and some suitably impressive boss battles that pit you against things even bigger than yourself.

Tembo has a host of different moves he can use to get around and smash up the enemy. He can charge, stomp and spray water while also being able to spin around in mid­air like a giant Sonic the Hedgehog. There’s also a much under­used slide attack to get to grips with. In fact, there are so many moves that it can cause a problem in certain sections of the game. A number of times I was  jumping or running from something and pulled off completely the wrong move ­ which usually means death.

Sadly, our heroic elephant can be a bit of a pain to manoeuvre around. He does in fact control as you would imagine an elephant to which is fine when you are charging around but not so good when precision platforming or quick reflexes are required. It’s basically like trying to play the whole of Donkey Kong Country while riding the Rhino all the time. There’s nothing game breaking here but I lost count of the amount of needless deaths caused by the ungainly control system and with the game’s, somewhat pointless, lives system, this can mean restarting levels from scratch.

Aside from the obvious Donkey Kong influence there is also a touch of Sonic in the mix. A couple of levels turn our hero into a giant spinning pinball and can’t help but conjure memories of everyone’s favourite Sonic 2 level. It works for the most part as well, as do most of the different things that have been thrown into the mix. The boss fights are particularly satisfying as well with some giant creations ready to be smashed up by our rampaging elephant. We’ve never seen giant bowling balls used so creatively either.

This isn’t the longest game in the world and it’s likely you’ll get through it in a couple of hours. There are a few extra things you can do such as seek out all the captive humans or destroy all the aliens but we didn’t feel a great urge to replay levels. The game thrusts a mandatory number count of defeated aliens on you a few times too allow the unlocking of the next stage and this really wasn’t needed and only acts to try and artificially lengthen the game.

As with a number of games recently you are going to struggle here if you have any form of colour blindness. There aren’t any colour coded puzzles but laser beams and bullets all but disappear against some backgrounds and that’s a big issue in a game that requires precise timing.

Overall, Tembo the Badass Elephant may be short and a bit cumbersome but it is also a fair amount of fun and keeps players interested by introducing new things at regular intervals. There are certainly faults and frustrations but there is also a lot of imagination and good humour on show mixed in with a Donkey Kong and Sonic influence that makes the game a fun but brief ride.

Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm Review

I’ll admit that I hadn’t been aware of this project by a team of ex SNK staff until very recently. There have been various builds and versions of the game around since as early as 2010 but we now have the final release.

Yatagarasu is a one on one fighting game claiming to be accessible to all but also contain depth for more hard­core gamers. It draws from a number of influences and the result is a pretty playable mash up of Street Fighter III, Fatal Fury and The Last Blade.

There are eleven characters to pick from and they all show strong design in terms of how they balance against each other and their styles of play. The one down point is that there isn’t really anyone here you haven’t played before and the game certainly lacks an iconic character to hang the franchise on.

There’s the usual Ryu and Ken variants, a big guy who is part Hugo and part Zangief and an assassin character clearly influenced by Ibuki. The rest of the cast fall into character templates from The Last Blade and various other SNK franchises. This isn’t a massive problem as they all play well but a bit more imagination would have helped raise the game up a level. The design of the characters themselves is also nothing to write home about. There’s a nice consistent pixel style to them but no one leaps out or is especially memorable in terms of how they look.

The backgrounds are strangely inconsistent in their design aesthetic and a bit dull to be painfully honest. A couple are great and fit the game perfectly. Others don’t gel with the character art style at all and the static nature of them creates a really odd feeling that your characters are merely drifting around in front of them instead of it all being an integrated location. It also makes bouts feel somewhat less intense than in other fighters. The same criticism cannot be aimed at the music which is consistently excellent throughout.

There can also be no criticism of how blows connect with other fighters. I’ve played a few games where it can be difficult to know if you are connecting at times but here everything comes with a solid sound effect which makes everything seem meaty and precise.

The key Street Fighter III influence is the parry. It works differently here with buttons assigned to high and low parries. Much like Capcom’s fighter, good timing will see you avoid damage from any incoming attack. Get the timing wrong and you are left open for extra hits during a counter attacking combo. The system works really well and has clearly had a lot of thought put into it.

In terms of modes you get a fairly basic training mode, an online mode (which has good net code from what I’ve experienced), some replay options and two arcade modes. The arcade modes play out the same but it’s nice to have two different stories to battle through and is certainly a unique feature.

The other key feature of the game is that you can have ongoing commentary from fighting experts to try and build up the same feel as tournament fighting. In practice this means cut out heads of the veterans popping up when key moves or combos are carried out saying a few different phrases. It’s a fun addition but I soon turned it off as it’s very distracting.

Overall, Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm is a solid fighting game with some nice mechanics but it really has its work cut out to overthrow the current crop of fighters. The core mechanics are all here but it’s let down but some inconsistent presentation. I enjoyed my time with it but with Street Fighter, Blazblue and King of the Fighters having exceptional games in the market it’s hard to see me spending that much time with it in the future. Hopefully a sequel will arrive that really blows us away but at the minute this is good but not amazing.

3D Streets of Rage 2 Review

The Sega 3D classics range has offered us up some excellent revisions of games from the company’s golden era. So far the games that run ‘into’ the screen such as Outrun and Space Harrier have come out on top but there’s no denying that Streets of Rage 2 is a genre and generation highlight so even if the 3D effect didn’t add much then we were more than happy to dive into this.

Streets of Rage 2 is a classic scrolling beat’em up in the vein of Double Dragon or Final Fight. You can pick from four characters who differ in terms of speed, power, jumping ability and throws and then take on eight stages where colourful goons with silly names line up to be knocked out. It is a defining game for the 16 bit era and on the Mega Drive this is the pinnacle of the genre. It’s only real rival of the time was Final Fight but as the SNES version of the game lacked a character and the 2 player mode this is really as good as it gets on the home consoles of this time.

You get a fairly decent amount of moves to use with a punch/kick combination, several throws, a super move (which depletes some energy), and the odd hidden special attack. Lack of moves is what always leads to the feeling of repetition in games of this kind but there is enough variety in enemy type and location to ward off the feeling longer than in pretty much any other game of the time. The level design is particularly imaginative in places and certainly raises the game up a level past the Rival Turfs of this world.

In terms of what has been added someone has clearly tried to make this as definitive as it can be. You can play around with a host of different options such changing the lives and difficulty of the game. There are also options to change the version of the game from the international one to the Japanese ‘Bare Knuckle’ version, a casual mode and the ability to change the screen to mimic an old arcade machine. You can even change how the sound is emulated if you prefer the Mega Drive 2 to the Mega Drive 1.

Upon completion of the game you get a few new modes to play with as well. One lets you kill everything in one punch while the more interesting unlockable is a mode that gives you one life with each of the four characters to try and get through the game with.

It’s bursting at the seams with content and the 3D effect actually works as well (and you even get to choose if you want the effect to pop in or pop out). A big criticism of these types of game is that you can’t tell which level enemies are moving on. If you turn on the 3D effect this is no longer a problem and makes the game much fairer as you aren’t hitting air shots.

Overall, this is the best possible revision of Streets of Rage 2 we can imagine. There’s so much to play around with that fans of the original game will love it. There’s a lot of fun for newcomers as well with the only real criticism being that characters can be a little slow when walking around. It’s the definitive version of a generational classic and you’d be mad not to give it a look.

N++ Review

Ever since N++ was announced I’ve been eagerly anticipating returning to the inertia based platforming. The memories of hand cramps and worn out fingers are still fresh in the mind from the Xbox 360 version of N+ and a chance to head back into such a pure piece of skill based gaming is something this generation of consoles really needed.

N++ is the final game (or version of the game depending how you look at it), in the N series and comes packed with a ridiculous amount of content. You get pretty much all the levels from N and N+ and a whole host of new levels of well. In all there are a couple of thousand levels to test yourself against. If that isn’t enough there are also race and co-op levels to try out though you can no longer do this online. If that still isn’t enough there’s also a level editor to make and share levels online and there will be upcoming DLC also.

As well as levels there are a host of graphical options and music tracks to unlock. It’s hard to think how exactly any more could have been squeezed in here. The levels can also be tackled with up to three friends in local co-op. It’s certainly good to have lots of different things to play around with as you’ll certainly be dying a lot. Luckily, restarts are pretty much instantaneous now so you can set off to make exactly the same mistake again in a matter of seconds.

Presentation in N has always been minimalist and it remains the same here with a simple selection of colours for each scheme and clearly defined level design. It means everything is focused on getting your little ninja to zoom around the levels at break neck speed and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We really liked the retro graphic scheme (not a massive surprise perhaps?), which makes the game look Vectrex-esque with lots of neon outlines. There are also a host of colourblind options which are most welcome.


The goal of each level is to hit a switch that opens the exit door and then make your way to it. A timer bar continually ticks down throughout the set of levels you have picked and it can be topped up by picking up little gold squares. Hit the switch, grab the squares and avoid the mines and obstacles and then move on. That is essentially it, a simple concept but one that never gets old.

With the new levels come some new enemies to get your head around. The missile and gun turrets return along with all your most loathed contraptions from before but now you also have to deal with a host of new death machines such as the evil ninjas that follow your exact movement trail. Of course if they catch you it’s all over but then everything kills you in this game. Everything.


The gameplay itself is based around an inertia system. As your ninja runs, jumps and falls they pick up speed which can then be used to launch off surfaces or up the side of walls. Hit the ground from too high and you die, but hit the ground on a downward slope and your ninja will just keep running ready for the next set of acrobatics. It’s a simple system that works perfectly and you can only wonder how long it took to balance out in testing. Most importantly it makes you feel like a badass super ninja and when you get the flow of a level there a few better feelings. Luckily, the game allows you to watch replays of both your and everyone else’s best runs to show off and also see how to shave seconds off your time.

Overall, N++ is an outstanding game. The fact it contains the content from N+ as well is a massive bonus as some of those levels are simply amazing. It’s just so full of excellent content and imaginative ideas that platform fans have to check it out. It’ll also last you forever and even if you do get through everything then you can start designing your own levels. It’s the definitive version of one of the best indie games ever. Buy it, love it and get killed thousands of times in it.