GS Blind Look: Concrete Jungle

It’s another genre getting mixed with Card Collecting Games, this time it is the turn of the City Builder as Brad and Iain take a look at Concrete Jungle.


Brad is joined by Iain for a blind look of Concrete Jungle a city building, CCG mixed with puzzle mechanics.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

It’s a joke that doesn’t get old.  Tens and tens of hours into Metal Gear Solid V and I still occasionally let out a small snigger as I launch some poor unconscious soul hundreds of feet into the air attached to a balloon; their cheering, screaming or baaing gradually fading as they disappear into the distance.  It’s the kind of thing you only ever really get in this series, which has carved its own niche and made combining the sublime and the ridiculous its calling card.  Few other games would expect you to sagely nod to a lecture on the Angolan Civil War whilst you watch your horse defecate on a soldier’s head or ask you to bundle diamond mining slave children into a helicopter that’s blaring out the intro to Europe’s The Final Countdown, and it’s this duality that truly defines these games.  The Phantom Pain sees this contrast somewhat out of balance and you’re either going to think it’s a complete masterpiece or a teeny-weeny bit disappointing depending on if you’re the kind of person  that’s bothered by the bonkersness being scaled down a bit.

But firstly, let’s talk about what’s been scaled up.  Metal Gear Solid V is huge.  You could quite easily play through from the original to number four in the time it takes you to reach 70% on the completion counter in V.  These games have always been as deep as they are wide with plenty of secrets and easter eggs to unlock but here this scope is completely blown out of the water with missions that can feel intimidating with the number of ways you can approach them.  Fortunately,  more often than not the number of options will feel intoxicating rather than overwhelming.  Even before you set foot on the ground you’re given an insane number of possibilities as you pick and choose which items and buddies you’ll take into battle.  Do you take in a tranquilising sniper rifle to make recruitment easier or do you take a scorched earth policy and bring along a rocket launcher?  Perhaps you’ll take along Quiet who’ll provide long distance support for your softly-softly approach or maybe you’ll jump in your own miniature bi-pedal tank D-Walker and charge in gleefully making a mockery of “tactical espionage”.

When you finally do jump out of the chopper fully loaded, the benefits of making a stealth game open world quickly become obvious.  With no corridors restricting your way, the terrain, the time of day, the weather, the enemy guarding patterns and your patience all contribute to a thousand different ways of meeting each objective.  It’s the kind of game where you can share stories of your victories with your friends, confident that you will have achieved them in different ways.  With the labyrinthine item development trees, and the promise of bigger and better if you focus on one or two types of sidearm, there is a danger of falling back on tried and tested methods.  But what it does so much better than other entries is encourage you to deal with your mistakes when everything goes haywire.  Being spotted doesn’t feel like game over anymore and fighting your way out in a hail of bullets doesn’t feel like cheating.  Outright aggression is a legitimate tactic along with the stealth and although the final score board at the end of each mission favours those who are sneaky, there are a wealth of other emblems and codenames that can only be obtained if you experiment with the tools on offer.

The requirements for meeting these goals are buried away in the game’s vast menus, which is where it starts to lose some of its sparkle.   You will spend a lot of time looking at the text projected from Snake’s iDroid; the handheld futuristic walky-talky which serves as your guide, your map and your cassette player.  It’s frustrating that a game with such a beautifully realised world forces you look at a light blue hologram for large portions of your playtime.   Keeping on top of staffing issues, Mother Base, weapons development and deploying your troops to warzones for extra rewards is just a bit of a hassle.  And the legendarily clunky control scheme from the game proper has somehow managed to worm its way into this spin off, text adventure making every tiny thing much more difficult than it actually needs to be.  Quite why you need to accept your rewards for combat deployment missions is a bit of mystery and the vast swathes of staff that you end up having on your payroll are unnecessarily difficult to differentiate.  It’s all just a little bit too much, and completing a mission and receiving a new bunch of volunteers is more likely to provoke a weary sigh than anything else.  You can auto assign everyone but there will always be the nagging doubt that you’re not quite making the most of the resources you have on offer.

Alongside nagging doubt, you’ll also experience plenty of plain old fashioned nagging.  The Phantom Pain is one of these games that feels the need to give you hundreds of notifications until you’ve no other option but to just give up and let it wash over you.  “The map has been updated”.  “Development project met”.  “Sun will rise momentarily”.  If you have the gall to listen to one of the games many, many, cassette tapes while attempting a mission it can become a little headache inducing.  And that’s just the noise.  The text will fly by in the bottom corner of your screen keeping you updated on what you can do, what you can’t do, what you’ve found and what you’ve lost.  It gets to the point when frankly you’d like it to just shut up for two seconds so you can get on and enjoy the game.  It may seem like this is to be expected of a series that has given us cut scenes over an hour long, but in keeping the gameplay and story separate, the previous games gave you an opportunity to drink it all in.  The equivalent here feels like Revolver Ocelot is standing in front of the T.V and shouting directly into your face while you’re trying to concentrate.

On the other hand Snake, played here by Kiefer Sutherland, is annoyingly quiet.  It’s so abundantly obvious within the first few hours that he was paid by the line that it makes the decision to replace David Hayter even more baffling.  And this is where my biggest problem with The Phantom Pain starts to rear its head; it just doesn’t feel very Metal Gear.  That might sound like a ridiculous accusation when you’re hiding from a huge, walking tank in a cardboard box but somewhere in the process of reinventing the series, part of what makes it so unique has been left behind.  The antagonists are largely forgettable with none of the dark charm of the Cobra Unit or Fox Hound.  The boss fights, which were previously so often a highlight, feel like they’re begrudgingly shoved in and have an air that they exist because you expect them.   And I’m probably in the minority here, but with the storyline uncharacteristically taking a backseat it can feel like there’s no continuity between the missions and you’re playing through a series of one offs.   The linearity of the earlier games gave the action a forward momentum, a goal on the horizon.  Here, with so much dotted across the map, it can feel scattershot and unfocused.   And when you’re sent off to rescue yet another prisoner from the encampment you infiltrated not more than an hour ago, it can even feel a little boring.

I imagine that to a lot people these would be seen as plus points.  Metal Gear Solid has always had its knockers (in more ways than one) and for many the changes that have been made will be seen as improvements.  But when so many of gaming’s big releases are turning into one indistinct blob of fetch quests and map markers to see one of the more unusual AAA series have some of its rough edges and idiosyncrasies smoothed out is a crying shame.  Snake’s exploits have always been beautifully ugly.  Here they’re just plain beautiful; and as a consequence, far less interesting.

Not that any of this really matters of course.  It’s looking nailed on that V will be the final instalment; even after ‘this is our last game, really, I mean it’ being threatened so often in the past; and that really is a tragedy.  There are the foundations of something truly special here, and for those that come to the game with no expectations of what it should or shouldn’t be, I expect there is an absurd amount of fun to be had.  It is a brave, spectacular new direction for the series and some will fall for it deeply.   Perhaps if it didn’t have Metal Gear Solid written on the box and was called Smokin’ Serpents Sneaky Afghan Adventure, I’d be one of those people.  But as it stands there are too many other niggling issues that stop me from looking past my preconceptions of what the game should be.

It seems fitting that for a series with such a convoluted timeline that the end should come at the middle of the story and yet feel like a new beginning.  That we will likely never see where Kojima would have shipped the cardboard box to next is a great shame but he leaves behind a series of games that, despite their flaws, have an undeniable star quality.  Where V sits in that list will depend largely on whether you found those flaws annoyingly off-putting or endearingly eccentric.  With The Phantom Pain, Metal Gear has had its arm removed and replaced with something technically far more impressive.   But although some of the feeling is still there, it’s lost just a little bit of its soul.

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance Review

It seems like a lifetime ago that Etna erupted onto the scene in the first Disgaea game. From that moment, massive number crunching became a way of life for many console gamers and there have been few games since that are so humorously twisted and crazy. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the sixth console game in the series and the first for the PS4 and as you might expect it has more than enough packed into it to keep you occupied for hundreds of hours.

As usual, the plot revolves around an overlord trying to take power. This time it is Seraphina, who is the daughter of the king of the Gorgeous Underworld. Along with a host of other oddball overlords, she bands together with the mysterious Killia to try and destroy the evil demon emperor Void Dark who has decided to take over the entire universe. There are also Prinnies.

It’s another madcap adventure with Seraphina fascinated by the fact she can’t use her magic to charm Killia and the two jet around the universe on a giant space ship which is used as your hub between levels. Instead of different regions for each episode you are now going to different realms which adds a nice epic feel to the game as you try and repel Void Dark.

We could spend pages talking about all the systems in Disgaea by now and this version adds even more into the mix. All the previous systems such as the geo-panels and skill levelling return and work much in the same way as the last version of the game. There is a new revenge mechanic which raises damage given and reduces damage taken when a bar is filled by your team being attacked. Overlords also get special attacks when in the revenge state – these are wide ranging and include skills like turning into a giant or charming the enemy.

Later in the game there is also a squad system which allows your team to be split into different groups and differing effects then being added to the leaders of the group who take the battlefield. The item world is now more ridiculously packed with things than ever as well, with copious amounts of random events and encounters that you’ll need more than one lifetime to uncover. There are also side quests to complete and extra levels that stretch way off into the distance after the main campaign has ended. This game could last you forever and it’s highly unlikely you are going to see all it has to offer.

Despite all the systems we found this fairly friendly for newcomers. Each gameplay mechanic is explained well (and also quite quickly) when introduced and there is the option to skip tutorials for anyone who already knows how they work. It’ll certainly take a while to get to grips with things but there isn’t an assumption that gamers will have followed the series all the way to this point so if you’ve ever wondered about Disgaea this is as good a place as any to start.

One very good change is a slight adjustment to the geo-panels. As well as being slightly textured now they also display more information when highlighted. This information includes what colour the panel is which means colour blind gamers no longer have to see their best strategies scuppered by a light green block sitting in amongst the yellow ones.

If there is one slight criticism, it is that the dialogue doesn’t seem as on the mark as in the best of the previous games. The exchanges between Seraphina and Killia never really reach that of Etna and Laharl or Adell and Rozaline. It’s still very solid and entertaining but just lacking a bit of magic and chaos and nothing as bizarrely wonderful as Valvatorez and his continual battle cry of SARDINES!

Overall, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance keeps the series trademark high standard of quality going. This has to be among the deepest strategy games ever and if there’s anything with more content outside of an MMO we’ll be amazed. If you like Disgaea then this is a justification to own a PS4 and you can’t really give a game much higher praise than that.

GS Blind Look: Skyshine’s Bedlam

Initially taken in by its Borderlands styled visuals, does Skyshine’s Bedlam have enough to make it standout as its own thing? A mix of RPG, Turn-based battles, Roguelike progression and more should do just that.


Brad is joined by Iain for a blind look of Skyshine’s Bedlam, the Turn-based, Roguelike, RPG from Skyshine Games and Versus Evil.

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Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 25th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 25th September (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts and including a long dissection of Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, which spills over into further discussion of how badly Konami is treating its customers.

Then a few reviews of SOMA, Blood Bowl 2, Cards & Castles, FIFA 16 and Death Ray Manta.

Finally it is a quick look ahead to NBA 2K16, 80 Days, Jotun and LEGO Dimensions.

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

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Lost Dimension Review

The world now faces total destruction… after being suddenly attacked from out of the blue with half of it being destroyed in an instant. An agent of the coming apocalypse appears issuing an ultimatum “kill me within 13 days or die”. The only ones who are capable of stopping this are the ‘gifted’ – a group of teens with special powers who swiftly have the fate of the world thrust into their hands. In all honesty it sounds like the typical anime ‘teens with super powers’ trope but it really does manage to transcend that stereotype as not one character is overpowered in any way – they are relatively normal humans that each have a gift. Their powers range from levitation, pyrokinesis, precognition, super strength and the ability to copy anyone else’s abilities.

You awake at the bottom of a tower, with no memories of how you got there… the only thing that you do know is that 11 other supposed comrades surround you and that you must climb to the top of the tower and stop the man otherwise known as ‘the end’ from firing his arsenal of nukes and destroying the rest of the world. Sounds simple, right? Wrong… the caveat is that there are traitors amongst your ranks.

Overall, this serves as the primary plot device and I have to admit that the traitor system is quite innovative and the way in which you have to sniff out the traitors is engaging but not impossible – the main character, Sho has the premonition ability and he can also hear other team member’s most private and deepest thoughts, by utilising this and diving into the inner depths of a character’s psyche. This means he can figure out who the traitor is and influence the rest of the team on who they should vote for in one of the many judgement rounds that you are besieged with at the end of each floor.

This involves the team voting for one of them to effectively be killed off where they will be erased from this world, dissolving into absolute nothingness, leaving behind only their ‘will’ – a usable item, so for example if your healer turns out to be the traitor and you vaporise them, then one of the other characters can equip their ‘will’ and use their abilities so you won’t be without healing for the rest of the game. Interspersed throughout the dungeon climbing, it is possible to bolster the trust of each team member by raising their camaraderie level as you talk with them and learn more about their situation, the way they feel about things and what they plan to do in the future (if they survive.. that is).

The plot had me hooked. Who is ‘the end’? Why is he doing this? And who is the traitor this round? I hurriedly played the game until its conclusion as I so desperately wanted to know… only to find out that it does require a couple of play-throughs to reveal the true ending. Second play-throughs are much easier however, as you carry across your already existing camaraderie and you are automatically given gift xp so you can start with some abilities.

Lost Dimension itself is half a visual novel and half a tactical RPG. From a visual novel standpoint, the animation is rendered in a way which makes it appear almost 3D, it is sublimely crisp and clear and the transitions between each character are smooth although the dialogue can be slightly jarring at times when you start losing characters.

The other main half of the game is the tactical battles, they are simple in appearance but are quite challenging as they have a tendency to occasionally throw you straight into the deep end. The battles are taken in turns between your team of 6 and however many enemies are present. Your team can each move within a set radius of their original starting point, if any enemies are in range they can then attack – but beware as the enemies will usually retaliate with a counter-attack if they can. The main tactic that you’ll need to both equally utilise and beware of in order to win is the assist mechanic where any characters that are within range of each other will assist their ally in their attack. For example: If Sho attacks an enemy and two other characters are nearby, not only will Sho attack the enemy – but his two allies will as well. This can lead to some incredibly powerful combos that will allow you to pound the enemy into oblivion.

Sound during the battles is superb and I thought that the song which played during the final boss battle was quite pleasing as well as being motivational – I’d definitely want to put it on my MP3 player. There is no Japanese voice over available, although the English voice acting is not too bad for once. There are a few slightly strange quirks with this though, for example one of the characters speaks with a fake English accent which is slightly odd as she can’t seem to work out if she’s pretending to be in the middle of a Victorian tea party or in the east end of London “Care for some tea, mate?”. She speaks like this because she thinks it sounds cute which is a bit hmm… I’ll just scratch my non-existent beard on that one.

Overall, this is an excellent tactical J-RPG let down only by a slightly anti-climactic ending. But it still has its charms and is well worth playing so go on… get lost in another dimension!

GS Blind Look: Cards & Castles

What would happen if you took the core mechanics of Hearthstone, added a splash of Castle Crashers’ art style and gave the gameplay a different slant? Well you’d get Cards & Castles of course.


Brad is joined by Iain for a blind look of Cards & Castles from developers Bit Mass LLC. A CCG with influences from all over to create a very interesting experience.

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FIFA 16 Review

Football game reviews can be odd things. You never really know where the reviewer is coming from and how what they want might differ from what you want. Sometimes the job is given to whoever least hates sports games and sometimes it’s given to a supposed ‘resident expert’. To let you know where I stand, I’m going to start this off with a little bit of background info.

I’ve played football games for nearly 30 years now. I prefer the more realistic simulations over the old arcade style games and have perhaps had a slight bias towards PES. I do, however, have a fairly open mind when it comes to the modern day PES vs FIFA debate and will simply side with whichever one I feel is best; I have no brand loyalty to speak of. Last year I preferred PES 2015 as I felt FIFA 15 was truly awful and the worst in the series since their 2008 renaissance. That alone should tell you something – if you loved FIFA 15, we might have different ideas about what 16 should be.

When playing football games I look for and appreciate slow build up play with good player movement and an ability to try what I want without feeling that it has no chance to succeed. You should be able to play with a variety of styles and not find yourself falling back into known routines that have proven to be effective time after time. Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that I primarily play offline, either against the CPU in manager mode or in local two-player matches. I have no interest in special gimmick modes like FUT or My Club. With that explained then, this review will focus almost entirely on the actual gameplay on the pitch. There are hundreds of places where you can find out more info about all the extra features should you so desire but, for me, it has to be a good game of football before I’ll even start to care. So is it?

FIFA 16 promises a lot with its cries of ‘innovation across the pitch’ and the adverb-challenged slogan of ‘play beautiful’. The early impressions I heard from those who played it at trade shows were that the game was slower and more balanced with increased focus on midfield play. All of this sounded good to me but could they really overhaul the travesty that was last year’s game that quickly?

Well, first impressions are that the game is definitely slower which, alone, is a huge improvement. It still feels a little too fast for my liking but so does PES this year and I think both games are actually fairly close to real game speed when you compare after watching a match. Not only does this make everything that bit more realistic but it also means you have a little more time to think and plan your play which results in less desperate sprinting around as you try to avoid losing possession. It doesn’t take long to realise that the sprint down the pitch and bang it in tactics aren’t going to be as viable this year. It is still possible, but the various changes mean it’s not always going to be the only effective choice. However, ball movement, whilst incredibly realistic, is still limited in that you can’t move it as incredibly slowly as you can in PES. The lightest of taps will always put just a touch more zip on it than you might want, making passing a less varied affair than it should be. (This is on manual which should in theory offer the widest range of options here).

Another thing that I found to be immediately apparent is that the game looks a little better this year. I’ve been playing on PC and Xbox One and have noticed that the aliasing issues and general muddiness of last year’s game have been addressed; everything is sharper and seems to ‘pop’ a lot more (I hear that’s the trendy term these days). Since moving to the new engine with FIFA 14, the game has always managed to look both fantastic and terrible at various moments and this year is no exception. Generally though, things have been tidied up and given some polish; everything seems to be at 60fps this year, compared to last year where I felt that the frame rate would halve during some cutscenes, and it does make a difference. Player models are better but still nowhere near PES levels, although the hair is nice, with the addition of women’s football having led to much more realistically flowing male locks as well as the veritable ponytail fest the ladies provide. People seem to want different things from how football games look, with some much preferring PES’s chunkiness and great looking player models and others opting for FIFA’s wealth of realistically created stadiums and degrading pitches. I think, on the whole, FIFA looks better during gameplay but both have their high and low points.

This brings us on to the next curiosity of football, and sports, game reviews. Opinions differ wildly! Every year some people will swear blind that it’s exactly the same game whilst others will talk of how drastically different it is. You can’t take anyone’s opinion as valid because there will always be another that contradicts it. I’d include mine in that. The changes I’m talking about with regard to gameplay and graphics might never become apparent to you for whatever strange reason. They’re things I have noticed so they’re definitely there but you might not see them if it’s not what you’re looking for. Football games are weird like that. I will say, though, that I genuinely do not understand how someone who plays a lot of these games wouldn’t notice the changes. A casual player who dips in and out of a football game when they have mates round, sure, I can see how they might not notice, but the guy who plays a few seasons a year and pumps hundreds of hours in is sure to appreciate the changes. Having said that, most of the changes are subtle when taken in context of the overall game and the effect they have isn’t as drastic as it might first appear. After a few hours, it’s easy to forget what’s different.

Back to the gameplay then. I feel most things have been improved rather than just altered for the sake of it, with the possible exception of shooting. It seems that almost every shot now has dip on it and has to leave the ground. Getting a hard, straight driven shot feels impossible at times and attempting to neatly slot home along the ground results in either a weedy pea-roller or the ball leaving the ground. My understanding is that they’ve made it all even more contextual than before, but these players seem to always have their foot under the ball. It’s not really worse than last year but it’s not better either. I would maybe say that there is a little more variety in the types of goal that you can score with various finishing animations to go with them, but the trajectory of the ball seems to be an up and down dip far too often.

The new ‘passing with purpose’ modifier works as you’d expect, adding a little pace to help power the ball through tight gaps, but it’s not much different to just holding the button longer and its effectiveness isn’t so great as to make you remember it’s an option until you’ve played for quite some time and start experimenting for the sake of it. Similarly forgettable is the new ‘no touch dribble’ mechanic which feels more like a trick on a button than anything else. It can be handy when running onto through balls that you don’t want to touch straight away but it’s also a little inconsistent in that sometimes players will touch the ball anyway. I can see some people finding great uses for it but it doesn’t feel necessary or game changing in any way, perhaps I just need more time with it, at the moment it seems to just confuse those of us that used to use the close control button it replaces and, at worst, is another indication of FIFA’s annoying fascination with skill moves.

Overall then, FIFA plays a better game of football than last year. I’m fairly pleased with what they’ve done but my mixed feelings remain in some areas. General control and ball movement still feels slightly beyond you, by which I mean it feels like you’re constantly fighting the ball and never quite getting it to do what you want. I don’t really mean that as a criticism because I think part of it is down to the game’s realism; playing football can be quite hard and accurately directing a ball under pressure is a tricky thing to do. I also play with fully manual controls which probably doesn’t help. By comparison, PES always feel like you have real complete control and if you see a pass you can make it. You might make the odd mistake but it feels like your mistake. I would say that in PES, misplaced passes and shots are down to the pressure that you, the player, might be feeling whereas in FIFA there is the additional element of player character error and physics which can result in misses whether you yourself are feeling pressure or not. It’s a hard thing to make a judgement on and is perhaps one of the dividing factors that makes some people prefer PES and some prefer FIFA. On paper, FIFA’s physics and player attribute factors make it sound like the more in-depth game but in practise it can make for some frustrating moments. PES somehow manages to convey the player identities without having to highlight their foibles quite so much. Players still feel too ‘light’ as well; it’s hard to feel that you’re controlling a footballer as they glide effortlessly across the pitch. I don’t know quite what it is but there’s a disconnect somewhere, it might even be that the ball, as realistic as its movement is, is too light in general. I don’t really know but there’s something intangible that’s still slightly off about the overall feel.

One of the arguments I see every year is that one game is ‘sim’ whilst the other is ‘arcade’. Again, there’s no real consensus on this with just as many people arguing the case one way as the other. For me, I think they have different approaches to football and it depends where your focus is as to what your opinion will be. FIFA has the realistic ball movement and physics (though sometimes exaggerated it seems, with shots pinging the woodwork a little too often) and can give you the scrappy goal mouth incidents and excitement of the Premier League, whereas PES will give you more of a considered Serie A type affair where players have time and space to display their unique abilities. If it’s the tactical side of the game you’re after, PES has the far better player movement and overall intelligence to create beautiful set pieces. If it’s the core fundamentals of kicking a football around (with all the realistic difficulties that can entail and well as the pleasures) then perhaps FIFA has a slight edge. I think these conflicting arguments often come from how the games look in motion as well as how they play. FIFA looks a lot more like football at first glance but doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny as well as PES which feels more like real football, perhaps more through trickery than the science EA employs, but there you go.

The big addition this year is, of course, the women’s game and it’s actually been done very well. It’s not a hugely different experience but there are enough subtleties to make it a worthwhile mode for when you fancy something a little different. Some people may prefer the slightly ‘lighter’ feel to the gameplay and the effect it has on various aspects of the sport. I’ve enjoyed it but there’s not really much to the mode beyond novelty at the moment. I think credit should go to EA for doing a much better job at representing the women’s game than many were expecting though.

Unfortunately, for all the improvements, many issues still remain. For me, player switching logic and movement is the most frustrating. Last year, and no doubt previously too, when the ball was in the air and that little yellow crosshair thing would be on the pitch, marking where it was going to land, I’d often have a player stood right underneath the ball waiting for it only for him to start running away just as it arrived. WHY? Not only that, but should I spot this likelihood and attempt to switch to him, the game wouldn’t let me until I was already 10 yards away from the crosshair. This might sound very specific and niche but it’s one of my biggest issues with the game and is disappointingly still present this year. Player movement when going forward is still far too static and uninventive and laying through balls or passes onto any onrushing attackers you might be lucky enough to have still often leads to you being given control of the wrong one and not being allowed to change until it’s too late. Similarly, if you’re running into the box, your own players will often continue running forward and get in your way or block your shot as if they have no awareness of where they are on the pitch. It’s all very frustrating but thankfully fairly rare with maybe one or two incidences of one of these things each match. It’s a shame as with all the improvements in other areas these small issues stand out even more. Having issues like this in a shitty game like FIFA 15 almost doesn’t matter as it’s fundamentally flawed anyway, but in FIFA 16 you have something with real potential to be great, just let down by these silly moments.

Football games will always have their issues as if they didn’t there’d be no need to buy next year’s; that’s the cynical market we find ourselves in. Fortunately though, the quality of PES 2015 seems to have been the kick up the arse EA needed, and just in time too. FIFA 16 is an improved game and, odd legacy issues aside (‘cancel’ still doesn’t work as it should either), it should provide any football fan many hours of entertainment, offering as it does, the more balanced gameplay it promised to. A big improvement over last year, with just few little niggles still to iron out.

I’ve not found a suitable space to include some other key observations so offer them here as a list of positives and negatives.



+ Crossing is better, now a viable option with headed goals more realistically prevalent than last year.

+ Graphics are slightly better with some key issues addressed.

+ Slower, allowing for more considered play.

+ Game delivers on promise of more balanced play more often than not.



– Still a feeling of no real immediate control over anything leaving you feeling uninvolved at times.

– Same legacy issues persist.

– AI still able to put moves together superhumanly quickly using a toolset that you have no access to, giving you the impression that the game has decided you will have no say in what happens for the next few moments.


At the end of the day (Trevor), you know what you want. You came here with a slight bias to either FIFA or PES. I’ve tried to be honest and tell you my bias is historically for PES and, in doing so, hope that you’ll appreciate that honesty and understand that I’ve been as open minded as possible when reviewing both games. In a way, I wish I preferred FIFA, that it was the better game, as then I’d have all the lovely licences as well as the best game. However, if you want to sit and play a football game all year and get loads out of it then PES is the one to go for in my opinion. If you’re a more casual football gamer then you might prefer FIFA for its prettier graphics and presentation. Likewise, if you’re a football fan first and a gamer second, FIFA is the game that will give you what you see on Sky with all the Premier League kits and stadiums and annoying commentary from Martin Tyler. All of that stuff counts for a lot too, it does for me anyway. I love all those stadiums and all that shit FIFA has. The only problem is, I don’t see it if I don’t want to play the game and there’s still too many issues for me to keep going for a whole season. I still feel that FIFA’s focus is in the wrong place; EA are all about FUT and tweeting Youtube videos where young offenders are made to show you how to perform this year’s new skill moves. It just doesn’t sit right with me, I hate all that bullshit. I say that specifically so you know to ignore me if you like it. That’s the important thing really, get the game you know you want, both are good this year but, to borrow some idiotic punditry parlance again, for me Brian, on the pitch, one is definitely gooder than the other and this time the other lad’s got the better of him (or her in this case, I suppose).

The Fat Controller – A Super Mario Story

The simple joy of moving Mario.

Apparently, if there is one thing that get my kids to down tools and stop fighting each other for five minutes, it’s the prospect of getting one over on their old man. They’re still at that blessed age where they stare at me in wide-eyed amazement when I pick up a pad and clear a tricky section, so when Super Mario Maker landed on our doormat the possibility of creating something I wouldn’t be able to finish was too delicious for them to pass up. Huddled together over the gamepad, I can hear their whispered scheming. “Yeah, stick wings on it” said the eldest, as the youngest let out a sinister giggle.

Super Mario Maker looks set to be a firm favourite in our household, and like most user generated content, its success lies as much as in what you can’t do rather than what you can. You’re given the building blocks to make whatever you like, but the cogs and gears are kept under lock and key. And rightfully so. If there’s one thing Nintendo have absolutely nailed its Mario’s moves. The arc of his jump, his inertia and his sprightliness are all completely spot on and to be allowed to mess with them would be sacrilegious. He’s deeply ingrained into my fingers and brain, and after thirty years playing his games, I barely have to think anymore. It’s instinctual. He does exactly what I want him to. Allowing us to change these fundamentals would take away the very beating heart of what makes these games so special. It’s telling that while playing Super Mario 3D World, I barely touched the other characters. Their movement seems strange, wrong and blasphemous.

Mario’s grace and handling started to truly hit its stride in Super Mario Bros and the introduction of the run button. Like most, normal people I never take my thumb off run so the little guy flies round the screen like a man possessed. Rather than making life more difficult, speeding him up actually makes everything so much easier. Jumps are more manageable, you’re faster than your enemies and you can easily catch up to escaping power ups. Much has been made of the ingenious design of World 1-1, which subtly teaches the player the tricks of the trade without ramming it down their throats, but one of my favourite examples is found roughly a quarter through World 1-2. You’re faced with a wall with a one brick gap at the bottom. Goombas or a little Mario can pass through this quite happily, but if you’ve picked up a mushroom it appears that you’re a bit stuck. One solution is to just smash your way through the wall and jump over. But the other far more awesome solution is to take a run up and then duck at just the right moment so that you slide underneath. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you’ve got a new move added to your repertoire. I can’t be the only player that busts this out at every available opportunity, despite the fact it’s rarely all that useful. It’s just something that’s plain fun to do, and it’s made that little bit more special when Mario gets stuck under some indestructible blocks and has to awkwardly hop his way out with his hands around his ankles.

Putting aside Super Mario Bros 2 which is a law unto itself, Mario’s moves in 2D remain largely unchanged until we get to the “New” series that started on the DS. Something does feel slightly lighter about him in Bros 3 and World (although I’m unsure if that’s actually a thing or just a consequence of the games being better defined) and he does gain a bit of height when jumping off enemies, but otherwise, power-ups aside, it’s business as usual. I’m not a massive fan of the New titles and think they fall quite a bit short on what has come before, but going back to earlier games does make it immediately apparent how accustomed we’ve become to the expanded move set. The wall jump in particular is so easy to rely on that its absence can feel jarring. I realise that even trying to find fault with Super Mario World is grounds for dismissal, divorce and deportation but the last time I played it I experienced an awkward period of reprogramming where I had to forget the new things I’ve learned. But really, this is far from a criticism, and more a testament to how successful Nintendo have been at iterating Mario’s moves. Super Mario Maker allows you to leap thirty years and flip through four games and it’s genuinely a little bit amazing that it all works.

It only takes a few moments in the presence of someone like Sackboy to learn how important player confidence in character movement can be. I’ve never really understood the critical success of LittleBigPlanet; and after playing all three of the mainline entries, Lord knows I’ve tried. It’s not so much the bemusing and complex level editor (which has surely been rendered obsolete overnight with the release of Super Mario Maker), but the fidgety, imprecise, floaty nature of moving from A to B. It just all feels so inconsistent and unfair. The collision detection is off, the feeling of momentum just isn’t there and it’s difficult to feel any level of connection between what you’re doing and what you see on screen.

At the danger of reigniting the kind of argument I was having when I was eleven years old, I have a similar problem with Sonic games. Now, these get away with it by having excellent level design and being actual fun to play, but I’ve never managed to completely get my head round the physics of his jumps. From standing, he’s weirdly heavy and unresponsive and leaps can feel like they take an extraordinary amount of effort. This is probably my fault as much as the games, but twenty odd years down the line; I’m still no closer to understanding entirely what’s going on. Something is poorly wired somewhere; either in the game or in my head.

It’s not all buttercups and roses in Mario land. My two least favourite entries, 3D Land and Sunshine, are hampered by changes to their control schemes. I’ve never got on with the slider on the 3DS, and 3D Land can feel oddly slow, with the turning circle of an articulated lorry. Sunshine tries to tear up the rulebook by introducing the water jetpack FLUDD, but it’s telling that most players fond memories of the game come from the void levels which take this safety net away. And whisper it, but I’m one of those people who are certain that the otherwise momentous Galaxy games would be improved if they were made to be played on a normal pad.

But enough of this negativity. As much fun as Mario is to control in 2D, he’s an absolute revelation in 3D and arguably has no equal. The story goes that the Nintendo 64 pad was designed specifically for Super Mario 64 and this goes to prove the importance that Nintendo place on player movement. Those first tentative leaps in the grounds of Peach’s Castle are legendary and it’s perfectly possible we’ll never have a moment again like it. It seems that every combination of buttons does something new. Crouch and jump and you do a dramatic backflip complete with gymnast finish. Run, crouch and jump and Mario propels himself forwards covering more ground than previously possible. Quickly change direction and jump and he produces a graceful, arcing cartwheel. Given time, you’ll be able to cover the ground to the big, creaking doors within seconds but you’ll probably not want to. You’ll want another few more minutes in the safety to the grounds to mess with the possibilities and handstand leap from the top of a tree just one more time.

This focus on making travelling entertaining is a constant in the series. Be it the jumping pirouettes while ice skating, the somersaults while invincible or the outstretched arms as you’re blasted into space, Nintendo are always trying to find ways of making you smile at times when other developers would be happy to just let the animation play out. One of my absolute, favourite things to do in the Galaxy games is to long jump on a small planetoid so that you’re still within its gravity and fly round the other side. This serves no real purpose what-so-ever. I’m not getting anywhere, I’m not progressing or making any numbers go higher. I’m simply enjoying playing.

Which brings me inevitably to Super Mario World’s cape. Of all the ways to make Mario move this has to be the greatest and I believe that as a power-up it has never been bettered. You start with a run up, before launching ever higher into the sky. You can gently bob along on the breeze or dive bomb before pulling back dangerously close to the ground. You can land gently and smoothly on your belly or with an almighty thud. From the first time I picked it up as a ten year old to the last time I picked it up as a thirty three year old, it’s a pure, untapped digital expression of the word fun. I think I could write a whole article on how much that square piece of yellow cloth means to me but I suspect I’d be sectioned fairly quickly afterwards.

The series of misunderstandings, limitations and happy accidents that led to gaming’s most enduring icon being a portly, moustachioed plumber never cease to amuse me. He wears a hat because Miyamoto can’t draw hair, his dungarees are so you can see his arms moving and his name is from the one-time landlord of Nintendo barging in on a meeting and demanding overdue rent. Formed from a mish-mash of coincidence and opportunity, it’s ironic that his creation was so out of control when to actually play as him is anything but.

Destiny: The Taken King Review

I have quite a checkered history with Destiny. It reviewed well on this site but it was made clear that it was only a starting point for something much longer term. I wasn’t the one who made that review though, for me, my experience of Destiny is one of frustration and a feeling of being left behind.

You see, I am not the sort who can stick with the same game for a massive period of time, I tend to bounce between games and despite finishing a fair few larger titles, it is those like Destiny, where it is better played with others that tend to suffer.

Literally within a few weeks of launch I felt I wasn’t leveling my character up quick enough to get the most from the game. I tried some strike missions, yet felt I was a hindrance to other players. I tried co-op play in missions but again felt I was just playing a spare part, not really doing much to help.

So pretty soon it became something I dipped into now and again for an hour here or there, to the point where I eventually let the game fall into my ever growing backlog. I had dropped £80 on the game and season pass initially, but even the new packs for the first year weren’t enough to get me back.

Now I am not saying it was a bad game, in actual fact I really loved the gameplay, the battles were satisfying and the loot pickups were like a drug addiction, but without anyone to play with it got to a point where I was needing to grind to be able to even attempt new story missions.

So when The Taken King was announced I was skeptical at first, as I was worried it would be a case of more content for those who put the effort in and those alone, there would be no point shelling out another £30-40 to feel like I am being left further behind.

However when the details of the year two content became apparent, my attitude quickly changed and all of a sudden I was ready to jump back in and finally become legend.

The first thing that stood out, was the ability to level up any single one of my characters to level 25, just so I would gain access to The Taken King right out of the box. This was wonderful news and whilst to some it may be seen as cheating, it meant I could get back into the game, go through the missions I missed out on and then even get into the new content at a much better balanced level.

So that is what I did. It meant I was a bit over-powered for a fair few missions, but it also allowed me to get a feel for the game again, get to grips with the mechanics and so forth.

I also seemed to be able to level up my character at a much more steady rate, that felt like it was allowing me to be ready for new missions as soon as I had finished the previous one, without the need to spend a large amount of time just grinding. This is a very welcome addition as it let me enjoy the core of the game.

Light too is better implemented, now becoming an overall value based on your gear, rather than item specific. It is only a minor change, but one that feels ultimately more rewarding as it taps into that thing gamers have, where we love watching numbers go up.

Loot is another thing that has had a bit of a makeover. In the original release of Destiny, loot was done in a way that meant it was only worth pursuing specific missions and doing certain events, to get the gear that was actually worthwhile. Now though, it feels a lot fairer as almost every mission has had something that feels useful. Again it is a minor balancing change that has a huge effect on the overall feel.

Quests have had a bit of an overhaul where it now seems like you can track more of them at any one time, plus the story from The Taken King also fits in with these in a much more coherent way. In fact it makes very useful guides on what to do and where to go. The change may only be minor, but I cannot recall for sure, but I know I am using them a lot more this time though.

Missions and story levels from The Taken King have a lot more character to them now, as the story writing feels like it matters much more than it did previously and that there has been a lot of work gone into this to make it stand out from the year one stuff.

Whilst there is still an element of enter here, go there, scan this, defend that to some level, it doesn’t feel as mundane and repetitive as it did in year one. In fact there is more variety in the new levels than there was in the original release and the expansions.

A lot of that comes down to the additional character that has been added across several layers of the game.

Nathan Fillion makes an appearance as the Hunter Cayde-6 and in my humble opinion steals the show, making even Nolan North’s replacement of Peter Dinklage nothing but a footnote. Fillion’s performance here show Bungie’s desire to make Destiny grow from this point forward, as previously the class leaders were nothing but avatars for collecting new missions, lacking any real kind of character.

Now though they feel alive and a vital part of whatever will happen moving forward. Despite Nathan Fillion being the standout here, the other performances are also well done and add to the overall growth of the Destiny universe.

The Taken King is to Destiny, what Reaper of Souls was to Diablo III. It is developers making note of feedback and actually using it to improve their product and make sure not only that they keep the long term players, but also give themselves the best opportunity to welcome new players too.

Most of what made the original Destiny a good game is still there, but the overhauls and tweaks to the lesser parts have given Destiny the sort of boost it needed. It was hard to see how this could serve as a long term franchise after the initial release but now, I am counting down the days until year 3.

GS Blind Look: Extreme Exorcism

A new video series from Gamestyle, the GS Blind Look. We jump into a game for the very first time with no previous knowledge or experience. The first game we look at is Extreme Exorcism an Action Platformer where it is you vs ghosts.

Brad is joined by Iain to look at Action Platformer Extreme Exorcism. A game where you battle ghosts on various levels, except the twist here, it that each new ghost follows your previous move patterns thus deciding how difficult each new stage is.

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Until Dawn review

This is the second of two Gamestyle reviews of the same game. You can read the first Until Dawn review and finish reading this review below for a second opinion.

Shallow American “teens” visit remote log cabin in the woods and experience predictable terror. The setting, plot and characters on offer are so overtly clichéd that there now exists parodies of the parodies in the parallel cinematic sub-genre – and not good ones (see: Scary Movie 5). This starkly familiar terrain, complete with perpetually over-egged innuendo barrage, is so obvious that one might suspect intentional irony, but as the game progresses the punchline does not.

If you haven’t played or read about Until Dawn, then it might seem odd to discuss it in the context of films, but truly that is what the experience is closer to: an interactive movie, which on paper shouldn’t be a bad thing. What little gameplay there is in on offer, largely arbitrary choices presented in the tired quick-time event format, requires a strong narrative to support it, which Until Dawn sadly does not have.

Alas, the one-dimensional main characters provoke little sympathy for their plight and even less interest in their survival. The acting isn’t all terrible, but the script must have been written by somebody who has never seen a real teenager, and whose only point of reference on their behaviour has been derived entirely from 90s teen flicks. Other functional characters appear from nowhere to explain away the really quite simple plot, deflating any notions of mystery as they depart. In the place of a slow-building arc of tension, each chapter seems required to hit a certain quota of basic shocks. I’m concerned that this blatant ‘Pewdiepie fodder’ might have been an element deliberately factored into the game’s creation. All of the above is underscored by the wafer thin introductory premise that a group of kids could be convinced to return to the isolated site of a very recent and considerable trauma.

BUT! But it isn’t all bad. The game’s few redeeming features are sufficient to save it from abysmalivion. It IS entertaining to sit around feeling the fear with your mates. I can’t say that we didn’t collectively jump out of our skin more than once because we definitely did. Jump scares are far from revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. It’s for this reason that I have a greater tolerance for average, or even poor, horror films than I do for any other genre. Cheaply wrought adrenaline is still adrenaline, and any film or game that makes you feel a genuine emotion can never be considered a total loss.

The characters might look like a band of crudely animated escapees from Madame Tussauds, but the world itself is beautifully realised, its rolling foggy vistas and foreboding cavernous interiors make for some stunning visuals that we often paused to appreciate.

Lastly the Butterfly Effect, so heavily paraded prior to release and throughout the game, does in fact grant it significant replay value. The inherently railtracked gameplay means that you’ll easily breeze through in five or six hours, so even after a couple of replays you’re not getting a great deal for the premium price-tag.

However, the core principal of multiple possible storylines based on individual player actions is strong and for once runs deeper than the typical two or three endings we’ve come to expect from largely exaggerated back-of-the-box claims: “Control Your Destiny!” and “Change The Course Of History!” and so on. In addition, Until Dawn’s lack of a save feature is an underrated and inspired inclusion, removing the deep-set feeling of invincibility and giving the player the risk of something to lose, thereby cultivating a far more tangible sense of adventure – an element I hope to see explored and improved upon in the future.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 18th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 18th September (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts and some further discussion on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to kick off this week’s show.

Then time for reviews of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, NHL 16, Dropsy The Clown (sort of), The Golf Club: Collector’s Edition and finally Destiny: The Taken King.

Then it is a look ahead to FIFA 16, Skylanders Superchargers, Death Ray Manta, Cards & Castles, Hacker’s Beat and Blood Bowl 2.

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

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 review

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot

“I had to hit it”. Said apologetically, by way of explanation, sometimes when no one else is in the room. These are the kind of exclamations you find come pouring forth when you play Pro Evolution Soccer. Something intangible about the feel and flow of a move causes you to want to hit that ball first time to seal it all off but you’re slightly off balance and just miss. “I had to hit it” you say, and if there is anyone with you they’ll agree, they’ll know why you did.

This is what PES has done for years, despite some troubled times it’s always had its trademark ‘moments’ and delivered a feeling to the player that no other football game (yes I mean that one) has ever quite managed. So let’s get things out in the open and make it all clear from the off; some people like FIFA and some people like PES. That’s fine and there are reasons for each, no one’s wrong per se but sometimes it’s hard to understand the decisions. For years PES was the better game and people still played FIFA, then FIFA was the better game for a while and people still played PES. I remember in 2009 trying to convince a colleague that, no really, FIFA is better these days. I explained how I too had always preferred Konami’s game in the past but it had lost its way. Well, at the risk of cliché, it’s back.

To be honest, I think the two games were fairly even since around 2012. FIFA had started to stagnate and the changes they made each year were making the game worse rather than better in my opinion. I started to check back in with PES and liked it but it wasn’t exceptional either. That was until last year when PES 2015 started the ball rolling again and 2016 has just built on that. Long preamble over, let’s get on to why.

You have control. That’s it really, but that’s such a huge thing when the competition struggles to give you that feeling. There’s something about FIFA that feels like you’re not the deciding factor in the game; you might put a move together and score, you might do the same and miss. It feels like there’s some other thing between you and what happens. PES doesn’t have that, or at least, it manages it all much better. In FIFA you can argue that it comes down to player stats and things like that but it doesn’t feel like that, there’s something missing in the communication. PES manages to let you know what’s likely to happen in a way where if you miss you know why, it feels like your fault and you just get it. It makes sense. They do all this by communicating the player stats so well that you feel them, the differentiation between players and teams is readily apparent and goes beyond just speed.

This is important for the gameplay but also the longevity of the game as it makes everything more interesting. The players individuality gives them character so when you’re playing Master League, the game’s career mode, you get excited about the prospect of signing someone new; you know they’ll bring something different. By contrast, in FIFA’s career mode I barely notice the difference between players, they’re either good or they’re not.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot


Normally I like to think of games in a vacuum and not compare them to others or their own past iterations but solely on their own merits. However, in this case there are only two football games so I feel it’s necessary to compare and contrast. FIFA has the better graphics and all the licences and normally that sentence ends with someone saying ‘but PES has the better gameplay’. Well, it’s true, but only if you think it’s true. The two games are very different now and I don’t think it’s easy to go from one to the other. I do think a lot of my issues with FIFA are at least partly down to not being a ‘FIFA person’. That’s not meant to sound like a knock to anyone, it’s just true that some will always prefer a certain style over another. I’ve been more open minded than some and switched between the games but when PES is good it’s just light years ahead for me. This year PES is very good.

If you like the premier league and fast paced, frantic, unpredictable football then you may prefer FIFA with its great looks and all the stadiums. If you like continental or South American football and want a game that perhaps more closely mirrors Serie A or La Liga then maybe PES is for you. Some of this might sound like snobbery of a sort but I don’t mean it to. I love the premier league, it’s just that when I’m pretending to be a football manager I like to pretend to be an Italian one from the 1970s, smoking on the sideline while my team play out my vision of total football.

This might seem like an odd, or bad review; I haven’t said a huge amount about the game itself but we all know you can find the details elsewhere and have probably read other reviews before this one. My review here will probably be up a little later, it’s on a site that doesn’t get the most hits in the world and you’re probably here just to get another bit of insight or have seen the score and wanted to see how I justified it. Ultimately, it’s the gameplay. It’s another PES cliché, but it is just magic. How they convey the feeling of playing football cannot be explained, that’s why I haven’t really tried. If you want some details then sure, the graphics on the stadiums and the pitches etc. could be a lot better, but the player models are the best in the business. Presentation and overall UI elements still lag behind FIFA and the number of stadiums to play in is still pitiful in comparison. Commentary isn’t as technically good as FIFA either but I’m so sick of Martin Tyler and his inability to complete any sentence without, errrrrrrrrrr, a massive pause in the, errrrrrr, middle of it that I almost prefer the PES duo. I usually turn it off in both games either way.

I will hold my hands up and admit that maybe I just don’t ‘get’ FIFA, maybe I’m just crap at it. I’d agree with you if you said FIFA had better ball physics, though I’m not sure that makes a better game. I’d maybe even agree that FIFA is more realistic, but the crucial thing is, it doesn’t feel more realistic. PES feels like football. Maybe it achieves that more through impressionistic artistic representation than the ‘photo-realism’ scientific approach of FIFA but it’s going to come down to what you prefer. Before cameras, some artists would try to perfectly replicate the image in front of them using painstaking dot techniques whilst others just whipped out the oil paints and somehow captured the soul of what they saw. EA’s quest for perfect realism is admirable but it’s one they haven’t yet, and may never, fully succeed in. Meanwhile, PES has done a Monet and created a beautiful representation of football. Visually, beyond the amazing player models, it might not stand up to close scrutiny, but in every other regard it’s an artwork. I won’t argue with you if you prefer FIFA, I just won’t quite be able to understand you.

GS Quick Look: Stasis

Alone and scared, after 3 years in Stasis. Brad and John guide our hero John to uncover what happened on board this atmospheric space station in this Point & Click horror game from The Brotherhood.

Brad and John take a look at Stasis from The Brotherhood, an isometric sci-fi horror, point & click adventure that is dripping in atmosphere..

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The Gamechangers

Sounding a bit like one of Alan Partridge’s desperate TV show pitches (“Err…Video Games with Daniel Radcliffe”), The Gamechangers takes a look at the rise of Grand Theft Auto and Rockstar’s battle with the Christian lawyer Jack Thompson.

Famous for trying to not be famous, Dan and Sam Houser have a testy, hands off approach to the media and have attempted to stop the show being broadcast due to trademark infringement. Having now seen the program I think it’s safe to say that it’s unlikely to encourage them to come out of the shadows and I suspect their issues will now lie with its quality and content rather than having a couple of logos on the wall.

Briefly touching, though never fully exploring, the neat juxtaposition between a British studio making a satire of U.S culture being challenged by a God-fearing, litigious, caricature of American attorneys, the film instead chooses to focus on the hot coffee scandal and the effect that fighting for the mature ESRB rating had on the studio. Although it makes a decent stab at portraying the cutthroat, brutal nature of the crunch period of development, watching a bunch of guys sit in an office and argue about age ratings just isn’t all that compelling.

On one side of the story, you’ve got Bill Paxton as Jack Thompson fending off hate calls and asking for divine intervention while hitting golf balls in his back garden. Paxton is completely squandered in this role; given very little to work with other than looking earnest and guilty to his suffering, supporting wife. But it’s in the portrayal of Thompson that raises the most eyebrows. Seen here as a sympathetic, moral crusader, the entire tone of the film is in his corner and his disbarment is shown as the big law firm getting one over the little guy. In reality it was down to consistent professional misconduct which in the film amounts to little more than writing a couple of snotty emails.

On the other hand Sam Houser, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is shown as a deeply unpleasant and socially incapable megalomaniac. I’ve never been particularly convinced by Radcliffe. Outside of his extraordinary performance of Alphabet Aerobics on Jimmy Fallon, he always exudes a lack of confidence in his own ability and an uncomfortable awkwardness that I find tough to watch. It’s almost like he’s a guy who was propelled into superstardom at a young age based on looking like someone that doesn’t exist. But no matter; to say that he’s the best thing about the film may be damning him with faint praise, but he at least manages to be watchable. Veering between someone you’d quite like to have a drink with and an unpredictable arsehole, his depiction is believable, although given the secretive nature of Houser, difficult to verify.

Outside of the main cast, I can’t quite believe that it’s now 2015 and we still can’t have someone playing a videogame on television without it being shown as some weird, trippy brain dump that renders the player impossible to communicate with. That the show was presumably made primarily for a videogame playing audience who would be interested in the creation of Grand Theft Auto, to show us shuffling zombies mindlessly picking up boxes from shop shelves is beyond insulting. To then punctuate the film with a soundtrack that’s made out of computery blips nearly made me cringe myself inside out. I don’t quite understand how when everyone is playing games these days no one seems to be able to film playing a game realistically, but it seems like we’re to be subjected to glassy-eyed, dribbling shut-ins or college jocks waving pads around and jumping across the sofa for a few more years yet.

You then have painful scenes of motion capturing break dancers (which appear to take place in the offices of Nathan Barley’s Sugar Ape magazine) and the Houser’s taking a tour of the hood dressed somewhat ironically like characters from Saint’s Row. It’s all so oddly presented; like it’s put together by a ninety year old man who gets his info about gaming and youth culture from The Daily Express. This is even more baffling when coupled with the continued referencing of table tennis which surely only serves as a nudge and a wink to those in the know. This disconnect between the film and its audience reaches its absolute nadir in the final scene where Radcliffe carjacks a passer-by and drives off into the distance while the scene slowly transforms into a videogame. Quite what this is supposed to mean or represent is anyone’s guess but I saw more convincing imitations of videogames in the nineties children’s show ReBoot.

In an effort to try and say something nice about the film, there is a rather good scene early on, where Devin Moore’s crime spree that was allegedly inspired by Vice City is filmed in the perspective of the game itself. But the suggestion that the game was responsible for his actions is heavily handled and only counterbalanced with a line from one of his victim’s relatives and a throw away comment by Houser at a point where the audience is unsympathetic to his arguments. As the show points out in its closing credits, the debate about videogame violence continues, but what the program fails to do is present that debate. Instead, it clumsily shoehorns in the headlines without exploring any of the factors.

Grand Theft Auto is obviously not beyond criticism. We’re nearly twenty years in and we’ve still not had a well written female character. But its success is attributed almost wholly to its violence, and bizarrely in the case of San Andreas, to the character customisation options which pretty much everyone decided was shit as soon as they turned the game on. The difficulty and craft in producing an open world as well designed as Rockstar’s is glossed over and creating a game engine apparently takes little more than five long-haired stereotypes hammering on a keyboard for a couple of minutes. The Gamechangers is supposed to be part of the BBC initiative to get young people into coding; to make the process appear that it takes little more than Radcliffe clicking his fingers is grossly disingenuous.

Every mention of this show I’ve seen in mainstream publications seems to question the point of its existence and unfortunately after watching it, I’m inclined to agree. Presumably there is a decent story somewhere about the creation of one of the most successful entertainment products of all time, but this is not it. Meandering, patronising and factually dubious, it’s a million miles away from the highly engaging game that serves as its inspiration. For a series that has so often taken its inspiration from television, to then inspire a production that fails both accurately and dramatically is disappointing. To use the parlance of Grand Theft Auto, consider this an opportunity well and truly “wasted”.

The Golf Club Collector’s Edition Review

I have sat here for almost an hour procrastinating, with a blank page and no idea how to open up this review of The Golf Club Collector’s Edition. Which is why I wrote the last few words, as I hope it flows into something.

You see I have already reviewed The Golf Club and I really liked it, I felt it was a solid sim that did away with all the fluff that the EA golf games added and that hasn’t changed one bit. You can read it in the link just a few words back.

That is what makes the Collector’s Edition so difficult to score. It is the same game as before, all up to date with the patches and the DLC thrown in for good measure. It still plays a damned fine game of golf, the course editor is still wonderful to use and there are still all the various tournaments and tours, both online and off. Yep it is still a good game.

One new addition I suppose I can mention is the handicap system, which arrived fairly late in the day. Your handicap will be calculated over a number of rounds to set an initial number, then as you play, your handcap is continually monitored and calculated each and every time you play.

It works really well too, as it means players who aren’t so confident on the courses, can still compete with those who have mastered the game. Again though, there is no over the top promotion of this humble feature, it is just there, in the background, occasionally letting you know how you are progressing.

With all the content from the original release and subsequent DLC included, the Collector’s Edition brings the number of official courses to 20, but because of the amazing course editor, the number of actual courses is nigh on limitless.

There are some really faithful recreations of famous courses out there too and they are well worth hunting down. It goes without saying there are a fair few rubbish courses created out there, but because of the way the course designer works, by giving you a solid opening template, these are few and far between. That mixed with a pretty decent rating system will see you being able to avoid them with ease.

I bought The Golf Club on PS4 at the time of the original release and have since picked up the extra content, I also have it on the PC but without the extra content (bless those sales) and if I am being honest, if you have the game in any capacity whatsoever then really there is no point in you buying The Collector’s Edition, just update and grab the new content much cheaper.

However, if you don’t own it or you want the game fresh on another platform, then this is easily the way to go. It can be picked up for less than £30 in most places, even on the high street and with Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour being a huge disappointment this year this is certainly the golf game of choice.

Late Night Shop – Interview

It’s 7pm on Christmas Eve, or thereabouts. You’re pretty much there gift wise, but that book you ordered your Mum hasn’t turned up yet. She’d be fine about it but you’re in your mid twenties, and a Toblerone from the high street just isn’t going to cut it these days.

There’s only one thing for it; you’ll have to leave the comfort of your home and brave the shops on Christmas Eve. The queues! The screaming children! The depression dripping off of every member of staff! The screaming adults! One late delivery has meant your life is about to turn into some kind of Jingle All The Way’ian NIGHTMARE.

Sounds pretty horrifying, right? Well according to Plymouth based micro studio Total Monkery’s new game, Late Night Shop, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


Gamestyle: Explain Late Night Shop.

Fred Fitzpatrick (Artist): Late Night Shop is a first person horror experience set in a department store at night. It’s a First Person VR game, and is all about making your way through the environment avoiding mannequins that only move when you can’t see them. We’ve taken the Boo’s from Mario and updated them for the 21st Century, basically.


GS: How far into development are you?

Luke Coombes (Programmer): 2 months in, in terms of full term work at Total Monkery, but much longer outside of that. Fred came up with the idea last year and asked me to code it, so I worked on it for about 3-4 months; writing the AI and the detection system, making the bad guys movements etc. We built a demo and approached Total Monkery with it after finishing our last game, Elementales (available on the Windows Store now).


GS: Where did the idea come from? And why manequinns?

Fred: I was in a department store, it was actually Primark in Exeter-

GS: I can understand the terror, then.

Fred: Exactly. I was waiting for my girlfriend and could see over the tops of all the aisles and all around the store. I just had this image of all these mannequins pursuing someone through the shop.


GS: Where does the horror come from?

Fred: From the sight mechanic; the mannequins are incredibly fast, and the fact that they’re always going to get you when you can’t see them is going to lead to some great jump scares. They basically sprint at you the entire time you’re not looking at them, covering space in seconds. And they really pounce on you, so you’re on a knife edge the whole time.

Luke: Yeah, the horror comes from the suspense mainly. We’re very clear on it not being a Dead Space style gore fest.

Fred: Nothing’s going to come out and chain saw you in half, basically.



Luke: It’s all about finding the best path through, we want to have it so that if you know what you’re doing you can speed run through the perfect route.

Fred: That’s why we’re designing the levels rather than going procedural, it allows us to create the spaces with an aim of the player mastering them.

Luke: I like to think of it in terms of the scene near the beginning of the Matrix, where Morpheus is telling Neo exactly where to go to escape the office. We want the player to go from that to being Neo. The idea is that you can play the same levels in a few different ways, you can be stealthy or you can bomb it through past all the manequinns, and be just fast enough to avoid their gaze.


GS: How much do you think VR plays a part in the suspense, and when did that become a big aspect of the game?

Luke: We got VR involved pretty much as soon as we started working on LNS here at Total Monkery. I applied it to the playable demo we’d made to pitch the game and everybody that playtested it really loved it. They all seemed really psyched and at that point we realised how important it was.

Fred: Because it’s not a game about shooting guns it suits the format really well.

Luke: Some games can be too over the top for the format but because this isn’t set in a warzone-

GS: Depending on your thoughts on Primark in Exeter…

Luke: Well, yeah. Because we’re set in a department store there’s a bit less going on so it works much better than if you were to do a VR Call of Duty, say.


GS: Is there multiplayer planned?

Luke: Yeah, we’re developing it concurrently with the single player, it’s a-synchronous so we have one player controlling the shopper and another playing the whole team of mannequins. So when the shopper freezes one in their line of sight, player two can swap between enemies and try and outsmart them that way

Fred: It’s cat and mouse gameplay, basically.

Luke: Yeah.


GS: When can we expect to see Late Night Shop?

Luke: Release is dependant on funding but you can download a pre alpha build for PC, Mac and Linux at There’s a non VR build and also a VR version built for Occulus dk2.

Late Night Shop will be released in Q1 2016. If you like what you’ve read you can find out more at and


Super Mario Maker Review

Are video game reviews even relevant anymore? Can you ever trust them? What sort of baggage does a reviewer bring with them each time they a play game? Why is it that all these indie puzzle platformers with a retro art style seem to do so well, or at least be so prevalent? Could it simply be that we’ve reached a point where all the critics are in their late-20s to late-30s and share a fondness for what they consider to be a golden age of the SNES and Mega Drive? It certainly could be that.

Imagine, for a moment, that videogames are a new phenomenon. Imagine they started with the PS4 and Xbox One, that we started with that level of power from the off. Would we still look at all these ‘retro’ styled 2D games with the same regard that we do now? How much of the appeal is just nostalgia? Have we simply convinced the younger generation to like these games through our repeated insistence that they’re great? Do they choose to also enjoy them due to some sort of willingness to conform or to impress the people they perhaps look up to? Or is it that they are genuinely good games that would shine through regardless of style or era? Who knows?

These thoughts have occurred to me a few times but they’re especially pertinent when playing Super Mario Maker which, in simple terms, is the toolset to create the very core of what videogames used to be until perhaps the mid-90s. When Mario Maker was first announced some people were shocked and delighted by the idea that they might finally get something they’d always dreamed of, whilst others were apprehensive about how much Nintendo would really hand over. The truth is, it’s somewhere in between, but it’s closer to that former dream than the potential disappointment.

Super Mario Maker is like having the world’s greatest film directors come together and give you stacks of footage to edit into a film of your choice, as opposed to actually going out with a budget and a crew of your own. Personally, I like this as what Scorcese and Tarantino might shoot for me will almost certainly be much better than anything I might come up with. But, let’s get one of the games supposed issues out of the way here – those directors aren’t going to trust you with everything just yet; they’re only going to give you a few scenes until you show them that you know what you’re doing and aren’t going to just combine all the sex scenes into one long porno.

Likewise, Mario Maker will only allow you to play with a basic set of tools on the first day and will gradually unlock more options over the course of the next eight or so days, dependent on you tinkering with each set for five minutes. I, again, like this approach as too often modern games overwhelm the player with too much choice and option paralysis sets in. Should you not share my particular niche opinion you can mess with your system clock to get around these restrictions.

The actual level designing is done with the sort of sense-making simplicity and panache we’ve come to expect from Nintendo and manages to squeeze in all the humour and charm you could hope for too. Upon starting the game you’re asked to play a part of a level and then finish off its construction before you head to the main menu where you can choose to play through some samples or other user’s uploaded creations. As you might expect, what you get is incredibly varied but I’ve generally been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found.

Some levels are just a bit crap of course, but some show some real effort to create things that wouldn’t be too out of place in a real Mario game. It’s also worth mentioning how good everything looks; seeing the older art styles in proper widescreen for the first time really is quite striking and the high-res upscaling or whatever it is they’ve done really makes everything very crisp and lovely. It’s not like playing the virtual console versions; there’s a graphical fidelity that makes everything feel modern.

There’s also a sort of joy that I hadn’t anticipated to the level creation itself; it feels like you’re communicating with people, that you’re sending out a sort of message in a bottle. One of the most famous pieces of game design ever is in the original Super Mario Bros. when you go up to the top of the level where the score and time are displayed. It feels like you’ve found a way to cheat or that you’ve broken the game, but then you discover the warp zones and realise that the developers knew all along that you might do that.

That sort of unspoken communication between the game’s designers and the player has been a central part of the Mario (and a lot of Nintendo) games’ appeal and it’s present here too, except this time you’re the one writing that message. It’s a nice feeling and one I hadn’t considered or expected to get from the game. This is emphasised even more by the feedback you receive for levels you’ve created. When playing through people’s creations you can leave them a comment or give a star to levels you’ve liked, it’s a nice way to keep that communication theme running through all aspects of the game.

So what else is there? Well, that’s it really. You create levels from four of Mario’s different styles and upload them for others to play. Then you play through the levels other people made. There are a couple of different ways to do that but the motivation has to come from you really; there isn’t much in the way of structure and the levels don’t run into each other like they might in a full Mario game – for example, collecting a mushroom at the end of one level doesn’t mean you’ll start ‘big’ at the start of the next, you always start small.

Also, you can’t really create a cohesive world or zone for people to play through. Whilst you might choose to make ten levels around a similar theme, it’s unlikely anyone will ever play them through in order as you might have planned. These are all small issues that are easy to forgive as it’s hard to see how these things could have been made to work on a larger scale. There is perhaps a slight feeling that this is an entry level version of more complex software, that perhaps a fuller-featured program might be available in the future or that some of those more complex options have been held back. However, that would be dismissing everything you do have and there’s a lot here, certainly enough to keep any Mario fan happy for, well, forever really.

Ultimately this game’s appeal will always depend on how much you like Mario. If you do have some history with the guy and have ever enjoyed any of his adventures, then this is an incredibly interesting piece of software. That’s what it is really, software for fans of Mario, perhaps more so than a ‘game’, though there is plenty of game if you, or others, want to build it. It might seem obvious but you will get out of it what you put in.

The score I’ve given it is a personal one based on my years of loving Mario games and the videogaming purity they represent. I like the fact that you’re a little constrained by the established rules of his world as they’re rules that work and that I like. You want to have that recognition and I feel it’s a large part of why this whole thing works. No matter what someone makes, you immediately understand how it’s all going to work; it’s that communication again.

It is worth remembering that the game is called Mario Maker, not platformer maker, and as such you’re making Mario games. I don’t know why you’d want to make anything else but if you’re expecting all the tricks of the ROM hacks you might be disappointed. If you’re still at all unsure, you can build and play levels in the SNES Super Mario World art style in widescreen for the first time ever. If that doesn’t sell you a game nothing will. But, perhaps that’s just my nostalgia. Who knows?

Mad Max Review

I’ve taken my time to come to a decision about Mad Max for two reasons. One being I was a huge fan of the original film and to be honest I haven’t ever really liked where the source material has gone since and secondly, my views of the game have changed more times than a model at a fashion show.

So, I decided that if I tried to hang on to my own opinions of the Mad Max franchise, I wouldn’t be able to give the game a fair review. So in doing this I had to forget there was ever an original and try to leave that influence behind (I am still to see Fury Road for the record).

In fact, the checklist of essentials came down to the game being set in Australia and the main character being called Max. It is and he is, so fine, I can approach this game on its own merits moving forward. Another point to note, is that I am played this on the PC, where previous Warner Bros titles have had many, many issues. So I am happy to report that even on my modest system, the game runs really well at high settings.

To get the issues out of the way first, I am going to bring up the control system. The defaults here are just odd, with actions mapped to buttons that just don’t feel right having played other action/adventure games. You expect some kind of continuity across controls these days, even if games are from different developers.

Now I know this isn’t a shooter and the idea is that ammunition is scarce, but not having the shoot button on the shoulders just didn’t feel right and I found myself accidentally shooting my weapon when pressing B on the controller way too often. It’s not the only change to the norm, as there are so many times where it just feels a bit awkward and hasn’t been properly tested from the development stage.

Now I did get used to them eventually and I could remap them, but as a default they just didn’t feel right out of the box, which meant it took me a while to really find a groove with the game.

The other thing that does frustrate a lot, is that whilst the overall arc of the game is very enjoyable, there is a large chunk where the game feels like it is adding filler just to extend the length and even hits a point where you are telling yourself “too many more of these and I am calling it a day”.

The start of the game is very stop/start too, where you are waiting for it to let go of your hand and let you explore the barren wastelands and start engaging with enemies across the land. The opening as a story is important and the acting is enjoyable, but when interspersed with teases of gameplay, it gets frustrating and you just feel that had the developers mixed the start a bit differently it would have flowed a lot better.

The main issue comes around mid-way through the game, where it feels like you are doing a lot of forced rinse and repeat fetch-quests just for the sake of it, which are sandwiched between some really well constructed missions and writing.

Now that being said, where this game does excel is in the combat, both vehicular and on foot. When in your car, which can be upgraded as you progress, there is an influence of sorts from Wheelman, where you can side-swipe another car to do damage. But instead of just turning into them, you use a button press with a directional input to make the slam. It is stupid but it works really well.

As does the firing of weapons from your car. These aren’t ever really your main point of attack, but can be pretty spectacular when used. The upgrades you get too can turn your vehicle into a dangerous killing machine. It really never gets dull seeing what you can add next to inflict even more pain.

On foot the game isn’t simply influenced by the Batman fight mechanics, it is pretty much using them like for like. And I can tell you now, that is the best possible decision Avalanche could have made here, because Batman’s fighting mechanics are still the best I have used in this genre.

Whilst you never feel as powerful as Batman, the close quarters combat in Mad Max still feels just as satisfying and there is just the right amount of tension that you could be overwhelmed by the groups of enemies, mixed with that feeling of being a complete badass.

Now as I said, there are issues with Mad Max and it certainly isn’t a game that will win many awards, but it is a damn enjoyable game, where you can in the end overlook what are, at the end of the day, pretty minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

This is a game that came out in the same week as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, yet it still grabbed my attention enough to want to finish this, rather than ignore it for the poster child release of the week.

GS Quick Look: NHL 16

Hello out there. It’s on the air, it’s hockey night tonight! Which means Brad is in his element as he gets to play some NHL 16 courtesy of EA Access.

Brad and John take a look at NHL 16 from EA Sports. It is no secret Brad is hockey mad, especially when it comes to his Red WIngs, so who better to take an early look at EA’s latest effort.

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Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 11th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 11th September (Friday).

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A second week of changes in the charts, with new entries for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Mad Max and Disney Infinity 3.0 as well as a bit of movement for some of the chart regulars.

Chat then moves on to reviews of Stasis, Forza Motorsport 6, Super Mario Maker and Tearaway Unfolded.

It’s then a look ahead to The Golf Club: Collectors Edition, Pro Evo 2016, Destiny: The Taken King and Rugby League Live 3.

We also apologise for a technical issue half way through when the recording equipment decides to malfunction.

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

This Week’s Top 10


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GS Quick Look: Duskers

In a world where the universe is nothing more than a graveyard, Brad finds he is the last hope with nothing but a terminal and some drones to find the resources to survive and discover what really happened.

Brad and John take a look at Duskers, a roguelike strategy game where you pilot drones from a computer terminal, searching abandoned ships, barges, stations and more.

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Movies, Games and Hideos

My mum is a staunch pacifist. As a child I was never allowed anything even remotely violent as a toy. Water pistols were out and I had to use a washing up bottle. Transformers were just about fine but I definitely couldn’t have Megatron. I remember one time she confiscated my copy of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as she didn’t want me playing something “endorsed by a rapist”. Her mantra was “if someone tries to fight you, it’s best to just walk away”. As a consequence I’ve grown up terrified of confrontation but on the plus side I’ve never been punched in the face. Swings and roundabouts.

Metal Gear Solid is the shooting game for people that don’t like shooting. Its stealth mechanics encourage you to avoid direct conflict, you’re rewarded for being non-lethal and the narrative tells a tale of the horrors of war and of the monsters born on the battlefield. I reckon my mum might actually enjoy it, if it wasn’t also impossible to control and completely bat-shit mental.

It’s a wonder the series is as popular as it is. I’m a huge, huge fan and consider Snake Eater to be one of the best games ever made, but even I have spent my first few hours with The Phantom Pain diving onto sleeping bodies when I’m supposed to be attaching them to balloons. I remember in the lead up to the release of Heavy Rain, David Cage said that he wanted the player to be in actual physical discomfort holding the pad to mirror the difficulty of the actions of their on screen avatar. Metal Gear has been doing this for years. The cut scenes portray Snake as a devastating force of nature but when controlled by a human being he’s hilariously inept. Who hasn’t found themselves crouching, and standing, and crouching, and standing before getting down on the floor and spinning round on the spot in a desperate attempt to pick up an unconscious guard before the reinforcements arrive? You can almost hear the Benny Hill music.

When it’s not asking you to wrestle with an idiosyncratic control scheme it’s asking you to listen to an incomprehensible stream of military jargon and conspiracy theories for hours on end. Large portions of Metal Gear Solid are completely non-interactive; shunning the differential that makes video games so special. Hideo Kojima’s style has often been accused of being so in awe of cinema that it’s to the detriment of the game. It’s easy to come away with the conclusion that he’s a frustrated film director who’s found himself working in the wrong medium.

But despite their shortcomings, Kojima’s games are wonderful and rare examples of what happens when an auteur gets his own development studio. Konami can take his name off the box, but his fingerprints are all over it. From the point you put the disc in, every sound effect, every line of dialogue and every WTF moment is so unmistakably Hideo that you’re never in doubt of his involvement.

Who else would create a reoccurring character whose one defining trait is that he has the shits? What other series would see you taking time out from rescuing prisoners of war to launch a sheep hundreds of feet into the air? Where else would find a faux James Bond title theme that includes the line “someday you’ll feed on a tree frog”?

And then it juxtaposes all this silliness with a story that explores nuclear disarmament, the morality of genetic manipulation and the control of information in the digital age. Although it’s to be applauded that it attempts to study complex themes; and the central subject of soldiers being little more than tools of men with a vested interest in war is something I can get behind; the tone is all over the place. In one moment it’s asking you to consider the tragedy of child soldiers, the next its pitting you against a guy that spits bees out of his mouth. In the otherwise excellent Ground Zeroes, there’s a horribly misguided attempt at a rape storyline that’s uncomfortably delivered and would have perhaps been better suited to the cutting room floor. It’s difficult to give these topics the gravitas they deserve when in the next breath you’re distracting a guard with a dirty magazine.

In fact, it’s in the treatment of sex and gender that Kojima has his biggest failures. The character design of Quiet, the sniper buddy in Metal Gear V, is downright embarrassing. Kojima has been fighting off the criticism for months and saying that there is a valid reason why a highly trained operative would choose to wear little more than a pair of ripped tights and a poor fitting, ridiculously unsupportive bra while on manoeuvres in Afghanistan, but then he hardly helped himself by tweeting a picture of him playing with the malleable breasts on the Quiet action figure. EVA in Snake Eater is treated in a similarly poor fashion. Switching to first person view in one of the early cut scenes reveals that Snake is staring down her top and the subplot of her working undercover for the antagonist Volgin is laced with suggestions of abuse. Perhaps surprisingly, this ultra-sexualisation of the cast is not limited to the exclusively female characters. I’ve lost count of the number of times the camera has slowly panned past Snake’s finely-toned buttocks and Raiden spends a portion of Metal Gear Solid 2 cartwheeling in the nude. But these instances are overwhelmingly outnumbered by heaving bosoms and it would be fair to say that the series has an unsettling misogynistic undercurrent that it really could do without.

It’s unfortunate that Kojima has this blind spot as his studio is also capable of producing some truly memorable and amazing characters. The villains in particular are often brilliantly realised and in many ways capture the fine line the series treads between sanity and madness. You’ve got The Sorrow; the forever smiling spirit of a former soldier who taunts the player whenever death is near and forces you to witness the suffering of those you have killed. You’ve got Fatman; the clinically obese explosives expert that whizzes around on roller blades while drinking a glass of wine. And then there’s Psycho Mantis. Quite possibly one of the finest villains in the entire medium and responsible for an iconic, legendary boss fight that captures in a nutshell the playful disregard that Kojima has for the fourth wall.

Metal Gear Solid consistently breaks free from the screen and invades reality. We’ve had important information printed on the back of the physical game case. Parody game over screens. A Raiden lookalike winking directly down the camera. The aforementioned Psycho Mantis reads your memory card and comments on your game collection. In one fantastically meta moment towards the conclusion of Sons of Liberty, Snake assures Raiden that he’ll be fine as he has a bandana that gives him infinite ammo. I can’t think of any other series that has the confidence to completely split the tension of its finale with a silly in-joke.

P.T, the experimental demo for the tragically cancelled Kojima directed Silent Hills, had secrets hidden away in menus and a final puzzle that the combined force of the internet couldn’t quite figure out. One rumour saw players running a short video clip of Kojima laughing down the mic in order to access one of the game’s final triggers. The fact that anyone even considered this as solution goes some way to describing the weird and unique relationship that he has with his fans.

Then there was the completely bonkers marketing campaign that led to the reveal of The Phantom Pain which included a fabricated Swedish development studio and its head Joakim Mogren (geddit?) who conducted interviews with his face covered in bandages. Kojima’s knack for messing with my head meant that when news started surfacing of the grievances between him and the Konami bosses, I didn’t actually believe it was true. It seemed so bizarre that they were trying to remove all trace of him it had to be a prank, right?

Unfortunately, it seems not. We’ll probably never know all the ins and outs but it seems certain that The Phantom Pain will be the last Kojima directed Metal Gear and gaming will lose one of its most distinctive series. I daresay that this won’t be the last we see of Snake. I’m sure he’ll creep up behind us when we least expect it before leaping out and planting an exclamation mark on our head. But you can’t help but feel that his adventures will never quite be the same again. Metal Gear Solid is nearly twenty years old now and during that time no one else has tried to ape its style or unusual flavour. The noises that have come out of Konami since Kojima’s departure suggest that it’s hardly a nice place to work and the microtransactions in The Phantom Pain paint a worrying future for the company when combined with their new focus on mobile gaming. Perhaps they tried to do the impossible and rein Kojima in; tone down the weirdness and bring him in line with the rest of the industry. Perhaps my mum was right after all. If someone tries to fight you, it’s best to just walk away.

Forza Motorsport 6 Review

I have had my ups and downs with the Forza Motorsport series. The original on the Xbox did get some attention from me, but at that time I was more into the arcade racers of the day. Yet Forza 2 and 3 became mainstays on the 360. I took part in many an organised event and had a wonderful time with both, even investing in a wheel.

Yet there was something about Forza 4 that just didn’t seem right to me after a while and thanks to getting an Xbox One a full year after launch, I had pretty much decided to skip most of Forza 5 knowing the 6th was due pretty soon.

I did dabble with it, it’d be rude not to but again it didn’t grab me like those earlier versions and I couldn’t put my finger on it. So here we are, Forza Motorsport 6 and a chance to jump in from the very beginning.

This is a hard one for me to review in many ways, as I feel I have been spoiled by some other racers over the past year or so. My simulation needs have been met by Project Cars (and there will be a few comparisons along the way) and my simcade needs taken by Driveclub and Forza Horizon 2.

It used to be that Gran Turismo and Forza were my go to games for ‘simulation’ but that has changed a lot for a couple of vital reasons and one of those is where Forza Motorsport 6 still struggles in my opinion.

One thing I have been very vocal about over the years is the career structure in simulation racing games on consoles. I don’t mean the unlocking of events and cars, as I don’t really mind that to a degree, my issue comes with race length and this insistence to start you in very short races without the ability to qualify and expecting you to hit a target position.

There are seemingly no options to change this, no concepts of full or half length races that allow you to really get into a racing groove. No qualifying that allows you to at least try and improve your grid position. Which frustrates even more when you can improve the Drivatar difficulty as you see fit.

The reason this really gets to me is because other games allow this and allow the game to be tailored to your needs. Whilst I understand Forza has gone down a path where it wants anyone to be able to play from the 3 year old using a controller for the first time and the 80 year old who has had one thrust at them, to the highly skilled racer who wants everything off. It means that it becomes very hard to get excited for much of the career, especially early on.

Project Cars has the perfect balance for this, allowing you to adjust, using sliders, the race length and AI difficulty before every event, meaning you really can get the races you want for any given situation and is one area where that shines and Forza Motorsport 6 really fails.

A new addition is the car mods. A concept that has come in from the world of the FPS, where you can buy and use temporary mods that offer various bonuses and dares, that you can use to earn extra credits or XP and is generally a nice touch.

However, whilst earning 10% extra credits for a race or 1000 credits for performing dares such as perfect drafts is a lovely thing to have, the mods that offer extra grip, better acceleration, higher top speeds etc at certain tracks, or even permanently as long as the mod card is installed, are terrible ideas.

It is fine in an arcade racer, but for a game that is aiming to be realistic this is purely poor judgement and again whilst it is an optional usage thing, it really shouldn’t be there, because it literally makes no sense in the way it is presented. If these mods were quick tuning changes or something like that, then fine, but not just cards that give you an advantage.

Now that is pretty much all the negative stuff out the way and apologies for lingering on those for so long, because Forza Motorsport 6 is the best Forza game yet where it counts…on the track!

Previous Forza games have had solid AI, but they have since been surpassed by other games that seem to handle AI personalities in a much better way and allow you to feel like you are racing personalities rather than dull bots.

But the Drivatar system, now further down the development line has really changed the game. Every car on the track is being fed racing styles by the entire Forza community, recording how every person races and then using that data to bring them into everyone else’s games.

It mainly seems to pull from your friendlist which is a clever feature, because all of a sudden that guy in front defending the inside line isn’t just an AI bot, that is that guy you know and he is driving like an arsehole, he is doing that on purpose, you want to beat that guy.

It really does change the mindset, when you see names of people you know instead of generic fake names. I was skeptical of the actual tech, but having seen my own son race in the game and then seeing how his Drivatar races, I can safely say they are pulling and using the data as promised.

My son has a habit of braking late and often taking corners wide, as well as being aggressive on overtakes and will often make contact with another car if they are in his way. So when I saw his car a couple of places ahead of me in a race, I could see all his traits there and it could easily have been him at the wheel.

The Drivatar stuff is impressive in its own right, but when Turn10 have introduced 24 car grids, it becomes very special indeed. Gone are the days where a race could feel very sparse and lifeless, it has evolved a hell of a lot and now feels like you are competing, no matter how far down the field you are. Which again is a shame, when the career mode is purely focused on winning, but I have dwelled on that long enough.

There also night races and wet races as part of the overall package. I thought Project Cars handled weather well, but here it is something special indeed. Puddles are apparently modeled in 3D and each puddle can have a different effect on the car, depending on the speed and angle you go through it and even how deep or large the puddle is.

Again I was skeptical, but after a race at Sebring, that skepticism was gone. Sure, as usual you had to brake early and be gentle on the throttle for corners, but usually when on a straight you can really hit top speed. Not here though, I was on the long back straight and I went to overtake another car after getting a good draft, hit a puddle on the side of the track and completely lost the car, as I aquaplaned off the track.

It isn’t always as spectacular as that though, it can be a lot more subtle, affecting your acceleration, or just losing that bit of momentum, it has a controlled chaos about it that just works. It is missing a proper track evolution aspect, but you feel that it will come at some point down the line. However, this is a game changer for wet weather racing and has set the standard.

One thing the Forza games have had since conception is that they look stunning and Forza Motorsport 6 is no exception. The details in the car are just sublime, but it is the extra details around the track that just add that extra little bit of wonderment.

Drive on some American tracks and you’ll see smoke from the infield where the fans are having barbecues, there are leaves blowing across the track and being thrown around as you drive past them. There are so many lovely little touches, that it would be impossible to list them all and I am still finding new ones the more I play.

Then there is the Forzavista, the mode for car lovers, where you can look at any car in detail, both inside and out and to someone walking in without knowing it is a game, they could be forgiven for thinking it is a video of a real car.

Despite my own personal issues with race lengths in the career mode, I have fallen in love with Forza Motorsport 6, it has truly evolved over the years and this is something special indeed. It also gets bonus points for not forcing me to listen to Jeremy bloody Clarkson.

GS Quick Look: Red Goddess Inner World

Red Goddess

What colour do you like your Goddesses to be? Red according to Yanim Studio, in their game Red Goddess Inner World.

Brad and John take a look at the latest in a long line of Metroidvania titles to see how much this one holds up in the crowded genre.

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Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 4th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 4th September (Friday).

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We have changes in the charts, which means some fresh talk on new entries and a SHOCKING fall from the top 10 for a mainstay.

Chat then moves on to reviews of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Mad Max as well as some other releases including the bizarre Show With Your Dad Simulator.

Next week’s releases sees some early discussion on Super Mario Maker and Tearaway Unfolded.

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

This Week’s Top 10


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Until Dawn Review

I think the main reason for my surprise is that games that are coined “interactive movies” are always a little short on the gameplay side, and the element of choice that you are presented is nothing more than an illusion. You may be able to change some things in the middle, but there’s very little that impacts the final act. And David Cage’s last attempt (Beyond: Two Souls) may have solidified people’s opinions that the realm of movies and games should never cross paths.

Until Dawn is different. Coined the “Butterfly Effect system”, every choice, no matter how small can have disastrous consequences for your group of teens. After a tragedy a year earlier, the same group of friends return to a secluded cabin high in the snowy mountains where, as you’d expect, things go a little wrong. And how wrong things go depends on your actions.

Will you run or hide? Go left or right? Take the shortcut or the safer route? And when you come to that age old horror cliché of choosing to examine the noise you just heard or forget about it, you’ll hate yourself for doing the exact same, dumb thing all horror characters do.

All of this wouldn’t work if the game wasn’t scary, but it is, very much so. While it does rely on the jump scares a little too much rather than the slow building of tension, it does those jump scares very well. Many times I found myself swearing at the TV as characters jump out of the shadows. It also has its fair share of gore and bone crunching brutality, but it never lingers on it in a torture porn sort of way.

The performances of all the lead actors also help in building this terrifying world. Headlined by Hayden Panettiere, each character feels like your traditional horror cliché, but they have enough depth to make them believable. For instance, Matt (played hilariously by the un-teen looking Brett Dalton from Agents of SHIELD) is initially portrayed as your standard jock archetype, only (thanks in part to your conversation decisions) he’s not just the jokey idiot you initially think he is. Though maybe he is if you choose to play him as such!

Although you are presented with choices, the standard walk around the environment sections are fairly linear. There are small areas you can explore to find clues, but you’re largely ferried from one scene to the next with the obvious deviations being on what choices you make.

In that sense, if you aren’t sold on these types of interactive movie like video games then there’s very little here that would change your mind. Gameplay is limited, and action scenes are perpetuated with QTE sections that, to be honest, are actually some of the best. Mainly because they’re quite easy to fail. Appearing on screen for only a limited amount of time they feel harder than the likes you would see in, say, a David Cage game.

In fact, everything here is better than you’d find in a David Cage game, those games being Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls if you’re unaware. Acting feels more natural, there’s no shower scene that feels out of place and unnecessary (just a bath section that doesn’t feel like it lingers in any dodgy way) and most of all the story makes sense. The Heavy Rain twist completely broke the game if you thought about it and the Beyond: Two Souls plotline was incredibly disjointed and completely lost its way when you reached the mid-point. I’m not saying Until Dawn doesn’t have its weird moments, but everything at least feels connected and belongs in the same story.

Until Dawn can also be a really good looking game in places, especially seeing as it began life as a PS3 title. The environments are all suitably atmospheric with some wonderful lighting and audio that adds to the fear. There are a few downsides though with the framerate at times suffering a little. Characters facial expressions also go from amazing to downright creepy, and not in the way the game intended.

Coming in at the 6-7 hour mark, it’s not a long game for those who want a lengthy experience. That said, this is the perfect length for a game of this type. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and with a number of trophies dedicated to specific choices you will probably want to replay the game a second time. I certainly will. Once I’ve recovered from certain character deaths that is.

When we come to the end of the year and everyone is thinking of what the biggest surprise was, Until Dawn may very well be at the top of my list. I was already intrigued by it, but I couldn’t imagine enjoying it as much as I have done. A few slight issues here and there don’t dampen what is one of the better, more original horror titles out there. If horror is your thing then you have no excuse not to buy it.

Quick View: Poly Bridge (Steam)

Is Bridge Constructor a genre now? There seems to be a fair few of these games around and some have taken it to another level and expanded what these games can be. Especially looking at the likes of Kerbal Space Program and Besieged. But Poly Bridge seems to do the opposite and stick to the known formula.

That’s not a bad thing though and despite being in Early Access, Poly Bridge feels like a pretty complete game.

It has the usual scenarios you’d come to expect and it tasks you with simply building a bridge to allow traffic to cross. It provides you with the tools and a budget, then it is up to you to understand the physics to make travel possible.

This will depend on what wants to cross as to what you need to build; because a bicycle doesn’t need a bridge with a ton of steel girders to make it safely across, yet try and get a lorry across a simple wooden bridge and disaster will strike.

What stands out at even this early stage is how clear each of the goals is and how you can really have fun experimenting with various solutions. Early tutorials will give you a basic concept as to how the physics of it all will work, but doesn’t hold your hand to the point it stops becoming challenging.

A nice feature is the ability to save and share replays of both your successful attempts, as well as your disasters and this is a feature I really, really like and have spent as much time watching other solutions as I have creating my own.

Let me tell you something, people are bloody creative and put me to shame.

Poly Bridge is currently £8.99 on Steam in Early Access and that price point feels about right and again is a good example of how to put a game on Early Access, as it is one I don’t feel let down about owning even at this early point.

GS Quick Look: Assault Android Cactus

Beware the Android Cactus, they are ready for an all out assault.

Assault Android Cactus is an indie action, twin-stick shooter, currently in Early Access on Steam. Brad and John dive in to see what the deal is.

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Worlds Without Borders

Discovering worlds without borders.

Did you see that? I didn’t think so. That’s the problem with your eyes. They can only point in one place at a time. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t waiting for you to watch.

That’s what real-life is like. It’s what makes it so wonderful. Behind every door, in every corner of the planet, something is happening. An intricate story plays out – a tale of sadness, or joy, or the one about the horse and the frankfurter. Shit happens, if you will. All the time.

Games do something different. Our open worlds are geographically free, with huge expanses to cover. It takes more than two hours to walk the sun-drenched streets of Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas and Blaine County. Roughly the same (and a few dips in the drink) to cover The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Northern Realms.

But while the landscapes roll on and on, time stands still just over the horizon.

And I’m starting to wonder if that’s a problem.

Games wait for us. Blame brains.

Gaming’s worlds tend to stand still until we’re there to witness them. That’s exactly what you’d expect from a medium that’s traditionally been built around closure.

Many of us are compelled to seek closure. Psychologists have looked at this very human trait time and time again, and developed a number of different theories.

Maybe it’s the self-preserving function of the brain to remember incomplete actions better than the ones we finish. After all, that’s essential in day-to-day life, when forgetting you’ve turned the gas on presents a very real danger. Maybe it’s our need to enforce narrative on the world, ordering chaotic events into chains of cause and effect with beginnings, middles, and ends.

Or maybe it’s the simple need to draw all possible value from a product that we’re spending our hard-earned money on.

Games have historically pandered to that need. Their stories keep us pushing forwards until the resolution arrives and the end-credits roll. The promise of an alternate ending or unlockable bonus take us even further, collecting gizmos and gadgets galore in the pursuit of true completion.

But, for me, it’s that compulsion to see and do everything that undermines what makes open world gaming so spectacular – and turns the joy of a title into a checklist chore.

Hitting the open world’s walls

I’ll be honest. Open worlds are impressive, but they’re all-too-often intimidating. With the promise of so much to see and do, I start to wonder if I’ll ever find the time to see it all. So I made a decision to stop. And I think that might be a good thing.

See, when you wring every ounce of gameplay from an open world, you’re coming up against the artifice. It’s when you run out of side quests and random events that it’s made clear this world isn’t alive. It’s a to-do list of tasks and cut-scenes that, ultimately, leads to a dead end.

That’s how we digest a film or a novel. We press on to a point of completion and resolution. But it’s not how the world works, not really.

What the scale and complexity of recent open worlds offers, for me, isn’t more to see and do. By allowing the random to feel random and the minor to feel minor, the worlds feel rich and textured.

Finally, open worlds feel bigger than me, bigger than my story, and full to the brim of life – whether I’m there to see it or not.

The Quarter Four War

Gaming’s maddening insistence on releasing absolutely everything all at once.

I worked for a high street video game retailer for a large portion of my early twenties. To say I didn’t enjoy it is quite the understatement. Being a massive snob it brought me no end of pain to see the swarm strip the shelves of the latest dudebro shooter while copies of Katamari and Shadow of the Colossus gathered dust. It was also troubling to be surrounded by the thing you love and have no money to pay for any of it. “Gamblers shouldn’t work in casinos”, as they say.

Anyway, I remember the impending feeling of dread when the point of sale for Fifa started trickling in. This marked the start of the Silly Season. Every week from the release of this game until Christmas would be hellish. The store would heave under the strain of a thousand discs. The piles of preowned would reach to the sky. The place resembled one of those indoor soft play areas; packed to bursting point with overexcited, over stimulated children. Their bemused parents staring dead and glassy eyed at boxes and boxes of stuff they didn’t understand. It may sound like I’m exaggerating here, but I often finished a Saturday shift feeling shell-shocked. Like I’d just done a stint in Vietnam. You weren’t there man; you don’t know what it was like!

The video game industry isn’t unique in coming to the conclusion that it makes sense to release hundreds of titles in the same time frame, but at least the film industry has the good grace to separate the summer blockbusters from the Oscar bait. After a period of three months where I’ve bought approximately naff all, I’m now looking at getting Metal Gear V, Super Mario Maker, Lego Dimensions, Transformers Devastation, Rock Band 4 and The Nathan Drake Collection within a matter of weeks. I’d also quite like to buy Disgaea 5 and Persona; Dancing All Night but there’s absolutely zero point because unless I find myself under house arrest or build a flux capacitor there’s literally not enough hours in the day for me to play them. Quite who the big-wig is that thinks it’s a good idea to release a rhythm action spin off to a Vita JRPG right in the middle of Call of Duty, Need for Speed and Fallout 4 I don’t know, but from where I’m sitting he needs a good telling off.

It’s hardly fair to the developers either. I’ve seen this in action; niche titles die at retail in the winter. They’ll be picked up by fans in the first week and the remainder will hang around on the shelf until the staff pop along and stick a big, red reduced sticker on them. They’ll never threaten the charts, they’ll never sell. They’ll barely make the front page of the gaming sites before they’re whisked away to make room for another reworded press release trying to make sense of all the pre order bonuses for the latest Ubisoft title. It’s hard enough for lower budget games to make a splash as it is without putting them shoulder to shoulder with the full marketing clout of the publishing giants.

It seemed that back in the late 00’s Microsoft spotted this issue and tried to resolve it with their excellent Summer of Arcade promotions on XBLA. This was designed to throw the spotlight on download only arcade titles during the long summer months when there was bugger all else out. It gave these games a moment to be the headliners and the space they needed to generate some word of mouth and get the sales they deserved. It never quite reached the dizzying heights of year one for me (Geometry Wars 2, Braid and Castle Crashers – oh my!) but it was at least some attempt to readdress the balance and drag indie titles into their own dedicated time slot.

It strikes me that the circular reasoning that leads to all this nonsense is not helpful to anyone. The idea that “most games sell in the winter, so let’s release our games in the winter” probably affects sales of the larger titles too. I can’t imagine that Bethesda are having too many sleepless nights worrying about the sales forecasts for Fallout 4, but I won’t be buying it purely for the reason that there’s too much other stuff available at the time. If I were in charge, I’d genuinely consider holding it back until the first week of February. Everyone would start to have a bit of cash in their pockets again after Christmas, it would have next to no competition and they would have an extra little bit of time to make sure it’s not the bug-ridden, crash-happy mess it’s almost inevitably going to be in November. I may be being a bit harsh with that last point, but on past form it’s a brave gamer that Day 1s a game of Fallout’s scope that was only announced a few short months ago. You only have to look at the state of last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity to see the damage that rushing to get a game out for Christmas can do to a game and an entire franchise.

I reckon that Fallout would easily be top of the sales charts for weeks stuck out in spring. As it is, it’s likely to be flavour of the week before being replaced by Star Wars Battlefront. Chart positions are hardly the be all and end all but they certainly can provide a game with a bit of exposure or prestige. Call of Duty is released two weeks before Fallout; do they really think that stores are going to be dusting their hands, taking down all the promotional material and saying ‘well, that’s that then’ before replacing all the pictures of gruff marines with pictures of Pipboy? They’re going to be fighting for the exact same advertising space while Master Chief and Lionel Messi try and mug their way into the picture. Nintendo, for reasons known only to itself, has decided to release Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Star Fox Zero on the same bloomin’ day. So a platform holder, currently holding a platform that nobody else is holding, chooses to release its first pair of big releases in months on the same day in November. The mind boggles.

Compare this to the middle part of the year when Batman and Geralt could waltz their way happily through stores and sites with barely any big name competition. Rewind a couple more months and you’ve got the sight of Bloodborne’s hunter, standing alone and proud while the afflicted clamber at his feet, desperate for something to play. From Software’s latest sold incredibly well for a platform exclusive. The same could be said for the excellent Splatoon, which had the entirety of the summer to itself on the Wii U. Neither of these titles are exactly the kind of games that you expect to sell to gangbusters; a brutally unforgiving, near impenetrable endurance test and a day-glo, kawaii, kid-friendly shooter, but they both did the business. Surely the timing of their releases contributed something to their success?

Of course, the sensible option as the consumer, is to just ignore all this and wait for everything to get reduced a few months down the line, but we all know that’s never going to happen. Gamers are a notoriously impatient bunch and often half the fun is being wrapped up in the excitement and shared experience of playing at launch. I’ve started to get a bit huffy if an online retailer doesn’t get a game to me a couple of days before it’s supposed to be out, so the idea of picking up Metal Gear next year isn’t really one I’m willing to entertain . And for games with an online component, you’ve normally got to get in early to make sure that you don’t just spend your time staring at a lobby for hours on end.

This situation seems to be getting worse if anything. Contrary to the actual weather, I can’t remember a summer quite as dry as the one we’ve just had. I’ve basically played Rocket League for months. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but I like a bit of variation in my gaming diet. It seems like we’re destined to run this cycle until a big name flops spectacularly. My money is on Assassin’s Creed and I’d entertain a bet if I didn’t need every last penny to feed my family as well as my gaming habit. We all lose here. Big games lose sales, smaller games lose even more and players bankrupt themselves trying to keep up. And the poor retailers. Won’t somebody please think of the retailers? Another Christmas spent in recreation of Apocalypse Now. Where’s their God damn parade?