Gamestyle LIVE – Remastered

This week Brad, Steve and Andrew talk about some stuff they have done previously, but add an extra level of shine and make this the definitive conversation on that subject.

Yes, this week we are talking about the remaster and how on the whole it isn’t actually such a bad thing. Does the current crop of remastered games really have an effect on new titles? Is it really such a new thing? Each of these subjects is tackled.

We go off course a fair amount too, because it wouldn’t be Gamestyle Live without pointless chat about nonsense.

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Indie Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Fantasy XV Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Block N Load Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armello Preview

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

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

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

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

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

GAMESTYLE PLAYS VIDEO

Victor Vran Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Once Upon a Great A’Tuin – Revisiting Discworld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gamestyle Live – Grand Theft Kiddo

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews and Ratings

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Early Look: Beseige

You remember how it felt like they’d come up with a game and then forcefully rammed a bear and a pigeon into it? Besiege is that original game, but without the bear and pigeon ramming. If that sounds good, skip to the last paragraph.

 

If you didn’t play Nuts ‘n’ Bolts, it was essentially an early game in the crafting genre, Meccano in game form. Take various parts, fasten them together however you want and hopefully you’ll end up with a vehicle that can do whatever task is required of it. The only real difference here is that you’re creating siege machinery…but it’s a very subtle difference. You’ll burn cute little armies, fire cannons at sheep, inadvertently blow up your machine with a bomb that didn’t get catapulted properly…it’s great fun. The parts are basic, but can create enough combinations that realistically it’s only your imagination as the limiting factor.

And, to a lesser extent, the frame-rate. Optimisation is certainly something that needs to be on the to-do list and older processors, eg. mine, do get a little bit hot and bothered when lots of sheep are wandering around. Perhaps the building controls are a little counter-intuitive and the controls for navigating your machine are unnecessarily spread around the keyboard.

But really, 15 levels that require different machines to be made, loads of parts, the internet filling up with utterly amazing creations…this is a preview, so obviously no conclusions will be reached…but if it piques your interest at all, just buy it. Yes, obvious caveats about expectations from Early Access games, yes, blah, optimisation. But it’s a fiver, I’ve sunk hours into it already and I’ve not even finished the levels already there. Besiege is be-loody be-rilliant.

(Fingers crossed the review, due in 2016 sometime, ends on the same note.)

The Bunker Diaries: February 2015

In these dying days, Yann likes to pretend he is still living in the beforetimes, playing through the latest and greatest gaming has to offer… and sometimes the oldest and worst. These are his notes.

This month, with the cold refusing to shift, I found myself turning to the comforting delights of the past. A nice, hot cup of synthtea, a warm blanket and the soothing sensation of my nostalgia gland working full-time were just what I needed to weather the, er, weather.

Clearly, frantic action wasn’t quite what I was after. I turned instead to that rather more reserved genre; the strategy game. First up: Gearbox Software’s remastering of Relic’s venerable classic Homeworld.

Homeworld was a revelation at its original release. Not only did it feature unimaginably gorgeous graphics for an RTS at the time, it was – and remains – one of the only strategy games to really make use of three dimensions.

Where other space strategy games were happy to plonk you on a 2-dimensional playing field, Homeworld is a game where flanking manoeuvres utilising all 3 dimensions are the norm rather than the exception; where all 3 axes are crucial to keep track of if you don’t want an unexpected fighter squadron sweeping in on your ships from above.

Commanding the last vestiges of an alien race, you struggle to survive an exodus from your old planet, rendered defunct by way of surprise orbital strike craft. Your motley crew are faced with overwhelming enemy forces across an arduous campaign, a campaign where every battle counts.

Every ship that survives a mission is a ship that will be with you in the following, while every level has extremely finite resources with which to bolster your flotilla. This design breathes tension into every moment, knowing that scraping a victory in one level might condemn you to defeat in the following. You can’t just win, you have to win well.

All of this feeds into Homeworld’s plot; a simple space opera, filled with standard tropes of that genre, the tension and focus forced on you across the campaign transforms this humble framework into an epic tale of desperate survival.  Helped, it must be said, by the gorgeous static-image-based cut-scenes and clipped narration that accompany every major event.

And, happily, all of those qualities are retained by the remastered edition. The foundations laid out all those years ago remain as fresh as they were at release – the lack of any real competition to the throne of space opera strategy games rendering the game evergreen.

Gearbox have also done a fantastic job of keeping true to the art style that helped make Homeworld so appealing, while upgrading the assets to utilise modern hardware to the point where it can once again claim to be the most beautiful RTS around.

Not every alteration is for the better, mind: due to the remastered editions being based on the Homeworld 2 engine, a few of the original Homeworld’s elements are lost – most notably ship-level tactics, which allowed you to determine whether your ships focussed on annihilating the enemy or opted to take on harassing, evasive maneuvers in combat. What sounds like a small change makes a huge difference to the way strike craft can be used, reducing your tactical options in any given firefight, which is a real shame.

A few other unwelcome changes are present too – primarily the loss of needing to keep strike craft fuelled, and the inability to choose which race’s ship design you wanted to use when playing through the single-player campaign. Which, as anybody with taste in ship design, and thus an eye for Taidan fighters will tell you, is a tragedy.

Still, even with these changes the game remains incredibly compelling, offering a single-player campaign of rare quality. I greatly enjoyed my return to Homeworld’s spacescapes, and would recommend the remake to anyone with a taste for strategy; particularly anybody who missed the originals on first release.

Of course, Homeworld is not the only classic strategy game I occupied myself with this month. For those moments where a big screen just wasn’t appropriate, I was pleased to find another just waiting to be installed upon my smartphone.

Slay was first released by designer Sean O’Connor in 1994, but the years hardly touch it: elegant yet complex, sizable without being overwhelming, it is the ideal design for portable gaming. It was perfect on pocket PC, and it remains perfect on smartphone.

But what is Slay? Slay is, despite the name, not a game of overt violence. Rather it is a game of cold, clinical malice, where you spread out from your village(s) in an attempt to cover the map with your citizens. Sometimes through direct conquest – dropping soldiers onto citizens, crushing guard-towers with knights – but more often through indirect means.

See, in the world of Slay, much like our own, people need to eat. Every tile you own (excepting those occupied by a damned nuisance tree, taking up precious potential farmland) generates enough food to a) produce citizens, and b) sustain them. But food generated is limited to the area in which it is produced – which is to say, any coherent collection of tiles under the control of a single player. Manage to cut an area in half and suddenly you have two areas producing small amounts of food each – and, potentially, a lot of starving citizens.

Combined with the way that your – and your opponents’ – little men can move anywhere within or adjacent to the area they are in, and you have a game of quick expansion and careful boundary protection, where a single miscalculation can see your population wiped out by a flash famine.

Add in multiple opponents, large levels and DEVIL TREES and you have a game offering a hefty challenge, as you try to keep your eye on not only the position of your men, but of every competing opponent. Working out just who is the biggest threat and keeping them under control is just as important as keeping your own boundaries safe, as is monitoring any encroaching forests – unchallenged, the trees will spread, sapping your potential for food generation at a terrifying speed.

With such issues to consider it’s often a good idea to leave a minor opponent alive to work as a thorn in another opponent’s side, or to work as a ‘gardener’ helping to keep the ENDLESS PLAGUE OF ARABLE-LAND-DESTROYING TREES under control. Until you have enough power, size and food supplies to crush everyone underfoot, of course. If you want a measured, intelligent game of strategy, look no further than Slay. Just don’t blame me if it leaves you with a lifelong dislike of trees.

(Trees are not allowed in the bunker. Especially not bonsais. You can’t trust a bonsai)

 

Retrospective: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Around the time when it was the hottest thing around, the Wii was always considered a shovelware dumping ground. For every Legend of Zelda, there were a million instantly forgettable party collections. It’s sort of true, but just saying that would be doing the console a huge disservice. Yes, the Wii was home to an awful lot of tat, but by golly it didn’t half produce some classics.

One such game was Super Mario Galaxy 2. Due to the sheer impact it had on video games as a whole, Mario 64 to be frank will never be topped when it comes to 3D Mario games, Mario Galaxy 2 though has come the closest.

In a lot of ways, this game is a rarity. When it comes to the main series each follow up would always bring a new mechanic to the series, whether it be Yoshi (in Super Mario World) to Fludd (from Mario Sunshine), Galaxy 2 felt more like an update. A somewhat dirty word today where “update” can sometimes be misconstrued as “cheap cash grab”, but Nintendo doesn’t do that. Maybe “refinement” would be a better word.

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With new, more interesting, planets to explore, Galaxy 2 is a more interesting game than its predecessor. New power ups to use, the appearance of Yoshi and the ability to control Luigi on certain levels, the better Mario brother (yeah, I said it!). It’s jam packed with platforming goodness.

From the opening story section you’re thrust onto Starship Mario, a spaceship that looks like Mario’s head, it’s from this hub you can interact with other characters you’ve picked up on your adventure, who usually just spout useless tips that you would’ve figured out half an hour ago. Other than that it’s just a quick break between levels before going to the world map and travelling to whichever level you choose, most of which have multiple stars to collect. This on top of the medals, and at certain times, prankster comets will arrive at certain levels completely changing the rules of said stage.

Just thinking about how this game was designed makes my mind do somersaults. It’s not often I sit and stare at the screen and admire how much time, effort and skill went into creating each of these levels. The new powers ups are far from random, the levels were created around them.

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The bee suit, able to hover for a specific time creates some excellent platforming sections, where touching water automatically turns you back to regular Mario. The drill is able to burrow deep into each planet, one specific level having you figure out where to drill in order to reach the top of the tower. Then there’s Yoshi and all his special powers.

There’s the blue fruit which allows Yoshi to float up into the air, then there’s the red hot chilli, eating which causes the green dinosaur to run at pace, in turn allowing him to run up walls, or even on water as one of the more open worlds demonstrates. Indeed, whereas latter day Marios negate exploration in favour of a more point A to B design. Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a good mixture of both.

There are planets where it’s a fairly straightforward path to the finish, others where you’re fairly free to explore, which usually involve collecting pieces of a star. Both are equally fantastic. The way Mario moves around the planets can be disorientating at first, particularly the more circular planetoids where running around upside down is commonplace, but soon you’ll get used to the inertia, jumping around and flying between planets with ease.

There’s no such thing as the perfect game, but it’s hard to come up with any issues with Mario Galaxy 2, aside from maybe the main hub. Starship Mario is perhaps lacking its own identity and character the way Peach’s Castle in Mario 64 did. There is a reason it’s largely considered as the game of the generation for many, and despite being in SD it looks great, once again showing that Nintendo’s art style can easily surpass hardware limitations. The way Mario blasts off from each planet, with the camera perfectly positioned to view the level looks stunning.

Mario Galaxy 2 is Nintendo on the top of their game; graphics, gameplay and audio all coming together to form a near perfect whole. And as good as Mario 3D World is, Mario Galaxy 2 is nigh on perfection. Who knows how Nintendo will be able to top this. But if anybody can do it, Nintendo can.

Piles of Shame

As anyone who’s ever stood staring at a condom machine in a pub toilet knows, option paralysis is a real thing. It’s the same when you look at the pile of games you’ve accumulated and wonder what one to play. Do you go for the XL experience of a sprawling RPG, enjoy the featherlite touch that the bullet hell shooter requires, or go for that indie game that’s likely to burst forth with fresh ideas?

It’s an issue that some smart-arse always likes to refer to as a ‘first-world problem’, implying that to be so rich as to find yourself in the situation of not knowing what game to play suggests you have no real problems at all. These days, however, you don’t need lots of money to have lots of games. In recent years, games have regularly plummeted in price shortly after release and others, that not long ago would have been full price titles, are released as ‘indie games’ for around the £10 mark. Games have managed to defy inflation and stick to that £40-£50 price tag, making what was a prohibitive number in the 90s much more acceptable today. Without wanting to get into a huge discussion about pricing, I’ve always found games to offer good value for money and as time passes and the cost of living goes up, the price of a game buys you less and less in the real world. When I was 20 that £40 might have been two or three decent nights out. Now it might still be two or three nights out but that’s because I’m older, drink about a third of what I used to, go to cheaper places and usually leave before closing in disgust at the fact that things have changed without me being consulted.

My point, then, is that it’s not as hard as it used to be to find yourself with more games than you’ve realistically got time to play. Part of that is age and work and responsibility, all of which diminish your free time, or at least your perception of it. The solution would seem obvious – just buy a game you want to play when you want to play it, but we all know that’s ridiculous. It’s the kind of bullshit sense-making logic a non-gamer would come out with. We all know we have to buy the major release that got 10/10 on ‘day one’ so that we can join in the delivery status updates and walk up and down the hall ensuring we’re within audible range of the doorbell (perhaps even testing it a couple of times) before finally, the postman arrives. Usually he goes unnoticed, sometimes a figure of disdain, but on these days he’s a hero. You open the package and hold it in your hands, it looks momentarily unreal, that box art you first saw online six months ago and now here it is. You place it on top of the pile of games in the corner and make a coffee before browsing the internet for a few hours, perhaps reading about the game that’s just arrived, and decide you’ll play it later when you’re in the optimum frame of mind and have more time, despite having taken the day off work exclusively to play it. After procrastinating for the whole afternoon you finally put the game on but by now you’re a bit tired and not really in the mood. You give it a quick look, decide that it does seem pretty good and add it to the list of games that you must make an effort to get through at some point.

This is the point where the guilt starts to come in. Gamer’s guilt, I would guess, is an adults-only phenomenon. You’ve spent £40 of your grown-up adult money on what some part of you still thinks is a childish pursuit, a toy of sorts. Despite the 18-rated gore-fest of interactive sex and violence that awaits you, part of you knows it’s just another Mario game and that perhaps you should have outgrown all of this by now. This feeling is always fleeting and usually it’s easy to defend your choice of entertainment; gaming is for everyone these days and only the ignorant would think otherwise. What’s harder to defend is why you keep buying all these games and then never get round to playing them. Part of that, I believe, comes from a need to fulfil a debt to our younger selves. If you played games as a kid, as I suspect most of us did, then you can remember dreaming of being able to get the latest games and consoles whenever you wanted. Maybe you even planned it out – when I’m earning my own money I’ll buy this and that and have all the best stuff. Now you’re in that position and feel that you should try to realise that dream as all your others have been crushed. Owning the latest games and consoles isn’t that expensive compared to a lot of other things, it’s at least realistically obtainable if you’re suitably unrealistic about your priorities.

Here you are then, with your console/s of choice and an ever growing stack of games that you add to each month in a token gesture of hope: something to throw a bit of money at to make you feel like you’re doing all that life and work bullshit for a reason, to make it feel like you’re getting something out of it that’s just for you. Then it turns on you. It starts to stress you out. Actual, real, genuine stress. When are you going to find time to get good at Street Fighter? When will you get the chance to develop the reflexes needed to get a decent score in that shooter? When are you going to go back to that RPG and can you remember what the buttons do? You’ve only got so many years left to live and it suddenly becomes very apparent that you’re not going to be able to fit all of this stuff in. The thought takes you over as you sit there staring at the pile, not knowing what game to play first. You decide to leave it for now and make a coffee before looking at videos of that upcoming release on the internet.

None of this used to matter, not to me anyway. I hardly ever finished games as a kid and never really thought about it. I’d play them a lot but I was never very good and the lack of saves and checkpoints meant I normally just saw the first few levels hundreds of times before trading it in and doing the same again. I certainly didn’t feel any pressure to get my money’s worth in a time when games were hard to come by for me, so why do I now? It seems the wrong way round. Perhaps it’s the residual guilt of the child’s hobby again. Maybe getting your money’s worth makes it feel more grown up somehow. Like watching a film, you’re experiencing a form of entertainment and to not stay to the end makes it feel like a waste of time in a way that never used to matter when you were a kid and you could throw time up in the air and roll around in it on your bed, lighting the cigarettes you stole with huge wads of the stuff.

Have games just become work now? Are they a chore that must be ticked off? You get home from work, do the washing up, put the dinner on and get your stuff ready for the next day and, oh yeah, you’ve got that fucking princess to save. Better get to it. If games are work, they’re that mythical job you might enjoy, the one you might carry on doing even if you won the lottery. Not all of them though, some are very obviously tedious, dull repetitive jobs. Some are Ubisoft games. This feeling that I’m just completing chores when playing games has only occurred to me fairly recently and not in the way you might expect. I was playing Mario 3D World on the Wii U and as I progressed through the world map I found I was excited to see more levels pop up, two paths rather than one, more things to do. I realised that I wanted more of the game, I wanted it to last because I was enjoying playing it. It sounds ridiculous but so often in games I want to get things over with, there’s so much bullshit and padding and it’s often so obvious. Mario 3D World didn’t do this, it gave me a run and a jump button and loads and loads of incredible levels to throw myself into. So many times I’ve been sat there, thinking I was near the end of a game and then another huge area opens up and I get a sinking feeling as I realise I’ve still got loads more to get through. That cannot be right can it? It took 3D World to make me realise though, in that game I felt the opposite. As more of it opened up I felt relieved to know I still had more to go, more fun ahead of me. Those that know me will be sick of me banging on about this game but it really is the best game for over 20 years no matter what anyone says. More importantly, it made me realise why I’m here, it’s to have fun, not to worry about completion percentages and to tick things off from a list of chores.

What’s the solution then? What is the metaphorical haemorrhoid cream for these piles of shame? Well, it’s to stop worrying and just have fun first of all. I’ve started to just pick one game and stick at it until I’m satisfied that I’ve got what I want out of it. I’m not one for side quests and extras unless I really love a game but I’m currently trying to get all the coins in New Super Mario Bros U, having done everything there is to do in 3D World. I finished Fire Emblem recently and powered through Wind Waker HD, skipping all but the essential content as I’d already seen that on the GameCube. (Wind Waker is a game that’s full of tedious bullshit and padding, which becomes all the more apparent if you’ve played it before). I’ve still got a few on my pile to get through, but I’m enjoying it again. Part of that is down to getting rid of the games I wasn’t playing because I didn’t really like them. So often we buy stuff that we hear is good without really considering whether or not we’d like it ourselves. Now I just have a pile I genuinely like and I’m taking them on, one at a time. I’m almost enjoying it.

Retrospective – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I was a meager seven years of age when I was innocently and abruptly cast adrift on a turbulent alien ocean, bestraddling the deck of my modest vessel and bracing for inevitable calamity. As an almighty flash of fork lightning struck the mast, everything faded into white.

 

This inauspicious beginning was without doubt a pivotal moment in my young life. Virgin to the Zelda franchise, or any adventure game of tangible depth at this point, I found myself suddenly and completely invested in the fate of our marooned protagonist. In reality, the cinematics of these scenes were somewhat primitive, particularly by modern standards, but even with the classic Game Boy’s monochromatic green and blacks, it was no less than completely effective in kindling my imagination and budding sense of adventure.

Nintendo themselves have come over a bit misty-eyed with their treatment of The Legend of Zelda franchise lately. Most recently, the 3DS title A Link Between Worlds paid reverential homage to one of the series’ most enduring releases (A Link To The

 

Past) whilst simultaneously launching a fantastic new adventure in that same luxuriant world. However, I’m looking back to a time just after this Past, when the quirky after-hours experiment of some LTTP’s developers flourished into a uniquely left-field and conventionally defiant adventure in its own right.

 

Returning to this game some 20 years on, via its 1998 Game Boy Color re-release; Link’s Awakening DX, makes for a delightful exercise in nostalgia, all the more interesting with a further two decades’ worth of Zelda lore in mind and even an official timeline to contextualise its perpendicular position in the series’ chronology. Many of the elements that had been previously laid out in LTTP return, some, such as the graphics and audio, are tastefully stripped back in view of technical limitations, while others such as narrative, plot and its characters are tweaked and even enhanced.

The setting made for revolutionary fare. Wave goodbye to Hyrule Field, here we have the peculiar Koholint Island, speckled from coast to coast with enjoyably eccentric inhabitants. Gone too is the emblematic Tri Force and eponymous Princess Zelda, but in her place we meet small-town doppelganger Marin, who fortuitously discovers Link’s comatose form washed up on the beach. She bundles him home to her father, Tarin, who presents another highly familiar face, a dead ringer for a certain mustachioed hero. As the player progresses, they encounter yet more of these suspiciously reminiscent characters: the Goombas, Shy Guys, and Yoshis of the various Mario worlds, Sim City’s Mr Wright (disguised as letter enthusiast ‘Mr. Write’) and later even a nightmarish incarnation of Ganon. While their presence could be put down to a technical-limitations-versus-readily-available-sprites scenario, their inclusion in Link’s Awakening evokes that universal feeling of encountering a well-known place or person in a dream, their appearance familiar yet fundamentally altered, as with Alice’s fateful tumble down the rabbit-hole, to discover a familiar, but radically distorted reality.

 

And as our hero plumbs the catacombs of his own Wonderland, it soon becomes clear that this truly is a dream world, though not of his own creation. Koholint Island and everything in it exist within the hibernating psyche of an aquatic being known as the Wind Fish and, in order to escape, Link is going to have to wake it up. As you might have guessed this isn’t going be as straightforward as strolling up to the aforementioned giant egg where the slumbering deity resides, and rapping sharply on the shell. No, in true Zelda style, link must collect eight magical ‘Siren Instruments’ to play in symphony, each of these guarded by a ‘Nightmare’ creature at the end of their respective dungeons.

Beguiling details about the Wind Fish, the Island and the role Link has to play are delivered in tantalising snatches by the timely appearances of a mysterious owl. Whether this character bears any relation to The Ocarina of Time’s own feathered oracle, Kaepora Gaepora, is unclear – but it is a note for speculation to be sure.

 

As Link progresses, he loots an eventual arsenal of tools and weaponry, allowing the player to reach farther flung areas of the island, previously teased but just out of reach. Much of the usual gear including the Hookshot, bow, bombs and Pegasus boots return, in addition to some completely original innovations for the franchise, such as Roc’s feather; allowing Link to jump for the first time and thus opening up a range of gameplay possibilities.

 

Perhaps by virtue of its smaller world, Koholint Island is undoubtedly richer per square inch in quirky characters and off-the-beaten-path micro-games. One that kept me frustrated yet fixated for countless hours was the fishing game, another first for the series and a humble start for what would later become a Zelda mainstay. This simple game involved a cross-section view of a fishing pond, with Link casting his line out and reeling in his chosen quarry by furiously hammering the button. The ‘big lunker’ yielded the grand prize of a piece of heart.

 

The tongue-in-cheek tone of the game’s dialogue is another stellar attribute that sets it apart from its predecessors. A couple of kids poke fun at the game itself, almost breaking the fourth wall by telling Link, “When you want to save just push all the buttons at once.” Clarifying the strangeness of this advice with “Uh… What does that mean? Don’t ask me I’m just a kid!”. In Mabe Village, an enamoured pet-owner fondly declares “Oh my Bow-Wow is so proud of his fine fur coat” referring to the hairless metallic monstrosity that is (chain) chomping at the bit just outside. Animal village is a trove of such characters, watch out for a bear that is also a chef, a hippopotamus posing as an artist’s muse and a goat called Christine that claims to be the spitting image of Princess Peach in her correspondence with Mr Write.

 

As it was with LTTP, Link’s Awakening is a top-down affair for most of the game, with the notable exception of some side-scrolling underground segments. These areas opened up a whole new mechanic for the platform, not at all like the tribulations of the NES title The Adventure of Link, but more like a Mario/Zelda go-between, complete with squashable Goombas and Piranha plants. Though the Zora Slippers had featured before in LTTP, this side-scrolling perspective allowed the player to see, and so more thoroughly explore, the underwater world.

 

The difficulty level for this game is perfectly pitched. Slightly more forgiving than LTTP was; particularly in its Dark World areas, the puzzles and bosses of Link’s Awakening track a smoothly sloping curve, easing you in at the beginning but posing a real risk to Link’s survival in the latter stages, especially bothersome when trying to achieve a pure (no-deaths) completion.

 

Improvements from the original release to the DX version are worth mentioning. The newer edition enjoys a lavish full-colour world, bringing it closer in stylistic beauty to it’s SNES forerunner, something I once strove to achieve in the bygone days of the Super Game Boy console expansion. The best update however, comes in the form of an entirely fresh dungeon, replete with new enemies, colour-based conundrums and three new bosses. While not particularly difficult to complete, even at a relatively early stage of the game, it is a nice touch, adding fresh terrain to this classic title and the rewards, the powered-up Red or Blue Clothes, are very worthwhile.

 

It is difficult for me to find major fault with this game, but it has its fair share of minor gripes. Like the 4 or 5 words-per-page of slow scrolling, unskippable text, which might sound like a pernickety complaint but around the point of collecting your seventh or eighth compass, the incredibly long-winded description of how it essentially “shows you where chests and keys are” certainly begins to grate.

 

Perhaps the greatest thing about Link’s Awakening was how its narrative stepped boldly outside the box and flung itself bodily into a dream-world; a place existentially contingent on the sustained sleep of the very creature you are trying to wake. What will actually happen to Marin, Tarin and all of Koholint if I succeed? As a youth, this floated an unprecedented philosophical issue to me, challenging my ideas about the nature of thought, dream and reality. But equally, I had a bloody good romp slaying funny monsters and swinging a sword around the foliage to find bombs, arrows and untold wealth. Just as Super Mario Bros 2 was to Super Mario Bros 1 and later Majora’s Mask was to The Ocarina of Time, so too Link’s Awakening bucked the series’ trends and left the world we knew to invent something quietly groundbreaking and entirely wonderful.

Interview with Pillar Creator: Michael Hicks

Gamestyle: Hello Michael, thank you for joining us. Can you give us a little bit of history about yourself and how you got into game development?

Michael Hicks: Thanks for having me! I’ve been making games since I was a kid, I grew up with video games so it started off with me trying to mimic games I was playing… in 2007 I made my first full game, a 2D space shooter… and eventually worked my way up to a 3D space shooter in 2011 for Xbox 360. After that I started to look at games more seriously as a career… I made a few other games for Xbox 360 and then have been working on Pillar since August 2012.

So is Pillar somewhat of a dream game for you? Something you had in your mind from an early age? Basically what was the inspiration for Pillar?

Looking back now, I’d say it’s the best thing I’ve done… but it wasn’t my dream game or anything like that. Around 2012 I started to get frustrated at a lot of video games, essentially I feel most video games are about escapism and hiding from reality to some degree, there’s a place for that in the world but I wanted to see more expressive games that tried to give people things they could take back and relate to in real life.

So after making this experimental game called Sententia for Xbox 360, I started subscribing to this idea that video games need to move away from traditional narrative story, and focus on the gameplay mechanics and what they teach/say to the player. I started to believe that you could essentially tell a story through the gameplay mechanics…

So with all that bubbling in my mind, I started thinking about real life relationships I had with people… one in particular was really important to me but I could never describe in words how it felt to be around this person, we had this really weird chemistry… so I started thinking I could express it through the gameplay mechanics, in a sense showing how I saw the world and how she saw the world, and how the characters worked together. Then I saw this movie called Magnolia where it’s made up of a bunch of characters that make up a bigger story… I started combining that idea with the theories from psychology stuff like the Myers-Briggs and slowly the idea came together.

So really, a ton of different things inspired this game… but hopefully that gives you an idea of my head space at the time I started it!

Wow, that has covered a number of questions we had planned…

Magnolia is an excellent film by the way so that really has piqued our interest.

You mention wanting to find another way to tell a story. One thing I like about many Indie titles, is that they can take risks in how they tell a story, do you find you have that freedom, or is there pressure to find a new angle? Especially moving forward.

Yeah Magnolia is one of my favorite films, PTA is my favorite director! Feel free to ask any of those questions if you feel I could go into more depth on a certain area.

I love creative freedom, it’s the main reason I’m indie. I love making things because of the excitement of arriving at ideas you feel no one has thought of before. The excitement of doing something new is what motivates me to make stuff, so I don’t really feel a pressure to find a new angle or anything like that… it’s what drives me at this point really.

Great, so with Magnolia, it is wonderful to hear someone mention it as an influence, because it is a special film. But aside from the way the character’s own experiences all conspire to link to one another, was there any other influence that came from that? Or even from Paul Thomas Anderson’s style?

Yeah I think Paul Thomas Anderson had a huge influence on me creatively, especially with this game. He has a way of writing characters in an honest way that isn’t judgemental, he just presents things and lets you take it in. I feel in some of my earlier games when I would write dialogue, I would try to stress really hard that this person is evil or you know… put my own opinion into the writing. Paul doesn’t really do that in any of his movies, and that’s interesting because so many of his films are essentially character studies about people with realistic flaws.

So like I said, there isn’t any dialogue in Pillar… but I consider this game to be very similar to his movies; in a way Pillar is also a character study about people with realistic flaws… but I don’t feel like I make a judgement call on who is “right” or “wrong”, I just present the ideas and how they relate to the bigger picture I’m trying to convey.

That sounds right up our alley. However, before this turns into a chat purely about Mr Anderson, we’ll move on.

How much do you think the new landscape of gaming has allowed your vision to come together? This surely wasn’t possible just a few short years ago.

I couldn’t be doing this in the 90s… I’m from the middle of nowhere, so the only reason I’m here talking to you now is because of the internet and the rise of tools like XNA. I learned how to program from the XNA Community and various free resources online, and then the rise of digital distribution let these smaller teams take more creative risks. There’s no way a studio would pick up what I’m doing if I pitched it to them… and if they did I feel like they’d screw it up by asking me to make changes to cater to what they think gamers want right now and all of that jazz.

So yeah, I think we’re in a really exciting time for video games!

Which brings me nicely onto my next question and the differences between the big AAA titles and Indie developed games.

Games like Driveclub, Master Chief Collection, Assassin’s Creed, etc have all come out to a bad reception for obvious reasons, do you think that Indie titles are in a way a reminder that bigger isn’t always better? That sometimes it is the smaller innovations that have the biggest impact?

I think the primary difference between AAA and indie is how they prioritise money… and honestly this isn’t a black and white thing, we tend to stereotype this stuff. Somewhere I read an interview with the main director behind Goldeneye 007 and he talked about how they rarely had anyone check in on them or ask to make changes, they had a lot of creative control. There’s also A LOT of indies right now that operate like larger studios… they come in and analyze the market and try to cater to what’s selling right now.

So when I say I’m all about indies and I hate AAA… really what I’m saying is that I don’t like the pure business approach that people have to making things, I’ve never seen it produce anything meaningful… meaningful as in, causing a change in the video game industry or being something that changes people’s lives in someway. What I see with the business approach is that it’s a short term investment, they tend to make a lot of money right now but over the course of time are totally forgotten and replaced.

How many people are going to recommend Morrowind in 20 years? There will just be some new Elder Scrolls with better graphics that we’ll recommend. But how many people will remember Braid? You know what I mean? That’s the difference between the two approaches I think.

Wonderful response, there are some games that will always leave a lasting impression. Before you get to give us a reason as to why Pillar could be that sort of title, we have one more question.

So PS4… Is that it? Or can we expect other platforms at some point? You know you’ll get hounded for a Vita version right?

I’ve already been hounded =-P Seriously, go look at the comments on the blogs I’ve posted ha-ha. The game is going to launch on PS4, Xbox 360 and PC. It will be available on the Humble store for PC, but we’re also on Steam Greenlight right now so we could potentially see it on Steam too.

If the game does ok we’d love to see it on Vita so we’ll see what happens!

Good to know.

Thank you so much for joining us, before we let you leave we want to give you a chance to sell us Pillar! What should our readers expect? Why should they go and buy it?

If you agreed with any of my above answers then there’s a high chance you’ll enjoy Pillar… if you enjoy a good puzzler and experencing games that are attempting to try new things then this game is for you! If you want a game that respects your time and doesn’t give you any filler, then this game is TOTALLY for you. Ha-ha, thanks a lot for having me!

Pillar is released on PS4 on 17th February 2015 in the US and the day after in the EU

MTG Shandalar Retrospective

Abstract: Indulgent

That abstract doesn’t simply refer to the decadent headline, for which there will be no apologies, but the absurd popularity of Magic: The Gathering. The format-defining Trading Card Game, still the kingpin since creating the genre in 1993. Even as the game approaches its 22nd anniversary, the core experience of play-land-cast-spells-win endures and thrives and its continual relevance in both tabletop and the wider gaming industries is testament to its addictive qualities. But this glorious anthem isn’t without its dark depths, and while the physical game goes from strength to strength, its digital cousins have consistently failed to earn the same accolades.

While Battlegrounds and Tactics are noteworthy nonstarters, Magic Online (MTGO) and Duels of the Planewalkers (DotP) are perhaps the most widely-known varieties of digital Magic, and both have earned their detractors. DotP, structured as a gateway drug for the wider world, has been criticised for locking cards and decks into pre-constructed entities, denying the understated enjoyment of crafting your own decks of flavour and power, as well as regularly dropping features found in each previous instalment including alternative modes of play and multiplayer functionality. Whereas MTGO’s crimes are too numerous to note, but chief among them seems to be: Hearthstone exists, and does everything better.

 

 

MTG computer games suck. But it wasn’t always like this. This calamity is a fresh taste. There was a time before the Eldrazi. Welcome to Shandalar.

 

 

Magic: The Gathering, developed in 1997 by MicroProse and famously the last game Sid Meier worked on with the turbulent developer before forming Firaxis, also colloquially known as Shandalar after the game’s unique setting. Featuring cards from Alpha to The Dark sets and wrapping the card battling in an RPG shell, players are tasked with subduing the five wizards, each representing a segment of the ‘Color Pie’ and defeating the evil planeswalker Arzakon. So far, so trope.

 

To this end, players traverse the randomly generated plane, visiting towns and villages, purchasing new cards from shops as well as acquiring them by defeating wandering minions in a reminder that MTG first had an ante system. While the graphics are rudimentary, there is clarity far beyond the flashy hollowness of DotP, and the game’s aural elements follow similar, appreciated cues.

 

Shandalar isn’t pristine; the AI is deeply flawed, the encounter rate is intrusively high and, perhaps most galling of all, there was no multiplayer until the release of expansion Manalink. Heralded under a wounded MicroProse, the development was besieged with issues even after 12 months, and with no clear direction, Meier was brought in to stem the bleeding. While developer Arnold Hendrick was keen to emphasis the multiplayer elements, it was Meier’s lack of faith in multiplayer that resulted in the RPG structure, and it is precisely this that grants Shandalar its copious, undeniable charm.

 

 

Slowly optimising your deck and expanding your life total (from an alien starting block of 10) stoke your level-up flames without feeling as arbitrary as a traditional +1 stat boost across the board and, unlike the modern DotP titles, Shandalar adheres to the phase structure of the game with fanatic faithfulness – at least, as it was in ‘97. With this in mind, Shandalar is not necessarily recommended to newcomers looking to get a glimpse into how the game is played in 2015; lacking a solidly trustworthy representation of the stack, Moxes and duels were ten-a-penny and being a time when elder statespersons Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel still ruled the roost. The creatures may now be overshadowed by your Emrakuls and Griselbrands, but nothing beats Shandalar on providing that perverse joy of playing with Power.

 

 

Shandalar has aged well. From Reddit subforums to Retro Gamer, many have opined on the game’s lasting appeal with a fervour you would be hard-pressed to see applied to Wizards of the Coasts’ current digital line-up. Nor is this lack of enthusiasm exclusive to their computer games, with the IDW comics line cancelled, focus on lacklustre novellas being downsized and the upcoming Magic: The Gathering Board Game so far failing to distance itself from tactical board game contemporaries Mage Wars and Summoner Wars among others. The horizon does not look clear. But while we may lament the hands being drawn now, we can take comfort in the fact that MicroProse got it right the first time.

Magic: The Gathering takes place across a variety of planes, and if you’re a fresh faced vorthos, you might be wondering when Shandalar will be featured alongside your Zendikars and Innistrads. What you might be surprised to learn is that Shandalar is the setting for the annual Core Sets, being a handy catch-all without overwhelming a set intended for new and returning players in a whelming wheel of lore. With the Core Sets now being discontinued, 2015’s Magic Origins being the last, is it finally time for Shandalar to take centre stage with its own two-set block?

MTG Fate Reforged – A Father, Son Journey

You know the one, right? The one every parent dreads.

“Dad, I want to try a game like Magic the Gathering, can you teach me how please?”

That happened to me at the back end of 2014; after numerous visits to the local popular chain bookstore, I had hoped my eight year old son hadn’t noticed the display for Yu Gi Oh and Magic The Gathering, along with other CCG’s, but alas he had and so would begin a speedy ride into the pits of hell. Or so my wallet would think.

It started by asking a very helpful lady at the counter where we would be best off starting. I say helpful, as my initial thought was that it would be a lot more helpful if she had warned me off right there. But alas, she said that unless we were planning to enter tournaments and competitions, then we’d be best off with a duel pack, but they didn’t have any in stock, however they did have a discounted Khan’s of Takir Intro pack, thus selling me two of those.

What I liked about this helpful young lady was that she didn’t try and then sell us a load of Boosters, deck holders, folders, or anything else. She was quite clear that if it was just me and my son playing then we didn’t need too much and could even be a little bit relaxed about the rules.

This was great to hear, because when we sat down for the first time, it was a little bit difficult to understand to tell the truth. It is my biggest complaint with the Intro packs, in that they are not geared towards complete beginners, which would be where you want to aim these packs surely? It is the same in the Fate Reforged packs too and from what I can remember, also with past packs.

Luckily, there are resources out there, namely on Youtube where they start to explain the basic concepts of a round of Magic, there are also the digital versions of the game on PC, Mobile and Xbox (sadly not on the Vita), which help you understand things a little better.

What can also help is knowing someone who has experience of MTG and as we found, the community on the whole is more than willing to help new players and will happily answer any questions, be that on forums, Twitter, Facebook or even directly. So if you do decide to start out, do not be afraid of seeking out help.

Anyway, this is meant to be a bit more about the Fate Reforged release (the first in 2015, I believe?) So when we found out about the new set, we were eager to check it out and get into the new cards whilst they were new and not later down the line. We picked up a Clash pack and two Intro packs, which may seem a little excessive to an outsider, but I’ll explain why in a bit.

The two-player Clash Pack is essentially two Intro packs in one and contains pretty much the same stuff. You get two decks instead of one, strategy inserts and a rules card. You don’t get any Booster packs, but you do get a deck box for holding your decks in nicely. These are designed purely to allow you and your partner to open up and play with two decks that are well matched and should allow for some even competition. The other thing you get in these Clash packs are special premium cards that have alternative artwork on them. Whether these are worth any money, or hold any special value, we couldn’t tell you, but they do look lovely.

We got the Power & Profit pack and really enjoyed playing with these and as promised, it allowed us to have some really interesting matches with each other, knowing that neither was overpowered, nor had we had mismatching packs that may give one person an advantage over the other.

In fact, we were enjoying this pack alone so much, that we almost forgot about the Intro packs we also picked up. These were only opened very recently and it seems we got very lucky with the two packs as again, they were able to be used against each other and seemed quite balanced.

We have also opened up the Booster packs we have, but have set those aside for now, knowing they will be used very soon and again we will explain why, right after we mention the cards themselves.

One thing that has always stood out to me about the Magic cards, is the artwork. Unlike other games I have seen where the art on the cards is either uninspired or seemingly by a single artist, the Magic series has been a place for artists to really express themselves and the images that portray each card are actual works of art themselves.

Each card has the name of the artist at the bottom and there have been some very surprising guest artists that I’ve noticed, which is great to see and shows just how far reaching this series actually is.

Magic The Gathering is a game that can expand as much as you want it to. If you want to just have a few friendly home games, then it is set up for that without much outlay, maybe seeing you spend on a new set once your current one starts to feel a bit stale. Just like anything really.

But then there are events, tournaments, competitions and the like. These require you to have a much better understanding of not only your own deck, but also how it may work against various other deck types, which is where the Booster and Intro packs come into play as you then dive into the world of Deck Building…

…which I’ll cover in the next article, as my son and I hope to carry on this series with new entries every couple of weeks. Hopefully coming up, we’ll be going to a local Friday Night Magic to get a sense of what these nights are all about. But for now, we hope you enjoy this new foray into Table Top Gaming on Gamestyle.

 

My Sega – A Genesis Story.

My first ever console was a Master System, I received it for my 13th birthday in October 1992. By then, the Mega Drive was already out and I was behind the times, but it was the only option available to me. Technically, I did have a games machine before then. My mum had picked up some weird thing at a jumble sale for a couple of quid. It was a sort of Binatone rip-off that played a version of Pong for which you could change various settings using the switches on the machine. It had two controllers that were attached to the main unit by curly telephone wires and the joysticks were metal things that didn’t reset to the centre, they just flopped around and lay wherever you left them. I’d occasionally play this thing on the 10” black-and-white TV that was on the shelf above the fireplace in my mum and dad’s bedroom. This was the only other TV in the house besides the main one which was in use 24/7 for horse racing or antiques shows.

I was aware, even as a largely ignorant child, that this feudal-era gaming wasn’t really necessary; my family weren’t well-off but we weren’t as poor as the fake Binatone and black-and-white TV combination made it seem. It was 1992 after all. My school friends spoke of 16-bit gold hidden in far-off lands and I just ignored them, they were talking about exotic fruit that I could never taste. Never, that is, until I went round my friend’s house and played his Mega Drive. He brought me up to speed on the world of videogames and I soon learnt what was what. Around that time my niece got a Master System and I’d occasionally play that too. The fact that the games scrolled was enough to impress me and, after some research, I realised that it might be possible to get one for my birthday.

I should pause here and explain a little. I wasn’t completely ignorant of videogames up to this point. I live in a seaside town and as such had plenty of access to arcades and would often drop some 10ps into Pole Position or Hard Drivin’. For some reason I was always more drawn to the big sit-in cabinet driving games, perhaps because it was obvious what you had to do and you wouldn’t waste time and money figuring it out. In addition to this, my friend, the one with the Mega Drive, had owned a Master System in the 80s and his brother had an Amstrad. We’d occasionally play on both but I’d never really thought much about it.

Eventually the big day rolled around and I remember being annoyed to find my sister had set my Master System up for me while I was at school. She’d meant well but she didn’t understand the importance of unboxing, I was ahead of my time in that regard. By now, there was another colour TV in the house. It was an old second-hand thing with a dodgy RF input that you had to fiddle with to get a clear image. I was the only one that both knew how to do this and cared enough to bother. Finally, though, I was there, in the world of gaming, playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World on my own console. With a bit of birthday money I went up the road to the furniture shop (where else?) and bought Pro Wrestling. It was the only multiplayer game they had and I had friends over. This furniture shop, alongside a myriad of independent video rental places, would provide 99% of my games. I’d cobble together the cash to buy something and then trade it elsewhere in a two-for-one deal or add a bit of cash here and there. I wheeled and dealed my way through an extraordinary amount of Master System games, so much so that when talking about this with a friend recently it was hard to believe I only had the machine for a year. It felt like an entire generation, but such is the perception of time. Some of the classics I remember from my year with a Master System include Phantasy Star and Spellcaster, both attempts to ape my now SNES owning friend and his obsession with RPGs. I got Sonic 2 (I still think the MS version is the best) and managed to convince my mum to let me have it on release day instead of Christmas, distracted as she was by my sister giving birth the very same day (I suspect in an attempt to make up for the earlier unboxing incident). I got through, by which I mean played (rarely did I finish anything back then), more games than I can possibly remember and to this day if someone mentions a Master System game I’ll often recognise it and then realise I had it at some point.

After a year of gaming I’d become what we all are: obsessed. At first I’d been happy just to have something to play on but by summer I’d started making plans to acquire bigger and better technology – a Mega Drive. The SNES was like the uber-expensive Holy Grail and I knew it remained out of reach. Mega Drives, however, would sometimes appear amongst the classified ads in the local paper, sometimes with prices that might just be possible. I saved the ten pounds or so that I acquired during our relative-visiting summer holiday and a couple of months later my birthday was imminent. After much politicking I’d convinced my mum to let me combine my birthday and Christmas presents, resulting in enough cash to buy the £70 Mega Drive from two guys who needed the cash to pay the rent. “Happy Sega-ing,” they prophetically said as I left with their Japanese MD and Altered Beast. That’s right folks, Japanese. One of those ones that was switched to run in the UK, it could play everything and was the coolest looking console of all time. Black and purple with a blue reset button and giant ‘16-BIT’ lettering. It sat in the corner drinking, smoking and looking cool, laughing at the UK version if ever it saw one.

My Mega Drive era was perhaps my golden era. I devoured everything, enjoying the newfound power of being able to play the games others couldn’t (unless they had an easily obtainable converter that for some reason most people didn’t bother with. I think some had issues with certain games so they weren’t always reliable). I could pick up the Japanese games that the furniture shop sold much cheaper than the others, often meaning that I could afford to take risks. I think I got Hellfire for about £3 and would pick up other games for similar amounts without even knowing what they were. I’m sure at one time I ended up getting the Japanese version of something I already had and, upon realising, took my UK version back to the shop and sold it for more than I’d paid. Now I was ‘current gen’ everything opened up, so much more was readily available and I had friends to trade with too. I got through a lot and became someone who might even have the latest games early instead of being years behind. I was an excellent dealer and knew where to hunt, picking up Bare Knuckle 3 for £15 quite a while before the release of Streets of Rage 3. The furniture shop guys didn’t know what they had, due to the different name. I also got Virtua Racing an age before it ever came out here for about £12. I’m being a little self-indulgent here but it really was the age of the bargain. It was before gaming became mainstream and the kids knew way more than anyone else.

I got through a huge amount of games on the Mega Drive, maybe five times as much as for the Master System over a similar period of time. Some of my personal highlights include Landstalker, the isometric action-RPG from where I got the internet username I still use on some sites; Shinobi III, a game that showed the MD could do the same tricks as the SNES if you asked it nicely and James Pond 3 which I really thought a lot of at the time. I also got Super Street Fighter II and the 6 button pads which represented a real sense of arrival somehow. My friend had had SFII for his SNES for a long time by then and it was always the differentiating factor between the consoles. The MD CE version wasn’t very good but with Super everything was suddenly equal, or so it seemed. I think my fondest memories, though, are of all the Japanese games I had. The boxes and the shape of the cartridges evoked a romanticism for a place that still seemed far away and exotic in pre-internet times (just like this level of gaming had felt only a year or so earlier, out of reach and yet available).

I managed to get my hands on a SNES after another year or so and owning one was enough for me to finally accept, or openly admit, that it was the better console. The quality of the SNES games and the machine itself just shone through in a way that it never really did with the MD, which always felt like it was trying to compete like an underachieving but eager brother; it didn’t have the same confidence in itself. The anthropomorphising of consoles is a little ridiculous of course, but I got that sort of feeling. Others disagree as they’re entitled to do; the 16-bit consoles are perhaps the most evenly split as to which is the people’s favourite. I had another fantastic time with the SNES and games like Secret of Mana, but that’s another story. For now, it’s just important to know that my Sega years were temporarily behind me. New consoles, and the next-gen were on the horizon.

Sega’s intervening years weren’t particularly successful. I stayed away from the Mega CD, 32X and Saturn and instead had a brief fling with a 3DO before getting a PlayStation. As the turn of the millennium loomed though, so did Sega’s new machine. A sleek looking white thing that promised more power than ever before. Being what I think was the first console launch of my working life, and therefore relatively easily obtainable, I couldn’t resist. Me and my friend put down our deposits and waited for release day. I remember back in the 90s I was given a promotional VHS for the Mega CD which opened with the line “When you bought that Mega Drive you bought your ticket to ride”. Little did I know that the ticket I was about to buy would be for a bus that would break down shortly after departure and leave me waiting on the side of the road for one of the rival company’s buses to come along and pick me up. The Dreamcast’s time was short but it had some great games, my most fondly remembered being Power Stone. I don’t think I ever got into the Dreamcast enough to have the same kind of love for it as a lot of people do but I can understand it, it was hugely promising. My new found ability to earn money meant I soon moved onto the PS2, however, and I never really looked back.

Sega’s hardware history is one of the more romantic tales of always the bridesmaid, never the bride and I do love them for it, but I think time just moved on and left them behind. I can’t think of Sega without thinking of the 90s, or vice versa. Labyrinth Zone from Sonic is an early-90s Saturday morning. If you weren’t around at the time and want to know what it was like just stick that on. There is so much of myself invested in those years, which were shaped so much by those games. The mystique of imports and the weird things you could find on the Mega Drive still influences my tastes today. The first half of my childhood was Lego and Subbuteo but the second half, and my early teenage years, were massively shaped by the Master System and Mega Drive. A little piece of me will always be devoted to Sega and those great memories.

 

(Editor’s Note: John actually had a better title for this, but it wouldn’t fit…so we had to cut it. The original – Your Seedy Master’s Mega Behind Saturn My Sega and Crushed My Dreamcast! – A Genesis Story.)

How Bayonetta Ruined Modern Gaming (For Me)

That is the sound of me trying to talk to someone while playing a game, not because I’m some illiterate fool, despite what you may think of this article, but because I’m playing a game. By game, I of course mean a videogame, but what is a videogame? That’s a stupid question to pose on a videogame site you might think, but I feel the idea of what a game is has become increasingly unclear in recent years, by which I mean perhaps the last ten or so.

In the last couple of weeks there has been some furore over Nintendo’s plans regarding people using footage of their games on sites like Youtube. ‘Let’s Play’ videos and the like appear to be under threat and the free advertising they may or may not provide, depending on your point of view, will be lost, at least for Nintendo games. I don’t know, or care, enough about the details of this to comment but the Let’s Play videos themselves are an interesting phenomenon. For those who don’t know, they’re essentially game footage with someone, usually a ‘personality’ very much of the inverted commas type, talking to you about the game as they play. I would be terrible at this, as outlined by my example above of me attempting to speak when playing a game.

Of course, if I was playing something like GTA, or Skyrim, or Assassin’s Bloody Creed I could probably have a pretty in depth conversation with you about anything you like. If, on the other hand, I was playing a tricky level in a Mario game for example, I probably wouldn’t hear a word you were saying. Now we’re about to move into that dangerous territory of the opinion piece where people will start to think I’m talking so much shit that they can’t stand it anymore, and they might be right, but here goes. I feel that some games are videogames and some aren’t. Some are just interactive experiences that we’ve come to accept as videogames. So strap in and read on to find out why, or walk away in disgust now.

When you went to that crappy media studies course that everyone does at college, before you dropped out, you probably learnt a little something about cinematic codes and conventions and, with lesser but still some relevance to this, mise en scene. These are the unwritten rules of cinema that actually have been written down in hundreds of textbooks and form the basis for most films you see today. That’s fine, they work, they’re established for a reason. Where they struggle is when they’re applied to videogames, as they have been more and more over the past decade or so. As games became more realistic their creators became perhaps more pretentious in their ambitions and attempts to rival the spectacle of a summer blockbuster. An early example, and perhaps the flawed Citizen Kane of this misguided move, would be the early Metal Gear Solid games with all the cutscenes. Some people love those games but huge parts of them aren’t games at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you know. If that’s what you want, and like, that’s fine, but don’t try to tell me it’s videogaming.

From some point in the early to mid 00s it became the norm for games to have open ended structures and dollops of plot, to give you time to explore and do your own thing. Everything was a ‘sandbox’ for better or worse. More and more ‘power’ was given to the player when what this actually meant was that level design became much looser and the direction much more free from traditional gameplay constraints. We were sold on the idea that linearity was a bad thing. You could do anything you wanted in whatever order you felt like but the onus was now on you to decide. ‘Here’s what we made, we weren’t sure how to structure it so you figure it out.’

As the industry grew and we got more and more lavish productions you saw all these cinematic touches crop up again and again. The problem is, things like mise en scene are there for the passive viewer to enjoy; it’s set decoration and subtle touches to help tell a story. These codes and conventions are not designed for interactivity. Videogaming needs its own rules because it’s a different medium from cinema. Trying to force things from a passive arena into an interactive one doesn’t work. It might be nice, it might add some novelty, but it’s not gaming. It’s like going to the cinema and looking at some photos whilst listening to a radio play. The core element of why you’re there is missing.

Now, before you all start to think I’m some kind of NES-era obsessed philistine, let’s go back a few years. I had, and enjoyed, all the same big games everyone else did last gen. I played through Oblivion and Skyrim, I got GTA IV and V and even didn’t mind Assassin’s Creed 2 for a bit. But let’s move along to my attention grabbing clickbait headline, let’s talk about 2010’s Bayonetta and how it ruined all these modern games I’d been perfectly happy playing.

Something in me was looking for something different, some subconscious yearning of the sort that makes you throw money at new consoles and games in the hope of filling that hole that might otherwise spark a more conventionally recognisable mid-life crisis. I saw the underground hype and the Edge review for Bayonetta and thought I’d give it a go, put off by the silly name and the action brawler genre but bored enough to try it anyway and see what that 10/10 was all about. I was grabbed instantly. Despite not normally enjoying fighting games of this type I found myself glued to the screen and concentrating, actually concentrating! I don’t think I’d concentrated on what I was doing in a game since the 90s, I hadn’t had to. All the years of casually playing football games or holding a stick up as I glided over a 3D world suddenly faded into the background and I was paying attention again. Not even because I really had to, Bayonetta isn’t a hard game to just get through, but because I wanted to. The gameplay was satisfying and rewarding to the extent that I wanted to play it well and be good at it. I was no longer just grinding through a world and ticking things off a list of chores, I was playing for the sake of playing.

Shortly after I picked up Street Fighter IV and enjoyed that game’s demanding nature just as much. These were games like games are meant to be; games that grab you and pull you in and force you to pay attention to them. You can’t put these on in the background while having a drunken conversation, not if you want to play them properly anyway. I continued to seek out similar experiences and found Vanquish and Super Meat Boy, both games that demand your full attention and respect, either due to the constant action or the apparent difficulty. I could still appreciate the grandeur of the big AAA releases and still bought them in most cases but they always left me cold and would be put to one side and left unfinished, they had no urgency. My crossroads moment, the thing that made me realise that big budget mainstream gaming might not be for me, was probably when I picked up a PS3 to play The Last of Us. It was a great game with a great story, perhaps told in the best way that any game of that sort ever has, but I still found myself holding the stick up for most of it and moving a cursor that represented a gun over targets during the action sequences, essentially the parts that are meant to be the game. I preferred the story-telling side of it but that may as well not be interactive at all. All I was doing was moving from one area to the next to activate the cutscene and progress the story, turning a virtual page in the most laborious manner. I felt that the Walking Dead games did it better by being more obviously a visual novel.

I don’t mean to criticise modern games, they are genuinely great at what they do and in many ways we’ve never had it so good. I just feel that a lot of people miss the true point of games, the real reason people play them. Maybe that’s not why they play them anymore though. Maybe it was when games started to leave that core element behind that they appealed to the masses more. Maybe the very thing I like about gaming is the same thing that had put people off for so long.

Most of the games I seem to like are made in Japan. I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing or because Japanese developers are behind the times or what, but that seems to be the case and I mention it only to illustrate more clearly the sort of games I’m talking about. I don’t think Western developers are incapable of making ‘proper’ games but I do think that perhaps Hollywood casts a longer shadow in the West. It’s consumer taste as well of course and as gaming becomes a bigger and bigger concern, with bigger and bigger budgets it’s only natural that less risks are taken and the masses are catered to more and more. Some will look to the indie developers for innovation and the upholding of old values but they too are looking for profits first and the success of less interactive titles like Gone Home suggest that’s where the money is. I want to reiterate that I have nothing against this and enjoy those experiences too, I just hope there remains to be the sort of game I’ve tried to avoid calling ‘old-school’, but I suppose that’s what it is and perhaps what I am.

I’ve come up with a little test for games to see if I might enjoy them, if they might grab me. I call it the TV test and it consists of asking yourself how annoyed you’d be if someone walked in front of the TV while you were playing. For a lot of modern games it wouldn’t matter, the second or two that they took to walk past would have no impact. But imagine someone doing that when you were mid-jump on the last bit of a secret level in Mario that you’d been trying to do for ages, you’d flatten the bastard. It’s that violent rage that lets you know a game is doing something right. I’ve recently been trying to get all the gold cups on the 150CC races in Mario Kart 8. I’d placed first in the first three of a series and was about to complete the set when I was hit at the line and Koopa Troopa’s smiley face gently floated past to win. “You fucking green shelled mother fucking bastard!” I shouted, before pausing, taking a deep breath and realising, I’m enjoying this.

The Bunker Diaries: January

January is usually a time of reflection in the bunker. With the last of the mince pie capsules gone, all that’s left is to look over the games of the last year – the unplayed and the discarded – and give them a once-over.

And so this January started. Others in the bunker were keen for some distraction from the arctic conditions that prevent so much as a foraging expedition in this season, so naturally I opted for a game specialising in local multiplayer: Mario Kart 8.

It was everything I had expected. Designed to make the Wii U sing, it’s a beautiful game with crisp, colourful visuals and absolutely rock-solid animation. It has a wide range of courses to race through, plenty of characters to choose from, and offers full split-screen local multiplayer. And it plays…

…well, it plays like every other sodding Mario Kart since Double-Dash. With the exception of the addition of anti-gravity strips turning the game into an occasional low-rent version of F-Zero, you might as well just be playing a Mario Kart from two generations prior.

And yes, that means the game offers the same low-points you remember: the woefully unbalanced power-ups rendering single-player mind-numbingly tedious and necessitating immediate disabling for friendly play between moderately skilled opponents; the handling forcing players to use ridiculously tedious techniques in order to succeed – goodbye snaking, hello fire-hopping.

Only now all of that comes with even more bumf. Which of the ridiculous number of pointless characters do you want to play as today? One of the myriad indentikit Princesses, perhaps, or maybe one of the three different Marios to choose from – four if you purchase some DLC? Oh, and speaking of DLC, boy do Nintendo have some sweet Mercedes tie-in bullshit to feed you. Enjoy! And all of that’s before you get into the mind-numbingly tedious stream of uninteresting cosmetic parts you unlock for every minor achievement, thus undermining any sense of achievement you might get for managing to do anything genuinely challenging in the game.

A lazy rehash whose charming aesthetic belies its cynical core, even when you do have access to sufficient numbers of other survivors to have a game of the raucous local multiplayer, any enjoyment is undermined by the fact that you’d be just as well playing its 12-year old Gamecube predecessor. Or hell, just go the whole hog and play the best Mario Kart ever made – the venerable N64 release.

No, that wasn’t the most auspicious of starts to the month, and things got even worse when it turned out that our power generator doesn’t like being fed Wii U games as its fuel source. While waiting for repairs to be carried out options for gaming were limited, and so it was that for the very first time I thought to test out the gaming capabilities of my Android phone.

“Smartphone games?”, thought I, “Surely they’ll be rubbish!”. And so a few proved to be – notable disappointments including quirky twists on the stealth genre Hitman GO and République, whose fun premises were dulled by tedious levels in the former, and a complete lack of challenge in the latter. A look at some ports of classic PC titles got off to a bad start when it turned out that King of Dragon Pass is a bug-riddled mess, and though Knights of the Old Republic and Little Big Adventure balanced things out somewhat by successfully emulating their truly wonderful progenitors, the pleasure of experiencing them on the small screen was tempered by their hamstrung touchscreen controls.

But then the device turned out to also possess a game of superlative quality.

80 Days is a uniquely beautiful game, despite being almost entirely text-driven. Racing around the world in 80 days as Phileas Fogg’s trusted manservant Passepartout, gameplay is limited to choosing your route across the world while managing your finances and Mr Fogg’s wellbeing, supported by making the occasional choice within the variety of short-stories and conversations that you are pulled into along in your travels.

The former are neatly intertwined, with different routes costing different amounts and offering both different timeframes for travel and comfort levels, thus affecting your time (you are trying to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, after all) and your master’s health, meaning that the most economical route isn’t always viable. But then, a canny Passepartout plans ahead, and purchases items that will be of great value a few trips down the line, thus covering the costs of the trip without having to make time-consuming trips to the bank or take the cheapest routes around.

But neat as they are, those systems are secondary the meat of the experience: the short-stories that every new city thrusts upon you, and the choices you make within them. These choices come thick and fast, and frequently have huge consequences, if only within the confines of yet another fantastically written 5-minute vignette. You’ll ache to go back and change a decision you’ve made, knowing you have unintentionally brought about the death of a rebel fighting for the freedom of India from its British oppressors. But moments later you’ll thrill as you find yourself sitting upon the wing of a plane, chatting to its stout engineer about matters trivial.

Populated with wonderful characters and beautifully described places, it’s just one of the most fantastic interactive narratives I’ve had the pleasure to play through, transporting me to an evocative world brimming with life, and all the tragedies of life. I would be lying if I said it hadn’t brought a tear to my eye on occasion (a function which, incidentally, I had thought lost following an ill-advised blunder into a mutant rat horde’s radioactive lair last year. So that was good to discover).

At around 3 hours to get from start to finish it’s also a svelte game, albeit one with huge amounts of replay value – with every route and location offering different stories, often bleeding into and affecting other stories, not to mention all those decisions you’ve regretted on previous playthroughs, you’ll want to go back again and again.

80 Days is quite simply the greatest choose-your-own-adventure ever made. If you happen to scavenge a compatible smartphone on your next trip through the wastes, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries Preview

One of the many successful Kickstarter projects of 2014, Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries is a 2.5D platformer with a dark story based around fairy tales and featuring an axe-wielding Red Riding Hood as the central character. The Kickstarter campaign’s success was probably thanks as much to the gorgeous concept art as it was the promise of the game. Time has passed, the game itself has had more work and is now available on Steam Early Access, which is what this preview is based on. Launching in mid-March, there’s still time left to improve a great deal.

Surprisingly, the first game that comes to mind when starting to play is Dishonored. Opening in a city, the dilapidation, the suffering of the population, the dark overlord all seem reminiscent. A dystopian city isn’t the most interesting, but even with that first setting in mind, the sheer gorgeousness of the concept art is immediately obvious in the game. Characters are incredibly well-designed and that attention to detail spills into the ongoing narration Red offers throughout.

Gameplay is old fashioned, with both the negative and positive connotations that brings to mind. Perhaps the most obvious recent suggestion for how it plays are the Scarecrow sections of Arkham Asylum and that certainly isn’t a bad thing. It is a platform game though, and a quite pedantic one. Instadeath abounds.

It’s wrong to point out many flaws at this point though. It needs, and frankly deserves, a ridiculous level of polish that isn’t present. [Although walking into an area to be greeted with in-universe wooden signs saying “Boss Fight Under Construction” is a lovely touch]. Whilst it’s not to recommend in the current state, unless you want to support development, if the required level of polish is applied and the final game is a smooth and satisfying tour of the art and story the team have created this could still be something very special indeed.

Keep an eye on Gamestyle for the full review when the completed game is available!

The Birth of Gaming

The Conception – 1945-1994

“They huddled together, squealing with joy and surprise”

As people played with oscilloscopes and vectorised spaceships and asteroids, something very beautiful was being created. At the time there is no doubt what was going on was amazing, but in retrospect it’s frankly terrifying how much was achieved. We learned to understand roast chicken makes us healthy, that a square can be a ball, that progress is moving from left to right. It taught us abstraction, a generation of developers creating a language from scratch that gamers had to learn to interpret. A language that’s gone on to appear everywhere.

Beyond that, crucially, it offered the first hint that anything was possible. Developers pushed to create more, from the universe in Elite to the earliest flight simulators. Both might now seem primitive, but the hope they offered genuinely inspired a generation.

 

The Development – 1994-2013

“With time, things grew. There were setbacks, but none seem as serious as they did at the time…”

Thanks to the work of those forward-looking developers, the need for abstraction began to disappear. In this period, games were no longer something you needed to understand, but something an onlooker could accurately identify as a woman raiding tombs or as a local football team. Each new game, boosted further by each generational leap in console power, pushed closer to realism. From basic polygons to fully recognisable people and places, the leap has been truly inspiring.

Perhaps the focus on clever abstraction that defined the previous era dropped, but make no mistake: This is the era that told everyone games could be anything.

 

Hospitalisation – 2014

“And suddenly, pain. The rush to the hospital, the people keen to predict a death, and suddenly blood and shit flying everywhere”

Regardless of the quality of the games released last year, those won’t be what 2014 is remembered for. Controversy after controversy flew, the atmosphere around gaming darkening with each day. But anyone predicting a death of games couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Looking beyond the headlines, a build up of subtle changes took place. Infinity Ward defined the last generation with Call of Duty, but Titanfall saw the remnants of that studio making something that seemed a lot less real and a lot more like a videogame. Abstraction. When the representation of a funeral was seemingly proudly shown off in Call of Duty, the reaction was a mildly bemused shrug.”Of course you can represent that, but why?”

Indie games pushed from all angles. iOS has been encouraging people to think smaller for a while, but PS+, Humble Bundles and Kickstarter offered accessible ways to look at games doing things differently. Games existing purely on high-score tables came back in titles like Pix the Cat. Indie games found a new niche with games suited to streaming and YouTube, from the silly Goat Simulator to the super-difficult FPS Lovely Planet. And Elite came back, as impressive as ever.

Sure, there were problems. Developers trying to do the same as last generation but more so, Assassin’s Creed Unity being the obvious example, struggled. Monetisation in its various new forms (free-to-play, DLC, subscriptions, Kickstarter) all continue to prompt debate. But…

 

The Birth – 2015 and into the future

“Blinking in the light, barely able to support itself, but truly alive”

…As the dust settled on 2014, it was very clear that gaming wasn’t dying. The screaming heard was not a death but a birth. Gaming comes into the wider world and in a form from which it can learn and grow and now begins to fulfill that promise it offered from the very beginning.

Every gamer should be excited right now. Realism is no longer an impossible dream, making hugely impressive games possible, as Uncharted 4 and Halo 5 will no doubt prove. Further to that, Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens may all offer new ways to enjoy such worlds. If indie games are what you want, you’re going to be seriously spoiled for choice. From Drift Stage to Heat Signature and everything in between will offer new ideas and spins on old ones.

That isn’t the exciting bit though. The exciting bit is the culmination of both previous eras. Small developers will have the power and tools to create big, realistic games from their own perspective. Think of No Man’s Sky. Larger developers, increasingly freed from the graphical arms race, are free to once again to explore abstraction. Both will continue to be free to work in the areas they are already active in too.

In short, any developer will be able to create anything.

From the start, this is what gaming promised. It offered the hope of creators being able to create whatever they dreamed up and allow the gamer to go inside that creation. To interact, to experience, to play.

Here’s to the birth of gaming.

 

My First week of PS4 and Dust: An Elysian Tail

As a result I’ve deliberately been a latecomer to the new generation of consoles, which gave me a bit of time to see what my friends bought and what exclusives were coming for each platform. Eventually the inexorable lust for New Things crept in, and when Black Friday rolled around PS4s were shifting for £300 with goodies on top, which was enough incentive to take the plunge. Street Fighter V’s exclusivity, announced a couple of weeks later, removed any pangs of buyer’s remorse I might have had at the time.

Then I had a bright idea – I’ll tell the story of the difficulties of new console ownership! As it turns out, there weren’t any worth speaking about. Getting it up and running for the first time was trivial – just hook it up to your network, sign in to PSN, answer a couple of questions and then you’re away, and by “away” I mean “stuck in update purgatory”. My biggest problem was that I didn’t know where the eject button was.

I picked up a really solid lineup of games with the PS4 – Grand Theft Auto V, Wolfenstein: The Last Order, Diablo III and Driveclub as well as the free copy of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare that was given away as part of the Playstation 20th Anniversary celebration. Despite this, thanks to Playstation Plus, I’ve been playing none of those; instead, I fired up Dust: An Elysian Tail while waiting for other stuff to download and for reasons I cannot fathom, have been completely unable to put it down.

Dust: An Elysian Tail looks better than ever.
Dust: An Elysian Tail looks better than ever.

Dust looks and feels like a Sega Megadrive game that you remember fondly from 20 years ago, nostalgia bridging the gap between how you remember the 16-bit days and how they actually looked. Part platformer, part fighter, part Metroidvania, it really evokes an era where all you needed were some areas to explore and bad guys to kill. Also, a time when anthropomorphic animals were all the rage. Dust is an inconceivable bear/dog hybrid; Fidget, your flying companion is a flying cat/bat, and the main antagonist of this game is a dog with a beard. How does that even work? You are already covered in fur stop it

In motion it is beautiful, seeing you carve through swathes of enemies against fantastical backdrops. On the other hand, character portraits come straight out of a teenager’s shoddy collection of Goof Troop fanart. Combat is satisfying, allowing you free rein to knock enemy units about; later, additional moves are added to your repertoire to give you more freedom over your combos. This comes to a head towards the end of the game where the average enemy stops just being a bump in the road, and actually starts fighting back.

The script, on the other hand, isn’t much to write home about – Dust has amnesia! Also, he carries a talking sword that knows allllllll about his past. However, An Elysian Tail isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself – for instance, one sidequest has you rounding up escaped sheep. To do so, you must stand in front of one like any other item and press up to collect it, which despite the sheep’s size, results in it being placed in your inventory like any other item, much to Fidget’s bewilderment.

There are a few moments where dialogue is so far wide of the mark as to be unintentionally hilarious, such as an interaction between Dust and a young member of an underground-dwelling race, who is grieving the recent death of his father. Crucially it is completely impossible to take seriously, as the underground dweller bears an uncanny resemblance to a potato.

All joking aside, there was just something special about Dust that kept me hooked, over and above the fact that it is full of bunnies. It’s unapologetically a product that feels like it was conceived twenty years ago and has only just come to light. A journey starting in a grassy expanse, taking you through various geographically-unrelated areas before a final showdown with the big bad. There’s even a snow level.

As for the PS4 itself? The pad is nice (even the touchpad is pretty good), and being able to charge it whilst the PS4 is on standby is a godsend. Easy access to screenshots and streaming is probably not getting the attention it deserves; Remote Play using a Vita is fine for games that don’t become unplayable when input lag is introduced, so will be a great way to play Persona 5 in bed when it eventually comes out.

Basically, just buy a Megadrive yeah?

Retrospective: Mega Man X3

As the SNES was nearing the end of its life, it was time for one last adventure with X and crew before they departed to the next generation of consoles. Having already looked at the first two in the series, it felt only right to round out the SNES trilogy and see how it all ended. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a damp squib.

The first X is a classic and its lofty heights have really never been reached by any future instalments. It was a remixing of the Mega Man formula that won people over, but unfortunately as time went on, the X series fell into the same trap as the originals. Originality falling by the wayside in favour of more of the same, only not as good.

The only real original touch in Mega Man X3 being the completely unnecessary addition of even more collectables. Like previous entries in the series, there are armour upgrades, energy tanks and heart containers. On top of that you now have Robot Rides. These picks ups allow you to call forth a robot from specific platforms located in each level. There are four in total, each having their own different weapons and abilities. Coming with their own health bar (and will be needed to find other collectables) they are quite useful, though not required to complete the game, they just help make it easier. And you really need the game to get easier, because if you manage to complete it without getting a decent amount of the upgrades then hats off to you sir.

The plot is entirely insignificant, though this is really nothing new for the series. Mavericks once again must be defeated, as X and Zero must stop Dr Doppler from building a new body for Sigma. After an initial opening stage where you get to control both X and Zero, you’re thrust onto the ever familiar level select screen and get to choose which maverick you go after first.

By now you probably know the score. Beating bosses gets you their weapon, some bosses are weak to specific weapons, so there’s a bit of trial and error in discovering the “correct” path through the game.

The sad thing is, a lot of Mega Man X3 is instantly forgettable. Level design is weak and the music, normally something you can rely on with this series, is mostly bad. We’re not sure on the specifics, but it does feel like a lot of the original developers of the series may have left, it just feels different, like it was worked on by a completely different team than the original. Or maybe they just ran out of ideas, after all, when you’re naming boss characters Crush Crawfish and Volt Catfish you may be running into trouble.

The good news is it has done away with the terrible FX chip boss fights that plagued X2 and in turn dropped the framerate into single digits. Not that X3 is devoid of frame drops however, during certain sections where the action is thick and fast there are noticeable dips in the framerate.

Reading back it does seem like we’re being overly negative, but then that’s what happens when you set a very high bar with the initial game. X3 is not terrible by any means, there’s still a lot here to like, it’s just this is what happens when the series sets a very high bar. It certainly managed to keep is hooked enough to see it through to its, rather annoying conclusion.

The annoyance not coming from the boss fight itself (boss fights in the game are mostly enjoyable, tactical affairs), but rather what followed. Without spoiling, it turns out that the destruction of the final boss wasn’t the end, and you would have to accomplish something else before the credits rolled. Fail to do so and it means death. And death means you’ll have to defeat the final two bosses again. When this happened to us controllers almost went flying.

And so Mega Man X says farewell to the 16 bit era, not with a bang, but with a whimper. With its availability now on the Wii U as opposed to the high price the SNES original goes for, it’s far easier to pick up now more than ever. If you’re invested in the series this far then it’s probably worth picking up. But it’s a shame that this is how its run on Nintendo hardware would end.

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: The Almost Rans

2014 was a great year on the whole and despite a number of games grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons, there was still so much on offer that gave us reasons to be thankful. Making our decisions for Game of the Year was difficult, so we also give some shoutouts to the ones who almost made it.

Jonny

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (PC)

Describing Hearthstone as anything other than a revelation in online card games would be doing it a disservice. Hearthstone’s digital-only nature, rather than being a digital representation of an existing phsyical product, is key to this. This results in a streamlined experience, removing many of the esoteric mechanical barriers that usually turn people off trading card games during their first exposure to them.

Being based on one of the most successful franchises of all time might have had something to do with Hearthstone’s success, too – but regardless of its license, Hearthstone is a triumphant demonstration of how to digitise a physical concept from scratch, and is a beautifully-paced free to play experience to boot.

Twenty million players can’t be wrong.

[divider]

Adam

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

This is one of those games that was released at the start of the year and has been largely forgotten about. I have a strong fondness for the DKC games of old, but this is probably the best in the series.

As amazing as Super Mario 3D World is, it really does take a while before it ramps up the difficulty. Tropical Freeze is hard from the third level. And yet, as difficult as it gets, it never feels unfair. It looks simply stunning, each Kong character you control feels different and the music is just sublime. If this is Retro Studio’s swansong with the DKC series, then it’s a great one to go out on.

 

Surge Deluxe

I felt the need to put this here because, well, nobody has mentioned it. It’s a little block puzzler for the Vita where using the touch screen to match blocks of the same colour. That’s the basic setup, but for expert players it goes a lot deeper.

Surge Deluxe is probably the most fun I’ve had with a puzzle game in years, and still fire it up on occasion to try and beat my score. I was also the best in the world at this game from around a week or two. Just thought I’d mention that.

[divider]

Simon F

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment 

Playing the latest Sherlock Holmes game by developer Frogwares is almost like slipping into the actual smoking jacket, Holmes himself would often wear,  as this game is just perfect for those long winter evenings.

Playing this game is no more stressful than reading a book, and while there are some moral choices to make, during each one of the games nine cases, getting stuck is almost impossible and it is even possible to skip through all the puzzles you encounter if you are finding them too difficult.  In-fact I have been known to nod off a few times while playing this game, but that has usually been due to how much this game relaxes me, and not because I have become bored.

In a world where the majority of games require your brain and fingers to be working at full speed for long periods of time; I think there will always be room for titles like Sherlock Holmes and its rather lovely undemanding gameplay.

 


Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 

All I can say about this game is…….thank God this franchise is almost back to it best.  In yet another year where FIFA once again disappointed, playing this years PES, is like welcoming home a long lost son, you never thought you would see again.

While it isn’t quite up to the incredibly high standards of PES of old, this years titles has taken a huge step back up to the previous plateau of PES 3-5 , and is now quite easily the best football(Soccer for you Yanks) game that was released this year.

It is not perfect by any means, and keeping in tradition of all PES games, the presentation is still miles behind other sports titles but it gets so many things right,  and is just so much fun to play.  Hopefully Konomi will just make a few tweaks to next years game and not change anything to major, as if this happens, they could well end up releasing the greatests football game the world has ever seen.

[divider]

Bradley

Never Alone

I said this during my review, but when we said we wanted games to be more mature, this is exactly what we meant. Never Alone approaches a subject that doesn’t exactly stand out as a subject for a videogame in a very mature way.

It treats its audience with respect and assumes intelligence and a willing to learn. The gameplay itself is fairly average, but it is the the sum of all its parts make for one of the most amazing experiences of the year. If you haven’t played it yet, then I urge you to do so and start of 2015 in the best way possible.

 

Sunset Overdrive

It was a game that wasn’t on my list of must haves when it came to deciding on an XBOX One, but it was one that intrigued me from the very first moment I saw it. It was one of the games I picked up with the console and boy was it worth it.

It is a just fantastically fun game that is full of amazing moments time and time again. It makes fun of many videogame tropes and unashamedly revels in them too. Even quests that should be dull are joyful and exciting to play. This game alone makes my decision to get another next gen console worth it.

 

Hyrule Warriors

I am going to cheat and add a third game to my almost rans. Hyrule Warriors is just a fantastic game. Dynasty Warriors gameplay set in the world of Hyrule. Basically going round slaughtering enemies for fun. A joyous experience and one that I cannot get off of once I get going.

[divider]

Steve

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein is unashamed in it’s straightforwardness. It simply does not faff around. There are no real bells and whistles, no multiplayer mode for people to ignore after a week, no time warping mechanic or super powers, just a man versus more Nazis than there are bullets in the world using lots of guns that are noisy and very satisfying to dual wield. Any game that allows you to shoot two sniper rifles at once for no other reason than ‘just because’ is alright by me.

It’s just incredibly well done in every single respect. The lack of multiplayer allowed Machine Games to make a game that feels solid, rewarding, and worth every single second you play it. It has some excellent voice acting and even decent plotting and dialogue.

One of my favourite aspects of the whole game is that all the German characters speak in German, aside from the times when they’re actually supposed to be speaking English. All the newspapers are in German, all the posters, all the propaganda literature, letters, even the songs by a certain Liverpool beat combo of the 60s have been redone in German in keeping with the game’s setting. It might sound like a strange thing to focus on, but if you compare it to Singularity it shows how poor just putting on a cod accent and making only aesthetic changes to English to emulate another language in print actually is. It wrenches you out of the world. It would have been a shame if they had gone down the route of printing everything in english but in a germanic gothic font and having the characters voiced by someone who sounds like Herr Flick from ‘allo ‘allo.

It’s one of the best FPS’s I’ve played in recent years, never mind 2014. Whether we’ll get a sequel or not, I don’t know. Maybe it should be left on that note, because it’s a very, very high one.

[divider]

Andrew

Shadow of Mordor

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na MORDORRR.

Before buying it, I’d assumed that like previous games set in Middle Earth, Shadow of Mordor of was published by EA. That isn’t the case, it’s published by Warner Bros, much like the Arkham Batman games. So when someone says “it’s rather like Batman” what they mean is that it’s functionally identical, the combat, even the controls. If you like to read the word “Wraith” in place of the word “Bat”, you aren’t keen on gliding but do like grassy hills more than cityscapes then this is the game for you. The new system with the captains having internal battles to make it worth picking out targets, when combined with a slightly more elegant stealth system makes the game endlessly playable. Whilst this is “just” a Batman game, it is a very good one.

Endless Legend

Where Shadow of Mordor re-skinned a great game and made it arguably better, this year also saw Civilization: Beyond Earth released. Essentially a more complicated version of Civilization V (no real extra depth, just complication) it was an incredibly disappointing release. Endless Legend, on the other hand, takes Civilization as a starting point and loads every single part of it with interesting new twists, oceans of lore, clever gameplay mechanics, elegant combat. It even looks gorgeous, elegant and tidy with fantastic art direction. It’s roughly as good as a 4X (“eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”…PC gaming is a bit like that, sometimes) can be and comes massively recommended. Due to Civilization appearing it didn’t get anywhere near enough attention, so this is thoroughly deserved as a nomination.

I am, however, awful at it.

 

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Gareth and Simon T

Bayonetta 2

(Gareth)

The fact this game exists is both brilliant and amazing. A sequel to a niche game that while considered to be one of the best action games of a generation didn’t rack up the sales it so richly deserved. Yet, Nintendo decided to throw a bunch of money at Platinum to make a sequel for its struggling platform, because….well….who knows?! It certainly wasn’t to make money as once again, Bayonetta 2 didn’t set the charts alight.

Maybe Nintendo are just big Platinum fans, because who isn’t? They are the masters of the fast paced, character action genre and Bayonetta 2 further cements that fact.

How many other games has you fighting a boss fight every five minutes? It’s almost a never ending stream of spectacle, from the opening fights on top of a jet to flying around and fighting a dragon. All are visually brilliant, and show that despite its lack of power, the Wii U can stand proudly next to the PS4 and Xbox One.

So thank you Nintendo for making this game a reality. Now how about Bayonetta 3?

 

[divider]

 Dragon Age: Inquisition

(Simon T)

This year has been a busy year for me; I haven’t had as much game time as I had hoped. The only game this year that I’ve played and that really stood out was Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I don’t think I have put that much time in to a video game since Skyrim was released, when I finally finished the main story in Dragon Age: Inquisition I think my total game time was near 200hrs, and even then I still had a few Dragons to kill.

To be honest I did spend an hour customizing my character before even starting to play the game. I made a Dwarf Warrior that looked like me; my second character is a Dwarf Mage.

Normally when I play a game for that long I get sick and rush to finish it off. I didn’t feel that way with Dragon Age, as soon as I had finished my first play I was already planning on starting my second run.

And that’s the beauty of a game as big and detailed as Dragon Age: Inquisition. There are that many different story options to make you really need to plan a couple of playthroughs to explore all your options.

Even though Inquisition takes place after Dragon Age 2 and is technically a spin off it’s nice to see a few familiar faces from Dragon Age 2 make an appearance, there are a few new features that haven’t been present in the previous games which made the whole experience great, such as weapon and armour crafting, I’d love to know how long I spent looking for various metals and hunting various animals in order to craft various things, and not to forget lots of Dragons to kill.

Aside for a few little glitches in some of the quests with the NPC’s falling through floors the game itself on whole was great; the combat in the Dragon Age games keeps getting better and smoother and the combat in Inquisition is amazing, with my warrior character I like to get in thick of it and cause holy hell with a hefty 2 handed weapon.

I love this game, and even after finishing it once I still love it.

 

MovieStyle: Need for Speed

Well, I suppose if you’re going to adapt a racing game for the big screen then Need for Speed is probably the best one to do it with. After all, the series has been trying to weave in actual stories into their games for years now. Obviously, the movie disregards them and has come up with its own tale. NFS purists though needn’t worry though, it’s just as ridiculous as in the games.

It’s the old story of a person being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Well, to be honest he sort of half committed it as he was a part of the race that saw his good buddy dead. However, it was Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) who caused the deadly collision and escaped while Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) took the fall. Skip to two years later and it’s a trip across the country as Tobey is paroled and left to get vengeance, with cops and other races hot on his tail.

If there’s one good thing that can be said about Need for Speed it’s that it feels pure. There’s no fancy CGI trickery (from what I can tell), these are real cars, real stunts and real crashes, much to the dismay of the pedestrians.

For those of you familiar with the first few Fast and the Furious movies, they were actually about street racing as opposed to the utterly mental, heist movies with cars that they became. Now, even though there were street races, the characters for the most part seemed to care about causing accidents with innocent pedestrians or other vehicles. They would cordon off the race track with traffic cones and the like, which doesn’t seem to be an issue for Need for Speed. Nope, Arron Paul and company don’t seem to care about anyone else and cause wanton damage and destruction all for that ultimate thrill. And that made me hate pretty much all the characters in this movie. Even Vin Diesel, who for all the intents and purposes was the villain in the first Fast movie, was a more likeable character than the lead protagonist in this movie. That’s a bit of a problem.

During one moment he intentionally instigates a car chase with a police officer just to show his mechanic buddy how his car veers to one side. Couldn’t you have just told the character this with words?

Aside from Aaron Paul, fresh from Breaking Bad success, the other most well-known actor is easily Michael Keaton. The creator of the underground street race that both our hero and villain are taking part in, he just exists to spout bits of exposition over the radio. If you add up all the screen time he has then it’s clear that it was probably shot over one weekend, all in the same set. Michael Keaton never leaving his radio studio for the entirety of the film, it does make you wonder how he was able to organise everything. Especially as it’s a little flimsy with the rules on how people are chosen for the race. That said, Keaton is hamming it up quite well in scenes. Not quite scene chewing quality, but it’s clear he’s making the most of a subpar script.

Need for Speed seems to be trying to fill that street racing gap that was left when Fast and the Furious moved on to bigger and better things, with the movie at times feeling like an advertisement for certain car manufacturers. Probably none more than the Ford Mustang which seems to be just as big a character as any of the human leads. It’s a good ambition, and sets it itself apart from the Fast series, but could’ve and should’ve been more exciting than this.

As I’ve seen a lot of these video game adaptations, they tend to fall into one of two categories. The so bad they’re kind of entertaining category, or the so bad they’re just really boring. Need for Speed is very much the latter. Some nice, real life stunts and a couple of spirited performances don’t help make this anymore watchable.

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Jonny

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

A mixture of interactive story and Scooby-Doo simulator, Trigger Happy Havoc follows the tale of fifteen students at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a private school for the students who are the zenith of their field. All is not as it seems, however – upon entering the academy, it is found that all exits from the academy are sealed, and the principal has been replaced with a stuffed bear. As if that wasn’t enough, one moment the students are joining the academy for the first time, the next they are being pitted against their fellow students in a Battle Royale-style death game.

Isolated from the outside world, the students begin to hear disturbing news about themselves, their past and what awaits past the main gate, and are offered the chance to see the truth. The price of freedom is simple – take the life of a fellow student, and don’t get found out. If caught, they are sentenced to a grim and grisly death; if not, they’ll walk free… but the others won’t be quite so lucky.

And so, it falls to you to solve the mystery of Hope’s Peak, traversing its claustrophobic and unpleasant hallways. Each day is a barrage of paranoia and fear, every interaction partly a glimpse into fraying minds trying to stay sane, and partly probing for answers, information… anything that might get you out of there. Alive, at least – because getting the wrong idea and making the wrong accusation will result in a premature trip to the glue factory.

Danganronpa’s atmosphere is what makes it really shine. Hope’s Peak feels dismal and unwelcoming; every window has an almost comedically-thick steel plate bolted over it, and exploration purports ill omens around every corner – making it from one end of the school to the other without incident offers a sense of genuine relief. At various times the students are given free time to relax and interact with one another – at first, in an attempt to humanise the bizarre situation they find themselves in, and later, post-murder, coming to terms with their own mortality.

I’ve made my own life difficult by choosing this as my game of the year. Danganronpa is one long murder mystery packed with twists and turns, which means that if I tell you all about how good specific moments in the game are… it’ll ruin them. So forgive my brevity and take my word for it. It’s lovely – but it’s a secret.

 

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Andrew

Driveclub

To clarify: I didn’t buy Driveclub before it was (almost) finished, a good while after release and even then it was second-hand. That Sony have so far made no money from me directly for Driveclub feels the correct response to their ineptitude with the game upon release. The launch was an utter mess, and the useless communications they offered did as much damage as the useless server code. There are so many things Sony need to learn from this, but they probably won’t. It was, frankly, a disgrace. Combined with Halo: Master Chief Collection and Assassin’s Creed Unity, 2014 was the year publishers realised gamers will buy stuff regardless. A real low point in the history of the medium.

With all that in mind: I bloody love Driveclub.

Its preposterously pretty, of course. The effect when the rain pours in Scotland is convincing enough for us to have not worried if they’d taken their independence. The handling manages to convey the feeling of these being real, and different, cars without becoming at all bogged down in simulation. Whilst the AI is one step down from firing green shells, the time trials are all-but perfect. Well designed tracks combined with the handling give the feeling you can and the feeling that you can truly get better.

Thinking back I don’t think a racing game has been my pick of the year since Sega Rally appeared on the Saturn. Like that game, and despite what the promotion for Driveclub said, this isn’t an epic. It’s small, focused and frankly old fashioned. Shaving off microseconds is enough to make me ignore the racing entirely, clubs becoming a reason for doing specific time trials and for that alone, it’s my game of the year. Graphically this is the start of this generation really showing us what it can do and the combination makes Driveclub truly magnificent.

(When the servers work.)

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Bradley

Velocity 2X

Every now and again, a title appears that will just live with you forever and in 2014 there were a few. Binding Of Isaac, Spelunky on Vita, Rogue Legacy, TxK, so many great titles. Yet after thinking about it for a little bit, there was one that just stood head and shoulders above the rest.

VELOCITY 2X

I was fortunate to get hold of the game a whole month before its official release so we could review it and it was my main game for that month and beyond, way beyond playing enough for the review and easily beyond release.

This was a game that stopped me playing other games I was meant to review, because it seemed flawless to me, everything about it was joyful, even points where I had to restart because I screwed up.

I will keep on calling this a ‘gamers game’ because that is what it feels like to me, a throwback to the old days where games were difficult, but fun, where part of the enjoyment was overcoming some difficult situations and being rewarded with something harder or more challenging, looking forward to meeting those next challenges.

What is even better is that so many would have got this game for ‘free’ as part of PS+ hopefully exposing it to a much larger audience than it would otherwise have been. There is DLC which adds more levels and I urge you to show support to Futurlab and buy those right now.

It is my game of the year for 2014, but I sure as hell will be playing it deep into 2015 too.

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Simon F

Mario Kart 8

For me my game of the year was a fairly easy choice, for starters, unlike a lot of full price titles, Mario Kart 8 actually worked from day one.  There were no need for any patches, online multiplayer worked without a hitch, and more importantly the game itself is absolutely amazing.

For me, it is the best Mario Kart there has ever been, yeah the A.I still cheats, and it is still as frustrating as hell to get hit by a blue shell just before the finish line, but quite simply this game could put a smile on the face of even the most wizened gamer.

The whole thing is just a joy to play, it has been polished so much the box almost sparkles when you open it to take the disc out(though that is something you only do a few times as the disc will be firmly stuck in your Wii U for quite a while); and even though the Wii U is supposedly the lesser console compared to the PS4 and Xbox One,  graphically, this craps all over every game that has been released on those consoles all year.

This game truly does have that magic that only Nintendo seem able to bring to gaming, and with the the downloadable content that is already available and with more to come next year.  Mario Kart 8 will be a game I will happily dip into time and time again, if only to cheer me up, with its explosion of bright colours and honed to perfection mechanics.

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Steve

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls

This year has been pretty good for games. After the deluge of sheer quality in 2012 and 2013, 2014 was always going to be a bit underwhelming, especially with the slew of HD-Makes *punches self in face* and re-releases but we’ve still seen some ace examples of gaming across all formats.

In fact we’ve seen so much I haven’t got round to playing a lot of it properly. I’ve only just started Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Alien Isolation is on the way after dropping below the £25 sweet spot. Also on the way is Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which technically could be a 2014 GOTY seeing as Nintendo have fannied with the release dates. I’ve put barely any time into Hyrule Warriors, or DriveClub or Master Chief Collection (but part of the reason with those two is because they were busted to shit for ages. Some would say MCC still is). But this isn’t about them. It’s about an expansion pack. An expansion pack I can get away with calling my 2014 Game of the Year because it’s also part of a whole game released on the new generation.

“Boo!” some might cry, “Boo and hiss! You can’t have an expansion pack as your game of the year!” I can and I bally well will, so sod you.

I mean, it’s true the glut of changes Blizzard made to the fundamental loot system, talents and the removal of the real money auction house on the PC came without needing Reaper of Souls. It’s also true that some of those changes were in the Xbox 360 and Ps3 versions of standard Diablo III, but with Diablo III – Reaper of Souls: Ultimate Evil Edition (to give it it’s full title) it’s the whole package of changes, tweaks, additions and alterations that make it great.

The most important change was the loot system overhaul. Diablo was always all about the loot. Well, loot and really awful dialogue with knuckle chewing delivery, but it’s the fundamental reason as to why we play Diablo. Hit evil in the face, get the loot, hit more evil in the face, get more loot, rinse and repeat. The promise of shiny, glorious, stat filled gear is the driving force, and in the vanilla game there was no desire to grind for loot, in no small part because of the Auction House. The combat was excellent, but it was only half of the deal. It had to be satisfying to kill hellspawn but there also had to be the possibility of reward other than the satisfaction of punching their bones out of their body.

Loot 2.0 (as the change was called) was supposed to decrease the occurrence of loot but increase its usefulness. To be honest, it still seems like the game vomits loot at a rate of knots, but it’s all infinitely more desirable than before. They also overhauled the crafting, because that was practically pointless AND a pain in the arse.

So technically all this was pre-Reaper of Souls on PC, but it’s all part and parcel of the expansion in my eyes. Diablo III was in desperate need of a shot in the arm, and Blizzard gave it an overdose. It added more incentive to keep punching the demon hordes in the crotch and taking their shinies. No longer was it required to grind through the story missions for loot, instead giving us Adventure Mode to grind individual bounties and Nephalem Rifts to grind repeatedly for no reason other than the promise of upgraded gear. If you did those on higher difficulties it’s not unheard of to have to run back to sell up to make room for it all. There was little else in gaming this year that set the saliva glands off than a screen full of orange and green beams reaching up to the top of the screen. Even when you checked it all and found barely incremental updates, it didn’t matter because you just went back for more, again and again.

There was an extra act, with fantastic new areas with typically fantastic art direction! More hokum story and awful dialogue! A new class! The Crusader, which is an obscene amount of fun. Wanging your shield around like Captain America then leaping up to the sky in a streak of lightning and coming crashing back down to turn the enemies into demon paste is a powertrip, even by Diablo’s already ludicrous standards.

The new merchant allowed me to indulge in my penchant of choosing style over function, because I need to look as fabulous/bad ass as possible when I’m punching demons in the knackers and stealing their treasure. It also helped that she could alter properties of my amazing looking armour to scratch that min/max itch. But mainly it was about looking great.

The changes and additions made a game that’s commanded more of my time this year than any other game, so much so that between me and my better half the UI has bruised the panel of my TV.

Reaper of Souls would have been enough for GOTY on PC, but the console versions controls and same screen co-op (first implemented in the previous gen release) make it difficult to go back to the PC version. I find it too clunky to manage the inventory, to hit the thing I’m trying to hit, to generally have all I need from this glorious game in my hands, sat on my comfy settee in front of the TV instead of sat on my own, upstairs in front of a smaller monitor. It’s fantastic, and all from a game that originally disappointed me massively.

So yeah, it’s a cheat to choose. Yeah, there have been games that probably deserve the accolade of Game of the Year more, if only by dint of actually being a whole game rather than expansion. But none of them are as satisfying or compulsive as the game Reaper of Souls made Diablo III into.

Gamestyle Game of the Year 2014: Adam

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition has further cemented Bioware as my favourite developer. I’ll be honest, I even quite enjoyed the much maligned Dragon Age 2, it wasn’t great, but it was okay if a little small in scope. Inquisition though is the complete opposite. As I said in my review, the small city where the majority of the action took place in Dragon Age 2 feels like an insignificant anthill compared to the scale of the world in Inquisition. A few bugs here and there (this is the PS4 version by the way) are forgiven as they’re not game breaking and compared to what else has arrived this year (DriveClub and Master Chief Collection I’m looking at you) they seem incredibly insignificant.

With so much content, after the first few hours my quest log was bursting at the seams, with each new land discovered even more adventure awaited me. And best of all, these are quests I wanted to complete. Not just out of some horrible need to hundred percent everything in the game, I wanted to help the people and play out my role as the leader of the Inquisition. People would often shout at me “get out of the Hinterlands!” But why? Yes, it’s essentially the starting area and the world outside is vast, but it was incredibly enjoyable just wandering around and helping out the people. You, as the Inquisition leader, felt exactly like that, a leader. Your comrades looked up to you and everything felt like it mattered, no matter how insignificant it was in the long run.

Combat was satisfying, characters were interesting and the main quest felt satisfying right through to the conclusion. It may not be the crown jewel in Bioware’s crown (that still belongs to Mass Effect 2), but this shows that they haven’t lost that magic.

It’s exciting that this is Biowares first foray onto the current gen platforms, because if this is the beginning then just imagine what they will be to accomplish later in this generations console lifespan.  Since it came out I’ve barely played anything else. It’s the ultimate time sink, and when I’m finally done with the core content, it’ll likely be DLC and expansion time. I think I need help.

We will be bringing you a new Game of the Year choice each day and then finishing off with a podcast discussion to pick an overall top three.

UPDATE #2 – Sony leave Pockets Out of Pocket!

It recently came to Gamestyle’s attention that once again a PSN user has been hacked and had stuff purchased against their account. 

UPDATE #2

Pockets has had some further correspondense from Sony about his issue…We’ll just let this email speak for itself.

wow

UPDATE #1

Pockets had a phone conversation with Sony’s Customer Service. Just listen to it:

We reached out to the user known as ‘Pockets’ and this is the reply we got!

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On the 5th December I received an email thanking me for my PSN purchase of Shadow of Mordor for the PS3, a console I do not own. I immediately called the Sony customer service line and waited for around 30 minutes to talk to someone who was reasonably helpful and passed the matter on for investigation.

A week later I had heard nothing so called again and was ‘reassured’ that they were very busy but that the matter would be resolved soon. So I waited. This alone seems like a very poor response to fraud to me, having previously worked in the field for a credit card company, but so be it.

Today I received an email outlining the findings of Sony’s investigation which pointed out that the purchase had indeed occurred on a console other than my own but that they cannot refund me as they only do that if the software is faulty. So as long as the game the hacker bought with my money works it’s all okay apparently.

Here is the relevant section in the email they sent –

In relation to the transactions you recently flagged as unauthorised, our investigation concluded that the serial number of the console on which these transactions were made does not match the serial number of the console you provided to us on your original call. Regrettably, as stated in the PlayStation Network Terms of Service, we are unable to offer a refund for purchases made on PlayStation Store unless the content is found to be defective. We have taken the appropriate action against the console which made the purchase but unfortunately we cannot share the details of this console with you for security purposes.

So they have effectively agreed that fraud took place (in the same week that thousands of Sony email addresses and passwords were leaked no less) and yet they refuse to return the money that was stolen from me. No doubt they’ll argue the meaning; I think there might be an implication that I may have owned the other console somewhere there, they say the serial numbers are different, not that the owner is and I suspect this is what they would argue, but how am I possibly meant to prove anything in that regard? I was told on my original call that they would check IP addresses too so I have to assume they did this and would have also found that they were different. I can’t even think of words to describe this, hopefully it’s obvious to you how wrong this is although my experience with Sony makes me fear that it isn’t to them.

I’m sure Sony are fully aware of my, and no doubt hundreds if not thousands of other customers powerless position we are in when something like this happens. You’re beholden to their customer service centre which sometimes has wait times of over an hour before you can speak to someone. Only those with high profile Twitter accounts or some other online presence have a hope of getting them to listen. Fortunately I was asked to tell my story here. I have written to the head of SCEE customer service and await a reply.

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Gamestyle will be sure to follow this to the end so keep an eye on the site for updates as we get them.  We do ask you to share this on Facebook, twitter, anywhere to make sure this gets the exposure it needs. Because, for all that Sony get right with the Playstation, there allegedly always seems to be this sort of thing in the shadows.

MovieStyle: Alone in the Dark

This is the fourth in the MovieStyle series, but it’s the first where I genuinely started to question what I was doing with my life. So you can probably guess what I thought about Uwe Boll’s second attempt at a game adaptation.

Normally I’d start by explaining the plot, but quite honestly I have no idea what was going on for large portions of the film. What I can tell you is it involves paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, mysterious relics, an army of horrible CGI monsters and an archaeologist who is evil for some reason. Honestly, the villain of the story seems to have no motivation for his actions. I think he’s just insane.

The plot does attempt to go a little deeper, involving Edward as a child being experimented on along with the rest of the orphaned children, but as a whole, it feels held together by string.

Really you know what you’re in for with the films hilarious opening action scene. A car chase that soon develops into a fist fight with some of the most face palm inducing stunts ever committed to film, probably none more so than when Edward does a Guile-like flip kick for some reason. There’s also a section in said fight where the demon inhabited henchman jumps from a building and clearly starts to pivot, you know, as if he’s attached to some sort of safety rope. This is the first fifteen minutes. We haven’t even been introduced to Tara Reid yet.

A performance like no either, portraying archaeologist and museum curator Aline Cedrac, Tara Reid puts in a performance that is so bad even Uwe Boll himself has said it was terrible. Not that she’s alone mind, Christian Slater as our hero Edward Carnby is at a career low here, the action delights of Broken Arrow seem like a distant memory. The only actor who comes out of this with any sort of credibility is Stephen Dorff who as Commander of Bureau 713 is trying to make the most of an atrocious script.

It’s probably worth mentioning the hilarious ‘love story’ between Edward and Aline. They already knew each other before the movie opens, Edward went travelling around the world without saying anything, so Aline hates him, greeting him with a punch. Then about half an hour later he’s instantly forgiven and they’re in bed together in one of the funniest sex scenes you’ll see. Not for the actions, but for the fact that the song “7 seconds” starts playing. It’s all very surreal.

And while I’m on the subject of music, the audio mix in this film is just weird. For large parts of the movie the audio obscures the dialogue so it’s hard to hear what people are actually saying. This ranges from the orchestral arrangements to the audio of things like helicopters. Then there’s this scene below, which actually made me burst out laughing.

And yes, the CGI is as bad throughout the film. Whenever you get a clear shot of the monsters it’s laughable. I’d say it was like watching a made for SyFy movie, but that would be too harsh on the SyFy Channel.

This whole movie is just weird, I mean, were people really crying out for an Alone in the Dark movie? And what an odd time for the film to come out, pretty much smack bang in the middle of two releases in the franchise. Four years after the quite well received New Nightmare and three years before the reimagined atrocity that came out in 2008.

So how closely it follows the source material? Honestly, I have no clue. Being in a modern setting and certain characters make this more in line with the recent entries in the franchises, but as for overall story, who knows? One thing it does lack when compared to the games is actual horror. As a series that is often mentioned as being the father of the survival horror genre, this is quite bizarre. A few bloody moments aside, there’s not one moment of actual horror in the film, no jump scares, nothing.

I’m going to wrap this up now because the more I think about it the more my brain hurts. In case you haven’t figured it out by this point, then no, no you should not watch this movie. Alone in the Dark has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but the sad thing is it must’ve done okay because there’s ma sequel. They made a sequel to this movie!

And with that I’ll see you back here for the next MovieStyle feature, Uwe Boll’s In The Name of the King. I hate my life.

It hasn’t Always Been Cool to own a Console.

It was 1989, I was 12 years old and to be quite honest, I was quite unique among my peers, not in a bad way I must add, but there was something about me that made me stand out, and that thing was….. I  was a proud owner of a Sega Master System.

Back in the late 1980’s owning any form of game console was not quite the popular and common thing it is among the game playing public of today.  When I was given my Master System for my twelfth birthday, I was literally the only person I knew that owned one.  All of my friends were owners of some type of home computer. The better off kids owned Atari ST’s or the Commodore Amiga, while the less fortunate, were still playing their games on Sinclair Spectrum’s, Commodore 64’s, or the not so common Amstrad CPC.

I was never given a home computer when I was a kid; though I did ask for one every year for Christmas or my birthday.  I was always so jealous of my computer friends, and looking back now, I am fairly sure I used to base my friendships on if the owned a computer.  Having no computer of of my own had already made me feel like a bit of a social outcast, so when I was the first person I knew to own a games console this situation didn’t really improve.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying owning a console made me the laughing stock of my class but owning one back in 1989 could be a sad and often lonely experience. I was unable to swap games with anyone, and the release schedule for the Master System was so bare, I would look at envy at my computer owning friends who were able to play something new every week, while I was stuck with nothing but Shinobi and Hang-On for six months. Shinobi though of course was a cracking game, though I did have to use a cheat to get past one of the end of level bosses to be able to finish it.

Other consoles were even less popular than Sega’s 8-bit machine.  The only place I ever saw a Nintendo Entertainment System was in the Boots in Swindon town centre, and to honest, the graphics looked dull and blocky compared to what I was used to with my Master System.

This was soon to change, consoles in just a few years after 1989 were taking over computers and becoming the machine of choice for gamers.  When I was at college, almost everyone had either a Sega Mega Drive or Super Nintendo, and games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II and Super Mario World were often discussed in mainstream media.  And in 1995, with the  European launch of the Sony Playstation, gaming even started to become trendy.

I will though, forever hold dear to my heart what it was like to be a console owner, when it was was the opposite of being cool and trendy.  Among my friends I was pioneer of sorts, leading the way to a better life of games without loading and brighter colours, but like all pioneers, it was sometimes a hard path to tread with many obstacles in my path(the price of Master System games being the biggest one).  But looking back now, I wouldn’t have it anyother way now.  My love for Sega and console gaming in general has never faded, and the days of playing on my Master System with its bright blue sky gaming are some of my fondest memories. These will live with me with forever, along with the cheat you had to input to choose levels on Shinobi (which is press up, hold down and press button 2 on the title screen).

Persona Q – A Gamestyle Giveaway!

Never mind Black Friday, the 28th of November 2014 was excellent for one reason: The European release of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. This latest adventure is the first entry in the Persona series on the 3DS, and sees the cast of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 join forces against a mystery antagonist. Unexpected events lead both teams to become trapped in Yasogami High during its yearly culture festival, along with new characters to the series, Zen and Rei.

All is not as it seems, as the crew not only find that the other students seem somehow oblivious to their existence, but lurking behind one of the attractions is the entrance to a labyrinth filled with Shadows – the recurring enemies of the Persona series. Together, the teams must navigate the dungeon and plan their escape from their culture festival/prison/nightmare.

If you’ve been waiting for the next opportunity to revisit Iwatodai and Inaba, we’ve some good news for you. Courtesy of publishers NIS America, Gamestyle have a downloadable copy of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth to give away! To get your name in the hat, simply head over to Gamestyle’s Facebook page, and follow the instructions. We’ll draw the winner on December the 5th  2014 from all qualifying participants!