Battlefield Hardline Beta Preview

Saving Private Ryan? Inglorious Basterds? Platoon? Full Metal Jacket? Battlefield has always been a game about war, and the Dice invented “Battlefield Moments” have always reflected this. From taking out half an army with a well placed C4, to watching a crashing jet rip through a tank just as it’s about to blow up your tiny bike, it’s all the best moments from a million war films summed up in one tidy package. It’s always been a lot of military-based fun, essentially.

Until now.

What did I think of while I was playing the Battlefield Hardline beta? Heat. I thought of the Michael Mann film, Heat. And this can only be a good thing.

Arriving hot on the heels of one of the most famous big budget catastrophes of recent years in Battlefield 4 (despite Master Chief’s best efforts to finish the fight), Hardline is the first Battlefield game by Dead Space veterans Visceral. This, coupled with a delay from last Christmas in order to incorporate fan feedback, leaves Hardline with more to prove than the bastard lovechild of Paul Hollywood and Oscar Pistorius’ lawyer. A lady one… I don’t know.

First impressions were mixed. For starters, it worked! Yes, while Battlefield 4 spent most of its lifespan being about as reliable as a Max Clifford train service, Hardline seems to be genuinely playable on a basic level. Solid work Visceral! I booted the game up with a mate (the only way to play Battlefield, after all) and we went straight into our first game of Heist; one of two new modes in the beta.

Heist involves the robbers having to steal and the cops having to stop them. Be it jewels or cold papery-soft cash, your aim is to get in, grab, and escape on a nearby chopper. It’s a bit like Battlefield stalwart Rush meets Antony Worrall Thompson basically, and once you get used to it, it’s a lot of fun. Those first few games are classic Battlefield in the worst way though, incredibly poorly explained and a real struggle to get to grips with even if you’re from a BF background. I notched up over 100 hours on Battlefield 3 and around the same trying to get into a single game of Battlefield 4, so the slower movement and a new game mode (with pretty poor explanation) were a bit of a shock to the system.

Things improved though and Heist slowly started to reveal itself to be a bit of a winner. Destruction on the whole has been dialled down for Hardline, at least for this beta, but being able to trigger specific areas in the levels to blow through was fun and gives a real Heat style cops and robbers feel to proceedings. New zip lines and climbable ropes add to this, and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying playing as both sides of the coin. A new system of “purchasing” weapons is also great, players earn cash as they play and can pick and choose to unlock items that suit their play style, rather than generically earning the same upgrades as everyone else as they go.

Then there’s Hotwire, which for me is a complete justification for Hardline’s price tag. Played on your own I’d imagine it would be a fun little slant on Conquest, which involves the capture points being driveable vehicles, but with a friend. It’s the world’s greatest Starsky and Hutch simulator and had me laughing like Jimmy Carr’s drain for the two evenings I spent playing it. Despite some issues with cars essentially stopping dead in their tracks if they graze a pebble, the driving feels much more natural than in previous Battlefields, and with 5 command points driving around and everyone else in cars trying to blow them up, it really is a hoot.

Conquest is still Conquest, and will probably be the mode that keeps me coming back to Hardline as it has done every Battlefield since 1942. The maps are great and once you get used to the feel of the controls they’re also fine, even if the default Assault (or Operator here) weapon is ever so slightly shit in every conceivable way. Other weapons are better though and as I’ve mentioned it wouldn’t be Battlefield without it being slightly shoddy at first.

One other niggle is that currently the game looks slightly below par, but we have to assume this is due to it still being in beta. The graphics are currently some way between Battlefield 3 and 4, which is pretty inexcusable for a game that’s had this long in development. They also need to calm the Xbox DVR side of things down, I can’t speak for PS4 but at the moment it seems to record 30 second clips every time an ant farts, and after two nights playing I’ve got more unwanted videos on my Bone than a Leslie Grantham laptop.

Overall a positive beta then, and one that leaves me eagerly awaiting 20th March for the UK release. Hopefully Visceral will iron out the last few kinks and could have a real winner on its hands. It feels like there’s a real possibility this could be the definitive cops and robbers game, at least until those rumours of Lego The Wire are confirmed…

Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution Review

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution is not a welcoming game for those not familiar with any of the previous 14 iterations and, in all honesty, it doesn’t need or intend to be. 

The game is under the huge assumption that you’ve played at least one of those games and are familiar with it’s strange mix of fighting, world roaming, item grinding and mission based distractions. It takes a LOT of wading to just to understand how the hell you’re supposed to play the bloody thing effectively.

Chances are if you don’t like, or even know about, the insanely popular Naruto manga/anime series then this game won’t have even touched the periphery of your awareness. As such, this review is written from the view of someone who has never played a Ninja Storm game and will possibly be of more interest to those who also have never played one rather than the fans of the series who have had it pre-ordered since it was announced.

What it boils down to is this: If you’re not a fan, don’t bother. There, that was easy.

You’re still here? Hnnnn, alright, alright.

It allegedly continues the story from the third Ultimate Ninja Storm game, but in what sense it’s difficult to tell as the main mode doesn’t have a story as such. The premise is you’re partaking in the Ultimate Ninja Tournament, where you chose from an initially small roster of characters (which expands to 100+) and you battle to determine who is the Ultimate Ninja. The battles are ranked, and split into Qualifying, Preliminary and Main. In between the battles you roam the limited open world to unlock characters, collect money, items, do a little shopping and play the lottery, which gives you costume, customisation options, videos, online card borders, titles and other trinkets to scratch that gambling/hoarder itch.

Around the free-roaming space are characters who ask you to complete tasks for them, and in return they’re generally unlocked and are able to be chosen as playable or support characters, which can also be used as Network Clones. The network clone is a customisable character with moves and items that you leave for other players connected to the internet to fight against, which is a pretty novel and interesting feature.

The Ultimate Ninja battles take place as a 4 person free for all rumble,  whereby you beat the snot out of your opponents and collect the Orbs they scatter like confetti. Whoever has the most orbs at the end of the round is declared the winner.

There are also one on one battles (it’s usually this type of battle during the missions and ‘Jobs’, another of the myriad distractions in the game) where you choose two support characters (a little like in the Marvel Vs Capcom series) and one of 3 fighting powers; Ultimate Jutsu, Awakening and Drive, each of which perform in different ways but all consume your Storm meter. You build the Storm meter through various means of collecting dropped Chakra or generating it while holding the Y button, but this method leaves you defenseless as you charge the meter.

The first large problem with this game is it doesn’t have an ‘easy entry’ tutorial to guide new players in. In this day and age Tutorials are a given at the beginning of any game, and many people bemoan the fact there are tutorials that slow down the pace of getting into the meat proper, but in this instance a clear and comprehensive tutorial would have been welcomed with open arms. Fanfare even. A parade would have been thrown for it, in all honesty. As it is there are tips and minor pointers on the loading screens which are also available in the start menu, but they aren’t nearly comprehensive enough to make sense to a complete newcomer. For example there’s instruction on how a Chakra Dash is effective in battle, but doesn’t actually tell you how to do the Chakra Dash.

There are other confusing design decisions, like the actual tournament. Complete the battles in a rank and the game seemingly ends. Then you load it up again and it welcomes you back to the tournament, unlocks more of the free roaming world, adds new items to the store and unlocks challenges where you have to fulfill certain criteria to win, but you can do all this with a completely different character to the previous rank. All the customisation unlocks are still there, all the items, but the game doesn’t differentiate between which character you pick. None of the NPCs call you by your characters name; there’s no contextual speech in that respect at all. It was odd reading a character refer to Naruto in the third person while being stood there playing as Naruto.

Then there’s the combat itself, which at first seems incredibly skill-less and after a while seemed just as skill-less. Each character seems to have minor variations on the same move set, the only differentiation being their Jutsu (special ninja moves to you and I). It seems the abundance of characters is simply to provide people with the opportunity to play as their favourite from the series. In the matches where you can build a team there are benefits to joining up characters which share certain keywords (Originals, for example, are the characters from the very beginning of the series), but it’s never really explicitly explained how it works.

In the four man battles there’s a toggleable lock on, but it’s not as spry as it needs to be and  you frequently find yourself locked onto a character on the other side of the arena while trying to figure out which way you’re supposed to flick the right stick to lock onto the guy that you’re aiming to clobber.

The AI is erratic as hell as well. Sometimes one of the opponents will attempt pound the tar out of you, or all 3 of them gang up on you and attempt to pound the tar out of you, or they’ll just stand there like a bump on the lawn and do absolutely nothing at all.

Looking at it from a purely objective, newbie, non-fan point of view it’s a pretty bad video game. The combat systems clash and jangle like a vehicular pile up, each one grinding against the others and making little sense on their own. There are so many items to choose from you can’t tell what’s useful in battle and what isn’t, and that’s before you get to things like Bento, food items which act as a buff during the battle, raising your attack, or chakra generation, or increasing your defense. The inventory is confusing as well, as there are a finite amount of items you can carry and should you go over that limit (which isn’t displayed anywhere, at all, ever) the items gained in, say, the Lottery are immediately sold. Or so the game says, it’s just another example of it being obtuse and ill thought out.

There’s also so much stuff crammed into the game intended to add distractions and means of unlocking and collecting stuff you can’t help but wonder if they’d spent less time on the fan service and more on the actual game and mechanics they could have made something ‘outsiders’ could enjoy. As it is, this game serves no other purpose than to give Naruto fans exactly what they want.

The Gamestyle Archive

Long time readers may already know the story, but Gamestyle has been the victim of two hacking incidents. Both times causing a lot of content to go up in smoke. The fact that we were originally a Dreamcast only site should tell you how long we’ve been going, and how much content would’ve been lost. The hacking took a lot out of us, and in some ways, Gamestyle was never the same again. But this week something miraculous happened.

Like the E.T cartridges in the desert, former editor Mr Jason Julier unearthed something. Discs containing around 200 old reviews, previews and features. All of which are being uploaded and be viewed by CLICKING HERE. It’s amazing the amount of content that was lost, but even more amazing that a good chunk of them have been found.

Over the coming months these may start to appear on the main site, maybe in retro themed weekends, but for now why not head over and check out some of our older work.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a decent game, whilst not being a classic. It was generally fun to play and offered great value, with its mix of adventure and combat. This sequel comes late in the life of the last generation consoles, but still hopes to offer up top quality gaming.

You once again take on the role of Dracula, who has been awoken many centuries after the ending of the first game. He wants to be released from is immortal life but to do that he must help defeat Satan. Of course, being set many centuries later, allows the developers to change the overall setting, with the game taking place in modern day.

It is a change that does work, as you actually split your time early on between the modern world and sequences of memories in the old world. It does have an interesting story acted by some stand out voice talent, with the likes of Patrick Steward, Robert Carlyle and Natasha McElhone, with also a hello to Jason Isaacs.  By having names like this on board, allows things to feel that little more believable when it comes to performances.

That coupled with some excellent design for the various locations, help make this a very impressive looking game, squeezing as much as possible from the aging XBOX 360. However, it isn’t all positive as the game suffers somewhat by being bettered by other games in the genre.

That battle mechanics are competent, but feel a tad frustrating. It is very simple stuff for the most part, with buttons for close and area attacks, jumping, guarding, avoiding, etc and they do work to a degree, however you then find yourself fighting the camera somewhat, which can leave you open to attacks you simply cannot see coming. This wouldn’t be a problem, if it wasn’t for the fact there are bonuses to be had for chaining together attacks without being hit. One slight hit from an enemy will wipe this bonus meter completely and you need to start again. This only becomes a real issue when the screen is overly busy and enemies are coming from all angles. You do get used to it and start just dodging to move rather than naturally moving around enemies, but it shouldn’t be a case of finding a workaround.

There is more to Lords of Shadow 2 than simply fighting enemies, as the game really wants to show off its stunning design. Much of the game is spent moving between areas to get to the enemies you need to take on. This is fine though, as the level design works really well, with some nice visual cues hinting at where you can go, where you can start to climb and make your way around.

Traversing levels on the whole works well, but again has been bettered by other games, which makes it feel a little stale. However it is the stealth type sections that annoy the most, it just doesn’t fit with the character of the game, especially when you are in the modern world sections. The stealth elements do tie with the story somewhat, but it still doesn’t sit right. You are Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, the sneaking by enemies just doesn’t feel like it belongs, it is somewhat of a bad design decision.

Despite the camera issues that come up on occasions, it is the out right fighting where the game does a good job, boss battles especially which test all the abilities you have learned to that point. Getting through these does feel very satisfying and you do feel as though you have accomplished something.

Levels whilst being very linear in terms of story progression are quite vast in terms of their overall size and the amount of hidden areas and items to find. It is how much you want to come away from the main path, which will decide how quickly you can level up and how well prepared you will be for later battles. But compared to the first, it does feel much more open.

The level design teases you with various routes, with visual clues as to something being obtainable away from the main path. What you will often find though is that the areas you want to get to are often locked off until you upgrade or earn a new skill, which is fine as you do get to explore and return to areas throughout the game.

You can collect stones which will increase you health and magic limits, with every five of each giving you the increase for the relevant upgrade. Along side that you earn XP along the way, which can be used to buy new and upgrade moves that start to make Dracula the all powerful immortal he should be.  Much of this can be earned simply by playing along the main story, but it is worth looking around to get those upgrades a bit quicker.

There are a ton of upgrades on offer, from Dracula’s personal skills, to weapon upgrades. These are mainly handled using skill trees. What does work, is that you are encouraged to spend, as you earn what you need to buy upgrades at a decent rate and never really feel like you need to grind too much to afford things.

There is nothing technically wrong with Lords of Shadow 2, it is simply a competent game that just plays if safe. The combat does a job, but doesn’t really do anything to set it apart, the design is probably the most standout aspect of the game, with some stunning visuals, however there are a lot of identikit bad guys to fight through across all the levels, which is a bit of a shame.

On the whole Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a game that does the basics well enough, without ever really setting itself apart. It is a nice conclusion to the first game but nothing more, nothing less. Worth picking up if you enjoyed the original, but hardly essential at the same time.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts Review

As sure as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, when November rolls around you can expect a new Call Of Duty and 2013 is no exception with the release of Call Of Duty: Ghosts.

The thing with most of the ‘bigger’ titles being released right now is that we are getting current and next gen versions. Seeing as the PS4 and XBOX ONE aren’t quite ready for shipping yet, we’ll be looking at the current gen version, but hope to bring you coverage of the next gen version at some point.

One of the things that was noticed about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was that despite it being a great game, it was clear that it had pushed the PS3 to its limits, with some framerate and graphical issues. Here though on Call Of Duty: Ghosts there is no such issues, it clearly packs a punch in the visual stakes, but there doesn’t seem to be any hit on performance, which means the usual silky smooth experience.

As far as being a Call Of Duty game goes, this is pretty much by the numbers. The Call Of Duty series is the gaming equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie. It will do the over the top story which acts as a vehicle for huge set pieces where explosions and action happen on a near constant basis.

The opening of Ghosts starts with an apocalyptic event, which is played out through a couple of different perspectives, seen from on the ground and in space. The very opening part is impressive as you really are unsure exactly what is going on, earthquake? Terrorist attack? Natural disaster? The game then cuts to a new scene to explain exactly what has caused this event to happen. Much like the opening of a game like Half Life, you are pretty much on rails here, playing out a glorified interactive cut-scene. This is a good approach though, as it keeps you invested in the story setup better than a simple movie introduction would.

That is the thing about Call Of Duty though, it is essentially an action movie in the guise of a videogame. You are playing though various acts on a predefined path, you cannot alter the outcome. That is OK though, it is something that works for the game, whether you like that format or not, is your choice.

There is always the multiplayer options and there are two real options here, the traditional online action of the new alternative to Zombies in Extinction. As per the last round of Zombie, this is a mode that is a little bit Left 4 Dead mixed with Tower Defence elements. You can a partner basically take on waves of aliens.

You move through various sections taking down the incoming alien infestation, collection rewards for you efforts, which can then be used in turn to buy upgrades and special attacks. You have a skill tree to improve your character which, as well as the possibility of buying bigger and better attacks. The idea of teamwork is promoted heavily here, as with different classes available. The the mode is also a lot more enjoyable when played with friends, working together with well balanced classes as you move through the various levels.  This really is a bit of a standout mode for the game and where you can realistically spend much of your time.

The basic multiplayer is pretty much as you will remember, with tons of modes on offer for all ability levels. The maps on offer allow for fast paced close quarters combat. Some maps are stand out as really enjoyable, with a few duds in there also. You’ll soon get a feel for the ones you like.

New to the multiplayer is the chance to create various soldier types, you start with one, but can unlock new types the further you progress in multiplayer, by earning squad points. Each soldier can be a custom name, appearance and even create specific loadouts of each.

One thing that cannot be argued about a Call Of Duty game is just how stunning it looks and sounds. With a decent surround sound setup along with some amazing visuals, you really do feel like war is going on around you. Just moving around environments is impressive enough, but when everything goes south and there is destruction and all hell breaking loose, then you can really start to appreciate the efforts that go in to creating the special effects.

Because the game is fairly linear, is allows the developers to create some stunning looking set pieces. It isn’t open world, so what is happening around you can be concentrated on, without really worrying about what will happen if the player decided to leave the action and check out something in the distance. The team behind Call Of Duty have become masters of smoke and mirror.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts won’t be for everyone, but you know exactly what you are going to get. The single players offers a thrill a minute rollercoaster ride, whilst the multiplayer is as competitive as ever. Despite the next gen version waiting in the wings, the current gen version of Ghosts looks and plays as good as ever.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD (XBLA) Review

We are massive Castlevania fans at Gamestyle so any release of a game, even an HD overhaul of a portable title is going to get us excited. We quite liked the 3DS version so ventured forth with some intrigue to see if this port holds up as well.

For those unfamiliar with the original, this is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.

Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.

This was an utterly stunning looking game on the 3DS but the transition to the big screen hasn’t quite gone as well. Character models and animations seem a bit stilted at times and brutality seems to have lost some of its impact. The graphic novels tyle cut scenes seem somewhat odd in their new setting and losing the amazing 3D graphics is also a blow that the visuals never fully recover from.

The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. he strong sound is more effective on the big screen and the dramatic orchestral scores add a more serious and  sinister tone to the world.

The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.

Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress.  This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.

Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.

Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive, a shame as this could have been addressed from the 3DS version. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights – which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.

During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.

Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.

Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. It’s still that a dark and forbidding fairy tale told that worked so well on the 3DS. It doesn’t quite fit as well here but it does manage to create some of the same atmospheric, dark and brutal adventure and if more people get a chance to experience it then that can only be a good thing. Its home is clearly on the 3DS though.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Review

Gamers of a certain age, will remember a football game called International Superstar Soccer, it was stunning, an amazing step up of quality on football titles. That game went on to become Pro Evolution Soccer and it was the king of digital football.

That was during the PS2 era though, a time when the FIFA titles were awful to play and only had the licences going for them. Pro Evo was the game for purists, amazing in single player, but at another level when played with mates. Hell, aside from just playing, you could lose hours, days or weeks just editing the game, to give teams closer to real life kits, real names, club crests, etc. It held a special place in our heart that is for sure.

Then the birth of online gaming seem to correspond with a shift in power. The team at EA Sports went back to the drawing board and started to challenge Seabass’ creation. FIFA went from strength to strength, as Pro Evo stood still and even went backwards. For whatever reason, the team behind the series couldn’t get to grips with the online part of the game and started to lose even the most ardent of supporters.

If Pro Evo was a football team it would be Liverpool FC. A once proud team, that was knocked off their perch by their bitter rivals, a few years of mediocrity, but now seemingly trying to rebuild and start something special once again.

In the last two efforts, there has been improvement to the core features of the game, but it has still lacked something, the game felt scripted, physics off, AI lacking. That has changed this year, this is a whole new Pro Evo and it is really throwing the gauntlet down and coming after FIFA in the biggest way.

Powered by the FOX engine, this iteration of Pro Evolution Soccer plays the best game of football since the days of Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (the best of the series). The development team have squeezed every bit of power from the consoles and made sure that this time, the basics that are needed to make a solid football title are there and will produce the most realistic game to date.

This is down to something they call M.A.S.S (Motion Animation Stability System). Which is a fancy name for a very impressive physics system. Players can collide with each other, the ball can bobble off of limbs, players will fall in a realistic manner. Where this helps, is that you can just get in the way of a pass and knock it slightly off an intended path, or just slow a player down as they try to burst past.

No longer does it feel like each little event is just a glorified Rock, Paper, Scissors. There isn’t a yes or no outcome to everything you see. Try and beat a player and the ball may clip their heel and fall to another player, or go out of play. It may clip that same heel and still run just right for you. As said, nothing feels scripted.

What really impressed was how the ebb and flow of a game went. You do notice how you play changes from an away game, compared to a home. In one game at home we were 0-0 and dominating play, with our opposition pushed back, but containing. They then got a goal against the run of play and for the next five minutes, they played with a bit of swagger, until a mistake at the back and overplaying the ball, led to a near goal

It seemed that the AI players on both teams had all of a sudden shifted attitude. My players pushed on and pressured, winning the ball high up the pitch, forcing mistakes. Their players, instead of playing the ball to feet, were trying quickly to launch a ball down the pitch, which saw pressure come straight back. The crowd noise had risen and you saw, literally saw our home team feed from that atmosphere, it is the first time we have seen that in a football game.

Yet it isn’t the same every time, in another game we were 1-0 down, chasing the game but the opposition were at home this time and they were able to frustrate our team, to the point where it felt like needing to launch balls forward, as nothing was working along the ground, that was lost 1-0 and just couldn’t get going. It all honesty though, we c0uld describe another 30-40 games where we could reel of tales of moments that happened in the games. There were some dull games also, but hey, that’s football.

We are happy to report, that this is probably the best on pitch feel we have had in any football game to date. It has that real football feel to it and offline the King has returned!

Online is a different story though, it seems to lack the organic feel that the offline has, it feels laggy, there seems to be a lot elements that come across as aided by the game, such as passes which all of a sudden come across as a lot more true, finding feet 99 out of 100 times. Through balls are inch perfect more often than not. It is best to avoid this right now, wait and see what patches come.

In terms of content, there isn’t anything new that stands out, single match, various leagues and cups from around the world, both licensed and unofficial. There is Pro Evo’s version of Be A Pro and the all important Master League and Master League Online. Having nothing new of note isn’t a bad thing, as it shows that the developers have put their time and energy into producing a faithful simulation of the sport.

The King is back, as Pro Evo produces the best offline football game to date. It still lacks online, but this was never a game about playing faceless people across the world. Get your mates round and remember the good old days. There is room for improvement, but at long last the future looks bright for the former great.

Rayman Legends Review

Rayman is back, which can mean one of two things. Either another spin off with annoying Rabbid type things. Or some more platforming greatness. Luckily it is the latter of the two. Rayman Legends hopes to be everything Origins was and more. 

When Gamestyle finished Rayman Origins, we were left wanting more it was an amazing return to the original Rayman’s roots and showed why platforming has always been best in 2D. So when Rayman Legends was announced we were all giddy with excitement. That enthusiasm dropped slightly when we found out it was a Wii U exclusive. So unlike some, we were happy to hear of the delay and the subsequent multi-format release. We have finished Origins on 360, PS3 and Vita!

Rayman Legends taps into the same pool as the excellent Origins and also classic platforms such as Super Mario World. Simple gameplay that is ultimately as challenging as anything you will encounter in gaming. The controls should feel similar, whether you are new to the genre, or a bit of an expert coming back for another round.

You should be able to pick up and controller and play. Rayman Legends, as with Origins does this perfectly. The 2D viewpoint means that movement is as simple as can be, you can move left or right, jump, duck and everything else you’d expect, all the time without needing to concern yourself with managing a 3D camera or getting lost in an environment. If anything it is gaming in its purest form, something we can all remember from the eighties to the modern era. The 2D platformer is one genre that can unite gamers of all ages and backgrounds and Rayman Legends is a perfect poster child for it.

Levels are graded and start off easier, gradually becoming more and more of a challenge. This can sometimes be a sticking point, with learning curves being too harsh, or at the other end of the scale, failing to produce enough of a challenge to keep things interesting. Rayman Legends again nails this and it at all times feels challenging, but without ever feeling inaccessible.

As with the previous games, you can approach levels in a number of ways. Either simply getting to the end or trying to collect everything possible within a level. Whereas in Origins you were simply given a rating for collecting enough Lums in a level. Now you are given trophies for hitting certain targets, but also extra bonuses such as a scratch card, that can be used to unlock extra characters, bonus art, extra Lums towards you cumulative total and more. It is a nice addition that sets the game apart from being a simple ‘new levels’ type of sequel.

There are of course new levels and they retain so much of the charm associated with the world of Rayman, but there are a new mechanics involved and these show where the game was originally a Wii U exclusive. There are segments where Murfy will fly towards an area of the screen and await you pressing a button to perform a basic action, such as cutting a rope, moving a block, etc. These were clearly done with the Wii U gamepad in mind and feel a bit out of place and needless when played with a standard joypad. However, they don’t ruin the experience and not awkward or anything, they just feel a little our of place.

One other thing you’ll notice compared to Origins is just how much content there is. Origins had plenty to do, but compared to Legends it comes across as somewhat bare. Bonus levels, extra characters, mini games, end of level bonuses and even daily and weekly challenges are all included in a package that just feels like it is bursting at the seams.

In fact the first time the game was booted up, it was actually a little overwhelming, as the game seems to want to introduce you to as much as possible, teasing you with new things to discover every few minutes. After a few hours of play, we noticed we’ d barely scratched the surface of the main game as we poked around everything that was on offer and tried to beat our best performances in the challenges… It is those pesky leaderboards that do it, you just get drawn in to wanting to do better and better. Especially when you see a friends name above your own, but achingly close. You can beat them, just one more go!

However if you can ignore the extras for long enough, you have a wonderful time in the main game and as in Origins, you’ll go through a range of emotions, from frustration to absolute joy and even pride when you complete certain levels that had previously given you trouble. Whilst levels remain similar, they never feel repetitive and the aforementioned parts that were clearly made with the Wii U in mind are generally few and far between. Early levels may be completed fully in one or two runs, but later levels will take a lot of tries to master and that is the true test of a game like this. You may need to repeat levels, but you look forward to doing them again, you never feel like it is a grind.

There is the option of four player co-op too and as fun as it is, we found that playing two player was the best experience. It’s not that anything is wrong with three or four player, it is just at times it felt a little too hectic, whereas in two player the balance was just right. That being said though, it is a great party game, having a few friends round and sticking Rayman Legends on is just wonderful fun. Dare we say it, it was a better experience than in New Super Mario Bros U!

Super Mario World is still the best platformer ever made in our opinion, but Rayman Legends is clearly the best of modern times. It offers up a wonderful challenge, it looks beautiful and plays excellently. There is no cutting back on value either, which is great to see in an era of paid for DLC. If anything does come at a later date it well truly feel like a value added extra rather than cynical ploy to hold back content.

The game does make use of the power of the consoles and looks beautiful, once again feeling like a cartoon in motion rather than a video game at times. The animation is super smooth, the worlds of each level have their own style and look lush and full of life. If anything it makes you excited to see what the team behind Rayman could do with the power of the PS4 or XBOX One in the next years. As great as the likes of The Last Of Us, Splinter Cell, Watchdogs, etc all look, it is a fact that the art in a game like Rayman Legends still stands out is a testament to the development team.

Rayman Legends is the type of sequel you hope for. More of the same, but improving on the standards set by the original, with tons of new content. It is one of the best 2D platformers you will play this or any other generation.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Something is going down, so the US Government can only call on one man! Sam Fisher is back and doing his stealth thing all over again in the sixth Splinter Cell game. 

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is a direct sequel to Conviction and having shut down Third Echelon, for being a little bit corrupt, it is decided to open a new counter terrorist unit with a highly original top secret name… Forth Echelon. It is all a bit 24 really. Silly, but whatever, it works just enough to keep you invested.

This time though, operations aren’t managed from the ground, oh no, that makes it too easy to be corrupted. So the answer? Place the entire team in a massive airplane, complete with state of the art technology and its own holding cells. Again when you think about it, it is a little bit dumb, but it is another chance for some more 24 and Jack Bauer… Sorry more Splinter Cell and Sam Fisher.

It is a plot that at first glance comes across as well written and clever, but when you look at it, it really is a little nonsensical and far fetched. However you know what? That’s fine, it is an action game and the story can’t be too serious and mustn’t worry about the odd continuity error. It has returning characters, the chances of yet more double crosses and twists. It drives the game forward and that is what is important.

So what of the gameplay? Well, it is more of the same as you would have seen in Conviction, with a few little mechanics added in. You are given a briefing before each mission and it is then up to you how you handle it. You can go complete stealth and avoid all combat, or go all guns blazing, or mix the two. Things like this are always promised, but then seem to be geared to sticking to one way over the other. Aimed at making a decision based on what achievement you are after in the long run. Blacklist though works and does let you mix it up.

What impressed most was the enemy AI. During one mission we were trying to be as stealth as possible, but did make a mistake and the enemy was on Sam completely. Even if they lost site of him, they would still be searching, any enemy that was patrolling another part of the area would then descend on Sam’s last know position and not let up. Which is a huge improvement on games gone by where the enemy are alert for a certain time then return to position, forgetting completely that someone was picking off their buddies one by one.

Splinter Cell games have always done stealth well though, from the very first game right through to this latest offering. Hiding bodies is a must and deciding on killing or non lethal methods also count. Knock someone out, rather than kill them and they can potentially be recovered by their allies. It still not perfect, but it does work and like movies and TV shows in the same genre, you need to suspend a little bit of belief, otherwise you get bogged down in the little things.

There are a few ideas borrowed from other Ubisoft games. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about an invasion of Rabbids or anything like that. The press a button to stick to cover and then move is very much out of Ghost Recon, especially in a couple of levels, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sam had teamed up with the Ghost team. However still feels very much like Splinter Cell and these little bits actually help the flow of the game and remove what could be some frustration, making sure you stay hidden as best as possible.

It isn’t a game that is trying to hold your hand the entire time, but it is essentially a linear game, but with many multiple paths and approaches to each level. It gets the balance just right between fun challenge and being an out right experiment in frustration. That is to be commended and it shouldn’t annoy fans of the original games too much, whilst at the same time, it doesn’t alienate potential new fans. Something Square failed to get right Hitman Absolution, for example.

There is though, a treat for fans of the older Splinter Cell games, especially those who loved the multiplayer of Pandora Tomorrow. Spies vs Mercs has made a glorious return. It retains a lot of the charm of the original mode and is simply a joy to play. The ultimate game of cat and mouse. It has both a nod to Pandora Tomorrow with 2v2 mode, but also adds a 4v4 mode. The maps that we played all worked well and the balance felt just right depending on the class you were playing as.

Overall Blacklist is a sublime entry into the Splinter Cell series, it takes the fun but flawed gameplay of Conviction and polishes it a little. It’s not the greatest game ever made, but that doesn’t matter. You enjoy your latest adventure with Sam Fisher and that is all that matters at the end of the day.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Review

Who would win in a fight between Superman and, well, pretty much anyone? Superman obviously, it’s a problem that all DC products whether they be games or movies will run into. Why would Superman need a Justice League when he can pretty much destroy planets by giving them a mean stare?

Injustice: Gods Among Us, the latest from Mortal Kombat makers Netherealm Studios, does try and answer this somewhat in the Story Mode which see’s our worlds heroes transported into a parallel world where Superman has gone completely mental. While not on par with Mortal Kombat, the story mode in Injustice is still a whole lot better than most other fighting games. Once you get past the clichéd use of parallel Earths, a staple of DC Comics stories that needs to be put out to pasture, you will find yourself drawn into the story as you progress from fight to fight.

The fighting is, as expected, very reminiscent of Mortal Kombat. Combo’s play a huge part in building attacks and an X-Ray style super move is here, once again by pressing the L and R triggers simultaneously. These super moves amaze in their spectacle. Superman for instance punches someone into orbit before smashing them down to Earth, Batman runs your opponent down with the Batmobile and Aquaman submerges everything under water before unleashing a shark. They’re completely insane, but in a hugely satisfying way. Another element of the comic book insanity are the stage transitions. These send your opponent hurtling through walls, crashing through floors, usually with hilarious consequences. None more so than a cameo from Batman’s rogues gallery during the fights set in Arkham.

A new addition to the combat is the clash system. By pressing the correct button before being hit you’re able to enter clash mode. Here you’re able to wager parts of your super meter, coming out on top results in some health being regenerated, failing means you lose health. It’s at times a confusing system that really adds nothing to the game, it’s rarely needed, and after many fights online has rarely been witnessed.

Online was always a weak area with Mortal Kombat, and Netherealm have gone a long way in trying to rectify the initial problems that game had at launch. While games are easy to find, with enough modes and challenges to keep you occupied, it still falls short of what Capcom produces. As anyone who plays online fighting games will attest, any slight semblance of lag can scupper your chances of winning. And unfortunately for the player not hosting there is still enough of a button delay to frustrate. That said, if you don’t care about your win/loss ratio and are just here for the spectacle, there’s still tons of fun to be had.

Those not wanting to venture online will still find plenty of single player content to enjoy, and not just the Story Mode. Battle Mode is your standard ladder, made different by a number of different Battle types that can be unlocked in the armory, such as fighting all the heroes or starting each fight with a quarter health. On top of this you have S.T.A.R Labs features a set of challenges with each character, which will test even the most skilled fighter. And naturally costumes, concept art and the like are unlocked with XP earned throughout single player and online. Injustice is certainly a full price package.

Not just relying on the spectacle of having DC’s greatest villains and heroes square off, the gameplay at the core of Injustice shows that Netherealm are one of the companies at the forefront of the fighting genre. If you’re not into your comic books then a lot of the games appeal might be lost, but for fans of the genre and DC, this is a match made in heaven.

GRID 2 Review

GRID 2 is the sequel to the fun and immersive GRID from Codemasters. There have been changes under the hood as well as on the bodywork, but does this new title have what it takes to storm to first place?

Gamestyle have been fans of this series from day one and we are not talking about GRID, we started on TOCA Touring Car Championship on the PS1. What Codemasters produced was a fantastic racing game that felt as close to a simulation on the console as you would get. Fully structured, licensed championships that could be set to a few laps, or full length races.

It had an in car view that was ahead of its time and really made you feel part of the action, as well as AI that felt alive, seemingly adjusting to your racing style, remembering how you had been in a previous race, it had that something special. Of course there was the damage engine too, that at the time felt like a breath of fresh air.

As the games progressed though, through TOCA 2 Touring Cars, World Touring Cars and eventually the TOCA Race Driver series, the licences slowly fell away and a story driven game was introduced. yet again the immersive nature remained and the games had that something special. Race Driver 3 was the only real let down in a solid series.

Race Driver GRID was the title for the early stages of the 360 era and it changed things up again, removing the full on story telling of the Race Driver series and adding in a progression based feature, but once again it was immersive, challenging and ultimately a ton of fun. Especially when you set the game to PRO mode, which locked the camera to head cam, stopped any use of flashbacks and also restarts. It meant you drove not only to win, but also to survive. No trying to risk it all on the start, having to decide whether to attack or protect a position, knowing that at anytime a mistake really did mean race over. For our money, not other console racer has come close to the feeling GRID could give if set up right.

So when Codemasters announced that they would be doing away with the head cam in GRID 2, we will admit we were very dissappointed, as we were in the 5% that did use that camera, but we aren’t ones to let that stop us playing, the series has been a favourite and we want to love this as much as we have the others.

The racing in GRID 2 is a fast and frantic as it was in previous titles, the various opponents have their own driving styles and the AI still feels a lot more alive than in other titles. Mistakes can be made and are made, by yourself and by the opponents, which makes races feel alive, for the short time they are on anyway. GRID 2 seems to be suffering from the same ‘quick races only’ syndrome that has plagued most modern day racers, 3 lap races are par for the course, which means you are forced somewhat to be aggressive and take a lot of risks as you make your way from a random grid position to first, it also means that the tense action of a race is over all too quickly.

You may find yourself sat behind a rival as you try and find a way through, but rather than try and force him into a mistake, or look for the right opening over a number of laps, you are having to make some all or nothing moves as take too long and the laps are just eaten up. It would be nice to have the option of longer races, rather than sprint after sprint, after sprint.

That said, when you are in a race, your concentration is at 100% and action is fast and tense, which is exactly what you want from a racer, even if your time on the track is shorter than you’d like. The lack of a head cam does diminish the intensity a little, but we can live with bonnet cam… Just!

The progression through the game is similar to that of GRID, but with a few little changes. You are now aiming to become the star of a new race series known the the WSR. You will battle with other rivals who have the same aim as you, to become the face of the series and worldwide superstar. There are some neat touches here, with fans being earned by winning races, completing promos and winning new cars in special events. The is a fair amount of popular culture references too, using the likes of social media and YouTube style presentations to try and add life to the off tack parts. This is shown off by  the odd video presentation of analysts on ESPN Sportscenter in an attempt to add some real life feel to the game.

On the whole is works, but it is just some smoke and mirrors, as the single player progression feels very linear, you need to position in a series to proceed as the game funnels you down a certain path, essentially becoming a series of ‘race, win, proceed’ whereas it would have been nice to see how a scenario would progress down different paths depending on how you performed.

There are other little gimmicks thrown in to the mix too, such as the live routes that can be played both in single player and online, where the course is changing throughout the race, so no map to help you know when a corner is coming, no learning the best routes through the lap. It should add a bit of a level playing field to a race, but at times it felt like the AI had a bit of an advantage and almost knew the route ahead of time. Online though it really works as a mode and a great way of bringing everyone to an even keel.

There seems to be less track races in GRID 2, with seemingly more of the action taking place in city areas or mountain roads. Though these races are fun and the settings are spectacular, we do miss driving blind around Le Mans at night. That said though the locations you will drive are challenging and if we are honest remind us more of PGR than they do the game’s own roots. We haven’t found any of the course to be tedious and we cannot wait to get back to them once a race is over.

GRID 2 is far from a bad game, it looks absolutely showroom stunning, one of the best looking racers of the generation and a wonderful way to sign off before the PS4 and XBOX One show us what that can do. It just isn’t the follow up to GRID we were hoping for, to the point we went back to the game to make sure there wasn’t some rose tinted specs clouding our judgement. We loved GRID and it is still our favourite racer of the generation, GRID 2 is a competent follow up, but doesn’t quite reach those new heights we were hoping for.

Bioshock Infinite Review

Bioshock Infinite has been highly anticipated since it was first teased. It takes the setting of the original games and raises expectation massively. A wildly different setting as the game moves from Rapture, deep under the ocean, to Columbia way up in the clouds. Yet Ken Levine seems to be able to work his magic to produce another special game.

The original Bioshock and its subsequent follow up were without a shadow of a doubt standout games during the 360 and PS3 era of gaming. They brought about some amazing visuals, tense atmosphere and even a little controversy with the moral decisions that had to be  made. On the surface Bioshock Infinite looks at first glance a much more open and bright affair, however a lot of the themes from the earlier games remain.

The last thing we want to do at Gamestyle is ruin the story, we don’t do that. What we will tell you though is as per the original games, the story is told within the gameplay, via a natural narrative as you progress, as well as various recordings you will find along the way that will flesh out back-story for the main arc and the various citizens of Columbia. Nothing seems forced, yet the writing comes across really well and you do follow the plot with ease, despite it not being a cut-scene heavy game. The writers and the developers trust the user’s intelligence and that shines through.

Moving from Rapture, to Columbia allows the game to have a hugely different visual style. Rapture was dark, dank, yet beautiful. The Art Deco theme came across really well. Being set in a city built underwater allowed for some smoke and mirror tricks, yet in Columbia the game is set in the sky, there aren’t as many opportunities to close in the walls and use those tricks. Everything is vast and you can see for miles, as parts of the City move around to merge with other parts, it just feels alive. It can be very easy to forget what you were meant to be doing and just go off exploring. Not because you feel you have to, but just because you want to take in all the amazing sights around as once again the artists manage to take a style from an era and somehow infuse it with an alternate reality. It just has to be seen to be appreciated.

In fact, Bioshock Infinite is just full of ‘WOW’ moments, whether that be from the visuals as you uncover new areas of Columbia, or from the various new things you encounter in the gameplay. This starts right from the very beginning, the moment you arrive. There is a page taken out of the Half Life playbook here, as you are guided, while still in control the the very first firefight. Everything is nice and calm, you’re busy taking everything in, walking around in awe of your surroundings. Then it happens, all hell breaks loose and your world is flipped upside down. The game doesn’t let go, new powers are introduced, you are given the skyhook, new weapons and you enter a rollercoaster of action.

Bioshock Infinite is full of moments that leave you wide mouthed and gushing with excitement. It kind of drip feeds you new abilities and weapons as you progress through the opening levels. The first time you use your skyhook to escape danger, or use it to open up an enemies face in melee is something you will absolutely love. Attaching to a Sky-Line for the first time and being taken on a ride is completely exhilarating. Everything just feels so much faster and more exciting than the original games. Yet at the same time, it has that Bioshock feel, it is Bioshock, just with added flavour.

As previously mentioned the story is told on the fly and filled out with recordings and videos you can find on your travels. The two main characters, Dewitt and Elizabeth have an excellent on screen relationship and the conversations that happen between the two throughout the game will not only move the narrative along, but have you listening intently, simply because of the chemistry between them. It is a relationship that grows in a very natural way and one you feel invested in from the very first time they meet. You immediately feel a responsibility for Elizabeth, which shows the power of the writing here.

The combat in Bioshock Infinite doesn’t add anything new as such. You still have your powers from vigour, with each having a unique ability, whether that be the power of possession, the ability to destroy with fire and more. You still need to manage your powers too, by collecting ‘salts’, with some powers using more salt than others. The best thing though is that you start to feel like a god, seeing the bad guys go up in flames, or turning a turret against your foes doesn’t get old.

The gunplay again offers nothing really new. It isn’t trying to be a realistic shooter, despite being a FPS at heart. Aiming is simple and whilst you may find yourself spraying bullets from time to time, you will quickly get the hang of hitting your targets.

One of the things that really stood out from the Bioshock games was the ability to loot the bodies of your victims, cash registers, desks, trash cans, etc. This hasn’t been forgotten in Infinite and you will be loading up on cash, health and more as you mop up after a battle. There is something satisfying about games that let you loot, being rewarded for your successes and here is no exception, you will get a great feeling finding all the goodies on the body of  a slaughtered enemy.

Elizabeth, despite needing to be saved, isn’t a hindrance on your journey, if anything she is quite the opposite. She has the ability to pick locks, as long as you can find the lockpicks for her to do it and during battles she will offer you additional health and ammo. This comes in vital when being pinned down by enemies and seeing your supplies dwindle away.

Bioshock Infinite had some great expectations and all too often we have seen other games fail to live up to the hype. Ken Levine has talked a great game in the months building up to the release and the truth is, he has delivered and delivered big time. Bioshock Infinite does nothing new, it isn’t the second coming, but what it does do is play a wonderful game that you will easily lose yourself in and at the end of the day, that is why we play games, to escape reality and to be wowed. That is exactly what this game does!

Aliens: Colonial Marines Review

A stand up fight, or just another bughunt?

The Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise have always been marketed as the ultimate killing machine. Terrifying, unstoppable, emotionless monsters. At least until Aliens: Colonial Marines got hold of them…

Well, it happened. The preview here at Gamestyle listed our hopes for this game, but it also said our fears for a series that it seems difficult to make the perfect game for. I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now, but…wait for it…this game is kind of bad…

Let’s be honest. When a game is stuck for release for more than 5 years, it is going to have issues. It isn’t going to be perfect. But it could still be good. Especially when the story can practically write itself, and all the developers have to do is just make it playable. As much as it pains to say it, Gearbox have let themselves down.

A:CM picks up after Aliens, and roughly alongside Alien 3. The ‘rescue team’ have found the Sulaco from Aliens, and have gone onboard to find our what happened to the characters from the film. They have no idea that there are deadly creatures waiting for them, and the only thing that seems to be drastically amiss is that the Sulaco is back to the setting from Aliens, instead of being at it’s last known point of Alien 3. Plenty of potential, but it goes downhill rapidly. This is due to two massive mistakes. Firstly, the player gets no time to get a feel for the marines that they will be fighting alongside. Hudson, Vasquez and Hicks are all characters that fans of the film loved, we watched as their macho personas started breaking under pressure, and their deaths caused a pang. In A:CM, you have no idea who anyone is, so feel very little emotion when they die.
The second mistake is a massive one though. In fact, it warrants its own paragraph:

Early on in the game, as expected, the character is ambushed by an alien. Just the one, but as we all know, one is all it takes. The player falls to the ground, and the alien is drooling in front of the screen, ready to deal the killing blow. This is it, an early end. Unless someone rescues the player with gunfire, but then there will be a face full of acid and unavoidable death? Never fear, the player has an ace up their sleeve… a punch. The player punches the most dangerous thing in the universe in the face. With their fist. Laughable! Until…the alien whimpers and runs away. Just take that in for a moment, as that sets the tone for the rest of this review and the game as a whole.

The aliens have been reduced to cannon fodder, and are on a par with a Halo grunt. They look spot on, but everything about their movement is almost comical. The much hyped AI reduces them to just randomly jumping from point to point or running up and down walls, whilst making no attempt to attack the player. When they actually do get close, they can be punched away or pushed off. Enemy humans in the game will cause the player more concern, as they can shoot from a distance, and have rocket launchers. Being more afraid of people in a game like this is just plain wrong.

Graphically, this game is baffling. Some areas of a level look fine, whereas others look last generation. Texture mapping is grim, and entire rooms will just be a blur, only becoming clear when all enemies are defeated, or the player is moving to the exit. The characters themselves bear a resemblance to the botox shock look of the original Mass Effect. It really seems at points that we are seeing the parts of the game that were made more than 5 years ago and the designers forgot to update them last year. The early footage ‘polish’ conspiracy does seem to have legs…unlike some of the aliens that can be encountered.

This game is the glitchiest that Gamestyle has seen for quite some time. Aliens spawning under the floor, and attacking as a swarm of heads. Enemies charging the player, only to run straight past them and sprint into a wall. AI partners who are scripted to open a door to carry on in the level randomly get stuck in pipes. This list could go on and on. During one particular difficult level, we got past the tough bit. Proceeding to the next part of the level (and before reaching a precious checkpoint) our playable character just died. He was not under attack, he did not fall from a great height. He just keeled over from what we can only assume was despair induced heart failure, and fell underneath the level into grey space. This was the point that Gamestyle admitted defeat with this game.

Multiplayer is on a par with this sadly. Actually getting into a game is a challenge, and upon finally entering a Marines vs. (human controlled) Aliens death match, we were greeted by an alien who wasn’t moving, and wouldn’t die, despite the 50+ bullets that we shot in its face. There are a variety of modes aside from deathmatch, including an ‘Escape’ which is good in theory, but multiplayer as a whole is still cursed by the bugs. There are the standard customisation options as would be expected, that are unlocked as the player progresses.

As a fan of the series, the game was horrible to play, and this review was heart-breaking to write. For purely sentimental reasons, this was one of the games that fans would have been desperate to see succeed. Somewhere along the line, we were all let down. What makes it worse are the occasional flashes of a good game that flash through. Running from a larger than average alien, welding corridor doors shut as you go. The voice acting of the likes of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen. This could and should have been so much more. But sadly, it is just a broken game. Game over man, game over.

Special Forces: Team X Review

There’s no I in team!

Even soldiers need friends sometimes. When the job description presumably features the phrase ‘Will get shot at’, it must be quite useful knowing that there is something watching your back.

Special Forces :Team X is the new release from Zombie Studios (of Blacklight fame), and in a nutshell, is a team based third person shooter. Group action is the name of the game, and there is not a single player mode in sight. This is multi-player all the way, and it is going in all guns blazing.

A quick glance shows a game that is visually inspired by Borderlands. Realistic yet cell-shaded, and actually very good to look at. No issues with texture at all, everything is smooth, and the level of detail is excellent. The levels themselves are quite basic, and technically there is only actually one level. The difference comes from the level being made of 3 separate zones. There are a variety of different level pieces that are voted for by the players before a match, meaning that there are several different combinations that can happen. They do still come across as a bit ‘samey’, and some different scenery (Jungle, snow etc) would have livened up the choices a little bit.

The playable characters are at a similar level of customisation. There are a couple of basic templates, and these are further modified with a variety of clothing options. Whilst there is not a vast number of options, there is enough to make a character that is ‘your own’.

Gameplay is based around a typical shooter. Standard weaponry includes the humble AK-47, to the more exotic attack dogs and chainsaws. There are a variety of match options, featuring the standard deathmatch, and ranging to things like most valuable player (where one players death pays out more points than his team-mates’. What sets this apart is the team based motivations. A score bonus is added to players that stay with their kin. Players in SF:TX tend to be more resilient than in other shooting games, so having multiple players shooting at the same target is the best way to start racking up kills and winning games. Annoyingly though, there is minimal explanation of this quite important detail, which means that nine times out of ten, players just run off in opposite directions. A brief tutorial would have been useful. This is only a minor gripe however, and hopefully players will pick this up on their own. XP is awarding for the usual things, a certain amount of kills, melee kills etc. There are also some challenges which give bonuses which are good to aim for.

There some annoying issues, noticeably with the cover system and object interaction. The cover is hit and miss to say the least, with the player quite often just not going behind the desired object. Add this to the times when the character does go in to cover when they aren’t actually meant to, and it can turn into a farce quite quickly. Jumping over objects is equally as irregular, with walls seemingly having a ‘sweet spot’ which is the only point that can be leaped. The final issue, which will probably affect more than others, is that it is pretty difficult to work out which character is on which team. The characters are in a standard camo colour scheme, and the only icon is a very small triangle above their head. In areas with multiple people shooting, it is very difficult to distinguish, especially as one team colour is red, and another in orange. Often, players will be running with another character shooting away, before realising 30 seconds later that they are with an enemy, not a team mate. As amusing as this sounds, this is something that could have been avoided.

Special Forces: Team X is an unexpected treat, and on paper, it should have been a lot worse. There are some technical problems, but at the core is a solid game. Whilst it is probably not enough to lure in the hardcore COD or MW fans, it looks like there could be a fan base developing. Potentially, this could become a cult game akin to the likes of Team Fortress. Some additional maps and patches in the near future however would go a long way.

Retro City Rampage Review

I’ve got love for you, if you were born in the Eighties

An old school treat for gamers has been released on XBLA to kick off 2013. What better way to look to the future, by pretending to still be in the past!

It seems that the old days are coming back in a big way. Aviator glasses, leggings, and preppy outfits are clothes of choice among the younger generations, not to mention some of the unusual hairstyles that can be seen on the street. The music is still being sampled in modern tracks. But it’s the games that we care about. Pac-man, Frogger, and Super Mario are just a few names from a vast array of games that are still played by many today. Brian Provinciano (of Vblank Entertainment) has a love for the old days that seems to run deep, as he has near enough single-handedly developed Retro City Rampage, which is a treasure trove of the past.

RCR is not a re-release, but is a new old game (make sense of that one…). The idea lightbulb originally switched on back in 2002, and Provinciano started to develop an 8-bit version of GTAIII. In 2007, this was changed into a completely new entity. Modelled on the old arcade cabinets, the game isn’t widescreen, with the edges filled in with the cabinet ‘edge’, included sticker instructions such as how to score points. This is on the screen as soon as the game is fired up, and is a nice touch that sets the tone brilliantly. Even better, is that the setting for this can be changed, so it can take on the appearance of an old TV, or a Game Boy for example, all with matching colour palettes. This visual style carries on into the actual game, and a pixellated paradise. Anyone who has owned a SNES, or anything older will be taken back straight away.

The game itself is basically a complete parody of the last few decades. The Player (as the playable character is called) is a standard thug for hire, and after a robbery, ends up sent to another time (the year 20XX). A basic plot, but arcade games are known for the gameplay, not the stories. In GTA fashion, missions are available at various points in the city (when playing story mode). These mostly seem to revolve around ‘go here, steal this, come back’. It is only in self-depreciating fashion, as that is how many games used to be. Throw in a few racing type sections, platform levels and gambling areas, and RCR has many styles under one roof. There is also a challenge mode (unlocked through playing the story), and a free mode for the hell raisers. The GTA influence also shows in the city, as the view is almost the same as the top down style from the early games. The controls are equally simple, with the left stick controlling movement, and right stick controlling the shooting or punching direction. Pick up and play is an understatement.

The main thing that everyone has been talking about with this game is the old references. It is safe to say that every major franchise from the 80’s and 90’s has been mentioned. The Player ends up travelling through time in a time travelling phone box, before being collected by a ‘Doc’ driving a time travelling Delorean. Weapons training is received from a character who bears a striking resemblance to a certain ‘Snake’, and one of the enemies is a Dr. Von Buttnik. Even the shop to change your characters facial appearance is called MJ’s Face ‘R’ Us! Gamestyle’s personal favourite was during a mission where The Player was instructed to steal certain vehicles in the city. One particularly stylish black number called K2600 had an onboard computer. As The Player enters the car, he is greeted by the message ‘Boss Hoff has left a cheeseburger on the floor for your enjoyment’. Anyone under the age of 21 will probably miss a lot of these references, but everyone over that age will be laughing away and desperately trying to remember what film/game the reference is from. Modern games haven’t been overlooked though, as ‘Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy are both mini games in RCR, in 8 bit format! After completing these, the characters become playable, and can be used in free mode.

The effort that has gone into this game is clear from the start. This game was made by a very small team, and mostly by one man, so tip your hats to them.  In terms of playability though, it is basic, and even tedious at points. But that is what it is trying for. Old games were repetitive, and painfully difficult, and RCR is just trying to replicate this. RCR is meant to be a trip down memory lane for the older generation. Those people who still dust off their Mega Drive collection for a go every now and then, knowing that they own better games and consoles these days. The term often used is ‘so bad, it’s good’. But the younger players will miss the references, and will probably see the game as terrible.  This is a game where the age rating should definitely be taken into consideration.

LEGO Lord Of The Rings review

LEGO games have become quite the staple in this current generation, bringing together long time gamers and the often maligned casual gamers in a way other games haven’t been able to do. Simply because they are instantly accessible, but without being too dumbed down. They appeal to nearly everyone.

Many major franchises have been given the LEGO treatment, with Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Batman and possibly the biggest franchise of them all, Star Wars. Now it is the turn of Lord Of The Rings and whilst the core appeal of LEGO games remain, this has become somewhat of a slight change in direction.

Players will still move through various levels based on famous moments from the films, smashing and collecting as they go, but the hub world is now the most stunning ever seen in a LEGO game. Middle Earth in LEGO form is just a joy to see. Fans of the books and especially the films will instantly recognise the different areas and there a plenty of little nods to the lore of Middle Earth. It has been said before about LEGO games, just how wonderful they look and again here the same is true, one of the best looking games of a generation. Not because characters and locations are looking as realistic as possible, but because the care and attention that has gone into making a fully fledged world look just the way it should, using the mix of LEGO pieces and some fully rendered areas. The balance is just right.

Gameplay remains as pick up and play as always, however the opening level is a bit of jump into the deep end. It will throw you off slightly, as you take on a big boss early in the game, needing to switch between characters to lure him in and get the right attack. Whilst long time gamers will be able to get through this relatively pain free, it can be difficult for certain co-op partners. It is a short opening though and pretty soon it starts to feel like any other LEGO game.

Another new addition is how side quests are implemented. It feels almost like Travellers Tales have spent the year playing plenty of Fallout, or Skyrim and decided that would work well in a LEGO game. It does, it adds a lot of longevity to a game that already has hours of play. Now you can navigate the world hub and be given mini quests that have no baring on the main quest, these will then reward with bonuses and unlocks in the form of new characters, red bricks, etc. It still keeps within the spirit of previous games, but the change is more than welcome.

Again as with previous LEGO titles, a deep knowledge of the story previously is not all that important, but for those who are knowledgeable, there is plenty of amusing and recognisable moments littered throughout. Voices, which first made an appearance in LEGO Batman 2 are back for Lord Of The Rings and once again add to the overall experience, that fear of doing such a thing ruining the charm can now be put to bed. It isn’t dialogue heavy, but the little cues fit in really well. Looking back, dialogue wasn’t as important to a Indiana Jones, but such is the more complex nature of a Lord Of The Rings, it would be easy to get lost with the story without it.

It may be possible to fly through LEGO Lord of the Rings’ eighteen stages in a couple of sessions, but that isn’t what these games are about. They almost beg you to play through again and again, completing each and every one to 100% and here again this is no exception, there is easily twenty plus hours of pure fun top be had. With the only downfall being how achievements are handled.

Whilst most are achievable in co-op, there are still a fair few that can only be done by the lead profile. Which is a shame when playing in co-op is the perfect way to approach a game like this. In fact, Gamestyle haven’t played a LEGO game in single player in who knows how long. It is lucky then that they are so fun to play, as you’ll be completing it all over again with a friend, or family member as the lead profile.

Co-op is again limited to local only with no online option available. Whilst this should really be a negative to beat the game with, it isn’t. There is a certain charm about playing this entirely locally, sitting down as a pair and working through, sharing the workload and occasionally getting into smashing battles with each other, as you go for the same objects.

There really isn’t a better feel good game on the console, that just brings gamers of all types together like this. It brings back memories of how social gaming used to be, before we had online capabilities. Being able to bring a family member into the action, whilst you still enjoy the core experience the game offers is not an easy thing to achieve, but here Travellers Tales have managed it.

LEGO Lord Of The Rings is another in a long line of classic LEGO games. It is fun and accessible. It is easy to lose an entire evening to its charms. It is the most well rounded of the LEGO titles too, whether a fan of the books or films, or not. It is one game to rule them all.

Far Cry 3 review

If there is one thing the Far Cry series has given gamers over the years, it is stunning locations beautifully realised by the CryEngine, then in Far Cry 2 on the Dunia engine. Yet it wasn’t just the visuals and locations that stood out, Far Cry tried to do things a little differently.

In Far Cry 2, the generic HUD that can be seen in 99% of modern games was replaced by a more realistic and immersive way of checking vital things like a map. Players would have to pull an actual map out of the pockets and view it while still in the game world. Meaning if under attack, that wouldn’t stop while looking at the map. There was more to the survival aspect, as the main protagonist also had malaria which had to be treated every thirty minutes (in real time) before he would become sick and eventually die.

Yet both Far Cry and Far Cry 2 did have their faults, re-spawning enemies, AI that would instantly spot you no matter how well hidden you were and various little bugs. They both played great games though and it was easy to become lost in the vast world as you played through for many, many hours.

So Far Cry 3 then, another location, another main protagonist, another set of features that offer up a brand new experience. Aside from the name and that it is a sandbox, open world, story driven game, there is nothing in common with previous Far Cry titles. The stories don’t overlap, they do not share anything with characters, each is standalone. Which is ideal, as it allows developers to really try new things in each game and not be shackled by previous iterations.

The story is based around Jason Brody, who along with a bunch of friends is captured by the quite insane Vaas (we know he is insane, as he tells us, he tells us what insanity is). Jason along with his brother manage to escape Vaas, however things take a turn for the worse and when Jason is rescued by Dennis and taken to his village, he is tasked with helping them, so they will, in return, help him find his friends.

As usual the story in a game like this, is they as an engine to encourage you to explore the massive open world and play around in its glorious surroundings. It’s fairly well written and acted, the pacing is just about right and will take a good few hours to complete, should you ignore everything else. That isn’t Far Cry though, Far Cry is all about exploration and experimentation.

A major new addition to Far Cry 3 is the ability to actually hunt and kill animals. This was left out of Far Cry 2 due to moral decisions. These are digital animals, in a game aimed at adults, it isn’t teaching children that it is fine to slaughter their pet kitten in cold blood. Most of the animals you will kill are either hunters, so you do so to survive, or because you need to use their hide to craft items. It isn’t just hunting for the fun of it. It is fun though and depending on the animal they vary in difficulty to kill.

They also add to much more to the game, in one mission Gamestyle had just done a re-con on an enemy outpost, used out camera to tag the enemy positions and were starting out attack. Sneaking past one guard before silently taking him down. Then on to another on a watch tower. It was here that all of a sudden a rattlesnake came from nowhere and struck, this caused us to fend it off, which caused noise and all of a sudden the outpost was on full alert.

It was one of those moments in a game where despite your character dying and needing to return to a previous checkpoint, you sat back and had to take in what had just happened. It’s not Fallout 3 levels of amazement, like stepping out of the vault for the first time. It was however a moment of realisation at how far games have really come. Our whole planning was taken down, not by an overly bias enemy AI, but by a random wild animal, just think about that for a second.

It’s not just here that the wildlife has an effect, as you navigate the island, you’ll see Tigers chasing prey, leaving their remains for you to scavenge from, goats along the hillsides, sharks and various fish in the water, boar which will be fairly timid until it feels threatened and much much more. The variety here is just so vast. It is stunning just how well integrated this is.

Aside from the odd scripted battle, how you approach each mission is totally up to you. Whilst it is possible to go in all guns blazing, which is perfectly acceptable and really affective, you can also go for a stealthy approach, by planning ahead, then silently taking out enemies one by one. Or even mixing the two, taking down the main threats, then opening up to clear out the rest. It is even possible to do some missions without taking on the enemy at all.

The stealth in Far Cry 3 is so well done, it can be difficult to not use it at times. The enemy in Far Cry 2, was too efficient and should you attack they would home in on your position. Here though should you break your stealth cover, an alarm will be raised and the enemy will be on high alert, which doesn’t all of a sudden stop after a few seconds, they are ready and alert until they know you are dead. However, they won’t instantly find you, so if you do make a noise by firing a weapon, it is possible to then move to another area and attack from another angle during the confusion, However, should you remain in the same spot, firing your weapon, the enemy will find you. It feels so much better than previous titles and the way stealth is integrated, feels better than many games whose main feature is just that.

As said previously, you can collect the hide from the wildlife you hunt, which can be then crafted into items which will prove useful as you progress. Bigger rucksacks to carry more items, wallets to carry more money, weapons holsters to carry more weapons, etc. It is a really clever technique, which allows the player to learn to survive and adapt. The wallet idea whilst initially feeling frustrating is actually a fine idea. A game that is trying to have a degree of realism, cannot have the player carrying around obscene amounts of money, as where would you put ten thousand dollars on your person? So limiting the amount you can carry by the size of the wallet works rather well, the same with weapons and ammo.

Players can level up too, by earning XP for completing missions, killing enemy, successfully doing side tasks, all the usual ways in a game like this. Every time you level up, you earn a skill point, which can be used to gain a new (magical) tattoo, this allows Jason to learn new skills, or become more enhanced to skills he already has. Not only do you need to earn the skill points to learn the skills, you need to complete objectives and side missions, to unlock the skills before you can learn them too.

In fact, pretty much everything this game does, encourages you to explore, to do more than just run through the story and toss the game aside. It actively wants you to play everything and it is hard to resist, with many ways to navigate the island, on foot, by road, by water or through the sky, it is much more than just a simple game, there is so much more than the story and the side quests, you would be doing the game a great injustice if you didn’t take in everything it had to offer. It would be like going on a safari and just looking up the facts on wikipedia while riding the off road vehicle.

Far Cry 3 is not only one of the games of this year, it is one of the games of this generation. There was nothing about it that ever came close to ruining the fun, it is a true sandbox experience and all the faults from the previous games have been ironed out. Simply put, you must buy this now!

Hitman Absolution review

The Hitman series is held in very high regard by fans. Blood Money is seen as the pinicle of the series. It is six years since the release of Blood Money and fans have been desperate for a fresh dose of their favourite hired hitman, Agent 47. Since then, there has been a film based on the game, but that was awful, so when a new title was announced the hype machine was in full flow, IO Interactive, on new hardware, it was hard not to get excited.

As with previous titles, the story is well written, rather than being a reboot for the series, like other games tend to do, it fits in with the previous titles, therefore offering plenty of subtle material for those who have stuck with the game since the first in 2001. Agent 47 has been sent to kill former handler Diana Burnwood, who has taken the agency to its knees. At the point of the assasination attempt, which unfortunately is pure cut-scene, Agent 47 is told of a young girl, who he must save. This one moment turns 47’s world upside down, as he then becomes hunted by those who once he trusted. There are plenty of twists as players progress and the acting along with the writing offer a fairly mature story that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the player.

Hitman games excelled at being a sandbox game, but not in the same sense as a GTA or Saint Row, instead players were given objectives then the levels were full of the tools to complete that objective. How you did it, was completely up to you. In Absolution, IO Interactive have tried to offer the same experience, yet a few of the new features make the whole experience feel a bit more linear.

Instinct Mode is the biggest new introduction, which allows Agent 47 to highlight enemies and points of interest, similar to the ideas in the recent Splinter Cell, or Batman Arkham City, in doing so, the game loses the sense of discovery and exploration that made the earlier games a joy to play. Pressing the right shoulder button activates instinct mode and enemies, weapons and tools are highlighted in yellow. This isn’t just limited to those in sight of Agent 47, as he can also see where enemies are before he has even had the chance to spot them himself. This works in a similar way to the mini-map in older games, the map which is still there in this very game. A silver lining though, is that this can be turned off in the options. Also in the harder modes the usefulness of Instinct becomes less and less, right through to purist mode, where you get no hints, or interface at all.

There is still a range of ways to take out targets, it still has the sandbox way of playing. It is even possible to get through without killing anyone, bar the targets and depending on the difficulty level the time taken to find a way to a target can take a short time, or prove to be a tense slow progression , again depending also on how you choose to approach the task. It won’t be uncommon to spend more time tracking the movements of targets and enemies, rather than sneaking past, or taking them out. There is an awful lot of planning as you access the situation, before deciding on the best course of action.

Of course you can just go in all guns blazing, that is the beauty of a Hitman game, it may not be the best way to do things, nor is it playing the game in the spirit it should be played, however it can be done. What is introduced too, is a scoring system, that grades how each section is tackled. Points are awarded for getting through areas undetected, or by taking down an enemy without arousing suspicion. Whereas points are lost if 47 is spotted, or even not as clean with a kill as he could be. Going in all guns blazing will see players ending a scenario deep in the minus figures.

It’s not just a scoring system that encourages you to vary your play style, there are also a lot of challenges on offer, that if completed will unlock various bonuses, such as new weapons. Again, whether you want to play through and complete the challenges, is totally up to your own discretion. It does encourage multiple play through attempts, which again was something that stood out about the previous games, no matter how many times you played, you could find a new way to complete an objective.

On the surface, Hitman Absolution does lots of good things, but something just doesn’t sit right with the game, yet this will only be an issue for veterans of the series. All the tools seem to be included to create a true sandbox experience, but it never really lives up to the lofty heights of Blood Money. There are too many cut-scenes mid action, or quick-time-events, which serve to make you feel that some areas are simply sending you into a bottleneck, so it can give you the outcome the story desires. As mentioned, there are a number of cut-scene executions, however these do become less prominent as the game moves forward.

Stepping away from the main story, there is the Contracts mode, which allows players to pick any level, pick the weapons and pick the target, creating your own objectives, which can then be shared for other people to download. They then try to match you objective and are scored on how close they get to how you approached the level. The beauty of this is that you are not confined to only making the main target the same one that was set in the story mode. This is Hitman at it almost best, taking away the limitations from the story mode and allowing players to create something of their own. This mode alone has a lot of potential and could have been an entire game in itself. This is real Hitman. If enough players get on board and new maps and targets are created, this could be the defining mode of the game. To the point where if the game was purely this, it would be something outstanding.

Forgetting this is a Hitman for a moment, as a standalone game, it is fun to play, offering up some decent writing, acting and some solid gameplay. The difficulty levels are well integrated, allowing those of different skill sets to get the experience they need. It is challenging and engrossing and would be a perfect fit as a new IP.

Overall, Hitman isn’t a bad game, in fact it it is hard to find fault. The main issue is that it is a Hitman game and the main new mechanics and the structure of the story mode take away that feeling you had when playing an earlier Hitman game. If you are new to the series then you will love what is on offer, but fans will be left with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouth.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 review

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 screenshot (Xbox 360)

Another year, another Call Of Duty. It seems that the Call Of Duty games are as much of a yearly franchise as all the major sports titles. Gamers can almost pinpoint a release window for the next title, from the moment the previous has been released. So it is no surprise then that Call Of Duty: Black Ops II has found its way to a November release.

This time development is handed back over to Treyarch, as it was for the original Black Ops on 2010, as they look to carry on the roaring success of the previous titles. Call Of Duty is a juggernaut franchise these days, so much so that like certain actors, musicians and sports stars, it stands above its own field as a name in its own right. Often referenced by the media whenever a story breaks about the gaming industry, good or bad. It heaps a fair amount of pressure on the teams working on the games, just because of the name.

Here in Black Ops II there is the usual mix of single player campaign, online multiplayer action and Treyarch’s own stamp on the series, the zombie mode. It is once again quite an impressive package, that offers plenty of content across the various modes on offer. Is there anything new to bring to the table, or is it just more of the same?

The single player part of the game takes place across a campaign mode and no matter what you think of the story, no matter how convoluted it is, it is impossible to argue with the way it is putt together. It is incredibly linear, a far cry from the classic shooters of yesteryear. However, Call Of Duty isn’t about options, it isn’t about choosing how you play. It is all about playing out scenes of all out action, set piece after set piece, with action that would make even Michael Bay feel a bit dizzy.

Just like top Hollywood blockbuster action films, the campaign is made of pure action, with segments of story interjected in between. The story parts are told via cut scenes which essentially just set the scene for the various fire fights you’ll find yourself in. As with previous efforts in the series, the story isn’t exactly told in a linear fashion either, as you play different character in different times, taking you from the eighties, to the near future. Everything is loud and the action is non-stop. There seems to be an assumption too that those who will be playing have played a Call Of Duty before and starts off with a bang and never lets up.

It does work though and while it can be easy to look back at the campaign and pick holes in the story and moan about the shooter essentially being on rails compared to other FPS titles, such as Doom, it is an experience that does leave you feeling satisfied during your time with it. However, the campaign in a Call Of Duty is pretty much the warm up act, as it is in the online multiplayer where the core fans will spend most of their time.

For those who are veterans of the series, then they will be familiar with what is on offer. Various modes including, Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Capture The Flag and Search & Destroy are all there in core mode. For those who prefer something a bit more challenging, some of the variations are also included in a hardcore mode. Where it takes less to get a kill, or be killed, players no longer feel like bullet sponges. In fact, it actually feels like it offers a better balance to the game than core.

For those new to Call Of Duty, or that find online a frustrating experience, getting killed all the time, without getting the kills, there is Combat Training, that offers players the chance to play with other newcomers and less skilled players. While you can still earn XP here, the challenges that can be earned in other areas cannot be obtained here. Hopefully working in a way to stop better players preying on the supposed lesser players for easy gain.

Playing online is what you make of it, just as it is in any online game, especially one like Call Of Duty. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you’ll get better and have a much more enjoyable experience. That being said, despite the Combat Training mode, it can become a frustrating time for new players, as players seem to learn the maps inside out very quickly. Call Of Duty online still has a lot to learn from Battlefield, where you can get be part of a team, with a set of skills other than being a good aim.

It is very well put together though and in all the games played so far, there hasn’t been any noticeable lag, even when things get frantic. You know that your own deaths and the kills you earn are down to your skill, rather than some lag or a dodgy glitch. Which apart from preferences to how online should be, you cannot ask for more than that.

It’s not just the action online where there is plenty to be found, there are the options for League Play, which adds a level of competition to the game beyond just levelling up. There will be various series across the games lifespan, where you compete to earn you place in a league, then finish as high as possible by getting wins and kills. It is an excellent addition for those who find themselves getting bored with simply turning up to games and levelling up with no real end goal.

Making another return to a Treyarch game is the zombies mode which sees players either team up online, or play alone to take on hordes or zombies. Staying true to the previous zombie modes, this is a wonderful side distraction from the campaign and online modes. It is simply kill to survive, for as long as humanly possible. There is more of a Left 4 Dead feel to zombies this time around, as you can team up with up to three other people to take on the various maps. There is even a bit of a story type affair thrown into the mix. Even though it is influenced (putting it kindly) by Left 4 Dead, it is certainly a welcome influence.

This is Call Of Duty, nothing more, nothing less. Fans of the series will lap it up, those who didn’t like the previous games will not be swayed by anything it does. It has a target audience and Activision know what they want. Black Ops II doesn’t disappoint, it just doesn’t push the series on any further.

8/10

Assassin’s Creed 3 review

As Gamestyle mentioned in the preview for Assassin’s Creed 3, pre-orders for this game are at a high. On the 25th of October, just under a week before release, Ubisoft confirmed that AC3 is the most pre-ordered game in their history. Expectations are through the roof for the fifth major AC game, but can Ubisoft meet the expectations?

Without going over too much old ground, AC3 picks up where Revelations left off. Our main character Desmond is in possession of one of the Apples, and along with his companions Shaun and Rebecca, and his father William, is heading to the central vault. This vault, as advised by the messengers of the First Civilization, is where they will be able to save the planet from a solar flare that will engulf the planet.

With a great amount of difficulty, Gamestyle will keep this review spoiler free. But after some said that the story of Ezio went on for too long, AC3 has a new hero in the guise of Connor. There are however, various unknown elements to the story that were kept tightly-wrapped in development. Players will go through several twists and turns with the story, and any thought that perhaps AC was becoming stale will instantly disappear. After the ‘straight in to the action’ approach of the previous two games, AC3 has a more gradual build up which may not be enjoyable to all, but it is all worth it in the end. However, we can talk about what we do know, and that is a new character and setting.

Gone are Altair in the 1100’s, and Ezio in the 1400’s. The playable character is Connor, a half English, half Native American man, and the location is the USA in the 1700’s. The differences jump out right away. Whilst Altair was silent and moody, and Ezio was cocky and forward, Connor is actually…nice. The typical picture that is painted of Native Americans is that of respect, and peacefulness. Connor matches this perfectly. Polite and calm, it is a pleasant change to the typical gaming protagonist. The setting is what is really noticeable however. The older AC games often came across as being somewhat bland. Town areas blurred into one, and there wasn’t a great deal that stood out. AC3 and the USA however, really is a whole new world. The game feels alive. There are port areas, living sections, bars, shops and everything else that would be expected in a town. The NPCs are more active also, with conversations and actions coming across as much more natural. This is all noticeable from the start, but the greatest part of AC3, is the Frontier, or the area between cities. Forest, plains, canyons and settlements, everything is there, and it is absolutely stunning. It would not be too far fetched to compare it to Skyrim, that great is the level of detail. Weather conditions are a new feature, with the snow being a particular beauty. Whilst it is clear that AC3 is pushing the 360 to the limits (also being a two disc game), Ubisoft have made one of the most visually impressive games out there.

Trailers and previews revealed many additions in actual gameplay, and this is where AC3 really stands out. Whereas previous games revolved around simply finding hidden items, and purchasing various objects, AC3 is so much more. Again, listing all of them would spoil the game, but a couple that have been revealed include hunting, and naval warfare. The hunting is reminiscent of Red Dead, and involves tracking animals, setting traps, and skinning them. This gives the players materials for trade, such as meat and fur. The sailing aspect however, is something straight out of the films. Sailing along the seas, controlling the sails and firing the cannons, all that is missing is Johnny Depp on deck.

Assassin's Creed 3 Screenshot

The base of operations (or Homestead) has also been greatly modified. Now in the form of a worn down country manor, the player no longer just watches the upgrades happen. NPCs are recruited to live on the land, which increases available supplies. Hiring lumberjacks (or the 1700 equivalent), gives supplies of timber for example. All of the mini games and side quests are just as immersive as the main story, and add another dimension to the game.

Linked to all of the side quests are various clubs and challenges. Performing certain requirements will result in the player being invited to join a club. For example, killing X amount of animals will gain an invite to the hunting club. These range in difficulty, and are well worth completing as they net the player much needed cash and other rewards.

In terms of controls, AC3 has been tweaked slightly. The right trigger still causes more attention attracting moves such as running, but there is no longer a need to hold the A button for free-running and climbing, as the right trigger causes it to happen automatically. Large jumps that could cause damage still need to be triggered with A, but generally it is a much smoother system, which should result in less misplaced jumps or unintentional movements. The combat system has also changed, and is no longer as easy as previous games. Holding block in armed combat does not work anymore, and each individual attack has to be blocked. From this, counter or disarm moves can be performed. As is the way for many games now, AC3 is yet another to borrow elements of the fighting from the Arkham games. This has resulted in more fluid battles, and due to the increased number of animations, they look even better than ever.

Due to the more advanced time period, firearms are now a bigger part of AC3 than previous games. This is not to mean that the game will descend into a shoot ‘em up however, as we are still running on basic gunpowder. So that means one shot, and then around 5 to 10 seconds to reload. Swords and stealth is still the primary choice, especially when up against large numbers.

The multiplayer mode returns, and as expected, has been improved. Again using the ‘story’ of being an Animus training programme, the player has a variety of modes to choose from. These range from a simple mode where the aim is to assassinate a target, to team based capture the flag. It is great fun, although is very unforgiving for lower level players. Something of note is that some customisation options are unlocked through the single player, which gives another incentive to 100% the single player mode.

A more unusual feature to be discussed in a game review is the historical content. There were concerns before release that Europeans would be portrayed in an excessively negative light in this game. What Gamestyle found however, was a fair and balanced view of the event, with arguments both for, and against, the American Revolution. In fact, it was even funny at points, with Desmond and Shaun (a proud Englishman) arguing about the events. So not only is this a fun game, but it is educational!

Annoyingly, the only negatives that can be levelled at AC3 are technical ones. As is almost to be expected in a large game, there are lots of bugs. The collision system isn’t always accurate, leading to limbs disappearing through walls for example. Guns can be found floating in mid-air. A particularly amusing glitch during reviewing involved Connor jumping a fence, and for some reason being catapulted 500 feet straight up in the air. However, Ubisoft are on the case, and there is already a patch for some issues on release. As these bugs can be ironed out, it is not a huge problem just yet, but they do need to be looked at.

Quite simply, one of the greatest stories of this gaming generation has just released its greatest chapter. Some complained of a lack of extras in the previous games. In this case, they will be complaining that they don’t know where to start. AC3 is one of the best games this year, and even the minor flaws can’t take that away. This is a must buy for fans of the series, and is a reasonable starting point for those who are yet to play any of the previous games. Hopefully this isn’t quite the end of Assassins Creed just yet, as the levels in the present day were very enjoyable indeed…

10/10

Pid review

Pid screenshot (Xbox 360)

Everything about Pid screams subtlety, it really does. From the opening title screen, there is no flashy graphics or splash screens, just simple a simple downplayed menu. It is a theme that carries on throughout the game, emphasising on the little things, to guide you through the game.

Pid is about a young boy named Kurt, who after a bizarre event on a school bus, finds himself stranded on a strange planet. Kurt main objective is to get home, it’s all he wants to do. He will encounter many odd inhabitants on the planet, some willing to help, but others who will stand in his way.

Pid is essentially another puzzle platformer, but it does stand out from the crowd, using the mechanic of gravity to navigate the various areas Kurt will find himself in. Our protagonist finds himself in possession of an orb, that he is unable to remove from his person, no matter how hard he tries and which can be used to manipulate gravity via the beams the orb can project.

This mechanic is used in various ways, with the main being allowing Kurt to navigate to areas that would be unreachable without the gravity beams. Stepping into the beam will allow Kurt to travel in the direction it is facing. On the floor and he can jump in and travel upwards, on a wall and it can push him horizontally and on a slope diagonally. This becomes useful when trying to avoid the various traps littered throughout the world.

It’s not just the environment that is affected, the gravity beams can also be used to defeat the various enemies. Pushing them into traps, or even just forcing them out of the way. They can even be used in a more stealthy manner, by allowing Kurt to travel around an enemy undetected. In fact, the is actually a lot of choice when dealing with the enemies, allowing you to find the best way through.

It’s not just a case of using the beams anywhere and everywhere though. As in a game like Portal, there are certain surfaces where the beams cannot be placed, meaning you have to find other ways to navigate through, some enemies too are totally unaffected by the beams gravitations effects. Yet this isn’t random or hard to work out, as mentioned before Pid is about subtlety and colour plays a huge part of that.

If an enemy is coloured red, then they can be manipulated by gravity and manoeuvred or killed in one of the ways mentioned before. However if they are coloured in blue, then you will need to figure out other ways to dispose of them, or find a way past.

The visuals play a huge part in the experience thanks to the importance of colour and the hand painted look of the world mixes well with the characters making them really feel part of the scenery, you can easily spot the different enemy types, but they stand out as a totally separate entity, everything just feels natural.

There is more to Kurt’s arsenal than just the gravity beams too, he can pick up other weapons that will aid him on his journey, from basic bombs, which will destroy enemies and break down walls, to smoke bombs that will help Kurt stay hidden. It all fits in well and adds a decent amount of variety to the game.

However, despite the lush visuals and clever mechanics, there are times where the game does feel a bit repetitive and sadly a little dull. It’s not even that you reach a point in the game and just want it to end, there are just points where it feels like a section could have been written out, where you are just repeating something you have done a few minutes prior. It doesn’t quite ruin the experience, but it does come close at times. Which is a shame as on the whole Pid does deliver a fine experience and one that offers something different.

The game will take around eight to ten hours to complete on normal difficulty, but for those who want a sterner test and are willing to go through those tedious sections a second time, there is a hard mode, which is actually true to it’s word for once. Hard means hard, levels remain the same, but added to each or various other distractions designed purely to hinder your progress. Now whether you find this enjoyable or not, depends entirely on how much of an artificially added challenge you like, some will love it, other will hate it, but it is an option and added choice is always welcome.

Pid isn’t going to stand out as an all time classic of the generation, it won’t find itself mentioned in the same breath as a Limbo, or a Braid, but what it does, it does generally well. It is a fine game to pick up and play through, but despite its wonderful understated presentation, it isn’t one that will stay with you once finished.

7/10

Pool Nation review

There have been some excellent pool and snooker games over the years, from Virtual Pool, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Side Pocket and the more recent World Snooker Championship. Yet on XBLA the choice has been a little lacking, so the release of Pool Nation is very much welcome. Is it worth departing with your points for?

Pool Nation does nothing out of the ordinary, it does however play a good game of pool. Physics are solid and the balls act as you would hope. Which in the main is all you can ask for of a game such as this. It has most of the variations of the game on offer beyond just 9-Ball and 8-Ball too.

In single player you have the option to play a tour mode, which is limited to 9 and 8-Ball, but these take you through other forty match-ups in each variation. There is a slight twist to just playing and winning each game too, as well as that each match-up also has a star system, similar to that found on many iOS games. In each game you are given a set of objectives that earn you stars, these range from simply winning a game and potting a certain number of balls in a row, to playing jump shots or getting a points target. It adds a little extra to the basic monotony of play and win.

Also, rather than just having a straight up pot to win, the game encourages you to try fancy shots, by rewarding you with skill points. Take an easy simple pot and you will still get points, but take a more difficult shot, such as a swerve, jump or combo and you will earn more points. On the whole there is no real value to the points you earn, but they are required to earn stars on many of the matches you’ll play. Your top shot is also registered on leaderboards, so for those who like to out do friends, the incentive is there to add some flare to your game.

Outside of tour mode there is versus, which allows you to play against the AI, or local multiplayer. Here you can change up the game type too, adding 3-Ball, Straight, Rotation, Golf, Speed and Killer games to the mix. It does add to the experience too and offer up a nice change of pace to the standard pool options.

The stand-out mode in Pool Nation though is endurance. Here you basically have to just keep potting balls and stay on the table as long as possible. Starting with nine balls on the table, new ones are added every few seconds and the game ends once there are twenty four on the table. There is no time limit as such, but achievements can be earned for lasting past certain time landmarks. It is fast paced and will really test your nerve, especially when you hear the alarm stating that it may soon be game over. It is easy to find yourself spending hours in Endurance alone, as you try to beat your best time.

Online has options of ranked and unranked games allowing you to play most of the game types from versus, with the exception of golf and speed. There is also a tournament mode to play online too, which offers up 9-Ball and 8-Ball variations, with the objective here to basically win three games in a row of your chosen game type. The online play is fairly solid and feels no different to the single player in terms of physics and speed, with the game mostly unaffected by lag and connection issues.

The controls are fairly well done, with the left stick used to aim the ball, then various options to change the spin, angle of the cue, fine tune the shot and the angle you are looking from. A nice touch here is the ability to lock your the power of your shot, pull back on the right stick to get your desired power, then tap the right should button to lock the power, allowing you to then finish aiming your shot properly, before pushing the right stick forward to take the shot. These options are yours to use as you please, but in certain modes the aiming aids, can be switched on and off, depending on what challenge you want from the game.

There is no official licence here, so don’t expect to see the stars from the pool world anywhere near the game, instead you face off against fantasy characters, each with a little mini bio about their background and skill-set. The presentation too is fine, with games taking place in various locations rather than being stuck to official venues, this seemingly gave the design team a lot of freedom, so expect to see lots of colourful locations.

Overall, Pool Nation does nothing new for the genre, but it does play a good game of pool, that is easily accessible from your XBLA library. It is worth having for the Endurance mode alone, if you are a fan of pool, then this is a must own title and at 800 Microsoft Points, it is a bargain.

8/10 

Forza Horizon review

Forza has been embroiled in a long battle with Gran Turismo over the years, as fans of both would spring to the defence of their chosen title to claim that it was the best sim racer of on consoles. However for Forza Horizon, developers Playground Games have chosen to go in a new direction.

Instead of structured races on the famous circuits across the world, Horizon takes to the open roads of Colorado. Gone are the structured menus of previous Forza games and in come events and options that must be driven to to enter. It’s more Test Drive Unlimited than straight up racer.

It is a new developer too, as Turn10, while overseeing development have handed over to Playground Games for the most part. From the start it is obvious that it was a good decision. Visually Horizon is every bit as stunning as previous Forza games, the Colorado locations are a beautiful backdrop that really do immerse you into the game, offering up many opportunities to take some amazing photos.

Yes, the photo mode makes a welcome return, yet offers up a lot more variety thanks to the the glorious setting of Colorado. The usual options are back, offering up little new, so you still can position the camera, choose a range of visual effects and choose between basic and big shot options, which can then be shared on your store-front or on forzamotorsport.net. Simple to use, but the photos that are already coming out are jaw dropping, it is very easy to get lost in the photo mode as you try to show off just how beautiful everything is.

Another returning feature is the ability to paint and decorate your cars, again this isn’t feature light, it’s as in depth as it was in Forza 4. The ability to import all your old designs is there too, so had you spent many hours creating designs to be used on your favourite cars, there is no need to start from scratch. There are limitations of locked designs however, but the fact that some things can be imported is very welcome. Again all your designs can be shared on your store-front, where you can also buy and download other peoples shared vinyls and designs.

There is one area that will split opinion right down the middle and that is with the presentation. Horizon takes place at a festival, with the idea being that every year the worlds greatest street racers descend on Colorado and take place in many events to show who is the number one. This adds a little bit of a story to proceedings, as you battle against various characters as you level up through the game, earning new wristbands as you go, with said wristbands replacing the traditional levelling of older games.

The characters you come up against range from making you want to turn the sound off, to mildly irritating., Well, depending on your demographic that is. That said, as your progress the interruptions of the narrative become less frequent and a little less galling. If you’ve played Dirt 2 or Dirt 3 then some things may feel a little similar, as the design of events splashes and the general look of festival area are very reminiscent of Codemasters efforts, it’s no bad thing though, as Codemasters know how to do presentation, so if you are going to be influenced, it may as well be from the best.

Where Forza Horizon does excel though is on the track… Sorry! Road. There were some slight fears about how the developers could possibly transfer the sim handling of the previous games to a semi arcade open road experience. Well they did it and they did it well. There are no options for tuning cars in Horizon, but upgrades are still possible and the handling has been tweaked rather than reworked, to make it a lot more controllable, but without really neglecting what made Forza stand out originally. In truth, the team at Playground Games has got the balance between arcade and simulation nigh on perfect. If anything it throws up memories of Project Gotham Racing, which is very, very welcome.

Speaking of PGR, there is at least one thing that is a direct influence of that series. The Kudos system is worked into Horizon, although under a slightly new guise. Players are rewarded not only for how they perform in races, in terms of wins and such, but also for how they drive. Style type points are awarded drifting, reaching top speeds, making passes, near misses, drafting and more, chaining these together will earn multipliers which help get more and more style points.

So what are the point of these? As well as competing in races and events, there are numerous sponsor challenges that can be met, which will earn you more credits to buy more cars. There is also a popularity meter, with the aim to be the most popular driver at the festival. You start in 250th place and the better you drive, the more entertaining you are, the more popular you become. As you become more popular new events unlock, with the proviso being that these are special events that only the most popular can enter. It is a nifty little way of rewarding you as well as keeping you driving around the open world between events.

If you’ve played Test Drive, or even Burnout Paradise you’ll be familiar with the layout and how to access events. Instead of bringing up a menu and choosing an event, then starting it. You are encouraged to drive from event to event and sign up. While you can unlock way-points that allow for fast travel, this will cost precious credits (apart from fast travel back to the central festival area), so has been designed to keep you behind the wheel as much as possible.

Aside from the main events and the showcases, there is the ability to drive up behind any one of the 250 other racers at the event and challenge them to an on the spot race, which will earn you even more credits. This does nothing more than earn you quick credits, but is a nice distraction between just cruising from one end of the map to the other. There are also discount advertising hoardings that can be smashed, these will earn you discounts on upgrades. There are nine hidden barns across the map too, clues as to their locations are given every now and again and these contain some rare classic cars.

That’s not all though, there are speed cameras and average speed checks too, yet unlike being flashed by one of these on the M6, you won’t get a ticket for speeding. Instead your speed is recorded and added to the leaderboard so it can be compared to your friends instantly. Seeing yourself less and one MPH off your rival’s best speed is infuriating and you will find yourself trying to go back and show them who is boss.

Rivals and leaderboards are integrated throughout the entire game, whether that be via speed cameras, or leaderboards for each individual event. Yet unlike other games where you get a simple leaderboard, Horizon lets you earn rewards for beating your rivals. At the end of every event, you are then shown a screen that is almost mocking in nature, telling you that a rival has completed that same event faster than you did. The offer of credits for going out and trying to beat their time instantly is often too good to pass up.

There is multiplayer too and whilst the action is excellent and plays just as well as the single player game, it is a shame that it is a totally separate affair and not integrated in any real way, bar being able to still find discount signs and earning credits. You need to leave the single player experience to play online. However, once online there are plenty of options, ranging from the standard circuit races and point to point, to infected, cat and mouse style events. You can also free roam around Colorado with up to sever other friends and even create some races on the fly by setting a way-point for everyone to get to.

At the end of every race, you are rewarded for your efforts, it is in levelling up that things have changed a bit. You still get to level up depending on your performance, but instead of set prizes you are shown a slot machine style reward system that can earn you either credits or a new car, what you win is totally random though.

You can find existing games, set a party or search via a set of custom rules. The best time comes from entering free roam, where you and your friends can take part in a series of challenges across the map. There a tons of these too, that range from quick speed based challenges, to taking certain cars from one point on the map to another, it is simply a joy to play. It makes online every bit as fun as the single player, but the niggle that you need to leave one to go to the other, just takes out from the experience somewhat, this however is only a minor niggle.

Forza Horizon isn’t exactly ground breaking, games like Test Drive Unlimited and Burnout Paradise have already tried the open world experience. However Forza Horizon does it better than both and offers up an amazing experience that doesn’t stop giving from start to finish, it is simply glorious.

9/10

Top Spin 4 review

2K Sports returns once again with a new addition to their popular series of tennis games. This is as close as you can get to playing tennis, without stepping onto a real court and grunting – Top Spin 4 promises to be best yet.

The main aim for any game, no matter what genre, is to make it feel realistic. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting back blood lusting zombie hordes or playing a casual spot of tennis. If it doesn’t feel real, then all senses of fun and escapism are lost. Thankfully Top Spin 4 truly delivers in the old realism department.

The versatility and expansiveness of game play is always important, but in a tennis game where the scope of game play can easily be narrow. Achieving a fresh and new experience every time you enter the virtual court can be hard. Top Spin 4 has gone some way to successfully execute this. Whilst there are only four main shot types (flat, lob, slice and top spin), there are several variations of each shot type.

This creates a whole new learning process in the game, whereby you gradually train yourself to intelligently pick a shot type. So if you are on the back foot, you might want to play a controlled slice shot to re-affirm your position in the game. If you are pressing onto your opponent, you could play a flat power shot and take the game by the scruff of the neck. This introduces a tactical and calculated element into the game. This means matches between players of differing abilities can enjoy a level of competitiveness. It also makes the game exciting, just like in real tennis, with a cleverly crafted shot you could go from being under pressure to winning a point.

Another great thing about the game play is the motions and movements of the players, they move like real tennis players. Instead of tennis playing robots following one dimensional orders, the players move and groove as realistically as ever. One criticism of the game play would be the slow reaction times of the players, sometimes you’re not able to react to a returning ball as quickly as you’d like. Also sometimes the players tend to get stuck in a crab like mosey, that sort of sluggish movement isn’t a burden on the game, but definitely not a positive.

Of course another huge aspect of any game is the graphics, it can be said with confidence that Top Spin 4 has succeeded on the graphics front. In terms of actual game play, it could easily be mistaken for a real tennis match if you were just glancing. Most impressively are the graphics for the players, you can actually tell who’s who, even though Rafael Nadal’s face is a bit on the hairy side, you can easily tell him apart. Whilst it isn’t pivotal to give the star players their own specially tailored, accurate faces, it does make playing as them better.

Whilst the most important elements of the game are executed successfully, other smaller segments of the game have also been done well. Whilst music choice and taste changes from person to person, the soundtrack on Top Spin 4 is likely to please and impress most people.

One of the best features of the game is certainly the academy. The learning curve of any game can be a large stumbling block on the road to fun and enjoyment, the academy feature means you learn every aspect of the game, from the bottom up. You receive an education in Top Spin 4, where you’re taught every shot type, you try to hone your accuracy and generally improve your game play. It is a brilliant addition to the game, and perfect for someone new to the Top Spin 4 series.

Another good little feature that should be made compulsory on every single game is the helpful loading screens, which offer controller information and other helpful snippets of information. Simple things like that brighten up the most mundane parts of the game.

There are a few irritating bits in the game however. The audience clapping will really wear you down, it is the same repeated sound clip after most points, if you find things like that annoying then the mute button will be your only solace. Also you’ll often hear the umpire shout ‘OUT’, especially when you’re just starting to play the game, but for some reason on some court types, mainly clay, the umpire will shout something out more akin to the word ‘BAT’. If you notice it, then a) it proves that we at Gamestyle aren’t imagining things and b) hours of tennis can do crazy things to an umpire.

Top Spin 4 is a fantastic game and definitely the best tennis game currently on the market. There a few minor flaws, but for every negative, there are a hundred more positives. The realism of the game play is leaps and bounds ahead of competitors and predecessors in the series, but there are still a few loose ends that need to be tied up.

8/10

Need For Speed: Undercover review

The Need For Speed series has never stood still, always changing, evolving and experimenting, often with mixed results. In Need For Speed Undercover, we have the gaming equivalent of Quantum of Solace. A video game set to confuse and disappoint many, but one that may discover a new audience.

Too often the series has become bogged down with a storyline and trying to fit that dynamic into a racing experience. Yes, Undercover does include a plot of sorts, but it has been watered down to the level of Fast and Furious, where it becomes insignificant. The cars, chases and ensuing action are the real stars, and in Undercover theyve been pushed to the forefront. From the off youre being pursued by the police, such an initial twist almost caught Gamestyle out, as we were waiting for the opening monologue!

The storyline is delivered via mobile calls when youre on the road, or a series of live cut scenes featuring real actors and actresses. It has been a long time since Gamestyle has seen this method in action and it certainly benefits from the Undercover budget and the high definition ratio. Gone are the days of badly acted live action scenes and were delighted, but there is still room for improvement. Your main point of contact is Federal Agent Chase Linh (played by Maggie Q), who has placed you deep undercover to expose the kingpins of the Tri-City Bay Area. At first this means establishing your rep, making contacts and winning over enemies through street racing, or giving the cops the run-around.

Undercover never drops a gear, content to offer a variety of races across the city map, or allow you to roam and build up some cash for garage purchases. Soon you can attract offers for your services and expand the city map greatly. The city does look slick, albeit reminiscent of the classic Specials track Ghost Town as youll never see a civilian on foot, anywhere. For some there wont be enough traffic on the roads, or any incentive to explore the city streets. Gamestyle can appreciate such sentiments, yet this isnt GTA so youre never going to be one foot and almost everything in this release has been thrown overboard in favour of a streamlined vision. The result is a fast and furious experience minus any unnecessary baggage, taking the series back to its pursuit roots. The Tri-City is one huge street racing circuit and your tarmac playground.

Arguably some sacrifices are too steep, such as being able to simply select missions via the map or D-Pad. So there is no need to explore or any tangible benefit surely Black Box could have included some hidden items or missions? The pick up and play nature has been extended to the difficulty curve, as for the majority of players, Undercover is relatively straightforward. Gamestyle bought British, and our Lotus quite happily (with various add-ons as we moved up the tier system) could dominate events that harboured several superior super cars. This isnt the real driving simulator, but some perspective would have been beneficial despite the arcade nature of the experience.

Causing damage or pulling off moves results in immediate cash rewards that you can spend in unlocked garages, either on new vehicles or upgrades. Then there are the superficial options that will get any boy racer excited, and unlike other releases these dont have any impact on performance. Tinkering to your hearts content is something you can enjoy, whether selecting the right rims or designing vinyl stickers, its all here. Sadly while EAs releases this year have offered fantastic online features, Undercover is lacking. Firstly you can only upload photographs, while the official site will allow you to view these and your statistics, Forza 2 was offering this several years ago. Given the options in NHL 09, it is unfortunate Black Box couldnt do more. The actual online racing is surprisingly limited. Cops and Robbers is a rapid-fire experience that is an interesting alternative. The online races themselves are extremely fast, with players being somewhat reasonable in comparison to the blatant cheating seen online in Gran Turismo Prologue. No lag was evident even on full races and the tracks themselves can be lengthy affairs, if very arcade in nature with high speeds and nitro being the staple ingredients, rather than any driving skill.

If anything Undercover reminded Gamestyle of Tokyo Highway Challenge, which we enjoyed on the Dreamcast, but was an acquired taste. The ability to free roam and engage in pursuits is at the core of Genkis racer, and Black Box have tried with Undercover to break away from the Midnight Clubs and Burnouts of this genre. While not a complete success, it is a refreshing change and a step in the right direction, unlike Quantum of Solace.

7/10

Dead Space review

An alien in Dead Space attacks the lead role.

Sci-fi and horror go together like bread and butter, and while Hollywood seems to exploit this fully, the gaming industry somehow manage to leave it on the wayside. There some exceptions to the rule, but we feel that none captures the true horror and loneliness than Dead Space. If there was one game that shows how EA have changed over the years then it’s this one.

Obviously banking a lot on this becoming a fully fledged franchise, the amount of resources gone into it is amazing. With an animated comic book hitting the Xbox Live Marketplace and an animated movie (Dead Space: Downfall) EA have created an entire universe from the ground up, and its paid off.

Right from the opening you get a feeling that this is something special. Your character, the engineer Isaac Clarke and the crew of the USG Kellion arrive at the stricken planet cracker USG Ishimura (a planet cracker being a ship that literally cracks open planets stealing all the valuable ore). The first shot of the Kellion coming out of hyperspace and seeing the Ishimura for the first time is an outstanding sight. One of the best reveals in gaming history as you see the ship poking out from behind all the asteroids, with the nearby sun glaring. Its simply beautiful.Where Dead Space really excels is in the sound design. Not just the fantastic music, but the way you can hear the ship creaking, the monsters lurking in the shadows, everything adds to the fantastic feeling of tension and dread that the game creates. Even the voice acting isnt that bad.

More fear comes from the monsters that stalk the corridors of the Ishimura. Dismemberment has been made a big part of the game. Going for body shots will take plenty of ammo (which at times can be scarce thanks to the limited item slots) so the best offence is to literally chop them apart. Taking out their legs and arms before it finally keels over and dies. This is made extremely difficult with the variety of enemies you face and the way their approach you, sometimes dropping in from the air ducts. In some ways Dead Space has a lot in common with Resident Evil 4. The viewpoint in particular is exactly the same with your character off to the side, the only difference being Isaac actually has slightly more movement, something thats incredibly crucial. As mentioned item slots are limited with upgrades to your suit allowing you to carry more items. Stores are scattered throughout the ship (quite generously too), which not only allow you stock up on health and ammo, but also include a safe which can store any extra equipment you may be carrying. Or they can be sold if youre strapped for cash, which isnt really a problem with the amount of credits that can be found in safes and dead bodies.The experience could be made very difficult if youre given no direction.

With the surviving members of your crew contacting you with a new objective, youre not just having to follow a rather unhelpful map, but by clicking the right thumbstick a light shines across the floor for a few seconds directing you to your current objective. It could turn the game into a very linear experience, but EA throw a few curveballs at you that it never becomes a problem. In fact, youll be glad that youre shown the direction because youll want to get out of here as fast as you can.Dead Space also throws a few different gameplay changes into the mix. The zero-g sections allow you to jump to any wall, which need to be utilised to complete the puzzles thrown at you. An other similar moment is when you enter the vacuum of space, only now you have a limited time to reach the next section before the air runs out. The air represented by a timer on the back of your suit, and thats one of the great, unique things about Dead Space, everything has been streamlined into the experience.

The health meter is displayed with a blue light on the back of Isaac, and if you dont concentrate on that then Isaacs breathing starts to suffer when hes in danger. The other is the inventory which is in real-time, so make sure youre in safety before opening it because monsters will be coming for you. Good news its far simpler and easier to use than with the similar system used in Alone in the Dark. And finally videos that you receive will appear in front of you on a 2D display.

There’s only one real fault with the game and thats the often hilariously bad rag doll physics. Dead bodies fall like made out of balloons and if you run into one youll be dragging it along with you before it gets caught on something else. They seem to be lacking weight, which is the main problem we have with this technology. Were entering the final stages of the year now with the big hitters and game of the year contenders being unleashed. Dead Space certainly fits in the latter category. A fantastic horror experience from beginning to end, leaving you no time to catch your breath.

9/10

Halo 3 review

A concept image for Halo 3 on the Xbox 360

Is there any point in trying to keep our emotions in check for this Halo 3 review? Should we start by trying to remind ourselves of the series genesis with Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox console and how it redefined the console shooter?

Perhaps then moving on to discuss the nature of hype and how it affected the reception of the sequel? No. We all know why you’re here: you want to know if Halo 3 is good. Well, simply put, yes, it’s good. Actually, it’s better than good, it’s fantastic and it’s the game that your Xbox 360 has been waiting for.

Undoubtedly, most players’ first port of call will be the single player campaign, which starts off pretty much where Halo 2 left off. The Master Chief makes one of the hardest, most impressive entrances in military history, performing a parachute jump from two kilometres high with no parachute. Being the Chief, he simply shrugs it off and starts shooting Covenant without even so much as a limp. The game starts off in a jungle, which shows off the amazing lighting techniques as it filters through the dense trees. Make no mistake, Halo 3 is a beautiful game; perhaps not the graphical powerhouse many thought it would be, but the art direction and lighting effects more than make up for it. It’s subtle, not overdone, and most importantly, it looks like ‘Halo’.

The distinctive aesthetic continues throughout, and everything runs smoothly at all times without a hint of slowdown and no graphical glitches that spring to mind. Gamestyle is sure some people may bemoan the game’s graphics for the first five minutes or so, but by the time four hours have gone by, all such complaints will be non-existent.

It’s hard to pick out any one element to extol over the others in Halo 3, as it all works so well together. It continues the series’ fine tradition of intelligent and tactical skirmishes over vast open battlefields, but turns everything up to 11. There’s vehicular combat, fighting alongside marines, taking down all manner of Covenant forces with a varied selection of guns, turrets and explosives. The holy trinity of guns, grenades and mele all at your fingertips entrench Halo 3 as the best combat shooter around. Marine chatter is natural and responsive (and often quite funny) and the musical score is epic and powerful, kicking into its well-known motif at appropriate intervals.

The craftsmanship here is astounding, but unfortunately the game is not perfect, as there are a couple of shortfalls. The first is the game’s storyline, which throws players in at the deep-end and requires prior knowledge in order to fully appreciate it. This isn’t a problem for fans, but anyone else who wants to enjoy the game will be wondering what is going on. Still, if you’ve been following the series, you’ll appreciate the story as well as the gameplay all the way from the intro to the game’s heart pounding (if familiar) end sequence… especially considering Halo 3 actually has an ending! The other shortfall is in Bungie’s tendency to include at least one bad level, despite all common sense. That the game’s quality in the latter third takes a bit of a downturn is unfortunate considering how brilliant the first two thirds are. Still, it remains enjoyable throughout, but peaks a little too early in its eight-hour lifespan and doesn’t reach similar levels of excellence until the very last mission.

But the single player portion is only the beginning. As anyone who plays the game knows, the multiplayer component of Halo games is just as important, and the same Bungie dedication has been applied here. Halo 2’s multiplayer was the next step-up for Xbox Live titles, and Halo 3 improves on that, partly because of the four player co-operative mode. It makes the Legendary difficulty, an otherwise excruciating trial by fire, into a fun and incredible experience that should not be missed.

Within the normal multiplayer arenas, the familiar game types return – deathmatch, CTF and so forth – and are accompanied by Bungie fan favourites such as Oddball, Territories, and Juggernaut. There are even some new game types which have come about due to the ravenous Bungie community, such as Zombie, where one player starts with a sword and over-shield, versus normal players, who must defeat the zombie. However, every time a zombie player kills a normal, the normal is switched to the zombie’s side, until either all the normal players are killed and converted, or all the zombies are dead. This game started off as a fan-made Halo 2game type for custom games, but has now made it into the official roster. It’s touches like this that show Bungie really appreciate its legions of fans… or, if you’re cynical, know how to keep the money coming. We believe the former is the truth because of the two other big features of the game – namely the amazing theatre mode and, of course, the Forge.

The former is probably our favourite feature thus far, but the Forge has the most potential. In basic terms, the Forge is a multiplayer level editor that lets you edit practically everything in a level aside from its actual geometry (and you can even do that to a certain degree with enough imagination: crates on top of gravity lifts, creating a reverse suspension bridge, perhaps?). You can choose what weapons to use, where they spawn, what vehicles to use, the power-ups on the map, and what these power-ups actually do. The Custom Power-Up tool lets you create your very own that can do pretty much anything. Want your players to have 300% weapons damage with it activated? It’s there. Or perhaps make their shields disappear entirely, or allow them to hit rockets with a hammer, if you edit it right. It’s amazing what you can do with the Forge, and you can even share what you create over Xbox Live.

There are limits, of course, since everything has a price, literally. To make sure nobody fries their 360’s memory, every item in the map has a cost in dollars. The prices range from the low for basic equipment (such as two dollars for a simple crate or fusion core) to the insanely high priced items, mainly in the vehicles section (where a Wraith tank costs forty). You can accrue more dollars by removing items from the map, but the more you put on, the less money you have; so be careful when trying to make an eight-on-eight Scorpion versus Wraith deathmatch, as you may need to scrimp on other areas, such as respawn points, to do so.

But the theatre! Oh, the theatre! Such a brilliant feature that saves a video of every single game you play of Halo 3 – or, more specifically, saves the last 25 you played, whether they be single player, co-op, or multiplayer, online or off. Then, you can view these movies and save them permanently to your hard drive, make clips or take screenshots and save them to your hard drive, or upload them to your Xbox Live ‘share’ folder for other users to download and view. It’s a great tool that allows users to forever record their greatest and/or worst moments of Halo 3. It’s a brilliant feature that brings the community together and will no doubt lead to, amongst other things, a slew of custom wallpapers for computers. But more than that, recorded footage is also a useful training tool for online matches, as you can see exactly what everybody else is doing and how they’re doing it.

Halo 3 isn’t perfect, but it’s so close it’s unnerving. There’s very little to fault with this game, and the flaws that are there are almost completely overshadowed by the overall quality and incredible amount of content and features.

Project Gotham Racing 3 review

Like Clarkson, we caught ourselves repeatedly mumbling “powerrr” whilst zooming through PGR3’s cities in a Ferrari F50GT (due to omission of said Bugatti), hypnotised by the room-shaking engine audio and obsessed with overtaking the car up ahead. PGR3 is definitely the Xbox 360’s flagship launch title – by a mile.

On the surface, Project Gotham Racing 3 plays like any other racer: you pick a car, you hit the streets, and you beat your opponents to the finish line. But in addition to numerous race types that offer challenges far more varied than the usual ‘get first place’ objective, PGR3 has its own particular system of reward: the unique kudos point system that encourages flashy driving during races.

Drifting, clean racing, sticking to a racing line, passing rivals, and stringing such moves together racks up kudos combos. Push your kudos rank high enough and you’ll unlock super-powered concept cars for purchase in the store.Both the car physics and the kudos system have been substantially improved since the second Project Gotham Racing. Control is more intuitive and the cars move a bit more realistically. Bonus kudos are now awarded for special types of drifts and turns – a shallower, less extreme drift that doesn’t look too slick (but allows you to take a turn just the way you need to catch that opponent up ahead) will now earn you far more points than in previous games.

It still doesn’t quite reward good racing on an equal level with showing off, but that’s kind of the point in PGR3. A lengthy solo career takes you on a whirlwind tour of the game’s locales; New York City, Las Vegas, London, Tokyo and the Nurburgring play host to automotive events, ranging from straight-up street races to cone challenge agility tests to the brand-new Time vs. Kudos event, in which earning kudos actually stops the clock from running down. The five difficulty levels should keep just about anyone busy for some time, but Project Gotham Racing 3 really wants you to hop online for some Live competition. Even more modes are available there, spanning team events to a racing permutation of Capture The Flag.

Gotham TV also allows you to spectate races – from observing the top players of the game to sneaking a peek at the people on your friends list. Your saved replays and photos can also be found here, but Gamestyle has yet to find a way to transfer our photos to a USB stick, or even directly to our computer using Windows Media Connect (offered in the Xbox 360 dashboard). A slight oversight by Bizarre/Microsoft perhaps, or a deliberate decision? Whichever, the all-new photo mode is a stroke of genius – it allows you to wander around each city within the track’s boundaries, taking snapshots of the cars in action, or the city’s infrastructure.And that’s where PGR3 undoubtedly makes the leap into the next generation: rendering some of the most amazingly recreated environments ever seen in a videogame.

The detail put into each city is mind-blowing, and Microsoft must have spent months – if not years – taking all the photographic material needed to ensure nearly all the buildings and businesses boast their real-life corporate logos and signage. Viewed from the New York bridges, the Manhattan skyline sprawls out before you like an impossibly moving picture postcard. And then you drive straight into and through it (preferably with the viewpoint set inside the cockpit). The only glitches we found included a little delay before all the high-resolution mapping was in place, and some very distant scenery pop-up – both minor issues, as far as Gamestyle was concerned.

All this graphical splendour does come at a price, however. Load times are a bit of a problem in the game, although it’s nothing that ruins the overall experience. They’re just long enough to be noticeable – particularly the five to seven seconds it takes to restart a race after you’ve failed your objective. Annoying for some, handy for others, as it allows another sip from your cup of coffee or tea.Also in the negative department: the radio stations that have defined each city in past Project Gotham games are now gone, replaced by a virtual CD changer that can accommodate up to six playlists. While the licensed music selection is excellent, the radio stations added a lot to the personality of each city, and they are sorely missed. When it comes to sound effects, PGR3 excels – engine noises are accurate and impressive, and other sound effects like screeching tyres and shattering side mirrors add to the aural experience (with the only let-down being the collision effects, which sounded a bit too plastic for our liking).

Another appeal of the series’ previous incarnations has been the ability to take everyday cars and race them on the city streets. Working your way up the ladder to the exotics made driving a Ferrari feel like a privilege. In PGR3, the lowest performing car in the roster is the Ferrari Testarossa. While the selection of cars is extensive, it’s a Supercars-only club, and the similarity of your automotive choices can feel limited. The roster will disappoint those who enjoyed whipping SUVs and muscle cars around the hairpins in past Gotham games.

Longish load times aside, Project Gotham Racing 3 strikes an excellent balance between arcade and sim gameplay without alienating fans of either, and everyone – from Sunday drivers to Autobahn veterans – will find something to love here. Whether it truly earns the moniker of “next-generation” remains open to debate, but it’s an enjoyable experience and a near-faultless one at that.