Homefront: The Revolution review

Homefront The Revolution game review screenshot

So hear me out for a moment. At the back end of 2015 I came to a decision that I wanted to step down from Gamestyle. Life got in the way and I couldn’t dedicate the time I felt the site deserved. There was another reason though.

I just didn’t enjoy writing about games any longer, or to be more precise, I didn’t enjoy reviewing games and having to give an arbitrary score at the end of a review. How you see a game is personal to you and witnessing the reaction to not only some of my review scores, but those of fellow writers, I felt it just wasn’t worth it.

So why am I writing about Homefront: The Revolution? Continue reading “Homefront: The Revolution review”

Fallout 4 Review

Fallout 4 (Xbox One) screenshot

…Or. The game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer should have been!

That will make sense in a bit, because it was at one point my only real issue with Fallout 4, but that has long since been sorted out on my side.

This is a late review, so let me get this part out of the way first. Despite some bugs, as expected from a Bethesda open-world RPG and some poor loading times. This is one of my most beloved games in the past few years and has joined Fallout 3, Tetris, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Silent Hill 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and the likes as one of my greatest of all-time.

Some may not agree, but I don’t care, they are entitled to their opinion and covering the issues with the game is fine, but they really didn’t give me any reason to want to stop, or ruin my enjoyment. So despite the known problems, this is still a 10/10 game in my book.

There is also little point in me going over all the checkpoints for what is new, what has been updated, because chances are you have already read those. This is about what Fallout 4 means to me and my adventures.

Fallout 3 had one of those moments that will live with me to the day I die. When my great-grandkids ask me about videogames in my day and why were they so popular. The moment you step out of Vault-101 will be right at the top of the list of moments I recall.

The build to that moment was perfectly timed. It had you become almost institutionalized within the vault, before setting up the sequence to release you into the Wasteland. It was a perfect moment and it is something that in my honest opinion can only work the once.

So the opening to Fallout 4 was very well handled, the starting of the game as the bombs hit, was, for me, a stroke of genius. It gave us a glimpse of what the world used to be like and setup another moment, that whilst not immediately poignant as what happened in Fallout 3, still stopped me in my tracks.

The time difference between entering the vault for your safety and the moment you leave again is very short, maybe 15-20 minutes (longer if you explore). But this is clearly a design choice, because remember that cozy suburb you left as the bombs were dropping? Well that is still fresh in your memory. So when you return to that exact location, the differences 200 years makes hits home immediately.

Fallout 4 (Xbox One) screenshot

I was concerned early on though, as once you return home, the game becomes a bit linear, shepherding you through a series of quests at quite a pace. However, it is clear why this is happening, because going off and doing your own thing this early would stop you understanding a major new feature in the game and also leave you completely under prepared for the Wasteland.

To be fair, it is just a case of me itching to explore and those early mission don’t really take up all that much time.  Soon enough though the shackles are removed and away you go.

This is the main reason I love Fallout. You start of in one direction as part of a quest, whether that be mainline or side, then something pops up on your compass, so you decide to follow that, so you at least have it saved to the map.

Yet on the way there, something else pops up, so of course I decide I need to check that out. Then it happens again and again and again. Next thing you know several hours have passed and you have forgotten what you were meant to be be doing in the first place.

It is that sense of discovery that really sets Fallout apart from other open world games. Yes there are things to find in GTA, Assassin’s Creed, InFamous and the likes, but they all feel like they are sign-posted for you to find. In Fallout it is different, the world isn’t as ‘alive’ as many others, but because you are constantly discovering new areas, both larger and tiny, it feels a hell of a lot more active.

Now that isn’t a slight on those other games, but you just need to compare this to pretty much any Ubisoft title, where you are required to find some kind of tower, that will then expose everything else there is to find in that area. Fallout doesn’t do this, it lets you happen upon things, with only quest vital landmarks being given to you at the right time.

Because you need to discover everything on your own, it does make the side quests a lot more appealing. Again in other open-world games, the optional stuff can feel like a chore and if I am being honest, I often cannot be bothered with them.

Yet here in Fallout 4 (as it was in Fallout 3 and other Fallout titles) I get a sense of joy when I happen upon a new quest, because I know more discovery is on the way. I don’t know what it is yet, but I know it is coming.

It is the scale of what you find that really impresses me the most. From huge landmarks, that have various levels to them, which can take hours to work through, to the tiniest little shack that may contain something useful Every time you find one, you feel a little more joyful.

The single biggest new thing about Fallout 4, was the one thing that also concerned me the most. The base building stuff. Yet the more I play around with this, the more I fall in love with it. Again there is a lot of discovery here too. I only recently found I can add lights to power lines and light up my settlement at night.

I mean, this settlement in the middle of a wasteland, ruined because of nuclear war, looks beautiful now. I’d happily trade my current situation to set up home there!!!

The base building itself was as I said, something I wasn’t looking forward to. The idea of micro-managing a community, whilst all I wanted to do was wander just didn’t sound all that appealing. But once I got into it, it became bloody addictive.

I joked at the start that, this is the game Happy Home Designer should have beem and whilst it was an odd the cuff joke, it isn’t far removed from the truth. Namely because there is a lot more substance here in a single part of a much larger game, than there is in a game dedicated to doing such a thing.

I am taking great pleasure in removing all the scrap from around a settlement, scraping it and then using it to build up more and more to make parts of the wasteland a living breathing community. Creating new buildings, defenses, food and water resources and so much more.

It can be quite something going back to a place that you have built, knowing what it was previously and feeling a sense of pride at what you have created. I have spent hours upon hours building up Sanctuary, along with (now) some other settlements.

I was worried about the need to do this early on, but now I am deep into the game, I look forward to the next opportunity to add more to my settlements. Which brings me onto something else that is minor, but has really changed the way I loot.

In Fallout 3 for example, there was a crap ton of crap to loot, but much of it seemed pointless on the whole and keeping track of what you wanted or needed wasn’t always easy. Now though you can tag items from your base and when you happen across them on your travels, they will be marked with a spyglass icon, letting you know it is something important.

I find myself now just going on journeys and looting for scrap, just so I can return to a settlement to either use it right away to build, or store for later. It is all these little things that has added something great to an already amazing experience.

I looked at my time played stat and it is at just over 76 hours, yet I still have much of the mainline story to finish and a hell of a lot of side quests. I imagine I have spent at least half my time looting and building. Something I never imagined I would be doing at the start.

There is so much to discover in Fallout 4, that this would become a tiresome read to go through them all, the various companions you get for example, all have their pros and cons and to me at least feel like they are more than just along for the ride. So much so, my main companion from Fallout 3, spends his time back at my home base in Sanctuary.

I am talking about Dogmeat, who comes along for the ride very early and whilst he does help with attacking and defending enemies, I find it quite nice to come home and find him there ready to greet me.

Fallout 4 is my game of the year for 2015 and I know for a fact I won’t be finished this side of the New Year. I don’t want it to be, I love being in the world, I love discovering new things and all in all I just love this game.

Transformers Devastation Review

Oh Transformers, what a checkered history we have. When I was a child I loved you, the cartoon, the toys, anything I could get my hands on. Then later in life you were sullied by Micheal Bay. A man who just cannot make a film that has a decent story and is just full of explosions and set pieces. He ruined your name for me. That wasn’t helped too, by a series of poor to average videogame tie ins.

Anyway, when news came that Platinum were to make a Transformers game, I wanted to dare to dream, dream that a top quality Transformers game could be made. But I have been burnt before so my expectations were a little tempered, despite it being Platinum who have a fantastic track record.

My fears were totally misplaced though, as Transformers Devastation is an absolute joy to behold. It takes the Transformers universe, using the Generations line, which covers various different eras of the franchise. The visuals are based on the original cartoons, with writing from those behind the comics.

That all blends wonderfully with the traditional Platinum gameplay that makes the likes of Bayonetta and Vanquish such wonderful games. Platinum even showed they can work with existing IP, when they did Legend of Korra, which despite getting a luke warm reception was still great fun to play.

For me, what makes Transformers Devastation work, is that there is no attempts to re-write the genre, both in terms of gameplay and the source material. Platinum have been incredibly respectful of the history of the franchise and built a game around that, rather than trying to shoehorn elements that could work against each other.

The influence from other Platinum titles is clear to see, with the main one being the use of Witch-Time from Bayonetta, where a well timed dodge will slow down time and allow you unleash hell on your foes. However this is a Transformers games, so it does need some characteristics of its own and boy do Platinum put this to good use.

As any self respecting kid from the 80s will know, Transformers are robots in disguise and this is well represented in combat. When in robot form, you can go at your enemy in traditional Platinum combat ways, yet you can also change to vehicle form and use that to attack too, adding a whole new level to the combat mechanics.

Being a Platinum game, means that the combat is actually very simple and allows you to string together combos and fight multiple enemies like a boss. You even get to use various weapons which can be integrated in the hand to hand combat, or used for taking down enemies specifically designed and placed to make use of you weapons.

The are less options in combat when compared to something like Bayonetta, which initially feels a little disappointing, but after a short time with the game, you find it works as you start to master the various attacks and combos and use those to your advantage. If anything having a smaller move set works well here.

I was worried that the game might overplay the transforming, just so it could show of what the Autobots can do, but I actually found the that balance was done just right. There are some enemies that require you to switch between forms, but they are strategically placed and not overdone. Everywhere else it it purely optional.

It could have been very tempting to make Devastation an overly easy IP cash-in, where you go through the motions and have the game look pretty, but the balance in difficulty is well implemented and the difficulty curve is well balanced from the opening level to the final battle.

You get the options to use all the various Autobots to fight and each one feel different to use and you’ll soon find your overall favourite. Again I was worried it may be just reskins over the the same move-sets, but this is far from the case. Optimus Prime will feel completely different to Bumblebee for example.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. There are some issues, such as some uninspiring level design, that can feel a bit limited from time to time, as well as the game being super short. The main story can be completed in 5-6 hours and whilst extra plays are encouraged it isn’t one that demands your attention.

That being said though, the overall package is decent and Platinum have made a solid Platinum game, yet they have made a truly fantastic Transformers game and I look forward to seeing if they can follow this up with a sequel in the future.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

It’s hard to imagine that Lara Croft has been part of my life for just about 20 years now. I remember her debut in 1996 and as a 15 year old boy, I was blown away by what I was seeing on screen and the talk in the playgrounds about this new character and her wonderful game.

I even remember the chatter about the various cheats that were possible, especially ones that could make Lara naked in the game. Due to having no internet or anything like that and being rather naive, I am not ashamed to admit that I tried the cheats I heard and even made some up myself for some playground cred.

The years however haven’t been kind on Lara, with the games gradually getting worse and even becoming a bit of a joke, yet Lara herself remained and still remains one of the greatest icons ever to emerge from videogames. Up there with the likes of Mario, she is one the few characters that even non gaming fans could name instantly.

The Tomb Raider reboot in 2013, which was technically the second official reboot, did a lot to restore the faith in a Tomb Raider game and despite some questionable claims by Crystal Dynamics around the characterization of Lara, especially how she would handle killing, the game on the whole was a real return to form and probably the best game overall in the franchise. I’ll touch on the characterization further into this review.

There were other issues in the 2013 release that felt off, such as the lack of actual tombs to raid, which is one of the first things that has been fixed in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are still the big set-pieces, the stalking, stealth and murder, but those have been dialed back a fraction to allow for more exploration and basic puzzle solving, bring Lara back to what she was born to do…explore and discover.

Rather than trying to match the darling of the last few years in the Uncharted series, Crystal Dynamics have made the right decision to go back to the roots of Tomb Raider and the game feels all the better for it. Because, whilst there is a constant threat from the enemy, you feel like you have the time to explore what is around and discover new things.

There is a lot to discover too, with artifacts, scrolls and much, much more spread very generously across the various maps which Lara gets to play in. Now whilst I am not usually a fan of collectibles, usually because they are hidden so much, I can never be bother to look, here most you can come across with ease and the fun is working out how to get to them, but very rarely having to ignore your current path. It makes you want to check them out.

Rise of the Tomb Raider still contains one of my biggest pet hates in many modern AAA games. The need to add RPG elements to the progression. Doing certain things in the game, finding new areas, learning by discovery, etc will all earn Lara XP which she can use to level up her base skills. Now I get why this is a thing in some games, but for me it is not needed in a Tomb Raider, it just feels out of place. Lara should be Lara and that is that.

Now this is different to the upgrading of tools and weapons, which I actually do like, but the notion that Lara can become better skilled in a short space of time or learn whole new languages from looking at a few paintings, nah that isn’t for me. I don’t like it in Assassin’s Creed games and the like and I think it fits even worse here.

I can understand though why this has been done, as Rise of the Tomb Raider shares a lot in common with a Metroidvania, where you can see ways to access new areas, but won’t have the right tools and skills to get there until later. I like that, because I love Metroidvania games, but it is something that would have worked just as well by finding and upgrading tools, rather than learning new skills via XP.

The raiding of tomb are pretty much optional, but rather cleverly by going off mission and completing them, you will get very handsomely rewarded and will earn some rather nifty new kit to help you along the way, especially when trying to access the aforementioned cut off areas.

Each tomb will take anywhere between 15-45 minutes to complete and there are a good number of them dotted around. It allows the devs to strike a nice balance between keeping the story moving forward and going back to the franchise’s roots.

Lara, new modern Lara, is the best version of Lara yet. In the original games, despite the aim being to have a strong female lead role-model type character, she became anything but. She was more sex symbol than she was strong lead and looking back, it was almost embarrassing how much sexuality was used to push Lara to young adolescent males. It worked and it worked very well, so you cannot blame anyone for that, especially in the era it was.

But we are in a different world and whilst 2013 Lara looked the part and felt more like a real adventurer who dressed properly for he role, rather than trying to be sexy, her characterization was simply off. She was built up to have real emotions, that she was a survivor and would struggle with the need to kill to survive. It all sounded very promising, maybe giving you some moral choices to make along the way.

Yet the only time this happened was during her first kill, which was pretty much done via a cut-scene. Then it was off on a murdering spree without a care in the world. It was a noble aim, but the build up to the release and with this being a big selling point, it was very disappointing in the end.

Lara can still be a killing machine throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider, but this time there isn’t any claims of Lara having to toy with her own emotions about it, or any such nonsense and instead the writers have focused on other aspects of Lara and a much more interesting overall story arc.

One that not only pushes the story along at a solid pace, but introduces some nice back story about Lara and her relationships from childhood with her father. I would have been happy to have seen more of this with it being expanded on at some point. However, it does seem lessons were learned from the last game and this feels much better for it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is, for me at least one of the surprises of the years. I was expecting a solid game, one that just gave me more of the same as a follow up to the 2013 release. Yet what we got was a game that improved on the good and cleared away much of the bad, to produce a title that deserves its place among the best Lara Croft games over the previous 20 years.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review

Are we at a point with the Assassin’s Creed series where fatigue has well and truly set in? Well after the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it seemed that way. Being a yearly franchise just doesn’t feel like the right thing, as bugs were rife in the last game and it was an absolute average affair, even if you discount those bugs.

So it was with some trepadation that I started Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Sure, it had new characters and a different setting, but it is still an Assassin’s Creed game and if I am being honest, I really wasn’t excited for the release.

Yet here I am writing a review for what I consider the best of the series to date, I’d like to sat that this is because this Assassin’s Creed feels different, that is has new mechanics that set it apart from all the other titles. However that isn’t the case.

Mechanically this is as Assassin’s Creed as you can get, to the point you can pick it up and if you have played any of the previous games, you will feel very much at home. Much like most Ubisoft titles, you have a well realised open-world that comprises of main story missions and a ton of side quests and discoveries to keep you occupied.

Combat is nicely done, mixing up close quarters combat and stealth assassinations. At the same time though, the options you have to approach each mission feel a lot more open, allowing you to go in and choose your own approach. Take things as carefully and stealthily as you want, or approach the situation head-on. Both ways have their pros and cons but they both work well if that is your decision.

One thing that does stand out is the AI feels a lot better this time around, far from perfect, but a definite improvement. You do need to be on your toes at all times and slip-ups can be costly.

I’ll come back to combat soon, but I must mention the real reason this is the best in the series to date. That comes down to the characters, especially the two leads, Evie and Jacob Frye. The twins are superbly written and wonderfully acted. The thing that stands out the most is Evie herself and the way she is portrayed.

Games have had a long history of misrepresenting women and their place in the medium and is something that has been discussed at length in various places and something I don’t wish to dwell on for too long. Yet a lot of credit deserves to go Ubisoft’s way, especially after the criticism they rightfully got for Unity.

Just looking at Evie, you can tell from the outset she has been given equal status to her brother. There is nothing sexual about her appearance, she is dressed in a way that is practical to her profession, rather than for titillation, she is also treated with respect by her peers, rather than being used as a plot point to make others seem more powerful.

The interactions between herself and Jacob are well handled and treated like they are any other brother and sister, often at each other’s throats, but with that overall respect and love for each other. Jacob is a lot more cock-sure and is always looking for a more in your face approach to things, whereas Evie is a lot more careful and has a different set of skills.

Yet this isn’t a case of Evie being pushed to the side and only being able to the the less hands on stuff, as she can fight and fight as well as anyone. It never feels like you are playing a role that is specific to a women and it just happens to be a women who is part of the game.

It’s not just in the main characters where respect is given, there are gay characters, obese characters, trans-gender characters and more. Many of which are vital to the game’s story. Yet attention isn’t ever drawn to those characters for those things. They are just characters in a story and they are really well written too.

I never though I would be championing an Assassin’s Creed game for taking a mature approach to how a game handles people of many different walks of life, that doesn’t try to pigeon-hole anyone and simply treats them as human, but here we are.

Such is it the case that Ubisoft has listened to critics, is the loss of the merging with prostitutes to evade capture, which considering this is 1880’s London feel a little bizarre, as if my history knowledge is correct, then this is the one game where their inclusion could make sense.

London is beautiful too. Well it is dark and grimy but there is no denying that the artists at Ubisoft have done a great job in fleshing out London of the 1800’s and making it just feel alive. Whilst it isn’t a perfect one to one vision of London, the recognizable areas feel like they are just that.

It feels wonderful at times just taking it all in, climbing buildings and looking at London from the rooftops and that moment when you reach the top of Big Ben is just magical and one of those awe inspiring moments that you may have had at the start of Fallout 3, or when crossing into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption.

There are still bugs, but they honestly feel like they are less apparent than they were in Unity and in my time with the game, there were none that were game-breaking, but obviously your mileage may vary. So I won’t claim this is a completely bug-free experience.

Overall though, after the disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, this is a true return to form for the series and for me Syndicate stands alone as the best of the lot to date.

Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized Review

Every now and again a game comes around that despite having issues you cannot ignore, you can’t help but be in awe of what you have just experienced. A game that while not perfect you want to shout at as many people as will listen about how they must play this game. Life is Strange is one of those.

Now that the conclusion has been reached it’s time to look back on the game as a whole and while there were a few bumps in the road, it’s a game that has largely been excellent.

As a story about time travel you’d imagine it all breaks a little towards the end, like so many films and games that have come before, only it doesn’t. It’s quite amazing how neatly it all ends, no plot holes (from what I can tell) and some of the decisions I was forced to make left me reeling, playing an important part in the way the plot unfolded.

Though it’s not without its blemishes. The teen dialogue can at times feel forced, with Chloe’s constant use of the word “hella” being the main culprit. It’s an annoying trait that you do reel in slightly as each episode unfolds and despite her annoying moments you do like her character, despite the faults.

Then there are the breaks in the story where they needed filler. Remember the bottle collecting part from a previous episode? Well, that’s back again in episode 5 for some reason, albeit in an optional achievement capacity.

As episode 5 begins our hero Max is in a sticky situation. The true culprit has been revealed and only the use of her time travel powers can help her escape. It’s certainly a big opening and requires some thought on how to escape, often rewinding and trying different options in a trial and error fashion. Trial and error being something I usually hate, but here it weirdly works as you witness each outcome and figure out how you could’ve avoided it.

Be warned as well, there is also a stealth section. As soon as I saw what was to come I let out a massive sigh. Forcing stealth gameplay into something that isn’t of the stealth genre usually ends in utter misery. Here, it’s different. Thanks to the ability to rewind time, it’s never challenging or a problem. It’s just a little gameplay section on the way to furthering the story. As soon as you get caught just press the trigger and everything rewinds as Max stays still.

When it comes to gameplay moments, this is possibly the weakest episode. Aside from the two bits mentioned above there’s very little else other than talking and walking. The latter being used quite a bit as Max’s nosebleeds and abuse of time soon leads to some utter bizarre moments later in the story.  But then this is the finale. It’s clear the goal was to finish the tale and tie everything up into a neat little package. And they succeeded. Endings are hard as countless games have proven, often leaving loose ends or just leaving a sour aftertaste. Life is Strange manages to wrap everything up so neatly it’s actually a little surprising. It’s a story that despite a few hiccups had my utmost attention throughout.

It’s one of the most interesting games released in a while that I can’t recommend enough. It’s not just the surprise of the year, it’s possibly the game of the year.

Blood Bowl II Review

I love sport, well not all sports, but a fair few, I love videogames, I love sports videogames. However, I am bored of just seeing the usual simulation only type games and what feels like the death of arcade sports and developers willing to try something different.

So this is where something like Blood Bowl steps in. It takes its cues from various different worlds, worlds that technically should never be able to mix. The world of sports, the world of fantasy and the world of table top gaming all mixed up to produce something that really works.

I will admit, I hadn’t really paid much attention to Blood Bowl before, yet I was aware of it, so before jumping in to Blood Bowl II it felt right to have a look at the original PC release so I could see what the sequel has improved on, or not in some cases.

The first thing that really stands out is the presentation. Because it has no real world base to follow Blood Bowl II can really push the boat out and at times parody real world sports expertly. The two presenters / commentators are an absolute joy to listen to as they really put their own take on the play by play and colour commentator roles you’ll find in most sports.

It’s not just the voice acting that works here, it is the depth of the script, where seemingly the developers have created a full blown history of the made up sports so previous events can be called upon when building up the coming matches and events.

The single player mode works well to and has a well rounded story to it that is pure sports fantasy, with an owner needing to rip a team apart and rebuild then from scratch, with you being the man to take them all the way. It’s not Any Given Sunday, but it certainly entertains throughout.

Aside from the presentation the mechanics, whilst initially looking as complicated as anything are actually really simple. The opening gambit does a great job of setting the scene and teaching new players the game. It breaks down the basics of gameplay and introduces the strategies at their core and by the time you take on the next game unaided you feel like you have the basics down and are ready.

Of course, try and play online, or against a better AI you soon realise how unprepared you are tactically, but still you have a solid base of which to begin your Blood Bowl career.

Each team has their own style of play, which utilizes different players types and will really affect how the game is played each time. Yet it’s not just the different styles that work, each team also has a genuine personality and players you grow to love or hate.

For those who have no clue about Blood Bowl, the easiest way to explain the game is that it is a modified version of American Football, set in a fantasy world, using turn-based table-top mechanics.

I really cannot stress enough how quickly you go from completely confused to getting a solid grasp of the the game. Literally within the space of a tutorial and a second game, yet it will take many, many hours to fully understand the depth Blood Bowl has to offer. Which from a personal point of view, I really like, as it means there is a reason to keep playing, as you continue to learn.

This version of Blood Bowl has been released on both PC and consoles and again my personal preference is that it has made it easier to control and play compared to the original, thanks to the need to use a controller to make it work on the consoles. This has simplified some things, which I suppose many may dislike, but for me it makes it much more accessible.

Outside of the main campaign the options are pretty limited, allowing you to play a standalone league season, or play friendly matches locally or online. A nice touch though it the Cabel TV mode, which allows you to view full replays of your matches, or saved community replays.

Yet there is one part that stands above, the ability to watch live games! Yep, you can choose to search for and watch live games as they are happening, jumping in at any moment to view the action. The presenters will introduce you to the game as you enter and then you can sit back and watch.

This is something I have wanted to see in sports games for years now. That ability to jump in and spectate. When we are in a world where communities have setup leagues for FIFA, NHL, Madden, NBA, etc this sort of thing allows the community events to be run at a much higher level.

Imagine being able to scout your next opponent by watching their current game, to get an idea of how to set your tactics against them, or watch the final of a cup competition, all without the need of relying on Twitch or YouTube.

As I type this review, I am watching a random game from an online Blood Bowl II matchup and am enjoying myself immensely. So far it is this and Rocket League that have nailed this idea and is putting down the foundations for this to become the norm over the next few years.

With Blood Bowl II, this has another use, as it allows new players to watch how others play and again get a solid grasp of certain mechanics to take back to their games. A wonderful addition and one that deserves immense amounts of praise.

The main issue with Blood Bowl II is who it can really appeal to. If you hate the idea of sports games, then this really isn’t going to be for you, same if you are not a fan of turn-based gameplay or even the world it is based in.

But for those who have even a passing interest in any of those, then this is something you must at least check out, because what it does, it does fantastically well.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIFA 16 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Positives

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

+ Graphics are slightly better with some key issues addressed.

+ Slower, allowing for more considered play.

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

 

Negatives

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

– Same legacy issues persist.

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

 

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

The Golf Club Collector’s Edition Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forza Motorsport 6 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombi Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submerged Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tembo the Badass Elephant Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room Review

Leaving on a rather big cliffhanger where Max’s messing with past events has created a horrific butterfly effect for her friend Chloe, we re-join her as she pieces together what happened to her friend. It’s the first heart wrenching moment in an episode full of them.

Indeed, this is a tough episode to get through. Unlike previous episodes it’s not because choices are difficult (they’re a lot more standard than they have been in the past), it’s because the story takes some rather dark turns, especially as you reach the stunning conclusion.

And as great as this episode is, it’s slightly worrying that maybe the developers won’t be able to tie everything together. Maybe this is the pessimist inside talking, but when it comes to choice driven games, sometimes the choices don’t have as much a meaningful outcome as you may want. Instead everything comes crashing together as you discover you were on a straight line all along with choice being nothing more than an illusion.

And then there’s the impending apocalypse. The tornado, beached whales and eclipse of previous episodes are now joined by another sign that something’s not quite right. While it’s an intriguing mystery, it doesn’t seem like anyone cares as much about this strange phenomena as our two main cast members. There is an “end of the world” style party featured, but you’d think there’d be more chaos in the streets. Maybe even a few more news stories?

As has always been something I’ve praised with this series are the use of puzzles, and this episode doesn’t disappoint either. There is a tedious moment about halfway through where you’re forced to rewind the same conversation over and over again because you chose the wrong option, but that’s all really. The rest are great, with some that have a couple of ways of reaching the same outcome. Usually involving either using your brain or smashing something with a large object. I mostly chose the latter.

The same problems are present however, particularly when it comes to the, at times, cringe inducing dialogue. Chloe again dropping ridiculously outdated pop culture references that elicited a grown from myself. It’s a major strength of the story that I was able to forgive her annoyances when the real huge moments in the story occurred. The episode is titled “Dark Room”, yet even I was surprised at quite how dark it went. The actress behind Chloe really being able to showcase some acting chops here.

Life is Strange continues rolling to what I hope will be an epic conclusion. The pieces are certainly in place, whether Dontnod are able to fit them together is still up in the air. As it stands though, this has been one of the biggest surprises of the year and I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

MotoGP 15 Review

I find that some of the hardest games to review are the ones that are yearly updates. So essentially, sports games, those more than the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, purely as one genre tries to do something majorly new with each new release even if it doesn’t work whilst the other can be a slow evolution over years.

This means that at times despite some behind the scenes improvements and minor new additions, they can feel little more than just a roster and graphical update. When you get down to sports where the fanatic is the target rather than a larger crowd, it becomes even harder to look at.

Case in point! The MotoGP games. I have liked these games over the year, often finding them a bit more accessible than the SBK series, yet lovers of two-wheeled racing will scream until they are blue in the face that I am wrong and SBK is where it is at.

I don’t know much about bikes either, I have never ridden one, nor do I actually fancy riding one either, but again I am told that the physics of MotoGP aren’t realistic and again SBK is the better option.

Yet, here I am having spent a good few hours with MotoGP 15 on Xbox One finding myself not particularly caring about all that. I am not going to go into detail about how the bike reacts with the track and whether or not it is the most realistic option. Instead I am coming at this from a casual fan’s point of view, as I am sure there are other reviews out there to cater to the hardcore.

The first issue I tend to have with the MotoGP series is that I predominately play racers of the four-wheeled kind. Y’know F1, Project Cars, Project Gotham Racing, Forza, Gran Turismo, Burnout, etc. This causes an issue with controlling the bike, as you need to learn each and every time the differences to taking a corner on a Superbike, compared to a car.

The same rules apply in essence, you need to enter slow and leave fast, but it is the angle of entry that will get me every time I jump into a new game. Cornering is a lot more subtle on a bike it seems so using the same out-braking maneuvers I would in an F1 car are totally lost here.

That window of you braking late to get an advantage, but not too late you cannot hold a corner is so minuscule that it can feel non-existent. However you do learn where it is and can use it to your advantage, but again you need to understand that even on tracks you know from other games, the corners you can do this on differ again.

Now I am not afraid to admit that I use aids in MotoGP, I don’t play on hard and try pretty much to make this more of an arcade experience, because at the end of the day, gaming is fun and for me to approach this as I do car racing sims, would just cause me no end of frustration.

Luckily MotoGP 15’s difficulty options cater for that. This can be as easy or as difficult as you want it. I set the braking options to automatic, so the AI decides if I am using the front or rears brakes and it is the same with body position and other minor things too.

The fact is you can turn all these options on and off at your leisure, so if you feel the game is now getting too easy, or you are happy you have learned the track and how to take corners properly, you can turn off the braking aids and try to learn the front and rear balances yourself.

Again, I cannot comment on how realistic this all is and whether or not the ‘all aids off’ option is a faithful recreation of real racing but for me, a casual player of this game, my balance is spot on. The AI difficulty means I feel like I am in a race and I can enjoy the race for being just that, rather than micro-managing every aspect of a bike.

There is a hell of a lot of content available too, giving you the options to go through a full career starting at Moto3 before moving through the ranks to eventually joining MotoGP and the elite. There are also standalone championships for all race classes should you fancy that, as well as new mode called 2014 Real Events, that allows you to relive some of the famous moments from the 2014 season. Similar to what you now expect in real world based sports games.

One last area that has really blown me away are the visuals. MotoGP 15 looks stunning, as the game has used proper motion capture to make the riders feel more alive than they have ever been before, they just feel less robotic on the bikes.

This transfers too, to the replays. I remember when MotoGP came out on the original Xbox and it just looked amazing for the time. TV style replays that looked so real to my younger eyes and with the latest game I am getting that feeling again.

I completed a race and had the replay running, at which point my partner looked up from her book and asked why I was watching motorbike racing on the TV. She had to take a close look to see it was a video game.

Now, I am not stupid (well not all the time) and I know there is a distinct difference between how this looks like a game and how the real thing looks. Yet the gap is getting smaller and smaller and double takes are needed at times, especially from a glance up at a screen.

Racing games will always lead a new generation when it comes to visuals and MotoGP has made its way near the top of the pack as a game to show off how far we have come.

Is this a game for everyone? No, not a chance, but knowing you can fiddle with it to get a great personalised experience means everyone can give it a go and not feel totally alienated.

Rogue Legacy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is Strange: Episode 3 – Chaos Theory Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition review

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

Project Cars Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goat Simulator Review

Dagnabbit, that wasn’t meant to happen. Anyway, this is a review for Goat Simulator, a game that has no right whatsoever to be good, but for some strange reason, is.

The staff at Gamestyle are mostly made up of 30+ year olds who over the years may have become a bit jaded with certain types of games. These ‘Simulator’ games on the whole are awful shovelware crap, there is no hiding that fact. However, we also know that there is an audience for the decent efforts in the ‘genre’ and so onto Goat Simulator.

I had a plan here, I was to let my 8 year old son loose with the game, record it and let that be the review. However, he got a bit of stage-fright and forgot he was needing to talk whilst playing. We put the video up anyway and you can watch it below.

I still wanted his opinion so a little while after I sat down with my son (Lucas) and asked him about the game.

DAD: Straight off the bat son, what on earth is Goat Simulator?

LUCAS: It’s a fun game where I am the goat and I can wear jetpacks and headbutt people to make them fall over. I can blow up cars and fly far when it explodes.  I like being able to slide down a slide and onto a trampoline, then go into a house and wreck it.

That’s all very well Lucas, but seriously, what is the point?

I told you already Dad, I am a goat and I can do cool things like smash cars.

But you play normal games like Pacman, Rogue Legacy, Forza, NHL, Ratchet and Clank, etc. They have a point to them… what does this have?

It has points for doing things and it is fun.

No I don’t mean literal points, I mean why do you do these things? In Driver you need to go through a story and get to the end. What does this do?

What does literal mean Dad?

Really? It means using a word as actual fact, without it being a metaphor… wait you know this stuff, stop teasing me!

Haha, I know, but it’s fun to tease.

Yes, yes I know. So anyway, is there a story to Goat Simulator? Is there an end?

No, you give your goat mutations and have fun. It’s fun Dad, I like fun games and it is silly. You always tell me that games are an escape where you can break away from reality and just enjoy yourself, where you separate your real world from this one.

WHAT?!? You are 8 years old that is pretty deep, where did that come from?

It’s something you have always taught me about games, it’s why you let me play games that are for older people than me like…

STOP… I get it, let’s not get Daddy into trouble right now. We are going off topic a bit.

Look Dad, I am going to knock this man off a crane [fits of laughter]

[laughter here too] Ok, it’s fun and silly and we understand that is a good thing. So who would like this game then?

Everyone! Who doesn’t like fun Dad? Old men are so boring.

WHOA! Who are you calling boring?

You Dad and your friends, because you needed me to play this game to tell your reader friends if it is good.

Yeah, fair point! So look, you like it and it is fun. I have played it too and yes I had a good time, even playing together was great. But you need to give it a score.

I did that in my video Dad!

Yes but the sound was buggered and you barely spoke.

That’s your fault Dad.

Ok fair enough let’s not get into this now…score.

I give this game a nine out of ten because it is fun, but you can’t go into all of the houses.

Thank you Lucas.

So there we have it, Goat Simulator is fun, it has no point whatsoever, but sometimes that is just fine!

 

Zombie Army Trilogy Review

If you read the internet, everyone is sick of zombies. Sick and fucking tired of their pasty, shambling arses. If you read different parts of the internet everyone loves zombies. Everyone loves them to DEATH.

Opinions, eh? People said the same thing a few years ago about games set during World War II.

So Zombie Army Trilogy is probably the result of developers Rebellion going “Which two overplayed yet profitable tropes can we mash together to make a game that will overjoy some and boil the piss of others?” and someone piping up “World War II and zombies!”

Then Clive the tea-lad might have pointed out that people will be sick of both of those, to which Rebellion went “Ah, but you’ll be SNIPING the undead bastards! With gratuitous gore! And slow motion replays showing the vertebrae shatter!”

They then all had chocolate bourbons and tea while nodding to themselves at a job well done. Maybe.

To be perfectly honest there isn’t anything about the premise of Zombie Army Trilogy I don’t like, because I’m that kind of shallow prick that laps up remasters, shooting games and anything with zombies in it. So seeing as this has all three I should be in hog heaven. But I’m not.

The problem with Zombie Army Trilogy (or Nazi Zombie Army as it was known in it’s two separate incarnations on PC) is that its tight budget shows through on almost every level.

The game looks fine as it goes, although everything has a wrapped-in-plastic shininess to it, and the levels feel like a series of various sized boxes with a smaller variety of boxes skinned and acting as scenery, all of which are recycled extensively through each game.

The selection of playable characters all have a dead eyed look and absolutely no voice acting at all. The music is budget Carpenter synth, but thankfully used sparingly.

Not only are the protagonists dead eyed robot looking cretins, the cut scenes show four characters (like in Dead Island) even if you’re playing single player which would ruin the immersion if it wasn’t for the fact the game is ridiculously <relevant> preposterous and the plot paper thin bunkum.

But who cares about story and visuals, right?! It’s got a low RRP! It’s a remaster of budget PC games! You’re here to eradicate the undead in the most satisfyingly violent way you can; i.e. with high velocity lead encased in brass projected through the eye socket! Well…

The central mechanic of the game, the sniping, is lifted from Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series, and as such is solid and entertaining for a while. Perform what the game deems a particularly excellent shot and it will cut to a cinematic camera angle and follow the bullet in slow motion where it then enters the target and gives you a super gorey x-ray shot of their bones shattering and a gout of blood more gratuitous than a congealed cadaver should eject. And it does this a lot.

It’s a good job they put an option to turn down/off the frequency of the slow-mo as waiting 5 seconds for the shot to run it’s course after every 3 bullets fired took any shine off the moment. It’s good to still have on as it’s one of the few things in the game that provides you with any semblance of satisfaction.

It’s a shame that the rest is a shambling abomination of appalling game design. It breaks so many spoken and unspoken rules that it becomes a teeth grinding, pad throwing, soul crushing exercise in frustration.

The biggest problem with the game is that trying to make sniping entertaining for the running time of each game (about 4 hours apiece) is incredibly difficult, so Rebellion have slotted in sections where you’re required to dispatch hordes of the undead that lay siege to a closed location. You’ve got trip mines, landmines and dynamite to lay beforehand in the hope it’ll stem the tide somewhat, but all it really comes down to is you running around like a loon hoping to stay far enough away from them so you can get them in the sights of your rifle or so you can lob a stielhandgranate in the middle of a mob.

You have secondary weapons for close encounters, but they’re not very effective for crowd control. The shotgun is especially weak. You’d expect it to dismember a small group of zombies with it’s spread, but it pretty much just takes out one at a time.

There are a few variations on the siege, but they all boil down to the same thing; hold out until you manage to kill every zombie the game throws at you. This happens with alarming frequency and after the first 5 or 6 of them they get very tedious indeed, especially the ones with a turret to use as you’d have better luck eradicating them with an effing spud gun for all the damage the gun emplacement does.

In amongst the regular zombies there are some special ones with different powers to mix it up a little, and in the main they’re a decent stab at making you apply tactics but there’s still too many poor design choices, like the bullet sponge bullshit in the form of Super Elites. These big buggers just keep coming at you taking headshot after headshot after headshot while mowing into you with their LMG and being a royal pain in the arse. It’s less pronounced after the first game but it’s like they went “Oh, er, we need something to make the game more difficult. I know! A big zombie that takes like 7 headshots to kill! Ace!”, not realising it was an awful idea.

The reasons why Zombie Army Trilogy doesn’t really work are as numerous as the dead shuffling through the levels. It’s a horde game designed around a mechanic which doesn’t work with large volumes of enemies. Zombies are legion, there are thousands of them, and the idea is to make you feel overwhelmed by the tide of corpses looking to rip your head off and suck on the stump, but the challenge only comes from finding a way around the ravening horde to get far enough away to pick them off.

Between inconsistent checkpoints, awful forced horde-mode battles, repetitive one-note gameplay and generally low production values it’s just not worth the time or effort to put Hitler and his armies back in the ground.

NOTE: at this time the co-op mode hasn’t been tried out, as the game has sucked my will to live/the desire to give it a go. I will try it out and if by some miracle it drags the main game out of the mire I’ll put a review up for it. But don’t hold your breath.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD Review

I have played most of the Final Fantasy games over the years, missing out the MMORPG affairs and sucking so badly at others that I had to give it up as a bad job. I have only completed 3 of the games though.

The first being Final Fantasy VII, which was my first foray into this world, followed by Final Fantasy VIII and then going back to Final Fantasy III. I have come close to finishing others, such as Final Fantasy X, but always hit a point where it was just too much effort to push through and knowing I had other responsibilities.

Why am I giving a brief rundown of my Final Fantasy history? Well because Type-0 was a glaring omission on my part, a giant gaping hole that mocked me from afar. My first introduction to this game was in a busy and difficult period of my life, I knew of it, but also knew I would never have the time to get into it.

So fast forward a few years and here it is, the HD remaster of one of my major missing blocks and it isn’t coming to the Vita, despite being a PSP game. I was angry, I was dissapointed, but I sucked it up though and jumped in to the Xbox One version.

What is the first thing I can say? Well it is certainly a Final Fantasy game, sitting through long drawn out cut-scenes with nonsensical dialog and writing, which surround rare glimpses of gameplay and end up really frustrating you.

But, you watch it anyway, because you know at some point things will open up and the balance shifts quite drastically. Honestly though, I really didn’t care for the characters this time around, they didn’t stand out to me like those from other games and the writing was almost painful. So yeah, it is a Final Fantasy alright.

One thing you can never do, is compare another game to a Final Fantasy, it’s not like playing a tactical team based first person shooter and describing it as ‘like Battlefield’. Because you can barely describe one Final Fantasy game as similar to the another and it is the case here.

Type-0 HD is an ARPG, which sets it apart from many of the mainline releases. The real time battle system works a treat as you control a single member of your party, whilst the AI controls the other two. You can switch between members on the fly and use this system against some of the harder enemies.

What really impresses is the AI characters in your party, unlike in a lot of games where there is an over reliance on AI, this does a great job of making sure your party members are actually being helpful and not just getting in the way.

You have a choice of 14 different members to take with you two at a time and each has their own unique strengths, weaknesses and personalities. You’ll want to be sure to have a ranged character and a melee character in the party and get that balance right, especially when taking on the tougher enemies, but when one dies reserves can be called up.

Now there are two things at opposite ends of the scale, one that really impressed and one that was as annoying as hell. So let me start with a bit of a moan.

To go into a mission you have to go through a tedious process of walking the halls of the academy (where the story is set) and get to a door leading to the overworld. You need to do this time and time again, with no apparent way to just skip this and get there from a menu, it adds a level of tedium that more often than not has you thinking about whether it is worth starting the next mission quite yet, or just taking a break.

But on the flip side, there aren’t any two main missions that ever feel like they are copies of each other with slight adjustments to the layout. Each one feels very fresh and often there are some real changes to the mechanics, such as taking control of a cannon in first person to take down a crap ton of dragons.

It is a bit pointless in the grand scheme of things, but it works and just about breaks up the monotony of grinding certain areas.

The final thing to cover is the HD port itself. As this is certainly two sides of a coin. Some of the upgraded visuals are stunning, with character models lovingly updated to look like they fit in a modern HD game, but on the flip side, others look like they were handed off to the intern or work-experience kid to do.

This wouldn’t be as big an issue if both weren’t often in the same scenes, as it really does become jarring. The other minor annoyance is with the camera, which has a load of effects that can make you feel a little sick if exposed to it for too long.

Overall though, if you are a fan of ARPG or the lore of Final Fantasy, then you can’t go far wrong with Type-0 HD, it has many flaws, but the overall enjoyment factor will certainly outweigh that.

Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time Review

Following on from the events of episode one, it sees Max further trying to get to grips with her newfound power, now with the help of her rekindled friendship with Chloe. As the episode progresses it appears to show that the constant use of time manipulation may be starting to take its toll on the body and mind of Max.

Everything I loved about the first episode is thankfully present. The indie movie aesthetic is here, complete with excellent music choices and art style, and the continuing story of Max is an interesting one.

However, what I hated also makes a most unwelcome return. I’ve come to the conclusion that my main issue with the time travel mechanic (that it doesn’t make sense if you stop and think about it) will never change. As I already said in the previous episode’s review, if you hold LT then time rewinds around you with the exception of Max who stops in a stationary place, something that the game plays fast and loose with. Though in the games defense the puzzles rely on it working this way, as with each rewind, items you collect stay with you.

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The other issue being the faux-teen dialogue and lip syncing. It reminded me of Juno, a movie I despise with a passion, it so desperately wanting to capture that snappy Joss Whedon feel, but fails quite badly. When certain characters are talking normally (usually the adults) it’s fine, but when the teenage characters are interacting (Chloe and the school bullies being prime examples) it becomes cringe inducing in a lot of areas.

But, and it’s a massive but, after recently playing Tales of the Borderlands, this game has one thing going for it, actual gameplay. A little harsh maybe, but I feel like in these two episodes I’ve controlled the main character more than the entirety of The Walking Dead Season Two. During the initial scene you get to walk around your dorm, interact with other characters, and if you so choose, use your time travel powers to save someone from getting hit in the head with toilet paper.

And this is the first area, there are a few other places you’ll end up. And if you so choose you can walk around, interact with everything around you and soak in the sights before triggering the next story beat. And when the story moments are triggered, be prepared to make some tough decisions.

Honestly until the game’s, quite incredible, conclusion I had no idea there were so many choices that I unwittingly made along the way. Some events I completely missed, though whether these will play much of an impact on the story unfolding is unknown at this point.

There’s one slight gameplay blemish where you’re forced to walk around and hunt for some bottles to use as target practice, an unnecessary diversion that reeks of extending the games playtime. But other than that, in a world where these types of games are putting storytelling ahead of gameplay, it’s great that something has managed to hit the right balance between both.

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It’s hard to go into too much detail with these types of games, but the ending is one of the most impactful I’ve yet encountered with these episodic games. So good in fact that it was this huge moment where something clicked in my brain and I was able to forgive all the games faults.  And like all good “choice driven” games, although you can rewind time and select the other options, nothing is ever black and white. It makes each choice matter and you will be staring at the choices for a long time before selection.

To use a television analogy, if episode one was the pilot, then episode two is the second season. A shaky beginning giving way to a great follow up as it finally gets to grips with its mechanics and characters. I have no idea where the story will go from here, and that’s what makes it all so exciting.

Unmechanical Extended Review

In Unmechanical, you play as a robot, one who does not speak but simply plods along on its merry way towards the goal, to find your friend who got sucked into the machine. There is no text or speech throughout the entire game. A wholly silent narrative. The game has been available on iOS & PC for some time now (actually, a few years having been released in 2012) and has just been released on PS3, PS4, XB1 & Vita.

Controls in this game are as simple as the story, you propel yourself along and you have a small tractor beam with which you can carry & drop objects from point A to point B as required. Easy eh! Well…

The developers of Unmechanical, Talawa Games & Grip Games, have managed to create a puzzle game with a clever, yet silent story. The puzzles range from simple puzzles, such as the early ‘Simon Says’ type puzzle with different coloured lights. Simple? Oh yes, but later on the puzzles can really provide a challenge. Thankfully there is a hint system in the game for those who feel the need for a little helpful nudge to get you on your merry way again.

Visuals in the game are a somewhat muted affair, lots of silver & machinery with electronics. Not unsurprising given the name of the game really. This is not to say the graphics are bad, in fact each area you find yourself in is always interesting to look at, exploring each section with your silent partner in crime floating along.

So what exactly is different in this release? Puzzles are less obtuse as some were before, with smaller game areas & less challenges.

Overall, Unmechanical Extended is a lovely way to spend a few hours lost in a silent world taxing those brain cells with an adorable main character too. Something to play as a family, definitely.

 

Pneuma: Breath Of Life Review

It isn’t all that often a game’s initial screen is a lesson in how to pronounce its title, but that’s what Pneuma does, but even then /’ nju:ma / doesn’t quite explain it properly. So it pretty much got known as Breath of Life in the Gamestyle offices.

Now as for what Pneuma: Breath of Life is. It is the latest in an ever growing trend of wandering, narrated, puzzle solving based games. To be honest it can be summed up pretty easily. If you had a scale that started with The Stanley Parable at 1 and finished with The Talos Principle at 10, then Pneuma: Breath of Life would be sitting around the 5-6 mark.

 

Now that isn’t the score, that is purely the game mechanics in a nut shell. You wander around the world that you have been given whilst a voice narrates exactly what you are doing, whilst solving pretty simple puzzles to progress. As you can see, it is slap bang in the middle of those two games mentioned.

But is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it the best of both worlds, or are you better off going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?

Well the easy answer is no… mainly because you can play this on a console, which neither of the other two are available on yet and secondly, it is a pretty damned good experience, although it can take a little while to realise that.

The game opens by trying to be mysterious and not revealing much, as you start in total blackness, with the narrator, the voice in your head, telling you that maybe you are a God and you can create light…and sure enough there was light. This is the opening path that takes you into the early puzzles and one thing that is lovely here, is the way the world builds itself around you.

Starting from emptiness, you start with basic 3D modelled shapes of stairways, walls, etc before seeing colour added, all as this is narrated to you, but by going back the way you came, you can also see this all undo in real time. It creates an amazing sense of progression even this early into the game and throughout it also keeps you pushing on. There have been many moments where I have said to myself, let’s leave it here for now, only to be intrigued enough to carry on that instant, just to see what this new area may be like…oh that’s finished now too.

The narrator is the one thing I am undecided on with Pneuma: Breath of Life. I kind of hate his voice, it just doesn’t fit as well as narrators in games like The Stanley Parable, Bastion or Transistor, it lacks the charisma that those have, but at the same time he fits the world really well and I couldn’t think of something that could sound better. It really is an odd feeling, you want him to be quiet, but when he does stop talking, you miss his voice in your ear.

Here is what I do like about the narration here though. It only fills in clues to puzzles once you have finished one of them. So the first puzzle you come across is a gate that opens and closes as you get nearer or further away. There is no explanation as to why this is, but it is only when you get through, you get a confirmation of what you did and how it worked, but again not as a straight up point by point description, it is a little more cryptic than that.

Another thing that impresses, is that even though the bulk of the puzzles follow a very similar mechanic, the game at no point felt repetitive, there was enough variation that you had to continue to think about your approach, even thinking outside of the box to come to the simplest of conclusions.

This brings me to the pacing and length of the game. First, this isn’t a long game by any stretch and can be finished in a few short hours, with very little encouragement to play through again, but by the same measure the pacing is absolutely spot on and I do mean spot on.

You start a new area and discover how this set of puzzles will work, you complete the first, then take on the next few as they get a little more complex, then as you get to the point that you feel you have done as much as you really care for in this level…BANG! There is the room and the teleport to the next area and a new set of puzzles and ways of solving them. This was happening every single time and I must say I can’t think of a single game where the pacing was that perfect. Others have been close to perfect, but this, in my opinion was actually perfect.

So to properly answer my earlier question Is Pneuma: Breath of Life the best of both worlds, or are you better of going for those two alone and ignoring this completely?

Those two nail their individual ideas better than Pneuma, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a wonderful game. If you are after something that will test the grey matter a little, then Pneuma: Breath of Life is a game you must own.

Dying Light Review

Despite playing 20 hours of Dead Island, I still found it a pretty miserable experience. As such, I didn’t bother with Dead Island Riptide and Dying Light only passed over my radar in the most cursory way, looking like Dead Island feasting on Mirror’s Edge.

Close to release date though, something curious happened. Warner had (according to developers Techland) somehow managed to colossally fudge up the physical printing of the game and so the digital release had been out nearly a month before the physical one (hence this review being a tad late). The odd thing to come out of this was word of mouth was almost entirely positive. Surely not? From the opening 10 minutes, it didn’t seem like it.

The story is the usual utter bunkum you’d expect. You are generic sounding, shaved-head, male caucasian Kyle Crane; mercenary for hire. You are air-dropped by the Global Relief Effort (GRE) into the semi fictional city of Harran after a mysterious outbreak has turned everyone into zombies.

Your mission is to retrieve a super-duper Top Secret, hush hush file stolen by rogue operative Kadir Suleiman. Locate Suleiman, get the file, get out. However, what the GRE didn’t account for is that Crane is probably the most inept mercenary ever, and not 30 seconds after landing in Harran he’s accosted by bandits and then bitten in a subsequent zombie attack leaving him in need of Anitzin, a miraculous concoction which staves off the transformation into the hungry dead that the GRE are dropping Harran into to help the poor buggers trapped in the quarantine zone. The GRE then decide to stop dropping the Antizin in, leaving Suleiman (or Rais, as he’s calling himself for no apparent reason) to control the supplies in the zone.

Here begins a story of moral dilemma as Crane gets knee deep in the dead and finds himself conflicted between carrying out the bizarrely clandestine GREs wishes and helping the human survivors of the zombie outbreak.

It has to be said, though, that for all his incredibly generic traits the character of Crane is pretty well written and acted. Most of the characters in the game are cookie cutter stereotypes with hilarious accents, but there’s enough well rounded ones to make the conflict Crane feels to be more engaging than the generic story would imply. It’s not exactly The Last of Us, but it’s not awful by any means.

 

So that’s one thing Dying Light has up on Dead Island. If Dead Island is a maggot infested cadaver, slowly shuffling towards complete purification then Dying Light is a Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s built of various parts of other games all stitched haphazardly together but charged with lightning and somehow forming a cohesive, powerful whole.

The main meat of this monstrosity is blatantly dug from the Dead Island carcass with the crafting, the inventory, the upgrade system, even the combat are all pulled from that series, but one thing not cribbed is the analogue combat option (pretty much Dead Island’s only saving grace), which is sadly missing. It was probably lost due to the other major addition which is the Parkour navigation. Having the right stick as weapon swing would conflict with the need for the camera to be in use almost constantly as the game places greater emphasis on avoiding combat than engaging in it.

You’re told by one of the characters during the Parkour tutorial that you’re a natural at it, but despite being a super-fit mercenary you run out of breath quickly and take ages to climb up ledges. Of course, this is because there are three skill trees to level, although there’s never any need to grind as you level these up naturally in the course of your questing about and soon you’re unlocking hilariously pointless moves like a drop kick or more useful traits like instant escapes from zombies who grab you.

Thus begins a game which is made up of many wonky, contradictory systems that shouldn’t work, but bizarrely do. The combat starts off as an exasperating experience. You have a stamina bar which regulates how much you can swing a weapon but is oddly in no way tied to how long you can sprint for.

Weapons also degrade with each hit and  you only get a limited amount of repairs after it breaks. You hate to lose that rare, blue wrench early in the game but soon you’ve found so many blue and purple axes, baseball bats, machetes and God knows what else, you’re breaking down high-grade weapons to make space for the next one. Even if you somehow miss them all, or fail the hilariously indelicate mini-game of lockpicking a police van to see if some ludicrous cricket bat is lurking inside, after a few hours you have enough money to buy a $13,000 purple machete that does stupid amounts of damage.

It’s the same with scavenging to make upgrades, medikits and ‘potions’. You end up with so many bits and bobs you never feel like you’re going to be without enough parts to create the modification that gives your blue-grade hatchet poison and the ability to set zombies on fire. And they’re usually so powerful you’re lopping heads off with one hit that along with plentiful medikits the risk of death removes a lot of the risk of death.

The only real risk comes when the sun starts to set and night sets in, and the Volatile start roaming. There’s often a genuine sense of panic when you’re out in the world trying to do one of the few missions that require night-time whilst avoiding these buggers with their Metal Gear-esque cones of sight.

All Power and Agility gains are multiplied at night, so in theory there’s a benefit to doing missions then, but I never found I needed the boost. You can skip the night (or day if required) at one of the many safe houses around the city that you clear and secure, but as death only results in putting you back to one of these nearest where you died with a slight XP loss then you never feel like it’s a drastic decision.

In addition to all this, the missions are all the worst kind of fetch quests you’d expect from an RPG that was made 10 years ago, with no real impetus to do the side missions except for maybe a new blueprint to make another ridiculous modification or the ability to craft medikits from plants you can pluck from the ground while sprinting and bounding around.

Despite all those things, Dying Light is almost obscenely fun. It’s a very difficult thing to say why, because when you look at its individual pieces, the game doesn’t give you a clear indication of how all these mismatched parts form to make this compulsive, satisfying, enjoyable experience. It shouldn’t work at all. It should just be lumps of meat, sewn together to make the form of a game but not one that lives. But it does.

 

ScreamRide Review

Sorry for the Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics to open, but it was that or B*Witched. So as you may have guessed, ScreamRide is a rollercoaster game, sort of. It is at it’s core a rollercoaster game, but it does try to go a little deeper than that.

The game is essential split into three main components; Ride, Destroy, Build and it is these that form the building blocks for the bulk of the career mode as you go through various levels across the world map taking on a number of challenges split into the parts mentioned above.

The game starts you off on the ‘Ride’ levels. Tasking you with taking on a series of challenges whilst racking up scores and beating a par time as you would in a time-trial. If anything it is a really odd concept and one that shouldn’t really work.

You control the speed of your coaster using the right trigger, lean into corners, hit buttons at the right time on certain parts of the track to store boost, then hit the A button to use said boost, whilst also trying to lean into corners and get up on two wheels to get more points.

For the most part this works rather well, the tracks are well designed and offer up a good challenge, but when more ideas get added and the tracks get faster and more twisty, the fun factor slowly starts to decrease, to the point where beating all the challenges doesn’t feel worth it. Which is a shame, because the first levels are wonderful fun.

The second option is the ‘Destroy’ levels, which if you have played Angry Birds, you’ll get to grips with almost instantly. The idea here is that you basically launch a cabin at some buildings to destroy them. You can unlock different cabins that have different abilities and will change how you approach any given level.

The good thing here, is that it borrows very heavily from Angry Birds and as an addition to part of the game it works very well. The issue though, is that in borrowing from Angry Birds, you do get to see after a short while how Rovio did it better. You get to use things like rockets, after-touch, adjust power and angle, etc and it does need some tactical thinking. As part of a larger game it just about works, which is good to see, as it would fall flat as a standalone option.

The third part of the career path are the ‘Build’ levels, which in this case take the concepts from ‘Ride’ and ‘Destroy’ and mix them together. This time you need to complete a section of track that will launch a coaster into a a designated area. The more damage you do, the better your overall score.

Now this for me, is what the bulk of the main career should be, building up tracks to destroy the level itself. This is so much fun and the challenges seem to work well too, such as trying to get you to build only a certain amount of track, whilst still getting a certain score, among other nice additions.

It is here you want to be in career, as the other two parts end up being a distraction whilst you wait to get to the bits you want. Essentially the peas and sprouts before getting to the gateau for dessert. You know why they are on the plate, but you don’t want to eat them and you can see the mouthwatering dessert right there.

That said, the best part of ScreamRide is the sandbox mode, where you can just let your creative juices run free and build the most insane and death defying rollercoaster you can think of. You can build them, then go ahead and ride them. There are so many tools at your disposal, that have to be unlocked via the career mode, but they allow you to go crazy with designs.

Almost anything you can think of, you can build, even replicating real life coasters. It’s not just the tracks you can build too, it’s the islands, the buildings and even your own versions of the other parts of career mode. This is just joyful and reason enough on its own to not only buy the game, but force your way through the career.

It’s not just building in the sandbox, you can also share your creations with the world and go and find other people’s creations too. Much like in games such as Little Big Planet and Trials Fusion, you can just pop into a menu and search for shared tracks and play to your heart’s content. The issue here though, is that leaderboards, which are available for the main career, are not available for user created tracks, which is a shame, because creating your own and setting a score or time attack competition seems like a no brainer.

Overall, ScreamRide is competent game, with some real standout parts offset by some confusing decision making and some distinctly average level structure. It doesn’t ruin the game, which is still fun on the whole, but it does dampen the enthusiasm at times.

Roundabout Review

Well, technically it still is, because this is more Crazy Limo! Actually, it is less like Crazy Taxi and more like GBA classic Kuru Kuru Kururin. Remember that? Hopefully some of you do, because it was and still is a fantastic game.

 

The idea behind the game (and I can’t believe I need to avoid spoilers here) is that you take on the role of Georgio Manos, the worlds first revolving limousine driver, who gets a job driving a limo in the town of Roundabout…yeah that is all you’re getting here, that is all you need, just go with it. The story is wonderfully stupid.

It’s not just the story itself, it is they way it is presented. Georgio Manos herself never talks and just communicates in a series of looks and facial expressions, whilst her passengers each have a wonderful amount of character themselves. Every interaction is done using full motion video. Imagine Wing Commander or C&C Red Alert but actually done well. There is a certain B-Movie element to the video which also fits in wonderfully with the tone of the game.

 

That alone is enough reason to have this game, because it is just spectacular and genuinely funny. It is however backed up by some really well made game mechanics.

 

The basics of the game are simple, you take your revolving limo throughout the world, looking for quests and then completing the quests. Most of these amount to going from checkpoint to checkpoint avoiding obstacles in the quickest time possible. You can repeat each quest as many times as you want, as each one has a series of requirements to beat it 100%. These include things like completing under a par time, taking no damage, etc.

You can also get scores, multipliers and other such things, by hitting cones, collecting stars and also mowing down pedestrians. It’s not gruesome at all and all fits in the with the comical styling of the overall tone of the game. As you progress there are also upgrades to your limo that are vital to your progression, as you’ll find out soon enough.

 

There are also various challenges that you can complete and tons to unlock, such as hats for your limo, new horns and new skins. Aside from that there are also various elements you can turn on and off in the options menu that will just change the way the game plays.

Most of these are just for fun, such as replacing the horn with fart noises, turning off blood, turning run down pedestrians to gold statues, or others that change the game, such as permadeath, which will boot you back to the title screen and one hit mode which sees you explode with your first mistake. It adds a small amount of longevity, but adds to the already wonderful fun. Although there so far seems to be one omission that I saw on the PC and that is the First Person mode, which is just as it says. You play Roundabout in first person from the eyes of Georgio Manos herself. It is stupid, it is hard and it makes you feel sick, but it is a shame it isn’t there.

 

What I found most impressive about Roundabout, is that despite the simple mechanics, I was never feeling short changed, nor was it a one trick pony that became dull too soon. The challenge does get harder, but your abilities also improve, meaning it strikes a perfect balance throughout.

 

There is so character running through this game, that it will stay with you long after you finish and it’ll also leave you longing for more as you cannot help but be charmed by everything on offer. It is big dumb, stupid fun and I love it.

 

It takes a lot of skill to beat Roundabout fully, but you’ll have tons of fun doing so, the world is silly, as are the videos which tie it all together and despite having no actual lines of dialogue Georgio Manos is already my shout for character of the year 2015.

Hand Of Fate Review

Until recently, as in the last 6-8 months, the idea of Card Collecting Games (CCG) or Deck Building Games hasn’t really appealed to me. The main reason is that they just appeared to be impenetrable to the casual fan, something you needed to be proper into, a complete hardcore. But all that changed after finally being taught how to actually play them.

 

I won’t bore you with a timeline, but needless to say, I am a huge fan now. This brings me onto the game I am reviewing now…Hand of Fate.

What you essentially have here is a Deck Building Game, mashed up with a roguelike experience and some real time fighting included for good effect. The first thing that stands out, is that it works really bloody well. It’s not just competent, it is utterly fantastic.

 

Starting with the main element of the game, the cards. Because this is a deck-building game, the cards have to play a major role. So at the very beginning you start off with quite a basic deck, with standard weapon cards, simple armour, shields, etc and even easier enemies. As you progress, you can earn cards that are permanently added to your overall deck, which you can take into later levels.

However, aside from your overall deck, you also get your hand and opening layouts for each level and this is where the roguelike element comes into it. You could finish one level with +50 max health, 125 Gold and 29 Food (which is vital), but when you beat the boss at the end, you will start the next time back to the defaults.

 

It works really well and stops you literally brute-forcing your way through the game but the rewards are plentiful at the same time. After each level, you are rewarded with tokens and can use the cards earned here to build your next deck for the next level. Help is also at hand should you struggle to build your own, thanks to the auto-build option. If you want to see this work better, check out the video below from our playthrough.

What really makes this standout though is the inclusion of real time battles. Now whilst this isn’t exactly authentic or new, the way is has been implemented needs lots of positive noise made. The best way to describe this, is as a scaled down Batman Arkham Asylum fighting system.

 

Yes, that is right, it lifts the fighting mechanics right out of Batman, but instead of feeling like a tacked on ‘unique selling point’ it actually works. The drawn cards will determine the enemies on screen and the cards you have will decide your weapons, shields, etc. It is then you vs the enemies in real time battles and they play out wonderfully well.

 

For the first time, this feels like an excellent mix of real life table top gaming mixed with solid video game mechanics. It would have been easier to take one of a number of different options, or taken many shortcuts, but that isn’t how developers Defiant Development have done it. Every element of the game feels like it belongs.

That comes right down to your host. Because not content with taking the best of Deckbuilding Games, the best bits from Batman and mashing them up, they have also added wonderful presentation, with a ‘dungeon master’ of sorts guiding you through and telling a story as you go. How the cards fall and how you react will then itself determine the outcome. It is very much taking the basics from Dungeons & Dragons and using it to wrap around their own title.

 

Sure there is lots of borrowing of elements here, but it works so well. So much so you never really want to turn the game off. For the first time, this appears to be a game based on the general TTG system, that can only work digitally, where a physical version would be lacking. Whereas it is often the other way round.

 

I went into Hand of Fate expecting very little, expecting a fun but flawed game. What I found though was something else, something I want to play again and again. I sit here writing this review hoping that Defiant Development are already working on expansions. Whether you are a CCG veteran or not, you need to play this game…right now!

Riptide GP2 Review

Yep, Riptide GP2 is a game that immediately throws up a whole bunch of red flags as to why you should be avoiding this game like the plague. So let us have a quick look at them shall we?

1. Where is the original?

That’s a good question, a game is being released on the Xbox One without a known original? Well unless you are aware of the mobile release that is…Wait! What? Is that another red flag right away?

2. It’s a port of a mobile game?

Yes indeed, Riptide GP2 is a port of a fairly successful game that was created for mobile devices, such was this success, it was decided to bring it to current gen consoles for just £4.99.

3. Less than £5? Really? That doesn’t sound good.

Well, no I suppose it doesn’t really, as we have a sequel, which is a port of a mobile game, costing less than £5 and being released to no fanfare whatsoever. So you’re best off avoiding it right?

WRONG! To do so would be denying yourself a fantastic game that offers terrific value for money. A game that is pure arcade fun and has its focus in just that…fun! It is over the top in many ways and doesn’t care about perfect physics or simulation. In fact, when you play it, you might have a feeling you have played something very similar in the past.

Well that is because you have, because this is from Vector Unit, the team that brought you Hydro Thunder Hurricane on XBLA , the sequel to the amazing Hydro Thunder. This is quite simply the closest you are getting to those game on current gen consoles at this moment and you should be grateful for that.

It’s all there, stunning course, amazing visuals, challenging but satisfying gameplay and a sense of speed and inertia that just feels right. Vector Unit have a good pedigree behind them and it shows in Riptide GP2.

There isn’t loads of content here, you can pretty much burn through the single player in a few hours, but you can then play local splitscreen with up to 6 players, which is when things get interesting. You, five friends, snacks, drinks and a bloody good time. A real throwback to the 90’s and one that is more than welcome.

In the single player modes you have a basic career progression, where you take on various events that reward you stars (don’t forget this was a mobile game) that you can use to upgrade abilities and your ride. The better you do, the more you earn. The events are split between races, time trials and style events.

Style events are a great way to learn the various tricks you can do and unlock, as doing these in a race will earn you a boost, but repeating the same tricks over and over will also see your boost effects lessened.

It really cannot be underestimated just how much fun there is to be had in Riptide GP2, it is really the surprise early release of 2015 and we cannot recommend it enough.

All of a sudden that less than £5 red flag doesn’t matter, you can’t quite believe it ONLY cost £4.99 because you would have payed more than that, because it is worth much more than that. It feels like it has been made with a lot more care and attention than most big budget titles from last year and it has found a deserving home on current gen consoles.

The Escapists Review

That right there sums up the two main feelings I have about The Escapists from Mouldy Toof Studios. What on first inspection and during the game’s opening tutorial seems like a game where you simply plan an escape from prison, by crafting and finding the appropriate tools, soon becomes something very different… If you let it.

After completing the basic opening tutorial, where you carry out an executed plan to escape the minimum security prison, you are soon woken up to find out it was all a dream and that you are actually in day 1 of your prison stay. It is a clever way to introduce the basic game mechanics and steps away from the usual dull methods of explaining everything. Anyway, I digress.

After playing said tutorial, what the game does is throw a massive spanner in the works. As you expect to go around the prison, talk to people, gather resources and plan you escape and that is kind of how the escapes will work. However what happens is that you find yourself getting more and more involved with prison life as you go.

Just like in any prison (we assume) you have a structured day. You wake, go to roll call, eat, get exercise, shower, lunch, jobs, dinner, evening roll call, then bed. Within all that though there are sections of free time, where you can wander around the prison and get to know your fellow inmates, guards and even the area.

You can speak to most characters in the prison and all start of neutral towards you, but as you start doing favours for different people you start to see a change in attitude. One inmate tells you that something of theirs has been taken by another inmate and they want to you go and get it back.

This first time around at least, sees you following your target and beating on him to steal his items, This helps you carry favour with other inmates, but also have yet more turn on you, Piss any inmate off enough and you have a target on your back. Which is fine as the guards may well step in and protect you.

I say ‘may’ because it is very easy to annoy a guard to the point they will just stand and watch, or even jump in and beat you down alongside other inmates. At this point this is a Panorama investigation waiting to happen.

The more you play The Escapists, the more you start to appreciate the depth. You should follow the day’s schedule to the letter, but you can find moments to sneak off still. But miss something like a roll call and there will be trouble. Jobs are important and will have an effect on your plans at some point, so losing yours is never a good idea, but it does become possible to find ways to make others lose theirs, so you can then step in. That might even become a legitimate tactic at some point.

Items you find can be stored in your cell, but again you need to be careful if your cell is picked for a shakedown, because being caught with contraband will lead to yet more trouble for you. The items you find are then used to craft the tools you need to help escape and if you have played a game like Minecraft, then you will be used to the craft mechanics already, but even if not they are very simple to work out.

The thing with The Escapists, is that it really is two games in one and it is up to you how you play it. Sure you can plan an escape and more on to the next prison with higher security and tougher escapes. Or you can just live the prison life and go about your day to day business. Because there were certainly times I forgot about the main goal and just tried to keep my head down and survive prison.

There are some many little subtleties within The Escapists that it would be a massive checklist to go through them all now and to do so would rob you of that joy of discovery that I witness as I played after going in pretty much blind.

Characters are all identikit in appearance, yet manage to have a lot of personality and probably more than you’d find in some bigger AAA titles, all this without any voice acting at all. You learn who to trust, who is out to get you and in your own mind you start to play games with the other inmates. At one point I was even becoming paranoid that one guard in particular had a hit out on me, because everytime I got beaten up, he was always around the corner…it was him, I know it was, he is after me and there is nothing I can do. But he’ll get what’s coming!!

I mean, yeah, that’s not possible right? I shouldn’t find myself that drawn in to a simple looking Indie game that is about crafting and escape, should I? If that is all it is about, then kudos to Mouldy Toof for managing to create a believable would in the confines of a prison, but I do suspect that escaping is merely just a small part of what has been created here.

Whilst I was aware of The Escapists, it was never a game on my most wanted list, but having now played for a good number of hours and still only scratching the surface, I can wholeheartedly recommend picking this up and get involved with one of the first great indie titles of 2015.

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…

Life is Strange: Episode 1 – Chrysalis Review

To be honest, any episodic game in a post Walking Dead world is going to be compared, especially when said game is all about story and examining every item in the environment. That’s not to say Life is Strange doesn’t bring its own ideas to the table.

Its main twist is the use of time travel. Playing as Max, a socially awkward photography nerd, after witnessing someone getting shot in the toilets of Blackwell Academy (where she’s studying) she discovers she has the ability to turn back time. Rewinding time causes everything to move backwards around Max as she stands still. Only the game is very loose with its rules of time travel. For the majority of the game Max stands still as has already been said, yet the first time she discovers her power she’s also moved back in time to the classroom. To be honest though, surely that’s how it should work. I mean, if everyone is moving back in time with the exception of Max then wouldn’t it break certain moments, like interacting with people? Whatever, my brain is now hurting, time travel is a hard thing to get right whether it’s in a movie or game.

In its defence though, the puzzles rely on the game being fast and loose with the time travel laws. One early encounter has you attempting to move the school bully from the dorm steps, to do so requires some use of time rewinding and altering the environment slightly to reach your goal. While situations like this are required to progress the story, others are almost like side quests, such as warning a girl before she gets hit by a football.

The time mechanic is also used to alter choices you might make along the way. Not happy with the outcome of a decision? Then simply rewind and choose the other option. While this may seem like it’s easy to choose the “good” option, pretty much all the dialogue choices aren’t simply black and white. A lot of them, whatever choice you make feels like it has just as much a negative reaction as the other. Time will tell if these choices affect the story in any meaningful way.

There’s actually a surprisingly lot of stuff to find and interact with in the world, some of which just produce little throwaway pieces of dialogue, others feel like you’re actually getting to know the characters a bit more. This is more apparent with the many photos you’ll find, photography being a key pillar in the game world.

What is really striking about Life is Strange right from the beginning is the art style. Graphically, the first two areas aren’t anything special, but then you reach the games climax (it is only a few hours long), jaws will drop. What’s most impressive is the almost, indie movie like aesthetic. Right from the opening, after leaving the classroom Alex pops in some headphones, the noise from the corridor drowns out and music just envelops the scene as the opening credits begin. Then when you’re looking at various objects in the world all options appear like they’re drawn on with pencil. Even with graphics that might not wow, Life is Strange goes to show that with a good art style you can make it stand out from the crowd.

The acting and dialogue fares a little worse. Performances aren’t bad, but are pretty mediocre and the dialogue teen speak jumps between good and excruciating. While the interaction between Max and her former best friend is mostly decent (awkward David Cage dance scene aside), the occasional lines of “epic win” and the like creep in. It at times feels like adults writing for teens whose only research was watching Juno.

If you treat this is like a pilot for a new TV series, then Life is Strange can be considered a success. While the vast majority of episode 1 plays out like an extended tutorial, it does end with a great cliffhanger that ensures my return for the second episode.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Review

Swery is the most interesting man working in games at the moment. He has this air of utter brilliance and insanity that makes all his games just so damn intriguing. Deadly Premonition was technically laughable, but gained a cult following just because of how damn weird it was. D4, Swery’s latest and Xbox One exclusive, follows a similar path. But believe it or not, is technically rather impressive.

Presented in an episodic format, D4 follows David Young as he tries to uncover the mystery of his wife’s death, who he rather creepily refers to as, “Little Peggy”. You see, David has this gift. By using objects called mementos he can use them to jump back in time. It’s with this trick he’s able to try and track down the one known as “D” who he believes murdered his wife. This is just the tip of the weird. It gets stranger.

The characters you meet are, a little bizarre. From a mannequin loving weirdo, to a crazed FBI agent, they’re all injected with that Swery magic. There’s even a girl who believes she’s a cat. Or maybe she is a cat? It’s not quite clear. The most head scratching thing about the plot is that the “D” David is looking for is merely the first letter of the person’s name. So basically everyone with a name that starts with D is a suspect. And naturally, the plane you quickly find yourself on is full of characters that share that first initial. Not to mention our very own player character, but surely that’s too obvious of a twist. Right? Right?!?!?!

But what type of game is it? Well, the closest comparison would be something made by Telltale. You can walk along predetermined paths as David, examining items, talking to people and taking part in QTE action sequences. Controlling David can be done in two ways, controller or Kinect.

Once the news came that Kinect would no longer be bundled with every Xbox One it became wise for companies to make the switch and include an alternate control scheme for those without the camera. However, D4 seems to be that rare game, one that actually feels like it was made purely for Kinect. During the QTE sequences, what would usually be done with swipes of hands is done by using the two analogue sticks.

The icons on screen are so small for the sticks that it becomes straining to see what you need to press. And also, it becomes harder to actually watch what’s happening on screen. You don’t need to see the scenes play out, but you really want too. They’re amazingly put together, moving seamlessly between the action with barely a noticeable dip in framerate. You do have health, so can miss a few QTE’s before game over, and at times it’s actually worth doing that just to see how the scene plays out. Breaking up these moments are simple exploration sequences that slow the pace down and are largely forgettable. They’re not exactly taxing, with puzzles (if you can even call them that) revolving around just clicking on things until something happens.

As the story comes to its conclusion you realise that maybe episodic may not be the best approach for something as niche as this. Only containing the first few episodes, the game ends on a rather abrupt cliffhanger, one that if the game doesn’t sell well could end up never getting resolved. It’s the video game equivalent of a TV series you love being cancelled mid-season. And it would be a shame if that happens.

D4 does have its issues. Most notably is the way stamina works. Talking to people, examining the environment reduces stamina. If the stamina reaches zero then David faints, and you need to spend a large amount of credits in order to continue. It never became a problem, credits are plentiful and you can replenish stamina by eating food scattered around or buying them from the cat vendor (don’t ask). Which really makes it a less of a hindrance, and more pointless.

But a few niggles aside, D4 further cements Swery as one of the most interesting developers to come out of Japan. A weird and wonderful game that deserves a conclusion to its bizarre tale.