Fairy Fencer F Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dream Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hero Generations Review

It’s been an odd couple of years.

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King’s Quest Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Hold’Em Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blues and Bullets Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Submerged Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute Drift Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tembo the Badass Elephant Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3D Streets of Rage 2 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N++ Review

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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.

Ronin Review

2D turn based stealth combat action

Ronin is the least stealth stealth game I’ve played. Or maybe it’s the stealthiest non-stealth game. The actuality is somewhere in the middle.

Tasked as a ninja avenging her father by killing the five people responsible, Ronin sees you jetting to glamorous places such as an office, another office, a nightclub, and what could be more offices. That’s not to detract from the game as it looks stylish, and the music really sets the mood for the action. The act of taking retribution against each of your targets is split across five chapters, each with three levels. The first two levels see you hacking computers to gather information, which is a simple case of getting to them while not in combat, while the third level sees you eliminating the mark. Each of the objectives is heavily guarded so there is a lot of killing to be done.

Outside of combat the game runs in real time although you are able to pause the action, to plan, whenever you like. The ninja is agile – able to jump long distances, climb any wall or along a ceiling, and use a grappling hook to swing or quickly ascend to a spot. Ronin states that is is not a stealth game and to just kill everyone, but battles are made significantly easier by taking out as many enemies as you can before being spotted. You are completely invisible out of light however killing a foe will cause one of the nearby remaining guards to briefly scan the area, including the darkness. Even if you remain hidden if something is wrong the guard will commence a countdown to trigger an alarm, eventually forcing you to reveal yourself. You see, Ronin likes putting you into combat situations and quite often you have no choice but to make an entry to a room in broad view of everyone in there.

Being spotted causes the game to immediately switch to its turn based mode where combat takes place. Each turn you get to perform one action, be it jumping to change position (the ninja, for some (read: gameplay) reason suddenly loses the ability to walk and climb in open battle) or stabbing an enemy if you are close enough. It therefore usually takes a couple of turns to kill an opponent – one to get close and another to finish them off. An exception would be jumping into an enemy and knocking them out of a high window. Jumping into an enemy knocks them flying and they lose a couple of turns while recovering. Before making your move a series of red lines shows you where the guards are going to fire their weapons, and being in the way at the end of your turn will result in being shot and dying. Complications arise in a couple of extra enemy types: an armoured samurai that cuts you in two if move to them, and machine gunners which fire repeatedly for two turns, limiting your movement options. It sounds a lot more complex than it is and after a couple of encounters I found myself settling into a rhythm.

Jumping is aimed by holding the left mouse button, aiming the line, and then releasing although this is not always accurate as hitting an enemy will alter the ninja’s course. In battle if the entire line is white the jump will be completed in one turn however if it turns red the move is too long and the ninja will stop in mid-air at the point the line turns red. This can be useful in avoiding a shot that is low to the ground if you have nowhere else to go. On the next turn the grappling hook can be used to change trajectory or you can just let the previous momentum continue.

To aid the ninja’s task she is able to unlock a number of skills by completing all of the bonus objectives on each level. I do mean all as missing one will mean the skill point remains locked. These objectives are always the same and consist of killing every enemy, not letting the alarm be raised, and not harming any civilians. The latter can be annoying as if a civilian sees you they will raise the alarm unless you kill them, so being spotted was an instant restart condition for me. Civilians are always placed in such a way to be completely avoidable without relying on luck, so being spotted always meant I had messed up somehow. Extra abilities include being able to place a decoy, warping to enemies to stun them, and throwing your sword while in mid-air for long range kills. It is worth completing the bonus objectives as some of the abilities, especially the warp, are pretty much essential in the later levels.

It took me around four hours for my first run through, and although some new obstacles are introduced the core of the game does not really change. Completing the game unlocks new game plus where you keep all of your unlocked abilities and enemy placement and behaviour is slightly changed. New game plus is a lot harder and a difficulty spike around halfway through saw me take around an hour to complete one level, although it was a lot smoother after that. I found myself having to use abilities I ignored in the first playthrough in order to stand half a chance. Making liberal use of the ability to pause outside of combat to jump, fire a grappling hook, reel the ninja in, and hang an enemy in the equivalent of half a second also helped. I think that might have been cheating though!

Ronin is a good game, with an excellent idea for combat that is slightly devalued by an almost absolute need to stealthily take out enemies before entering battle. It frequently reminds you that this is not a stealth game but it is with stealth that you often make the best progress.

At least I went the whole review without mentioning Gunpoint.

Damnit.

Blazblu Chronophantasma Extend Review

Over the years Blazblu has taken up the position of the hardcore alternative to Capcom’s Street Fighter IV. Most of the characters require hours of dedication to get to grips with and the crazy plot that includes time travel, magic, science, civil wars and alternate worlds can baffle anyone. Now the series is back with it’s PS4 debut and the extended version of the third chapter of the story.

Chronophantasma takes place after the first two games and follows the characters as they move to the ruins of Ikaruga in search of the next magical McGuffin. We aren’t going to try and sum up what’s happened so far or what’s next as it’ll only confuse everyone. Just know that bad things are going to happen and some people want it to and others don’t. There is of course a puppet master behind the scenes as well trying to put everything into place.

This isn’t an easy game to get into for newcomers to the series. There’s a ton of things to take in and trying to tie up the story will take a serious investment. There’s a helpful ‘Teach Me Miss Litchi’ section which recaps the lore and events but the handy summation of the first two games from vampire Rachel Alucard will set you up nicely.

The game comes jam packed with different game modes and there’s almost limitless hours that can be put into it. Aside from the Arcade and survival modes there is Abyss mode which has your character working their way through ever increasingly difficult maps containing opponents set at different computer AI levels. There is also the BlazBlue version of score attack which pits you against some of the hardest encounters known to man for bragging rights and a host of other things. There’s even a manga to get through called Remix Heart which follows Mai Natsume at the military academy.

The story mode continues in the style of the vanilla version of Chronophantasma with three main branches that need to be completed with characters aligned to different factions in each. There are also sections featuring the new characters which came as DLC in the last version of the game. There is still too much talking and not enough fighting to start but once it gets going it’s a good tale and enjoyable, especially for fans of the series. The wealth of training modes also return with everything you need to teach you the basic mechanics and then take you into ridiculous depth with your chosen characters.

The original cast have been rebalanced and in some cases retooled with moves and special moves and this is still a bone of contention for some fans. Jin is the most notably different with the range and speed of certain moves changed and the removal of his mass-hitting spam everything quickly with the sword move (much to the relief of everyone who uses other characters). Things soon begin to click again but we got absolutely hammered just diving into arcade mode and then wondering why nothing was working.

The previously new characters are now joined by those available as downloadable content to give an impressive cast of fighters. The previous version of the game was hardly light on content and now it is bursting at the seams.

The game holds true with its previous changes such as the implementation of the ‘Overdrive’ meter which replaces the ‘Gold Burst’ move. When activated this allows for more damaging distortion drive techniques as well as stopping the match timer. The lower your health, the longer the effect lasts. Guards have also been changed but the drive is still the new big thing and players will have to drastically change their game plan in close matches.

The main thing is that after you get to grips with the changes everything flows as beautifully as before. This is still one of the most spectacularly intense fighting games on the market and this version of the game is a very strong showing in an ever increasingly crowded genre.

Overall, Blazblu Chronophantasma Extend is a must for anyone who is into their fighting games and this is right up there with anything on the PS4. Fans will be desperate to see the new additions to the story but anyone who’s up for a challenge will appreciate what the game has to offer as well. It may not be the easiest title to get into but once you do there is little else out there as rewarding or satisfying.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation Review

This is the best Hyperdimenson Neptunia game out there so far  – there I’ve said it. If this is your particular poison then run out to the front lines and grab a copy and prepare to Nep your way into oblivion for what may seem like the 100th time this year.

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation starts with a firm boot to the head where all of the Goddesses (CPU’s) are attempting to rid themselves of Neptune by beating her to a pulp so that they can take over Gamindustri once and for all. This inadvertently starts off a chain reaction which leads to Neptune being sucked into a portal and then falling hilariously face first into a 1980’s tinted version of Gamindustri.

After a dose of re-orientation to this new and seemingly outdated land (but not before helping Neptune acquire her transformational powers again), it is determined that in order to return Neptune to her own dimension, she must raise the shares of Neptunia sufficiently enough so that a portal can be opened and in any Neptunia game this can only mean one thing: an epic quest fest.

In the mean time, she plays along with the CPU’s of this alternate world and gradually re-discovers her old friends as well as making some new ones. Enter Plutia – a welcome addition to the cast who initially starts off as the only CPU for Planeptune. At the onset she comes across as being a complete and utter airhead. However, in her HDD form her personality does a complete switch and she turns into the sadomasochist otherwise known as ‘Sadie’ – this helps to create some of the most amusing scenes in the game.

The whole premise is to essentially get Neptune home and in one piece whilst traversing the console wars of the 80’s and 90’s, battling monsters and avoiding the evil machinations of the Seven Sages who will do almost anything to try and eliminate the CPU’s and control Gamindustri themselves. Along the way there are also a multitude of quests to complete, dungeons to explore, special monsters to smash, items to gather and plans to unveil.

Characters level up in the usual way, although they can also have their skills and stats enhanced by effectively upgrading themselves with plans that can be found. Plans apply not only to characters but to almost everything in the game, dungeons can be changed, weapons and items discovered and monsters strengthened or weakened. So it’s imperative that you utilise plans effectively.

The lily system also makes a return – characters who fight together will eventually find true love together. Maybe not quite… but they will both become stronger if they are coupled together, one in the front and one in the rear – seriously! The higher each character’s lily rank the more abilities they will each gain when in one another’s sweet embrace.

Most of the previous game mechanics are left intact or are very similar – Stella’s dungeon (a roguelike mini-game that consists of Stella endlessly climbing a huge tower in search of loot) also makes a return. Combo skills are the basic attacks that are utilised in battle and they can also be heavily customised to your specific tastes or elemental preference. Gradually you’ll unlock more slots which can result in some quite impressive combo moves. The usual ream of skills is also present along with a wide array of challenges that increase character stats and unlock various upgrades the more that are completed.

In order to combat the EXE drive abuse that was the optimum strategy for the last game, HDD mode is now tied to the amount of SP that you have. SP is restored by hitting monsters and whilst this is good in theory, the rush attacks give you a lot more SP than any other kind of attack so a lot of the time, you’ll simply be hammering rush attacks and then unleashing either your special moves or EXE drive. This means it has simply swapped one unbalanced tactic for another. Bosses or stronger mobs do at least require some more thought as you have to break their armour down first. The battle system, whilst good could easily have been a bit deeper and tactical.

The dungeons are typical Neptunia fare and I’ve no doubt that you’ll have seen a few of them already if you’ve played any game in this series before and this is where the game falls down slightly with re-used dungeons, monsters, textures and music all beginning to seem a bit too familiar with most of them having been almost copied and pasted from the 2nd game. Graphically, the colour palette is energetic and as vivid as usual and all of the models do look quite sharp on the PS Vita with absolutely no slowdown experienced.

Overall, the dialogue is quite interesting and the characters know how to poke fun at themselves and the game industry as a whole. However, they are in desperate need of an editor as the cut-scenes are overly long and often tend to have a bit too much pointless waffle included. There are indeed many subtle nods to the console wars throughout various eras and the differences between them.

The soundtrack has quite a light hearted upbeat tempo which suits the game quite well (as it is after all intended to be an adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously). For all intents and purposes, given that the characters are almost 100% clichés and the plot is filled with a ton of video game references and cultural in-jokes I shouldn’t have liked this… but as always and once again, it turned out to be quite a juicy guilty pleasure.

Rocket League Review

Video Games are amazing! It is as simple as that, I don’t think there is an entertainment medium as diverse as games. This last month has shown exactly why that is too (June/July 2015).

I was convinced that the excellent Her Story was a clear leader for my 2015 Game of the Year. This is a game that has you sitting and watching various clips of an interview with a woman involved in a murder case. There is no real directed end point, it is up to you when you are done. It is an emotional rollercoaster with sublime acting and just really well crafted, yet brings up the argument…”Is it even a game?” – Well, yes it is, but that argument is for another time.

That was the best thing I had played in the first six months of 2015. Yet just days into the second half of the year, this amazing title which stirs so many emotions has a challenger to my choices for GotY and it couldn’t be further away from Her Story in terms of what sort of game it is.

Rocket League is Soccer meets Mario Kart Battle Mode. This is a game that shouldn’t actually work, it should be a fun for five minutes and forget sort of game, but instead it is something that should have a long and competitive life, hell the sort of game that could even become a legitimate eSport to challenge the DOTAs and Street Fighters of this world on the eSport scene.

As a basic overview of the game. you have two teams and the goal is to score in the opposition’s goal, more times than they do in yours, except rather than control men or women around a pitch, you are doing it in rocket powered cars. That’s all there is to it and it is an amazing experience from the very first moment.

You can play both online and offline, with offline offering up a season mode to keep your skills in check, as well as the usual exhibition modes and training. Online is where the fun is though, with options of 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 variations, with each match lasting 5 minutes.

This is the beauty of Rocket League and why it is a game that is here to stay. The process goes like this.

1. Boot the game
2. Choose to play online
3. Choose parameters for play (1v1, 2v2, etc)
4. Join game
5. Play for the most fun filled five minutes you can imagine
6. Finish and play again
7. Realise you are late for work, picking your child up from school, forgot to eat, shower, drink
8. Tell yourself you won’t do that again tomorrow
9. Do exactly the same tomorrow

You need to play this yourself to really understand just how much fun is to be had, no amount of words will accurately convey that. So stop reading for a bit and if you have a PS4 (and it is July 2015 still) go and get this from PS+ for free right now. If it is past July 2015 and you have a PS4, then buy it, it is great value for money and if you are on PC, just go and get it now.

I have asked myself what makes this such a glorious game to play and I believe it is a pretty perfect balancing act of ideas and mechanics that fit together in the most wondrous way.

First of all, the length of each match is set to five minutes and whilst it may seem short, each one feels just about right in length. You jump in, play, have a great time and by the time it is over you just want to go again. If it was longer it may start to feel like a bit of a chore to play, needing to you really think about finding the time to dedicate to just a single game. Yet any shorter and it would feel like there wasn’t enough time to really get into it. That five minutes is just a magical timeframe to allow you a quick play, or to get a ton of games under your belt.

Next up is the gameplay and whilst there are 1v1 and 2v2 options, it is 3v3 and 4v4 where the game really jumps to life. You can start to think about how you approach each game, who is better at defending, who has a knack of getting goals, who can go out and be an enforcer to demolish the other team’s cars. Yet at the same time it is just as fun with everyone just chasing the ball around with no regard to tactics.

To make this work though, the controls need to be tight and once again this is spot on. Cars control like they would in a real arcade type racer, with enjoyable physics to match. They have the traditional left and right triggers to accelerate and brake, with boost and jump on face buttons.

The jump acts as your way to ‘kick’ the ball, using it in conjunction with the analogue stick to control how you attack the ball, which can lead to some pretty spectacular goals, especially using the curved walls of the dome you are playing in.

One thing I have noticed so far, at least, is that each and every game feels different, it hasn’t yet settled into people having found a way to glitch goals and things you had that worked in a previous game, may well be countered by a different type of player in the next. It adds to the fun, knowing that a game can really go any way and that nothing is guaranteed.

I am trying to think of a decent way to wrap up this review, but instead I am just going to leave it here and go and play some more Rocket League…see you in the dome!

 

Prismatica Review

This won’t be a long and indepth review, because it doesn’t need to be. I just need you to answer a couple of questions.

1. Have you ever enjoyed solving a Rubik’s Cube?

If your answer is yes, then you’ll simply love Prismatica, because it takes the same simple idea of taking a completed solution, mixing it up and asking you to return to that original state. Just like the Rubik’s Cube it uses colour to be your visual identifiers, needing you to recognise certain solution patterns.

Unlike the Rubik’s Cube though, there isn’t just the one final solution, because this has been designed with digital in mind, once you complete one puzzle you move on to another, then another, then another. Essentially if the developer chooses, this could be endless as long as he has ideas for new layouts.

2. Do you like logic puzzles?

Again if the answer is yes, then once again you will love Prismatica, because from the very first moment you play, you can see this is a game all about logic. You can see your end goal and you logically work out how to achieve it.

As complex as the layouts might get, you can use logic to solve it and whilst you may assume some trial and error is needed, so guesswork, the truth is, once you work out the basic logic, you can pretty much solve any puzzle. It is very similar to Slitherlink in this way, where you start by working out where certain things will happen and how your choices may effect things down the line.

If you like both those things, then Prismatica is easily for you…but what is it?

What you have is a layout of various circles made up of 6 coloured hexagons, you are shown the final result before the circles are twisted to mix up the colours, you then have to go through making turns on each circle so you can eventually get back to the original layout.

It is incredibly simple, but so rewarding. It is rewarding because, despite being simple it becomes very, very taxing as you spend ages looking at a layout working out where to begin. Wondering if it is worth starting in this place, or will that ruin something later. It challenges every part of your logical thought and does it wonderfully.

There is added pressure too, because you can just go through and solve each puzzle, however there are additional goals to solve, such as finishing within a certain number of moves, or beating the clock. Thankfully these aren’t essential to playing so you can ignore them.

Prismatica popped up on my radar rather unexpectedly. but after many, many hours of puzzle solving I can safely say that this is a game fans of puzzles will fall in love with and demand more of.

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.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

So you witnessed your parents get brutally murdered, spent years honing your combat skills so you can take on the criminal underworld that robbed you of your childhood … and then decided that dressing up as a giant bat, prowling Gotham’s rooftops at night, was the next step? Even better, Brucey boy, you roped others into your dark little vigifantasy, and got them maimed, or killed, or maimed and killed. All the while slowly descending into your own personal hell. Who needs the Joker, when you’re your own worst enemy, eh Bats?

Several months after the events of Arkham City, which proved fatal for Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker’s absence had seen Gotham’s crime rate plummet. But the following Halloween, Dr Jonathan Crane aka Scarecrow unleashes hell on Gotham, forcing the city’s almost complete evacuation, leaving only the remaining criminals and the few folk unlucky enough to not escape.  The Batman has to step in.

Rocksteady’s assured debut with Arkham Asylum (ssshhhhh! No-one cares about Urban Chaos) was one of the most pleasant surprises in recent videogame history. Its follow-up, Arkham City, expanded the theme in scope, but perhaps at the expense of Asylum’s direction. Now we have Arkham Knight, though it’s as much a commentary on the toll-taking mental issues of a grown man dressing up as a giant bat for years, as it is the culmination of a series of great games based on a grown man dressing up as a giant bat for years.

But let’s forget all that psycho mumbo jumbo for a moment, and look at the actual game. And would you just look at it? Gotham City has never looked so good, or indeed wet. Gotham’s rain-soaked, neon-lit streets, are a sight to behold. Using the same Unreal 3 engine as the previous games has allowed Rocksteady to turn everything up to eleven on the PS4.  With the addition of well placed motion blur, a subtle film grain effect, and lens flare that’s just on the right side of J.J. Abrams territory, the result is a very filmic look.  It’s truly breathtaking.

If I had to pick on something here, it’s the lip-sync and facial animation. Coming straight from The Witcher 3, where the characters had stunning emotional range and believability, many of Arkham Knight’s in-game cut scenes appear somewhat stiff and lifeless in comparison. But that’s a minor niggle. Arkham Knight is a visual tour de force that puts to shame almost every other game released this generation. Infamous: Second Son hinted at what these machines are really capable of; Arkham Knight is the first to truly deliver.

In addition to the game’s new visual bells and whistles, Batman himself has some very handy new moves and combat options.  Silent takedowns are now more readily available, and there’s a new ‘Fear’ takedown, allowing you to take out up to five enemies (once unlocked) in a row. Given how this game regularly pits Batman against ten or more enemies at a time, the Fear takedowns come in really handy to even the odds. They’re impressively stylish, and despite their simplicity, very satisfying to pull off. You really do feel like you are the Batman.

Batman’s arsenal of gadgets is largely the same as in previous games, with only one or two additions. Most notable is the inclusion of the Batmobile.  Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Tumbler from Christopher Nolan’s films, it’s already divided opinion amongst the player base. Personally, I love it.  At least, I love the car. Blazing through Gotham’s streets at high speed never gets old, and the side-quests and mini-games that require you to drive the car are a lot of fun.

It’s the Batmobile’s alternate tank mode that is the issue. For certain situations, such as some of the Riddler puzzles, the tank mode is very good indeed.  But when you’re forced into combat situations it’s, well, it’s a bit rubbish really.  The tank feels very floaty to control, making aiming the tank’s weapons somewhat frustrating, especially when you’re surrounded by drones from all angles. You do get upgrades to make the tank combat better, and a bit more varied, but these upgrades still don’t make the tank combat particularly fun.

What’s disappointing is that the game relies on the tank mode for most of the boss fights.  So if you’re coming to this expecting fantastic encounters such as the Mr Freeze and Solomon Grundy boss fights in Arkham City, prepare to be disappointed.  There are still one or two good encounters, but later in the game there are some lazily designed levels that just throw drone enemies at you constantly. Rocksteady is clearly proud of the Batmobile, but its reliance on this new toy, especially later in the game, is a woeful misstep.

And you know what?  It’s a real shame, because putting those issues aside, Arkham Knight is a fantastic game. Its story is arguably the best of the Arkham series, with scintillating performances from the voice actors. Particularly good are the performances from the newcomers in the form of Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks as Commissioner Gordon; and John Noble of Fringe and Lord of the Rings fame as Scarecrow. It’s refreshing to see truly great actors take these roles seriously.

If there’s one thing Rocksteady has always got right in its Arkham games, it’s nailing the characters. The writing in this game is, for the most part, excellent, and while the previous games perhaps concentrated more on Batman’s rogue’s gallery, Batman himself is very much the centrepiece here. As you play Arkham Knight you are watching the unravelling of a man that has spent too long donning the dark cowl, and the way Rocksteady conveys this throughout the game is absolute genius. The Arkham Knight himself is perhaps the only element of the story that’s a bit weak.  His identity is telegraphed midway through the game, though personally I found his eventual reveal to be very well done. Additionally, the game does trip up a little with its ending, though for me it has the most satisfying conclusion of the three games.

Arkham Knight is definitely a case of the journey being better than the destination, and what a journey it is! The combat is as good as it’s ever been, the writing is sharp, it’s visually stunning, and the game is full of iconic Batman moments that fans will adore and talk about for years to come.  Don’t let the game’s few – admittedly glaring – flaws deter you from what is otherwise a terrific Batman tale.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode Three – Catch A Ride Review

Seriously, three months is a long time in episodic releases, with the first episode being released December last year, going by their current release schedule it means the final episode won’t be out till December. Five, two to three hour episodes spread across an entire year is a little crazy. But then you look at how much work Telltale has taken on as of late and it’s still annoying, but understandable. Oh well, at least the quality is consistent.

After a quick “previously on…” segment we re-join Rhys and Fiona in trouble where the last choice you made (whether to trust Fiona or the ghostly Handsome Jack) plays a part in your escape. Then it’s a quick reminder that Borderlands could be considered Telltale’s “action” series as again the action sequences take centre stage as our heroes continue their search for the vault.

The best part of this episode though is by far the inclusion of Gortys. A childlike little robot that has a rather endearing innocent quality who is voiced brilliantly by Ashley Johnson (of The Last of Us fame). Also bringing with it some of the best comedy moments of the season. I’ve been critical the past couple of episodes that the humour misses the mark more than it hits, but this episode does have the best written material so far.

One moment Gortys is trying to drag a dead body so they can hurry and be on their adventure, only for Fiona to calmly say he’s “sleepy” as to not upset the little robot.

The main crux of the story is to obtain an upgrade for Gortys so you can go searching for a vault. And it’s the main overarching story that is perhaps the weakest in Telltale’s video game arsenal. It’s essentially an episode comprising of moments, good moments, but moments that still lack a purpose unlike say they would in a Walking Dead. There’s only really one choice that I’d consider major here and the cliffhanger ending is a little bit of a damp squib when compared to the previous episode.

Again, puzzles are very lightweight with only one issue where I struggled, but then this was solely because I forgot to scan every nook and cranny for one last interact-able object. Maybe it’s because I’m playing Life is Strange in between episodes of Borderlands, but the lack of puzzles is far more apparent now than it has been in the past.

If you’re still playing by now then you’re already heavily invested in Tales from the Borderlands, and as such you’ll be pleased to know it carries on its continued quality. That quality mainly comes in the form of Gortys, who is a fantastic addition to the cast. But I’m at that point now where I fear that Telltale fatigue is starting to set in. And with a million other projects in the pipeline, I do wonder if nothing changes gameplay-wise, how many of these styles of game can Telltale really make?

Le Tour De France 2015 Review

When it comes to real world sports as video games I am pretty narrow minded. Ice Hockey, Basketball, Soccer (yeah I went there!), Football, Tennis, Baseball and Motorsports. All of those kind of fit as videogames and sports I don’t mind watching overall in real life.

Cycling is a sport that I appreciate, but have never been able to get into. I understand the effort and dedication that is needed to compete at the top level, hell I even took my son to watch one of the UK stages of Le Tour De France, but it was 4-5 hours of waiting around for what seemed a few seconds of actual action.

I am not belittling the sport at all as I know different people like different things, so when it came to games such as Pro Cycling Manager, I just never felt the need to play them. I have no interest in it, so decided to just let it go. However Le Tour De France 2015 landed in my lap and well here is my view as a complete outsider.

I am thoroughly impressed by what I am playing, if you ignore the cycling aspect you are left with a pretty damn solid management RTS game, with the cycling itself acting as more of a wrapper, a visual aesthetic to appeal to fans of the sport.

For the uninitiated, of which I include myself, you essentially take a rider in the race and control him across the entire event, but at the same time you also need manage the rest of your team. Which is something that really surprised me, as I didn’t quite get how much of a team sport cycling is.

You’ll need to make sure you have the right members of the team at the right point of the event to maximise your team’s points. So you may have a rider who is a great sprinter, so you’ll want him challenging at the front for the sprint stage, or another who may be better at mountain stages. There are even riders who are there not to win, not to even grab points, but purely to help other riders get the best out of the race they can.

Then during each stage, the tactics that come in are almost mind blowing in their complexity. You may have a rider make a break from the pack to up the pace of the stage so it best suits his team’s best positioned rider to get maximum points, or you may get the sprinters push right ahead early on so as to be first over the line in the sprint, before either dropping back into the pack, or trying to push on to create some distance.

The leader at the end of each stage gets the yellow jersey and the next stage is then pretty much based around him; with his team hoping to keep him as near to the front of the overall standings as possible, whilst others try to counter that to leave him behind in the pack.

The back and forth that goes on every second is strangely compelling and really does make you appreciate what it takes to not just win but to even compete. I am not all of a sudden a massive fan of cycling, but I was given an education.

It’s not just the action and strategy that has impressed either. Visually the game looks fantastic, as you wind your way through European countryside and towns, concentrating on the road ahead as some pretty impressive scenery whizzes by. Riders and bikes are both modeled rather well and adds to an overall immersion that I just wasn’t expecting.

One thing to be aware of though and this depends on you as a gamer and how much effort you want to put into such a game. Despite stages being somewhat shortened compared to their real life versions, this isn’t like compressing a 90 minutes soccer match into 5 minutes, or a 60 lap Grand Prix into 3 laps.

Each stage feels gigantic, so that you really do need to pace yourself and manage your rider so they don’t get too tired too soon. Race off into the distance early to try and get a lead and hold it? Don’t think so, you will have nothing left in the tank at the business end of the stage and will lose badly, as well as letting your team down.

When you get a stage that is 130km, it may not be a real 130km, but the scaling sure makes it feel like it. Yet in a game type that I assumed would get old and dull pretty fast I found myself completely and utterly engaged and when you do get a victory, either for yourself or the team…well, you feel elated in a way I once again just didn’t expect.

I honestly expected myself to be finishing a review of Le Tour De France 2015 by telling you this is a game for cycling fans only, but I can honestly say that I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone.

Her Story Review

I am sat here writing this review and my desk is a complete and utter mess. I have Post-It notes around the frame on my monitor, a notepad with a ton of scribblings in it, a mug of coffee, snacks and god knows what else.

You see I have spent the last couple of days trying to solve a case. A murder to be exact. I have footage of the interviews with the suspect and I need to go through them to find evidence that will either prove innocence or guilt. I have become infatuated with this case, I need to uncover something.

We at Gamestyle will be going into much more depth about this ‘game’ with a proper discussion about it. You can find the link at the end of the review (when ready) and don’t expect to see any spoilers here, just my thoughts about one of the most important games of this or any other year.

Many games need to introduce you to their characters so as to build back story, yet here is Her Story which throws you straight in without any setup. You boot the game and are presented with an old PC screen. There is a folder already open with some videos in it and no other instructions.

You play a video, then the next and the next until you have watched all the short clips available there and then. That’s it, you aren’t given direction on what to do next, yet somehow you just know. You remember a word from the interview and then search based on that word. It provides you with more video from interviews and all of a sudden it dawns on you. Just watching isn’t going to help here.

Me, I went and grabbed a notepad and a pen and started listening to the videos making notes of names, places, things that sound important so I can go and then search for them, opening up more of the story and going deeper and deeper into what happened.

Before I know it, I am in full on detective mode. All I needed to do was find a suit, unbutton the shirt a bit, not shave for three days, sit in the dark and I could well be doing a cosplay.

You spend your time with one person, yet you don’t actually do that, you aren’t interacting with her, you are just watching. Yet you feel closer to the story of this woman than you will 99% of other games. Even deeper still, she talks about others, people you never see, yet you feel close to them, you want to know more. You are losing yourself to this amazing story.

Now this is actual video content, using an actual actress, so I fully expect a range of emotions to show better than characters who are CGI, but hey, I lived through Wing Commander and the likes, so FMV isn’t always the answer.

For a game that actually has very little to do, in terms of interaction with the interface, there is so much to do. I have watched clips numerous times to soak it in, I have lost myself to this woman, this potential murderer and have fallen into her spell as she speaks.

I have had videos playing repeatedly as I go through my own hand-written notes. All that is missing is Sam Barlow sending out actual physical evidence for us to examine in real life as we consume the information on these tapes.

I’ve heard that phrase before! This name is new, does this match up with what she said earlier? You find yourself second guessing yourself, trying to piece everything together. To what end though? There have been no goals set out, I haven’t been told I need to solve the case. I mean do I? Surely that’s the point, but how? What do I do when I think I have enough information, there doesn’t seem to be an option.

Is this just a story? Is that it? Is there no point? But then why does that matter? This is an amazingly indepth experience that it doesn’t matter what the end game is. It really doesn’t.

Once again we are seeing an example of what proper mature gaming can be. I touched on Never Alone in 2014 and why that was an important game, but this eclipses that for me. It removes many of the trappings of traditional gaming and delivers yet another way to maturely deliver a story, to make you think about things and immerse you in a world like no other, because there is no ‘world’ here of which to speak.

It is you, you and this woman. You, this woman, her videos and a ton of handwritten notes. Sam Barlow has proven himself in the past to be an excellent writer, but with Her Story he has completely outdone himself and set the bar as high as it has ever been.

Alone in the Dark: Illumination Review

Oh my! Where to start, where to start? If ever there is a series with a checkered past it is Alone In The Dark. In my younger days it was one of the best horror games on the market and I had some very fond memories of playing.

The original 1992 release was something very special, a game that created a true sense of fear, not just using jump scares but utilising psychological fear with it. It got in your head and messed with it in a way I had never experienced before.

It has since been surpassed, but it was that that opened the doors for the genre, paving the way for the likes of Silent Hill. The original was special and deserves to be remembered with great acclaim.

Even the immediate sequels, whilst not hitting that same high, were still decent games in their own rights. Skip forwards a few years and The New Nightmare, which whilst being generally ok, started the decline of the series on the whole.

2008’s Alone In The Dark, which was meant to be a reboot of the series just fell flat and in all honesty was a travesty of a game, both visually and atmospherically, which was a crying shame, as the concept was sound. A horror game presented as if it was an episodic TV show, it looked like a fantastic game until the moment you got to play it and despite some highs, they never outweighed the many lows.

Despite doing well financially it did seem to have killed the series stone dead, until 2015 and the release of Alone In The Dark: Illumination. A game which I am very torn about.

First let me touch on the negatives. The name, Alone in the Dark! Why, oh why is this game being called Alone in the Dark? Can someone tell me, because I simply don’t get it. It lacks any of what the previous games were, hell even the 2008 release felt like it was part of the Alone in the Dark family. This though just seems too far removed.

Here is why. Illumination shares more in common with Left 4 Dead and the likes than it does Alone in the Dark, played in up to 4-Player Co-Op as you navigate through levels trying to ‘solve a mystery’ whilst working as a team to fend of the evil that hunts you.

The only link in fact is that they have given characters slight backstories, such as Edward Carnaby, the direct descendent of the original Edward Carnaby and the witch who is the supposed grand-daughter of Emily Hartwood. The problem here, is that neither of them seem to share any of the characteristics that made those original characters what they were. Literally all they share are the letters that make up the same name.

Anyway, moody rant out of the way, it’s not all despair as the game itself is pretty solid, with a caveat. On your own it is a horrid, horrid game, that almost wants to punish you for having no friends, enemies circle you in a way that makes it nigh on impossible to attack without getting blindsided, through no fault of you own and it feels from the very start you need help.

That is proven the moment you get a lobby of people together and play in co-op, the enemy patterns seem to be the same and whilst they can still be difficult to pick off, it feels much more manageable if you work as a unit.

There are some lovely touches too, such as the use of light to weaken enemies, making them easier to kill. You are able to use your flashlight to keep them back a little, but you also need to make use of potential light sources in the area, whether that be a floodlight outside or inside lights. Again using your skills as a team it becomes a cracking game of cat and mouse at times as you try to survive and also get the enemies going where you want.

But it suffers the same issues the 2008 game did. Plenty of good ideas, but the overall execution just fails, which makes this a game to avoid on the whole. There is nothing for Alone in the Dark fans and for those who love their online co-op there are just too many better options.

In a game like this, where timing is important and being able to outmaneuver your enemy, it is shocking that the movement feel so slow, like your character is caught in thick, soggy mud. It feels like you are fighting yourself as much as you are fighting the enemies.

Hell, I played it, left it alone and tried to go back with a fresh positive perspective, but really is a game where I just wish I was playing something else. I close the game down on Steam and in my recently played list is Left 4 Dead 2, which is the standard any game like this should be trying to hit.

I really wanted to like this, because again the concept was sound, but it pains me to say that this is yet another nail in the coffin of the Alone in the Dark franchise and maybe it is time to let Edward Carnaby rest peacefully.

The Adventures Of Pip Review

If there has been one genre to be over-represented in the Indie scene, it is platforming. It can seem that week in, week out there is yet another indie platformer vying for your attention, which can make it hard for the best to stand out.

Most often come with their own take on the genre and in The Adventures of Pip it is based around the evolution of videogame graphics. Essentially here you play as Pip an 8-bit sprite who has been challenged with the task of saving the kingdom.

The kingdom is controlled by something called the Bit-Stream and whomever controls its power can control the destiny of the Kingdom. The Skeleton Queen has control of the Bit-Stream and has also kidnapped the princess…there is always a princess!

So as Pip, the only 8-bit character in a 32-bit world, you embark on your journey to be the hero, once gaining the ability to upgrade your powers, such as evolving and devolving through the various ‘bits’

On the surface The Adventure of Pip is a pretty standard platforming affair, as you move through each level taking on baddies, solving platforming puzzles and everything you’d expect. However it is this evolve and devolve mechanic that makes this game as fun as it is.

Depending on your  current state, 8-bit, 16-bit or 32-bit, you have different abilities and part of the puzzle solving is which state you should be in and when. Some areas will need you to be a single pixel, others may need you to be 16-bit so you can gain the ability to wall jump and attack enemies properly. And so on.

Overall it isn’t exactly a taxing game, but it can get quite frantic, with you needing to quickly switch states in a single area on the fly to get through. Now we aren’t talking Super Meat Boy levels of precision for platforming, nor the level of dexterity needed later on in the likes of Guacamelee, but this almost feels like it is a toned down hybrid of the two.

It works too, you do feel accomplished once you have made it through some areas, whether that be via your own platforming skills, or working out logically how to get though.

The games keeps a constant flow throughout, with only certain areas breaking the flow, or passing over the line to becoming a tad frustrating. Even when it comes to enemies, you need to consider your current state to play to their weaknesses and dispose of them as easily as possible.

Pip himself, as well as the world he inhabits, are full of character and show a great love for developing the character. If you played Thomas Was Alone, you’ll be well aware of how much character you can get out of a simple block shape and the same is true here.

8-bit Pip is full of charm, but so too are his 16 and 32-bit evolutions. The way each feels so different, but still liked is a joy to witness, you start to appreciate each one for what they bring to the table and that is testament to solid character design.

Length too is well considered, with the game beatable within a few hours. But therein lies the only real problem I have with the game. As much as the main length is just right, I felt no need to go back again and play, even after a break. I really want more, I want the evolving mechanic expanded on. Because as it stands, there is no real reason for me to to go back, it is one and done. Yet I want more.

I don’t want more of that adventure, I want to be able to use the mechanics in many other ways, have more challenges, that sort of thing. Which is where a Super Meat Boy excels, by having a main quest line, but plenty of reason to go back and improve, or find the bonus and variant levels. It just isn’t here which is a shame.

Now that isn’t to say I didn’t get value from what I played and if there is a sequel…well I will be there on day one to go on yet another adventure with Pip and who knows, maybe the evolution can stretch even further than 32-bits.

LEGO Jurassic World Review

It feels like it has been ages since we last saw a LEGO game, but looking back it has only been 8 months. That’s not long at all really, but such was the frequency in 2013/2014 an 8 month gap feels like an eternity.

That gap though has been heaven sent, because despite loving the LEGO games, there really was a sense of fatigue. LEGO Batman 3 was a very good title, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go for 100% completion like I had in previous games. Purely because there was only so much LEGO one could take in such a short space of time.

Here we are now though, with the release of LEGO Jurassic World and I have to say it feels good to be back into it. As for the most part it follows the tried and tested formula of any other LEGO game. Much like putting on your favourite pair of slippers, you feel comfortable the second you pick up the controller.

Now what excited me most about LEGO Jurassic World, wasn’t that it was a new game, but that it was based around Jurassic Park (well and the other films) and I love Jurassic Park, it still blows me away to this very day just how amazing it looks. Oh and that theme, how that theme song resonates with me.

So after a few minutes, imagine my joy when I hear the music of John Williams fading in. I challenge anyone not to get goosebumps hearing it, or to not hum along. It is perfect, perfect, perfect!

But hey! It doesn’t matter how much I love John Williams’ score, because I can listen to it anywhere, it still needs a good solid game behind it to make this a worthwhile acquisition. Thankfully for the most part it is just that.

The main hub is essentially the layout of the park, you can move around it fairly freely and the attention to detail from the original film is truly impressive. Fans of the Steven Spielberg masterpiece will instantly recognise the various locales from the movie and will fall for the LEGOfication of the world around them.

On the whole the individual levels are well put together, but some do start to feel a little tedious, especially when you enter levels based off the later films, but each one is fairly short and just about don’t out-stay their welcome.

The main problem, with this being a LEGO game and needing to be family friendly, there is some creative license taken with certain scenes, where death is swapped out for an ‘amusing’ alternative. Now I can see why this has been done, but for someone like me, it really is a shame as it removes from the overall immersion of playing out the film in LEGO form.

I don’t even think these cuts are needed either, the film is classified as a PG by the BBFC and I have watched it with young children who weren’t that bothered by those scenes, so it does make little sense to me.

That aside though, another minor issue with the game is the way in which it is voiced. Clearly some scenes are made with audio ripped direct from the film and tidied up, whereas other parts are re-recorded using stand-in actors and unfortunately it makes it very easy to tell the difference, once again doing massive damage to the immersion.

But that is from me, a massive fan of the original film, one of my top 5 films of all time, so I was always going to be its harshest critic, because anything that can potentially sully the memory of that film isn’t good in my books.

However, aside from a few personal issues and as a LEGO game, LEGO Jurassic World is a solid by the numbers affair and if you liked any of the previous LEGO titles, then you already know if you will like this.

Once I got over myself, I was able to enjoy the game a hell of a lot more, but what is worrying, is that for the first time, it is also starting to feel very stale, no matter how good the game is and it feels like it needs a little bit of a shake up moving forward.

Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- Review

The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is much more informative.

To get the cheap joke out of the way at the outset, one can only assume that they went with Xrd as the logical option in their naming convention for the series would invoke memories of BMX XXX. There’s a game I’d almost forgotten about.

Guilty Gear Xrd is the first entry in the series to dive into 3D one-on-one fighting. Gameplay remains in two dimensions, and through a variety of clever techniques Arc System Works have created a visual style than can be described as nothing less than gobsmackingly gorgeous.The level of detail that has gone into the animations is meticulous and whilst the action strictly stays in one plane that does not stop the camera from flying about at key moments, all done in such a way that there is zero detriment to gameplay.

Guilty1
The action is wonderfully fluid

The rock music that comprises the soundtrack does a good job of getting the adrenaline pumping and in the fighting spirit, although if you’re not a fan of the genre this could be annoying. All the pre and post match dialogue is voiced with different lines depending on who you’re hitting in the face.

The fighting is fast and geared towards sensible aggressive play and while still deceptively technical, Arc System Works have stripped back some systems from previous Guilty Gear titles and made the game much more accessible. Despite this, there are still numerous universal systems in place. Faultless defense, instant blocking, overdrives, blitz shielding, dust attacks, instant kills, and three types of roman cancels – to name but a few, and that’s ignoring the wealth of movement options available. The learning curve for a newcomer is steep, but very rewarding to overcome.

Helpfully the game has a variety of training modes to ease you into the game, suitable even for someone completely new to the genre. First point of call is the tutorial mode which introduces the basics of fighting games all the way through to systems unique to Guilty Gear. There is then a separate mode for more in depth tactics, including more complex systems like the jump install, and this mode also features advice on how to deal with some of the tactics for each character. A standard training mode, which allows you to set up scenarios just as you want them, is included and a challenge mode for each character rounds things off, starting from how to do each special move, basic bread and butter combos, and finishing with combos that if anyone landed one on me in a match I would probably just cry. Spending time experimenting in the lab and then using the new knowledge in a match is a great feeling. Whilst there are combos that require very specific timing, Guilty Gear Xrd limits this to the much harder end of the spectrum, and many spectacular looking, and lengthy, combos can be mastered with a little practice.

Guilty Gear is just amazing in motion
Guilty Gear is just amazing in motion

With 17 characters in total (which includes 2 DLC characters) the roster is less populated than previous titles, however this means that each character feels especially unique. A pool playing assassin, an immortal haiku spouting vampire, and a dolphin summoning pirate all fit in with the less outlandish characters. The five new characters to the series join the game’s roster with ease, including  Elphelt as one of the most crazy, having no less than 3 guns, fruit grenades, and an overdrive that involves a wedding cake. However, that’s ignoring Bedman, literally a sleeping man strapped to a fighting, spiked, hospital bed. However with the characters being so different, and the game being an over-the-top fighter, it can be a little hard to get your head round some characters’ abilities until you’re more familiar with what they can do.

For the single player there is an arcade mode, versus the computer mode, the aforementioned training modes, and M.O.M. – a bizarre cross between survival mode, a fighting game, and a light RPG. Special mention has to go to the 5 plus hour story mode where gameplay consists of sitting and watching, and pressing a button to advance to the next line of dialogue, with the occasional “would you like to save?” message. If this is too tricky you can set it to auto mode and remove 99% of the button pressing – you’ll still have to save. This is a continuation of the story started in arcade mode however if you are into the lore of Guilty Gear it is worth persevering with as it is this mode that unlocks entries in the encyclopedia, which contains pretty much everything there is worth knowing about the series.

Outside of local multiplayer Guilty Gear Xrd has a unique take on the online side of things, where players join a lobby of up to 64 people, with players then creating a room holding up to 8 people. Within each room are 4 arcade machines, meaning that 4 fights can be happening at the same time which can cut down on a lot of waiting around, and everyone can chat to everyone else in the room regardless of which machine they’re at. Each machine also has 6 spectator slots meaning a regular winner stays on can be set up with everyone watching. Private matches are a little harder to arrange, involving hidden rooms that need to be searched for and passwords to be shared. A direct invite system would have been nice (like almost every other online game ever) but this may be a limitation of the game featuring cross platform play between PS3 and PS4 players. My experience of online play has been good, with very few laggy matches. A nice touch is that while fighting you can see the current delay in frames shown at the top of the screen, although this alters my game plan and execution timing by precisely nothing.

Guilty Gear Xrd is an easy game to recommend to any fighting game enthusiast and a brilliant entry point to the series, and those with a passing interest in the genre will learn a lot from the excellent tutorials.

Steins;Gate Review

A visual novel, it’s hard to describe what you do in Steins;Gate as gameplay. There are moments where you get to reply to certain people through text messages, but other than that you’re along for the ride. And what a ride it is.

Playing as Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist, Okabe accidentally develops a way of sending text messages back in time. Sending these messages in turn means being able to change the past. And while the world changes around him, Okabe is the only one who remembers sending the messages and remembers the world before it changed.

Time travel is a tricky thing to get right. As I’ve recently come off Life is Strange, as enjoyable as I’m finding that game, it plays very loose with its time travel laws. Steins;Gate is the opposite. So much thought appears to have gone into the way time travel works that it’s a little mind melting.

Okay, if you showed the story to an actual scientist then it may fall apart quite spectacularly, but to the average Joe it feels believable. Conversations are filled with talks of various time travel methods, worm holes, paradoxes and the like. The excellent dialogue plays a huge part in this also, the translation team definitely did a fantastic job. Even SERN and the Large Hadron Collider play an integral part in the story.

And what a story it is. As already said, the only interaction the player has is with text messages. When Okabe receives a message he’s able to pull up his phone and select specifically highlighted words, these words acting as a trigger to send a reply. More than a throwaway thing, what you say in each message does play a part in the story, as it alters the course with six different endings. However, from what I’ve discovered it seems impossible to find your way to the True Ending without looking it up in a guide. Or being incredibly, incredibly lucky.

If there’s one complaint I have with the story is that it can sometimes have a few pacing issues. There are moments during the tech heavy discussion that you just want the main story to progress, but instead there’s a lot of standing around and discussing everything from time paradoxes to cosplay.

But making this more forgivable is that the majority of characters are just so enjoyable to be around. Okabe’s sidekick Daru could be considered a loveable perv, then there’s fellow scientist Kurisu who refuses to put up with Okabe’s nonsense. This may seem blasphemous to people who’ve played the game, but the only character who started to grate was Mayuri. The rather dumb friend of Okabe, her incredible stupidity may seem like gleeful innocence to most, but it was a little too much for me to take. But maybe that’s just because I have a cold, dead heart.

As a game that is purely story it’s hard to go into too much detail, but oh boy, does it go some wonderful and, at times, dark places. It will have you hooked till its conclusion (and then you’ll play it again to get another ending!).

Steins;Gate then is yet another great game to arrive on the sadly unloved Vita. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re craving a deep story and interesting characters you won’t find much better.

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy Review

You suddenly wake up in the middle of nowhere… your hand stained by someone else’s blood… swiftly accosted by gruesome ghoul-esque figures only to be suddenly rescued by an unknown saviour… to say that the game starts with a bang is a bit of an understatement.

You are thrown into the thick of it from the get-go with only a limited tutorial to start off with, everything else can be accessed via an in-game manual which is fine to a certain extent, however, it can be slightly laborious to access this and fully digest all of the information contained within when it could have been explained in a more obvious manner gradually throughout the game.

I’ll be frank and say that if you’re not into dungeon crawlers then you might as well quit reading now as this game probably won’t be for you. If you’ve never heard of this title before then you can be easily forgiven as it is actually a polished amalgamation of a Japanese language only DRPG trilogy which was originally released on the PC during 2008-2010.

The premise is fairly simple, you are found one day randomly having passed out in an abyss. Upon returning to your place of study, it appears that you have Code-Rise abilities… these abilities allow you to fight against the variants (monsters) that are appearing in the abysses (dungeons) that are popping up all over a near future Tokyo. These Code-Rise abilities essentially allow the user to summon up the power of an ancient hero, giving them super strength and allowing some more studious users to utilise magic spells.

You are quickly indoctrinated into a group otherwise known as the ‘Abyss Company’ whose mission is to seek out and boldly go head first into any abyss at the crack of a whip whenever the CPA (Code Physics Agency) commands. This organisation is seeking to research and to ultimately put an end to the variants once and for all.

Initially, you can choose from basic mode or advanced mode, they are exactly the same in terms of difficulty with advanced mode giving you direct control over the customisation (looks) of your characters. Once you have your characters, it’s time to start storming the abysses and completing all and any missions that are assigned to you. These come in two flavours: 1. missions that will advance the story – which to be honest, if you’re familiar with dungeon crawlers you may expect by default, no plot whatsoever and whilst Operation Abyss does have a good fair old go at constructing a storyline, it isn’t particularly spectacular and it’s not really until the 2nd half of the game that the plot really hits its stride. 2. Side quests which either involve exterminating a supremely powerful variant, finding something for someone or well… searching for someone who keeps getting lost.

Some of these missions are purely aggravating as you’ll repeat the same or very similar missions over and over – in particular there is one ‘find a lost person’ mission that went on for a bit too long… I mean, how much can one person get so lost that they seemingly never even seem to have a remote clue of where they are? I’m not one for overt realism in games but I did think that this was taking it a bit too far – questing just for the sake of quests!

Exploration of dungeons bounces between an addictive exciting excursion where you’ve no idea what lies round the corner to seemingly never ending drudgery as you traipse round an already explored dungeon looking for one specific square with no clue other than ‘it’s further deeper in!’. The dungeons themselves are fairly plain looking, somewhat reminiscent of what an HD version of Wolfenstein 3D or the original Doom would look like now. This could have been a really gritty and grimy game but instead most of the sections are quite bland and fairly neutral – some blood stained floors or dirty walls wouldn’t have gone amiss. Occasionally you’ll come across something out of the ordinary, spirits or a couple of dead corpses tucked away in an obscure corner of the map. In contrast to the dull dungeons, the sprites are really nicely done, as well as having interesting and unique designs – they definitely have utilised the whole colour pallette, it’s just a shame that there isn’t much in the way of attack animations.

During your tedious plod around each abyss, you’ll encounter a number of random battles which play out in a slightly strange manner, namely you cannot attack the variant that you want, instead you will attack one variant within a whole group – this detracts from the strategy of the game but actually makes it a bit more difficult and random. It is also imperative that you use magic to heal yourself and cure yourself of any ailments as these can and will get you killed if you don’t tend to them as soon as possible.

The dungeons themselves are laid out on a map in a similar vein to Etrian Odyssey which automatically becomes uncovered upon exploring it. There are various sections, dark areas where only the map is visible, water, shock panels, dispel panels and a number of other traps just waiting to trip you up. Figuring out the puzzles and routes in the dungeons can be fun sometimes but often you’ll find that you’ll figure out the route only to be stopped by a locked door and the game will give you absolutely no hint as to what key is required. Luckily there is a system similar to Dark Souls where players can write notes that are scattered around the dungeon.

There are a few caveats around levelling up as well. You can only level up when you go back to the medical centre to rest which can make exploring dungeons difficult when you’ve levelled up a few times and really could do with that extra power in order to vanquish the variants. Near the beginning of the game, you are also level capped to 15 until you progress with the story which seemed a bit pointless given the battle mechanics and that variants will become stronger and more aggressive the longer you fight them, until you choose to flee from battle which lowers the variant levels.

As for the voice acting, only the English audio and text is available, after a bit of research this is apparently due to the way the game was programmed. In general the sound isn’t fantastic, memorable or alluring and the only real sound of note that I found was the one where the characters bump into a wall (which will happen quite frequently if you start dozing off in the middle of a mission like I did on many occasions).

Customisation and crafting really is the game’s strong point, it takes a while to figure out at first but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be well away with creating stronger weapons, breaking down older ones for parts, analysing armour and boosting the stats of your current gear. There is what feels like a metric ton of gear to carefully construct, boost, affix and break down if required. I really enjoyed analysing the junk gear that variants dropped along with creating exotic and rare items.

Overall, this was a frustrating and lukewarm experience that lacked cohesion and synergy. There are a lot of unusual and intriguing elements along with brilliant customisation. However, they are all quite loosely tied together and whilst it isn’t the worst game ever, it unfortunately doesn’t live up to the developer’s previous high standards that were set by Demon Gaze.

KHOLAT Review

KHOLAT was somewhat of a surprise release for me. I had literally heard nothing of it, but the name rang a bell. Why was this you ask? Well I love the unexplained and the name of Kholat pretty much defines unexplained.

A few years ago, I was searching the internet, going down a trail of searches that led me to a story known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Essentially what happened was, in 1959 a group of nine hikers led by Igor Dyatlov went missing in the Kholat Syakhl region of the Ural mountains in Russia.

 

Their bodies were eventually recovered, but their injuries and what led to where each body was found was somewhat of a mystery. The main part of this being the types of injuries suffered, but the lack of external injuries that would show signs of a struggle. Basically the impossible had happened.

I don’t want to delve too deep in to this right now, but if you want to know more, then there is plenty of theories out there, including written material, films and more. These theories range from the down right skeptical, backed up with scientific ‘facts’, to the more outlandish, which will mention aliens and other such forces that shouldn’t be possible.

It is fascinating stuff and the fact that it still remains a mystery some fifty six years later, shows that there is no definitive answer, no outright truth as to what happened to the nine lost souls. Which, in turn, makes it ripe for story telling, which is where KHOLAT comes in.

KHOLAT the game, is clearly from the mind of someone who has their own ideas about what happened in 1959 and uses many of the accounts of what may have happened, such as certain lights in the sky, noises and the like. It is used in such a way as to create a solid foundation as to what your objectives are.

If you have played and like games such as Outlast, you will be at home with the basic premise of how KHOLAT will work. It is a first person exploration horror game, but instead of the usual setting of an abandoned hospital or somewhere else claustrophobic, KHOLAT instead put you into an open world, which somehow makes you feel even more claustrophobic than those other games in this genre.

The Ural mountain setting is vast and open, but it also feels like it is closing in on you, as you feel drawn to certain areas, or down certain paths, all of this pretty much done on a whim, on a feeling that this is where you should be going, like a force is guiding you.

There is no HUD to tell you where you are, or where you are going. Instead what you have is a basic map and a compass, that you must pull out and read to have any clue as to your destination. Imagine the map and compass idea from Far Cry 2, but with any way point or guide assistance completely removed.

I have some experience of map reading from my days in the army cadets and it seems you will need to be able to trust yourself with a map, as you are simply given this one map, with a few co-ordinates written in the corner and a mark to show where your camp is. You don’t even get a marker to say where you are at this current moment in time. So if you get lost (and you will get lost) you have two options.

One is to push on to where you think you should be heading, or the other is to make your way back to the camp and start again. Even that can be difficult, because the weather in the Ural mountains can really mess with your sense of direction. As can the the feeling that you are never safe.

It seems that every step you take there is something that can distract and disorientate you, whether that be reaching your chosen destination and discovering another piece of the puzzle, catching something out of the corner of your eye, or even hearing something that you are compelled to investigate.

There are jump scares, but even these don’t seem to be part of some major reveal, in fact they mainly seem to add to the mystery even more, as you ask yourself what the hell that was and why it is.

It is amazing how beautiful this game is both visually and in the sound department, especially as you are in areas that are designed to feel the same, designed to bring that sense of isolation. But just looking at the snow beating into your face, whilst you hear chilling wind and watch trees blowing around, it somehow just looks and feels wondrous, all whilst still making you feel on edge and tentative.

In terms of gameplay KHOLAT just about manages to walk a line between being a pure walking simulator and a nothing dull walk here do that type affair, because that is pretty much the crux of it. You find a co-ordinate, reach it, find a note or something to further unravel the mystery, rinse and repeat. But because the story is such a mystery, you feel so immersed.

I would recommend reading up on the Dyatlov Pass Incident before playing, because I felt  having a knowledge of the source material helped me understand the game more, as despite an overview of the incident in the intro and some wonderful narration from Sean Bean, there is no real guide as to what you must do, or how you must do it. The story is only expanded upon at the start and end of acts and through the various notes you find.

The game does start to fall apart a little towards the end, but it somehow manages to just about finish before it gets too stretched out. It doesn’t quite fit with my own theory on what happened in 1959, but it does follow on the more interesting theories I have read about.

This is a great example of a game that not only looks and sounds stunning, but is willing to take a risk with a known true life event and run with their own thoughts on what happened and doing it in a way that doesn’t insult either the source material or its audience.

The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum Review

I have a predisposition to avoid games by NIS. This is not because they do anything wrong or I dislike the games they make. Rather I have lost a great number of hours to Disgaea and its sequels over the years, and I have much less free time than I used to. So seeing those three letters when loading up The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum filled me with a sense of dread mixed with a little anticipation of diving down a rabbit hole. Luckily, for me, the outcome was somewhat of a relief.

A visual novel cum dungeon crawler, The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum couples copious amounts of (mostly well voice acted) reading with some moral dilemmas and straightforward, yet potentially punishing, turn based exploration.

This is a sequel to The Guided Fate Paradox, which (full disclosure) I did not play. However having finished The Awakened Fate, outside of some characters from the previous game turning up in the post-game content, I did not notice any references and so there is no requirement to have played the former game. Which was good as the story was interesting enough to keep me playing until the end. Cast as Shin Kamikaze (no, really), he is killed by a team of devils and subsequently revived by angels to become their God and change the course of the ongoing war between the forces of Celestia and the Netherworld. This is all before the first bit of dungeon crawling. Shin is a bit of a loner but gains two companions in the form of an angel called Jupiel and a devil (working for the angels) called Ariael. The story, whilst fairly predictable, is well written and Shin believably develops as a character over the course of the game.

Presented as a series of chapters, each part also has a randomly generated dungeon to explore where the goal is to reach the lowest level and/or defeat the boss that waits there. Due to the circumstances of his revival Shin is able to ‘deitize’ at will to either an angel or devil form each of which gives an advantage against opposite enemy types. Each form also grants access to different abilities yet the majority of the time I found the standard attack to be sufficient. This system rarely adds an extra layer to proceedings as with some diligence you can usually limit battles to a one on one encounter and the biggest challenge I found, to begin with, was remembering to change back to human form after a fight.

However careful planning is the most important factor as mistakes can result in rapidly losing health. If this runs out then the dungeon is failed and you are booted back to the pre-dungeon menu sans all of the items Shin was carrying, including those which were equipped, but keeping all the experience earned. Due to an item upgrade system this can result in losing a powered up weapon that has had huge amounts of money poured into. While this could be extremely annoying there are items that can limit this (including a revival gem and an exit) but these take up valuable inventory space. There is also a factor of risk as you can easily get into a situation where the next hit will defeat an enemy but if you miss Shin will run out of health. This is a bigger issue the further you reach in a dungeon as if you leave you start from the first floor again. In the worst case scenario there is a shop available to purchase items, but these are not as good as the ones you find lying around when exploring.

Levelling up grants a point to spend on a huge grid, split into angel and devil sides, to use to increase an attribute or grant a new ability for the corresponding form. This also ties in with the ‘Ultimate Choices’ that appear throughout the game. These present some dilemmas and are not the typical black and white choices. An early decision sees you weighing up helping injured angels resulting in more being hurt, or abandoning the wounded to take the fight to the devils which will result in fewer casualties in the long run. The game is peppered with such choices however they do not appear to have much impact on the story. On trying both options on a couple of choices the exact same scenario unfolded after taking a slightly different path to get there. However while the game tries to present these as grey scenarios the options are presented as either favouring Jupiel or Ariael. Furthermore when you make a choice you get a level up point for the corresponding side. As I was aiming to put equal points in the angel and devil sides I tended to base my moral choices around which side I needed the point for rather than the potential outcome of my decision. I think that says more about me than the game.

Whilst I enjoyed the story I don’t have particularly strong feelings for The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum. Nothing stands out as bad and exploring dungeons presented the right level of challenge throughout, but at the same time it does nothing to get especially excited about. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every game needs to be revolutionary or a blockbuster, and The Awakened Fate: Ultimatum was an overall pleasant experience.

Space Colony Review

When I had a PC in my early years, I loved playing The Sims. I played it in two ways, depending on how I felt. One was to try and make my little sim family have a nice life, the other was to torture them. I loved that game, I really did, but I never really felt any of the sequels and had no interest in the console rehashes and me too type games.

I also never knew of a game called Space Colony, which was essentially The Sims in space. Which a younger me would have loved…LOVED. Unfortunately for me, this was originally released in 2003 by which time I was primarily a console gamer.

It really is hard to to describe Space Colony as anything but The Sims, as it shares so much with the classic life simulator. There are some things that set it apart such as a story mode alongside the other options of sandbox and galaxy modes.

The story features on Venus, a woman who is sent to the planet to do contracted work, during her time she will build out the colony, meet new people and eventually have further interactions with various other alien races, both good and bad.

Whilst Venus is the main focus early on, she actually becomes less important it seems as you progress and are introduced to new people. Those can do other jobs, improve their own relationships and much more. You don’t totally forget Venus, but it makes you wonder why she is introduced as such an important part.

The story is fairly short, but is entertaining enough and actually makes a better tutorial than the actual tutorial. Most of my time is currently spent in the sandbox mode, where I can play more like The Sims I loved all those years ago.

You have numerous planets open to you and it is completely open, allowing you to expand as much as you see fit. The simplistic controls and menus mean you can easily concentrate on building areas and managing relationships and character needs. It works well as not a main focus game, but one you can dip in and out of on a daily or semi regular basis.

Presentation leaves a lot to be desired and still looks like a game straight out of 2003, with a fixed isometric view and some janky looking graphics. Whilst it isn’t ugly as such, it feels like a game that wouldn’t lose character by getting a lick of HD paint… unlike Homeworld which lost tons of character.

That being said, I do feel like I am being petty here, it does what it needs to do and nothing more. I have spent time in and out of this game since picking it up and will continue to do so for a while yet, as it enters my regular rotation of quick play games to go alongside the meatier titles.

If you liked The Sims and you like space, then you will love this, it is fairly deep but is easy for the casual gamer to get into, striking a wonderful balance for all. You can do better, but you can also do a hell of a lot worse.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III Review

You know what? I am a fool, a fool who lives in his own bubble of optimism. I like to try and think only good things about games, because people put their time and effort into making these pieces of entertainment that I think many of us take for granted. Which is why generally I won’t attack many games negatively, because there is always some good in them.

Which is why it pains me a little to write this review, because the good in this case only rarely pops out from cover to let us know it is there. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III are anything but incredible.

I found out a couple of years back that I liked Diablo. Actually scratch that, I loved Diablo and even liked many other games that are either in the same genre, or that have basically tried to clone Blizzard’s glorious title.

There have been many that have been wonderful in their own right and others that whilst not being as good as Diablo, have at least been entertaining and given me my money’s worth. So I was pretty optimistic going into The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing III, I’d not played the previous two, but had heard good things.

Here is the problem for me. This is a game that so wants to be a Diablo type game, but doesn’t quite know how to make it fun, how to bring enjoyment to your time with it. It just doesn’t seem to get what makes a game like this such a joyous thing.

My first and biggest issue is with the controls, they are clunky, awkward and just don’t feel as smooth as they need to be to really concentrate on the action. Becasue that is what makes a game like this work, controls that become second nature, that don’t mean you are concentrating on your character, but rather the intense action that surrounds you.

Here though, you are so focussed on Van Helsing himself, to make sure he is where you want him, is aiming correctly and generally doing what you want, that you often get overrun by groups of enemies.

Now I am not against difficult games, I love a challenge, but only if that is by design. Difficult because enemy AI is recognising your attack patterns, or using techniques to create more damage, not because you just can’t concentrate on what is important.

The same goes with the looting in the game, at no point did I feel myself getting excited about what may drop or what I can gain to make my character even better. If anything it just feels like it was put in the game because it is the done thing.

So therein lays another massive problem, Van Helsing III just isn’t fun, it lacks character, which is criminal withy a game that features a well known creation in the world of literature. It is a great starting point and there are loads of references to create something special, it just isn’t here.

Now it isn’t all bad, so I do want to finish on a couple of positives. Firstly, despite the lack of character in the game, the visuals and the world creation are pretty damned sublime. It’s why I got so excited when I first booted the game, it just look wonderful, the effects, the lighting, the atmosphere are there in spades.

The other thing I really did like and the one thing that pushed me further, was the mission structure. The main and side quests mix together really well and you do get to meet some interesting characters and potentially some good lore based stories, it’s just that these are never expanded on enough.

Now The Incredible Adventues of Van Helsing III isn’t the absolute worst game you can think of, it does have some nice ideas and it looks lovely and many of the issues I mention above can be patched and the issues I have with the lack of character are personal due to an interest in Bram Stoker’s original creation and what became of that over the years. Others will unlikely share those same concerns.

However. in a world where this genre has been done so much better and there are so many other options, it is nigh on impossible to recommend it to anyone.

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries Review

The blankets are numerous, wrapped around the foot of the bed, around the sides, pressing me down in place. A nightcap covering my head. Downstairs a commotion, the door forced open and it promptly stomps upstairs and frowningly Woolfe enters the room.

We squint at each other.

Woolfe opens…”My…my those are big eyes”

I nod. Eyes widened, like those of many of the Kickstarter backers, by the concept art that made Woolfe so tempting to back and it really does shine through in the game. A good solid 3D engine and great art direction make the world of Woolfe consistently attractive and however generic the settings are, they’re always worth a pause to admire. The use of generally well-placed secrets encourage a bit more exploration of the world and it’s hard to pick any problems at all. The sound, apart from a few problems noted later, is good and the music is well-suited. This is a very good looking and well presented game.

Woolfe tucks a finger under the blanket, frowns. “I see you’ve got ears too”

Already Woolfe’s presence in my room is trying. The story here is odd, frankly. Everything feels compelled to mention fairy tales with no link to what is happening in game, but then the overall story has no real relationship to any fairy tale. It’s just broadly miserable with main character Red defined by her family members who have died. For a hero, she’s portrayed as little more than a dislikeable psychopath which reduces the story to a battle of evil against another evil rather than bringing in any moral vaguery. The key enemy in the story is built up all game then only appears on screen for 5 minutes and is essentially an evil version of Mandrake the Magician. The Pied Piper is the only other enemy, who responds to questions by playing his flute and manages only to evoke the Scottish hotel owner in Little Britain. His flute-only responses do mean he avoids one of the main dialogue problems:

Sometimes the lines all start to rhyme, but then after a little time, just suddenly stop and you’re left with something that makes no real sense at all.

Such awkward speeches are padded out by jokes to help define Red but they fall flat and on at least one occasion try and get a laugh at flaws in the game itself.

I reach up to bring the covers back into place. “Your fingers are so…elegant” says Woolfe.

That may be, but they’re of little help here. Where the world is gorgeous, the interaction with it isn’t. The eternal problem of the lack of precision of 2.5D platformers have regarding aiming jumps and which platforms can be interacted with isn’t solved. The brief moments when the game returns to a 2D plane are a relief and see the game at its best but they’re too few and far between. The combat is as vague, with no real art to taking down enemies beyond bashing and hoping. There is a slow-motion button and a number of special moves that are both awkward to trigger and slightly useless that add no depth either. There’s just not enough in either case to really feel like the game can claim confidence and this is really where it all starts to fall down.

Woolfe knows. Woolfe has to know, but it risks it anyway. “Your teeth are bared. Why?”

My Gamestyle preview ended asking for polish. The core gameplay problems above were never going to be fixed, but tiny things going wrong spoil the whole experience. There are so many tiny technical glitches too that undermine the game. Sound from the cut-scenes suddenly cuts ou…and then ANOTHER POPS IN MORE LOUDLY BEFO…and then you’re back at the game just as suddenly. The end of cut-scenes will sometimes transition you back into the game where you’re already being attacked by enemies, or watching a platform you need to stand on disappear, or…for a game that has left Early Access it’s disappointing.

“Come closer and you’ll see” Woolfe leans forward into range, “they’re all the better to eat you with” and I snap. I bite down angrily, swallowing down and spitting it back out disgusted.

Even despite all those problems, the strength of the art gets a long way to carrying the game through to a recommendation. After two or three hours you get used to the problems to an extent. Then the game finishes. Apparently this, like Broken Age, is a Kickstarter project that raised over its aim and yet only provides the first part of the game. Unlike that, there doesn’t seem to be much made of this being the first part, it certainly doesn’t mention it on the Steam page and as a standalone game ends in a massively unsatisfying manner. With the second part seemingly relying on the success of the first, it seems possible or even probable that the other half will never appear. The first half gives itself no time to develop, no time to offer anything new, no time to really do anything of anything apart from offer up new glitches. And thus, this game is not recommended.