Borderlands 2 Review

There’s nothing quite as subjective as comedy and the characters of Borderlands 2 will either irritate or please, sometimes even both in equal measure. From the weird rap nonsense of Tiny Tina to the cackling, evil tones of Handsome Jack, Borderlands 2 is built on a bizarre world that relies on how much you enjoy its colourful cast of characters. And for us, we definitely loved our time with these crazy people.

While a continuation of the story seen in Borderlands, it’s not imperative that you have played it in order to understand the story. The sequel being most welcoming for newcomers giving the player four new characters to control, the commando Axton, the siren Maya, the gunzerker Salvador and the assassin Zer0. All four of these being Vault Hunters, new to the planet of Pandora who have found themselves in a trap set by the games villain Handsome Jack. Once escaping said trap they team up with Claptrap in order to help bring down Jack and stop him from using the vault for his own nefarious means. There are also the returning characters, including the original Vault Hunters from the first game, and the more secondary characters like Dr Zed and cosplay favourite Moxxxi. Each coming with their own selection of missions and comedic moments. A smile was definitely raised when invitations to Claptrap’s party had to be handed out, none of who chose to attend, cue awkward dancing and hanging around for a couple of minutes while bad music plays.

The framework of Borderlands 2 is close to the original, with loot being grabbed, missions being collected and a whole host of creatures and soldiers standing between you and Handsome Jack. It’s neither an update nor a revolution of the mechanics, more an evolution. The FPS gameplay still remains largely unchanged. Shooting feels great with the amount of guns at your disposal staggering. From sniper rifles to shotguns, each weapon has a specific manufacture that comes with their own strengths. With some giving specific damage types, such as corrosive and fire, with some guns even exploding when they’ve ran dry.   This also carrying into the grenade types and shields. The way you approach each combat situation largely depending on what weapons you have equipped, making each battle somewhat tactical, especially when certain enemy types are weaker to certain elements. Coming up against a robot? Then give corrosive weaponry a try. It’s one of the most satisfying shooters in some time.

Then there’s the added ability each character comes equipped with. The commando Axton for instance is able to drop a turret once the skill is fully charged. This then can be levelled up once you gain experience points, as well as the usual shields, health and weapon damage. With plenty of side missions available there’s plenty of opportunity to raise your characters level, with each mission handily letting you know whether this is a too tough for you at your current ability or merely a walk in the park.

Of course, much like the original the game really comes alive in multiplayer. Joining your friends for missions is a delight and works really well. But that’s not to say it lives and dies on its online multiplayer. Even in single player the game is a blast with an absolute ton of content, the world of Pandora being a massive place with variety far outweighing that of its predecessor. From large desert lands that can be traversed by vehicle, ice covered mountains, all the way to luscious green fields and towering structures, there’s plenty to see and do. Made even more impressive with the vibrant Borderlands art style. A cartoony world, with a visceral edge, as limbs fly and heads explode. The only issue with the graphics being the texture pop-in. An issue that plagues far too many games, as it takes a number of seconds before all the textures finally appear.

What the original Borderlands did so well has been grabbed and near perfected with this sequel. The comedy may be hit and miss, but it thrives on its shooting and loot grabbing. Many hours of fun will await you in Pandora.

The Walking Dead: Season Two Episode 1 – All That Remains Review

It’s understandable that people were sceptical when it was revealed that players would be taking control of Clementine in the second season of Telltale’s multi-game of the year winning The Walking Dead. As Lee, you were her protector, and it forged one of the best character relationships yet seen in a video game. After completing the first episode of season two, we can now understand why Telltale chose to put the player in the shoes of Clementine. This is no longer the young, innocent girl you once knew.

No longer being able to hide behind Lee, Clementine is at the forefront of all the difficult choices. And despite this just being the beginning, there are still plenty of hard decisions that must be made. It’s really hard to go too in depth as much like the first season the story is why you will want to experience The Walking Dead. Let’s just say the events of season one have definitely shaped Clementine into a more capable character, and she needs to be in order to survive and do what needs to be done. One scene in particular made us actually grimace before looking away from the screen. Even with the comic book aesthetic it’s a lot more brutal than your traditional ‘realistic’ games.

If you’ve played season one then you know that The Walking Dead has a distinct visual style. It’s wonderful to look at, but much like the previous season, the game engine is a little wonky in places. Playing on the PS3 version the game does have terrible framerate issues when transitioning into each scene. It ruins the flow somewhat, particularly during the big action sequences. On the plus side, we didn’t encounter any graphical issues in the few hours it took us to complete. Unlike last season where one character appeared deformed and at one point in the story all of our on screen prompts disappeared causing us to restart and lose progress. So it’s at least improving somewhat, but with the amount of talent Telltale now has (well, they should have with the amount of new licenses they’re taking on) we’d expect a little more of a technical improvement.

But with storytelling as impressive as this it’s easy to look past any technical grievances. Dialogue feels incredibly natural with, once again, some top notch voice acting from all involved. Episode one does introduce a number of new characters to the fold, some more successfully than others. If you ask us now to name all the new people then we would struggle, as only a few are given much in the way of character development. But then this is episode one. There will be plenty of time to get to know these characters, and maybe even like them, before they cruelly get snatched away in typical Walking Dead fashion.

The core gameplay remains largely unchanged from season one. You could call it an evolution of the point and click genre as controlling Clementine you’ll be finding objects in the environment to use, examining stuff and performing general QTE sections when things go badly (most of the time). The QTE’s sometimes coming out of nowhere, meaning there is no downtime in this post-apocalyptic world. While QTE’s are largely considered one of gamers least favourite gameplay aspects, in The Walking Dead they’re always used sparingly and at the right times. Unlike say Beyond: Two Souls where on-screen actions rarely relate to what you’re doing on the controller.

All That Remains is a great start to what is hopefully a fantastic new chapter in The Walking Dead saga. It’s well paced, has a number of memorable scenes and already has you making the tough choices. Let’s hope it can keep the quality this high throughout.

Saints Row IV: How The Saints Save Christmas Review

It was always going to be hard for the latest Saints Row IV DLC to live up to the brilliant name. And sadly, live up to it, it hasn’t. Even the worst moments of Saints Row IV are at least aided by its excellent sense of humour, something this DLC is sadly lacking.

Christmas time has arrived for the Saints and the festive cheer is somewhat ruined by the arrival of Future Shaundi who requests your help to rescue Santa from inside the simulation. Cue fighting off gingerbread men, elves and robots all across Steelport and even the North Pole. You’d think with so much material from a billion Christmas movies there’s a ton here to pull from to create a fun, funny adventure. And yet, there’s very little.

A lot of the movie nods (some of which are seen in the trailer) are actually from the last five minutes of the DLC with the majority of time spent doing missions alongside Future Shaundi and Santa Claus. Not particularly interesting ones either, go here, kill some guys, rinse and repeat. The only mission that is remotely different has you pilot a sleigh, delivering presents and generally spreading cheer.

The core Saints Row gameplay insanity is present, and there are the addition of new weapons (Xmas themed dubstep gun!) and vehicles, but it still all feels very rushed. Obviously with a game themed around Christmas this needed to be out of the door as soon as the holiday season approached. Then again maybe it would add to the stupid, dumb world of Saints Row to add more missions, polish and then release it during the Summer.

There’s not really a lot left to say. This is the second (and final) piece of story DLC in the Season Pass and despite Enter the Dominatrix fairing better, as far as post-game content goes it’s all been a little underwhelming. It’s also incredibly short, half the time of Enter the Dominatrix with only three missions, making the stand-alone price tag of £5.49 quite laughable. As big fans of Saints Row IV it saddens us to say it, but this DLC is best avoided.

Stick It To The Man Review

Stick It To The Man - PS Vita

From developers Zoink, comes Stick It To The Man for PS3 and PS Vita a game in which your unfortunate hero must use his newly acquired powers to help himself and his loved ones.

You know how it is, you’ve just finished a long shift at the hard hat testing company and while on your way home an object falls from the sky and hits you in the head… Oh the irony! Next thing you know, is that you have a pink hand coming from your brain and your life gets turned upside down. That is the premise of Stick It To The Man.

As a game, Stick It To The Man has a lot going for it, notably the use of humour and an interesting graphic style. From the start, the humour in the writing is there to see, it isn’t side-splitting funny it isn’t on a par with the world’s best stand-up comics, or the best sitcoms. However, it does make you have a little chuckle all the way through and never tries to push things too far, nor does it get to a stage where the humour gets too dull.

The visuals too are really well done and there seems to be a vibe of 90’s based cartoons with them. A Ren & Stimply or Rocko’s Modern Life feel. It is crude, but the imagery fits perfectly with the humour and also the game play mechanics that go with it.

There is some fantastic writing, that is woven together in a natural way. As part of your ongoing quest, you will have to read the minds of the characters around the various levels. Each character has a different thought and by using your pink alien hand thing, you can dive into their brains and extract their thoughts. Now whilst these are amusing they also have a vital role to play in the overall gameplay mechanic.

If anything, Stick It To The Man, feels like a modern re-imagining of the Dizzy games. It has that same idea of telling you your immediate goal, but then having you achieve that goal by completing other smaller tasks across each level. In dizzy it was a case of go to this part to retrieve this, to get to there, unlock that, get this and so on, until you finally had what you needed to make proper progression.

Here the concept is the same, you find your main goal, read a character’s mind, then try to help them, but to help them, you need to read the mind of other characters in the level, but to get what you need from them, you need to find others who may have the part needed. but needing to help them also. It can lead to some complex patterns and areas that need to be finished in order, but that works, it works well and is genuinely enjoyable to solve these puzzles.

The way you solve these puzzles, is by essentially finding a placing stickers in the right places, some of which are only acquired once performing the right task for the right character. This would be difficult enough, if it wasn’t for the secret agents hunting you at every turn. These guys want to know why and how you have you powers and will stop at nothing to find out. Luckily you can also read their thoughts, once you have read an agents thoughts, you get a sticker that puts them to sleep, thus allowing you to sneak by undetected. However, the moment they spot you, they will be relentless in their pursuit and once caught, you are eliminated.

Early levels are pretty standard and easy to complete, however as the game progresses the agents are harder to avoid and the puzzles become a little more complex. This all happens without becoming frustrating and the game can be finished in a few hours. The pacing is pretty much spot on, with levels and the game as whole never really out staying its welcome.

Whilst this is available on both the PS3 and PS Vita, it is the handheld version that plays best. Not because there are any technical issues, or anything to that effect. It is simply a game that feels more at home on Sony’s handheld, playing in bite-sized chunks just feels right, maybe a level at a time, during a bit of downtime from your normal life. It plays fine on the PS3 though and it will just be a preference thing more than anything.

Stick It To The Man is a great example of the sort of game that wasn’t happening a few short years ago, a game that wouldn’t have had an audience, but thanks to the Indie revolution on consoles, this type of inventive game has a home. There is a lot of fun to be had with this title and is a cracking showcase of how to build on some tried and tested formulas.

Angry Birds Star Wars Review

Angry Birds are everywhere, phones, consoles, merchandise, you name it, there is something with an Angry Birds label of some description, so to have another iteration of the series hit consoles is no big surprise.

Before getting into the game, we have to talk about the price point. For a game that is mere pennies on iOS and Android, it can feel a bit off paying nigh on full price for the same game on the consoles. Whether you pay that or not, is totally up to you, for this review we are focusing entirely on the game, rather than the business model.

You already know if you like Angry Birds, you haven’t been able to avoid it, the are an obscene number of games, from the original, to Seasons, Space and now Star Wars. The gameplay hasn’t really changed all that much, just a few tweaks here and there and a new skin each time.

As with the earlier versions, you fling your bird of choice into structures across the screen, trying to destroy the pigs that are dotted around them. The game uses a physics based system and in all honesty is nothing but a simple time waster. It isn’t a deep game when you first start playing, but try to get three stars on every level and you will sink a lot of hours into the game.

Being a quick pick up and play game, makes it ideal for Android and iOS devices, something to do on journeys, or during work breaks. Which makes a console version initially feel a little needless, especially when it is disk based. Yet there are a few things that work better on the larger screen.

First the graphics are crisp. It is so much easier to see what is needed in a level, as even zooming out, you get a better understanding of where to aim, simply because it isn’t being squeezed onto a minute screen. The other thing that works is the physical controls. Whilst touch screen is good for many things, when it comes to this sort of game, using the analog stick to aim and a button press to fire, just feels so much better, to the point it feels wrong going back to a touch screen.

As mentioned, the overall play is the same as it ever was, however the Star Wars theme allows for a few niceties compared to the standard editions. Hearing the various bits of music from the Star Wars universe never fails to raise a smile and the character models are well implemented too.

There are some very clever uses of abilities based on the characters from Star Wars, Yoda for example can use the force and fling objects across the screen, Hans Solo can shoot lasers, Luke can use a light sabre to break blocks and destroy pigs. In truth these are simple variations of what has come before, but it does work well.  Levels too show a decent understanding of the Star Wars universe.

Each environment is recognisable to any fans of the series, with levels grouped across various planets, progressing through Tattoine to the Death Star. Between levels there are various scenes set around the Star Wars films and will be instantly recongnisable to fans of the films. They are a little amusing, but do lack the charm of something like the LEGO Star Wars games, which also use the licence.

Angry Birds Star Wars isn’t the greatest of games, it is a tried and tested formula that offers little new and is cashing in on both its own success and the success of one of the biggest movie franchises in the world. It does however do what it does as well as it does. If you enjoy the franchise as a whole, then you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this version, but it is one for fans of the series only.

Remember Me Review

Altering memories, amnesia, a futuristic cityscape, whenever elements such as these are introduced to a game our initial thought goes to Total Recall. Maybe at first it feels like reaching for a comparison, but then you’re introduced to a character called Quaid, and you realise that it’s clear first time developers Dontnod Entertainment took a little inspiration from Hollywood. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ideas of its own, even if some are a little underdeveloped.

The story focuses on Nilin, a memory hunter who at the start of the game has no memories of what happened to her. The story then unfolds as Nilin joins forces with some guy called Edge and begins her quest to bring down mega corporation Memorize and regain her lost memories. When you’re dealing with this sort of plot it won’t come as a shock that some things aren’t quite what they seem and it certainly does intrigue enough to make it through the campaign.

On the surface Remember Me is very much a third person action game, taking cues from other games in the genre. Combat is almost reminiscent of Batman (albeit with its own more unique ideas) and platforming is very much in the Uncharted mould. The downside is it tries to ape these games, but fumbles more than it succeeds. Combat is the more interesting of the two, allowing you to build your own combo’s. Defeating enemies earns PMP which in turn helps unlock Pressens. These Pressen are used in the Combo Lab to create various combos, ranging from simple three button attacks to the more complex nine button strings. The more tactical aspect of creating combos are the various types of Pressens that can be unlocked.

“Power”, “Regen”, “Chain” and “Cooldown” are at your disposal. Power works exactly as it sounds, with Chain essentially doubling the impact of the previous Pressen in the combo. Regen is used to regenerate health and Cooldown is used to regenerate S-Pressen energy. S-Pressen’s being powers unlocked throughout the game, ranging from controlling robots to stunning every enemy around you. It’s combining these elements into combo’s that is at the core of Remember Me’s combat. Low on health? Quickly alter your combo to utilise more health regeneration sacrificing power in the process. It’s just a shame the feel of the combat is a little off.

The impact of each blow landing never feels like it’s hitting with much weight. Particularly when bouncing from enemy to enemy, it feels like the damage you’re doing is miniscule and you really need that feel of impact to communicate whether your combo is working as expected. Many times combos got broken because the correct button was pressed too late or soon. It’s a shame when the core concept is interesting and feels unique. This becomes most infuriating during the many mob encounters or boss battles where you will desperately need to chain together attacks to stay alive.

Platforming fares a little better, if it is a little too streamlined. There is always a yellow marker pointing you to directions on which you can climb, so it’s not exactly challenging, with the exception of the Uncharted-style set pieces that feel like the bargain basement alternative to Naughty Dog’s spectacle.

Spectacle being something that Remember Me is trying to accomplish. There are very few games out there that could benefit from a larger budget, this is one of them. It often feels like the ideas outweigh the amount of money available to the developers, the Neo-Paris setting is a beautiful world; it’s just not one that’s fully realised. First stepping out into the big city is a highlight, it’s just that further exploration of this world doesn’t flesh it out in any meaningful way.

The most interesting aspect of the game is the way Nilin is able to change characters memories. There are certain story beats requiring Nilin to enter the memories of people and changing what they remember, using this to change how people react and behave. When inside the memory you’re able to rewind and fast forward the memory, picking out certain elements in the environment and interacting with them, whether it be unfastening a seatbelt or moving a table. There are a number of objects to interact with in each scene and the key is to find out the correct pattern of interactions needed to complete the objective. These are clearly the most interesting element of the game, but are few and far between, and as they play into the main story they feel very linear in their design. Just imagine if you could change characters memories during battle, maybe gaining their trust, or take a leaf out of Syndicate’s book and making them commit suicide. It’s an idea that we wish was more fleshed out than what it is in the final game.

For a first time developer, Remember Me appears highly ambitious. And while it’s got some neat ideas it never quite does anything substantial with them, instead providing an enjoyable, if forgettable experience.

Final Exam Review

You know the drill, you are attending your high school reunion and all of a sudden there is a sudden monster outbreak. Final Exam on the PS3 puts you right in the middle of that common scenario.

Final Exam is a sidescroller that’s starts with little plot yet lots of gameplay from Mighty Rocket Studio. With four playable characters to choose from the start each with their own special skills and upgradeable stats, there is a lot of bang for your buck. The ‘premise’ of the game is four former high school friends are heading back to school for a party when they are met by a monster infestation. Standard.

Each character within the game possesses a skill tree, which can be upgraded by completing certain objectives and clearing each level. These skills are health, damage & grenade/gun damage. You can also upgrade your special abilities too with new combos.

Once the game begins after you have chosen your character, it quickly holds your hand while showing you the basics. Sometimes when you start some games, the handholding aspect can overstay its welcome, thankfully here it manages it just right. Fighting in the game is via combos, which works well and allows moves to be strung together fairly easily with a charge move to belt enemies across the screen giving you some breathing space at the same time. Each character has a gun and grenades also, these come in very handy when being chased or cornered by a horde of monsters although ammo can be in short supply but you can pick up some more throughout the levels.

Final Exam is quite similar in design to Metroid or Castlevania with its level design, as you complete objectives such as taking something from one part of the level to another or simply to find something to assist you. Interestingly, while you are traversing through the levels, enemies come from all angles and if you have to climb a ladder to get to where you need, expect the enemies to follow. Beware picking up an item to take to another part of the level and walking away from any enemies that spawn as they will follow and attack until you stop and kill them.

There is no possible way of losing track of where you need to be within a level either as you have a handy guide pointing in the direction you need too. I found this really useful, as in Super Metroid I got lost quite a lot. Although in Final Exam you don’t have a map, its not needed with your guide anyway.

Graphically the game uses cartoon cuteness for the characters, levels are well drawn and really quite large too. For those completists among you, there are lots to pick up in each level. Don’t expect a lot of one on one enemy fighting as you get set up quite regularly by hordes of enemies which must be defeated in order to progress through the game. This has a tendency to bring a lot of amusing and satisfying moments, using enemies to smash into others, charging your moves to put some space between you all, giving you precious seconds to regroup. Combat is simple but very effective in Final Exam.

There is also both local and online multiplayer in the game, the only difference is more enemies to defeat and some more objectives also to balance out the extra player(s).

There is a demo available on PSN, PC & XBL which allows you to play the tutorial and the first chapter of the game either solo or coop. Overall, Final Exam is a fun game played solo or online or locally with others. Give it a try, you might just like it.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

A New Assassin’s Creed is upon us, but this time the series takes to the high seas and a swashbuckling adventure as we are introduced to Edward Kenway.

Some may argue that Assassin’s Creed II was the pinnacle of the series so far and they’d be right. It was the game that took the promise of the original and tightened everything up to create a fantastic experience. Assassin’s Creed III felt like more of  cash in, a game that seemed to be on a downward spiral and split opinion across the board.

Assassin’s Creed IV though hopes to bring the series back to the heights of its better days, creating a world and story that you don’t want to leave. It is a game that is being released on both current and next gen consoles and marks the first title to span this round of hardware generations.

At Gamestyle, as much as we’d love to wait for the PS4 version, we simply couldn’t, so we grabbed the PS3 release and set sail. The game has the usual setup, with you starting off fairly ill equipped for an Assassin, however the writing for the reasoning is much better here than in previous games. Edward isn’t actually an Assassin at all, the opening segment explains why he has donned the robes and why he is now on his mission and whilst it is a little cliche, it fits well for driving the story forward.

The opening hour or so of the game will see you introduced to the characters, the main plot of the story as well as the mechanics of the game, both new or old. Again as seems to be the trend right now, this is weaved into the game in such a way that it doesn’t feel much like a tutorial, with the mix between learning, narrative and gameplay combining well to immerse you into the world.

The environments are stunning too, probably the best looking game of the series so far and a fine way to bow out of this generation. However, there are some noticeable issues that show that this is a game that was geared towards the next gen. Whilst the game looks stunning, there were times where characters would clip through each other, the framerate would go from one extreme to the other and there would be other little graphical oddities.

During segments where you were running through built up areas, whether escaping capture, or chasing a target it got to a point where you would feel rather nauseous and disorientated. The need to take a few moments to look away from the screen just to gather yourself again. This is the clearest indication that this game is pushing the PS3 to its limits and beyond. We can’t wait to get our hands on the PS4 version just to experience the game again at its optimal performance levels.

The reason we want to play again, is that the core game is a joy to play, much like Assassin’s Creed II, Black Flag doesn’t feel like you are grinding through, or hoping for the end to make an appearance. Uncovering new areas, finding treasure maps, stalking and taking down targets, all feel great to do and you simply forget where the time goes, going on side missions because you want to, rather than feeling because you have to.

The game is still set in the Animus, but this time you aren’t playing as Desmond Miles and the Animus project has moved on to something that appears a bit more above ground. You now take on the role of a research analyst for Abstergo Entertainment, as you relive the memories of times past to open up stories to be used for entertainment. There are a couple of nods to the previous games, but these are more of a lip service than anything. Thankfully the bulk of the action takes place where you want it to, right in the past.

In fact, it is a shame that the need is there to still jump into the modern era at all. The adventure of Edward Kenway is strong enough to keep the game flowing on its own. It would be great to see the series just concentrate entirely on the the main part of the game, as there is enough world history for the writers to dip into that the modern day stuff will hopefully just fall by the wayside.

What makes the game such a joy to play is the freedom you get. It seems that the developers have learned from the mistakes of Assassin’s Creed III and removed a lot of the hand holding that ruined the experience. From the very beginning you can simply ignore the main mission, whilst you set off to get lost and go on a journey of discovery. Whether that be by land or by sea.

The times you spend on your ship are just as memorable as those on land. As you venture out to sea you really feel in control of an impressive vessel, you feel vulnerable whilst engaged in battle and mighty when simply sailing to discover new worlds. Chris Columbus had nothing on you, you are Master and Commander.

Combat on foot is excellent too, early on you feel as though you lack the advantage, you are of course without the skills and the arsenal to be the ultimate assassin. Yet as you progress you start to feel like you can control any situation, you have learned more skills, you have better weapons and are the one in charge.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the best of the series since the Assassin’s Creed II without any shadow of a doubt. The experience is broken a little by some current gen restrictions, but not enough to ruin the overall experience. It will clearly be a better experience on the PS4 than the PS3, but whilst you wait, you will have a wonderful time being a pirate!

Batman Arkham Origins Review

Batman is back for another round with the villains of Arkham. Gadgets, stealth, fisticuffs all return in this ‘prequel’

Arkham Origins would suggest that the third game in the Arkham series is a full prequel, an origins story. Why the Bruce Wayne became Batman. Yet it falls short of being that, what may have been a very interesting concept ends up being a by the numbers sequel with an excuse to bring back characters that may have been killed off in previous games.

The game starts with Batman trying to hunt down the main villain of the piece ‘Black Mask’. This intro obviously acts as a tutorials for newcomers, but also a way of telling the audience that this is indeed a prequel, with a different commissioner, and lines that suggest that Batman hasn’t yet become as well known as he is in the other games.

This opening segment is actually well done, as it introduces the various gadgets and mechanics of the game in short space of time, leading up to the first boss fight with Killer Croc. Batman has everything at his disposal and you are thrown right into the action.

The gameplay is the same as you will know and love from the other games in the series, with fights flowing in a natural organic way, as you combo from one villain to the other and once again you feel like you are the Dark Knight himself. Brushing off the legions of henchmen as they try to stop from completing your missions. Smashing the faces in of one guy, before vaulting over another, to kick another just never seems to get old and the Batman games have perfected this mechanism over the years, so much so that other games have tried to copy how the team have integrated free flow fighting, but without as much success.

The core concepts of the game remain and are still essentially broken up into traversing around the environment, before entering into glorified arena battles with various numbers of thugs, before reaching a boss fight and progressing the story. Some sections are full on out in the open fights, with others requiring you to take a more stealthy approach. These are arena battles, but the clever use of smoke and mirrors does a wonderful job of drawing you in and making you fully immersed.

Being the Batman means you have a whole arsenal of gadgets at your disposal and whilst most of these have been seen before, there are a couple of variations because of the timeline of the story. No Mr Freeze, means that cryo-grenades are replaced with concussion grenades. There are areas around Gotham that you can see where you need to use these gadgets, whether that be to get to new areas, unlock secrets or more, you know as per previous games that you will only get to these parts after upgrading your toys, which is now part and parcel of the series. It is tedious having to go through the same upgrades again and again, but that thirst for completion, that desire to have what you cannot initially obtain, drives you forward.

The world around you is vast and there is a lot of traversing to get from location to location and despite the use of fast-travel when certain points are unlocked, Origins, as with Arkham City seem to lose something when compared to the tighter quarters of Asylum. It doesn’t make the game tiresome, but the gaps between the real fun parts are far more dragged out. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the City felt alive, but it is simply a barren wasteland most of the time, bar the interactions with the various groups of thugs are pre-planned story driven moments.

As stated, the game really stands out in the combat sections and away from the main game, there are the challenge rooms, which literally take the best elements of the game and make a whole new game from them. Basically these are target driven scenarios where you attempt to beat the set criteria to earn medals, which in turn earn you XP which can be used for upgrades.

These are where you will have the best time, as the the action is concentrated into bite sized chunks and does away with the exploration side of things. There is a decent amount of variation here too which keeps things really fresh. The only down side is that these are locked until you reach certain points in the game, when it could have been a totally separate part of the game.

This entry into the series is the weakest of them all, but that is like comparing Disney Pixar films to each other. The worst Batman game is still better than most games that see the light of day, but the setting and storyline of Origins just feels like a bit of a misstep. Visually it is as stunning as ever, the combat is like a carefully considered choreography and there is a ton of content to keep you going. It’s never a bad thing to have more Batman in your life.

 

Okami HD Review

There are few games out there that wow with beauty and imagination, the story of wolf Amaterasu and his fight against the forces of darkness, Okami is a story steeped in Japanese folklore, making it a rarity on these European shores. Originally released in 2006 for the PS2, it’s finally gotten the HD treatment on the PS3 and the results are simply wonderful.

First off it only seems right to talk about the graphics. A beautiful watercolour visual style, the whole game feels like a moving painting, each scene and environment making jaws drop. Everything having a paintbrush style with thick black outlines around everything, it’s no wonder this is considered one of the best looking games on the PS2. It’s incredible really that since Okami’s release many games are attempting the photo-realistic style to add an emotional connection to their characters, and yet the emotion felt playing Okami is stronger than most of these games.

Amaterasu’s facial features and mannerisms showing more emotion than most games you’ll find that favour a realistic style. And this is from a character that has not one spoken line of dialogue. The relationship the wolf shares with the miniscule artist Issun being a particular highlight. Issun, riding along on Amaterasu’s back and often being the comedic part of this double act. Issun joining the adventure in order to obtain all Celestial Brush techniques, something that forms the core gameplay of Okami.

The player can essentially pause the game for a time, and then proceed to use the analogue stick to draw on the unpainted canvas. The brush techniques you learn on your journey range from simple power slashes (drawing a straight line across) to making the sun appear (drawing a circle in the sky). They work really well, and for the most part the game offers a great deal of leeway with your drawing skills. Being able to understand what you’re trying to draw even if your circles come off as a bit more egg shaped than you would’ve liked.

There’s a reason many people call Okami “the best non-Zelda game ever made”, because it is very much steeped in that genre of game. An overworld that opens up as you progress, a number of dungeons to conquer and new items and abilities that will help you progress in said dungeons. But despite this successful formula, the game brings enough different elements to the table. Each new area initially starting out as a cursed zone, where any time spent in the darkness drains energy. Finding each guardian sapling and restoring them using the celestial brush sends the area into a flurry of flowers and beauty. Each act of kindness or restoration results in praise, praise being used as a way to upgrade certain attributes.

If there’s one criticism to be levelled at Okami it’s the dungeons while fun, never tax the brain enough to be challenging. Puzzles seem obvious, and compared to the very best Zelda has to offer, dungeons are incredibly small with the final boss battles while at times being spectacular once again come across as being quite easy. Part of the problem could be the games inisistence on giving the player more items and money than they would ever need. Health restoration items and ones that increase your defence or attack are commonplace, found in many chests littering the land, and can be bought for a reasonable price at all of the nearby stores.

Seven years after its first appearance and Okami feels just as fresh now as it did back in 2006. One of the highlights of the PS2 and Wii libraries now in glorious HD is an offer too good to pass up. While dungeons may lack the complexity one would hope for, this is a minor complaint with an otherwise fantastic game. If only the sales figures had matched the quality.

Beyond: Two Souls Review

Love him or loathe him, David Cage is certainly a unique personality. “Game overs are a failure of the game designer” being a stand-out quote from his, and yes, going through his latest offering Beyond: Two Souls he has eradicated the “Game Over” screen completely, but in doing so has created a game where challenge is non-existent. Beyond is certainly an odd beast, one after completing, is still difficult to put into words.

The last big console exclusive before the next generation arrives, Beyond: Two Souls continues David Cage and Quantic Dreams goal of creating a game that will emotionally engage the player with characters and choices that will have an impact. Quantic Dreams last game Heavy Rain attempted this, and while it may have missed the mark on a few occasions, it was not lacking in ambition. Problem is, since the release of Heavy Rain we’ve seen the release of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The latter especially fits in perfectly with what Cage has been attempting since his second game Fahrenheit. So it’s quite sad to see Beyond: Two Souls sacrifice the ambition that has always been prevalent in the previous Quantic Dream entries.

While the player is making choices and certain scenes can have different outcomes, they can feel quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The player is essentially on rails, riding to a pre-determined location, at least until the last ten minutes where memories of Mass Effect 3 came flooding back. And with the lack of challenge you feel like a casual observer as opposed to an actual player. Really if it weren’t for the stand-out performances from the two leads it would be a very difficult game to persevere with.

Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are outstanding as the two main characters. Ellen Page playing Jodie, someone linked to an entity/spirit who she calls Aiden, with Dafoe playing the doctor Nathan Dawkins who wants to study the link they share. As the story progresses the game keeps jumping between different times, from child to adult, and back again. An interesting idea, but one that would have worked just as well if it just followed the story chronologically instead of randomly jumping to different moments of Jodie’s life without rhyme or reason. It almost feels like someone threw darts at a wall in order to select where the story goes next. Story wise it does start off slowly, but soon finds its feet a few hours in, and aside from a few crazy moments where memories of Fahrenheit’s hilarious Matrix fight scenes came flooding back, did keep us relatively engaged. So for acting and writing it’s certainly an improvement over Heavy Rain.

There are moments however where the old David Cage comes out and you’re treated to uncomfortable shower scenes, half naked ladies and a middle section of the game that is quite frankly so ludicrous it feels like you’ve jumped into another game entirely. It does make us wonder how much better these games would be if Cage actually hired a real writer as opposed to doing it all himself. On the plus side, at least Jodie is a competent female lead, can fight with the best of them, and isn’t just in the game to serve as eye candy for a male lead.

It’s weird that this far into the review and the word gameplay has yet to be uttered, probably because it feels like the story was written first and the gameplay then wrapped around it. If you’re familiar with Quantic Dreams previous work then you’ll be familiar with a lot of Beyond. Certain sections of the story having you control Jodie walking around the environment, talking to people and interacting with various items. The difference now is the on-screen prompts are a little different. Instead of having giant buttons there are just small dots. Pushing the right stick in the direction will allow you to interact with it. It’s clear they were going for a more filmic experience by not littering the environment with giant prompts. The right stick action also coming in to play with the many fights and chase sequences littered throughout Beyond. The action going into slow motion and pushing the right stick in the direction Jodie is moving to avoid getting hit or fighting your attackers. At times it works well, others it’s hard to tell which direction you’re supposed to be moving.

The most interesting gameplay aspect is Aiden.  Pressing Triangle and you can start to control spirit Aiden floating around the world. You can’t venture too far from Jodie though due to the link. From this spectral view it’s all about manipulation. Focusing on certain objects and using the right stick can movie objects, this can be used to distract people or as a way to attack or just frighten. With Aiden you can also use these powers to take control of people which does lead to some interesting sequences. Some where you have to move the possessed character around, others where you make him turn on his friends.

After completing Beyond: Two Souls it’s understandable why this is one of the most divisive games around. Even now it’s difficult to say whether we enjoyed it or not, it’s certainly an interesting game, and does have some nice ideas. So despite a story that feels disjointed, tonally uneven and a mid-section that feels completely out of place, it’s something that is different enough from the norm that maybe, just maybe it’s worth picking up.

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness

It’s been a long time since the first Disgaea game graced European shores and turned a large number of the population into obsessive number crunchers with an eye for multi-coloured squares. Since Hour of Darkness we’ve had three more entries into the mains series and countless spinoffs on the handheld platforms. Now, the original Demons are back in a direct sequel to Leharl, Etna and Flonne’s first adventure.

This time Leharl must fight to prove himself the true overlord of the demon realm whilst also working out what on earth is happening with all these celestial flowers springing up all over the place. Many a twist and turn ensues (which we won’t spoil here), and as usual it’s a crazy and unhinged plot but then this is Disgaea so what exactly were you expecting?

It’s fair to say that a direct sequel, to a hardcore game, in a niche genre that came out almost ten years ago is likely to have a fairly dedicated audience. As such you probably know if you’re going to buy this or not already. For those that haven’t come across a Disgaea game before we will try and explain how it works. At its heart is a turn based strategy game. Your characters emerge from a demon portal and move in squares across a gridded battle ground. You use menu commands to get them to attack, use items or activate special skills. However, there is so much depth to battle and so many systems at work that it simply boggles the mind.

Along with the Lifting and throwing mechanic, the partnering mechanic, combos and apprentices are the Geo Symbols.  Many of the levels have coloured squares adorning the floor. These relate to coloured triangles set somewhere around the level, each of which gives a different effect to the square. These can range from giving extra experience points to causing physical damage or even making you (or the enemy), invincible. Not good for anyone with colour blindness but it means you have to be careful what you are doing and plan ahead. The symbols sometimes move around as well which adds even more to deal with.

Destroying the geo symbols can set off a chain reaction that destroys all the squares and damages anything standing on them. If in the process you destroy another symbol then you can get a domino effect which zooms around every colour square and ends in a huge explosion of colour. This results in a massive bonus to your end of level score (Another system in play), and can give you extra treasure.

The amount of characters you can create is truly staggering. To do this you need to go to the dark assembly room (much like in other Disgaea games), and use mana won from battles to create a new character. These can be human or monsters and new options constantly open up based on creatures you are defeating or characters in certain classes continually levelling up. The dark assembly can also be used to alter the game in certain ways, such as making better weapons available or only allowing Prinnies onto maps. Some of these bills require you to go into the assembly room and bribe the court in order to get them passed on a vote. Certain options such as making the game harder can now be accessed via an in game cheat shop.

The other thing Disgaea is known for is the item world. Any item or weapon in the game can be entered and by clearing floors of monsters within it makes it stronger. There are also ‘innocents’ within the items that can be defeated. This allows for special powers and super stat boosts to be added. The item world could theoretically last forever and we can’t even imagine how long it would take to max out an entire teams gear and weapons. For the super obsessed it’s unlikely you’ll be playing much else for the next few years if you want to take on the task.

The major addition to the many systems since the first game is the ability to mount creatures. Now human characters can ride monsters on the battle field. This allows for the use of different skills while the ridden beast will take damage rather than the user. This allows for a weak character like a healer to ride around on a dragon with much less chance of them being killed. It also allows slow moving characters to ride speedy monsters around the battle field. It’s an addition that works well and offers even more options when taking on the hordes.

Disgaea D2 represents a game that fans will love. It’s a combination of great characters, a wild story and a number of small but beneficial refinements to the tried and tested formulae. Newcomers to the series may well be completely overwhelmed but for anyone who wants yet more Disgaea action this is about as fine-tuned as it gets right now and it shows there is still a lot of life left in the franchise.

F1 2013 Review

The Formula One season is drawing to a close, the title is nearly sewn up and you have the chance to relive it all again with the latest F1 release from Codemasters Racing

Once again the game is trying to put you in the life of a top F1 driver, as you start from the bottom and work your way to F1 champion. Well not quite the bottom, you aren’t starting by racing Karts and then working through the various racing classes, you start at the young drivers test, which acts as a glorified tutorial and introduces the various controls and mechanics of the game.

For newcomers it is a great way to get used to the vital parts of the game, such as the control system and find out what DRS, KERS and the like is. However for regulars this has been done before and does become a little tedious. The development team have tried to make this engaging still, by having it performance based, by measuring how well you perform to give you a wider range of teams to join. Don’t perform all that well and be stuck at Marussia, yet put in a solid weekend and Team Lotus could be waiting.

As with most racing games, it is how the cars handle, how they feel, how much they make you feel like you are in control. F1 sits between arcade and simulation and makes sure you experience the thrill of being in a F1 racing car amazingly well, it has always done that since Codemasters took over the licence.

The game can be set up to be as arcade feeling as you want, or as simulation as you can handle, although some fans of the likes of rFactor and other PC sims may find that it isn’t as hardcore as they may like, but in all honesty, that is fine. Handling an F1 car isn’t easy, us mere mortals wouldn’t be able to handle the raw power, so having a game that is too hardcore would put most people off. So the balance here is just right, it can be challenging, but still accessible to those who do need a little bit of hand holding.

What still strikes as being a little unbalance though, is the AI, on lower levels the intelligence just seems to be missing, with cars breaking for corners way too early, and often causing accidents by being over cautious. It is only when you enter the harder difficulties that the AI really shines, changing racing tactics on the fly, being aggressive or defensive as needed. But you really need some skill to be able to keep pace. It’s not just a fault of this game, it is a fault of racing games throughout time.

Visually things are as impressive as ever. When you are in the cockpit the sense of speed is outstanding, you get so drawn in and focused on what you should be doing, looking at the road, finding reference points for braking, looking for that perfect moment to make a pass. For the times you are racing, when you are right on the edge, it feels real, you are Lewis Hamilton, you are Nico Rosberg, when you cross the line in first you are Sebastian Vettel, you might as well raise that finger.

It is the graphics, the little visual tricks used, the amazing sound, that make that feeling possible. F1 2013 has a better sense of speed, a much more immersive experience than a Forza Motorsport, or a Gran Turismo. Which, whilst being maybe a lot more realistic with handling and the like, they can sometimes feel a little stale. Not this though, this is a joy to play.

There is plenty of content also, from the usual career modes, single races, championships, etc. There is something to keep you going for months on end. Whether you like your races in short bursts, or staying the distance and having full length events, it can be set up however you wish. Again if you fancy just learning the tracks and cars, there are the time trial and time attack modes.

The scenario mode is where you can have a great time, split into four areas based around the point in a drivers career, you are given set takes that you need to perform, earn medals and points, before taking on the next. Ranging from taking part in your first race and beating your team mate, battling it out for a championship, right through to taking part in your final year. Some of the scenario events are easy enough, but some can prove difficult and won’t be beaten on a first attempt, but each of them is short enough that you are happy to go back again and again to beat it, or even to improve your best score.

What really makes 2013 a must buy, is the inclusion of classic cars and tracks. Which includes all the modes from the modern era including a few scenario levels of its own. Being able to race a Williams FW12 or Ferrari F1-87 will bring back some memories for some of the older F1 fans and also gives a taste of how it used to be for a younger generation. There are even some of the classic tracks available to race on.

What is a shame, is that a little more wasn’t done with the classics, it would have been nice to see more made of the history, having presentations on what made these particular cars and tracks classics, what was special about them. Learning a bit more about the drivers, their special moments, that sort of thing. That being said though, you cannot help but feel nostalgic when playing. We hope there are more and more of these cars and maybe tracks released as DLC, covering some further eras than the 80s and 90s.

Driving these cars is a totally different feel to the modern 2013 cars, no DRS, no KERS, no paddles for gear changes, less lights and buttons on the steering column, the steering column actually looks like a steering wheel. The sound is different, the handling feels different. Codemasters have done a fantastic job in recreating the nostalgia of the era, when F1 was at its very best.

If you have no interest in the classic cars, then there may be no real incentive to pick up F1 2013 over last year’s release, but you’d be missing out on something very special. It is probably the best release yet, there is plenty packed in and oh, those 80s cars are things of absolute beauty.

 

Grand Theft Auto V Review

GTA5 PS3 screenshot

There is a little known game series known as Grand Theft Auto, that maybe some of you may have heard of, one or two might even have played one of the games. So under the radar the fifth iteration of the series has been released. Gamestyle take a look at what we can expect.

We kid of course, the GTA series is arguably the biggest name in our medium, a game that is as much in the public consciousnesses as the latest blockbuster movie, number 1 pop song or best selling book. It is referenced by the news, by popular culture and more time and time again. People expect controversy and you can guarantee plenty of coverage.

There is a different tone to this game than there was in GTA IV or the other previous titles. When you enter the game’s opening scene it feels like it has matured a little, it seems like there has been effort put into the writing, the performances, it feels a little less stereotypical than older games.  As we end the generation, it feels like games are trying their best to have a memorable opening and a way to hook the audience and GTA V is right up there with the best.

It seems like the game has matured, but in truth it is full of stereotype, and does revert to type fairly quickly, but that is fine, games aren’t here to be a social commentary, they are here to be fun and GTA whilst pushing the barriers of controversy over the years is a game that is designed to be fun. This iteration may well be the most fun yet.

The opening of the game is really well put together and introduces the new lead character and the general tutorial parts without ever breaking from the immersion. It is something that games have struggled to come to terms with over the years and GTA follows suit, along with a couple of other major recent releases to nail a game opening.

After the opening set piece the system kind of reverts to type, giving you a huge opening world that becomes your playground. You are introduced to the lead roles and taken on a series of fairly linear missions. Go here, do this, follow him, kill them, that sort of thing. But it works, it eases you into a small portion of the world and allows you to get used to the game mechanics before letting you loose later on.

Controls on the whole feel very tight, aiming and cover shooting is on a par with games where those mechanics are core. However driving controls can take a bit of getting used to. At first the cars feel very twitchy and even the slightest touch, or being too aggressive on the controls can cause you to spin the car, or have accidents. However, that being said, it does start to come to you, and you soon forget the troubles you had earlier in the game.

The map is huge. In GTA IV you felt confined at times, you knew the area was vast, but you could tell you were locked into an area, in a weird Truman Show style bubble, to the point you half expected Niko to be afraid of water. Here though, in the hours upon hours we have spent in Los Santos, we still feel as though there is much more to discover and discover we will.

GTA has always prided itself on what you can do away from the main story arc and this is no exception, the usual side missions are there, as are the customisation options. What you have though is a playground that goes back to what you found in San Andreas (which is no surprise really), in GTA IV the side activities felt a little forced, with requests from annoying family members, that you really couldn’t be bothered with. It felt out of place and distracting from the fun you wanted to have. Here though, the game lets you loose on a map and invites you to just have a blast at your own pace.

We could list everything that is possible here, but for one it would be a mighty list, that you could look up online if you are that desperate to find out and secondly, we don’t want to take the fun out of the discovery. So take it from us, there is loads to do, both on land, in the sky and under water!

In most other open-world games, we found that we were always drawn back to wanting to finish off the main story, maybe occasionally flirting with side missions, to help boost a character. The exception to that was of course Saints Row IV and whilst GTA V doesn’t quite throw all sense of reason out of the window, it is a game that we look at the main story and don’t want to just get back to it. We are having too much fun just playing around with everything else.

Now that isn’t to say the story is dull, or anything like that, it is a testament to how well structured the game world is and how much the developers have put into the world for you to do. Adding in the three lead characters mechanic does wonders as well, as each one does have unique things attached to them, whether that be vehicles, abilities, activities, etc.  It keeps things fresh throughout, so should you start to get tired of one, you can just switch to another.

The three character structure helps iron out some of the issues with the story in GTA IV. Niko Bellic would often switch from moral conscience,  to gun toting maniac at the flip of a switch, which really didn’t help when it came to having any kind of connection with the character. Here though, Rockstar can have three totally different personalities, allowing them to break missions up so that they are played by the character they best suit.

Now, you don’t have to like all the characters, that isn’t the point, what it does, is allows the game to flow and the story and character arcs to work in a much more natural way. To Rockstar’s credit, they have pulled this off brilliantly. As far as GTA goes, this is the most well rounded story to date. It still doesn’t touch games like The Last Of Us for how well it is performed, or written, but then it doesn’t have to be. It does what it has to do, for the type of game this is.

Earlier we said that as a game, GTA doesn’t need to be a social commentary, nor a moral compass. That doesn’t stop the game being full of satire. It isn’t saying this is right, this is wrong, it just takes real world elements that we all know about and charges at them with the satirical stick. Whether it be important political stances, or the likes of popular technology companies, the list is long and it generates plenty of laughs, as well as a few nods of acknowledgement to the little things you notice.

There is an online element to come also, but at the time of writing, this has yet to be launched. But it is stunning just how much Rockstar have managed to fit into the game and still the promise of more to come. What is really impressive is that unlike some linear titles, where smoke and mirrors can be used, this is open world and there are so many little things that can go wrong and the fact is in the 30 odd hours we have played so far, we have noticed minor glitches and we do mean minor. It is only in writing that we even thought about them, hell we struggled to recall them at first. Bravo Rockstar…Bravo!

Is GTA perfect? Well it depends who you ask, but it is plenty of fun and in a time when we are looking to usher in a new generation of hardware, the fact this is running on a PS3 and looks and plays this good is simply mind-blowing. It isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone, as it is an open world, violent game without a moral compass. But boy can you have fun without worrying about morals.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix Review

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix

Kingdom Hearts is a favourite, so the chance to play a much loved classic from the PS2 era all over again in HD is very welcome indeed. The PS3 is on fire at the moment. 

When the original Kingdom Hearts was first announced, it was a title that was anticipated more with intrigue than any actual hype or expectation. The concept felt a bit odd, mixing the worlds of Final Fantasy with Disney. Was this a game for kids? Would it be missing all audiences, who was it for?

Well the truth was, it was a game for everyone, a game that was pure magic. It perfectly blended the ideas of Disney with Final Fantasy and despite a few issues with controls and cameras (which were common place then, but a lot more forgivable than things seem to be now days) the original was loved enough and successful enough to spawn a sequel and eventually a full on franchise.

In this particular package, you get Kingdom Hearts 1.5, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain Of Memories and Kingdom Hearts: 358/2. The first is the definitive version of the game stat started it all. Rather than the game that Europe got to see, it is the Japanese Final Mix version, which adds additional cut-scenes and content. Now we will admit to our memories starting to leave us, as we enter middle-age, as we really couldn’t remember what was new.

What we did remember though was that this was pretty much that same game we played eleven years ago, but looking much prettier. Well we say prettier, but in truth with these HD re-releases, it was the game we remember with our rose-tinted glasses. It always looked good a decade ago and the HD update keeps it looking as we hoped.

By today’s standards though, the controls, the camera and just some of the game in general lacks a bit of polish and quality control compared to what we get today. Which is a shame as it doesn’t really sell the games to a brand new audience. Yet that doesn’t seem to the plan, it comes across as a fan service and it does that perfectly. It is whetting the whistle for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III.

Also included is the direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts, Re:Chain Of Memories, an HD update to Chain of Memories. Not to be confused with Kingdom Hearts 2, which isn’t on this package and wasn’t a direct sequel to the original. Chain Of Memories was originally released on the Gameboy Advance and later saw a PS2 remake.

Re:Chain Of Memories introduced a new card battle system to the series. This follows many of the rules you’d expect from other card battle type games, but was played out almost in real time and in all honesty was a refreshing change up to the usual methods employed by other games in the KH franchise. It also more of a dungeon crawler feel to it than the other games, which again made it stand out enough.

The final part of the package isn’t a game at all. Well it was a game, but this is just a video of the game made up of cutscenes. There is nothing playable, you simply watch. It is disappointing that this was included on the all the build up marketing, because as an added extra it is pretty cool and a great way to fill yourself in with some of the lore surrounding the world and the franchise, but as a direct inclusion, it feels lazy and pointless it being there.

358/2 wasn’t the best entry into the Kingdom Hearts series, when it was released on the Nintendo DS, so it’s inclusion really is an odd choice as a main entry to the package. That said, by removing the playable elements, the story can be watched, which was the only good thing about that particular release anyhow.

Overall this is a package that can be had at a fairly budget price, so if you are a fan, then go ahead and pick it up and enjoy reliving some of the your favourite moments. Those who may have missed this upon original release may find it a bit under-whelming as it is a straight reproductions, including all the minor faults. However as an overall package, we are glad it is in our lives. Can we have Kindgom Hearts 2 HD and Birth By Sleep HD next please?

Diablo III Review

Moving to consoles after a stint on the PC, Diablo III is able to extend its audience, but does a game built for the PC translate to consoles? 

Gamestyle are happy to admit that Diablo is completely new to us, we know of the game, but have never played, so was unsure what to expect when we first turned the game on. We were intrigued mainly by the name alone, it is one of those games that transcends the medium, like GTA, Call of Duty, World Or Warcraft, etc.

Diablo III is an Action RPG that revolves around you wandering around various dungeons, killing and looting to your hearts content. What surprised us when we first played was actually how accessible the game was. Expecting to be spending ages creating a character that we’d then take into the game, only to have various concepts explained to us for the next few hours, we were happy to see the game actually gets you into the action nigh on instantly.

The game relies on many things you pick up through years of gaming, as well as various little signs you understand generally in life. Before you reach your first quest, you’ll be walking down a path and all of a sudden something will glow red, it is moving, therefore it must be an enemy and must be slayed. So you do, you kill it and then spy more red glowing enemies and kill them.

It is all intuitive too, no complicated menus or awkward systems to work through, not what we were expecting at all. Even when more options open up, the interface, which has been rebuilt for use on consoles is clear and concise. You can equip your chosen character with weapons and armour that are dropped by downed ememies, or found in various chests and the like. Again expecting this to be difficult to understand we were pleasantly surprised by how clear everything was. The important attributes stood out and even the little bonuses you’d get through the various items was also clear.

Being an RPG, there is of course a lot of character progression, which basically comes from killing enemies, completing quests, all the usual things that you’d expect. The further you level up, the more you open for your character. Previous items that were unable to be used due to level restraints become accessible and extra attacks open up, there is a proper sense of progression.

There have been games in a similar mold to Diablo, but there is something special about this that makes it stand out. A quick go turned into most of the day, as we wanted to explore every inch or the world, checking every nook and cranny for goodies that could help us later in the game. Yet it is your inquisitiveness that dictates how long the game will last, the pacing of quests is really well structured and to be honest they can be completed fairly quickly, but because you want to explore, you do find that you go off into your own little world from time to time.

Whilst the game can be played in single player, there is also the option for online and single screen co-operative play, which adds to the game immensely. Diablo is a very sociable game and the enjoyment factor is increased when playing with a friend, whether that be online with a headset, or both sat in the same room.

Because there are various different character types to be used, there is great sense of replayability, as you want to progress each class as much as you can. Items can be shared between characters too, as long as they are left in the stash chest, meaning that a Demon Hunter could well find an axe, which that class cannot use, but that item can then be left in the stash for another class to pick up and use when the game is played with them.

The challenge is paced well, as your characters level up, so does the difficulty of the enemies you’ll face. Whilst the general enemies that populate the world can be dealt with swiftly and with comparative ease, the bosses will offer up much more of a challenge, even with a co-op partner you will find the bosses hard to take down, but the sense of achievement and the rewards for doing so are more than worth it.

Coming into Diablo III, Gamestyle was expecting a game that we’d appreciate at a technical level, but find that it wasn’t for us and more suited to a PC. However, what we found was a game that we really don’t want to leave alone. Once it gets its hooks in, it will not let go, you will be addicted beyond an level you though possible before you started playing.

Diablo III is a fine example of how a game that was primarily built for playing on a PC, can be translated to consoles. The consideration taken by the development team to make sure interfaces were rebuilt is great to see. Diablo III is the best example of the action RPG and until you play it, you simply cannot appreciate just how amazing the experience can be.

Mafia II Review

It’s a tough time being a Mafia member, if you’re not getting shot at from a million different angles you’re picking up your drunken friends from the bar, selling cigarettes on street corners or robbing jewellery stores. Poor Vito Scaletta has a tough time ahead of him in Mafia II’s world of crime, murder and betrayal.

Coming eight years after the original a lot has changed in the world of open world shooters, from the size of the environment to the range of activities the player can get involved in. And while the city has the size, there’s very little to actually do in it. Side missions are non-existent and the open world seems to only exist to shepherd the player from one story mission to the next, sometimes getting in police chases along the way. The police chases themselves even lacking the tense action of something like Grand Theft Auto. The city of Empire Bay (Mafia II’s fictional New York) is left feeling disappointingly barren.

It does go to show how strong the main story is that the lack of side objectives were never that disappointing, mainly because we were always eager to reach the next story chapter. It may be as cliché ridden as you can get, but they still managed to make the story an enthralling experience. Each character in the game is never black and white, the city often being filled with sympathetic characters drawn into this world, or ones that are borderline psychotic. The protagonist Vito has such a story arc, starting off arriving from Italy to a run-down part of the city, soon finding himself in a life of crime. It’s from these humbles beginnings that you witness Vito rise the ranks of the Mafia. It’s not exactly on par with the gangster fiction you can find on the big screen, but it is the best alternative you can find in game form.

Being set around the 1950’s definitely gives the game a unique flavour. Cars from the period are represented, and what we imagine are true to their real life counterparts, can be difficult to handle. As the game begins during the winter the roads are completely snow covered and the early cars you’ll be driving aren’t particularly tuned well to take corners. However, the addition of classic music made the constant fights with the steering all the more bearable. No matter what you’re driving, cruising down the roads listening to Long Tall Sally can make any game great.

When Mafia II switches to shooting, much like the driving, there’s a slight learning curve as you get used to the feel of each weapon, but eventually it does click. Once again the era means you’ll be handling old school pistols and tommy guns while making the best use of cover. If there’s one issue with the combat it’s the use of a black and white damage effect. Even taking a couple of hits and with half your health remaining the screen fades to black and white. At first it’s all too easy to think you’re close to death; causing you to take your eyes off the prize, glance at your health which quickly leads to a few more bullets landing in your cranium.

Mafia II also features a fair bit of bare knuckle fist fights. It’s the simplest of systems and instead of choosing whether to engage in fisticuffs yourself the game decides for you. The game cutting to Vito with his fists up, pressing buttons to punch and counter, it’s not particularly impressive, and makes you want to just pull out a gun and shoot them Indiana Jones style.

Mafia II may not be the most technically impressive open world game you can find, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do what it does well. A solid gameplay framework built around a story of intrigue, betrayal and murder. The setting itself making it stand out amongst others on the market. So if you fancy trying out life as a mobster, it’s certainly worth your time and money.

Saints Row IV Review

The Saints are back and are throwing any little bit of sense right out of the window. Volition have taken the Saints brand far beyond anything that seemed reasonable, but is it for the best?

Yes! Saints Row IV is the game that you first imagined when you were introduced to the concept of open world, sandbox style games. The rules are cast to one side and you are basically given free realm to go and have fun. It is a game that is far removed from the previous Saints games, yet at the same time, retaining everything that made Saints Row such a joy to play.

If you played Saints Row: The Third you’ll fondly remember the opening, with the plane hijack, the falling to earth, the shooting, the rescue, etc. Saints Row IV does something just as memorable, with a chase that ends up seeing your character climbing a nuclear rocket to stop it reaching it’s destination. This is obviously fun and exhilarating in itself, but add to that ‘Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ by Aerosmith and it takes it to a whole new level of awesome, as you sit there with a big s**t-eating grin on your face.

Your reward at the end of this little segment? You are now the president of the United States Of America, which is great news for our over-sized cockney. Must point out that the poking of fun is everywhere in the game, starting at the creation station. As you get to chose a voice for your character Male 1, Male 2, Male 3, Nolan North! It raised a chuckle, but we still went with our deep cockney voice, just like always.

It only takes a few minutes for the game to really fly off the ‘What the hell!’ radar. Moments after deciding whether you want to cure cancer, or end world hunger you are hit with an alien invasion. It all kicks off and you find out that the White House is equipped with massive ground to air weapons that the president can hop on and shoot alien scum to pieces. Of course saving the world isn’t that simple. You find yourself being captured by the evil alien overlord and thrown into a computer simulation, where the bulk of the game will take place…

Well, not quite. Before allowing you to unleash hell on a virtual representation of Steelport, you are first thrown back to the 50’s and have to play through a small segment that is based around a 1950’s era TV show, complete with opening titles and a message from the sponsor. It is a quick ten minute segment, but yet another one that had us smiling and laughing all the way through. It’s worth it for the walk alone.

It is after that point that the game pretty much lets you loose. We won’t spoil the story, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Because the game is set within a simulation, it can break the rules even more than it had in previous games. But that is the thing with Saints Row, the games may all come from the same series, the characters may make repeat appearances, but you aren’t playing the same game you did three times previous. Saints Row IV is far removed from The Third, as that was to the the second game in the series. Volition don’t want you to play an identical game with a few new features, there is a concerted effort to make this a new game, rather than franchise styled update.

This version of Saints Row takes cues from the likes of Crackdown, Prototype, Infamous and films such as The Matrix, in fact, it could be argued that it does The Matrix, better than The Matrix did The Matrix. It is certainly a lot more fun! Saints Row IV is a spoof of those titles more than anything and not a Wayans Brothers style spoof, if it was to be compared, it is a Leslie Nielsen, an Airplane or Police Squad. You know it is poking fun, but it is played with just the right amount of seriousness that the comedy works. Unlike a Scary Movie and the bile that followed! Anyway we digress!

There are things that make a return the game, such as mayhem challenges, races and the like, but they do feel completely optional and you can fly through the story avoiding those elements. Why would you though? Why would you want to finish with this world as quickly as possible? It is a playground and because the rules have been thrown out of the window, it is pure unadulterated fun. The one thing that does remain constant throughout the series, is that the fun is multiplied when played in co-op.

The challenges are great fun and completing them will unlock bonuses and extra money, but that isn’t the reason you want to play them. You don’t find yourself playing the game for a sense of completion. The challenges are just a joy to play, from the superpowered races, to the mayhem events, it is all great fun. However the biggest laughs came from the return of the Fraud challenges. Remember those? Where you had to throw yourself in front of cars and the like, trying to hurt yourself so the injury lawyers can do their job? Well try adding the ability to super-sprint and jump higher than the tallest building and take it to a whole new level. It is silly and pointless, but that’s not the point!

This isn’t going to touch The Last Of Us as the game of the year, or anything like that. But just like every films doesn’t need to be Citizen Kane, nor does every game need to be The Last Of Us. Saints Row IV is the perfect game to follow up something as wonderful and evocative as Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. It allows you to forget yourself for a while, to stop being so serious and just play for fun, doing all the things that are supposedly bad for you. Killing anything that stands in your way, smashing the world around you to bits, playing with weapons, etc. It is a true break from reality.

Yet that isn’t to say Saints Row IV is mind numbing and stupid. The writing is very well done, it needs to be if it is a parody. The story whilst being funny is actually gripping, hell you care about the characters, you got to know Kinzie, Pierce and co in the previous games, you liked them. That doesn’t happen is the writing isn’t up to scratch and it remains here too. To write comedy is a lot harder than it is to write something serious, you need to cater to so many different senses of humour and for the team to get it so right with Saints Row IV, they deserve a lot of credit.

Saints Row IV is a must have title, it throws away the rule book and just wants you to have a great time. The Next Generation is upon us, but you might miss it as you get lost in the virtual world of a simulated Steelport with no rules to hold you back.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days Review

Last years The Walking Dead was one of the best games of the year, winning countless accolades and deservedly so. It managed to do what so many games attempt, getting players invested in the characters with each choice being less about what’s good and evil and more about what is likely to produce the least awful outcome. 400 Days is positioned as a stop gap between Season 1 and 2. A short collection of stories played out around the same time as the main game, each coming with its own set of challenges to endure.

The idea behind 400 Days may seem like a sound one, new characters, new stories and new choices. But the short nature of each chapter is its biggest downfall. With the first season of The Walking Dead you were always playing as Lee, new characters would be introduced and as the season progressed you would feel a tight bond with each one, whether you hated or loved them. The whole game feeling like it was built around the relationship between Lee and Clementine. 400 Days would never be able to match that. With five individual stories taking around half an hour each, sometimes less, you’re given limited time to really get to know the person you play as or people you encounter. That’s not to say the game is a let-down. Going in it was obvious that 400 Days was a bridge between seasons, a game that would keep players invested in the world and tide them over till Season 2 arrives. And in that regard it succeeded, making us ever keener to get our hands on the next chapter.

It’s difficult to go too deep into the story because a big part of the game is the story, so let’s just say it has everything you know and want from The Walking Dead. Zombies are in abundance, sometimes humans are more deadly than the undead, and many choices will need to be made along the way. All of which won’t be easy, and with a time limit on top of most, you’ll need to make those decisions fast. Out of the five stories it’s a relief to see there’s not really a duff episode amongst them, there’s certainly one story that stands out amongst the others (manly because it’s the longest and has the best story twists), but thankfully there were none that we truly hated. It’s also quite interesting that while each story is separate there are moments that carry over. Such as the same locations from a different moment within the 400 Days (hence the games name) and characters making a re-appearance. It is slightly disappointing though that despite being told to carry over your save from Season 1, there’s not really anything in the main game that would justify doing so, aside from a possibility that the ending would play into the next season.

What is a huge relief is Telltale Games appear to have made progress in console development. Playing season 1 of The Walking Dead on PS3 was slightly buggy to say the least, with the game freezing during transitions, weird character glitches, and at one point we were unable to continue when all the on screen options disappeared from the screen. It’s good to see we encountered none of these issues with 400 Days. It’s still not exactly a smooth experience, framerate stuttering during the more intense action sequences, but it looks nicer and it felt like a more complete and polished package.

If you go into 400 Days expecting the same intense, emotional, roller coaster of a ride that Season 1 produced then you could be disappointed. With characters leaving almost as quickly as they are introduced there’s no time to get any sort of attachment, particularly when playing as a different person in each chapter. Keep your expectations in check however and there’s still plenty to get out of 400 Days, with an ending that could tie into the next season, this is still a worthy chapter in the series.

DmC: Devil May Cry Review

Who wouldn’t want to dispatch Hell’s finest with some heavenly combos and a wicked personal armory? This reboot of the classic Devil May Cry series will leave your thumbs aching and your head spinning.

The original Devil May Cry series paved the way for the hack and slash genre of the previous generation consoles. The combat driven narrative brought out the perfectionist in all of us and chaining together the most ridiculously insane combos with panache was mouthwateringly satisfying! This time around, Capcom and U.K developers Ninja Theory have joined forces in this retelling of Dante’s origin story.

Dante has had somewhat of a makeover since we last saw him. Long gone is the anime-esque white hair and burgundy velvet trench coat. Now, Dante is thrust into 2013 sporting a modern gothic-punk look with an attitude to match. As a ‘Nephilim’ (child of angelic and demonic entities), Dante would be forgiven for being a little confused, spending his days sulking around thinking that nobody understands him. He seems to get over it pretty quickly (after about the first 2 minutes of gameplay actually) and is called upon to help save humanity from the clutches of the Demon King Mundus.

A perk of being a Nephilim is that Dante can exist between the human world and Limbo. Unfortunately, this is also where the spawn of Hell likes to gather and it is up to Dante to plough through the infinite hoards, with the assistance of Kat, a psychic medium and his brother Vergil, head of anti-demon organization The Order. As Dante nears his goal of finding Mundus, his trust in his allies is tested and true intentions are revealed.

At first glance, it might seem that traipsing through Limbo, facing the never-ending onslaught of devilish creatures is enough to test anyone’s patience. Thankfully, Dante is gifted with an array of weaponry fit for… well… a Nephilim! Those that are familiar with the franchise can breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of the trusty Rebellion sword and Ebony & Ivory pistols. These weapons are the foundation for stringing together the basic combos. As the story progresses, new weapons are made available, each with a specific feel and purpose. A new feature for DmC is that weapons are now either branded as angelic or demonic and the mastery of both will ensure your survival to the end. Angelic weapons, like the Osiris scythe allows for light, fluid motion and manipulating enemy positions with speed and agility. Alternatively, demonic weapons, such as the Arbiter axe, provide slower, more powerful blows capable of staggering and finishing off the toughest of opponents. The idea behind the new variation of weapon types is to create a unique experience for the player, especially those who want to ramp up those combo points with liquid flair and effortless flamboyance. As always, with DmC, it is ultimately up to you to decide which skills and weapons to upgrade.

Overall gameplay is technically smooth and has a fantastic cinematic quality that links cut scenes fluently with gameplay. When Dante is transitioning between the living world and Limbo, you can see the world around you changing in real time and transforming into a ghastly alternate reality. Similar to the previous games, DmC remains to test even experienced gamers. The same format exists, keeping with the soul of the genre, of battling through waves of enemies to then confront a difficult boss. For newcomers to the series or less technical gamers, this layout can become a little grating at times with the focus primarily on the combat. However, there are plenty of other objectives to complete in the levels, such as locating lost souls or keys that open secret doors and revealing bonus levels. For those that are gluttons for punishment, there are 7 levels of difficulty to slash your way through, reaping many hours of additional gameplay,

Looking at DmC, visually it delivers. Successfully creating an unnerving atmosphere in the absence of anything ‘scary’ can be difficult, but sometimes, just walking down an abandoned street in downtown Limbo does the trick. DmC continues with the gothic ambience as seen in the previous games and slots it in seamlessly with modern cityscapes as well as hellish nightmares. Vivid colours really pop, enhancing these surreal environments and are a welcome change from its dark and dingy predecessors. However, it is the music that really prepares you for some oncoming high-octane action with blistering guitar riffs and screeching vocals. Co produced by electronic group Noisia and metal band CombiChrist, this mind-blowing soundtrack drags DmC into the modern era as well as complimenting Dante’s character very well.

If nothing else, DmC is sure to entertain with many hours of button hammering, fizzing combat. However, the experience as whole has hugely benefitted from a reboot and those who are familiar with the series will appreciate the new features and relish the opportunity relive Dante’s origin story. DmC, as a combat driven action title has held together the soul of the franchise, while enhancing all in-game features to create a unique experience for everyone.

Superfrog HD Review

Superfrog may not be the most well known game from Team 17, overshadowed perhaps by the Worms series, but for those who played, it was a solid and challenging platformer. Our green caped hero is back and this time in HD.

Superfrog HD is pretty similar to its original 1993 release, which was the Amiga’s answer to Sonic and Mario. The basic premise of the game is that a prince has his princess abducted by the witch before she turns him into a simple basic frog. Yet a stroke of fortune gives the hero superpowers that he can use to rescue his princess. Mario meets Brothers Grimm!

Whilst the game retains the general essence of the original, the twenty four levels stretched across the six themed worlds are all original. There is the chance however to access HD remakes of the original levels from Superfrog, by winning at the slot machine bonus games at the end of each level you complete. The game is available on both PS Vita and PS3 as a cross-buy title and looks impressive on both the bog screen and the Vita’s OLED screen. The HD remastering has worked a treat here and is a marked improvement over the original game’s visuals.

Superfrog HD is a simple platformer, where the task is to get to the end of each level within the time limit. Which is pretty forgiving, as you get ten minute to make it. However, the challenge comes with the scoring system. The layout of levels isn’t based on a simple left to right as seen in the likes of the Sonic and Mario games, these are a lot more slower paced and based more around exploration than anything.

Aside from simply reaching the exit, there are coins to be collected, secret areas to be found among a whole load of enemies to be killed, or avoided. All these actions rack up points and you are given a star rating based on how you perform in each level. So just reaching the exit without collecting coins will see you get a single star, but finding all the secret areas, collecting all the coins, etc will net you the maximum three stars.

This is where the ten minute limit per level all of a sudden seems a lot shorter than it might originally come across. You may know where the exit is, but those secret areas will take you well of the beaten path and some clever camera work makes sure you see glimpses of coins in places you don’t immediately know how to reach. Essentially acting as a dangled carrot as you go off in search of the goodies, to rack up the better score and net those three stars.

As is common with these sorts of games, each world also has a boss level to beat, which again shares a lot with the Mario and Sonic games. Hit the boss a number of times and finish them off.

There is a lot of challenge to be had and it is a mixture of frustration and fun as you try to maximise your score on each level, but the integrated leaderboards help with pushing you on. Aside from the main game and the unlockable original levels there are the Frog Trials, which randomly generates levels and gives you a starting clock of just fifteen seconds. The idea is to get the highest score possible whilst keeping the clock going by collecting the clock icons dotted throughout the level. It is a great test of your reactions as you try to better yourself with each and every play.

There is also a level editor out there for the more talented and creative types, which whilst not being a patch on the likes of Little Big Planet or Trials Evolution, does have a good selection of tools for making some fantastic levels. The downside? These are not able to be shared online, which means either you can play them yourself, or hope that someone wants to try them in person. It is a shame as it would be interesting to play the communities offerings.

It is the only real downside of a game that offers great value and plenty of content. It is easy to see why Sonic and Mario went on to dominate the video game world, but Superfrog was a cracking title in its own right and thanks to this HD re-imagining, a whole new generation of people will be able to enjoy this under-appreciated gem.

Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers Review

Almost as expected as a yearly sports update, we can expect a new Duels of the Planeswalkers update and so it is with Magic 2014.

If you have played any of the previous games, you’ll know what to expect. A fine digital representation of the physical and popular card game. With a few little twists and gameplay enhancements added with each new iteration.

It depends on how much you are invested into the series as to whether the 2014 update is worth your investment. It is very similar to 2013, but does have the updated cards. So if you are just a casual fan, then stick with 2013, you’ll get all you need from the experience from the older versions.

If you don’t have a previous version, then 2014 is just as good a place as any to jump in and see what all the fuss is about. It follows the same single player structure for the most part and does a fairly decent job of introducing the game’s mechanics before taking you into more challenging battles.

Once the single player campaign is beaten the 2014 version throws the Revenge Campaign at you, which essentially has you take on the more difficult to beat Planeswalkers. It takes out all the learning battles and straight up challenges your skills. It is a nice addition to the series and adds a little longevity to the single player.

Whilst the single player is well fleshed out, the meat of the game is in the multiplayer and once again this isn’t for the faint hearted, nor the beginners. You are up against real people, many of whom are dedicated to the series, both in digital and physical forms. You will get online and get beaten soundly. It is one hell of a learning curve, going from understanding the basics and beating the AI, to taking that online and trying to apply your knowledge to real opponents.

However, as with previous versions, it does feel very rewarding when you do get that win, or even run someone close. It isn’t just a feeling that you passed something by trial and error, or even just repeating something enough times that you eventually get somewhere. With every game played, you feel you have learned something new, taking on board another person’s approach to the game, eventually finding something that suits you.

There has been another little edition to the 2014 edition, with Sealed Deck Play. Basically this mode gives you various sealed booster pack, from which you must make a usable deck and take that into battle. It doesn’t level the playing field as such, as it can be pretty overwhelming for the non experienced player, but it does add an additional challenge for those who want it.

Magic 2014: Duels of the Planeswalkers is yet another excellent addition to the series, but whether you buy it depends on two things. How invested you are into the series as a whole. Does the idea of the updated cards for 2014 mean that much too you? Or are you just someone who enjoys a casual go now and again. There other factor is if you are totally new to the game, if so, you may as well go for the latest version.

Because of the hard and fast rules of the game in the real world, there is unlikely to be any real revolutionary changes with each passing edition, however the makers of the digital version do their best to make little evolutionary additions, that do offer some interesting new challenges, but it is never enough for the casual fans to buy year on year. It is still an excellent game though.

The Last Of Us Review

The Last Of Us is a Sony exclusive from Naughty Dog, makers of Jak & Daxter and Uncharted. It may be the most important game of the next generation, despite being the swansong from this generation. 

This is going to be a two part review of sorts. We’ll start with the game itself and avoid spoilers, then give you a score, we’d suggest only reading past that if you have finished the game.

What you have with The Last Of Us is a game that does the gamey parts really well, but intertwines them with a story in a way that has never been seen before. This is in part not only to fantastic game design, or movie standard writing, it is mainly down to the fact that Naughty Dog are treating the audience with a huge amount of respect. They don’t feel they need to spell out every little mechanic of the game, or explain why we must approach parts in a certain way. They assume intelligence, rather than a lack thereof.

This is evidenced in the way the game approaches combat. It is part cover shooter, part stealth, but at the same time it is neither of these and at times very much both at the same time. As said, the developers assume intelligence, they believe that the audience given a particular situation will work out their own way through. So when the game throws up a set piece, it doesn’t immediately say… “this is a stealth section” or “this is where you expend a few bullets”. Why would it, if you put yourself in a situation like Joel will often find himself and Ellie in, you would likely want to avoid interaction that could lead to potential death, engaging would only be a last resort and that is how you approach any potential volatile situations here.

There isn’t a specific stealth mechanic as such, you don’t have to press any buttons to enter cover. All of this is handled naturally, by crouching down you are moving slower, edging your way around the environment, whether you are facing combat or not, if you are walking by an upturned table, walls, filing cabinets, desks, etc then you will see Joel naturally move around them, touching them to maybe steady his balance, that sort of thing.

So because you don’t need to make any special inputs to go stealth mode, or find cover it leads to a really interesting way of approaching combat. If you are behind cover, then you are behind cover as simple as that. If you are in a spot where you should be hidden, then you are hidden. It adds a degree of tension to scenarios that haven’t felt this natural before. It also means that should your stealthy approach go wrong and all hell breaks loose, then it isn’t a forced try again, or pretty much game over. You adapt and survive, even if it means turning round and running for your life.

The AI on the enemy side is fairly clever too, if they know you are around, they are on alert, they will hunt you down, so even if you manage to run away and get hidden again, the dynamics of that battle have changed completely. You can still sneak around and try to take out enemies quietly, but you know now that they are also hunting you.  No two fights are ever really the same, even if they come across as similar.

There are some AI issues, namely with any partners you have. They can often pop out of cover, or make a lot of noise and they simply won’t be detected, the enemy AI too can sometimes be oblivious to a sudden lack of buddies around them who were there all of five seconds ago. They also will not really notice the dead boy that suddenly appeared. This is an issue with games going back a long time and it is a minor indiscretion that can be forgiven as it isn’t game breaking and happens a lot less than you’d think when you look back at the experience you have had.

So that’s the combat side of things, it is pretty damn good because it doesn’t follow any of the tried and tested methods. Exploration whilst being a bit more in keeping with what we are used too, still feels fresh and the game almost forces you to want to go off the beaten track of what is essentially a very linear journey. You see, thanks to a system that has you foraging for useful things, you feel that as you do move through the game, you need to find those essentials. You need to find ammunition, or you have no choice but to stop for a moment and see if you find the items needed to make a molotov cocktail, or a health pack.

This has been done to death though, so what makes it work so well in The Last Of Us? This time it is an understanding of the real world. Everything you collect weapon wise needs to be carried, so you look at Joel and you’ll notice every weapon he has is attached to him in a fashion, whether it be holstered, or attached to his backpack, or even inside of that backpack. Swap out an available weapon for another and Joel will have to stop, take his pack off, open it and swap. It’s a little touch, but it means you have to be prepared at all times.

This real world logic also means that items you find can only be carried to a finite number. You can stock up on health packs, home made bombs, shivs and such, but not to an endless amount. Why should it be endless? You take only what you can carry, which is hit home during a moment in the game (we’ll touch on this in the spoiler section) to great effect.

This leads to some clever and well thought out difficulty curves. It isn’t a game that starts off easy and just gets harder. What happens in The Last Of Us is the story drives the difficulty of particular situations. There are some really easy parts where you may be suddenly stocked up to the eyeballs, taking out small pockets of enemies (either human or infected) with  comparative ease, when all of a sudden a change in the story sees you come out of another encounter with literally nothing, having expended all your stocks just to survive. This in turn will leave you on edge, hoping and begging that the next encounter isn’t right round the corner, because if it is… well then you are screwed.

Good gameplay and a great story (we’ll get to story soon) aren’t all that is needed to make a game stand out as one of the greatest ever. It is the little touches, the love and care from all involved to add the attention to details that bring everything to life. The characters don’t just interact during cut-scenes, they do so throughout gameplay too. Which in itself isn’t anything new, but the attention to detail on how they interact is what makes it truly special.

The characters not only talk to each other with some recorded dialog, which never feels like it is canned chatter, they also talk with body language. If Joel is making a point about something, he will use his arms, much in the way we would in natural conversation. As Ellie and Joel become warmer to each other you start to notice their body language towards each other change. Ellie goes from arms folded and nervous to a lot more open as the game goes on. You also hear how the voices change over time. Joel’s voice being colder and more abrupt with characters he meets and doesn’t trust yet, compared to  warmth reserved for other characters. Mood also plays a part, if there are moments of quiet reflection the body language and voices are different to if there is a moment of panic.

It is the same with the attention to detail of the world around. Nature has started to reclaim the planet and the mix of the world we know being eaten up by nature is a sight to behold, but it is the things you don’t immediately notice that make it so special and done so right. Light is so natural that you don’t sit there and comment to yourself just how well done this is. You don’t notice as such that the game cuts off huge areas of the world, if it doesn’t want you to go somewhere, there seems to be natural blocks that you as a single human being will not be able to get past, so you happily leave it be without questioning the stupidity of not being able to get over a knee high wall.

The Last Of Us as a game in its own right is sublime, the mix of combat, exploration, setting and story telling are mixed together in a way that we have never seen before, not to this level anyway. Naughty Dog have raised the bar to new heights that likely have other developers quaking at the prospect of meeting these new standards. Hopefully though it is a dev team laying down the gauntlet that others will try to emulate and eventually beat.

10/10

**WARNING STORY SPOILERS BELOW**

The Last Of Us is a game that will go down as one of the most important of all time. Why? Because it is honestly the first time a game has handled adult themes and stories in a way that as we said about the gameplay, assumes intelligence. It doesn’t descend into cheap tricks in the writing. Adult doesn’t all of a sudden mean nudity, sex, violence and swearing for the sake of having nudity, sex, violence and swearing. It doesn’t contain some of those things, but it contains them with the right context.

The ‘No Russian’ part of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was cited at being adult content by some. Yet this was frankly an embarrassment to the idea that games could tell an adult story in an adult way and set back public perception a fair way. Other games have also tried and always seemed to fall short, often failing at the same hurdles, why does the character need to do this, why are they acting in this way. The Last Of Us takes cues from TV, Movies and Books and sticks hard and fast to the concepts, fitting the game around the story it wants to tell rather than making the story fit the game and having things happen for the sake of action.

We have an opening that is quite simply one of the most emotionally distressing I have ever witnessed in a game. Yet these are characters we don’t even know yet. Hell one of them isn’t even the character we thought we’d be seeing. Who is Sarah? We know she is Joel’s daughter, but isn’t this meant to be a about a girl called Ellie? Yet here we are controlling Sarah before even Joel. What we know is something bad is going to happen, we expect it to happen, yet still it pulls at the heart strings, you feel the tears coming as Joel holds his daughter in his arms as she dies, not attacked by the infected, but shot down in cold blood by a soldier… It is shocking and already you emotions have been pulled all over the place.

It is the very next scene though that shows a level of maturity that is new in gaming, yet is a trick used in film and TV… 20 Years Later…

Twenty years have passed since Joel lost his daughter, we haven’t witnessed what happens in those twenty years how he dealt with her death and why he is where he is now. Other questions are also raised, what happened to Tommy? Is he alive? Dead? All those thoughts happen in a few moments before we are introduced to… Oh, not Ellie, but Tess. You expect to be off to find Ellie in some fashion instantly, but instead you are fighting a cause that has nothing to do with Ellie, it does leave you a bit confused, but you roll with it anyway.

When you do finally meet up with Ellie, you start to get a handle on how Joel dealt with the death of Sarah, he is cold towards this kid, he sees her as a package. We have a man that is emotionally shut off it seems and will reluctantly do what he has to do for the good of the cause. This leads to a moment where a life is laid down to protect the greater good, yet it isn’t Joel doing anything for Ellie, in fact he is still indifferent to her, in fact he would rather not being doing what he is doing. Yet Tess having become infected herself is willing to lay down her life to allow Joel and Ellie to escape.

It not here though that the bond between the two characters starts to form. There is a lot of resentment on both sides, Joel especially as he clearly doesn’t want to get close to someone who reminds him of his daughter, someone who has (albeit indirectly) been responsible for the death of someone else he clearly cared about.

There isn’t really any one moment where you can pinpoint as the moment Joel changed towards Ellie, it is something that happened naturally over the course of the game, with much of it happening in the chunks of time cut from the story, where things are left a little to our imagination. There are two exceptional standout moments where this is done to great effect.

One is after meeting Henry and Sam. These are two people who have a relationship that is clearly a lot stronger at the time than Joel and Ellie. As evidenced when Henry can either save Joel, or run and keep Sam protected. He choose to protect Sam, yet here we see Ellie and Joel’s bond has come on somewhat from the first meeting. Ellie could have run, but she stays and fights. Later they do meet again and the reactions of the characters to what had happened previously is real totally how you’d expect it to be handled.

Anyway, the huge cut of time happens immediately after a touching moment between Sam and Ellie. Sam is infected and turns, Henry is forced to shoot his brother to save Ellie. You know exactly what is coming next as Henry becomes emotionally unstable in an instant and turns the gun on himself and pull the trigger… Cut to black…pause for a moment… FALL.

It is clear a period of time has passed and rather than immediately have to see the characters deal with what had happened, by extending the cut scene and having to mix that with gameplay that would need to have them continue to talk about it, or enter into battles that would seem out of place. The writing basically moves the story ahead a few weeks leaving us to fill in the gaps.

Another moment is just after Joel is critically wounded. Ellie does everything she can to save him and help them both escape the immediate danger. We are left knowing that Joel is weak and basically bleeding out, with little to no hope of being able to save him with the supplies on hand. We hit a moment and then fade to black… WINTER

We are then controlling Ellie and have no clue what has happened to Joel. He’ll still be alive, he is the main character. Yet the way Ellie is talking to herself, he is dead isn’t he. Yet there is no time to dwell, you need to start hunting a deer. Ellie needs to survive and it is clear a fair amount of time has passed again, she is a lot more skilled than she previously was. Maybe Joel is dead? Yet without doing a bit reveal Ellie makes it known that Joel is still alive in her first meeting with David. It is subtle yet very cleverly done.

Winter is one of the standout levels of any game ever made, the change in the mood is well handled and David will go down as one of the all time most evil characters in a game. Yet he isn’t evil for the sake of it, the world he is in has driven him to where he is and his desperation to have Ellie whilst dark and disturbing are clear. The writing has handled the character of David in a very mature fashion. Again a cut is used from Winter to Spring for us to fill in the gaps, yet this time the mood is different.

As the Joel and Ellie get closer to there goal there is something very somber about their attitudes and rather than having a cut-scene where the characters have a heart to heart, they instead use a moment of normal gaming mechanics to convey there is something up, as Ellie usually quick to help with a ladder is sat with her head somewhere else completely. This is then offset by one of the most beautiful moments of the generation. Up there with crossing to Mexico in Red Dead Redemption, or coming out of the Vault for the first time in Fallout. The parading giraffes is a moment of pure tranquility, one that just worked to perfection to set up what was to come, one last moment of peace.

The ending of the game too is not one you’d expect from a game. After shooting your way to Ellie you are confronted by a surgeon and a couple of his assistants who are about to perform the surgery on Ellie that could find a cure to the disease that has all but ended the world. Yet here is a man that is a broken emotional mess. Whose actions on the surface come across as entirely selfish, caring for his own needs over the greater good.

This is a man who by saving the one person he didn’t want to get emotionally attached to, has betrayed the one person he had possibly loved in the twenty years since he lost Sarah. Tess knew the importance of Ellie and gave her life to do her part. Yet her is Joel, having killed a surgeon, who as far as we are aware, is doing a good thing by finding a cure, just so doesn’t have to feel the pain of losing someone else he loves.

He goes from killing to survive, doing so on instinct, to acting in what appears to be a more cold blooded nature. Coming from the lift, he shoots Marlene stone dead and again another cut as we come to Ellie coming around in the car, as Joel fills her head with reasoning as to why he has saved her. Then the moment she asks Joel whether he has been lying and the look in her eyes as the response comes back. Such raw emotion in a scene that is totally out of the blue for a video game.

There was no violence for violence sake, everything felt like it was done with perfect context. The writers and those that acted in the game all deserve a lot of credit, it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had with a controller in my hands.

Persona 4 Arena

Persona 4 Arena has taken a long journey to reach European shores. Initially expected at the start of the year it was then delayed indefinitely. Now we are finally getting the chance to see the characters of Persona 4 in a new environment, but can it hope to live up to the precedent set by its RPG forebear?

This is certainly one of the more unique collaborations to have happened. The game basically takes the story elements from the Persona team and adds in a fighting game developed by the makers of Blazblu. The music, art style and voice acting will be familiar to Persona fans and it certainly sets the scene very well.

The story is set a few months after the events of Persona 4 (and several years after Persona 3), and has our hero returning to Inaba to visit his friends. Upon arrival it soon transpires that something isn’t right, a feeling that’s confirmed when the midnight channel bursts into life once more to show all the main protagonists as targets for a strange new tournament.

From then on our team decide to dive into the world inside the television once more and soon become locked into a battle against each other. It’s fair to say that as plots go it’s completely crazy. It makes the plot of the original Persona 4 look positively normal and realistic in comparison. But it’s best not to think too much about it and just go along for the ride.

Along with the main playable cast from Persona 4 there are also a couple of the investigation team from Persona 3 and some new ones thrown in for good measure. The thematic choices in storyline and design of the boss character may ring a few bells with Blazblu fans and it has Arc Systems personality stamped all over it. That isn’t to say characters from Blazblu are copied over to here – far from it in fact, but there are certain times you can see the core of a Taokaka or Nu 13 spread across a couple of the characters move sets.

A fighting game lives and dies on its combat system and Persona 4 Arena has one unlike any we have come across before. Arc Systems have not created a Persona 4 version of Blazblu and have instead tried to produce something that fits the characters and game world more completely.

Along with the usual super and special moves there are a fair few unique things to look out for. Attacks are designed around the four face buttons with the square and X buttons making your character perform light and heavy attacks. The interesting part of the system comes with the triangle and circle buttons. These are used to summon your persona to attack. If carried out carefully and precisely it’s possible for both your character and their persona to hit at the same time. This opens up the possibilities for big combos if executed successfully.

It’s also possible to disable an opponent persona by striking them. Do this enough and they will need to recharge before being used again. This gives a major advantage to the attacking player as it effectively cuts your opponents move list in half.

The combat system is deep and will take a very long time to master. It is also not really comparable to other fighting game systems which means for hard core fight fans you are going to need to re-wire your brain to think in a new way in order to get the correct flow and timing. Luckily there is an extensive tutorial and challenge mode available to get you used to the new characters and the way the game works.

Hitting the square button continuously while your special bar is filled carries out an auto combo that leads into a super move. This may well be aimed at getting more casual players involved but it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose and can certainly end up being overused.

Something else that may need levelling out in an update is the ‘awakened’ mode that characters drop into when they fall below a certain amount of health. In our experience, both against the computer and other humans, this proved to be far too powerful. Opponents who simply weren’t in the contest suddenly managed to destroy our health bars, sometimes within seconds of awakening. We are all for leveling things up but we hate to think how this could be used by someone who had put hours into training.

The other thing that seemed to be slightly off was the games focus on trapping characters against walls. Again, whether playing against the computer or a human it seemed far too easy to be forced against the edge of the screen and simply be spammed over and over by the same cheap move (even the computer does this). The ability to attack as two separate characters often seemed to leave no way out.

We’re sure with training all these points can be counteracted but new comers to the genre may well be put off by the high entry level required to progress. That said, is Persona 4 Arena really the type of game that anyone other than a hard-core fan might buy? You could argue it isn’t. But then we can envisage a fair few RPG fans picking it up, maybe not that familiar with other fighting games, and being roundly ground into the dirt by it.

This frustration is also compounded by the fact the standard PS3 pad doesn’t seem to be up to the input requirement needed. An arcade stick works fine but this is certainly the most precise input we have come across in any console fighting game. When a Street Fighter veteran can’t pull off a double fireball input every time you know something is a little off. Again, this may well be worked out in a patch but for now perfect precision is key.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about this. The story mode in particular captures much the same feeling as that of the original Persona 4. The story itself is interesting and told in a dedicated story mode where players will take control of each of the characters as the mystery unfolds.

There has also clearly been a lot of care and attention into making this game feel a part of the Persona universe. All of the characters remain true to types and act in the way fans will expect. The presentation and art style is also of the highest of standards and ticks the boxes for both bringing up nostalgic memories of the original source material and excitement about seeing it used in a new way.

The game does throw up some truly spectacular battles as well. When you find a character you’re comfortable with and get to grips with the game system it really does open up into a veritable wealth of different attacking options. It certainly isn’t lacking in flashy special moves either and at times things can become a blur of sparks and colour as characters and personas smash around on screen.

This game will find fans with both Persona 4 players and gamers who spend their days mastering combos in Street Fighter, Blazblu and King of the Fighters. The fight engine is solid and the game is filled with charm. Be prepared to have to put the hours in though, this is a game that needs to be mastered in order to get the most out of it.

Retro City Rampage Review (PS3 / PS Vita)

Starting life a long, long time ago as Grand Theftendo, an 8 bit remake of Grand Theft Auto 3, Retro City Rampage has changed and developed into a parody of both gaming and popular culture from the eighties and nineties. Developed by an incredibly small team, the fact it exists at all is an example of the fighting spirit taken from the bedroom coders of old.

Retro City Rampage starts in a hail of references and fast paced action and very rarely let’s up through its fairly brief play time. Before completing the first mission you’ll have run over, or gunned down, many a group of crime fighters from years of television gone by and been reminded of a number of classic games as well. And that’s pretty much how the game continues.

Each mission normally involves you driving around the 8 bit style GTA city before heading off to a short mini game which is based on classics such as Gauntlet, Smash TV, Contra and many others. It all handles well and keeps the humour throughout. Driving around is fun, though it is perhaps a little too easy to get the cops chasing after you.

The mission games vary in quality from excellent through to tolerable with the ones focusing on shooting working out the best. Some mechanics simply don’t come off though. The ability to take cover is rendered almost useless by it being difficult to tell if you are crouched or not and hand to hand combat can be frustrating due to the small sprite size. This is especially noticeable when playing on the PS Vita’s smaller screen but at least you can cross-save onto the PS3 instead of getting out a magnifying glass.

Aside from the missions there is a ton of content here. There are different filters to apply and the main character can be customised with haircuts and clothes like in many a GTA game. There is also a section which drops into old style 3D (if you have the glasses). All the games missions can be selected individually to challenge for high scores and there are numerous side quests and arcade challenges to seek out.

There is even an old school arcade containing versions of Bit Trip Runner and a weird Virtual Meat Boy game designed to look in the style of Nintendo’s much maligned, head ache generating, Virtual Boy.

It’s difficult to give an overall impression of the levels as they change so much. What can be said is that they always retain their sense of humour and none of them are long enough to cause lasting frustration. This is also one of the problems the game has. There is, if anything, a lack of identity apparent due to so many different things thrown into the mix.  Almost every line of dialogue or encounter showers you with references. Some only last a line of speech or fly past on a billboard as you drive by.  Often there is so much going on that it’s just a bit hard to take in.

The other problem is that while it will give gamers a nostalgic memory or two there is nothing here doing anything better than before. So there’s a level based on Smash TV or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they aren’t as strong as the source material and many retro gaming fans may well decide they would prefer to play the originals, while newcomers simply won’t get the reference.

That said it certainly is an enjoyable and chaotic ride from start to finish. It’s like a greatest hits album of nostalgia, only performed by a cover band. You can happily sing along for a while but after that you’ll likely want something a bit more substantial.

It’s very clear that the developers really do care about the project and all the sources which are parodied and that helps most of the games faults to be forgiven. Retro City Rampage is certainly a game that fans of retro gaming should play and you should have a great time – it’s just not likely you’ll return after finishing it.

Knytt Underground Review

For many years Nifflas has been developing games on the PC. The two most notable of these titles are Within a Deep Forest and Knytt. Within a Deep Forest had players taking control of a sentient bouncing ball that had to save the world from a bomb. The game focused on the bouncing physics of different types of balls of different weights and materials. 

Knytt focused on a little hero of the same name needing to find parts to fix a crashed spaceship so that he could get back home. The mechanics here dealt with the notion of climbing and sticking to walls. Both of these games have now been combined to create Knytt Underground which marks Nifflas’ first move into the realm of console gaming.

Split into three chapters, Knytt Underground has players take on the role of the mute Mi Sprocket as she explores a huge environment. Her aim is to look for human artefacts and complete quests in a Metroidvania style. The first two chapters act as short tutorials to help players understand the mechanics of how Mi and then Bob the ball handle. By chapter three the two characters have magically been morphed together allowing players to change from Mi to Bob at will.

This allows for some situations requiring lightning reflexes as you change from Mi to the bouncing ball mid-air to cannon off the landscape at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles in order to reach new areas. As well as the bouncing and climbing there are different coloured plumes of smoke which give temporary abilities. These range from turning Mi invisible, making her jump higher or turning her into a set that can shoot horizontally or vertically.

Everything is designed as a means for you to get to another locations and this is where Knytt Underground really works well. Nifflas games before this have always focused on short bursts of quick reflexes and skill. When Knytt Underground asks players to do the same it comes to life in a flurry of ever changing physics and colourful plumes of smoke. (Note to developer – a colour-blind filter would really help with those plumes of smoke)

However, in Knytt Underground there are often long stretches of exploration through empty screens to reach these areas. Sometimes the beautiful graphics and sound create a haunting and ambient environment which you don’t mind trekking through. At other times it can all be a little dull as you wander through empty screen after empty screen.

When Knytt Underground works it works well but when it doesn’t it feels empty and lifeless. This isn’t helped by the seeming lack of progress you make. There are numerous quests and items to discover but on completing or collecting them it doesn’t seem to mean much. Of course it all adds up in the end but the game could do with tweaking its risk reward system to help players feel a greater sense of achievement after they have overcome some of the incredibly fiendish screens.

It is worth highlighting just how lovely the game looks and sounds. This game is beautiful and the music is of the highest standard. We expect no less from a Nifflas game and in that department Knytt Underground can never be faulted. When transferred to the Vita (Knytt is cross buy), it looks all the more beautiful.

The Vita seems to be the natural home of Knytt Undeground, which makes it all the more surprising that save points are often miles away from each other. There are a lot of them, but instead of putting them at the start of tricky sections (like in Within a Deep Forest ), they are often located away from the area requiring players to back track.

Back tracking is something that can begin to hinder the experience. We lost count of the amount of times we trekked along a tunnel for five or six screens only to reach a character telling us we needed to bring a certain item to them. This then meant trekking back through all the screens again. There really isn’t a need for this and you wonder if the game would have benefitted from a slightly smaller, more focused, map without many of the empty screens.

Overall, Knytt Underground is a promising start for Nifflas in the realm of console gaming. The look and sound of the game are gorgeous and easily rival the best Playstation Network games. The game itself gives players a huge world to play around but many may well feel that it lacks focus and a real sense of rewards for the skill you need to show in order to progress. Those looking for an adventure set at a slower pace will love it while others will be left wanting a bit more excitement.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse review

Fingers crossed, let this be the one. The videogame version of an animated TV show that isn’t terrible. The Simpsons and South Park are two of the big hitters to have failed recently, but can Family Guy turn it around?

Surely everyone must know all about Family Guy by now? First aired in 1999, Seth MacFarlane’s brain child is now a global phenomenon. Well known for staying at a consistent standard, and by being slightly less offensive than South Park, this award winning show is loved by many. Spin offs have followed in the form of the Cleveland show, and American Dad (to a degree), and even the film world is now being tested with Ted. But, there is yet to be a successful game. There was a Family Guy on Xbox and PS2 that received average scores, and an online multiplayer game is still in development. This is the first next-gen game that they have released, and Heavy Iron will be hoping that they can keep the Family Guy ‘hot streak’ continuing.

The plot for this game is a continuation of the ‘Road to the Multiverse’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through parallel universes) and the ‘Big Bang Theory’ episode (where Stewie and Brian travel through time to stop evil half brother Bertram from killing Stewie’s ancestors). Where an original plot would have been nice, the developers have taken the safe approach of sticking with two of the more popular storylines. A version of Bertram appears and announces that he is assembling an army throughout the Multiverse in order to destroy the main Family Guy universe. Whilst the story is classic Family Guy, everything else sadly starts to drop in standard.

The graphics are poor, and that’s being kind. Even bearing in mind that this game will not look realistic, this is just a rough effort. The show looks much sharper on TV than in this game. Texture mapping is average, and the characters are blocky and poorly detailed. This game is on a par with PS2 graphics. Accuracy is spot on though, and the player will never be confused as to who’s who. They may still be wondering if they have been in some kind of accident though. Levels have a good mix putting the parallel universe them to good effect, featuring a drunk student level, a Christmas level, and an Amish universe amongst others, and each are recognisable, and look different from the last. This is the redeeming feature for the graphics.

Is the humour good though? Do the actors lend their voices to the game? A big yes. But, there is a massive draw back. Most of the lines are recycled from the show. So for the real fans, the target audience, they will be hearing the same jokes that they have heard a hundred times before. And they will hear them another hundred times as each line is repeated on loop. Half of them don’t even suit the level, and it gives the impression that the developer just picked a list of their favourite quotes, and threw them in the game. Credit where it’s due, the cut scenes that have been created for the game are fine, but the level content is more tedious than fun.

Gameplay is an over the shoulder shooter. Controls are simple, and it is very easy to pick up and play. A child could play it, if it was aimed for them. The player controls either Stewie or Brian, in a ‘drop in drop out’ style, or both can be played in co-op fashion. Both have their own weapons, which does mean slightly different tactics depending on which character is being used. The level targets are very simple, generally revolving around collecting certain items, and returning to whoever told you to get them, or finding a certain number of item’s in the level. It harks back to older platforming games, and is enjoyable, if repetitive. Levels end with a boss battle which is the only time the player really needs to think or use strategy, as the rest of time it is pretty simple. Money is found / earned in the levels, and this can be spent to buy upgrades and different costumes and the like.

There is a multiplayer mode, which lets you control a greater variety of characters, but it is local only. Whilst it is playable, there are just too many better options for a modern gamer out there, and this would be no more than a fleeting novelty. There is also a challenge mode, but it is very much more of the same, and is neither challenging or long lasting.

Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse is completely frustrating. It shows enough moments to make the player think that it’s going to be half decent, and then it just punches them in the face like a giant chicken. The graphics are average, and the audio is just annoying. The main impression that shines through is that the developers got bored halfway through making it, or just rushed it to make release deadlines. This would make an excellent PSN or XBLA game, and would be worth paying top price for. But as a top price full release game, this should be a lot better.