Homefront: The Revolution review

Homefront The Revolution game review screenshot

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

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

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

Guitar Hero Live Review

I live in Colchester and round here everyone has a story about the band Blur. Mine is that my parents were friends with the drummer Dave and when I was a baby he knitted me a shawl. You’re impressed, I can tell. During the great Britpop war of the mid-nineties, being a contrary little bugger I fell on the side of Oasis. This was mostly down to some instinctual teenage reflex to dislike whatever everyone around me liked. But time has brought me round to the idea that I was probably wrong; that Blur actually were quite good and that maybe the most popular option isn’t automatically the worst after all.

This brings me tenuously onto Guitar Hero versus Rock Band. I’m a huge fan of Harmonix (to the extent where for large periods of my first year as a student I was playing Frequency like it was a full time job) and I’ve always had a bee in my bonnet about Activision sweeping in, swamping the shelves with releases and strolling away proudly satisfied with yet another cash cow well and truly milked. It always bugged me that ‘Guitar Hero’ was the name synonymous in the public consciousness; like ‘Fifa’ is with football or ‘Call of Duty’ is with everything. I’d be at pains to explain to people that ‘well, actually, the makers of Rock Band made the first two and you should really play their previous games which you’ve probably never heard of’ before adjusting my glasses, stroking my beard and noticing that the person I was talking to had fallen into a twat induced coma.

Well, perhaps I was wrong and Harmonix aren’t all sunshine, buttercups and pies cooling by the kitchen window. Rock Band 3 may be The Greatest Videogame of All Time but 4 has proven that they are just as capable of producing a cynical cash grab when the mood takes them. Guitar Hero Live on the other hand seems like an uncharacteristically brave resurrection; dropping drums, rearranging the guitar buttons, replacing the chunky graphical style with first-person live action video and completely changing the approach to DLC, making all your old tracks incompatible in the process. It’s a bold move; some might even say even stupid and far from the kind of thing you would expect from a company as risk adverse as the hulking, evil mega-corp that is Activision. But do you know what? They’ve only gone and pulled it off.

Firstly, the new guitar. The traditional row of five coloured buttons has now been replaced with two rows of three; black at the top and white underneath. The theory behind this is that it will simultaneously easier for beginners, who now only have to deal with three buttons, and more complicated for experts who will have to twist their fingers into more chord-like positions. I found that getting used to the new placements was surprisingly easy, considering my brain was fighting against ten years of muscle memory, but once it started to introduce notes that covered both black and white buttons, it took a monumental amount of concentration to fight every instinct and get my fingers into the right positions. But once it clicked, the feeling was electric. I don’t play a real instrument so this is based entirely on my uneducated perception, but the new layout does feel fractionally more like playing the real thing. I can’t say with any degree of certainty that either button layout is definitively better than the other but this new method is refreshingly different and that’s surely to be applauded. It’s quite nice to be crap at the videogame guitar again and experience the progression from novice to not-so-novice. The only major downside to the new guitar is that the strum bar makes an awful lot of racket. I believe that this is intentional and some players prefer to rock to the sound of incessant clicking but for me it does verge on the distracting and could have done with being toned down a bit.

Next up, the way it looks. I’ll admit to nearly cringing myself inside out when I saw the initial reveal and expected the finished product to be endearingly rubbish at the very best. The danger in putting you directly behind the eyes of the lead guitarist is that most of the bands are populated by unlikeable dickheads and their cheesy thumbs-up, overly-earnest nodding and in the case of one bassist, outrageous flirting, can feel faintly ridiculous. The crowds, although convincingly large, seem to have taken a leaf out of the Pro Evolution Soccer guide to banner writing and litter the scenery with embarrassingly poor quotes and you’ll catch the occasional Hollyoaks reject desperately trying to mug their way into the centre of the shot. But somehow, despite all the naffness, it actually works.

It would be generous to say that the acting ever goes high above the passable but the live action sequences are directed by someone with an eye for the spectacular and the timing to produce moments of genuine magic. To give one example, early on you will play for a band called The Portland Cloud Orchestra at a mock Glastonbury festival called SoundDial. This band consists of the most punchable bunch of bare-footed, daisy chain wearing, faux folk rockers you could possibly imagine. Their care-free frolicking and beardy banjo-twiddling is irritating beyond all belief and I spent the first song desperately trying to avoid eye-contact lest I launched my guitar into the television. Weirdly, over the course of the next two songs, with the day gradually turning into night and the crowd being whipped into a sing along frenzy, I actually warmed to them. By the time we got to the tweed frivolity of Mumford and Sons ‘I Will Wait’, a song that usually brings me out in a severe case of the vomits, I was all ready to paint flowers on my face, jump in their organic cider bus and tootle off to their mountain retreat. It’s difficult to say much more for fear of spoilers, but often the timing between the live action and the music is so wonderfully perfect that it can pierce even the most cynical of black hearts. These games have always been brilliant at capturing the dank dinginess of a club or the brash excess of a stadium tour, but Live has managed to bottle the bliss of a festival where it never rains. You can almost smell the naughty cigarettes.

And this is playing for a band who are essentially my kryptonite. When you’re the guitarist for a band you might actually quite like to be in (in my case, despite their wonky musical inspirations, Quantum Freqs, whose name I can’t help but hope is an appreciative nod to Harmonix’s debut) the wish fulfilment is taken to previously untapped levels. There is a danger that in capturing 2015 music culture so effectively that the whole deal is going to age terribly. But for now, it works a treat.

Lastly and perhaps most controversially, is the T.V element. Live’s approach to downloadable content and providing the player with an extended music library is to give you a couple of constantly rolling music video channels that you can play along to. What this does is give you access to over 200 tracks for free, but not necessarily the ones you want, when you want to play them. If you do want to pick and choose you can either use ‘plays’ that are rewarded for high scores or, you guessed it, via microstransactions. Even then, you don’t get to keep access to that one song forever so you never actually ‘own’ any of the additional tracks. It does feel all a little bit icky, more so when you notice that the multiplier power up, surely essential to compete in the leaderboards, is restricted to high level or cash rich players.

This kind of behaviour would normally find me storming Activison headquarters with a placard where it not for the fact they seem to have got the rate at which you’re awarded free plays woefully unbalanced to the point where I’m currently sitting on thousands of coins and thirty-odd free song choices. You would expect this generosity to dry up rather quickly, but currently I see little evidence of it slowing down. It’s also quite a lot of fun to just play along to the streams, letting song after song just wash over you and not concentrating on one track for hours on end. Personally, I can actually see this model saving me money as I’m less likely to drunkenly purchase a song, play it once and then promptly forget about it. But there’s no doubt that this shift in ownership of your music library does have a faintly sinister air and there is the permanent danger that this whole chunk of the game is going to be switched off one day when the suits notice it’s not bringing the cash in. Again, it’s an interesting new direction, but one you suspect was inspired by balance sheets rather than any kind of artistic endeavour.

So I like the guitar, I like the live action and I quite like T.V; so why isn’t the score higher? Well in implementing all these radical changes Freestyle have somewhat thrown the baby out with the bathwater. The loss of drums is massive for me and the focus is now very much on the solo guitarist. There is a two player mode somewhere and you can plug in a microphone if you really want, but both seem like a bit of an afterthought. Rock Band and Guitar Hero have always been at their very best when played by a group of four and it is a little bit odd that this defining feature has been removed entirely. It is very, very good on your own (although not quite as good as Freestyle’s DJ Hero) but like most guitar solos, it’s just massively self-indulgent. Remember the Guns ‘N’ Roses November Rain video where Slash walks out in the middle of his mate’s wedding to play guitar in the middle of the desert? Playing Live can feel a bit like that; epic but selfish.

To bring it back to my painfully strained Blur vs Oasis metaphor, while Liam and Noel have spent the last twenty years trying to recapture their glory years with ever less successful tribute acts, Damon Albarn has formed a cartoon hip-hop band and penned an opera about monkeys. Guitar Hero Live feels like one of these experiments. It’s unique, fresh and strangely life-affirming and not even the looming shadow of the record company suits can completely take that away. Maybe the most popular option isn’t automatically the worst after all.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below Review

Oh how I am jealous for WiiU owners having had to part with my console. I loved playing Hyrule Warriors and despite having access to the likes of Dynasty Warrors on next gen consoles and the VIta nothing quite felt the same.

Yet here I am with Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below a game as far removed from what I understood a Dragon Quest game to be, as I can imagine. From the very first moment I picked up the Dragon Quest Heroes it felt familiar, more than it should have.

I will admit it is a game I paid little attention to once I heard of its reveal, not through ignorance, but just I knew I wanted to play a Dragon Quest game and was happy to avoid all media coverage and see what fell on my lap come release day.

Because it felt so similar to Hyrule Warrior and Dynasty Warriors I had to dig a little after my first moments with the game. Lo and behold, the reason I felt like I knew this game, was because the team working on it was Omega Force.

Y’know, the guys who developed Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, Toukiden, Warriors Orochi and much more. This was one of theirs, using another new setting and basically a new skin. Want to know something? I couldn’t be happier.

The various ‘Warriors’ games are wonderful to pick up and waste time on, just destroying endless waves of enemies and feeling like a general badass. The very moment you pick up a controller, whether you have experience of Omega Force games or not, you just know what to do. You hack & slash your way through arenas with a huge grin on your face just enjoying what is happening on the screen before you.

With Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, this is no different and whilst there is a story to follow, you can easily ignore it, enter a level and murder everything that dare stand in your way.

Personally I’d like to say there is more to it than that. That there is a bit more depth and sophistication when you scratch below the surface, but the truth it, there simply isn’t and that is a good thing. As not every game needs to have this deep meaningful reason to exist. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a spectacle, pick something up and play it. This is one such game.

Of course there are the opportunities to level up your characters and make them better, but that is all fairly streamlined as the game pretty much just urges you to get into the action. But there are a few things that make it feel different to Omega Force’s usual affair.

Because it is based on the Dragon Quest series, it feels like there is much more emphasis on telling a story and giving substance to the characters. This is something I felt would hamper the game a little, but in actual fact it has made me want to try some of the mainline Dragon Quest games.

The presentation too seems to be up there with Hyrule Warriors, which felt like it finally showed Omega Force could actually add polish to their overall experience. Looking through videos and stills of other Dragon Quest games, there is no doubt whatsoever that this is part of that world.

Compared to other games from Omega Force there is a lack of extras, with the game focusing on the story driven campaign and being aimed more at the single player, rather than a co-op experience. This is pretty disappointing to start with, but the longer you play, there less you miss that option. Yet it wouild have been nice to have.

The one thing I did feel though, is unlike Hyrule Warriors, there is no need to go back and play it over and over, once the campaign is finished that really does feel like that is it. Whereas Hyrule Warriors felt wonderful repeating mission and using different characters, this just didn’t have that and is honestly a one and done game for me.

That isn’t to say that one isn’t a wonderful experience, because it truly is and having finished I am already looking forward to some kind of sequel, hopefully to include more of the options that make and Omega Force game the wonderful entities they are.

Rock Band 4 Review

Crooning, beefcake pop sensation Thom Yorke once sang, “whatever makes you happy, whatever you want”. You get the impression that this was in the minds of Harmonix when they made Rock Band 3. An almost embarrassingly deep pool of riches, its breadth would have surely marked the end of the plastic instrument phenomenon if the genre wasn’t on its last legs already. You had harmonies, keyboards, cymbals, stringed guitars and thousands upon thousands of tracks. It seemed there was nowhere else to go; short of adding a saxophone or trumpet, whose inevitably salvia sodden mouthpiece doesn’t really bear thinking about. It was the utter pinnacle of the music genre; a game honed over iterations by a developer with an obvious passion and skill for what they were creating. It’s my desert island disc, my main stage headliner and my favourite game of all time. It’s as damn near perfect a videogame I can think of. Where the hell do you go after that?

The answer, unfortunately, is backwards. Rock Band 4 sees the next generation graced with the kind of version that would be crucified by the gaming community if it had Activision on the box rather than nice, cuddly Harmonix. Incomprehensibly lacking several major features and the distinct air of a ‘that’ll do’ attitude, what we have here is so obviously rushed to beat Guitar Hero onto the shelves that any goodwill you may have for the company quickly begins to fade away. It’s a quick fix, a hack job; and it’s utterly heart breaking to see the series treated in this fashion.

But first; let me bury the burning, black ball of disappointment in my stomach and sweep away the shards of my shattered hopes and dreams to assure you that the core experience is as magical and wondrous as ever. Despite making you look ridiculous and sound terrible in reality, Rock Band’s trick of convincing you of your musical expertise has not been dampened in the intervening years. To watch a group play is to see your favourite songs ruined by out-of-tune shrieks and the incessant clicking of toy instruments, but to actually play is to be transported instantly on stage in front of a crowd of adoring fans. It’s a captivating illusion and when everything falls into place; when all four of you are in the zone and the screen is alight with the yellow buzz of deployed star power; there is very little in gaming that can match it.

One of the other beauties of this series is the way it can nurture a love for a song or genre that you’d normally never touch with a bargepole. The presence of Rock Band 3’s Rammstein in my music library is about as appropriate as Damien Rice doing an acoustic set at Download. But in the actual playing of their particular brand of Germanic, industrial electro-metal, I found an appreciation of the raw power and intensity until I was uncontrollably head banging, legs stretched wide, doing that devil horn thing with my hands. I very nearly rushed out and bought a pair of leather trousers. Of course, you’re always likely to gravitate towards those songs that fall within your particular tastes, but by placing you within the creation of a song and making a game out of it, Rock Band has the potential to shatter your preconceptions and prejudices and even make shit like Alphabeat sound tolerable.

With that in mind, I approached the track listing in 4 with a receptive attitude. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Music taste is wildly subjective of course but there’s an awful lot of bland, Brit-award winning fodder and ‘I hate you Mum and Dad, I’m not going to tidy my room’, American teen angst. When the final two tracks on disc were revealed as U2 (one of which being from their most recent album – everyone wanted that, right?) I shrugged so hard I nearly dislocated my shoulder. ‘Uptown Funk’, one of the finest pop songs of the last ten years, joins the ranks of tracks that seem like they should be more fun to play than they actually are and Queens of the Stone Age, whose songs normally seem tailor-made for this game, are represented by the rather dreary and monotonous ‘My God is the Sun’.

But it’s not all bad news; St Vincent’s ‘Birth in Reverse’ is delightfully mental and ‘Fever’ by The Black Keys is excellent fun; particularly when the crowd sing along to the stabby, synth hook. And you can all thank me for White Denim’s ‘At Night, In Dreams’ which I submitted through the games website when they were taking requests. A ferocious four minutes of pure, adrenaline fuelled brilliance it looks certain to join the ranks of my go-to songs each and every time I fire up the game. Given the wildly varying quality of the rest of the tracks in the game, I’m taking full responsibility for its inclusion.

But for goodness sake, just make sure to take the freestyle solos off so you don’t ruin the end for yourself. The big, new, back-of-the-box feature for this entry, which replaces the games complicated and epic solos with a kind of structured improvisation, seems like brilliant fun the first time you do it but the novelty wears off very quickly. If I wanted to be generous, I can kind of see the appeal for playing with the family on Christmas Day and making the songs easier and more inclusive. But to be completely honest (and more than a little snobby) if you enjoy this feature then save yourself £40 and buy a Fisher Price Rock and Learn Guitar and just hammer the buttons on that for much the same experience.

Of the other new features, it now counts you in when your instrument has a bit of downtime which is handy. And voting for the next song will perhaps prevent minutes of scrolling through hundreds of songs and make sure you spend more time playing, so I guess that’s quite good. Oh, and the brightly coloured disco beaming from the lightbar on the PS4 pad is pretty nice. And if it sounds like I’m struggling for plus points here, it’s because I am.

One of the big draws of this game was supposed to be backwards compatibility with your previously owned tracks. Now, this might be the fault of the infamously inept Sony EU PSN team, but so far I have been unable to download any of my hundreds of downloadable tracks despite trying several times. And even if it was working, the process of actually getting hold of them is excruciating. Hopefully this will be streamlined later down the line (and it may be grossly unfair laying the blame for this at the feet of the game) but it’s a problem that exists and it desperately needs to be given some attention.

Elsewhere, Harmonix have said that Rock Band 4 is a return to the core of the series, presumably in an attempt to recreate the glory days of the late 00’s. What this has meant in reality is that they’ve cut off huge chunks of the game. Pro Guitars is perhaps understandable; only appealing to a tiny subset of the audience and presumably a lot of work to implement. But it’s a massive shame that keyboards didn’t make the cut, as along with harmonies and no fail mode, it was probably the best innovation since the series began.

Other areas in which the game is lacking are just bizarre. The character customisation options are virtually non-existent. I hardly have the most outlandish appearance (think of a significantly less trendy Mark Ronson and you’re halfway there) but have found it impossible to make anything that looks even remotely like me. Of course, this kind of window dressing doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s symptomatic of the lack of attention or care that has been given to the game in general. Hilariously, and I’m only putting this in because it made me chuckle in disbelief, but the character limit for your band name has been reduced too. The power of the next generation, ladies and gentlemen.

To be fair to Harmonix, they have said that they view this release as a ‘service’ and plan to build on it with free updates rather than release a 5 or a 6. But coupled with the supply issues that have plagued the games U.K release and you start to wonder if this half-hearted attempt to resurrect the series was worth the bother at all. No matter how much I may love prancing around my living room pretending to be Elvis Costello; I can’t help but think that like Wii Fit balance boards and Kinects, the general public has moved on from this phenomenon. The fact that despite my general cack-handedness on the guitar I’m still regularly getting into the top 100 on the leaderboards on the first time of asking, suggests I’m probably right. It’s more than a little worrying that Harmonix may have bet the house on this and it’s all about to blow up in their faces.

Rock Band 4 is bare bones sequel to a spectacular game and your mileage will depend on how desperate you are to play these games on the newer consoles. It’s still capable of producing moments of magic, and the solid foundations and framework are still present, but the rest has been trashed like Keith Moon’s hotel room. Notoriously well-groomed, social butterfly Thom Yorke once sang ‘no alarms and no surprises’. Sadly, what we’ve got here is far too many of the former and not nearly enough of the later.

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance Review

It seems like a lifetime ago that Etna erupted onto the scene in the first Disgaea game. From that moment, massive number crunching became a way of life for many console gamers and there have been few games since that are so humorously twisted and crazy. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the sixth console game in the series and the first for the PS4 and as you might expect it has more than enough packed into it to keep you occupied for hundreds of hours.

As usual, the plot revolves around an overlord trying to take power. This time it is Seraphina, who is the daughter of the king of the Gorgeous Underworld. Along with a host of other oddball overlords, she bands together with the mysterious Killia to try and destroy the evil demon emperor Void Dark who has decided to take over the entire universe. There are also Prinnies.

It’s another madcap adventure with Seraphina fascinated by the fact she can’t use her magic to charm Killia and the two jet around the universe on a giant space ship which is used as your hub between levels. Instead of different regions for each episode you are now going to different realms which adds a nice epic feel to the game as you try and repel Void Dark.

We could spend pages talking about all the systems in Disgaea by now and this version adds even more into the mix. All the previous systems such as the geo-panels and skill levelling return and work much in the same way as the last version of the game. There is a new revenge mechanic which raises damage given and reduces damage taken when a bar is filled by your team being attacked. Overlords also get special attacks when in the revenge state – these are wide ranging and include skills like turning into a giant or charming the enemy.

Later in the game there is also a squad system which allows your team to be split into different groups and differing effects then being added to the leaders of the group who take the battlefield. The item world is now more ridiculously packed with things than ever as well, with copious amounts of random events and encounters that you’ll need more than one lifetime to uncover. There are also side quests to complete and extra levels that stretch way off into the distance after the main campaign has ended. This game could last you forever and it’s highly unlikely you are going to see all it has to offer.

Despite all the systems we found this fairly friendly for newcomers. Each gameplay mechanic is explained well (and also quite quickly) when introduced and there is the option to skip tutorials for anyone who already knows how they work. It’ll certainly take a while to get to grips with things but there isn’t an assumption that gamers will have followed the series all the way to this point so if you’ve ever wondered about Disgaea this is as good a place as any to start.

One very good change is a slight adjustment to the geo-panels. As well as being slightly textured now they also display more information when highlighted. This information includes what colour the panel is which means colour blind gamers no longer have to see their best strategies scuppered by a light green block sitting in amongst the yellow ones.

If there is one slight criticism, it is that the dialogue doesn’t seem as on the mark as in the best of the previous games. The exchanges between Seraphina and Killia never really reach that of Etna and Laharl or Adell and Rozaline. It’s still very solid and entertaining but just lacking a bit of magic and chaos and nothing as bizarrely wonderful as Valvatorez and his continual battle cry of SARDINES!

Overall, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance keeps the series trademark high standard of quality going. This has to be among the deepest strategy games ever and if there’s anything with more content outside of an MMO we’ll be amazed. If you like Disgaea then this is a justification to own a PS4 and you can’t really give a game much higher praise than that.

Destiny: The Taken King Review

I have quite a checkered history with Destiny. It reviewed well on this site but it was made clear that it was only a starting point for something much longer term. I wasn’t the one who made that review though, for me, my experience of Destiny is one of frustration and a feeling of being left behind.

You see, I am not the sort who can stick with the same game for a massive period of time, I tend to bounce between games and despite finishing a fair few larger titles, it is those like Destiny, where it is better played with others that tend to suffer.

Literally within a few weeks of launch I felt I wasn’t leveling my character up quick enough to get the most from the game. I tried some strike missions, yet felt I was a hindrance to other players. I tried co-op play in missions but again felt I was just playing a spare part, not really doing much to help.

So pretty soon it became something I dipped into now and again for an hour here or there, to the point where I eventually let the game fall into my ever growing backlog. I had dropped £80 on the game and season pass initially, but even the new packs for the first year weren’t enough to get me back.

Now I am not saying it was a bad game, in actual fact I really loved the gameplay, the battles were satisfying and the loot pickups were like a drug addiction, but without anyone to play with it got to a point where I was needing to grind to be able to even attempt new story missions.

So when The Taken King was announced I was skeptical at first, as I was worried it would be a case of more content for those who put the effort in and those alone, there would be no point shelling out another £30-40 to feel like I am being left further behind.

However when the details of the year two content became apparent, my attitude quickly changed and all of a sudden I was ready to jump back in and finally become legend.

The first thing that stood out, was the ability to level up any single one of my characters to level 25, just so I would gain access to The Taken King right out of the box. This was wonderful news and whilst to some it may be seen as cheating, it meant I could get back into the game, go through the missions I missed out on and then even get into the new content at a much better balanced level.

So that is what I did. It meant I was a bit over-powered for a fair few missions, but it also allowed me to get a feel for the game again, get to grips with the mechanics and so forth.

I also seemed to be able to level up my character at a much more steady rate, that felt like it was allowing me to be ready for new missions as soon as I had finished the previous one, without the need to spend a large amount of time just grinding. This is a very welcome addition as it let me enjoy the core of the game.

Light too is better implemented, now becoming an overall value based on your gear, rather than item specific. It is only a minor change, but one that feels ultimately more rewarding as it taps into that thing gamers have, where we love watching numbers go up.

Loot is another thing that has had a bit of a makeover. In the original release of Destiny, loot was done in a way that meant it was only worth pursuing specific missions and doing certain events, to get the gear that was actually worthwhile. Now though, it feels a lot fairer as almost every mission has had something that feels useful. Again it is a minor balancing change that has a huge effect on the overall feel.

Quests have had a bit of an overhaul where it now seems like you can track more of them at any one time, plus the story from The Taken King also fits in with these in a much more coherent way. In fact it makes very useful guides on what to do and where to go. The change may only be minor, but I cannot recall for sure, but I know I am using them a lot more this time though.

Missions and story levels from The Taken King have a lot more character to them now, as the story writing feels like it matters much more than it did previously and that there has been a lot of work gone into this to make it stand out from the year one stuff.

Whilst there is still an element of enter here, go there, scan this, defend that to some level, it doesn’t feel as mundane and repetitive as it did in year one. In fact there is more variety in the new levels than there was in the original release and the expansions.

A lot of that comes down to the additional character that has been added across several layers of the game.

Nathan Fillion makes an appearance as the Hunter Cayde-6 and in my humble opinion steals the show, making even Nolan North’s replacement of Peter Dinklage nothing but a footnote. Fillion’s performance here show Bungie’s desire to make Destiny grow from this point forward, as previously the class leaders were nothing but avatars for collecting new missions, lacking any real kind of character.

Now though they feel alive and a vital part of whatever will happen moving forward. Despite Nathan Fillion being the standout here, the other performances are also well done and add to the overall growth of the Destiny universe.

The Taken King is to Destiny, what Reaper of Souls was to Diablo III. It is developers making note of feedback and actually using it to improve their product and make sure not only that they keep the long term players, but also give themselves the best opportunity to welcome new players too.

Most of what made the original Destiny a good game is still there, but the overhauls and tweaks to the lesser parts have given Destiny the sort of boost it needed. It was hard to see how this could serve as a long term franchise after the initial release but now, I am counting down the days until year 3.

Until Dawn review

This is the second of two Gamestyle reviews of the same game. You can read the first Until Dawn review and finish reading this review below for a second opinion.

Shallow American “teens” visit remote log cabin in the woods and experience predictable terror. The setting, plot and characters on offer are so overtly clichéd that there now exists parodies of the parodies in the parallel cinematic sub-genre – and not good ones (see: Scary Movie 5). This starkly familiar terrain, complete with perpetually over-egged innuendo barrage, is so obvious that one might suspect intentional irony, but as the game progresses the punchline does not.

If you haven’t played or read about Until Dawn, then it might seem odd to discuss it in the context of films, but truly that is what the experience is closer to: an interactive movie, which on paper shouldn’t be a bad thing. What little gameplay there is in on offer, largely arbitrary choices presented in the tired quick-time event format, requires a strong narrative to support it, which Until Dawn sadly does not have.

Alas, the one-dimensional main characters provoke little sympathy for their plight and even less interest in their survival. The acting isn’t all terrible, but the script must have been written by somebody who has never seen a real teenager, and whose only point of reference on their behaviour has been derived entirely from 90s teen flicks. Other functional characters appear from nowhere to explain away the really quite simple plot, deflating any notions of mystery as they depart. In the place of a slow-building arc of tension, each chapter seems required to hit a certain quota of basic shocks. I’m concerned that this blatant ‘Pewdiepie fodder’ might have been an element deliberately factored into the game’s creation. All of the above is underscored by the wafer thin introductory premise that a group of kids could be convinced to return to the isolated site of a very recent and considerable trauma.

BUT! But it isn’t all bad. The game’s few redeeming features are sufficient to save it from abysmalivion. It IS entertaining to sit around feeling the fear with your mates. I can’t say that we didn’t collectively jump out of our skin more than once because we definitely did. Jump scares are far from revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. It’s for this reason that I have a greater tolerance for average, or even poor, horror films than I do for any other genre. Cheaply wrought adrenaline is still adrenaline, and any film or game that makes you feel a genuine emotion can never be considered a total loss.

The characters might look like a band of crudely animated escapees from Madame Tussauds, but the world itself is beautifully realised, its rolling foggy vistas and foreboding cavernous interiors make for some stunning visuals that we often paused to appreciate.

Lastly the Butterfly Effect, so heavily paraded prior to release and throughout the game, does in fact grant it significant replay value. The inherently railtracked gameplay means that you’ll easily breeze through in five or six hours, so even after a couple of replays you’re not getting a great deal for the premium price-tag.

However, the core principal of multiple possible storylines based on individual player actions is strong and for once runs deeper than the typical two or three endings we’ve come to expect from largely exaggerated back-of-the-box claims: “Control Your Destiny!” and “Change The Course Of History!” and so on. In addition, Until Dawn’s lack of a save feature is an underrated and inspired inclusion, removing the deep-set feeling of invincibility and giving the player the risk of something to lose, thereby cultivating a far more tangible sense of adventure – an element I hope to see explored and improved upon in the future.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 review

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot

“I had to hit it”. Said apologetically, by way of explanation, sometimes when no one else is in the room. These are the kind of exclamations you find come pouring forth when you play Pro Evolution Soccer. Something intangible about the feel and flow of a move causes you to want to hit that ball first time to seal it all off but you’re slightly off balance and just miss. “I had to hit it” you say, and if there is anyone with you they’ll agree, they’ll know why you did.

This is what PES has done for years, despite some troubled times it’s always had its trademark ‘moments’ and delivered a feeling to the player that no other football game (yes I mean that one) has ever quite managed. So let’s get things out in the open and make it all clear from the off; some people like FIFA and some people like PES. That’s fine and there are reasons for each, no one’s wrong per se but sometimes it’s hard to understand the decisions. For years PES was the better game and people still played FIFA, then FIFA was the better game for a while and people still played PES. I remember in 2009 trying to convince a colleague that, no really, FIFA is better these days. I explained how I too had always preferred Konami’s game in the past but it had lost its way. Well, at the risk of cliché, it’s back.

To be honest, I think the two games were fairly even since around 2012. FIFA had started to stagnate and the changes they made each year were making the game worse rather than better in my opinion. I started to check back in with PES and liked it but it wasn’t exceptional either. That was until last year when PES 2015 started the ball rolling again and 2016 has just built on that. Long preamble over, let’s get on to why.

You have control. That’s it really, but that’s such a huge thing when the competition struggles to give you that feeling. There’s something about FIFA that feels like you’re not the deciding factor in the game; you might put a move together and score, you might do the same and miss. It feels like there’s some other thing between you and what happens. PES doesn’t have that, or at least, it manages it all much better. In FIFA you can argue that it comes down to player stats and things like that but it doesn’t feel like that, there’s something missing in the communication. PES manages to let you know what’s likely to happen in a way where if you miss you know why, it feels like your fault and you just get it. It makes sense. They do all this by communicating the player stats so well that you feel them, the differentiation between players and teams is readily apparent and goes beyond just speed.

This is important for the gameplay but also the longevity of the game as it makes everything more interesting. The players individuality gives them character so when you’re playing Master League, the game’s career mode, you get excited about the prospect of signing someone new; you know they’ll bring something different. By contrast, in FIFA’s career mode I barely notice the difference between players, they’re either good or they’re not.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot

 

Normally I like to think of games in a vacuum and not compare them to others or their own past iterations but solely on their own merits. However, in this case there are only two football games so I feel it’s necessary to compare and contrast. FIFA has the better graphics and all the licences and normally that sentence ends with someone saying ‘but PES has the better gameplay’. Well, it’s true, but only if you think it’s true. The two games are very different now and I don’t think it’s easy to go from one to the other. I do think a lot of my issues with FIFA are at least partly down to not being a ‘FIFA person’. That’s not meant to sound like a knock to anyone, it’s just true that some will always prefer a certain style over another. I’ve been more open minded than some and switched between the games but when PES is good it’s just light years ahead for me. This year PES is very good.

If you like the premier league and fast paced, frantic, unpredictable football then you may prefer FIFA with its great looks and all the stadiums. If you like continental or South American football and want a game that perhaps more closely mirrors Serie A or La Liga then maybe PES is for you. Some of this might sound like snobbery of a sort but I don’t mean it to. I love the premier league, it’s just that when I’m pretending to be a football manager I like to pretend to be an Italian one from the 1970s, smoking on the sideline while my team play out my vision of total football.

This might seem like an odd, or bad review; I haven’t said a huge amount about the game itself but we all know you can find the details elsewhere and have probably read other reviews before this one. My review here will probably be up a little later, it’s on a site that doesn’t get the most hits in the world and you’re probably here just to get another bit of insight or have seen the score and wanted to see how I justified it. Ultimately, it’s the gameplay. It’s another PES cliché, but it is just magic. How they convey the feeling of playing football cannot be explained, that’s why I haven’t really tried. If you want some details then sure, the graphics on the stadiums and the pitches etc. could be a lot better, but the player models are the best in the business. Presentation and overall UI elements still lag behind FIFA and the number of stadiums to play in is still pitiful in comparison. Commentary isn’t as technically good as FIFA either but I’m so sick of Martin Tyler and his inability to complete any sentence without, errrrrrrrrrr, a massive pause in the, errrrrrr, middle of it that I almost prefer the PES duo. I usually turn it off in both games either way.

I will hold my hands up and admit that maybe I just don’t ‘get’ FIFA, maybe I’m just crap at it. I’d agree with you if you said FIFA had better ball physics, though I’m not sure that makes a better game. I’d maybe even agree that FIFA is more realistic, but the crucial thing is, it doesn’t feel more realistic. PES feels like football. Maybe it achieves that more through impressionistic artistic representation than the ‘photo-realism’ scientific approach of FIFA but it’s going to come down to what you prefer. Before cameras, some artists would try to perfectly replicate the image in front of them using painstaking dot techniques whilst others just whipped out the oil paints and somehow captured the soul of what they saw. EA’s quest for perfect realism is admirable but it’s one they haven’t yet, and may never, fully succeed in. Meanwhile, PES has done a Monet and created a beautiful representation of football. Visually, beyond the amazing player models, it might not stand up to close scrutiny, but in every other regard it’s an artwork. I won’t argue with you if you prefer FIFA, I just won’t quite be able to understand you.

Until Dawn Review

I think the main reason for my surprise is that games that are coined “interactive movies” are always a little short on the gameplay side, and the element of choice that you are presented is nothing more than an illusion. You may be able to change some things in the middle, but there’s very little that impacts the final act. And David Cage’s last attempt (Beyond: Two Souls) may have solidified people’s opinions that the realm of movies and games should never cross paths.

Until Dawn is different. Coined the “Butterfly Effect system”, every choice, no matter how small can have disastrous consequences for your group of teens. After a tragedy a year earlier, the same group of friends return to a secluded cabin high in the snowy mountains where, as you’d expect, things go a little wrong. And how wrong things go depends on your actions.

Will you run or hide? Go left or right? Take the shortcut or the safer route? And when you come to that age old horror cliché of choosing to examine the noise you just heard or forget about it, you’ll hate yourself for doing the exact same, dumb thing all horror characters do.

All of this wouldn’t work if the game wasn’t scary, but it is, very much so. While it does rely on the jump scares a little too much rather than the slow building of tension, it does those jump scares very well. Many times I found myself swearing at the TV as characters jump out of the shadows. It also has its fair share of gore and bone crunching brutality, but it never lingers on it in a torture porn sort of way.

The performances of all the lead actors also help in building this terrifying world. Headlined by Hayden Panettiere, each character feels like your traditional horror cliché, but they have enough depth to make them believable. For instance, Matt (played hilariously by the un-teen looking Brett Dalton from Agents of SHIELD) is initially portrayed as your standard jock archetype, only (thanks in part to your conversation decisions) he’s not just the jokey idiot you initially think he is. Though maybe he is if you choose to play him as such!

Although you are presented with choices, the standard walk around the environment sections are fairly linear. There are small areas you can explore to find clues, but you’re largely ferried from one scene to the next with the obvious deviations being on what choices you make.

In that sense, if you aren’t sold on these types of interactive movie like video games then there’s very little here that would change your mind. Gameplay is limited, and action scenes are perpetuated with QTE sections that, to be honest, are actually some of the best. Mainly because they’re quite easy to fail. Appearing on screen for only a limited amount of time they feel harder than the likes you would see in, say, a David Cage game.

In fact, everything here is better than you’d find in a David Cage game, those games being Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls if you’re unaware. Acting feels more natural, there’s no shower scene that feels out of place and unnecessary (just a bath section that doesn’t feel like it lingers in any dodgy way) and most of all the story makes sense. The Heavy Rain twist completely broke the game if you thought about it and the Beyond: Two Souls plotline was incredibly disjointed and completely lost its way when you reached the mid-point. I’m not saying Until Dawn doesn’t have its weird moments, but everything at least feels connected and belongs in the same story.

Until Dawn can also be a really good looking game in places, especially seeing as it began life as a PS3 title. The environments are all suitably atmospheric with some wonderful lighting and audio that adds to the fear. There are a few downsides though with the framerate at times suffering a little. Characters facial expressions also go from amazing to downright creepy, and not in the way the game intended.

Coming in at the 6-7 hour mark, it’s not a long game for those who want a lengthy experience. That said, this is the perfect length for a game of this type. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and with a number of trophies dedicated to specific choices you will probably want to replay the game a second time. I certainly will. Once I’ve recovered from certain character deaths that is.

When we come to the end of the year and everyone is thinking of what the biggest surprise was, Until Dawn may very well be at the top of my list. I was already intrigued by it, but I couldn’t imagine enjoying it as much as I have done. A few slight issues here and there don’t dampen what is one of the better, more original horror titles out there. If horror is your thing then you have no excuse not to buy it.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 – Escape Plan Bravo Review

Continuing Rhys and Fiona’s hunt for the Gortys pieces (and in turn leading them to a vault), and again all being recounted in flashbacks to their masked captor, this episode plays out almost like a heist movie. The Gortys piece being located deep inside a Hyperion space station. Obviously, in space and under heavy guard. Requiring a rather brilliant planning sequence where everything goes off without a hitch. Obviously, the real heist won’t be as lucky.

The trademark humour is still present and once again, like the last episode, does a better job than in the first couple. Gortys is still as endearing as ever and Episode 4 continues the trend of having one of the best opening credits scenes not just in Telltale Games history, but all games. It’s really that good with an amazing song choice that gels with the on screen comedy perfectly.

A good mix of action and storytelling, there is however one slight comedic mishap. There’s a running gag involving Hyperion workers using their fingers as fake guns, which in turn leads to a ridiculously long QTE sequence that is supposed to be funny but just ends up falling flat. Probably because Gortys and Loaderbot aren’t involved, the two robotic sidekicks being at the forefront of all the best gags. There’s also a little bit of sadness mixed in with a change in tone that could’ve felt out of place, but really works with the scene it’s placed in.

If there’s one way Telltale is to be praised for their recent output it’s that they’re finally getting to grips with console hardware in a way they haven’t before. It looks great with none of that hideous slowdown as it transitioned scenes like in previous games. Which is a blessing for a game like Borderlands where the action is prominent, if it loses the smoothness during those scenes then the game would quickly fall apart.

As the penultimate episode, Escape Plan Bravo mostly succeeds at setting the stage for the finale. But as has been the case for a lot of the series, as someone who has tried the vast majority of Telltale’s recent output, fatigue has started to set in.

Risen 3: Titan Lords Enhanced Edition

I’ve never played a Risen game before, not for any particular reason, just that it was always on a list of ‘Maybe I’ll give that a go when I run out of other things to play”. Yet since the original release in 2009 I have never run out of things to play.

That’s still the case in all honesty, but my PS4 has been a little bit neglected of late aside from Bloodborne so what the hell.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of mid-tier games, I think they are the bread and butter of gaming and for me, Risen 3: Titan Lords sounded like a bonafide mid-tier title. Which meant I was expecting something that would be full of little frustrations, but that would ultimately not ruin the overall fun factor.

As much as I want to shout from the rooftops that this is a perfect mid-tier addition to your library, I fear I cannot and there are many, many reasons for that.

Firstly the game feels extremely clunky. The character movement seems to lack any kind of smoothness and even feels like you are walking through mud for the most part as you explore the world around you. This gets even worse during combat.

You have some pretty simple controls, using R2 to parry attacks, the X button to attack back, holding it for strong attacks and R1 to use a secondary weapon. Having things be this basic should allow for you to really get into fights, but if anything you feel like you are fighting against the controls, rather than just the enemies.

There seems to be this odd delay between making an attack and trying to get a parry in and this isn’t just a timing thing either, because it feels like if you try and press a different button before an animation has finished, it won’t even register the press.

I’ve not got an issue with animations finishing, in fact I like that as it means you really need to consider your movements. So if it was just a case of being countered during an animation, then I could accept that. But to feel like my button press isn’t even registering, even if it means having an animation delay, that just makes things feel off.

However, you do get used to the system after a short while and learn to live with it. Sometimes a staple of the mid-tier game and in all fairness, you can get some decent battles going which can be fun.

Yet that fun is short lived, because again, the character movement is clunky and cumbersome for the most part, meaning it can be very difficult to focus on the enemy you are currently engaging with. This is magnified somewhat by an awful camera system that at points started to make me feel unwell.

It just seems to move all over the place, like there has been some kind of cinematography element wanted, but not quite being understood. This means that when you move to one side of an enemy to attack, the camera will struggle to keep up, or will try to change to another angle. Again this, combined with the animation issues and combat mechanics, means it all feels very awkward.

The story is something I am unsure on, even at the point of this review. Compare it to the likes of The Last Of Us, where the acting and story is well written, crafted and acted, then it falls way short of expectations. But on the flip side, compare to mid-tier games from the previous generation and it can stand with the best of them.

The main protagonist speaks very little, using a supporting cast to do most of the dialogue and they are a mixed bunch, with some being decent characters and others just not likable at all. But I think overall it has a decent pacing to it and keeps things moving well. It just isn’t a standout story that you will remember in years to come.

Exploration and minor puzzle solving is a key part of Risen 3 and for the most part they have a positive effect on the game as a whole, but again there are times when camera issues can make some areas a bit of a chore to look around.

There are various things you can find that allow you to upgrade your character, clothes, weapons, rings, etc and it borrows from the likes of Diablo III for a quick select option which works rather well.

Another part of the game that did impress was in the visuals. Despite the overall clunky nature of the game, it looks pretty damned beautiful in places, especially when outside. The natural elements such as foliage, water, beaches, temples, etc all look lovely and I was rather surprised by how much time I spent just admiring the scenery.

But in the end I think that sums Risen 3: Titan Lords up. It has some lovely elements, some solid ideas, but lacks cohesion overall. More time needed to be spent on the mechanics or fighting and movement, because it unfortunately ruins a game I really wanted to like.

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pure Hold’Em Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N++ Review

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Blazblu Chronophantasma Extend Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocket League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le Tour De France 2015 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEGO Jurassic World Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- Review

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

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

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

Guilty1
The action is wonderfully fluid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farming Simulator 15 Review

It is widely accepted that most of the ‘simulator’ games are just plain awful. Yet there are a select minority that have somehow risen above the crap. Goat Simulator which just throws the crazy at the genre and is played as a big joke, then there is Euro Truck Simulator, which plays it seriously and is genuinely a joy to play.

The other title to stand out is Farming Simulator, so much so that it is pretty much the template on how to not only make a simulator game, but how to also make a yearly iteration. Because looking at the back of the box features, it really has grown since the original 2007 release.

I have to go for back of the box, as it isn’t a game that has ever interested me previously, but having a son who played and loved Goat Simulator and now takes notice of posters and other point of sale, meant I was getting this game, like it or not.

One thing I found very early on, is that there is a hell of a lot going on in this game. I was hoping I would just get to drive a tractor around a bit and that would be it. Well you can do that if you want, but I am a serious critic and must try to play properly.

I took tutorials on how to plough, sow, bundle up hay and so much more, including the new woodcutting machinery. I was also surprised to learn I would have to manage livestock. Not only that, I would have to balance the books and make sure my farm stayed in the black. It was going to be a full time job! Well at 5x speed anyway.

This is where you can take one of two approaches to the game. Mine, which was to try and play it seriously, earn a living and progress to make my farm a success, managing those books, being sure to get my produce to market, making a profit, re-investing, ploughing, sowing, harvesting, rinse and repeat, so I can grow yet further and give myself more work to do, or hire hands to help me.

Or…as my son did. Jump in whatever machine is laying around and go full on crazy, go anywhere, plough anything you want, cut down all the trees, try to attack a car with a chainsaw, make patterns in the crops and not give two hoots about any of the ‘boring stuff’.

It shows how well made this game is, that it will really show the different mentality between a child and an adult, but allow both to get something from the experience but in two totally different ways.

I am finding that I really do enjoy trying to run the virtual farm properly, making sure I have employees who can do certain things and make my farm more productive, whilst I am free to what I need to, so I can expand or increase profits.

It is a shame somewhat, that you are a bit restricted in what you have access to in career mode, needing you to progress to unlock the use of better equipment and vehicles, but it is only a minor problem, as personally I am enjoying the reward of being able to look at a new tractor and know it can soon be mine.

The depth that Farming Simulator 2015 has really took me by surprise, right down to being able to give individual budgets to your employees so they can make purchases of needed items themselves and really being able to micro-manage the hell out of everything.

I went from being a single worker going through the motions in my large farm, to spending less and less time actually working and delegating to my staff. Yet hard times came, when profits started to turn into losses and I needed to fire some and get back to working myself, which meant things stopped running as smoothly. I would find myself in a hole and needing to change things to start cutting those losses to get back into profit.

This is where the game does brilliantly, as you really do need to think about how certain actions can have some major consequences. I grew way too quickly and it came back to bite me on the arse, yet I was able to stem the bleeding and am currently slowly recovering.

I came to Farming Simulator 2015 with some very low expectations, but am now besotted by it. Sure it looks a bit rough around the edges visually, but I can’t deny I am really enjoying what I am playing, it won’t be for everyone, but those willing to give it a chance will find a rich and rewarding experience.

Toren Review

It’s taken me a while to write this review, because even after finishing Toren, I was still unsure what I felt. I couldn’t make up my mind if I enjoyed my time with it, or if I felt like I was just going through the motions.

There was lots I will take from it, but I still found it a bit forgettable. It looked lovely, but also didn’t leave an impression. Had an interesting story, but one I didn’t feel overly invested in. I am so torn on what I want to score this game.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have played some bad games that are bad and this is far from bad, it isn’t even average, it is more than that, but then it isn’t great, but it is better than good. I want to tell everyone to play it, but I don’t know if I can.

Let me back up for a second…what is Toren?

Well, it is an adventure game with an initially lovely art style which tells the story of a young girl as she grows, with a story told through some lovely poems. The game doesn’t give you any real context at the start but it does grow as she grows and the poems do standout.

There are some wondrous moments as the game progresses with something that feels really special near the start, which is where I think I find myself torn. The opening was so breathtaking, so fresh feeling it almost set the rest of the game up for a fall.

Despite the puzzle, battle and exploring mechanics working really well together, they go from being fun and engaging to just a bit meh, but with teases of greatness mixed in too. I say battles, but these are actually pretty rare, contentrating on the exploration and puzzles more than anything else.

If you have played any 3D adventure platformer you’ll be very at home with the puzzles and rarely do they push you, but neither are they mind-numbingly easy, they are simply competent, which is fine, but there are times you want to feel challenged and this simply cannot deliver that.

Whilst the art style is lovely, it just feels rough, even running on a good PC, they want to leave an impression, but the impression you get is that the extra polish this game probably needed was abandoned for whatever reason.

It is also a short game, I finished it in an afternoon. Now again, I don’t know if I see this as a good or bad thing, I have no desire to go back, but neither do I feel like I wasted an afternoon. It was like sticking a film on Netflix sitting there, watching, having a decent time but not taking much in.

At the end of the day Toren is a game that you won’t hate, but you won’t love. It is one that you will play, move on and forget for the most part. If you have a gap in your gaming time, you’ll do a lot worse than Toren, it just won’t blow you away.

 

Project Root Review

Back in my younger days, I loved the Strike games, Desert, Jungle, Urban and have wondered why they have never really been seen again as a popular genre. Sure, there was Renegade Ops, which is absolutely sublime, but the ‘Strike’ sections were only a part of a much bigger thing.

There have been other games too, but many of them have failed to deliver the experience I enjoyed when I was a kid. I could emulate, or find other ways to play those originals again, but having played so many duds I feared I was remembering with rose-tinted glasses.

So when Project Root came along, I was interested, but wary, it looked to have the same core style as a Strike game, but it was all future modern sci-fi types and I have been burned before.

I really shouldn’t have had those fears, because after a session with Project Root, I had finally found a game to satisfy my needs, it isn’t a perfect game and I do have some issues, which I’ll come to in a moment, but for the most part, I could pick it up and play it like a Strike game and have a lot of fun.

You take on a mix of airborne and ground enemy types, which need you to use your different fire buttons depending on who you are aiming for, there are a mix of missions, which usually result in going here, destroy this, kill them. It is pretty standard stuff and for the first few times I was playing I was really enjoying myself.

Then the problems started to hit, unlike a Strike game, it didn’t feel like there was any point to what I was doing, the progression is there, so you can do upgrades and things like that, but I didn’t feel any need to want to push on and in the end felt like I was doing so just so I could play enough for the review.

The reason for this is that it is hard and I don’t mean that good type of hard like in Ikaruga and Dark Souls or that sort of thing. No, this is a lesson in frustration when it comes to difficulty. It is little things, like being attacked by off screen enemies that you are yet to encounter or even see, bullets that chase you, but home in too accurately and for too long. It is inevitable that you will die, because the game wants you to, but not in that way where you learn from it and go again. It really is very hard to concentrate on your task ahead or defending your ship when you are playing a guessing game of who is attacking you and where from.

Now this really is a shame that these two things let it down, because engaging the enemies you can see, both ground and air based is a joy, the fire-fights with them feel well balanced and like they are giving you an actual battle, rather than being annoying cannon fodder.

Another thing I felt, was that the upgrade system didn’t actually do much to turn the tide in my favour in the long run, which got to the point where I felt it was unnecessary and the game may have been better off without it. It’s not just a fault of Project Root, it is a modern gaming thing, where unless there are upgrades or skill trees, then there must be something missing, which isn’t the case at all and developers need to stop shoehorning it into games, it isn’t always needed and Project Root is a case in point.

Had Project Root focused on creating enemies that will give you a solid battle and built the game purely around that, then this could have been a special title, as it is though I came away feeling underwhelmed and frustrated, having played a game that just didn’t live up to some wonderful potential.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review

The Old Blood does get off to a little bit of a ropey start mind. After a short cut scene explaining the mission, you’re soon captured and thrown in jail. Then it’s forced stealth time!

With nothing but a pipe for defence it’s time to sneak around, taking out hulking, mechanical Nazis where one misstep can result in you getting shot to pieces. It’s a dreadful start to the game and may even put some people off. The best thing about The New Order was the way it integrated stealth, but didn’t require it. Get seen and it’s time to grab your weapons and go in all guns blazing. Something that’s almost impossible in the opening situation our hero B.J Blazkowicz finds himself in. These giant robot Nazis are able to shred you to pieces easily, and if you haven’t already dispatched one and taken their gun then it feels like it’s literally impossible.

Manage to make your way through this however and the gameplay that made The New Order such a surprise soon appears. The game almost feeling like it’s split into combat arenas. As you progress you’ll come to areas with enemies patrolling. It’s always advisable to use stealth initially, as there are a couple of enemies that call in reinforcements if you get spotted. Unlike the first section, get spotted and you can fall back on the shoot everything that moves tactic. Sometimes it’s actually more enjoyable, because the weapons are just a delight.

The shooting feels so tight and responsive that when stealth fails you won’t bemoan your clumsiness, you’ll just shrug, grab your machine gun and kill everyone. With The Old Blood there are some new weapons to play with, such as a pipe that can create some gruesome looking melee kills, bolt action rifle and a new type of shotgun.

As for new enemy types, there are a number of tougher ones you’ll face. One type in particular ventures a little closer into spoiler territory. Although these were shown briefly in trailers, I won’t go into too much detail in case you want to go in pure. Let me just say, they add a different dynamic to how you approach the combat.

With a whole host of new additions it’s understandable why this has been positioned almost as a whole new game. There are challenge arenas that are unlocked as you play through the game and there’s even sections where B.J can go to sleep and you end up playing Wolfenstein 3D, albeit with The Old Blood’s protagonist model.

It’s no surprise that it pays homage to its roots (posters from the original game and even a Doom character toy can be seen), because deep down the game as a whole feels very old fashioned. There’s none of the hide behind cover until all the red blood disappears from the screen. This game is all about armour and health packs. Although it does recharge up to intervals (25%, 50% etc), it does mean you’re a lot more conscious about your health situation. Firefights at times descending into panic as you’re foraging for whatever health, armour and bullets you can grab from the battlefield.

If for some reason you never opted for The New Order then this could be the perfect introduction. Opening chapter aside, The Old Blood is just as good as its predecessor with excellent combat, nice visuals and an intriguing story. Then when you’re finished, buy The New Order as well, because it’s great.

Omega Quintet Review

He was wrong, of course. The likes of Persona, Final Fantasy, Demons and Dark Souls, and the pinnacle, Bloodborne, all prove him wrong.  But he wasn’t completely wrong.  When Fish made that remark, he was likely talking about games just like Omega Quintet.

Imagine a world where evil monsters, called Blare, have ravaged most of the land, with only pockets of society left.  The only thing that can fight off the Blare is song.  Yep, singing. Enter the Verse Maidens, talented songstresses on standby to combat the Blare at a moment’s notice.  But wait! There’s only one Verse Maiden left, let’s call her Madonna, and she is getting old, struggling to keep fighting the good fight.

Ah, but Madonna’s agent has been busy recruiting young ladies to succeed Madonna. Enter Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna.  Madonna is none-too-pleased, and beats these new recruits whenever they annoy her.  However, the young ladies pull through, and are ready to make their debut as the world’s new Verse Maidens.  Just as they’re about to combat the Blare for their debut however, in comes Cher, Madonna’s old teacher, with her very own Verse Maiden trained in secret: Katy Perry! Katy steals the show.

If you’re still reading this, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “what the fuck did I just read?” Well, spare a thought for me, having to actually play this game and wonder, just what the fuck have I been playing?  This game is an embarrassment; but the sad thing is, the embarrassment is not down to its combat system, which is actually pretty decent, if a bit  run-of-the-mill in terms of JRPGs. No, the embarrassment is due to the game’s outrageous sexualisation of its heroines, the teenage girls who take centre stage. Yep, we’ve got cut-scenes involving wet t-shirts with heaving bosoms, and crotch shots of teenage girls, one of which is presumably no more than 14 years old.  It’s disgusting. This is everything that’s wrong with Japanese game development.

What’s worse, this game has a PEGI rating of 12.  So let’s hypothetically put this game in the hands of a 12 year old girl.  During the game, said young girl will see characters being told that once they hit the age of 30, they’re past it, useless, and have to be replaced with younger women. And don’t even think of not looking anything short of beautiful, else no-one will want to look at you. What kind of messages are these for young children just hitting puberty?

I’m willing to bet that question is probably not what was going through the developer’s minds when they were drawing these cut-scenes.  They had other things on their minds, probably with a year’s supply of kleenex to hand. But let’s not dwell on that, shall we?  What about the actual game?  Well, as I said, the combat system is actually decent, and the game does a good enough job of gradually introducing you to its many systems.  But it does get tiresome after a while; I was very thankful for the fast-forward feature to skip the more lengthy attack animations.

Visually it’s a very mixed bag.  The artwork in the cut scenes is done well, even if it has all the taste of a Newcastle United fan in a cheap Soho strip club, but the environments are dire.  We’re talking PS2 quality design with a HD lick of paint. Truly woeful. The actual storytelling and dialogue don’t fare any better either, and the game is not good at all at giving the player some direction. Often I was left wondering, “where do I go now?”

On the other hand, aurally the game is very good.  The music is probably the best thing about the game, with catchy tunes and soothing violin passages. Additionally, the voice acting from the lead actors is decent, granting the game’s heroines some genuine personality, even to the point of making them somewhat endearing. Of course, that just makes such overt sexualisation of these characters all the more shameful.

Everything else is dire. Omega Quintet is a perfect example of what is wrong with Japanese game development.  There’s a decent combat system hidden beneath a pointless story that only serves as masturbation material for its target audience. It’s utterly shameful, and is to be avoided.

 

Mortal Kombat X Review

The last Mortal Kombat game was a revelation and plucked the series back from the depths of despair (MK VS DC) into a great alternative to the Japanese heavyweights. It also showed that story modes could be achieved in a 2D fighter. So much so that MKX has a lot of expectations on its shoulders.

Despite a good chunk of the cast getting brutally murdered in the last game, the majority of them return, albeit in dead, zombie form. The story mode now skipping between two time periods, some of which takes place in the past with original characters like Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage before jumping forward into the future where the kids take over and all your old favourites have a few grey hairs.

Overall the story mode doesn’t form a cohesive narrative the same way MK9 did, which is a shame. It’s still hugely enjoyable, has some QTE segments that I actually enjoyed for a change and doesn’t have a nightmare of a final boss (a rarity for the genre). It just doesn’t bring anything particularly new. It does however do a good job showcasing how good it all looks. Character models, rain effects, it all looks simply stunning, particularly in motion. Without doubt, MKX is a damn fine looking game.

Aside from the story mode there’s also the standard tower arcade structure, now with the addition of Living Towers, which change over time. These can have various gameplay modifiers or just force you to play as a specific character. It’s actually the best single player mode, because everywhere else appears to be lacking, or downright awful, like the Krypt.

Making a return, the Krypt is now some weird meta-game where instead of just selecting graves to explode and obtain the secret item (after spending coins) you now have to wander around graves and underground areas to actually find everything. There are items to collect and as you progress and little QTE events as spiders jump out you. It’s awful. I just want to unlock some new costumes, I don’t want to play through some terrible mini mode where it’s ridiculously easy to miss something. Why? Why does this exist? A baffling design decision.

Now that I’ve let the anger subside a little, let’s talk about the good, and it’s that MKX still plays a fantastic game. It does take a while to get used to having a block button again, but once you get familiar with the mechanics you’ll be blocking attacks, pulling off combos and ripping off people’s faces.

Indeed, MKX takes the fatalities and X-Ray moves to a whole new level of cringe. Once your meter is filled pressing the two triggers simultaneously activates the X-Ray attack, a devastating move where you see your opponent get all sorts of broken bones. Then there’s naturally the return of the fatalities, which are suitably gruesome. While some have questioned whether they’re starting to go a little too far, in my view the whole game is so ridiculously stupid it’s more laughable than anything.

In addition to old favourites like Lui Kang and Raiden come the new kids. There’s the likes of Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs who are your typical military types; being the daughters of their respective MK veterans they also bring their fathers’ fighting influence to their move set. Then there’s the more outlandish characters such as D’Vorah and Erron Black. A common trend with fighting games that introduce new characters is old players insistence on sticking with their tried and tested “mains”, that is definitely something not seen in the online as from my time playing there seem to be just as many Kung Jin players as Kung Lao.

Taking the fight online is where the longevity will be found and after a shaky first week on release, it seems to have settled down somewhat. After more patches than you’d expect (or want) this shortly after release, finding an online match has become a lot more bearable.

Aside from ranked matches, there are also rooms where you can challenge whomever you choose, a king of the hill mode and various team based modes. There’s also the faction stuff, which is not that great. Choosing a faction at the start, you then have to complete certain objectives in order to gain points for said faction, such as Lin Kuei or Special Forces. There are certain events that happen after a winner is crowned, such as chipping away at a boss’s health, but on the whole it’s a largely forgettable mode.

While the gameplay of MKX has been refined since the last iteration, a lot of what surrounds it can be considered inferior. Fighting online is still a treat (now that it mostly works) and the combat (sorry, kombat) is still fantastic, it’s just a shame that the single player content and side stuff like The Krypt aren’t as good as they were in the last game. So, not exactly a flawless victory then.

Tower of Guns Review

Tower of Guns came out on the PC some time ago and has generated a decent buzz. The project from Terrible Posture Games takes the now popular Rogue-like template and applies it to a first person shooter. It’s designed to give you a quick blast of fun when you have half an hour spare and it certainly gives you a few different things to play around with.

Though in the first person, it certainly does follow the randomness of many other Rogue-like titles. The enemies, level design and bosses are all randomly generated during each play through and you even get a little text story that assigns itself to you. Sometimes you are trying to save the president’s daughter; sometimes you are running from zombies (among other things). It’s a minor touch but something that adds a bit of humour.

As you carry out more runs in the tower you will unlock more weapons to use and more perks and bonuses that can be selected from the start screen. There’s a decent selection of both and they make enough difference to warrant some consideration before you go blasting.

During play you can pick up money to buy power ups and there is also a minor levelling system which increases the power of your gun by picking up blue dots and tokens. Aside from that you just point your gun at things and blast. While blasting things certainly is fun for a while it does quickly show up how little depth there is going on in the game and spending any real length of time with it is difficult.

The shooting itself feels a little lightweight with enemies looking a bit flimsy and a lack of punch from a number of weapons. This is a shame as something offering up bite sized chunks of Serious Sam intensity could have been a real winner. The random elements also don’t seem to create that many different things. Within our first five or six runs we noticed a large amount of repeated rooms and when a game is as short as this it becomes a bit of an issue for replayability.

It’s the lack of intensity that really holds the game back. You can be in a room with seemingly endless turrets and enemies charging at you but it still seems a bit dull. Maybe it’s the lacklustre sound but it just doesn’t thrill and that’s a bit of a problem for a game based on quick, adrenaline-fuelled lunch runs.

Though the game is designed to be blasted through in around twenty minutes, there could still have been a bit more going on. You do get a few surprises every five or so runs but after we finished the game once we didn’t feel that much like jumping in again. It’s certainly a nice and fun distraction but really little else.

Overall, Tower of Guns starts out showing some strong promise that it could be an excellent little blaster. However, the more time you spend with it the more the lack of depth and variety begins to become a problem. There is nothing bad or broken here but there is also little to keep players interested after their first handful of runs.

Bloodborne Review

In 30 years of gaming I thought I’d seen every idea, every plot element, every boss fight, every twist on every genre. With game publishers now multi-million pound corporations, churning out their umpteenth blockbuster catering to the lowest common denominator, and all the while monetising everything … yeah, I thought I’d seen the very best gaming had to offer. I simply wasn’t prepared for Bloodborne.

Let’s get one thing straight. If you’re after a linear game with a lot of plot, characters, and exposition, you should look elsewhere. If you’re after a game that you can breeze through in a couple of evenings before moving on, you should look elsewhere. Bloodborne will not hold your hand, it will not give you a handy checkpoint to continue your progress, and it will punish you for every mistake without mercy; it is the harshest of mistresses. So why play it? It’s simple: Bloodborne is arguably the best modern-day example of design and ingenuity to come out of the games industry.

Bloodborne casts you in the role of a hunter, searching for a cure for your ailments in the gothic town of Yharnam. The game’s introductory sequence pulls no punches as it sets its stall out. Yharnam is a constant nightmare. Imagine a town comprised completely of every creepy building and old church you’ve ever seen, and you’re not even close. So what’s remarkable is just how beautiful in its horror Yharnam can be.

Bloodborne’s graphical style is unique. If you analyse things up close, you’ll notice a distinct lack of texture detail. But what Bloodborne lacks in texture effects and detail it makes up for in actual architectural detail. Every brick in every building, and every paving stone you walk on, are all rendered with great care. Carved reliefs are actually carved, not flat surfaces, and it’s all hauntingly lit by Yharnam’s gorgeous, blood-red sky. Bloodborne is a masterclass in architectural design, and the further you venture into Yharnam, the more twisted it becomes, as do its inhabitants.

Yharnam’s denizens are almost all hostile, and extremely dangerous, so it’s just as well that Bloodborne offers some great options for taking them on. You may have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned From Software’s previous titles, Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls. Well, while Bloodborne does retain the essential DNA of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s previous games, there is one fundamental difference: you no longer have a shield. I loved my shield in Dark Souls, I felt safe with it. But it was like a crutch at times, a crutch that Miyazaki-san has judiciously removed.

Now you have to be on the front foot in all your battles. You will still have to exercise patience, but more often you will be rewarded for courage and bravery, thanks to the game affording you the ability to regain some of the health you lose, provided you retaliate in a timely manner. It’s an interesting technique that works really well, and can really save your skin in knife-edge battles with tougher foes.

With the absence of the shield, the counter system that will be familiar to any Souls fan suddenly becomes a lot more important. With the options of a pistol or a shotgun-style blunderbuss in one hand, and your main weapon of choice in the other, countering with your firearm and then following up with a visceral attack never gets old. While the combat is indeed difficult – you absolutely will die, and often – it is almost never unfair. With the exception of one particular boss fight, I can count on the one hand the times I felt my death was not my own fault.

Of course, this is a From Software game, so you can expect some great boss encounters. There is an argument that Bloodborne’s bosses lack the variety of those in From’s previous titles, but that doesn’t make them any less satisfying when you take them down, and some of them are very memorable indeed. The levelling options for your character have been pared back a little from those of the Souls games, but it’s by no means a dumbing down. The system has some great options for experimentation, and is clearly geared towards repeat playthroughs.

The true star of the show, though, is Yharnam itself. Early on you’ll unlock a shortcut back to near where you initially start the game. That’s just a taste of the wondrous, ingenious design on offer here. The way Yharnam’s varied regions all link together in one coherent, nightmarish whole, is astonishing. Not since Super Metroid on the SNES, some 20 years ago now, have I been so in awe of a game’s design. Discovering the game’s myriad shortcuts is almost a mini-game in itself.

An extension of this genius is the game’s sound design. As you inch your way through newly discovered areas with dread, you will find yourself listening for the first signs of any enemy. A distant groan, a sudden bark, or the crack of a rifle shot can suddenly fill you with panic. It’s a cliché to call a musical score haunting, but it really is the appropriate term here. The score is fantastic, and I can’t wait for its release later this month. The track during the final battle in particular is one I’m looking forward to adding to my regular playlists.

What’s refreshing about Bloodborne is that it’s feature complete. There are no signs of anything that may have been cut for future paid-for content, which in this day and age is really quite something. Bloodborne is a meaty experience that is a constant delight and terror in equal measure. You will have to forgive me for the lack of specificity in this review, but to go into more detail about certain levels, bosses and enemy designs would spoil the experience for anyone playing for the first time.

Bloodborne is a sterling example of what can be achieved with the latest technology while also recalling an older, simpler time, where a game’s actual structure, gameplay, and content took precedence over its potential profitability. Hidetaki Miyazaki and his team at From Software are on top of their game, and deserve all the plaudits they absolutely will get this year. It’s somewhat lamentable that Bloodborne is only available on the Playstation 4; this is a game that everyone should play.

Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones Review

Previously released on Wii U in October of 2014, Stealth Inc 2 is the follow up to the 2011 indie hit Stealth Bastard (later renamed Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark for consoles) and now it is coming to PC/PS4/XB1.

I very much enjoyed the original game, it was a great call back to the Amiga days of puzzle platformers I adored as a child, the sequel also harks back to those days in that when a game found mild success a sequel was soon to follow but somehow managed to be both better and worse. You know how Lemmings was a huge breakout success, then with Lemmings 2 they added to the formula and presentation that made the game better on first impression but over time you’d realise that nope, the original is the best one, well that seems to be the case here too.

Where once you accessed chambers (levels) through a menu, now you get the facility hub that require light puzzles (often using new gadgets unlocked in previous zones) to access new chambers. It brings a touch of the Metroid formula to the series.  Another new addition are cut scenes, they are rather nicely animated however it makes the game feel overly dramatic, the lack of this story element didn’t hurt the original and frankly I don’t feel it works all too well here.

Where this game expands on the original outside of the core levels, it falls over in the core levels, there are a large number of cheap deaths as well as some precise object throwing that is just a bit too niggly for it’s own good; and then you have timing issues, you’ll work out what needs to be done only to find that getting the timing right takes super precise platforming. Saying this, some of the puzzles are just absolutely fantastic and brutal, once you start to get into the swing of things you’ll constantly be restarting a level to improve your score/time. The checkpoints for each chamber are well placed and that makes starting over a breeze.

As previously mentioned, there are gadgets that can help you in the facility hub, it’s a great feeling to get a new gadget and then realise you can use that gadget to open up out of reach areas. Where the chambers keep things very directed, the facility allows you to get creative and have fun exploring.

There is a lot of game here, about 10 hours for those willing to persevere, however I can see a large number of gamers never giving this game that long to really pull them in.

If you have a PS4/Vita combo it’s a great game to play passively via remote play whilst you watch TV or are in bed, luckily there is also a native Vita version which in all honesty is probably my choice of platform for this style of game.

The game does so much right it makes what it does wrong as frustrating as some of the deaths found here. Stealth Bastard was a great throwback as stated and since then a large number of excellent puzzle platformers have appeared and in some cases they do things better (Fez and Mark of The Ninja spring to mind), however if you are craving a game that will challenge, frustrate and reward you then there is a lot to like here.

Axiom Verge Review

As soon as a new indie game comes out, there are those voices that shout about how they are keeping the AAA titles from being made. That the latest Call Of Duty, or Assassin’s Creed is somehow hampered by these small budget, one man developed games.

The truth, however, is that it is these titles that are keeping gaming fresh, that they remind us of what a videogame should be. That whilst it is nice having the big blockbusters with a budget twice the size of an Eastern European country, we need that balance, those games that we can just pick up and play for fun.

Axiom Verge is one of those games that feels like a videogame and not an interactive movie and sure, it takes cues from other genres such as the Metroidvania, but it somehow still manages to feel fresh.

Now I am a big lover of Indies but I was never really drawn into the anticipation for Axion Verge. It wasn’t the retro graphics that put me off, because I love that art style, it wasn’t the way it looking in motion, because damn, if that game didn’t flow well. In fact, I can’t put my finger on what it was. I like Metroidvania games, but something about this just wasn’t that appealing.

I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong and I would love to report that my initial feelings were spot on and this is a simple take it or leave it game, a seven out of ten at best.

But oh, how wrong I am!!! Axiom Verge has jumped straight in as my number one game of 2015 (as of April) and one I cannot put down. I want to take it everywhere with me, which brings me to my one and only issue. The Vita release is still some way down the line and even the promise of cross-buy doesn’t hide my disappointment.

Seriously, I have played it on the PS4 and the way I review games is to spend around 30 minutes with them initially, before writing down some initial notes, before returning later to go deeper into the game. Yet that opening half an hour turned into 3 hours and only ended then because of needing to leave home for a prior engagement.

My first initial thought was to grab the Vita and see if there was cross-save, but failing that I’d be happy to play it separately with a new save. Alas, this wasn’t yet possible, so I had to leave the game alone… for now!

The moment I was able to play again, I was right there. This is a Metroidvania through and through, it is a game that isn’t afraid to wear its influence right there on its sleeve. At this point I should be telling you that as a game Axiom Verge fails to gain its own identity, that is feels like it is just being an homage to the genre, so much so it could have been called Metroidvania: The Game!

I should be telling you how this is a bad thing. Yet it is quite the opposite, by not trying to be anything that it is not, it doesn’t do anything that could cause it to be a poor man’s interpretation of previous games in the genre.

It does everything by the book, teasing areas that you cannot yet reach, drip-feeding new weapons and powers that will eventually see you backtracking more than a recently elected politician. You have done this before, no matter the setting. This is a game that relies on the core mechanics of the genre and simply runs with it.

It could be called lazy or unambitious, yet it is anything but. It is clear that this has been made by a fan of the genre first and foremost, someone who just wants to play more of those tried and tested games and set out to do just that, succeeding perfectly.

What is even more impressive is that this was made by one person, Tom Happ. Whilst the one man team isn’t exactly new, it still impresses when the game in question has the level of polish that Axiom Verge does, it may look extremely retro, but it feels fresh because of the way it plays.

Zombie Army Trilogy Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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