Driveclub – A Revaluation

One of the first things I did (after the hours of updates) when I bought my Playstation 4 last October was to pre-order Driveclub from the PSN store.  Evolution has a great track record when it came to driving games and from all the videos and photos I had seen of the game, it quite simply looked beautiful, and the social aspect of the game sounded really interesting as well.

Forward a week and my digital copy of Driveclub was pre-installed and ready for me to play.  12am arrived on October 10 and I immediately started loading the game.  Anticipation levels were quite high, so to be faced with an error message popping up right after the title screen, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  Sadly this was only to get worse, a friend of mine was trying in vain to form a club and after around an hour or so and countless server error messages, he finally managed to create a club, but my attempts to join it seemed impossible that night.

These sort of problems more or less summed up just how bad the launch of Driveclub was.  Server issues continued to dog this title for many weeks, and players of the game like myself soon got used to the red text appearing on the screen when driving, informing us that Driveclub’s servers were once again down and things like times, ghost data and club progress would not be saved.

The game was receiving by now an awful lot of negative press and forums were full of people complaining and demanding some form of compensation for the mess the online and social aspects of Driveclub were in.  What made it worse, the actual game was bloody good.  Okay it may not have looked quite as good as the pre-release videos had made it look, but my God was it good fun to play and with a sense of speed I believe is up there with the best of any videogame there has ever been.  We here at Gamestyle originally reviewed it a few weeks after its release and were impressed with it, but bemoaned the server issues that were still plaguing it.

Four months after its release, playing Driveclub now is almost a completely different experience. Evolution Studios really have to take a lot of credit and praise for turning it around and saving a game which was the biggest exclusive the PS4 had over the recent Christmas period. Introducing new features like the simply quite stunning dynamic weather, which has to make Driveclub the best looking console game I have ever seen.  The free tracks and cars they gave away as a form of apology for all the server troubles, and lastly just making all the features the game was supposed to launch with work, including the addictive challenge mode  which has has me staying up many a night to trying, and usually failing, to beat my friends times over the nice varied track selection this game can now boast.

Driveclub, after it’s initial problems is now simply one of the most fun and thrilling driving games I have ever played. Sure there a still a few things wrong with it, for example there is still no option for private lobbies when playing online and the forthcoming replay feature will hopefully arrive soon, to further allow me to admire the sheer beauty of this game, but overall the current state of the game is now a million miles away to how it was when it first launched.

But to put it simply playing Driveclub now is a joyous experience, hardly a day passes by, where I don’t load it up, even if it is just to play a single time trial on one of my favorite tracks (for which there are loads of them).  This is helped by the arcade structure of the game, unlike for example Forza Horizon 2 with its open world take on the driving game, in Driveclub you are only eight button presses(and very little loading time) away from getting on the road and driving along some of the most beautiful vistas a video game has ever rendered.  It’s arcade nature also means its handling is lot less po faced and more accessible than other games, which means almost any gamer can grab their controller and be driving a beast like the Pagani Huayra with very little practice.

Maybe it feels like I am heaping just too much praise on a game that was in such a bad state when it launched, but honestly, I really feel it is all very much deserved.  I know this may be blasphemous to some people, but I am happy to say now almost all of it’s issues have be ironed out, I would rank Driveclub alongside Project Gotham Racing 2 as the best driving game of its kind.

Evolution Studios and Sony were quite rightly pilloried for the debacle that surrounded Driveclub when it launched and their slow response when it came to fixing the servers. But equally now, they  should also be praised for listening to all the complaints, and with a lot of hard, and I expect many, long nights, they now have a game they can really be proud of.  I personally believe they have been a shining example of a developer that has listened to their customers and have given gamers, after a little time, what we originally wanted from Driveclub.  A bloody great driving game, that is now one of the jewels in the PS4’s crown.

Paperbound Review

While promotional materials of the Dreamcast boasted of the potential of six billion players sharing the online experience together, online was a poor substitute for the frenzy that was jostling the expletive next to you with your elbow when they directed a cat into your rocket in Chu Chu Rocket, a quick swipe of a giant axe that launches you into Pharaoh Walker’s laser vision in Power Stone 2 or sharing the dysfunction that was playing Quake 3 Arena with those terrible, terrible controllers.

Nor is the Dreamcast an aberration. The Micro Machines 2 multitap cartridge, Smash Bros’ enduring community and even the simple truth that split-screen Halo was always more memorable than any online experience. Online has an indisputable presence in gaming, but it is my insistence that it is better when in that same tangible space that lets you swear blue and throw real punches at your once-friends, and it is great to see the indie space taking up the mantle.

Paperbound, a competitive multiplayer arena fighting game from developers Dissident Logic, pits players as characters from classic fiction – as well as a range of indie games figureheads – battling across literary landscapes. In the vein of modern arena battlers Nidhogg and Towerfall: Ascension, one-hit kills prevail in a multitude of modes and options including variations of King of the Hill, team battles and the classic deathmatch.

The feather in this cap is that each character maintains their own centre of gravity that can be reversed at the touch of a button, making for erratic movement and exciting chases. Players weave and bound across stages, throwing scissors as throwing stars and maneuvering through gravity reversals becomes more important than the neglected jump button.

As such, the tone seems more in keeping with Nidhogg than the latter despite the encouragement of four participants, and with the pace of games extremely fast and frenetic, there is a steeper learning curve than most arena battlers. However while the pace of the game is relentless, match times are unpredictable and the victory condition of two of three game types – winning players must exit the stage through a temporary portal that will disappear on death – will easily test the patience of most. Paperbound will undoubtedly be a hard sell for those casual, substance-fueled weekend multiplayer sessions or discouraging to new players weaned on Smash Bros.

Nor will dissenters find much to love from the art and sound efforts, with a forgettable soundtrack failing to cement itself with the same authority as Paperbound‘s strong art style. Broad strokes and pastel shades lend a tangible, textual quality across its five tomes inspired by 16th century Japan to a more convincing portrayal of Dante Aligheri’s 14th century epic poem Inferno than the million-dollar budget, EA-published Dante’s Inferno.

Unfortunately the art style is let down by a Flash game quality, occasionally to the detriment of gameplay as characters can be hard to distinguish in some of the larger stages. Not that many of the designs make things easy on players – one stickman variation will look much like the other, not matter how many bells and whistles are added.

Paperbound has a lot holding it back but at its core it’s is an inventive, feverish multiplayer game that has in it the magic to inspire the same kind of cursing and joy as the best multiplayer game – it is the magic of the formula.

Game of Thrones Episode Three: The Sword in the Darkness Review

It might have taken three of the six episodes in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, but it finally feels like the game is doing the source material justice. The Sword In The Darkness is quick-moving, tense and full of difficult decisions made by people under unfair pressure. Just like the books and the TV show.

The episode opens in Essos, where Asher is trying to get to Meereen to raise an army of sellswords so he can go home and help his family. He’s accompanied by his friend Beskha and his uncle Malcolm, and pursued by his enemies The Lost Legion. It’s a great opening section: there are actions I took that make me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken them; there are difficult decisions to make, including one where I made a choice I didn’t want to make because I thought it was the ‘right’ thing for the character to do; and those decisions lead to surprising consequences. I was fairly sure what the consequence of my action would be, knowing how events usually play out in A Song Of Ice And Fire, but I was wrong. Something unexpected happened. Not shocking, as is often the case, but unexpected nonetheless. And because I was wrong about what the consequence of my actions would be, it’s safe to say that there’ll be even more unexpected consequences leading from it further down the road. All of which makes me wonder if I ought to have made a different choice.

That’s exactly what I want from this game. I’m not interested in insta-death sections that make me retry a sequence. I want to be constantly wondering if I’ve screwed things up beyond salvage. Right from the start, The Sword In The Darkness gives me that. It’s not all good, mind you. The opening section has more of the dreaded QTE elements, but I really should stop complaining about that. Telltale clearly like them, so they aren’t going away. Ditto with the other things I hate about the series: the ugly oil painting effect and the shoddy frame rate (actually, I’m not certain Telltale like the frame rate, but they’re either unwilling or unable to do anything about it). Having said that, the oil painting effect seems lessened in this episode, and the QTEs don’t seem as frequent or as irritating. Perhaps I’m just used to them now though.

The opening section doesn’t outstay its welcome, and just as I’m wondering whether I’ve screwed up royally, I’m playing as the other characters in swift succession. Telltale’s writers really seem to have found their stride with this episode. Mira’s politicking in King’s Landing is creating more problems than it’s solving, and my attempts to smooth over issues caused by decisions I made in previous episodes are only causing more difficulties for her. Gared’s settling in at the Wall, making his vows, and becoming brothers with the other Night’s Watch, when all of a sudden his uncle Duncan appears to bring the issue of the North Grove up again. I’m glad he did, as I’ve been waiting for that to happen, but since I’ve kept it secret from everyone but Duncan, it places Gared in an awkward position. He’s supposed to have forsaken all his previous ties to House and family, but now here’s this mystery rearing its head and causing internal conflicts for him (and me). And later on another wrinkle occurs that could really cause problems for him in the future.

Rodrick’s situation in Ironrath isn’t getting any easier either. Possibly based on my screwing things up in the previous episode, the Forresters’ situation is more tenuous than ever, and things are getting even worse as more Whitehill soldiers arrive and start throwing their weight around. More difficult decisions need making, and there’s a definite sense that no matter what decision I make it’s not going to solve all the problems. Or even any of them, knowing Westeros. It’s unfair and I love it.

Well, I mostly love it. The few problems I have tend to boil down to situations where I don’t know what I’m choosing between and don’t trust the options I’m given to properly represent what I want to happen.

This happens in other games too – in the first Mass Effect I wanted to arrest a criminal, so chose an option that said something like “he can’t be allowed to just walk away from this” which resulted in Shepherd shooting the criminal in the face, which caused me to swear at the game quite a lot – and it’s no less irritating in Game of Thrones.

The biggest offenders in The Sword in the Darkness are Rodrick’s choices. I never quite knew if he was going to say what I thought the text choice suggested, or if he was going to do something else. It occasionally felt like the characters had been talking about whether to go left or right, and then the choices I was given were between ‘this way’ and ‘that way’. Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often (and I guess it’s possible I’m reading too much into the choices anyway so it may not be a problem for most people), but it puts a bit of a dampener on an otherwise tense and compelling episode for me.

Having said that, I thought this episode was much better than the previous one, and it’s so much better than the first episode that it doesn’t really feel like it was written by the same people. With The Sword in the Darkness it finally feels like things are moving. The choices I made in previous episodes are having consequences, the choices I made in this episode felt difficult and weighty, and when something happened I didn’t want to happen, I was wondering whether it was my fault. In fact, I’m going to have to start another playthrough right now, all the way from the beginning of episode one, just to see if I can make the ‘best’ choices.

Game Of Thrones Episode Two: The Lost Lords Review

But with no new George R. R. Martin novel due this year, and with weeks remaining until the TV show returns for season 5, Telltale have a monopoly on new A Song of Ice And Fire content, so I slightly reluctantly jumped back in for episode two.

I’m glad I did. The Lost Lords solves many of the technical problems I had with Iron From Ice, and is an all-round improvement. When I finished episode one, I couldn’t see how my choices stacked up against other players’ in-game. I got a rather terse message telling me to go to Telltale’s website. That’s fixed for episode two (and I checked episode one again, out of curiosity. It’s fixed there too), with all my choices present and correct, along with a percentage of other players who made the same decisions I did. That was another problem I had with episode one: when I did go to Telltale’s website, only two of my choices had been recorded. There was a well-publicised issue with the Xbox One version of the game where it would forget any choices you might have made in the previous episode, but I didn’t experience that either. Everything worked as it ought to. The animation seems better than it was in Iron From Ice, too. I didn’t see any characters randomly spasming or disappearing and appearing this time, although character movements are still a bit stiff and unnatural.

The pace of the episode is better than in the first instalment. There are more characters (four, as opposed to three last time) and the game moves between their stories much more frequently. Last episode I had a real problem with Gared, whose story was deathly boring. This episode, he’s got slightly more interesting things to do. Mind you, his is still the least interesting plotline, and it’s unclear how it’s going to tie into the larger narrative, but it’s a definite improvement.

It’s not all good news though. Several issues that I had with the first episode are still annoying me. The frame rate is still lousy (which is a rather poor show given the Xbox One’s power and makes me wonder if the Telltale Tool, which Telltale use to make their games, might be just too long in the tooth these days). Occasional lines of dialogue stutter or restart. The “oil painting come to life” effect that Telltale have chosen for textures and backgrounds is still incredibly ugly to my eyes and makes it look even more like the game is melting. Worst of all, the insta-death quick time events – which I hated in Iron From Ice – aren’t just present, they’re everywhere. Previously, they were only in Gared’s part of the story. Now every character has them, and they are spread pretty evenly throughout the entire episode. In a type of game which is all about shaping the narrative through your choices, having an instant fail state is jarringly out of place. It wouldn’t be so bad if you still managed to survive whichever encounter the QTE took place in, but there was another consequence. That’s what happens with the dialogue choices after all, which are really just another type of QTE. But instead, if you fail one of them, you die and have to retry. It’s irritating, it doesn’t fit the game, and it’s very disappointing to see Telltale increasing their frequency.

But what of the story? It’s the most important thing in Telltale games, after all. In my opinion, The Lost Lords’ story is a definite improvement over the previous episode’s. I thought Iron From Ice’s story was dull when you were Gared, who had nothing of any interest to do and had all the QTE’s. I found playing as Ethan better than Gared, but his plotline felt rather like a fanfiction story. All the ‘Game Of Thrones’ aspects were present and correct, but they were rather predictable. The game was at its most interesting when you were Mira, politicking in King’s Landing.

This episode, things are much better. Gared still doesn’t have any real agency, but at least he’s acquitting himself better than the bumbler he was last time. He’s at the Wall, meeting other new recruits and rubbing shoulders with Jon Snow.

Asher Forrester, one of the two new characters this episode introduces, is the dull one this time around. He’s in Yunkai, and is summoned home to help with the situation at Ironrath. The problem is, he needs an army to do so, and he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t get one this episode, either. He doesn’t get much of anything done, but at least he has a companion to chat to. The banter he shares with this companion, Beshka, is often easy and amusing (and always well-acted) but occasional lines fall flat and seem a bit heavy handed. Overall, Asher’s story is inconsequential but it’s better than nothing, and better than Gared’s was in the first episode.

Mira’s story is still the most interesting, seeing the player navigating the deadly currents of King’s Landing. It’s eased off a bit from last episode, although you do get to see the consequences of some of your previous choices, which is very satisfying. And Tyrion makes another scene-stealing appearance which is always welcome.

The final playable character is Rodrick Forrester. Believed dead through all of episode one, he’s returned to Ironrath grievously wounded, and has to pick up the pieces left by his brother Ethan’s fateful run in with Ramsay Bolton at the end of episode one. He’s also got to bury his dead, court a prospective wife and manage the presence of enemy soldiers in his home. It’s a tricky situation, and the one in which The Lost Lords feels like a genuine Game Of Thrones plot, rather than a weaker version of the Stark family’s story. Rodrick’s story is the one that affected me most, even to the point of me getting something ‘wrong’ and wanting to play it again to see if I could change the outcome. It also has the least quick time events of any of the plotlines, which is a huge relief.

Overall though, very little of consequence happens in The Lost Lords. This episode feels very much as though it’s preparing for some bigger events to come, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It does mean that some will feel short changed by the dearth of decent ‘moments’ in this episode: it’s all very low-key, even when it’s trying to be dramatic. Personally, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the first episode, but that’s an opinion I’m not certain most people will share.

I’m a bit cynical about Telltale’s ability to pull off anything very interesting with this series: they can’t change the events of the show, so nothing too momentous can happen. That means the story will have to be more intimate, but so far the Forresters feel like a weak copy of the Starks with a dash of a couple of other families thrown in. They don’t really have their own identity. There were a couple of glimpses of interesting character developments in this episode, but glimpses won’t be enough to sustain an entire season of the game. It will be interesting to see if Telltale can make me care about what happens to them, especially if the next episode’s release date comes after the new series of the TV show premieres. At the moment, I’m feeling relatively positive for the next episode: I want to see what happens with Rodrick and Mira. Gared’s still pretty bland, and Asher will need to do more than just swan around Essos bantering with his companions, but by the end of episode two there’s a feeling that something’s building. Let’s hope it doesn’t build for much longer before it starts to deliver.

 

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged Review

With a three month gap since the last episode, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Tales from the Borderlands existed. While a great debut, the Borderlands lore doesn’t have the enticing nature of a Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Understandable, those examples are two multimedia properties with millions of fans around the world, and the Borderlands universe gets a mixed response to say the least.

It would be a shame if this gets ignored because of the license attached, because it is the best bit of Borderlands fiction written thus far, unsurprising really when it’s coming from the ever reliable Telltale Games.

Like episode one, Atlas Mugged features the two main characters Rhys and Fiona telling their tale to a man who has them imprisoned. Naturally as the characters are telling the story, certain things get embellished. Such as Fiona managing all sorts of motorbike acrobatics, something that Rhys is quick to draw attention to. It’s the interaction between these two characters that made the first episode so enjoyable. Now the second episode has a new player in the form of Handsome Jack.

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At the end of episode one, we were left with the appearance of the ghostly Handsome Jack and with him come the best moments of this episode. While the previous episode tried, and ultimately failed, to bring the comedy chops, Atlas Mugged fares a little better. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but the dialogue between Rhys and Handsome Jack is enjoyable and well written.

Again, this episode flips player control between Rhys and Fiona so naturally it’s not long before the characters find themselves split up again after another great action sequence; Tales from the Borderlands is continuing to be the series to show off Telltale’s action set pieces. While action beats in their previous games were usually slow, methodical affairs, here it’s akin to a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. And they’re seamless too.

The game is technically impressive, it looks great, the framerate is impressive and transitions between scenes no longer have that horrible choppiness (something which in the past was always a problem with Telltale’s console output).

One thing that has always been my pet gripe with the latter day adventures of Telltale was the almost complete eradication of the puzzle element. The first season of The Walking Dead was the last time I feel like I had to think about what to do, everything since then has just been storytelling with puzzle solving pushed out of the picture completely.

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There’s one moment in this episode where it’s like they wanted to give the player a puzzle to solve, but panicked halfway through, leaving it in such a way that it can be solved by just clicking on things. While I’m not looking for obtuse Grim Fandango-style puzzles, something which challenges the brain a little would be most welcome. It’s especially bizarre because the game actually has an inventory. You pick up things, they go in your inventory, yet this affects nothing. You can’t combine items or do anything fancy with them. It makes me question what the point is.

Aside from that pet peeve of mine, from a storytelling perspective the game does go from strength to strength and you’re always wondering what situation led to Rhys and Fiona telling this crazy tale to their captor. Another character from the Borderlands fiction makes his debut and it’s a welcome one. And like all good episodic games, it leaves it on such a good cliffhanger (and decision) that you will be back to see what happens next.

At this point in time, Telltale have a formula and whether you like it or not they are sticking to it. While again, this is a solid entry in their impressive library of products, I can’t help but ask myself, how much longer can they do this before it becomes stale?

Shiftlings Review

If you don’t like fart humour, then you may be put off Shiftlings from the very start, because that is the central concept of the game, as you use farts to help a bumbling duo of aliens through 50+ levels in the puzzle platformer from RockPocket Games.

The first thing that struck me about Shiftlings was how nice it was to look at. I must admit I was expecting something a little rough around the edges, but visually it is really well crafted, with some lovely animation in the characters and main level elements, backed up by attention to detail in the background areas. It brings each and every level to life.

It is the gameplay that has me torn though, because at the start it works really well, each of the two aliens you control has an airtight spacesuit on and one of them has got some serious gas, so when he farts, his suit blows up into a balloon. Imagine that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and you are pretty much there.

To overcome a puzzle, you essentially need to work with both characters, farting to switch the gas between suits, which are connected via a pipe. With me so far? This pipe works as a tether, which means you need to think about how you approach each new problem, knowing they can never be too far away from each other, but there is some leeway still.

Now as I said, this all works well at the start and you plod along happily going through levels, solving problems and moving on. It is very competent in that respect. The main issue comes later, when it becomes clear that this is designed to be a co-op game and therein lays the problem.

It is a game that is perfectly playable in the most part in single player and if anything early levels are setup for that, you switch characters with a touch of a button and what you are doing and with whom make perfect sense, but later on this becomes frustrating to do on your own and it is at this point where it seems like a shift was made in the design process to focus on the co-op side. This can be done locally or online which is a nice touch.

I grabbed a partner and sure enough the later levels lost their frustrations and the enjoyment factor crept back in, but we also went and tried the earlier levels in co-op and they became tedious, to the point where you felt one of you was more of a hindrance than a help.

It is a shame, because had this been separate entities that focused one mode to the single player and another toward co-op, I’d likely be shouting from the rooftops about how you must have this game. Sure it would need a few more levels created for each mode, but it would have been a game that came out of nowhere and really impressed.

As it is though, I can’t find an angle in which to really sell it to you. It’s not one I can say to get if you love co-op, because early levels don’t fit properly and I can’t recommend it for single player as you will hit a point where it becomes frustrating…So!

If you are the sort of person who has the time to play two fifths of a game in single player, but can then get someone else to jump in for the remaining levels, then Shiftlings is right up your street!

I feel bad saying it like that, because it is a fantastic puzzle platformer, and individually I really did enjoy the levels, especially as I got to play them in the right environment.

Unfortunately this is the equivalent of getting all six numbers on the lottery, but on two separate tickets. You win a bit of money, but you were so close to the jackpot!

Game Of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice Review

In October 2000, I was in my second year at university. The excitement of moving into a new student house had faded. Tuition fees and rent had hacked a scary hole in my meagre finances; far too many trips to various pubs, clubs and bars had further deepened that hole. My course reading list and essays were already worryingly large and I was beginning to panic about what I would do once university was over. I therefore did what any self-respecting socially awkward geek would do, and ran away to Westeros. I devoured second-hand paperback copies of A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings in a couple of weeks, then guiltily spent more of my dwindling cash reserves on a new hardback copy of A Storm of Swords, the third novel in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. I reached the ‘Red Wedding’, and was so shocked by it that I put the book down for a couple of hours and walked to the university campus: a rarity for me at the time.

The point at which I put the book down all those years ago is the point at which Telltale’s Game Of Thrones series begins. The Red Wedding occurs a couple of minutes into the game, although you don’t get to see it. What you get instead is an irritating series of quick time events, with no instruction as to how to play, and insta-death if you fail one. QTEs are so well-known in games these days that a tutorial probably isn’t needed for most players, but I know several Game of Thrones fans who aren’t gamers but are interested in Telltale’s series. They wouldn’t have a clue how to complete the opening few minutes, and would likely just give up. It’s not the most auspicious way to start, and the irritation it causes is compounded by a frame rate which drops alarmingly in places, stuttering audio and a weak script.

During this lacklustre beginning to the game, you take the role of Gared, squire to Lord Forrester. His job in this episode is really just to annoy you with QTEs and to introduce the player to the Forrester family, who are mentioned in a single throwaway line in A Dance With Dragons. Hopefully he will get more to do in future episodes, because if he stays as uninteresting as he is during this first instalment, it will sour me on the whole series.

Luckily, he’s not the only playable character in the game. I understand there will be five in the series as a whole, but in this episode you’ll only get to play as three of them. There’s Gared The Dull; Mira Forrester, who is a handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing; and Ethan Forrester, who is in charge at the Forrester’s home fortress at Ironrath. The Forresters’ stories are much more interesting than Gared’s, and for the most part, better constructed too.

Ethan and Mira have some tough decisions to make in the aftermath of the Red Wedding, where their father learns what happens in Westeros when you’re noble and good and more concerned with acting honourably than with saving your own skin. Mira is tasked with playing politics and trying to influence Margaery Tyrell (and through her the Lannisters) to look kindly on the Forresters. This means she has the dubious pleasure of verbally sparring with Cersei and Tyrion, both played with consummate skill by the actors who portray them in the HBO series. Natalie Dormer is also on hand to voice Margaery, and this helps Mira’s section of the game to feel the most like an episode of the Game of Thrones TV show.

Ethan is too young to be given the responsibilities he suddenly finds himself saddled with, and there’s a pleasing sense of trying to cope with things you don’t understand and events you can’t control to his story. This is heightened by the fact that the player is thrust into the situation in the same way as the character. You’re never given enough information to be certain that the decision you’re making is the ‘right’ one. At one point, a thief is brought to Ethan for judging, and you get to choose what punishment to mete out. You’re not told what the usual punishment for the crime is, though, and so when the cryptic “[someone] will remember this” text appears after you make your decision, you’re not sure if that’s because you did well or not. This feeling really lends itself to the world of Westeros, where in the books and TV show there never seems to be an objectively ‘correct’ choice.

This sense of not knowing enough about the wider world becomes a drawback on the personal scale though. In both Mira’s story and Ethan’s, I made a choice and was told by someone close to the character that I’d acted strangely. Not knowing Ethan or Mira’s personalities, I had no idea what they would have done in the situation. I chose according to my own judgement, and based on the reactions of people who know Ethan and Mira well, I chose ‘wrongly’.

That’s not to say that I was punished for my choice. I have no idea whether the choices I made will have an effect on the larger story at all, either good or bad. But in what is in my opinion more of a role playing game than an adventure story, not being properly able to play the role I’m assigned, and having that inability mentioned by another character is a bit frustrating.

More frustrating, however, are the myriad technical problems with the episode. I’ve mentioned the frame rate already, but it’s really shocking at times. I was playing on an Xbox One, and given that there are rarely more than a couple of characters on screen at any one time, and the environments are all pretty stylised and stationary, there’s no excuse for dropping below 30FPS. The frame rate issues would be baffling but excusable if the rest of the game was perfect, but it really isn’t. Animations are stilted and awkward at times. I noticed one character sitting down at a table and, rather than resting their hands on it, they were hovering a few inches above the table. Similarly, characters’ hands wouldn’t actually be touching doors when the doors opened, limbs would occasionally twitch in anatomically impossible ways, and on a couple of occasions, dialogue lines stuttered and restarted.

The character models are oddly unnatural too. Characters that Telltale have invented themselves look stylised and slightly cartoonish, while characters from the TV series look far more realistic. This creates a very strange effect where neither look quite right. And the backgrounds! Where to begin? Apparently the idea was to create an effect as of an “oil painting brought to life”. To me, it looks variously as though the environment is melting, or as though the textures have been copied over from a PS1 game. It’s not too bad if the environment is completely static, but if anything is moving (characters, flames, wind, leaves and so on) it looks appalling.

There’s also an irritating bug which as far as I can tell still isn’t fixed, where some or all of your choices won’t be remembered and posted to the Telltale website. I encountered this on my first play through (only two of my choices were posted) but when I restarted and played through the episode again, all of my choices were available on Telltale’s site.

Overall, it feels like a very rocky beginning to a potentially exciting series. Plagued by technical issues (on Xbox One, at least), odd stylistic choices, occasional iffy writing, but nonetheless with a definite feel of George R. R. Martin’s world. There was nothing in the game to match my experience of reading the Red Wedding, but it has definitely whetted my appetite for the next series of the TV show, so that’s something at least.

As for more Telltale episodes? I’m ambivalent.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review

I have heard that on my landline so many times over the last year…so that’s the tenuous opening reference done. Now on to the review.

I liked Hotline Miami, nay I LOVED Hotline Miami, it had the right balance of clever puzzle solving, mixed with a tight control scheme and an ultraviolence setting that set the tone wonderfully well. So Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number should have had me drooling at the mere thought of playing and it did.

However, things weren’t quite as I was expecting but let me explain why. I am not against violence in videogames, nor any medium of entertainment, I indulge in it, I crave it at times. I have played games in the past, even as a much more naive teenager, that have seen me do some of the most atrocious things. I got great pleasure out of maiming body parts in Soldier of Fortune, I got a moody copy of Thrill Kill. Carmageddon? I took great pleasure in killing innocent bystanders. I know and have always known the difference between what is real and what is fake.

If it works in context, then that’s cool and it worked in Hotline Miami, but something in Hotline Miami 2 just felt off to me and I cannot quite put my finger on it. I wasn’t disgusted by anything I saw, but it felt like this was trying to find an edge, a way to cause some controversy maybe? Who knows, all I know is that the graphic scenes didn’t sit right with me.

I wanted to make sure something hadn’t broken in my head, maybe I had changed in the months since first playing the original, since playing other ultraviolent games, or watching some sick and twisted films from the 70’s and 80’s. Nope I still enjoyed those, I even had a prolonged session on Hotline Miami, such was the enjoyment I got.

But this, this sequel made me feel the total opposite and the more I tried to justify the game, put the blame squarely on me, the more it got to me. But I could skip story stuff, just play the game and ignore everything surrounding it, I’ve played many games before where the story is gubbins and has been completely ignored just to enjoy the gameplay, so I would do the same here. Right?

Well…again not quite. In the original Hotline Miami levels were laid out in such a way that is was a mixture of puzzle solving, trial and error and reaction times. You went in, learned the layout, where the enemies were, where they could appear from, what the smart moves were and how to do it all in a beastly fashion.

Completing a level was satisfying, but failure was all part of that too, you learned from your mistakes and tried new things, it was all put together in a rich tapestry of awesomeness. Here though as much as it has the same general concepts, it also loses some of magic that made the first such a fine game.

There are a lot more offscreen deaths, where you simply have no idea where the enemy has attacked from, meaning that you often go into some areas trying to figure out a route, but end up relying on blind luck and whilst you can clearly move the camera around, it still doesn’t account for how much better the enemy AI is at spotting you well away from the action.

Even the maps seem to be a tiny bit worse, as though all the best ideas were used in the original, the same with how levels start out. There was always an element of slight randomness with enemy starting positions, but you could always factor that in to your next approach, because it still seemed to follow a pattern, but here that randomness seems to be too much, positions change a lot more drastically from turn to turn that planning becomes secondary to hope.

So far, everything about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is worse than Hotline Miami, the story seems off, the gameplay isn’t as tight as the original and it has made minor changes that really do alter the way you approach the game. So it is awful, correct?

That’s the thing, despite all of that, it is still a damn good game. Had it not been for the fact it is a sequel to Hotline Miami, if it has been a new IP or the original had never existed, then this would have been wonderful (bar the story, but I still cannot pinpoint why I hate it), but it does live in a world where this game has been done better by its own predecessor.

It’s like going to see Toy Story 3 after watching the first two. You know it is good and technically a brilliant piece of entertainment, but it just isn’t as good as the first two films, they nailed it first time around and probably won’t be bettered in their franchise. This is how Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number comes across. A technically competent game, but lacking that little something it’s original had that made it special.

DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition Review

While the trend of re-releasing last gen games on new hardware isn’t always a welcome one, I do like that DmC is now available in “Definitive” form. It’s a game that sales wise did okay, but they weren’t the figures that Capcom were hoping for. Unfortunately with bigger, more powerful hardware, the AAA game has to sell a ridiculous amount of copies to just break even.

So, is this the definitive version of the game? Well, yes and no. On the plus side it has all the DLC that came out, from alternate costumes to new modes. On the downside, technically there are a few issues, some of which I can’t remember being in the original release. Graphically it still looks good (not The Last of Us good), but a decent upgrade. There were however a few performance issues that soured it a little.

During the first boss cut scene the game actually froze for a couple of seconds before the “loading” message appearing, which did break up the flow a little. A few overlapping audio issues occurred during a later level (Dante somehow managing to speak over himself) and weirdest of all, moments where it seemed like the camera was getting caught on the environment. Almost as if the skybox wasn’t quite big enough, so as I jumped forward in the air the camera refused to follow before snapping back behind Dante once I landed. So there are some technical quibbles I have, thankfully the core experience is still as good now as it was two years ago.

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Controlling Dante is a joy. What starts off with a few combos and a sword quickly turns into a deep and rewarding system with plenty of ways to dispatch the demon hordes. With angel and demon weapons, as well as your trusty sword and guns, you’ll soon be juggling everything in your path, getting an SSS rank along the way. Although, it may be my lack of skill since, but I’m finding it a lot more difficult to hit that top rating than I was originally, which makes me think it’s been tweaked slightly for this version.

What really got the most mixed reaction (aside from Dante’s new look) was the story, and new attitude of our hero. Somewhat baffling to me, as I never saw old-school Dante as having much of a character. Anyway, new Dante is certainly your typical angst ridden protagonist, but he does have somewhat of an arc as the story progresses. From not caring about anything to wanting to protect the world, the story here I feel is more interesting than people gave it credit for.

The story also helps set the stage for some excellent levels and boss fights. From ruined streets to a crazy, demon infested nightclub. Limbo (the world that exists in parallel to the real one and Dante is able to travel to) allows the art and design team to really go crazy with the environments. Floating platforms, upside down towers and the like are all commonplace. Then there are the bosses, giant, scene stealing creatures, or in one case, a holographic head. And with plenty of hidden items, upgrades and harder difficulties, replay value is surprisingly high for such a single player experience.

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As already said, the definitive edition contains all the DLC that came out. While some are cosmetic (old Devil May Cry costumes for instance), others have a lot more meat to them. The Bloody Palace (unlocked upon completion of the main game) is essentially an arena mode where you have to beat wave after wave of enemies.

The other big piece of DLC included is Vergil’s Downfall. Set after the events of the main game, it’s a nice add-on, however it almost feels like it was made on the cheap. The cut scene quality takes a drastic nosedive as what were superb in the main story are now reduced to low rent motion comics.

At its base, the core DmC gameplay has also been tweaked with the amount of damage certain moves do reduced, alterations to the parry system, and this is on top of a new Turbo mode (which speeds up the game by 20%) and new difficulties. It’s clear that Ninja Theory have taken on board the criticism and improved the overall experience.

I was slightly sceptical when DmC was announced as the latest in a long line of re-releases on the current crop of hardware, but Ninja Theory have exceeded my expectations. If you have yet to experience the game then this is the perfect time to do so, if you’ve already played through it, then there’s still plenty new here to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Helldivers Review

That’s it, that is my one and only Starship Troopers reference. I want to make loads more, but I will resist. Why? Well this is essentially Starship Troopers the game, or at least a game heavily influenced by it. That is what we call a wonderful thing. So…would you like to know more?

That’s it, done now. Helldivers is essentially a brutally hard, top down twin stick shooter at its core. You, as one of the Helldivers, must protect Super Earth from alien bug scum, so that the ideals of our way of life, freedom, democracy, etc can be spread to those lowly lifeforces that are human!

To be honest, the story and the setting isn’t exactly original, but boy does it have some standout moments, that at times will leave you with a massive grin across your face, this is a very self aware game and it plays to that perfectly.

It isn’t the story or the writing that you come for though, it is the tough and testing gameplay that really helps this stand out from the crowd.

The opening tutorial is generic and slightly dull, as it teaches you the basics of movement, combat and how to call in the all important drops (which I’ll come to in a moment). So far it is all same old, same old. But then it lets you loose.

After getting a galaxy overview map, similar to what you may see in the Mass Effect games, you choose an area to play, enter that area and get going…well, not before finding others to join in with you and earning that spinning cape trophy…because why the hell not.

Now Helldivers would have been a fantastic game based off the core gameplay mechanics alone, the controls are finely tuned and it feels very satisfying moving through each level and engaging in combat. It would have been fine with that, but the developers decided to step things up a little by adding full on friendly fire and a little more to make it that much harder.

In most games with co-op features like this, the idea of friendly fire is a nightmare and often turned off by default, but in Helldivers it is a central part of why the game is so bloody good. Of why you embrace its difficulty and learn to love it.

Enemies aren’t always easy to take down, which often leads to you and your team needing to work together on one enemy, or split across numerous enemies and whilst this is nothing new as such, the fact that your mate going to town on one enemy could see him getting in your way, or trying to shoot through you means you really need to think about how you attack.

You can be revived but losing one man can make things even harder and when you lose one player, others will quickly follow. So you need to be completely aware of what is happening around you and most important of all, you must communicate. Let others know what you are about to do, do that and you might just survive.

It’s not just friendly fire from your team-mates’ weapons you need to worry about and it isn’t only the clever AI that will try and work together to destroy you. No it is your Strategems too. These are drops that are designed to help you in battle

At any moment in the game you can call in a supply or weapon drop via a series of key presses, these drops come from above and if you happen to be in the way…DEAD. One of the drops is a turret which picks up on movement; even if you called for it, you can still be hit and killed. Luckily there is a dive to ground button which will see you safe from the bullets should you be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So what about these Strategems? Whilst the idea of calling for upgrades, weapons, health, etc in a game isn’t new, it is the mechanic used here that really impresses. You press a button to start a drop, then you see your option with a series of directional inputs next to them.

So for example you want to call in an ammunition refill, you press the call button and then enter the code up, left, right, up, up, down. That will confirm the Strategem and in it drops. Initially I did wonder if this was a silly gimmick and a bit of a convoluted solution to a problem that never existed, but it soon becomes second nature and you start to learn the codes, meaning you rarely need to actually look at what you are calling for and those precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

All the weapons, your character and even the Strategems are fully upgradable throughout the game, which once again adds a level of tactical thinking to how you play, what sort of combat style suits you best, which weapons should you upgrade, that sort of thing and it all works really, really well.

In the last year or so, gamers have seen a lot of games with promise fail to deliver, but in Helldivers you have a game that has not only delivered, but delivered in a box made of solid gold. It is an utterly joyful experience where you embrace the difficulty and beg for more.

 

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review

I make no apologies for my review of OlliOlli at the start of 2014. I played it, I loved it and had none of the major crashing issues that others seemed to get. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan title either, as I can say I was still dipping in and out right up until a week before OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood landed a 360 Kick Flip into my lap.

So let me be brutally honest about OlliOlli before I go into my review. OlliOlli 2 isn’t going to change many minds. If you found enjoyment from the first game, then you’ll do so again here. If you just didn’t like it, then don’t expect this to suddenly open your eyes.

The first thing that struck me about OlliOlli 2 was that from the moment i picked it up, it fit like an old glove, it felt comfortable and safe. I knew this game, I could blast through the tutorial levels and jump straight back in almost where I left off. Early on it feels just like an expansion rather than a sequel.

But that feels harsh, like I am doing it an injustice though, because after being eased back in, there are a lot of subtle changes and whilst these mainly affect the level design, they do also seem to have a fundamental affect on how you play. There are minor changes to the locales and even a tweaked new mechanic that gives you a visual indicator as to the best point to leave the edge of a ramp, plus lots of nice new visual effects that bring the game even more to life. Some of the later levels are beautiful to see, but for me it still feels like an expansion.

Now maybe that is because I knew many of the levels from the original like the back of my hand, or maybe it was something else.

What do I mean by this though? Well, all of a sudden I was finding myself lacking the momentum to get past some grind rails, meaning I would fall off and that run would end, which was frustrating, but that good kind of frustrating, like you’d get in a game such as Trials HD. I knew it just HAD to be something I was doing wrong. Well sure enough, after many repeats of the same level, I had found the optimal route and beat it.

What’s that? Damn my ignorant bliss of the first game with the lack of leaderboards that reminded me that just being the best in my own home was no longer good enough, I was actually crap compared to another few thousand strangers. I got through, but at least 179 people so far had done it better than me.

That’s not fair, I was able to just run through the first game and beat the levels, that was it, they were the only thing standing between me and greatness. Now I am nothing but mediocre, getting the five stars in the level meant NOTHING….DO YOU HEAR ME…NOTHING!!!

WHY? Because RodneyMullenFAN2987 has done better than me. What’s the point, if this random faceless name is better than me? I see him there looking at the same leaderboard as me, all smug and happy, just wait until he looks up though and sees RogerRamjet1965 doing better than he is, then he’ll know how it feels!

I joke of course, having leaderboards in from the start shows that the team at Roll7 have been listening and have learned from one of the few mistakes they made with the first game. The leaderboard integration is well done and adds a hell of a lot of longevity to a game that already has a lot of content.

You have the main mode which follows the same sort of path as the original, getting stars unlocks new areas and new levels, as well as pro levels for each too. There is also the return of the spots and daily grinds from the original too, which does a great job of padding out the game and giving you a distraction should the main path get too hard or frustrating at any point.

But that’s it really, the tutorial stuff is in an area called Skate Park, but that’s your lot. There are new modes still to come, but I can’t review those yet, no matter how good they may end up being. So what you have here is a sequel that is in a tough position.

OlliOlli 2 doesn’t and can’t reinvent the wheel, it changes very little which means it is still the same game you love (or despise) from before, but at this moment you feel a little short changed, because the new locations and minor new mechanics don’t quite make this stand up above its predecessor but at the same time it clearly isn’t a massive fall from grace. It is simply more of the same and where you fall on that discussion is up to you.

Pillar Review

One of the things that I found with Pillar was how much the game grew on me. I won’t lie, after the first 30 minutes I was ready to trash it in this review, it felt hollow and drawn out for no reason whatsoever.

That was the first half an hour though, as soon after it was like I had an epiphany; the way the game blends the story is really engaging. The music plays a huge part in this as it draws you in and gives you laser focus on what is happening on the screen, whilst at the same time allowing a story to unravel in your head.

Essentially you play through the game by choosing levels from a number of personality types. Some of these, such as Distant have you finding ways to sneak past people to make it through to another part of the level. In the case of Distant you can freeze time to set up a series of switches and speakers to force the inhabitants to investigate whilst you sneak past; whilst Focused has a similar technique, but is based upon real time distraction, using shouts from your character.

Then there are others like Enduring and Renewing, which are designed to work in tandem to solve mazes and collect orbs. They each have a different strength and finding ways for them to work together is vital to success.

What is nice here is that there is a decent amount of variation. Some are excellent, whilst others might not feel as engaging as you’d hope. But the fact that this game is trying to add variation shouldn’t go unnoticed, even if it isn’t working perfectly the whole time.

As previously mentioned, the story isn’t spelled out for you at all, but it does become apparent that each character is heading towards the same goal and with a little deduction, you can piece together some important elements to tell the story yourself.

That is the biggest thing that will stick with me long term. I totally forgot in the end that there was no story being told to me directly and everything I was realising was from me, it was happening in my head. It is the anti-Bastion in this regards and it works really well.

The main issue that I have is that in trying to add variation to the game, there is a bit of point where it came across as running out of ideas, so let’s just tweak this a bit. It doesn’t ruin the experience as such, but it does make some parts feel a bit of a drag.

There isn’t much to say about Pillar, it cannot be recommended to everyone, because it clearly isn’t for everyone. But if you like to use your own imagination whilst being tested, then you will get a good experience here. I certainly enjoyed my time with it and am glad I got to experience a game that tried something different, despite some minor flaws.

Ironclad Tactics Review

I love collectible card games (CCGs, for you acronym lovers). I love the tactile nature of them, the artwork, the interlocking mechanics of a well designed system. I love the thrill of opening packs of cards and the crushing disappointment when you get no rare ones.
I want to love real time strategy games (or RTSs. I’m not writing ‘real time strategy’ every time it occurs in this review). I can see how deep and tactical they can be; ordering armies and gaining resources, thinking 3 steps ahead to try and curtail the enemies approach and attack, laying waste to your foes.

 

I’m awful at CCG and RTS games. If it doesn’t involve smashing shit in the face really hard with something blunt I’m left running around in little circles flapping my arms, screaming “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!”. I can see what I’m supposed to do in both, but I inevitably fall back on throw all my guys at the enemy and hope for the best.

You might see where this review for Ironclad Tactics, a tactical real time strategy game with card based mechanics, might be going. And you might be right. But maybe not…

 

Set in an alternate steampunk version of the American Civil War, you control human infantry and steam-powered mechs, the titular Ironclads. The story is a bit thin and forgettable, but is nicely told through illustrated comic panels between battles.

 

Before entering a battle you can edit your deck of cards using a library unlocked by fulfilling certain criteria during missions, be it just finishing the mission, completing the puzzle mode for that mission, killing a certain enemy and so on. Some of these cards can be upgraded by fulfilling different criteria, which adds another level of tactical play. Each upgrade comes with it’s own benefits and detriment, for example increased health, but increased cost to play.

The battlefield is split into lanes with the enemy advancing from the right and the player from the left. The win condition is usually acquire x Victory Points, which is achieved by getting your mechs to the opposite side of the battlefield. Sometimes to unlock cards you’ll need to get the points by other means, such as using mortars to bombard the enemy.

 

Combat and movement is in real time, controlled by an unpausable timer which is split into 4 sections; Play, Act, Kill and Move which are worth explaining, no matter how obvious they may seem.

 

The Play phase is when any card you’ve chosen from the row of 5 cards in front of you is put into play and activated, such as putting a unit on the field, arming that unit, or healing that unit. The Act phase is where the unit activates any weapons or buffs that have been applied to it. Kill is where if fatal damage is dealt the unit dies and Move is, well, where the units move. You can pause units at any time to block the lane, though your units only move through enemies if they’re significantly smaller than your unit, such as infantry (which results in a pretty nasty squishing noise and a little pixelated gore).

 

It’s a simple sounding system, but an effective one as it makes you think on your feet and do your utmost to make the best use of the cards that you have. It’s a fast paced system that can feel a little fraught, but mainly in a good way.

The problem is Ironclad Tactics doesn’t really explain much to begin with. In a time when tutorials are bandied around like super-strength lager in the park at night between tramps, sometimes they’re necessary and while Ironclad does have tutorials, they’re not overly detailed on how the mechanics of the game work.

 

Still, persistence and practice mean that soon enough you’re arming your units and preparing the next one mentally to try and sway the battle in your favour, and when you do pull off a well-planned strategy to deal with the tide of mechanical death marching your way it can be very satisfying.

 

But it can also be incredibly frustrating. The resource for playing cards is Action Points (or AP). AP is generated at a rate of about 1.5 per Play phase, although some levels have points you can control to gain more AP per turn. These levels generally start with a lower AP generator, so getting cards out can be infuriatingly slow. It feels like you’re permanently urging the timer to advance quicker so you can get your Ironclads and Infantry out to stem the tide. It’s not helped by the controls, which while fine in general, lack the immediacy of the mouse that the PC version has. Sometimes you select a card because you finally have AP to play it, but you find it’s slid off the row of cards by the time you’ve moved the cursor to the unit you were going to apply it to, or the timer has moved beyond the allotted phase where you can play it.

Another frustration is that you’re at the mercy of the random nature of card draw, so not only are you screaming for more AP, you’re hoping to whichever deity of your preference that the card you desperately need comes out.

 

But that is the nature of CCGs. That’s part of the thrill. The deck limit in Ironclad Tactics is 20, so building a deck to reduce the variance is much simpler than, say, Magic: The Gathering or any other ‘proper’ CCG you could mention, but you can never truly eliminate it. It’s the luck of the draw.

 

Ironclad Tactics is a bit of an odd beast. It took me a good old while to get my head around it, to work out it’s little quirks and nuances and there is a good game in there, but not a great game. It’s packed with content as it includes the 2 extra DLC campaigns from the PC version, it’s charming and the mechanics are sound, but there’s something missing from it. It never elevates itself to the “one more mission” compulsiveness that games of a similar ilk have and, in all honesty, it rarely made me want to play it for any great length of time. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s just…Fine.

 

Ultimately it’s a game that feels like some of the mechanics are a little bit too wonky to be truly great, but if you have a knack for real time strategy you’ll get a good deal of enjoyment out of it. For the rest of us who lack any kind of tactical planning ability, there’s always Shootymans XXIV round the corner.

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round Review

Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is split between being a full release and a free to play fighting game (dubbed Core Fighters), the PSN store is full of tat for both, and finding which is for your specific version is almost impossible. I’m reviewing the full (and I use that term loosely) retail release, so as I went on the store I saw the sub-menu (“FOR FULL VERSION”). Okay I thought, so this must be for me. Nope, what I saw were characters I already had, so I guess what they meant was “Characters that will bump your game up to the full version”?

It’s so badly mismanaged it almost feels like a parody of what the future of DLC is going to be. Only it’s real, this is a real thing that has happened and it’s a little gross. Quite frankly if you buy any of the costumes on the store then you’re responsible for funding this dark future that we find ourselves hurtling toward. Once the rage subsided, I was finally able to play the game, which you’ll be pleased to know, is really, really good.

Dead or Alive has always got a bad rep for being the “fighting game with the boobies”, which might be accurate, but a little unfair. Okay, with an option in the menus for “Breast Motion” (the options either being “natural” or more hilariously, “DOA”) and the skimpy costumes, it doesn’t exactly help itself. But look past that and there is a solid, deep and rewarding fighter in Dead or Alive 5: Last Round

It’s a game where anyone can pick it up, hammer buttons and get some fun out of it, but putting in the time reaps the rewards. With an incredibly challenging counter system (almost demanding you memorise everyone’s combos) and some of the best designed (and interactive) stages, there’s more than just titillation when it comes to DOA. Going one on one with an opponent, each being down to a sliver of health, and countering that final blow giving yourself the victory is a proper fist pumping moment, especially when that person is sitting right next to you.

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Already hosting an impressive roster of characters from past DOA games, and even some Virtua Fighter alumni, Last Round also adds another new character to the mix, the schoolgirl Honoka. This as well as returning DOA1 boss character Raidou, who is now playable. This definitely feels like a celebration of all past games in the series and the final chapter (or Last Round!) is the fifth iteration.

It, as expected, also boosts the graphical performance slightly. It’s not pushing the PS4 exactly, but there are some nice stage effects and each character model getting covered in dirt and sweat (steady now) is a neat touch.

It’s really a shame that a few bugs have made it through. My first time playing I completed the Arcade Mode only to then be stuck on the Results screen with no way to escape other than resetting the console, this has a happened a few times, also becoming stuck when it was attempting to find a game online. This is on top of the numerous issues that Xbox One owners are finding, such as saves being deleted and the game not even showing up for download.

The online mode was a little shaky to begin with, which at the time of writing is finally starting to settle. Although finding a ranked game is nigh on impossible, lobbies do seem to be working and the “Throwdown” portion (allowing you to accept an incoming challenge when playing single player) is currently the best way of getting a ranked match. Once you do get into a game, providing it’s a solid connection, then it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Particularly if you get a group of friends together in a lobby for a classic “Winner Stays On” scenario.

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Last Round is certainly not shy of content. There’s a lot of single player modes to plough through with single fights, tags, survival mode and a number of different training modes. There’s also a Story Mode, which tries (and ultimately fails) to tell a convincing story out of this madness.

It’s a number of cut scenes interspersed with single round fights which feel like they’re over just as soon as they begin. Hilariously, the PS4 stream functionality is blocked when playing Story Mode, as if Tecmo Koei didn’t want anyone to spoil this award winning tale they’re telling. In a post Injustice/Mortal Kombat world, the excuse of “fighting games don’t do story modes” doesn’t quite fly anymore.

Despite being the most complete DOA package it’s a shame that so many bugs have crept through to the final product. There’s a great fighting game here, that with maybe a little care and attention would’ve been essential. As it stands though, this is simply a nice stop gap before Street Fighter’s imminent arrival.

The Order: 1886 Review

I have found it very difficult to work out how to approach this review for The Order: 1886. As much as I have tried to ignore any spoilers or stopped myself over analysing every new video or snippet of information, it has been nigh on impossible to avoid one thing… the length of the game.

 

What from the beginning looked like it would be a third person action game, sharing much in common with Gears of War in terms of mechanics, actually turned out to be a different beast entirely. After playing the opening level, I took a step back and went at this game in a completely new direction.

 

You see for me, this isn’t a cover based third person shooter with a story and fantastic visuals (which are fantastic by the way), this is a visual novel, a movie, that shares more in common with Telltale games, or a David Cage game. It just so happens to break up the story telling with some hands on action.

 

That is what it is, a full on interactive movie / visual novel. There is little you can do to change the outcome, it is even very difficult to reach any kind of fail state, namely because the game is generous with the hits you personally can take. That was clear very, very early in the game and the first time I had made my mind up about what I was actually playing.

I was essentially controlling the star of the show between important story scenes, taking on the action scenes and doing a bit of investigation work. Once you get over the hurdle that this isn’t a big expansive game in the vein of a Castlevania, GTA or Gears of War and the likes, it can be a very enjoyable experience…sort of.

 

Just because I found a way to experience the game that should see many of my early issues done away with, it doesn’t mean for one second that this is a game without any issues. For one, the fact I had to take that step back means there was somewhat of a marketing issue here, that maybe Sony had gotten it all wrong in the build up.

 

I haven’t gone into The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us or even Beyond Two Souls wondering where the gameplay was, because they were marketed correctly, whether you liked them or not is another matter, but you knew what they were trying to be. The Order: 1866 doesn’t have that, it takes time to realise what this game is trying to be and even then it isn’t perfectly clear.

 

Before carrying on with the ‘bad’, I do want to focus on one major positive; that being the visuals, especially the switch between cut-scene, QTE and real time action. This is seamless, everything is done in real time and is jaw droppingly impressive. It is clearly the most visually impressive title on this generation of consoles thus far, setting a new bar which all other games must now reach.

Voice acting too is rather impressive, it may not be at The Last of Us levels of professionalism, but it is up there with the best of the rest as all dialogue flows nicely, even during moments you are in control. Those black bars? That letterbox effect? It works! Because this is more movie than it is game, that effect means it does feel incredibly cinematic, so in all that, Ready at Dawn have done a stunning job and deserve some kudos.

 

So on to the negative then; by shoehorning action sequences into the story, it actually becomes rather a disjointed experience, despite the seamless transitions between them. Whilst they make sense as per their timing within the story, it becomes apparent that they are there as additional padding. Which really causes problems with the next major issue.

 

This is a game that has hit shelves at the £50 mark in most places, in a time when many games are finding their feet at around £40 on release and for £50 you expect much more game than you actually get. There is a weight of expectation as to the content you should be receiving for your money.

 

There have been a ton of figures thrown around as to the length of the game, so I decided to time what I played and it weighed in at just short of seven and a half hours, which included me doing a fair amount of searching about and taking screenshots of the wonderfully detailed areas. It is clear this can be clocked in less than six hours and that is without doing it as a ‘speed run.’

Again, the issue of marketing comes in here, because it felt like less than half the game was actually me taking part in playing, with around half spent watching, a decent amount wandering or doing QTE’s, with what felt like maybe just short of a third doing some shooting. Even then those shooting moments felt artificially extended.

 

Here is the main thing about The Order: 1886, it isn’t a terrible game, by any stretch of the imagination, there is a lot it does right. Especially in the presentation and dare I say it, even in the way it handles Quick Time Events, the shooting in itself is passable and it has the makings of something rather entertaining. But this isn’t the game I expected, this isn’t the full blown retail action/adventure title I was led to believe I was getting. This feels like it should have been released episodically on PSN.

 

That right there is what my big issue is. I have played something similar in DONTNOD’s Life is Strange, which for the most part follows the same rules as The Order, but actually feels a lot more interactive. I look forward to the next episode in that series and truth be told, had a section of this game been released as episode 1 of however many on PSN and marketed as an interactive story, then I would have been much, much happier and would have found myself wanting the next episode and eager to put my money down.

 

But here we are, I left The Order: 1886 expecting more, but also knowing more is to come, because the game ends in such a way that it is clear there will be a sequel, or at least plans to make a sequel. One that I will be very eager to play, especially now I kind of know what to expect. This is just a taster… but one that leaves things a bit sour on the whole.

Apotheon Review

It’s a very specific art style that they’ve pulled off incredibly well. It looks entirely like a Grecian urn. What’s a Grecian urn? Hopefully more now a left-leaning government has taken power that is committed to ending austerity, but that is an ongoing situation.

Ba-dum-tisch.

 

It’s a vase. The game looks like a vase.

 

Volunteering to take on this review, due to an inability to remember the title, I was exclusively referring to Apotheon as “that amazing looking vase game” and whilst playing it when other Gamestyle staff asked how it was going it became “that fucking vase game” due to the sort of irritations that we don’t take kindly to here. Since then, it’s moved back to being called Apotheon.

That Amazing Looking Vase Game

 

Apotheon has picked an art style and knocked it out of the park. There are slight problems with the animation, things look and feel limp and vague with more than a hint of a Flash game to them, but the character design is flawless and the backgrounds even better. The amount of time the development team must have spent looking at 3000 year old pots is probably a lot higher than the average game developer does. It was worth it.

 

The story is utter gibberish, but being based on Greek mythology it has to be. They wrote a lot of gibberish. I mean, that bit with the swan? The basic story here is that Zeus, as he often is, is being a dick (see also, swan incident) and that means that humanity is going to die out. One person (yes, you) stands out as a champion and then does things to either impress the other gods or kill them to gain their powers…It’s very Greek. And it does its job. A thumbs up.

That Fucking Vase Game

 

Well, after that, things go downhill a bit. The problems with the animation affect the combat which feels slightly too vague to be enjoyable. Waft your weapon at the general area and hope. Attacks are selected by aiming with the right analogue stick, uppercuts by holding up, which makes the game play slightly like a twin stick shooter. Except those don’t also require you to jump. And heal. And block. And change weapons in an awkward inventory. With all that to keep in mind they’ve made melee attacks be the trigger and weapons you launch be R1. The end result of this is quite often throwing your sword at an enemy’s face and then standing there looking like an idiot as you realise what you’ve done.

 

And if the combat is flawed, the amount of it is sure to make you notice. This lovingly created world is made to be interacted with through your sword. Combat, sure. Although it is unreasonably constant. But you’re also rewarded for destroying everything. If it can be broken, it can drop inventory items. And that applies to civilians. Murder them all, they might drop some armour. The guards outside, so strict if they see you picking a lock, never notice that you’ve walked into a bathhouse and slaughtered every single bather.

 

A player faced with the imposing entrance to the fortress Zeus calls home should not turn their attention to smashing the table and chairs outside it. The fact Grecian urns exist for the developer to reference is proof enough that warriors in Ancient Greece did not smash every pot and piece of patio furniture they saw.

 

More crucially, this is not a well-programmed game. Whilst crashes can be patched out, completing this amateurish piece of junk has seen me lose whole Gods of progress, twenty minute stealth sections, boss battles. Two boss battles, including the final one, feature game breaking bugs. Apparently some achievements are impossible to unlock too. And it’s not just crashes, the physics are frankly bizarre, the problem behind some of the bugs and the frame rate drops to single figures when multiple enemies are after you. Both make the game much more awkward than it should be.

Apotheon

 

With it turned off, really it’s back to just being Apotheon, neither amazing nor awful. Ignore the technical and gameplay problems, quite impressive if you manage that, and there are some great moments. Each section brings new ideas and the rare puzzles are fun, although even one of those is spoiled by the game revealing the answer much, much too soon. There’s plenty hidden away, and they’re worth finding; rare weapons in particular are good fun.  It’s a good 10 hours plus to complete it properly, so it’s very difficult to criticise it for value. Plus the time restarting the game when it crashes. And there’s a local multiplayer, which is fine, if you didn’t actively dislike the combat.

 

And it does look great.

 

Ultimately, if you have any love for Ancient Greece, wait for the inevitable patch and there is fun to be had here. The attention to detail, the snippets of myth all add vastly to the game. If 3000 year old story fragments aren’t interesting to you then leave Apotheon well alone, as even without the enormous number of technical problems there are enough gameplay flaws in the experience to not recommend this. A genuine disappointment.

Evolve Review

Well that was initially the case with Evolve. Coming from a graphic design background there was something almost perfect about the Evolve logo. The positioning of the V, the four small blocks on the left of the V and the large block on the right of it. It worked by showing exactly what the game is, what it is about and also giving you the fundamental idea without seeing anything but that logo. That was enough for me to have an interest.

But what of the game itself? The issue with these teamwork based models, is that unless you can get together with a regular group, it can often become a lesson in frustration and the same is true of Evolve unfortunately.

Sure, as the monster you can have a quick blast one evening on your own and get a lot of enjoyment from it, but try and do the same as one of the four hunters and your experience will vary wildly. This isn’t the fault of the game itself really, but at the same time it is, making it hard to pass proper judgement.

Let me expand on this a little, based on my own experiences. I played a few games with other random players and managed to find a mix of those with headsets who were willing to communicate, but also plenty either didn’t have the tools, or didn’t fancy talking. Which is what this game’s success boils down to. The need to communicate.

In games with players who were talking, one was able to stand out, give instruction and get everyone working as a team. Working almost as a commander making sure the medic did their job at the right time, that everyone knew their roles, when to attack, when to support, all of that jazz. These games were pretty damned fun to play, win or lose.

Then there were the games where no one would talk, everyone going off in their own direction, not sticking together, being picked off by wildlife, then destroyed by the monster. No support, no healing and four individuals just attacking to no avail. These were horrible games and the sort that made me want to switch the game off and never return.

However, when played with four other people you know, it becomes a joyous experience that is fun to play and offers plenty of laughs at the same time, as well as healthy competition. This was a throwback to the original days of online PC gaming and XBOX Live. Which in the end does make me sad, because those days are rarer than ever.

So anyway, onto the core mechanics. These are very finely tuned and work exceptionally well. The balance of any one game can shift many times depending on the approach taken by both the hunters or the monster.

The goal of the hunters is first and foremost to kill the monster, the earlier you can hunt it down and engage, the easier it can be to kill him, the longer you leave it, the more chance it has of evolving and being stronger than ever before attacking its final objective.

The monster itself has two ways of winning a round. One is to kill all the hunters or the other is to attack a designated point and destroy it, before the hunters destroy you. But to get to a point of being able to attack this point, you as the monster need to get there, whilst hunting wildlife to kill and feed on, so you can evolve.

The more time you spend hunting food, the quicker the hunters can track you and engage in combat using their various tools, including a trap that creates a dome type arena to keep you contained in battle. So basically it becomes a game of cat and mouse for the most part, which again, depending on who you play, with can either be tense or a bit dull.

One of the nice touches here, is that the monster can hide and prevent any hints showing up to the hunters by sneaking around, but it will take longer to evolve and it will move slower, or by going on the attack for wildlife and getting to stage 3 as quickly as possible you leave tracks, disturb birds, destroy surroundings and generally give the hunters clues as to your whereabouts.

The balance of the game is outstanding and really is fantastic to play in the right scenario, but just like I feel the new Rainbow Six will suffer the same fate, being able to have those fun and enjoyable moments on a regular basis will be difficult. Hopefully, as the casual crowd move onto the next big thing, you will be left with those who want to play Evolve in the way it was meant to be played, but for now it is pot luck as to what you will get, unless you can organise something yourself.

There is also a single player mode within Evolve and I must be honest here and say that I was very, very cynical when I became aware of this. It seemed pointless to have a single player option in a game that was clearly built for online capers only and would purely be just you and a few useless bots.

How wrong I was though. Well I say wrong, because technically it is the same as the online with a few bots, but it has had a few nice touches to make it worthwhile. That and the AI is surprisingly decent for the most part.

The idea here is that you play out a number of scenarios as either the hunters or the monster. Five scenarios set over ‘five days’ where the result of each day will affect the balance of power and the ease of the next scenario. Win a scenario and you will get a reward that will help you for the next, such as auto aiming turrets at a base, or locals who will join in with your fight; or as the monster extra armour, that sort of thing. Lose and the opposing AI will get the benefits instead.

I don’t know if it was because I went into this with a cynical frame of mind, but I found myself really liking the concept and even though it was essentially a repeat of the multiplayer aspects with a few minor adjustments, I found it to be a lot of fun and have found it a nice fall back when an online session has been doomed by players who don’t want to jump into the spirit of the game.

It is hard to grade Evolve, because based on some sessions it is a horrid experience that you never want to play again, but when it does click with the right people it is one of the best online team based games out right now. I have had more luck than not with online games in Evolve, so it is heartedly recommended.

Bloodborne – Hands On Preview

Indeed, I braved the perils of encountering Swansea’s finest social shut-ins with nothing better to do on a Friday evening, all for the grand prize of a few goes of From Software’s forthcoming action-RPG, Bloodborne.

I have to admit, I’m a little rusty when it comes to the Demon’s/Dark Souls games, and I never played Dark Souls 2. When I found out about the lock-in event at my local Game store, I dug out my old PS3, and fired up the PS+ edition of Demon’s Souls to reacquaint myself with the controls. Aside from it feeling like meeting up with an old friend, playing Demon’s Souls really did put me in good stead for playing Bloodborne.

When I finally got my hands on the controller, I was presented with four choices of characters. All looked somewhat similar except for the fourth.  The first three all had some combination of melee weapons (swords and axes etc.), and guns (pistols and shotguns). The final character was specced out for agility, wielding what appeared to be a dagger and a pistol, and wearing a ragged, bird-like cloak, with matching mask. Think Big Bird, but if Tim Burton kidnapped and tortured him to the point of madness.

My first go, however, wasn’t with emo Big Bird. I went for a guy that looked like a good all-rounder, and with his pistol and awesome outfit, looked like a Victorian era Saint of Killers (if you don’t get that reference, you should remedy that, right now!). So off I went, axe in one hand, pistol in the other, cautiously walking along cobbled streets so gothic in style I half expected a Danny Elfman score to kick in.

I don’t know about most other players, but my experience with Demon’s and Dark Souls involved religious use of a shield. I loved my shields. So when playing Bloodborne I was very conscious of not having one. I felt vulnerable. Thankfully, the controls and feel of this Bloodborne demo were very familiar to me, thanks to my recent play of Demon’s Souls.  The right stick is still your best friend, click it to lock on to the enemy in front of you, and move it to lock on to another.

Similarly, performing rolls is also the same, and will likely prove to be a key element of survival in this game. The enemies come at you at a staid pace, only sometimes quickly advancing. I actually found this more unnerving than them charging at me. They appeared more cautious, and somewhat bizarrely, more human as a result. Combined with their looks, and the fantastically realised gothic streets, this created an atmosphere that is pretty much unmatched.  It felt like Wes Craven and Tim Burton had spawned some kind of horrible demon offspring, and I was the central role in one of its nightmares.

Going back to the combat, I tried a few approaches depending on the character I was playing with. Emo Big Bird’s nimble style didn’t suit me at all, and I died very quickly.  My best experience was with a character that wielded a great big sword in one hand, and a blunderbuss in the other. You may not have shields, but some of the enemy characters do, so it felt immensely satisfying to knock a shielded enemy back with my sword, and follow up with a fatal blast from my blunderbuss.  It would appear the key to Bloodborne’s combat may lie in combining both weapons to get the best out of them.

Of course, you can switch to traditional two-handed weapons. Carving your way through enemies in Demon’s Souls was always fun, and felt just as good in this, especially as your character’s clothes slowly get drenched in the blood of everyone you’ve slain – it makes emo Big Bird look particularly ghoulish. The exploration and “perhaps I’ll come back here later… much later” aspects of Demon’s Souls appear to be present as well. I decided to take a different route on one of my goes, and happened upon what can only be described as a big fat motherfucker, with a big fat motherfucking meat cleaver. “YOU DIED”.

The demo itself felt a little stuttery; for the most part it appeared to run at a solid 30 frames per second, but I did encounter the odd dip here and there. I asked the Sony rep at the event how recent the build was, and was told it’s the same demo that was at the Eurogamer Expo in autumn last year. From Software has had plenty of time to to optimise the game to make the most of the PS4’s power, and what I played most certainly whetted my appetite. The controls and combat felt just as tight as in Demon’s Souls, and the combination of gunplay with traditional swordplay adds a great new twist.  The graphical style From Software has gone for here evokes true horror, eschewing the fantasy trappings of the Souls series. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game next month.

Bloodborne, exclusive to Playstation 4, will be released 27th March in the UK.

Grim Fandango Remastered Review

But you more than likely have played Grim Fandango before, right?  The name conjuring up fond memories of corruption, conspiracies, shady gangsters, a dame to chase after, and a great lead character named Manny Calavera. Indeed, your very own noir tale, but in the land of the dead, with a pigeon-obsessed military leader, and a giant orange demon who turns out to be your best friend.

Grim Fandango was a truly great game back in the late twentieth century, arguably the pinnacle of a genre that at the time was struggling with the advent of three dimensional gaming landscapes.  Its control scheme back then could only be described as “awkward”. Thankfully, this remaster on PS4 introduces a new, direction-relative control scheme that, while sometimes still awkward when moving from one scene to another, is somewhat more intuitive than the original “tank” controls.

However, aside from the updated controls, and improved character models and lighting, there isn’t all that much this remaster offers over the 1998 PC original.  If you’ve played the recent special editions of the Monkey Island games, and are expecting the same treatment here, well, you may be disappointed. The game looks almost identical, even retaining the now ancient 4:3 aspect ratio.  There is an argument here that Double Fine has been too reverent to the original game. To call this a remaster is actually a bit a of stretch; it’s a restoration of a relic.

On PS4 however, it’s a restoration that could, and indeed should, be better. The PS4 version suffers quite a number of technical issues and bugs, from invisible inventory items and characters, to game breaking lock-ups and glitches.  The former will simply annoy on the rare occasion they occur; the latter will infuriate you if you have not saved your game for a while. During the course of this review two major glitches were encountered, one of which lost a fair bit of progress.

Mercifully, replaying this game is not a chore.  There’s a very good reason the love for this game has endured for so long: its wonderfully crafted story, complimented brilliantly by the accompanying voice acting and music. The tale Grim Fandango weaves is timeless, and as hinted at in this review’s opening paragraph, is at times completely bonkers. If you have played the original you will know how easy it is to wax lyrical about this game. The writing is sharp, nuanced, and full of humour with punch-lines so funny you will laugh no matter how many times you hear them.  The line delivery from the actors, particularly the lead, is near pitch-perfect, and the music, a wondrous mix of jazz and spanish guitar, sets the tone of every scene brilliantly.

If there’s one area here than can be criticised, it’s the actual sound mix.  Some of the dialogue is incomprehensible because of other characters talking at the same time.  It doesn’t happen often, but given the game has you hanging on its every word, it’s disappointing that efforts were not made to rectify this. Many of the actual gameplay elements also let this game down, sadly.  The PS4 remaster lacks the PC version’s brilliant new point and click interface.  So to interact with objects and areas, you’re still reliant on Manny moving his head to look at points of interest, which was never intuitive back in 1998, and is no more intuitive now in 2015.

Additionally, the static pre-rendered backgrounds, while nicely restored to a higher resolution, rarely highlight where Manny can traverse.  There is one particular area in the game, which is critical to progressing the story, that is outrageously easy to miss.  Then there’s the puzzles.  If you haven’t played this game before, or have simply forgotten most of it, you will likely struggle. Many of Grim Fandango’s puzzles have a certain wacky logic that you can work out; many others are so nonsensical that even Tim Schafer has gone on record and said he doesn’t know how people were supposed to work one of them out.

Short of resorting to walkthroughs, you’re forced in to trying to use everything in your inventory on everything in the environment, hoping that something works. It’s a very old and tedious gameplay mechanic, the constant reliance on which has no real business in games of today. Many of these problems are solved with the PC version’s point and click interface; its omission here on the PS4 is glaring, and somewhat shameful on Double Fine’s part.

There is however, one aspect of this remastered version that is fantastic: a Director’s Commentary. With the option turned on you can listen to commentary from Tim Schafer, and many of the original development team, by simply tapping L1 when the prompt occurs on-screen.  The commentary is interesting and very informative; the love the developers still have for the game is a joy to hear.  It’s also a great insight into what was going through Tim Schafer’s head for some of the puzzles and scenes. It really is a wonderful addition.

It’s difficult to recommend this PS4 version to anyone with access to a PC.  Even your average laptop will likely run the remastered version just fine, and you’ll have the advantage of the excellent point and click interface. That being said, Grim Fandango’s story, characters, and superb sense of style really do shine through for most of the game, so it’s with that in mind that you see the score below.  If you’re getting it on PC, you can probably add two points on. On PS4 however, be prepared for some needless frustration that sullies an otherwise excellent noir adventure in the land of the dead.

Battlefield Hardline Beta Preview

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resident Evil HD Remaster Review

Becoming more apparent when you go back and see where it all began. Because aside from a few archaic design decisions, our trip back to Spencer Mansion makes us wish the series would return more to its roots.

A remake of the Gamecube remake, adding the word “Remaster” to the title may be overselling it a tad. It’s a little worrying right from the pre-menu cut scene, as you see a body bag slowly rise before the zombie within gets a bullet to the head, it looks horrific and not in the way it was intended. A blurry mess, it certainly shows that a few shortcuts have been made in getting this to the PS4. That said, despite being two generations past the Gamecube era, graphically the game can still shine in parts. Yes, certain camera angles will reveal some unflattering textures, but then there are moments where light floods through the windows and you’ll be surprised at how good it looks. Then a dog jumps through and eats your face.

It’s amazing really (or distressing depending on your age) that next year the original Resident Evil will hit the grand old age of twenty. Twenty years old! So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that might be some people’s first experience with the game that started it all. Well, if this is you then here’s the basic setup.

Either controlling S.T.A.R.S member Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield (depending on who you choose), you get sent to look for the missing Bravo team who were dispatched to the outskirts of Racoon City to find out the cause of the bizarre acts of cannibalism that have been occurring. Naturally Jill and Chris’ team get into a spot of bother also, and bolt towards the nearest mansion. Then, as the game pleasantly says, “Enter the Survival Horror”.

While there are a number of other characters, really the biggest one is the mansion itself. Some would criticise its lack of believability, but then they would be missing the point. Yes, it may be an architect’s nightmare, make zero sense, and be full of puzzles that would drive the actual occupants insane, but that’s what drives the gameplay and makes the game so good.

Emblems, keys, a dog whistle and even a musical score are items you’ll find scattered around the massive mansion. They all play a part in the puzzles you’ll encounter and best thing about them is that while they do require a lot of thought, they’re not completely obtuse. Notes can also be found and they detail the puzzles you’ll encounter without leading you by the hand. It’s a great thing to go back to a time when answers aren’t spelled out for you. With so many items though comes with it Resident Evil’s most annoying issue.

As Jill you get eight item slots, with Chris a measly six. So there will be a lot of toing and froing from supply boxes that are found throughout the mansion, and handily have magical transporting abilities so items can be collected from any supply box you find. On top of items, there are weapons, ammo and healing herbs that need a space, so there’s a lot of item management needed. Replaying the game and this is really the thing that feels the most archaic. Some would say the save system is also incredibly old fashioned in a day of checkpoints and constant auto-saves. It’s definitely a weird thing going back to using ink ribbons to save at typewriters placed through the mansions, but seeing as ink ribbons are in plentiful supply and even the typewriters themselves aren’t that rare to come across, it’s something that never really affects enjoyment.

Like a lot of old horror movies you may have discovered (and scared you silly) as a child, the horror of Resident Evil does feel diluted as the years have passed and that’s a shame. Having played through it all before there’s only so many times you can see dogs jumping through the window before the jump scare becomes merely a shrug. That’s not to say there aren’t still some surprises though, when a zombie arises once more as a Crimson Head (new super zombies that were added in the remake) it is enough to send you into a frenzy and bolt to the nearest door. Or if you’re brave enough, take them on. Unlike regular zombies, Crimson Heads stagger towards you at an alarming pace. While shooting is very basic (there’s not much room for actual pin point aiming), it does the job.

A new addition for this Remaster is a brand new control scheme that purists may scoff at, but newcomers could rejoice at. Tank controls are no more. No longer do you have to push up to walk forward no matter the direction you are facing, instead it’s the more traditional 3D movement. It makes dodging the zombies, dogs and other creatures easier to handle. At least until the fixed camera angle changes and you become disorientated for a brief second.

While there are elements of Remastered that shout “rush job”, Resident Evil is still, in this day and age, a great, great game and worthy of classic status. Now Capcom, if you’re reading this, how about a new Resident Evil game featuring the item management and combat of RE4, mixed with the exploration and puzzles of RE1? Now that would be the perfect game.

Splice Review

If you’ve ever played puzzle games like Spacechem, then you’ll know that there are puzzle games out there that set out to really test your powers of logical thinking, it’s not all just cheap Android knock off match 3 games.

There has been a bit of a boom in recent years with the environmental puzzler, the first person puzzler, physics puzzlers and platform puzzlers. However these games that still remain simple in their execution but set out to really test the grey matter are few and far between.

So it’s nice to see a game like Splice, which is exactly that. Everything about the setup is simple, from the basic menu screens which take you straight into the game, to the controls themselves. Even the visuals are simple and bring focus to each puzzle. Add to that background music which is more ambient than anything and works to relax your mind and you have the beginnings of something very enjoyable indeed.

Essentially you need to rearrange the cells on the screen into a predetermined shape as indicated by the white markings on the screen. You have a certain number of moves that you can make, known as splices (clever eh?) to get the cells to fit.

Where the challenge comes though is working out how moving one cell will affect another and how moving yet another will affect others again. Early levels are fairly easy and do a great job of getting you familiar with the concept, but as with all great puzzle games like this, the further you get, the harder and more complex it becomes.

But again, the secret is to make sure that the toughness and complexity comes from finding the solutions themselves and not on adding new mechanics that confuse matters and this is where Splice shines, because even though the mechanics do evolve over its 77 levels, they seem to do so naturally and in a way that makes perfect sense.

Splice will have you scratching your head, questioning your own intelligence and even wanting to throw the controller down in anger, but at no point is this because of anything other than the need to solve each puzzle. Everything else is wonderfully put together.

But that is all there is to say about the game really, it certainly isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t intended to be. If you are open to a game that is paced slowly and fancy challenging a different part of your brain, then you should pick this up right away.

Pix the Cat Review

He was owned by some people who used to love Pac-Man, used to love Snake and even when he was very young used to let him watch as they played Chu Chu Rocket. At first playing Pix the Cat seemed to be a puzzle, simply trying to complete the task he had been set to collect and distribute the local ducks seemed a challenge. Soon that stopped being the challenge, with finding the most efficient route through the maze being the challenge, trying to complete as many screens as possible becoming more of a racing game. Playing with Pix was to challenge yourself to get the highest score possible in the set amount of time. For a good amount of time everything seems like it could be great.

10/10 Lives Remain.

But sadly, Pix is quite an accident prone cat. Sure, we shouldn’t expect to be able to herd his kind, but this is a game that needs the tightest and most immediate of controls. It simply doesn’t have them. Early levels give you enough space and you’re moving slowly enough for it to not be a problem, but as things speed up and mazes become more complex it becomes a serious problem. Good runs are often ruined by the lagging controls despite knowing the route you wanted to take.

Pix knew the bus was there, but then accidentally walked in front of it.

9/10 Lives Remaining

The only other problem with the main mode, possibly a side-effect of the fact it is genuinely compulsive, is that once you’ve realised this is a racing game there are only 3 courses, Starter, Main and Dessert. Whilst unlocking the latter does take plenty of practice on the Main course, it’s massively limiting and for no real reason.

One minute he was fine, but then…

8/10 Lives Remain

For a break from all that, Pix was sent to play in a laboratory. If you are familiar with cats and laboratories then you could carefully predict this won’t have a good conclusion. Laboratory mode here is sadly without any mayhem and simply repackages the puzzle levels of Chu Chu Rocket with the intelligence and charm removed. A trial and error puzzle to guide your cat around a level, essentially memorising a step, restarting, finding the next, restarting. New ideas come and go, but ultimately these are the sorts of puzzles anyone with enough time could complete, but few should want to.

Pix swallowed some nitroglycerin and accidentally walked into a wall

7/10 Lives Remain

Pix had a secret, he’d always wanted to be a snake, so Nostalgia mode is ideal for him. Whilst there are some gentle puzzle aspects incorporated, every trick you learned whilst playing Snake 15 years ago still applies. It’s not that it is bad, it just feels lazy and pointless. Whilst both Laboratory and Nostalgia mode have their own appealing art styles, the way they both throw in new ideas seemingly on a whim to distract from how tedious they are, it doesn’t work.

A Nokia 3310 fell on Pix from a reasonable height.

6/10 Lives Remain

Ultimately, there just isn’t enough here to make a full recommendation. Regular DLC of courses for the main mode would be welcome, but they were really needed from the start. Pasta Games, also responsible for the excellent mobile game Rayman Jungle Run, are in truth extremely close to having a great game here. It’s just not, quite, there.

Teslagrad Review

It’s now finally with us and we can explore the mystery of a small boy with magnetic powers escaping into a castle after being chased by some Rasputin-esque looking pursuers.

The game has a style that though familiar we haven’t really seen before. The Soviet influence reminds us of steam punk animations and fairy tales from the Eastern Bloc and it works perfectly to set up a mysterious and unique atmosphere. There is also very little text with the story and controls explained via drawings and animated theatre puppets. The silence further intensifies the mystery (even if the lack of tutorial is a little confusing).

There is gamepad support but you’ll have to set it up manually. Again, this can be a little odd at the beginning of the game as you don’t really know what half of the commands are. Once you get it sorted out though it’s a much easier way to play as you’re going to need very quick reflexes to get through.

Teslagrad is a difficult game and it requires sustained amounts of quick thinking, jumping and precision placement to get through most sections. Most of the time you are trying to avoid dropping onto spikes or electricity but there are also some shadowy beasts and mechanical enemies to avoid from time to time. You don’t really have any offense so you’ll be darting past them and running away a lot.

Our little hero is far from powerless though and you’ll soon find the equipment that gives you the use of a unique set of powers. First off you’ll get the positive and negative magnetism glove. This allows you to change the charge of magnetic services and blocks. This means you can get blocks to move or fall, or use opposite charges to propel yourself up tunnels or across chasms. The next thing you’ll find is the ability to ‘blink’ or teleport a short distance. This is vital for passing barriers or dodging enemies and moving electrical fields. Before long you’re having to bounce around and blink all at once in sequences that require constant movement. It’s tough and challenging and certain sections will be repeated over and over and over.

Dying is perhaps where the biggest weakness in the game lies. The controls can feel a little twitchy at times and I don’t think we’ve ever been so frustrated by a character auto-climbing up a ledge they’ve grabbed onto. Death can also feel unfair with the blink ability very difficult to judge while in motion. What compounds the issue is that if you miss a jump or die, there are times you’ll have to repeat quite a large section to get back to where you were. Don’t even get us started on some of the bosses that just never seem to die either.

Frustration aside this is a very clever and well crafted game. You do get used to the controls and both the level and graphical design is of a standard that makes you want to persevere and get to the next section. The constant climb up the castle and gradual revelation of the mystery within it are engaging and will likely keep you striving until you reach the end. There will be some gamers who just won’t be able to cut it though and that’s a shame as this is a beautiful fairy tale that you really should try.

Citizens of Earth Review

Yes, you heard that correct, Citizens of Earth is a love letter to the wonderful Earthbound and it is clear where the influence comes from. It is at this point where I’d tell you to just go ahead and buy this if you were a fan of Earthbound, but it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Citizens of Earth isn’t a bad game, far from it in actual fact. It is possible to have a fantastic time building up your followers and progressing through the game, leveling your party up and making them stronger and stronger.

There is also a well written story arc that pokes fun at various aspects of the world of politics and does a decent job of calling out a lot of the crap within it, not only just from politicians, but also media and general public. All this without also taking itself too seriously of trying to ram home a message. It is not a satire, it is a fun story that uses its backdrop well.

This brings us to one of the biggest issues with Citizens of Earth though. As entertaining as the writing is, the characters themselves (bar yourself) lack enough personality for you to actually care about them and it ends up being a case of choosing the best party based on attributes alone.

Compare this to other games where you need to form a party, Persona 4 Golden for example, choosing the other characters to form a party for a particular run was difficult, because you grew to love and hate their many personalities, which had a bearing on who you wanted, it didn’t matter if Chie was possibly the wrong choice, you wanted her in your party.

But here, there is no extreme feeling, there is no love, no hate, there is only indifference, which is a crying shame really, because there was a lot of potential here to create a world and a set of characters to really bring it to life.

The battles that occur and occur way too often are a tad infuriating. It is not as sophisticated as a Final Fantasy, Demon Gaze or anything like that, but tries to take those formulas and simplify them in order to make the game more accessible to the casual user.

But that is where it falls down, there doesn’t seem to be any notion tactical nous and you can often beat most battles by spamming the same moves. Which then becomes monotonous after a while. You can increase and decrease the difficulty at will, by going to the school yard and changing it there, which is a nice touch, but it still doesn’t change the excitement levels.

What we can say though, is that the battle system does a great job of explaining how different things work in turn based battles and why you should be using a mix of defensive type move, buffs, attack down, etc. So it does make a good training exercise for anyone coming into the RPG format for the first time.

The battle system wouldn’t be so much of an issue, if it wasn’t for the sheer amount of enemies that litter the maps and force you into combat. That is the point of a game like this granted, but it feels in Citizens of Earth that this has been over done to the point where you want it to end, thus turning down the difficulty, not because it is hard, but because you want the battles over with quicker so you can move on.

You are given various tasks to help progress the game as well as for recruiting people, the people you recruit will help you in various ways, such as a car sales man who can help you get a car around town. Then there is a conspricy nut who can help you forge new elemental attack types and various others. This is a well thought out mechanic and makes taking on side quests worth the effort.

It is a shame that there are some real negative parts within Citizens of Earth, because despite all that, it is a game to have a good time with, one that you can play in nice short bursts and still make progression. However, despite the Earthbound influence, it never quite lives up to expectation and is one that is maybe better off waiting for a sale.

Trine: Enchanted Edition Review

This is a weird one as the sequel to Trine has already been out on PS4 for just over a year now (which we reviewed here), so this Enchanted Edition, a port of the first game could possibly come across as a bit of a cash grab. But that would be doing it a disservice, because if you’ve not played it before, then this the best, most complete version of the game you’ll find.

A physics based, side scrolling platformer, Trine 2 features three characters that can be switched between at any given time. After touching a treasure known as the Trine, a thief, wizard and knight find themselves merged together. This forms the basis of the character switching antics, each character coming with their own unique skills and abilities.

The thief, nimble and armed with a bow and arrow can grapple onto any wood structures, swinging across chasms and to new areas. The knight, strong with his trusty sword and shield can take down any enemy. The wizard has the power to conjure boxes, planks and other platforms, as well as the ability to move them with his mind.

The main star of Trine though is the levels themselves. They’re brilliantly crafted and become quite a test during the latter parts of the game. And quite cleverly a lot of the puzzles have multiple ways to be solved. So there could be one part where you can use the wizard to create floating platforms, or maybe you want to use the thief to grapple her way across the wooden beams. It’s up to you really, usually the thief is the best option mind as the wizard is the most cumbersome of characters to use. As a game originally made for PC’s, conjuring boxes by drawing squares with an on-screen curser is not ideal when using the PS4 controller. Thankfully the game is incredibly lenient when it comes to the drawing. More often than not the squares looked more like circles, yet the game still gave us a box to work with.

Levels also come complete with enemies that need to be fought and the way the player chooses to dispatch them is just as clever as how they reach the end of the level. You might even find yourself killing them by complete accident. The thief and knight come with their trusty weapons, which is the traditionalist way, but there’s nothing better than using the thief’s grappling hook to swing and kick a skeleton off a cliff to its doom. Or better yet, why not push a block onto its head, or just create one with the wizard and watch it splatter your foe into a million pieces. With a few boss fights sprinkled in, the levels are brilliantly designed and look even better on PS4.

As the name suggests, this edition of the game is most certainly “enchanted”. Using the superior engine from Trine 2, lighting effects are simply gorgeous and the whole game has a much higher level of polish. In addition, the Enchanted Edition also brings with it online multiplayer, making this more than just a lazy port.

While this is no doubt the definitive version of Trine, we can’t help but feel it’s time for developers Frozenbyte to move on. From 2009 onwards they’ve been invested in the Trine universe, which is odd considering it’s not the world of Trine that makes the game so appealing. On the surface it’s a pretty standard fantasy world. But if this is the only real complaint we have (if you can even call it that) then Frozenbyte are certainly doing something right.

If you’ve somehow avoided Trine up until now then this is the point where you should really jump on board. Some clever physics puzzles make reaching the end of a level feel like a real achievement and despite the short playtime, it’s well worth the asking price.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris Review

Tomb Raider was an excellent reboot of the mainline Lara games, but there are a few fans of the spin-off release, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. It was a game that offered a purer experience that had more in common with the original Tomb Raider than anything since, mixing action with plenty of puzzle solving and most importantly, the raiding of tombs.

It was a game that was received really well by both critics and fans alike, but it never seemed to do as well commercially as the high review scores suggested it should. However that hasn’t stopped a follow up for current gen consoles and PC. As this time Lara (and Carter Bell) are is joined by Osiris and Horus to defeat the evil god Set.

This is a story that is set up purely to play to the games strengths and make the 4 player co-op make sense. It doesn’t do anything spectacular and won’t remain with you forever, but as far as stories go for setting up puzzles and fights…Yeah it is perfectly acceptable.

It isn’t the story we came for though, it is the wonderful gameplay, which is back in full force from the original, but has been tweaked and improved from the bottom up. As with Guardian of Light, Temple of Osiris is best played with friends in co-op, but what you have here is something that works dynamically based on how many are playing.

The last effort was clearly designed for co-op which made it a bit dull in single player, here though there has been care and attention put into any type of playthrough. Single player has many strengths and is perfectly playable and fun, but when you add extra players, there is a dynamic change to the way levels play out.

It is a clever system that does a great job of adjusting how the game is played and how puzzles are solved, as well as how enemies are tackled. What this does is ensure that the game isn’t just a single player game with co-op options, nor a co-op game which has had some single player options shoe-horned into it.

It goes beyond just changing how puzzles are solved and that sort of thing, the loot pickups also have different effects based on how many are playing. Aside from personal pickups, that effect your own character, there are group loot items, that affect everyone that is playing and rather than simply being just shared health and gems, it does something with the way weapons work.

If one player picks up a loot item that allows them to use a spread shot and another gets one that gives them fireball shots, the two will combine to give you spread fireball shots. Which is utterly fantastic, as are some of the combinations you can create throughout the game. These aren’t just endless though, as taking damage will also restrict their use which keeps them just about perfectly powered.

It’s not just the various pick ups that impress. Each character has their own set of abilities, with Lara and Carter having a similar set, then Osiris and Horus also having similar, but again with each having their own signature also. It means that again the balance spot on no matter how many players you have.

That is the thing that really impresses with Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, it has wonderful balance throughout. Sitting there enjoying the game on your own, with others in the same room, with others online or even through PS4’s Share Play feature. All these options will see the age of co-op games rise to the top and this is a great example of how good it can work.

It’s not the longest game you’ll ever play, but it is a game you’ll be happy to go to time and time again. Because aside from the main missions, there are various collectibles, extra dungeons and reasons to go back to beat all the objectives and challenges. Do it on your own, then do it all again with friends and again with other friends. There will also be some DLC (as there is a season pass) that will hopefully also add more for you to enjoy.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a fantastic game. It doesn’t matter one little bit if you are a long time fan of Lara, or not, just the game alone is worthy of your time and the co-op is some of the most enjoyable you will experience. A wonderful end to 2014.

 

Tales From The Borderlands: Episode One – Zer0 Sum Review

Few companies have grown in size quite like Telltale Games. Since The Walking Dead exploded they seem to be taking on projects at an astounding rate, some would say they’re taking on too many. After all, how can they keep up the quality when they’re churning out game after game? Just this past month both Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones have been released. But, if the first episode of Tales from the Borderlands is anything to by, then we really needn’t worry.

Borderlands as a universe is one you either love or loathe. The madcap antics of vault hunters, bandits and creatures aren’t for everyone and Tales won’t change your mind, in fact, it might further cement it. From a company that clearly has such brilliant writers, it’s slightly disappointing that the humour misses the mark more than it hits. In fact, in the few hours playtime the game only really elicited a slight titter. This is not to say the writing is bad per se. When it’s not trying to make the player laugh it’s well written, enjoyable, contains plenty of memorable characters, with a story that goes from strength to strength.

Initially starting as your main male character of Rhys, voiced by Troy Baker (because of course he is), you find yourself being dragged by an unknown bandit and this is where Rhys starts to tell the bandit the story (a “Tale” if you will) about how he ended up in this current predicament. A story that stretches from space to the barren wastelands of Pandora. Not just being in control of Rhys, during portions of the game you will also get to control Fiona, a thief whose story is intertwined with Rhys’. Quite cleverly, as both are telling the same story there are often contradictions and embellishments, something the other character quickly pulls the other up on.

Gameplay wise, this is a Telltale game through and through. You get choices to make, QTE’s to beat and plenty of things to examine. It seems with each passing game it moves further and further away from the classic point and click formula. Remember puzzles? I don’t think Telltale does as what was once a staple of the genre has been all but eradicated, which is a shame, as episodes normally last around the three hour mark so something to stretch out the playtime a little would be most welcome. Bizarrely in the game you get an actual inventory, which at least in the first episode, seems pointless as you don’t need it for anything. There are a few moments that utlise the Borderlands setting, such as Rhys being able to use his artificial eye to hack computers and scan objects, but even these just rely on the player selecting an option and continuing to click on things. While the formula of Borderlands may be safe; it is however, the most competently made.

Telltale’s console output has had a few hiccups along the way. Jerky scene transitions, graphical bugs and save game issues were commonplace. Nothing like that can be seen in Borderlands. Moving from scene to scene is absolutely seamless with none of the stutter that became a major annoyance with The Walking Dead. And it’s a good thing as the action sequences are just incredible. Many times you’ll want to watch the background action, instead of concentrating on the simple QTE’s that appear. Amazingly paced, the way the game starts off small before ramping up to an epic final sequence makes the game really end on a high.

As an opening episode, Tales from the Borderlands is mightily impressive. Containing some of the best action sequences Telltale has put together, and the tantalising cliffhanger means we’ll see you back here for episode 2.

The Crew Review

An open world, myriad distractions, a main storyline that is entirely forgettable and secondary to the world created around it. This all sounds awfully familiar…

The Crew is dull, frustrating and not worth your time or money. That’s it. Wait for the £20 price drop if you’re jonesing for a next-gen racer. 5/10.

Are you still here? God almighty. Look, it’s probably best if you take my word for it, because I’ve spent hours writing, re-writing and re-working this bloody review to try and explain why the game’s so spectacularly mediocre, and it just ends up being 2000 incredibly protracted words about how the decisions and workings of The Crew crunch and grind against each other like a broken machine.

OK, fine, I’ll try to be concise. But I’ll fail.

The story is tedious and boring. It’s actually terrible. I understand criticising the story of a racing game is basically pointless. It’s not like we’re expecting War and Peace with Aventadors and Dodge Chargers, is it? It’s just the backbone narrative of the so-called single player portion of the game is such piss-poor, bog-standard, super-generic revenge story hokum it should come with a warning on the box about putting you into a coma.

Of course, plot can be ignored. You just get through that shit to enjoy the game, right? Well, yeah, if the game’s fun to play. The thing is, the gameplay is also boring. There are a few reasons for this, foremost being the handling of the cars and the physics engine are teeth grindingly frustrating. The cars lack any kind of feedback or friction, and as such you never really feel in control of them. You can mess up a whole race because you twitch the stick slightly to the right, hit the curb and completely lose control by over compensating for the bounce and roll of the car.

This is doubly frustrating as the Missions tend to lean heavily towards escaping from the police/enemies and chasing people down to ram them off the road. Replaying those in particular becomes a chore as the handling, inconsistent traffic and rubber banding AI conspire to make them about as much fun as smashing yourself in the vitals with a lump hammer.

As you start unlocking more upgrades for the cars they start being more interesting to use, and the alternate tuner specs add some variety to the handling despite the underlying problems, but there’s a larger issue with the ‘economy’ in game and it’s quite a convoluted one so bear with me. Or skip to the end and read the final summary if you haven’t already. Spoiler: I gave you the score at the top of the page so if you’re not even going to read the summary, you’ve already lost 5 minutes of your life reading this far.

There are five tuner specs for different race types (Street, Dirt, Perf, Raid and Circuit), and you can upgrade various parts of your car in those specs. You do this by accumulating car parts by achieving Bronze, Silver or Gold in ‘Missions’ or ‘Skills’ (challenges dotted around the game world). This is essentially a loot system; you get a Bronze, Silver, or Gold level upgrade to a part (for example Tyres) which improves the overall rank of your current spec and also gives a random tuning bonus (for example Braking). You are awarded that part and can instantly apply it to the car you’re in, but it’s also put into your garage so you can install it later or buy it for a different car of the same spec. With me so far? Good, that makes one of us.

The specs are unlocked with each new area as the main story takes you through the map. Each area tends to focus on these new specs, but also throws in some of the previous ones to help unlock upgrades for them. Because of this way of gateing parts, you’ll find yourself repeating Skills and Missions often just trying to keep each spec as high as possible to deal with the missions. You can unlock upgrades beyond your current player level to equip or buy them later, which is nice, but you’ve still got to replay the bloody things as you’re stuck in a loop of needing Gold parts but not having a car good enough to get Gold parts.

So like most MMOs of any creed or colour there’s grind involved. Fine, it goes with the territory, but there’s a seam of insidious cynicism to this grind that I don’t like, and it involves the games currency. In the game you have 2 currencies, Bucks and Crew Credit. Bucks (complete with it’s own little symbol that looks like a B dollar sign) are stingily doled out from Missions and Skills, although you can replay (*cough* grind) them. Money is more generously given from online races, but I’ll get back to that, because I need to get the thing about the Crew Credits off my chest.

Crew Credits are, to all intents and purposes, microtransaction money. The game gives you 100,000 but you don’t seem to be able to obtain them through any other means than buying them with real money. And everything in game from cars to parts to paint jobs can be bought with Crew Credits for about a third of the price of what you pay in Bucks.  In single player, this isn’t much of a problem as you get a boost to your cars every 5 levels to make them competitive, but when you consider  the cost of something like the frankly bonkers RUF CTR-3 was 260,100 Bucks or a meagre 67,993 Crew Credits then the disparity is glaring. That is, to put it bluntly, a bit fucking ridiculous.This disparity really comes to the fore online.

The online games I’ve played on The Crew have been all but white washes as matchmaking is an apparently alien concept to Ivory Tower. The poor handling model makes the inevitable shunts that people give you (because nobody turns the option for collisions off) a frustrating inevitability. Each area has its own themed online lobby, with Faction vs Faction (which faction you belong to is chosen during the main game and can change at will) or Free For All. I haven’t been able to get a single game of Faction Vs Faction at all. Free For All is much quicker, but also frustrating as hell seeing as you’re dumped in with people who can easily have cars 1000 points higher than your car has (the rating determined by the parts fitted and the base stats of the car). Obviously the parts have to be unlocked in the first place, and as I mentioned there’s a boost to all the cars every five levels, but because the Crew Credits make all the parts and cars so much cheaper it only takes someone to stump up £39.99 for 600,000 in Crew Credits to put them at a serious advantage. It’s borderline pay to win. In a game that costs the best part of £45 that is fucking abysmal. The tragic thing is it’s not the first game to do this and it sure as hell won’t be the last.

The singular thing about The Crew that impressed me was the map. It’s huge. A condensed caricature of the United States filled with prominent landmarks, cities and lots of roads in between. The problem with massive maps is that they can be overwhelming. A large map does not equate to large amounts of fun, especially when they’re filled with things to discover and do like all Ubisoft open world games are. There’s so much in there you’ll get fed up of driving on your own to some forsaken wilderness to look for another landmark that gives you bugger all XP.

However, if you have a couple of friends with you hooning around, simply driving from Detroit to Las Vegas just because you bloody well can you kind of forget the odd handling, and you can definitely forget the awful story and you just take in the sights, talk rubbish and grab some collectables along the way and for that tiny instance there’s a glimmer of brilliance.

But when you don’t have friends around you can try and fill those gaps with other players who inhabit the always-online world (when it’s not breaking or kicking you out for no reason because Ubisoft’s servers can’t handle the load despite at least one closed alpha test and 2 beta tests. Aaaaand breathe.) and this is where the brilliance fades. Out in the God knows how many hours I’ve played I’ve only ever had 1 other person join me for story missions, and he buggered off fairly quickly.

And this is it with The Crew; it tries to do so much and excels at nothing. It falls apart on almost every level, and given the potential it had that is a damn, damn shame.

WWE 2K15 Review

Wrestling, it is a pantomime, a wonderfully over the top opera. As much as you can claim to be too old for it, you cannot help but become engrossed when it is on. The Attitude Era in particular was just amazing and the games that supported it were the best quality also. Since then, not so much. However WWE 2K15 hopes to change that.

It is fair to say that the WWE games over the past few years have been running on automatic, with roster updates and the occasional new features, but by and large they have never managed to hit the heights of those N64 games. So with the 360 and PS3 era now all but over, can WWE 2K15 take advantage of the extra power of PS4 and XBOX One?

Well in short…No.

Sure on the whole WWE 2K15 has had a nice lick of paint and wrestlers such as Triple H, John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, etc look stunning, but look a bit further down the roster and it is clear that many of the superstars haven’t had the super treatment afforded to others. Which is a shame, because when you get two major stars in the ring, it is hard to argue against the stunning visuals.

There are some issues with presentations also, as Yukes have attempted to go for a TV style presentation, which overall works nicely, but then has some very odd design choices. Such as proper cut away replays, rather than the picture in picture stuff they use for the real deal. It comes across as though this is being presented by someone other than WWE themselves which takes away from the overall feel.

The problems don’t just end with presentation though. The jump into next gen and being overseen by 2K would hopefully have seen a huge improvement on the basic gameplay mechanics. However, again these seem stuck in the past and are nothing more than ok. They work in terms of allowing two guys to beat seven shades out of each other, but lack that something that makes wrestling…well, wrestling.

You only have to look back at WCW vs NWO Revenge, No Mercy, etc on the N64, the games developed by AKI for how to bring the world of wrestling to videogames. The reason they were so good to play, is that these games were in on the act and knew that we were in on the act.

Recent wrestling games and clearly shown here, have tried to go for a ‘wrestling is real’ feeling, that every punch, grapple, kick, chair shot, is designed to maim and hurt. Animations because of this just don’t flow all that great and in general feels very, very loose.

Without wanting to sound too harsh for a moment though. When played in local multiplayer it is still a fun game to play and it is possible to have a few hours of fun at any given time, just playing the various match types with you favourite wrestlers. It is only when you play against the AI that the game really begins to suffer. It is time to rip up the blue print and start again.

The various modes are interesting, but also show up a major issue between generations. There are modes on the PS3 editions that don’t exist on the PS4 and vice versa. This is annoying and a very bad practice that is designed it seems to get wrestling fans to pick up both versions this year. Yet the modes that are missing from each version aren’t really enough to warrant double dipping. It just annoys you more than anything.

One mode that stands out in 2K15 is My Career. Based around the same ideas as seen in 2K’s NBA series, you create a wrestler and taken him through an entire career to be the number one superstar in the WWE. It can use some improvements, but there is a lot of potential here. Yet at the same time it does highlight the issues with the gameplay mechanics.

My Career is presented in such a way that it will chart the rise of your character from tryout hopeful to being the next Stone Cold, Rock, etc. The progression and the presentation here buys into the idea that wrestling is a show, it gives you various events that must be completed to move on. It gives you an impression of just how hard you must work to make it to the top. Going from an initial tryout, through NXT before getting your big break and so on.

But again, mixed with the current mechanics, it just doesn’t mix as well as you’d hope as it goes from this behind the scenes look at what wrestling is all about, to the typical basic fight stuff. Sure there are objectives to meet in matches, but these are centered around doing damage, rather than maybe looking to hit certain moves at certain times.

Imagine a wrestling game, that was all about the technical side of things, making sure you hit certain milestones in matches as instructed by a ref on the go, or predetermined before you enter, designed around actually putting the best show on possible, just like the real thing. Having game mechanics built around that would give the genre the injection of creativity it needs.

As it is though, this is just another wrestling game and unless you absolutely MUST own the next gen version, then there is little reason to upgrade. WWE 2K15 isn’t a ‘bad’ game, but it is now certainly a very stale one.

 

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review

Ask us what our favourite XBLA game was. No go on, ask us. It was and still is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. It can still put many new released to shame, both in performance and just how enjoyable it is to play. 

First off it is 1080p and solid 60fps, yet it plays amazingly well. The core mechanics are honed to perfection and it is one of the best score chasing games you can ever wish to play. So when Bizarre Creations folded, it was sad because they are such a talented company, it was sad because there would be no more proper PGR games and it was sad because there would be no follow up to the excellent Blur. But most of all, it was sad, because that seemed like the end for Geometry Wars.

Fast forward to 2014 and another name from the past. Sierra games! This is Activision’s publishing name for downloadable titles and one of the first on the menu… Yep Geometry Wars. Excuse us if we go all Daniel Bryan for a second but… YES! YES! YES! YES! Well, that was until the first previews started leaking…3D? What the hell is this?

Geometry Was is a 2D top down twin-stick shooting, high score chasing, perfect example of a game. We basically needed GW2 with maybe a new mode or two. Why in the hell is there bloody 3D levels all up in my face?

So the day arrives and it is time to play Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions, with a lot less excitement than anticipated. So here we are, might as well give it a go.

Well bow down to all that is holy and good in the world. Despite reservations, Geometry Wars 3 is a Geometry Was game and it is still that game in its purest form. The 3D levels aren’t as distracting as they first appear, the core concept of the game is still there and guess what? It only has a classic mode that pretty much gives you GW2 in a new skin.

So what is new aside from 3D maps? Well first of all, you are now introduced to an Adventure mode, that sees you taking on various levels one by one, before then taking on a boss type level. Initially for old fans this seems a bit of a let down, especially as the levels have this iOS style 3 star system. However after a while that need to perfect each level hits and you forget why you had reservations in the first place.

As you progress the stars you earn can be used to unlock new abilities and Geoms collected can be used to upgrade those abilities. Again it is something that hardcore fans might not like, but they are there and in the new levels and Adventure mode they work really rather well. There is an option for those of us who’d much rather have a purer experience.

Classic mode is pretty much an untouched re-release of the GW2 levels and modes and is where you will spend most of your time, beating highscores, getting your top scores toppled and going back in to improve again and again and again and again. This is Geometry War and it is still in glorious 1080p and 60fps.

There is also the co-op and multiplayer aspect that have been brought in. At first they seem like they don’t belong and create a fair amount of havoc when played, purely because it takes a long time to adjust to other ships being on the screen and moving differently to what you are trying to do. But after a while it just clicks and whether you play online or offline, it is a frantic and enjoyable experience.

When Resogun arrived on PS4, it felt a bit like a spiritual successor to Geometry Wars, but now the king is back and it has been more than worth the wait. Just think about this for a moment .We live in a world where both Resogun and Geometry Wars can exist and not only exist, but do so side by side on the same console.

It is the gaming equivalent of finding yourself heading to a hotel room after a wedding with the two best look bridesmaids on each arm. You know you are coming out of that experience with huge grin that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

 

Little Big Planet 3 Review

Little Big Planet 3

Sony have tried to get a mascot that can match that of SEGA and Nintendo ever since they stepped into the console market. Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, Clank, Crash and more. All of those are good characters but none as iconic for Sony as Mario and Sonic are to their companies. When they introduced Little Big Planet on the PS3, Sackboy was to become that mascot and to some degree he has.

Sony have been able to market him well, with his games and various bits of merchandise. Yet he still isn’t at those Mario levels yet.

The main reason for this are the games themselves, Little Big Planet was a very interesting game, it looked (and still does) beautiful, the textures were almost lifelike and Sackboy had a lot of character. All the previews showed a charming game that looked like it would be a ton of fun to play and create things in.

The problem with previous LBP games are that whilst the creation tools are amazing, they were also difficult to get used to and the gameplay just lacked that something. It was fun enough but simply not memorable, thanks to some floaty controls and frustrating moments. That was improved on in the Vita release which was recognised by many as the best version of the series yet.

So on to Little Big Planet 3.

What you have here is essentially more of the same, a series of pre-made levels set out in a story environment, access to a community hub to find user created levels and the ability to create your own. There have been a few tweaks though that do improve things.

First up is the level structure, you still have a hub you must navigate, but now you are given a series of tasks that start in a bigger worlds and take you into deeper levels, where you eventually complete said quests. It is a nice change from the usual, select this, go to that, do this here and back to another menu.

Little Big Planet 3 (PS4) Promo Image

Obviously though, the biggest change is the introduction of new characters and a potential marketing goldmine for Sony. Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop join Sackboy on his journey and add a bunch of interesting new mechanics. Swoop can fly, toggle can shrink or grown and Oddsock can wall-jump and other things. It does a nice job of introducing new things, but there is a minor niggle here.

The characters are introduced one by one, after you complete level to ‘rescue’ them, they can then be used to find the next and so on and so forth. The problem here, is that is pretty much a main structure of the game. You actually spend little time with the new characters as part of the main arc and whilst you can go back to old levels to replay them, it feels a bit of a letdown.

Having said that though, the new characters are wonderful and Oddsock is hard not to fall in love with, he acts like a big stupid puppy and whilst Swoop and Toggle have personality, it is Oddsock that stands out the most. Hell we want out own little Oddsock to sit with the Sackboy that is on the shelf right now.

Little Big Planet 3 (PS4) Screenshot

What is interesting too, is thar the characters to fit well into this world and there is surely more to come from them. Whether that be a load of DLC levels, Little Big Planet 4 or some kind of spin off series. When Sonic started to introduce ‘friends’ it became the beginning of the end for him, but this could well be something that help proper Sackboy to the next level.

Little Big Planet 3 is compatible with all previous DLC including costumes, which is a nice tough, it is also compatible with older community created levels, which whilst again is nice to see, actually causes a few issues. There have been tweaks to the gameplay that are for the better, but it also makes some older created levels pretty much broken, purely based on the clash between new mechanics and old. The fear is that in trying their hardest to be fair with already purchased DLC, they are holding future iterations of the game back a little.

At this point, many wouldn’t be overly annoyed it the next Little Big Planet was completely standalone, as long as the gameplay warranted that. The next game really does have to nail the platforming mechanics because whilst improved the floaty feeling is still there, which is a crying shame.

There is something about a Little Big Planet game that keeps you coming back and despite a few flaws, it is still a great game to play. However it is a game that is best shared and not one for playing on your own. Sitting down with family is a wonderful experience and thanks to some clever creators, there really is an endless supply of content.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Review

Overwhelming would be the best way to describe the initial foray back into the world of Dragon Age. Your quest log can become gigantic as you struggle to decide whether to close rifts or hunt for that woman’s missing jewellery. In that sense, this is the exact opposite of what Bioware did with Dragon Age 2, so you may feel the need to rejoice at that.

It wasn’t a bad game per se, but changing the huge open world of Dragon Age: Origins to the smaller city of Dragon Age 2 rubbed people the wrong way. Not to mention limiting your choice of character to play as, no longer could you select a dwarf or elf each with their own unique beginnings, instead you were stuck the human Hawke. Inquisition in a lot of ways goes back to what it did so well with Origins. And you feel more like the hero than ever before.

Surviving a devastating blast that leaves many dead, as your chosen character it’s up to you to save the world from demons! It’s a standard setup of an RPG, but the way it plays out is possibly the best Bioware have ever done. You see, power is everything. As the leader of the Inquisition it’s up to you to recruit allies, complete quests and basically do everything to increase the fortunes of your people. You feel like the leader, and the one everyone is looking at to lead them. Once power is gained it’s used to open up further quests, some critical story missions, others side stories that are just as, if not more, interesting.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Missions are selected in the war room. A nicely crafted table reminiscent of old war movies where you and your allies plan your next mission. Not just for yourself, your agents can also be sent on missions solo to gain new items, this taking a specific amount of time. Much like the missions you get in an Assassin’s Creed game.

You think that’s it? Well, no. On top of the standard quests, once in the world you have landmarks to discover, new camps to setup and just general dungeons and caves to explore, usually ending in some nice new loot. The amount of content is simply staggering. Many times what should’ve been simple trips from one end of the map to the other takes an hour long detour as a new cave structure is found and must be raided. It helps that the game looks simply gorgeous, with a decent variety in environments. One minute you’ll be walking (or riding your steed) across the green fields of the Hinterlands and the next traverse the barren desert oasis, sometimes stopping to just take in the sights or use the PS4’s share feature to show everyone the view from atop the mountain you’ve just climbed.

Hilariously once you’ve finally gotten a grasp on what needs to be done, about ten hours into the game you get thrown even more gameplay mechanics to learn. It’s the game that really does keep on giving.

Of course, all this content would mean nothing if the combat doesn’t hold up. Thankfully, it does. It plays a lot like previous Dragon Age games. Along with your three fellow companions, you can simply swing your sword (or whatever weapon you may have) till everything falls down or use special abilities that are unlocked as you gain levels. Pressing the touch pad also giving you a more tactical advantage as you can organise your party in a more effective way, telling them what enemies to target and the like.

Potion hoarders though may be a little disappointed. You can only carry a limited number, with a few slots for specific potions, whether they are health or weapon related is up to you. Later in the game you get to upgrade how many you can carry, but it means there’s only so far you can go before health starts to dwindle and you’re forced to head back to your camp and restock.

As expected from a game this huge is that there are a few bugs that you will encounter. There are a few graphical hiccups here and there that can be forgiven due to the sheer scale of everything. The worst encountered is where the radial conversation wheel would disappear with the only way to progress being to skip the choice and go straight to the next piece of dialogue. Luckily it only happened a couple of times, the second of which we decided to wait around and see if dialogue would continue correctly. And it did after about two minutes of waiting. Compared to the troubles of Master Chief Collection, Assassin’s Creed: Unity and DriveClub though this seems incredibly insignificant.

In taking on the criticisms of Dragon Age 2, Bioware have created a world rich with content and adventure that is so jam packed that it’ll take you months to see everything the game has to offer. If this is just the beginning of what Bioware can produce on these current gen consoles, then this generation we’re in for a treat.

The Evil Within Review

The Evil Within is the new game by the Resident Evil writer Shinji Mikami & Bethesda studio where you play as Sebastian Castellanos, a detective seemingly dragged into a nightmare by a psycho.

The game starts with you having to escape from what appears to be a butcher, who is gleefully & methodically carving up fresh human flesh. So, not quite the game for all the family to relish, or play together, on a Saturday afternoon. This is one gory game, which never lets up in that regard.

Here you really have to be careful about who and how you kill as both health packs & ammo are not quite as abundant as you may want although there are plenty of ways to distract or kill your enemies. A favourite of mine was to crawl under a wire which, when triggered, made the enemies paint the walls with their insides. One thing about this game is that it can be somewhat difficult at times, you can lower the difficulty at any time although this will reset the chapter that you are on so its probably best to do it at the beginning of one if you ever feel the need.

Enemy design in this game is superb, from the butcher, to a spider like woman, zombies with glowing eyes, giants and much more. You can stealth kill your enemies at times but I found that most of them have somewhat impeccable hearing and would come running having heard you from across a room. One thing you can also do is melt the corpses of the recently undead using matches that you can pick up throughout which can trigger a nice scream as they burn.

With Mikami involved in the game, you can imagine the kind of thing you come across both in story, enemies, weapons and level design and it very much feels like the spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4. While this is very much a good thing, The Evil Within does have some minor quibbles. For example, melee is not something I would recommend in the game unless you are really stuck, as when you melee an enemy and they return the favour, often it drains your health massively which seems a tad unfair. The character movement is identical to RE4 in that Sebastian is rather stiff as he cannot jump, or crouch to shoot. It does seem a tad odd considering RE4 was released originally almost ten years ago.

The story takes a while to get going but once it does, is highly engaging, and throughout the game you can also pick up pages from Sebastian’s past which ‘flesh’ out the story nicely (Sorry!). One thing I liked was the removal of Sebastian from the main story to save your game which I will leave you to discover exactly what I mean yourselves. Suffice to say, when you hear some music playing that’s when you can start breathing a sigh of relief!

When all is said and done Mikami & Bethesda have created a gorefest, which grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go throughout.

A solid adventure and a music for horror fans out there who want to play a game which could be described as RE4’s spiritual successor as mentioned earlier.

Minutes Review

Time has weird properties. Time spent at work can drag. Time spent waiting for something exciting to happen can feel like an eternity, and subsequently pass by in the blink of an eye. Throughout all this, time never lies – no matter how fast or slow it feels to you, its inexorable march forward is steady and consistent. A minute is always a minute.

Red Phantom Games’ Minutes has a simple premise – you are given one minute. During that one minute, you have two objectives:

  • Pick up as much coloured stuff as possible
  • Don’t die as a result of picking up too much black stuff

Utterly abstract in its presentation, Minutes has you controlling a resizable circle as you aim to collect beams and blobs of colour over sixty stages. Each stage is identical every time it is played, so what originally seems impossible rewards a patient approach along with trial and error. Stages start off tricky and don’t get any easier, and an on-screen timer reminds you that no – a minute has not passed yet, and yes – maybe now is a good time to start panicking.

The goal of Minutes is to score as highly as possible, and points are earned collecting the coloured stuff. The more your circle is expanded as you collect it, the higher the score multiplier is. Collecting the black stuff increases your damage gauge, and upon hitting a critical amount the level ends prematurely in failure. Four distinct powerups are also on offer, of which one can be used per stage. Quell slows time, but not your circle – enabling movement to previously-impossible areas; Fortify heals you; Shield keeps the bad stuff out for a set amount of time; and Blast destroys all black items near your circle.

Once you have got to grips with all that, it’s a journey through the sixty stages – where things start off simply and get very difficult very quickly. New types of obstacle and collectible objects are introduced frequently to keep things fresh along with a new aesthetic every five stages. From here the game wants two things from you – to get perfects, and get high scores. Easier said than done, as the sheer amount of stuff to collect and obstacles to avoid that are thrown around on screen is astronomical after the first few stages.

Perfects are achieved by completing a stage having taken no damage, collected all the coloured stuff, and achieved a certain score, as well as finding “Minuteman” – a smiley face that blends in to the background a little too well. High scores are achieved by collecting as much stuff as possible at the highest multiplier possible – and for me these two goals are a little contentious. Minutes encourages you to go for a “Perfect”, but significantly higher scores are available by sucking up a bit of damage in exchange for keeping your circle large and multiplier high. The two things the game expects you to achieve run at cross purposes with one another.

This wouldn’t be so problematic were it not for the amount of time it takes to get up to speed. Each stage gives you three score targets to achieve, each one rewarding you with a star; however, to begin with no powerups are available and the multiplier cannot be changed. This makes it impossible to achieve more than one star at first, and the powerups and ability to alter your multiplier are unlocked as a reward for hitting set star goals. Not only does this make it impossible to achieve a “Perfect” until you’ve bashed through a large number of levels at a reduced capacity, it also increases the number of times you have to retry each level without a complete toolset. What’s even worse is that once you’ve unlocked all the powerups, better versions of those powerups become available. It’s a cycle that leaves you feeling like you’ll never be able to do the one thing this game should truly excel at – chasing high scores.

Minutes is very challenging, and a successful navigation through the madness of the later stages is incredibly satisfying. Sadly the amount of babying and learning through failure results in an experience that gives you something to achieve – but won’t actually let you properly do that for far too long.

 

Nidhogg Review

Almost exhausted after battling for so long, I am now at the final area. I must be the one to be sacrificed. Momentum is with me, but my opponent stares at me without emotion. The arena music drowns out my thoughts, but I wonder if I can hear the cheering crowd in the adjoining area.

I am distracted, and suddenly my opponent thrusts their sword towards me. I feel as if it enters my chest, as if I may explode. But wait, no, that’s not how it happened. My opponent raised his sword, jabbing towards my face…No that’s not it. The ground is covered in something. Is that my blood? My opponent dashes away, thinking they are safe. I react, throw my sword and watch it drive into their back. They explode. I run. Someone appears suddenly in front of me, I skewer them without thinking and run on. The crowd roars. Come unto me, Flying Penis Monster and take me. I have earned this.

Nidhogg is a frantic 2D, one-on-one, sword-fighting game. If you’ve played the PC version, both PS4 and Vita versions are identical. If not, each player’s character is killed by a single successful sword attack, then explodes in a fountain of pixels and respawns ready to defend again. From the central starting screen, the aim is to progress three screens forwards. Kill your opponent to be able to move on, get killed and they can. The results are tense duels with the balance tipping towards and away from you until one player finally gets through the final screen to be consumed by the Flying Penis Monster.

[The Flying Penis Monster, one would assume, is the titular Nidhogg. Nidhogg is a dragon taken from Norse mythology who (possibly) heralds Ragnorak, so it’s entirely possible we may one day see it in a Thor movie. Chris Hemsworth riding a Flying Penis Monster would surely be a sight to behold.]

[So many people are going to arrive on this page through Google and be thoroughly bemused.]

Everything about the game is focused and well put together. The combat relies on positioning and reactions to tease precision from simple controls. One attack button and one jump button lead to three stances to attack high, medium or low, a roll, a jumping attack and, with good timing, a chance to disarm. There are no complicated special moves, and as important as the fighting is success usually depends on knowing when to simply run as fast as you can. Duels can last barely a minute or go on for ages, but the backwards and forwards pattern will always be the same. The driving, magnificent, soundtrack helps keep your mind on the violence too, as if it could ever wander.

Where the gameplay benefits from being so focused, the variety of modes on offer probably could be considered a little too limited. The single-player mode is simply a timed series of bot fights without even a hint of a story attached. Online play seems to have few players, but if/when an opponent is found the game seems relatively smooth and works as well as can be hoped.

Honestly, unless you’re playing locally it’s very difficult to recommend Nidhogg. Against someone on the same sofa the tension and the drama shine through. In the same way you soon forget you’re watching a black and white movie, the pixellated graphics suddenly disappear from your consciousness as you focus on exactly where the opponents swords is and when you can make a move. Best of three matches becomes best of five, best of five becomes a whole night. Few games of recent years can enter the legendary roster of all-time classic local multiplayer games populated by classics such as Micro Machines and Goldeneye, but Nidhogg does.

There is a feeling, engendered by mentioning it along with nineties classics as I just have, that games such as Nidhogg rely on nostalgia, that they’re playing to an audience who remember games “like this”. Certainly at a glance the game looks old fashioned, but it is harking back to an era that never actually existed. Games this well put together, this pure, this fun, have always been a rarity. Perhaps technical limits used to push creators towards this direction, but games back then stretched themselves too far just as often as they do now. When a perfectly crafted game like this does come along, regardless of the era or art style, just enjoy it. It’s a truly magnificent creation.