Homefront: The Revolution review

Homefront The Revolution game review screenshot

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

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

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

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void Review

Since getting a decent PC, I have tried to get into a much wider range of game genres. Many I have loved, others not so much. In years past I have looked upon Blizzard’s output with a mix of envy and relief.

I understood they were, in general, great games, but I had heard about the way they will take over your life. One of those is World of Warcraft, of which I am yet to peer into the rabbit hole. The other is Starcraft, a game that has scared me, one that to me felt impenetrable. However I was given the opportunity to review the Legacy of the Void standalone expansion, so what the hell.

As a disclaimer, this isn’t going to be an in depth review, fans of the series aren’t going to come here and get the best opinion. This is more a look from the outside, from a complete beginner, not only to the series, but still to the genre.

One thing that jumped out to me, was that Blizzard no how to do story, even if the writing is pretty bad on the whole. The cut-scenes and character interaction in said cut-scenes are played brilliantly and I was immediately sucked into the world.

Truth be told, I was taken aback by the single player content, as I always assumed that Starcraft was purely an online competitive game for the ultra dedicated (more on that later), but I was wrong and the single player is deep and plentiful.

Whilst the game does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics, it is clear that this is something that has been produced for fans of the recent series and those with a knowledge of the genre. Now that isn’t to say I was hit by an impenetrable shield, that would stop me playing in my tracks, but it did require me to stop and start a lot and look things up externally as I tried to get a grip on things.

This is far from a casual game, but once you get your head around the basic mechanic, you can start to play and complete missions. Sure you won’t be beasting anything or getting the top rewards, but it is surprisingly simple when you break it down.

The trick of course, is to take those basic mechanics and manipulate them in your favour to get the best out of any situation and that is where I really came unstuck. You can perform basic actions after a short introduction, but as soon as the complexity of tasks increases, you can find yourself feeling like a 2 year old tasked with understanding quantum fusion as the last hope to save the world.

I honestly felt lost, even very early on. The missions I did complete I literally staggered through, hoping for the best. Legacy of the Void isn’t kind to people like me, but nor should it be. I am sure there are games out there that act like baby’s first RTS, but this shouldn’t be one and nor is it.

I wanted to give the game a fair chance though and I did spend many hours persevering, trying to learn and improve, because any frustrations and faults were laid firmly and my feet. And guess what? When I went back to the start, I was then able to think a bit differently, try new solutions and improve on earlier results.

 

I actually got some enjoyment from knowing that I wasn’t just failing constantly for no reason and I was actually learning, albeit at a slow rate. I will go back even after this review and play some more, because I can see the hook and I can see why this is such a beloved franchise and I would love to get more from it.

Yet the single player isn’t what makes Starcraft one of the biggest E-Sports in the world,where prize money is at staggering levels. Where players can turn pro and earn a living from it. That is down to the online stuff.

So what the hell, I decided to jump in and see what it was all about…

Yeah! That didn’t last long. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had lost. I would try again and I would lose again. Again and again.

This is not a world for me, this is something for a very special breed. This was like the lovely 70 year old lady in the library, who loves her stories, deciding to make a run at the NHL. It just isn’t going to happen.

There is no way, that I, in my mid-thirties can even think of becoming competitive in this world. It is too late for me. I have other responsibilities and cannot dedicate the time needed to even think of winning games.

So that became a short lived experience. But thanks to Blizzard’s care and attention to making sure there is a solid single player option, I will still get a lot of enjoyment from this game and I may even go back through the series and pick up some of the earlier stuff.

It isn’t love at first sight, but I think myself and Starcraft could become good acquaintances over time!

Little Big Adventure Enhanced Review

Little Big Adventure is one of those games that we never quite got around to playing despite having bought it a few times. A cult classic, it has a loyal following and is fondly remembered by pretty much everyone who played it when it first came out. DotEmu have now released this enhanced and updated version of LBA but is it enough to make it work for newcomers?

Little Big Adventure follows the story of Twinsen who has been locked away by the tyrannical Dr FunFrock for having strange dreams about the end of the world. The evil doctor has taken over the planet and holds control through the use of clones which he uses to impose his rule. Twinsen’s first job is to escape from the prison and then set about finding out exactly what his dreams mean and what he can do to save the world.

The game is set out like a semi-isometric adventure where our hero enters and exits different areas via arrows around the edges of the scenes and everyone looks a bit like Weebles. You can talk to just about anyone and everything is voice acted which gives a solid feeling of a functioning world as the various inhabitants impart advice and general gossip to you. There are normally enemies roaming around as well which can be avoided by sneaking or punched and kicked. Shortly after the start you also get a magic ball thing you can chuck at them

The game plays out as an action adventure title where you have to go around and find clues about what to do and then collect objects and use them in order to progress. For instance – in one area you need to get the local people to trust you. They will then help you distract some guards which in turn allows you to get into a house. It’s the sort of game that doesn’t really exist anymore but one that was very prevalent around the time of the LBA’s original release on the PC. However, it was always a unique adventure game and that feeling still remains to this day.

A number of changes have now been made to the game in order to try and bring it up to modern standards. The most obvious of these is the new set of control systems. We started out with mouse control which turns LBA into a sort of point and click game. However, it’s dreadfully un-intuitive and awkward to use. We found simple getting around the screen difficult and numerous times interactions with the environment simply didn’t work. After a while we found ourselves descending into clicking all over the place near interest points in the vein hope something would register as the right place to click.

Not to be defeated we switched to the gamepad control and everything immediately became about one hundred times better. With movement now under direct control and things like running, jumping and sneaking mapped onto the buttons the whole thing becomes a much more joyful experience. The original keyboard ‘tank’ controls can no longer be used however, so you’ll either have to play the original version of the game that’s included or get used to one of the new schemes.

There is also a new status bar added which displays things like health and magic and if you are in sneak mode or not. You now zoom in and out as well, which certainly helps but could have been further improved by allowing you to pan around your environment in the same way as games such as Baldur’s Gate. Far too often you are left at the edge of the screen not able to see what is right in front of you as the camera doesn’t really keep Twinsen centred but normally scrolls along when he reaches certain points.

A welcome chance is improved saving as it’s all too easy to die or get captured. Although you can still only load them from the main menu screen. While this does stop constant cheap use of the system it’s still a bit annoying when you have to go out to the main menu just to load a game. A better system for working out where you are jumping or where exactly the magic ball is going to be thrown is also a very welcome addition.

The graphics haven’t been improved or filtered either so you get a sort of grainy jagged look to everything. That’s not a major issue on the face of it but it seems strange to release a new version of a game without giving it a bit of a facelift – especially when the original version of the game is also included. The map and objective screen could have really done with a facelift as well and we found it almost completely useless as everything just looked like pixelated blobs. A clear list of objectives and locations would have really helped.

It’s certainly not perfect but even as a relative newcomer to LBA once we got into it we really started to like it. The adventure itself is still very solid and there’s a unique humour and charm to everything. We also haven’t really played anything like it before which goes to show how original and unique the game really is. Ok, so more could have been done to make this a really special release but the gamepad controls at least make it playable for newcomers and the game underneath is certainly worth experiencing. With a bit of patience there’s still a lot of magic to be found here and we’d certainly recommend it to adventure game fans.

Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate Review

A few years ago PixelJunk Shooter first appeared on the PS3. Still one of the best games on the Playstation network it is finally now available on the PC. The first game had already been released but now the team have and combined Shooter 1 and 2 and spruced it up a bit to create Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate.

The plot, such as it is, has you sent in to rescue your crew mates after mysterious goings on while mining on the planet of Apoxus Prime. To do this you have to fly your craft around tight underground caverns while using water, lava and magnetic black liquids to your advantage. It’s reminiscent of Thrust with its inertia and gravity based gameplay but your craft will stay still if left alone. You also won’t die from hitting walls (which is a good thing or it would have been nigh on impossible).

The game is a 2D styled shooter where you manoeuvre your ship around a section of an enclosed map. Normally you will have to get water to turn lava to rock or lava to melt ice or some other combination of dropping one liquid onto another. You’re doing this because you need to get to and rescue all the lost crew members in each area. If too many of them die you have to start the level again. It’s wonderfully inventive and a whole lot of fun and there are hidden areas and diamonds to collect along the way as well.

The level design is nigh on perfect throughout the game and the difficulty curve is just about right. The huge boss monsters found at the end of each world may cause some frustration but they provide tense and heroic showdowns of David and Goliath proportions and once you work them out shouldn’t take too long to get past. The difficulty level ramps up considerably once you enter the second part of the game (Shooter 2), but it’s all still achievable.

Shooter Ultimate is now split into six main areas each consisting of five levels. There are the initial outer rocky areas, the ice caves and then the mine. After the mine something happens which we won’t spoil but you’ll be dealing with a host of new gases and liquids. Each individual level is split into sections which require everyone to be rescued before a bulk head opens to the next. Each has its own tricks and traps and will keep you on your toes throughout. If it gets too much you can always call a friend in for co-op action.

You’ll also need to think quickly as the game has a wonderful way of getting you to forget what you’ve just learnt. For instance, for the first area you are trying to keep away from lava (overheating causes you to crash), but then in the ice caves you’ll come across an inversion suit which makes lava cool you down and water heat you up.

It’s a game that keeps throwing new ideas and things at you to keep you interested. The water suit and lava suit are just the start and you’ll soon be switching around and dealing with freezing lakes and clouds of gas as well as the usual lava and water. The key thing is that everything stays fun and creative throughout. Once you’ve completed the game you’ll probably want to dive back in to further explore the levels and find all the missing diamonds and any crew you missed along the way. There’s even a hidden level to try and unlock and online combat.

PixelJunk Shooter is a game we’re still playing on the PS3 to this day. The fact a whole new audience can now pick it up is great and this really is one of the best games of its type. Q-Games have crafted something special here and the years have done nothing to diminish its appeal. With PixelJunk Shooter 2 included as well it becomes an essential purchase for PC owners. We’ll be playing it through for yet another time and we would recommend everyone else do the same.

This was always going to be a certified hit with us as long as nothing had gone wrong in the conversion and from our experience this offers all the fun of the original. PC gamers really need to play this as it’s simply a masterfully executed, great little game packed with more invention and ideas than most massive AAA releases can even come close to.

Blood Bowl II Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1 Review

Everyone has their own personal bars for their best and worst games. My own personal worst game of all time was (and note the ‘was’) Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. A game that for me played like the developers had never actually played any of the original games.

Anyway, that has dropped a spot to my second worst game, after being replaced by the awful, nay, beyond awful Afro Samurai 2: Revenge of Kuma Volume 1. A game so bad, I am surprised it even found its way into the wild.

I have played bad games before and usually if they are bad you can get some sense of what the developer was aiming for, you can tell they just couldn’t get it to work as intended and it will have one or two redeeming features.

That is just not the case for Afro Samurai 2, the sequel to the pretty decent if average Afro Samurai released in 2009. So I was pretty interested in playing a follow up. But within a few seconds, I could tell this was going to be bad.

Menus, UI, designs, everything before even the game started appeared second rate at best, as though design wasn’t even thought about and the work experience kid had been asked to cobble something together for homework. So bad that same kid wouldn’t even submit it for his GCSE Graphic Design coursework.

It’s not just the design of the UI that is horrible, they are even broken in a way that just shouldn’t happen in this day and age. Level selecting is a meta-game in itself as getting to the choice you want is a ballache of moving around a poorly designed map.

Then the game starts and it is as ugly as sin. Even if we were in the early 2000’s and playing on a PS2 it would still look ugly. Somehow, it looks worse than the original, which wasn’t pretty to begin with.

The gameplay itself is the worst part though, basic controls are awkward, the fight systems fail to work and despite trying to be influenced by the Arkham series fight mechanics, there is no smoothness to combat at all. There are meant to be combo moves, reversals, different styles and more, but it just feels disjointed.

The different fight styles are a requirement to beat certain characters, but aside from pressing a button to change them, there really feels like there is no connection and no need for this. It is so pointless and the differences so non-existent you can forget that you need to change styles.

The poor combat and movement in itself wouldn’t be so bad (well actually it would) if there was some flow to the game. But again there it falls flat on its face. It has more cut-scenes than all of Hideo Kojima’s games put together.

Yet those cut-scenes make little to no sense, you have a quick battle, move on, look like you are ready for another confrontation and bang! It is a cut-scene that plays out for you. It breaks up the game far too much and if anything tells me that the developers knew they had a bad product on their hands and wanted to be sure players weren’t subjected to too much of it.

Even then, the cut-scenes don’t feel natural and are even broken in places. I had one moment where the dialogue for a cut-scene started playing whilst I was still playing the game a good 30 seconds before the scene loaded.

That is just the tip of the broken iceberg, getting caught on scenery, NPCs not performing as they should, boss battles that just fail to work properly. Music is awful and voice acting is quite possibly the worst I have heard in many years.

Again the things that are broken and half-hearted in this game wouldn’t have been acceptable in a Net Yaroze demo on a Playstation Magazine cover-disk. There has been some awful stuff on Steam’s Greenlight that shouldn’t be allowed on Steam, but then this is released broken and feeling barely 10% into development.

Yet the developers are wanting people to part with £10.99 to play this absolute piece of crap. This for me is close to fraud, a game that had been sent out to be sold by crooks. The worst part is that it is part of a trilogy, that can be bought as a bundle. They want you, the consumer, to buy this and the extra volumes knowing how bad this game is.

I am not having it any other way, than they know just how bad Afro Samurai 2 is and are trying to cheat people out of their money, because at no point does any self respecting developer put crap like this on a marketplace and be proud of what they released.

As I said earlier, I can accept bad games, because at the end of the day bad means different things to different people. I also accept there are some chancers out there who will do asset flips and the like to make a quick buck via the Greenlight service, but when it is a known franchise like this, it is beyond criminal.

Luckily the public have voted with their wallets. Looking at Steam stats, there has been a peak total of just 18 people playing this and I can only hope that those who did part with their hard-earned have used the Steam refund policy to get back their money.

Mad Max Review

I’ve taken my time to come to a decision about Mad Max for two reasons. One being I was a huge fan of the original film and to be honest I haven’t ever really liked where the source material has gone since and secondly, my views of the game have changed more times than a model at a fashion show.

So, I decided that if I tried to hang on to my own opinions of the Mad Max franchise, I wouldn’t be able to give the game a fair review. So in doing this I had to forget there was ever an original and try to leave that influence behind (I am still to see Fury Road for the record).

In fact, the checklist of essentials came down to the game being set in Australia and the main character being called Max. It is and he is, so fine, I can approach this game on its own merits moving forward. Another point to note, is that I am played this on the PC, where previous Warner Bros titles have had many, many issues. So I am happy to report that even on my modest system, the game runs really well at high settings.

To get the issues out of the way first, I am going to bring up the control system. The defaults here are just odd, with actions mapped to buttons that just don’t feel right having played other action/adventure games. You expect some kind of continuity across controls these days, even if games are from different developers.

Now I know this isn’t a shooter and the idea is that ammunition is scarce, but not having the shoot button on the shoulders just didn’t feel right and I found myself accidentally shooting my weapon when pressing B on the controller way too often. It’s not the only change to the norm, as there are so many times where it just feels a bit awkward and hasn’t been properly tested from the development stage.

Now I did get used to them eventually and I could remap them, but as a default they just didn’t feel right out of the box, which meant it took me a while to really find a groove with the game.

The other thing that does frustrate a lot, is that whilst the overall arc of the game is very enjoyable, there is a large chunk where the game feels like it is adding filler just to extend the length and even hits a point where you are telling yourself “too many more of these and I am calling it a day”.

The start of the game is very stop/start too, where you are waiting for it to let go of your hand and let you explore the barren wastelands and start engaging with enemies across the land. The opening as a story is important and the acting is enjoyable, but when interspersed with teases of gameplay, it gets frustrating and you just feel that had the developers mixed the start a bit differently it would have flowed a lot better.

The main issue comes around mid-way through the game, where it feels like you are doing a lot of forced rinse and repeat fetch-quests just for the sake of it, which are sandwiched between some really well constructed missions and writing.

Now that being said, where this game does excel is in the combat, both vehicular and on foot. When in your car, which can be upgraded as you progress, there is an influence of sorts from Wheelman, where you can side-swipe another car to do damage. But instead of just turning into them, you use a button press with a directional input to make the slam. It is stupid but it works really well.

As does the firing of weapons from your car. These aren’t ever really your main point of attack, but can be pretty spectacular when used. The upgrades you get too can turn your vehicle into a dangerous killing machine. It really never gets dull seeing what you can add next to inflict even more pain.

On foot the game isn’t simply influenced by the Batman fight mechanics, it is pretty much using them like for like. And I can tell you now, that is the best possible decision Avalanche could have made here, because Batman’s fighting mechanics are still the best I have used in this genre.

Whilst you never feel as powerful as Batman, the close quarters combat in Mad Max still feels just as satisfying and there is just the right amount of tension that you could be overwhelmed by the groups of enemies, mixed with that feeling of being a complete badass.

Now as I said, there are issues with Mad Max and it certainly isn’t a game that will win many awards, but it is a damn enjoyable game, where you can in the end overlook what are, at the end of the day, pretty minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

This is a game that came out in the same week as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, yet it still grabbed my attention enough to want to finish this, rather than ignore it for the poster child release of the week.

Fairy Fencer F Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dream Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hero Generations Review

It’s been an odd couple of years.

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

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

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

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

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

King’s Quest Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blues and Bullets Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolute Drift Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronin Review

2D turn based stealth combat action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I went the whole review without mentioning Gunpoint.

Damnit.

Rocket League Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prismatica Review

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

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

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

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

2. Do you like logic puzzles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone in the Dark: Illumination Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventures Of Pip Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHOLAT Review

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Colony Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries Review

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

We squint at each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Penelope: Race to Odysseus Review

When I first heard of The Next Penelope and found out it was a racing game, I just couldn’t get the image of a futuristic Wacky Races out of my head. Sadly this has nothing to do with that at all. Thankfully it is still a cracking game.

My first impression of The Next Penelope is that if there was to ever be a proper 2D Wipeout clone, then this would be much of the way to being that, however it is a lot more than a simple racing game, which I will come to in a bit.

What really impressed me early on, was the way your ship controlled, the momentum, the inertia, everything was spot on, even the differences in speed. I was a little concerned when first starting the game up, to be informed I didn’t need to worry about accelerating and the game would do this automatically.

However, it really works well, as do the choices with how you steer the ship. You can either use the left analogue stick in a similar way you’d expect in a Micro Machines or the like, essentially a more traditional option. Or you can use the left and right triggers to make left and right turns.

I found that the triggers offered a greater control, especially when navigating a series of corners or battling other craft.

The combat and racing in the game are top notch and offer up a decent challenge and whilst laps are pretty short on the whole and the field can be sparse, the action is always there and keeping you involved.

What really makes this game stand out though is the story and the setting and usually I am one for despising story in racing games, just let me race and do away with the fluff but here it is integral to what makes this game work.

The concept here is simply bizarre, ancient Greek mythology mixed with futuristic racer, which not only includes racing, but also traditional boss battles that would feel at home in bullet-hell shooters or a game such as Velocity.

It blows my mind that not only could someone combine these aspects, both in terms of setting, but also gameplay, but that they could also make it work and work really well.

Again, there are things here that I pretty much hate in certain genres, such as upgrading elements of your craft, but here it really does make sense and it fits with a story that is really well scripted.

Now whilst this next bit shouldn’t have an impact on one’s feelings towards a game, sometimes it is hard to ignore.  The Next Penelope is a one man game, a proper one man effort too. Aurelien Regard has programmed the game, done the artwork, the music, etc and I can tell you this; it is another example of an Indie that puts AAA studio output to shame.

It has been in Early Access for a while, but I largely wanted to avoid it until it got a full release, so I am unable to comment on any issues it may have had, but the simple fact is this; The Next Penelope has released without any bugs or issues that I have been able to find.

There is a multiplayer option included, but at the point of this review I have been unable to test this, as I have had no one to play with me. This is because it is local multiplayer only, which is a shame, because it could be a ton of fun with online play. Again I appreciate this is a game by a single person, so hopefully it is something that can be added should the game sell as well as it deserves.

I went into The Next Penelope with low expectations, a game that would be fun for a couple of hours and then move on. What I found though was something that has blown me away, forget this being an achievement of one guy, it is a spectacular game in its own right and one that shouldn’t be as good as it ended up being.

Regency Solitaire Review

Remember when you first loaded up Windows, whether it be 3.1, 95, 98 and beyond? Remember going to see what the free games were? Minesweeper and Solitaire were the ones that stood out, they were the ones you’d play in I.T class when the teacher’s head was turned, stealthily hiding that window when he looked in your direction?

For me, it was Solitaire that took most of my time, as I love a good card game. Which brings me to around 2007 ish and another solitaire game found a way into my heart. It was a new take on the game, mixing in a good amount of humour, with various level packs and a golfing aesthetic which made the game a joy to play…that was of course, Fairway Solitaire.

I have beaten that game many, many times and certainly had my money’s worth. But eventually I had to give it up, as there really is only so many times you can beat the same game. I longed for it on the Vita, the PC, hell anything, with some new levels to bring me back, or at least something like it, a good sequel.

I longed for this and it appeared nothing was ever going to come to me…until that is, a chance encounter on Twitter and a Steam search later. I found a game called Regency Solitaire, which is where I give full disclosure… I was all set to buy this game myself, but the developer got in touch and I did get a code for it.

Why do I bring this up? Well because after a brief back and forth, I found that the developer for Regency Solitaire was also the lead on Fairway Solitaire and also had some of the original team working with him on this. So I was already excited for what was to come and again full disclosure, I love this game for the levels alone.

The idea is simple, you get a pack of cards and you use the rules of solitaire to clear the level of all the cards. So if you have a 7 at the top of your deck, you can then use that to clear a 6 or 8, etc. You get bonuses for clearing a certain amount of cards without drawing a new one, plus various specials and unlocks to help or hinder you.

Seriously, I love this stuff and it is my most favourite of time killers out there.

However, I want to be fair in my assessment and despite my personal love for this game, there are some slightly negative things I must talk about. The first of those being the polish of the overall game.

Now, I never really like attacking artistic impressions, so it isn’t the Downton Abbey style setting, as I think the style works really well overall, it is more the fact the resolution doesn’t allow you to have this fullscreen properly, it looks stretched and low-res, which is disappointing when you consider just how wonderful Fairway Solitaire looked and the amazing character it has.

However, this is a small team and the visuals don’t really affect the gameplay. Another thing this game has, which is actually just a personal pet hate, is a story and whilst it is nicely written, without grabbing you too much, it doesn’t feel like it is needed and if I wasn’t reviewing it, I’d likely skip the most of it.

It feels like it is there to bring out a bit of a reward and progression mechanic, which I get, but just doesn’t do it for me.

But that is enough of my negativity and back to what I love. Each level is just a joy to play, with a wonderful variety of layouts and interesting changes to mechanics to keep things fresh. It has a lot of homages to parts from Fairway, but they have changed them enough to fit in the aristocratic setting.

It does the usual thing you’d expect from these sorts of games, with easy opening levels, followed by bigger and tougher challenges, but as with Fairway and coming from the same guy, the balance and difficulty curve is spot on.

I would love to see more of this, whether that be new level packs, a new style or a complete new game again from the same team. Regency Solitaire is a fantastic game in an underappreciated genre.

 

Out There: Omega Edition Review

Countless light years from home with a broken gas probe, my only means of collecting fuel. The materials I need for repairs might be somewhere in this star system, on either of the barren balls of rock and ice on my scanner, paradoxically close and distant in the void. Unreachable either way. As I prepare myself for cryo-sleep I dwell on the chance, however remote, that I might be rescued. But more likely I’m stranded. Done for.

Your first game over in Out There stays with you. A melancholy snapshot of what the game sets out to be and it’s worth remembering that initial feeling when it happens a second time. Then a third, fourth, fifth… because you will die a lot in Out There and 90% of the time it will be because you ran out of fuel.

At its heart this is a game of exploration, mystery and tough, frequently blind, choices. A freak hyperspace accident has left you stranded in interstellar space, our solar system a speck on the far corner of your star chart, a seemingly impossible goal. It’s a cosmic road-movie of a game whose universe obeys the laws of the Roguelike even if its combat free gameplay makes it a genre outlier. Progress is made through deciphering game systems and learning probabilities over countless failed attempts to make it back to Earth.

Developers Mi-Clos have done a fine job of breathing life into their procedurally generated galaxy. Random encounters play out as mini text adventures detailing inexplicable cosmic phenomena or chance encounters with other life forms. The writing is occasionally clunky but hits home far more often than it misses with concepts and situations ranging from pulpy fun to the genuinely profound. Play for long enough and you’ll start pulling at the threads of a wider narrative where the truth behind your place among the stars remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Visually, Out There is simple but admirably slick. Alien landscapes, the roiling surface of gas planets and imposing black holes are all depicted with understated, painterly majesty. Even tiny touches like the marker showing the location of your ship dwarfed by cosmic scenery, or the little radio bleep icons indicating other ships subtly feed into a grand sense of scale. Underpinning all this is an ambient soundtrack that barely makes it’s presence felt until the critical moment when early dangers are overcome and your ship is better equipped for the hardships ahead. Haunting female vocals, first sinister and then euphoric, kick in and the universe spread out before you is suddenly a warmer, more welcoming place than it felt a moment ago.

But despite the heady atmosphere and memorable writing, Out There is frequently a drudgery of random misfortune and dull resource management. Your need fuel to continue your journey, you need iron for repairs, you need oxygen to breathe. All of this can be found by drilling and probing planets but yields are random and you’re never more than two or three unlucky, behind the scenes dice rolls from arbitrary perma-death. Where most Roguelikes frequently throw brutal encounters your way there’s usually some scope for mastery of the combat systems and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. There should always be lessons in death, about managing risk, about moment to moment tactics and long term strategies. This is where Out There’s suffers the most, there’s no lesson to be learned from repeatedly running out of fuel in the opening game through pure chance.

To add insult to injury you’re saddled with a pedantic, fiddly inventory system. One that forces you to dump resources unnecessarily because of quirks in its multi-screen layout, or prevents you building ship upgrades because the space they would take up is occupied by the materials needed to build them. All of this is further compounded by an interface originally designed for tablets where the icons you need from one moment to the next are on opposite sides of the screen. Perfect for two thumbs but a pain in the arse to navigate with a mouse and no keyboard shortcuts.

Out There is a flawed game but it hides an epic story to be uncovered, a piece at a time, with each doomed interstellar foray. A hidden chronicle of galactic history laced with great skill into the fabric of the game. Dialogue snippets, text descriptions of strange artefacts and abandoned structures, even the nature of basic ship upgrades all have implications in the light of previous discoveries. It‘s a game full of strange ideas and strange visuals evoking hazy recollections of sprawling, wonky 16 bit games like Captain Blood, Captive and Reunion. For all its faults there’s nothing quite like it out there.

Broken Age Review

In the current climate, perhaps doubly so when writing about a game by Tim Schafer, it is important to declare interests. I should declare that I was one of the backers of the Kickstarter, to the tune of $130. I should declare that, since I was mostly playing GTA5 I didn’t even bother playing the Steam version that purchase gave me, I bought it again for another eight quid on my phone.

With such an obvious declaration made, I think you should now know that this is going to be a positive review. And it will be, a thoroughly positive review. A review that will at some point declare this game to be “a beacon of true hope in an industry struggling to offer individual visions”, that will speak about the Kickstarter using the phrase “implemented flawlessly”. A positive review that will compliment the creators for making something “that publishers simply wouldn’t have allowed to come to fruition”. A review so positive it’ll conclude “I am proud to have invested such a sum of money in this game”. And that’s a lot of money.

I should declare why I wanted to invest that money too. Well, we’ve all got our favourite adventure games but it was The Secret of Monkey Island that was the one I fell for. It’s probably The Secret of Monkey Island that you can trace pretty much my entire career back to. There were certainly clunky bits, but there were some beautiful puzzles and the writing, such as the fight scene behind a wall, wasn’t just a gaming memory, it was a childhood memory. I played a fair number of point’n’clicks after that and then they went away. In the strictest sense they didn’t, but there wasn’t that feeling of there being another around the corner.

I should also declare that, although I’ve only started watching them since completing the game, that the Player Two documentaries are some of the most interesting videos recorded about videogames ever. If the rest of the Kickstarter had occasional wobbles, this bit was implemented flawlessly.

I should declare that, and have thought so from the initial glimpses through to the final game, I think the art style of the game is perfect. It looks like a dream of a pixel game, both metaphorically and literally how dreams of pixels look. Which is amazing. I should probably declare I didn’t back Thimbleweed Park for the same logic, although I am looking forward to it.

I should declare that throughout the development, I’ve been on the side of the developers. Running out of money after raising so much seemed inevitable from the first moment, raising more may go against the true idea of the original Kickstarter, but it allowed the game to be completed. Perhaps the celebrity voices were a bit unnecessary, the casting doesn’t seem wholly ideal in some of the more famous cases, but it’s a nice thing to have.

And whilst I’m on that topic, I should declare that I don’t have a problem with big indies going to Kickstarter and receiving vast sums whilst smaller teams struggle to receive anything. The big successes have encouraged more devs to try Kickstarter, even if that means more have also failed.

I should declare that I really wanted to like this game and that in lots of ways I do. I do consider it a beacon of true hope in an industry struggling to offer any individual visions. This is genuinely a game that publishers simply wouldn’t have allowed to come to fruition. It’s too expensive to make, too unique. It doesn’t really feed off nostalgia whilst also not really doing anything new and so exists in one of those hard to define niches that publishers so hate.

But…

…whilst I am proud to have invested such a sum of money in this game, to have helped it come into being…

…it’s just not very good. The first part is utterly simplistic with only two or three puzzles that you’ll notice are actually puzzles. It’s a warming and welcoming game, but it’s closer to a children’s story book than it is to Monkey Island. Perhaps always intended, perhaps a reaction to the feedback on the first part, the puzzles in part two are much harder but they’re, sadly, not much cleverer. Some rely on trial and error, some are relatively obvious but punish the player with long hikes around the map if they don’t get it right first time, others are just incredibly badly sign-posted and still more are easy to work out but then take ages to complete even when you know the answer. Quite how the game can feel like there are too few locations all over-loaded with solutions and almost every puzzle requiring a hike from one end of the map to the other and back again is mind-boggling. This is a game with a lot of walking, large chunks of which can’t be skipped. Cut-scenes are very cute once, but have to be skipped every time afterwards. Controls on a PC feel basic so they can be worked on a touch screen, controls on a small touch screen don’t feel anywhere near precise enough. Environments in Part Two are simply the first ones re-used, which feels slightly cheap. Understandable, but a little bit disappointing.

And the story? It’s almost great. It’s certainly well written and it feels warming and interesting, the dialogue is funny when it tries to be and it does evoke childhood in the way it tries to. There is a slight irony to playing a game written to evoke someone’s childhood in a game backed to evoke your own childhood and that never really feels resolved, this doesn’t ever feel like a game that was made for its pre-made audience, it’s very much its own beast. A strange decision, but not a bad one. Due to that and the lack of a single focus in the story it doesn’t quite keep your interest, slipping into the background behind whatever you are doing. That your irritation at a particularly bad puzzle is often more powerful than the urge to see the end of the story, even in what is clearly the (incredibly pernickety) finale speaks volumes. Upon completion it does feel pretty much worth the effort, although even then it is still a little bit confused and there are unanswered questions.

As the credits roll and my name scrolls past amongst hundreds of others, Broken Age confirms itself as a game that will always make me happy that it exists. I can’t imagine it will be a game I ever play again, nor will it be a game I can ever wholly recommend to anyone else. It is the most lovely and individual failure gaming has seen in years and that is genuinely a good thing, even if this is not a good game.

Toren Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Review

The Witcher 3 is a big game; that much is obvious from the start. Just how big only starts to become apparent after a good few hours play. This ‘review’ is based on what I’ve played so far, not the whole game which you might usually expect a reviewer to have played. As such, it should be treated as a rough guide, perhaps like a friend’s comments when you ask what they think of a game they’ve bought.

Most of the people that have played The Witcher 3 have likened it at various points to Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption and it’s hard to argue with the idea that it lies somewhere between the two. Early claims that it isn’t truly open world are a little ridiculous but it’s correct to say that you can’t go absolutely everywhere right from the start; you are walled in to a large tutorial area of sorts. This works well in my opinion; it stops you from wandering into much higher level enemies and dangerous scenarios while teaching you the basics across a fairly wide variety of early missions. I found this first area offered enough intrigue to keep me playing until I’d mopped up all the quests I could find, before moving on to the main game.

Compared to previous games in the series, The Witcher 3 feels more immediate and dare I say ‘console orientated’. I played through a good 10 hours of Witcher 2 before starting this and found it to be a decent enough game but too bogged down in tired mechanics and predictable tasks within the quests. Navigation was a nightmare too, with needlessly complex town designs made worse by having a single marker with no indication of how to reach it. Not a problem on its own, but when combined with other issues it made getting around a pain. This new game solves all of that straight away by having a much better world design and a dotted line on the mini-map to show you the route you need to take. If all of this sounds a little too hand-holdy for you, you can turn it all off, but for those of us who don’t have the time to get lost it works well.

Gameplay mechanics have also been drastically improved, in my opinion. Combat, which felt indirect and loose in the previous game, now has more physicality to it. This gives the player a greater feeling of control. It’s important to remember, though, that this Is a huge RPG first and foremost and fans of combat action games won’t be holding it up as a pinnacle of that particular genre. At first you may think there’s not much to it, a few mashes of the buttons will despatch most early foes with little bother and it’s not much of a spectacle. As you progress and level up a couple of character traits, however, things get more interesting. You can start to tailor your Geralt to your style and will soon be unleashing ‘special moves’ of sorts and employing more interesting tactics as you meet more formidable opponents. It’s not Bayonetta, but as RPG combat goes it’s pretty good. Signs are the game’s form of magic and involve fire attacks and mind control among other options. They are interesting choices to have but a little finicky to get to grips with. You also have a range of bomb options and a crossbow but these all feel like alternative approaches that don’t immediately spring to mind when a fight ensues.  Overall it works well enough for me and the only combat issue I’m beginning to be concerned about is that things can start to feel a bit samey. You get better at fighting to a point, and it’s enjoyable to do so, but once you find something that works for you it seems that you can just keep doing that for every battle. This may change later on and, of course, it’s partly down to player choice, but those wanting to be forced to change their approach may have to do so voluntarily or increase the difficulty in the hope it will mean they have to.

One of the main things that got so many people hyped about Witcher 3 is the graphics and they are indeed very good. I’m playing on a fairly decent PC with a mix of high and ultra settings for a steady 60fps but cannot comment on how it looks on consoles, my understanding is: pretty good. For more in-depth insights into the visuals, take a look at one of the many high-res videos that are all over the internet – I’m the wrong person to comment on how it looks really; I don’t ever seem to be as impressed by graphics as most people are, placing more emphasis on frame rate myself. Fans of such things will not be disappointed though, the game looks great in almost all instances and appears to be well optimised for a range of PC specs. I have heard about many bugs and issues people are having, mainly on console versions, but I haven’t experienced anything myself which is pretty amazing for a game of this scope. I am incredibly picky and strict with anything like that and am a firm believer that games should only be sold as finished products when they are indeed finished. If I have issues with a retail version of a game I will mark it down heavily and explain why, I don’t care if it’s patched later, it should not have been sold in that state. The reason I’m ranting is to make it clear that I’m not forgiving anything here, I’ve genuinely had no issues (so far) and can only speak from my experience. I am aware that many people are having huge problems so it might be worth a Google to learn more about whether they’re likely to affect and bother you.

Back to the game itself then. It is huge. Not just geographically but in terms of what there is to do. You can spend hours and hours in the first area, clearing your map of all the markers that appear, only to realise that you’ve still probably missed some stuff. Eventually you move on, eager to see what awaits and oh God it’s a completionist’s nightmare! You find yourself in a huge area with even more quest markers, which themselves seem to increase exponentially as you complete each one. On the way to one area you’ll be distracted by something and open up a whole new sub quest, many of which offer at least an hour of gameplay. This is all well and good for those that want to spend the next year playing this game and it would be wrong to criticise a game for having too much content, but it can start to feel a little diversionary. It’s not ‘padding’ really because nothing prevents you moving the story forward and ignoring these side quests. It’s also not that the side quests aren’t great enjoyable adventures that are worth playing through. It’s just that so many are presented to you at once that it can be a little overwhelming. It’s genuinely hard to keep track of everything and perhaps a little more pacing would have benefitted the game here. If this sounds a like an odd criticism, let me explain. I might be in the middle of a quest when I unlock or discover another one. Now, I can leave the quest I’m on and go off on the new one but I, like most people I suppose, usually stick with what I’m doing before moving on. However, I now have the lure of this new mission on my mind and maybe rush through my current task, especially if I have a good idea of where it’s going and just want to see it through. It sort of spoils what I’m doing a bit. This is where drip-feeding things maybe one or two quests at a time could perhaps keep the player more focussed on the task at hand and therefore appreciate and enjoy it more. It’s an embarrassment of riches really. When there’s so much to do at once it’s hard to really get into any one thing. The game is like an RPG version of a giant Steam library just after a blowout sale; there’s so much quality stuff that’s popped up that you don’t know what to do. An odd criticism then, but one that I feel is not completely invalid.

My approach has changed from the opening area where I wanted to do everything. Now I’ll do a few side quests before the main story mission, do another few, then main story etc. The game does offer a guide of sorts by giving you recommended levels for each task. There’s nothing to stop you taking your level 10 Geralt into a level 35 quest but the little red skull does suggest it might be time to mop up some more side stuff and beef up a little first. It’s a handy pointer for those unsure about what to do next and is a subtle way to suggest, if not force, some grinding, which in this game takes the form of all those side missions. For those who might want to try a harder quest in the hope of getting better armour and weapons, be aware that these are level restricted too. I have a pair of trousers that I’m not allowed to wear for another two levels. This is kind of ridiculous but it’s just part of this genre and I understand why these things are necessary – it’s not irritating really, just silly.

My personal issue with these games has always been whether they can hold my interest. Often what happens, as with Skyrim, is that I go in all excited and do everything before getting a little bored. Usually this is precisely because I’ve been doing everything and getting bogged down in minutiae without progressing the main story and reaching new areas that might otherwise have kept me going. In this, I’ve made sure not to do too much in one place and have been utilising the freedom to move on to new areas. However, I am starting to realise that I probably don’t want to do everything. As enjoyable as it is, it’s hard for any game to hold your interest for over 100 hours. Not just any game, but any piece of entertainment. Think of those great, revered TV series, very few of those are over 100 hours long. You can get bored of anything, no matter how good it is. What you get out of the Witcher 3 will depend very much on your own temperament and you know, more than this review can ever say, whether you want it or not. I would certainly recommend it because, even if you don’t see all it has to offer, you will definitely get your money’s worth – I already have with plenty left to go. It’s a fantastic, sprawling adventure and I’ll happily say it’s the best one of ‘these’ games I’ve played. Part of that is down to the fact that it’s the most recent one and therefore enjoys a technical advantage, but it is also genuinely good. It’s hard to put a score on a game like this as the sheer size and grandeur are hugely impressive, but should those things influence what you say about the actual ‘videogame’ itself? Its fighting is maybe a 7, its very infrequent platforming is maybe a 5 at best and its RPG elements are perhaps a 9 or 10. No individual gameplay element is astounding or ground-breaking but to get them all working together to create the sense of adventure the game provides is truly impressive. It’s not the videogame Mario is and it’s not the artful piece of storytelling something like the Godfather is, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good and for the sake of £40 it’s a must.

Invisible, Inc. Review

I like to think that I can play strategy and turn-based games as well as the next person. The truth is though, I fumble my way around until something works, which often means I am replaying the same missions time and time again in what is nothing but trial and error. But I do like them, they tend to be well put together games that demand your time.

Invisible, Inc. is no exception either and being by Klei Entertainment, the makers of the wonderful Mark of the Ninja, means you know you are in for a quality product. Whether the game is any good or not, is another story, but you at least know it will be well made.

Luckily though, the gameplay is sublime, mixing turn-based mechanics with stealth, as you take your agents through various levels to complete the quests bequeathed unto them. That may well be recovering some information or something a bit darker.

What really impressed me from the very start is how many options are open to you, but how intuitive everything is, so you can concentrate on sneaking and advancing. There are various shortcut keys, but all actions can also be performed with button presses and going through menus; essentially choosing a way to play that best suits you and for me, it was using a mix of both shortcuts and mouse clicks, but it really does feel like second nature once you get going.

The opening mission was an interesting one, it was easy when looking back, but it did test considering it was an introduction to the game. Each agent has limited moves per turn and every action will use up your action points, so you find yourself really trying to plan ahead (as far as you can see anyway), planning enemy moves so you can sneak by, or lure them into position so you can take them down. All the while trying to uncover secrets, complete your mission and escape.

It’s not just you though, you have Incognita, an AI system that can hack systems to create diversions, provide information, trap enemies and so on, but she isn’t an all powerful entity, as she has a limited amount of power, with each action using up that power, so you’ll need to hack terminals to provide power to Incognita over the course of a level so she remains useful.

Secrets and money you earn can be used to upgrade your agents, making them much more useful in the field, such as seeing further, having more Action Points per move, etc. This provides a wealth of options as you go further into the game and keeps the balance pretty much spot on.

One thing I found is that it is a pretty tough game and despite being well balanced you will be on your toes at all times, with failure quite often an outcome. But that really doesn’t matter, because another thing that hit home, was that this is a giant game of cat and mouse for the most part and it’s an absolute joy to play and feels great when you beat a level.

The ‘story’ is pretty interesting too, but is full of secrets and unanswered questions, which leaves me hoping we will see some future content that will answer some of those questions. At the very least there is Steam Workshop support which has me very excited to see what the community can come up with.

I came into Invisible, Inc. expecting a game I could say was very nice and well put together, but one I struggled with, instead I continue playing knowing I am having a wonderful time and enjoying every second I am a super spy.

Not A Hero Review

All hail Bunnylord! Bunnylord is the only choice! VOTE BUNNYLORD!

Get used to Bunnylord, he is going to be a big deal by the end of 2015 as for me, he is already the character of the year, in fact he is pretty much the only politician I actually like and want to see and hear more of. He is clearly a psychopath, but he is upfront and honest with that. His mantra of kill everyone is one I can get behind too.

In all seriousness, there are a couple of things that really standout beyond just the gameplay and that is the character and writing, which continues a trend in Indie gaming of just getting better and better and better. More and more we are getting settings, characters and stories that just standout and can make you feel an entire spectrum of emotion.

Not A Hero does this with humour and some degree of satire. The cut-scenes between the levels are just the perfect length with the right amount of filler to push you along and a story that you get a vested interest in. There are moments of quiet smiling to yourself to laugh out loud hilarity.

Bunnylord, whilst being the main character is not actually a playable character and by never playing as him, but just doing his bidding, you can just feel his psychopathic tendencies. You know what you have to do is morally wrong, but at the same time you just know you have to do as he wishes, or face the consequences.

Well, there are no consequences of which to speak, but that again is a testament to the writing that you still feel the need to follow his orders to the letter. Which is just as well, as there are a series of challenges per level you must complete. These range from finishing in a certain time, getting kill-streaks, not getting shot and a ton of others too, offering plenty of variation to what is essentially a one trick pony for the most part.

I don’t say one trick pony as a negative, I mean that in the best way possible. Not A Hero sets up the core mechanics of the game early and sticks to it right to the very end. Essentially your character (one of many to choose from) will enter a level with a basic task, such as kill everyone, arm this bomb, that sort of thing. Then by using a mixture of cover and sliding, you go mental shooting and blasting everything in sight.

Everything fits together really well, levels are short and feel more like a mix of basic puzzling, with a splash of combo based systems from the likes of the studios own OlliOlli games. The more you play a level, the better a run can and will be.

The only thing lacking for me, is that this is a score attack game, without the score. It honestly feels like I could go back time and time again to improve a run, trying to get better scores, and whilst I can check out an impressive set of stats, it still feels like it misses that friendly competition that Roll7 nailed in the OlliOlli game. Which in the end is a shame, as it kind of means that when it is done, it is certainly done. However, you really don’t want it to be done, you want more. More please Roll7, MORE!

Each of the characters you can choose from have their own personalities and skills, which can help or hinder on a per level basis, favourites of mine are Cletus and Jesus, which I won’t ruin for you, but I just loved their vocabulary and played as them both a lot just to hear them more.

Not A Hero is a wonderful game in its own right, but also a perfect snapshot of where the Indie scene is right now, with a combination of writing and gameplay that puts many big budget titles to shame. It is well made and feels so amazingly solid, it is just a shame it is over too quickly.

Project Cars Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guns, Gore & Cannoli Review

Then add brains for taste!

Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a pretty simple side-scrolling shoot-em-up game that would fit well back in the 16-bit era. It barely does anything of note to make it stand out from the crowd and it is as cliched as you can get. Yet, I cannot help but love the game.

You take on the role of Vinnie, a 1920’s Mobster who has been asked to do a job by a mob boss, but it soon transpires that this will be no ordinary job, as the streets are awash with the undead. So that is 1920’s mobsters vs zombies… Ok, I can go with that.

There are three things that you really need to know about this game that will help you decide if you want to but it and it has nothing to do with liking or hating games with zombies.

1. Aesthetics

The art style is really well done, with the game having a nice animated feel to it, The movement is smooth and it is as clear as crystal. It does a fantastic job of giving the setting an authentic 1920’s feel and it is clear a lot of time and effort has been taken to get the atmosphere just right.

It isn’t just in the graphics this has been done, it is also with a really well composed soundtrack that adds that final element to tie it all together. From the moment you enter the game you believe in the setting, which is amazing when you consider this is a cartoony looking game.

There is nice variation to the levels and the characters that do a great job of highlighting progression, as well as making it clear how different enemy types work, which leads nicely to….

2. Gameplay

As mentioned in the opening, this isn’t a game that tries to redefine the genre, instead it plays it safe, which in turn means it can take tried and tested methods to put together ideal mechanics for this sort of game.

You move left to right, have a fire button, a reload button, weapon switch button, jump button, projectile button and that is pretty much it. Pick ups are automatic too, which means you can concentrate on clearing levels as you go.

For the most part it is all platforming and shooting, but there are a few designated arena areas, where you may need to wait for a timed event, or clear a certain amount of enemies, but these still feel like they have a nice pacing and are enjoyable rather than annoying.

By not trying to do anything majorly different, Guns, Gore & Cannoli stays a challenging but fun experience for the entire game and it is also one that really doesn’t try to outstay its welcome.

3. Character

There is always a danger that focusing on a setting and single character type, can lead to a game just getting under the skin enough that it can be grating. Especially when it is written as a comedy.

As we all know, games that try humour can and will often get it wrong, with too many in-jokes, or lines that just don’t work on the whole and even a main character that is hard to like.

Credit again then, because the writing here is spot on, Vinnie is likable and his lines don’t get tiring or too repetitive. The ‘reference’ jokes are well realised and don’t try to be too clever and rather than trying to be laugh out loud funny, the writing here keeps having you raise a smile as you go and maybe a little chuckle.

By getting the above three things just right, Guns, Gore & Cannoli is a game that you can pick up, finish in a fairly short amount of time and move on. It won’t leave a lasting impression and it won’t be one you remember in years to come with fondness, but it will give you an enjoyable time whilst you play.

And do you know what? Those sorts of games are more than welcome in my book… Capiche!

Age of Wonders III and Eternal Lords Review

since the last Age of Wonders game, so the franchise certainly hasn’t been milked to death. The newest version of the game is also already into its second major expansion after Golden Realms added a host of new features and the Halfling playable race. With all this in mind I don’t mind saying that it was somewhat intimidating jumping into the series as a relative newcomer.

Age of Wonders III is a big and imposing game and the sort of thing that requires several hundred hours of play to work out all the subtle nuances. I’m no stranger to the in-depth, life-consuming, strategy genre and have played far too much Civilisation, Football Manager and Sim City over the years. However, I can’t claim to have played Age of Wonders for a couple of hundred hours. I can say that what I have experienced so far may well certainly lead me to in the future.

The biggest problem new players will face is just how much of the game there is and the fact there is no tutorial or proper manual to help you out. The game is a hex based strategy title which can either be played in a traditional turn based sense or with simultaneous turns taking place. Your goal is to defeat the other leaders on the map in much the same way as games like Civilisation.

The lack of tutorial isn’t helped by the onscreen interface being incredibly awkward to navigate. Important icons and information are difficult to find (especially when you don’t know they exist), and onscreen text and descriptions are very small, despite the fact we played it on a 40 inch screen. There is also a lot of detail and terrain and the maps. This makes the world look alive but it’s not easy to find units you have set to camp and good luck if you’ve misplaced a fairy anywhere. If you’re colour blind you’ll just have to say a small prayer before going into battle.

There are other similarities to Civ as well as the basic premise. You build up cities in much the same way and add new types of buildings and units. Hexes containing resources are important to the growth and development of your cities and you can send out settlers to find new places. That said, Age of Wonders has a lot of other things going on as well.

For starters you can pick from a number of mythical races to play as such as Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and Elves. The Eternal Lords expansion also adds Frostlings and the catlike Tigran races. Each race has its own bonuses and penalties and also unique units with which to play. Once you have picked your chosen race you then need to pick your hero which can take the form of just about any class rolling around the fantasy spectrum. Warriors, thieves and wizards are all here with their own sets of unique traits and skills to consider. The Eternal Lords expansion adds the Necromancer class which allows you to create all sorts of havoc with various undead creatures as well.

Once you have raised your armies, combat can either be very in-depth or a more simple affair. Armies can be formed by stacking a combination of six units together. There is little restriction in how you do this so you can create balanced stacks or ones consisting of just archers or cavalry if you wish. When you encounter another army, combat can be handled in one of two ways. You can take the Civ approach and have the result auto-decided based on terrain, strength and modifiers or you can handle the combat manually.

If you choose the manual combat option you are moved to a contained map where the individual units from your army stack can be manoeuvred around. This gives far greater flexibility in combat as it allows for the use of tactical skills and magic and that may be enough for players to overcome larger odds. It’s a bit like having a world map from Civ where you enter a map battle from something like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics and it’ll take you as much time and thought as that staggering combination suggests. The most important thing though is that either approach works.

On top of all this there are mysterious places to discover and Eternal Lords adds cosmic events which change the course of play as well. You can also find caves and tunnels and venture underground to find treasure. There’s roaming randoms to deal with like wild boars, bandits and dragon hatchlings and even the odd ruin to adventure into. There’s certainly not a lack of content and even without the expansion you’ll be busy for longer than is probably healthy.

There are three main ways to play the single player portion of the game. You can create a random map and battle against a set number of foes (the mode most closely resembling Civ), you can enter a scenario with set conditions or you can take on one of the massive campaigns. The first campaign you are given has an Elven princess betrayed and was where I was expecting the tutorial to be. It isn’t. There is also a more intermediate campaign and a downright difficult one added via the Eternal Lords expansion which unsurprisingly focuses in on the new class and races added. The fact we encountered a bug in the very first part of the Elven campaign which required a work around to finish the level didn’t help much, but by the end of it we felt we were beginning to get the hang of a few things.

Overall, Age of Wonders III provides something a bit different for strategy fans. The fantasy element sets it apart from other games like Civ and all the core mechanics work well. It’s the sort of game that once you get into it you’ll never really need much else. The biggest problem for newcomers is going to be breaking down than initial barrier so that you have enough of an idea about what is going on and what is at your disposal. It’s definitely worth digging into though and I love the variation of the different races and classes.  It’s epic, magical and ambitious with tons of content. The Eternal Lords expansion adds even more quality and if you’ve been thinking about getting into something big then you should really give this a look.

Dirty Bomb Preview

Lifeless save for a few unconvincing pigeons and a bunch of rats that look suspiciously like someone round the corner is pulling them along on a bit of string. In a strange twist, Dirty Bomb the game feels like a preserved snapshot from the recent past. A class based multiplayer shooter rooted in the early 00s, only breaking from it’s old-school template to shoehorn in modern free to play mechanics.

After the likes of Titanfall and Destiny, Dirty Bomb is initially jarring. The lack of advanced movement abilities, coupled with the historic PC shooter twitch feel, can make it seem like you’re steering a block of polystyrene around. There is a wall jump but don‘t expect it to be much use without hours of practice. Where Titanfall set out to close the gap between player intent and execution, Dirty Bomb deliberately widens it. Gunplay is purely a matter of headshots and reaction times making face to face encounters feel dry, but amping up the satisfaction of outmanoeuvring an enemy before plugging them in the back of the cranium.

Developers Splash Damage have focused on objective based gameplay to the exclusion of everything else. Maps are asymmetrical defender vs. attacker affairs offering linear progressions through a handful of main objectives with side objectives opening or closing advantageous shortcuts. One highlight is the Underground map, playfully flipping the concept of high-ground advantage on its head with perilous runs down banks of escalators. Another prototype Millennium Dome themed map showcases a less constrained take on the formula, hinting at more variety in future updates.

Sadly the Mercs, Dirty Bomb’s MOBA influenced take on character classes, lack personality, amounting to a collection of accents pinned to drab character models. Aesthetics aside, they’re mechanically solid with the beta showcasing multiple takes on some classes. For example, one medic can drop a health station suitable for defence while another can throw down a stock of med packs to support teammates pushing forward. Mercs are monetised with two unlocked as default with another two temporary unlocks on weekly rotation. They come in two price points, which at £4.79 and £6.99 are a little steep although pack deals are available. There’s always the option to unlock them with in game currency and after 7 hours of play I’d grubbed enough credits through level-up bonuses to unlock a third but a fourth would take serious grinding.

There’s no option to customise loadouts either. Instead you get a handful of loadout cards detailing fixed sets of equipment and perks. Random cards can be bought with real or in-game currency and unwanted loadouts crafted into better cards. It’s an act of streamlining that presents newcomers with the familiar irritations of the free to play model but none of the fun bits. There’s no setting your sights on a coveted weapon or perk or splurging on an impulse buy. Progression, even with an investment of real money, is rooted in random chance.

As an online experience Dirty Bomb is stable and largely lag free. Visually the slightly cartoony depiction of London holds up well with liberal splashes of colour and the game ran smoothly on my ageing machine. The free to play aspects are transparent from the start and centred around unlocking options instead of crippling new players with pay to win dynamics.

There’s a good chance Dirty Bomb will find a loyal fan base, hungering for a pre-hat Team Fortress experience despite the excess free to play baggage. Crucially for me I enjoyed my time with it despite my ambivalence to that bygone era. I suffered my fair share of crushing defeats at the hands of far more experienced players, the old-school take on the genre being unforgiving but unscrupulously fair. I also fought through heroic last stands, steamrolling victories and tense cat and mouse encounters and, if you can judge an FPS by it’s moments, then Dirty Bomb delivers.