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”

The Witness review

The Witness (PS4) screenshot

There’s an oft repeated scene in high school movies where the nerdy library girl has a makeover and gets to go to the trendy party. At first, she’s really pleased she went; everything’s going great, she’s got a red plastic cup full of beer, the love interest looks over at her and notices how hot she is; she’s fitting in. Then suddenly it all goes wrong. Continue reading “The Witness review”

Fallout 4 Review

Fallout 4 (Xbox One) screenshot

…Or. The game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer should have been!

That will make sense in a bit, because it was at one point my only real issue with Fallout 4, but that has long since been sorted out on my side.

This is a late review, so let me get this part out of the way first. Despite some bugs, as expected from a Bethesda open-world RPG and some poor loading times. This is one of my most beloved games in the past few years and has joined Fallout 3, Tetris, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Silent Hill 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and the likes as one of my greatest of all-time.

Some may not agree, but I don’t care, they are entitled to their opinion and covering the issues with the game is fine, but they really didn’t give me any reason to want to stop, or ruin my enjoyment. So despite the known problems, this is still a 10/10 game in my book.

There is also little point in me going over all the checkpoints for what is new, what has been updated, because chances are you have already read those. This is about what Fallout 4 means to me and my adventures.

Fallout 3 had one of those moments that will live with me to the day I die. When my great-grandkids ask me about videogames in my day and why were they so popular. The moment you step out of Vault-101 will be right at the top of the list of moments I recall.

The build to that moment was perfectly timed. It had you become almost institutionalized within the vault, before setting up the sequence to release you into the Wasteland. It was a perfect moment and it is something that in my honest opinion can only work the once.

So the opening to Fallout 4 was very well handled, the starting of the game as the bombs hit, was, for me, a stroke of genius. It gave us a glimpse of what the world used to be like and setup another moment, that whilst not immediately poignant as what happened in Fallout 3, still stopped me in my tracks.

The time difference between entering the vault for your safety and the moment you leave again is very short, maybe 15-20 minutes (longer if you explore). But this is clearly a design choice, because remember that cozy suburb you left as the bombs were dropping? Well that is still fresh in your memory. So when you return to that exact location, the differences 200 years makes hits home immediately.

Fallout 4 (Xbox One) screenshot

I was concerned early on though, as once you return home, the game becomes a bit linear, shepherding you through a series of quests at quite a pace. However, it is clear why this is happening, because going off and doing your own thing this early would stop you understanding a major new feature in the game and also leave you completely under prepared for the Wasteland.

To be fair, it is just a case of me itching to explore and those early mission don’t really take up all that much time.  Soon enough though the shackles are removed and away you go.

This is the main reason I love Fallout. You start of in one direction as part of a quest, whether that be mainline or side, then something pops up on your compass, so you decide to follow that, so you at least have it saved to the map.

Yet on the way there, something else pops up, so of course I decide I need to check that out. Then it happens again and again and again. Next thing you know several hours have passed and you have forgotten what you were meant to be be doing in the first place.

It is that sense of discovery that really sets Fallout apart from other open world games. Yes there are things to find in GTA, Assassin’s Creed, InFamous and the likes, but they all feel like they are sign-posted for you to find. In Fallout it is different, the world isn’t as ‘alive’ as many others, but because you are constantly discovering new areas, both larger and tiny, it feels a hell of a lot more active.

Now that isn’t a slight on those other games, but you just need to compare this to pretty much any Ubisoft title, where you are required to find some kind of tower, that will then expose everything else there is to find in that area. Fallout doesn’t do this, it lets you happen upon things, with only quest vital landmarks being given to you at the right time.

Because you need to discover everything on your own, it does make the side quests a lot more appealing. Again in other open-world games, the optional stuff can feel like a chore and if I am being honest, I often cannot be bothered with them.

Yet here in Fallout 4 (as it was in Fallout 3 and other Fallout titles) I get a sense of joy when I happen upon a new quest, because I know more discovery is on the way. I don’t know what it is yet, but I know it is coming.

It is the scale of what you find that really impresses me the most. From huge landmarks, that have various levels to them, which can take hours to work through, to the tiniest little shack that may contain something useful Every time you find one, you feel a little more joyful.

The single biggest new thing about Fallout 4, was the one thing that also concerned me the most. The base building stuff. Yet the more I play around with this, the more I fall in love with it. Again there is a lot of discovery here too. I only recently found I can add lights to power lines and light up my settlement at night.

I mean, this settlement in the middle of a wasteland, ruined because of nuclear war, looks beautiful now. I’d happily trade my current situation to set up home there!!!

The base building itself was as I said, something I wasn’t looking forward to. The idea of micro-managing a community, whilst all I wanted to do was wander just didn’t sound all that appealing. But once I got into it, it became bloody addictive.

I joked at the start that, this is the game Happy Home Designer should have beem and whilst it was an odd the cuff joke, it isn’t far removed from the truth. Namely because there is a lot more substance here in a single part of a much larger game, than there is in a game dedicated to doing such a thing.

I am taking great pleasure in removing all the scrap from around a settlement, scraping it and then using it to build up more and more to make parts of the wasteland a living breathing community. Creating new buildings, defenses, food and water resources and so much more.

It can be quite something going back to a place that you have built, knowing what it was previously and feeling a sense of pride at what you have created. I have spent hours upon hours building up Sanctuary, along with (now) some other settlements.

I was worried about the need to do this early on, but now I am deep into the game, I look forward to the next opportunity to add more to my settlements. Which brings me onto something else that is minor, but has really changed the way I loot.

In Fallout 3 for example, there was a crap ton of crap to loot, but much of it seemed pointless on the whole and keeping track of what you wanted or needed wasn’t always easy. Now though you can tag items from your base and when you happen across them on your travels, they will be marked with a spyglass icon, letting you know it is something important.

I find myself now just going on journeys and looting for scrap, just so I can return to a settlement to either use it right away to build, or store for later. It is all these little things that has added something great to an already amazing experience.

I looked at my time played stat and it is at just over 76 hours, yet I still have much of the mainline story to finish and a hell of a lot of side quests. I imagine I have spent at least half my time looting and building. Something I never imagined I would be doing at the start.

There is so much to discover in Fallout 4, that this would become a tiresome read to go through them all, the various companions you get for example, all have their pros and cons and to me at least feel like they are more than just along for the ride. So much so, my main companion from Fallout 3, spends his time back at my home base in Sanctuary.

I am talking about Dogmeat, who comes along for the ride very early and whilst he does help with attacking and defending enemies, I find it quite nice to come home and find him there ready to greet me.

Fallout 4 is my game of the year for 2015 and I know for a fact I won’t be finished this side of the New Year. I don’t want it to be, I love being in the world, I love discovering new things and all in all I just love this game.

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!

Transformers Devastation Review

Oh Transformers, what a checkered history we have. When I was a child I loved you, the cartoon, the toys, anything I could get my hands on. Then later in life you were sullied by Micheal Bay. A man who just cannot make a film that has a decent story and is just full of explosions and set pieces. He ruined your name for me. That wasn’t helped too, by a series of poor to average videogame tie ins.

Anyway, when news came that Platinum were to make a Transformers game, I wanted to dare to dream, dream that a top quality Transformers game could be made. But I have been burnt before so my expectations were a little tempered, despite it being Platinum who have a fantastic track record.

My fears were totally misplaced though, as Transformers Devastation is an absolute joy to behold. It takes the Transformers universe, using the Generations line, which covers various different eras of the franchise. The visuals are based on the original cartoons, with writing from those behind the comics.

That all blends wonderfully with the traditional Platinum gameplay that makes the likes of Bayonetta and Vanquish such wonderful games. Platinum even showed they can work with existing IP, when they did Legend of Korra, which despite getting a luke warm reception was still great fun to play.

For me, what makes Transformers Devastation work, is that there is no attempts to re-write the genre, both in terms of gameplay and the source material. Platinum have been incredibly respectful of the history of the franchise and built a game around that, rather than trying to shoehorn elements that could work against each other.

The influence from other Platinum titles is clear to see, with the main one being the use of Witch-Time from Bayonetta, where a well timed dodge will slow down time and allow you unleash hell on your foes. However this is a Transformers games, so it does need some characteristics of its own and boy do Platinum put this to good use.

As any self respecting kid from the 80s will know, Transformers are robots in disguise and this is well represented in combat. When in robot form, you can go at your enemy in traditional Platinum combat ways, yet you can also change to vehicle form and use that to attack too, adding a whole new level to the combat mechanics.

Being a Platinum game, means that the combat is actually very simple and allows you to string together combos and fight multiple enemies like a boss. You even get to use various weapons which can be integrated in the hand to hand combat, or used for taking down enemies specifically designed and placed to make use of you weapons.

The are less options in combat when compared to something like Bayonetta, which initially feels a little disappointing, but after a short time with the game, you find it works as you start to master the various attacks and combos and use those to your advantage. If anything having a smaller move set works well here.

I was worried that the game might overplay the transforming, just so it could show of what the Autobots can do, but I actually found the that balance was done just right. There are some enemies that require you to switch between forms, but they are strategically placed and not overdone. Everywhere else it it purely optional.

It could have been very tempting to make Devastation an overly easy IP cash-in, where you go through the motions and have the game look pretty, but the balance in difficulty is well implemented and the difficulty curve is well balanced from the opening level to the final battle.

You get the options to use all the various Autobots to fight and each one feel different to use and you’ll soon find your overall favourite. Again I was worried it may be just reskins over the the same move-sets, but this is far from the case. Optimus Prime will feel completely different to Bumblebee for example.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. There are some issues, such as some uninspiring level design, that can feel a bit limited from time to time, as well as the game being super short. The main story can be completed in 5-6 hours and whilst extra plays are encouraged it isn’t one that demands your attention.

That being said though, the overall package is decent and Platinum have made a solid Platinum game, yet they have made a truly fantastic Transformers game and I look forward to seeing if they can follow this up with a sequel in the future.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

It’s hard to imagine that Lara Croft has been part of my life for just about 20 years now. I remember her debut in 1996 and as a 15 year old boy, I was blown away by what I was seeing on screen and the talk in the playgrounds about this new character and her wonderful game.

I even remember the chatter about the various cheats that were possible, especially ones that could make Lara naked in the game. Due to having no internet or anything like that and being rather naive, I am not ashamed to admit that I tried the cheats I heard and even made some up myself for some playground cred.

The years however haven’t been kind on Lara, with the games gradually getting worse and even becoming a bit of a joke, yet Lara herself remained and still remains one of the greatest icons ever to emerge from videogames. Up there with the likes of Mario, she is one the few characters that even non gaming fans could name instantly.

The Tomb Raider reboot in 2013, which was technically the second official reboot, did a lot to restore the faith in a Tomb Raider game and despite some questionable claims by Crystal Dynamics around the characterization of Lara, especially how she would handle killing, the game on the whole was a real return to form and probably the best game overall in the franchise. I’ll touch on the characterization further into this review.

There were other issues in the 2013 release that felt off, such as the lack of actual tombs to raid, which is one of the first things that has been fixed in Rise of the Tomb Raider. There are still the big set-pieces, the stalking, stealth and murder, but those have been dialed back a fraction to allow for more exploration and basic puzzle solving, bring Lara back to what she was born to do…explore and discover.

Rather than trying to match the darling of the last few years in the Uncharted series, Crystal Dynamics have made the right decision to go back to the roots of Tomb Raider and the game feels all the better for it. Because, whilst there is a constant threat from the enemy, you feel like you have the time to explore what is around and discover new things.

There is a lot to discover too, with artifacts, scrolls and much, much more spread very generously across the various maps which Lara gets to play in. Now whilst I am not usually a fan of collectibles, usually because they are hidden so much, I can never be bother to look, here most you can come across with ease and the fun is working out how to get to them, but very rarely having to ignore your current path. It makes you want to check them out.

Rise of the Tomb Raider still contains one of my biggest pet hates in many modern AAA games. The need to add RPG elements to the progression. Doing certain things in the game, finding new areas, learning by discovery, etc will all earn Lara XP which she can use to level up her base skills. Now I get why this is a thing in some games, but for me it is not needed in a Tomb Raider, it just feels out of place. Lara should be Lara and that is that.

Now this is different to the upgrading of tools and weapons, which I actually do like, but the notion that Lara can become better skilled in a short space of time or learn whole new languages from looking at a few paintings, nah that isn’t for me. I don’t like it in Assassin’s Creed games and the like and I think it fits even worse here.

I can understand though why this has been done, as Rise of the Tomb Raider shares a lot in common with a Metroidvania, where you can see ways to access new areas, but won’t have the right tools and skills to get there until later. I like that, because I love Metroidvania games, but it is something that would have worked just as well by finding and upgrading tools, rather than learning new skills via XP.

The raiding of tomb are pretty much optional, but rather cleverly by going off mission and completing them, you will get very handsomely rewarded and will earn some rather nifty new kit to help you along the way, especially when trying to access the aforementioned cut off areas.

Each tomb will take anywhere between 15-45 minutes to complete and there are a good number of them dotted around. It allows the devs to strike a nice balance between keeping the story moving forward and going back to the franchise’s roots.

Lara, new modern Lara, is the best version of Lara yet. In the original games, despite the aim being to have a strong female lead role-model type character, she became anything but. She was more sex symbol than she was strong lead and looking back, it was almost embarrassing how much sexuality was used to push Lara to young adolescent males. It worked and it worked very well, so you cannot blame anyone for that, especially in the era it was.

But we are in a different world and whilst 2013 Lara looked the part and felt more like a real adventurer who dressed properly for he role, rather than trying to be sexy, her characterization was simply off. She was built up to have real emotions, that she was a survivor and would struggle with the need to kill to survive. It all sounded very promising, maybe giving you some moral choices to make along the way.

Yet the only time this happened was during her first kill, which was pretty much done via a cut-scene. Then it was off on a murdering spree without a care in the world. It was a noble aim, but the build up to the release and with this being a big selling point, it was very disappointing in the end.

Lara can still be a killing machine throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider, but this time there isn’t any claims of Lara having to toy with her own emotions about it, or any such nonsense and instead the writers have focused on other aspects of Lara and a much more interesting overall story arc.

One that not only pushes the story along at a solid pace, but introduces some nice back story about Lara and her relationships from childhood with her father. I would have been happy to have seen more of this with it being expanded on at some point. However, it does seem lessons were learned from the last game and this feels much better for it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is, for me at least one of the surprises of the years. I was expecting a solid game, one that just gave me more of the same as a follow up to the 2013 release. Yet what we got was a game that improved on the good and cleared away much of the bad, to produce a title that deserves its place among the best Lara Croft games over the previous 20 years.

Super Meat Boy Review

A few years ago I developed quite an obsession with the Nintendo puzzle game Digidrive. Every night I’d get home from work, fire up my gorgeous metallic green Gameboy Micro and get lost for hours in the tiny, crisp screen, blasting stark, minimalist graphics directly into my eyeballs. As much as I loved the game (hold onto your hotpants, but I think it’s a better puzzler than Tetris), it was the combination of hardware and software that really won my heart. They just worked together so perfectly; form, function, aesthetics and mechanics combining to make a match made in gaming heaven.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m hunched over a 360 pad, punching the air one minute and turning it blue the next, in an attempt to reunite a cube of flesh with a girl made out of bandages. Super Meat Boy was among the first of a new wave of indie games that now seem so ubiquitous it’s difficult to remember a time when they didn’t grace every release schedule. Using an (at the time) original, retro-inspired graphics style and marrying it to a brutally hard platformer with a dark, wicked sense of humour, I was utterly consumed and it dominated my playtime for weeks. It struck me as the kind of game that the naughty kids at Nintendo would make, if they weren’t cowering behind their screens terrified that Miyamoto would launch a chair at them for making something that didn’t feature magic triangles or moustaches. It was compulsive, vicious and funny; but stuck in the living room; tied to a pad and screen that somehow didn’t feel like the right fit.

And then we have the Vita; the good-looking, bastard son of the PlayStation family sent off to die alone and forgotten in the cold. Truly the Jon Snow of gaming. Big name releases dried up completely nearly two years ago but it has managed to carve itself a niche as the home of JRPGs, visual novels and indie titles. It’s a truly wonderful machine that’s a joy to hold, beautiful to look at and with a varied, unique library. It’s almost the portable Xbox Live Arcade machine I always dreamed of. But there has always been one game obviously missing from its roster. One game so obviously suited to that sexy screen. One game whose bite sized, platforming brilliance has been crying out for a portable version.

Well, not any longer! They’ve only gone and put bloody Meat Boy on it!

I’m probably in a minority of one here, but the Super Meat Boy on Vita announcement trumped Shenmue 3 and the Final Fantasy 7 Remake as my best gaming news of the year. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but it’s something I’ve wanted for years and all but completely given up hope on. So it’s with some trepidation that, hands shaking and heart in mouth, I fire it up for the first time. Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t fuck this up…

Hooray! They haven’t fucked it up! Meat Boy explodes onto Vita with all of the manic, high-speed action he’s famous for and he’s lost very little of its spark and charm in the intervening years. From the very first moment you launch the game and his cheeky little smashed-up face splashes across the Vita’s gorgeous screen it feels like this is home; that this is where he was always supposed to be. When held inches away from your face, the bold, bright cartoon visuals have never looked better and the bite-sized, quick-fire structure is well-suited to the portable format. It’s been obvious for years that they should get it on, and now that they’ve finally got together, they really do make a beautiful couple. They’re very nearly perfect for one another.

Yep, sadly, there are couple of caveats here. Firstly, it will become immediately obvious to any fans of the original that the soundtrack has been replaced. This is most jarring the first time you play and the title screen roars ‘SUUUUUPER MEEEEEAT BOOOOY!’ over the top of a rather pedestrian number which seems a bit like a dodgy cover version by someone who played the game once back in 2010. Personally, I think the main theme is the only major misstep; and the rest of the tracks are pretty good and occasionally even improve on what came before. It will bug some traditionalists; and following one of the finest original soundtracks in years was always going to be herculean task; but really it’s not that bad at all and deserves a chance to be appreciated on its own terms.

The only other major issue is that this game more than any other highlights the closeness of the right hand stick to the Vita’s face buttons. I can’t say this has really ever bothered me too much before (which in itself is odd as I must have played hundreds of hours of quick-reflex stuff on the machine) but something about having the jump on X and your thumb occasionally knocking the stick can make the game feel unfair frustrating rather than fun frustrating. Annoyingly you can’t map jump to any other button, as moving it to either circle or triangle would solve this problem almost instantly. I’ve hardly got huge trucker sausage fingers either so I suspect this is a far bigger problem for those who don’t have dainty digits like mine.

Mind you, this is hardly the game for those lacking dexterity. I think the reason I have always preferred this to genre stablemate Trials is that where the latter game rewards patience and a delicate touch, Meat Boy is a lot more about going hell-for-leather and making split second decisions. It can seem almost impossibly difficult, and for those less belligerent as I or without quite so many platforming hours under their belt, I expect the love affair will be short-lived. The dark and light world mechanic (where a tougher version of a previously completed level is unlocked if you get to Bandage Girl within a certain time) does provide a cleverly plotted difficulty curve and there are always plenty of options to get involved if you’re stuck. But you’ll also come up against levels like the notoriously difficult ‘The Kid’ warp zone which was surely designed by a sociopathic spike fetishist in a huff. If struggling with a single screen of platforming for two hours doesn’t sound like your idea of fun then there is the possibility that this isn’t the game for you.

Oddly for a game that’s only a few years old, Meat Boy does feel very much of his time. This isn’t a huge problem but the game does have the distinct flavour of the turn of the decade before we had the retro-themed Indie overload that we have today. The numerous titles that have appeared in the interim have dampened the impact somewhat and it’s no longer the trailblazer it once was. It’s like when every critically acclaimed T.V crime drama was suddenly created in Scandinavia. Yeah, they’re all good but sitting through a BBC4 repeat of The Killing isn’t very appealing either, no matter how snazzy the jumpers are. I feel like I’ve played so many rock-hard, frustrate-a-thons in the meantime can I really stomach going back through one of the originators again, no matter how much I love it?

Probably not, but then what the portability has done is changed the style of the play somewhat. I’m unlikely to spend weeks exclusively going through it again but whenever I pick up the Vita and see the chunky fella staring back at me I suspect I’ll be tempted to fire it up for a level or two. It’s now a tasty snack; a bite-sized sausage roll rather than an entire suckling pig; and it’s pretty neat how a simple switch of platform has changed my approach. The game has always been suited to this kind of play and I’ve found that despite its ridiculous difficulty, it’s not the kind of thing that you can really lose the knack for. Less than an hour of being reacquainted I was hurtling along, frantically slapping against the floor as if I’d never been away. But then the beauty of this game has always been in its exquisitely designed controls; the arc of the jump, the inertia, the slight stickiness against the walls and the soft decent. It’s the kind of thing that once it sinks into your head and fingers it will never really go away.

So, Super Meat Boy on Vita just about scrapes into the pantheon of games and machines that seem like a perfect fit. Like Tetris on the Gameboy, Frequency on the PS2 and Digidrive on the Micro (seriously, look it up, it’s called Intersect on the Nintendo eShop, I promise you won’t regret it) once you’ve had a go it’s difficult to imagine playing on anything else. The only slight danger of course is that in holding the game in your hands there’s a chance you’ll launch the machine through a window when things get a bit frisky. It’s an excellent game on a magnificent machine; a Kobe beef steak served on a silver platter. And although Meat Boy may not be as rare as he once was but there’s no doubting that his long-awaited arrival on a handheld is very well-done.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review

Are we at a point with the Assassin’s Creed series where fatigue has well and truly set in? Well after the mess that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, it seemed that way. Being a yearly franchise just doesn’t feel like the right thing, as bugs were rife in the last game and it was an absolute average affair, even if you discount those bugs.

So it was with some trepadation that I started Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Sure, it had new characters and a different setting, but it is still an Assassin’s Creed game and if I am being honest, I really wasn’t excited for the release.

Yet here I am writing a review for what I consider the best of the series to date, I’d like to sat that this is because this Assassin’s Creed feels different, that is has new mechanics that set it apart from all the other titles. However that isn’t the case.

Mechanically this is as Assassin’s Creed as you can get, to the point you can pick it up and if you have played any of the previous games, you will feel very much at home. Much like most Ubisoft titles, you have a well realised open-world that comprises of main story missions and a ton of side quests and discoveries to keep you occupied.

Combat is nicely done, mixing up close quarters combat and stealth assassinations. At the same time though, the options you have to approach each mission feel a lot more open, allowing you to go in and choose your own approach. Take things as carefully and stealthily as you want, or approach the situation head-on. Both ways have their pros and cons but they both work well if that is your decision.

One thing that does stand out is the AI feels a lot better this time around, far from perfect, but a definite improvement. You do need to be on your toes at all times and slip-ups can be costly.

I’ll come back to combat soon, but I must mention the real reason this is the best in the series to date. That comes down to the characters, especially the two leads, Evie and Jacob Frye. The twins are superbly written and wonderfully acted. The thing that stands out the most is Evie herself and the way she is portrayed.

Games have had a long history of misrepresenting women and their place in the medium and is something that has been discussed at length in various places and something I don’t wish to dwell on for too long. Yet a lot of credit deserves to go Ubisoft’s way, especially after the criticism they rightfully got for Unity.

Just looking at Evie, you can tell from the outset she has been given equal status to her brother. There is nothing sexual about her appearance, she is dressed in a way that is practical to her profession, rather than for titillation, she is also treated with respect by her peers, rather than being used as a plot point to make others seem more powerful.

The interactions between herself and Jacob are well handled and treated like they are any other brother and sister, often at each other’s throats, but with that overall respect and love for each other. Jacob is a lot more cock-sure and is always looking for a more in your face approach to things, whereas Evie is a lot more careful and has a different set of skills.

Yet this isn’t a case of Evie being pushed to the side and only being able to the the less hands on stuff, as she can fight and fight as well as anyone. It never feels like you are playing a role that is specific to a women and it just happens to be a women who is part of the game.

It’s not just in the main characters where respect is given, there are gay characters, obese characters, trans-gender characters and more. Many of which are vital to the game’s story. Yet attention isn’t ever drawn to those characters for those things. They are just characters in a story and they are really well written too.

I never though I would be championing an Assassin’s Creed game for taking a mature approach to how a game handles people of many different walks of life, that doesn’t try to pigeon-hole anyone and simply treats them as human, but here we are.

Such is it the case that Ubisoft has listened to critics, is the loss of the merging with prostitutes to evade capture, which considering this is 1880’s London feel a little bizarre, as if my history knowledge is correct, then this is the one game where their inclusion could make sense.

London is beautiful too. Well it is dark and grimy but there is no denying that the artists at Ubisoft have done a great job in fleshing out London of the 1800’s and making it just feel alive. Whilst it isn’t a perfect one to one vision of London, the recognizable areas feel like they are just that.

It feels wonderful at times just taking it all in, climbing buildings and looking at London from the rooftops and that moment when you reach the top of Big Ben is just magical and one of those awe inspiring moments that you may have had at the start of Fallout 3, or when crossing into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption.

There are still bugs, but they honestly feel like they are less apparent than they were in Unity and in my time with the game, there were none that were game-breaking, but obviously your mileage may vary. So I won’t claim this is a completely bug-free experience.

Overall though, after the disaster that was Assassin’s Creed Unity, this is a true return to form for the series and for me Syndicate stands alone as the best of the lot to date.

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.

Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized Review

Every now and again a game comes around that despite having issues you cannot ignore, you can’t help but be in awe of what you have just experienced. A game that while not perfect you want to shout at as many people as will listen about how they must play this game. Life is Strange is one of those.

Now that the conclusion has been reached it’s time to look back on the game as a whole and while there were a few bumps in the road, it’s a game that has largely been excellent.

As a story about time travel you’d imagine it all breaks a little towards the end, like so many films and games that have come before, only it doesn’t. It’s quite amazing how neatly it all ends, no plot holes (from what I can tell) and some of the decisions I was forced to make left me reeling, playing an important part in the way the plot unfolded.

Though it’s not without its blemishes. The teen dialogue can at times feel forced, with Chloe’s constant use of the word “hella” being the main culprit. It’s an annoying trait that you do reel in slightly as each episode unfolds and despite her annoying moments you do like her character, despite the faults.

Then there are the breaks in the story where they needed filler. Remember the bottle collecting part from a previous episode? Well, that’s back again in episode 5 for some reason, albeit in an optional achievement capacity.

As episode 5 begins our hero Max is in a sticky situation. The true culprit has been revealed and only the use of her time travel powers can help her escape. It’s certainly a big opening and requires some thought on how to escape, often rewinding and trying different options in a trial and error fashion. Trial and error being something I usually hate, but here it weirdly works as you witness each outcome and figure out how you could’ve avoided it.

Be warned as well, there is also a stealth section. As soon as I saw what was to come I let out a massive sigh. Forcing stealth gameplay into something that isn’t of the stealth genre usually ends in utter misery. Here, it’s different. Thanks to the ability to rewind time, it’s never challenging or a problem. It’s just a little gameplay section on the way to furthering the story. As soon as you get caught just press the trigger and everything rewinds as Max stays still.

When it comes to gameplay moments, this is possibly the weakest episode. Aside from the two bits mentioned above there’s very little else other than talking and walking. The latter being used quite a bit as Max’s nosebleeds and abuse of time soon leads to some utter bizarre moments later in the story.  But then this is the finale. It’s clear the goal was to finish the tale and tie everything up into a neat little package. And they succeeded. Endings are hard as countless games have proven, often leaving loose ends or just leaving a sour aftertaste. Life is Strange manages to wrap everything up so neatly it’s actually a little surprising. It’s a story that despite a few hiccups had my utmost attention throughout.

It’s one of the most interesting games released in a while that I can’t recommend enough. It’s not just the surprise of the year, it’s possibly the game of the year.

Guitar Hero Live Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persona 4: Dancing All Night Review

It’s really amazed me to see what started off as this late PS2-era, niche JRPG turn into this unexpected success story with an anime, enhanced port on the Vita and a number of spin offs. The latest of which being Dancing All Night, a nice little rhythm game.

If you think about it, Persona 4 fits better into the rhythm game mould better than most, after all, a major facet of the rhythm genre is music. And Persona 4 has some of the best music you can find. But it also has the same issue that Arena (Persona’s fighting game spin off) had.

Most notably it’s with the Story Mode. If you’re heavily invested in the Persona 4 lore then this won’t really affect you, but like Arena it plays a lot like a visual novel with a few gameplay portions thrown in. The story takes a long while to get going with the opening part being quite boring, even for someone like me who’s digested everything from Arena to the anime it’s a bit of a slog to get to the actual meat of the story.

The mystery while obviously not as in depth as the JRPG does eventually go some more interesting places. Yu and his friends being asked by Rise to be her backing dancers in an upcoming concert/festival. Things go a bit wrong however and they soon find themselves dragged into another world where instead of hitting things, they have to dance to win. It actually makes more sense when you play the game, and it’s quite clever how they somehow managed to wrap a story around a game where you just press buttons in time to the music while your character does some crazy dance moves in the background.

Gameplay is quite simple. Notes coming flying in from the middle and you have to press one of six buttons as it passes. Soon though you’ll have to press two buttons at the same time, hold buttons or flick the right stick as things get more challenging. And it does get challenging, at least on the hard difficulty.

While easy is just there so people can see the story as quickly as possible, even Normal posed zero problems. Beating each song was a cakewalk and I never failed once. Hard is a completely different story as only a few misses and it takes a while to build your meter back. Your fail state depending on the little people characters at the top of the screen, going from red (you’re screwed) to flashing and jumping (you’re awesome).

It’s a shame that like every game of its type from Elite Beat Agents to Guitar Hero, you’re too busy focusing on not screwing up that you can’t take in the visual delights that’s playing out in the background. Dancing All Night is a lovely looking game, and the few moments I did take a glance it was quite a great sight. There is a replay mode though so you can just watch and enjoy if you so choose (and pick up a trophy for your trouble).

With a good amount of songs and not to mention future DLC in the pipeline, there’s certainly a decent amount of content here. Not to mention three difficulties, a ton of content to buy in the store (for in-game currency) and the potential to go back to past songs attempting to beat your old score.

However while this is a phrase that I really dislike using, this game really is only for existing fans of Persona. The story mode could come across as incomprehensible nonsense for those who aren’t familiar with the setting and characters, and while the inner monologue tries its hardest to get newcomers caught up, the Persona 4 lore is so deep that explaining it can be difficult.

If you love Persona though and can’t get enough of Yu, Kanji and Yosuke then you’ve probably already ordered your copy. And rightly so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rock Band 4 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Coming after the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, two of the best platformers on the Wii U, Yoshi’s Woolly World already had an uphill struggle to try and stand proudly alongside them. And it’s been a bit of a fumble.

Unless you’re dead inside then once you’ve gotten past the “OMG IT LOOKS SOOOOOO CUTE” phase of playing Yoshi, then everything seems fine. Early levels are easy, getting you to grips with the egg mechanic. Working exactly the same as previous games, collecting eggs (or turning enemies into them) then throwing as the curser moves on its own from top to bottom. Sadly the game doesn’t really evolve much as you work your way through the six worlds.

Differences as you progress are only really visual. Yes, all the platformer trademarks are here from ice to fire and the wool visual style really brings them to life, it’s just not particularly interesting. Early levels are incredibly easy, and while the majority of the challenge comes from the amount of collectibles in each level it would be nice to find an additional challenge in reaching the label’s end. It doesn’t help that the levels themselves are far too long. Some are double the size you’d expect to find in other platformers and maybe I’m just impatient, but I’d much prefer a short, but memorable level than a long, padded out one.

As I write this I’m struggling to think of moments that really stood out and I only completed the game a couple of days ago. Aside from the final stage that brings a unique, exploration aspect to the game it’s all so forgettable.

That aside, have I mentioned how beautiful the game looks? More than just an artistic choice, it’s quite clever how it interacts with the environment. Using Yoshi’s tongue to unravel blocks and enemies, yarn eggs to reveal platforms and just the way Yoshi himself transforms his body, from running really fast (legs turning to wheels as he trundles on) to completely unravelling as he catapults himself to the next world. Quite frankly it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen, not bad for a game on the least powerful console.

The game does try to use its yarn aesthetic to really play around with each level. From enemies firing buttons at you to Yoshi transforming into a variety of vehicles during some rather fun mini levels. It feels like a game that was built around its graphical style. And while obviously graphics aren’t the most important factor in a game, if Woolly World didn’t have this style then it would really have nothing to fall back on.

A bit harsh maybe, as during the final levels it does pick up slightly with some good boss fights and a unique last stage where you’re left wondering where this challenge was earlier. And with five flowers, five pieces of yarn and stamps scattered across every level there is plenty here to keep you occupied but whether you actually want to go through the hassle is another thing entirely.

As it stands, unless you’re a die-hard Nintendo fanatic who will snap up anything put out for the system then you’re going to be left cold with Yoshi’s latest adventure.

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.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

It’s a joke that doesn’t get old.  Tens and tens of hours into Metal Gear Solid V and I still occasionally let out a small snigger as I launch some poor unconscious soul hundreds of feet into the air attached to a balloon; their cheering, screaming or baaing gradually fading as they disappear into the distance.  It’s the kind of thing you only ever really get in this series, which has carved its own niche and made combining the sublime and the ridiculous its calling card.  Few other games would expect you to sagely nod to a lecture on the Angolan Civil War whilst you watch your horse defecate on a soldier’s head or ask you to bundle diamond mining slave children into a helicopter that’s blaring out the intro to Europe’s The Final Countdown, and it’s this duality that truly defines these games.  The Phantom Pain sees this contrast somewhat out of balance and you’re either going to think it’s a complete masterpiece or a teeny-weeny bit disappointing depending on if you’re the kind of person  that’s bothered by the bonkersness being scaled down a bit.

But firstly, let’s talk about what’s been scaled up.  Metal Gear Solid V is huge.  You could quite easily play through from the original to number four in the time it takes you to reach 70% on the completion counter in V.  These games have always been as deep as they are wide with plenty of secrets and easter eggs to unlock but here this scope is completely blown out of the water with missions that can feel intimidating with the number of ways you can approach them.  Fortunately,  more often than not the number of options will feel intoxicating rather than overwhelming.  Even before you set foot on the ground you’re given an insane number of possibilities as you pick and choose which items and buddies you’ll take into battle.  Do you take in a tranquilising sniper rifle to make recruitment easier or do you take a scorched earth policy and bring along a rocket launcher?  Perhaps you’ll take along Quiet who’ll provide long distance support for your softly-softly approach or maybe you’ll jump in your own miniature bi-pedal tank D-Walker and charge in gleefully making a mockery of “tactical espionage”.

When you finally do jump out of the chopper fully loaded, the benefits of making a stealth game open world quickly become obvious.  With no corridors restricting your way, the terrain, the time of day, the weather, the enemy guarding patterns and your patience all contribute to a thousand different ways of meeting each objective.  It’s the kind of game where you can share stories of your victories with your friends, confident that you will have achieved them in different ways.  With the labyrinthine item development trees, and the promise of bigger and better if you focus on one or two types of sidearm, there is a danger of falling back on tried and tested methods.  But what it does so much better than other entries is encourage you to deal with your mistakes when everything goes haywire.  Being spotted doesn’t feel like game over anymore and fighting your way out in a hail of bullets doesn’t feel like cheating.  Outright aggression is a legitimate tactic along with the stealth and although the final score board at the end of each mission favours those who are sneaky, there are a wealth of other emblems and codenames that can only be obtained if you experiment with the tools on offer.

The requirements for meeting these goals are buried away in the game’s vast menus, which is where it starts to lose some of its sparkle.   You will spend a lot of time looking at the text projected from Snake’s iDroid; the handheld futuristic walky-talky which serves as your guide, your map and your cassette player.  It’s frustrating that a game with such a beautifully realised world forces you look at a light blue hologram for large portions of your playtime.   Keeping on top of staffing issues, Mother Base, weapons development and deploying your troops to warzones for extra rewards is just a bit of a hassle.  And the legendarily clunky control scheme from the game proper has somehow managed to worm its way into this spin off, text adventure making every tiny thing much more difficult than it actually needs to be.  Quite why you need to accept your rewards for combat deployment missions is a bit of mystery and the vast swathes of staff that you end up having on your payroll are unnecessarily difficult to differentiate.  It’s all just a little bit too much, and completing a mission and receiving a new bunch of volunteers is more likely to provoke a weary sigh than anything else.  You can auto assign everyone but there will always be the nagging doubt that you’re not quite making the most of the resources you have on offer.

Alongside nagging doubt, you’ll also experience plenty of plain old fashioned nagging.  The Phantom Pain is one of these games that feels the need to give you hundreds of notifications until you’ve no other option but to just give up and let it wash over you.  “The map has been updated”.  “Development project met”.  “Sun will rise momentarily”.  If you have the gall to listen to one of the games many, many, cassette tapes while attempting a mission it can become a little headache inducing.  And that’s just the noise.  The text will fly by in the bottom corner of your screen keeping you updated on what you can do, what you can’t do, what you’ve found and what you’ve lost.  It gets to the point when frankly you’d like it to just shut up for two seconds so you can get on and enjoy the game.  It may seem like this is to be expected of a series that has given us cut scenes over an hour long, but in keeping the gameplay and story separate, the previous games gave you an opportunity to drink it all in.  The equivalent here feels like Revolver Ocelot is standing in front of the T.V and shouting directly into your face while you’re trying to concentrate.

On the other hand Snake, played here by Kiefer Sutherland, is annoyingly quiet.  It’s so abundantly obvious within the first few hours that he was paid by the line that it makes the decision to replace David Hayter even more baffling.  And this is where my biggest problem with The Phantom Pain starts to rear its head; it just doesn’t feel very Metal Gear.  That might sound like a ridiculous accusation when you’re hiding from a huge, walking tank in a cardboard box but somewhere in the process of reinventing the series, part of what makes it so unique has been left behind.  The antagonists are largely forgettable with none of the dark charm of the Cobra Unit or Fox Hound.  The boss fights, which were previously so often a highlight, feel like they’re begrudgingly shoved in and have an air that they exist because you expect them.   And I’m probably in the minority here, but with the storyline uncharacteristically taking a backseat it can feel like there’s no continuity between the missions and you’re playing through a series of one offs.   The linearity of the earlier games gave the action a forward momentum, a goal on the horizon.  Here, with so much dotted across the map, it can feel scattershot and unfocused.   And when you’re sent off to rescue yet another prisoner from the encampment you infiltrated not more than an hour ago, it can even feel a little boring.

I imagine that to a lot people these would be seen as plus points.  Metal Gear Solid has always had its knockers (in more ways than one) and for many the changes that have been made will be seen as improvements.  But when so many of gaming’s big releases are turning into one indistinct blob of fetch quests and map markers to see one of the more unusual AAA series have some of its rough edges and idiosyncrasies smoothed out is a crying shame.  Snake’s exploits have always been beautifully ugly.  Here they’re just plain beautiful; and as a consequence, far less interesting.

Not that any of this really matters of course.  It’s looking nailed on that V will be the final instalment; even after ‘this is our last game, really, I mean it’ being threatened so often in the past; and that really is a tragedy.  There are the foundations of something truly special here, and for those that come to the game with no expectations of what it should or shouldn’t be, I expect there is an absurd amount of fun to be had.  It is a brave, spectacular new direction for the series and some will fall for it deeply.   Perhaps if it didn’t have Metal Gear Solid written on the box and was called Smokin’ Serpents Sneaky Afghan Adventure, I’d be one of those people.  But as it stands there are too many other niggling issues that stop me from looking past my preconceptions of what the game should be.

It seems fitting that for a series with such a convoluted timeline that the end should come at the middle of the story and yet feel like a new beginning.  That we will likely never see where Kojima would have shipped the cardboard box to next is a great shame but he leaves behind a series of games that, despite their flaws, have an undeniable star quality.  Where V sits in that list will depend largely on whether you found those flaws annoyingly off-putting or endearingly eccentric.  With The Phantom Pain, Metal Gear has had its arm removed and replaced with something technically far more impressive.   But although some of the feeling is still there, it’s lost just a little bit of its soul.

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Dimension Review

The world now faces total destruction… after being suddenly attacked from out of the blue with half of it being destroyed in an instant. An agent of the coming apocalypse appears issuing an ultimatum “kill me within 13 days or die”. The only ones who are capable of stopping this are the ‘gifted’ – a group of teens with special powers who swiftly have the fate of the world thrust into their hands. In all honesty it sounds like the typical anime ‘teens with super powers’ trope but it really does manage to transcend that stereotype as not one character is overpowered in any way – they are relatively normal humans that each have a gift. Their powers range from levitation, pyrokinesis, precognition, super strength and the ability to copy anyone else’s abilities.

You awake at the bottom of a tower, with no memories of how you got there… the only thing that you do know is that 11 other supposed comrades surround you and that you must climb to the top of the tower and stop the man otherwise known as ‘the end’ from firing his arsenal of nukes and destroying the rest of the world. Sounds simple, right? Wrong… the caveat is that there are traitors amongst your ranks.

Overall, this serves as the primary plot device and I have to admit that the traitor system is quite innovative and the way in which you have to sniff out the traitors is engaging but not impossible – the main character, Sho has the premonition ability and he can also hear other team member’s most private and deepest thoughts, by utilising this and diving into the inner depths of a character’s psyche. This means he can figure out who the traitor is and influence the rest of the team on who they should vote for in one of the many judgement rounds that you are besieged with at the end of each floor.

This involves the team voting for one of them to effectively be killed off where they will be erased from this world, dissolving into absolute nothingness, leaving behind only their ‘will’ – a usable item, so for example if your healer turns out to be the traitor and you vaporise them, then one of the other characters can equip their ‘will’ and use their abilities so you won’t be without healing for the rest of the game. Interspersed throughout the dungeon climbing, it is possible to bolster the trust of each team member by raising their camaraderie level as you talk with them and learn more about their situation, the way they feel about things and what they plan to do in the future (if they survive.. that is).

The plot had me hooked. Who is ‘the end’? Why is he doing this? And who is the traitor this round? I hurriedly played the game until its conclusion as I so desperately wanted to know… only to find out that it does require a couple of play-throughs to reveal the true ending. Second play-throughs are much easier however, as you carry across your already existing camaraderie and you are automatically given gift xp so you can start with some abilities.

Lost Dimension itself is half a visual novel and half a tactical RPG. From a visual novel standpoint, the animation is rendered in a way which makes it appear almost 3D, it is sublimely crisp and clear and the transitions between each character are smooth although the dialogue can be slightly jarring at times when you start losing characters.

The other main half of the game is the tactical battles, they are simple in appearance but are quite challenging as they have a tendency to occasionally throw you straight into the deep end. The battles are taken in turns between your team of 6 and however many enemies are present. Your team can each move within a set radius of their original starting point, if any enemies are in range they can then attack – but beware as the enemies will usually retaliate with a counter-attack if they can. The main tactic that you’ll need to both equally utilise and beware of in order to win is the assist mechanic where any characters that are within range of each other will assist their ally in their attack. For example: If Sho attacks an enemy and two other characters are nearby, not only will Sho attack the enemy – but his two allies will as well. This can lead to some incredibly powerful combos that will allow you to pound the enemy into oblivion.

Sound during the battles is superb and I thought that the song which played during the final boss battle was quite pleasing as well as being motivational – I’d definitely want to put it on my MP3 player. There is no Japanese voice over available, although the English voice acting is not too bad for once. There are a few slightly strange quirks with this though, for example one of the characters speaks with a fake English accent which is slightly odd as she can’t seem to work out if she’s pretending to be in the middle of a Victorian tea party or in the east end of London “Care for some tea, mate?”. She speaks like this because she thinks it sounds cute which is a bit hmm… I’ll just scratch my non-existent beard on that one.

Overall, this is an excellent tactical J-RPG let down only by a slightly anti-climactic ending. But it still has its charms and is well worth playing so go on… get lost in another dimension!

FIFA 16 Review

Football game reviews can be odd things. You never really know where the reviewer is coming from and how what they want might differ from what you want. Sometimes the job is given to whoever least hates sports games and sometimes it’s given to a supposed ‘resident expert’. To let you know where I stand, I’m going to start this off with a little bit of background info.

I’ve played football games for nearly 30 years now. I prefer the more realistic simulations over the old arcade style games and have perhaps had a slight bias towards PES. I do, however, have a fairly open mind when it comes to the modern day PES vs FIFA debate and will simply side with whichever one I feel is best; I have no brand loyalty to speak of. Last year I preferred PES 2015 as I felt FIFA 15 was truly awful and the worst in the series since their 2008 renaissance. That alone should tell you something – if you loved FIFA 15, we might have different ideas about what 16 should be.

When playing football games I look for and appreciate slow build up play with good player movement and an ability to try what I want without feeling that it has no chance to succeed. You should be able to play with a variety of styles and not find yourself falling back into known routines that have proven to be effective time after time. Perhaps the most important thing to mention is that I primarily play offline, either against the CPU in manager mode or in local two-player matches. I have no interest in special gimmick modes like FUT or My Club. With that explained then, this review will focus almost entirely on the actual gameplay on the pitch. There are hundreds of places where you can find out more info about all the extra features should you so desire but, for me, it has to be a good game of football before I’ll even start to care. So is it?

FIFA 16 promises a lot with its cries of ‘innovation across the pitch’ and the adverb-challenged slogan of ‘play beautiful’. The early impressions I heard from those who played it at trade shows were that the game was slower and more balanced with increased focus on midfield play. All of this sounded good to me but could they really overhaul the travesty that was last year’s game that quickly?

Well, first impressions are that the game is definitely slower which, alone, is a huge improvement. It still feels a little too fast for my liking but so does PES this year and I think both games are actually fairly close to real game speed when you compare after watching a match. Not only does this make everything that bit more realistic but it also means you have a little more time to think and plan your play which results in less desperate sprinting around as you try to avoid losing possession. It doesn’t take long to realise that the sprint down the pitch and bang it in tactics aren’t going to be as viable this year. It is still possible, but the various changes mean it’s not always going to be the only effective choice. However, ball movement, whilst incredibly realistic, is still limited in that you can’t move it as incredibly slowly as you can in PES. The lightest of taps will always put just a touch more zip on it than you might want, making passing a less varied affair than it should be. (This is on manual which should in theory offer the widest range of options here).

Another thing that I found to be immediately apparent is that the game looks a little better this year. I’ve been playing on PC and Xbox One and have noticed that the aliasing issues and general muddiness of last year’s game have been addressed; everything is sharper and seems to ‘pop’ a lot more (I hear that’s the trendy term these days). Since moving to the new engine with FIFA 14, the game has always managed to look both fantastic and terrible at various moments and this year is no exception. Generally though, things have been tidied up and given some polish; everything seems to be at 60fps this year, compared to last year where I felt that the frame rate would halve during some cutscenes, and it does make a difference. Player models are better but still nowhere near PES levels, although the hair is nice, with the addition of women’s football having led to much more realistically flowing male locks as well as the veritable ponytail fest the ladies provide. People seem to want different things from how football games look, with some much preferring PES’s chunkiness and great looking player models and others opting for FIFA’s wealth of realistically created stadiums and degrading pitches. I think, on the whole, FIFA looks better during gameplay but both have their high and low points.

This brings us on to the next curiosity of football, and sports, game reviews. Opinions differ wildly! Every year some people will swear blind that it’s exactly the same game whilst others will talk of how drastically different it is. You can’t take anyone’s opinion as valid because there will always be another that contradicts it. I’d include mine in that. The changes I’m talking about with regard to gameplay and graphics might never become apparent to you for whatever strange reason. They’re things I have noticed so they’re definitely there but you might not see them if it’s not what you’re looking for. Football games are weird like that. I will say, though, that I genuinely do not understand how someone who plays a lot of these games wouldn’t notice the changes. A casual player who dips in and out of a football game when they have mates round, sure, I can see how they might not notice, but the guy who plays a few seasons a year and pumps hundreds of hours in is sure to appreciate the changes. Having said that, most of the changes are subtle when taken in context of the overall game and the effect they have isn’t as drastic as it might first appear. After a few hours, it’s easy to forget what’s different.

Back to the gameplay then. I feel most things have been improved rather than just altered for the sake of it, with the possible exception of shooting. It seems that almost every shot now has dip on it and has to leave the ground. Getting a hard, straight driven shot feels impossible at times and attempting to neatly slot home along the ground results in either a weedy pea-roller or the ball leaving the ground. My understanding is that they’ve made it all even more contextual than before, but these players seem to always have their foot under the ball. It’s not really worse than last year but it’s not better either. I would maybe say that there is a little more variety in the types of goal that you can score with various finishing animations to go with them, but the trajectory of the ball seems to be an up and down dip far too often.

The new ‘passing with purpose’ modifier works as you’d expect, adding a little pace to help power the ball through tight gaps, but it’s not much different to just holding the button longer and its effectiveness isn’t so great as to make you remember it’s an option until you’ve played for quite some time and start experimenting for the sake of it. Similarly forgettable is the new ‘no touch dribble’ mechanic which feels more like a trick on a button than anything else. It can be handy when running onto through balls that you don’t want to touch straight away but it’s also a little inconsistent in that sometimes players will touch the ball anyway. I can see some people finding great uses for it but it doesn’t feel necessary or game changing in any way, perhaps I just need more time with it, at the moment it seems to just confuse those of us that used to use the close control button it replaces and, at worst, is another indication of FIFA’s annoying fascination with skill moves.

Overall then, FIFA plays a better game of football than last year. I’m fairly pleased with what they’ve done but my mixed feelings remain in some areas. General control and ball movement still feels slightly beyond you, by which I mean it feels like you’re constantly fighting the ball and never quite getting it to do what you want. I don’t really mean that as a criticism because I think part of it is down to the game’s realism; playing football can be quite hard and accurately directing a ball under pressure is a tricky thing to do. I also play with fully manual controls which probably doesn’t help. By comparison, PES always feel like you have real complete control and if you see a pass you can make it. You might make the odd mistake but it feels like your mistake. I would say that in PES, misplaced passes and shots are down to the pressure that you, the player, might be feeling whereas in FIFA there is the additional element of player character error and physics which can result in misses whether you yourself are feeling pressure or not. It’s a hard thing to make a judgement on and is perhaps one of the dividing factors that makes some people prefer PES and some prefer FIFA. On paper, FIFA’s physics and player attribute factors make it sound like the more in-depth game but in practise it can make for some frustrating moments. PES somehow manages to convey the player identities without having to highlight their foibles quite so much. Players still feel too ‘light’ as well; it’s hard to feel that you’re controlling a footballer as they glide effortlessly across the pitch. I don’t know quite what it is but there’s a disconnect somewhere, it might even be that the ball, as realistic as its movement is, is too light in general. I don’t really know but there’s something intangible that’s still slightly off about the overall feel.

One of the arguments I see every year is that one game is ‘sim’ whilst the other is ‘arcade’. Again, there’s no real consensus on this with just as many people arguing the case one way as the other. For me, I think they have different approaches to football and it depends where your focus is as to what your opinion will be. FIFA has the realistic ball movement and physics (though sometimes exaggerated it seems, with shots pinging the woodwork a little too often) and can give you the scrappy goal mouth incidents and excitement of the Premier League, whereas PES will give you more of a considered Serie A type affair where players have time and space to display their unique abilities. If it’s the tactical side of the game you’re after, PES has the far better player movement and overall intelligence to create beautiful set pieces. If it’s the core fundamentals of kicking a football around (with all the realistic difficulties that can entail and well as the pleasures) then perhaps FIFA has a slight edge. I think these conflicting arguments often come from how the games look in motion as well as how they play. FIFA looks a lot more like football at first glance but doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny as well as PES which feels more like real football, perhaps more through trickery than the science EA employs, but there you go.

The big addition this year is, of course, the women’s game and it’s actually been done very well. It’s not a hugely different experience but there are enough subtleties to make it a worthwhile mode for when you fancy something a little different. Some people may prefer the slightly ‘lighter’ feel to the gameplay and the effect it has on various aspects of the sport. I’ve enjoyed it but there’s not really much to the mode beyond novelty at the moment. I think credit should go to EA for doing a much better job at representing the women’s game than many were expecting though.

Unfortunately, for all the improvements, many issues still remain. For me, player switching logic and movement is the most frustrating. Last year, and no doubt previously too, when the ball was in the air and that little yellow crosshair thing would be on the pitch, marking where it was going to land, I’d often have a player stood right underneath the ball waiting for it only for him to start running away just as it arrived. WHY? Not only that, but should I spot this likelihood and attempt to switch to him, the game wouldn’t let me until I was already 10 yards away from the crosshair. This might sound very specific and niche but it’s one of my biggest issues with the game and is disappointingly still present this year. Player movement when going forward is still far too static and uninventive and laying through balls or passes onto any onrushing attackers you might be lucky enough to have still often leads to you being given control of the wrong one and not being allowed to change until it’s too late. Similarly, if you’re running into the box, your own players will often continue running forward and get in your way or block your shot as if they have no awareness of where they are on the pitch. It’s all very frustrating but thankfully fairly rare with maybe one or two incidences of one of these things each match. It’s a shame as with all the improvements in other areas these small issues stand out even more. Having issues like this in a shitty game like FIFA 15 almost doesn’t matter as it’s fundamentally flawed anyway, but in FIFA 16 you have something with real potential to be great, just let down by these silly moments.

Football games will always have their issues as if they didn’t there’d be no need to buy next year’s; that’s the cynical market we find ourselves in. Fortunately though, the quality of PES 2015 seems to have been the kick up the arse EA needed, and just in time too. FIFA 16 is an improved game and, odd legacy issues aside (‘cancel’ still doesn’t work as it should either), it should provide any football fan many hours of entertainment, offering as it does, the more balanced gameplay it promised to. A big improvement over last year, with just few little niggles still to iron out.

I’ve not found a suitable space to include some other key observations so offer them here as a list of positives and negatives.



+ Crossing is better, now a viable option with headed goals more realistically prevalent than last year.

+ Graphics are slightly better with some key issues addressed.

+ Slower, allowing for more considered play.

+ Game delivers on promise of more balanced play more often than not.



– Still a feeling of no real immediate control over anything leaving you feeling uninvolved at times.

– Same legacy issues persist.

– AI still able to put moves together superhumanly quickly using a toolset that you have no access to, giving you the impression that the game has decided you will have no say in what happens for the next few moments.


At the end of the day (Trevor), you know what you want. You came here with a slight bias to either FIFA or PES. I’ve tried to be honest and tell you my bias is historically for PES and, in doing so, hope that you’ll appreciate that honesty and understand that I’ve been as open minded as possible when reviewing both games. In a way, I wish I preferred FIFA, that it was the better game, as then I’d have all the lovely licences as well as the best game. However, if you want to sit and play a football game all year and get loads out of it then PES is the one to go for in my opinion. If you’re a more casual football gamer then you might prefer FIFA for its prettier graphics and presentation. Likewise, if you’re a football fan first and a gamer second, FIFA is the game that will give you what you see on Sky with all the Premier League kits and stadiums and annoying commentary from Martin Tyler. All of that stuff counts for a lot too, it does for me anyway. I love all those stadiums and all that shit FIFA has. The only problem is, I don’t see it if I don’t want to play the game and there’s still too many issues for me to keep going for a whole season. I still feel that FIFA’s focus is in the wrong place; EA are all about FUT and tweeting Youtube videos where young offenders are made to show you how to perform this year’s new skill moves. It just doesn’t sit right with me, I hate all that bullshit. I say that specifically so you know to ignore me if you like it. That’s the important thing really, get the game you know you want, both are good this year but, to borrow some idiotic punditry parlance again, for me Brian, on the pitch, one is definitely gooder than the other and this time the other lad’s got the better of him (or her in this case, I suppose).

Destiny: The Taken King Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Dawn review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 18th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 18th September (Friday).

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It is a quick look at the charts and some further discussion on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to kick off this week’s show.

Then time for reviews of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, NHL 16, Dropsy The Clown (sort of), The Golf Club: Collector’s Edition and finally Destiny: The Taken King.

Then it is a look ahead to FIFA 16, Skylanders Superchargers, Death Ray Manta, Cards & Castles, Hacker’s Beat and Blood Bowl 2.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks).

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 review

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot


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

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

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

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

The Golf Club Collector’s Edition Review

I have sat here for almost an hour procrastinating, with a blank page and no idea how to open up this review of The Golf Club Collector’s Edition. Which is why I wrote the last few words, as I hope it flows into something.

You see I have already reviewed The Golf Club and I really liked it, I felt it was a solid sim that did away with all the fluff that the EA golf games added and that hasn’t changed one bit. You can read it in the link just a few words back.

That is what makes the Collector’s Edition so difficult to score. It is the same game as before, all up to date with the patches and the DLC thrown in for good measure. It still plays a damned fine game of golf, the course editor is still wonderful to use and there are still all the various tournaments and tours, both online and off. Yep it is still a good game.

One new addition I suppose I can mention is the handicap system, which arrived fairly late in the day. Your handicap will be calculated over a number of rounds to set an initial number, then as you play, your handcap is continually monitored and calculated each and every time you play.

It works really well too, as it means players who aren’t so confident on the courses, can still compete with those who have mastered the game. Again though, there is no over the top promotion of this humble feature, it is just there, in the background, occasionally letting you know how you are progressing.

With all the content from the original release and subsequent DLC included, the Collector’s Edition brings the number of official courses to 20, but because of the amazing course editor, the number of actual courses is nigh on limitless.

There are some really faithful recreations of famous courses out there too and they are well worth hunting down. It goes without saying there are a fair few rubbish courses created out there, but because of the way the course designer works, by giving you a solid opening template, these are few and far between. That mixed with a pretty decent rating system will see you being able to avoid them with ease.

I bought The Golf Club on PS4 at the time of the original release and have since picked up the extra content, I also have it on the PC but without the extra content (bless those sales) and if I am being honest, if you have the game in any capacity whatsoever then really there is no point in you buying The Collector’s Edition, just update and grab the new content much cheaper.

However, if you don’t own it or you want the game fresh on another platform, then this is easily the way to go. It can be picked up for less than £30 in most places, even on the high street and with Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour being a huge disappointment this year this is certainly the golf game of choice.

Super Mario Maker Review

Are video game reviews even relevant anymore? Can you ever trust them? What sort of baggage does a reviewer bring with them each time they a play game? Why is it that all these indie puzzle platformers with a retro art style seem to do so well, or at least be so prevalent? Could it simply be that we’ve reached a point where all the critics are in their late-20s to late-30s and share a fondness for what they consider to be a golden age of the SNES and Mega Drive? It certainly could be that.

Imagine, for a moment, that videogames are a new phenomenon. Imagine they started with the PS4 and Xbox One, that we started with that level of power from the off. Would we still look at all these ‘retro’ styled 2D games with the same regard that we do now? How much of the appeal is just nostalgia? Have we simply convinced the younger generation to like these games through our repeated insistence that they’re great? Do they choose to also enjoy them due to some sort of willingness to conform or to impress the people they perhaps look up to? Or is it that they are genuinely good games that would shine through regardless of style or era? Who knows?

These thoughts have occurred to me a few times but they’re especially pertinent when playing Super Mario Maker which, in simple terms, is the toolset to create the very core of what videogames used to be until perhaps the mid-90s. When Mario Maker was first announced some people were shocked and delighted by the idea that they might finally get something they’d always dreamed of, whilst others were apprehensive about how much Nintendo would really hand over. The truth is, it’s somewhere in between, but it’s closer to that former dream than the potential disappointment.

Super Mario Maker is like having the world’s greatest film directors come together and give you stacks of footage to edit into a film of your choice, as opposed to actually going out with a budget and a crew of your own. Personally, I like this as what Scorcese and Tarantino might shoot for me will almost certainly be much better than anything I might come up with. But, let’s get one of the games supposed issues out of the way here – those directors aren’t going to trust you with everything just yet; they’re only going to give you a few scenes until you show them that you know what you’re doing and aren’t going to just combine all the sex scenes into one long porno.

Likewise, Mario Maker will only allow you to play with a basic set of tools on the first day and will gradually unlock more options over the course of the next eight or so days, dependent on you tinkering with each set for five minutes. I, again, like this approach as too often modern games overwhelm the player with too much choice and option paralysis sets in. Should you not share my particular niche opinion you can mess with your system clock to get around these restrictions.

The actual level designing is done with the sort of sense-making simplicity and panache we’ve come to expect from Nintendo and manages to squeeze in all the humour and charm you could hope for too. Upon starting the game you’re asked to play a part of a level and then finish off its construction before you head to the main menu where you can choose to play through some samples or other user’s uploaded creations. As you might expect, what you get is incredibly varied but I’ve generally been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found.

Some levels are just a bit crap of course, but some show some real effort to create things that wouldn’t be too out of place in a real Mario game. It’s also worth mentioning how good everything looks; seeing the older art styles in proper widescreen for the first time really is quite striking and the high-res upscaling or whatever it is they’ve done really makes everything very crisp and lovely. It’s not like playing the virtual console versions; there’s a graphical fidelity that makes everything feel modern.

There’s also a sort of joy that I hadn’t anticipated to the level creation itself; it feels like you’re communicating with people, that you’re sending out a sort of message in a bottle. One of the most famous pieces of game design ever is in the original Super Mario Bros. when you go up to the top of the level where the score and time are displayed. It feels like you’ve found a way to cheat or that you’ve broken the game, but then you discover the warp zones and realise that the developers knew all along that you might do that.

That sort of unspoken communication between the game’s designers and the player has been a central part of the Mario (and a lot of Nintendo) games’ appeal and it’s present here too, except this time you’re the one writing that message. It’s a nice feeling and one I hadn’t considered or expected to get from the game. This is emphasised even more by the feedback you receive for levels you’ve created. When playing through people’s creations you can leave them a comment or give a star to levels you’ve liked, it’s a nice way to keep that communication theme running through all aspects of the game.

So what else is there? Well, that’s it really. You create levels from four of Mario’s different styles and upload them for others to play. Then you play through the levels other people made. There are a couple of different ways to do that but the motivation has to come from you really; there isn’t much in the way of structure and the levels don’t run into each other like they might in a full Mario game – for example, collecting a mushroom at the end of one level doesn’t mean you’ll start ‘big’ at the start of the next, you always start small.

Also, you can’t really create a cohesive world or zone for people to play through. Whilst you might choose to make ten levels around a similar theme, it’s unlikely anyone will ever play them through in order as you might have planned. These are all small issues that are easy to forgive as it’s hard to see how these things could have been made to work on a larger scale. There is perhaps a slight feeling that this is an entry level version of more complex software, that perhaps a fuller-featured program might be available in the future or that some of those more complex options have been held back. However, that would be dismissing everything you do have and there’s a lot here, certainly enough to keep any Mario fan happy for, well, forever really.

Ultimately this game’s appeal will always depend on how much you like Mario. If you do have some history with the guy and have ever enjoyed any of his adventures, then this is an incredibly interesting piece of software. That’s what it is really, software for fans of Mario, perhaps more so than a ‘game’, though there is plenty of game if you, or others, want to build it. It might seem obvious but you will get out of it what you put in.

The score I’ve given it is a personal one based on my years of loving Mario games and the videogaming purity they represent. I like the fact that you’re a little constrained by the established rules of his world as they’re rules that work and that I like. You want to have that recognition and I feel it’s a large part of why this whole thing works. No matter what someone makes, you immediately understand how it’s all going to work; it’s that communication again.

It is worth remembering that the game is called Mario Maker, not platformer maker, and as such you’re making Mario games. I don’t know why you’d want to make anything else but if you’re expecting all the tricks of the ROM hacks you might be disappointed. If you’re still at all unsure, you can build and play levels in the SNES Super Mario World art style in widescreen for the first time ever. If that doesn’t sell you a game nothing will. But, perhaps that’s just my nostalgia. Who knows?

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.

Brad & John’s Game Reviews – 11th September 2015

Brad and John take a look at and review the charts and releases for week ending 11th September (Friday).

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A second week of changes in the charts, with new entries for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Mad Max and Disney Infinity 3.0 as well as a bit of movement for some of the chart regulars.

Chat then moves on to reviews of Stasis, Forza Motorsport 6, Super Mario Maker and Tearaway Unfolded.

It’s then a look ahead to The Golf Club: Collectors Edition, Pro Evo 2016, Destiny: The Taken King and Rugby League Live 3.

We also apologise for a technical issue half way through when the recording equipment decides to malfunction.

Please give us any feedback or send questions to [email protected] (this will change in coming weeks).

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