Review

It’s time for another two minute review, this time for the Synology DiskStation DS414.

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Synology DiskStation DS414 is a feature-rich 4-bay NAS specifically designed for growing businesses to effectively manage, protect and share data. Equipped with comprehensive office applications, DS414 raises working efficiency while securing data with full backup solutions.

  • Dual Core CPU with Floating-Point Unit
  • Over 207.07MB/s Reading, 135.63MB/s Writing
  • Dual LAN with Failover and Link Aggregation Support
  • 1GB RAM Boosting Multitasking Power
  • Features SuperSpeed USB3.0
  • Hot-swappable & Tool-Less Hard Drive Tray Design
  • Running on Synology DiskStation Manager (DSM)

Specifications

Specs

A Closer Look

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Final Thoughts

The DS414 looks great with it’s black matt sides which do a great job of keeping it looking clean.

The DS414 doesn’t come with any hard drives preinstalled, so the first task is to slide out one of the drive bays and fit the drive. The whole process is very quick and easy and you should be up an running in no time at all and you don’t need any tools to do it either!

As usual with Synology, the thing that makes everything so easy, and provides all the functionality is the DiskStation Manager software – everything you could possibly need to do can be done from it, from setting up users and folders, to installing and configuring applications.

The rear of the DS414 has two USB 3.0 ports, unfortunately the USB port on the front, which can be used for bulk ingestion of data from a USB drive is only USB 2.0 meaning it can be a lot slower. Hopefully on later models this will be addressed.

There are also dual fans (only one of which is in use at any one time which is great for keeping the noise levels low) and dual Gigabit LAN ports. So you have a fair bit of redundancy packed into such a small box.

The cost of the DS414 is around £350, although as usual you should look around for the best deal.

If you are looking for a NAS box with some great features, then this could be the box for you! Remember, the major selling point for any Synology box is the Diskstation manager software, so keep that in mind when comparing the DS414 against other NAS boxes on the market today.

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You can learn more about the DS414 from the Synology website.

Well the name says it all really. You play as Buck Mann a glorified space delivery boy charged with quickly, and safely, delivering various goods across incredibly dangerous areas of space. I don’t know if there are any space police or whatever in Space Run but if there are they’re really bad. It’s a warzone even for a delivery company!

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Space Run is essentially a side scrolling strategy game that draws heavily from the ideas of a tower defence game. Your ship consists of various hexagons that allow you to place your precious cargo and any of the turrets, shields and thrusters available. You’ll need to ensure that your cargo is protected on a suitably defendable hexagon whilst making sure you have space for thrusters, to get through the level faster, and are able to aim your guns at incoming threats. It’s not always easy to fit it all in.

The exact size and shape of your ship will depend on the mission you take on so you will have to employ different strategies each time. And it gets more complicated when you need to use a power generator to power turrets correctly. There’s a lot to think about and usually there isn’t a perfect solution so there is a sense of just getting the job done rather than creating a super-death-delivery-ship.

After each mission you can spend your hard earned space credits on upgrades for your turrets, buildings and their abilities. There’s a good feeling of progression and you are handsomely rewarded for completing missions quicker. There’s a real incentive other than score to keep completing missions as fast as possible.

But unfortunately there isn’t really enough variation to keep the gameplay interesting past a couple of hours. The ship changes and levels become more challenging and tactical to a degree but there are only so many different runs that you can do. All too soon it becomes a case of repeating the same things over and over. It is challenging, especially if you go for the fastest time, which is where most of the appeal comes from but there isn’t enough strategy to keep things interesting past the 2 or 3 hour mark.

There is a thin plot forced in around Space Run’s missions but it’s really just a way for the game’s characters to be amusing. Or at least try. Sadly it’s almost impossible to feel much of a connection to Buck Mann. He’s about as generic as space scoundrel rip offs come and isn’t as funny as he thinks he is. You’ll have a few laughs, but not as many as are intended. There are some nice Sci-Fi geek references though. My particular favourite was the word ‘frak’ which reminded me how much I need to get a life after I laughed.

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Space Run is a good side scrolling adventure for a couple of hours but there isn’t much replay value to keep you coming back for more. The half baked characters and humour unfortunately don’t deliver as much entertainment as they needed to. With subpar characters and mediocre humour Space Run relies solely on its gameplay. Which is good fun for a brief period but doesn’t do anything to hold your attention for too long. But it is good fun while it lasts.

Even for the mighty UbiArt engine and Ubisoft Montpellier The Great War is a tricky topic to tackle correctly. Despite the abundance of WW2 period games out there WW1 remains relatively untouched. The sheer horror and weight of events make it difficult as a topic for any game. Valiant Hearts goes with an all out puzzler approach. There’s the occasional action filled moment but even then the puzzles are kept central to the gameplay. The point of Valiant Hearts isn’t to see how many men you can kill and how much gore there can be in a war. Thankfully.

But just because you’re not going to slaughter men on mass doesn’t mean Valiant Hearts pulls its punches. The Great War had a horrific death toll and Ubisoft aren’t afraid to make it known. Valiant Hearts doesn’t patronize and it doesn’t hold back. It covers the brutality of the first gas attack using Chlorine Gas. It covers the work of a medic performing triage after an attack. It covers a civilian population under attack from bombs, with people searching for loved ones and dealing with the destruction of their homes.

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There’s an appropriately solemn tone that never really lets up while you  play Valiant Hearts. It’s a strange experience to be entertained at the same time as watching the horrors of The Great War but I think it’s a fantastic way for us to commemorate the events that took place.

Great War aside Valiant Hearts is a great puzzler. There’s a fare share of simple tasks that don’t tax the brain too much but they are constant and keep you thinking until the next real puzzle. Which are clever. You’re canine friend has no name but he can squeeze through gaps and retrieve items, among other things, that allow the puzzles to be really creative. They kept me thinking and regularly had me stumped for a little while before I moved on.

The only problem I had was checkpoints which are few and far between. More than once when I quit the game I found myself playing the entire level again when I loaded it back up. It seems like a simple fix to me to just add more checkpoints especially considering Valiant Hearts has a slower pace that doesn’t make checkpoints difficult.

To compliment this are collectables that are carefully placed in every level. Some hidden, some require simple optional puzzles some are basically unmissable. But once you find and collect one you can press triangle and read more about the item. The nuggets of information make for interesting reading so it’s well worth stopping occasionally to take a look. Some are personal letters from soldiers on the front and some are interesting items like lighters or tools that provide some historical fact.

Valiant Hearts is a treat on the eyes and ears too, as if any of us doubted it. UbiArt has delivered again and the beautiful ‘hand drawn’ style creates the perfect atmosphere for Valiant Hearts. But musically Valiant Hearts has a simple yet powerful soundtrack that had me moved more than once. Even the piano piece on the main menu is truly beautiful.

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For me, the key concept that is a constant in Valiant Hearts is the issue of language barriers. Or more specifically the issue of nationality. Despite communication there’s no spoken language except the occasional mumble from the characters and a narrator on the loading screens. The most obvious example is your best friend in Valiant Hearts, your dog.

He starts out with his German handler, who’s a medic. But helps the French Emile when he’s in trouble early on. Emile and his dog then join with an American, Freddie and later even back with a German born French national Karl. On one occasion after Emile helps a German Soldier in need he will in return help Emile by letting him run from capture or death. Valiant Hearts does a good job of bringing to life the fact that all who fought in The Great War where ultimately still human, regardless of nationality. And your canine companion makes it all the more obvious as he doesn’t consider race or nationality when he helps people. He just helps those who need it. It’s also devastating when he gets in trouble and needs your help.

The Great War was certainly one of our darkest periods of history and it needs to be commemorated. And 100 years on it is all the more important that we make an effort to remember those who gave their lives for us. Valiant Hearts is so tastefully handled that I can think of no better way to remember those events. It’s a great puzzle game that makes you think infused with nuggets of history. More importantly Valiant Hearts packs a punch that doesn’t let us forget.

505 Games and Rebellion are back with their gruesomely satisfying Sniper Elite series, this third entry promises to be the largest of them all with vast open expanses to traverse and several new gameplay mechanics on offer. Can they expand on their ever improving series, or will this one be slightly off the mark?

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It’s not long before Karl Fairburne, the elite sniper, is called into action in the dusty, unforgiving plains of Africa. Mere moments after been given control of our stoic, chisel jawed American exterminator, we’re tasked with clearing out a few pesky snipers and spotters from the overlooking cliffs ahead. One justly lined up shot later; you’re introduced to the series’ famed x-ray killcam in all of its glorious destruction. Instantly shocking, gratifying and curiously addictive, these killcams offer a slow motion insight into the life of a fatally wounding bullet. Not only will you see skulls crumple under the sheer velocity, but also lungs puncture, hearts explode, and should you desire, testicles rupturing. The scope of horrendous bodily harm you can commit to an unaware, meandering soldier never gets old, despite the player seeing it potentially hundreds of times during the course of the campaign.

Making the local coroners life easier comes with its own problems however. It’s often either too easy or too difficult to get your snuff fix, turning the difficulty up will add magnified effects such as gravity and wind direction/speed to contend with, however one quick tap of the ‘empty lungs’ button will place a cursor directly on your bullets predetermined destination. Electing to ignore the empty lung/cursor of death button isn’t easy, but can make for a more rewarding experience knowing you’ve earned the kill yourself.

In terms of difficulty, the AI can certainly make life either a trauma or a walk in the park. Possessing the hearing of a bat or an ancient geriatric, depending on your actions, they will remain blissfully unaware as you take down a room with the Welrod (your handy silenced pistol) Or you can creep and stalk your your enemy for as long as you please, provided you’re crouched. On the other end of the spectrum, they’ll hear and pinpoint your position from a misjudged sniper shot, even if it’s mere milliseconds out of the sound cover range.

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Handily, Africa is packed full of easily malfunctioning generators, sporadically dotted about the map and often adjacent to elevated sniper positions. One quick sabotage later and you can mask your gunfire by timing it with the chugs of your ill mechanical friend, hopefully avoiding the new searching mechanic implanted into the local guards. Firstly, they’ll take cover from any other errant shots that might come their way, before attempting to locate your crafty position. Moving in flanks and small formations, they’ll push your last known/seen position, visually marked by a Splinter Cell esque outline of yourself. Relocating is the name of the game here, as escaping the radius of your crime will revert your foes to their initial patrols, despite them having to tiptoe over the corpses of their fallen comrades along the way.

Linear level design is slowly becoming a thing of the past now with Sniper Elite III’s larger open maps, however you do still have to complete objectives in a predetermined order, as they are marked along an obvious and plain route. Secret objectives can open up play a little as they are often not apparent until you’ve fulfilled a prerequisite requirement, such as searching a table for Intel regarding a passing through officer who’s ripe for early retirement.

Despite the main missions pointing you in the right direction, how you tackle them is left up to you and your imagination. Taking out key personnel could be achieved by anything from a silenced Welrod shot, to laying down a mine before retreating. It heavily encourages stealth, but doesn’t restrict you to it, letting you experiment with various methods due to the large sandbox style environments.

Gunplay is fairly solid, however strangely, what with the snipers being quite so heavily featured, the differences between rifles and their upgrades feels a little non distinct. The sub-machine guns feel as though they’re meant to be used only as a last resort, which in a stealth orientated game, is a plus point. Whilst the Welrod is suitably slow to fire and has a meagre ammo capacity at best, scavenging corpses and crates will often yield far more than is necessary. Despite not really knowing what sort of battle you’ll find yourself in, you can alter your load out pre-mission with anything you’ve unlocked via levelling up in the various modes. If you feel a silenced pistol is a little over powered, switch it for a revolver, love to go loud? Bring along a pocket full of dynamite and a few land mines at the expense of health packs.

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Whilst it may not be the prettiest game on the PS4, there are not only some very nice lighting effects, but the frame rate is consistently high, making it a much smoother experience than you might be used to. Add to this that each of the eight levels on offer usually lasts around an hour each, and you’ll become increasingly impressed.

That’s not to say it’s been completely smooth sailing however, Sniper Elite III does have it’s drawbacks too. The enemy AI, whilst in alert mode, can be fairly competent, but the transition back to their designated patrols despite half a squadron lying at their feet instantly takes you out of the experience. Some of the context sensitive prompts can grate a little too early as well, actions overlap all too frequently meaning that the wrong task is occasionally performed if you’re not careful. Searching bodies requires deft usage of the right thumbstick before the option can appear; silently knifing someone in the back can often take multiple button mashes before registering too.

Your time spent with Sniper Elite III will vary from either being too easy at the upside of being daft, visceral fun, or too difficult along with some of the more infuriating technical blemishes peppered about the place. If you’ve played the others and still can’t fill that sadistic void with anything but slow motion testicle battery, then you’ll more than likely enjoy this instalment. If not, and you’re hankering after some stealthy fun; alongside being capable of brushing aside a disappointingly clichéd narrative and the occasional technical hiccup, Sniper Elite III might just have found its mark.

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Recently I had the opportunity to test out the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone for a week, and here is my two minute review.

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The Galaxy S5 is the next in a long line of Android based smartphone’s from Samsung.

Specifications

Specs

A Closer Look

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And you can replace the battery easily on the S5 (which also means you can carry a replacement with you for those times you really need it):

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It is larger than my usual iPhone 5.

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Using the Samsung Galaxy S5

As you would expect from an Android phone you have all the usual Android apps (the S5 comes with Android 4.4.2 out of the box), along with a number of Samsung specific apps, including S Health and Galaxy Essentials.

Here are some of the screens:

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Final Thoughts

The biggest improvements over the Galaxy S4 are the screen and the camera. The screen is a lovely 5.1 inch 1080p super AMOLED screen and it looks great, really making anything you look at stand out with a very clear and sharp image, even in daylight.

The camera is a 16MP camera, and Samsung are pushing is that the S5 can autofocus on your subject in the blink of an eye. I found the camera to be really good, certainly meaning that I was happy only having the S5 with me for when I wanted to take the odd snap here and there.

The battery life was great, I was constantly getting a full day’s use out of it during the week I had it for test, and because the battery is removable you could always carry a spare with you, although there shouldn’t be too many times you would actually need one!

Samsung say that the S5 is water-resistant, you are reminded of this when removing the cover. I didn’t have any issues but then to be honest, I really didn’t want to have it out in the rain too much anyway.

The S5 also has a built-in fingerprint scanner, although I found this to be a little fiddly at times, and I can easily see some people getting frustrated with it and leaving it disabled.

I really liked the Samsung Galaxy S5. It looks and feels like a premium smartphone (which it is), although I am still not sure about what Samsung have done with the back of the phone, but that really is a matter of personal taste rather than something problematic with the phone.

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You can get the Samsung Galaxy S5 from Dialaphone from as little as £27.99 per month.

With the UFC still donning the moniker of the world’s fastest growing sport, it was only going to be a matter of time before EA added another franchise to their already stellar selection of sports titles. Can they replicate their successes once more with a UFC game based around their Ignite engine?

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As a fan of UFC since channel 5 aired their pay per views late on a night and free of charge, I like many others, have been hankering for a true UFC experience. This rendition promises a slew of available moves, an improved ground and submission game alongside a fully-fledged career mode.

Jumping straight in, you’ll be prompted with a basic tutorial that’s designed to get you started on the game; it’ll inform you on how to flail wildly and that’s about it. With such a diverse moves list demanding control of your opponent in many areas of the octagon, you’ll be at a frustrating and instant disadvantage the moment you’re not standing toe to toe. Due to the bewildering lack of a practice mode against a dummy AI, you’re learning the hard way too. The game is not only difficult to master, but also seems reluctant to let you learn how to progress. There are a few incredibly helpful online tutorial videos hidden in the touchpad’s online menus, but why these weren’t moved onto the main menu instead is beyond me. A challenge mode is also available, but doesn’t explain the benefits of transitioning into certain mounts, guards or clinches. I’m all for having to figure things out for yourself, but it’s not fun when you’re on the cusp of losing because you didn’t know to also hold L1 whilst rotating the right thumbstick to get out of a full mount.

Fortunately, the days of the infinite standing elbows and the impossibly confusing ground game are behind us, fighters are blessed with an armada of standing strikes; all can be performed by the initially bewildering modifier buttons. With each face button dedicated to a limb, you can alter the type of strike by holding another button, for example, holding forward whilst pressing triangle will perform a straight or a hook in lieu of the standard jab, whilst pulling away from your opponent will change it to an uppercut. Holding L2 will always target the body; the L1 and R1 buttons are the more stamina draining but equally powerful flamboyant moves.

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As you might imagine, swinging at thin air will not get you very far; not only will it open you up to a counter, it’ll take a chunk out of your stamina bar too. The key to success, much like real UFC fights, is to not get exhausted during a bout. Not only will your strikes deal less damage and connect slower, but you yourself will also be more susceptible to taking heavy damage; becoming one step closer to that fabled flash knockout. The ground game, submissions and any form of transitions or posturing also use stamina, making the ground wars less of a button mashing affair and more a thinking man’s ordeal. It’s all well and good rushing to full mount only to discover you’re lacking any stamina to complete a submission, before getting swept and finding yourself at the mercy of your opponents crushing elbows.

Everything boils down to knowing your foes weaknesses and strengths, a kickboxer will be more at risk to a takedown than a decorated wrestler for instance; it’s here where UFC really shines. Executing a gameplan successfully is highly rewarding and achieving the victory whilst playing to your strengths is a glorious feeling. The submission system has been altered for the better this time too. Successfully tightening a choke or lock requires mastery of the mini-game involved. An octagon overlay will appear, with the defender having to fill one of the four gauges to escape, the attacker can impede their progress by holding the right thumbstick in the corresponding direction whilst looking for a left thumbstick prompt to advance the submission state. Despite being initially overcomplicated and confusing, once you’ve had a few attempts, (it really needs a practice mode) it can feel like an aptly anxious struggle.

Whilst you may chug about a little slowly in relation to your real life counterparts, the defensive game is pretty well implemented. Blocking works surprisingly well, holding R2 becomes a weak but still useful guard. Yet if you wish to make the most out of it, timing an opponent’s high or low strike with one of the face buttons will make them whiff and leave themselves open to a more powerful counter. Dashes can be executed by flicking the left thumbstick; if timed well, can leave your foe vulnerable and floundering.

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Sublime fighting mechanics aside, how does EA’s UFC fare outside of the octagon? In truth, not quite so well; feeling very much like a first stab at the franchise, it gets a lot right, but misses out on what could have been a more enveloping career mode. The addition of the required Ultimate Fighter tournament before being let loose in the UFC is a welcome touch yet it has two major drawbacks. The first being that you can’t skip it, despite how many fighters you’ve inducted into underwhelming Hall of Fame, which consists of a short video featuring Dana White and a generic email essentially stating ‘that’s enough, start again’. The second, implausibly odd reason being that The Ultimate Fighter bouts are by far the most difficult fights you’ll have in the career due to you having unalterably dire stats.

From each successful training session in the career, your created fighter will earn approximately 200 upgrade points to spend on whatever you feel is necessary, probably stamina though if you’re being honest. Compare this to the UFC fights when you often gain in excess of 1000 points for a victory and you can see how your character becomes exponentially more powerful, even against the greatest in the division. Points can be spent on moves or attributes, but don’t fret as you’ll have points left over before your career ends; attaining max stats all around is easily achievable unlike previous UFC games.

Aside from the constant barrage of videos peppering your screen after each KO, submission or fight of the night, showcasing highlight reels of classic UFC moments, there isn’t that much involvement outside of the fights. There are no rivalries, you can’t choose a training camp, there’s no threat of not making weight, there’s no advice from your corner in-between rounds and the ‘guest’ appearances at the gym make little to no differences aside from a nasty potential boxing spar with Nate Diaz.

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Some other generic problems that seem to plague EA titles of late being the horrendous menu load times that can make altering sponsors, stats and appearances a drain. During the career mode, there’s a useless ticker across the top of the screen either notifying you that you have no new notifications or displaying now out of date items of interest. There’s an almost sarcastic use of a game manual option in the menus too which instead displays a link to a website, of which you can’t even select to open in the PS4’s browser. Why bother putting it there then?

If there’s one thing EA Sports titles do well time and time again however, it’s the presentation aspect. They’ve really nailed the broadcast feel of the fights, what with Bruce Buffer’s fantastically over excitable introductions alongside Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg screaming at each and every knockout.

Graphically it’s excellent; EA’s Ignite engine provides a showcase of what should be achieved on PS4 and Xbox One. Beads of sweat drip, blood flows and spatters onto the mat, muscles are seen tensing and the character animations are equally impressive too. In terms of audio, it lets itself down a little however. Despite the impressively looking equaliser, there’s no way to alter the sound levels to your preferences. You can’t turn the music entirely off either unless you deselect all the tracks in the main menu; for some reason, the punches and kicks lack a little meat too.

However, once the overly complicated controls are mastered and start to make sense, it’s utter brilliance. Get over the woeful tutorial hump; don’t expect much outside of the octagon and there is no greater game for combat sport aficionados. Every punch is deliberate, every kick is measured, every takedown punishing and every win immeasurable.

I have this idea in my head that at some point I’ll play an MMORPG that changes something significant. Not a new combat feature or new way of interacting with other players but something a bit more fundamental. Wildstar looks like it could be that MMO. So I eagerly jump into the world of Nexus searching for my white whale.

Initial character creation is the usual case of ‘who the hell is that?’ and ‘what the hell are those?’ but cutting through Wildstar’s take on a sci-fi world helps you get your character set up, although the lore of Wildstar is full and well written so it’s only worth avoiding if necessary. It’s Rebels vs The Empire with the rough and ready ‘Exiles’ playing the part of The Rebels and ‘The Dominion’ donning the stomping boots of The Empire. There’s a decent back-story to each faction so everything feels fleshed out and central to Wildstar’s world. The character styles are noticeably different too and together with the different classes there’s loads of choice.

And further down the road after a good few hours of playing and levelling up you won’t be disappointed no matter what class you pick. You never feel particularly ‘locked in’ by a class or character and each has more than enough abilities to let you create the character you want. It doesn’t matter if you want a damage carry, tank, support or medic class. It’s all possible and allows for you to be free and creative with your build.

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One of the most important things in Wildstar is its impressive lore. Characters, factions, locations, weapons and just about everything has a story. Think codex from Mass Effect except the information is used to help present the game rather than just something to read when you’re bored. Although you can do that too. It’s all these little nuggets of information that make Wildstar what it is and stop its missions and quest lines from becoming supremely mediocre. Or nearly anyway.

Sadly cutting through the fun, but unnecessary, lore reveals that the quests are just what we’ve come to expect from any MMORPG. Unfortunately Wildstar doesn’t try and move away from the tradition of fetch quests and reused objectives that plague the genre. Very early in the game you’ll be killing enemies, collecting items and sometimes even returning those items to a quest giver. Wildstar’s comedy is genuinely funny and does a good job of keeping things from becoming dull but given how deep quest design is cemented at the core of any MMORPG it’s not quite enough.

But it’s nice to see some jokes in a game and that humour is present in more than just the things characters say and the objectives they give. For instance earning yourself a double kill (or more) will earn you an overly enthusiastic announcer booming out your accolade. Its all very Unreal Tornament. And the same goes for levelling up too. The on screen text looks like something straight out of Brutal Legend. Wildstar certainly doesn’t get bogged down with trying to be serious. I don’t think it’s possible to have a deep voice loudly announce ‘triple-kill’ without smiling just a little. It certainly reminded me of a time when games could concentrate on just being entertaining.

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A fair amount of the questing will rely on combat. The bar at the bottom of the screen will get a vast majority of your attention. Even your basic attacks will come from the hot bar. When your character starts his/her attack a target box will appear on the ground that indicates where the attack will hit and also conveniently fills up as you charge the attack thus doubling up as an indication of cast time. It’s methodical but entertaining and strangely didn’t find myself getting sick of the combat even some hours into the game.

And as the objectives are more often than not location specific random players that appear alongside you usually share a common goal. Almost every time I went looking to kill mobs of enemies for an objective people would join in, be it on purpose or just incidental it didn’t matter, it helped make WIldstar feel connected.

What keeps the combat interesting are the markings on the floor created by performing a move. The key is that you can also see your friend’s and foe’s cast boxes which means you know when, and where, an action will happen. This is were Wildstar’s tactics come from. In some fights its a case of simply moving out of range of an attack. Or making sure the timing is right so that you go first and hopefully kill the creature. But when more enemies show up that isn’t so easy. And if you add a healer into the equation you now have several boxes to time and/or avoid and even an area you need to aim for. It’s simple but adds a strategic layer to fights and I’m a big fan.

Wildstar’s visual style is that of a very stylised, cell shaded sci-fi world. It doesn’t just seem like ‘style for the sake of style’ but everything has a bubbly cartoonish look. It goes hand in hand with the humour to create a very inviting world. The sci-fi setting allows for some extravagant creativity and each area is rich and full. I never got bored looking at my surroundings in any of Wildstar’s environments.

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Wildstar is a very solid MMORPG. It takes lessons and ideas from games that came before it and improves and builds on them. The mechanics are solid and there’s a lot to do and see. The humour adds a Borderlands feel to the characters and quests and the art style somehow makes Wildstar seem like it was personal to Carbine Studios and not just ‘MMO 0138′.

But it’s still ‘just another MMO’ for me. It’s funny, it looks good and the lore is fantastic but ultimately it’s various fetch quests with some 3rd person combat. And if that’s what you’re after Wildstar does a fantastic job of being the next great MMO. And I imagine there are a lot of people that do want that. But Wildstar remains a solid MMO based on already overused foundations.

Once more, Team 17’s classic Worms franchise returns, this time on the PS4. Can they once more recreate their magic and deliver a banana bomb of excitement or has their lack of progression granted them too little wriggle room?

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From the first time I booted up my brand new, shiny/dull grey PS1, and popped in a fresh copy of Worms, I was hooked. Every single device I’ve owned since then that is capable of running Worms in one form or another, has been taken over by the pink little blighters. This time around, it’s the turn of the PS4 to keep the disc warm for a presumably long while.

Upon starting it up, you are greeted by the voraciously sarcastic and demeaning Tara Pinkle, excellently voiced by Katherine Parkinson of IT Crowd fame. She’ll soon regale you with the basic but serviceable storyline regarding a certain Lord Crowley-Mesmer, a worm of course, who’s hell-bent on the ol’ world domination via acquiring the Stone Carrot. Needless to say, it’s up to you to put a stop to this madness by unleashing all kinds of wanton destruction inside various exhibits of a museum, all the while being scolded for not running off with everything in sight by Lady Pinkle.

Serving as a base for newcomers to the series, the story mode lets you get to grips with the fundamentals of movement and general platforming, as well as learning how to use the various landscapes to your advantage. Instead of covering the absolute basics of dispatching worms in varying hilarious manners, the story missions play out like puzzles instead. You’ll often be tasked with getting to a certain area of the map whilst picking up the required tools on the way. However, due to the different classes of worms at your disposal, it can sometimes take a fair amount of thought on some of the latter stages in how to progress. Luckily, Team 17 thought it prudent to incorporate checkpoints into the main missions, letting you try again from whenever you activated it. Probably a good job too seeing as some of the missions can certainly rack the time up.

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Along with the 25 story missions that should set you back a fair few hours, there are also ten Worm Ops to try your hand at. Acting as challenges, you can post times on leaderboards to see how bad you are at the game, alongside it teaching you some of the more advanced tactics in the process. One of the earlier levels is a great example of when you should move and when you should stay put, it plonks you down in the middle of the ‘map’ with infinite rockets and seldom jetpacks. Inherently, the objective is to destroy all the enemy worms dotted about and whilst you can eventually kill them all from your starting position, it will require either a deft aim or plenty jet pack scavenging from the surrounding utility crates to win in a reasonable time.

Of course there’s the old classic ‘local play’ to get your eye in with the AI before challenging the intimidating internet horde, but there’s also a rather solid, yet easy to use, clan system to get stuck into as well. From here, you can create or join a clan to rank up, climb the leaderboards and assert your dominance. For the less competitive, there are unranked matches too to either whet or satiate your appetite.

It wouldn’t be Worms without a veritable armada of weird and wonderful weapons at your disposal and with 65 varieties of armaments on offer, you should never be short of an idea or two. Also adding many a potential spanner in the works are the physics objects and their resultant contraptions, ranging from creating a bridge by knocking something over, to useable doors and platforms.

Of course, it’s not only weapons and utilities you have to worry about now, as besides the standard Soldier worm, who can detonate grenades at any point during the timer, there are also others to test your tactics. Returning from Worms Revolution are the Heavy guys who deal out more damage and create a massive explosion upon death at the unfortunate, extreme handicap of movement speed and jump height. There’s the Scientist, who can not only heal nearby worms for 5 health a turn but can also remove the poison affliction too, and lastly, the ever useful Scout. He’s is the nimblest yet weakest of the lot, trading damage dealt and suffered for vastly increased movement and jumping speed. Oh, and being able to see what’s in a nearby crate at the start of a turn; the ability to crawl into tiny spaces and also to never set off a landmine are all envious traits too.

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Creating your own team of squishy warmongers is always half the fun, and again, Team 17 and Sold Out have delivered once more. Customising your worms with spectacles, aviators and all manner of headdresses is great fun, but it’s the sound banks where the franchise has always shone. It often becomes quite the bewildering dilemma, having to choose between the classic angry Scotsman, the nature watcher and the advertiser due to the genuine hilarity of their responses.

There are some nice, exclusive touches to the PS4 version too, in exchange of the Xbox One’s SmartGlass interactions. The light bar on the back of the controller lighting up when danger is abound, worm voices coming through the controller speaker and the incredibly useful, if not a tad unresponsive, assignable weapon quick select using the touchpad.

Whilst there are plenty of plus points going around, Worms Battlegrounds does also have its share of negatives too. The backgrounds and the landscapes can often seemingly blend together, giving little indication of whether terrain is physically there or not. The ninja rope feels unnecessarily difficult to land with, and for a PS4, it’s hardly stretching the boundaries of its capabilities either. To offset these however are the surprisingly punchy and gratifying audio effects and the inevitable intricacies of learning how to master each and every tool in the arsenal.

Despite them appearing to have fallen towards the darkside; cowering under girders and blowtorching their way to ‘safety’ in regards to a possible evolution of their game, it’s instead a constant refinement process that still keeps them feeling fresh nearly 20 years on.

It’s not often an Indie developed title grabs the limelight at one of the industry’s largest events. Holding strong alongside both press releases and lashings of AAA announcements, Sony demonstrated its love for the smaller companies too at this year’s E3, showcasing Entwined, an Indie title developed by Pixelopus stirring up ideals and images of Flower and Dyad to hopefully create a classic.

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Whilst there is no strict narrative per se, it is heavily implied throughout your journey; being somewhat vaguely introduced to the playfully in-love bird and fish is all you’re going to get in terms of character development too. What is interesting however, is their eternal struggle to be together and how the player infers this.

Playing the game rings true of any ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ ethos, with the fish being controlled via the left thumbstick and the bird by the right, you must guide each party through appropriately coloured segments with the game delivering increasingly difficult sections to navigate the further you progress. Orbs of the same corresponding colour must also be picked up in order to fill each animal’s bar; once both are full, pressing L1+R1 joins their forms and speeds up the level; essentially making you repeat the process once more. Completing this sequence rewards you with the consummate conglomeration of bird and fish, the dragon. In this section the gameplay switches to a more relaxed style of play where the only objective is to fly around and collect orbs before sky writing your flight path and beginning the process anew.

Despite Entwined being privy to a relatively fresh and untapped genre, that’s not to say the novelty can’t wear off however. At least it might if there were more time for it to do so. The length of Entwined is not its strongest point, completing all nine levels along with the few challenges on offer will take less than 2 hours, admittedly more if you fancy yourself a spot on the leaderboards, but even with its meagre price tag of £6.49, it’s still not exactly great value for money.

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As for a learning curve it can yield mixed results, the first few levels are inherently easy, yet in some of the latter stages, it’s not only precision that matters, but alternating timing patterns. I imagine anyone even remotely versed in time signatures will have little trouble acclimatising, but for others (such as me) being able to individually coordinate between my thumbs and my peripheral vision became a little tricksome at points.

Graphically, it looks pretty much exactly what you might expect, bright colours, entrancing effects and more tunnel vision than an underground tube train driver. Coupled with the slightly underwhelming music, save for the track played over the credits; you’ll find its distinct presentation either a delight or a little bland depending upon the level. The highlights most certainly being the sky writing pieces; yet whilst only performable for around 10 minutes over the course of your short journey, and viewable via the small cutscene afterwards for less, they always manage to garner your attention the most.

Entwined appears to draw ideals and concepts from others in its genre as well as mixing it up with a few of their own, however they’re not quite enough to truly set it apart from its peers. Once you’ve grasped the basics, that’s about all there is to Entwined, the gameplay doesn’t evolve beyond its two pre-sets and therefore, unfortunately offers no real reason to return once complete. Inevitably the comparisons between other Indie titles such as Flower and Journey are going to often get strewn around regarding Entwined; whilst it may not have the immediate beauty of flower or the excellent social play of Journey, it does however have one of the better endings I’ve seen in a while. The companionship of the two unlikely beings, always striving to come together as one, more enigmatic creature can be awkwardly heart-warming; coupled with the unspoken narrative that you’ll make your own, ensures that Entwined is exactly what you make of it.

I’ve always had an affinity for the bleak yet beautiful videogames. There’s a certain charm to the struggle and depression in them that has always resonated well with me. Even to the point that Limbo was one of my favourite games of 2010, which was a coo at the time for a humble indie Xbox Live Arcade title. So when I heard that Nowhere Studios, a small indie company out of Istanbul in Turkey, had released their successfully Kickstarted Limbo-inspired platformer ‘Monochroma’ I was naturally intrigued.

Welcome to the farm.

Welcome to the farm.

The game’s setting, right off the bat, is its strongest asset. Taking place in an alternative dystopian 1950′s, Monochroma lends itself to some utterly stunning environments; from quaint, quiet farmlands all the way to titanic, robotic industrial zeppelins. The backdrops, scenery, and overall art design for the world deserves a high level of praise. While Limbo’s setting was wonderfully minimalistic in its approach, Monochroma goes at it full force to bring some utterly jaw-dropping, in-your-face bleakness that I have seldom come across in gaming.

However, the plot which ties the whole thing together is tragically lacking. You play as… a kid, with no name. You have a brother named… brother, I suppose? Regardless, you were both playing with a kite once dark and rainy day when he falls through a roof and drops around 10 feet and injures his leg… somehow? Now it is your loving, brotherly duty to carry him… somewhere? All the while not leaving him alone in the dark… because? Honestly none of this is explained at any point throughout the game. I’m aware that lack of text or dialogue is a good selling point of games of this genre, but there is a startling lack of context for a lot of goings on in Monochroma.

Oh brother, where art thou?

Oh brother, where art thou?

When it comes to puzzle-solving though Monochroma gets another big thumbs up. While some puzzles can end up being a little trial-and-error, a vast majority are well thought out brain teasers. Your brother is a surprisingly large factor in a good number of puzzles, as he can only be placed down in the light but you can jump higher without him. At first it all takes some getting used to, but once you wrap your head around the idea it offers an extra layer rarely exploited in platformers. Numerous times I found myself stuck on a particular area, but never so much that I wanted to rage quit and call it a night – which to me is a terrific balance.

Once again, however, I must counteract that positive with a negative, because the musical score of Monochroma did not sit well with me at all. At the beginning, the very first level, I thought it was excellent and set the mood perfectly. Unfortunately, as the game progressed for a vast majority of the areas there was no musical score at all. Then, on later levels, music would randomly kick-in and repeat throughout on a very easily noticeable loop. It’s a shame because the actual score of the game is great, but it is utilised very poorly. Perhaps it was their intention for a vast majority of the game to be completely silent, but it didn’t help to absorb me into the world. It merely made me feel more disenchanted.

"I will show you the world..."

“I will show you the world…”

During the final stages of the game the tone of the world gets really dark. I’m not talking in a literal “there are no lights” sense, I mean that some of the things you will see are depressing and morbid as hell. I did a literal double-take at a dead child, who had suicided himself with a noose in a prison cell – that’s the line we’re talking here. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, not at all, I’m in fact a little impressed at how far the developers were able to take the tone without ever really feeling as if they were pushing for deliberate shock value. Sure, I was shocked by the prison cell, but contextually it fitted in the world of Monochroma.

BUT, and it is a big but, I found the ending to be bloody awful. The final level was fine, the boss battle was fine, but the way the story ended really rubbed me up the wrong way. It felt so non-committal, and shockingly open-ended, almost as if the game was hoping for a sequel. Having already not been very story-rich to begin with, to have such a lacklustre character-focussed ending was a huge mistake. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but it didn’t feel at all satisfying, and was a rather disappointing end to the 5-6 hour experience.

I think it has seen me.

I think it has seen me.

Overall, I think it’s fair to describe Monochroma as a mixed bag. The art design, puzzles, and tone are fantastic, but the plot, sound design, and ending let it down tremendously. If you enjoy bleak 2D platformers then there is definitely enough here to warrant checking it out, but do not expect the level of quality which Limbo delivered.

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The world cup football is upon us and I couldn’t think of a better game to get me into the mood for one of the world’s favourite sports. I don’t actually play the traditional football video games out there on the market, I’m scarily awful at them, but Inazuma Eleven GO isn’t like your traditional football experience. For this review I played through the Light edition of this title, the other is Shadow but the gameplay for both is the exact same if you fancied purchasing the latter after reading this. One thing you must understand before you read on is that this game doesn’t require you to be knowledgeable or even a hardcore fan of the sport to play. Please enjoy what you’re about to read as I’ve written this as a non-sporting fan and I’ll explain how this game grew on me and how I fell in love with this game.

What is Inazuma Eleven GO?

This is the first game from the series I’ve played through with no prior knowledge to the other titles. It happens to be the final instalment and takes place 10 years after the previous game Inazuma Eleven 3. You play the newbie protagonist and underdog, Arion Sherwind, who’s the most determined, upcoming and the biggest avid football player I’ve ever stumbled across, the fictional character that is. The game is set around his school that he’s recently joined called Raimon High that has its own school football club. The story you then embark on is a tale of the traditional zero-to-hero story about a boy who influences his teammates to take down an evil corporation that fixes high school matches to control the schooling system. I thought this approach had a lot to say about such sports out there in real life and tells this story through a cartoon Japanese art styled animation broken up into acts and chapters to set it out like a TV series.

How does it play?

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The game has 2 types of play, the role playing game and the actual football playing. Whilst exploring the city and the school you’ll take control of Arion in an isometric angled RPG. You take him from home to school, from football practise to other schools for matches all whilst training up he and the team’s stats purchasing new football kits and challenging other small teams. At various points of the game you enter a scenario called Chat Lock that usually appears when you must speak to various people for their input on a situation before progressing which usually builds on the story and characters if you really want learn more. Other than that, the rest of this side of the game is about building friendships, exploration and buying and selling loot from shops.

The football side of this game is a lot more exciting, personally. I guess you could say it’s the fighting-the-foes side to a traditional role-playing game like the more commonly known Final Fantasy game series. Controlled only using the touch screen and stylus you tap to which player you want to pass the ball to and which direction to run in by drawing a line as a path. Each player has an assigned element of either Water, Rock, Fire or Grass which all plays a part in who can challenge who, a unique and tactical way to approach a football game. Now what makes this game different to any traditional football game is the Special Moves you can pull off which are quite awesome to watch. Think of them as mini video clips filled with over the top moves, some involving animal spirits and some with the ball being engulfed in fire. With these moves plus many more in a game involving football it’s quite the spectacle of bright colours and special effects, like living in a Japanese Manga action film.

Why play Inazuma Eleven GO?

I’m the type of gamer that loves a great story, usually the kind where the goal seems impossible. Striving for that goal seems like a long road but when you get there all your hard work is finally paid off and the reward I feel upon completion is very satisfying. This game, at first had me close to rage quitting on numerous occasions due to the fact that I didn’t know why I was so bad at the football side of the game for the first few hours. When you get into an actual football match, whether it is a 5-a-side match or the normal 11 players on each team, you’re instructed to selection your formation then begin, simple enough. I couldn’t score any goals however tactical I set up shots in the match against the goalkeeper. Until I bought my first Special Move, which was for scoring, I was at a major disadvantage. I guess this is the only downside of not knowing what the game was about by jumping into the series pretty late and even though there are tutorials throughout I just couldn’t seem to win on my own terms without having these moves. Yes, the earthly elements do play a part and you have to rely on the luck system to actually score but for a newcomer this wasn’t clear to me and it was pretty frustrating.

After coming across stores where I could purchase moves to help my player’s abilities I then started to enjoy the game a lot more. I was able to score goals at a significantly higher success rate and I was finally able to progress in the game. You’ll then slowly learn about the story of this regulated football world being the reason why this sport has become unloved by the players of the team instructed to lose. You learn that with this protagonist being the driving force to push for a revolution in this fight for real football is a story we all can get behind. And with the addition of even more fearless opponents who have the ability to possess a Fighting Spirit, an avatar that’s a mythical warrior only gifted players can summon, you’ll fight to win these tournaments and restore football to what it once was is quite the emotional journey. The game was a little cringey to begin with. Everyone in your team and in the game purposefully has strong regional accents from across the UK and various other continents. There are a lot of stereotypical phrases from each of these places that are pretty laughable, especially any characters from the West Country. After a while you’ll find this all charming and makes each character stand out differently seeing as you come across many across your journey.

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Verdict

If you have the time and want to learn a different style of a football game, one with emotionally driven characters, special moves and the ability to unlock your own fighting spirits, or you’re just a fan of Level 5’s games and love a bit of Manga with a heart warming story about fighting against oppression then Inazuma Eleven GO is for you. I honestly love this game now I know how to play it properly. The learning curve isn’t too steep and you aren’t required to have prior knowledge from the game’s series. With the option to play against other players or team up against the computer, the replayability continuously keeps giving the options to even trade players which is a nice touch to encourage community engagement.

It’s not often something new and fresh enters our consoles these days; Airtight Games and Square Enix have donned their non-action orientated trilbies and created a mystery thriller called Murdered: Soul Suspect.

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You play the larger than life (for around 30 seconds anyway) Detective, Ronan O’Connor who, after some home tragedies of his own, gets unceremoniously beaten up, thrown through a window and shot an unnecessary amount of times. Before moving on to the sweet embrace of both his departed wife and the afterlife however, Roman is seemingly caught in limbo; unable to pass through without getting retribution and discovering the identity of his killer.

Straight from the opening sequence, Soul Suspect sets itself up for what it represents throughout the entirety of the game, initial promise and intrigue, followed soon after by disappointment and tedium. One of the first mechanics you’re introduced to involves manipulating your body parts to accomplish a goal, such as lying down upon your own corpse, twisting limbs to fit the shape. Instead of intricacy levels to shame Surgeon Simulator, it simply ends there, that ‘mini-game’ never occurs again.

As a newly initiated spectral member, there are some quick ground rules to go over; unfortunately most of them are delivered in such a way to immediately flatten any exploratory desires you may have. As a ghost, you may only enter premises through either an open door or window due to a mysterious, and sigh inducing, ‘seal’ that’s placed upon each building. An instantly disheartening sign implying that there are only scripted areas to investigate. Whilst you can indeed pass through real life objects as if you’ve activated a ‘noclip’ mode, there are also spirit objects, outlined in the classic blue hue, which you also cannot walk through. Despite these often being from a more historically interesting time period in Salem, they often serve little purpose other than to impede you, save for an obnoxiously loud and deadly (somehow to the dead) train that appears later on.

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For such a relatively small map to wander about in, getting lost is a constant issue from the off. Without a mini-map or any kind of compass besides a mission waypoint, exploration for the multitude of collectibles quickly becomes frustrating, especially when so much of the game’s side plots rely upon the extra knowledge gained to become emotionally involved.

The games main narrative is its strongest and loneliest point; discovering the identity of the killer draws you forward whilst the game offers subplots to help fill in the gaps. Not that being a ghost demotes you to a life of solitude and isolation however, as for the sake of your sanity, you’ll meet a mysterious, ironically named, young woman called Joy. Becoming a pivotal character during the narrative, she’ll dip in and out, reluctantly offering her skills throughout the campaign in exchange for a few impossible-to-fail escort missions.

When you’re not wandering aimlessly, searching for mysterious snippets of Salem’s history, you’ll be inside one of the games main areas, searching instead for mysterious clues in a crime scene. Starting with the first case, your own cause of death, you must scour the crime scene for any and all relevant clues relating to the crime before taking a stab at solving the case. These should be the main focal point; however, as is the case for the majority of the game, it’s simply too easy and doesn’t punish the player in any way for wildly stabbing at the answer. There’s a rating system out of three for each case, yet seeing as there is no way to replay missions, a wrong guess simply becomes an irritating blot on an otherwise unimportant record. The problem often being the usual scenario in games such as this, being that the player will often know how to solve the puzzle, yet translating that into how the game wants it entered can often result in frustratingly incorrect answers.

A great, but underused mechanic involves being able to read people’s minds. At any point you can jump into someone’s head and pry into their thoughts, however the generic responses tire and repeat too quickly. It’s not uncommon to hear the same phrase being uttered ad nauseam, despite how far through the game you may be. Linking to this, one of the main drawing points for me, was the ability to influence peoples trains of thought in order to point out some pivotal or poignant evidence. However, much like all the best snippets of Souls Suspect, that’s all they are, there are very few instances where you are required to progress a case this way; it’s a shame that another unique idea gets so underutilised.

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In order to spice the game up a little, there are a few sections of ‘action’ dotted around, these take the form of small stealth orientated sections involving roaming spirits that scream ‘honestly, I’m not a Dementor’. Essentially, you have to creep up behind them to win. They’re always on scripted patrols and often in groups to attempt to up the challenge, whereas all you really have to do is wait behind a wall until one passes and subsequently vanquish it. The supposed method of dispatching them involves teleporting through ghastly images of former humans, yet if they spot you, they’ll relentlessly follow and check the one spirit you’ve decided to hide in every time despite the game stating that you can lose them this way.

The length of Soul Suspect might disappoint some, especially if you’re not into collectibles, as playing through the main missions, completing the handful of side objectives on offer and nabbing a vast majority of the secrets still managed to come in at less than 12 hours. Considering the lack of any manual saves, if you wish to replay a section you’ll have to start up a whole new game; at which point, I’ll note that it doesn’t carry over any collectibles progress, so if you want them all, grab them before jumping into the final area.

If there’s one thing Soul Suspect does succeed at, it’s the narrative. The presentations of the flashback cutscenes are very much in the vein of cinema and television, lending it that extra air of authority whilst delivering its key moments. Coupled with the stellar voice acting from the main cast makes it an immersive place to be at times, the occasional wonky animations and the inability to run or even traverse areas with any pace until later on in the game grates however.

Soul Suspect houses many interesting and unique concepts that for some reason don’t develop, expand or even continue throughout the game. It comes across as more of a slew of gameplay ideas, not always implemented well, wrapped around a solid story that on its own, is worth experiencing. The only real trouble here lies with that most of the background characters, places and events rely upon exposition told through collectibles instead of normal progression, especially infuriating when so much of it is genuinely interesting. Don’t expect any branching storylines, tricky puzzles or a non-clichéd badass cop, instead simply enjoy and focus on the story.

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