Review

In theory The Elder Scrolls Online has the potential to take all the greatest parts of the Elder Scroll’s single player experience and basically add a massive world full of people around it. And lets be fair if Bethesda know one thing it’s how to make colossal environments.

Another thing it’s fair to say is Bethesda have a pretty good handle on classes and abilities. So the first thing you’ll be doing is creating your character. There are three allegiances to pick from; the Aldmeri Dominion, the Ebonheart Pact or the Daggerfall Covenant and each has certain races assigned to it (unless you get a pre-purchase bonus which allows you to choose freely). After choosing a name for your character and sifting through the vast amount of customization available you’ll get to choose a class.

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There’s four to choose from and I am pleased to say they are refreshingly different from each other. Without spoiling the surprise for those who haven’t looked yet each class has three disciplines which in turn have six usable abilities, one ‘ultimate’ move and four passives. And then if you level a move up enough you can pick a specialisation to add another effect to that move. Then there’s the usual Elder Scrolls single handed, double handed, bow, shield, three types of armour and many, many more. It’s ridiculous. I thought Skyrim had impressive class systems but it’s nothing compared with what’s on offer in Elder Scrolls Online.

And none that I have tried feel even vaguely similar. You really get a sense that each class is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Even though you could potentially learn all of the standard Elder Scrolls abilities with one character each individual will still be different because of their class choice. Oh and did I mention that each race also comes with another set of unique passive abilities. It really is something to behold.

After I spent what felt like a week customizing my character I actually went to play the game and after a brief cutscene found myself in an environment familiar to any Elder Scrolls fan, prison. But have no fear! The prisons in Tamriel, or even on an Oblivion plane as in this case, are surprisingly lax. You’ll travel around, choose a starting weapon and get a feel for how things are going to go in general. Talk to this person, find this item, kill this thing and talk to someone else. It’s methodical and slightly generic but still satisfyingly progressive. Also Michael Gambon lends his voice which is always a good thing – although sometimes it’s difficult not to picture Dumbledore which is annoying. Also, was that John Cleese playing the mental old hermit sat on a bench?

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Thankfully the prison section doesn’t take too long and your unleashed to go and explore the world at your leisure. Despite the usual MMO nonsense that is inevitable to the starting area things look nice – just look past the monkeys, horses and the odd rogue mage unsuccessfully attempting to set fire to a bush. But I didn’t get that feeling I got when I first stepped out of the vault in Fallout and my eyes adjusted to the harsh light. Or the unrelenting freedom that Skyrim imposed from square one with trees and mountains trailing off as far as the eyes can see, or at least as far as your graphics card can handle anyway.

For an MMO Elder Scrolls online looks great, really great. But had they made an offline experience for PC, PS4 and the X1 it would look vastly superior. It’s the first time I really felt that the fact I was online hindered my experience. And truth be told it’s only really a niggle because I’m sure any RPG fan will agree that some of the best ever haven’t been great lookers. And ironically the main reason I felt slightly underwhelmed is only because of how overwhelming previous Elder Scrolls games have been. Plus given the scale of the world and the amount of people running around without hindering my performance Elder Scrolls certainly doesn’t look bad.

Sadly the questing falls into the standard MMO trap of endless fetch quests but they are intertwined both with Elder Scroll’s lore and ever expanding quest trees. It’s never quite as simple as finding an item and returning it to someone. There’s always another task and another NPC to talk to. It’s what made questing offline in previous Elder Scrolls great and fortunately nothing has changed. The same is true for the dialogue of NPC’s too. It seems that everybody has a recorded line even if they really don’t need to. Combined with the menagerie of real people clambering around, Tamriel has never felt so populated.

But we mustn’t let that population grow too much so we get to the combat. On your travels there are more than enough random enemies spawning to quench your thirst for blood. Combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played Elder Scrolls before. The usual walking backwards as maniacal AI decides whether it should either rush you head on or cast an ability before rushing you head on makes a return. But there are so many abilities at your command that you have quite a few options in combat even if you’re fighting alone. Somehow even though it’s quite repetitive when you really look at it it’s fun, rewarding and addictive. And tricky too. If you get into a fight with more than two enemies at your own level you are likely to be in trouble. One-on-one combat is usually not very taxing but you have to stay on your toes to make sure you don’t get ambushed.

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So I must come to a conclusion, which I found difficult. As an MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online is great and by far the best I’ve been on. It has a vast world to explore and every inch is packed with things to do. There are so many abilities and levels to earn that the impressive amount of quests is almost unnecessary. Also NPC’s are entirely voiced and even Michael Gambon makes an appearance as one of the key plot characters. Combat is the usual Elder Scroll’s affair but imbued with all the abilities and skills on offer remains interesting, fresh and highly addictive long into your journey.

The only problem I have is missing out on the things that a new offline Elder Scrolls would offer. But really the only thing that would bring is superior graphics and a world that isn’t broken up into manageable chunks. And less monkeys running about. Considering the advantages of being online I’d say its definitely worth it. As an exercise in blending the best of offline and online Bethesda have succeeded spectacularly.

So the long waiting game is over and Titanfall successfully made it into stores to pick up and play without any hassle. Other than a Day 1 patch, which made the game even more stable, the launch of this year’s most anticipated video game sold in vast amounts and boosted sales of the Xbox One console. I’d like to think I’m one of Titanfall’s biggest fans who couldn’t wait any longer in between the public beta and the 3 weeks until official launch and I must say Respawn have once again made an instant classic.

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Anyone who read my previous feature ‘T is for Titan’ would remember how satisfied I was with just having the 2 playable levels from the Beta with only 5 weapons and 3 match types. Since launch I’ve continued to be won over whenever I experience something that wasn’t playable before. The map variety is a sufficient number all with different terrain and design keeping Pilots and Titans happy. The weapon variations are strategy and I’d even say map specific to keep players alert to finding the right gun for the situation. Every detail in this game comes across as tried and tested and the balancing has been perfected. So why is it that Titanfall has met and bettered expectations? Here are 3 reasons why I think Titanfall has dominated the market:

Balancing

The secret to having an enjoyable game that offers different playable classes, whether it is solo, co-op, multiplayer or massively multiplayer online role-playing games is balancing. Having the choice to pick a character is always great even if you wanted to customise what they bring with them onto the battlefield but always remember good balancing means you might be stronger for some situations but always weaker in others. In Titanfall you have the option to choose one of three class of Titans, the nimble Strider, the all rounded Atlas, or the tank Ogre. Each handle differently with my personal favourite Strider class having a triple dash with the infinite dash power up. Compared to the Ogre who is built to withstand heavy amounts of damage unlike the Strider it only does a single dash but has an overshield power up meaning it can survive even more damage, an example of good balancing.

It takes a good player to notice this but a better player to work out how to change their loadout to lessen these cons to their classes to be able to stand a chance in battle. Do you go for a Vortex shield to catch any projectiles fired at you before throwing it back or do you go for the Electric Smoke to kill pilots and damage Titans at close range? Strider players like myself must be able to learn that dashing is their best friend when going up against tougher classes as you’ll avoid most of the incoming payload, whereas Ogres are sometimes better to hold defensive positions when playing domination or taking on Titans when outnumbered.

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Campaign Multiplayer

Many people have complained that Titanfall isn’t going to be right for them due to the fact there isn’t any campaign mode, the kind with a solo/co-op experience with levels, story and an epic battle as the climax. The campaign multiplayer is a great mode which still incorporates all the above but playable with the other players, think of a war with every solider being played by another player. Amongst these we’re given our grunts and field captains who drive the story forward as well as A.I controlled Titans to tackle at the start of every level unlike the core multiplayer mode. The Story is dictated to you in the pre game lobby screen whilst you’re changing your loadouts and waiting for people to join. You start off playing the IMC side of the battle for the Frontier before switching to the resistant Militia in this 2-part story seeing it from both sides which is a nice touch, similar to the game Brink. Unlike Brink, the story is already set and whether you win or lose each chapter the outcome will be the same story-wise and nothing you do is contextual. Compared to a war scene in any of the Halo games what you do will progress the mission, whether it be destroying a group of enemies or taking down a shield to be able to continue, in Titanfall even though you’re capturing hardpoints or destroying masses of Titans, win or lose the story won’t change.

I don’t have a problem with this mode, in fact I wish I could have understood more from it. By this I mean anyone who’s played campaign multiplayer knows that during each chapter there’s story still going on within the picture-in-picture in the top of your screen and voiceovers. Respawn have made such an action packed engaging game that you’ll forget to care what drama might be happening in the background whilst you’re diving from a building onto the back of a Titan avoiding all incoming rockets, hitting cloak and tearing open a Titan’s hatch, shooting inside before dismounting the exploding metallic beast for the win. I’d love to be able to know what was happing behind the scenes of these battles in-between the lobby screen and the post lobby screen, but too much awesome wall running, Titan rodeo’ing and drop kicking got in the way.

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Burn Cards

I’ve played my fair share of online multiplayer games to be able to say kill streak rewards and character perks aren’t exactly a balanced feature even though they try hard to be. Using Call of Duty for example I’ve levelled up to a point in every game where I’ve unlocked something that’ll always give me the advantage over the newer players even if we’re at the same skill level when it comes to games. Titanfall does something different with Burn Cards which is a unique approach to having perks but also keeping the game fair. Burn cards are rewarded to players doing different challenges but most importantly are handed out indiscriminately. You’ll find cards that give you a different weapon, a faster boost to your next Titan or even faster movement but most importantly these cards are expended after activating it and only last as long as you’re alive. With only 3 slots to fill with burn cards per game it adds a tactical approach to every match you’ll play. With the random cards you’ll come across even the newer players might get the chance to call down an instant Titan at the start of the match.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, 3 of my favourite things that has made Titanfall so enjoyable and different to any other shooter out there. The game is worth every hard earned penny and has masses of replayability. With a season pass and new content in the near future Titanfall will only get better. With great balancing every game you’ll play would be different all with memorable moments you’ll share amongst peers at the water cooler or post up online with the Xbox One’s DVR and upload feature. And to think people were worried about having 6 verses 6. We’re in good hands!

Episode 4 of the Untold Stories of Los Perdidos is out and its the final chapter.

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Playing as the dedicated ZDC Agent, Brad Park must discover what actually went on behind the outbreak even if it undoes everything he fights for. This episode crosses over once again with Nick’s story arc from the main campaign with a couple of familiar faces throughout. I hoped that this final DLC offered a lot more seeing as every episode leading up to this got better and better but it didn’t, in fact it digressed.

What The Last Agent offers you is the opportunity to play with a generic boring lead character that’s doing tasks that isn’t unique in any way shape or form. I’m starting to think that these episodes were released primarily to give us new weapons, combos and vehicle blue prints because that’s the only thing that seems to be the most enjoyable aspect of the DLC. Brad’s only mission is to be errand boy for the local hospital gathering helpful items like Zombrex and that’s about it. The variety comes from introducing civilians that need saving, just like in the main campaign, and some cool new toys which I’ll touch upon later. What I loved about the previous episode was the introduction of bosses in the episodes which mixed up the pacing of combat making you have to dodge quite a few attacks and actually take care of your health bar as they weren’t too easy to defeat. Brad will sail through this episode easily due to the lack of bosses and weapons that’ll tear through hordes of zombies like a knife through butter, a real shame.

The most annoying thing other than the fetching quests is trying to do the fetching quests with almost every route on the roads now being blocked and you having to find alternatives. Yes, it does feel like these missions were last minute after thoughts and to make the content last an hour roadblocks were added so it’ll last longer getting around them. To be fair it didn’t feel like a challenge but more a chore and that’s something we certainly stay away from when trying to enjoy video games.

This episode offers weapons with high splash damage and area of effect properties that range from setting groups of zombies on fire with a single flaming projectile, think of a flaming catapult, to the most devastating single fire rail gun which disintegrates enemies. The police van you unlock towards the end focuses on freezing enemies by either firing a cluster of nitrogen grenades from it’s top canon or close range blasts from the pipes on the side. My favourite weapon does however go to the portable turbine, which very rarely kills anything, blowing any enemy, vehicle or debris out of the way. Perfect for clearing out paths and looking cool whilst doing so. It however doesn’t justify the cost of the pack and isn’t the saving grace.

I have to admit that the season pass with all the episodes kept me engaged with promises to keep Dead Rising 3 fresh and new, which it did at times, but sadly in regards to interesting story only half was fun to be a part of. The season pass was really just good for the new weapons and vehicles which isn’t enough to justify the overall price.

One of the first digital titles for the PlayStation 4 has just been released as a physical title, which includes the Challenge Pack – and so here is our review.

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Pinball Arcade on PlayStation 4 recreates the greatest pinball machines of all time, featuring 22 licensed tables from Bally, Williams, Stern and Gottlieb. Everything from classic electro-mechanical tables to the greatest tables of the 90′s and beyond!

Every flipper, bumper, sound effect, and display animation has been painstakingly emulated in astonishing detail!

Expandable with regular updates via PSN to add additional tables as well as Online Tournaments to challenge yourself and compete against your friends!

There are 22 classic tables included with the game, including Tales of the Arabian Nights, Star Trek The Next Generation, Elvira and the Party Monsters (who reading this is actually old enough to remember Elvira?), Twilight Zone, and many more.

To give you can idea just how much effort has gone into making the tables look the same, we played Monster Bash, and then played the Monster Bash pinball machine.

Monster Bash (1998):  The goal of the table is to get six of the most iconic Universal Studios Monsters to form a band the likes of which has never been seen! If you can dig out the Mummy, he’ll dust himself off and plug in his bass. Dracula will fly out of his coffin, dying to sink his teeth into a mean guitar riff. The Creature from the Black Lagoon will crank on his sax! Frankenstein will jump off his slab and jam on his keyboard. The Bride of Frankenstein will start to sing about her Ball and Chain and the Wolfman will give you a howling drumbeat. With the help of the PHANTOM FLIP auto-play feature, you can let go of the flippers and watch the game complete your shots.

So this is how Monster Bash looks in the game:

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And here is how the original looked:

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As you can see System 3 really have done a great job in recreating every little detail from the look of the table, each flashing light, the sounds – basically everything!

Another example is Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Tales of the Arabian Nights (1996): The setting is ancient Baghdad where wishes can be granted in the ultimate battle to rescue the Princess from the clutches of an evil Genie who taunts all foes. There are jewels to be collected and a playfield that will have players spinning Aladdin’s Lamp, flying on Magic Carpet ramps or visiting the Bazaar for countless awards. With a deep set of rules, beautiful artwork, engaging voice over, and excellent sound effects, this is one of the most popular and highest rated tables of all time.

Again, we played the version in the game:

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And then we played the original pinball version:

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So as you can see, the tables themselves have been beautifully recreated, but how do they play?

Well to put it simply, very well. I have never been a huge fan of pinball games on either consoles or PC, primarily because you don’t necessarily get the same feel you do playing a real table, but when it comes to Pinball Arcade, I found it to be the next best thing to actually playing on a real table. Everything from the flippers and bumpers, to how to ball reacts is recreated perfectly, and add to that the lights and sounds, and you think you are actually playing the real thing. I really liked that depending on which table you were playing on, the flippers could actually feel lighter or heavier, which is a really good addition to the game.

Something unique to the retail version of Pinball Arcade is the Challenge Pack. This is a new mode then enables you to play on a series of tables my manufacturer (so if you are a real fan of Ballys tables you can play on just those) and also by season. This release is currently season 1. Season 2 is already out on other formats and season 3 is just arriving now.

You then have three attempts to beat a score for each table. This adds an fun element to the overall game with you revisiting the tables to try and beat each challenge – and each table has its own unique challenges, so you won’t get bored easily, although you might get frustrated if you have problems on a specific table.

Overall I would have to say that this is by far the best and most accurate pinball game I have ever played, and I look forward to seeing what other tables will be released.

You can learn more about Pinball Arcade and System 3 from their website.

Konami and Hideo Kojima return once again to deliver upon us another bewildering and, most likely, convoluted tale involving acronyms, confusing character names and sneaking.

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Acting as a sequel to the PSP hit, ‘Peace Walker’ and a prologue to the as of yet unreleased ‘Phantom Pain’ , Ground Zeroes could well have the more casual fans already scratching their heads. Especially considering the games built-in backstory which consists of around eleven paragraphs of heavy text that will go straight over the head of anyone unfamiliar with Peace Walker, which to be fair, could encompass quite a few people. After assuring yourself that things will pick up soon; that everything will probably be explained by the opening scenes, you’ll once again become nonplussed. Essentially it’s an extraction mission inside a heavily defended camp called Omega. Big Boss’s job is to infiltrate the base, determine the status of Paz Ortega; to extract him if alive, or confirm if he’s deceased. For the people that understand and follow the heavy lore involved, there will be a reasonable amount to sink your fangs into, for everyone else, try Wikipedia!

In contrast to previous entries in the series, Ground Zeroes is a fully fledged, open sandbox to gad about in. In keeping with this theme, other alterations have also been applied to fit in with the new style, some of which feel fairly progressive and suit the intended transition. Gone are the radar and the constant codec interruptions, they’ve been replaced by a snazzy pair of binoculars and a map which you must equip. As a trade-off for not being able to view enemy lines of sight and direction, instead, you can now tag enemies through the binoculars, making their positions visible at a quick glance around the screen. Enemy movements can also show up through walls once you’re in a given vicinity, hopefully, giving you time to either prepare an assault, or make a sneaky retreat. The replacement system for the codec, instead functions as a form of hint system; whilst aiming through the binoculars, your request might give off general hints such as describing what you’re looking at, or for instance, the affiliation of the enemy guards.

The gameplay itself still holds true to the Metal Gear ethos, being that you can either go full on stealth; not even subduing anyone, or go in completely the other direction and hop in a BTR to wreak havoc and destruction. The camp is filled with everything from patrolling trucks to catch a ride in, to hidden weapon stashes filled with goodies. You can hold up guards and attempt to wring some juicy information out of them, or you can lather the AA turrets with bricks of C4 for an explosive distraction. Taking the AA guns out in fact can help extraction, as you must call in a helicopter to one of a few designated positions, most of which, are heavily defended. The last thing you need when you’ve got a blabbering mission asset slung across your back, creeping through the velvet shadows, is to have to deal with extraction. Planning is paramount for a stealthy score.

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Whilst obviously intended for multiple playthroughs, you may well get frustrated a few times on your first venture into the camp due to the lack of information you have regarding the sometimes unpredictable enemy AI. With the lack of radar sightlines, you’re left with skulking through brushes, wincing as an unexpected guard saunters past. Sometimes he might see you, others, he won’t. If they’re on alert however, they’ll not only call for reinforcements, but break off their original patrolling route and ascend towers, man searchlights and scour your previously known location. When this happens, it’s usually best to run as fast as your little legs can handle and try to  hide prone somewhere. One good thing being that you can often manage to evade death and/or tortuous capture due to the large map and the new system: reflex.

Reflex is something that could well split opinion between the hardcore fans, essentially, once spotted, the game will enter slow motion; you have an opportunity to take out the guard that spotted you before he calls or radios for help. Whilst you can turn it off in the options if you’re up for an elitist session, it plays into the cinematic feel beautifully. When you are seconds from extraction, sprinting down a thin muddy path adorning a cliff edge, suddenly spinning around and silencing an alerted guard with a perfect headshot in slow motion before leaping at the waiting chopper feels pretty good. It’s not necessarily easy to do depending upon the equipped weapon, but it does give that same satisfaction of the newer Splinter Cell executions when it finally all goes your way.

The notoriously clunky and mind boggling controls have been refined this time around too. CQC is dealt with by a single (often brutal) trigger press. Aiming and firing is a far cry from the old, ‘press square to aim, release it to fire’ setup of yesteryear; although you can be fairly accurate, patience is still king. Get in an all-out fire fight on Ground Zeroes and you’ll likely win, partly due to the occasionally shocking AI which will often try to bum rush you into submission, essentially tripping over their fallen comrades bodies in an attempt to flush you out. That and headshots being fairly easy to get in the above scenario. Aside from the whole, ‘you’re not doing it properly if you get spotted’ mentality that can overcome us whilst playing, there are other side effects too. Not only will there likely be an increased presence of guards for the remainder of the mission, but also the suppressors on your weapons will degrade pretty quickly, making later silent takedowns, much more of a pain.

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Onto the controversial topic, the length to value for money ratio. There’s no skirting around it, Ground Zeroes is short, very short. My first playthrough took me 86 minutes. I know, I’m grimacing as I’m writing this. It’s saving grace is that once you’ve completed it, you’ll start unlocking side missions, weapons and audio diary type collectibles, so whilst you may (understandably) be disappointed with the initial length, you’ll return to the main menu and notice you’re hovering around 8% completion. Whilst that may very well be a great incentive to replay the game, increase your score and take a stab at increasing that percentage, for most, the completion time shock will be enough for some to consider turning the game off. When I say side missions, I wouldn’t exactly get your hopes up for those either. The first I, admittedly poorly, attempted involved a Hitman style execution of two guards, they weren’t pinpointed on the map; instead I had to hunt them down in a vaguely marked area. Annoyingly, a guard managed to spot me through a wall, just before the target had apparently moved to across the other side of the camp. Cheers, timely intel guys. Either way, I had just managed to catch up to him when I was informed that my other target was fleeing the area, this preceded a very sarcastic cutscene of a Humvee quite casually driving off. Mission failed. Not only do all the side missions take place in the same map (at day time instead of night), but it’s the ho hum objectives that bore the most. For all they’ve accomplished over the years, could they not have thought of a more inventive main mission than, carry a person to extraction, then, do it again? It would have played out better had all the missions been available in the same scenario, letting you pick at the time what priorities you hold.

No Metal Gear Solid moniker would be complete without cutting edge graphics, excellent direction and those instantly recognisable footstep sound effects in cutscenes. Needless to say, Ground Zeroes doesn’t disappoint in any regard here. Camp Omega is stunning, the lighting sublime and the character animation fantastic. Kiefer Sutherland does a great job as David Hayter’s successor, adding a much needed burst of humanisation. Even if for the first few hours you can’t get Jack Bauer out of your head!

For what is one of the all time greatest franchises in gaming history, Ground Zeroes has certainly made a name for itself already, just not exclusively the most flattering ones. More of a playground for the devotees and a mere taste of what to expect with Phantom Pain than a fully fledged title, Ground Zeroes is to Metal Gear Solid as GT Prologue was to Gran Turismo.

As Pac-Man is a somewhat famous name if you remember the original 1980′s game. Before you even begin the majority of games in the series you have a relatively good idea of what you’ll be doing. Some entries have changed the formula slightly, but not significantly, but Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures takes everything you thought you knew about Pac-Man and throws it out of the window, in the nicest sense.

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Now in this imagination of Pac-Man, gone is the traditional maze-based gameplay, with have instead been replaced by a 3D platformer, gone is the silent and simple protagonist replaced a 3D character with a can-do attitude and gone, at least in part, is the fierce rivalry between Pac-Man and those pesky famous ghosts.

After booting up Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures you are introduced to the world and characters by way of a simple cutscene announcing that there are three globes that need power in order to gain access to some temples, and that Betrayus has launched an attack on Pacopolis.

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This is effectively as detailed as the story gets, the meager plot funneling you to various locations in order to grab different artefacts and defeat some of Betrayus’ minions. With the game is aimed at a younger audience the uncomplicated plot is understandable as a design choice, but even so the story is poor and the questionable voice acting certainly doesn’t help.

After the brief cut-scene you are dumped into Pacopolis with the task of reaching the piece of fruit at the end of each level. Each area is covered with the familiar glowing yellow pellets that are required to enter some levels. There is also Slimetanium to collect (which can be used to add extra hearts for Pac-Man), as well as eyes of the ghosts you eat, which can be redeemed for extra lives. Don’t worry, I don’t really see how eyes mean extra lives, either.

The platforming areas are solid apart from the first handful, although this is down to the power berries adding unique gameplay mechanics. If Pac chomps on one of the power berries he will change form, some berries change him into a giant ball, others a fire or ice Pac and one even turns him into a chameleon. Often areas will be impassable unless you are in a certain form, but fortunately the required berry is never far away. Some enemies, such as the ice ghosts, can only be defeated when Pac is in a certain form, which can be abit annoying at times.

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The power berries change the game entirely, and some of them such as the chameleon berry or the giant ball berry – are brilliant changes of pace, albeit slightly underused. Throughout the six worlds, two of which revisit previous worlds, you will only become a giant ball or a chameleon in a handful of levels, whilst the slightly less awesome transformations such as Fire Pac or Rubber Pac are much more common. If the adventurous power berries were more frequently used, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures would be a lot more fun.

Although the power berries increase the enjoyment of the game, the standard platforming sections with normal Pac are still tight and pretty decent. Levels are full of challenging platforming sections but will not be impassable for experienced gamers, but the younger market at which the game is aimed may struggle at times.

Unfortunately, the camera isn’t quite as tight as the platforming. Occasionally the camera will move to an angle that doesn’t show what needs to be seen, or is angled in a way that messes with the depth perception, leading to you try to make an impossible jump. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s enough to be noticeable and annoying. You can change the camera angle with the right sick, but often the damage has been done before you have a chance.

The ghosts that fill each of the levels could also use some work. The incredibly basic AI makes them predictable and none of them are particularly difficult to counter or kill. Strangely it was Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde who alerted Pac to the attack on Pacopolis, yet it is their ghost brethren that are attacking the city and being killed by Pac.

A throwaway multiplayer mode sees up to four players being ghosts and having to chase Pac-Man around a maze in the classic style, albeit in 3D. This mode is fun at first but quickly loses all sense of fun as the repetition creeps in.

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Reviewed on Xbox 360 Also available on PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U

If you often feel as though you aren’t being punished enough for simply progressing through a game’s storyline of late, then rejoice! From Software is back to give us all another kick in the gaming teeth with the successor to Dark Souls. Is it time to buy a few ‘backup’ controllers or have they finally relinquished and pandered to the masses?

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No, of course not! Whilst it certainly eases you in a little more gently, Dark Souls II still packs a wallop if you attempt to play it like any other game. As in any other scenario, as soon as I gained control of my character, (after what looked like an incredibly high budget and impressive intro scene) I attempted to explore the wilderness stretching out before me. It wasn’t long before I’d found my first enemy, a giant troll looking character that, inevitably, beat me into submission several soul crushing times before I conceded defeat and ruefully went about my business following the implied ‘proper’ way to go. From then on, it was a lot easier, there were instructions to heed, little notes informing you of the controls and many susceptible enemies in weak, vulnerable formations that don’t really occur ever again. I savoured this bit, whilst it lasted. Yet as much as I tried to put it off, there’s death to be dealt on both sides; it wasn’t going to be settled here.

After some nervous foraging and a visit to a disparate warrior complaining nervously about a stone statue blocking the path, I arrived in the hub town of Majula. A place with several branching paths, an unnervingly large pit complete with visible treasure, and a merchant selling a ring to reduce fall damage. I didn’t trust him or the pit, so I left. Oddly serene, Majula instantly felt welcoming due to it’s soft, never-ending sunset and mostly safe setting, save for a few small, surprisingly aggressive pig resembling creatures. One cheeky hint I will point out is that there is a very helpful woman who resides here, talk to her, as it’s the only place where you may level up, and don’t forget to return to her fairly regularly as I did for the first few hours!

Veterans of the series will know exactly what to expect in terms of the combat mechanics, every move and decision you make during combat, even against the lesser foes, could spell disaster. It’s all about learning your opponents patterns and exploiting their occasionally wonky AI with your own timing and stamina management. Bosses are of their own unique styles and of course, posses challenges far beyond what you’ve come to face. Once you finally manage to slay one however, the elation is incomparable, until, much like many other RPG’s, they turn up as ‘normal’ enemies… Unlike previous entries, Dark Souls II runs at a stable, if not slightly underwhelming due to the newer consoles hardware, 30fps. Fortunately for us, this means less screaming at the game when it used to diddle us out of a few crucial frames during a particularly vicious battle in the past. Now if you die, it’s very likely it’s your own impatient fault!

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A few noticeable changes have been implemented that may split opinion between fans, yet combined, probably makes the game better as a whole. The first being that whilst resting at a camp fire, you can fast travel to any other unlocked camp fire without any form of payment nor punishment. The only reason this works, is due to the layout of the world map, before you might have been funnelled down a particularly linear route, whereas now, there are often different routes to travel and explore. Plus it makes the frequent returns to Manjula significantly less dull! A second change, one more in keep with the franchise, is that numerous deaths will whittle away at your maximum health bar, up to 50% in fact; to replenish that lost health, you’ll have to use a human effigy, which are rare. The third debatable point, assumedly a counter to the second, being that you can quell the amount of enemies in an area by repeatedly beating them to a pulp; whilst some may argue against this, I’ll take it. The last thing you need whilst stuck on an already, inherently difficult boss, is to either attempt to kill the horde of enemies along the way, or attempt to leg it past them, each and every time. For those, still on the fence regarding the controlled respawns, there is an item just for you that you can burn at a camp fire which will spawn more deadly variants to battle.

Whilst a player new to the series is always going to experience difficulties with a game like this, certain design choices don’t help along the way either. The menus, whilst archaic in looks, are filled with many, many stats that are going to go straight over most newcomers heads. Alongside this, items you acquire and come across are not named in any relative fashion to what you might expect of a traditional RPG. During the create a character stage, you are offered to pick one item from a list of gifts, most of which, inevitably sound useless yet presumably have a hidden function, accessible later in the game. I appreciate that the Dark Souls series has a reputation to uphold, but increasing the user base must also be of a benefit? I for one, would not be put off via the sheer difficulty of the game itself, but rather having to spend a few hours looking up what each item does, when you can use it and why.

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Majula’s serene, almost brightly lit, setting is also in keep with some pretty rough, enemy riddled areas however. Unlike the dark, brooding lighting of the previous games, rightfully indicating a dangerous route, you’ll find many a danger lurks in broad daylight; as such however much it makes you feel safer, you should always be on your guard. One annoyance in particular is related to the largely redundant torch, as in the earlier stages of the game, it recommends you take it into darker locations; it will even ward off some enemy types. The downside of course being that you must use your offhand to equip it, therefore sacrificing a shield or another weapon. The problem being, is that the majority of the game is quite adequately lit; in fact for the majority, it’s too well lit and as such I never really found a good reason to break it out. Whilst I’m of course grateful of having a shield on hand at all times, it would have been an interesting dynamic to have to balance your effectiveness of exploration and defence a step further.

Online play, once again makes it’s return with players able to invade other peoples games, help them out or just add a further source of difficulty. The written notes also make a return, either signifying danger or, depending on the player, giving ‘helpful’ hints to others. Entering a certain covenant can also help protect you against these threats should the need arise, or you can play in offline mode to help limit game invasions, at the downside of missing out on what can make this franchise so unique.

Due to it being developed on the previous gen, it’s understandable that the graphics aren’t going to provide too many wow factors yet despite this, not only does the opening cutscene look as through it’s been ripped straight from a blockbuster film in terms of awe and effects, but the art styling is of a higher class than most. It must be hard to come up with original locales and monsters but this seems like something From Software excels at, as most areas look fantastic, despite me being painfully aware that it’s not on the new consoles.

Overall, whatever you might think of the Dark Souls series, this game isn’t going to change your opinion. If you’ve played and enjoyed the others, you’ll feel right at home, if not, you’ll feel like you’ve been dragged into hell.

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Back in January we told you about StarTech’s new Thunderbolt laptop docking station – well now it’s time for our review.

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The Thunderbolt Docking Station gives you a single connection point to your home / office workstation, for a flexible setup with formidable speed. Adding Thunderbolt and HDMI video outputs, Gigabit Ethernet, a USB 3.0 hub and 3.5mm audio ports to your Thunderbolt-equipped laptop has never been easier.

Who are StarTech?

From their website:

Founded in 1985 by Paul Seed and Ken Kalopsis, StarTech.com is an ISO 9001 Registered manufacturer of hard-to-find connectivity parts. Since its inception, our company has been dedicated to making IT professionals jobs easier by helping them identify, find and get the connectivity parts they need to enable their solutions.

Features

· Thunderbolt output, daisy-chainable up to six Thunderbolt-equipped devices

· High resolution support: 1920×1080 through HDMI, 2560×1440 through Thunderbolt

· Integrated 3-port USB 3.0 hub, with UASP support, full USB 3.0 throughput per port

· Host connection supports full Thunderbolt throughput, up to 10Gbps

· 10/100/1000 Mbps compatible Gigabit Ethernet port

· Weighted stand for vertical positioning

· Speaker and Microphone support via 3.5mm stereo mini-jacks

· Includes 1m Thunderbolt cable

· Plug/port compatible with Thunderbolt 2-equipped MacBook laptops and Thunderbolt 2 devices

What’s in the Box?

  • The box contains:
  • The Thunderbolt Docking Station
  • 1m Thunderbolt Cable
  • Stand with screws
  • 4 x Rubber Feet
  • Power Adaptor (with multiple plugs for different regions)
  • Installation CD
  • Instruction Manual

A Closer Look

The majority of the ports are on the rear of the dock (these include 2 USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet and of course the power connector.

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The front of the device has a single USB 3.0 port, and a 3.5mm microphone and headphone socket. There is also a power light on the front which illuminates when the dock is connected to your Mac.

Final Thoughts

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box is that the actually contained a Thunderbolt cable. So often these days you get a Thunderbolt device only to find that you also need to go and buy a cable. Thankfully StarTech put a 1m cable in the box for you.

The Docking Station is quite small and needs to be placed on the stand and secured with two screws – this only takes a moment and you are ready to go.

Plug in the power adaptor and connect the Thunderbolt cable to the dock and then to either your Mac or PC with a Thunderbolt port and the device comes to life – you can see it’s all working by the light on the front of the device. You don’t need to install any drivers as this is taken care of for you automatically.

One thing I really liked was the ability to use both a Thunderbolt display, and an HDMI display at the same time. In fact, if you count the Mac’s display as well you can have three displays running! If your monitor has a mini-display port then you can use that too, however the HDMI port then gets disabled, so bear that in mind depending on your multiple display needs.

Overall I really liked the Thunderbolt Dock – it had everything I needed to expand my Mac’s connectors.

The only thing that might put people off is the price – it’s not cheap, but then you are getting a lot of ports for your money, plus you do get a Thunderbolt cable in the box. And if you have a Mac you know that Apple doesn’t make docking stations so this could be a very wise purchase if you want to expand your Mac!

The price for StarTech.com’s TBDOCKHDPBC Thunderbolt Docking Station is $279.99 in the United States, $288.99 in Canada, £214.99 (exc. VAT) in the UK, but as usual look around for the best deal.

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You can learn more from the StarTech website.

I’m that guy who always knew about the Plants Vs Zombies games and never really bothered to play any of them. Knowing fully well what type of tower defence genre game it was I chose to stay clear of those types that stress me out when under pressure. I guess it’s the feeling of being rushed into making decisions whilst the enemies pile up on top of your defences as I begin to get a sweat on. As I furiously click the mouse, usually missing the target due to my palm now covered in hand sweat making the mouse slippery I make mistakes and let out a over dramatic sigh. So hearing that there was another PvZ game didn’t even trigger off any excitement. I couldn’t have been any more wrong and is perfect example for why we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

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I’ll be honest with you, this game being released just under 2 weeks prior to Microsoft’s other big anticipated game Titanfall sounded like a suicide mission and I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near a fun. After playing for less that 15 minutes across 2 different game modes I ate my words and would happily say  Garden Warfare is currently the best game I’ve played on the Xbox One and even pushed me to thinking that it’s a close contender compared to what I’ve played from Titanfall. Yes, it’s still a tower defence game in ways and does feature customisable characters but what exactly makes this Plants Vs Zombies game so enjoyable?

Garden Warfare

So this spinoff outing isn’t the usual: plant your flowers on the garden to the left and fend off the zombies coming to invade from the right anymore. Garden Warfare is a third person shooter which is a play on the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare title. The game revolves around 3 different game modes which are available to play all online or local co-op. ‘Garden Ops’ mode is the closest mode to the original game where you and you team get dropped off onto a map and you choose 1 of 3 bases to start at. Being Plants Vs Zombies it’s actually named a garden as opposed to base but you get the idea. This Plants-only playable mode then throws waves of  Zombies at you whilst you fight them off planting turrets, or green peashooters to keep in with the theme, and healing sunflowers nearby to build up your base. Survive to wave 10 and you’d have fought off various boss zombies that require true team work to take down before being whisked away if you make it back to the pickup zone.

‘Gardens & Graveyards’ mode is similar to anyone that’s played the Rush mode in Battlefield. In this game you can play as the plants who starts with a base they have to defend against the human opponents playing the zombies. The aim is to defend that base but if it’s compromised you have to move to another base to defend as the map opens up. In total the Zombies have to destroy all 7 bases to win this mode which usually is pretty tough if you’re not a team player.

‘Team Vanquish’ is the only game mode that is probably the most relatable to most online players. Vanquish means Team Deathmatch where each side fights to 50 kills. Even though this mode doesn’t feature any bases to attackor defend it still is a fun mode to play with friends and even learn what some of the characters can do without worrying about playing the objective.

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Green fingers

Anyone well acquainted with the game franchise will already know the various characters from this game. In the Plants side you have the Peashooter, Chomper, Sunflower and Cactus. The peashooter is your foot solider who’s quick with the ability to throw a bomb and even briefly transform into a stationary ‘Pea Gatling’ gun. The Chomper looks like a Venus fly trap and  only deals in melee attacks with the ability to burrow under the surface before dealing a one hit kill attack swallowing the enemy whole. The Sunflower plays like a medic with a heal beam and can even root itself into the ground and fire the Sunbeam toasting zombies in sight. The Cactus has the more strategic role with a longer ranged weapon, deployable mines, portable ‘Tallnut  Battlement’ walls for defence and a drone which you must manually fly and shoot with.

The Zombies team consists of it’s own Foot Soldier, Engineer, Scientist and All-Star characters. The Foot Solider is strapped with a rocket launcher on it’s back that allows it to rocket jump as one of the abilities as well as fire at opponents. The Engineer is armed with a disorientating Sonic grenade as well as the zombie version of the remote drone. The Scientist has a triple barrelled  gun and has the unique ability to warp at short distances to confuse the enemies. He can lay down a Zombie Heal Station similar to the Sunflower’s Heal Flower drop and looks pretty cool with his customisable options. The All-Star is your heavy class that has a light machine gun-like American football launcher with the ability to charge forward sending opponents flying and can  deploy a Dummy Shield to hide behind when things get heated.

Both sides have characters which you can customise the appearance of, from changing the weapon skins to adding face paint to. You can purchase more accessories, hats and other power ups through the in game Sticker Shop which will reward you with random goodies and rarer ones if you save up enough coins. Anyone that collected stickers in real life will see how fun it is  filling out your profile’s sticker book. As a gamer I can see this easily becoming the micro-transaction way into this game for players that can’t be bothered to grind for the more expensive packs. Luckily, Garden Warfare allows you to face opponents at a higher skill level and still have a chance in beating them with the great balancing work they’ve put into the classes.

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Verdict

My love for this game comes from not expecting much and then having all my expectations met and bettered. With nods to other shooters on the current market and taking what works from such games a Gears of War’s horde mode and mixing in Battlefield’s fixed classes with slight alterations that doesn’t unbalance your loadout, what’s not to love? I can see the appeal for  parents happily buying their kids this game with comic violence and not feeling guilty or worried. I can see myself returning to this game frequently to tackle the Garden Ops mode on harder difficulties for a replayable challenge. And with a Boss Mode where you can take to the skies and support your troops by dropping an airstrike, healing stations and the option even resurrect  fallen team mates, a mode that has tried and failed this in other games.

I think during my brief adventure with the Underpants Gnomes, after I had come into contact with Aliens and Nazi Zombies I remember thinking to myself the weird thing is I actually understand what’s going on. So there’s nothing in the plot that’s going to challenge your perceptions or tax your brain to it’s limits but I felt disturbingly comfortable deep in what is probably (and hopefully) the most ridiculous plot gaming has ever seen. I couldn’t help but feel somehow the ludicrous nature of The Stick of Truth made more sense to me than a lot of other games. Then again maybe I just need help.

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Attacking, using an ability or blocking will require you to press certain buttons at the right time according to visual prompts. For example when attacking your weapon will glint and you can either press ‘square’ once for a power attack for armoured foes or ‘x’ a few times for a standard combo against normal enemies. When blocking, pressing ‘x’ when a shield icon appears at your character’s feet allows you to take about 50% damage and avoid any potential status effects. The buttons and timings for abilities vary depending on the ability being used but essentially it comes down to timing.

It’s actually not that easy and it took me quite a while before I felt comfortable performing actions consistently. It makes sure you’re playing a turn-based RPG but still have something to do. It’s not easy enough that it becomes second nature but not difficult enough that the entire game becomes frustrating or irritating.

All your health and PP is returned at the end of a battle. Yes PP. Power points. You can liberally use your abilities without long term consequences. If you need PP badly you can always use an item once per turn anyway, which doesn’t end your turn. There’s enough going on that you can’t become complacent but The Stick of Truth never forgets that it’s turn-based. It never tries to be a third person action game but instead confidently relies on solid turn-based battle mechanics.

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Outside of battle your time is usually divided between finding some of the huge amount of secrets and collectables, buying new items and scouring your way through the menus to customize your appearance and maximize your battle efficiency. The only thing that hinders your exploration are the substandard loading times. Scrolling from one screen to another takes the frame rate down to a grinding halt for a noticeable amount of time and more than enough areas have full loading screens. They’re not that long but you’re always aware that it won’t be long until you see another one. It’s a shame to break the pace of what would otherwise have been an excellent bit of exploration. Luckily it’s well worth enduring the loading.

From the weapons and their associated ‘strap-ons’ to the most unnoticeable of loot everything is a reference to something that happened in South Park. If there’s a single episode that doesn’t have at least one reference or item to pick up I’d be surprised. The constant reminders of past South Park episodes keeps the laughter flowing even when you’re just exploring, collecting loot or even looking through a menu.

They’re clever too, avoiding the temptation to make every reference totally obvious. It’s great to find something and get the reference without having your face shoved in it. And the references don’t stop at South Park. Matt and Trey have shown before some knowledge into the world of gaming, particularly with episodes like ‘Make Love, Not Warcraft’. There’s a constant barrage of gaming references and jokes that show The Stick of Truth actually gets its audience.

For instance one of the final weapons in the game is a ‘Vibroblade’ and is in no way similar to its original appearance in what is probably considered Obsidian Entertainment’s greatest game. A certain loot item is a video game called ‘Shadow of the Cyclopsus’ with a cover we should all recognize. The references aren’t to Call of Duty, Mass Effect or other main stream titles so it doesn’t come off like the embarrassing parent who’s cool because they say the name of a popular video game.

Matt, Trey, Obsidian and Ubisoft know games and it shows in The Stick of Truth; both in the humour and the gameplay. It doesn’t embarrass or patronize and feels exactly as well written as any episode of South Park. If you can get through the entire of The Stick of Truth without at least once laughing and then feeling just a tiny bit disappointed with yourself you’re not human.

The only bit missing is the censored scenes to everywhere apart from America. The press release from Ubisoft claims “7 scenes of about 20 seconds each are censored in the EMEA console versions of South Park: The Stick of Truth. The decision to cut this content from the game was made by Ubisoft EMEA.”

It doesn’t really take anything away from the game and the comments in the replacement frames are genuinely funny. It really isn’t worth getting worked up about and I recommend just playing as if this is the original. Inevitably when something unbelievably horrific happens in the US with a kid mimicking the scenes, blaming the game and sparking a colossal political debate turning people against video games, I think Ubisoft (and many others) will be happy with their decision. I’m just not sure why they feel Europe should be any different from the US. And once you’ve played the game tell me that the final environment isn’t far worse than the censored scenes. And I mean far worse.

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Where visuals and audio are concerned everything is top-notch. The audio is totally unconstrained by realism allowing for inexplicable fire and explosions to sound just like they would in any other ‘more serious’ RPG. And visually it looks like South Park. It looks exactly like South Park. But with the addition of the 3D effects that a video game allows there are some pretty epic moments. Probably most impressively you can totally customize your character but he/she doesn’t look even slightly out of place alongside the other characters.

But underpinning the visuals and the laughs is a solid battle mechanic and an environment absolutely packed with stuff to find and do. Weapons, upgrades and character customization items are everywhere. So too are Gnomes, Crab People, The Hankeys and just about everything I can think of from South Park in one form or another. It never feels like a diluted, watered-down version of South Park. And, other than irritating load screens, the entertainment doesn’t stop from square one right to the end. It’s absolutely hilarious to the point where the fact it’s the best turn-based RPG I’ve played in a long time is just icing on the cake. An absolute gem of a game. Encore!

Episode 3 of the Untold Stories DLC is out and was surprisingly really good. A bit of recap, we’ve already played a spec ops commander and an alcoholic feisty resistance member within the zombie-ridden city of Los Perdidos. These two protagonists aren’t as interesting in comparison to the renegade biker Hunter Thibodeux in the Chaos Rising DLC but what makes this additional pack a definite must have?

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Hunter, if you haven’t played through the games main campaign, is the first boss you stumble across within your first hour of play. Knowing this you’ll find this prologue leading up to the cross over a nice touch to the story telling aspect of the Dead Rising 3 experience. This tattooed Redneck isn’t a hero with no redeeming features. You are playing a straight up villain and this is what makes Chaos Rising different and unforgettable. Starting of in prison for wrongly taking the wrap for your crew you’re tasked with escaping with no prior weapons in your inventory. I honestly played through this DLC like it was to be a survival horror game which is what the Dead Rising games are but fused with dark humour through over the top characters and the ridiculous weapon combos usually thrown in making the series less scary. This prison break section was pretty much as scary as this game gets. Having to find weapons whilst only having yourself to answer to Hunter is as lonely as he’ll get.

With revenge in his blood, Hunter’s goal is to track down and find his gang who put him in prison. Amongst the zombie hordes you’ll be hunted down by that said gang who have groups throwing molotov cocktails at you and will beat you with bats. The streets of Los Perdidos has never been so dangerous and with Hunter’s quest being more melee weapon based you’ll find you’re getting up close and personal in more fights. There’s an interesting selection of new weapons to have fun with which includes a petrol canister strapped with flares to draw the zombie’s attention before burning all in the vicinity. But the main focus is centred on a motorcycle with moving sawblades at the front that can also shoot blade projectiles, serious crazy fun and easily the best selling point.

What Chaos Rising has which the other 2 didn’t include was actual boss fights. Yes, actual bosses with health bars just like the ones in the campaign. This makes a huge difference and gives me faith that the next instalment could be the best of all 3 combined in one final outing. The side missions in this are fun to do, collecting custom bikes and bringing them back to the bike shop, exactly how Grand Theft Auto does it but with the undead in the way. The collectables include finding top self rare alcohol as well as destroying emergency telephone posts across the city, the generic stuff.

Chaos Rising felt shorter than the other 2 available but has a longer lasting impression with scenarios and characters that are less forgettable than in the others. Hunting down bikers is so far the highlight to the Untold Stories episodes and fits right at home as an alternative perspective from a villainous protagonist.

 

Konami are back with Lords of Shadow 2, the sequel to their 2010 Castlevania sleeper hit, and with it, they promise the return of Dracula, a revamped open world structure and enhanced combat mechanics, all drizzled in a modern day setting. Can they deliver on this lofty promise?

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After waking up, many, many years after the events of the previous games, our hero with a sweet tooth, Gabriel Belmont has got his work cut out. Not only is he still immortal, but Zobek’s back with some friendly ‘help’ to get him back into shape and ready to face Satan. With people still seeking his destruction, our bitey friend Dracula must first regain his powers in order to step up to the challenge. Cue the montage.

After being ‘treat’ in the prologue to control our fully powered up hero, we are, surprise, stripped of all our powers and skills and must regain strength in order to quell Satan’s up rise. Fortunately for us, it let’s us get our hands on some weak enemies for target practice. Whilst being slowly drip fed the truly exciting moves over the course of the game, we still get chance to perfect the basics of dodging, blocking, countering and of course, swinging solidified blood around your head. Although it might partially be screaming God of War, Castlevania’s combat system does still feel unique, moves can be levelled up not only by purchasing upgrades, but by also using combos. You then transfer the progression, in turn powering up your whole skill set, it’s a lot less complicated than I’m making out, but it does increase the rewards for experimenting with different styles.

Along with the blood whip, you will soon get your hands on a pair of gauntlets and a sword to assist in the day to day dispatching of the devils minions. Whilst both have their own separate pools of expendable energy, both can be not only useful in battles, but necessary. The sword, activated via a simple tap of L1, deals less damage but you gain health from each successful hit. The big bad gauntlets, using R1, however not only deal increased damage, but are also invaluable for effectively breaking through enemy shields. Each weapon also has it’s own upgrade tree; although some of the moves are duplicated from the standard weapon, there are also some pretty potent combinations, some of which are deemed worthy of their own cutscene.

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Whilst it might seem like it’s all slashing, dodging and ripping still beating hearts from the devil-spawns chests, there are distractions along the way to help break up the pace. Lifeless platforming and ‘puzzles’ clog up the downtime between punching a demon and staring down a boss. The mostly linear platforming sections consist of some flapping bats to let you know you can stick to said surface, followed by navigating a pre-set, often mind-boggling route. Depending upon whether or not you followed the main mission marker, you’ll either end up at an easy to reach secret, a secret you can’t get to yet as you don’t have the pre-requisite power or just simply, the way to go. Whilst I love collecting hidden secrets that actually impact my characters progression in some way, wandering the off beaten path for five minutes, on several different occasions, only to discover I can’t further progress that way does put a bit of a downer on the old exploration urge.

If you come at it at a different angle, then there is plenty to still see and do once you’ve gotten some exploration tools; revisiting areas is encouraged, if not explained particularly well. The rotatable camera is more of a mixed blessing than you might initially realise, being able to look at some of the more inspiring artwork and backdrops is nice, but it’s often infuriatingly too far zoomed in to make out much of your surroundings. A fair example being, after a mild platforming test involving swinging chandeliers (of which I’m pretty sure it’s almost impossible to fall off, rendering it ultimately pointless) I turned around to check on my trusty swinging platforms to see many treasures that were not visible before I’d completed my parkour run.

With the consummate ease our ‘hero’ Dracula tears apart demons from hell, of which most comfortably outsize him, it’s a frustrating and lowly experience to have to transmorph into a small pack of rats to slip by a few guards. Admittedly, in their codex style information page, it describes them as wielding indestructible armour; yet if I were Satan, I’d give the order to mass produce that natty material on a pretty wide scale seeing as the feared and fabled Dracula can not even attempt to engage such beings draped in it’s indestructible glory. It’s a little shame that the stealth sections have been implemented quite so poorly as I understand the reason for their inclusion being that he, at the time, was fairly weak and Dracula, by all accounts is a bit of a sneaky bugger. Oh, and if you think the first few sneaking sections feel a little tiresome or unfair, just wait for the bit with the leaves…

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The feeling of ambivalence is an irritating one when viewing and listening to Lords of Shadow 2, the facial mapping of our protagonist looks sublime in the cutscene’s closer shots, yet his hair looks as though it has but two moving parts. The look of dreary textures and uninspired locales from the present day are of a complete opposite to some of the vistas and art design sections of the castle. The sound of two of my favourite actors, Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle working together in a videogame can scarcely overwhelm some of the generic stilted script asked of them. The menus feel archaic and unintuitive; despite the glaringly intrusive auto save icon appearing slightly off centre of the middle of the screen, cutscene or not, it still makes me wary to quit when there is no ‘exit to main menu’ option for fear of losing progress.

Despite all this, Lords of Shadow 2 is a fun game, when it wants to be. The boss battles are suitably epic, the music can crescendo and roar at all the right moments, there’s replay value, a challenge room, the combat is solid, the map can be explored with the right tools, and on top of all that, it’s around 20 hours long, with a new game plus option. In defiance of Konami’s and MercurySteam’s efforts, Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t for everyone. If you enjoy a good dungeon romp with a more than competent combat system, exciting bosses, more lore than you can engross and you can put up with the horrible stealth sections, some wonky textures and a plot that doesn’t quite deliver, you’re in for a blood sucking good time.

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Microsoft recently unveiled the latest in its line of Wireless Mouse hardware, the Wireless Mouse 1850 – and here is our review.