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Review

If there’s one thing Telltale Games like to do, it’s telling a good tale. They’ve got the experience from games based on The Walking Dead and The Wolf Amongst Us, so let’s see what happens when they’re given free reign of one of HBO’s most popular shows, Game of Thrones.

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Thankfully, QTE filled action scenes are kept to a minimum

If you’ve never had experience with a Telltale Game of this type, the premise usually revolves around a more advanced, refined and interactive point and click adventure, with the main focuses being on the narrative and how you can affect it due to player made choices. Giving the player difficult decisions that drastically alter the progression of the game is a feature much touted by other games, but here, they feel significantly more substantial.

Due to the game adopting an episodic approach; obviously aping the show it’s based upon, you’ll be jumping between individuals several times over the course of the chapter. Focusing on a new set of characters that are tied to House Forrester, Iron From Ice takes place towards the end of the third season and focuses on their relationship to House Stark. Whilst you begin as Gared Tuttle, a simple squire to Lord Forrester, things quickly take a predictable turn after a spot of encouraging promotional news; it’s not long before you start making a few important decisions to set off the end of the prologue.

Once the familiar theme and corresponding set of opening credits are over, the game opens up in typical Game of Thrones fashion, namely reams of conversation. Those who’ve enjoyed the previous games’ ability to explore around may be a little disappointed, but the majority of the conversational options often more than make up for that. Alongside the new set of characters with their surprising amount of depth, you’ll also run into a couple of the more infamous characters from the show, the ever stimulating Tyrion Lannister and the (ice) Queen Cersei. Both have a reasonable amount of dialogue and represent themselves suitably well, especially in the interactive scenes that involve them.

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Everyone’s favourite Lannister

Alongside the quantities of conversation you’ll participate in, there are also a few smaller sections, much akin to the notorious quick time events of old. Thankfully these are few and far between and only really occur when necessary at the more action packed beginning of the game. As ever in a Telltale game, choices, and their immediate subsequent consequences are rife. You’re never going to be able to please everyone in a situation; plus the added time limit to prepare a response injects a panicky, ‘on the spot’ feeling to proceedings. A helpful indicator, especially at the start when you’re not entirely sure what each person wishes to hear, is presented in the upper corner of the screen notifying you on when you’ve made a significant decision. By the time you’ve completed just this first chapter alone, you’ll have dramatically altered people’s perception of you; making the mind boggle at the potential extent of all those seemingly minor choices stacking up and coming back to haunt you.

Whilst some of the narratives’ segments can seem a little slow or relatively less interesting than others, it’s safe to say, that they’re linked exquisitely to one another as the story progresses. Introducing each character takes just the right amount of time to become invested in their plight and you never seem to linger for too long in any scenario. It’s honestly as well paced as the source material, complete with tense, spiralling situations of which the show’s famous for.

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These two won’t be your friends…

Presentation wise, it will be nothing unexpected if you’re partial to the developer’s latest releases, which is not to say it’s unremarkable. Far from it in fact, Iron From Ice looks great with its stylised visuals. Action oriented scenes seem to lose a little magic but they’re rare and it doesn’t detract from the experience. The voice work is strong, as is also the script, but I suppose that’s to be expected of a franchise of this degree, still it’s nice to hear good voice acting and official music being used throughout.

As ever, so long as you’re vested into the source material, playing a Telltale game dedicated to it will often greatly appeal to you. There’s a potential worry surrounding the franchises staleness and a lack of moving forward with the mechanics and originality, but so long as they keep delivering great interactive stories based on established series, then fans will likely follow suit. It could be interesting to see a game set in their own universe, but it might require a considerable amount more effort; as for now, we’ll have to settle with the frustrating wait for the next ‘episode’ in the series.

If ‘old school’ point and click adventures are your bag, and you’ve either played or watched anything in the past 10-20 years, then Randal’s Monday may well be for you. Brought to us by Daedalic Entertainment and Nexus Game Studios, Randal’s Monday focuses on pop culture references, stabs at humour and the eternal plight of Mondays. Garfield would be proud.

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Starting out easy with a select few interactive items

First things first, Randal’s a bit of a dick, he’s a titular sociopathic kleptomaniac who’s more interested in someone getting the drinks in, than supporting his friends’ upcoming marriage. After the tutorial, consisting of the game letting you wander about in a small area and talking nonsense to your mates for a bit, the story begins to unfold. And, as how every good Monday unfurls, there’s an angry landlord demanding rent at your door.

After spending some time meandering about the flat, marvelling at each and every reference up to, and including Resident Evil herbs, you’ll inevitably acquire classically unfathomable items to combine and use in traditionally ‘unique’ scenarios. Picking out what you can select and what’s just a not so subtle nod to another franchise can be initially tricky, thankfully there’s a key assigned to highlight all the potentially interactive items on screen. After missing a vital component in one of the first areas and being forced to backtrack through each and every stage in true scavenging mode, this soon becomes second nature. As ever, for those who are beyond stuck and have already ripped their hair out, there’s a hint system in place to relieve the woes. With its typical, tongue in cheek style, the game will recommend you to reconsider using the system until such a point where you’re that stuck, you’d quite happily sacrifice a kitten in order to progress. A fact the game repeatedly reminds you of before allowing you to proceed.

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Look at the signpost! Look at it!! Please?

Utilising typical ‘point and click logic’ may be the joy of the game in some people’s eyes, whereas instead, it can and most likely will be, the bane for others. Incongruent puzzles require solutions that are simply not intuitive to the naked eye; no matter how well you half-solve the puzzle, finding the specific way in which the game wants you to progress can be an inevitable head shaking trauma.

On paper the game sounds fantastic, a typical point and click adventure with brilliantly cartoon-esque graphics, a swathe of pop culture references, and a smattering dab of humour. Combine this with the fairly interesting plot, even if it is all too reminiscent of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, and you should be onto a winner. With each subsequent ‘reset’ giving the developers opportunity to create new and interesting passes, it feels a little like a waste of potential at times. Instead of testing your cerebral lump, it instead feels quite content with setting up ridiculous and ‘wacky’ scenarios; all the while Randal throws cringe worthy insults at everyone he comes across. To say he’s crass and just plain unlikeable would honestly be a compliment.

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You’ll be seeing this expression a lot throughout the game

The general artistic flair is pleasing, and will resonate with those who enjoy familiar stylised cartoons. Voice acting is also above par, with recognisable cameos that not only aren’t embarrassing, but are in fact welcome after so much of Randal’s script. The time to work your way through Randal’s Monday will be high; sinking in up to 20 hours is highly feasible. Potentially higher if you can manage not to succumb to the step by step walkthrough offered by the hint system, which of course will be fairly unlikely given the logic behind some of the puzzles.

By all extensive purposes, this isn’t one of Daedalic’s best projects; Randal’s Monday will just be a small blip on their incredibly stellar record. If you can get past Randal’s character and don’t mind the incessant illogical puzzles then, as ever, you can get a lot of fun out it. The production values alone are worth checking out and if you’re into pop culture references, you’ll have a field day reading signposts, shop names and subway stations. Basically every (non)interactive item on the game is a nod to another game; leading you to think that perhaps they could’ve spent more time making this one something to reference instead?

Just when you started saying “you call that a grind Bungie?!”. I’ve got everything I need and I’ve done all the raids and I’m totally bored with Destiny. Well if that describes you you’re in luck. The Dark Below is the first DLC for Destiny and adds quite a few new features that will, in theory, keep you coming back for more. Even if that’s primarily because all your loot is now worthless. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first notable feature is the new Sparrow. I know you’ve all been screaming out for it. A Sparrow that allows you to perform wicked flips. Now when you perform a jump you can roll the sparrow before it lands. It also sports a lovely flame decal that really makes it look like something aimed at kids. I really find the entire thing just so tacky. I haven’t spent as long with my guardian as some but I’ve still invested many, many hours into him and making him look cool. Guardians are serious people who mean business. They’re supposed to be defending against the darkness. A slick black and orange Sparrow with armour plating or a ram or something would fit better. Either way you get a free legendary Sparrow with some nice stats and some useless abilities. Glad I didn’t buy one from the quartermaster.

You also get some nice new crucible maps to keep murdering other guardians entertaining too. And they’re well made and fun. Two of them are brutally tight and really allow matches to become what Destiny does best with abilities being flung around and guardians jumping, blinking and floating everywhere. The other map is a horrible long range map with vehicles all over the place. Being repeatedly shot in the head without a contest is no fun and I personally hate PvP vehicle battles in Destiny. If you like sniping or using vehicles then it’s a great map.

There’s a new vanguard strike too for your PvE craving. Most of my time in Destiny is spent in strike missions with players found in matchmaking. There isn’t really much new or different with the latest strike but it feels every bit as well made and fully featured as the original strikes. It’s particularly useful given all the extra vanguard marks and reputation I’m going to need to at least have one fresh mission to keep things a little more interesting. It’s well designed and just as fun to play as the other strikes.

But a much more significant addition is the raise in the level cap for your light level. You can now make it beyond the old level cap of 30 all the way up to 32. But to do so you’re going to have to get stuck into The Dark Below’s new raid. You’re then going to have to play it extensively to get the items you want because as usual all the best gear is handed out primarily according to luck. And there’s an extra layer of difficulty if you want to reach the lofty heights of level 32. All that gear you finally got from grinding the raid over and over will need levelling up before you get all that lovely light. But you can forget about using those ascendant shards and energies you’ve found. You’ll need ‘radiant’ materials that can only be found in the raid.

So that’s all well and good for the hardcore among us but what about those who don’t have a dedicated raid team waiting for hour after hour of high level Destiny action? Well actually there’s loads for you. I’ve spent a lot of time on Destiny but I still prefer matchmaking. I don’t have a huge amount of online friends and certainly not enough to effectively organize a raid. So I’ve been content with vanguard strikes to get my fill of Destiny.

Well your local neighbourhood vanguard merchant has just what you need. They just so happen to have a new set of armour available that, when upgraded, will get you to level 31. Sure you’ll have to wait for the irritating weekly limit on vanguard, or crucible, marks but other than that you can guarantee your way to 31 and use your ‘standard’ ascendant materials to upgrade them. It’s not about an enormous grind anymore so much as it’s about re-grinding and doing the same things to get very slightly better equipment.

Everything about the latest update to Destiny make me feel like I’ve been wasting my time. Raising the level is one thing but replacing the items that I bought for items that are just plain better for the same cost is punishing me for owning the game earlier than some players. All the ascendant shards I’ve used on armour are now almost completely worthless as I’ll need to replace my armour. So a new player, that hasn’t bought a season pass (you can get to level 31 without owning The Dark Below), can easily be a higher level than someone who played Destiny for days on end and just hasn’t played for a week or two. That seems a little backwards to me.

Everything about Destiny’s latest update devalues everything that you previously earned. It opens up options for more grinding and gives me a good excuse to play some more Destiny, which is never a bad thing, but there really isn’t much value in The Dark Below. The bike is a cheesy gimmick at best and since I’m not ever likely to be able to complete a raid The Dark Below only offers me a few campaign missions that while not bad, don’t make me feel like I got a good deal and some crucible maps.

As with a lot of Destiny Content the raid players get exclusive access to content and everyone else gets nothing. It’s one thing to keep rewards for the hardcore but to exclude others is just unfair. So I get punished for not having enough friends interested in raids. But somehow Destiny manages to make raid players feel robbed at the same time by providing ‘nearly as good stuff’ easily at vendors; and even worse they’re available without paying. This expansion does nothing but alienate and punish those who are dedicated. If you haven’t got much loot and don’t pay for the DLC you’re in the winners group. Everyone else seems to lose in some way.

Telltale Games have released Episode 1 of Tales of the Borderlands, and here is our spoiler free review.

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This is how Telltale describes the game:

Like all good tales, there’s more than one side to a story. Especially one about a Vault key, the Hyperion Corporation, bandits, loot, gangsters, Vault Hunters, secret Atlas tech, explosions, getaways, extortion, betrayal, and mayhem.

Set after the events seen in Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands is about Rhys, a Hyperion company man looking to become the next Handsome Jack, and it’s also about Fiona, a Pandoran con artist out to score the biggest of all swindles.

Lured into danger by a Vault key and all it promises, the unlikely duo are thrown together with a common goal and a huge amount of mistrust. Who is telling the truth, and why is it important?

That’s up to you to decide.

You are Rhys…and you are also Fiona, because like every tale worth telling, there are two…oh, you read that part already? Well, it’s important to remember that there *are* two sides to every story, and you my friend, you will tell this tale, or…tales, through the choices that you make. Your every decision as both Rhys and Fiona will affect the people and world around you: this is a game where YOU are the final author in a brand new Borderlands story set on the unforgiving world of Pandora.

Now I’m both a fan of Telltales other games, in particular The Walking Dead, and also of the Borderlands series from 2K Games and Gearbox, so when I heard about Tales of the Borderlands I couldn’t wait to play it.

Like the description says, you play two different characters – the first one is Rhys, voiced by Troy Baker (I’m not sure when he gets the time to do anything other than record voices for games, but he is very good at it and so its always a pleasure to listen to). As this is a spoiler free review I wont go into too many details about the plot, other than to say that Rhys was due a big promotion at Hyperion and he gets screwed out of it by his arch-nemesis, so he decides to screw him back.

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The second character is Fiona, voiced by Laura Bailey. Fiona is a grifter and part way through the episode you switch to playing her. Fiona and Rhys’s story is interwoven and it’s fun to watch them play off each other, but again, I don’t want to give too much away.

The gameplay style is what you would expect from Telltale – you have a number of options to choose from in different situations, and your selections will result in the story changing around you. There are also sections where you have to dodge attacks, and even target enemies (which is a whole heap of fun).

The first thing I noticed when the game started was just how much it felt like a Borderlands game. Now that might sound obvious, but I wasn’t sure if this would be a Telltale game with a Borderlands theme, or a Borderlands game with a Telltale interface. It’s actually the best of both worlds, with a typically insane and funny Borderlands story with all the gameplay you would expect from Telltale. I found the gameplay very smooth and the selections easy to choose, even easier than previous Telltale games.

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The graphics are typical Borderlands and I loved the humour. The voices are done really well, and along with Troy and Laura, Nolan North also makes an appearance, as does Dameon Clarke (spoiler – sort of!).

The first episode took about 2 and quarter hours to complete, and I am really looking forward to episode 2 in a few weeks time.

The cost of this episode is just $4.99 USD or equivalent or as part of a Season Pass package for all five episodes for just $24.99 USD or equivalent or less.

If you are a fan of either Telltale’s games or Borderlands, then this is a must for you. Now I just have to wait patiently for episode 2.

If you want to watch the first 30 minutes of episode 1, you can do so here.

Tiny Troopers is simple in premise. It’s a top down thumbstick shooter that offers a decent bit of casual action. There is no other way to describe Tiny Troopers other than casual. Not that it’s expected, or even necessary, in this arena but there isn’t going to be plot or characters that shock you or even keep you interested. Tiny Troopers is inevitably therefore at its best when you just want to get on a game for a bit and have some uncomplicated fun.

Playing the console version tutorial makes it very apparent that this game was not designed for a pad. Everything takes an effort to control and nothing seems to be were you expect it to be. Opening the menu to order in supplies is a nightmare. It seemed every button I was pressing was wrong at first. It’s nothing that can’t be learned but going against the conventions of every other game ever made really doesn’t help for a fluid experience.

Even targeting is awkward. Firing a rocket for the first time will produce results that no one could predict. There is a sort of hideous lock on to shooting that makes everything feel overly rigid. Don’t expect to be satisfyingly running around while accurately snapping from enemy to enemy using both thumbsticks together in the dance that makes these games so satisfying. Tiny Troopers feels much more like a case of move over there. Open the menu. Press a button. Shoot. And repeat. There’s no fluidity or satisfaction at all as you run around destroying everything.

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Rather out of place is the, almost, persistent death and ironman-like saves. There’s no retrying if one of your little guys gets killed in the field. The only option left for you will be to revive him using one of your valuable Medals that can be found in various quantities on each level. It’s actually a nice way to handle persistent death and keep the threat of losing a soldier but still giving you a chance to revive them. Having a limited amount of medals, and therefore revives, available is a great way to handle persistent death.

Unfortunately exploring Tiny Trooper’s dull maps is not particularly great fun. There’s not much to look at and what little there is isn’t really good looking. In fact most of Tiny Troopers isn’t great to look at. Low quality textures and bland coloured blocks make up Tiny Troopers’ maps and provide nothing more than a functional environment. The Troopers themselves don’t look great either and animations and movement are as rigid as the control system.

There are absolutely tons of collectables and more than enough missions to complete. But this game does not belong on a console. Maybe with touch screen controls and a smaller screen Tiny Troopers would be a great casual distraction but for a PS4 it’s too difficult to look past the low grade visuals and incredibly poor control system to enjoy it. Even the basic visuals wouldn’t be so bad but the controls really need work, they make everything you do take far too much effort. Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops is a nice distraction for a very short time but after an hour or two the giant cracks become unavoidably large.

 

The problem that faces most MMO’s is trying to do everything well all at the same time. For a racing MMO that means an absolute bucket full of missions and races but not really much else. So long as we can play easily with other people. Although it would be nice to have a decent character and some plot in a racer for a change.

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Well The Crew isn’t going to deliver on plot and character. Your first task will be to recklessly speed across open fields to make the cops lives more interesting. But your late for the big race, as your friends keep reminding you. You’re just such a rebel that you don’t care. And that’s just about as deep as the characters get. Your a street racing criminal, something bad happens to your brother, you get blamed and end up working with the FBI to get out early. Just about every character is as two-dimensional as possible. The voice acting doesn’t help either and ranges from cheesy to hilariously cheesy. After as little as an hour or two I had become totally disinterested with the plot and decided to ignore it entirely. There’s not much to miss.

What’s far more distracting early game is the unbelievable amount of information contained in the tables post race. It doesn’t take long to fully understand all the info but most of it is just unnecessary. There’s a base score plus some other number added to it and then the threshold and…you get bored and stop looking at it. I need to know my score, my exp and my cash. I need to know if I got bronze silver or gold and what prize I won, if any. I can’t believe the only way to get this information across is to have two results pages after every race. A concise and clean results chart would’ve gone a long way to making The Crew less cluttered.

The map is overly cluttered too although it’s partially because there’s so much to do. There are a fair selection of tasks, some standard races, checkpoint races, takedown missions, escaping from the cops and more. It would be useful to zoom the camera on more than 3 levels especially considering the map size. It is huge. I don’t know when I’ve seen a map so big in any game before. It’s not particularly dense but there’s a lot of road to race on in The Crew. Getting across the map by car will take a noticeable amount of time but luckily there are trains and planes you can pay for to fast travel somewhere you haven’t visited yet. Other than that fast travelling is quick and easy.

New parts can be acquire by completing mini challenges. As you drive around you can go through a checkpoint to start one and you might have to drive as fast as possible without going off the track or race through increasingly small ‘goal posts’. They’re quick and quite challenging so you’re never short of some way to acquire new parts for your rides. But because you level up quite frequently parts quickly become redundant so you find the constant need to repeat the same tasks just to keep up with the XP those tasks give you. It feels progressive but in reality there are just so many upgrades that they become devalued. And finding missions is an absolute pain. If you want some higher levelled tires, for example, you’ll have to flick around the map and look through 10’s of objectives to find the right one. A simple filter to select which upgrade you were looking for would have done. There are filters for other things but not the one you actually care about. It doesn’t seem like a difficult feature to include and its omission makes life more difficult than it needs to be.

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Handling isn’t quite an all out arcade affair but sliding around corners isn’t going to ruin your race. It makes sure you’re always having fun but doesn’t have the finesse or accuracy to reward those who race ‘properly’. The rubber banding AI is extremely obvious too. Whenever you do have an accident and end up at the back of the pack you’ll soon recover and find yourself back in first within 10 seconds or so. Only to then constantly race against second place as he snaps back. It’s so difficult to get a lead that the only part of any race that matters is the end. Often the rest of the race is a waste of time. Inevitably on one occasion I had lead a 30 minute race only to go off track on the final straight and lose completely. I didn’t even get a consolation prize so 30 minutes wasted because I made a mistake at the end rather than at any other point.

Sadly ‘never race alone’ doesn’t work quite as well as it should. Or more specifically it doesn’t work as often as it should. On a handful of occasions me and someone else quickly got into a crew just because we played a mission together. We then remained together and completed plenty of missions until we finally parted ways. That random co-op is were The Crew really comes to life. There are decent competitive co-op objectives and joining a crew and playing together worked seamlessly.

But more often than not you’ll be playing alone. When starting a mission you can send a request to other players to join you. But ultimately they’re better off playing alone. And so are you. There’s really very little incentive to play with others besides the fun. And that apparently isn’t enough to get people to join you. Time after time my requests were unanswered and I just played alone. For a game with the tag line ‘never play alone’ you rarely get chance to play with anyone else.

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And that’s The Crew’s biggest problem. It’s just a massive racing game with a huge map. And the scale of that map is undoubtedly impressive but there isn’t nearly as much variation to the races as there is quantity. The co-op is by far The Crew’s biggest asset but you rarely get chance to see it. There are plenty of cars and upgrades to unlock but the missions become repetitive before too long. And premium currency in a full priced game again Ubisoft? It’s a disturbing vision of the future if this marketing ‘tactic’ catches on.

The Crew is an ambitious MMO with unrivalled scale and great co-op play. But the poor looks, repetitive missions, two-dimensional characters and narrative are far too much for the occasional co-op to make up for. I still had a lot of fun on The Crew, but I had it alone and lost interest far quicker than I wanted to.

 

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HERCULES

I’m a huge sucker for action, adventure films with a bit of comedy thrown in, some whit and a decent selection of cast members. When I heard that Hercules was coming to cinemas staring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson I wasn’t too sure I’d even get a couple of these points from this film. In fact, I wasn’t expecting anything big to come from this movie, apart from Johnson’s ever growing muscles of course, and from the advertisements I gathered this film would be cliché and unoriginal. Let this be a lesson to everyone, especially myself, not to ever judge a book by its cover, or in this case a film by its poster.

Hercules is a film that questions who the legend actually is which includes his band of heroes that follows and fights with him. Most tales about this demi-god is usually about the son of Zeus fighting mythical creatures with his great strength. This film is more about Hercules inspiring and leading great wars against fearless armies. His crew is made up of various fighters, an archer, a wild mute beast like brawler, a prophet gifted with seeing the future and even Hercules’ nephew who isn’t much of a fighter but tells the stories of his uncle’s mythologies.

Haunted by nightmare of his family’s death Hercules becomes the fearless hero that strives to do what’s right so that the innocent wouldn’t be hurt no more. But when he and his team are offered a chance to working for a bigger bounty than normal the blurred lines between working as mercenaries and keeping a good morality gets them into trouble. The film is built up of epic scaled battles that doesn’t skimp on the over the top action that is pretty blood thirsty. I’ve been let down in the past with similar films of such genre with the directors not thinking it’s necessary to show the details of war from start to finish. It’s great to see in Hercules the anticipation before war leading to the initiation, then the waves of combat right before the victory.

I was impressed to see a few British actors in the film including Ian McShane who provided most of the whit and several hilarious moments as well as John Hurt playing a Lord which he did a fantastic job with. Dwayne Johnson has always continued to impress me with his on screen persona. He knows what works to be a believable actor and playing the mighty Hercules fits better than any glove. Director Brett Ratner, known for X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour films did an incredible job with this film especially as the story is a different approach to the legend.

I’d be recommending this film as I feel that the trailer and adverts doesn’t do the film any justice. Seeing a story about a legend through the eyes of a different director, taking a different approach to the mythology and tying it together in a brutal bow made from swords, arrows and the beheaded heads of mythical creatures, Hercules is one to watch. If you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson, Greek mythology, Hercules or even just fancy a tongue in cheek film with a bit of brutality here and there then this is a film for you.

UPDATE: Hercules is now available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Here is the trailer:

It’s not too often nowadays that you’d stumble across what you might call an ‘educational’ game. If you’re a little tired of the modern military simulators, and fancy a little more insight in your gaming, then it might well be worth paying a visit to Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (Never Alone). From Upper One Games and E-Line Media, Never Alone hopes to build around the Alaskan community’s values and mythologies in bringing something a little different to the table.

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Get used to seeing the blizzards

Focusing on the Iñupiaq, the native, indigenous people of Alaska and their stories, Never Alone sees you in control of Nuna and her fox companion. Drawing heavy inspiration from the Alaskan tales, you’ll not only bear witness to adaptations of the stories, but also have some good old fashioned puzzle/platforming fun along the way too.

After a distressing encounter with a polar bear, you’re soon teamed up with your spiritual fox companion in an effort to make it back to your village in one piece. As the start of any involving game dictates however, all is not well upon your return. With the village destroyed by some unknown entity, it’s now your task to discover the true nature of the devastation.

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A strangely serene setting

As with any 2D platformer, there’ll be small puzzles to scratch your head over on your journey; this is where the arctic fox comes into play. Available to play in either coop or singleplayer, you’ll need cooperation and timing to succeed in your obstacles. Not only does the fox possess a smaller frame for access into smaller passageways, but can also scrabble and clamber up sheer ledges. And as far as his spiritual side goes, he’s got a few tricks up his fur collar there too. Namely involving being able to ‘see’ helpful spirits that can help guide you along your path, alongside acting as platforms for progression. Nuna on the other hand, can use her comparable strength to move boxes and later on, help access new areas with her acquired bola, even with its slightly awkward aiming system.

Amongst the many jumping sections and dabbling of puzzles you’ll come across, there are also a few ‘boss’ sections to contend with too. Mainly involving some sharpish reactions and accurate platforming, you’ll undoubtedly have to work with your partner to see the other side of them.

Taking place across eight chapters and featuring stories of the Blizzard Man, the Little People and the Rolling Heads amongst many others, it’ll take a solid afternoon to work your way through. It’s the (gratefully) easy to unlock, real time footage of Alaskan tales that stick with you the longest however. Stumbling upon a lone, mysterious owl will unlock a cultural video, immediately available to watch via a dab of the touchpad. Featuring genuine Alaskan folk, these cutaways give an insightful guise to the natives and their stories. Some may feature harrowing tales of being stranded on a floating slab of ice with little hope of escape, whereas others will focus on their proud heritage and memories of their childhoods.

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He’s not as intimidating as he looks…

The story, as a whole, should be praised for sticking with its native roots. Each chapter offers a new danger and is presented excellently by both real time scenes and artistic representations resembling ancient artwork from the region. The graphics retain a soft and gentle appearance that’s often offset by the forceful arctic weather to create a simple yet immersive atmosphere whilst the unobtrusive music sets the tone without forcing your attention.

Whilst the gameplay of the game itself is arguably its weakest point with some solid, if not a little predictable platforming and puzzles, everything else shines. The bonus cultural insights, the soft art style and the understated music alone, remain key reasons for you to play Never Alone.

Back in the late 1970’s the original Battlestar Galactica series aired, followed by Galatica 1980, and now they have both been released on Blu-ray – here is our review.

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Battlestar Galactica

Back in 1977 after Star Wars came out, TV executives wanted to cash in on the success, and thus Battlestar Galactica was born. The show was set on the Galactica, a ship that was tasked with protecting the remaining survivors of the 12 Colonies following a devistating attack from the Cylons whilst also trying to find the Earth. It starred Lorne Greene as Adama, Richard Hatch as Apollo and a pre A-Team Dirk Benedict as Starbuck.

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There were 24 episodes in total, starting with the massive three part Saga of a Star World. I used to be riveted to the TV every week when it was shown, getting very upset one week when it wasn’t on because of an FA Cup Final replay!

Galactica 1980

Let me start off by giving you a warning – and this comes from someone who watched Galactica 1980 when it FIRST aired – don’t watch it. It’s awful. No, it’s beyond awful. The premise is that it’s a number of years later and Galactica finally discovers Earth, only to get a dire warning from an annoying kid called Dr Zee that Earth isn’t ready for communication and that if Galactica makes contact then Earth will be destroyed by the Cylons. So they come up with this great idea to send down a group of “Super Scouts” to get Earth ready – think a bunch of annoying kids and you would be spot on. The group is lead by now adult Boxee – Apollo’s son from the Original Series. The only original cast member is Lorne Green as Adama, although Dirk Benedict does appear in an episode who’s story is basically that of the film Enemy Mine.

Like I said, avoid watching any of this show, it didn’t last long thankfully. Although for completeness it’s good that it was included in the set.

Final Thoughts

I really loved the original Battlestar Galactica (and I am huge fan of the recent reboot as well – although the original isn’t as dark).

If you are fan then this is definitely one for your collection – just remember when you watch it that it is nearly 40 years old!

You get all the episodes from both the original Battlestar Galactica series (24 episodes) and Galactica 1980 (thankfully only 10 episodes).

There is also some bonus materials, including audio commentary, deleted scenes and a number of features, so well worth checking out.

Mad Catz have a new premium headset – the F.R.E.Q.9, and we managed to get our hands on the first set in the UK!

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Features

  • Bluetooth Stereo Audio Enhanced by Apt-X Low Latency Audio Codec
  • 50 mm Neodymium drivers
  • 10 metre wireless range
  • AM3D Virtual Surround Sound over Bluetooth
  • Active Noise Cancelling
  • Internal Chat Mic
  • Powered by rechargeable Lithium Ion battery for 20 hours+ battery life
  • On Headset controls including Volume +/-, Skip Next/Back, Play/Pause, Call Answer, AM3D, EQ
  • Compatible with PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation 4
  • Travel case
  • 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery with up to 24 hours use from a single charge

What’s in the Box?

  • F.R.E.Q.9 Headset
  • Bluetooth Adapter Box
  • Premium Carry Case
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable
  • Optical audio cable
  • USB cable to USB cable
  • Micro USB charge cable
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox 360 digital audio adapter
  • 3.5mm to dual phone audio cable
  • Quick Start Guide

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A Closer Look

The F.R.E.Q.9 Headset

The F.R.E.Q.9 really does look the part in black, grey and silver, with red cushions.

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The Bluetooth Adaptor Box

The Bluetooth adaptor box is small and can fit in the palm of your hand. You might be mistaken for thinking it looks like the Mad Catz M.O.J.O. and you would be right. The rear of the box has a number of connections, including a USB port, a power button and optical in for connection to various consoles.

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The Carry Case

The carry case is very sturdy, and securely holds the F.R.E.Q.9 for transportation – you should have no problems about damage when the headset is in it. And it even looks good!

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Using the F.R.E.Q.9 Headset

Charging the F.R.E.Q.9 Headset

Before using the F.R.E.Q.9 you need to charge it. That’s a really simple process of connecting the USB charging cable to the headset and waiting.

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Connected the F.R.E.Q.9 Headset to a PlayStation 4

The F.R.E.Q.9 connects to every games console out there at the moment and the box contains every cable you will need to connect (with the exception of the Xbox One which requires you to already have the Xbox One headset adaptor). So depending on what you want to connect up to, take a look at the guide and made a note of the number, which corresponds to one of the packets in the box. So in the case of wanting to connect the F.R.E.Q.9 to my PlayStation 4, the guide told me I needed cable 9.

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I then took that cable, connected one end to the F.R.E.Q.9 and the other to my PS4 controller.

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I also had to connect the wireless adaptor box to the PlayStation 4 console and ensure that the F.R.E.Q.9 headset was connected via Bluetooth to the adaptor box and make an audio settings output change on the console, and that was it!

The Mic

Rather than having a removable boom mic that can often get in the way, or even get lost, the mic on the F.R.E.Q.9 is built into the right headset cup.

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The Controls

There are a number of controls on the headset, including next and previous tracks, microphone mute and a button that controls binaural monitoring and surround sound, but more on that later.

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There is also a volume wheel (which can be easily accessed and used in the middle of a hectic match) and a switch that activates and deactivates the active noise cancelling function.

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Final Thoughts

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was how good the F.R.E.Q.9 looked, and that included the case! The headset itself is very sturdy, and feels very comfortable to wear, even with extended periods of wearing! It’s very solid, but also flexible where it needs to be. The actual headset ear-pieces can be swivelled easily and they stay in place.

I was really happy with the battery life on the F.R.E.Q.9 – I managed to get around 24 hours of use, give or take a little, which meant that if I wanted to take the headset on a flight and use it I could do so and not have to worry about the battery running out. Charging was easy and just involved plugging in the USB cable and waiting!

When I first saw that there was no external mic I was both happy and concerned at the same time. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to keep removing it when I didn’t want to have a mic on and concerned that it wasn’t going to be good enough given the small size and location. I was very happy that my concerns were unwarranted and the sound quality was excellent, in fact far better than I had experienced on other headsets even with an external mic. And that annoying side effect of having everyone hearing you breath is also gone – so great job Mad Catz!

So we mentioned binaural monitoring and surround sound – surround sounds is provided using AM3D which delivers audio enhancements and 3D audio and can be enabled to provide a really immersive effect when playing games and watching films. Certainly when playing Destiny on the PS4 I could hear the sound effects better than I had done before on my normal television!

The binaural monitoring feature is a feature that enables a listen-through capability which delivers ambient sound to both ears. State-of-the-art silicon MEMS microphones positioned on the exterior of the F.R.E.Q.9 continuously monitor the ambient sound field. You can decide whether or not you want to enable it – it basically means you can hear sounds around you better and makes having conversations with people easier and makes it more comfortable to speak when your ears are covered.

One thing I like to do when travelling is to try and ignore the world around me – usually I do this with a pair of noise cancelling headphones, so I was very happy to see that the F.R.E.Q.9 had noise cancelling built in. It’s digitally controlled Active Noise Cancelling (or D-ANC) from Soundchip that reduces the unwanted background noise. It works on any Bluetooth or 3.5mm audio connection and it works really well. Just flick the switch and notice the difference straight away.

I tried the F.R.E.Q.9 on a multitude of devices and consoles – basically the only one I needed an extra component for was the Xbox One and Mad Catz make a point of telling you that you need it so that it’s not a surprise! I had no problems at all setting it up on the difference devices and the fact that Mad Catz took the time to not only produce detailed descriptions in the manual for the connections but also numbered the little bags of cables to make life easier was a very smart move.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the F.R.E.Q.9 – there are a lot of headsets on the market, and this one is in a class of its own. I highly recommend trying a pair now, yes, they are not cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for, and in this case, its an extremely high quality headset that does it all.

The F.R.E.Q.9 Wireless Surround Headset retails for £299 and is the best gaming headset we have ever used!

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Visit the Mad Catz website to learn more.

All too often pool games have a habit of not quite striking a balance between you being able to win every game in a single turn or your opponent winning every game in a single turn. Well pure pool has a simple but effective way of making sure you don’t have to be a professional pool player to play but still not let you win without challenge.

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So you get showing were the cue ball will go and then where that will leave the ball you hit. When this happens there’s not a huge chance of you missing unless you make a mistake, which is unlikely. But were pure pool kept me interested was when you hit a sharp angle or take a shot from long range. When this happens the markers begin to fade and make it difficult to see exactly what you’re going to hit. There’s just enough for you to take a decent shot but you’re not able to take perfect shots across the table every shot. Not only does this add a challenge and skill to Pure Pool but Its also so rewarding when you get a good shot and the game isn’t there to jump in and take the credit with its training wheel UI.

There’s not a whole load of excitement that can be injected into a pool game as far as graphics are concerned. But the tables, balls and cues are well detailed. The backgrounds look nice but spend their time our of focus which is either not to be distracting or because they’re low fidelity. Considering the amount of time you’ll spend looking at them they do their job just right. It looks pretty and saves power for the important things. Everything is smooth and the UI is as minimalist as possible. It doesn’t intrude and it always feels like it was made to help rather than hinder you.

The main menu is as minimalist as possible too. There’s very little for you to do before you get in and play. There’s a few different game modes to play around with but Pure Pool has one priority and that’s to get you into the game and playing pool. It’s a simple process but it’s one that a lot of games miss (*cough* EA Sports menus *cough*). I just want to play pool and Pure Pool just gets it done.

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Pure Pool is great fun and it does what it says on the tin without any fuss or flash. It looks nice, the UI is exactly what you need and there’s plenty of difficulty should you want it. Or you can always go online. And because long shots aren’t just as easy as short ones there’s actually a point to things like were the cue ball ends up after a shot. It’s great fun and a welcome change of pace from the racing and killing.

 

In general people aren’t keen on games released on a yearly basis. It often ensures a franchise becomes stale and repetitive. Throwing creativity and solid design out the window in favour of just getting more games on shelves and ultimately more incoming cash. At least that’s how it comes across to fans sometimes. Well Ubisoft have gone one step further and rather than releasing a multi-format title have released 2 Assassin’s Creed titles for this iteration of the historical epic.

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There should, however, be some advantages to a non multi-format release and I often even resent them as often it feels they hold back generations. In theory those playing PS4 and Xbox One versions can rest assured that those versions will work optimally on next gen hardware because they’re only available on those native platforms. Oh wait a sec. The atrocious frame rates that you find on at least the PS4 version of Unity don’t end there?

Rogue basically doesn’t work at points. Frame rate drops are not rare and you will notice. It seems spectacular to me that Ubisoft not only makes two games that don’t require multi-format porting and the issues that brings but also managed to ensure that both have appalling frame rates. You might let Rogue off if it were a port, which I’m glad it isn’t, but it’s not. It looks ok but there’s nothing in Rogue that will excite anyone – especially those who’ve played previous titles, and Black Flag in particular.

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Rogue is almost a follow up to Black Flag and shares many similarities with the pirating adventures of Edward Kenway. This time you take to the seas as Shay Patrick Cormac. He’s no Kenway but there is a decent depth to his character and the story that surrounds him is easily good enough to carry the game. Although it is shorter than most AC outings which is disappointing. Shay provides a nice alternate perspective into AC and attempts to show us the Assassins vs Templar story from a different point of view. It works up to a point but essentially the game plays the same and Shay’s story ultimately adds little depth to Assassin’s Creed on the whole. And while there’s some out of Animus stuff to do it’s still an area that I fell is greatly lacking in the franchise. I appreciate that I’m in a minority on that one but I enjoyed the sequences from the present. I thought AC2 and even AC3 had great present day sequences personally but Ubisoft have moved in another direction. I suppose a decent meta-story doesn’t fit well with yearly releases.

Other than the main story the usual assassin’s distractions present themselves. And just like with Unity there’s so much to do it’s almost overwhelming. There are a few new features but most are the core distractions we’re all accustomed to. Shay’s allegiances offer up a few changes too but not enough to really change the game. Many of the tasks offer nothing more than hour after hour of mindlessly playing what is basically the same objective. It’s all too easy to just ignore them and not bother. Rewards are limited so most things will be just for the completionists. Even then there are so many collectables it just becomes a chore.

Naval combat makes a reasonably welcome return. But once again it’s something we’ve seen before. I still enjoyed being a captain but it leaves Rogue feeling even more like a sequel than it already did. In itself that’s not necessarily a problem but a game updated yearly relies on fresh mechanics and gameplay to keep it alive. Rogue doesn’t feel like a proper effort but feels more like a cash in than ever – at least as far as the mechanics go. And given the half sized plot and reused elements there is a certain feeling of DLC to the game.

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As usual with AC there’s plenty to do in Rogue. But the more relevant question is likely to be do you want to do it? Sure there are an unbelievable amount of collectables and distractions but it boils down to the same old AC game. The naval elements don’t quite feel tired yet and I still enjoyed commanding a ship but it felt too close to Black Flag. And as a further insult Black Flag was playable on PS4/Xbox One and not last gen hardware so if I want to take control of a ship, given the choice I’ll take Black Flag on PS4/Xbox One.

All the time niggling at the back of my mind was that I was playing a last gen game while Unity sat looking at me from across the room. Without any significant changes and improvements Rogue doesn’t even attempt to move forwards. In fact it specifically looks backwards. But if you want more AC for your PS3/360 the that’s what Rogue will give you. Just don’t expect any surprises or hints of progress or innovation.

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