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Review

WD recently released a number of new NAS devices, including the My Cloud EX4100, and here is our review.

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This is how WD describe the EX4100:

“Save all your valuable photos, videos, music and files on this ready-to-go, high-performance NAS solution for secure access to them anytime, from anywhere. Protect your content with multiple backup options, customize your NAS with a full suite of apps and enjoy peace of mind knowing that we’ve put our best in it, so you can put your best on it.”

Specifications

Interface

  • Gigabit Ethernet x 2
  • Power supply (DC in) x 2
  • USB 3.0 expansion port x 2 rear
  • USB 3.0 port with direct copy x 1 front

Drive bays

  • 4 x 3.5 inch hard drive bays, hot swap capable, tray-less design

Internal hard drives

  • WD Red NAS hard drives

Processor

  • Marvell ARMADA 388 1.6 GHz dual-core

Memory

  • 2 GB DDR3

The full specs can be found on the WD website.

A Closer Look

The front of the EX4100 has the power button, along with a information display that shows a number of pieces of information, all of which can be scrolled using the buttons to the right of the display.

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The four drive bays are also situated at the front of the EX4100 and can be easily removed by pulling on the tabs. You can also see the lights under each drive showing they are functioning. There is also a USB 3.0 port along with a backup button – you can use this to quickly and easily backup the entire contents of a USB drive without the need for a PC.

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The rear of the EX4100 has two USB 3.0 ports, two Ethernet ports and two power ports, plus a Kensington Lock.

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Using the EX4100

Setting Up

Setting up the EX4100 for the first time is incredibly easy and quick – connect up the power and an Ethernet cable then switch on. All the configuration is done via a series of webpages and within a few minutes you are ready to go.

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The Web Interface – My Cloud OS

The interface you are shown is very simple to use, as you can see below.

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There are a series of tabs across the top, such as Home, Users, Shares, Storage, etc, which each having a number of different displays and options depending on what you choose.

The Home tab displays how much capacity is on the device (this review unit is the 16TB version pre-configured for RAID5, hence 11.8TB free). You can also see how many Cloud Devices, Users and Apps are configured, along with simple diagnostics and also the firmware version.

Storage

You can easily change the RAID mode by just selecting it. Just remember though that some changes are destructive to the stored data on the EX4100 so make sure you have your data backed up.

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You can also check on the status of each of the disks in the EX4100, and even check the S.M.A.R.T. data too.

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You can even set up an iSCSI target on the EX4100 if you need to, but I think most people won’t touch this, but it’s a nice addition for those users who might want this functionality.

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Users

You can easily create and control users and groups from the Users tab.

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Shares

And the same goes for Shares. Out of the box there are three top level shares – Public, SmartWare and TimeMachineBackup, but you can easily add shares and the click of a button.

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Time Machine Backups

The EX4100 works as a Time Machine Backup drive so that you can back up your Mac to it. Just go into Time Machine on your Mac and select TimeMachineBackup – WDMyCloudEX4100 and start backing up. Depending on the amount of data on your Mac, the initial backup may take some time.

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Apps

You can install and run apps on your EX4100 – by default there are a few already installed for you to use.

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Adding an app is very simple – you just select it from the catalogue and install. For now there are not that many apps available but hopefully that will change soon!

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Settings

There are a number of settings menus ranging from the name and language settings, to enabling DLNA Media streaming and iTunes. Most of them just require enabling or disabling.

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Cloud Access

From here you can setup and manage any smartphone or tablet access to the EX4100.

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My Cloud App

There is an app you can install on Windows or Mac that gives you access to the various Shares. From here you can upload, download, delete, create, and so on.

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Final Thoughts

There are four different variants of the EX4100, for this review we had the 16TB version.

You may have noticed the number of times I used the word easily in this review – and for good reason! Everything you will want and need to do on the EX4100 is easy to do.

The My Cloud OS web front end is rather basic compared to other NAS devices on the market – that being said though everything you need to do can be done and it is presented in as simple a way as possible.

Earlier in the review we pointed out that there were two Ethernet ports and two power adaptor ports. The two power adaptor ports are used for ensuring that if one of the power supplies fails then the EX4100 will still carry on. You will need to be an additional power adaptor though as WD only supply one in the box. The two Ethernet adaptors are used for Link Aggregation, which can be configured for fault tolerance and speed improvements depending on your personal setup. What was disappointing here though was that WD don’t provide any information in either the manual or on the web front end on what each setting means, they just expect you to know. Given that some of the more obvious options have pages dedicated to them its a little surprising little is provided for a feature that can provide additional benefits.

Copying to and from the EX4100 was very quick – this was a good thing, and I initially wanted to copy a very large amount of data to the EX4100.

Setting up media streaming only involved switching it on and then all of my various devices picked up the EX4100 straight away and streaming worked like a charm. The media streaming component within the EX4100 is Twonky Media Server 7.2 in case you are wondering and is DLNA 1.5 certified

The EX4100 was fairly quiet in operation – that was good because I have used NAS devices in the past that sound like jet engines and that’s the last thing you want or need!

I was a little disappointed with the lack of available apps for the EX4100, for example there is no AV app and no surveillance app, so hopefully WD will sort this out soon as their competitors have these apps already, and for some of them for quite a while now.

You can backup your EX4100 too – options include backing up to a local USB device, another My Cloud device (local or remote), or even to the Cloud.

If you want to backup your camera images you can just connect your camera to the EX4100 and it can automatically copy the photographs off the camera. You can even set it up to move the photographs from the camera so you can have a nice clean camera card ready to use again.

Price wise, the WD EX4100 range is £359.00 for the diskless unit, £699.00 for 8 TB, £999.00 for 16 TB and £1,399.00 for 24 TB.

If you are looking for a simple to use NAS box that pretty much does most of what you need then you should look no further than the WD My Cloud EX4100.

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You can learn more from the WD website.

Polk recently released their Striker ZX Gaming Headset for the Xbox One, and here is our review.

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This is how Polk describe the Striker ZX:

“The Polk Striker ZX headset is the Xbox One solution for the way you like to game. Designed for Xbox One, the Striker ZX connects you with a high performance immersive audio experience that will take you deeper into games, music and movies.  Moreover, its world-class design combines functional style with featherweight comfort to keep you focused on gaming. Polk has developed its own wireless headset adapter that connects you wirelessly to the Xbox One™ console and gives you complete chat functionality, as well as enables you to control both your game and chat volume mix. With a retractable mic and chat loop feature you will never have to scream to be heard in game. Any way you like to game, there’s only one way to listen. Striker ZX.”

Features

  • Powered by 40 years of audio heritage and tuned for heart-pounding sound quality, the Striker ZX’s sound will elevate your gaming experience by hearing all the detail, all the subtleties in the game.
  • Stay-focused Comfort, Our ProFit Comfort system creates a lightweight headset that helps your gaming concentration, never hinders it. ProFit Comfort is a combination of a lightweight, moulded headband with a thick cushion and two-way pivoting ear cups with Protein Leather padding, enabling the Striker headset to rest easily as it conforms to your head.
  • The 40mm drivers have been created using Polk’s patented Dynamic Balance driver design process. This helps eliminate resonances and creates the Striker’s game changing high-quality sound.
  • Wireless Headset Adapter, Polk’s exclusive Xbox One design will have higher output for gaming and chat, helping create a better gaming experience.
  • Retractable, Omni-directional boom microphone, with a 7cm extension, is flexible, so it conforms to the way you like to chat and slides neatly into the ear cup when you’re done.  You can even take calls with it if you have it connected to your phone.
  • Chat loop feature listens into your mic and lets you hear your voice in the headset to avoid shouting.
  • Superior Build Quality means the Striker headset is a tool you can depend on to give you a gaming edge for years to come.
  • Strain Relief Cable connector at the ear cup ensures the 40-inch cable always keeps you in the game. Two additional split cables enable you to connect to your platform of choice.
  • More than a gaming headset; the Striker brings Polk’s legendary sound quality to your favourite movies, music and TV shows.

Specifications

Specs

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the Striker ZX headset, a setup guide, a cable and a Xbox One controller audio adaptor.

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A Closer Look

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Final Thoughts

The Striker ZX is available in Black, Blue or Orange, personally I really like the orange, it goes well with my Titanfall controller!

The headset itself is comfortable to wear for extended periods – the ear cups are cushioned as is the headband, and it is very lightweight.

The microphone is built into the headset, you just pull it out and position it however you need, and when you have finished you just push it back into the headset.

The box contains an Xbox One controller audio adaptor, this one manufactured by Polk themselves. Just plug it into your controller and connect the cable into it and away you go.

The sound quality is very good, although if you are looking for a deep bass sound you might be slightly disappointed. Voice chat works well, if that’s your thing!

My only two negative comments are that the cable that connects the headset to the controller doesn’t detach, so if anything happened to it, or it got damaged then it cannot easily be replaced. The other negative comment is that the headset feels a little plastic, however that doesn’t detract from the quality.

The Polk Striker ZX Gaming Headset is available for for under £50, so if you are looking for a good low price Xbox One gaming headset you should definitely take a look at this one.

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You can learn more from the Polk website.

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LeapFrog recently released the LeapPad3 Learning Tablet, and here is our review.

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What’s in the Box?

The box contains the LeapPad3, a charger, a cable and some instructions and guides.

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The LeapPad3 also comes with the following:

• Music Player plus 10 songs
• Pet Pad Party
• Pet Chat
• Photo Fun Ultra
• 5 Utility Apps
• Choice of 1 App Download

A Closer Look

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Final Thoughts

The LeapPad3 is designed to provide a safe and fun experience for children aged 3 – 9 years old. If you had a previous LeapPad then you will notice that the LeapPad3 has been redesigned. It sleeker, lighter, has a quad-core processor and Wi-Fi and is designed to be handled by children, meaning LeapFrog have drop tested it so that if you drop it, unlike an iPad, it won’t shatter!

You get around 6 hours of constant use on the battery, and the LeapPad3 can be charged either from the charger or via USB (so you can charge it on the go).

The screen is a very clear 5” touchscreen and I found it to be very responsive.

And don’t worry about children seeing inappropriate content when surfing the web on the LeapPad3 as it uses LeapSearch powered by Zui. What that means is that only content that is appropriate is displayed, and that content has been approved by “learning experts”, so after watching that Sesame Street video you don’t have to worry about something else being shown!

There are well over 700 games and apps available for the LeapPad3, including games, eBooks and videos, so there should be something for everyone, and the games actually adapt to your child’s learning level.

You can even link up two LeapPad3’s using Pet Chat and Pet Pad Party, both of which are including with the LeapPad3, giving your child hours of fun, and you hours of peace and quiet.

There is also a 2MP front and rear camera which works well, and even the ability to record video at 480p. There is 4GB of on-board memory too.

The LeapPad3 works with both PC and Mac and is very easy to set up and use.

The LeapFrog LeapPad3 retails for £89.99 but as usual look around for a good deal. The LeapPad3 comes in either Green or Pink.

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Learn more from the LeapFrog website.

With a track record like Obsidian’s it’s difficult not to have the highest of expectations when it comes to RPGs. KOTOR II and Fall Out: New Vegas to name only two of a successful RPG packed history. But there are very few original titles in this list. So for Pillars of Eternity the company became one of the ever-increasing group of games successfully funded by Kickstarter. It’s becoming more apparent as time goes on that Kickstarter isn’t just for small projects to gain funding but has enough power to fund even huge projects like Pillars of Eternity. The fans have spoken and Obsidian has no shortage of fans. And so with an insanely successful Kickstarter behind them Pillars of Eternity was born.

There’s only one place to start with any respectably in depth RPG and that’s character creation. I remember the team being particularly proud of its efforts in this regard back when I saw the game in development in 2014. It was difficult in that short session to really grasp just how intricate the character creation was. Well I can confidently say now it is nothing short of mind blowing. If there is a class, ability or race that you want it absolutely will be here.

For example it’s not enough to ask yourself if you want to be a mage or wizard without a series of follow up questions. Sure there is a ‘standard’ mage with conventional spell based attacks but there’s also a mage who starts with all the spells he can have and has the ability to turn into a beast to attack enemies. And there’s a priest that works as a support role who has literally no offensive spells. And there’s a FFX-2 songstress like class who uses phrases of music to create ‘spells’.

In fact there are 11 classes in Pillars of Eternity. There are also 6 race types each with at least 2 sub options and some with more. Then there are 7 home regions for your character and then there are around 10 backgrounds to choose from depending on your other choices. On top of deciding between one of the two starting abilities and allocating your ability points. Needless to say it took me a huge amount of time to decide I would be a female, wood elf, ranger with wounding shot and a bear companion who hails from the Deadfire Archipelago and was previously a hunter.

The options available are ridiculous and given this freedom I wager there are very few instances of a character being the same. In fact the only choice that doesn’t effect your stats is your gender. Everything else matters.

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Getting stuck into the game after spending far too long on creating my plucky elf hunter I was presented with my first disappointment – a great big wall of text. Despite my years as an RPG enthusiast these days my heart sinks a little when I find I have god knows how many hours of text to read. But to my surprise the narrator kindly starting to dramatically set the scene and work his way through the script. And then I actually started to read everything.

I have to admit I often pay little mind to anything outside of the main quests and do as little reading as possible when involving characters like ‘lady with dog’ or whatever. But Pillars of Eternity is beautifully written throughout. The descriptive texts are at least on par with any quality novel. Suddenly I forgot all my reservations and even looked forward to reading on about the world’s intricate lore. To my surprise most of the main characters have well recorded speech anyway. Given that the writing is so good I had no problems reading but it’s still nice to have the recorded voices.

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To put it simply – the combat is tough. Pillars of Eternity has already made a name for itself as difficult and it’s well deserved. I knew this before I started and so I paid particular attention to the descriptions given to the difficulties. Airing on the side of caution I went for normal and enjoyed the challenges that I encountered. Even easy isn’t easy and I certainly wouldn’t have been overconfident. For anyone who is successful at the top difficulty, and there aren’t going to be many, there’s always Iron Man mode with the added punishment that your save is deleted if you die – which is not a rare occurrence. Ouch.

Battles are handled via a great little UI bar that takes up the usual spot a the bottom centre of the screen. It’s small but there are a surprising amount of functions available. There’s a nice big, easy to hit, pause/play button which will likely become your best friend. Pillars of Eternity uses a real time system so pausing almost all the time is a must. It’s not excessive to pause before issuing every command and arguably is the ‘right’ way to play.

Given that you can end up with quite a large group of companions pausing and managing abilities is a must, especially for the tougher fights. Leaving the AI to handle things for you might get you by for the small stuff but almost everything in Pillars of Eternity should be considered dangerous and given at least a little respect. It feels like the UI is actually there to help which stops the complex combat from becoming tedious or awkward.

What doesn’t shine is the way Pillars of Eternity looks. It’s too glaringly obvious to ignore much though I wish I could. I know it doesn’t matter as much as all the great things on offer but it really doesn’t help. Paying homage to old classics is one thing but there is no attempt at all to inject any modern effects or elements. Animations are stiff and characters don’t hold up at all. I also found the camera a little limiting and too close like the old 1024 x 768 days. I like the top down look and I’m so glad Obsidian prioritised quests, speech and in depth levelling over visuals. But rather than mimicking those titles of old Pillars of Eternity just looks exactly like them. Side by side you wouldn’t tell the difference which means Pillars looks very very old and low res.

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Pillars of Eternity is the best RPG I’ve played since Wasteland 2 and another great addition to my pile of top down RPGs. The character creation and skill trees are absolutely way beyond anything most games offer. If you want to make a fantasy RPG character you can do it here without compromise. Questing is fun and creative with backing from the best writing I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. The difficulty is tough but fare and rewarding. And there’s a good 60 hours or so of content.

Obsidian knew which boxes to tick to keep fans happy and they’ve yet again created an RPG that will be one of the greats because of it. The only thing that really lets Pillars of Eternity down are its visuals. An artistic take on the genre or some higher resolution character models would have gone a long way to making Pillars of Eternity look like something from 2015. Look past the surface and an expansive and immersive world awaits – and Pillars of Eternity does make it oh so easy to forget the looks and lose yourself in its world.

Just when you thought you’d had enough Total War Creative Assembly are back with some not-quite-full-game but more than ‘just’ DLC add on content. This time you’ll have the choice of various barbarians and scoundrels keen on taking land along with a healthy dose of pillaging and general property damage. The Romans will be shacking in their togas.

At its core Attila is very much Rome II – albeit heavily altered. The unit bar at the bottom of the screen is largely the same and most of the elements on the world map are at least the same in style. There is a slight return of menus and boxes that open and almost fill the screen which can make managing some elements much easier. Some games just won’t fit into neat little UI elements around the borders of the screen. Total War is one of them. It’s grand strategy and it needs menus and windows. Grand strategy players like menus with numbers and stats, I know I do. Rome II forgot this a little but luckily Attila has at least partially reinstated the old ways. It’s at least promising that Creative Assembly are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately organizing political influences and internal family politics is still a confusing chore. It’s very difficult to see the benefits and changing anything meaningful is difficult. Rather than feeling in control of a government you feel much more like an observer watching various power struggles within a powerful family you have little control over. I’d wager a lot of players never even see this menu. Granted it can provide some nifty bonuses but it’s just no fun to use. A deeper and more full representation of a government and transparent UI features would be welcome to Total War and I think eventually the franchise will get there, but Attila isn’t the one. However, for me at least it is an improvement over Rome II.

Managing settlements is largely the same as Rome II although with Attila’s flavour painted over everything. The new, more manageable, numbers and a heavier reliance on global elements allow your legacy settlements to carry and improve captured ones. Playing as one of the barbarian nations has a much more temporary feel that I found surprisingly welcome. You even have the ability to pack everything up and travel as a mobile band of thugs searching for a new place to call home. This ability to abandon your settlement and move on is a welcome new layer to the world map even though I rarely used it. To be honest I don’t have a problem with the progressively taking over the world style of Total War.

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Building armies still follows Rome II’s idea that an army is an entity in its own right and units must be assigned to that army. While it does offer some benefits and it’s cool when army gets a well deserved reputation I’d still rather just build units and move them into an army by joining then with a general, that general could always carry an army’s upgrades. Unfortunately I do like it when an army becomes powerful because of its successes and losses. Or when they are destroyed and you actually feel the loss of connection. It also makes the game feel closer to other grand strategies that allow you to name specific forces. What I don’t like is when I just need a single unit for repression and have to go through army creation to get one. Or when a general gets negative attributes for being stood still for 10 seconds.

New units are as well made and in depth as one would expect from Creative Assembly. The precedent set out by Rome II for available factions is still upheld and there is enough choice in Attila that no one could be disappointed. There is clearly some space made for DLC factions but there are more than enough factions included in the main game. It is still a little annoying though that some very important factions are left out just for DLC purposes.

Also following Total War’s current trend each faction feels like more than just the same units with ‘Hun’ or ‘Saxon’ written in front of it and a different coloured hat. Attila more than comfortably carries the torch and the different factions are particularly impressive. The amount of content Attila offers really would make it difficult to see everything; which is very much a good thing. Attila feels like more than an expansion and certainly isn’t just DLC churned out for the sake of it, although ironically the DLC for Attila is a little bit unjustified in this respect.

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In Battles the classic Total War idiocy still looms. I was reminded of it only a few weeks ago when I delved back into Rome II when I had the ludicrous show of my toughened Spartan warriors running around the map chasing a unit that just kept changing direction and running while I marched into their city. To my dismay when I returned my units had given up taking over the unguarded gates and decided instead to just stand on the walls.

Unsurprisingly Attila doesn’t break free of all the AI woes Total War offers but it does do a good job of trying. I would say this has definitely been the least ridiculous AI experience I’ve had from total war in a long time. But expect the usual inability of the AI to move away from your ranged units as they are relentlessly pelted with whatever your units have at hand. And on occasion I still had to chase a unit to every corner of the map for literally 10 minutes or more.

Another important change is longer route times and the tendency for units to regroup rather than flee. It means that more battles end in combat rather than thousands of enemies simply fleeing. And even then it’s possible to regroup and mount a counter attack if those units stop routing and regroup. It’s nice to see Total War take steps away from entire units running and battles ending without the satisfaction of an arduous and well fought victory or a valiant defeat.

Attila is an expansive and complete take on Rome II. It has almost enough new units to be considered a new game in its own right. Given the amount of changes and new features it’s very close to being considered as one. But at its heart Attila somehow just doesn’t push far enough away from Rome II, it is after all the same game underneath. The changes to the AI, although not a complete victory, are welcome. The UI seems to have found a better balance between function and style. And the new units are just as well designed as any other Total War title. Every change made in Attila is made in the right direction but none of them feel like enough to give Attila the authority of a full title. But Attila does provide a new way to play Rome II with enough new flavour to bring back players even if they have already spent massive amounts of time on Rome II.

 

Telltale Games have released Episode 2 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.

Now’s it’s been four months since episode 1 was released, and I was hoping for a quicker turnaround for episode 2, but that wasn’t the case. This has happened in the past with Telltale games, they are always worth the wait, but with 5 episodes making up the entire game if each 2 hour episode takes 4 months to come out I can see people getting rather frustrated. At least Telltale made a little joke about the delay in the opening moments of episode 2, so that was a nice touch.

As with other Telltale games, episode 2 takes place straight after the events of episode 1, and as before I am not going to spoil anything by telling you much, suffice to say that Handsome Jack plays a big part in this episode, and fans of Borderlands The Pre-Sequel will be pleased to see a few characters making an appearance. Watch out for the eye though!

The second episode took about 2 hours to complete, and I am really looking forward to episode 3, let’s just hope that doesn’t take 4 months to come out.

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 3.

Whilst certain ‘other shooters’ go for the annual release model, the Battlefield series have often scheduled their games a couple of years apart. Not only should this encourage making games that provide an extended lifespan, but also afford enough opportunities for newly implemented ideas when the time comes around to releasing another. Hardline brings about a lot of alterations, the question being, can Battlefield retain its classic multiplayer offerings after doling out some fairly radical changes?

We’ll start with the singleplayer. Instead of playing as generic military grunt 4 and solving the worlds’ war problems with more…war, Battlefield Hardline has completely switched things up by emulating your favourite cop’s and robber’s drama. Meet Nicholas Mendoza, a stereotypical cop who lives up to his cliché name by doing things solely by the book, despite how many hand-outs he’s offered along the way. Mendoza’s the kinda guy you can rely on when the local drug war escalates to one of explosive proportions, one who’ll keep his head when others are literally losing theirs around him.

Embroiled in a world of dirty cops, double crosses and of course, exploring the local swamps in a fan boat, you’ll find that each of the games’ ten levels pays more than just a passing homage to shows like The Wire and The Shield. Presented in a televised, episodic format, each time you decide to pop on the campaign, you’ll have a ‘previously on…’ section which attempts to serve as a little refresher from where you last left off. To add to this, each episode usually follows the format of its respective show too, where you’ll often start off with a slow section, complete with background and filler, before ending on a bang.

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In previous Battlefield games, being stealthy was usually a precursor to all hell breaking loose; especially when there’s no real incentive to keep it quiet. Hardline encourages it however. Even though you can of course blast your way through the levels with no regard for something as menial as collateral damage, you’re rewarded for being the good guy. The game couldn’t give a monkey about your ability to line up multiple headshots; instead it’ll applaud using your police issue kit to take down perps alive and disgruntled. Included in your arsenal is a scanner, of which you can use to tag enemies, alarms and secrets; all of which you earn points for doing so. Alongside this, you carry your trusty badge which you can point at up to three ne’er-do-wells and get them to surrender whilst you handcuff them. The challenge being that you’ll have to keep a gun trained on them whilst moving in, or risk one of them acting out and kicking things off.

There are good and bad points to the singleplayer portion. One of the main criticisms I have is that it’s entirely singleplayer; which makes little sense as you’ll go through a large portion of the game alongside your forgettable AI controlled partner. It would have been nice to have a little co-op action in there so you could clear rooms effectively and flank enemies to get the jump on them, but never mind. More problems arise due to the game solely rewarding you for stealth. It’s a great moment when you’ve cleared a room or two in pristine fashion only for a couple of rogue criminals (you were unaware of) to spot you and turn the rest of the level into a tense firefight. Instead of thinking great, that was just like that bit in such and such, you just think, I’ll reload the checkpoint so I get more rewards for doing it ‘properly’. In terms of the narrative aspects of the game, there’s ultimately a fine line between being either engrossed or embarrassed in both the plot and the way it’s presented; with unfortunately, some of the script bordering on cringe worthy at times.

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Despite a radically different singleplayer experience on offer, inevitably most people’s interests will lie with Hardline’s multiplayer offerings. Having always been a contender to Activision’s shooter, I’ve felt Battlefield will often draw in a different crowd due to its slower, more deliberate style of play. That seems to be changing a little this year with Hardline adopting a much more fluid and quicker pace. Maps are generally smaller and much more infantry focused; the inclusion of the new game modes reflects this. On top of the ever viable Conquest mode and the increasingly popular Team Deathmatch type, Hardline brings: Hotwire, Heist, Blood Money, Crossfire and Rescue into the mix. A combination of small team tactics with no respawns, high speed vehicle shenanigans and as ever, teamwork will all be necessary to compete in these modes. Each offers something different and what some people enjoy will be no doubt the bane of others.

Weapons in general seem to kill quicker than in previous entries, yet the game still doesn’t rely upon the reactions of a new-born fly in order to succeed. In fact, playing to the strengths of your selected class will often see you raking in the points regardless of whether you end up killing anyone or not. Especially useful considering Battlefields gracious system of the amount of damage dealt to determine who ‘earns’ the kill, certainly something I’d love to see implemented in other shooters. Much like other Battlefield games, the ‘create a class’ screen, despite being drastically improved, is still overly complicated and seemingly obtuse for the sake of it.

Unlocking gear has had a work around this time too. Similar to the way the first Call of Duty: Black Ops worked, you earn money during matches for anything and everything; which can then be spent on weapons, gear and attachments. Certain items are locked from the offset, for example weapon attachments can only be purchased once you’ve earned X amount kills with it and so on. It’s a good system that allows you to get what you want quicker. If you’ve found an optical sight you like better than others, you’ll likely be able to equip it on the majority of your guns without any trauma besides remembering its name.

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There are a few irritants however, not solely aimed at Hardline in particular, but rather things that are consistent amongst all Battlefield games. Firstly being each faction’s unique weapons, it’s tedious having to adjust to the cop’s version of the carbine for example, when the opposing robber’s version seems categorically better, despite costing around the same amount. In my opinion, all guns should be available to each side, and the player should get to choose when to use them instead of the game arbitrarily deciding which team to put you on. More frustration occurs when you can’t preview what a certain optical sight looks like, or determine how a heavy barrel will affect your gun without going into a game and being a detriment to your team. Granted, they don’t cost a lot to procure, but there are many different configurations for each weapon that can drastically alter its performance. A firing range option akin to Advanced Warfare’s would be an elegant solution and surely not too much bother to implement considering there was something similar in Battlefield 4. My final quibble involves the ‘kill-cam’. It does me little good to see an enemy jumping about in 3rd person when the maps are this large. I’d rather it showed me vaguely where they were on the map or adopted Call of Duty’s first person perspective style.

Battlefield’s always been a bit of a looker, and in terms of character models and facial capturing, it’s no surprise here. The environments aren’t at their best, nor do they seem as destructible as in previous games; however this can be justified to an extent online when there are 63 other people on the map. Sound quality is as punchy as it always is and weapons sound believable yet distinct.

Despite being carried on Visceral Games’ shoulders in this iteration, make no mistake; this is the Battlefield experience you’ll know and love. The singleplayer shows promise but is let down a little in execution; whereas the multiplayer is smooth, tactical and more importantly, fun. The lack of a campaign co-op is a little disappointing, but then again, the action is where it always has been, online.

HD remakes can be a great thing. There’s nothing quite like knowing that game you’ve always loved is going to get an HD facelift and make one last effort to show you what it’s got. On the other side of this however if you don’t have those fond memories of days and weeks lost it’s going to pretty difficult to get excited about a remake, depending on how deep the remake has gone. My knowledge of Heroes of Might & Magic is far less than most would expect. It never really managed to captivate me and that is large part due to my late arrival to the series.

Fans will be glad to hear that not much has changed from the original to this HD remake apart from the obvious alterations in resolution. The menus and interfaces are all ripped from the original and although there’s lots of lovely knew pixels on screen there is a sense of age to the game that just can’t be brushed off by forcing a higher resolution. Icons and symbols have changed considerably since the original so things look very dated. It would have been nice to see an updated UI and maybe even some new interaction features. Even just changing the aesthetics of the menus and toolbars would make this feel more like a fully fledged remake and not just the same game in 1080.

Aside from the resolution the game remains the same. There’s a feeling of a simplified Civilisation at work beneath the ageing exterior. Battles are turn based and use a hex grid and everything has a very progressive feel. Managing castles is pretty basic but fun and gives you enough reason to keep playing just a little longer. Once a town is upgraded you can move on, take another and begin upgrading that one. It’s this ‘just one more turn’ style that makes Civ so addictive and HOMM has the same habit although with the added appeal of character stats and abilities to upgrade too.

Even way back when HOMM III first came out there was likely nothing to astonish in the class builds but they are varied enough to offer meaningful tactics to the turn based battles. Grinding out to get your soldiers, in whatever form they are, buffed up and ready for war is a grind, but a satisfying one. When combined with the simple city building there is an amazing sense of progression to HOMM and the feeling that there is always at least one thing you can achieve.

Another thing HOMM bring you is content. It is fully loaded with stuff to do and the exploration maps are as notoriously dense as ever. There’s always something else to fight, explore or build. Even for those who’ve played extensively before there will be something else to do. Or just starting again is always an option. In this respect at least HOMM offers great value.

Where HOMM III falls short is introducing relatively new players like myself. Your introduction will be an aged tutorial which is about as useful as you would expect. Sometimes I wonder how we ever figured games out with tutorials like this and no internet. And you may say to yourself that it’s a good thing – that modern games are too simple or pandering. Maybe so, but the giant metaphoric stone wall that HOMM puts up in front of new players is worse. To be greeted into a game and one of your first thoughts is ‘I hope this will be worth it’ is not good. I can’t deny my heart sank a little and I had to really push myself to keep playing. I’d rather be pandered just a little to make those first few hours go by smoothly.

HOMM III HD is definitely just that; HOMM III in HD. There hasn’t really been much of an attempt to alter the game or make it appeal more to a modern audience. Fair enough that may not be the aim but in a game 16 years old a few updated interfaces wouldn’t have hurt. I would also have liked a much better tutorial to ease new players in but again if you aim only at previous veterans this isn’t a problem.

For veterans this is the same game and a chance to enjoy it in 1080. But don’t expect anything new. New players will likely struggle to find much enjoyment early on although pushing through does bring out some entertainment. Honestly though, there are just better alternatives available at this price point so unless you are looking for a nostalgia fix I would give this one a miss.

 

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As someone who grew up playing games on the ZX Spectrum, I couldn’t wait to watch From Bedrooms to Billions – and here is our review.

From Bedrooms to Billions

As I mentioned, when I was a kid I played most of my games on a ZX Spectrum and a BBC Micro B, I was definitely a Spectrum kid, although I had friends who had Commodore 64s. I first heard about From Bedrooms to Billions when the KickStarter began and I was both excited to relive those days and slightly nervous that looking back on the games that I spent hours and hours of my life on (I’m talking about you Jet Set Willy for starters) just wouldn’t hold up to the test of time.

The film sets out to explore the entire UK Video Games Industry starting in the 1970’s, with interviews with all the key players, gameplay footage, and great anecdotes.

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I remember a lot of what was covered in the film, hanging out in computer shops, typing in games listings from the back of magazines, getting the latest game and playing it with your mates – this is what got me into computers in the first place, and I have never looked back. We didn’t have the Internet back then so the only way to find out more about games or your favourite developers was to read about it in magazines like Crash! or Your Spectrum / Your Sinclair.

I don’t want to ruin any of the great stories so all I will say is that if you are a child of the 70’s or 80’s and you want to relive your youth you have to watch this, and if you are a little younger than that then this will be a great history lesson for you.

Anthony and Nicola Caulfield have done an amazing job on this film – it really took me back to my childhood and it’s easy to see that for them this was more than just making a film, it was a real passion. I for one can’t wait to see what they tackle next!

The film lasts over two hours, which seemed to fly by, there are lots of additional materials though, depending on which of the four editions you buy.

You can buy From Bedrooms to Billions now from FunStock.co.uk – do it, you won’t be disappointed.

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You can never have enough battery power, especially when an iPhone is involved, so what do you get if you have an iPhone 6 Plus? How about the ENERGI Sliding Power Case from TYLT – here is our two minute review.

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TYLT describe the power case:

“It’s no question the iPhone 6 Plus is a big phone, even causing fashion brands to consider enlarging the pockets on jeans. This is where the TYLT Energi Sliding Power case shines, providing an additional 3500 mAh of useable power in a removable, slide-off design – similar to how a rocket ditches its booster. The Energi’s dual layer co-molded inner case protects both the front and back of your phone from serious drops, ensuring your phone is never left unprotected, yet remains streamlined to fit into your pants pocket.”

Specifications

Style: Black

Width: 86mm

Height: 175mm

Thickness: 16mm

Weight: 150g

Battery: 3500mAh Lithium Polymer

Warranty: 1 Year

What’s in the Box?

The box contains the power sleeve, the inner case, a charging cable and some paperwork.

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A Closer Look

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Using the ENERGI Sliding Power Case

The inner sleeve fits snugly around the iPhone 6 Plus and doesn’t really add much to it’s bulk, but certainly adds to it’s protection.

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To use the charging sleeve, just slide the iPhone in and press the button on the back of the sleeve to start charging.

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Final Thoughts

One of the iPhone’s biggest problems has always been it’s battery life. I have been using iPhone’s now since they came out and each time Apple release a new model I hope they have sorted the battery issues. One of the reasons I went for the iPhone 6 Plus was the larger battery, and for the most part I have been happy. That said, who doesn’t want the added assurance of an additional battery so I was very happy to test out the ENERGI Sliding Power Case.

The first thing to note is that is is a power case and a separate sleeve, so for the most part you can just use the inner sleeve to give your iPhone 6 Plus some much deserved protection. It is lightweight, sturdy and durable and I was confident that my iPhone was protected.

The power case itself is also very lightweight. It contains a 3,500mAh battery which doubles the battery life of your iPhone 6 Plus, and I can say for the few days of rigorous testing I did I had no battery issues when using it.

There is a button on the rear of the case that has four lights to show you the amount of power available (it’s also used to start the charging). Once you start the charge it charges pretty quickly, which is always an added bonus.

One thing to note is that when the iPhone 6 Plus is in the case it is a lot bulkier (that said, it was fairly bulky before) and you may not want to carry it around in your trouser pocket! That is a small price to pay for power though and for those times I was walking around and charging I placed it in my coat pocked instead.

Overall I really liked the ENERGI Sliding Power Case, it does what it says on the tin, and having the added inner sleeve as part of the package rather than having to buy something extra was a smart move on the part of TYLT.

If you want to make sure you are never without power on your iPhone 6 Plus then you should definitely look to add the ENERGI Sliding Power Case to your collection.

The ENERGI Sliding Power Case for the iPhone 6 Plus (and also the iPhone 6) is available now for £89.99 from Selfridges and also zefrom Mobile Fun.

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You can learn more from the TYLT website.

The premise of The Escapists is a simple one – escape from a prison. There’s no plot that explains that your character was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. Nor are the guards and warden made out to be the villains of the piece. Other than a stats bar there are no relationships or cutscenes. Just your ever-present task of escaping. Of course it’s the execution that makes The Escapists complex.

In terms of options The Escapists does everything right. Rather than providing you with any options for escape or a list of objectives to achieve one of a choice of escape methods all you get are the tools to escape. From getting access to certain contraband during jobs, buying from other prisoners at the right times or even just outright theft there are a huge amount of items available to you. Not all seem useful at first but as you progress you find the need for more and more creative items to break free.

The first couple of days are usually needed to figure out the routine and generally map the prison out and spot any weaknesses. The main issue you will have in moving items around the prison is the contraband system. The metal detectors in The Escapists aren’t limited to detecting metal but instead will go off and alert guards if you have any contraband on you. Even if it’s plastic. If, for example, you need to get a shovel to a certain point through a contraband detector you will need to either sneak it through somehow or find a way around. In this respect knowing your surroundings is very important in The Escapists and makes for some strategic gameplay.

Your cell is a good place to start and either having a wall cavity covered by a poster to store things or a hole under your desk is a great way to store contraband. There’s an amazing sense of tension as you take the poster down and reveal the hole to retrieve items. If a guard sees you that’s it for you. You lose all your items and all holes and tunnels will be repaired. You also lose a chunk to your stats. Usually, in fact always, it’s best to reload.

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Thankfully you are not allowed to save as and when you feel like it. At the end of the day after all your hard work you can go to bed and the game will save and load the next day. Which means whenever you find an important item you’ve been waiting to get your hands on you need to consider if you want to use that item straight away and risk losing it or sleep and save it. When you go to sleep and save you miss the entire night and it instantly becomes day. More often than not an escape will be at night which allows the day to create a risk of lost progress and tension, but you’ll never be sent all the way back to square one.

Stats are fairly basic menu management but they do have an important role to play. You have intelligence, speed and strength to balance. Speed actually doesn’t govern how fast you move but how fast you can hit in a fight. Strength directly controls the amount of health you have. And a certain intelligence is required to craft most items. Initially they are all low but after a few days in the prison you will probably have them all maxed out. Unfortunately they do fall back down over time but they are easily manageable once they are at or around 100. It’s just another concern that makes up part of your escape plan – it’s simple but effective.

Given the amazing amount of tools available, the harsh but fair (and entirely necessary) saving system and stats the only thing left is the prison maps themselves. And I’m glad to say they’re all great. The first is a low security prison that acts as a fantastic tutorial to the game and gives you quite a bit of freedom to try different approaches. Although the game doesn’t hold your hand at all so you’ll need some persistence and creativity to progress. The guards will comment on fluffing pillows and making your stay enjoyable. The second prison is a jungle POW camp with very different atmosphere, far more limitations and a few extra complications added to the escape too. Working on the later maps the guards become even more terse and contraband sensors can be found everywhere.

Even your routine becomes more strict and gives you far less opportunity to work on your escape plan. Your heat will increase by a fair chunk if you entirely miss something like a meal or exercise period so you at least have to turn up and then sneak off to dig a hole with a plastic spoon or whatever. By the time you get to the third prison things are tough. You will need to be creative, determined and careful.

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But you can be joyful upon success knowing that The Escapists doesn’t hold back. The Escapists is an ‘8-bit’ strategy game with more than enough wit and style entwined into every single moment. It is strategic, stylish and funny. There’s a huge amount of content and the sense of satisfaction when the plan comes together and you finally escape successfully is unparalleled. You know it was your logic, quick thinking, creativity and timing that won the day.

There are very few reviews were starting with the visuals makes sense. But The Order makes so much effort to impress that I feel I cannot leave it until the end. Anybody that’s watched footage of or played The Order will know what I mean. I remember playing the preview code and could barely believe what I was seeing. It really is a stunning looking game.

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Strangely it remains just as impressive even when you’ve been playing for a couple of hours straight. I would still see something and stop to take a look and audibly express my shock and excitement of just how good looking it is. There’s usually some desensitisation with graphics like these but that just didn’t happen with The Order. Slightest details like how reflective different surfaces are are never overlooked. Fog is thick but airy and doesn’t reveal itself to be a low res image. Your protagonist, Sir Galahad’s, coat and facial expressions are constantly a delight to watch.

Given these amazing visuals it would not be my decision to cut half of the game out and discard those beautiful pixels. Yes, The Order has a film like letterbox style with black borders constantly showing at the top and bottom of the screen. Great. It doesn’t make it look ‘more cinematic’ it just wastes screen space. In film IMAX is generally too expensive to use but when it is (e.g. The Dark Knight’s prologue) it looks stunning filling up that 16:9 screen. In video games there’s no problem and I desperately hope this letterbox style stops, soon. It’s not cool, it’s not artistic it’s just annoying.

The Order’s party trick also rests on its self confident good looks. This is the first time I’ve had to flick the thumbstick so often to see if the cutscene was over and see if I had control back. Between camera angles and slight alterations in fidelity there’s always a way to tell when a cutscene rolls. Not with The Order. I know it’s superficial but I couldn’t help be impressed every time I was left foolishly pushing buttons during a cutscene. Apart from the completely pointless and terrible QTEs. Who put QTEs in the cutscenes? It’s like they haven’t been paying attention to any game for the last 5 years.

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But the appeal soon wares off after as little as two hours when you realise how little you’ve actually done. Core gameplay is a simple third person shooter. Pick up guns, take cover, aim and shoot. Kill all the enemies, move on to the next area. The AI will attempt to flank you and make advances but not enough to make things exciting. In certain areas destruction adds a dramatic flair to fire fights but is entirely dependant on breakable objects and isn’t a core mechanic. The guns are fun to use but all feel much the same, despite their cool steampunk design.

Finishing an area will prompt someone to say ‘Looks clear’ or something similarly generic and indicate you are free to move on. Unfortunately the problem with the fire fights is that they’re just not that fun. They’re very static and often become a case of sitting down and popping out to kill an enemy as they reload.

Unless you’re fighting werewolves. The first one I fought wasn’t too bad as I blasted away at the encroaching beast. Once you do enough damage it will run off and mysteriously disappear only to reappear moments later running straight at your face while conveniently providing you another opportunity to do ‘x’ damage. Once they’re down you need to run up and press ‘triangle’ to well and truly destroy its heart.

All too soon you start getting trapped in corners and periodically interrupted and damaged by off-screen enemies. Moving the camera slowly to find my enemy made me feel like a very tasty looking piece of meat. Galahad just doesn’t have the mobility to compete and I constantly felt like I was playing a third person action game with overly slow cover mechanics. The third or fourth time I was attacked from off screen and my actions were interrupted to the point were I died frustrations were high.

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You might at this point think The Order will sweep in with a fantastic story and save the day. Sadly it doesn’t. The plot is mainly told through small sections before, after and during actual gameplay where you will be walking to and from objectives. Unable to run all there is to do is listen to the characters’ voiceovers. It’s a great way to build resentment when every time a character starts talking your heart sinks a little as you prepare to walk slowly through another pointless, albeit good looking, street. The plot itself is a little generic but not terrible but it’s told in such a way that makes it completely inaccessible and frankly exhausting.

It’s also a shame to have such beautiful areas with nothing to do. Nothing to do at all. Even the NPCs scattered throughout aren’t really talking and certainly don’t allow for you to go and interact. Picking up collectables and looking at them before placing them back down is the only feeling of connection with environments outside shooting the place up. It’s irritating that such a detailed world has been made so inanimate.

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The Order’s unbelievably gorgeous surface is wafer thin. It’s so good looking you have to see it to believe it. As a technical showcase of what can already be achieved on the PS4 The Order is a huge success. I can only imagine what is going to be possible a few years down the road. But good looks alone aren’t enough. If they were The Order would be a 10/10.

But the narrative is delivered so boringly it’s very easy not to care or even for it to become a drag when a character starts talking. Combat is very static and most of your time will be spent popping out of cover at the right times and waiting for your chance. Combat outside of cover feels like a cover shooter trying to be something it’s not, which is exactly what it tries to do.

Fixed, non-interactive, environments waste entire areas at the expense of telling the story through voiceovers. On screen messages and tutorials are a constant pain too and every time a new concept is introduced (for a one time use) an incredibly patronising prompt will just straight tell you how to handle it. The Order 1886 is a superb technical showcase but just isn’t very fun to play.

If you love your planet, and I’m sure you do, you owe it to yourself to enlist into ‘Super Earths’ Helldivers programme. A coop, twin thumbstick shooter from the sadistically team killing folks at Arrowhead, Helldivers will test your patience, your skill and of course your planetary patriotism.

If you can get through the game’s opening cutscene without either fawning over Starship Troopers or at the very least, bursting into laughter, then this is likely a fair warning for you. As demonstrated by the overly elaborate recruitment campaign, Helldivers takes few things seriously; and who could expect any different from the people who bestowed upon us the carnage that was Magicka? In terms of narrative, the game gets off to weak, if not still hilarious start. Super Earth, as it’s now known as in the future, is ruled by a ‘managed democracy’ and finds itself in the middle of a galactic battle against three hostile species.

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It’s never this well organised…

Fighting a war on several fronts is never going to be easy, just ask you know who; this is reflected in the game via a synchronised global effort. In an attempt to create a variable sense of struggle and conflict, each faction will need to be pushed back into their own territory and eventually invaded themselves. Conversely, this can also happen in reverse too; not keeping up the aggressive pace will eventually see everyone having to band together and repel the occupying forces. For now it’s unclear as to how this will affect players in the long term, but already it’s nice to have a common overall goal for the community.

Over-arching objectives and intentionally hammy plotlines aside however; it’s the gameplay that’s likely to hold your attention. With room for couch coop alongside online support too, the methodically paced combat comes into its own as soon as another person joins your plight. The game’s tutorial does a fair old job of explaining the basics, such as how to shoot, move and get down whilst also (not so subtly) hinting at the possibility of death and how often to expect it. Everything will kill you in Helldivers, friendly fire is one thing to contend with, but there’s more… Calling in an ammo resupply atop an unsuspecting player will reduce them to pulp, an airdropped turret will differentiate between neither friend nor foe, and even the extraction shuttle won’t think twice about landing on your face should you be daft enough to stand beneath it.

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Ah the bridge, the place where you spin in circles

Helldivers is hard, make no mistake about it, it’s a very challenging game. Whilst the early levels can easily be completed by oneself via employing stealthy tactics and keeping a watchful eye on the mini map for enemy patrols, the game will soon ramp up the difficulty. Each planet plays host to a specific set of enemies, whether it be the swarming, melee oriented bugs, the augmented cyborgs or the clairvoyant aliens, fighting each type demands a new set of tactics. Armoured enemies, ideally, need to be perpendicular to your gunfire to maximise damage and reduce the chances of deflected shots. Also certain ‘Stratagems’ perform better against different targets too, napalm style strikes work better on fleshier enemies than they do reinforced ones for example.

Aside from the standard weapons you deploy with, consisting of a primary and a pistol, you also get to choose four Stratagems to take into battle. Whilst they’re not crucial to the success of a mission, they’re there to help. As with everything else, they’re unlocked via level progression and completing select sets of missions. Deployable in game via a surprisingly tricky (when under pressure) d-pad combination, you can call in ammo supplies, bombing runs, turrets and many other helpful tools to aid you at any point. Balanced by a cooldown timer, and of course the threat of viciously maiming your team mates, they can often spell the difference between success and failure in a mission. Whether you prefer the stealthy or ‘loud’ approach, choosing where to deploy before starting a game matters significantly. You can choose to drop in right next to the objective at the risk of instantly alerting enemies that are likely lurking beside it, or you can go for the conservative approach and take a leisurely stroll in the hope you’ll stumble across some research-gaining pickups or some extra ammo along the way.

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This is honestly, fairly calm

In terms of keeping players interested for the long haul, Arrowhead seem to have tried their best with unlockable kit, customisation options, a main level to rank up and of course the overall community goal to help contribute to. There are just a few things that let it down slightly, the largest culprit for me, being how quickly it starts to drag when you play alone. The difficulty is woefully unbalanced and the lack of hilarity from drop pods landing on teammates soon starts to kick in. To further impound this, mission objectives are distressingly repetitive. Within the first hour or so, you’ll have seen the majority of variation on offer, accelerating the notion that you shouldn’t be playing this by yourself.

At a glance, Helldivers can unfortunately often look quite bland, especially during the quieter moments. The environments are mostly a generic pastel shade and the enemy designs are nothing original to say the least. When it all inevitably kicks off however, it can get quite colourful and diverse, even if it does become chaotically difficult to differentiate between enemies at times.

Helldivers is not a game for those who like to go it alone, it’s also best played with a group of friends who aren’t partial to flipping out at the first sign of ‘accidental’ friendly fire. When not taken too seriously, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, even if it’s often at someone else’s expense. The variation in mission design will get dull quickly, but hopefully the carrot-on-a-stick mentality of unlocking new gear and upgrades should ensure Super Earth’s survival for a little while longer. Just remember accidents can and will happen…

It’s literally hunt or be hunted in Evolve. You either play as a giant monster struggling to survive or the team of hunters tasked with taking the beast down. It’s a fresh take on multiplayer which is rare these days so I was keen to get involved.

As usual getting stuck in and playing games is the best way to learn. But there is a simple tutorial that explains the basic ideas. There are also a basic and advanced videos showing tactics for each character buried in the menu. It’s well worth checking out and to my surprise the advanced videos actually showed decent tactics worthy of any YouTube tutorial.

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The hunters have four different classes available Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support. Assault is in charge of dealing damage plain and simple. The Trapper is charged with finding the monster and keeping it from escaping while the team gets to work trying to kill it. The Medic is required for the team to stay healthy, and living. Support does just that providing shields and the like for the rest of the team although they serve as good secondary damage dealers too.

Each class has three characters to choose from and each has a unique set of equipment and a class dependant ability. But even considering the unique loadouts there isn’t really much to play with. The Assault gets a personal shield to sponge damage, the Trapper gets the mobile arena which creates a barrier so you can actually fight the monster, the medic has an AOE healing mist and the support gets an area effect cloaking field.

Other than that load outs are absolutely unique and varied which is cool but they offer zero customization or freedom. Beyond picking a character there are no decisions to make other than a single alternate skin for each character. Honestly I don’t care all that much about the way I look. I’d far rather have had scopes and other equipment to make a class unique. It’s very restricting to select a character which chooses all three pieces of equipment and have no combinations or alternatives at all.

It won’t take long to unlock all the characters which would be a bonus except there’s not much else to unlock in Evolve. Once you’ve picked your character and got them unlocked that’s really it. Each piece of equipment has three upgrades but they do such a small amount, like 2% range or 2% damage, they really don’t matter. And the character perks aren’t enough to change gameplay noticeably. I didn’t find the sense of progression satisfying for long and without it the only reason to keep coming back is for the gameplay itself.

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It also doesn’t help that the game has self described ‘key classes’ which are the Trapper and Medic classes. Given that your task as the hunters is to track, catch and kill the monster the Trapper is undisputedly the most important class. With a bad Trapper you will not find the monster. You will not catch it and therefore cannot deal any damage to it. A close second to that is the medic who is very much necessary to keep everyone alive in a battle. A bad medic will get the team killed quickly. The other two classes are far less important and primarily act as damage dealers.

It’s a shame that as Assault or Support you spend almost all your time following a Trapper, who’s doing all the work, deal some damage and then begin following again. The Trapper is definitely the key and there’s very little to do when you play as anyone else. Your Assault could be running on the spot in a corner all day and nobody would notice. If your Trapper doesn’t find and catch the target before it evolves you’re much more likely to lose.

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Which leads me nicely onto playing as the monster. There are three monsters to choose from and each one has four unique abilities. Goliath is Godzilla like with fire breath and physical attacks. Kraken can fly to a limited degree and has some really devastating ranged electricity attacks. Finally Wraith plays as an assassin class using evasion and stealth techniques to win. Your job as monster is to basically play as a jungler and kill as many AI animals as you can so that you can evolve. All the time evading capture from the hunters.

In your first stage your pretty vulnerable and whilst you can probably survive a round in the mobile arena with the hunters it’s best avoided at this stage. At evolution 2 you have much more chance of standing up to the hunters and can give them a pretty rough time so really your goal is to reach the second evolution as soon as possible. Should you make it to the third evolution you can easily take on the Hunters. Even a Goliath’s fire breath becomes a ridiculously devastating AOE attack that can quickly end the game.

They key to success with the monster is strangely to run. So many times I’ve seen people stand and fight in the first evolution when running away would have let them fight back later when they’re almost unstoppable. And that’s where Evolve’s gameplay falls down for me.

If the monster runs and evolves quickly there’s very little chance of the Hunters winning. If you die and find that your medic is running around shooting a dead animal on the floor while your team dies you’re going to lose. If your Trapper can’t find the monster you’re going to lose. All you can hope is your team is good and your foe doesn’t know he/she should run away at the start. And that you don’t get surprised by a man eating plant that completely disables you without any chance of escape other than help from a team mate. How fun it is when you track the monster and a hidden plant grabs you only to reveal that your teammates are too far away to help and you can do nothing but sit and wait to die.

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Evolve would definitely benefit from a more considered approach to tracking rather than the ‘never quite enough sprint’ approach it opted for. Tracking damaged foliage, animal corpses and disturbed birds are all well implemented ideas but are pointless in practice because you spend too much time running just to keep up. Even when trapped in an arena dome the best players will hide behind rocks and obstacles leading to a ridiculous looking game of hide and seek with a giant beast holding a thin branch in front its face as a disguise.

It’s easy for hunters at evolution one and almost impossible for them at three. There’s a forcibly rushed feeling to the tracking which stops any sense of tension or atmosphere from forming. A lack of meaningful upgrades and general lack of options in how to play result in a very short life span for Evolve. Unbalanced gameplay can lead to frustrating experiences and with nothing to look forward to in the future there’s very little to keep you interested in Evolve beyond the initial premise.

But I’m a sucker for originality and Turtle Rock Studios have done something new. There is definitely co-op fun to be had in Evolve, provided you’re not playing with complete lemons, which is often not your choice. Ultimately though Evolve is a great idea that has been poorly realised and frankly that’s a damn shame.

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