Reviews

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.

 

It’s that time again, Invasion, the third DLC drop for Call of Duty Ghosts has arrived, offering the usual four multiplayer maps and a new Extinction episode. Whilst not directly offering any new weapons with this pack, a free timely patch ensures everyone gets to play with two slightly modified variants of existing weapons, DLC or not.

Pharaoh, an ancient multi-levelled archaeological dig site located in Egypt; plays host to diverse gunfights due to its myriad of sightlines. Close quarters combat in the catacombs is encouraged due to the inevitable tight corners and lower light levels. Venture outside however and you may wish to alter your setup due to the map significantly opening up. As opposed to the tight, run and gun nature of the tunnels, the opposite side of the map plays best for long range engagements down some nasty lines of sight. Proceeding with caution around this area is advisable due to the many spots which can overlook popular routes, expect many a prone player. Much like the second DLC pack, Invasion offers unique Field Order rewards for those lucky enough to receive them. Pharaoh houses an interesting one; the great Anubis will grant you every perk on the game for a few lives, use them wisely! Despite the map being fairly balanced; discarding the inevitable camping epidemic, there are some odd design choices such as pots of scarabs that will instantly kill you should you wander near whilst they get broken.

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Beware unnecessary scarab pots

Departed is a vibrant, medium sized map located in Mexico during the ‘Day of the Day’ celebration. Standing proud as one of the better maps of the pack, Departed offers a familiar style of play with large scale battles occurring in the centre of the map, whilst flank routes litter the outskirts. Due to the variety in routes, most weapons can be efficiently utilised here, the Assault Rifles may take an edge, but that could apply to many scenarios in Ghosts! Whilst still playing out as a genuinely fun map, it’s the art direction that will stay with you longer. It’s always nice to have some colour in a warzone; Departed feels reminiscent to some of the popular Black Ops 2 DLC’s in that regard. The special Field Order is once again unique, in that it turns you into a Death Mariachi, complete with dual wield revolvers. Kills will grant you weaker versions of yourself acting as squad mates, up to a maximum of two, giving you even greater control of the map.

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It’s not brown and grey!

Mutiny is pretty much exactly as you might expect, a small map centred around a pirate ship, offering chaotic close quarter battles with little chance of respite. If ever there was cause for a silencer on your weapon, this will be it. The shorter engagements mean the range stats will be largely unaltered for most gunfights too, limiting the penalties. If gadding about like a reckless lunatic isn’t your bag, and I can’t see why it wouldn’t be, there’s always the central position to set up camp on. Fortunately for everyone else, the central ship, and its inhabitants, stick out rather nicely due to the plethora of flank routes adorning its sides. There are two special Field Orders on this map; the first is the rather predictable ‘Cannon Barrage’ which effectively is the ‘Mortar Fire’ Field Order from Warhawk. The second is decidedly more exciting with the summoning of two ghost pirates that will hunt and destroy your enemies on your behalf.

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Aaaarrr, inevitably…

Favela, the inevitable pack remake from the beloved, (save for grenade launchers) MW2. A map offering high levels of verticality and range in the right positions with dangerous close quarter battles that will test your reflexes, and your ability to spot a hidden enemy. The higher tiers of buildings provide greater vantage points at the expense of being accessible from more than one entrance, either via the usual staircase or some risky parkour. Hopping from building to building across scantily clad scaffolding before knifing that pesky sniper is as rewarding now as it was in 2009. Sitting in a corner is as viable as ever on Favela; sprinting around the map and not checking your angles is likely to get you killed unnecessarily. The infamous ‘ditch’ area still remains to give objective hunting players something to keep in mind too. Games of Domination flow well as the power points are constantly being contested to cover flag positions; as usual, good team coordination is required to secure a win. Harking back to MW2 fame once more, the revered AC-130 returns in a spiritual form due to the unique Field Order on the map. Named instead the Y-8 Gunship, it will either rain down destruction on a hapless team, or be utterly useless if used against people already inside a building.

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Prepare to get stressed out at snipers once again

Awakening is the latest episode in the Extinction saga; and is probably the best so far. Rammed with new features and mechanics, Awakening is more akin to the fan favourite’s zombie mode than ever. The objective is to reach the ‘Cortex’ which holds the secrets of the Ancestor’s psychic powers, obviously bypassing all manners of hell first. Standing in your way will be three new enemy types, Gargoyles, Mammoths and Bombers with each providing their own threats. The flying Gargoyles will not only take a surprising amount of punishment, but can also volley acid down on the player. The Mammoths can spawn Hunters seemingly at will and also frustratingly burrow underground, whilst the aptly named Bombers are like a biological version of the Hunter Killer from Black Ops 2. To combat these weird and ‘wonderful’ enemies, you’re also given a few toys and tools to play with. For a start, the jump height is increased tremendously, letting you reach areas that would have been previously inaccessible. The buildable items return from the last episode and lastly, the newly implemented ARK attachment can be found loitering in hidden areas too.

Overall, Invasion is another great map pack, and whilst one or two of the multiplayer maps are a little weak, the others make up for them in spades. It’s a little disappointing to not see another new weapon added to the mix, but the free automatic PDW and knife are nice additions. One of the main draws in Invasion, surprisingly seems to be Awakening, the new Extinction map which improves on its predecessors in most areas, and may even sway some of the dedicated zombie fans. Once again, it shows that the developers have listened to their fans requests and offered smaller, denser maps with more opportunities for movement; of which can only be a good thing.

Devastation, the second DLC pack for Call of Duty Ghosts adds four new multiplayer maps, another episode in the Extinction saga and an all new, dual-purpose weapon, the Ripper. Can Infinity Ward build upon the success of their previous pack by listening to the fans and catering for their requests?

Ruins is up first, an old Mayan temple that plays host to some of the better domination games due to its triangular base. As per usual in Ghosts, flank routes are commonplace; Ruins is no exception. Narrow catacombs slither under and around the map offering SMG’s and shotguns their roles, whilst an open centre lets assault rifles open up. Roam for too long however and it’s ironically safe to say that you’ll eventually be picked off by a sniper from the central overlook. With the map adorned by old, ancient Mayan structures and littered with plenty of greenery, you’ll find the Ghillie suit more of an issue than ever. As far as unique strike packages go, Ruins offers up something interesting too, with the fabled Predator making a stealthy appearance. Should you complete a field order and be fortunate enough to air drop a predator suit, you can utilise his shimmering invisibility, his wrist blades and of course the gloriously satisfying plasma cannon (which fortunately has a recharge delay). On top of this, even when killed, the fun doesn’t stop for the lucky player as the predator will drop to the floor and essentially unleash a K.E.M. strike onto the opposing team.

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(Ghillie) Suit up

Behemoth harks back to the old styles in more than one way. Not only is there a field order for a ‘heli gunner’ that plays out almost exactly like the chopper gunner from Black Ops fame. The map also more closely resembles a three lane style affair opposed to the ‘all out chaos’ category approach most of the original maps seem to follow. Set upon an enormous earth excavator, Behemoth is a medium sized map with opportunities for some reasonable firefights down long corridors, so long as you beware the inevitably prone enemies. Despite the seemingly simplistic layout of the map, there are less travelled routes that serve as flank options if you’re against a particularly trapping team. Falling off the map to your death is remarkably easier done than said, especially whilst in those strafe battles that get a little out of hand. Despite it being a darker than usual map, the lack of tedious camping spots around corners helps keep the pace up too. A central viewing area gives those pesky snipers a mediocre view of either side of the map, but also seems to bestow a shocking amount of tunnel vision too, helping you get the humiliating drop on your unaware foes.

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Someone seems to be overcompensating for something…

Collision takes its name from the enormous container ship which has found itself lodged into the Brooklyn Bridge, and plays home to aggressive styles of play. Those who favour SMG’s will enjoy the tight corners and relatively shallow lines of sight, whereas snipers will savour the higher grounds that overlook the centre of the map. Domination games in particular rely upon map control with the B flag being placed smack in the middle of what can only be described as a kill box; wrestling the centre of the map back from the opposition can be difficult if you’ve not got a coordinated team. Again, a specialised Field Order reward can also be earned on this map; if successful, you get to control two strafe runs in the infamous A-10 Warthog. Whilst not particularly great for racking up kills, it of course makes up for it with ‘that sound’.

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Strafing Warthog sadly not pictured

Unearthed is the final multiplayer map in the Devastation package and as is becoming tradition, it features a remake of a fan favourite map from the series. Those who’ve been with the series for the past few years will recognise Unearthed as a reimagining of Dome from MW3, a small fast paced map that requires your head to be on a swivel. The familiarity of Dome remains but due to the upgraded visuals and alternate aesthetics, Unearthed does come across with a fresh feel. Despite the feeling of familiarity, there are several additions to convince you otherwise. Along with a moveable crane, giving you a vulnerable 360 degree view of the map, there’s also the maligned Venom-X weapon, ripped straight from the Extinction mode and available once per game via some carefully placed explosives… Keeping in theme with Extinction, the unique field order for this map involves three loveable Seekers that will hunt down the enemy and explode upon close proximity.

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A dome shaped remake

The Ripper, one of the larger draws to new content for me and others, is the new hybrid weapon available with this pack. Operable as either an SMG or Assault Rifle and swappable on the fly, it can not only suit most gunfight scenarios, but also opens up more flexibility with perk selections. Due to its high manoeuvrability and tighter hip-fire spread than most assault rifles, players can save points on ‘speed perks’ and put them to better use elsewhere. Whilst both the SMG and AR modes won’t surpass the Vector or the Remmington R5 in their respective classes, the extra functionality can often make up for any statistical weaknesses, provided you can keep the right mode available for the correct situation.

Mayday concludes the package with the next episode of Extinction, Ghosts’s answer to Zombies. Continuing on from the Nightfall epilogue, Mayday sees you boarding a Chinese ship in an attempt to rescue and extract a foreign double agent. Standing in the way of course is the very real threat of the Kraken. Combining huge bosses with the newly implemented crafting and new weapons gives a great incentive to jump into the horde. To greet you, the Seeders make their first appearance too; if you didn’t get on well with the Scorpions, you’re not going to like these either. On top of expelling a toxic gas, they can also spit out turret pods to ruin your day. Either way, Mayday gratefully expands on itself, offering more content with each episode; if you fancy a little coop and are into the story, it’s a great way to spend a few hours.

As an overall package, the Devastation set offers a great set of maps that appear to have been tailored for the fans requests. A balanced and unique hybrid weapon plus more Extinction content helps too. If you’re on the fence, this is categorically one of the better Call of Duty DLC packs; if you fancy some new content for Ghosts, there’s no better place to look.

Sacred 3 is aimed directly at your mindless horde killing, loot collecting, levelling up craving. But with any game that scratches those particular itches there has to be something to keep us coming back. In Diablo III it was a good looting system plus plenty of levels and abilities to unlock and customize a character with. So which part of Sacred keeps us coming back for more many hours into the game?

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After a brief introductory cutscene it becomes abundantly obvious that it’s not going to be the graphics. Environments are defiantly passable but it’s unlikely you’ll ever stop and take a look around for longer than you need to. Unfortunately the same can be said for the character models too. Both your avatar and your hordes of foes are jagged and the whole thing just looks low res. And even then the frame rate isn’t exactly smooth. The particle effects from execution moves and some of the specials look nice but they intentionally take up most of the screen which can lead to some infuriating moments when you can’t see anything at all behind the effects. It’s particularly bad when you acquire a new weapon or upgrade as on occasion once you return to the action you’ll find that you’ve been beaten for the last 10 seconds by something you couldn’t see.

So if not the visuals the core fighting mechanic then. Which certainly has its entertainment value. At the start it’s likely you will be using the simple attack button a lot. There’s a dodge which allows you to roll out of harms way, which can later be replaced by a block if you choose, and a stun move to handle shielded enemies and knock others back. There’s a simple methodical nature to the combat. This enemy is defeated with that move and that one with this move all the while frantically bashing away at ‘x’ in between.

Which is fine for a couple of hours. But then it starts to lose some of its appeal. There are a few abilities for each of the four characters which can be upgraded as your level increases. And the upgrades make a significant difference but I never really got the feeling I wanted (or needed) any of them. Despite my increasing boredom endlessly pressing ‘x’ I never felt that my special ‘combat arts’ would help or were even necessary. This wasn’t helped by their limited use. Even though you pick up orbs that refill your energy more than enough I tended to ‘save’ my moves for something that needed them. And that never really happened. And when you do finally unleash a combat art you’re greeted by a move that does little damage above your standard attack and is usually more difficult to hit with. Back to pressing ‘x’ then.

Another problem is that the enemies rarely offer you much of a challenge. Shielded enemies require you to press ‘square’ to stun then and break their defence so you can kill them before they even get a hit. Standard enemies just require you to hit them mindlessly until they die. Any attempts at more advanced combat would require a much more responsive control system. And that’s not the only reason the controls need to be more responsive.

One enemy spins at you blades extended like a weaponized Crash Bandicoot. The only way to stop him is to, again, stun him. Except aiming your character is quite rigid and as your foe bulldozes his way towards you as you struggle to turn and perform your attack in the right direction you find it easier to head straight in, tank a little damage, and stun him to open him up for attack and an inevitable death. So the only challenge I ever really felt was when the controls were stiff or unresponsive. On its own this wouldn’t be such a problem but as Sacred has enemies that ideally require you to be precise and quick it feels like the game is working against you.

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Periodically you will collect some loot in the shape of weapons, armour and souls that can be assigned to weapons to grant different benefits. All of them can be upgraded with gold collected on your travels and again the upgrades feel significant. Except, this time it’s far more important as your weapon effects the all important basic attack. Different weapons have different sets of upgrades and there really is plenty to unlock. On top of that you can equip a soul that adds additional effects. For example you can have a chance to fire a lightning bolt to cause extra damage to enemies. Or you might increase the potency of health orbs for the team, but reduce their effect on you. They’re well balanced and often require some thought as different souls will work better with different equipment.

The soul will also talk to you during a mission and on occasion they even contribute to the conversations between the main characters. They also make general comments during combat but it’s particularly nice that they have relevant things to contribute. Some of them are completely over the top characters, others are cynical and sarcastic but they all work with the humour of Sacred. And it is actually funny. The humour is understated which stops it becoming embarrassing. And then on occasion a brash character will chip in like a cross between Stan from American Dad and Buzz Lightyear. It won’t leave you in hysterics but because of that it never becomes brazen and embarrassing.

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Sacred 3 is a fun romp for those wishing to satisfy the need Diablo III fills. It’s not particularly good looking but it gets the job done, although I would’ve liked a smoother frame rate. What I felt lets down Sacred is the repetitive gameplay. Without much loot killing enemies can only keep you entertained for so long particularly as your special abilities are so underwhelming. The upgrades feel meaningful but with only two equip-able ‘combat arts’, that often don’t help at all, everything begins to feel a bit futile.

Playing with friends helps alleviate some of the potential tedium but not enough to keep Sacred interesting down the road. Sacred 3 is good fun for a short play but the replay value is almost nonexistent, especially compared with games like Diablo III. With a bigger roster of abilities and character upgrades Sacred 3 might be great but as it stands it’s decidedly average to play.

 

Once again I find myself sitting in front of a new Magic game. As a Magic The Gathering card player I have a soft spot for the game. I love the artwork and complexity of the game but these days I struggle to find an opponent to spa with. So the video games are my way of getting my Magic fix, or at least in theory. So far I have been rather disappointed by the series but still get excited every time to see if they’ve got it right.

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Rather than creating your own deck or being forced to use a single deck the first thing you will do in Magic 2015 is choose your colours, and therefore your deck. I’ve always been a fan of white so that was my first choice but then for some reason you are required to pick another colour. Not such a problem as I don’t mind a White/Blue mixed deck but for some reason you have to use a mixed colour deck.

So with my White/Blue deck I proceeded to work through the tutorial. It does a very good job of teaching you everything there is to know and lucky for those who know the game, either from previous video games or the card game, can skip it. Oh rejoice! I don’t have to spend an hour learning how to play a game I already know very well. If you skip you go straight to your first duel which you must first pass in order to proceed. You can also reselect your deck colours so it functions well as a testing duel to make sure you’ve got the right deck for you.

As ever with Magic it’s a tough fight. Especially as you have no options to edit your deck at this point. It can be slightly frustrating as Magic is so heavily reliant on deck building and you’re left against a superior deck with very few options but to retry and strive on.

But as you fight and defeat opponents you earn booster packs with cards to improve your deck. It’s a simple but effective reward system that ensures you deck keeps improving. One of the biggest problems I’ve had with previous Magic games is the lack of new cards to keep altering your deck with. It seems easy to give you a way to grind out for cards and improve you deck but for some reason the Magic games always seem to resist it.

When you get past the tutorial to the main campaign map you will have a series of Planeswalkers to duel with. Each time you defeat one you unlock another until you finish the zone and move onto the next. But Magic 2015 provides you with a repeatable area for each zone that you can grind out to acquire more cards. There’s a small selection of enemies you may fight but you can keep coming back, getting more booster packs and ultimately improving your deck to take on the real threats. This does make Magic 2015 quite ‘grindy’ but I like that.

It also means that eventually you can craft yourself a single colour deck if that’s what you want. I don’t really understand the focus on mixed decks. Sure they’re good but I don’t really want a mixed deck as I always find single colours more effective. I wonder if the game knows this and makes you wait but either way after a couple of hours you’ll have a decent handful of cards to properly make your deck with. The selection of cards is reasonable and there’s just enough to keep you altering and shifting your deck to take down your often superiorly equipped opponents.

But even though the card selection is enough to craft a reasonably potent deck the overall selection is disappointing. Mainly because you’ll need to pay to access some cards. They’re not attainable in game at all. And while you don’t need them it makes online play a tricky concept. If you pay you’ll have a better chance to win. That’s called pay to win. Also for some reason certain cards that your single player opponents use are not attainable either, regardless of if you pay or not.

There’s also not much in the way of game modes either. I usually play the core game single player anyway so it wasn’t too much of a problem but those who enjoyed the challenge modes will be disappointed. Even though I didn’t play them much I still enjoyed them every now and again and the option would be nice. Especially the clever puzzle style modes.

It’s impossible to finish this review without pointing out how irritating the menu is. It’s 100% focused on mobile platforms and it’s obvious. I fumbled around for ages before I understood how to properly use it and the transition animation every time you select something is just plain annoying. If I click something I want a response as quick as possible, not a fancy animation.

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I enjoy the grind. I enjoy the single player. But the pay wall is just unnecessary, even though it wouldn’t cost you that much to acquire all the cards, it’s not what the game should be about. I don’t understand why the game modes are missing. I can’t think of a single reason to remove something that people enjoyed. And while the single player is great I want more cards. Why aren’t there more? WHY?! There’s a lot of different cards in Magic and the relatively small selection in Magic 2015 seems arbitrary. I haven’t collected new cards in years but I probably own more actual cards than are in this game.

However, I am really enjoying Magic 2015 and will be playing it long after this review. But I’d rather pay more for the game and have access to all the cards, even if I’d have to grind out for hours to get one. Those who enjoyed the other game modes will be disappointed with Magic 2015. Some of the negative reviews out there are, I think, overly harsh but it really depends what you want out of Magic. I wasn’t a fan of 2014 and actually prefer this one, despite its flaws. Either way, yet again, so close yet so far.

Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition finally makes its debut, wrestling pretty much every platform it can get its hands on. This new edition features all of the original DLC, plus some extras thrown in for good Luchadore measure. Is a case of selling the same game twice? Or have Drinkbox Studios created a package that’s worth revisiting?

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This is actually fairly sedate as far as some of the fights go

Due to it being a collection, albeit with some tweaks here and there, the gameplay and storyline largely play out similarly to the standalone title released in 2013. You control Juan Aguacate, an unassuming farmer who’s hopelessly in love with ‘El Presidente’s’ daughter; needless to say, when the evil Carlos Calaca attempts to lay waste to the small, humble village, our hero has no choice but to try and put a stop to it. Unfortunately, Juan is but a simple farm hand and is inevitably no match for Calaca, who subsequently pokes him to death. All is not lost however, despite the love of your life being kidnapped for use as a sacrificial lamb, and you residing in the land of the dead, it could be worse.

Luckily for us, Tostada, yet another mysterious luchador, turns up and swings fate around for us with a dashingly magical mask. Once donned, Juan becomes more than just his namesake; subsequently turning into a luchador capable of many great things. As is the style in these types of games however, Juan can’t do everything straight off the bat, in the classic Metroid way, you’ll find areas that are currently inaccessible, puzzle rooms that require more than the standard jumping ability and more coloured destructible blocks than a Lego game.

Along with puzzle hunting, the moves you’ll learn help greatly in combat too. Aside from punches, grapples and throws, you’ll have access to moves that can quickly and dutifully dispatch enemies in one well thought out string. Despite there being relatively few moves at a glance, experimentation is key; regularly employing the dodge command on top of uppercuts, juggles and throws in hectic battles can lead to some spectacular combo counts. Whilst it may not contain the sort of command list you might find in a Tekken title or indeed require the deft timings of a pro Street Fighter duel, the combat still remains to be a clever blend of the two. It rewards complexity, timing and by the end of the game, a full understanding of enemy behaviours, attacks and required techniques.

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In chess, the pawns go first

If there’s one thing Guacamelee does right (admittedly amongst the many other things) it’s the constant feeling of progression. Whether you’re storming through the main plot, dabbling in the many sidequests on offer, hunting down those fiendishly elusive secrets or attempting to achieve gold medals in the Inferno rooms. Everything you do seems to reward you with either XP of which you can spend on upgrading the damage of certain moves and gaining extra health and stamina, or money which you can use to purchase new outfits. More than a simple cosmetic change, the costumes can also bestow helpful effects too. Fancy constant (but slowly) regenerating health at the expense of less stamina? Just slip into the chicken outfit. How about a dashing suit with the bonus of life steal upon hitting enemies? There are many outfits, all with a bonus effect that’s countered by a wince inducing negative, find what works for you however; you’ll feel even more powerful.

If you feel as though the enemies aren’t taking enough of a pounding, there’s always the ‘Intesno’ power. Charging in the usual means by achieving combos and activated by pressing L3+R3, it gives you greater health regeneration and makes your moves and specials more powerful for a limited time. However, as per usual with activated powers such as this, they’re often unnecessary and; aside from some sections on hard mode, all of the fights can easily be won by paying attention to the enemies.

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Yep, you can still turn into a chicken!

As far as the length goes, Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition almost makes up for the length of its title. Focusing on the story missions will get you to the credits in around 6 hours, but sinking some time in to acquire all the collectibles, complete the Inferno challenges and resolve the side missions will roughly take twice as long. Unfortunately there’s no real replay value due to you already knowing the best ways to defeat all the enemies and also having previously discovered where all the secrets are.

Something special that might keep you coming back however, are the gorgeously unique visuals. Inspired by classic Mexican lore, the enemies, bosses and combat all ooze original mythos and really add to the overall art styling. The music will also twang in that form too, offering subtle musings whilst wandering the villages and towns.

With relatively little changed between the original offering and the ‘Super’ edition, it’s both easy and difficult to recommend the new and improved Guacamelee. For those who’ve not experienced the pleasure of Juan and his lucha-lore tale, it’s quite simply one of those games you must play. For those who’ve previously beat the original into submission, I’m not convinced there’s enough to warrant a second round. Having said that, if you’ve been hankering after another playthrough of Drinkbox’s instant classic, there’s no better place to jump back in.

This is going to be a difficult review. Blue Estate is an on the rails shooter based on the graphic novels of the same name. As with any rail shooter your character will be guided automatically from area to area as you blast away countless enemies. Back in the old days that would probably be done with a Light Gun. In Blue Estate it’s done with the PS4’s Sixaxis. There are several slight problems that sour Blue Estate’s otherwise mediocre gameplay.

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We’ve seen quite a few implementations of the Sixaxis over the last generation and more often than not it was merely an afterthought that was forced into a game somewhere. On the rare occasion it was used more fully however I never actually felt that the Sixaxis tech let me down. Regardless of the fact I would probably just rather not use it, the Sixaxis is quite a capable bit of tech.

Well in Blue Estate it just simply doesn’t work well enough. I can’t help but feel the problems lie in Blue Estate’s design but whatever the cause it doesn’t matter. When me and Sam from here at Connected Digital World ventured out into the first level in co-op the sight that unfolded was, I imagine, both ludicrous and hilarious. Over time your cursor will become completely out of sync with your pad to the point were you’re having to figure out which direction is now up, down, left or right. I ended up with my pad completely backwards and Sam with his upside down.

Truth be told we eventually found the centre button (up on d-pad or ‘L1’) which returns your crosshair to relative normality so you can carry on blasting your targets. At the absolute centre of this game is your ability to aim at targets. In fact it’s all you do because it’s a rail shooter. Having to constantly wait and get shot at repeatedly while you find your cursor is just ridiculous. I curse anybody that actually saw how this game works and thought it was OK. After another go we both quickly got intensely sick of having to fix the game for the developer as we played and quit in frustration. I pushed on with solo to get this review done but that is the only reason I had to play Blue Estate.

You will be bombarded with constant humour and stereotypes that we could all live without. It’s not particularly clever and at times it’s just patronizing. For instance Blue Estate seems to think that women are strippers. End of story. I’ve got nothing against ‘exotic dancers’ but the tasteless assumption that all women are just sex objects is not good or wanted in any way. The jokes are something that even a 10 year old would cringe at. It’s not charming at all, although it seems to think it is for some reason, and it certainly isn’t clever.

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Blue Estate is just a mess. Rail shooters aren’t exactly the most inspiring platform to begin with but when that platform is entirely comprised of jokes that range from bad to almost offensive even a 20 year old arcade game would look appealing. On top of that the gameplay isn’t even entertaining. The auto aim is seriously strong and it seems it needs to be just so the game functions at all. But I’ve never seen the Sixaxis perform so poorly and I can’t escape the feeling it’s Blue Estate at fault. You spend just as much time having to centre your crosshair as you do shooting. This is a game to avoid at all costs. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone under any circumstance.

Once upon a time skating games were all about button pressing and just a little timing. Then it all became about intuitive controls and feeling more connected with your avatar rather than just controlling a rolling combo machine. Well OlliOlli takes us back to a simpler time, or so it seems. And it does it with style.

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After a warning that the game was made to be played with a pad, a little odd if playing on a PC, you get to have a go and learn the basics. Although this warning is worth heeding because if you do use a keyboard (as I did for a while) you will essentially be mimicking a thumbstick using the WASD keys. As you can imagine that doesn’t really transfer very well.

After performing you’re trick of choice you will need to press either ‘A’, ‘X’ or the down arrow to land properly. The closer to the ground you are when you press land the higher the combo will be for the trick(s) you just performed. Miss it and your 2D friend will be put off balance and you will score next to nothing.

You don’t fall off with a ‘sloppy’ landing but it’s often difficult to recover from a bad landing as it takes you a huge amount of time to get back on your board correctly. Before you know it there’s a small drop that, due to your unbalanced state, leads to a face grind. Or it will become apparent that you no longer have the space to perform the next jump. Landing correctly is important and one wrong landing could end your run early. Get used to failure.

There’s a satisfying simplicity to OlliOlli that relies more on timing than remembering overly complicated button combos. The other trick to mastering a level comes from remembering the area’s layout. It’s a lot like a much less punishing Impossible Game. Except my score actually improved after each failure. Learning a level also means you’ll be doing less sloppy landings and getting that score up while making sure you don’t end up leaving your skin all over the concrete.

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The levels are well designed and intricate. There’s always loads to see and grind on or jump over and loads of opportunities to horrendously smash your body all over the place. The pace is quick enough to create a challenge but I never started feeling like I was going to have a seizure at any point, again I’m looking at you Impossible Game. The areas are simple and the only real detail is on the objects you’re interested in, which doesn’t lead to impressive graphics but does allow you to play the game.

But that’s not to say that OlliOlli is limited or easy. Soon I was looking to to increase my score and go for some of the higher score objectives within a level. Once you’ve learned a level and feel comfortable completing it successfully there’s still a load of goals to achieve that mainly come from scoring higher. And inevitably to do so you’ll have to get complicated. I hope your pad gymnastics are up to scratch.

You’ll want to be performing more complicated jumps and flips that can all be find in the games move list called the ‘Tricktionary’. They’re not too complicated on their own but quickly rushing through one of the levels, remembering complicated jumps, avoiding hazards, making the most of each grind and landing them all perfectly isn’t easy. And then, in similar style to Skate, you’ll want to be spinning at all times if you really want to get that high score. At this point, and a little before if I’m honest, I struggle. But the point is the potential to improve is there supported by appropriate objectives if you want to push yourself.

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OlliOlli is relatively simple to complete, challenging to improve and practically impossible to perfect (at least for me). And all the time the scoring system rewards you for pushing your limits all be it only with another objective complete. There’s a simple control system that can be used to perform complicated tricks that shares a surprising amount of ground with games like Tony Hawks and Skate. The 2D style isn’t exactly blockbuster stuff but it looks fine and complements the gameplay well. OlliOlli is well worth your time even if it’s only as a ‘time waster’. It’s so easy to just throw it on and enjoy a few levels for 20 minutes. Or you can be sure there’s plenty to do for longer sessions. OllieOllie is just good simple fun.

If there’s one thing gamers like, it’s killing Nazi’s, a staple of video game entertainment for (console) generations. Bandai Namco and CI Games attempt to cash in on the Nazi gold with Enemy Front, a game they hope will give us more freedom with open-ended levels and the ability to complete objectives however you wish.

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Not representative of game footage…

Enter Robert Hawkins, who to most, is just a simple, everyday war correspondent, yet to the evil Nazi’s, he’s a stripped down Rambo with an eventual kill count to shame most 90’s action films several times over. Set mostly in Europe and heavily featuring the Warsaw Uprising, it’s of course only natural to have an American protagonist ruthlessly slaughtering anyone and everone he can find. You’ll meet up with other classic videogame tropes, such as the French resistance fighter who’s more fatale than femme, the generic commando and of course the German operative.

It certainly comes as a surprise that a game being developed by a Polish company, featuring the largely untouched (in gaming at least) Polish theatre of war, would chose to set out their game like this. It would be far more interesting, and perhaps unbearably harrowing, to see a game entirely and devoutly from the Polish perspective, instead of the usual American hero tale we’ve all come to expect.

The horrors of World War 2 were plentiful to say the least; Enemy Front does attempt a fair stab at representing these atrocities. Several times throughout the campaign, you’ll stagger across situations that you can step forward and intervene, inevitably at the expense of an otherwise, avoidable firefight. It does of course slightly pale into comparison however at the sheer number of Germans you’ll slaughter along the way.

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Again, it doesn’t really look like this on PS3

Despite the game feeling overly ambitious throughout, there is some semblance of truth to what they were attempting to accomplish. Areas are indeed open to experimentation in terms of stealth and covert affairs; with most missions being open to completion with minimal fighting. You can take the guns blazing approach, but you’ll often find yourself in one of two scenarios. Either you’ll alert the relentless assault of the German war machine and get shot in the back repeatedly from the suspiciously spawning Nazi’s. Or, you can let the atrocious enemy AI do the work for you and stand calmly in a doorway whilst they graciously walk towards you in single file.

It’s not only the AI that can cause difficulties in a gun fight either, the weapons feel inconsistent at best. Not far from the beginning of the game, you are offered the choice between a rifle and a sub-machine gun, should you pick the bolt action, (which comes without a scope) be prepared for confusion. Not only will hits not register even vaguely near the target, but due to the lack of any optical attachment, you’ll find ranged shots exasperate the problem. Fortunately for us however, you always come prepared for such an outcome; your trusty sidearm will see you through a majority of battles. Seemingly the perfect combination of more up close stopping power than the SMG’s and possessing more accuracy than the rifle at range, you’ll do most of your work with this.

Luckily for us, there are more than enough excuses to take the stealthy approach. It’s often just a matter of finding the correct climbable open window or the sneaky dusty trail to follow. Inevitably, stealth play has its downsides too however, the stealth takedowns can often be subject to the constant uncertainty and possibility of a hilarious glitch occurring. Whether it be the body of a recently stabbed Nazi disappearing into thin air after flying inside a wall or a guard periodically flopping to the floor in front of his superior, who incidentally, couldn’t care less that he just saw me crouching in front of him.

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These ‘in game’ shots are ambitious…

On top of the obligatory ‘explosive set-pieces’, Enemy Front also borrows heavily from other games too. You’ll find yourself breaching doorways in slow motion, alongside sniping using mechanics very reminiscent of their previous Sniper Ghost Warrior titles. Clocking in at around 5-6 hours for completion; not offering much in the way of replayability, save for the myriad of useless, obligatory collectibles doesn’t inspire much either.

The game’s multiplayer doesn’t offer too much in the way of reprisal, with a scant few modes and no progression system to speak of. Your interest would likely wane after a few matches, should you find any. Having such few people online, the blame can’t squarely be placed at the developers, but with nothing to draw you back in, there’s not much incentive to play when other games on the market better implement their ideas.

If all of these problems weren’t enough, Enemy Front still has one major kicker that you’ll likely notice straight away, its horrendous frame rate issues. It will regularly fall below 30 fps, even whilst there’s no discernable action on screen. Unfortunately, coming off the silky smooth, high resolution games of the PS4, it’s even more noticeable. Whilst the graphics are serviceable, except for some nice lighting effects dotted about, the voice acting, again, lets it down somewhat too. There’s a decent rousing score that kicks in at the right times, but in the end, it’s too little, too late.

Everything regarding Enemy Front screams of a high ambition that it’s not quite reached for whatever reasons. The premise is good, the setting will always appeal to gamers and leaving the style of play up to the user is always a good choice. There can be fun to be had; ‘outsmarting’ the enemies by sneaking your way around can feel rewarding, if not a little hollow. Unfortunately, unforgivable amounts of technical problems are hard to squint past and are inevitably, Enemy Front’s downfall.

If you enjoyed the first GRID it’s likely you were disappointed in some way by GRID 2. Many of GRID’s best features were unnecessarily cut. The entire game went too far down the arcade route and lost sight of why it’s predecessor was so great. Managing to remain simultaneously focused but still offering a chance to race across many disciplines with handling a nice hybrid of simulation and arcade. Well Codemasters appear to have recognised this and GRID: Autosport sees the return of many of the ideas and features that made GRID so great.

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Probably the most important change to Autosport is with the handling model. Autosport attempts to again find that sweet spot that is the balance between arcade and simulation from the first GRID. That satisfying sliding and skidding that would probably leave us critically injured in reality makes a strong return. But Autosport doesn’t let it get out of control and you don’t get those moments were you wonder whether you’ve started playing Burnout. As with the original GRID, Autosport dares to take itself seriously enough to become a racer but doesn’t require absolute perfection with every button press.

More than once I was reminded of how I felt during my time with the original. GRID is forgiving enough to encourage bravery at every turn but complicated enough that hitting an apex or being smooth with the throttle on the exit of a corner matters. It’s a fine line, and GRID 2 lost it’s way, but Autosport gets it right by looking back to the original for inspiration.

Car models help things by looking their best at all times, especially from the outside. I tend to play racers from the bumper cam anyway but the vehicles in GRID look great. And Autosport allows you to play from an interior camera too. Rejoice all those who will now briefly look at the interior of a car and then continue playing from a different view anyway! But it’s good to see Codemasters have included it anyway. The detail of the vehicle interiors isn’t quite as good as the rest of the game but I imagine statistically there’s very few gaming hours spent there and Codemasters’ attention has been correctly focused elsewhere.

During a bad collision that detail becomes obvious. The detail of the car models becomes clear as bits of car fly off, shatter and bend while the slow motion gives everything a cool weighted feel. There are some areas that don’t have quite the fidelity we might be looking for, particularly with next gen hardware around, but for a last gen title it looks very good.

One of my favourite things in GRID 2 were the tracks. There weren’t many of them and the tracks themselves weren’t always fun to race on but their detail was second to none. And the same goes for Autosport except there are loads of tracks on offer as well. There are a huge number of tracks for you to play on and each is detailed enough to stave off the boredom of hour after hour of grey tarmac rolling off the bottom of your screen.

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Autosport’s career mode yet again returns to old ideas and replaces constant, repeated, first place wins with realistic objectives. In your first season your goal isn’t to finish in first place. In fact you shouldn’t be finishing first place in your first race and Autosport encourages you to continue playing and improving as your position gets better with practice. It’s so much better not to be expected to overtake 20 or so vehicles even in your debut event. And the return of an AI partner as your teammate allows GRID to again feel like a team effort, which was one of my favourite features of the original. With the AI helping create excitement every step of the way you can be sure you’ll get to do some actual racing.

This time your career is split across multiple disciplines; Tuner, Touring, Street, Endurance and Open-Wheel. If there isn’t at least something for everyone in Autosport I’d be surprised. And each discipline feels unique and separated from the others. Touring races see you fighting wheel to wheel in huge packs. Open-Wheel races favour F1 like precision. The only disappointments for me were that the endurance races really weren’t long enough (but then I like the old Gran Turismo style that took many hours each) and the Tuner class wasn’t quite as enjoyable or exciting as the others. But some people will no doubt prefer the races I don’t like. The point is there’s a choice for you. On the whole the multiple class system works well and offers loads to keep you playing even long into your career. Just being able to change things up a bit occasionally makes a big difference.

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A lot of things were missing from GRID 2. And they’re all back in Autosport. Codemasters have really listened to what people want and actually made changes. The thrill of wheel to wheel racing the way only GRID knows how is so close to making a return. The handling model nearly finds that glorious balance between simulation and arcade. There are loads of tracks and plenty of good looking vehicle models. And then there are multiple race classes, realistic career objectives and a teammate. Although I would’ve still preferred to be able to fully manage a team, much like a more in-depth version of the first GRID. But some new features are what GRID needs now.

I wish I could have seen Autosport made for PS4 and Xbox One though as some nice next gen visuals would greatly increase the overall presentation of Autosport. It still looks good, especially for a last gen title but I’m still without a racer for my PS4 and GRID for some reason didn’t take advantage and fill that gap. Well done Codemasters for actually listening to fans but truth be told GRID Autosport is really just what GRID 2 needed to be. Still at least it’s safe to say GRID is back on track. What we need now is the next GRID to see were the franchise goes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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