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Reviews

No matter how many racing games that get released, none have come close to garnering my attention for as long as Gran Turismo 4 way back on the PS2. Stepping outside the boundaries of the PlayStation grants access to the ever great Forza series, but no longer owning an Xbox has left me with little to love. With the majority of its online issues now resolved, let’s hope Evolutions Studio’s hyped up, PlayStation exclusive, Driveclub can satiate my need for speed.

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The way it was meant to be played

First off, and it might sound patronising or obvious, but you really could do with joining a club as soon as you can, even if you intend to play the majority of the game in singleplayer. As although you can create one, it will remain inactive and you won’t earn any club specific unlocks until at least two out of the six club positions are filled. This might not be an issue for some or even most people, yet if none of your online buddies play racing games, you’ll have to join someone else’s, or spam the in-game list with invites to try and populate your own.

It’s certainly not necessary to play online in a club to fully enjoy the game, it’s just you’ll be missing out on a few cars and liveries by the end. And for anyone remotely of the obsessive compulsive nature, this will constantly irritate. Especially at the end of each and every race where it breaks down your unlocks; gratifyingly rewarding you for being a great driver, yet locking out content at the same time. ‘Let’s have a look at what you could’ve won!’ springs to mind.

Club-ing aside, the singleplayer mode was where I first delved in; upon starting up a race, it became clear to see that interaction and immersion with the player was going to be sparse at best. I’m generally not a fan of the system in many racing games where you receive multiple arbitrary emails that congratulate you for picking a team or qualifying etc. but at least then, there is some semblance of acknowledgement. Picking a race in Driveclub involves choosing a thumbnail and selecting race, that’s about it. The system in Forza was a good middle ground, where you could either select an event from the expansive grid, or let the game recommend races depending on the suitability of your current car, or even suggesting a track you haven’t raced yet. It was a happy medium that gave you something different to break up the monotony.

Instead, you unlock events using a star system; with the next set of races unlocked once you’ve collected enough prerequisite points. Whilst victory in most racing games is dependent upon finishing in first place, Driveclub tasks you with up to three objectives to complete during the race. A stalwart one being ‘finish in the top three’, alongside fun distractions such as corner mastery, average speed checks and drift sections. These not only break up the potential tedium, but also serve as a little bit extra replay value should you wish to go back and complete ‘em all.

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This is starting to look fairly tense

The racing in general is in fact great fun, with each of the 50-ish cars feeling relatively unique from another. A good job really as there’s no performance tweaks or upgrades to tinker with aside from the cosmetic liveries. For those interested in the slower, hatchback style cars, the choices are pretty limited however, with most of the focus shone on the higher tiered, exotic cars instead. Despite featuring a more arcade-y form of handling, taking the correct lines through corners will often still reward you even if you can take ludicrous risks.

The lack of any real difficulty options stings a little; you can’t turn traction control off, nor conversely put on a racing line if you’re struggling. The in car view is incredibly immersive, detailed and rewarding if used, but since there’s no incentive to race whilst using it, I fear many will miss out on some of the game’s better moments. There’s nothing quite like racing at dusk with the sun glare blinding you of the corner you’ve never taken, the apex of which being blocked by your own door pillar. Nailing such a corner in such a way feels irreplaceable.

As addictive as the gameplay is, there’s always something holding it back however. Namely, the hyper aggressive AI. Stubborn as a mule and often taking up an unnecessary amount of track space, it can and will frustrate you. With the lack of a ‘flashback’ style system, losing a race on a final corner due to the AI spinning you out of control is a real possibility. When they’re not smashing into you however, they can feel fairly realistic, they’ll rarely all snake into one apex killing machine; instead, they’ll veer off the track and make convincing mistakes.

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Honestly, it somehow looks better in-game

Despite not being able to modify your cars in terms of performance, the livery editor almost makes up for it. Customising a paint scheme and having it displayed on all of your owned cars is satisfying and applying badges you’ve earned is a nice touch too. Creating a club offers you the chance to create a team logo from a fairly comprehensive set of options; also letting you display it with pride on your cars. Customising your avatar doesn’t stretch to the same lengths however, with only a select few options to choose from.

Graphically, Driveclub can certainly have its moments; in the drivers view especially. Each car is expectedly modelled with stupendous amounts of detail and some of the backdrops look astounding. The corner severity warnings are obvious enough to know how treacherous the bend ahead is going to become at a glance, yet they don’t draw focus from the track. The damage modelling looks suitably sufficient even if it’s only cosmetic; with the collisions themselves sounding suitably muffled whilst inside the car, yet unfortunately lack punch in any other view. The lack of promised dynamic weather is also a shame, but should hopefully be implemented in a future update, fingers crossed.

Driveclub proved to be an ambitious title; with taking cues from others of this generation, namely the always online aspect, nearly ruining it. Playing offline is a shallow experience, if you’re not connected to the internet, everything unlocked via levelling up your crew will disappear until you reconnect. It’s a shame that so many of the game’s best features are tied to a steady and strong connection to their severs; as once that link is lost, the game feels like a shell of what it was.

Everything regarding the original release of Sleeping Dogs on the last gen screamed familiarity. Whether it was the free-roam aspect of the game, complete with the usual plethora of side activities, the brutal combat system, the gun play or the RPG elements, there was likely something for everybody. Square Enix and United Front Games have deemed it worthy to bring this classic to the current consoles, is it worth playing again?

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It doesn’t always have to be cleavers and explosions

Yet despite each ‘genre’ included in the game not quite living up to the emulated games standards, it was always simple, plain fun. It didn’t matter that the combat system wasn’t quite as fluid and responsive as Batman’s, instead, it gouged its niche with sheer brutality, allowing you to wield cleavers, knives and even the odd fish. On top of this, it encouraged variation in combat by reducing the score earned upon each successively repeated move. Sitting back and only countering may well increase the odds of survival, but sliding in the odd environmental attack or takedown will dramatically increase your score. Whereas the hand to hand combat is still one of its greatest draws, it’s not without foibles. The lock on system is cumbersome and tricky to use at first, counters can be punishingly difficult to execute and the small-windowed QTE moments that occur when facing certain enemies can still infuriate too.

The driving mechanics haven’t particularly aged well either, although even when it first released, Sleeping Dogs wasn’t exactly known for its physics-heavy handling model. It works well within the game, being able to power slide every vehicle around every corner; the inexplicable ramming is a thankful feature during car chases too. Just don’t expect cars to handle with the predictable panache of which GTA games are famous for.

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Mind the pikes…

Due to the focus aimed at melee scuffles, firing a weapon won’t happen until a fair few hours in. Fortunately, even though the gunfights are often entertaining in a way that only slow motion can be, it never relies upon them for too long. Missions are often deigned with a few sections of each gametype a la GTA style. Driving to a pre-determined point with a conversing passenger, displaying your superior martial arts prowess towards a group of thugs and finally shooting the hell out of everything sounds justly formulaic; and that’s because it is. It never seems to get tiresome however, partly due to the over the top excitement that inevitably ensues, and partly due to the game’s strong narrative and voicework.

Upgrades are what makes the free roam worlds go round; it’s no different here. With three tiers of upgrades to work through, there’s often something around the corner to look forward to. Adding special finisher moves and letting you steal cars silently are just some of the starting ones on offer. By the end, you’ll be able to pull up next to a group of loitering oiks in your overly flash car and grab a durable tyre iron out of the boot, making most melee encounters considerably easier.

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This escalated quickly

As if the game didn’t have enough content already, the Definitive Edition also bundles in some DLC too. The surreal Nightmare in North Point involves ghosts, the underworld and Shen’s girlfriend; the second story based DLC, the Zodiac Tournament, takes place on a mysterious ‘Tekken’ style island where you must fight for your own survival against some pretty nasty opponents; finally the Year of the Snake gives you some more Honk Kong style cop action to work through.

Regardless of the extra six or so hours the DLC gives you, gameplay has not been the focus during this transition across consoles. The real differences you’ll see are the cosmetic ones. Aside from the bump up to 1080p, you’ll notice an increase in population across the map. Civilians both in cars and those meandering around the streets are more frequent, as well as more visual effects as a whole. The newly implemented volumetric fog effects are a pleasant addition, alongside the higher draw distance make the night skyline of Hong Kong a true marvel at times. The lack of 60fps is a little disappointing but the framerate holds steady for the most part.

Either way, if you missed out on the original, or like me, just fancy another trip around a very violent Hong Kong, this edition is not to be missed. Some parts have not aged particularly well, such as the camera, and the vehicle handling can be an acquired taste too, but all will be forgotten when you slam a shop’s shutter down on a rival goon, slap someone senseless with a large fish, or try your lungs at a spot of karaoke.

For as long as I’ve played video games I’ve played survival horror. Or at least what I call survival horror. It’s not too difficult to come across someone who feels strangely warm and fuzzy when thinking about the gore, death and that unmistakable feeling of isolation. But it was the pure strategy and thought that was needed literally before each pull of the trigger or use of an item that made survival horror something special to me. And for me that game was undoubtedly Resident Evil.

Despite the long period of success that franchise is all but dead to me. Tension has been replaced by excitement and a careful approach to ammo consumption supplanted by an entire arsenal of weaponry that fits nicely into your pockets. And so I join the ranks of horror fans in the search for survival horror. The Evil Within is the first game in a long time that might just recapture some of that survival horror glory. Particularly as the legend that directed Resident Evil right up to Resi 4 (basically all the good ones), Shinji Mikami, is back as director.

While investigating a mental hospital, were some serious mass murdering has gone down, you are unfortunately captured and wake up hanging upside down from a rope. Your newest friend clearly didn’t get that part for Hostel (probably a blessing in disguise) and your escape from him forms the tutorial and prologue. You have no weapons apart from your fists and a machete you managed to acquire from a corpse during your escape.

Instead you’ll have a tense chase based primarily around the games stealth mechanics. Almost entirely really because this guy likes running around with a chainsaw (can’t think when we’ve seen anything like that before) and manages to injure you early meaning you can’t run properly. The tension as you slowly limp away or narrowly make it behind a box to hide is fantastic. It’s one of those moments that makes you curl your toes, knowing your pursuer may be only inches away and there’s nothing you can do to fight him or even check to see were he is.

Unfortunately there are very few other moments like that once the core gameplay starts. Your main form of attack will be using the one hit stealth kill to stab your enemies in the head. It’s effective up to a point but don’t expect to be Agent 47. The attack is slow and leaves you quite vulnerable, as it should. But it doesn’t use ammo and you all but guarantee that the guy you just stuck a knife in won’t be bothering you for a while. You can even throw bottles to create distractions. Getting the balance between speed and silence is tricky but I found stealth to be one of my best strategies throughout the game.

One problem is what you should do when you fudge a stealth takedown. So your target mysteriously turned around at the last minute. What do you do? The Evil Within provides you with several options but if things go really bad it’s often tempting to die and retry from a checkpoint. On occasion it’s difficult to use items knowing you could retry and save yourself a match or a few bullets.

The same goes for health syringes which are rare enough that using them has to be a conscious decision. But you regenerate your health to a minimum point and often it’s easier, and more economical, to just rely on minimum health and fall back on checkpoints if you need them.

Yet another reason your health feels totally pointless is the constant and utterly ridiculous overuse of traps. Especially proximity mines which have a tricky mini-game to disarm them and can easily blow you to pieces kill you instantly, or at least take most of your health off. If you use a syringe only to walk past a mine you didn’t see and get reduced back to critical health you have to wonder if it was worth using.

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The weapons are satisfying and well balanced. Nothing ever feels quite good enough that you become complacent but you don’t feel like you’re firing blanks either. Upgrades make a decent difference but a lot of them are unnecessary for most of the game. You’ll likely get to work on increasing the damage of your weapons and the amount of stuff you can carry and then everything else is just a slightly handy perk for late game and new game+. Progression is steady and you always feel like your getting somewhere, even if your not quite sure where.

Although you do have to wonder why the guns the enemies shoot can kill you quite easily. And for that matter why can they aim perfectly? And why the hell do they even have guns? Yet another survival horror that features a gun wielding variety of its particular flavour of zombie/monster. No horror game seems content without having enemies with guns. The game is more tense without them and the gameplay doesn’t benefit at all from their inclusion – especially considering I can’t effectively engage them at range.

I accept, as we all do, that certain realities must be ignored so that video games can work. But when you find yourself standing with a torch (of the wood and fire kind) capable of burning and instantly killing a living enemy, it’s totally bizarre that you can’t use it to burn an enemy on the floor. Instead you rely on your trusty matches which ignite them as if they were made entirely of petrol. Nor can you roll a downed enemy into the camp fire he is laying next to. Why not just leave torches and campfires out of the game? And if you think about the size of a bullet for a revolver how many do you think you could get in your pockets right now? I bet it’s more than 10. For a detective this guy is woefully unequipped. I would have rather had a space or weight limit and instead have to consider limited ammo drops rather than the totally ridiculous (initial) limit of 10 bullets and constantly find ammo I can’t pick up. If you had a pair of combats and a rucksack you’d be sorted. Oh and a jet lighter. Why do they never bring lighters?

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The Evil Within really excels with environments. Every new area is creepy and impossibly well detailed. Exploring the areas is a treat, albeit a hesitant one. The backgrounds are beautifully out of focus and catching sight of a stumbling creature as you investigate the foreground is chilling. It looks stunning but more than that the design and workmanship behind every single inch of every room is really amazing. The first few minutes of each section before I started taking out the nasty things were by far my favourite. It’s just a shame so much of that atmosphere is lost once the fighting begins.

There are just these absolutely amazing moments of tension as you soak up the artfully crafted atmosphere. But there’s always something just around the corner to ruin it. The ability to rely on checkpoints takes most of the survival and conservation out of the game unless you actively ignore them. Even if you don’t use the checkpoints they’re always there as a security net. Creeping your way around to defeat enemies and feeling vulnerable and disadvantaged is handled well although personally I’d still rather sacrifice it for the need to use weapons and ammo strategically.

The Evil Within is gory and patiently unnerves you using the fantastic environments and devious enemy design to create a dark atmosphere. Personally I’d rather the challenge came from survival and conservation rather than difficulty but that’s just preference. As an action horror title The Evil Within is the best since Resident Evil 4 but I still felt the survival elements took a back seat. Either way a triumphant return of the great Shinji Mikami to horror and the best hope for the genre in a long time.

So, vault hunters. You’ve come back for more. And this time your adventures will take place on the moon. A change of scenery is always good. Especially considering I’ve spent over 400 hours on the first Borderlands and at least 200 on Borderlands 2. It’s fair to say I know my Borderlands. But Borderlands 2 failed to create that spark within me that made me take days off work and just generally attempt to avoid everything that wasn’t Borderlands. So I visit the moon in the hope that spark returns.

And because this is a moon that comes with a nice fat helping of low gravity gameplay. Sadly low gravity isn’t as fun as 2K Australia seem to think it is. After the first couple of higher-than-normal jumps the novelty has more than worn off. And so you spend most of the game hitting your head on low objects and just generally wishing you could jump, run and sprint the way you usually do. Sadly it’s nothing more than a gimmick wedged into the game. Adding the need for topping up oxygen reserves and an associated item, called Oz Kits, for you to loot increasing your tanks and providing various other abilities really doesn’t do enough to validate it. If you remove low gravity, the need for oxygen and the ‘Oz Kits’ completely out of The Pre-Sequel nothing would change and in fact the gameplay would be much less cluttered.

Borderlands hasn’t returned to the original ways of an almost irrelevant plot and constant instances of ‘what was that guys name?’. Although truth be told that never bothered me and the first Borderlands, irrelevant plot and all, is still my favourite. The constant humour and general foolishness are perpetual in The Pre-Sequel. Borderlands still remains the only game that can genuinely make me laugh. And I don’t mean the odd chuckle or a smile I mean actual audible laughter. But The Pre-Sequel doesn’t quite have the same punch that Borderlands 2 had.

Instead it attempts to make up for less quips and quick-witted pop culture references by offering a unique perspective. Any of the characters you can play as, except for the beloved Claptrap, is a villain. The concept that Handsome Jack isn’t a villain in his own mind is further explored in The Pre-Sequel by putting you in control of one of those villains. The game is set far enough in the past that there are plenty of notable characters for you to see periodically and on occasion even interact with.

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But all this really does is convince you that you’d rather be playing as someone else. I was a Mordecai guy myself and I accepted the events that transpired in Borderlands 2 only because it hit me so hard (seriously I swear I shed a proper tear). My co-op partner played Roland and again we all just had to accept the outcomes of Borderlands 2. Even then all we really wanted was to play as the original characters but the franchise moved forwards so we learned to love our new roster of Vault Hunters.

In The Pre-Sequel this is taken to a new level. We know what happens to most of the characters and we know what happens in the overall story. Being constantly reminded that the plot you’re in and the characters you’re controlling and meeting have totally predetermined endings doesn’t allow you to even come close to feeling connected with your characters. If the second Borderlands strained the relationship between player and character then The Pre-Sequel totally dismantles it and burns it. At least in Borderlands 2 there could be meaningful events. That simply isn’t possible without feeling connected to a character and The Pre-Sequel doesn’t even try to make room for such a connection.

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Those things aside, The Pre-Sequel does things much the same as other Borderlands titles. The addition of the ‘Grinder’ vending machine allows you to sacrifice three guns and have a chance to turn them into something better – or at least rarer. So if you put in 3 uncommon pistols you get a chance to get a rare pistol. If you put in three different weapon types of the same rarity you might get any one of those weapons. The odds of ‘winning’ and getting a good return are surprisingly high for Borderlands, or any loot-em-up really, and from my experience seem to give around a 50/50 chance of either returning a weapon of equal rarity to the parts provided or one of higher rarity. Rather generously you can also spend moon-shards on the process and guarantee the best result. In the end game this is a fantastic way to scrap loot when the shops no longer cater for your needs and also gives you a way to spend shards rather than them becoming totally redundant after you’ve bought all the SDUs.

I didn’t get that feeling I got jumping from the first Borderlands to the second. The Pre-Sequel is built using the same engine as Borderlands 2 and there are no obvious mechanical or visual improvements. Even at its best The Pre-Sequel feels like DLC. Admittedly this would be the mother of all DLC’s but really there’s less difference between Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel as there is between the first Borderlands pre and post Knoxx’s Armoury. And that just stings a little bit.

And it’s not the only thing that stings. There are regular frame rate drops, especially when using some of Borderland’s more interesting weapons. Early game I used a unique MIRV (which is a type of grenade that separates into various child grenades before exploding) which boasted double the child grenades in the flavour text. And they did, often at risk to my own life, but they were very effective in the right circumstances – small rooms being a particular specialty. But for both me and my co-op partner frames dropped to 1/second and beyond so I just had to stop using them. More general ‘lag’ is a problem too and clients in particular can expect regular momentary interruptions or the need to press reload at least twice. By the third game this should be sorted. Especially given the decision to play it safe and release the game on last gen tech using the same engine, this really shouldn’t be happening anymore. Claptrap himself says it best in the game “This is prooobably fixed. Someone else’ll test it, anyway.”.

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It’s impossible to see The Pre-Sequel as anything other than DLC. Due to its very nature as a prequel we know what happens to the world and its characters. Putting plot aside, never too challenging in a Borderlands title, the gameplay is exactly like Borderlands 2 with low gravity forced in as an attempt to refresh the gameplay. The grinder makes a noticeable, and welcome, change to late game looting but it’s still something that could’ve been added with DLC.

With very few new features and old hardware the latest instalment of Borderlands does virtually nothing to move the franchise forward. But The Pre-Sequel is undoubtedly good fun and thankfully Borderlands hasn’t lost its identity. Humour is still integral but all your favourite characters remain off limits and serve only to make playable characters feel like third place; second place being won already. That is except Claptrap who you won’t be seeing because he is playable. Instead you’ll be presented with more generic Claptrap units than ever. They’re still funny but they’re not our beloved Claptrap who first opened a gate for some wannabe Vault Hunters way, way back in the early days on Pandora. The Pre-Sequel is good fun but it is a prequel in both title and design. For the true Borderlands experience the first game and its DLC’s are still the way to go. I’m starting to think they always will be.

 

After an inconceivably long wait the sequel to Wasteland has finally arrived. Wasteland 2 is a post-apocalyptic top down RPG. So we can expect the usual thugs, bandits and giant mutated creatures of some sort.

The first things you will see is a character creation screen, or more specifically a team creation screen. You’ll have four character slots to fill and rather than creating your protagonist and acquiring team members as you play you create all four from the start. There are also a reasonable selection of premade characters but I can’t see any RPG fans opting in.

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But the offer does become more tempting once you reach the stats page. As usual you are given a certain number of points to assign to different attributes or skills. And as usual it’s difficult to know which are going to be useful and which aren’t. The difference with Wasteland 2 is that there are just so many options for you that initial character creation is rather intimidating. The tooltip descriptions are reasonably helpful but for first time players a quick bit of research is probably in order. It certainly was for me rather than risking playing 10 hours and realising one of your team is useless.

What is nice is having the freedom to create an entire team. All too often you create your character only to find a party member along the way who can do everything better than you. Having to think ahead and tactically distribute skills across four characters, although intimidating, is actually quite refreshing.

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Throughout the entire game there is this sense that Wasteland 2 is a game from long ago. The help is minimal, the graphics are nothing particularly special and there certainly isn’t any room for advanced facial animations and the like. Not that you really see anybody’s face close up anyway. But what it does offer is a massive amount of freedom and a sense of satisfaction when you figure something out or overcome hurdles.

Even simple things like the first time I bypassed a gate which had an alarm, a trap and a lock. I first inspected the gate using my team leader, who has high perception, and then set him to work defusing the traps – a skill I had assigned him earlier. I then called up my lock picking, alarm cracking second in command and after all was complete the gate opened safely and silently.

It’s the manual nature of the tasks that gave me satisfaction. Having to call up my second knowing that she had the relevant skills and select them from the hotbar is far more satisfying than the cursor changing to the corresponding task automatically whenever you do anything. It’s a look back at the golden age of the RPG before games helped us out and made things easy and even the slight inconvenience of selecting an ability manually is far more rewarding.

But it does make for a steep learning curve. The first mission you are sent on is relatively simple and the level of difficulty is not too high but generally speaking Wasteland 2 is a tough game. And if you’re only used to modern RPGs the early game can be a little rough. But by making sure you save every 3 seconds and learning by trying rather than listening before long you feel confident that you can make it in this harsh world.

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Combat is a turn based affair that plays out quite differently from most other top down squad based titles. There’s can be a strangely fast pace to combat considering how easily you can be slaughtered. Each character has a certain amount of AP (action points) to use on abilities each turn. Each character can have two weapons and, assuming you have a balanced team, will hopefully all use different ammo types so there aren’t fights over a certain type of round as you through boxes of unused bullets into a puddle of biological waste.

Early game it’s very easy to get caught up in the pace of the fight and forget that this is a very tactical combat system but as the enemies get tougher you find a need to slow down and think. Selecting abilities, moving characters and anything else you might want to do is simple and the UI helps make sure you don’t lose because of a stray click or an ambiguous cursor. They even decided to have attack and move on different mouse buttons. Sounds like something small but to all those who ever tried to click an enemy to attack them and saw they’re character run right up to him, end their turn and wait to die this kind of thing is a big deal.

Questing is the usual selection of people in trouble, helping those that hate you and fighting half crazed lunatics wearing American football gear. Although most of the dialogue is spoken the main interface for conversations resembles a 90’s printer stuck at the bottom of the screen. Your options for dialogue will appear underneath the transcript and you can either click on them or type the option directly into the UI which is fairly useless – but kind of fun.

The options and dialogue trees are certainly in depth enough that you never feel wanting for more. Often I would find that conversations would end just at the point were I said to myself ‘I seriously hope that was the last branch’. There’s nothing particularly unique about the characters but they do a decent job of filling all the prerequisite roles needed for a post-apocalyptic journey.

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Wasteland 2 is a throw back to RPGs of old. It’s the sequel to a game that’s 26 years old (and also was released the same year I was born) and definitely looks to the 90s for inspiration. It’s also a game RPG fans want. Sure it can be a rough start but give us the numbers and stats we crave. Give us tactical combat that those stats actually matter in rather than just spectacle. Give us enough quests so we keep coming back for more after 10 hours. Wasteland 2 gives you just that. It doesn’t look the best and doesn’t even try to add new features but it’s just a good, solid RPG. Just like the good old days.

 

With the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game not due for release until sometime next year, it seems we’ve been presented with either a stopgap for the anticipating fans, or a taste of what to look forward to in the upcoming months.

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Glad these lights are working

In striving for the annual release model, it’s often tricky for developers to create and implement new concepts and ideas on top of refining existing ones. Never has that been more obvious than the release of F1 2014. Granted, not a huge amount changes in its real life counterpart, save for the videogame friendly KERS system; and of course the yearly roster updates, both in terms of vehicles, tracks and drivers.

Either way, new to the franchise this year, is the inclusion of a new track, the Russian Sochi Autodrom, alongside returning favourites, Hockenheimring and the Red Bull Ring, at the unfortunate expense of the Indian GP track. Bahrain gets a little night time treatment to more closely represent the true schedule too. Aside from the track and driver arrangements, the cars themselves have also gone through a few alterations to comply with F1 going green and all. In place of the whiny scream of yesteryear, you’ll alternatively be listening to the hybrid’s turbo whistle instead.

Aside from the mostly aesthetic changes on offer, the tyre wear model has been graciously revamped too. No longer will you limp round the track a few laps before pitting whilst trying to disregard the AI’s unfathomable skill at driving full pace on ruined tyres. It’s not only more forgiving, providing you stick to the pit schedule, but also there are more auditory cues to help you know when you’re pushing the limits.

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Be prepared to see the back of a lot of cars

The driving model is still great too; even if it seems a little heavier and proves more difficult to spin the back end out. However, being introduced to the game is an exercise in bewilderment. In standing of the excellent, if not somewhat slowly paced nature of last year’s Young Driver Test, is something much more unsuitable to a ‘simulation’ game. This time around, you are given one lap to perform your best, bearing in mind that this could well be some people’s first racing game, and upon completion, the game offers a set of difficulty options based upon your performance. To be honest, you’d be better off ignoring its advice and setting the options to your own preference.

The AI still succumbs to various tropes of the genre, with its unrelenting grip of the racing line, its inability to block you, its reluctance to take chances and of course, in stark contrast to real life, the finishing rate of each driver. They’ll very rarely make mistakes which warrant summoning the safety car.

Another immersion breaking feature is, once again, the limitations of the career mode. Having a five year cycle simply isn’t enough time for the true aficionados to feel like they’re working their way up through the ranks. Especially when you get offered a Mercedes as a starting car. Getting the difficulty settings correct is paramount, too easy and that projected target of finishing 15th is something you can more than attain by the first bend. Too hard and you’ll quickly become frustrated in only a way that a racing game can provide.

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Yes! It’s er, not as good as last year’s game…

In terms of modes, F1 2014 feels a little barren and stagnated, even when compared to last year’s edition. The career mode is potentially too short, even when taking into account the option of seven or twelve race seasons. It also feels a tad distant and a little cold too, with only generic emails, race calendars and tuning options to sift through. Aside from the career mode, there’s the usual time trial variants, challenges and multiplayer (both split-screen and online) to sink some time into. Unfortunately, the powers that be, have dropped the excellent Classic mode from last year’s iteration, somehow granting even less content than before. Provided you can get into a like-minded group where smashing into other players isn’t the sole reason for playing the game, the online multiplayer should hold your attention for some time however.

The largest flaw(s) in F1 2014 reside in its familiarity however; where everything feels copy and pasted from last year’s release. Your pit boss has seemingly learnt nothing in a year as his dialog remains largely unchanged, the menus feel archaic, crash damage is underwhelming and the graphics are no discernible amount better than before.

The wheel to wheel racing is still great; cutting tenths of seconds off lap times is still mesmerizingly addictive and taking corners at insane speeds is always going to be gratifying. It’s a shame then that F1 2014 not only doesn’t improve upon its predecessor, but instead manages to take a step back in terms of content. If you’re the type who looks forwards to each year’s offering, then I’m afraid you could well be sorely disappointed; perhaps it would be better to wait for the PS4 and Xbox One’s versions, provided they add more content and features that is.

Deep in the heart of Mordor the Dark Lord sits on his thrown crafting an unimaginably large army of orks, uruks and other nasty things. The corrupted kings swoop around striking fear into the hearts of men, now masters of the void. Someone really should have made friends with Talion and done anything to keep him happy. This guy would have been so useful during the third age. But minor plot issues aside lets go visit Mordor as Talion our ranger/wraith protagonist.

This will become such a cliché it’s ridiculous and I can already hear those of you who called it. But the comparison is far too obvious to avoid. Shadow of Mordor is essentially Batman meets Assassins Creed. Suddenly that Arkham entry without Rocksteady behind the wheel makes sense. It’s fun, brutal and just like Nazi zombies you can feel at ease slaying countless orks and uruks without even the slightest sense of remorse. Even when you elaborately beat one with your bare hands before abruptly stabbing it through its open mouth. Or when your wraith takes control and you see terror in the eyes of your enemy as you shout ‘Obey Me!’ and take his mind.

Outside the ‘holy crap did you see that!’ the usual collection of enemies are present, normal, ranged, shielded and so on with each needing a different method of attack. You might have to stun one kind, others you can’t attack from the front. It’s all very familiar but Shadow of Mordor isn’t afraid to let lose swarms of simple enemies for you to satisfyingly work your way through. All too often satisfying combat is ruined by over use of difficult enemies, or more specifically more difficult enemy combinations, but rest assured there will be plenty of opportunities to slay hordes of lesser foes.

Mordor does however open itself up to tedious and frustrating deaths. After killing countless Uruks, their captains and beasts to be defeated by a couple of stray crossbow bolts you couldn’t see because the camera is far too tight is just irritating. Then to be presenting with 30 seconds of orks cheering over your death and watching them slowly move around the ranks on the nemesis system is just infuriating. I wish my losses were against bosses or worthy foes and not corners to get stuck on or the off-screen delights of a ranged attacker.

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The nemesis system is were Shadow of Mordor attempts to stands apart from the crowd. The ability for captains and the more badass among the Uruk to gain and lose ranks are the main reason endlessly hunting them remains fun. Killing a captain opens up a slot for another ork to take over. Or they might just fight among themselves to gain ranks. But the reality is that despite how cool and impressive all this is early game it makes no difference what his name is really. He’s just another boss with a few attributes that you may or may not have discovered by finding Intel or interrogating particularly weak orks.

On top of that killing a captain often has little effect on the game other than sometimes altering his appearance and giving him something to reference during his next WWE intro that acts as a handy ‘previously on’ clip that we all need because we’re stupid and forgetted what is happened. For example on one occasion I fought with an enemy I had previously ‘killed’ and saw his scars. It was cool until he directly referenced them and ruined the moment.

Then you kill him again and another named ork takes his place. Sure the captains look cool, each has a definite style and there’s an impressive voice roster but it just doesn’t matter. What you really need for the nemesis system to work is to die and go back to settle the score. But this just doesn’t happen.

The stealth mechanic too is not exactly perfect. Unfortunately it’s satisfying only because the AI is so great at playing dumb. And I mean they act like senseless straw manikins laid out just for you. But given that Mordor doesn’t have any claims to hardcore stealthing it works well. Thinning out ranks before engaging and defeating a group is satisfying even though endlessly luring foes and using bushes like they’re the best cover ever devised isn’t.

As usual the free roam is held back by arbitrary requirements to complete main missions. Shadow of Mordor is almost totally free but for two or three things. Please stop telling me what to do first in an open world game. To come this far and then lock a couple of abilities just seems stupid. If it’s open world then make it so. Don’t make it 95% open; especially with such a thin plot that then starts to feel like a chore.

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My main gripe is that most of what’s good about Mordor is ‘borowed’. The combat system is taken straight out of Batman, although with the addition of bladed violence and gore. It doesn’t feel as polished as Batman but it is more forgiving and doesn’t feel out of place. Even the special combat moves have the same button assignments. The stealth is straight from Assassins Creed although again is more forgiving which allows it to feel at home. But when you crouch run across a high ledge the animation is pure Assassins Creed. Even the ropes you can run across look the same. There are moments in Shadow of Mordor were I wonder how they got away with certain things. There’s inspiration and then there’s just copying.

There’s undoubted greatness in Mordor. Worse yet there is untouched greatness in Mordor. The ability to gain a nemesis should be clever and satisfying but ultimately I never got a nemesis apart from when the game assigned me one just because I didn’t have one. The bosses I killed could have been called ‘Crossbow Ork 3’, ‘Shielded Ork 2’ and so on which is a true shame. And sadly far too much of Mordor relies on the nemesis system. Almost all of it in fact. The plot is adequately dark for Tolkien’s world but isn’t all that interesting and certainly not enough to compliment the other features.

A more fleshed out narrative or a world that contains something, anything, other than enemies to fight would help. So would clever side objectives and collectables. But they’re just ‘go here and pick this up’ or ‘kill x enemies in x way’. All too soon it becomes mindless. Even something like a tavern to visit and buy weapons would help. But the first 5 hours or so all I saw was mud and dead orks. And then some grass and dead orks. Shadow of Mordor relies on the nemesis system entirely and it just isn’t enough to flesh out the game. A fully fledged open world would push Shadow of Mordor into greatness but sadly it places too much confidence in the wrong places. At times it feels like a giant combat room which is really all it is. But still it provides many hours of satisfying fighting and a chance to feel like a true legend of middle-earth for the first time in an age.

 

Whilst the Alien franchise might have been recently tarnished by the latest videogames’ efforts, that hasn’t put Creative Assembly off in attempting to create a truly terrifying Xenomorphic experience. And whereas the past slew of games in the franchise have been more akin to traditional shooters, Alien Isolation makes you feel like what you actually are, a feebly fragile, tasty human.

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Can’t wait to find out what that blip is…

You play as Amanda Ripley, an engineer working in the back end of the galaxy alongside people she’s not entirely keen on. Years of outer space arc welding pays off however, as rumours of the Nostromo’s black box are brought into light. It’s not long before the decision is made to retrieve it from a rival company stationed on Sevastopol, a run-down space station that undoubtedly houses more than just answers regarding Amanda’s mother. Inevitably, it’s not long before things take a turn for the worse. A somewhat routine spacewalk, complete with jittery co-worker, ends in predictable disaster, bringing the game’s namesake into play.

The interminable tension mounts as you take baby steps towards the darkness and away from the sanctity of your ship. Lights unceremoniously flicker as you prepare for the unavoidable encounter; you attempt to savour feeling of dread knowing deep down, that this is what an Alien game should feel like.

Alien Isolation plays to its strengths confidently, knowing that any slight movement will panic you for the foreseeable future. I won’t spoil any scares for you, but you are safe for a while; letting the game lead you around its slowly introducing mechanics is about the only hand holding you’re going to get. Straight off the bat, areas beg to be explored for salvage, med kits and flares; it’s worth keeping this in mind as several, almost necessary, items such as blueprints for schematics are entirely missable should you not scour each area. At the beginning, this isn’t so much of a problem due to the relative safety, yet later on, it can often prove to be a fatal decision.

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As aggressive as it looks, it’ll only buy you a few seconds

At some point on your travels, you’ll come across enemies; whether they’re angst ridden survivors, androids or ‘that other one’, it quickly becomes obvious that fighting enemies head on is often a risk not worth taking. Due to Isolation incorporating aspects of stealth alongside its deeply rooted survival-horror nature, escaping confrontation at any cost is advisable. You get the feeling you aren’t supposed to fight, but survive; nothing brings that sensation around than when you encounter the Alien.

Exquisitely rendered, its movements are as mesmerising as they are terrifying. It will stalk you, search for you and scare the hell out of you. No videogame enemy has made you feel so helpless and weak since the glory days of Resident Evil. Your weapons and crafted paraphernalia serve only to distract it, and buy you a few seconds to scuttle to your next hiding spot. Lurking inside a vent, wincing under a table and cowering inside lockers will become a consistently uncomfortable routine. Leaning further back into locker as it prowls the room you’ve unerringly declared ‘safe’ is no guarantee of survival.

The gloriously familiar motion detector will become your best friend as you skulk the many corridors of Sevastopol; it not being able to differentiate between friend and foe is a lesson you’ll learn quickly too. Raising your weapon at a seemingly responsive survivor could well cause them to become hostile, whereas shooting the wrong person on sight in a skittish action can easily cause a game over. These are quintessentially the parts which make Alien Isolation a dreaded joy to play, the constant tension, the unwelcoming atmosphere and the fear of instantly dying at the Xenomorph’s ‘hands’. There are sections where simply crossing a room becomes a challenge due to the enemy presence. The fact that the Alien never quite behaves the same way keeps the pressure on too. At some points, between the manual save stations, you may never see it; other times, he’ll surprise you again and again.

Despite the sluggishly reloading weapons not making a dent on the Alien’s hide, your tools can be used to cunning effect at times however. In sections where both the Alien and humans reside, you can lure it towards the enemy in the hope that he’ll do your dirty work for you, letting you slip by (optimistically) unnoticed.

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Really could do with that drink right about now

For all the unbound greatness the Alien sections of the game provide however, there are also sections which drag on a little longer than necessary. Save for a few vaguely taxing puzzles, there are a slew of videogame clichés to work through that come across a little like filler and seem to exist solely to pad the games length out.

There are some odd design choices too; holding your breath whilst hiding in a locker for example hurts you after a short while, instead of say, letting out a loud gasp. Mechanics introduced fairly late on into the game aren’t necessarily drawn attention too either.

Apart from certain aspects of the gameplay, the overall presentation of the game is an enormous selling point alone. Outstanding graphics aside, save for some small framerate issues during cutscenes, it’s the fashion in which Creative Assembly have lovingly captured the essence of Riddley Scott’s universe. Quasi-futuristic computer terminals adorn the space station on top of other futuristic, late 70’s design. The audio also deserves a special mention too, with surround sound or a good pair of headphones being a must. Tracking the Alien above you through ventilation shafts is as distressing as it is rewarding; the clarity of the sound effects play well into the game’s design. If you do happen to own a PlayStation Camera, it can also be used, rather devilishly, as a microphone for another way of attracting undue attention’ as well as a tool for peeking and leaning.

Despite some pacing irregularities and the odd graphical issue, it’s all worth it when you come up against one of the most iconic film ‘stars’ in sci-fi history. Creative Assembly have finally created a Xenomorph to rightly fear; and one that Alien Isolation delivers in spades. It’s relentless, terrifying and capable of punishing each and every mistake you stumble upon. Be prepared to relish the game over screen.

Now that Ghosts is reaching the end of its intended life cycle, it’s time for the fourth and final DLC drop. Nemesis promises a conclusion to the episodic Extinction game mode and four new multiplayer maps; including a tongue in cheek dig at those (including myself) who complained regarding the overly large map sizes present in the initial release.

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Yep, you can ride the minecarts

Goldrush is our first stop, set in an old abandoned gold mine; it’s probably the largest map in the pack and suited best for more competitive games of Domination. Its immediately notable features include two automated mine cart systems, as well as a fiendish area (housing the B Domination point) that periodically changes its elevation. Close games will rely upon players using their knowledge of this mechanic; on top of the winding map layouts to get the jump on their opponents. Once again, Field Orders are made with nostalgia in mind, with this maps unique reward being a pack of wolves, of which are scarily reminiscent of the K9 units of the past.

Subzero, an evacuated submarine base located in Canada, it plays host to the classic three lane design and is probably the most balanced map here in terms of engagements. Narrow, claustrophobic tunnels pave the way towards open areas that reward risks, meaning gunfights between different categories can and will occur at any point. Vantage points are fairly commonplace; lending those sneaky players a consistent advantage, however due to the more traditional layout, there’s fortunately, often a way out. Subzero’s Field Order certainly falls into the obscure category; once acquired, you’ll summon the ‘snow beasts’, ethereal monsters that wouldn’t look out of place in a snowy episode of Lost.

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A familiar looking snow map

Dynasty is unfortunately the weak point of the pack, featuring a unique, if not a little bland, Chinese lakeside village. With most of the action centralised around the middle two buildings, flanking around the sides is your best bet for survival. Unfortunately, due to the colourisation of the surrounding walls, you’ll often find people propping up the fortifications; blending in surprisingly well in the process too. Much like the other DLC maps of late, Dynasty also has its unique Field Order throwback, this time paying homage to the harrier strikes of Call of Duty past.

Showtime is a map that Ghosts could have done with a long time ago. A reimagined version of the smallest map in Call of Duty history, the claustrophobic Shipment from the first Modern Warfare, Showtime will test both your reactions and your patience. Set up as a suspiciously staged combat arena, Showtime offers the kind of fast paced action that was often dubiously missing from Ghosts. There are still points to perch upon and overlook the map, alongside the outer perimeter which begs to be patrolled with an SMG. The central arena tempts you with the lure of shotguns, whilst reality offers silenced weapons. It’s easy to rack up the kills in Showtime, what’s more difficult, is keeping a streak going whilst being mindful of the incessant spawns that surround you.

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You’ll be praying it’s this calm before too long

Exodus is the final stage in the Extinction saga; as with previous episodes, you’ll have to deal with just about every species so far, alongside the Ancestors, a new group of enemies that possess some pretty nifty mind control abilities. For those who’ve spent their time collecting the hidden secrets in the multiplayer maps, progressing through this final chapter will grant you a cheeky Extinction egg patch to show off in multiplayer.

Whilst it’s not the worst map pack in the franchise, I would have hoped for the final DLC pack for Ghosts would have ended with a more memorable bang. After starting so strong with the first two packs; including weapons, original killstreaks and interesting map designs, it’s a shame to end with a predictable bang. The maps Showtime and Subzero elevate the pack nicely and the Field Order rewards are a nice trip down nostalgia lane, yet unfortunately re-raise the ever present issue of Ghosts’ killstreaks.

As a pair, both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light were surprise hits on the last gen, both sported great graphics, lighting and sound; whilst also encouraging its stealth and survival mechanics. They also told a great tale too, provided you were a little clued up on Dmitry Glukhovsky novels on which the games were based upon. Developers 4A Games have not only re-mastered both games, but also included all previous instances of DLC alongside rejigging some of the narrative aspects too. A lot of effort has clearly been put into this package, but has it paid off?

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This isn’t going to end well…

Simply put, yes! The Metro has never looked so ambivalently bleak yet gorgeous, if you think it looked atmospheric before, you’ll still be shocked. Metro 2033, originally released in 2010, was a great, if not flawed, survival stealth game. Unfortunately, some of the problems that plagued the original still persist here too. The pacing of the game still seems a little off at points, with some sections dragging on a little too much; the enemies still have an inordinate amount of health to exasperate the stress of ammo worries; the AI can have its ‘moments’ too of course.

All of these points are quickly glazed over however, as the game immediately draws you into its thick atmosphere; not relenting until you’ve prised the controller from your sweaty paws. Venturing outside was, and still is, a nerve-racking affair. Not only is there the inherent threat of a mutant swarm attack, but also the ever present gas mask timer being a constant dilemma of either spending time scavenging for items, or sprinting for the finish, hoping what you have in reserves is enough to carry you through.

4A Games newest iteration of their engine fortunately eliminates many of the issues present in the original too. The frame rate is silky smooth without compromising the aesthetics, leaving you to pan the camera around like a developer showcasing demo, savouring the darkness before it envelops you.

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At times like this, your gas mask should be the first priority

Whilst Metro 2033 was filled with survival horror elements, Metro: Last Light instead, focused on becoming more of a horror shooter. Ditching many, standardised HUD elements increased the level of atmosphere too, yet the game took a different route to ‘2033’ in that action took precedence. For those who felt that way, 4A Games have responded by letting you choose your desired playstyle. Upon starting the game, you can opt to play it in a more survival oriented way, where stealth and ammo conservation should be taken more into account. Or, in traditional shooter fashion, there’s Spartan mode, where you get to play with your toys and not worry so much about creeping in the dark. It’s a nice choice that lets players have a little more input in deciding how they wish to play the game.

With the addition of all the DLC crammed in, (such as the insanely useful firing range) you might have accepted that alone would have been enough to sell as a package. Yet once again, 4A Games have gone the extra mile; even extending areas and adding new sections of lore to help keep interest high as you explore the beautifully dystopian wastelands.

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Metro can often be eerily pretty

Whilst Metro: Last Light was only released last year, it’s also still benefited from the next gen brush considerably. A fresh lick of paint ensures it looks as good, if not better, than several games out at the minute, all whilst maintaining a healthy 1080p on PS4.

In all, these are two games that may easily have passed you by; despite Metro 2033 showing its age slightly with some occasionally wonky facial animations and such, it’s still a fantastic package. Due to the style of play each game encourages, it’ll likely be a fresh experience too; it’s certainly a far cry from some of the modern shooters we’ve all come to know. If you failed to grab these on their first passing’s, you owe it to your PS4 to pick Metro Redux up, not only are they more accessible than before, but they’ll hopefully pave the way to a sequel.

As an unfortunate by-product of the Western gaming industry churning out hit after hit, it’s becoming rarer and rarer to see newly released JRPG’s cross our paths. Fortunately at least, Bandai Namco doesn’t quite see it that way. A sequel, and yet another entry in the largely brilliant ‘Tales’ saga, Tales of Xillia 2 promises to empower you with choice during Ludger’s adventure across Elympios, can they live up to their own lofty expectations?

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Hilariously fat cat not pictured

It’s a rough start for our protagonist Ludger. Chasing his dream and following in his brothers footsteps, he gets a shot at becoming an agent of the Spirius Corporation, unfortunately Ludger fails the ’exam’ and instead we’re laden with his second career choice, becoming a chef. It’s not long however before we’re introduced to the core of our storytelling, ragtag group of archetypal misfits. An inhumanely fat cat named Rollo, a small girl who essentially shouts out in a train station that you’re an abductor, and finally some not at all innocuous guy asking for directions. This is all punctuated by a terrorist attack on the prestigious Ceremonial Train pulling into the local station where, coincidently, Ludger is about to start his first day of work as a chef.

Things inevitably escalate quickly; it’s up to Ludger and his new friend Jude to fight their way through the repetitive train carriages, in an on the rails style, battle system tutorial. Not long after being confounded with the short series of plot set-ups, one of the oddest gaming mechanics ever dreamt up rears its greedy head. Due to some pretty hefty medical bills, undertaken without our permission I might add, we find ourselves in some extortionate debt. 20 million gald’s worth of debt to be exact.

Starting out with an open mind, I was quite intrigued by the concept. Here was a video game dealing with several true to life, serious issues. Terrorism, debt, campaigners and rival corporations all participate in what should have been a mature narrative. Instead, the debt you find yourselves in is taken to a whole new level of irritation once you get past the first few hours. Due to your liabilities, there are sanctions put on your ability to travel; once you pay the required amounts, these get slowly lifted, allowing you to progress to the next area. With a bounty board full of small quests and epic enemies to vanquish, gathering gald for your next payment is fairly simple. Kill three Ribbits, grab a handful of sand from the nearby beach and find a lost cat. You get rewarded in gald and materials on top of getting to explore the surrounding areas, sounds good so far.

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Usually there are a lot more numbers on screen

The issue being that once you have over a certain amount of money, essentially someone rings you and ‘requests’ payment. At one point I was flush with over 15,000 gald after grinding some levels and completing menial tasks, only for every screen transition to have to pay an indeterminable amount to the interrupting debt fairy. Considering each area might only take 10-20 seconds of jogging from one side to the next, it was fair to say it got quite annoying after the fifth or so time it happened. I’m used to saving up a little pocket money in anticipation of the next cities worth of shops, but unless you spend every penny, you’ll be frequently harassed by your creditor. Aside from the frequency of disruptions, the episodic story progression is also hampered too, with areas locked until you pay up.

As far as the story goes, it’s the usual inter-dimensional affair, with strange happenings, pocket watches and alternate realities. Across the 50 hour campaign, you’ll come across returning characters from the previous game along with some new faces. Aside from the main plot, of which it warns you before progressing, (a great thing in a JRPG!) there are also character plots that offer insight into your companions and are often easily as enjoyable as the main story. Other distractions are also on offer such as the addictive Kitty Dispatch where you end up finding cats and sending them off to hunt for items.

The battle system has had some tweaks here and there; for the most part it’s still the combat system you know and love. Happening in real time, and with incredible depth and intricacies that won’t even be useful for the first quarter of the game, it’s a constant learning process; deciding which artes are best used in what situation is tricky enough, never mind the linking and chaining potentials. Also new to the party are Ludger’s additional weapons, the hammer and the dual pistols, both of which can be swapped out mid-combo to take advantage of enemy weaknesses. Levelling up has taken a different route too; instead of the Lilium structure, we now use the totally distinguishable Allium system. The variance being that you can now align yourself with an element to further customise which skills you learn first.

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It’s honestly never this dull in battle

Presentation is unfortunately a bit of a mixed bag; for every positive, there’s a corresponding negative. The load times between areas are incredibly fast, however the pop-in for all the ancillary NPC’s takes a noticeable while. The beautiful, cell shaded, anime look gets offset by the restrictions of the draw distance. The voice acting is fantastic, yet for some reason Ludger, the protagonist, is essentially mute, save for some clichéd grunts. The areas are all packed with enemies and treasures to seek out, yet most are reused from the previous game. The list goes on; however it’s safe to say that on the PS4 most, if not all, of the issues would be resolved.

Tales of Xillia 2 is a difficult game to rate, areas are revisited, re-tread and reused, the choice system matters little except for a few instances and the game forces an irritating mechanic on you with the incessant debt repayments. On the other hand, it raises sensitive, real world issues; it pays attention to the little things gamers like such as quick load times, responsive menus, rewarding you for having save data from the previous game and it even has a quick save, extra marks for that inclusion alone! For players new to the series, I would probably recommend you pick up the first one before trying this; if you’re a fan of the ‘Tales’ games, you’ll likely have bought it, played it and enjoyed it anyway!

Due to the mysterious absence of a flagship golf title for the PS4, HB Studios could well accomplish what many smaller studios cannot; breaking into the heavily defended sports game market. Teeing off against the big hitters directly could potentially spell disaster, yet with the fortunate break in the market, can ‘The Golf Club’ fill the void?

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How many eagles are in this screenshot?

As far as simulations go, the competition has never really fulfilled its promise. Being able to alter the ball’s trajectory mid-flight has always seemed like an unnecessary aid; the changing of clothes giving stat increases has bewildered too. That sort of thing is nowhere to be seen here, and with it, comes both benefits and drawbacks.

The gameplay itself is one of the crowning factors; despite it using the tried and tested formula of swinging the right thumbstick, it can be punishing yet rewarding. With a general lack of tutorial, you’ll find the first few games potentially frustrating; however sticking with it will yield better results eventually. Much like the real life version, practice makes perfect and you’ll (mostly) stop fluffing each and every shot. Accuracy with the right thumbstick is paramount and even a slight skew will alter your stroke. If you think that’s a little rough however, you’re in for a world of pain when it comes to putting.

Even though the generic elevation overlay is present to give you an idea of which way to angle your putt, there are no other indications of how your shot will pan out. You must manually gauge the power and finesse; yet without any feedback (other than the onscreen results) you’ll often not know exactly what you did wrong. Whilst this may put some people off, I believe it works in its favour; striving for the pursuit of perfection in golf is surely the initial draw anyway.

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It’s probably more unintuitive than it looks…

Aside from the gameplay, there are also several other greatly notable features present too, namely the highly touted course creation tools. Due to the lack of any official pre-made courses, when you’ve had your fill of the excellent selection on offer, you can try your hand at creating your own. The versatility of the creator can be quite staggering, it can let you procedurally create an all new course in just a few steps. Choosing the general backdrops, tree densities and adding exotic background paraphernalia is simple and works well for what many people will desire. But it also caters for those seeking true customisation too. Individual tiles can be altered, even if it is a little fiddly, yet it does mean that you can create whatever you fancy and share it online for others to play.

Much akin to the Autolog system in the Need for Speed games, Golf Club also incorporates similar social aspects. Updating you with small objectives and tasks helps give you something to strive for if you’re so inclined. And that’s a good job too considering the general lack of content and progression on offer.

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Good luck!

Whereas other games in the genre might have some light RPG elements to give a sense of development, The Golf Club sacrifices these in the hope that the feeling of genuinely getting better at the game will be reward enough. Similarly, as other games often incorporate a career mode of sorts, once again, Golf Club feels sorely lacking. With only three game modes on offer, you’ll generally have to make do with creating your own objectives to keep the sense of longevity alive.

In terms of presentation, The Golf Club won’t be the most jaw dropping game on your PS4, but it’s by no means a bad looking game; the Alpine backdrop in particular looks predominantly eye catching. The tiled menu system feels modern and crisp and the load times are often impressive too, a slight downer being the commentator’s occasionally uninterested demeanour.

For a digital only title, Golf Club can often be impressive, the simple yet rewardingly difficult gameplay demands mastery. The course creator and its combined social features recompense creativity, even if, great user created courses can easily be lost in the ether due to the lack of a trending system. The lack of a career mode stings almost as much as the occlusion of tutorials for the many sections that demand them too. However, for those craving a next gen golfing experience, you could worse than take a tour of The Golf Club.

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