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Reviews

With a name like that there’s only one region  we can possibly be dealing with. In fact for a Japanese animation fighting game it’s bordering on modest. Especially given the games premise. J-Stars is a collection of some of the greatest characters from the world of Manga and anime beating each other senseless. Impossible speed and beams of light shooting from limbs await. And Power Ranger sparks instead of blood. Check out the “Let’s Fighting Love” trailer underneath.

Clearly J-Stars’ biggest asset is the access it has to an amazing roster of characters from many different iconic anime universes. Particularly for fans of the shows the characters represented in J-Stars certainly do justice to the genre. It’s difficult to think of a show or character that isn’t represented in J-Stars which does great service to fans. I don’t know every show intimately but doubt anybody will be disappointed by the characters available.

Sadly J-Stars relies on this fact far too much. Having the characters is one thing but without the gameplay to back it up it just isn’t enough. Making your way through many of the characters on offer quickly shows just how similar they are. There are a few different specials and of course the appearance of the moves changes between characters but it’s nothing like working your way through the characters in a game like Tekken.

Especially given the amazingly huge variation between the characters and the worlds they live in this really stops J-Stars dead in its tracks. In any cross-over title like this the characters are the biggest appeal and having them feel the same or even similar to control is completely wasting potential.

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Oh yeah this isn’t a weird picture at all…

It also allows the gameplay to become samey and boring very quickly. There is almost always a series of simple moves you can repeat to win effectively. There’s very little point in countering or performing elaborate combos when you can win by spamming the same simple ‘one two’ combo repeatedly. And win well. Fair enough you might want to create more of a challenge for yourself or become more skilled at the game but it’s still annoying that there’s no point in doing so other than pride.

It also ensures that J-Stars makes almost no use of the characters and their almost unlimited creative potential. Instead you’re landed with a basic and repetitive fighting game. Specials are often an area of expertise for Japanese games – bring on the aforementioned beams of light and such. Why hit someone hard when you can hit them a million times and then hit them hard? Why stay on the ground when you can jump and temporarily fly as you beat someone with impossible strength?

Sadly none of this feels like it should. There’s nothing particularly satisfying about performing the actual moves which really just leaves the spectacle of them. Again not usually a problem for Japanese titles but this is a mediocre looking PS3 game with a few dabs of polish here and there shoved into a PS4. It’s not exactly a terrible looking game but it does look obviously last generation and it’s impossible not to notice during these otherwise spectacular moments of Japanese style choreography.

The same goes too for the environments and the character models which all look disappointing. It’s just bad enough that you can never really let yourself enjoy the game. Given the amazing artwork that exists in the world of anime and Manga J-Stars should really have been a bit more style conscious.

The fidelity disappointments continue into the audio as well which is nothing to shout about. It really detracts from the scene when a thousand fists are flying through the air beating someone and the audio sounds like it was ripped from a VHS of an old Jackie Chan movie. The sound and visuals just don’t match the potential of the on-screen action and therefore keep it from being anything more than average.

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Visuals hold back the spectacle

Thankfully for me though, looks aren’t everything. And although I’m a bit of an audiophile there have been great games with poor audio. Underneath there isn’t enough that J-Stars breaks through as one of these bad looking, ear bending classics. There aren’t all that many game modes to talk of aside from the usual campaign and quick match options. The story follows a very strange structure that takes place on a world map, that looks particularly terrible, with you floating around in an airship taking part in what are essentially a series of individual fights.

The story itself breaks one of my cardinal sins and is told almost entirely through a set of text boxes for you to read. There’s nothing quite like that moment when a box pops up and your heart sinks a little as you get ready for a nice read before you progress. Stale pictures of all your favourite characters will be set up like the cardboard pop-ups you used to find in Blockbusters (remember video stores? Google it). A lot of the animation is ironically removed from the scenes and the anime characters. Even using the admittedly terrible in game graphics would have been better. At least it would have helped in some way to keep you immersed. Rather than that J-Stars has some terrible effects and then makes it worse by using the unimaginative pop-up book style to tell a narrative that is concerned only with cramming as many references to shows and characters as possible.

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Can someone explain this? I just don’t know any more.

J-Stars is a great premise with an amazing offering of characters that sadly never amount to anything. Their individuality is lost somewhere in the overly simple gameplay. The audio and visuals help only in removing you from the experience as you are made abundantly aware that you’re playing an average looking PS3 game even on the PS4. The plot is a forced attempt at referencing the characters that, for those who are familiar will seem overly in your face and for others will still mean nothing. There isn’t really a solid fighter underneath the exterior and ultimately that’s what lets J-Stars down.

Somewhere between sci-fi and fantasy there resides a giant radioactive lizard called Godzilla. As far as films go there’s no denying he’s as bigger part of cinematic history as he is the skyline. I can’t imagine meeting anybody that doesn’t at least know his/her name. And admittedly I’m no huge fan but there’s only so disappointing an angry giant lizard can be.

At least that’s a solid theory until you play Godzilla. The first thing Godzilla does right is let you get in control of the beast and go around effortlessly smashing buildings. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it. And Godzilla seems to enjoy it. Bless him.

You start off with a nifty tutorial that mimics the original 50’s film quite well. In black and white you follow the narration and screen prompts to figure out how best to control the giant. And no more than 10 minutes into the game one of the fundamental problems rears its head. The controls are weird. Transported back a decade or two you’re going to need to get used to tank controls. Using the shoulder buttons to turn and the thumbstick to move forwards or backwards. You are then ‘allowed’ to alter the camera separately using the other thumbstick. Okay then…

You’ll therefore often find yourself using lots of controls just to turn. Resident Evil is probably the best known use of tank controls and when for the recent remake they used analogue controls. Even in a 2 generation old pre-rendered background the analogue controls were better so why Godzilla doesn’t use them I cannot imagine. Whoever made that design choice wasn’t thinking.

Perhaps you could argue it lends a certain weight to moving Godzilla but in reality it just makes it awkward and overly fiddly. It probably wouldn’t shock you to know that originally Godzilla was actually a guy in a rubber suit – I know, shocking. But you feel the same even in this game. The controls are plain stupid and make everything a chore.

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Aside from lumbering around walking into stuff you also have access to a few attacks. You have strong attack on ‘Triangle’ and quick attack on ‘Square’. You can also grab and do a sort of charge thing. And finally of course atomic breath which is basically just fire breath.

Nothing feels particularly exciting. The animations are at best lack lustre and despite the slow speed caused by the annoying controls there just isn’t the sense of power that you would expect. But to be brutally honest the game is so simple it’s not even worth thinking as deeply as this.

Certainly nobody did when they designed the…plot. You start playing as a relatively small Godzilla and your objective is to trash, smash and ultimately absorb energy from various sources. When you do you’ll grow bigger. You’ve been hibernating for a long time and you’re hungry. So get snacking and beef up.

On occasion things will change up as you play against other monsters. I’ve never quite understood the logic behind the creatures in the world of Godzilla but most, if not all, are here. Other forms of Godzilla and giant creatures are waiting for you to engage in epic battles. Using the controls mentioned above there is obviously not much to do. Basically walk up and press ‘square’ until it dies. Hopefully it dies before you. It usually does.

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Nothing feels polished or loved at all. I can’t think of a single feature in Godzilla that anybody can be proud of. The graphics are so obviously built from assets the dev team had lying around on a 512MB flash drive. Godzilla is an ugly game. Of course not every game has the multi-million budget of a AAA but Godzilla might look passable on a PS2. And that’s not me being dramatic.

One possible plus point is how hilarious the voice acting is. It genuinely made me laugh audibly even when sat playing on my own. It is just so terrible and cheesy. It’s like when the actors turned up that day the direction was to put as much cheese into the performance as possible above all other concerns. It all sounds like a kid playing an online game putting a ‘cool’ voice on. It’s terrible to the point of pure farce and comedy.

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I tried so hard to find the best in this game but there just isn’t anything on offer. The visuals are an insult to your PS4 and the voice acting is absolutely ridiculous. “Give him some food to chow on and he’ll leave us be. He’s no different from the family dog.” is just one of the lines that had me weeping slightly with embarrassment while laughing uncontrollably.

Walking around is a pain beyond belief and makes no use of analogue sticks for some reason. I mean the only comparison is to that of a PS1 game. There are no upgrades or combos. No mechanics at all above walking and pressing attack. At it’s very best Godzilla is boring. It gave me a few laughs but I was definitively laughing at it and not with it. I don’t know why this game exists, this is one nobody will be sorry they missed.

I’m sure everyone has at least one series of games they just can’t quite stay away from. No matter how much you tell yourself it’s ‘the same game’ or that you’re not interested you’ll still rush out and grab the next update. F1 is definitely one of those for me. Part of it stems from the growing sense of pointlessness that surrounds the real sport. I’m a fan of the V10 days when it was more about racing and less about everything but. So I guess the games are a chance for me to enjoy the best bits of F1 without worrying about losing millions in fees or if my shoes were 2 grams below regulation.

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There was a lot of disappointment for me when I found no career mode. There’s nothing quite like starting out with the worst cars and the worst equipment and having to push hard just to keep up with other drivers. When you finally get to the big leagues and start driving the best cars there was a real sense of achievement.

Well you better forget about that because the best option available is Championship mode. To be fair this offers a pretty good outing into a season of F1. It allows you to choose from the start which driver and team you will be with and then it’s up to you to do the racing. In a way it ensures that F1 2015 remains focused on the racing but it still felt like something was missing without the option of a career.

Of course if you used to play the championship mode and not take on the more involved career mode this is going to make little to no difference. But for a game released as regularly as F1 removing features really is a big misstep. It’s difficult not to consider that F1 2014 offered more. Even if something is included in a brief way at least it’s there.

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Even more of a problem is that 2015 suffers from the same problems the sport (in my opinion) has been suffering from for years. There’s still some good racing going on and the drivers are undoubtedly some of, if not, the best in the world. If everyone was in the same car we’d definitely see a different sport. Even though I love the strategy behind F1 it’s a pain to see the same car winning every single race without competition. Bring back the Montoya, Schumacher, Alonso days. At least there where some characters battling it out back then.

The problems are the same in F1 2015. Mercedes will likely win every race with little to no competition, other than yourself. It does make a difference which team you’re in but not as much as you might expect. It’s fun to be the underdog and show the big players what you can do even despite the arguable lack of realism. The less realistic, more competitive moments are definitely more fun and given the lack of a multi-championship career mode is much needed to keep everyone playing as a top team to be competitive.

Racing itself hasn’t altered much and Codemasters have pretty much got it figured out – as you’d hope by now really. There’s a sense of improvement but the essentials are clearly derived from previous instalments. It’s one of the areas F1 2015 feels like a distinctive upgrade from previous F1 games. Once you tweak the difficulty and find out which assists you want on or off there is the usual sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from each corner you nail. Hitting an apex or getting an awesome lap time when the car is at prime performance can only happen in F1.

Likewise when you play with full races then it rains and the AI isn’t clever enough to realise your braking things can get annoying. Oh, how I hate throwing away hours of effort because of one AI mistake. But F1’s an endurance race and that’s what happens. Plus you can always set the laps lower and the assists higher. There’s enough options that everyone will find a comfortable level to play at and to be honest the better players will struggle to find a challenge more than players like me will struggle to find the sweet spot.

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Visual updates are left to a minimum which is a bit disappointing but nothing disastrous. For a game that has so many new releases the visuals do need a little attention as they’re starting to show their age. As usual the rain effects are outstanding and the fact it means a pain of a race can often be forgiven for the good looks. Outside of the rain there’s not much to amaze. It certainly doesn’t look poor but there are a lot of features that are beginning to show how long it’s been since they received any significant attention.

The audio does nothing much to excite either. Most of the effects are flat and lack any punch or real drama. Admittedly F1 engines are high pitched without much bass but if they’re anything they’re exciting. And loud. Very very loud. I imagine there’s an incredible sense of power and intensity sitting in the cockpit of even a stationary F1 car and little of that is represented in F1 2015.

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By far the biggest let down with F1 2015 is its lack of career mode. Not only is there nothing new on offer but in fact certain elements have been removed. Once the mechanics, the tracks, the cars and the drivers are all in order adding game modes should be a no brainer. One extra mode can add a huge amount of playability. Championship mode is good but I definitely missed the option of a full career. Luckily there are still quick race options like time trials and some decent online options but again there’s the lack of split screen. There are just some things missing.

Mechanically speaking everything is well on track. The only changes made to the way the cars handle are improvements. The audio and visuals get ignored somewhat but the actual racing gameplay does a good job of making up for it. It’s good that the core mechanics have still been given the attention they deserve and Codemaster’s wealth of experience shines through. But there are definitely places where F1 2015 is lacking.

Morrowind was a success, Oblivion was a huge hit and Skyrim has pretty much gone down in history at this point. Bethesda have always seemed to improve on each and every successive title they release. However, these are all singleplayer titles; this is about to change with the release of Elder Scrolls Online, a massively multiplayer game set in the heart of their universe. Will Zenimax Studio’s new release garner as much of a devout following as its predecessors, or will its very purpose stand to put many of its faithful fans off?

I, like many others around me, have been an enormous fan of the Elder Scrolls games in the past. The sprawling lands, the seemingly never ending amount of things to do and see, the inescapable lore, looting, levelling and so much more besides. In fact the only thing I’m not a fan of is the frankly archaic combat system. It’s a shame then that Elder Scrolls Online pretty much undeviatingly follows the previous games’ structures.

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As much as you might want to play in 3rd person…

The formula has changed so little as it turns out, that upon first starting the game you’ll notice only a few things that set it apart from its singleplayer brethren. Firstly, that it’s certainly not the prettiest of games, with a level of detail that certainly doesn’t exactly blow (the now quite ancient) Skyrim out of the water. And secondly, the oddly named NPC’s that jump on the spot and hiss static at you.

Of course, these aren’t NPC’s, they are presumably, the main draw of Elder Scrolls Online, your online compatriots. I always assumed that one of the greater strengths of Bethesda’s hallmark series, was the ability to completely and utterly immerse the player. To let them escape reality and form an unspoken bond with their created character. Instead of this, playing ESO often feels more like arriving late to a party, of which when you do turn up, you know almost nobody there.

With the frankly incredible amount of quests on offer, it’s understandable (and probably intentional) that most quests will overlap with other players. Whilst this should encourage people to form up and regale stories of old adventures and accomplishments on the way to the objective, instead, it simply turns into a mad bum rush. In quests where someone, or something, needs to be killed, the chances of actually contributing to the fight seemed to be slim to none for the first few hours. Turning up, out of breath, ready to slay an epic beast, quickly transforms into turning up, out of breath, ready to loot the corpse of said beast due to it not having chance to respawn from its last death at the hands of another player. It’s difficult to remain positive during the first several hours due to the only enemies you actually kill, are seen visibly respawning mere seconds afterwards.

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With three people, not much on the game will stand a chance against you

Skyrim didn’t need much of a tutorial due to its clever structuring, you were guided through the first few quests and locations before being let loose on the world. Elder Scrolls Online changes things up a little. In an attempt to make the world feel more populated and dense, the ‘hubs’ instead come across as a bit of a mess. It’s difficult to learn where certain vendors reside, the map group’s icons together and things altogether feel clumsy and claustrophobic. At, what should have been, an early point in the game, I was tasked with the inevitable, craft things out of other things tutorial quest. This involved picking some flowers, and taking them to a table to make a lovely pair of gloves. This turned out to be a decent enough tutorial for the majority of the missions on the game however, as all you ever need to do, is go to the area that has many congregated players clipping in and out of each other and press the appropriate button.

There are good things about the game too however, the amount of missions available ensures you’re never left without anything to do, and in good Bethesda style, the map is enormous. Levelling up works in the same regard as Skyrim in that the more you use an ability or skill, the more it will increase and contribute to your overall level. The skill trees themselves can lack a little imagination, what with generic power upgrades for spells or being able to use more materials in crafting, but it’s extensive enough to keep you striving forwards. The class abilities aren’t too important so I wouldn’t stress too much over those. I opted to create a support role character focusing on healing myself and others and generally keeping people alive. I quickly learnt that this was largely useless due to the difficulty balancing of enemies.

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Enemies and environments will feel familiar

In a one on one scenario, the difficulty hovers around the normal setting on Skyrim, yet introduce even one fellow player into the mix, and enemies quickly become a joke; in a game where many people are beside you in fights, my healing spells became obsolete. The one thing that would help, would be a revive spell however, as at the minute, it takes a (fairly rare) soul gem to pick up another player from their downed state. Meaning simply that, nobody does it.

Despite having to pay the initial outlay for the game, there are still many micro-transactions available left over from the subscription based days of before. If you want anything other than the basic few pets, you’ll have to shell out. It’s not overly intrusive or forced, but it does still sting and feels unnecessary.

For those after some more time in and around the wonderful world of Elder Scrolls, it can be a fun time so long as you realise that it won’t feel the same as Skyrim. On top of the lack of structure, the underdeveloped tutorials, the aged graphics and the decadent melee combat, losing yourself in one’s own company can only last so long before you get distracted by the legions of other players jumping around doing 360 no-spells on dogs. It’s not particularly a bad game by any means; it’s just that the most fun I had was when I was left to my own devices. Plundering caves, levelling up and taking down enemies is where many peoples draw for these games comes from; I think adding random strangers into the mix won’t quite be to everyone’s taste.

The final part of the trilogy (yeah I know lets just forget about that one) is here. The epic tale of everyone’s favourite rodent based hero is here. It’s fair to say that working hand in hand with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy the Arkham games have thankfully moved Bats away from his camp 60’s outing back to the style of the original comics.

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Starting out Arkham Knight wastes no time in getting you into the action. Optional VR challenges are used rather than fixed tutorials. Even though I didn’t need them they were quick enough and rewarded upgrade points and before long I was straight back in the action. They provide good tutorials that are brief, rewarding and informative. More importantly they’re interactive so there’s no sitting around reading pages of text.

Although you don’t have the full set of abilities and equipment on offer from the start you certainly begin Arkham Knight with more than ever before. There’s a sense that this isn’t just unlocking the same upgrades once again in a different city but that you’re unlocking new stuff. There’s plenty of new bat-tech on show and lots of it is used right from the beginning. And of course everyone has been waiting for the Batmobile’s first appearance.

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I, on the other hand, have been concerned about the Batmobile not since it was first mentioned but shortly after that when it became obvious it was the only thing Rocksteady were interesting in at all. It’s awesome that it’s here but please let it quietly fester and build excitement in the background. There’s so much more to Arkham games than the Batmobile, it’s never been there before and they’ve done alright. I want it, don’t get me wrong, but lets not forget about the other features.

For the first couple of hours be prepared to see nothing but the Batmobile. Driving around Gotham doesn’t feel bad at all. The impossible speed, agility and strength of the Batmobile is great fun to blast around in. Switching to the combat mode turns it into a strange tank that moves like a crab. Combat in the Batmobile is plain boring. Strafe left to dodge very clearly marked attacks, press R2 to fire, kill the next vehicle. It’s far too simple, far too repetitive and after an hour I was already wishing I was doing something else. Well sadly it keeps coming. Throughout the whole game.

The physical combat is far and away the most impressive thing Rocksteady have achieved for me. That amazing fluidity combined with the feeling of Batman’s brutal strength. The satisfaction of getting a clean combat section is fantastic and I am glad to say this is the best combat I’ve played in any Arkham game yet. I was instantly gratified when the last slow motion kick sent the last thug to sleep. I just wish the Batmobile wasn’t forced on me so I could brawl more often.

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The entirely original Arkham Knight plays a fantastic villain more than capable of taking centre stage. Alongside Batman and just about every villain there is the cast is nothing short of amazing. The plot follows the usual trail of tracking villains down and following each as a different plot with the ‘main’ villain as the core plot they all revolve around.

On the world map the usual display of different tasks, puzzles and challenges are available. This time you’re playing in Gotham so the map is bigger than before but probably feels even more dense. The world is full, interesting and all the different tasks, sub tasks and plots are fully featured and enjoyable.

There’s also more attention paid to heroes than before too. You get to play as a potential replacement for the title of Batman. Nightwing makes a stronger appearance finally and in some sections you fight alongside other heroes allowing you to switch quickly mid battle and perform special team based specials. It’s nice to finally see some of the other heroes of the Batman universe but you still feel very much like Batman is in charge.

Sound has always played an important part for Batman even if you must include the iconic sounds and music from the 60’s. The brooding soundtrack crescendos at just the right times and the dark brass sections finish a fight off triumphantly. Rain effects and engine sounds are all punchy and crisp. It sounds great. Rocksteady’s ability to make a dark rainy game look somehow bright and crisp still amazes me. Environments are detailed and Batman’s armour moves and reacts realistically. It sounds and looks exactly like what you would expect from Arkham City’s successor.

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Arkham Knight has lived up to my expectations and exceeded them in many ways. The combat is somehow better than Arkham City and given the amount of time I spent (and still spent until this game) in combat rooms that is a big plus for me. Batman feels like he is stronger and faster than before thanks primarily to his new frankly badass armour. Progression feels like a continuation from Arkham City rather than starting from square one again. Tutorials are often optional so experienced players can complete them for points or move on and enjoy the game.

The Batmobile combat sadly isn’t any fun. Driving quickly through the streets and chasing suspects in cars, or other ‘vehicles’, is satisfying. Slowly moving in a third person combat style tediously pushing buttons to win gets boring. Ejecting yourself from the Batmobile into a glide and making a dramatic entrance is fantastic. Calling the Batmobile in remotely and jumping into the cockpit is awesome. I love it every time but Arkham Knight could definitely have done without the vehicle combat. It’s a shame because the design of the Batmobile, it has to be said, is amazing so I feel guilty for hating it. But at times I do.

Characters, plots and tasks are still basically perfect. There’s loads to do and once you get out of the damn car they’re all fun. Arkham games have never let us down on content and Arkham Knight is no exception. Overall a fantastic game that does the franchise and the Dark Knight justice. Another absolutely stunning job from Rocksteady.

I’ve been a huge fan of PayDay since I first played the PS3 version way back. Since then I’ve been frustrated by the level of idiocy online and the terrible support for console updates. So much so that I switched to the PC.

I play a lot of my games on the PC but I still consider myself a console gamer at heart. But PayDay is a PC game and switching soon shows you why. The amount of free content available on the PC version is nothing but impressive. Despite having to wait for significant amounts of time for updates on consoles, Overkill have supported PayDay with some really amazing free content that significantly changes the game.

It’s hard not to feel a little bitter about Crimewave Edition. You get an absolute ton of DLC, and I mean all the updates from the PC version which make up by far the best post launch support I’ve ever seen, and some nice shiny graphics on your new console. if you step up to current gen tech. It’s also well priced but It’s hard not to realise you’re paying for content that PC gamers have had for a long time and in a lot of cases, for free. Not everything that comes with Crimewave edition is free content and there’s a lot of paid DLC too that makes it excellent value but still there’s a slight sting to it. Serves me right for buying the game on the PC because I was sick of waiting for updates I suppose.

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But with those things aside PayDay 2 is till one of my favourite online games. It’s nice to be able to work in a team for once and there’s still nothing quite like the thrill of making it out of a mission successfully with bags full of cash. The reliance on random players can still be somewhat of a burden and the things some people do really have to be seen to be believed. I’m incredibly supportive of new players and helping them but when you see someone higher levelled than you futilely staying picking locks on safety boxes at the bank while you single-handedly hold of an army of police at the van is frustrating. When will people learn to leave the security boxes? You’re risking millions for literally a cheese sandwich. It’s not hard maths $1,000,000 > cheese sandwich.

And then there’s the opposite side when you meet someone nice, helpful and good. The first time I played the bank after updates there was someone willing to take charge and help me through the level – explaining the new concepts. We made it out successfully even though it was my first time with the new content. The community is generally pretty good and I still have plenty of fun with PayDay.

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There’s a definite visual upgrade from the standard edition too and the current gen versions are closer to the PC version. Unfortunately old games can’t hide their age all that well and PayDay’s cracks are definitely showing, even on the PC. In fact they’re on full display in such a way that there are more cracks than nice smooth bits. Even though it’s undoubtedly well supported it really is time for a new game. It’s amazing how long PayDay 2 has managed to keep going and is further testament to Overkill’s ability to provide great updates and DLC releases. Still, PayDay 2 is old and it looks it so don’t expect the Crimewave overhaul to have turned it into something spectacular.

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PayDay 2 is still one of my favourite games and if you’ve only played on the last generation moving to the Crimewave edition changes the game in a massive way. The amount of content and updates that come along with Crimewave are substantial and offer great value. Moving from PC would probably not be a great plan and console gamers are going to have to accept that PayDay still has PC gamers at the top of the priority list. Despite it’s age there’s still loads there to enjoy in payday and Crimewave edition is the best way for console players to get stuck in. Just remember it’s not a new game and there’s only so much that a re-release can do. Bring on PayDay 3.

The latest film with enough money and cinematic clout to own a small country is out and we all know what that means. It’s time for another adventure through the block filled world of Lego. It’s been a successful formula for the most part, although with a few missteps, to have familiar gameplay and objectives with the latest license wrapped around it. I’ve been playing and loving Lego games since the first Lego Star Wars.

On top of that the original Jurassic Park was a significant part of my cinematic education growing up. Giant prehistoric creatures and ground breaking CG are always a winning combination. Despite the fact the series got worse with every new release the original will always have it’s place in my memory as a childhood classic. So Lego Jurassic World seems like a winning combo.

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Luckily for anyone that was a fan of the original films, LJW is as expansive as any other Lego title and covers every Jurassic Park film there is. When arriving at the island you can simply select which way to go; one way leads to the older films and the other to the new Jurassic World. Although it can be a bit of a pig at times to navigate your way through levels everything is on offer.

There’s something quite magical about driving the iconic red and grey 4 wheel drive through the first formidable gates of Jurassic Park. Soon you are confronted with the usual friendly Lego puzzles. In fact your very first challenge is a staple of the Lego games involving finding something to smash and then building something useful from the debris. Or more specifically smash everything that looks destructible so you can find which item you were supposed to smash, then build something from the debris. So on you go finding characters, both dinosaurs and people, and solving puzzles.

To anyone who hasn’t played a Lego game yet, and I can’t imagine there’s many left, there will be some fun solving the simple yet occasionally satisfying problems. For everyone else it’s the same old game again but with dinosaurs instead of whatever character set was in the latest Lego game you’ve played.

But the gameplay still has that classic Lego fun factor. It’s impossible to play LJW without having at least a little fun and probably a few laughs – even if you feel slightly guilty about finding something funny. It amazes me every time how Lego games can make me genuinely laugh. Controlling the dinosaurs isn’t quite as fun as hoped but without them running around as normal people with little in the way of abilities may have been dull. They look good and often work fine but can occasionally feel clunky and awkward, especially when rotating. Regardless I didn’t really enjoy playing as the dinosaurs and found it out of place to have a triceratops for a team member but that’s just me.

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That being said there is an obvious move away from the block busting combat (huh, geddit?) that was so prominent in previous titles. There is a much higher focus on the simple puzzles and switching between the different characters to achieve your goals. It’s not like switching from Hulk to Iron Man to Spider Man but hunters can follow hidden trails, zoologists can dive head first into dung and so on. Abilities are noticeably more subtle but that really should be the case given that most of the cast of Jurassic Park are reasonably normal people.

Visually the familiar shiny plastic bricks, inexplicably malleable characters and realistic backgrounds are still present. The appearance of Lego is definitely improving as time goes on but there’s nothing much new to look at so there isn’t much to excite. For some reason there are really strange audio clips from the movie that sound unbelievably hideous. It’s like someone found an MP3 running at the lowest bit rate possible then converted it a bunch of times and shoved it between a Dolby Digital soundtrack. It stands out so much and it’s just awful. I’ve never said this before but even the very worst voice actor impersonating the live actors would have been better. It’s nice to have the clips but the quality really is terrible.

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The problem with Lego is simple, it’s the same game every single time. There are always a few new features to get excited about but usually not for long. Essentially whichever game has your favourite license will be your favourite. And I like the Lego games. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them in the past and even enjoyed this one. But there comes a point when playing the same game has to start feeling stale. Until something changes in the gameplay or we see some new features I can’t help but feel I’m reviewing the same game each time.

Lego just refuses to improve and change. Even though the formula is strong and has created some really fun games it’s becoming old and boring. I had the same enthusiasm to get stuck in and begin another Lego game but it quickly faded after I’d done the same thing I’ve been doing for 10 years now. It’s the first time Lego’s charm, humour and clean fun have started to seem like they’re not enough to hold my interest. The Lego game formula is good but not invulnerable. Eventually it has to change and for me that time is long overdue.

Geralt has been through a lot during his past outings many moons ago; it’s a wonder he’s not a quivering wreck at the hands of some of the monstrous beasts he’s come up against. Especially so when you consider that he’s popped enough potions to tranquilize many a galloping steed. Either way, he’s back in CD Projekt RED’s, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, let’s jump in.

Straight off the bat, you’re treated to the inevitably awesome opening cutscene involving armies, murderous psycho birds and plenty of CGI goodness. After this, you’ll go through the usual tutorial section where the game explains how to use your vast array of tools in both offensive and defensive manners; it’s not long before you’re thrown in at the deep end and let loose upon the land.

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That’s not the weapon you need out right now…

Following what could have been a perfectly avoidable ruckus in a bar, the game lets you roam far and wide in what I once considered to be a fairly large open map. I was wholly mistaken as once you progress further in the main storyline missions; you’ll get access to regions that literally dwarf the starting area many times over. It does however make a good starting point, as there are of course many side quests to take on at your leisure, as well as points of interest dotted about the map which are often more than worth your time to explore and discover. Ranging from quests, to hidden loot caches to free ability points, it’s no secret that it pays greatly to explore.

This unfortunately brings me to my first negative issue regarding the game, being that the main narrative held little interest to me in comparison to simply wandering the lush lands by foot or hoof. Exploring every nook and cranny in an RPG is often what piques my interest and gets my immersion levels up. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before my only goal was to see how far I could push forwards before the ever increasing levels of the enemies forced me back, tail firmly between my legs. The frankly incredible ambience of the game was tantamount to this experience however. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of games, but few compare to the visual experience you’ll encounter here. The hyperbole is true. Trees do actually bend and sway in the wind, sunlight will flicker and dance between branches, and packs of wolves will roam and hunt the wildlife. The weather and day/night cycle effects are gloriously fantastic.

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Yes the lighting can often look this spectacular

Outside of the graphics, the almost intimidating map size and the inordinate amount of quests, how does the game actually play though? For a start, the combat system requires quite tactical thought and is most certainly unforgiving of mistakes. However much it may look like one, this isn’t your typical Western RPG. Fights are hard; you need preparation, knowledge of the enemy type, what it’s susceptible to and more importantly, patience. If you approach The Witcher 3 as though it were a button mashing frenzy, you’ll be seeing your fair share of (unfortunately) lengthy load times. There’s a quick strike, a heavy strike, five ‘spells’, bombs, a handheld crossbow that is only really useful in select scenarios, a dodge, block and a roll. Each of these needs mastering in of themselves, as nothing is every truly instant in the game. A quick attack may require the dextrous Geralt to spin closer to the enemy to get within range, whilst in the meantime; something unpleasant has already jumped on your face.

Mastering the combat in this game is challenging, enemies that are in a group of four or more are likely going kill you over and over again until you learn their patterns and make full use of your equipment and abilities. Learning which enemies you can block and which you should employ your dodge or roll against is also a matter of trial and improvement, but the largest advantage you have against your beastly foes are your Signs. Each of the five are unlocked from the start, but are of course in their most basic form. Igni pretty much does what you imagine; it tends to sets things on fire, occasionally with a burning effect that pretty much guarantees a victory against lesser enemies. Aard is a general pushback move that can help you gain a little space, sometimes even stunning or knocking your opponents over. Axii is a personal favourite of mine, essentially letting you stop the enemy in their tracks; plus later on you can gain the ability to turn them against their allies too. Quen pops a protective bubble around yourself that can absorb a hit, and Yrden is an area of effect glyph that slows enemies inside its radius. If you’re not using these in pretty much every fight, then you’re making unnecessarily hard work for yourself.

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This isn’t as rare a scene as you might hope

The slow, almost fastidious pace to the combat manifests itself in some slightly tedious ways whilst exploring however. There are a lot of loot-able containers in the world and seeing them in plain sight can be quite difficult due to their often innocuous appearances. Plain crates on the ground that you would ignore in any other game can often hold rare materials and upgrade parts for example. Your ‘Witcher senses’ can detect them whilst holding down a button, highlighting interactable’s with a yellow hue. Yet it also muddies the screen and alters your field of view, making it an annoyance to use whenever you wish to check out a room. That’s not quite the end of the story either, I found myself constantly having difficulties either picking herbs or generally scavenging due to the inertia and momentum of your character. This wouldn’t be an issue normally, but the radius for searching an object seems to be abnormally small and only appears when Geralt himself is looking at it, not just the camera. It’s a relatively small annoyance, but it did happen constantly throughout my playthrough.

The relaxed pace of the game will certainly surprise some in regards to upgrading and levelling up too. You gain experience very slowly in the game; with some quests giving as little as 10XP upon completion, considering you need 1000XP to level up, you shouldn’t be expecting to be shooting through the levels. Gear upgrades come at a leisurely pace too, I once owned the same tunic for over 6 hours of game time, normally this isn’t so much of a problem, save for when you look like a ‘wacky bard’ of course…

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Kill it with fire!

For those who’ve not played the previous Witcher titles, you’ll not need to dredge through countless wiki pages to catch up. The game does a good job of keeping the lore intact too for those who’re privy to it; some characters also make a reappearance that’ll please fans of the series. What the game doesn’t do a fantastic job of explaining however, is your inventory management. Once you’ve expertly brewed a potion, provided you have alcohol in your inventory, it will apparently be automatically be replenished when you rest. Now aside from not being able to see any alcohol anywhere in my inventory, when I rested, sure enough my supplies got restocked. Does this mean I can discard my screens worth of alchemic components? I’m not entirely sure, it looks a mess in my inventory, one which kicks up a severe case of OCD, but so long as I try to not look at it too much, I can just about get by.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a sprawling metropolis of a game, to see everything it has to offer, you’ll be investing around 100 hours of play time. Combined with its deep yet accessible combat system, stunning day/night cycle and subsequent weather effects, you can easily lose an afternoon just via wandering. It lets itself down in terms of the main plot, what with each mission revolving around helping someone find information in exchange for ‘Yes she passed through here a while back’. And there are most certainly annoyances with scavenging, foraging and getting cross eyed due to your Witcher senses too. A little more assistance from the game in regards to what you should and shouldn’t sell would go far, as well as making the inventory screen a touch more responsive and organisable. The Witcher 3 is by no means an easy game; even on the normal difficulty you’ll find yourself at the behest of many a foe. Yet through patience, utilising everything at your disposal and most importantly, learning from your mistakes, you’ll find it very difficult to turn off.

If you often feel as though you aren’t being punished enough for simply progressing through a game’s storyline of late, or like many others, really got stuck into the excellent Bloodborne; then prepare to be castigated again. From Software is back, in a sense, to give us all another kick in the gaming teeth with the re-mastered Dark Souls II. Including all the previous DLC, running at 60fps and hopefully looking a little more refined, we could well be on to a winner here.

Whilst it certainly eases you in a little more gently, Dark Souls II still packs a wallop if you attempt to play it like any other game. Apparently completely forgetting what game I was playing, as soon as I gained control of my character, (after what still looked like an incredibly high budget intro scene many years on) I attempted to explore the wilderness stretching out before me. It wasn’t long before I’d found my first enemy, a giant troll looking character that, inevitably, beat me into submission several soul crushing times. I conceded defeat, and ruefully went about my business following the implied ‘proper’ way to go. From then on, it was a lot easier, there were instructions to heed, little notes informing you of the controls and many susceptible enemies in weak, vulnerable formations that don’t really occur ever again. I savoured this bit whilst it lasted, slowly remembering the horrors that yet await me.

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Fight however you want, you’ll still die

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

Veterans of the series will know exactly what to expect in terms of the combat mechanics, every move and decision you make during combat, even against the lesser foes, could spell disaster. It’s all about learning your opponent’s patterns and exploiting their occasionally wonky AI with your own timing and stamina management. Bosses are of their own unique styles and of course, possess challenges far beyond what you’ve come to face. Once you finally manage to slay one however, the elation is incomparable, until, much like many other RPG’s, they turn up as ‘normal’ enemies… Unlike how it originally arrived on the last gen consoles, Scholar of the First Sin runs at a silky 60fps now. Fortunately for us, this means less screaming at the game when it used to diddle us out of a few crucial frames during a particularly vicious battle in the past. Now if you die, it’s quite likely your own impatient fault!

The basic mechanics of the original release still remain of course, resting at a camp fire, you can fast travel to any other unlocked camp fire without any form of either payment nor punishment. Due to the layout of the world map, and all of its different routes and avenues to explore, you really don’t want to be wandering all the way back. Especially so when you consider that in this version, Scholar of the First Sin, enemy placements and even archetypes have been tinkered with, giving those who’ve already given the game a good seeing to, something unexpected to come across. Plus it makes the frequent and inevitable return trips to Manjula significantly less painful!

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Everybody likes dragons

As before, numerous deaths will whittle away at your maximum health bar, up to 50% in fact; to replenish that lost health, you’ll have to use a human effigy, which are rare. Of course, the counter to this being that you can quell the amount of enemies in an area by repeatedly beating them to a pulp; whilst some may argue against this, I’ll take it. The last thing you need whilst stuck on an already, inherently difficult boss, is to either attempt to kill the horde of enemies along the way, or attempt to leg it past them, each and every time. For those, still on the fence regarding the controlled respawns, there is an item just for you that you can burn at a camp fire which will spawn more deadly variants to battle.

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

Dark Souls II was never the prettiest game on the previous generation of consoles; the lighting issues alone were enough to irritate me, never mind the almost ‘rough’ looking finish the game shipped with. The spruced up current gen version certainly improves the majority of the games graphical imperfections, yet it’s of no match to any game designed from the ground up for current hardware. Torches seem more useful this time around, whereas before they were recommended by the game, yet for me at least they held little merit. Now they illuminate dark areas appropriately, casting shadows and the like, however I’d still take a shield in its place!

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Pretty sure you can guess which character is yours…

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

Incorporating the DLC and tweaking item and enemy placements will grant even more playtime than the originals already healthy dosage. Newcomers can easily expect at least 60 hours out of it, and fans of the previous version will no doubt find any excuse to give it another run through, especially if they missed out on the DLC before. Whatever you might think of the Dark Souls series, this game isn’t going to change your opinion. If you’ve played and enjoyed the others, you’ll feel right at home; yes it undoubtedly improves on the last gen release with multiple benefits, yet as you might expect, it won’t hold a torch to Bloodborne.

I certainly couldn’t rank myself among one of The Evil Within’s biggest fans. I’m an old school survival horror fan and I know it. But the reliance on action and upgrades did nothing to excite me whatsoever in The Evil Within. The Assignment is the first of a two part story driven DLC that follows the story of Juli Kidman.

Gameplay takes a different approach from the action packed style of the main game and instead focuses attention entirely on stealth. Your only weapons are cover, distractions and the occasional attack that you can perform only when an enemy is looking away from you. You will absolutely be relying on avoiding engagements in The Assignment.

For the most part I preferred the pace of gameplay to the main game. Rather than wondering where the next upgrade was coming from and being required to kill all enemies before progressing I was instead reduced to crawling behind flower beds and sneaking through vents – where would video games be without vents? Generally speaking this provided a much more tense experience knowing full well that I couldn’t deal with the enemies if they discovered me.

Although to help her with these limitations Juli has a couple of all important improvements over Sebastian. The most obvious of which is probably her ability to regenerate health allowing her to say no to drugs and completely disregard syringes. Her other bonus is her ability to move better than Sebastian. After a few brief seconds of running Juli doesn’t have the need to bend over, grab her knees and breath as if she was just recovered from a lake – thankfully.

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Her abilities are mitigated somewhat, however, by certain aspects of The Assignment’s design. While regenerating health would have been an unbelievable blessing during the main game it has far less relevance in The Assignment. If you get detected it will most likely be a game over. Enemies don’t like giving up the chase and they are out to kill you plain and simple. More often than not you will only be able to withstand 1 attack with the second being a fatal blow. Where the main game has the time for you to search around for syringes it would have completely killed the pace in The Assignment. Regenerating health is a pacing design choice rather than an added ability and it helps the flow of gameplay along nicely.

The only source of frustration I found was in executing movements between cover or round corners. On occasion The Evil Within (main game and DLC alike) can be an absolute pig to handle. It’s not such a problem when you’ve got an arsenal of weapons to fall back on but it’s a huge problem when you don’t. You’re only so called weapon in The Assignment is your ability to run away and hide which is awkward to use when you get stuck on a door frame or stuck in cover. Everything is just a little bit too clumsy for the stealth to ever really work as well as you’d like.

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The 4 hours I played as Juli were brief but entirely enjoyable. The increased sense of vulnerability and threat from your lack of weapons is something that was clearly missing from the main game. It’s almost impossible to have any real fear of an enemy you kill with X amount of Y ammo. The gameplay can be a little frustrating with quick deaths and clunky controls but the tension is higher than in the main game because of it. With an interesting story to explore as the vaguely mysterious Juli (fantastically voice acted by Jennifer Carpenter) The Assignment is a great extension to The Evil Within.

A game that revolves entirely around boss fights isn’t an unknown concept. Titan Souls follows in the enormous shadow created by certain well known Colossus and concentrates solely on fighting bosses. You play as a nameless child armed with only a bow and a single arrow who decides that’s probably enough preparation to go and take on the big nasty things that live in the world. I’m pretty sure more arrows would have been useful.

Except you have a rather nifty trick at your disposal. Once you’ve fired your arrow you can recall it and fire it again. Useful. You can also roll around and sprint but that’s the limit to your Jedi powers. Playing a top down action game with this limited set of skills is Titan Souls’ key to success. The gameplay is, mechanically speaking, very limited. There are no complicated button sequences or level ups and stats. Just you, your few skills and the fact that everyone, you and the bosses, all have only 1 health.

The first few fights are reasonably forgiving, at least when you compare them to the rest of the game, and try in a limited way to introduce you to the core gameplay. Just like the action, Titan Souls is very simple conceptually. A series of bosses for you to kill. Each one has only 1 health and all you need to do is find its weak spot, not get hit and successfully attack it. Then you can move onto the next one.

But it’s amazing how much complexity can emerge from such simplicity. The bosses are all different enough that you never get the sense of repetition that could easily have ruined the game. The first few bosses are reasonably obvious although probably only after a death or two. The first splits when you attack so speed is key. Another needs you to lead the enemy around the map to reveal a weak spot. One needs you to use an environmental effect and so on.

There’s loads of variation and there’s never anything other than the simple mechanics and the same single health point system. There isn’t that one boss that has 5 health and you never briefly acquire jump boots or a jetpack. Titan Souls has an incredible robust and well designed set of mechanics and it’s confident enough to stay true to itself and use them effectively.

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But that also means that aside from the boss fights there is nothing else to do in Titan Souls. Which is great in one way but also limits its potential. I love that it stays focused and doesn’t get clouded by anything else. It really lets the battles shine. But the world ultimately acts as a hub for fighting bosses with no interaction at all. Random enemies would not have worked but there aren’t even people to talk to in the world.

There isn’t really much in the way of a story either. I understand the very deliberate design and the aim of the game to stay minimal and focused but the vague hint of a plot is underdeveloped and my playthrough suffered from it. It’s difficult to say it’s a problem because the entire point of Titan Souls is to avoid these complications but for those who want plot or character development you will probably be left wanting.

So too will those looking for longevity. There are some options that become available after completion but they really weren’t anything that appealed to me. In fact their inclusion seems to have had zero thought at all. One option disables your roll which is just ridiculous. It’s not fun on any level. There is challenge to be had from executing your attacks but the main challenge is from solving the bosses ‘puzzle’. Once you’ve completed them during your first playthrough there’s a lot less satisfaction to be had.

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Playing through and figuring out bosses is a fantastic experience. The gameplay is solid and finding a boss’s weakness isn’t patronizing. Executing your attacks and successfully defeating an enemy is tough and you know it from the sense of satisfaction you get after each victory. The deliberate trade off of plot and world design for solid mechanics is partially successful but it does leave Titan Souls with something missing.

There’s really no significant plot to wrap yourself in or characters to talk to. Personally I think it works but it’s not for everyone. Your nameless protagonist and the absence of complex plot elements really allow Titan Souls to focus on the minimalist concepts and mechanics. But without much replay value there isn’t a whole lot to do after the initial 5 hours or so.

Titan Souls is a short but satisfyingly challenging boss fest with tons of style and impeccably well crafted top down action gameplay. It may be short and lacking in some respects but my first playthrough was so satisfying it didn’t matter.

After the resounding success that was Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD my interest in Final Fantasy has certainly been renewed. It’s a shame making new titles doesn’t have the same effect but never the less Square finally seem to be getting the idea. Type-0 was originally released on the PSP back in 2011 and now you can enjoy it in the glory of HD. Sure there are other Final Fantasy games I’d rather see in HD but ah well.

Right from the word go Type-0 concentrates almost all of its attention on characterization and plot. And it doesn’t do a bad job of it either. For Final Fantasy the story is reasonably realistic and focuses on military campaigns rather than apocalyptic monsters and world ending magic. Type-0 certainly doesn’t hold back and isn’t afraid to lay the emotion on thick. The characters are just interesting enough to keep it all together but it’s cutscenes and the strong soundtrack that really sell the emotion.

The plot itself is much less interesting. It never develops into anything even close to complicated enough to really suck you in. There’s definitely some interesting characters and emotional set pieces but getting involved in the larger story takes too much effort without any real reward. There isn’t enough complexity to allow the connections with characters to become anything significant.

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Despite the undoubtedly good soundtrack that reminds us why we all love the music of Final Fantasy the visuals just aren’t good enough to let Type-0 feel at home on the big screen. Admittedly there’s only so much you can expect when coming from a PSP but it’s all too obvious that Type-0 doesn’t belong. It’s not just the visuals either that are low quality and dated but the controls and mechanics at the core of the game.

I regularly had to battle with the camera which constantly thought it knew better and decided to centre itself at will. More often than not pointing me away from my enemies and towards nothing at all interesting. It doesn’t complement the action well to be continuously fighting the camera and at times it became a significant problem.

The action itself is light and fast paced in a way only a Japanese game knows how. And Type-0 knows how to use it well. Battles are short but lively and always keep the excitement high. If you’re wanting fast paced, cinematic action then Type-0 doesn’t disappoint. There isn’t much in the way of depth so don’t expect much difficulty or strategy to become part of your fighting.

Favouring impossibly quick, and unnecessary, flips and rolls isn’t a problem at all but forgetting about adding any tactical depth to the fighting is a big turn off for me. There’s also a timing system that allows you to perform much stronger attacks with the use of a bit of precision but it’s no replacement for strategy. Although it does lend a sense of character connection and power when you get it just right.

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One of FFXIII-2’s biggest most ridiculous sins for me was enforcing the totally arbitrary time limit that forced you to chose what to do. For some reason Type-0 does the same thing, although it was technically made first. I absolutely hate exploring an area and knowing that I can’t complete everything just because the game says so. In something like XCOM were decisions are tactical fair enough. Here in an RPG having to miss sections of the game for no reason is just ridiculous. There’s no risk/reward, you just miss something no matter what you do.

Not all sections suffer from the time limit and when you’re left to enjoy and explore at your own pace the environments are well designed – at least enough that you feel there is a world here somewhere. Being an action based title there clearly wasn’t much in the way of priority given to exploration and world creation but during those moments Type-0 does a decent job of allowing you to enjoy the world.

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For me Type-0 has almost nothing I want in a Final Fantasy game. It favours button mashing and spectacle over thoughtful battles. It puts limits on the amount of extras you can complete in a single playthrough. The plot is solid but underdeveloped and doesn’t make enough use of the characters. There are also issues derived from Type-0’s PSP origins. The camera is awkward and rarely helps you see anything important. Plus visuals don’t feel like they received enough HD treatment to belong on consoles – which is particularly irritating considering what Square managed to do with the X/X-2 HD remaster.

Where Type-0 excels is perhaps the last place you might expect, in evoking emotion and making good use of a fully fledged soundtrack. The more realistic (everything is relative) story of war is met head on and I was surprised at how well it was represented. For a game usually concerned with demons and gods I was pleasantly surprised by Type-0’s fresh outlook.

Unfortunately there are too many missteps for me to forgive. I enjoyed the cutscenes, listening to the music and summons are definitely back on form but getting back to the gameplay drained any remaining enthusiasm. It’s too difficult to enjoy button mashing and get involved in the battles. A serious battles system would have done a lot to get me more involved. If you want fast, satisfying action, heaps of emotion and a simple plot Type-0 is your game. If you’re looking for a serious RPG sadly you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Not content with the current unforgiving onslaught of Assassin’s titles that do little to move the franchise forward Ubisoft now bring you Chronicles: China. Moving away from the intricate open worlds of full titles Chronicles is a 2D scroller set, rather obviously, in China. But Assassin’s Creed is Assassin’s Creed and try though I might to resist I still get hooked into every new game.

My biggest problem with the franchise is the lack of direction and seemingly zero intention of pursuing the ultimate ending we are assured is planned. It definitely seems the primary goal is to squeeze games out at any cost. The move into a 2D world feels more like this than ever. There’s really very little attempt at a plot other than a token reason for you to go around assassinating certain people to retrieve an item. Fair enough I wasn’t expecting much in the way of plot for a 2D scroller but there’s little to no attempt at injecting the larger Assassin’s Creed world around Chronicles. It’s very much a stand alone addition with little connection to the wider story and lore. Other than the fact our protagonist was trained by Ezio. Again. Apparently.

Considering gameplay is completely different to anything else we’ve seen before it does a surprisingly good job of mimicking the 3D world. Most of your time is spent sneaking around to slip past guards or killing them silently. There’s also the opportunity for open fights should you want them. The lack of depth that a 3D world allows does become a problem before too long though. Even during some full AC titles the missions can become repetitive but with the limited possibilities to either slink into the background or hide in a hay bale action quickly becomes repetitive.

This isn’t helped by the fact that guards are really quite dense. And I’m talking by AC standards. There are convenient sight lines strutting from every guards face that allow you to sneak past easily – which isn’t hard given that all the guards seem to be badly short sighted. It’s fun for a while even if it is a little on the easy side but after an hour or so I expected a ramp in difficulty. Unfortunately the mechanics are just so limited that there isn’t any room for a difficult ramp.

Right up to the end of the game puzzles and solutions are still exactly the same. There’s a real opportunity for a game that makes you think within the AC world. I’m thinking Hitman GO but Assassin’s Creed. As it happens there wasn’t even enough challenge and different puzzles to keep me interested for the 5 hours of the game.

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Ironically the most fun I had goes completely against the thinking game and was actually during the fighting or escape scenes. Hopping from ledge to ledge, back ejecting and diving from impossible heights was when Chronicles came to life. It’s also when it best mimicked one of its 3D counterparts. It’s the last place I expected to find enjoyment but there it was.

The combat is appropriately simple but satisfying too. I was always a fan of AC when it’s combat was simple and basically made you feel like a complete badass. With a few elegantly thrown punches and high kicks your foes are cut down. It’s not challenging but it is fun. Sadly just like the rest of the game there isn’t space for expansion or evolution of mechanics as the game progresses. Before the end the magic had worn off.

One thing Chronicles definitely has going for it right up to the end is style. There is a gorgeous Asian artwork style to blood splatters when you take enemies out and cutscenes look like living paintings. Chronicles looks undeniably good throughout.

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But it’s difficult to remain interested in a game that shamelessly does nothing to engage the player. The completely missed opportunity for a puzzle game or an expanded version of the management style mini games within the full titles baffles me. I cannot see why Ubisoft opted for this instead. Decent stealth puzzles with a real challenge would have been infinitely more desirable than a four hour guard slaughter with very limited mechanics.

At only 4 or 5 hours long Chronicles still gets boring before the end. Chronicles really just feels like another needless AC tie in that forgets the wider franchise. It’s not that it’s a bad game and I certainly had fun at points. There just isn’t enough interesting gameplay or plot in chronicles to really get involved.

Whilst certainly on a roll from the past two episodes, it’s now the time of the tricky third album. Can Telltale pull it out the bag and expand on the ever intriguing storyline?

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Brothers, but for how long?

Of course they can, once again; as soon as the infallible intro music has run its course, you’re in for another couple of hours’ worth of relentlessly capturing gameplay. Whilst of course the mechanics haven’t been altered, it still feels like fresh new content, mostly in part due to the addictive narrative styling of the writers. As is evident from the teasers, and the previous episodes ‘next time on…’ section, one of the first few sequences pits you up against a fabled dragon in another of Asher’s well-choreographed action scenes. Not only are there choices aplenty, but several have meaningful consequences that you might well not have the foresight to see.

As per usual, each of the Forrester’s storylines are intertwined with excellent pacing and depth. No sooner have you reached yet another inevitable stumbling block for the poor House Forrester, when the arch twists and turns before presenting another character embroiled in their own plight. The focus on this episode seems geared much more towards the potential of intertwined goals from each member than before. Characters will reference one another’s tasks whilst not so subtly implying that the outcome of which will have meaningful consequences on one another.

Whilst there are still the infamous QTE fight scenes, they’re handled with much more respect to the action this time around. It admittedly helps that the fights you engage in are often with characters that are much more meaningful than generic guards. Emotions will be high as you stick up for friends and attempt to follow vows, even they do contradict what you might be feeling at the time. The developers have also done an excellent job of making the QTE’s less arduous and seemingly more related to what’s happening on screen. A lunge for a blade feels a lot more natural this time around for example.

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Surprise!

It’s not only the conversations that embed problematic decisions anymore either. Several times during one of the excellently composed fight scenes, you are presented with an opportunity to decide where on your opponent to strike, do you show them mercy, or are the atrocities they’ve committed too large to ignore?

Opportunities to explore your surroundings appear to be less and less available as the season progresses, but whereas before this might’ve been a problem, now it simply help the game flow and lets it dictate its own pace. There’ll be the odd section where you can have yourself a little wander and muse about the surroundings, but for the most part, it’s all about the brutal conversations and their dreaded repercussions.

Without trying to give too much away, things are still dire for House Forrester. The injured Rodrick steals the scenes most often with his dwindling grasp of Ironwrath due to the invasion of the Whitehills; humility and self-preservation being the forefront of his set of decisions. Asher and his companions still struggle with regards of finding an army who’ll answer the call and Mira gets progressively fleshed out as she interacts with members of the Lannister family; inevitably becoming torn between the obvious two powerhouses. Gared continues his goal of searching for the mythical North Grove at the bequest of the fallen, and of course has numerous interactions with a certain Mr. Snow. You get the feeling that this is certainly the midpoint of the season due to all the trails being fully explored and realised; whilst this does come at the cost of potential newer narrative arch’s, it does bring aboout the plight of each characters struggles sinking in.

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A tree worthy of nightmares

Despite the ever enjoyable writing and story-lines, the technical side of things isn’t nearly as polished. The brushed art style looks discernibly great at times, whereas in others, it’s starting to show its age. Some character animations are a little stiff and aside from the fight scenes, it can look a tad awkward. The frame rate can suffer at times too, as can the lip synching, it’s not a huge problem, but it’s certainly noticeable.

The amounts of difficult and thought-provoking choices are definitely a forte of the writers and there’s no sign of them slowing down anytime soon. Episode three continues the trend of the series and shows once again that great writing alone, can make a great game.

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All your favourite anime characters come together in one place to beat the living hell out of each other. When the title has this many words and symbols how can it be bad?