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Reviews

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.

With the giant void left by the undeniably disappointing city builder that shall remain unnamed (*cough* Sim City *cough*) I for one was left with an itch to scratch. Luckily the lovely people over at Colossal Order have just the answer for us. Moving forward from the great Cities in Motion games they decided to have a go at a fully fledged city builder. All be it winner of the ‘Most Awkwardly Named Game 2015’ award.

Taking your first steps into a city can be an intimidating experience, particularly if tutorials are over intrusive or under developed. There’s a lot of tools and a lot to learn. Across the bottom of the screen is a toolbar that contains all the stuff you need to create your city. Initially there is only a limited selection for you to play with. As your population grows more tools become available and the pacing is just perfect.

Features like global policies that can reduce power consumption or increase fire safety are introduced at a rate that never feels like a bombardment. The same goes for buildings and services. Rather than a sit down and read endless pop-ups style tutorial features are gradually introduced so that only small explanations are needed at each stage. It really lets you get hooked even during those often tedious early learning stages.

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Another reason Skylines is so fun straight from the start is that each and every tool you use is so effortless. From square one I created a dual carriageway with streets set to one way traffic, a junction and a satisfyingly freeform residential block. I didn’t get stuck or have to continuously remove and relay sections of the road. I just clicked on the tool and started building. I did all this in the first 5 minutes of gameplay.

There’s a zone system used that is very similar to everyone’s favourite Sim City game. But again the tools are there for you to make your life easy. Streets come ready equipped with grids attached that you can either paint one square at a time, use a paint brush tool or even a fill tool to create entire blocks easily. Then waiting just a little time everything comes to life as buildings are erected and citizens go about their daily lives.

Linking up electricity and water facilities is satisfyingly simple too. Once you’ve created your water pump each property will need connecting up with pipes. Once again in the interest of user friendliness pipes have a decent sized radius around them and any areas within it will have sewage pumped away and fresh water in. Pylons too are needed to connect each area to your power plants but it is assumed that cables come included to transfer the power locally so you don’t need to spend hours connecting every single building. In fact my little town had power, water and sewage needs sorted within minutes. Even 20 minutes in I had a decent little town starting to thrive.

All this simplicity isn’t to imply that Skylines isn’t complex. Underneath the user friendly interface there are a set of menus and tables that reveal some of the numbers that lie beneath. Finances, happiness, healthcare, education, crime and transport are all detailed enough to make Skylines worthy of any city building fan. That swing meter balancing act is calculated just as well as the intentionally paced introduction of tools.

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Another major victory for Skylines is the potential size of your city. At first appearance it looks to be OK. Nothing special but probably about the same size as Sim City allowed. But, and it’s a giant unmissable BUT, Skylines allows you to expand and include multiple city-sized tiles in one giant city. So once you’re city is big enough, you can expand and make it bigger. Rather than be forced to stop and never play again.

Once your city grows the districting tool starts to become very important. It allows you to paint an area, select the relevant policies and even allows you to select an industrial specialization. For example, you can make an industrial zone agricultural or just leave it general. Each area is automatically given a realistic sounding name and referencing different parts of your city by districts adds a nice layer of realism.

The only thing that some may not like is the slightly sandbox style, especially later in the game. Once the learning curve and introduction of tools is done with there are very little objectives to give you direction. If you’re quite happy developing a city and have enough self motivation to keep going then Skylines will not be a problem. It definitely provides you with enough space and tools to create whatever city you like. But those looking for an objective driven experience may be left wanting. For many the sandbox way will be a plus point but everyone else optional objectives to follow wouldn’t have done any harm.

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Skylines knows what other games have done wrong and pulls no punches in getting it absolutely right. Colossal Order also have more than their fair share of experience working with Cities and know how to use that experience. The ‘miniature village’ style is gorgeous and intricately detailed. You can even see people leaving houses, getting in cars and driving around. There’s a real eye for detail that you can see in Skylines if you’re willing to look. Another big winner is the size of the city. Knowing that you can keep expanding at least for five entire city sized tiles is relieving.

But there’s no doubt at all that the key to Skyline’s success is in the design of its interfaces and tools. Every element of the interface is simple and fun. I didn’t need to remove and relay roads or demolish incorrectly placed pipes. It didn’t take painstaking hours to hook everyone up with water and power. Every tool is just a joy to use. Making sure the tools you’re given to build the city with are accessible and fun to use was no mistake and Skylines gets it right every step of the way.

 

With the monumental cult and critical success of both Demon’s and Dark Souls, director Hidetaka Miyazaki has certainly carved out quite the brutal niche with his blend of punishing, yet rewarding gameplay that harkens back to a time when games relied much more upon skill and patience. The Playstation 4 exclusive ‘Bloodborne’ hopes to carry the established formula over to the current generation; providing yet another proving ground for those with the willingness to accept failure and learn from it.

There are a great number of differences between this and a ‘Souls’ game; whilst not all of them are initially apparent, they certainly set Bloodborne apart from its spiritual, DNA ridden counterparts. The first similarity you’ll notice is the character creation screen; despite the sheer dominance of intimidating numbers, new players will simply do well focusing ideally on strength and endurance for the time being. Veterans on the other hand will know the relative unimportance of some stats, and how to compensate for the occasional lowly attribute. Experience, in more ways than one, is key. After you’ve struggled for half an hour googling a suitably Gothic name, you’ll be set to go; chest puffed out and determined not to be killed by the first enemy you encounter…

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You’ll quickly learn to hate these things

The bad news for you is that Bloodborne has other ideas up its sleeve. You will likely die in your first fight, mainly because you’ll be fighting an enormous hound with just your bare mitts. Thankfully, this is just one of few ‘helping hints’ from the developers to put the idea in your head early on, that you will not only die often, but that you should learn from your mistakes. If all goes according to their sadistic plan, you’ll awaken in the only safe haven in the game, the spectral realm of the Hunter’s Dream. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity whilst you can, as there’s soon no choice but to venture out into the unknown with your tail stuck firmly between your quivering legs.

Much akin to Bloodborne’s spiritual predecessors, other players can leave daubing’s of text behind in order to help, trick, or in the case of the start of the game, placate others. The starting, gloriously Gothic section of Yharnam is designed to break you. In the immediate opening of the game, enemies shamble alone or are at most grouped in twos, get past this bit however, and you’ll hit a wall. Barely 15 minutes into the game will you encounter a monolithic grouping of enemies that goes well beyond double figures. Scrawled across the floor are encouraging messages of perseverance that will likely do nothing to put your mind at ease, despite how right they are. Get past this section for the first time and you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment unlike little else.

If you do go for the manly/brave/stupid approach of slaughtering everything in sight, it’s actually a remarkably unspoken tutorial of how to intelligently take on a diverse pack of enemies. However, instead of the game helpfully explaining exactly what to do in each scenario, you’re left to your own wits and grace. Trial and error will undoubtedly be little consolation at the start, but you will subconsciously improve and get better to a point where you can comfortably get through fifteen or so torch wielding madmen in minutes not hours. Much like the Souls’ games before it, your gathered experience will be dropped on your first death and lost for good should you die again before reclaiming it too. A quick cheeky tip being that if you can’t find your stash of Blood Echos, it’s worth looking into the eyes of nearby enemies, as that may well indicate who’s wandered off with them…

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A little help can go a long way

Aggressive play is actively encouraged in Bloodborne due to the alterations in mechanics. There are no shields, armour penalties or sarcastic circle strafe bouts in Bloodborne; instead, you’re much more nimble and nippy on your feet. Where once you would be wise to play passively, it’s now much more visceral, especially taking into account that you can recover a small amount of damage taken should you attack an enemy (with a melee strike) in the following short window. That’s not to say it’s lost the rewardingly punishing difficulty it’s famed for, it’s just played at a seemingly quicker pace. Dodges, rolls and sidesteps are your best friends now. You’ll not only still have to memorise enemy attack patterns and adapt to new scenarios, but also master the new weapon and combo system too. Your chosen weapon can transform at the touch of a button to help adapt to different styles, often at the expense of speed. Wielding the shorter ranged option however, lets you also equip a gun. Before doubts arise regarding how overly powerful these are, I’ll state straight away that they’re often at their best when used to interrupt an enemy attack. You may well find and acquire more powerful variants, but their limited ammo and surprisingly useful close quarters ability ensures you won’t be performing any 360 no-scopes anytime soon.

Despite the synonymous thoughts of difficulty with a game like this, it would do Bloodborne a disservice not to delve into the architecturally fascinating world of Yharnam and its inhabitants. Whilst by no means the best looking game on the market in terms of fidelity and frame rate, the attention to detail and general artistic design more than makes up for any minor shortcomings. The layout is designed in such a way that you’re mostly funnelled along a fairly linear path, of course with many an offshoot hiding both beasts and rewards, yet without feeling constrained. The lack of checkpoints is gracefully handled by shortcuts back to previous areas, giving the feeling of both progression and it conforming to a hub-like world where everywhere is interconnected. Enemy designs, whilst rarely fundamentally unique, are always well thought out and artistically stunning; needless to say, boss designs are often the highlight.

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Something to look forward to in a Chalice Dungeon…

Whilst it may not be the longest RPG in a single run, there’s plenty to keep you occupied both before and after you’ve seen the credits roll. On top of the excellent new game plus system, there are also the somewhat undersold multiplayer offerings in the form of procedurally generated dungeons filled with bosses, treasure and hordes of enemies. These ‘Chalice Dungeons’ can be played solo, cooperatively with a few people or even competitively. The game’s invasion system returns with a risk/reward mechanic too, using a consumable, players can receive assistance from nearby others to assist with bosses and the like, at the expense of potentially allowing an unwelcome incursion from another player. Should you wish to, there’s also an offline mode to safely guarantee you’ll be playing alone.

Once more, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his development team of From Software have created another punishingly addictive piece. Yes, it’s still not going to be for everyone due to the inherent difficulty level; and it does come with a few minor irritants such as when you die, you essentially have to sit through two loading screens, but it’s worth it. Bloodborne is a game where you’ll die to frustrating circumstances, attempt to blame anything but yourself, and still look forward to trying it again. It’s designed to punish you at the start, to make you learn, adapt and struggle. Get past the beginning section a few times and you’ll struggle to turn it off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s never this well organised…

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

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

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Ah the bridge, the place where you spin in circles

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

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

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This is honestly, fairly calm

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

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

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

Advanced Warfare was a bold move for the series; whilst fans will have certainly adjusted to its game changing mechanics by now, it was certainly something to split opinion. Curiously however, the first, of a series of four, map packs seems instead to focus on pleasing everyone. Four new maps of various sizes and playstyles (no re-makes yet) a new assault rifle, and of course bringing back the ol’ zombies. Have they played it too safe by trying to cater for everyone, or will it still retain the uniqueness that’s helped resuscitate the waning franchise?

Urban is this year’s Nuketown. It’ll likely be voted for by anyone with a penchant for shotguns and those possessing nippy reaction times. Certainly the smallest map of the game and a far cry from some of the maps in last year’s Call of Duty Ghosts. Urban’s quasi-futuristic design fits in place well with the general aesthetic feel of the main games’ campaign; with its blue hues helping to echo the police theme it’s based upon. The outer portions of the map’s square-like design are inevitably going to be the ‘safer’ way to traverse your way around; however balconies, ledges and windows ensure that you’re never too far from being spotted. The maze like barriers of which adorn the map promise tense gun battles with people funnelling through like rats, attempting to not give away their position by overusing the exo movement. Once confrontation starts however, battles quickly elevate and a game of vertical cat and mouse begins. Due to the, sometimes frankly horrific, nature of the spawns in modes such as Free For All and Team Deathmatch, it’s best to approach this map in the knowledge that you’ll likely die, a lot.

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Perfect recruitment banner placement

Drift is this packs’ resident snow variant; featuring a fairly predictable map-specific score streak too, I won’t spoil it, but I’m fairly certain you can guess what happens! A medium sized map, Drift plays best in objective type modes when you’ve got a fairly decent idea of where the enemies are going to be spawning from. A carousel resides as the focus of the maps large open area and can of course be used as a dizzying piece of cover for those with the stomach to take it on. The other side of the map plays host to some potentially long range gunfights. An elevated position is the ideal spot for snipers with a twitchy trigger, with the locations downside being the various routes of entry inside. A well-coordinated team could easily hold this power position and dominate the enemy with streaks.

Sideshow is the penultimate map here, and also one for any coulrophobics to be wary of. Set in and around a decidedly creepy abandoned inn, Sideshow displays how two opposing playstyles can actually come together and not be irritating. For those into ‘playing cautiously’, rooftops and long lines of sight will create perfect opportunities to set up a few tents and sit pretty. Those averse to sitting still for any many of seconds however, can equip the almighty ASM1 and flank to great effect. Sideshow, on any other Call of Duty game would be a horrendous mess of spawn trapping and sniping, yet due to the exo movement however, it’s actually great fun to play. With the ability to traverse the entire map in seconds, getting up behind people and disrupting their inattentional blindness is a rarely matched feeling.

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I don’t know why people might have a problem with clowns…

Core is probably the weakest of the bunch in my mind; as a fairly large map, non-objective type game modes can play out in a somewhat leisurely pace. Long, winding flank routes and short, tight tunnels provide some variety in gunplay but you’re likely to be better off bringing an assault rifle and adapting to each situation as they come. Domination and Hardpoint could well be the saviours of this map and playing a roaming, harassment type role should serve you well. Set in the Gobi desert, amidst the ruins of a nuclear plant, Core is ultimately a little bland in general. The snippets of technology dotted about, however striking and interesting as they might seem, ultimately pale into the wash of sand.

AE4 is the name of the standard variant of your new toy in this pack; although if you’d previously purchased the season pass, you’ll have had access to it for quite some time already. Described as a directed energy assault rifle, it functions as you might expect. As is the case with Advanced Warfare, there are also several variants to unlock via getting lucky with the supply drops too, but the basic premise and utility is the same. It comes with its own optical sight (although others can be attached) and like all good energy weapons, you essentially have infinite ammo; with the downside being the overheating issues. But, provided you’re not too trigger happy and you remain accurate, it can certainly hold its own with the majority of other guns on the game.

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Good luck

Exo Zombies is likely to be one of the greater draws for some in this DLC pack, and rightly so too. Whereas the games’ standard co-op multiplayer was functional enough, it never quite hooked the zombie faithful, however that could soon change. The unfortunate four who happen to be around during what can only be described as an enormous cock up on Atlas’s side, must use the environment, weapons, care packages and more to survive as long as possible in typical zombie fashion. Keeping in line with the excellent performance of Kevin Spacey in the game’s campaign, we’re spared no expense here either. John Malkovich, Bill Paxton, Jon Bernthal and Rose McGowan are our celebrity foursome and are as suitably hilarious and enthralling as you might imagine. Ditching the crazed and convoluted zombie storyline of Treyarchs fame, we’re instead given a brief outline of their plight and roles during a cutscene at the start.

It’s (mostly) business as usual with the zombies, starting out at lower rounds they’ll take no more than a few bashes to the head, but progress past wave 15 or so and things really start to kick off. As ever with a zombie’s mode, it’s all about restoring the power as quickly as possible; never is that truer than here, especially seeing as you don’t start the game with your exo suit. Feeling strangely naked and mashing jump to no boosting avail, you’ll eventually start to make some progress. Once things (and oneself) are up and running, you’ll find many tweaks to the formula. The 3D printer is your new mystery box; weapons can be bought off the wall and upgraded at stations. Upgrades to your exo-suit can be purchased; care packages can be picked up outside and zombies get tougher alongside gaining new abilities to match and counter your own.

In all, the Havoc DLC pack seems to have something for everyone, the maps are varied between size, playstyle and appearance, it adds a new weapon (plus the potential for variants) and also includes a new zombie’s mode too. The maps, for the most part, should fit any game type well and the AE4 seems to be well balanced too. Exo Zombies will likely draw a crowd, in part due to its fan favoured theme, but also due to its own unique form of exo movement. The Havoc pack helps to freshen up the experience once more, and is a great start to this year’s season of DLC.

The Dragon Ball franchise is often regarded as highly influential, not only by the series veterans who’ve followed its meteoric rise across the globe, but also the newcomers to manga and anime who, without its severe popularity, might never have explored those avenues. In the past, as exciting and as over the top as they can be, Dragon Ball games have largely felt all too familiar with each other, let’s hope its first venture onto the newest generation of consoles can spice things up a little.

In a hope to freshen up the series of games that, unfortunately, can’t delve into new canon story arcs, developers’ Dimps have chosen to incorporate the ol’ fan favourite time travel mechanic. Instead of repeating classic storylines from the past ad nauseam, instances in time have been altered in order to create some seriously fan-salivating moments. Whilst the plot itself will neither truly excite nor disappoint fans, it’s the clear attention to fan-fiction that will prevail; thinking of the game as more of a sequence of ‘what if’ moments will largely set the tone for what you’ll be playing. The inevitable downside being that, once more, newcomers to the series will likely not appreciate, or even vaguely understand the source material here.

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One of the subtler screenshots

New in this iteration, is the inclusion of a loose, if not terribly addictive set of RPG mechanics to tinker with. Starting out, you’ll create a character from a fairly diverse set of races including Saiyans, Majins and others; with each race also possessing bespoke abilities that are reflected in the show. That’s not where it ends either, you’ll also have to pick between either a male or female combatant, the male being physically stronger, in comparison to the females’ higher agility. Once you’ve finally plastered on an outfit and of course, chosen the most outrageously overt hairstyle, it’s pretty much time to explore the city of Toki-Toki.

In a style oddly reminiscent of Destiny’s Tower, Toki-Toki is where the MMO style (yes that’s right, MMO) hub is located. From here you can strut about, adorned in all but the commonest of clothing options, hoping people will notice your, not entirely unique pose. Clearly aimed around a centric community atmosphere, you can form up groups, request help from others, and even start a ruckus with a stranger, the usual stuff really. Whilst it seems to be the way games are going in this generation, they do still require a little work in terms of fluidity and streamlining. The separation between having an eye watering, airborne battle, complete with more anime effects than you can physically comprehend, before trotting about casually on your way to the shop is jarring to say the least. I suppose everyone has to have some downtime, but the pedestrian pacing can often be too much, especially when a simple menu would often suffice.

On top of the starting levels of customisation, Dragon Ball XenoVerse has plenty of loot tricks up its ghee too. On your way through the games’ many, many quests, there are quite literally hundreds of skills and pieces of equipment to unlock and acquire, not only satiating many a hoarders needs but also attempting to ensure each character can have a fairly versatile and distinct feel from one another.

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Your guess is as good as mine…

It wouldn’t be a Dragon Ball game without completely over the top battles; needless to say, this one doesn’t disappoint either. Whilst the combat might seem a tad too familiar to veterans of the series, there’s still a lot to appreciate. Fighting still takes place in enormous, dense and rich 3D arenas ripe for exciting brawls. Alongside the myriad of moves at your whim, there’s also a smattering of destructibility to the environments too, perhaps not as much as I’d like, but enough to echo moments of the show when they do occur. Attempting to once more add to the veritable spectacle are the 3 vs 3 fights where you would expect all hell to break loose. Unfortunately, they’re more frustrating than epic as your AI controlled ‘teammates’ will just nonchalantly sit back and relax whilst you’re getting beaten from all angles. It doesn’t help that the targeting system largely shows its true colours here either, often being the cause of many a cock up.

Once more, in terms of fighting, people new to the series will struggle to keep up for quite some time. There is a tutorial, but as is the trend with pretty much every fighting game, it’s of little help. Grasping the basics should, and will certainly inspire some to explore further into chaining attacks and such, but the true newcomer will likely be either spamming basic attacks or getting beaten up relentlessly. When eventually you do end up playing with some modicum of skill, the fights can genuinely become as epic as some of the franchises most well renowned moments. Patience and experimentation are usually their own rewards with fighting games; this is no different.

Whilst there is fantastic roster of nearly 50 fighters to choose from, I felt that my own unique(ish) creation was always my go-to character. Levelling up and unlocking both abilities and game altering items was by far my greatest draw. Others who’re much better versed in the lore of the series than I will likely relish the opportunities of certain matchups and scenarios, but I’m always partial to a little levelling! Content is certainly one area where the game simply doesn’t let up, as described earlier there’s no shortage of missions, unlockables and playable characters to whet ones appetite. Add to this, the sheer amount of fan service included and devotees of the Dragon Ball universe are bound to be happy.

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Chillin’ with Krillin

Dragon Ball XenoVerse is probably the nearest you’re likely to have come so far, to playing an interactive version of the show. It simply looks fantastic. The outrageous special moves and detailing of each and every character really help draw you in to the game. Vibrant and bright colours splash everywhere and are a treat in comparison to the many variants of brown and grey on offer elsewhere. The only slight let down sadly being the city of Toki-Toki, without much interaction on offer besides a smattering of shops and quests, for a hub, it seems a little too sparse and barren for somewhere to truly savour and enjoy.

There’s no doubt about it, XenoVerse has been imagined, designed and tailored for the fans. It’s got a plot that they won’t instantly know the outcome of; it’s got set pieces with a variety of ‘what if’ situations and a decent RPG base. The unfortunate downside to this is that newcomers won’t have a clue what’s going on for the most part. The story will make no sense and the tutorial’s lacking anything beyond basic actions. If you can get past that however, there’s no shortage of content to sink your teeth into.

The Warriors series has never really been something that catches my imagination. Even between Dynasty and Samurai flavours the ability to run around slaying a ridiculous amount of enemies has never been enough to excite me. Don’t get me wrong, taking on wave after wave of nameless foes has it’s appeal but I always feel like Samurai (and Dynasty) Warriors chucks everything else out the window to make room. There’s only so much button mashing I can take and that’s one thing you can guarantee a Samurai Warrior title will have enough of.

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In fact on my very first outing I was presented with a good few hundred enemies that made no attempt at all to fight me or even a vague sense that they would evade my attacks. Sure they ran towards me but all I had to do was press the same button over and over as I watched the combo numbers climb. On occasion I moved the thumbstick to orient my character but literally no extra effort is required. The very second I realised the tides of slightly animated scarecrows posed no threat at all I was bored. But I pushed through to get onto bigger and greater things.

But it just never happens. There really isn’t anything just around the corner. Missions play out as a series of you pressing the same button until you win. On occasion you might find the need to press a different button to do a special attack but more often than not I just used them to break the tedium. Bosses play out as little more than slightly challenging versions of their straw counterparts, especially early game.

There are combos and abilities that make it worth while levelling and thinking about a character to an extent but without more complicated gameplay the only reason to do so is from self motivation. There is definitely a place for it but I constantly had the thought in the back of my head that it was all pointless. Truth be told there is a combo system and character variations for those who look for them but for me the combat is too simplistic to warrant any real investment.

2

On the face of it there seems to be plenty of missions in Samurai Warriors too. There is a campaign for each of the 50 or so characters which is impressive and does provide loads to do. At least in terms of time spent on the game. The problem is that they’re all largely the same. A ridiculous pop-up will appear for each character and explain what’s happening while characters talk mindlessly during your combat. There’s nothing even close to depth in the story and each campaign soon follows the path of the combat and becomes mindless.

It’s fine to have this amount of content, in fact it’s commendable, but it’s not enough to stretch gameplay out just for the sake of it. If there’s little there to start with dragging out the same repetitive gameplay really isn’t likely to add much to a game. The main problem I had was that despite the amount of content I was bored well before the gameplay had run out.

Chronicles mode allows you to make you’re own character with a modest set of customization tools. There is a more persistent upgrading system in chronicles and on your travels you will have the opportunity to equip yourself with better equipment. However I still wasn’t thrilled by the missions. It’s certainly more engaging knowing that you have your own character but ultimately the gameplay still failed to engage me. Soon I was back to playing the same mission repeatedly.

3

The visuals are nothing special although there’s nothing particularly awful either. Characters are well detailed and look respectable even though they don’t hold up too well on closer inspection. For me Samurai Warriors’ biggest sin are the environments. There’s a decent amount of colour splashed about but the quality of the textures is low, although HD, and often areas aren’t interesting enough to capture the imagination. Samurai Warriors 4 certainly doesn’t look bad but it’s a long way from looking good.

Samurai Warriors 4 has this absolute reliance on quantity over quality. Rather than a complicated combat system that allows for some skill or character investment there are thousands of enemies. Which would be cool if there was actually something to do other than pressing the same button over and over again. Chronicles mode adds some customization and makes missions a little more interesting until you realise you’re again just pointlessly wading through enemy after enemy.

As an incremental update there isn’t much on offer that improves over other Warriors games. Even the visual updates aren’t really significant enough to convince veterans to return and the multi-format release has done nothing to help. There isn’t enough to get new players or people who didn’t like previous titles involved. Ultimately I found Samurai Warriors looked poor and was just plain boring. For me that’s the worst thing a game can be.

With such a wait between each of Telltales’ episodic content releases, I’m often torn between frustration and excitement. In Telltale Games, we have one of the few, rare developers who don’t instantly ruin an established franchise as soon as they’re let loose upon it. Instead, they take their time, work to the series’ strengths and always attempt to emulate the experience of watching an episode. Can they continue upon their success of the first chapter and deliver the thrills once more in ‘The Lost Lords’?

Continuing on from the shockingly dramatic end of the previous episode, we’re thrown in once more with a mix of both new and returning characters. New to the table is Asher, a son of the Forrester’s, and Beskha, his dangerous and flirty mercenary partner. Aside from the ever present and ever irritating quick time event fight scenes of which you’ll no doubt enjoy, it’s business as usual. After you’ve muddled your way through the surprisingly well choreographed, yet frustratingly confusing, fight scene, it’s off to explore Telltale’s other avenues of gameplay, namely dialogue and a small amount of pottering.

Beskha_Yunkai-1
This has to end well

Whereas the first episode clearly had its prerogative set to introducing the series’ characters, this second chapter can be now devoted to setting up and exploring the overarching plot that will run throughout the remaining episodes. Each character gets a significant portion of screen time to further engage in their plights; and scenarios that felt lacking from the first episode get a little more attention too. Gared Tuttle, for example, gets a few more deserved heavy hitting scenes, including one with the popular John Snow. Likewise, Mira Forrester, one of the weaker characters in episode one, save for the Cersei scene, feels a little more fleshed out; with her narrative becoming increasingly more standalone and unlike that of Sasha Stark’s.

Along with the tense, if not occasionally slightly ambiguous conversational choices, the timer returns once again to pile on the pressure to either blurt something out or hold your tongue. Whilst some decisions from the previous episode already seem to be making their mark, there are plenty others present in this one that’ll also have you fumbling for the ‘right answer’. After being sceptical about the timed choices before, in a game that doesn’t require you put over 60 hours into it, they can be a welcome addition. Instead of sitting back and having a good old think about what you’re going to say, you’re always on edge, forcibly listening to the dialogue and trying to anticipate the set of answers available. It tends to flow much more like a real conversation and makes situations mirror the source material more accurately.

Wall_JonSnow_Gared_2
Moody brooding 101

Much like the previous chapter, you’re let out of the stressful conversational constraints once in a while to have a little wander. Unfortunately, much like the previous chapter, there’s not a lot of wandering to be done. Once again, you’ll get the opportunity to talk to a smattering of people and get to ‘investigate’ various objects of interest. Just because it resembles an old school point and click adventure however, don’t expect witty retorts and gainful insights from searching around. Despite what they could’ve been, the free sections feel more as though they were put there simply to spread out the pacing and freshen things up a little for the player; it would be nice to get a tad more meaningful freedom in the future.

As ever with Telltale games, it’s not so much about the fidelity, but rather the stylised picture as a whole; the brushstroke-esque filter works as well with scenic backdrops as it does with the individual characters faces. Unfortunately, as has been with the past few Telltale games, there are the odd few technical hiccups. Certainly not enough to ruin the game, but they’re on the rough side of noticeable; and as prominent as the art style is, if the game jutters, loses audio sync and struggles with the occasional timely button press, it’s more enough to take you out of the experience.

Yunkai_Malcom_Asher_Beskha
Just because there’s a sunset, it doesn’t mean everyone’s happy…

The Lost Lords is a solid, if not slightly safe, episode in the saga; it follows on well from the first chapter and impressively, improves upon some of the pacing aspects too. Both the good and bad things regarding this series so far, is that it is quintessentially a Telltale game. It brings all the things you love from the developers such as the difficult moral choices, the well thought out characters and the distinctive art styling. However, hand in hand, it also brings along QTE’s (sigh) and the odd bug too. There’s by no means anything particularly wrong with The Lost Lords, or the Game of Thrones adaptation as a whole in fact, it’s just you know exactly what you’re getting; meaning there’s no real innovation anymore, and that your enjoyment is reliant purely on the source material its based upon.

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