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Reviews

If there’s one thing Bioware are known for, it’s depth. Whether it be the usual intense amount of character customisation, the myriad of gameplay content or the relationships between characters in your party, it’s rare to be disappointed. After taking the series in a new direction with the divisive Dragon Age 2, can they please everybody this time around with Inquisition?

Upon starting a new game, you’ll be prompted to either import decisions you may have made on the ‘Dragon Age Keep’ website, or start up a new land with all major decisions from the previous games arbitrarily made for you. After this, its decision time already as you’ll be made to make a fairly important choice regarding your class. With two rogues, two warriors and a mage to choose from, making a decision is difficult, as certain weapon types, armours and skills are restricted by class. Warriors can only wield either a short-handed weapon and shield or a two handed implement of death. Rouges, no matter which variant you opt for, can only equip either daggers (with the possibility of dual wielding them) or a bow; whilst the mages opt for staffs and staves.

If you’re ever a little disheartened by your characters aesthetic customisation in RPG’s of late, be belated no more as Inquisition features more sliders than you could ever wish for!  You can create any kind of monstrosity you desire, fairly easily as it turns out, but it’s worth making them look at least vaguely acceptable due to the fact you’ll be staring at them for the best part of 80 hours.

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The environments often look this good

Once you’ve spent an inordinately large amount of time making your (anti)hero look just right, it’s about time to feel overwhelmed and bewildered in the vast sweeping spaces of Inquisition’s open world areas. Starting off ruddy mysteriously, you’re quickly accosted, accused and deemed untrustworthy several times over by various different people, all within five minutes. Fortunately, the people of the realm respect gratuitous violence more than a few sweeping statements; letting you gain a little reputation and respect via helping slaughter a few enemies.

After completing a few main missions, the game opens up in such an immediate way, it’s genuinely daunting. Once you travel to the Hinterlands, you’re given free range of the area, letting you explore as far as you dare push the limits of your slowly accruing levels. It’s around this point you may wish for a little guidance or a few explanations regarding some base mechanics. A couple of useful pointers from me, being that you can fast travel to both the compass and tent-like icons on the map, once you’ve discovered them of course. Another, more fundamental mechanic being that there is no health regeneration outside of combat without using potions, save for a select few skills that rely upon killing enemies. Whilst the party’s health (and your potions) can be restocked at the aforementioned camps, it’s worth keeping an eye on your health at all times. You can revive your teammates if you’re out of medicinal supplies, but they’ll only come back with critical health; with often the best option being to run away like a ‘true hero’ and quickly get to a camp before getting overwhelmed.

Combat itself can be fairly straightforward or rather strategic depending on your use of the tactical view. In normal combat, you can hold R2 to continuously attack with your basic strike, whilst mixing it up with special, stamina/mana attacks you’ve acquired through levelling up. Whilst you can, to an extent, utilise positioning aspects to flank, gain height advantages and generally ‘outwit’ the enemy simply by manoeuvring your character during battle, in some cases (especially on higher difficulties) you’ll want a little more control. A stab at the touch pad zooms out the camera to an overhead view and pauses combat, letting you get your bearings of the situation. Not only can it be easier to see exactly what’s going on, but specific instructions can be given to each and every party member including moving them to specific points, targeting preferred enemies and supporting other members should you see fit. Also adding another layer of control to your squad is a behavioural system nestled in the menus where you can decide whether they should conserve potions etc.

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When things look a little bleak, try the tactical view

When you’re not either sneaking up on a bandit or getting walloped by a bear, you’ll likely be talking to some NPC or another, especially with there being so much potential dialogue on offer. Aside from the countless quests available, party members and key figures to chat with, lore and background codex entries are dotted about with reckless abandon in every area, rewarding you with slight amounts of XP upon picking them up. The blessed dialogue wheel thankfully returns, along with potentially helpful icons which represent what sort of tone you’ll be taking the conversation towards.

The sheer amount of content cannot be overstated enough; we’re talking Skyrim-esque levels here. The initially confusing ‘War Room’ will eventually allow you to unlock several enormous areas, each packed with quests, collectibles and secrets that’s guaranteed to put a smile on any true RPG fan’s face. In fact I was well over twenty five hours in before receiving the most lavishly satisfying homestead I’ve ever had the privilege to get lost in. Nine potential companions await your decision this time around, including some you may recognise from previous games. The majority of which can also be lost to reasons like betrayal and arguments, so play nice if you want to keep your happy family! An entire crafting system awaits your attention, requiring you to collect schematics and harvest until you’re sick of picking Elfroot. Another nice feature being that for the first time in the series, you can now ride mounts too, varying from the classic ‘horse’ design to horned stallions befitting of such a world. The list of content honestly goes on and on; you’ll constantly be finding new things to see and do, well after you’re tens of hours into the game.

As much as it pains me to say it, there are however some downsides to address. Firstly, equipping both yourself and your party is just plain fiddly. Not only can’t you compare currently equipped gear to the loot you find out in the wild, but when you do, you have to suffer through far too many unnecessary button presses. Combined with the fact you can’t use the D-Pad on any menu, save for cycling teammates, makes one of the most satisfying aspects to an RPG, simply a chore. For example, if you examine a piece of armour, compare it to your equipped character and then decide it might be better off on someone else, whilst switching characters, the cursor will often change to an entirely different piece of armour, further adding confusion.

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I’m sure there’s a name for people who name their crossbows…

Another sore point can be the potentially frustrating traversal on some of the maps. Routes between points aren’t often clear, instead giving you the incentive to go for it ‘as the crow flies’. Often leading you towards a non-too steep mountain, there are often areas that look like goat paths that should be climbable, but aren’t. Whereas other times, you’ll be able to put that mountaineering course to good effect as you scale almost sheer cliff faces.

Gameplay aside, the presentation can vary wildly between truly impressive and a little meagre. The use of the Frostbite 3 engine brings environments to life with vivid colours and visually arresting expanses. Whereas at the other end of the spectrum, the character models and facial details seem lacking and look distinctly as though they belong on the PS3. The sound quality is consistently impressive however, with abundant touches such as caves altering the shaping of sounds and again, that’s not to mention the frankly ridiculous levels of spoken dialogue in the game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is by far and away, one of the most comprehensive RPG’s of late, stacked with content, customisation and enough lore to fill a library; making it one for fans of the series to savour. For those not so well versed in either the genre or the backstory, prepare to encounter a steep learning curve. Sticking with it is highly recommended however, as aside from a few annoyances, there’s no better place to spend more than a few weekends, than in the company of Thedas and all its inhabitants.

There’s really only one place to start with Far Cry. The villain. Last time we got the classic ‘Definition of Insanity’ line. This time we get a strangely polite, well dressed and slightly camp villain by the name of Pagan Min – amazingly voiced by Troy Baker. Take a look at him and his lovely shoes in this trailer.

There’s a brief introduction to stealth, how wildlife can be used and then a shoot out before you see the world map in all its open world glory. As with previous instalments your first job will be to climb towers and hijack the radio transmitter at the top to remove a section of the fog and add objectives and points of interest to the area. You’ll then have strongholds to capture for a place to rest your head, purchase upgrades from and fast travel to.

For me the strongholds epitomize the gameplay of Far Cry. Stealth is encouraged, and if you find an area challenging is often your best choice. But if you are detected it isn’t a fail. You just carry on with ‘plan B’ and get the job done using whatever you want. Or maybe you just start with plan B. It doesn’t matter and Far Cry won’t punish you for your choices.

There are massive underground caverns and places of interest to explore. Collectable chests, posters and masks. Races, hunting missions, assassinations, revenge missions and hostage encounters populate the map with genuine variety. There’s no way I’m even going to try and list everything to do but there’s easily enough to do outside of the campaign for even the most hardcore completionist. More importantly there is variation. And I don’t mean just a set of races for each vehicle, I mean proper variation. Rather than just having 100 of each objective Far Cry 4 offers you enough to do that you rarely do the same thing twice in a row – unless you want to of course.

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The size and scale of Kyrat is just ridiculous and traversing that map is more fun than ever. There are loads of vehicles to find from trucks to boats to microlights. I would say that changing the ridiculous controls is a good idea though. You can now shoot while driving and the control system uses the left thumbstick to accelerate, break/reverse and steer. Try a three point turn with this system and things become farcical almost instantly. Change to classic ‘L2’/’R2’ and take the accuracy hit when shooting. You can also use ‘autodrive’ which will keep your car moving along the current road so you can concentrate on combat.

Random encounters also keep your time in Kyrat from becoming boring. It’s rare that you will make your way to an objective without something unexpected happening. There are rebels to free, skirmishes to fight and strongholds to defend. Successful completion provides you with Karma XP that eventual levels your Karma level and provides rewards. The first few provide 25% discounts on certain items at shops so they’re not to be missed. It really helps make Kyrat feel like a fully fledged open world and not just a huge map with loads of objectives. They’re fun and they don’t take long so stopping off and completing them on your travels doesn’t become a chore.

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In keeping with the scale of the world map is Kyrat’s armoury. After a bit of hunting you can carry one sidearm and three of any other gun. There’s still the inevitable battle over what exactly you should take with you on your journey but it’s because of too much choice rather than a total lack of choice. Pistols, grenades, assault rifles, snipers, shotguns and, of course, the recurve bow all make an appearance. Working to unlock isn’t necessarily a case of just playing the main missions either as some require you to complete other tasks before you can buy them. Many of them also have upgradable parts that can make all the difference but what really matter are the signature guns. Sitting in a section of their own signature guns are uniquely modified in some way or sometimes even unique guns. For example the standard AK47 you can buy cannot be modified. But you can buy a signature AK that comes with a red dot sight, suppressor, extended mags and a damage boost. They cleverly give you something to look forward to but still allow you to use the standard version of the guns early game.

The gun play is inevitably a joy. Missed bullets hitting the ground behind targets adds a layer of realism to fire fights. Heavy weapons feel appropriately chunky while getting a headshot with a suppressed pistol makes you feel like 007 just for a second. Fighting Kyrat’s wildlife however isn’t so fun. If you’ve just been shot and are taking damage the last thing you need is to be ambushed by wolves or an eagle. Time after time I found myself backing away from a group of animals reloading, killing one and having to reload again all the time being hit in the face by other animals with very little I could do. My advice is simple, take a shotgun for wildlife. Eagles will just do damage to you instantly – and disable you as you stand there taking damage with an eagle stuck to your face. I hate the eagles so much. They’re a frustrating and pointless addition that just left me annoyed.

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Far Cry 4 is an amazing open world adventure that gives you a massive amount of content, amazing mechanics and plenty of polish. It looks and sounds amazing on every level, all the time. It looks smooth and ‘airbrushed’ and the textures on character’s faces are disturbingly high quality at times. Voice acting and weapons sounds are some of the best I’ve ever heard and make Far Cry 4 feel like a top quality product.

Even the co-op isn’t bad and can make for some hilarious Far Cry style moments. But it isn’t enough for me to consider Far Cry a co-op game and playing without friends isn’t as fun. The campaign is a little bit underused but does have the addition of choice. I enjoyed the moral ambiguity of decisions but in an open world game it’s annoying that you can’t complete everything in a single playthrough. Honestly there’s just that much freedom and that many things to do it just doesn’t matter.

Kyrat is colossal and provides you with hour after hour of varied gameplay. Far Cry 4 is a great entry to the franchise that bolsters the successes of Far Cry 3 and also adds a good selection of new features. Far Cry keeps moving forwards without losing sight of what makes it great. Far Cry 4 is easily one of the best games I’ve played in 2014.

 

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for LEGO games. I’m never quite sure if it stems from my childhood experiences or a need to just play a game that’s shamelessly good fun. Although the LEGO I had was nowhere near as cool as the modern stuff. Either way I don’t think I’ve played a LEGO game that I didn’t enjoy at least on some level.

It’s been particularly great for fans of comic books and superheroes of late too. We’ve seen just about every marvel character take their blocky primary coloured form as LEGO characters in Marvel Superheroes and now the franchise moves back to Batman, for the 3rd time. The DC universe has a huge wealth of characters and stories to draw from and LEGO always seems to find the balance between original comic characters and modern approaches so that nobody is alienated. I was a little disappointed at the occasional portrayal of Robin as the sort of snivelling cretin that those ignorant of the Batman franchise tend to imagine him but he does provide the familiar LEGO brand of comic relief.

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Soon I was jumping, fighting and solving puzzles in the usual way. Switching costumes on the fly works quickly efficiently and doesn’t leave you sitting around waiting like Marvel Superheroes did. Puzzles are the usual affair and on your first playthrough levels are littered with items, objects and areas that you can’t access. It’s business as usual then for LEGO. Play the game through collecting studs to purchase characters and find those secret bricks to unlock powerful game changing modifiers and secrets. Then once you’ve got the abilities you need, play levels again to find all the secrets. If you’ve played LEGO before you know what you’re getting into here. I particularly enjoyed Adam West as ‘LEGO guy in peril’ that needs rescuing on certain levels.

Once the game opens up after the first couple of hours it becomes obvious just how much there is to do. Those who’ve played a LEGO game before will know what to expect, those who haven’t may be in for a shock – although I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t played even one LEGO game by now. Beyond Gotham does not disappoint on the amount of content.

Jumping, attacking and building are unsurprisingly still the cornerstones of LEGO and nothing has changed for Batman’s third outing. The controls are the same tried and tested formula that’s been around since the early days. Even the puzzles, platforming and enemy encounters are not likely to surprise anyone who’s played a LEGO game before. The old when in doubt smash everything tactic is just as relevant as before and will often see you through an area, even if it’s initially unclear how.

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Graphically Beyond Gotham is everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The smooth shiny plastic characters look brilliantly LEGO-ey as usual. Again it’s exactly what fans will expect. The areas and environmental features that aren’t LEGO are by far the worst looking elements as usual but the characters that take centre stage pull the game through.

Voice acting is solid and attempts to mimic the 90’s era of films and TV. In my opinion it’s difficult to say what Batman should sound like, especially as I’m a fan of the comics. But rest assured that this isn’t the strange, extremely camp, 60’s Batman – although that does get a few jokes and nods. Troy Baker leads the great line-up of voice actors as Batman and all the conversations and interactions throughout the game are funny and natural sounding.

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The problem with Beyond Gotham is purely that it is a LEGO game following a formula that hasn’t changed all that significantly since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game all the way back in 2005. True the worlds are much, much larger. Characters now speak and have allowed for the cutesy tongue-in-cheek humour that we all love. And you can guarantee that you will not want for more collectables in a LEGO title. But at it’s heart the game is using ideals from a game released almost a decade ago.

And the solution for LEGO was franchise tie-ins. Which worked well. But there will come a time when the tie-in isn’t enough. That time is quickly approaching. For the first time I found myself bored by the same puzzles, although in Beyond Gotham they are particularly easy. The combat was never much more than a bit of fun to break up the pacing between platforming but it’s starting to get old now. The novelty of LEGO DC characters is great for a comic book geek like myself but I doubt that others will find much to do in LEGO that they haven’t done before. Even for DC fans the character roster, impressive though it is at 150, is getting to the point where it’s not enough to carry the game.

With overly simple puzzles and badly aging mechanics LEGO is starting to lose it a little. For the first time I was bored at times. I enjoyed finding the collectables and unlocking new characters still gave me that moment of nostalgia. But once that’s worn off the cracks are all that remains. We’ve finally got to the point where we need change – and honestly we’re probably long past that point. More complicated combat or difficult puzzles seem like an option but there’s the risk of alienating younger gamers. I’m not sure what the answer is but franchise tie-ins are no longer enough. The LEGO game itself, beyond the latest franchise skin, needs some changes if the LEGO games are going to live on much longer.

With the development cycle extended for each of the studios, it gives each team a chance to not only refine specific aspects of the game, but also potentially aim for something to truly make their mark on the franchise. This year it’s Sledgehammer Games’ turn at wielding the Call of Duty brand; making some fairly drastic decisions in the process, namely the exo-suit and all of its inherent features.

As ever in the series, there are three modes at your disposal, and whilst a certain majority of players will jump blindly into the multiplayer, I thought I’d start off ‘calmly’ with the campaign. Enter the boots of Private Jack Mitchell, proudly serving his country in a hostile Seoul against a radicalised group of North Koreans before of course, in atypical fashion; events take a turn for the worst. After fending off a swarm attack with little but a car door (and a mounted, fully automatic MG) we’re left with witnessing the horrific outcome of a failed ‘plant the explosives’ objective.

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Obligatory lighting shot

Whilst attending former squadmate Will Irons’ funeral and nursing a wound that even time can’t heal, we’re given a proposal by the much touted potential antagonist of the game. Join the largest PMC in the world and return to duty with an advanced prosthetic arm, or wallow in self-pity as a discharged amputee. Before too long, you’ll have been thrown in at the deep end of Advanced Warfare’s newly implemented movement mechanics and will have witnessed the potential capabilities on offer, not necessarily in the order you might expect however.

Instead of introducing the exo-suit in either dribs and drabs or even all at once, missions are set up with different variants of the prospective abilities, helpfully letting you try out the diverse set of exo-abilities. Whilst this is undoubtedly a good thing, for some reason your exo boosts, dodges, slides and slams are not always available depending on the mission, despite having access to the suit’s deployable shields and the like. Besides the obvious, Advanced Warfare also makes additional, more subtle changes to the single player campaign too. The HUD has been revamped and streamlined, projecting both ammo and grenade counts directly onto the rear of your weapon. Handily letting you view all necessary information at a glance in the centre of the screen as opposed to the corners.

Taking cues out of the Black Ops 2 campaign, there’s some customisability involved in the single player portion too. Acquiring kills in separate ways, via grenades and headshots as well as gathering the obligatory ‘intel’ dotted about the levels will grant you upgrade points to spend on your exo-suit between missions. Whilst not compulsory, the benefits are largely advantageous and can include perk-like upgrades such as a quicker ADS time, taking less overall damage and allowing you to use your abilities more frequently.

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Pretty sure that’s an SMG with a drum mag

Despite the singleplayer length scraping by its usual quota of completion time, it’s categorically the most well-presented, most entertaining campaign in the Call of Duty series I can remember. Kevin Spacey’s role as Jonathan Irons, the CEO of Atlas Corporation, is as entertaining as it is impressively mo-capped and his presence is felt in every scene. The narrative is well told, the characters are memorable and the overall concept of a PMC controlling the world’s wars and conflicts toes the edge of credibility and fits snugly into the general theme of Call of Duty.

The second mode up for grabs is the ever present, wave based survival type which involves you taking to each multiplayer map on the game, and fending off as many goons as possible. Whilst it may be maligned by some for not being the complete zombie experience for which Treyarch’s ventures are famous for, it still more than warrants your attention this time round. Similar to Modern Warfare 3’s survival mode, it pits you against all manners of enemies with each round getting progressively more difficult. Variation and customisability are key features here, with not only the ability to purchase weapon attachments, equipment and scorestreaks, but also to change class too. With three to choose from, you’re limited to classes of weapons and available scorestreaks depending upon your choice. The recon style class focuses on SMG’s, pistols and high manoeuvrability to get by, but is limited by the defensive UAV streak. The other two classes are variants upon the same theme, with limitations based on weapons, movement and scorestreaks.

Aside from being able to upgrade your damage output and armour, amongst other things, the game manages to keep it fresh by introducing objective play into the rounds. Whilst killing each and every enemy is a pre-requisite for completion, some rounds may ask you to collect intel off fallen enemies or defuse a bomb within a time limit. Aside from being integrally difficult, failure to complete these will result in punishments such as system hacks being used against you, giving further incentive to slip on your try-hard pants.

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How nobody’s dead yet is beyond me

The primary draw however for most players will be the inherent multiplayer offerings, the chance to pit your skills (and internet connection) against others around the world. The addition of the exo-suit is undoubtedly the most radical instalment to the series yet and provides both excitement, and confusion in spades. Despite the gunplay still feeling like any other Call of Duty game, there are several implemented changes that swap things up quite drastically.

The exo-suit not only provides great variation in movement, but also opens up more choices for the loadout selection too. Featuring a ‘pick 13’ system, Advanced Warfare lets you customise more than ever before, with the addition of your scorestreaks counting towards your allocated points. If you feel a little perk hungry, try removing those top tier streaks you never earn, and slap on another perk instead. Conversely, you can now (for a price) add a fourth slot for your streaks, letting you wreak more continuous aerial havoc, providing you can attain them all of course.

For the first time, you can now customise your scorestreaks too, if you’re tired of your UAV being shot down, send it into orbit to remove such a threat. Or if your sentry gun isn’t quite racking up the kills, make it fire rockets instead, oh and why not make it detachable whilst you’re at it? There are of course repercussions to this, with each added modifier, up to a maximum of three, the required score to attain it increases also. Adding the support ability to the care package drop for example will ensure you can earn it despite dying, but at the cost of it nearly doubling the score required.

The return of smaller, three lane maps, is indeed a welcome one over the gigantic death fests that fans of Ghost’s may recall, but with the exo-suit, the same problem of being constantly shot in the back often arises. The point of structured maps are such that you should be able to spawn safely and proceed to your objective. Whereas the exo-suits traversal capabilities let you cross the map so quickly, (for now at least) it’s common to spawn surrounded by danger.

At a glance, the weapon selection might seem fairly meagre, only three automatic assault rifles are available to pick from at max level, with the others being burst or semi-auto and unfortunately no way to convert them. Yet Advanced Warfare has another trick up its sleeve with the supply drop system. Every now and again, you’ll earn what is essentially a loot chest that can contain any manner of things from a guaranteed care package to aesthetic choices to adorn your avatar with. Most importantly however, is the chance to receive weapon variants, complete with stat differences and the potential for irremovable attachments. With hundreds of potential outcomes, before too long, you’ll have built up quite the armoury; on the plus side, if you find a rarer item you don’t quite fancy, you can redeem it for XP.

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Everybody likes Kevin Spacey

As ever upon a Call of Duty release, there are the usual weapon balance issues and wonky connections that plague the launch, but within a month these are usually ironed out with a slew of patches. Until then, there’s the usual case of the player with the most radically different ping being the ‘best’ and so forth. There are also a few niggles that seem like odd design choices, such as not being able to see how many players are online and in each game mode. Another annoyance being that every time you get five kills without dying, you’re temporarily awarded with a helmet that stays in the ‘new’ box at the top of the menus, making it essentially look like you’ve always got something new when you haven’t.

Either way, it’s another solid foray into the CoD multiplayer if you play on the classic, non exo-suit playlists. Or if you fancy something a little different and faster paced, you can boost jump straight into the normal modes where for a while you’ll feel like a young Spiderman, crashing into walls, flying off the maps and performing the odd spectacular kill. The single player campaign is one of the greatest I’ve played in a Call of Duty game; with the level of detail in both graphics and sound design being something to behold. Keeping faithful enough to the franchise to keep the hardcore coming back, whilst also adding enough new content to evolve and progress the series cannot be easy, but somehow they’ve managed it. Call of Duty is back.

It’s no secret that Assassin’s Creed has lost focus and gone off the rails a bit. Sure Black Flag was a good pirate themed adventure but I never felt like I was playing the next AC. So it’s time again to see if Assassin’s Creed is back on track. This time during the French revolution, a period that easily consists of enough turmoil and bloodshed for Assassin’s Creed.

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Despite the interesting time period and the rich interlacing of politics and rebellion that undoubtedly shaped modern France, Unity focuses more on the internal plot of AC and the struggle between the Assassins and the Templars. It also insists that French people used to talk with either a cockney accent or an over the top British villain’s accent which seems unlikely. The usual plot ‘twists’ await; ‘Oh this person is actually a Templar’ and ‘the Templars are behind it all’. The plot falls flat long before the end. Almost as soon as you start in fact. Early on it’s difficult to associate with anyone simply because you don’t know who they are – and worse still it’s difficult to care. Characters other than Arno (our protagonist) are easily forgotten along with the plot.

Assassin’s Creed still has an identity crisis and insists on being ‘X Era Action Game’. To return to the internal plot and overarching story of AC we need a decent modern story intertwined with the historical one. Unity just ignores both. Unity also skips on any meaningful ‘outside Animus’ experiences and making out that I’m someone playing Abstergo games in my living room doesn’t cut it and breaking the fourth wall is unimaginative in the order of a character saying ‘this is just like a video game!’. It certainly isn’t even close to a replacement for the experiences we had in AC 1 and 2 with Desmond – minus the super pope.

Does anyone remember the first game? The reveal of Lucy’s hand. And when I used eagle vision at the end I swear I nearly passed out with excitement. I had so many ideas of where the franchise would go – none of which have happened. Until I get a meaningful protagonist outside the animus and those truly unique, genius moments Assassin’s Creed is ‘just another action game’. At least Unity doesn’t get totally distracted by the period drama but it forgoes a plot in either realm instead.

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Getting into the action you see Unity’s most obvious changes. Countering and dodging are more difficult than ever and it is likely you will struggle to take on enemies that are a higher level than you. It does make a nice change not to have unlimited power from the start and actually gives you somewhere to progress to but too many times I died when a counter prompt was off screen. Like almost everything in AC It works well when it works but fails spectacularly when it doesn’t. It’s satisfying knowing you’re not fighting dummies that exist only for you to kill but when you die from an attack you couldn’t possibly avoid it’s just irritating. I can’t imagine why the counter icon isn’t above Arno’s head. It’s a particular problem when an enemy has a long reach and you have literally no way of seeing the incoming attack.

Moving past guards successfully is more difficult than before too. Stealth certainly has more strategy than just continually using whatever weapons is perfect at taking out guards silently and makes a pleasant change from the ‘whistling bush’ approach. During my first proper assassination I was also pleasantly surprised when presented with choices. As an example there are several entrances to consider and at least three logical ways to take your target down in the first assassination alone. And that doesn’t include the less obvious methods. The freedom granted by even just a couple of choices makes you feel more like an actual Assassin and less like a hired goon following unrealistically strict orders. I had by far the most fun on Unity when on Assassination missions and I’m so glad Ubisoft spent the time improving them. This is Assassin’s Creed after all and ironically the assassinations have been lacking for a long time.

Venturing into Unity’s co-op missions is dangerous and will potentially make you the source of much hatred. If you die the entire team fails and, if you’re lucky, will be returned to a harsh checkpoint. If you’re not you’ll be starting again. Knowledge is power and both the heists and the missions will switch from almost impossible to easy depending entirely on how well you know the mission. That stupid AI will scold you with ‘I told you to be quiet!’ both ironically loud and annoyingly patronisingly after she runs at some guards in the distance and alerts them despite the fact you could have easily taken them down quietly.

It rarely matters because quite often you’ll be insta killed by unknown sources and the entire mission will reset. For everyone. And then when you finally manage to learn the level, making it decidedly easy, you might lose connection to the Ubisoft servers and be returned to the world map after a lengthy loading screen. Drop in co-op would have been far better for AC and the co-op frustratingly adds little but extra stress to the game. An approach similar to Watchdog’s would have worked infinitely better.

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Visually it’s difficult not to appreciate the shear scale of revolutionary Paris. Fast travelling to a perch really allows you to see just how immense the city is. There are a few shops and buildings that stand out and look great but for the most part I was underwhelmed. The PS4 version I played suffers from horrific frame rates, even after the 900MB day one patch. That aside most NPCs are drab with low quality textures and really just look like blocks of colour draped over a human frame. Again the scale is impressive and crowds are huge but they often make traversal irritating and further hinder the already poor frame rates. Unity certainly doesn’t look bad but it does look old. For such a high profile game made specifically for 8th gen hardware I was quite disappointed. I have to give a shout for Unity’s motion capture and facial expressions however which are amazingly accurate and subtle. Sadly they are relatively infrequent and so for the most part Unity looks decidedly average.

For traversing Paris free-running has been given a slight, but significant, tune up allowing you to hold ‘x’ to free-run up or ‘circle’ to free-run down. As veterans will know this makes a huge difference and for the first time I was able to descend with relative finesse. Undoubtedly a move forward but then it’s one the franchise should have made years ago so it’s difficult to be happy about something that should have already been there a long time ago.

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As with most Assassin’s Creed titles Unity does some things right but not without missing out some crucial elements. The plot has taken a back seat to such a degree that it now basically isn’t there. The combat has added some much needed challenge but has also added unnecessary frustrations by having counter icons potentially off-screen. But assassination missions are amazingly fun and for the first time offer a decent amount of choice. And as ever there is a metric ton of missions and things to do to keep you busy plus meaningful customization in the way of weapons and armour. There really are loads of weapons and pieces of armour to play with. One of my biggest problems with Black Flag was the lack of attainable items and it’s excellent to see Ubisoft bring them back, and in a big way.

Still the series desperately needs a plot injecting into it and a protagonist of some sort wouldn’t hurt either. At least some major issues have been fixed, and fixed well. As ever I look to the next AC to be the one that finally lifts the series out of its mediocrity as I play another average instalment to this once great franchise.

It’s time again for a new addition to the NBA 2K series. As with any incremental franchise, and particularly annual ones, it’s often difficult to see were things are going or if anything is actually being improved at all. NBA 2K14 was a solid game that had some decent mechanics and definitely earned entry into the ‘Best Sweat in Videogame’ competition.

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In keeping with the franchise NBA 2K15 continues to offer a huge amount of variety and game modes to keep you happy. There are all the usual modes you would expect in any sports game and thankfully MyGM mode returns from 2K14. MyGM mode allows you to control a team, alter the roster and everything else that goes with managing a team. Truth be told I don’t know enough about NBA or the game to make enough use of the MyGM mode but it is clear there’s plenty to do and see. It’s not so difficult that non-NBA people like myself can’t understand it at all but this mode is really for the fans.

From the very beginning NBA 2K15 puts a much bigger focus on the custom character mode. There’s a vague attempt at wrapping a story around it but ultimately it’s the standard affair for a career mode. Every so often someone from the sport will turn up and throw in a few words but as you might imagine NBA isn’t exactly going to break ground with its story. But there’s still a few decent additions that flesh out the main career mode as much possible, given the sports genre.

It’s unlikely too many people are likely to be worried about the story in an NBA game but at least there’s an attempt to stop career mode from becoming a string of single games. Unfortunately you get the sense that the whole thing is a poorly acted daytime TV show with a few celebrity athletes thrown in for good measure. Better voice acting and a quality, albeit likely generic, story about a new athlete rising the ranks would really improve NBA and many other sport games so 2K15’s attempt has to be recognized and appreciated.

Much more important are the stats and upgrades that can be earned for your player. There’s a depth to your character that allows you to carefully craft a player that can properly reflect the skills and attributes you actually want. It will take time and effort to get your player up to scratch though because upgrades are quite difficult to attain. For those of you who relish the satisfaction that comes from the results of an RPG style grind this is good. For some it might not be although ultimately it comes down to personal taste. Far too many upgrade systems hand over abilities like they’re nothing but 2K15 makes you work for it.

Getting into the gameplay it quickly becomes obvious where almost all the care and attention is. Moving and interacting on the court feels a lot like 2K14 although with a few new additions. For example The UI element that indicates how long you’ve held the shoot button is a very welcome touch. It’s nice to see a game that isn’t ashamed of leaving something alone if it doesn’t need changing and 2K15 doesn’t play around too much with the solid mechanics inherited from 2K14. There are still the usual rough loading times and occasional mishaps but mechanically NBA 2K15 gets most things right. Unfortunately the menu becomes a constant frustration. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a sports game if the menu isn’t at least a slight pain to navigate. I don’t know why it’s become a ‘feature’ of the genre but sadly it’s one NBA 2K15 doesn’t ignore.

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Despite some of the elements looking a little rough around the edges there are some moments when you play 2K15 and just have to stop and look for a minute. It looks so good at times it’s unbelievable. But there are still some things that don’t live up to NBA’s high visual standards. 2K15’s graphics are a reasonable upgrade from 2K14 – which is a good thing because 2K14 still looks pretty good. The players, in particular, look fluid and realistic when moving around the court.

But NBA 2K15 suffers from the same problem many annual updates suffer from, it’s not that different to last years entry. The mechanics are largely the same, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the attempt at inserting a meaningful story into the career mode is admirable – even though unfortunately isn’t a quality story and feels a little tacky. Also the menu badly needs an overhaul. One day there will be a decent menu in a sports game. You just have to believe.

Once you get into a game and start actually playing basketball 2K15 springs into life. But there are plenty of other areas that could have used some love and attention too. For pick up and play NBA 2K15 is an absolute winner. And I can’t help but like the story in theory despite the reality that it’s too cheap to add anything to the game. Even more than other franchises NBA is in competition with itself purely because it has no competition. With no other basketball titles to compete with, NBA is in danger of becoming complacent, even when compared with its own titles. The next entry will need to change something significant if NBA 2K plans on going somewhere in the future.

Continuing with the annual theme, it’s time for 2K Sports to unleash their next game in the franchise, WWE 2K15. After successes in the past, can they once again raise the belt above their heads and claim victory?

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Adding flair to a kick

First of all, there are a few things of note to point out, the copy of the game I’m reviewing here, is the PS3 version, meaning all the most talked about features that might have you interested, are mysteriously absent. In place of all the new mechanics and shine, we get a couple of recycled game modes, but more on that later.

If you’re partial to the odd powerslam or suplex, chances are, you’ve played a wrestling game before, and if you’re especially partial, then you may well have played last year’s offering. If you have, it’s probably best to stop reading this and just go play on that instead. The lack of changes between this and last year’s WWE game are shockingly sparse. Not only do the mechanics remain almost identical, so much so that you’d be forgiven to not notice any difference, but on top of this, despite boasting a new lighting system and some improved clothing, it doesn’t look any better either.

It’s not all bad news however, instead of the facial and body scanning tech, larger roster and extra, more interesting modes, the lowly last gen version does manage to swipe a couple of exclusive titbits from its younger, more powerful brother. Two game modes make their private appearance here, the first being ‘2K Showcase’, a replacement for the previous game’s 30 Years of Wrestlemania; the second being ‘Who Got NXT’.

2K Showcase is the only real highlight of the package, focusing on two of the largest rivalries in the last decade. CM Punk and John Cena of the 2010’s and Triple H and Shawn Michaels feud during the naughty noughties. Much like similar modes of the past, you’ll follow significant matches during the timelines and experience all the thrills and spills of some of the most epic bouts of the era. During said bouts, you’ll often be presented with objectives to pursue that relate to the actual outcomes of the matches; some of these can be great fun, especially when you don’t know what’s coming next. The mid-match cutscenes further emphasize the immersion too, with introducing classic, cinematic style footage from the moment.

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Come on Brock, have another go at UFC

As opposed to the 2K Showcase offering countless videos explaining the backstories and adding background filler, the ‘Who Got NXT’ mode pales in comparison. The five up and coming wrestlers: Rusev, Bo Dallas, Corey Graves, Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn that are featured from the development league are each given little action and are not represented by any real life videos. The bouts you enter with them feel little more than exceptionally infuriating challenge matches with ridiculous objectives to complete. Commentators Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole try their best to inject some backstory and excitement to each match, pulling up relevant information for each newcomer, but it’s not enough to really warrant an entirely dedicated mode. If you really feel like punishing yourself, you’ll be glad to know that once you’ve cleared each fighter’s path in ‘Who Got NXT’, you get to go up against an obscenely powerful John Cena, who will repeatedly wipe the mat with you. Again, it’s essentially a renamed and reskinned version of beating the Undertakers streak from previous games, but it’s there to infuriate you, should you wish.

Mechanically, the game plays out incredibly similarly to last year’s edition; those who’ve had some previous experience will be right at home, except you won’t really want to be. You’ll still need some training from Neo to work on the counters and you’ll likely focus on spamming the quick strikes due to the AI having less of a chance to brush you aside with its lightning accurate counters of its own. The addition of a momentum bar is useful this time around and is one of the only new features that are noticeable. Becoming more of a blessing than you’d ever realise, it’s nice to finally see how far off losing your special you were, and being able to accurately gauge when to use them is always useful.

Content is where WWE 2K125 (on the PS3 and Xbox 360 at least) will lose most of its fans. Taking unnecessary gouges out of the Create a Wrestler aspect will upset some, as will the lack of create-a-finisher, create a story and the absence of custom soundtracks to be used for entrances. Possessing a roster of 63 might sound like a lot in comparison to other fighting games, but it is in fact less than several of the previous games in the franchise; not counting the fact that several tiles are simply repeats of wrestlers sporting a different tunic.

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I don’t know what’s happening here…

Visually, WWE 2K15 won’t do much to overheat your PS3 either, looking more or less the same as last year’s game. Some of the newer character models look better than others, but the theme of recycling has been further emphasised, so much so that it’s even dragged along some of the technical issues from WWE 2K14 too. Clipping through the ropes, hilarious lip synching and characters jittering on the spot are all things that should be sorted out by now and drastically rip the immersion from you. Something that does seem to have taken a step forward however is the commentary track from Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. With a much more varied bank of phrases to rely upon, their banter and general back and forth won’t start to grate for a fair amount longer than usual.

Finding redeeming features in WWE 2K15 is difficult, mainly in part due to last year’s iteration and its more expansive content. The PS4 and Xbox One versions might well drag the franchise up a gear with refreshing changes in mechanics and fidelity, but for now, even for the hardcore fans, I’d recommend sticking with the undoubtedly cheaper WWE 2K14.

I’m a big fan of the Falling Skies TV show. Sure it follows the usual tropes and stereotypes that plague post-apocalyptic TV shows. ‘I don’t want to kill my zombie child’ or ‘we need to go to dangerous place X to get X item for X’. But I still love the show. The sci-fi plot set against a dark and gritty background made a pleasant change from my usual TV sci-fi outings. So when I got chance to play the game I was very keen. I had visions of a successful tie-in in keeping with The Walking Dead games. And then I found it was ‘similar’ to Xcom: Enemy Unknown. I’m an even bigger fan of Xcom so the chance to play it with skins and characters from Falling Skies appealed to me greatly. With the scene set and my hopes surprisingly high I loaded up the game.

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Which I wish I hadn’t done. Falling Skies: The Game is ugly. Seriously ugly. It is just the worst looking game I can think of. To say it looks like a PS2 game is not an exaggeration. And I know looks aren’t everything, especially in a tactical shooter, but it really does just look so foul you can’t ignore it. I was actually glad when I saw a loading screen which has a still picture from the TV show on it just to see something that looked vaguely realistic.

There is no doubt at all that Falling Skies looked to Xcom for more than inspiration. Apart from a few visual changes it is exactly the same as Enemy Unknown. The cover system is the same, some objects offer half cover some offer full and movement is handled using a grid on the floor indicating an area you can move and shoot and area you can ‘sprint’ to and forgo firing your weapon. It is in every way a clone of Enemy Unknown. The abilities you have available to you are similar if not exactly the same. Even the upgrade trees for your characters follow the same pattern as those of Xcom. Although somehow at every turn Falling Skies is worse. It’s like it copies Xcom and then makes everything worse.

For those of you who haven’t played Xcom essentially Falling Skies is an isometric viewed turn based tactical shooter. You take a team of rebels of different classes and abilities to complete objectives. You might have to rescue soldiers, complete one time objectives (e.g. destroying a radio tower) or just kill ‘em all. You have very few options in the early game due to poor accuracy so initially you rely on your ability to flank enemies and use cover wisely. Later on you will acquire better weapons and abilities until you eventual become a competent Espheni (Falling Skies’ brand of alien invaders) killing machine.

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But for a game that so obviously copies what many (me included) regard the best it does everything worse. It looks atrocious. There is none of the out of combat strategy that made Xcom so great. The only mechanics that are different are worse than Xcom’s. And unfortunately Falling Skies: The Game isn’t involved enough in its own lore to make up for the lack of just about everything else. It would basically have needed to be an entire season of the show to do this though.

As it is, between the combat you get forced ‘cut-scenes’ that explain what’s going on. Which isn’t much. It certainly isn’t anything fans of the show will be upset missing. It’s not a good Falling Skies tie-in and the game it attempts to clone is just so far ahead you would think this game preceded it by about 10 years. It’s impossible to forget you’re playing what is basically a broken version of a great game at all times.

Even the upgrade system hasn’t been fully explored. Levelling up, acquiring new recruits, finding parts and upgrading/building new weapons is far too simple. All too early it becomes pointless even having such resources simply because you have so many of them. There is very little strategy in any aspect of Falling Skies: The Game. This is particularly insulting when you consider the shameless level of borderline plagiarism used.

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With a total lack of respect for the game it’s so ready to steal from Falling Skies still somehow fails everywhere Xcom succeeds. It seems impossible that it is so close to another game yet so far in all the ways that count. The visuals are just upsetting. Nothing feels like it had any time and attention given to it and it shows. There isn’t any meaningful interactions between the characters which leaves the game feeling totally disjointed from the TV show. There are no redeeming features that I can think of and I’d genuinely have been happier if I hadn’t played this game at all.

 

Have you ever had one of those moments where you’d rather take a trip down one of Doom’s long and windy corridors than perform a tactical reload? Or perhaps you’d prefer to skip merrily through Serious Sam’s arenas of death than take down foreign insurgents in slow motion? If you even slightly raised your eyebrows in curiosity, then Shadow Warrior is for you.

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Just a casual night out

Whilst we might not live in the realm of ’97 anymore, Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital are offering a chance to step back in time, hand in hand with game mechanics of the era, only whilst also dragging along gaming’s modern looks. For those ‘mature’ enough to remember, Shadow Warrior was first released in 1997 by 3D Realms and GT Interactive, and resembled a first person shooter in the style of Duke Nukem 3D, complete with crass humour to match.

Fast forward nearly fifteen years, and here we are again. In the wake of more popular and (intentionally) serious shooters, comes Shadow Warrior once more. A reboot that incorporates old school everything-ness, with modern styling to create a game that somehow simultaneously reminds us why we don’t play these sorts of games anymore, whilst also wondering why no one makes these sorts of games anymore. Meet Lo Wang, (yea it’s gonna be that kind of game) a modern day ninja who enjoys the musical styling’s of Stan Bush, namely the one song that you’re likely singing in your head right now, The Touch. Along with his fandom of Transformers, Wang also is rather attached to katana, something that will prove to be both conversely useful, and spell his downfall throughout the game.

The plot starts out and develops as you may imagine in a game such as this, an ancient sword is the target of Wang, and acquiring it will be the first task of many, eventually roping in golems, gods and of course, masked incestuous demons. Despite the narrative in many games of this ilk often taking a backseat, the story is so bewildering and bizarre, that it demands your attention, often by any means necessary.

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The use of contrast is often striking throughout

After the simple, peacefully attempted negotiations over the ancient sword have inevitably broken down, it’s tutorial time. In no other game has there been this many dismembered body parts in a tutorial before. Often toeing the line between gratifying and downright hilarious, you are given control of your katana, where (depending on the settings in the options menu) you can be as precise or as slashy as you please. Not long after you cut yourself out of your wooden cage (it gets weirder the further you progress) does the game remind you of the tone it’s going to ape throughout; much like its older sibling, you’ll find you need a key card to progress. Oh happy days!

It’s not only the ‘puzzles’ that hark back to the glory days either, you’ll find a veritable armada of upgradable weapons to choose from. Before long, you’ll have to deal with dilemmas such as whether to opt for circle strafing with an overly ‘barrelled’ shotgun, jumping with rockets aimed at enemies’ feet, swashbuckling your way to victory and many more besides. This is of course not counting the special powers, also upgradeable of course, of which you’ll eventually have at your disposal. Ranging from offensive to defensive, you can opt to upgrade skills such as your health regen so that it kicks in earlier, and lasts longer should the swarm of AI prove too much to handle.

The visceral combat never lets up either, dual wielding weapons before switching to some slice and dice action always feels fun; all whilst integrating more explosive barrels than you can name videogame tropes. Slaughtering enemies by the field-full gives you chance to increase your score through savage dismemberment, quick firing combos and tense multipliers. Leaving nothing alive but the chain of kills can be tricky and is very reminiscent of 2011’s Bulletstorm, if a little less realised and defined. This unfortunately also translates to the controls and menus however. With so many potential powers at your disposal, it’s a shame that it’s inevitably difficult to make them easily available at all times; incorporating touchpad gestures alongside button presses simply isn’t reliable enough in combat when you need them. Upgrading skills quickly becomes a chore too, with the menus’ headings appearing vague at best; having to constantly check each and every skill to find the one you want becomes speedily irritating.

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Probably shouldn’t keep staring at him…

With no multiplayer to speak of, it’s a good job that the levels are packed with secrets to satiate the inner OCD in all of us, and giving that you can easily squeeze twelve hours out of its rich campaign, it’s no sprint either. Not that you’d particularly want to however, as Shadow Warrior is one hell of a good looking game. Each area feels overly saturated with colour and atmosphere; even if areas usually consist of just a few open arenas. What does take a little of the shine away are the fairly long initial load times; and those combined with the incredibly unsubtle mid-level load screens, all but guarantee’s a break from immersion. Enemy and boss designs are mostly unique and lopping off limbs always feels impressive and gratifying. Much like the late 90’s version, there’s humour abound too; also like the older version, it can often be hit or miss, however knowing the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, helpfully unburdens the load.

Whether you’re in the mood for some old school shooting, or maybe just fancy taking a trip down memory lane, Shadow Warrior urges you towards its beautiful yet blood smeared world. It could be the excellently fast paced combat, the happy regaling of charging fodder being swathed in dismembering glory, or perhaps the rampant tongue in cheek jokes. Either way, you’ll be laughing with Wang, not at him.

After the unfortunate closure of THQ, the videogame supercross world could potentially have turned to ruin. Instead however, Nordic games pulled Rainbow studios into its arms and re-established the company once more; in doing so, proudly presenting: MX vs. ATV Supercross.

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Just a little nudge won’t hurt…

During this year’s Gamescom event, I was fortunate enough to visit the MX vs. ATV stand for a chance at playing the pre-release version; despite my ineptitude, I left pleased, looking forward to its release. Fortunately, not much has changed since then in terms of the game’s mechanics, modes and customisability options. After claiming that MX vs. ATV was made ‘by passionate riders and gamers, for passionate riders and gamers’, it’s clear to see that influence on both sides have equally rubbed off.

Races comprise of up to 12 players across 17 tracks, with some sporting both vehicle variants; lining up at the start of an event with all manner of engines roaring can make for an interesting start. Before each race you can choose to ride either the bikes or the ATV’s, the motocross bikes tend to be a fair amount nippier round the corners, at the expense of an increased chance to potentially fly off into the wheels of another racer. Whereas the ATV’s sacrifice cornering ability for all out power and speed; with the obvious advantage of being able to land jumps on four wheels instead of two.

Whilst it’s easy to pick up and play, there are several nuances to Nordic’s racer which can make the difference between winning in style and just plain finishing third. In this iteration, it’s all about the right thumbstick and how it controls the balance and pitch of the rider. Smoothly landing jumps and throwing your weight into corners is only the first step however. Mastering the dampeners and spring levels is key to gaining the most height and momentum. Also thrown in are the intricate yet showy tricks you can perform in mid-air, lending an element of flash to your victory, provided you land them of course! Whilst it’s good that the real focus is on the racing, it can be a little disappointing to not get rewarded for pulling tricks off mid race, still whilst firmly holding the lead.

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Visibility can be poor at times

The ‘easy to play, hard to master’ mantra is expanded further, not only due to the selection of both bikes and ATV’s, but also incorporating real time track deformation too. Meaning getting into the groove, as it were, can often be beneficial later in the race as corners can be taken at a higher speed. Despite still holding a fairly arcade-y handling mechanic, most of the vehicles, along with their respected upgrades, do feel different too, and even if it is only slightly, it encourages you to often try something new.

The depth of the customisability is impressive too, with over 80 licensed motocross manufacturers lending their names and products to the game. Everything from the gloves of your rider to the suspension system of your bike can be altered, making a nice change from the current slew of racers out right now.

For all the great things regarding MX vs. ATV Supercross, there are unfortunately some negatives too. Whilst it’s always necessary to have a career mode in a racer, no racing game can seem to get it right; it’s never more apparent than here. Finishing a race simply progresses you towards the next one with there being little to no interaction with the player whatsoever; ultimately ending up as a case of race, win, repeat, ad nauseam. The generously portioned 17 tracks to race on does little to quell the sense of repetition either. Granted, there’s only so different dirt tracks can be, but after spending a while on the game, you’ll pine for some diversity. The game modes, whilst representing the standards of the genre, do little to mix things up either, the only variance coming of whether you race in singleplayer, split-screen or online.

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Looks like someone’s got the hang of ‘pre-loading’

In terms of presentation, Supercross once again has its ups and downs. The riders themselves look fantastic, with fabric shifting in mid-air and riders getting slowly blathered in mud as the race progresses. Whereas the leaning animations are as stilted and wooden as the crashes are unspectacular, lacking any form of impact or force. The crowds look as though they’re moonlighting from a previous generation of consoles and the menus are a little sluggish and bland too. Audio wise, the game presents you with an odd, yet somewhat suitable playlist, comprising of rock and dubstep to accompany the constant revving of engines.

Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of the MX vs. ATV universe as there is true promise in the series. The addition of some more modes to play about in, alongside more variation in track design and locales would go far; and bringing the sport to the current generation of consoles would do it the world of good too. Having said that, the mechanics themselves are mostly solid and the accessible yet complex control method can be very rewarding. Fans of the sport should probably pick this up, if for no other reason than to see the amount of attention gone into the customisation aspect of the game. For everyone else, MX vs. ATV Supercross is a solid racer that rewards mastery of its controls and mechanics, before unfortunately succumbing to repetition a little earlier than it should.

It’s impossible really to imagine the world of video games without him. He’s yellow, he’s always hungry and he makes a noise that few wouldn’t recognise. There is no dispute at all that Pac-Man is a much loved and recognized icon of the gaming world. But that doesn’t necessarily give him unlimited potential to keep starring in games.

Ghostly Adventures 2 forgets almost everything you might remember about Pac-Man and instead places him in an aging platformer. The tutorial quickly sets about telling you all the controls and abilities that Pac-Man possesses in the most irritating way possible. You play through a very simple level and get constantly interrupted by game pausing pop-ups. On occasions you might get to play for 10 seconds before another break, sometimes it is literally about 1 or 2 seconds. By the end of the tutorial I was ready to throw my pad at the TV. It’s like someone took the worst parts of video tutorials and rammed them into the worst parts of playable tutorials.

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With that out of the way you’re free to explore the world of Pac-Man which is notably 3 dimensional. Running, jumping and button mashing are all pillars of this archaic throwback to games that have been dead and buried for years. The camera is awkward and can cause you to die whenever it pleases – is largely because it is totally fixed. Rest assured you will sit there ineffectively forcing the right thumbstick through the side of your pad in an attempt to see where you’re going to no avail.

I was constantly reminded of the frustrations and irritations I used to experience back in the PS One days and I can think of more than a few PS2 games that can do things better than Ghostly Adventures 2. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard myself screaming at my TV informing it of which buttons I pressed and when I pressed them. While the buttons are reasonably responsive for the most part it often makes little difference due to the fixed camera. On the few occasions you can see where you’re going it is entirely possible that the controls will just bail on you and yet again allow you to fall to your death.

There is no attempt to be clever or creative in any respect. You collect stuff, you press a button to chomp things to death and you awkwardly jump around on inexplicable platforms. There are ultimately only three different styles of areas and you’ll soon get bored of playing each one. Considering the gameplay is so frustrating and the areas so boring it becomes very difficult to remain interested after a couple of hours.

It certainly won’t be coming from plot or characterisation, big shocker there I know. The Ghostly Adventures 2 is based around a TV series of the same name which I’d never seen until writing this review. There is a reasonable tie-in going on but for those who don’t know the TV show The Ghostly Adventures 2 is going to contain mostly unknown characters. Although notably the main bad guy is called Lord Betrayus. Really? His parents obviously didn’t have high hopes for him from the start. But this is from the TV show so the game can’t really take all the blame.

There are token bosses wedged into each level that may mean something to fans of the show but to anyone other than fans Ghostly Adventures 2 has little to offer. There aren’t enough references to the original Pac-Man to make it anything but a game aimed at kids that watch the show.

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And that’s solidly were Ghostly Adventures 2 is aimed, at fans of the TV show. And for younger audiences this may be a decent distraction for a time. But the input lag may cause problems and the fixed camera can be hugely frustrating at times. But unless you’re a fan of the TV show there’s nothing here for you.

It’s a platformer that draws way too much of it’s inspiration from games several decades old. Ironically Pac-Man would be better off looking back at the 2D games from that era but ignores them for unnatural feeling 3D titles. It’s like if Mario was the star of The Last Of Us. It just doesn’t feel right. Unless you’re a fan of the show, or have kids that are, this is one to avoid. Pac-Man certainly can’t be proud of starring in Ghostly Adventures 2.

The initial premise for Beyond Earth is simple albeit serious. Humanity has screwed itself. There’s very little explanation but I imagine we all nuked each other or melted the ice caps or something. If my previous Civ games are anything to go by Giant Death Robots and Xcom soldiers probably did it. But never fear! There is an equally complicated solution. Journey to a different planet and recreate civilization from scratch.

At its core Beyond Earth is Civilization V with new features added or altered. Although that may seem like a bad thing to some, Civ V makes a very good platform on which to base another title. After playing Civ V extensively it’s easy to think you know it all due to Beyond Earth’s similarities. It quickly becomes apparent this isn’t the case.

Creating a game is much more like a wizard than ever before, and despite the fact you can still opt to use the advanced options menu for once I actually enjoyed the user friendly version. Although using my previous knowledge of Civ made it difficult to choose the right factions and their abilities. I had a go but realistically it’s only on your second game that you can make an educated decision.

Rather than picking a faction and getting a special ability and a special unit that becomes obsolete by mid game you now have 4 decisions; Sponsor, Colonists, Spacecraft and Cargo. There are some tricky decisions to be made and the amount of potential combinations is massive. The result is far more unique factions that behave much more like different nations than just nations with different names. One such ability allows you to see strategic resources on the map before you unlock the technology for it. Opting for this one allows you to secure huge amounts of resources early and mid game and bag plenty of favours and bargaining power for later on.

Favours are new to Beyond Earth and essential act as a tradable commodity. They can be quite valuable and can create some interesting diplomatic situations. At one point I had around 7 or 8 favours with a nation who I started to have ‘disagreements’ with. I found myself trying to be cautious and at least maintain neutrality until I’d had time to cash in my favours.

The main reason for disagreements between nations are related to your chosen victory condition. The cultural and diplomatic victories are not present but conquest still makes an appearance. A new condition that can be achieved by anyone is the contact victory. After acquiring certain technologies your nation can track a signal and attempt to make contact with an alien race. The other three victory conditions can be seen as factions as each requires specialisation to a particular kind of tech.

The Promised land victory requires you to build a transport gate and bring the survivors from earth to their new home relying mainly on war machines and earth tech. Emancipation pursues high technology and eventual sees your civilization rely on cybernetics and robotic implants. Finally transcendence sees you researching the alien wildlife on the planet and integrating it with your own technology. Each of the three requires a focus in the tech tree that by late game further emphasises the differences between nations to the point were you feel each has fundamental disagreements.

Pursuing the transcendence victory allowed me powerful alien/human hybrid units and eventually a giant bug like monster called the Xeno Titan. Fighting different units rather than just the same unit with a different colour is really refreshing and creates a very welcome change from Civ V.

CivBE_Screenshot_Arid_EarthlingSettler

Another feature that has been totally redesigned is the tech tree. No longer will you have to research everything. No longer is it just a case of choosing which order you research in – now there are actual decisions to make. Rather than a linear tree research is now carried out using the tech web. As the name suggests it sprawls in every direction. It’s very difficult to see what upgrades are important initially and my first game was basically an extended trial and error session.

Your chosen victory condition(s) make a huge bearing on which directions you go in but it’s a little difficult to identify which upgrades you need. On my first game I acquired all the transcendence tech I needed to construct the victory condition building only to find I couldn’t build it. In fact I’d missed a couple of researches out and it turned out I hadn’t paid enough attention to the quest menu which directed me on what to do next. A simple mistake but the researches can be hugely overwhelming at first with no dictated direction. Luckily by my second game I had enough knowledge to use the web properly and research efficiently.

Virtues have essentially replaced the policy system from Civ V but have a few added twists. You are now presented with 4 distinct virtue paths and rewards are granted for having a certain amount of virtues by type and by level. For example you could have a certain amount of virtues at level 3 across any type and gain a free virtue. Or you could have a reward from having 4 virtues in a single type. Or both. There’s some serious though to be put into virtues and the rewards are good enough that you may consider a slightly inferior virtue if it grants access to the reward.

There’s a much lower focus on buildings for your cities than before which becomes an absolute godsend late game. You’re now actually able to catch settlements up with your capital so they can produce things within a reasonable timeframe. There isn’t a need to construct countless buildings just because they’re there. Instead there are far less buildings but each one actually does something significant. As an added bonus building something new will bring up a quest choice which allows you to decide an additional benefit that all buildings of that type will have. For instance you might decide if that building gains +1 production or +1 food. Some of these benefits can be game changers and is another nice way to ensure nations, and repeat games, feel unique.

CivBE_Screenshot_Daoming_Supremacy

It’s impossible not to see Civ V shining through but Beyond Earth is absolutely brimming with style. Units, buildings and tile improvements all look beautifully colourful and sci-fi-ey. With a totally revamped technology tree, virtue system and genuinely unique factions Beyond Earth feels like much more than DLC.

Admittedly there is a lot of Civ V still present but the new features are significant enough to keep veterans interested. They also keep repeat games fresh and combined with new victory conditions I can see Beyond Earth lasting me many, many hours to come. It’s not quite Civ V, it’s not quite Civ VI and it’s not quite DLC but Beyond Earth is certainly worthy of the Civilization name.

 

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