Reviews

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The Untold Stories DLC continues and in Episode 2 we get to kill some more zombies, this time playing as Angel Quijano, the feisty South American female protagonist. What separates Angel from you generic tough female leads out there is the fact that she’s an alcoholic, which I must say is a first to my recollection. ‘Fallen Angel’ opens with the same introduction video that explains the mysterious Big Brother-like figure has been watching the four DLC characters. Angel falls under the “Redemption” tagline this time and opens with Doug, the leader of the resistance survivors, ordering you lay of the booze.

Starting out in a barricaded school you’re tasked with investigating why the Spec Ops are killing non-infected survivors from the city and challenged with destroying surveillance cameras as part of the main side mission. Within the first 20 minutes I had questioned whether this episode was going to just be similar to the previous episode and have us running around doing pointless chores but this all became fun when I came across some of the new DLC weapons. Mixing medical deliberators and an assault rifle creates the incredibly over powered Shockblaster gun that instantly kills zombies, anything nearby and works at incredible range. But the award for the most dangerously dominant firearm in the DLC so far goes to the Machine Pistols that literally lets you run and gun with assisted auto aim with the
ability to clear out the densest of hordes. Having these weapons is a must but also makes this episode much easier.

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The story does however pick up when you have to do some actual investigating searching for clues as to who are killing your people and for what reason, but other than that it’s still Dead Rising 3 and there’s things that still need to be sliced, diced and blown up. I’d honestly say after playing through this episode twice I struggle to pull out a great memorable moments and has quickly become forgettable. It is literally a series of fetching quests and clearing out zombies and Spec Ops tasks tied together with Doug’s consistent dialogue of reminding you to not get carried away with drinking and focus on the mission. To be fair having a partner like Doug would drive me to do quite the opposite to what he says just to drown out hearing how terrible I’ve now become, consumed by alcohol because the city is now infested by the undead.

Now only halfway through the Untold Stories I get the impression that the remaining episodes could potentially be another copy and pasted set of missions with a new skin but same tasks. I hope I’m proved wrong. For the asking price of £8 outside of the Season Pass I’d say it’s an expensive hour of additional content and perhaps buy it in a bundle.

The humans kicked the goblins from their homeland and now they’re fighting back. So the best men are mustered to go and beat them all into a pulp and find out how they got their hands on some advanced technology. It’s only mentioned fleetingly that the humans actually kicked the goblins out of their home and there’s no exploration of this moral ambiguity. But it doesn’t matter because luckily the ‘doctor’ has created a new weapon, Knack.

Essentially Knack is an orb-like reactor that collects small objects called relics that give Knack his form. As he finds and collects relics on his journey Knack can become a towering giant and then shrink back down again at will. Cool though that is it basically means that in some levels you will be bigger than you are in others. There’s no player control over Knack’s ability at all.

It’s a shame to have such an opportunity for player interaction and then have it basically become a tool to occasionally alter the gameplay. Being able to grow and shrink Knack to overcome obstacles would have been a much more satisfying experience and at least given a tiny amount of freedom. As it stands Knack’s form is entirely dictated by the level design.

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The most obvious difference between Knack’s size is how the combat plays out. One minute you’re stomping on enemies like they where nothing and trashing buildings and the next you are trotting along duelling with tiny goblins. Unfortunately despite the fact Knack becomes stronger and slower as he grows in size so do the enemies. The combat is basically the same regardless of what form Knack is in. When he’s huge the enemies are huge and when he’s small the enemies are small.

And sadly the combat itself isn’t all that interesting either. It certainly isn’t complex enough to remain interesting for very long. Pressing ‘square’ will attack and ‘x’ will jump. You can do a jump attack. And there’s a dodge attack too using the right thumbstick. And that’s about it. No matter if you’re 3 feet tall or the size of a building.

On top of the overly simple combat there are 3 special moves Knack can perform. But only if you have collected enough sun crystals to fill the 3 icons at the top of the HUD (this can be upgraded very late in the game). The powerful special moves would certainly have made things both a little easier and more interesting. But sadly there’s a fundamental problem with using Knack’s abilities.

If you reload from a checkpoint for some reason you don’t get your ability points back. So if you use them on an attempt and then fail and have to retry you will lose the power you used. Admittedly any sun crystals you already collected can be collected again so you could basically keep restarting and pick them up until you had enough power again. But it makes you precious about using your power and there’s no use in abilities if you never use them. And I’m not going to risk wasting my sun crystals in case I need to restart.

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For some reason someone decided that getting hit once or twice and having to restart at a checkpoint would be fun. Modern games are usually quite easy and there’s a good argument that we generally need more difficulty. But making enemies that consistently 2 hit kill you (that’s on normal mode, put it on hard and it’s one hit!) is not the solution. There’s a fine line between challenging and irritating and Knack is firmly in the irritating category.

So unseen enemies shoot you once or twice and set you back a good few minutes time and time again. When coming up against certain combinations of enemies you must be very careful. If you’re unlucky and they decide to attack you in a certain pattern there might be nothing you can do about it.

Aside from the unfortunate moments flicking the right thumbstick will allow Knack to dodge incoming attacks but he is vulnerable for far to long in his recovery animation. Or you might have jumped before your enemy attacks and then you can’t do anything at all. Or if you attack at the wrong time you will again be left with no chance. And you’ll be in a real world of pain if you happen to be near some scenery that stops Knack’s dodge from actually going anywhere.

If any of these things happen (and they do, a lot) you will die quickly and have to restart from a checkpoint. It often felt like the controls where unresponsive but it was really just that Knack’s animations often leave you immobile and vulnerable for attack almost constantly. It can be a very stressful experience even given Knack’s zero load times for checkpoints. Replaying a section time and time again very soon gets old.

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Despite the fact Knack looks great it doesn’t quite feel like a launch title exclusive. The particles that float around and form Knack are impressive but you very rarely get to see them. I’m sure as a tech demo it’s impressive and greatly utilises the PS4 but Knack does a poor job of letting us see it. Due to the game’s animated style cut scenes look nice enough but are a little underwhelming for a next-gen title.

Knack is a reasonable attempt at returning to old school platform titles – especially where difficulty is concerned. But even if games are too easy these days there’s a reason for it. And I have not been irritated by a game as much as Knack for as long as I can remember. Hard difficulties are fine but I don’t see the need in making every difficulty as punishing as they are in Knack.

On top of that there’s nothing new or exciting in Knack at all. Once you’re bored of beating up some enemies then getting a 5 second scene transitioning to the next area there’s very little left to enjoy in Knack. The characters and plot aren’t particularly inspired and the whole experience feels very removed from the player. Tedious gameplay and a very removed experienced ensure Knack isn’t the great game I expected. It’s a shame because it could’ve been so much more.

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TellTale Games has a great formula: get us hooked in an immersive dark story then yank the carpet from beneath us when everything gets interesting, the end of an episode, thus turning players into hungry fans desperate for their next fix. I can’t fault this. It works with great TV shows which can create community discussions about what we saw in our down time.

Episode 2 ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ continues from the cliffhanger ending and immediately ties up loose ends that we’ve waited a couple of months to resolve. Not everything is as it seems throwing our detective Bigby Wolf back into the grim and enchanting world of Fabletown as he continues his hunt for a serial killer.

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Your choices indeed carry over from the previous episode with characters remembering how you treated them previously. In episode 1 I might have been a little to rough with Mr. Toad in front of his young son meaning I had to do some grovelling to little TJ to further any enquiries. You’ll come across a few more characters from fables such as Georgie Porgie who runs the Pudding and Pie club as well as a development in the shady story between Beauty and Beast.

There is a lot less action than in the previous outing which makes you focus more on actually being a detective. From forcing information out of people, if that’s your play style, to examining a crime scene successfully The Wolf Among Us has shown us what a well rounded graphic adventure game can accomplish with sharp dialogue, developed characters and the opportunity to be a bad cop.

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There was a genuine feeling of disgust with myself when I was thrown some tough decisions and it seemed the only way I’d get answers was to be ruthless. But I applaud Telltale for throwing me into this dark hole where I had to forget about the real world and think what would be best for the situation. Although the story didn’t progress as much as I thought it would I’m left with some harrowing choices that’ll loom over my head until the next episode, and this wait will eventually eat me up until I can find solace in resolving this case.

The only fault I came across was the Xbox’s bookended videos that show catch up and coming soon clips being really slow. Showing us our own personalised choices in videos took several seconds in between each clip but seeing as it doesn’t affect the actual gameplay I can’t complain.

We look forward to yet another conclusion to a new cliffhanger.

It’s been a difficult few years for me with Final Fantasy. As a fan of what I consider the glory days I’ve found it increasingly difficult to accept the changes the franchise has undergone. Massive worlds to explore have been swapped for a supposedly more story driven experience. There hasn’t been much in the way of upgrading weapons and items for a while either. And now we have just one party member. Lightning’s a good character but like many I was concerned she couldn’t manage all on her own.

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As far as battles go I am glad to say everything is fine. There’s a new system called ‘Schemata’ that allows you to create totally customizable setups for Lightning, three of which you can use in battle. It’s quite similar to the Paradigm system except offers more customization at the expense of party members.

It certainly adds some tactics to your battle setup and allows those who want it a chance to return to the old days where character setup actually mattered. Unfortunately it’s the only thing that matters and once you’re in battle you will merely need to hold one of the 4 face buttons down to perform an action. All actions will use up your ATB gauge and once it’s run out pressing ‘R1’ or ‘L1’ will switch to a Schema with some ATB left. When you’re not using a schema it will recharge ATB. It’s not all that deep and quickly becomes quite boring, especially where random encounters are concerned.

Did you ever think not getting XP for defeating bosses was bad? Then you’ll love how now you don’t get XP at all. There are no levels and no fight on the game will improve Lightning in any way. The only way to improve is to complete quests. After about 30 minutes random battles become nothing but an inconvenience. If you’re lucky you might get a useful item but otherwise battles are just a dull obstacle.

Some of the tedium is alleviated due to the fact that early in the game you will be more or less allowed to go where you want. But this does come with it’s own problems. The entire game is timed. And despite the fact you will unlikely run out of time it does take all the joy out of exploration. There is finally a world to explore and if you do you can leave yourself stuck with very few options to proceed.

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For some reason certain areas are only accessible during certain hours. So if you go off exploring a little and miss your window you can’t progress until the next day. This is not helped by the fact that all the missions require you to either painfully search an entire city for something or carry out endless fetch quests. Fetch quests can have their place but in Lightning Returns they are just a euphemism for boring side quests.

For example I struggled finding one of the very first objectives on the game. After I’d found it I couldn’t finish the objective until the next day. So I went to complete some other quests. A lot of the quests where too difficult for my low-level character and because there is no option to grind there was nothing I could do. I started as many quests as possible, and was allowed to finish a few but most where either locked until a certain time or just above my level.

With no other option I returned to my main objective, which I eventually completed, and carried on. And then the enemies got too difficult again. With the clock ticking and me not able to complete any objectives to level up there was nothing I could do to progress. All because I chose to explore and pursue side quests instead of the main objective.

The time system is absolutely the most stupid thing I have ever seen in any Final Fantasy title ever. Having some areas inaccessible at certain times does nothing but stop you from completing objectives in the order you want. Nothing else at all. If I want to go to a certain area to do what I want (or need) to do, I have to wait. Not for anything to happen, not for the landscape to change just for the clock to count on. It doesn’t make things feel tense it’s just very very annoying. I need to level up to progress, but it’s not the ‘right’ time so I can’t do anything at all because my stats aren’t good enough. It basically ruined my game. I wish I’d just stuck to the main objectives like a good boy.

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The plot is unfortunately mediocre as well. I enjoyed the characters’ interactions and actually found this version of Lightning to be my favourite. She’s burdened by her knowledge and duty which complements her already sometimes melancholy state of mind. For better or worse, there are even some attempts at humour in keeping with older Final Fantasy games that sometimes leave you asking ‘what the hell just happened?’. But as the grand finale to the Final Fantasy XIII saga Lightning Returns is remarkably lack lustre.

Graphically things are very much what we have come to expect from Final Fantasy XIII. For a PS3/XBOX360 title it looks very good but there will be nothing that astonishes or surprises. There is a noticeable step down from previous FF XIII games presumably due to the more populated world but it’s well worth it to actually have people walking around a city.

Without the idiotic time mechanic Lightning Returns would have been much more entertaining. Unfortunately it is so core to the game that everything is tarnished by it. A pathetic system of physical gates ensures you stay on the path the game wants you to. If you don’t want the player to have freedom then make it linear. Pursuing quests that result in you getting to a door that basically says ‘come back later’ is infuriating. It’s even worse given that that’s is the only way to level up. All progression felt so tedious and awkward that I enjoyed very little of the time I was on Lightning Returns. Follow the main objectives and forget all about the side quest and you’ll be a lot better off.

Lightning Returns left me thinking only that I wish they’d hurry up with the FFX and FFX-2 HD remakes. I can’t wait to go looking for side quests without fear that they ruin the main story. Not so much having to grind but being able to level up will be great. I’m not afraid of change and Final Fantasy has been going so long that change is needed. The problems aren’t because Lightning Returns isn’t an old Final Fantasy, but that almost every part of Lightning Returns is wrong.

Before we begin I must state that I don’t have any allegiances towards Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo and any other First Person Shooting games out there. I like them all individually, some featuring modes that I prefer over the others and hearing an arcade FPS game was coming out on the Xbox 360 got me pretty excited. I’ve day dreamed numerous times about what would exactly be needed for an arcade shooter to survive in this already triple A shooter heavy market.

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You’ll need:
Something Fun, explosions and guns usually does the trick, you’d need Replayability, usually a formula of wanting to better yourself in the next round usually done with unlockables that rewards the player for hard work, and finally you’d need Balancing, having a heavier weapon makes you less mobile and vice versa to force players to approach a situation with different tactics.

Rekoil, now available to buy on the marketplace, attempts to include these points listed but it isn’t executed in a successful way. Instead you’re left with a broken FPS with a price tag that asks for way too much, and by too much I mean it should be free to download. On paper everything about Rekoil sounds good, ‘7 different game modes’, ‘40 different weapons’, even the screen shots look amazing (which I’m sure isn’t from the same version or even the same
format that’s out now). So why does this game fall at so many hurdles?

Graphics

Going back to the previous point about the screen shots looking “amazing”, I did a little digging around and even came across pre-released in-game footage which too looks better than the version that’s available to buy for the 360. I find anything along these lines as terribly misleading as you’re shown something that promises what your experience could look like. Instead, we’re giving a game that looks pretty average to be polite and resembles character textures from Goldeneye back in the 90s on the Nintendo 64. Trying to be nice and
saying this is only an arcade title and that we shouldn’t expect too much from such a release is something I’d usually defend a game with but from the time other older arcade games look much better rules out this excuse.

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What is it that we look for in regards to graphics in a FPS? Since the current big shooters out there have already set a high standard on the brink of photorealistic environments it’s understandable that smaller companies might not have the resources to achieve this. By standard we look for high res textures, believable character models and weapons with a nice shine or rustic looking matte.

Rekoil’s weapons for a start just about resemble the real life model it’s based on. It wasn’t satisfying to wield the guns that all felt the same within each class. The levels themselves didn’t look smooth and felt unfinished. I know this game is supposed to be a FPS in a raw form and focuses on the gameplay but for 2014 this simply would not do.

Music and Sound Effects

There is a single soundtrack that plays through the menu of the game which whilst joining games glitches by doubling up becoming an intense mash up of unnecessary noise. The short track itself was just about bearable bordering on torture with every loop it does when unsuccessfully finding games to join due to the unpopulated lobbies. Ok, music within games isn’t a needed thing but when used correctly, like in film and TV, can set a mood and/or intensify a situation.

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Rekoil features nothing during the matches at all which creates a strange eerie silence whereas other shooters out there have an ambience track which has become the norm. The in-game sound effects are another issue that draws you out of any immersion you might have somehow found yourself in. From the weapons firing sounding just incorrect and dropping sound altogether to grenades not making a sound if not in your proximity, Rekoil single handily lets down what years of development in immersive sound effects have strived towards. If the sound and atmosphere were spot on then the graphics and gameplay would at
least be excusable.

Gameplay

The gameplay, backbone to what usually makes or breaks a game’s experience was playable but wasn’t fun or daring. Similar to what you’d find in the more eSports orientated games an non-customisable class system is present and the weapons are strictly locked these set classes. Choosing the Assault class lets you play an all rounded character that deals with mid to long range fire fights whereas the Rocket class is slower in movement, longer reload times but bigger area of effect damage. The balancing here is the only thing spot on and limiting
people to these loadouts is pretty much as old school as it gets. What I found out that wasn’t fun or daring is the sense of achievement as very little skill is required when a majority of the kills I got were random and very hit or miss.

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Many gunfights featured my opponent and I running towards each other and whoever started to unload their gun into the other first didn’t always win the shootout thus promoting me to not try harder next time. And on the flip side getting a long distance one hit kill with a supposedly short ranged shotgun seemed like I was cheating at times.

The weapon stats are detailed in which guns where better for which situations but I found having the base standard Assault class with the AK47 worked well, worked as sniper at long range achieving random hip-fired headshots and torn enemies apart at close range like a shotgun, broken and pointless. I’m a big fan of having a health bar in any game as opposed to the step-out-of-battle-andrecuperate-your-health-like-nothing-even-happened type of health system that is in almost every title. Rekoil does have a health bar but what’s the point of having one when there’s no health packs to replenish what you’ve lost? This quickly became my biggest issue with the game especially when there’s an achievement for getting a 15-kill streak in a single round.

Miscellaneous

Somewhere amongst the description of the game you’ll find out there’s some kind of story shoehorned in about a world devastated by a pandemic but if this game is online multiplayer only and doesn’t explain what exactly went on then was it really needed? Who are the Minute Men and the Dark Water teams? Why are they fighting each other? Do we actually care? And if there’s a story how do you explain the random maps from city-based exteriors and a subway to a sawmill and a bizarre Wild West village? I’d love to find out how they relate
even though the layout per playable maps wasn’t too bad themselves, perhaps the only decent bit of design in this entire game.

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Several things that’ll need revising would be the spawning system. You can die and respawn in the heat of a battle in some game modes, sometimes unfairly behind your enemies which causes unbalanced fights that are all based on the luck of the spawning draw. There’s been times I’ve come back in with only my knife equipped rather than my primary gun, and this happening with a poor spawning system puts you at a disadvantage as you flail your melee knife attacks toward someone gunning you down.

Verdict

Rekoil: Liberator is available at the insultingly steep price of £11.99, which as mentioned earlier should just be free as it’s clearly not a completed game for the Xbox 360. I’ve taken into account that it’s trying to be the basic FPS experience with no perks, kill streaks and fancy decorations but as it wasn’t executed correctly I’d recommend everyone to stay away from this game. It was hard enough trying to find available games to play online as it was rarely populated with players. Anyone that doesn’t own this game is better off without it. Rekoil doesn’t even fall into the guilty pleasure category of gaming and I’d be happy
never to speak of its name again.

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Have you played it? Were we too harsh? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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Whilst not one of Assassin’s Creed’s greatest moments Liberation was a very good attempt at bringing the franchise to a handheld platform. Liberation HD is that same game dressed up and now brought to you’re big screen of choice.

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Unfortunately it is quite obvious that Liberation HD is limited due to its original platform. There’s only so much makeup that can be applied to a game before you’ve made a completely new one. At times it looks good, and would even arguably look right at home on the PS3, XBOX 360 or PC, but for the most part there are too many imperfections and poor textures for Liberation HD to look like anything but a handheld port.

This also crosses over with the gameplay. Bugs that where present on the previous game are still there. Enemy AI is just as bad as the original and can very easily get completely confused. And although free running has never been what you would call perfect in any Assassin’s Creed title Liberation HD is probably the single worst example of it I’ve seen since AC1. Time and time again I was stuck trying to climb something I didn’t want to or fall off something I wanted to be on – occasionally to my death.

And tragically the main missions mimic the style of Black Flag. Tail this person, follow that one. Get spotted once and do the whole level again. If there’s one thing I wish Ubisoft would get sorted out it’s their unacceptably poor level designs. They can create an impressive open world and populate it with largely interesting characters. I don’t even mind the occasionally over the top overall plot line. But I refuse to believe that the Assassin’s spent all their time tailing and listening in on conversations. I’m all for games that take their time but just every now and again I need something different.

So basically all of my issues with the latest releases (Assassin’s Creed III and Black Flag) are the same with Liberation but are made all the more noticeable in Liberation HD due to its low grade visuals. It’s basically taking a handheld title and stretching it onto a big screen. It has been upgraded and does look much better than the original but on the big screen it just can’t compete with the latest Assassin’s Creed titles, which is basically what it’s up against. The bad parts of Black Flag are still in Liberation HD but without the great parts to balance it out.

And it’s so frustrating that even looking past the visuals only brings you closer to the realisation that Ubisoft can’t or don’t want to change things. The AI is still not all that great. The free running is still not smooth or without irritating sections where you get stuck. Main missions are just appallingly dull and mediocre. Side missions often breath a bit of life and longevity into Assassin’s Creed but in Liberation HD they are just endless fetch quests.

Aveline is a great protagonist to play as but sadly her supporting cast are not so great. Voice acting is just ridiculous at times. It’s so bad in places that it becomes impossible to take certain moments seriously at all. Even with some of Assassin’s Creed’s less imaginative characters the voice acting usually isn’t as bad as Liberation HD is at some points.

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Overall Liberation HD is a disappointing experience outside of its native handheld platform. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan and you’ve never experienced Liberation then it’s probably worth a go. But if you have the option of the original on PS Vita definitely go with that. There’s a general sense of lack-lustre to Liberation HD that couldn’t be avoided given that it’s a port. Sadly the game suffers because of it and comes across as a sloppy addition to Assassin’s Creed’s already overfilled shelf.

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Reviewed on PC. Available on PS3, XBOX 360 and PC.

Any excuse to go back to the city of Los Perdidos where Dead Rising 3 is set pretty much excites me. This living breathing world, no pun intended, filled with zombies is home to Episode 1 of the DLC ‘Operation Broken Eagle’.

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Set before the events of the main campaign this episode opens up with a video that
explains that there are 4 others stories that took place under the watchful eyes of a mysterious character, very creepy. Broken Eagle puts you in control of Spec Ops Commander Adam Kane with a very unorthodox mission.

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Available as part of the Season Pass this single episode alone gave me a different take on my Dead Rising 3 experience. With additional new weapons, 1 new combo weapon and a new vehicle this is a fine example of furthering an original game’s playability. The main mission is to establish a base camp and neutralise all “unlawful combatants, which includes the President of the United States. Being top secret, after your helicopter crashes with your troops being scattered throughout the city your new objective will be to recover the aircraft’s
black box and finding your team, what a crazy turn of events Kane will have to encounter that night.

Without any countdown timers for any of the missions you can literally take your time to explore the city if you hadn’t had the chance to during the original campaign. Just beware that the army are amongst the zombie hordes so it isn’t a walk in the park but enough challenge to keep you on your toes. Who knew capturing the President would be so challenging?

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Kane is full of witty remarks as he tears through zombie flesh but also respectful for any fallen comrades he stumbles across whether they’re dead or turned and have to be killed. He quickly becomes a protagonist torn between his duties in this post-apocalyptic environment and his fight for survival, a great insight into a mercenary’s approach from Capcom. Available with it’s own Nightmare mode just like in the campaign it more than makes up for the fact
this DLC doesn’t have cooperative play.

It took me several hours to complete this and I’m intrigued to finding out what other untold stories from Los Perdidos will reveal.

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Operation Broken Eagle is available now on the Xbox One.

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First things first, this game is now known as Full Burst for the rest of this review. Somebody really needs to tell Namco Bandai that adding more words to the title doesn’t make anything more awesome. But if you think giant inexplicable Japanese style explosions do then your in luck.

Full Burst is a rerelease of the original Ninja Storm 3 which boasts enhanced visuals as well as a ton of extra content like costumes and a new challenge mode. The main story has some extra stuff added but in large remains the same as the original, aside from the visuals. For those who aren’t particularly familiar with the Ninja Storm universe, like me, the first few hours on Full Burst will likely be a very confusing ordeal.

But if you stick with it you will eventually know the characters well enough to make what little sense there is to be had from Full Burst. The main thing to know is that a set of impossibly powerful Ninjas join forces to combat an even more powerful foe. There’s lots of reanimating of the dead, almost-flight-jumping and of course big balls of energy emitting from fists.

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As a fighting game Full Burst certainly stands out from the crowd. There aren’t any complicated combos or tricky timings to learn but rather Full Burst makes it incredibly easy to perform moves often reserved for cut-scenes. For instance pressing “triangle” will enable you to use “Ninjutsu”, draining “chakra” – your source of power that functions like a mana bar. Once activated the actions you perform become much more powerful but will use up “chakra”. If you press “triangle” twice and then press “circle” you will perform your character’s “ultimate Jutsu”.

It keeps things simple and allows battles to instead concentrate on being fast paced and exciting at all times. I honestly thought it would get dull without any advanced moves or techniques to learn but the constant back and forth during fights keeps things interesting. It’s actually quite refreshing but those looking for a more “traditional” fighting game experience might be disappointed.

Blocking is rarely much use and often I found staying mobile to be a much more effective fighting technique. Which is great because it lends itself very well to the overall style of the game. However if you press “L2” at the right time when under attack (which for a refreshing change is a window not measured in milliseconds) you will replace yourself with a lump of wood and teleport behind your foe. But you can only do it 4 times and then you have to wait for a bar to refill. Considering it’s the only way to stop an enemies assault it can occasionally be pretty annoying when you’ve run out and just have to take it.

Because of the limited dodges and the simple but awesome looking fight system I had some concerns about how the end of the game would play out. For a majority of the game you feel you’re on equal footing with your foes and as you get more powerful so do they. The fights often don’t get too much more difficult but there is certainly an escalation to everything so that by the end there are at least 2 explosions and 5 teleports every second.

And then it started. Some enemies essentially stand there blocking constantly waiting for you to attack. So your first combo is stuffed and then you both dance around dodging until you run out and in classic style the bosses combo will break yours but yours can’t break his/hers. And a lot of the late game bosses have some range to their attacks meaning you have to advance on them quickly, which is only really achieved using Chakra. So when that runs out you’re more or less completely stuffed.

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And then in the last chapter I found that Full Burst stressed me out to breaking point. Enemies have at least twice as much health as you, reach on their melee attacks and no need to actually win. The fights become incredibly unbalanced and stick to that old classic method of creating difficulty – irritating enemies.

This is not the era where we expect a boss to sit there following a set pattern of moves as we bide our time and wait for our chance to attack. But that’s what it boils down to in Full Burst in the last chapter or so. It’s a shame and meant that when I’d finished my whole experience was tarnished. To come so far and then spoil it with a few lousy bosses is such a shame. At one point I had lost too much health in the first section of a boss fight that it made the remaining sections almost impossible and I needed to redo it from square one. Restarting from a checkpoint I had to do 3 or 4 fights before I got back where I was. Luckily I did it the second time but a checkpoint after the first section of a boss fight rather than after it is absolutely ridiculous.

Even on one of the very last bosses new mechanics are introduced with a big pop-up telling you the buttons, letting you play for 30 seconds and then another popping up to tell you some more buttons. Romping around as giant beasts essentially just plays as a slow fight with less abilities at your disposable. It unnecessarily breaks the action because for most, if not all, of the boss fights the standard fighting system would have been just fine and often be much more exciting.

Playing through the main story is quite different from most fighting games. It’s not just a simple set of fights with a boss at the end but instead is very strongly driven by narrative. In fact a playthrough will take about 20-30 hours which is incredibly long for a beat ‘em up. However a vast majority of this time is cut-scenes. I enjoy cut-scenes and often miss games like older Final Fantasy titles where the cut-scene was something to look forward to but they can be overdone. The problem with Full Burst is that a fight might last about 10 minutes but then you might be watching literally 1 to 2 hours of cut-scenes.

On the other hand the cut-scenes look great and after I had at least some idea of who everyone was and what all the words meant they where pretty fun to watch. But the balance between watching and playing is definitely wrong, at some points even becoming boring. After 30 minutes of people repeating the same thing over and over you just want some gameplay.

5

For a heavily narrative driven fighting game Full Burst is generally very successful although at times it seems to forget it’s a game and gets carried away telling a story. It’s accessible enough for people who don’t know the TV show but I never felt it was simplified or avoided dealing with major plot themes. And there are a massive amount of characters to choose from to. Some are only slightly different from each other but with this many on offer it doesn’t matter. I highly doubt that anyone would be wanting for a bigger roster.

Full Burst adds some great enhanced visuals and an extensive challenge mode for those who want to come back for more. Until the last section of the game I had great fun with Full Burst although the stress the end caused me almost ruined the previous 20 or so hours and reminded me that some games just refuse outright to change with the times. For those who’ve already played the original Ninja Storm 3 and aren’t interested in the challenge mode there isn’t much on offer to bring you back.

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Reviewed on PS3. Available on PS3, XBOX 360 and PC.

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With games being few and far between at the minute on PS4, it’s a bold and refreshing move to see another free to play game taking up the proverbial slack and filling in the gaps with what could be a solid entry into the third person, coop shooter genre. Suit up, it’s time for Digital Extremes, Warframe.

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You play as the ancient warrior race of Tenno, cryogenically awakened to find themselves in an all out war with three other factions, the Grineer, Corpus and the Infected. After being awakened by the mysterious, yet hopefully, helpful Lotus, and completing the notoriously vague tutorial, it’s time to don a Warframe. Whilst your choice of three is not especially important, it is worth noting that you’ll be spending a fair amount of time in it before acquiring another. You also come gratuitously equipped with each of your weapon slots filled, a primary, a secondary and a melee weapon, each are of the most basic available, but they’ll get the job done for now.

Getting your hands on some of the more advanced weapons either requires spending precious resources for the weapons outright, or hunting, scavenging and getting ruddy lucky to find their blueprints out in the wild. If purchased for premium currency, you will be able to immediately take control of the weapon, if you find the blueprint (or buy it using non-premium currency) then you’ll have to take a trip to the foundry. Acting as a factory, it let’s you build your discovered recipes, for a price. To complete each blueprint requires specific, often rare, materials that must be farmed as well as a hefty (non premium) fee and 12 hours to complete.

In fact, it’s a long time before you acquire anything at all. Pushing past the first few hours can feel futile and frustrating at times, but sticking with it can pay it’s own rewards. The first few missions ease you in gently with objectives that are simple to perform, even on your own, yet soon step up in difficulty to a point where either playing stealthily or in a party is a must for success. Fortunately, Warframe supports coop play for up to four people, with each mission showing a counter of how many people are currently playing. The default settings allow automatic joining with other people in a lobby (thankfully, up to a user determined ping limit), letting you team up against the relentless horde, matchmaking will also allow mid game joining so it’s not the end of the world if you bite off more than you can chew in a solo game, someone might come and help.

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Gunplay is similar in style to the Mass Effect franchise with it’s classic over the shoulder shooting along with the obligatory powers as accompaniments. Each of the 17 individual Warframes have their own powers, health and armour values, movement speed and appearance. On top of that, a myriad of weapons can drastically alter your play style. The primary slot can be filled with anything from assault rifles, shotguns and snipers, whereas your trusty secondary is a pistol of various potential forms. The melee slot, at first, didn’t seem all to important as my damage was nicely low enough that I could easily get overwhelmed by the most basic of enemies, whereas team mates were slicing and dicing at pace. It was not until this point I had noticed in the fray of limbs and relentless action that they were equipped with different Warframes, vastly more suited to tanking damage.

Fortunately, everything you equip can also level up, simply by using it, or by being near a homicidal squadmate who’s dealing out some kills. Levelling up your equipment is hugely beneficial, not only do you deal more damage, but also open up more slots in the respective Warframe/weapon to equip modifiers. Items have their number of slots available determined by their corresponding level, basically, the higher the better. Modifications have different values and can range from anything from a higher fire rate to more puncture damage. These would be enough on their own, yet if you own more than one of the same, instead of selling it for a paltry return, you can combine them for a more powerful result. For example, if I had two mods each granting an extra 40% health at a cost of 3 slots each, I could combine them to create one mod which grants 80% extra health at a cost of 4 slots. This can be repeated, but you will need more mods to combine, the higher the level. Not always easy when they are a random loot drop!

Another, possibly greater benefit of levelling your guns and armour is to level up your affinity, this incredibly slow moving bar only moves when you level some of your equipment up, meaning that if your equipment is maxed out (level 30) then you essentially won’t be getting any more experience to your main level. Although being a great incentive to try out new weapons and Warframes, the game does not make this obvious in any way. In fact it seems to go out of it’s way to make you Google the required information on pretty much everything.

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With all of the different types of game mode to play and nearly 300 missions to partake in, level design could have gotten stale rather quickly if not for the procedurally generated nature of the missions. Each planet, of our solar system, houses around seven or more missions, each with their own visual style and faction. The first planet houses dark, dank corridors with no sunlight or outdoor areas, whereas later planets offer glorious snowy vistas, with huge scope for exploration. Generally traversing the maps themselves are a joy, you can sprint, roll, slide, wall jump, and dive through the air whilst spraying an assault rifle pretending to be from any 90’s action film of your choice if it’ll help get you to the next waypoint, or maybe just because it’s fun!

All in all, there’s no limit of things to say about Warframe, it is an incredibly content rich game and once you get past the first few hours and see the light at the end of the corridor, it starts to open up. Cross platform play with the PC has been hinted at in the future, along with more content too, almost ensuring a long life cycle on the PS4. Pretty much everything can be gotten for free if you’re not only willing to put in the time and effort, but to also embrace the grind.

4

Reviewed on PS4, also available on PC.

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For those of you luckily enough to own a PS4 (and according to Sony there’s quite a few of us now) Resogun is free to play. So at least you’re guaranteed something to play!

Essentially you will scroll left and right on a cylindrical map blasting shooting and dodging your way through waves of enemies. Your primary goal is to save humans, although it’s not always obvious why a human has died or if one even needs saving. It’s definitely satisfying to rush in and bravely destroy the enemy to save someone but it’s not always obvious when this should happen. Simply moving your ship over a human will pick them up and then you must transport them safely to a checkpoint to save them.

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There are small visual clues that show you when and where to be but in a game like this a huge unsubtle beacon wouldn’t look particularly out of place. Amongst all the explosions and lasers it can be pretty difficult to see what to do. Luckily losing humans makes little impact on the gameplay and will just reduce your score. It’s satisfying when it all goes well but can be a tad frustrating at other times.

But at least the difficulties are (surprisingly) very well done. Players of Super Stardust HD will certainly appreciate it. If you want you can progress through the game with very little chance of complete failure. And if you want you can make life very difficult for yourself. The only exception being the last level which can get pretty tricky even on the lower difficulties.

There’s still a challenge to be had but only if you go looking for it. And even if the higher difficulties aren’t enough for you, you can always go for high scores and slowly climb your way up leader boards.

If you look at it, since the very dawn of game development a primary goal has been to essentially reduce visible squares. But Resogun’s looks makes a particular point of showing off its squares. Rather than exploding realistically anything you destroy will burst into a pleasing shower of sparks and cubes. There’s barely a curve in sight and it looks great. High definition certainly helps but Resogun is a brilliant game to show what the PS4 can do.

And to go along with all the visual thrills is an upbeat and punchy soundtrack that adequately reflects the pace of the gameplay. Resogun is certainly energetic and that’s simply not possible without a suitable soundtrack. Luckily Resogun delivers and doesn’t allow the music to break the pace.

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Addictive score beating gameplay and good looks makes Resogun a great game to have on the PS4’s starting line-up. There’s an endless energy to Resogun’s explosions and vibrant lighting ensuring the pace stays high. It’s a great launch game to show off some PS4 goodness and it’s totally free for Playstation Plus members. So if you haven’t already get over to the store and give it a try.

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So it’s GT time again! At least this time we didn’t have to wait 5 years. I was quite disappointed with GT5 so I was well ready for some GT goodness. But I thought it best to start off on a strangely negative point. But it’s so major it can only make sense at the start.

So the PS4 and X1 are well underway. For Playstation users Gran Turismo was an exclusive to be proud of and excited about. Xbox owners have the genius of Forza and Playstation owners enjoy Gran Turismo. So why is it then that GT6 is exclusive to PS3?

I found it so frustrating to watch my PS4 in standby mode as my PS3 loudly cooled itself. I appreciate that not everyone is able to get a new console and that’s why there are always months of multi-format releases. Even the exact same game available on PS4 would be nice, at least I could use the Dualshock 4 (which doesn’t work with GT6 despite the PS3 supporting it).

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GT6 boasts a massive 1,200 cars. I don’t think anybody would argue that’s an amazing amount. But browsing your way through the 5 slightly different models of a car from one year only to find 5 more from another year very quickly starts to bog the menus down. To be honest I don’t need that many versions of a single model and don’t even know the difference between most.

It’s unnecessary and when you literally can’t tell the difference between two cars it’s difficult to see why it’s been done if not just to boost the numbers. It’s also a little frustrating that there are often 8 pages of cars for Japanese manufacturers while there isn’t a single Royals Royce and only one Bentley, and that’s a racing car. I know the game’s Japanese but lets have a Phantom and get rid of one of the 10 or so different Skyline R34’s.

And there’s still a lot of cars that haven’t been remodelled since GT4. It’s quite clear when a car hasn’t got a proper new HD model. Switching to the interior view on a car with an old model will show only a rough black outline of “a car”. However a lot of the cars do look amazing. The instruments and detailing on the inside are just as well modelled as the outside, on the cars they bothered with.

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Where tracks are concerned I’m glad to say that both quality and quantity have certainly been considered. For a PS3 title they look stunning and there are more than enough to keep the game from becoming dull. All your favourite GT tracks are present as well as a huge amount of tracks from the real world.

Unfortunately despite the amount of races they leave little room for freedom. It becomes clear from the start that there will be loads to do. But there still aren’t as many as I was hoping for. Perhaps I ask too much but when I look at the roster on a racing game I expect to be intimidated and wonder how I will ever complete them all. There are rally events, but only one section. Same goes for Nascar. There are a few more cart races but still not an impressive amount.

Entry is based on the game’s Performance Point (PP) system. It’s very similar to Forza’s system except it only concerns power. You can add brakes and suspension as much as you want. Tires don’t count and have a separate limit. You will not be able to race with soft racing tires until literally the last league that you unlock after the credits. I would far rather tires had counted as PP and been able to use them. I want to race a car with great handling and get an edge that way. GT6 only allows you to have the edge with power.

Much like games of old, buy a car, put the biggest turbo in it and win. Almost all of the races I had where won in this way. There was often no challenge or any actual racing whatsoever. It all felt so familiar, like an old GT title. And I only bought 3 cars in total to get to the credits. A Mitsubishi Evo VIII, a McLaren MP4 and a Corvette C5 (my personal favourite). And I completed all the races with ease. Overtaking every other car to win and often having a lap to spare. And that’s not because I’m good at racers. GT6 is far too easy.

And even though each league has a few manufacturer races where everyone has the same vehicle there is a need to have races with limits beyond PP. There’s no need to buy new cars and use different things. There’s no incentive to either. That being said thankfully there aren’t only Suzuki Cappuccino races to do. I still have nightmares about that.

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Visually things look very nice. The new car models are smooth and ultra-glossy. Even the tracks look great most of the time, apart from a few nasty instances where textures don’t render properly. Unfortunately there is still no sign of a proper damage model. It’s actually amazing how little it matters but it’s quite tacky when you slam into a car at over 100Mph and their back end looks like it has some bad soap smears. And to accompany the epic accident will be the usual muffled thud that sound like it was recorded on tape.

But all that said I enjoyed most of my time in the cars in GT6, despite the fact every car had massive under steer. I tried assists on a small amount, on full or off completely. Although I still managed to win the races there is very little difference between the vehicles (even when changing the assists). You can have a Skyline or a Ferrari 599 and they will both suffer from under steer. Put loads of power on them and you will still get some under steer. My McLaren MP4 only ever spun off in a straight line and never round a corner. Figure that out. And even with extra power the mid-engined rear-powered supercar had under steer. It got very frustrating near the end when even my Chevrolet Corvette C5 had the same problem. It might be realistic (although I have my doubts) but it doesn’t matter if it’s not fun. And I tried countless vehicles (that I didn’t need) only to find they where all similar.

So GT6 just feels old. It’s using systems and mechanics that are so dated that some literally haven’t changed since GT4. That’s 8 years ago, which in terms of video games may as well be 100 years. Nothing feels different, new or better. It certainly looks great but the sounds are unimpressive and dated. The vehicle roster unfairly represents Japanese manufacturers and forgets some of the worlds greatest cars. The race limitation only concerns power and you can’t use soft racing tires until the epilogue. Racing in a GT championship with hard tires is annoying. I want choice, but there is not room for player choice in Gran Turismo 6. Gran Turismo 6 is a slightly updated version of an old relic that badly needs some new tricks.

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Reviewed on PS3.

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After it’s unnecessarily successful Kickstarter campaign The Banner Saga is here. It’s nice to see that there are still a mass of gamers who appreciate, and want, turn based strategy titles. There’s definitely not as many of them around anymore but that’s what crowd funding is for. Long live Kickstarter!

As soon as the game is loaded you will be lavished with Banner Saga’s truly beautiful hand drawn style. Every aspect of The Banner Saga is draped in Norse mythology. From the music to every aspect of the visuals, from the smallest menu detail to the characters’ beards, is convincingly Viking. It’s a joy to be so immediately and deeply immersed into a game’s style and Banner Saga isn’t afraid to embrace what it is. If you can find a game with more horns, beards and axes I’d be amazed.

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There’s an intentional slow pace to the plot sections outside of combat that lend Banner Saga a sense of weight and poignancy. True to their word, Stoic don’t patronise and Banner Saga delivers a mature story driven by characters and the decisions you make. And all of that is done through text and the gorgeous artwork. The artwork alone is enough to keep you coming back but even so there is more to Banner Saga than just undoubted good looks.

The decision trees that make up your interaction with written texts are almost MUD (for those who aren’t geeky enough, Multi-User Dungeon) like in their approach. There’s a definite Dungeons and Dragons feel to things. With the game acting as Dungeon Master proceedings are described mainly in the text with the artwork and music backing things up. There’s no expensive motion capture or flashy graphics. Instead Banner Saga relies on pretty graphics and solid gameplay.

And decisions actually matter too. At one point there’s a choice weather to bring along a certain character or not. And if you do they fight with you in the combat, making it easier. But after the combat one of them is threatened and only if you make the correct choices can you save their lives. The fact that you are making a choice is a little more transparent due to the text based nature of things but they are equally, if not more, important than they are in games like Mass Effect. Characters can die. If they die you no longer get to interact with them or use them in battle. Other decisions might come back to haunt you later on. And occasionally you might even get the outcome you wanted.

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To keep things tactical as events unfold your characters will be part of a travelling caravan. Choices you make as well as success rates in combat will effect the amount of people in that caravan. The more people you have the more they will eat. But certain things, such as large battles, will be easier. To sustain them you will need supplies that can be bought from markets. But you never know when you might be able to stop at a market so even just moving the quest on has inherent risks beyond combat and world events that you cannot prevent. The list of options and choices combined with their effects is more than enough to keep your attention and ensures that there is always at least a little strategy to consider.

Strangely, Banner Saga can play quite similar to a Total War title with two separated gameplay elements that still effect each other. Once you’re done buying items and levelling up your heroes eventually some combat will present itself. When a game relies on separate elements in this way it really comes down to pacing. Provided both are good, the only thing left is to make sure you want a bit of the other thing by the time your done with your current tasks. Making sure one aspect doesn’t become the chore isn’t easy but I found Banner Saga struck a good balance and as such I always looked forward to a good fight.

Stoic have resurrected a forgotten art when it comes to the combat in Banner Saga. There’s no 179,262.002 damage numbers. There’s no need. In fact it’ll take quite a while until any of your stats reach 20. Most of the strategy comes from the way damage is calculated. Strength – armour = damage. Simple. Except your strength is both your health and the damage you will deal. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

This system regularly creates classic strategy dilemma moments that see you racking your brain figuring out what order to do things in or performing seemingly countless simple calculations. I might not do much damage but it might reduce the enemy’s strength enough that I take less damage and live to fight on. Plus if he damages me, I will do less next turn. Or I could hit the armour and then deal more damage. Or what if that guy with no armour gets in quick and reduces his health to save someone. It’s genius. It’s simple. It creates clever, chess-like moments and I love it. Pure strategy with all the showy stuff taken out.

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Simply put The Banner Saga is the best new strategy game I’ve been on since Xcom: Enemy Unknown. The turn based combat is a joy and the decisions you make on your quest are difficult. There’s nothing like picking between two (or five) impossible choices. And then being presented with 3 more. There’s enough depth to everything you do to give it a sense of consequence. It never patronizes and is confident enough with itself to treat you like an adult.

So confident in fact that the almost still images are enough to carry the whole thing without making you ever once feel like you need anything else. Admittedly that is in no small way due to the stunning artwork. But joining the beautiful images there is also a top-notch musical performance, yet again steeped in Viking goodness. If you like strategy games this is absolutely not something you can miss. An A-grade effort from Stoic and hopefully the first of many. The Banner Saga really doesn’t put a foot wrong.

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Reviewed on PC.

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