Reviews

It’s not often an Indie developed title grabs the limelight at one of the industry’s largest events. Holding strong alongside both press releases and lashings of AAA announcements, Sony demonstrated its love for the smaller companies too at this year’s E3, showcasing Entwined, an Indie title developed by Pixelopus stirring up ideals and images of Flower and Dyad to hopefully create a classic.

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Whilst there is no strict narrative per se, it is heavily implied throughout your journey; being somewhat vaguely introduced to the playfully in-love bird and fish is all you’re going to get in terms of character development too. What is interesting however, is their eternal struggle to be together and how the player infers this.

Playing the game rings true of any ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ ethos, with the fish being controlled via the left thumbstick and the bird by the right, you must guide each party through appropriately coloured segments with the game delivering increasingly difficult sections to navigate the further you progress. Orbs of the same corresponding colour must also be picked up in order to fill each animal’s bar; once both are full, pressing L1+R1 joins their forms and speeds up the level; essentially making you repeat the process once more. Completing this sequence rewards you with the consummate conglomeration of bird and fish, the dragon. In this section the gameplay switches to a more relaxed style of play where the only objective is to fly around and collect orbs before sky writing your flight path and beginning the process anew.

Despite Entwined being privy to a relatively fresh and untapped genre, that’s not to say the novelty can’t wear off however. At least it might if there were more time for it to do so. The length of Entwined is not its strongest point, completing all nine levels along with the few challenges on offer will take less than 2 hours, admittedly more if you fancy yourself a spot on the leaderboards, but even with its meagre price tag of £6.49, it’s still not exactly great value for money.

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As for a learning curve it can yield mixed results, the first few levels are inherently easy, yet in some of the latter stages, it’s not only precision that matters, but alternating timing patterns. I imagine anyone even remotely versed in time signatures will have little trouble acclimatising, but for others (such as me) being able to individually coordinate between my thumbs and my peripheral vision became a little tricksome at points.

Graphically, it looks pretty much exactly what you might expect, bright colours, entrancing effects and more tunnel vision than an underground tube train driver. Coupled with the slightly underwhelming music, save for the track played over the credits; you’ll find its distinct presentation either a delight or a little bland depending upon the level. The highlights most certainly being the sky writing pieces; yet whilst only performable for around 10 minutes over the course of your short journey, and viewable via the small cutscene afterwards for less, they always manage to garner your attention the most.

Entwined appears to draw ideals and concepts from others in its genre as well as mixing it up with a few of their own, however they’re not quite enough to truly set it apart from its peers. Once you’ve grasped the basics, that’s about all there is to Entwined, the gameplay doesn’t evolve beyond its two pre-sets and therefore, unfortunately offers no real reason to return once complete. Inevitably the comparisons between other Indie titles such as Flower and Journey are going to often get strewn around regarding Entwined; whilst it may not have the immediate beauty of flower or the excellent social play of Journey, it does however have one of the better endings I’ve seen in a while. The companionship of the two unlikely beings, always striving to come together as one, more enigmatic creature can be awkwardly heart-warming; coupled with the unspoken narrative that you’ll make your own, ensures that Entwined is exactly what you make of it.

It’s not often something new and fresh enters our consoles these days; Airtight Games and Square Enix have donned their non-action orientated trilbies and created a mystery thriller called Murdered: Soul Suspect.

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You play the larger than life (for around 30 seconds anyway) Detective, Ronan O’Connor who, after some home tragedies of his own, gets unceremoniously beaten up, thrown through a window and shot an unnecessary amount of times. Before moving on to the sweet embrace of both his departed wife and the afterlife however, Roman is seemingly caught in limbo; unable to pass through without getting retribution and discovering the identity of his killer.

Straight from the opening sequence, Soul Suspect sets itself up for what it represents throughout the entirety of the game, initial promise and intrigue, followed soon after by disappointment and tedium. One of the first mechanics you’re introduced to involves manipulating your body parts to accomplish a goal, such as lying down upon your own corpse, twisting limbs to fit the shape. Instead of intricacy levels to shame Surgeon Simulator, it simply ends there, that ‘mini-game’ never occurs again.

As a newly initiated spectral member, there are some quick ground rules to go over; unfortunately most of them are delivered in such a way to immediately flatten any exploratory desires you may have. As a ghost, you may only enter premises through either an open door or window due to a mysterious, and sigh inducing, ‘seal’ that’s placed upon each building. An instantly disheartening sign implying that there are only scripted areas to investigate. Whilst you can indeed pass through real life objects as if you’ve activated a ‘noclip’ mode, there are also spirit objects, outlined in the classic blue hue, which you also cannot walk through. Despite these often being from a more historically interesting time period in Salem, they often serve little purpose other than to impede you, save for an obnoxiously loud and deadly (somehow to the dead) train that appears later on.

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For such a relatively small map to wander about in, getting lost is a constant issue from the off. Without a mini-map or any kind of compass besides a mission waypoint, exploration for the multitude of collectibles quickly becomes frustrating, especially when so much of the game’s side plots rely upon the extra knowledge gained to become emotionally involved.

The games main narrative is its strongest and loneliest point; discovering the identity of the killer draws you forward whilst the game offers subplots to help fill in the gaps. Not that being a ghost demotes you to a life of solitude and isolation however, as for the sake of your sanity, you’ll meet a mysterious, ironically named, young woman called Joy. Becoming a pivotal character during the narrative, she’ll dip in and out, reluctantly offering her skills throughout the campaign in exchange for a few impossible-to-fail escort missions.

When you’re not wandering aimlessly, searching for mysterious snippets of Salem’s history, you’ll be inside one of the games main areas, searching instead for mysterious clues in a crime scene. Starting with the first case, your own cause of death, you must scour the crime scene for any and all relevant clues relating to the crime before taking a stab at solving the case. These should be the main focal point; however, as is the case for the majority of the game, it’s simply too easy and doesn’t punish the player in any way for wildly stabbing at the answer. There’s a rating system out of three for each case, yet seeing as there is no way to replay missions, a wrong guess simply becomes an irritating blot on an otherwise unimportant record. The problem often being the usual scenario in games such as this, being that the player will often know how to solve the puzzle, yet translating that into how the game wants it entered can often result in frustratingly incorrect answers.

A great, but underused mechanic involves being able to read people’s minds. At any point you can jump into someone’s head and pry into their thoughts, however the generic responses tire and repeat too quickly. It’s not uncommon to hear the same phrase being uttered ad nauseam, despite how far through the game you may be. Linking to this, one of the main drawing points for me, was the ability to influence peoples trains of thought in order to point out some pivotal or poignant evidence. However, much like all the best snippets of Souls Suspect, that’s all they are, there are very few instances where you are required to progress a case this way; it’s a shame that another unique idea gets so underutilised.

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In order to spice the game up a little, there are a few sections of ‘action’ dotted around, these take the form of small stealth orientated sections involving roaming spirits that scream ‘honestly, I’m not a Dementor’. Essentially, you have to creep up behind them to win. They’re always on scripted patrols and often in groups to attempt to up the challenge, whereas all you really have to do is wait behind a wall until one passes and subsequently vanquish it. The supposed method of dispatching them involves teleporting through ghastly images of former humans, yet if they spot you, they’ll relentlessly follow and check the one spirit you’ve decided to hide in every time despite the game stating that you can lose them this way.

The length of Soul Suspect might disappoint some, especially if you’re not into collectibles, as playing through the main missions, completing the handful of side objectives on offer and nabbing a vast majority of the secrets still managed to come in at less than 12 hours. Considering the lack of any manual saves, if you wish to replay a section you’ll have to start up a whole new game; at which point, I’ll note that it doesn’t carry over any collectibles progress, so if you want them all, grab them before jumping into the final area.

If there’s one thing Soul Suspect does succeed at, it’s the narrative. The presentations of the flashback cutscenes are very much in the vein of cinema and television, lending it that extra air of authority whilst delivering its key moments. Coupled with the stellar voice acting from the main cast makes it an immersive place to be at times, the occasional wonky animations and the inability to run or even traverse areas with any pace until later on in the game grates however.

Soul Suspect houses many interesting and unique concepts that for some reason don’t develop, expand or even continue throughout the game. It comes across as more of a slew of gameplay ideas, not always implemented well, wrapped around a solid story that on its own, is worth experiencing. The only real trouble here lies with that most of the background characters, places and events rely upon exposition told through collectibles instead of normal progression, especially infuriating when so much of it is genuinely interesting. Don’t expect any branching storylines, tricky puzzles or a non-clichéd badass cop, instead simply enjoy and focus on the story.

It’s difficult to stay excited when a game has as much hype surrounding it as Watchdogs. Combined with a seemingly endless trail of delays I somehow remained eager ever since Watchdogs was first announced oh so long ago. But with more hype than the Apollo 11 launch can Watchdogs deliver on it’s ambitious promises?

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The first thing you’ll need to do is complete the tutorial mission. It’s really about the only thing you have to do in Watchdogs and is a necessary evil even in an open world game. The brief cutscenes introduce us to the main characters and just about every function is covered during the mission. It doesn’t dwell on a single aspect of gameplay but instead keeps the pace up and gets you outside into the freedom of Watchdog’s open world as soon as possible.

Armed with only a few weapons and enough knowledge to do pretty much anything I took Aiden on his first steps into digital Chicago. Personally I like to do anything but the main missions for as long as possible if a game will let me. Inevitably sometimes you’ll spend hours grinding to achieve something only to find it would be handed out in the next campaign mission but I still do it. So I got to work.

The first visit to a weapons shop makes it clear that there isn’t going to be a shortage of firepower. In fact Aiden has so many weapons on offer he can more than capably become a one man army. Rambo’s got nothing on Aiden. There are several handguns ranging from simple 9mm’s to revolvers and a couple of machine pistols thrown in for good measure. Shotguns start at a simple single shot and go all the way up to a fully automatic monster and cover everything in-between. Plus assault rifles, more snipers than I expected (admittedly I expected none) and a couple of grenade launchers. That’s a lot of guns and Aiden can’t just own them all he can carry them all in his mysteriously deep pockets.

Acquiring all this hardware at first seems like a daunting task but anything that can be bought in Watchdogs is as easy as repeatedly pressing square to rob peoples bank accounts. Walking the streets with your trusty smart phone by your side highlights potential bank accounts to siphon funds from. Simply hold square and then eventually when you feel you have enough visit a cash machine to draw out the money. If you need cash that’s all there is to it.

And the same is true for the rest of the hacking in the game too. All that cool stuff we’ve seen in the videos is done by briefly holding square, or sometimes just pressing it. And that worried me at the start. I mean how much fun can it be to repeatedly press the same button? Well as it turns out it never bothered me and I never got bored of it. During a car chase when you first raise a bridge and jump over it to escape your pursuers or they slam into those bollards with a nifty slow motion close up the fact you ‘just pressed square’ really doesn’t matter.

The irony is that if hacking was a complex mechanic in Watchdogs Aiden wouldn’t feel like a genius. The simple context sensitive method really makes you feel powerful. Using just a phone you can do some serious hacking and the awesome result make sure you never get bored of hacking.

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Side missions are varied and abundant. Some are races, some are hacking mini-games and others are stealth/combat based. They kept me busy for at least 20 hours and constantly rewarded me with XP to spend on the impressive skill tree. The mini-games are incredibly in-depth too. There’s poker which is as good as any poker game I’ve ever played, chess which can either be a traditional game or objective based challenges using the rules of chess and far too many more to mention. And there are several story driven side missions that are both mysterious and clever. There’s loads to keep you busy and everything rewards you well.

To complement the huge amount of content there’s a huge choice of upgrades too. I don’t think there’s a single one I didn’t want and being free to complete whatever you want right from the start to get them is liberating. Don’t be put off by abilities being locked and telling you to complete a certain mission to unlock more; it’s a very early mission and once you do it it unlocks everything. Finally upgrades on an open world game that aren’t arbitrarily limited until it’s too late to use them.

The only time Watchdogs lets you down is unfortunately in the campaign missions. The story is dark and well presented but in between the story the gameplay soon becomes stale and repetitive. Most situations require you getting past enemy guards. You can sneak around and use stealth and hacking to remain undetected but I very rarely did. I tried a couple of times but realised that gunning them down using my immense firepower and hacking was just quicker and easier. I even had the difficulty on hard and still found that I could take on entire mobs of enemies in a straight up fire fight. By the way I recommend playing on hard to at least stop you becoming a god. At least on hard I could be killed.

I enjoyed using the pistols so I actually used the second one you get which has a large clip and found it easy to use ‘focus’ (Watchdog’s slow motion) to head shot as many enemies as possible before finished the rest of without focus. So even on hard using the starting pistol I was overpowered. And that’s not taking into account the 2 Barrett rifles, 2 grenade launches, 6 or 7 assault rifles, 8 other pistols/revolvers/machine pistols, 5 shotguns, grenades, IED’s and remote IED’s I had. On top of all the hacking tools and context sensitive commands available. And pills that refill your focus allowing for almost continuous slow motion.

Aiden should have had far less weapons. It’s a shame because the weapons are so satisfying to use. But Aiden should have had a pistol and nothing else. Or only two weapons. Or an ammo limit that actually matters. Or no slow motion. Just something to make him less godlike. When you actually find a challenging fight and can just switch to the anti-material rifle or grenade launcher and win easily the challenge is completely gone, and a lot of fun along with it. I enjoy using the weapons a lot, but at the same time they make everything far too easy and mean Aiden doesn’t actually rely much on hacking during combat. The same applies to car chases which are great fun until you get the steam pipe upgrade which works so well and can be used so often that all other hacks become almost irrelevant. Don’t bother finding a street with spikes or bollards to lure your enemies down just wait and blow a pipe. It works every time.

Plus the campaign missions come loaded with so many ridiculous situations that call for Aiden to ‘manually’ follow a target or sneak physically into a place it just becomes irritating. Sure you can raise a bridge, steal bank details, stop a train or even burst steam pipes but you have to sneak into this building or follow that person. Tailing people isn’t constant like Assassins Creed but Ubisoft did decide to go with the ‘10ft rule’. If your target goes out of sight for a millisecond or gets more than 10ft away a massive message comes on screen telling you you’re losing your target. Aside from the question ‘Can’t Aiden hack GPS or track a SIM?’ I’m pretty sure I could follow someone from further away in real life. I hate it. It’s the worst thing in AC and Ubisoft for some reason decided it was the only mechanic worth copying into Watchdogs.

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It’s impossible not to be impressed with Watchdog’s overall presentations. It looks amazing and is by far the densest city I’ve ever seen in a game. There isn’t an single inch that doesn’t have incredible detail. You really get the sense Ubisoft are putting all that next gen power to good use. When the wind picks up and the rain starts I still stand there for a moment and admire my surroundings. Aiden’s coat flapping in the wind as the colours deepen to reflect their absorption of the rain. Water pools at the sides of the roads and raindrops can be seen splashing into them. I could go on for hours describing how pretty it is but seeing is believing. An adequately electronic soundtrack makes action sequences all the more intense and I’ve never heard guns that sound as cool as these ever.

On one occasion, I was being chased by a gang who decided they’d finally got sick of me. They took out the wheel on my car so I was left almost entirely immobile. I darted down an alley and turned off the engine to hide as the gangsters drove past searching for me. When I saw a chance I went for a train line I knew was nearby and hid on foot until a train arrived. I stopped it with my phone and ran for the doors. The gangsters saw me but were on the other side of the train. As the doors opened I drew my pistol and used slow motion to kill him with a single shot, hopped on the train and started it leaving the gangsters as I made my escape. It couldn’t have been better if it had been scripted but in Watchdogs these things just happen all the time. It’s like constantly playing a developer walkthrough. This is a perfect example of when all Watchdog’s features come together to create a special moment.

But the campaign missions are a real let down. The theory that a high body count makes for fun gameplay should be left to COD. It doesn’t belong in Watchdogs and stops it from becoming an intelligent game, even on the harder difficulties, which is a true shame. There’s so much that’s good about Watchdogs that it certainly lived up to my expectations. With less guns and a larger focus on using smarts to overcome challenges Watchdogs would be close to perfect. It really lets itself down by trying too hard to become the shooter that nobody wanted, even given the incredibly satisfying gunplay which just makes it all the more frustrating.

But GTA didn’t get everything right straight away. And Ubisoft now has a more than decent competitor for the open world giant. As a series Watchdogs has almost unlimited potential. Ubisoft has laid the groundwork incredibly well and I can only imagine what future instalments will bring.

Specialised racing games that focus upon one discipline are few and far between; with many developers attempting to combine many race genres into one package, they can all unwantedly mesh, giving the only real variable of how much the back end kicks out. Eutechnyx and Deep Silver have created a game based upon one of the most popular motorsports in the world; NASCAR ’14 hopes to fill the aching void of a dedicated racer.

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Straight off the bat, my inadequacies of NASCAR knowledge are exposed due to the loading screens, rather brilliantly, offering little multiple choice questions, quizzing you on your dedication to the sport. After being made to look a fool by a loading screen, you then get overly introduced to the menus by a very enthusiastic southern American drawl describing what each of the selectable options do. The first niggle surfaces rather quickly as his explanations are not quite punctual. The delay on his voiceover takes a few seconds to kick in, meaning you often breeze through the menus before cutting the poor fellow off; scrolling back up to hopefully prompt him to say it again doesn’t work either.

It’s not long before the call of the racing game career mode draws me in to see if it can balance the awkward line of immersion minus unnecessary clutter. Whilst initially seeming shallow, the career really starts to take shape after you’ve got a few events under your belt. Upgrades can be bought; sponsors can be earned and subsequently applied to your car and many pre-race options can be altered. Interestingly, the money you win from events can be spent before an event, dictating what level of equipment you put on your car. For example deciding which variation of engine block to use, whether you choose a refurbished model to skimp on money or go all out and plump for the higher tier engine, hoping it’ll be enough on its own.

Much like other dedicated racers such as the F1 franchise and Moto GP, you’ll be required to partake in practice laps and qualifying sessions before taking on the pack. In the pit, the more advanced players can alter their car setup before taking it out for a few laps; hopefully putting in an improved time. It’s still worth getting a few complete practice laps even if you don’t intend to change the car setup however, as although there’s little variation between tracks (it’s NASCAR, therefore a loop is all you get) the little, seemingly insignificant variables can make a stout difference. A steeper camber on one corner will completely alter your track positioning; it can be interesting to attempt new lines to shave off those pesky tenths.

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Once qualifying has been completed, the race day turns up. Once again, there are options to suit your needs, if you fancy an all-out slog of a race with a realistic lap count then go for it, or you can simplify matters and go for a five lap blast. The custom difficulty options are crucial to you getting the most out of NASCAR ’14; much like the Forza series, you can specify aspects of the game to suit you. If you’re adverse to pit stops and refuelling, get rid of them, don’t like simulation style damage models? Give the cosmetic only option a try; the difference between everything off and everything on, makes a staggering change to how the game plays. With the entirety of ABS, traction control and cornering assists switched on, you can pretty much hold down the accelerator and win, whereas turning everything off can make for quite the hardcore experience.

In terms of actual racing, Eutechnyx have done a great job of making the cars feel both weighty and planted; the thunderous, bass inducing roar of their massive engines helps too! Acceleration should be feathered upon exiting corners and the steering requires a deft touch as opposed to constantly applying full lock. Due to the inherently large amount of racers on track, and more importantly, their constantly close proximity to one another, it helps to know where they are. Fortunately, there are two factors in helping you here, not only do you get a nifty little radar at the bottom of the screen displaying other nearby racers, but also your pit crew will give constant feedback of the other racers positioning, giving a real sense of immersion at the unfortunate expense of occasionally having to sift through their jargon.

The drafting mechanic poses interesting problems due to its necessity in winning. Whilst you can, and should, slipstream behind other racers, the hot air emanating from the car in front will start to overheat your engine should you persist for too long, meaning that you’ll have to occasionally get into some cleaner, colder air to counteract this. Indeed the only real problem with NASCAR ’14 is that, due to the immense amount of cars on the track, ‘accidents’ are inevitable. Whilst the computer AI can be fairly competent at keeping close and attempting to limit bumping, in nearly every race I’ve taken part in, there has been an incident, always involving me. There are never collisions involving two AI drivers at the back of the pack either, it uncannily seems to be always when you’re leading the race too… Whilst I accept that this is a solid factor in all motorsport, it happens way too frequently and often costs you the race, necessitating a restart.

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As far as longevity goes, that of course depends on your dedication to the sport; the career mode is the obvious starting point and should last a while. Once you’ve worked through that, with each manufacturer, there are the highlight stages to attempt to gold. Appearing like small scenarios, they often involve things like working your way through the pack in as quick a time as possible; just generally recreating some of the most famous moments. If the concept of online play appeals, you can also jump on and compete in leagues and the like; due to the server browser, finding a match that fits your criteria shouldn’t be a problem.

In terms of fidelity and general presentation, NASCAR ’14 doesn’t really stack up all that well against the rest of the pack, the car models look reasonable, especially whilst using some of the in-car views. It’s the dull, lifeless tracks and the complete lack of a classic NASCAR atmosphere that detracts from the experience the most. Whilst the excellent, hefty engine rumbles valiantly try their best to make up for the other shortcomings, in the end it’s not enough, and on first impressions, it comes across as an old game.

Whilst it may not be for everyone, NASCAR ’14, with its adjustably hardcore settings, loading screen trivia and engaging career mode, will find its home amongst fans. Overly aggressive AI and exceedingly similar cars and tracks will undoubtedly put off the majority however. If either NASCAR racing or attempting perfectionism behind the wheel appeals to you, then I would whole heartedly recommend NASCAR ’14, if not, then it’s probably not for you.

Fancy a more refreshing take on the first person shooter genre, perhaps one that sacrifices negligible aspects of history such as the outcome of World War 2? Wolfenstein: The New Order revisits its over the top roots to rekindle the Red Alert of modern shooters, but is there a place amongst the modern military genre for one of a new breed? Bethesda and MachineGames certainly think so, do you?

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If slaughtering countless waves of Nazis is your thing, and if we’re honest, that probably applies to a fair few gamers, then you’re in for quite the treat. It’s not long before you are placed behind the helm of a plane in imminent and inevitable danger; one tragic crash later we get a glimmer of the potential horror of which the Nazis have laid out for us. Hankering after the head of the stalwart series antagonist ‘Deathshead’, our early mission takes us on the assault of a castle, where due to an unfortunate series of events, we find ourselves comatose for the next decade and a half.

Not a great start for our resolute, and series veteran, hero B. J. Blazkowicz, whom I’ll refer to as B.J. providing there’s no sniggering at the back. Upon regaining consciousness and instead of a slap on the back, a medal on the chest and a family by his side, B.J. awakens to learn that not only has he lost the war, but that worryingly, it still rages on. The Nazis have developed superior technology and repressed the world with their tyrannical reign, meaning it’s time to band together with the local resistance, and slay the veritable armadas of the Nazi regime with glorious, bloodthirsty weapons.

In the past, B.J. hasn’t really been all that emotive, but times have changed and it’s not the early 90’s anymore; with it, the past experience from the developers in terms of storytelling has shone through. Whilst he’s still the rugged, square-jawed badass we all know and love, B.J. certainly has moments where emotion will overcome him and add a previously unseen depth to his character. Dramatic inner monologues often plague our protagonist; snippets from stories of the past are occasionally regaled during presumably reminiscent scenes. The supporting cast also share their demons too and after meeting up with the resistance fighters; you’ll quickly get a feel for their plight under such horrific times. A certain pair sticks out for obvious reasons, one lost his ‘clubfoot’ child to the non-Aryan purging of the Nazis, whereas the other, Max, is a simple gentle giant, a child trapped in a man’s body. Needless to say, the protective bonding between the two can often create a dark, grounding experience to witness.

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It’s not all doom and gloom however, Wolfenstein can often be seen with its tongue in cheek. An early section sees you under peril from an enormous robotic dog before being saved via a friend throwing a grenade above its head and yelling catch. The virtually anthropomorphic gesture almost always elicits a smile; it’s not just dog jokes either (even though you can still chow down on some dog food, should you wish!) In the options, as per usual, there’s a subtitles setting for ‘foreign only’; for some hilarious reason, the game decides the Scottish accent to be as indecipherable as German. Easter eggs are fairly prominent too with the tricky to miss Wolfenstein 3D level to play through, along with unlockable records of famous 60’s music, but under a Nazi regime. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the Bavarian styled tunings of House of the Rising Sun!

Considering the unusually high levelled narrative content, it’s welcome to discover that the important things haven’t lagged behind either, namely the shooting of many a Nazi. The gunplay is incredibly satisfying with both mechanics from new and old takes on the genre. Whilst you can lean round corners, you can’t go prone (despite the enemies being able to) and whereas each gun feels different in terms of damage and recoil, you can dual-wield two of the same weapon at will. Fancy sliding around a corner whilst dismembering a Nazi due to two generous helpings of automatic buckshot? You’re sorted. How about equipping two marksman rifles and seeing how many heads you can pop without a scope? Again, be my guest! If the variation in weapons isn’t quite up to scratch for you, you’ll be pleased to know that most of them have a secondary mode, such as the assault rifles, under barrelled rocket launcher, or sacrificing the three round burst of the pistol for a single shot suppressor. Much like ammo, health and armour is scavenged by looting corpses, getting yourself off the beaten path and exploring. Health regeneration will only go so far too, so you’ll often have to keep an eye out for refills along the way.

Despite how entertaining ripping a mounted turret from its moorings and spraying down everything in sight can be, there’s always room for the quieter approach; in some cases, it can be satisfyingly preferable. Whilst the AI can be a little wonky, such as not being able to detect their stabbed comrade lying but 10 feet away from their patrol, it works in the games favour in terms of fun. Silent kills are truly silent too, meaning you can really clean up in some areas without even disturbing a mech-hound. If the contextual stealth kills aren’t quite your thing, you can also rely on the supressed pistol or the especially gratifying throwing knives, of which are only available upon completion of a perk requirement.

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Another progressive move is the inclusion of persistent perks, whilst not game changers (save for the throwing knives) they can definitely make things a little easier for you. The requirements are by and large, not too punishing and most will come as the result of normal play, providing you’re mixing things up a little. But the rewards can range from larger magazine capacities to moving quicker whilst crouched. It’s an effective, easy and addictive way of making you try the different playstyles whilst also getting rewarded for it.

Mission designs generally favour large, open maps with various opportunities to play how you choose. Commanders are usually dotted around; whilst they are unarmoured and pose little direct threat, if you are spotted, they will incessantly call for reinforcements until they’re silenced. Making a beeline for the nearest commander and taking them out is often a good way to start a mission; with not only the threat of more enemies out of the way, they’ll eventually reveal the locations of all the secrets on the map once you’ve disposed of them too.

As a whole, Wolfenstein looks and sounds fantastic, the bleak yet dystopian neo Nazi setting complements the characters facial details, expressions and characteristics to create an over the top, but mesmerizing experience. Enemy designs are full of detail and appear suitably daunting due to their attire and armour. Later, more heavily armed enemies, clad in biomechanical suits will continue to impress with their sheer intimidation values, whilst your rag tag bunch of fighters try their best to oppose them. The soundtrack, with its thunderous modern rock styling’s will rousingly kick in when things kick off, yet also mellow down to a subtle, sombre tone when things become serious. Voice acting is believable, passionate and attention garnering, yet unfortunately for those without a 5.1 surround system, the voices can be a little on the quiet side.

It’s commendable, especially nowadays, to not include multiplayer and instead, focus on a strong narrative and it’s worked in their favour. With a strong first playthrough of around 12 hours, replay value for unlocking secrets and perks; not to mention a major decision to be made at the start, almost demanding another run through on its own. Some small niggles keep it from perfection however, the weapon wheel and its associated quick swap button requires an uncommon level of proficiency in cryptic crossword solving and the occasional switch to unnecessary cutscenes can jar a little too. All are overshadowed however, by the presentation, character relationships and most importantly, gratuitous fun.

It’s the difficult third album for Wargame. I have spent a huge amount of time playing Airland Battle so Red Dragon promising the same game plus loads more stuff seemed perfect to me. Sadly I like to spend most of my time building decks. Looking through the vast amount of detail that Wargame packs into it’s ever increasing roster of units. If it’s detailed stats you want, Wargame will deliver in spades. And Red Dragon has added loads of new units to play with. The first time I went into the deck builder to get to grips with the new stuff I instantly noticed the welcome changes to the specializations you can choose for your decks.

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The basic premise is that the more restrictions you place on your deck the more benefits and bonuses that deck will receive. For instance selecting units from only a single nation limits you to only that nation’s units but also allows you access to their powerful prototype units. And that remains the same from Airland Battle except the time period in Red Dragon is later so the prototype units are less pivotal – but still formidable. And Red Dragon has added allegiances such as the Commonwealth which give you access to many nations at once, allowing much greater freedom when creating an army.

To build a deck you must select which units you want in each of the nine unit types. You can have a maximum of 5 cards in each (each card representing different amounts of units to deploy in battle depending on their type and stats) and with each consecutive card of the same type you choose the cost of activation points will go up. For example the first slot in Infantry costs 1, the second, third and fourth 2 and the fifth 3. That is assuming you build a standard deck without any specializations.

Limiting a deck to a specific time period in Airland Battle used to grant a unit count bonus. So, for example you could only have units from the 80’s but you’d get loads more to deploy in battle. In Red Dragon limiting a deck’s time period will instead give you more activation points to spend on unit cards, but doesn’t increase the available slots in each. Limiting an army to a specific type, such as Airborne or Mechanized Infantry, conversely allows you more cards for a type of unit but greatly limits your choice of units. It’s all very balanced and takes much more thought to get a deck right than before.

The alterations between Airland Battle and Red Dragon make activation points all the more important. Firstly you can only have 5 units of each type unless you specialize which means you have to consider a far more balanced approach when building a deck. It’s not possible anymore to select the British, fill the deck with all our best tanks (which are arguably the best on the game) and then use the spare activation points to fill in the blanks. You will likely have activation points spare after you have all the units you want so spending those last points can now cause a real dilemma.

Much to my surprise the naval units don’t cost you any activation points at all. Standard decks get to choose five cards and with a specialization that can be increased. Most of the time the standard amount will be more than enough. If you choose to play a naval map this will be the only selection you can have, with a few planes and other units thrown in to make sure you can have a full army on the naval only maps. But the split maps that can have naval units as support units are by far the best way to use them. The entirely naval maps don’t really work. But zooming in and viewing a blockade of ships firing their cannons at ground units as your infantry advances is a sight to behold – in a way that can only be achieved on Wargame.

Red Dragon ensures that specializations are more important than before. They can radically change a deck now and you get the feeling that they really do change an army so that it reflects your chosen specializations. Combined with the increased unit count it’s possible to spend hours getting your deck right, even if you’ve played Airland Battle and know most of the units.

Outside of skirmishes and deck building the campaign has taken a bit of a hit. There aren’t quite as many features as Airland Battle offered and the alterations to deck building and new units make little to no baring on the campaign. If, for some reason, the campaign is your main draw to Wargame you’re honestly probably better off with Airland Battle.

Switching online there’s not much to say, and that’s a good thing. Maps load quickly and I ran into no performance issues on my travels. I got thrashed a couple of times but Red Dragon performed admirably all round even on the epic 10 v 10 maps. They really do bring a whole new scale to Wargame. Having 10 different decks can create some radically different teams and even further emphasises Red Dragons improved deck building.

Under the hood Eugen System’s IRISZOOM V4 is hard at work and looks as good as ever. The detailing on each of the 1,200 units is incredible, again. Nothing has been missed, overlooked or rushed. The environments and particle effects are as stunning as ever too. Environments move, react and change from the battles that rage around them. And there’s no other RTS that looks quite like the IRISZOOM when you zoom in, the camera locks on and you follow a unit of tanks as they tear across a field, booming and shaking as they destroy the enemy only to then be destroyed by a ground attack bomber.

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How much you enjoy Red Dragon really comes down to what you get from Wargame. For those who enjoy playing online Red Dragon offers truly massive online maps to wage war on. But the campaign is probably better on Airland Battle, or at least offers more options. The naval battles are strange on their own but the ships add another satisfying layer to standard gameplay if used as coastal support.

The changes to the deck builder are all welcome and now you really have to consider your options when building. It’s not just a two minute job with one tricky decision at the end anymore, you really have to think it through right from the start. The gameplay, visuals and UI’s remain largely unchained which, for me at least, was again welcome but some might feel that Red Dragon doesn’t really feel like a full release. If you want Airland Battle with new units, new factions, new maps, improved deck building, naval warfare and increased multiplayer match sizes then Red Dragon is exactly that. Thankfully everything else has been left unchanged and Red Dragon feels very much like a true Wargame title. Red Dragon is another great addition in this amazing RTS franchise.

 

Dustforce is a 2d action platforming game were you take control of various members of a cleaning crew tasked with, well, cleaning. Except these are no ordinary cleaners, oh no, this is by far the most athletically able maintenance crew that has ever existed.

There’s a sort of low gravity thing going on as you control your nimble cleaner and slide down drops sweeping as you go. It’s easy to get the hang of Dustforce because there’s nothing really complicated at work. But it very quickly becomes satisfying as you quickly zip around the map furiously cleaning as you go. It’s one of those easy to learn difficult to master deals. There isn’t much of a challenge in Dustforce unless you make one for yourself trying to achieve high scores and perfect your strange cleaning ballet.

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Achieving perfection is much more difficult than progressing through the game – although later levels require you to achieve certain scores in previous levels to unlock them. After you complete a level you’re given a grade that represents how efficient, or inefficient, your cleaning was. This takes much more time and patients to master. You’ll need to not only have pretty masterful control over your character but also need to learn the quickest, most efficient, route around an area. You’ll also likely need to make no mistakes as you use the low gravity momentum style physics to clean up a level.

The smooth cartoon style effects complement the slick gameplay perfectly. Cleaning a section of dirt has a satisfying effect that helps you methodically progress through an area. As you attempt to keep the flow of a level going and smoothly float from platform to platform the stable frame rate and vibrant graphics make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job.

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But due to the perfectionist style gameplay Dustforce can also become quite frustrating for those just looking for a fun platformer. It’s easy to just complete a level but to achieve anything better than the minimum requires a huge amount more effort. The real core of the fun in Dustforce comes from the strive towards high scores and not from progression. There’s really very little fun for those looking to just play and not spend hour after hour perfecting their technique.

If you feel the need to achieve higher and higher ranks or even attempt to climb the online leaderboards Dustforce can offer you many hours of entertainment. But other than that there’s very little to do and enjoy. The four characters have different abilities, which the game doesn’t tell you about, that you’ll need to use to complete certain areas of certain levels but other than that it’s all about improving your own skill.

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There’s certainly more on offer from Dustforce to a platforming veteran looking for a new challenge, at the expense of accessibility to new players. But for those who know there way around a platformer the control system will likely feel a little unresponsive. It was difficult to tell whether or not it was the platforming mechanics that made it feel this way or a control system that was a little slow. It didn’t hinder me from getting through the game but when trying to achieve those pesky high scores it became an occasional problem. It’s not something that gets in the way all the time but it’s something that seasoned pros will likely notice very quickly.

Overall Dustforce is an enjoyable little platforming with a simple concept that requires much time and effort to master. If you’re looking for a challenge that demands patients and effort then Dustforce is for you. But if not there’s little to nothing on offer really. There are four characters which have even less dimensions that their environment and nothing but easy to complete, very difficult to master levels. Dustforce is absolutely one for the platforming enthusiast.

 

The recent social infatuation with anything zombie related quickly spread to the far reaches of the gaming genre. Whether it be solid, story driven experiences, first person shooters or even thumbstick shooters, modern games have given you a way to expel the virtual horde from the comfort of your own sofa. Nether Productions and Phosphor have got you covered too with the release of Nether, a first person survival MMO that will feel familiar to those who’ve sampled the likes of Day-Z and others of its ilk.

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After creating a character to skulk about the vast, desolate wasteland, your journey begins. Whilst you may be tempted to sprint to the nearest accessible building you can find, the game makes it immediately clear that this is an unwise choice. The Nether you’ll encounter during your (probably) brief initial lifespan are attracted to loud noises at the detriment to their sight, meaning keeping a low profile is extremely beneficial during your early, kitchen knife wielding, forays. You’ll come across many lootable items during your time; some of them more immediately useful than others. Scavenging a gun early on should serve you well enough, providing you don’t go overboard and waste your ammunition on what was once, a seemingly lone enemy.

Acquiring various, miscellaneous items along your travels should, mostly increase your probability of surviving for a little longer. It’s your awareness however, that will be crucial in keeping your goodies close to your chest. Verticality plays a large role in the exploration of the game, with tall buildings being scalable for the many benefits that they possess, lines of sight and fortification to name a couple. Fastidiously checking every corner space for that familiar glint of loot can be a slow process, yet the alternative can lead to potential trouble. Flashing lights and smoke stacks usually indicate good potential looting spots, yet with them come the increased likelihood of a group of Nether, or worse, another human player.

Whilst the game does cater for alliances and tribes, I often found many players were of the shoot first, gather your accrued loot later approach. It’s very much a lone wolf affair at the moment; that can be incredibly frustrating for newcomers, especially so, when the chances of having anything vaguely valuable on your person are so low. There are safe zones which must be captured and maintained where ‘friendly fire’ is not permitted, yet on the few occasions where I didn’t get slaughtered on the way in, getting unceremoniously gunned down in the back upon leaving, wasn’t a rare occurrence either.

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Needless to say, it’s best to play with a group of friends on a game such as this, when even the most basic of confrontations can end in disaster, strength in numbers can most definitely be applied to Nether. Not only will you be able to scavenge loot more comfortably, but should you fall to your demise, at least a friendly face can pick up your loot for you, providing they give you it back at least…

Besides devolving into a (hopefully) unlikely state of affairs where during an age of apocalypse, it’s every man for himself, there are some arbitrary quests dotted about the place. These are usually in the form of carrying an object from one place to another; said object inevitably being so unwieldy that it therefore renders you combat ineffective during the transport. Another, largely group focused, event being the spawn of a rather large Nether called a Reaper somewhere on the map, don’t rush in unprepared for this one as much like the escort missions, it’s best to take a friend or two along.

If getting around the intimidatingly large map on foot sounds a little too pedestrian, you can always vainly hope that one of the special vehicles spawns for you. With a rumoured select few locations and a low rate of it actually appearing, the dirt bike will become a rare sight; that’s not to mention the spike in attention you’re likely to receive either. If buzzing about on a stiffly animated steed isn’t quite your cup of tea, there is also the purchasable hang glider, available from all good wasteland merchants, that’ll help let you get the drop on an unsuspecting foe; whether it’s attempting a stylised kill or simply a quick way downstairs off a roof, you’re covered.

The amount of weapons to play with seems fairly comprehensive in its current state, there are the usual shotguns, pistols and rifles to keep dear; as well as a few buildable items to tinker with. Guns generally feel weighty and tend to have a lot of impact as you might expect, yet it’s the melee weapons where things start to take a little downfall. Instead of timing considerations and proper utilisation of the stamina bar, it seems more prudent and effective to simply flail wildly at the enemy and hope they drop first.

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Despite the game still being largely unfinished in areas, there are some factors which are unlikely to change that do disappoint. The spawning of the Nether(s) look and feel archaic; due to giving them the excuse of teleportation as a way to always keep you on your toes, it feels unimaginative and frustrating. When there is eventually no other choice but to fight, the Nether seemingly insist upon dull guerrilla tactics to win; due to the wonky hit detection of the melee weapons, it can feel futile at times.

In terms of looks, Nether can have its ups and downs. The map looks atmospheric enough and the weapon models are well suited to the overall style, the disappointing Nether creatures themselves look a little generic and devoid of detail however. The ambient sound works well with the dusky atmosphere and the chilling cries of the Nether are panic inducing at the best of times, never mind when in conjunction with other players’ gunfire, helping to create a great sense of immersion at times.

Whilst the base mechanics for this type of game are all there, it’s down to the community to forge what type of game Nether becomes. Whereas some people like to take the lone ranger approach and kill other players for whatever reason, this can and will prove a problem for the more casual player. For a person new to the genre, they’ll be in for a sharp shock upon their loss of the vast majority of, ironically, what little progression they’ve made.

PvP killings, camping and a lack of any narrative will turn away the masses, even in spite of how much potential Nether has. Consistent updates and a more unified community could well change it around however; here’s hoping it can carve the niche it deserves.

It’s virtually impossible not to describe Warlock as Civ with wizards. And basically that’s exactly what it is. It’s a turn based hex strategy game that replaces Civ’s lust for diplomacy and economic stability for a combat focused style. With wizards.

Being new to Warlock I really found the first few hours to be quite a drag. I told myself that once the tutorial was done I’d be able to enjoy some freedom and get on with the game. On my first playthrough I was left completely stuffed by the time the tutorial had ended. I couldn’t fit any more cities in my starting area. I couldn’t push through to a different area because I would receive a sound thrashing from the local wildlife. I had no expansion options and my population growth was so slow that I couldn’t construct a single building without waiting many, many, turns. It seems completely backwards that population growth can only be altered by building new cities, which are limited by the space you have available, and buildings which you can’t build if you don’t have enough population!

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Admittedly that was my first go and first goes never go well on turn-based strategies that are new to you. But it frustrated me that my only option was to sit there and watch as my lame attempt at an empire was destroyed by a few meagre bandits. I wouldn’t want Warlcok’s content or strategy reduced but when trying to learn the game there very quickly comes a point were it throws everything at you all at once even though you’ve only just figured out what everything in the HUD actually means.

Rather than a usual research tree Warlock presents you with various spells and such for your wizard to learn. There’s a nice progression to learning new spells and each is split into distinct classes so you can focus on whatever play style you want. It is a little frustrating that the AI seems to come ready equipped with various spells they can use to assault your towns with. Early on another wizard can change tiles into water or reduce lush hexes to nothing but desert. All this happens around you as you wait turn after turn just to learn a spell to repair the damage – or at least that’s a position you could be in.

It’s a difficult balance between keeping a game strategic and appealing to its existing fanbase and making it accessible to new players. Personally it wasn’t that I found the learning curve particularly sharp but everything the game has to offer is pushed on you in the first 20 or so turns. But then thinking back how much support did I have when I first played a Civ game?

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And there’s certainly loads of different things to do in Warlock. It’s very rare that you’ll be sat there clicking ‘next turn’ constantly as you wait for the only left to do to complete. There’s just too much to do for that to happen. Between building and managing cities, raising armies and fighting battles and trying to outwit your wizarding foes you’ll have little in the way of free time.

And the combat focus is clearly what separates Warlock from Civ. Battles were never really Civ’s strong points although I always found them entertaining. Warlock’s battles follow a similar logic and use almost exactly the same mechanics except there’s more of them. But the era doesn’t change. The only real difference comes from the spells your wizard can cast.

You can choose to increase a units defence, haste them, heal them or whatever else you can find in the more than comprehensive spell research tree. It really is impressive and crammed full of stuff that you can actually use to effect. Considering you can even alter the map with some of them they’re both comprehensive and empowering. When you need to get an army past an obstacle it’s refreshing to decide between levitating it across water or creating land for them to walk across. If there’s a mountain in the way flatten it. It’s cool but can get frustrating when the AI just bombards you with late level spells, seemingly, earlier than is possible.

A major difference between Warlock 2 and its predecessor is the use of shard worlds. Each player gets their own mini-world to start on and to travel between these small islands your units need to travel through portals that can be found on the map. It’s a nice way to break up the campaign and allows for tougher enemies early on with the security that players can retreat back to their home world and relative safety as they build up an army or complete research or whatever. Although it’s worth pointing out you can alter this in the options when you’re setting up a game if you want a more ‘traditional’ large map.

Visually speaking Warlock 2 is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a turn based hex strategy game. The effects on the spells and animations when you alter the terrain are great. The cities and buildings are nicely stylized and some of the worlds are fantastically vibrant. Lush forests areas are particularly nice. But there’s nothing likely to wow or astonish.

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The battle between Civ and Warlock is long and complicated and I’ve been battling it out in my head for some time. My main gripe with Warlock 2 is the combat heavy nature of gameplay and the super weapon style spells, which is exactly how it sets itself apart. I never liked super weapons, even back in the Westwood days so the spells don’t really appeal to me. And by far my favourite part of Civ is the fact that combat is important and can be integral but you can also completely ignore it and there’s plenty to do besides.

Warlock streamlines the gameplay to revolve around combat, but then seems unsure of itself and adds city building and complex research to the mix without adding the infrastructure to support them. I couldn’t help but feel that much of the depth and strategy of everything besides combat is lost in Warlock 2. I’m not really sure why Warlock isn’t just a turn based RTS rather than trying to add mechanics that are counterintuitive to a combat focused game.

But, if you want turn based hex combat and feel like all the ‘strategy’ is just filler that gets in the way, Warlock 2 is a definite choice. But frankly for less money on steam Civ V gives you a much more comprehensive game that allows you to focus on combat if you want to. Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two but Warlock clearly takes its inspiration from Civ yet seems to offer much less content. If Warlock had made more of an effort to step out of Civ’s impressive shadow rather than trying to mimic its exact shape I could see it as a game in it’s own right but it’s just too similar not to compare. To focus on combat would have been fine but Warlock 2 tries to do everything at once and focus on combat. As such, Warlock 2 feels like a turn based RTS with loads of content forced in that doesn’t really enrich the experience.

 

Despite the limited choice of titles available on the PS4 we still don’t have a fully fledged RPG. Bound by Flame aims to change that with it’s focus directly on combat and character progression, which is a good plan. There’s a lot that can be forgiven in an RPG provided it has a strong combat system and meaningful characters. First thing’s first, character customization.

Or in this case the complete lack of character customization. Setting up a character is one of the best parts of an RPG for me. Painstakingly getting everything just right whilst trying to remain at least slightly unique. It’s one of those ‘sit back and relax’ moments that usually only occur in RPG’s. I say this without trying to be cruel but I don’t know why Bound by Flame bothered having customization. I decided to set up a female character and changed her name. I know, how adventurous.

There really isn’t anything else to change apart from hairstyles, and there’s only about 6 of those. But very soon into the game I raised an eyebrow as a character called me Vulcan, which is the default name. They also insisted on referring to my character as if she was a man which I can’t imagine would please her at all. My advice is don’t change any of the few choices you have for character customization, the rest of the game simply isn’t made to handle them and there’s not much choice anyway. Stick with a guy called Vulcan and you won’t get annoyed every time someone refers to you by the wrong name – or gender.

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After that you are presented with a reasonably short cutscene that introduces the main characters and plot of Bound by Flame. Character animations are not great. There’s a reliance on exaggerated hand and arm movements the likes of which you might expect from early PS3 games, and that’s being generous. Character’s torsos are fixed in place firmly like lifeless tree trunks as they talk waving their arms as if practicing semaphore without the flags.

And to accompany that there’s some equally overacted voices. Every bit of speech sounds like it’s being read from a script. There’s little emotion in the words and no fluidity to conversations. The joking and banter between characters is at best not funny and at it’s worst just plain embarrassing. And to further compound things the lip syncing varies between poor and hilarious. On more than a few occasions I was reminded of moments from Kung Pow. I’m not expecting The Last Of Us but when a character literally starts speaking several, very noticeable, seconds before his lips start moving it’s difficult to ignore.

And so Bound by Flame makes a very bad first impression. It seems to start the game by using all the things that aren’t what you would call its strengths. The introductory scenes don’t take long but a little combat right at the start would have helped players see past some of these problems. Instead the first thing Bound by Flame does is barrage you with all the things it’s not so good at. But striving on you soon find yourself in the games tutorial.

Which has definitely been well thought through. It’s about the right length, covers everything you need to know and doesn’t patronise. A few words appear in the form of a pop-up and then you’re allowed to try your new skills on a conveniently spawned enemy. I was never left wandering aimlessly for hours only to realise I just needed to push ‘x’ or something else the game decided I didn’t need to know but at the same time Bound by Flame shows no intent on holding your hand.

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And after everybody shuts up and lets you go do some fighting it becomes more than obvious that combat is where Bound by Flame is comfortable. There are three stances available to you, the ‘Ranger’, the ‘Warrior’ and not much later the ‘Pyromancer’. The Ranger specialises in using daggers and has a dodge ability rather than the Warriors block and counter. The Warrior wields an impressive claymore and relies more on hitting things very hard on the head with a big sword than speed and grace. The Pyromancer class allows you to use spells and abilities based around fire and is available to either class without switching roles – which can be done at the press of a button during battle.

There’s nothing intrinsically complex about the combat but it is satisfying. In between hacking away at your foes you’ll need to time your blocks/dodges to avoid taking big damage and winding up dead. Enemies hit pretty hard even quite early in the game and death is a real possibility even in standard fights if you get sloppy which helps keep things interesting. We’re not talking Dark Souls but still you need to pay attention when engaging the enemy.

Unless you can’t see them. As an example very early in the game you will need to make your way through a swamp. There are trees and wildlife everywhere and everything either shoots some sort of organic death barb at you or just flies at you to ruin your day and generally make life hard. When the camera goes tight and three giant mosquito things wall bang you the fun soon wares off. Add to that the one that’s now off screen and therefore impossible to dodge and you’ve got yourself a pretty annoying situation that soon gets diffused by your death. It’s not a regular thing but I found myself being overly cautious and sometimes kiting enemies so it didn’t happen.

Upgrades are well thought out and balanced so that you feel the constant need to progress but don’t become a demigod within the first 10 minutes. Reading through the list of potential upgrades and abilities can seem disappointing but once you’re a few hours in you start to notice those small chance increases and minor changes to moves have made a real difference.

But ironically the decisions that your character faces make little to no difference on what happens. You’re basic choices are to follow the instructions of the demon that inhabits you or to defy it and help humanity. But in all honesty these moments have little effect on the gameplay and in come cases you will play the same quests regardless of what you choose. It’s not the linearity that bothers me but the illusion of choice.

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In one respect Bound by Flame’s reliance on combat and upgrades is a success. They haven’t reinvented the wheel but there are strong mechanics that are satisfying and rewarding. But honestly the good elements just aren’t good enough to make up for Bound by Flame’s lack of characterization, poor voice acting and script writing and lack of imaginative plot. The visuals are distinctly average and the rigid character movements are ever-present. There’s some good music and definitely some RPG combat fun but it’s just not enough to make up for everything else.

Since the current, almost oversaturation of modern military shooters adorning the market today, it can be difficult to stand out against the crowd when creating a multiplayer game. Fatshark and Paradox Interactive have managed to distance themselves from the crowd however, bringing to us a sequel of sorts to the close quarter combat orientated War of the Roses, aptly named, War of the Vikings.

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War of the Vikings isn’t your traditional game, yet judging by most descriptions and blurbs, it is. A multiplayer combat game in an open area, where the skills of the players matter. In fact in the tutorial itself, you are trained in the arts of blocks, parries and attacks. The problem being, is that you’re trained in a largely 1v1 scenario; the real battles could honestly not be further removed from this.

Expecting a well matched bout of skill and awareness, I dove into my first battle with a Viking roar and little trepidation. My valiant roar was soon reduced to a childlike weep as around 30 other players brawled around the map, all seemingly unaware of the fresh meat on the battlefield. With my training in tow, I strode across to my first prey, before getting unceremoniously killed by a teammate. After that, things only got worse.

After steadying my resolve I chased the roaming Katamari ball of Vikings across the map and got stuck in. It wasn’t too long after, that I discovered you get punished for (accidental) team kills, something that is nearly unavoidable whilst playing this game. Along with the standard melee weapons, there are also ranged bows and spears to try your hand at, but being able to get off an accurate shot whilst everything around you drifts into chaos, it can seem to favour luck over skill.

Whilst I can sympathise with those who’ve tried it, gotten a Saxon style beating and turned it off, there is a defiantly fiendish learning curve to overcome; mainly down to the controls. Not only does it seem counter intuitive (in practice) to both hold the button and flick the mouse in the required direction, but also to add timing and precision, can make it rather daunting. Stick with it though, and you’ll soon be able to fend for yourself, providing you choose your battles wisely!

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As is always the case, becoming better at the game requires you to sink more time into it, however due to the lack of varied game modes; this could pose an issue in the long term. Alongside the chaotic and often frustrating team deathmatch, there are also modes common to other multiplayer games. The small team based arena mode can be the most fun, mainly due to the reduced amount of players, allowing you to be a little more deliberate with attacking. Another objective based mode, where you only have one life can also be fun, but needless to say, it’s not particularly suited for beginners!

No self-respecting multiplayer game would be complete nowadays without the fabled create a loadout screen; War of the Vikings is no different. The currency and experience you earn during battle can all be used to help personalize your loadout with unlocks to suit one of few limited play styles. Whether it be charging blindly at the enemy, or vainly attempting that cross-map arrow shot you’ve been hunting, you should be catered for. Aesthetic choices are also available should you desire a more dishevelled beard or a more threating great axe, one thing, mysteriously missing, is the option to do battle as a fearless maiden. Instead, you’ll just have to equip the most feminine looking facial hair and stride confidently onwards.

Whilst the combat can be quite satisfying, the timing required for critical hits, successful parries and capitalising on an opponent’s misfortune are all reliant upon a stable and quick connection. There were times I was thrust into a lobby where it resembled a medieval PAC-MAN adventure. When everything goes your way however, it can be genuinely thrilling to beat opponents due to tactics and quick reactions; not having to rely upon furiously spamming the left mouse button.

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The maps are generally great to look at; with variations in locales and size, however playing them in a full server can be more stressful than fun. After a few 32 player matches, you’ll soon start to look for the smaller lobbies, mainly for a more tactical battle. It often seems as though every flank route is ignored, which in a competitive multiplayer game, was quite the eye opener. The general unspoken battle plan seemed to be to rush into the centre, axe flailing wildly, before re-spawning within touching distance of an enemy. If this is an accurate portrayal of Viking warfare, it’s of no surprise that their life expectancy was of a low age!

Whilst the game might not be pushing the limits of any graphical abilities, it does look nice enough, the detail on your character can be fairly impressive and the maps all possess a distinct look. Whether it be forestry or frosty, each map has its own play style to adhere to as well, meaning some will be undoubtedly more fun than others to play on depending on your style. The lack of music, except on the main menu, and the hammy voice acting can often detract from the otherwise, somewhat engrossing experience and unfortunately instead, forms a polar opposite to the intended immersive depth of the controls.

Whilst it may well turn off any newcomers due to the hectic forays into battle, difficult to master controls and sheer hysteria involved in most matches, there can be some fun to be had in War of the Vikings. Dedicate some time and hard graft however, and it will pay off; hopefully leaving you one of the select few Vikings left standing. The tools necessary to accomplish your desired tactics are there, it’s just ultimately whether you can get past some of the inherent gameplay barriers before losing interest. Certainly not for everyone, but for those who can find their niche, it can be a refreshing change of pace from the norm.

In keeping with the film, Activision and Beenox have released The Amazing Spider-Man 2 around the same time frame; despite the game having little to nothing in common with the movie, could it be a welcome tie-in, or will it succumb to the fate of most super hero games?

ASM2 Night Watch_1399035115

I would say that the first thing you’ll notice is the interesting starting point for our new adventure, however that would be wrong. The first thing I actually noticed, was a surprisingly long load screen, followed by a display of distinctly meagre graphics, not something I’ve come to expect of my PS4! Despite this, the game starts off with a flashback to Uncle Ben’s murder; if you didn’t know this after a multitude of films and games, you’re once again welcome to another viewing of what turns Spider-Man into what he is today.

Jumping forward in time, thankfully skipping the origin story entirely, we find ourselves smack in the middle of New York City, Spidey’s realm, in search of Ben’s killer. Priorities soon change however upon the formation of a joint venture between OsCorp and Wilson Fisk, along with the discovery of several vicious murders in and around town. The only consistent clue being a calling card of sorts, the letters CK scrawled into the wall, presumably in blood. With the media quickly coining the initials as the ‘The Carnage Killer’, fans will be left in no doubt to whom the overarching villain is.

The narrative, whilst essentially laid out in part at the beginning, soon becomes disjointed as super villains are thrown around with no regard to exposition or their origins. Whereas in the film, the two main villains are given plenty of screen time, both before and after becoming their evil counterparts. In the game however, people just seem to show up for a rumble and once defeated, are never seen again. What makes this all the more confusing, is the chosen timeline, which appears to be the same as the film, yet misses out key characters such as Gwen Stacey and adds many in their place as filler. Not to mention adding the inevitable, classic totalitarian police state, of which New York eventually succumbs to, with Fisk’s and OsCorp venture creating a city wide blanketing task force to ‘help’ the city’s crime spree.

This helps lead me on to one of the most bewildering gameplay design inclusions I’ve seen in a long time. The hero bar, which fills up upon completing the timed and somewhat procedurally random events that occur around town, whether that be rescuing a civilian or simply thumping some thugs into submission. When the bar’s even vaguely filled, everything’s all fine and dandy, when it drops below the midway point, which it will, the task force start to envelop the city, creating new threats for Spidey to overcome. It may sound good in theory; whilst I do understand that it’s supposed to give the feeling of an overwhelming sense of futility in looking after the city, in a gameplay sense, timed diversions are only ever irritating.

ASM2 Skydiving_1399035122

Half of the problem with completing these diversions, are the poorly disguised and completely unnecessary load times bookending each one. To have a 30 second fight with a small group of enemies for example, it first shows you what these miscreants are up to, usually breaking and entering, then teleports you right next to them in a small alleyway. Following the quick beatdown, it then brings up a news report video with a pat on the back, before teleporting you somewhere else afterwards. Why these are not simply integrated within the game itself I don’t know, it must be the lack of hardware resources available…

With the incredible job Rocksteady have done with the Batman franchise, it’s of no surprise to see some influenced or borrowed techniques appear in other super hero games. Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, can border on the unbelievable. The combat system is fairly reminiscent, with you using an attack (a lot), a counter that can also now deal with multiple foes, a ranged stunning attack and a Mortal Kombat, Scorpion ‘get over here’ move. The real borrowing however, comes in the form of the stealth orientated rooms, where you can perch, use spider sense, perform silent takedowns and not at any point be reminded of recent Batman outings.

That’s not to say it’s all bad however, there are moments where The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really shines and brings a smile to your face; namely doing what Spider-Man does best, swinging through the city. With each trigger associated with its corresponding web-slinging hand, it can be great fun to navigate New York. Taking optimal routes and tickling the apex of a building is as endearing as it is difficult. Spider-Man can no longer attach to thin air and making tight, high turns is made intentionally difficult. As one of the more unique super hero traversal methods, as you might expect, it translates beautifully to the game; it’s the only place where you’ll truly see so many unique and distinctly Spider-Man-esque animations; it’s definitely the highlight of the game.

ASM2 Kingpin's Lair_1399035113

Despite the main missions not taking a huge amount of time to complete, there is generally plenty to do in and around New York, collectible comic book pages flutter tantalisingly close by, combat rooms are ready for testing, there’s always plenty of lore to read up on in Stan’s Comic Stand and new suits are waiting to be unlocked. Whilst the game does have a level up mechanic, the upgrades available are a little disappointing, serving little purpose other than to keep you competitive with the increases in threat such as a seismic blast to deal with some of the large foes. The suits on the other hand work a little differently; each have a set of bonuses which can influence things like damage reduction, healing rate and threat detection, each of which get arbitrarily increased upon the suit levelling up.

It’s not only the derivative side missions where the game takes a technical swing and a miss however, as along with the uninspiring fidelity and detail adorning everything but a few select Spider-Man costumes, enemy models are repeated constantly, with only a couple for each sub type. Couple this with the occasionally funny, but ultimately repetitive quips; you’ve got a game draped in monotony. The camera too, as per usual, can have its iffy moments to spoil the web-slinging sensation, not only is it slightly too zoomed in during the constant mashing of square during combat, but the inevitable happens when a misplaced swing around a building doesn’t quite go your way too. Considering the hardware available from the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s hardly a looker; even if it was, the loading times would still be far to frequent and overly long to not cause issues.

From the start to the rather odd ending involving Peter Parker and Stan Lee, Amazing Spider-Man 2 screams of wasted potential. It’s a shame to have such an iconic character, possessing so rich a tapestry of talents and abilities that could be so easily translatable to our medium, once again, fall so hard.

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