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Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adding flair to a kick

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

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

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

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

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Come on Brock, have another go at UFC

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

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

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

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I don’t know what’s happening here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Just a casual night out

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

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

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

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The use of contrast is often striking throughout

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

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

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

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Probably shouldn’t keep staring at him…

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

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

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

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Just a little nudge won’t hurt…

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

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

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

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Visibility can be poor at times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

With the Dark Souls series firmly planted in the last gen; and a while left to wait yet for Bloodborne, Deck 13 Interactive, CI Games and Square Enix have released Lords of the Fallen. A game very much in the vein of the Souls succession, offering careful yet strategic combat, enormous bosses and learning by your own mistakes. Will Lords of the Fallen become a simple stopgap, or will it rise to the occasion and prove to be an independent game in its own right?

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I guess it’s my turn now then?

Every good adventure needs a suitably, strong protagonist, expectedly more so in an RPG; initially that’s seemingly not the case here. You play as Harkyn, a felon bearing mysterious tattoo like daubing’s upon his face. Each one is directly related to a past sin he’s committed, but unfortunately that’s about as much detail as the game cares to enlighten you with. All that’s really presented to the player is that you used to vanquish foes left, right and centre, before eventually being put in prison. Now that the worlds gone to pot again however, you’ve been released, met up with your mentor Kaslo, and are now on a warpath to ridding the realm of both the Lords and Rhogar.

Don’t expect a Bethesda style offering of customisation off the bat, as the convicted criminal Harkyn is going to sport the bearded yet bald look throughout. Instead, aesthetic customisation is left to the different variants of equippable armour found in the game. Character interaction isn’t one of the games strongest points either, despite being presented with a conversation tree each time you talk to an NPC. Recurring characters might have something different to say depending upon the outcome of their previous conversations, but if it did change, it wasn’t too noticeable. Having established that the storytelling and narrative aspects won’t be the games strongest suits, it’s time to swing an axe or two and see how the gameplay holds up.

Within the first five minutes you are offered a choice of starting class; radically changing not only how you approach the game, but also the inherent difficulty throughout. The rouge class, for example, will see you play much more conservatively than the warrior and his (eventually) enormously damaging ‘quake’ attack; whereas the cleric focuses on endurance and deception to survive.

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Leave it out mate

Whereas picking your class gave you a vague indication of what sort of playstyle you’d adopt, it’s eventually up to your equipped armour and weapons that will decide your combat effectiveness. Donning a light set of armour that may have half the defence rating of your currently equipped set may sound like a ridiculous idea, until you get into combat and realise you can literally run rings around enemies that is. As you might expect, the heavier the armour, the more limited you are in manoeuvrability; changing weight classes provides new challenges on its own. Instead of relying upon those select few invincibility frames you get whilst rolling from side to side, you’ll have to learn the intricate timings of blocking as a replacement.

Whilst certainly more forgiving than Dark Souls, in that a couple of standard enemies are unlikely to ruin your day, the combat system is relatively similar. It all comes down to management of your dwindling stamina bar; and what actions you perform to deplete it. Attacking, blocking, rolling and sprinting will all drain it, and once it’s gone, you’ll likely suffer a grisly fate if not you’re not mindful. Deft timing and learning enemy attack patterns play a crucial role in engaging foes; deciding when to attack or capitalise on an opening will often decide the fate of a battle. The slow, deliberate swing of a greatsword might deal tremendous damage, but at the expense of a more patient battle. Dual wielding daggers, conversely, won’t dish it out as much as you’d like, but constantly attacking and potentially cancelling their efforts certainly sounds appealing too. Best of all, you can completely switch up your equipped loadout at any time, (it even pauses the game for you) meaning experimentation is encouraged.

It wouldn’t be an RPG without levelling up and Lords of the Fallen is no exception here either; encouraging ‘braveness’ is partly how the XP system functions. You can bank and spend your accumulated experience points at any, frequent enough, save point; putting XP into either levelling your spells or just plain attribute buffing is up to you. The kicker being that the longer you hold onto those precious points, the more XP you’ll earn, due to the score multiplier increasing after each successive kill. Obviously the downside being that if you die before spending them, you’ll have to hotfoot it towards your corpse before it disappears; taking all those potential levels along with it. Several factors come into play here; firstly, all the enemies respawn, meaning you’ll likely have to deal with some of those on your journey back; secondly, despite the game not taking your weapons off you when you die, there is a time limit instead. Whilst not particularly harsh, it does increase the tension knowing that if you die before retrieving it, it’s gone forever.

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I think we’re both going to suffer here…

Navigation toes the boundary between borderline fun and frustrating. Mainly in part due to the maze-like catacombs that re-tread previously explored areas alongside doors which look surprisingly pre-rendered, making them easy to overlook. There are no objective markers, maps or even vague hints of where to progress towards; and mostly this a refreshing case. For those that like to explore every nook and cranny, you’ll often be greatly rewarded with map knowledge and the prospect of hidden treasures. It’s rumoured that seeing everything Lords of the Fallen has to offer in a single playthrough can take over twice as long as just simply progressing, meaning you could easily squeeze 40-50 hours out of it should you wish.

In terms of difficulty, Lords of the Fallen is certainly no push over, however, depending on the player, it’s also certainly no Dark Souls either. The bosses can be often tricky with forethought and planning being good ideas, but after a while, the standard enemies lose their intimidation factors’, meaning a good portion of the game’s appeal may also dwindle for some.

Graphically, Lords of the Fallen can often look distinctly polished; with some of the backdrops looking fantastic. The Darksiders-style armour works well within the look of the game too, despite sometimes looking a little ‘cartoony’ on the equipment page. A huge mention needs to go to the music department, as some of the scores are truly rousing and suitably epic.

Due to Lords of the Fallen taking more than a few cues out of the Dark Souls franchise, you can safely expect the game to be fairly difficult. For veterans of the genre, it may not pose as much of a challenge as they could wish for, but it’s a great jumping in point for those who, for whatever reason, can’t get into the Souls series. A weak narrative and limited character customisation options drag it down a little, but it’s a solid start to what could be a great new run of games.

No matter how many racing games that get released, none have come close to garnering my attention for as long as Gran Turismo 4 way back on the PS2. Stepping outside the boundaries of the PlayStation grants access to the ever great Forza series, but no longer owning an Xbox has left me with little to love. With the majority of its online issues now resolved, let’s hope Evolutions Studio’s hyped up, PlayStation exclusive, Driveclub can satiate my need for speed.

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The way it was meant to be played

First off, and it might sound patronising or obvious, but you really could do with joining a club as soon as you can, even if you intend to play the majority of the game in singleplayer. As although you can create one, it will remain inactive and you won’t earn any club specific unlocks until at least two out of the six club positions are filled. This might not be an issue for some or even most people, yet if none of your online buddies play racing games, you’ll have to join someone else’s, or spam the in-game list with invites to try and populate your own.

It’s certainly not necessary to play online in a club to fully enjoy the game, it’s just you’ll be missing out on a few cars and liveries by the end. And for anyone remotely of the obsessive compulsive nature, this will constantly irritate. Especially at the end of each and every race where it breaks down your unlocks; gratifyingly rewarding you for being a great driver, yet locking out content at the same time. ‘Let’s have a look at what you could’ve won!’ springs to mind.

Club-ing aside, the singleplayer mode was where I first delved in; upon starting up a race, it became clear to see that interaction and immersion with the player was going to be sparse at best. I’m generally not a fan of the system in many racing games where you receive multiple arbitrary emails that congratulate you for picking a team or qualifying etc. but at least then, there is some semblance of acknowledgement. Picking a race in Driveclub involves choosing a thumbnail and selecting race, that’s about it. The system in Forza was a good middle ground, where you could either select an event from the expansive grid, or let the game recommend races depending on the suitability of your current car, or even suggesting a track you haven’t raced yet. It was a happy medium that gave you something different to break up the monotony.

Instead, you unlock events using a star system; with the next set of races unlocked once you’ve collected enough prerequisite points. Whilst victory in most racing games is dependent upon finishing in first place, Driveclub tasks you with up to three objectives to complete during the race. A stalwart one being ‘finish in the top three’, alongside fun distractions such as corner mastery, average speed checks and drift sections. These not only break up the potential tedium, but also serve as a little bit extra replay value should you wish to go back and complete ‘em all.

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This is starting to look fairly tense

The racing in general is in fact great fun, with each of the 50-ish cars feeling relatively unique from another. A good job really as there’s no performance tweaks or upgrades to tinker with aside from the cosmetic liveries. For those interested in the slower, hatchback style cars, the choices are pretty limited however, with most of the focus shone on the higher tiered, exotic cars instead. Despite featuring a more arcade-y form of handling, taking the correct lines through corners will often still reward you even if you can take ludicrous risks.

The lack of any real difficulty options stings a little; you can’t turn traction control off, nor conversely put on a racing line if you’re struggling. The in car view is incredibly immersive, detailed and rewarding if used, but since there’s no incentive to race whilst using it, I fear many will miss out on some of the game’s better moments. There’s nothing quite like racing at dusk with the sun glare blinding you of the corner you’ve never taken, the apex of which being blocked by your own door pillar. Nailing such a corner in such a way feels irreplaceable.

As addictive as the gameplay is, there’s always something holding it back however. Namely, the hyper aggressive AI. Stubborn as a mule and often taking up an unnecessary amount of track space, it can and will frustrate you. With the lack of a ‘flashback’ style system, losing a race on a final corner due to the AI spinning you out of control is a real possibility. When they’re not smashing into you however, they can feel fairly realistic, they’ll rarely all snake into one apex killing machine; instead, they’ll veer off the track and make convincing mistakes.

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Honestly, it somehow looks better in-game

Despite not being able to modify your cars in terms of performance, the livery editor almost makes up for it. Customising a paint scheme and having it displayed on all of your owned cars is satisfying and applying badges you’ve earned is a nice touch too. Creating a club offers you the chance to create a team logo from a fairly comprehensive set of options; also letting you display it with pride on your cars. Customising your avatar doesn’t stretch to the same lengths however, with only a select few options to choose from.

Graphically, Driveclub can certainly have its moments; in the drivers view especially. Each car is expectedly modelled with stupendous amounts of detail and some of the backdrops look astounding. The corner severity warnings are obvious enough to know how treacherous the bend ahead is going to become at a glance, yet they don’t draw focus from the track. The damage modelling looks suitably sufficient even if it’s only cosmetic; with the collisions themselves sounding suitably muffled whilst inside the car, yet unfortunately lack punch in any other view. The lack of promised dynamic weather is also a shame, but should hopefully be implemented in a future update, fingers crossed.

Driveclub proved to be an ambitious title; with taking cues from others of this generation, namely the always online aspect, nearly ruining it. Playing offline is a shallow experience, if you’re not connected to the internet, everything unlocked via levelling up your crew will disappear until you reconnect. It’s a shame that so many of the game’s best features are tied to a steady and strong connection to their severs; as once that link is lost, the game feels like a shell of what it was.

Everything regarding the original release of Sleeping Dogs on the last gen screamed familiarity. Whether it was the free-roam aspect of the game, complete with the usual plethora of side activities, the brutal combat system, the gun play or the RPG elements, there was likely something for everybody. Square Enix and United Front Games have deemed it worthy to bring this classic to the current consoles, is it worth playing again?

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It doesn’t always have to be cleavers and explosions

Yet despite each ‘genre’ included in the game not quite living up to the emulated games standards, it was always simple, plain fun. It didn’t matter that the combat system wasn’t quite as fluid and responsive as Batman’s, instead, it gouged its niche with sheer brutality, allowing you to wield cleavers, knives and even the odd fish. On top of this, it encouraged variation in combat by reducing the score earned upon each successively repeated move. Sitting back and only countering may well increase the odds of survival, but sliding in the odd environmental attack or takedown will dramatically increase your score. Whereas the hand to hand combat is still one of its greatest draws, it’s not without foibles. The lock on system is cumbersome and tricky to use at first, counters can be punishingly difficult to execute and the small-windowed QTE moments that occur when facing certain enemies can still infuriate too.

The driving mechanics haven’t particularly aged well either, although even when it first released, Sleeping Dogs wasn’t exactly known for its physics-heavy handling model. It works well within the game, being able to power slide every vehicle around every corner; the inexplicable ramming is a thankful feature during car chases too. Just don’t expect cars to handle with the predictable panache of which GTA games are famous for.

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Mind the pikes…

Due to the focus aimed at melee scuffles, firing a weapon won’t happen until a fair few hours in. Fortunately, even though the gunfights are often entertaining in a way that only slow motion can be, it never relies upon them for too long. Missions are often deigned with a few sections of each gametype a la GTA style. Driving to a pre-determined point with a conversing passenger, displaying your superior martial arts prowess towards a group of thugs and finally shooting the hell out of everything sounds justly formulaic; and that’s because it is. It never seems to get tiresome however, partly due to the over the top excitement that inevitably ensues, and partly due to the game’s strong narrative and voicework.

Upgrades are what makes the free roam worlds go round; it’s no different here. With three tiers of upgrades to work through, there’s often something around the corner to look forward to. Adding special finisher moves and letting you steal cars silently are just some of the starting ones on offer. By the end, you’ll be able to pull up next to a group of loitering oiks in your overly flash car and grab a durable tyre iron out of the boot, making most melee encounters considerably easier.

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This escalated quickly

As if the game didn’t have enough content already, the Definitive Edition also bundles in some DLC too. The surreal Nightmare in North Point involves ghosts, the underworld and Shen’s girlfriend; the second story based DLC, the Zodiac Tournament, takes place on a mysterious ‘Tekken’ style island where you must fight for your own survival against some pretty nasty opponents; finally the Year of the Snake gives you some more Honk Kong style cop action to work through.

Regardless of the extra six or so hours the DLC gives you, gameplay has not been the focus during this transition across consoles. The real differences you’ll see are the cosmetic ones. Aside from the bump up to 1080p, you’ll notice an increase in population across the map. Civilians both in cars and those meandering around the streets are more frequent, as well as more visual effects as a whole. The newly implemented volumetric fog effects are a pleasant addition, alongside the higher draw distance make the night skyline of Hong Kong a true marvel at times. The lack of 60fps is a little disappointing but the framerate holds steady for the most part.

Either way, if you missed out on the original, or like me, just fancy another trip around a very violent Hong Kong, this edition is not to be missed. Some parts have not aged particularly well, such as the camera, and the vehicle handling can be an acquired taste too, but all will be forgotten when you slam a shop’s shutter down on a rival goon, slap someone senseless with a large fish, or try your lungs at a spot of karaoke.

For as long as I’ve played video games I’ve played survival horror. Or at least what I call survival horror. It’s not too difficult to come across someone who feels strangely warm and fuzzy when thinking about the gore, death and that unmistakable feeling of isolation. But it was the pure strategy and thought that was needed literally before each pull of the trigger or use of an item that made survival horror something special to me. And for me that game was undoubtedly Resident Evil.

Despite the long period of success that franchise is all but dead to me. Tension has been replaced by excitement and a careful approach to ammo consumption supplanted by an entire arsenal of weaponry that fits nicely into your pockets. And so I join the ranks of horror fans in the search for survival horror. The Evil Within is the first game in a long time that might just recapture some of that survival horror glory. Particularly as the legend that directed Resident Evil right up to Resi 4 (basically all the good ones), Shinji Mikami, is back as director.

While investigating a mental hospital, were some serious mass murdering has gone down, you are unfortunately captured and wake up hanging upside down from a rope. Your newest friend clearly didn’t get that part for Hostel (probably a blessing in disguise) and your escape from him forms the tutorial and prologue. You have no weapons apart from your fists and a machete you managed to acquire from a corpse during your escape.

Instead you’ll have a tense chase based primarily around the games stealth mechanics. Almost entirely really because this guy likes running around with a chainsaw (can’t think when we’ve seen anything like that before) and manages to injure you early meaning you can’t run properly. The tension as you slowly limp away or narrowly make it behind a box to hide is fantastic. It’s one of those moments that makes you curl your toes, knowing your pursuer may be only inches away and there’s nothing you can do to fight him or even check to see were he is.

Unfortunately there are very few other moments like that once the core gameplay starts. Your main form of attack will be using the one hit stealth kill to stab your enemies in the head. It’s effective up to a point but don’t expect to be Agent 47. The attack is slow and leaves you quite vulnerable, as it should. But it doesn’t use ammo and you all but guarantee that the guy you just stuck a knife in won’t be bothering you for a while. You can even throw bottles to create distractions. Getting the balance between speed and silence is tricky but I found stealth to be one of my best strategies throughout the game.

One problem is what you should do when you fudge a stealth takedown. So your target mysteriously turned around at the last minute. What do you do? The Evil Within provides you with several options but if things go really bad it’s often tempting to die and retry from a checkpoint. On occasion it’s difficult to use items knowing you could retry and save yourself a match or a few bullets.

The same goes for health syringes which are rare enough that using them has to be a conscious decision. But you regenerate your health to a minimum point and often it’s easier, and more economical, to just rely on minimum health and fall back on checkpoints if you need them.

Yet another reason your health feels totally pointless is the constant and utterly ridiculous overuse of traps. Especially proximity mines which have a tricky mini-game to disarm them and can easily blow you to pieces kill you instantly, or at least take most of your health off. If you use a syringe only to walk past a mine you didn’t see and get reduced back to critical health you have to wonder if it was worth using.

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The weapons are satisfying and well balanced. Nothing ever feels quite good enough that you become complacent but you don’t feel like you’re firing blanks either. Upgrades make a decent difference but a lot of them are unnecessary for most of the game. You’ll likely get to work on increasing the damage of your weapons and the amount of stuff you can carry and then everything else is just a slightly handy perk for late game and new game+. Progression is steady and you always feel like your getting somewhere, even if your not quite sure where.

Although you do have to wonder why the guns the enemies shoot can kill you quite easily. And for that matter why can they aim perfectly? And why the hell do they even have guns? Yet another survival horror that features a gun wielding variety of its particular flavour of zombie/monster. No horror game seems content without having enemies with guns. The game is more tense without them and the gameplay doesn’t benefit at all from their inclusion – especially considering I can’t effectively engage them at range.

I accept, as we all do, that certain realities must be ignored so that video games can work. But when you find yourself standing with a torch (of the wood and fire kind) capable of burning and instantly killing a living enemy, it’s totally bizarre that you can’t use it to burn an enemy on the floor. Instead you rely on your trusty matches which ignite them as if they were made entirely of petrol. Nor can you roll a downed enemy into the camp fire he is laying next to. Why not just leave torches and campfires out of the game? And if you think about the size of a bullet for a revolver how many do you think you could get in your pockets right now? I bet it’s more than 10. For a detective this guy is woefully unequipped. I would have rather had a space or weight limit and instead have to consider limited ammo drops rather than the totally ridiculous (initial) limit of 10 bullets and constantly find ammo I can’t pick up. If you had a pair of combats and a rucksack you’d be sorted. Oh and a jet lighter. Why do they never bring lighters?

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The Evil Within really excels with environments. Every new area is creepy and impossibly well detailed. Exploring the areas is a treat, albeit a hesitant one. The backgrounds are beautifully out of focus and catching sight of a stumbling creature as you investigate the foreground is chilling. It looks stunning but more than that the design and workmanship behind every single inch of every room is really amazing. The first few minutes of each section before I started taking out the nasty things were by far my favourite. It’s just a shame so much of that atmosphere is lost once the fighting begins.

There are just these absolutely amazing moments of tension as you soak up the artfully crafted atmosphere. But there’s always something just around the corner to ruin it. The ability to rely on checkpoints takes most of the survival and conservation out of the game unless you actively ignore them. Even if you don’t use the checkpoints they’re always there as a security net. Creeping your way around to defeat enemies and feeling vulnerable and disadvantaged is handled well although personally I’d still rather sacrifice it for the need to use weapons and ammo strategically.

The Evil Within is gory and patiently unnerves you using the fantastic environments and devious enemy design to create a dark atmosphere. Personally I’d rather the challenge came from survival and conservation rather than difficulty but that’s just preference. As an action horror title The Evil Within is the best since Resident Evil 4 but I still felt the survival elements took a back seat. Either way a triumphant return of the great Shinji Mikami to horror and the best hope for the genre in a long time.

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