Reviews

505 Games and Rebellion are back with their gruesomely satisfying Sniper Elite series, this third entry promises to be the largest of them all with vast open expanses to traverse and several new gameplay mechanics on offer. Can they expand on their ever improving series, or will this one be slightly off the mark?

SE3_April_screens_02

It’s not long before Karl Fairburne, the elite sniper, is called into action in the dusty, unforgiving plains of Africa. Mere moments after been given control of our stoic, chisel jawed American exterminator, we’re tasked with clearing out a few pesky snipers and spotters from the overlooking cliffs ahead. One justly lined up shot later; you’re introduced to the series’ famed x-ray killcam in all of its glorious destruction. Instantly shocking, gratifying and curiously addictive, these killcams offer a slow motion insight into the life of a fatally wounding bullet. Not only will you see skulls crumple under the sheer velocity, but also lungs puncture, hearts explode, and should you desire, testicles rupturing. The scope of horrendous bodily harm you can commit to an unaware, meandering soldier never gets old, despite the player seeing it potentially hundreds of times during the course of the campaign.

Making the local coroners life easier comes with its own problems however. It’s often either too easy or too difficult to get your snuff fix, turning the difficulty up will add magnified effects such as gravity and wind direction/speed to contend with, however one quick tap of the ‘empty lungs’ button will place a cursor directly on your bullets predetermined destination. Electing to ignore the empty lung/cursor of death button isn’t easy, but can make for a more rewarding experience knowing you’ve earned the kill yourself.

In terms of difficulty, the AI can certainly make life either a trauma or a walk in the park. Possessing the hearing of a bat or an ancient geriatric, depending on your actions, they will remain blissfully unaware as you take down a room with the Welrod (your handy silenced pistol) Or you can creep and stalk your your enemy for as long as you please, provided you’re crouched. On the other end of the spectrum, they’ll hear and pinpoint your position from a misjudged sniper shot, even if it’s mere milliseconds out of the sound cover range.

SE3_killcam_B

Handily, Africa is packed full of easily malfunctioning generators, sporadically dotted about the map and often adjacent to elevated sniper positions. One quick sabotage later and you can mask your gunfire by timing it with the chugs of your ill mechanical friend, hopefully avoiding the new searching mechanic implanted into the local guards. Firstly, they’ll take cover from any other errant shots that might come their way, before attempting to locate your crafty position. Moving in flanks and small formations, they’ll push your last known/seen position, visually marked by a Splinter Cell esque outline of yourself. Relocating is the name of the game here, as escaping the radius of your crime will revert your foes to their initial patrols, despite them having to tiptoe over the corpses of their fallen comrades along the way.

Linear level design is slowly becoming a thing of the past now with Sniper Elite III’s larger open maps, however you do still have to complete objectives in a predetermined order, as they are marked along an obvious and plain route. Secret objectives can open up play a little as they are often not apparent until you’ve fulfilled a prerequisite requirement, such as searching a table for Intel regarding a passing through officer who’s ripe for early retirement.

Despite the main missions pointing you in the right direction, how you tackle them is left up to you and your imagination. Taking out key personnel could be achieved by anything from a silenced Welrod shot, to laying down a mine before retreating. It heavily encourages stealth, but doesn’t restrict you to it, letting you experiment with various methods due to the large sandbox style environments.

Gunplay is fairly solid, however strangely, what with the snipers being quite so heavily featured, the differences between rifles and their upgrades feels a little non distinct. The sub-machine guns feel as though they’re meant to be used only as a last resort, which in a stealth orientated game, is a plus point. Whilst the Welrod is suitably slow to fire and has a meagre ammo capacity at best, scavenging corpses and crates will often yield far more than is necessary. Despite not really knowing what sort of battle you’ll find yourself in, you can alter your load out pre-mission with anything you’ve unlocked via levelling up in the various modes. If you feel a silenced pistol is a little over powered, switch it for a revolver, love to go loud? Bring along a pocket full of dynamite and a few land mines at the expense of health packs.

SE3_April_screens_05

Whilst it may not be the prettiest game on the PS4, there are not only some very nice lighting effects, but the frame rate is consistently high, making it a much smoother experience than you might be used to. Add to this that each of the eight levels on offer usually lasts around an hour each, and you’ll become increasingly impressed.

That’s not to say it’s been completely smooth sailing however, Sniper Elite III does have it’s drawbacks too. The enemy AI, whilst in alert mode, can be fairly competent, but the transition back to their designated patrols despite half a squadron lying at their feet instantly takes you out of the experience. Some of the context sensitive prompts can grate a little too early as well, actions overlap all too frequently meaning that the wrong task is occasionally performed if you’re not careful. Searching bodies requires deft usage of the right thumbstick before the option can appear; silently knifing someone in the back can often take multiple button mashes before registering too.

Your time spent with Sniper Elite III will vary from either being too easy at the upside of being daft, visceral fun, or too difficult along with some of the more infuriating technical blemishes peppered about the place. If you’ve played the others and still can’t fill that sadistic void with anything but slow motion testicle battery, then you’ll more than likely enjoy this instalment. If not, and you’re hankering after some stealthy fun; alongside being capable of brushing aside a disappointingly clichéd narrative and the occasional technical hiccup, Sniper Elite III might just have found its mark.

With the UFC still donning the moniker of the world’s fastest growing sport, it was only going to be a matter of time before EA added another franchise to their already stellar selection of sports titles. Can they replicate their successes once more with a UFC game based around their Ignite engine?

1920x1080_andersonsilva_june20_05_wm

As a fan of UFC since channel 5 aired their pay per views late on a night and free of charge, I like many others, have been hankering for a true UFC experience. This rendition promises a slew of available moves, an improved ground and submission game alongside a fully-fledged career mode.

Jumping straight in, you’ll be prompted with a basic tutorial that’s designed to get you started on the game; it’ll inform you on how to flail wildly and that’s about it. With such a diverse moves list demanding control of your opponent in many areas of the octagon, you’ll be at a frustrating and instant disadvantage the moment you’re not standing toe to toe. Due to the bewildering lack of a practice mode against a dummy AI, you’re learning the hard way too. The game is not only difficult to master, but also seems reluctant to let you learn how to progress. There are a few incredibly helpful online tutorial videos hidden in the touchpad’s online menus, but why these weren’t moved onto the main menu instead is beyond me. A challenge mode is also available, but doesn’t explain the benefits of transitioning into certain mounts, guards or clinches. I’m all for having to figure things out for yourself, but it’s not fun when you’re on the cusp of losing because you didn’t know to also hold L1 whilst rotating the right thumbstick to get out of a full mount.

Fortunately, the days of the infinite standing elbows and the impossibly confusing ground game are behind us, fighters are blessed with an armada of standing strikes; all can be performed by the initially bewildering modifier buttons. With each face button dedicated to a limb, you can alter the type of strike by holding another button, for example, holding forward whilst pressing triangle will perform a straight or a hook in lieu of the standard jab, whilst pulling away from your opponent will change it to an uppercut. Holding L2 will always target the body; the L1 and R1 buttons are the more stamina draining but equally powerful flamboyant moves.

1920x1080_joshkoscheck_june20_01_wm

As you might imagine, swinging at thin air will not get you very far; not only will it open you up to a counter, it’ll take a chunk out of your stamina bar too. The key to success, much like real UFC fights, is to not get exhausted during a bout. Not only will your strikes deal less damage and connect slower, but you yourself will also be more susceptible to taking heavy damage; becoming one step closer to that fabled flash knockout. The ground game, submissions and any form of transitions or posturing also use stamina, making the ground wars less of a button mashing affair and more a thinking man’s ordeal. It’s all well and good rushing to full mount only to discover you’re lacking any stamina to complete a submission, before getting swept and finding yourself at the mercy of your opponents crushing elbows.

Everything boils down to knowing your foes weaknesses and strengths, a kickboxer will be more at risk to a takedown than a decorated wrestler for instance; it’s here where UFC really shines. Executing a gameplan successfully is highly rewarding and achieving the victory whilst playing to your strengths is a glorious feeling. The submission system has been altered for the better this time too. Successfully tightening a choke or lock requires mastery of the mini-game involved. An octagon overlay will appear, with the defender having to fill one of the four gauges to escape, the attacker can impede their progress by holding the right thumbstick in the corresponding direction whilst looking for a left thumbstick prompt to advance the submission state. Despite being initially overcomplicated and confusing, once you’ve had a few attempts, (it really needs a practice mode) it can feel like an aptly anxious struggle.

Whilst you may chug about a little slowly in relation to your real life counterparts, the defensive game is pretty well implemented. Blocking works surprisingly well, holding R2 becomes a weak but still useful guard. Yet if you wish to make the most out of it, timing an opponent’s high or low strike with one of the face buttons will make them whiff and leave themselves open to a more powerful counter. Dashes can be executed by flicking the left thumbstick; if timed well, can leave your foe vulnerable and floundering.

original_gloverteixeira_wm

Sublime fighting mechanics aside, how does EA’s UFC fare outside of the octagon? In truth, not quite so well; feeling very much like a first stab at the franchise, it gets a lot right, but misses out on what could have been a more enveloping career mode. The addition of the required Ultimate Fighter tournament before being let loose in the UFC is a welcome touch yet it has two major drawbacks. The first being that you can’t skip it, despite how many fighters you’ve inducted into underwhelming Hall of Fame, which consists of a short video featuring Dana White and a generic email essentially stating ‘that’s enough, start again’. The second, implausibly odd reason being that The Ultimate Fighter bouts are by far the most difficult fights you’ll have in the career due to you having unalterably dire stats.

From each successful training session in the career, your created fighter will earn approximately 200 upgrade points to spend on whatever you feel is necessary, probably stamina though if you’re being honest. Compare this to the UFC fights when you often gain in excess of 1000 points for a victory and you can see how your character becomes exponentially more powerful, even against the greatest in the division. Points can be spent on moves or attributes, but don’t fret as you’ll have points left over before your career ends; attaining max stats all around is easily achievable unlike previous UFC games.

Aside from the constant barrage of videos peppering your screen after each KO, submission or fight of the night, showcasing highlight reels of classic UFC moments, there isn’t that much involvement outside of the fights. There are no rivalries, you can’t choose a training camp, there’s no threat of not making weight, there’s no advice from your corner in-between rounds and the ‘guest’ appearances at the gym make little to no differences aside from a nasty potential boxing spar with Nate Diaz.

original_bh_wm

Some other generic problems that seem to plague EA titles of late being the horrendous menu load times that can make altering sponsors, stats and appearances a drain. During the career mode, there’s a useless ticker across the top of the screen either notifying you that you have no new notifications or displaying now out of date items of interest. There’s an almost sarcastic use of a game manual option in the menus too which instead displays a link to a website, of which you can’t even select to open in the PS4’s browser. Why bother putting it there then?

If there’s one thing EA Sports titles do well time and time again however, it’s the presentation aspect. They’ve really nailed the broadcast feel of the fights, what with Bruce Buffer’s fantastically over excitable introductions alongside Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg screaming at each and every knockout.

Graphically it’s excellent; EA’s Ignite engine provides a showcase of what should be achieved on PS4 and Xbox One. Beads of sweat drip, blood flows and spatters onto the mat, muscles are seen tensing and the character animations are equally impressive too. In terms of audio, it lets itself down a little however. Despite the impressively looking equaliser, there’s no way to alter the sound levels to your preferences. You can’t turn the music entirely off either unless you deselect all the tracks in the main menu; for some reason, the punches and kicks lack a little meat too.

However, once the overly complicated controls are mastered and start to make sense, it’s utter brilliance. Get over the woeful tutorial hump; don’t expect much outside of the octagon and there is no greater game for combat sport aficionados. Every punch is deliberate, every kick is measured, every takedown punishing and every win immeasurable.

I have this idea in my head that at some point I’ll play an MMORPG that changes something significant. Not a new combat feature or new way of interacting with other players but something a bit more fundamental. Wildstar looks like it could be that MMO. So I eagerly jump into the world of Nexus searching for my white whale.

Initial character creation is the usual case of ‘who the hell is that?’ and ‘what the hell are those?’ but cutting through Wildstar’s take on a sci-fi world helps you get your character set up, although the lore of Wildstar is full and well written so it’s only worth avoiding if necessary. It’s Rebels vs The Empire with the rough and ready ‘Exiles’ playing the part of The Rebels and ‘The Dominion’ donning the stomping boots of The Empire. There’s a decent back-story to each faction so everything feels fleshed out and central to Wildstar’s world. The character styles are noticeably different too and together with the different classes there’s loads of choice.

And further down the road after a good few hours of playing and levelling up you won’t be disappointed no matter what class you pick. You never feel particularly ‘locked in’ by a class or character and each has more than enough abilities to let you create the character you want. It doesn’t matter if you want a damage carry, tank, support or medic class. It’s all possible and allows for you to be free and creative with your build.

raids08

One of the most important things in Wildstar is its impressive lore. Characters, factions, locations, weapons and just about everything has a story. Think codex from Mass Effect except the information is used to help present the game rather than just something to read when you’re bored. Although you can do that too. It’s all these little nuggets of information that make Wildstar what it is and stop its missions and quest lines from becoming supremely mediocre. Or nearly anyway.

Sadly cutting through the fun, but unnecessary, lore reveals that the quests are just what we’ve come to expect from any MMORPG. Unfortunately Wildstar doesn’t try and move away from the tradition of fetch quests and reused objectives that plague the genre. Very early in the game you’ll be killing enemies, collecting items and sometimes even returning those items to a quest giver. Wildstar’s comedy is genuinely funny and does a good job of keeping things from becoming dull but given how deep quest design is cemented at the core of any MMORPG it’s not quite enough.

But it’s nice to see some jokes in a game and that humour is present in more than just the things characters say and the objectives they give. For instance earning yourself a double kill (or more) will earn you an overly enthusiastic announcer booming out your accolade. Its all very Unreal Tornament. And the same goes for levelling up too. The on screen text looks like something straight out of Brutal Legend. Wildstar certainly doesn’t get bogged down with trying to be serious. I don’t think it’s possible to have a deep voice loudly announce ‘triple-kill’ without smiling just a little. It certainly reminded me of a time when games could concentrate on just being entertaining.

stalker_classdrop_04

A fair amount of the questing will rely on combat. The bar at the bottom of the screen will get a vast majority of your attention. Even your basic attacks will come from the hot bar. When your character starts his/her attack a target box will appear on the ground that indicates where the attack will hit and also conveniently fills up as you charge the attack thus doubling up as an indication of cast time. It’s methodical but entertaining and strangely didn’t find myself getting sick of the combat even some hours into the game.

And as the objectives are more often than not location specific random players that appear alongside you usually share a common goal. Almost every time I went looking to kill mobs of enemies for an objective people would join in, be it on purpose or just incidental it didn’t matter, it helped make WIldstar feel connected.

What keeps the combat interesting are the markings on the floor created by performing a move. The key is that you can also see your friend’s and foe’s cast boxes which means you know when, and where, an action will happen. This is were Wildstar’s tactics come from. In some fights its a case of simply moving out of range of an attack. Or making sure the timing is right so that you go first and hopefully kill the creature. But when more enemies show up that isn’t so easy. And if you add a healer into the equation you now have several boxes to time and/or avoid and even an area you need to aim for. It’s simple but adds a strategic layer to fights and I’m a big fan.

Wildstar’s visual style is that of a very stylised, cell shaded sci-fi world. It doesn’t just seem like ‘style for the sake of style’ but everything has a bubbly cartoonish look. It goes hand in hand with the humour to create a very inviting world. The sci-fi setting allows for some extravagant creativity and each area is rich and full. I never got bored looking at my surroundings in any of Wildstar’s environments.

engineer_classdrop_03

Wildstar is a very solid MMORPG. It takes lessons and ideas from games that came before it and improves and builds on them. The mechanics are solid and there’s a lot to do and see. The humour adds a Borderlands feel to the characters and quests and the art style somehow makes Wildstar seem like it was personal to Carbine Studios and not just ‘MMO 0138′.

But it’s still ‘just another MMO’ for me. It’s funny, it looks good and the lore is fantastic but ultimately it’s various fetch quests with some 3rd person combat. And if that’s what you’re after Wildstar does a fantastic job of being the next great MMO. And I imagine there are a lot of people that do want that. But Wildstar remains a solid MMO based on already overused foundations.

Once more, Team 17’s classic Worms franchise returns, this time on the PS4. Can they once more recreate their magic and deliver a banana bomb of excitement or has their lack of progression granted them too little wriggle room?

5

From the first time I booted up my brand new, shiny/dull grey PS1, and popped in a fresh copy of Worms, I was hooked. Every single device I’ve owned since then that is capable of running Worms in one form or another, has been taken over by the pink little blighters. This time around, it’s the turn of the PS4 to keep the disc warm for a presumably long while.

Upon starting it up, you are greeted by the voraciously sarcastic and demeaning Tara Pinkle, excellently voiced by Katherine Parkinson of IT Crowd fame. She’ll soon regale you with the basic but serviceable storyline regarding a certain Lord Crowley-Mesmer, a worm of course, who’s hell-bent on the ol’ world domination via acquiring the Stone Carrot. Needless to say, it’s up to you to put a stop to this madness by unleashing all kinds of wanton destruction inside various exhibits of a museum, all the while being scolded for not running off with everything in sight by Lady Pinkle.

Serving as a base for newcomers to the series, the story mode lets you get to grips with the fundamentals of movement and general platforming, as well as learning how to use the various landscapes to your advantage. Instead of covering the absolute basics of dispatching worms in varying hilarious manners, the story missions play out like puzzles instead. You’ll often be tasked with getting to a certain area of the map whilst picking up the required tools on the way. However, due to the different classes of worms at your disposal, it can sometimes take a fair amount of thought on some of the latter stages in how to progress. Luckily, Team 17 thought it prudent to incorporate checkpoints into the main missions, letting you try again from whenever you activated it. Probably a good job too seeing as some of the missions can certainly rack the time up.

2

Along with the 25 story missions that should set you back a fair few hours, there are also ten Worm Ops to try your hand at. Acting as challenges, you can post times on leaderboards to see how bad you are at the game, alongside it teaching you some of the more advanced tactics in the process. One of the earlier levels is a great example of when you should move and when you should stay put, it plonks you down in the middle of the ‘map’ with infinite rockets and seldom jetpacks. Inherently, the objective is to destroy all the enemy worms dotted about and whilst you can eventually kill them all from your starting position, it will require either a deft aim or plenty jet pack scavenging from the surrounding utility crates to win in a reasonable time.

Of course there’s the old classic ‘local play’ to get your eye in with the AI before challenging the intimidating internet horde, but there’s also a rather solid, yet easy to use, clan system to get stuck into as well. From here, you can create or join a clan to rank up, climb the leaderboards and assert your dominance. For the less competitive, there are unranked matches too to either whet or satiate your appetite.

It wouldn’t be Worms without a veritable armada of weird and wonderful weapons at your disposal and with 65 varieties of armaments on offer, you should never be short of an idea or two. Also adding many a potential spanner in the works are the physics objects and their resultant contraptions, ranging from creating a bridge by knocking something over, to useable doors and platforms.

Of course, it’s not only weapons and utilities you have to worry about now, as besides the standard Soldier worm, who can detonate grenades at any point during the timer, there are also others to test your tactics. Returning from Worms Revolution are the Heavy guys who deal out more damage and create a massive explosion upon death at the unfortunate, extreme handicap of movement speed and jump height. There’s the Scientist, who can not only heal nearby worms for 5 health a turn but can also remove the poison affliction too, and lastly, the ever useful Scout. He’s is the nimblest yet weakest of the lot, trading damage dealt and suffered for vastly increased movement and jumping speed. Oh, and being able to see what’s in a nearby crate at the start of a turn; the ability to crawl into tiny spaces and also to never set off a landmine are all envious traits too.

6

Creating your own team of squishy warmongers is always half the fun, and again, Team 17 and Sold Out have delivered once more. Customising your worms with spectacles, aviators and all manner of headdresses is great fun, but it’s the sound banks where the franchise has always shone. It often becomes quite the bewildering dilemma, having to choose between the classic angry Scotsman, the nature watcher and the advertiser due to the genuine hilarity of their responses.

There are some nice, exclusive touches to the PS4 version too, in exchange of the Xbox One’s SmartGlass interactions. The light bar on the back of the controller lighting up when danger is abound, worm voices coming through the controller speaker and the incredibly useful, if not a tad unresponsive, assignable weapon quick select using the touchpad.

Whilst there are plenty of plus points going around, Worms Battlegrounds does also have its share of negatives too. The backgrounds and the landscapes can often seemingly blend together, giving little indication of whether terrain is physically there or not. The ninja rope feels unnecessarily difficult to land with, and for a PS4, it’s hardly stretching the boundaries of its capabilities either. To offset these however are the surprisingly punchy and gratifying audio effects and the inevitable intricacies of learning how to master each and every tool in the arsenal.

Despite them appearing to have fallen towards the darkside; cowering under girders and blowtorching their way to ‘safety’ in regards to a possible evolution of their game, it’s instead a constant refinement process that still keeps them feeling fresh nearly 20 years on.

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.

Entwined_Screen_1_1402364674

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.

Level4_1402364678

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.

Murdered_Soul_Suspect_Review (7)_1401724638

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.

Murdered_Soul_Suspect_Review (4)_1401724637

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.

Murdered_Soul_Suspect_Review (12)_1401724640

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?

watch_dogs_ss1_99850

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.

watch_dogs_ss5_99858

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.

watch_dogs_ss4_99856

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.

NASCAR14_Screenshot04

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.

NASCAR14_Screenshot16

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.

NASCAR14_Screenshot07

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?

RoW_Wreckage

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.

RoW_Massacre

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.

RoW_StabbyStabby

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.

17

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.

30

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.

screenshot4

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.

screenshot2

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.

screenshot8

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.

Nether 2014-04-03 09-41-15-79

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.

Nether 2014-04-01 22-10-26-55

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.

Nether 2014-04-03 10-26-07-45

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.

SOCIAL

655FansLike
4,429FollowersFollow
7,967SubscribersSubscribe

LATEST REVIEWS

0
Diablo 3 has been out for a couple of years almost on multiple formats and finally makes it’s way over to the next generation consoles, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Web Search