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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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There are moments in each Halo game that stand out, and they’re different for each of us. A moment so vivid, so memorable, that while often the perception flatters the memory, it is the impact of the memory that remains.

The Silent Cartographer, 343 Guilty Spark, The Arbiter and Delta Halo. The anti-climax of Halo 2. Other memories like Tsavo Highway, The Ark, Cortana, the triumphant crescendo of Halo 3, Forerunner and Midnight. Blood Gultch, Hang-em-high, Lockout, Ascension and Zanzibar. Construct, High Ground, Cold Storage, Exile, Forge Island, Landfall and Monolith. Spartan Ops.

Each of these memories invokes a feeling, or a smile. A moment where life changed, or where you changed. Where you were someplace else. Someplace simpler and more fantastical than anything since. It is these memories; these moments of greatness where you were the hero, the last hope for humanity, that Microsoft hopes will drag you into the world of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

To list all of the content included in the package would be bordering on madness, because HMCC offers unbelievable value, greater than any compendium, trilogy or re-master has done in the history of videogames.

The custom designed menu, while offering welcome eye-candy, is quick to expose itself as the conduit to this content, laying out clearly each game or game mode and the all-important extras.

Four games, over 100 multiplayer maps, behind-the-scenes documentaries, easter eggs, Halo: Nightfall  and Halo 5: Guardians beta access. Microsoft could have sold Nightfalll as a TV download, and it could have created DLC packs for some of the maps, much like the original games. It could have not included the easter eggs, nor created all-new cut-scenes for Halo 2. It could have put so much less effort into HMCC, but it chose to aim for the sky. Microsoft and 343 Industries chose to curate and create the most comprehensive package ever assembled for a home console. And that’s before you’ve even pressed a single button.

The first time I pressed the right trigger on the original Xbox controller (yes, the really massive one), the feeling of power, and the excitement was incredible. The game that was to make console LAN parties a thing was yet to come out, and upstairs at my local game store, I was playing against three guys in my first real experience of multiplayer. It was the most amazing thing. Ever. I laid down £519 on an Xbox, four games, a media remote and a second controller. Sure, I played the other three games, but Halo; there was something about it. The other games were Project Gotham Racing, Dead or Alive and Knockout Kings. Not exactly the worst launch line-up, right? Still, Halo was constantly in my Xbox, and eventually, it would change my life, allowing me to write these words today is a testament to its effect.

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It’s every bit as brilliant as you’d care to remember. It’s a little rusty now, but 13 years will do that to you, and the level of immersion offered by games today, including motion capture, dynamic audio and lighting – things were different then. Halo: Combat Evolved stood out from the crowd, and almost everyone marvelled at the amazing quality of its grass textures. In fact, that was one of the first things I checked out. That’s one of the memories I mentioned. Everyone has them, and they might be for different things – but they grab you, none-the-less.

At the press of a button, flicking between the original engine graphics to the remastered version shows just how much has changed, and how impressive the remake is. Try playing ‘The Library’ in the original engine, and you realise just how dark it was, pushing the limits of particle physics, and in effect, game design. Running both engines side-by-side is also a mammoth achievement, one that should be applauded, showcasing Sabre’s technical prowess, and ultimate love for the franchise.

Back then, Halo 2 was a little bit of a let-down. At the time, it felt like a big deal. The hype machine was in full swing, and Microsoft sold over $500m of Halo 2 in a few days. Nobody had done that before. Halo was a hit franchise, and on its own merits. It was one of the first online shooters on Xbox Live, topping the online play charts for years. It was, bar the slightly disappointing ending, the best single player and multiplayer experience most Xbox gamers had seen, and led the way as an example of a great product that consumers embraced – it set the standard for ‘what’s in the box’.

It’s also the game that receives the most love in this collection, receiving the full remaster treatment, and playing your way through the game, much as I did in the mid-2000s is as refreshing today as it was back then. For new players, there’s this incredible world to step into, and for fans, there was this place you wished you’d never left. Your nights were spent saying ‘swords on lockout? Yeah? Great!” Granted, there were more maps and more modes, but the feeling of grabbing the energy sword from a downed foe and running to the next opponent to begin a kill-streak was not to be sniffed at.

Halo 2 isn’t the best halo game, but it is a great remaster, again showcasing the love and attention shown by 343 to make this something memorable. Something to help you remember, and something for a new generation to experience for the first time; to create memories.

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Both Halo 3 and Halo 4 receive the full 1080p, 60fps treatment, and they’re both to be applauded for different reasons. Halo 3s release on Xbox 360 was a watershed moment. It was Bungie’s last Halo game in the series, and their exit from under Redmond’s wing would follow soon after Halo: Reach. What the third story in the series did, was finish the fight. Kind of.

I’m not going to go into the story of Halo 3 and Halo 4, because you can, and you should experience them both for yourselves. 343s take on Halo, Halo 4 is incredible on Xbox One. The upgrade from Xbox 360 is marked improvement, and while no cosmetic assets have been remade, the 1080p resolution really shows off how amazing the studios artists are. Each of the levels is brought to wonderfully clear and beautiful life.

In Multiplayer, there really is too much to go into. There’s over 100 maps –and while some are a little weak, Bungie’s strengths were easy to see, and its ability to create a competitive multiplayer experience across a number of maps is replicated in a number of ways in HMCC.

HALO: CE has all of the maps from the Xbox and the PC version (created by Gearbox, no less), while HALO 2’s online elements remain intact on their original engines for authenticity. However, 343 has created the Anniversary element of Halo 2, creating a new engine with new assets designed to bring back the much loved maps from the original, but expose them in a modern light, showcasing their undeniable quality to a whole new audience.

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Much the same can be said of Halo 3 and 4s experience, adding more maps as you journey through the playable elements of the collection, planting a solid flag into the ground of Xbox Live and shouting that it wants its place back at the top. While we all dream of living over again, HMCC has the chance to do that, reminding old fans of the impeccable multiplayer, and giving new fans something different to the stylised trappings of Advanced Warfare, TitanFall and Battlefield.

Halo: Nightfall begins the new content, releasing each week for five weeks after launch, it’s a mini-series that fills the gap between Halo: Forward unto dawn and Halo 5. We haven’t watched it, nor has anyone, and we’ll reserve judgment until it arrives. Spike Lee is making it, thought, so don’t expect it to be rubbish. Expect gritty and awesome. That’s what we’re hoping for, anyway. A cross between Starship Troopers and Mass Effect would be brilliant, but we’ll see what happens.

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The final piece of the jigsaw is Halo 5: Guardians beta access, which runs from 29th December to 17th January. It’s going to be incredible, we hope.

All that’s left is for us to give Halo: The Master Chief Collection a score, and it’s something we’ve been battling with for a couple of days. Quite simply, HMCC is the most complete package ever delivered of one franchise, and the sheer amount of content is unprecedented, but these aren’t new games. Bu then these Xbox One versions aren’t of just any game, but arguably of the most important franchise in the short history of Xbox.

There is no filler in HMCC, because the games are proven to be great games – to be games that spanned two generations and drove a community that numbered into the tens of millions. You could play each of the campaigns back to front numerous times and still not see everything.

Microsoft and 343 have succeeded in bringing back to life on a new platform, a franchise that is so rooted in the lives of so many gamers, but enabled a whole new audience to relieve our past, our memories, and wear our smiles, but experience them all for the first time. As I write, the reprise to Halo 2 builds to its conclusion, and it feels like victory all over again.

13 years ago, Halo: Combat evolved changed everything. It made shooters work on console, and it spawned not just a series of videogames, but allowed a whole genre to explode into life. The success of HMCC is in its ability to bring not just the games to life, but your memories of it. To retell the stories you grew up playing, and to make you remember what you were doing in when you first played. I believe Halo: The Master Chef Collection has the ability to forge new memories once more, not just for fans, but for those who haven’t experienced the rising swell of Marty O’Donnell’s score. To those that haven’t lost themselves in Joseph Staten’s stories.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection breathes new life into an old friend, and it is most welcome, because a collection of four games from over a decade of development could just end up being the game of the year.

Here is the first full trailer for Xbox Exclusive ‘HALO: Nightfall’ series has been released in the run up to the release of the ‘Master Chief Collection’ on Xbox One.

Halo Nightfall is a live action series providing insight into the origin and backstory of legendary manhunter Agent Locke (Mike Colter, “The Good Wife”), a pivotal new character in the Halo universe who will play a key role in Halo 5: Guardians. A strange and treacherous world exposes elite UNSC operatives to a much deeper danger.

Halo Nightfall debuts 11th November in Halo The Master Chief Collection.

So, vault hunters. You’ve come back for more. And this time your adventures will take place on the moon. A change of scenery is always good. Especially considering I’ve spent over 400 hours on the first Borderlands and at least 200 on Borderlands 2. It’s fair to say I know my Borderlands. But Borderlands 2 failed to create that spark within me that made me take days off work and just generally attempt to avoid everything that wasn’t Borderlands. So I visit the moon in the hope that spark returns.

And because this is a moon that comes with a nice fat helping of low gravity gameplay. Sadly low gravity isn’t as fun as 2K Australia seem to think it is. After the first couple of higher-than-normal jumps the novelty has more than worn off. And so you spend most of the game hitting your head on low objects and just generally wishing you could jump, run and sprint the way you usually do. Sadly it’s nothing more than a gimmick wedged into the game. Adding the need for topping up oxygen reserves and an associated item, called Oz Kits, for you to loot increasing your tanks and providing various other abilities really doesn’t do enough to validate it. If you remove low gravity, the need for oxygen and the ‘Oz Kits’ completely out of The Pre-Sequel nothing would change and in fact the gameplay would be much less cluttered.

Borderlands hasn’t returned to the original ways of an almost irrelevant plot and constant instances of ‘what was that guys name?’. Although truth be told that never bothered me and the first Borderlands, irrelevant plot and all, is still my favourite. The constant humour and general foolishness are perpetual in The Pre-Sequel. Borderlands still remains the only game that can genuinely make me laugh. And I don’t mean the odd chuckle or a smile I mean actual audible laughter. But The Pre-Sequel doesn’t quite have the same punch that Borderlands 2 had.

Instead it attempts to make up for less quips and quick-witted pop culture references by offering a unique perspective. Any of the characters you can play as, except for the beloved Claptrap, is a villain. The concept that Handsome Jack isn’t a villain in his own mind is further explored in The Pre-Sequel by putting you in control of one of those villains. The game is set far enough in the past that there are plenty of notable characters for you to see periodically and on occasion even interact with.

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But all this really does is convince you that you’d rather be playing as someone else. I was a Mordecai guy myself and I accepted the events that transpired in Borderlands 2 only because it hit me so hard (seriously I swear I shed a proper tear). My co-op partner played Roland and again we all just had to accept the outcomes of Borderlands 2. Even then all we really wanted was to play as the original characters but the franchise moved forwards so we learned to love our new roster of Vault Hunters.

In The Pre-Sequel this is taken to a new level. We know what happens to most of the characters and we know what happens in the overall story. Being constantly reminded that the plot you’re in and the characters you’re controlling and meeting have totally predetermined endings doesn’t allow you to even come close to feeling connected with your characters. If the second Borderlands strained the relationship between player and character then The Pre-Sequel totally dismantles it and burns it. At least in Borderlands 2 there could be meaningful events. That simply isn’t possible without feeling connected to a character and The Pre-Sequel doesn’t even try to make room for such a connection.

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Those things aside, The Pre-Sequel does things much the same as other Borderlands titles. The addition of the ‘Grinder’ vending machine allows you to sacrifice three guns and have a chance to turn them into something better – or at least rarer. So if you put in 3 uncommon pistols you get a chance to get a rare pistol. If you put in three different weapon types of the same rarity you might get any one of those weapons. The odds of ‘winning’ and getting a good return are surprisingly high for Borderlands, or any loot-em-up really, and from my experience seem to give around a 50/50 chance of either returning a weapon of equal rarity to the parts provided or one of higher rarity. Rather generously you can also spend moon-shards on the process and guarantee the best result. In the end game this is a fantastic way to scrap loot when the shops no longer cater for your needs and also gives you a way to spend shards rather than them becoming totally redundant after you’ve bought all the SDUs.

I didn’t get that feeling I got jumping from the first Borderlands to the second. The Pre-Sequel is built using the same engine as Borderlands 2 and there are no obvious mechanical or visual improvements. Even at its best The Pre-Sequel feels like DLC. Admittedly this would be the mother of all DLC’s but really there’s less difference between Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel as there is between the first Borderlands pre and post Knoxx’s Armoury. And that just stings a little bit.

And it’s not the only thing that stings. There are regular frame rate drops, especially when using some of Borderland’s more interesting weapons. Early game I used a unique MIRV (which is a type of grenade that separates into various child grenades before exploding) which boasted double the child grenades in the flavour text. And they did, often at risk to my own life, but they were very effective in the right circumstances – small rooms being a particular specialty. But for both me and my co-op partner frames dropped to 1/second and beyond so I just had to stop using them. More general ‘lag’ is a problem too and clients in particular can expect regular momentary interruptions or the need to press reload at least twice. By the third game this should be sorted. Especially given the decision to play it safe and release the game on last gen tech using the same engine, this really shouldn’t be happening anymore. Claptrap himself says it best in the game “This is prooobably fixed. Someone else’ll test it, anyway.”.

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It’s impossible to see The Pre-Sequel as anything other than DLC. Due to its very nature as a prequel we know what happens to the world and its characters. Putting plot aside, never too challenging in a Borderlands title, the gameplay is exactly like Borderlands 2 with low gravity forced in as an attempt to refresh the gameplay. The grinder makes a noticeable, and welcome, change to late game looting but it’s still something that could’ve been added with DLC.

With very few new features and old hardware the latest instalment of Borderlands does virtually nothing to move the franchise forward. But The Pre-Sequel is undoubtedly good fun and thankfully Borderlands hasn’t lost its identity. Humour is still integral but all your favourite characters remain off limits and serve only to make playable characters feel like third place; second place being won already. That is except Claptrap who you won’t be seeing because he is playable. Instead you’ll be presented with more generic Claptrap units than ever. They’re still funny but they’re not our beloved Claptrap who first opened a gate for some wannabe Vault Hunters way, way back in the early days on Pandora. The Pre-Sequel is good fun but it is a prequel in both title and design. For the true Borderlands experience the first game and its DLC’s are still the way to go. I’m starting to think they always will be.

 

Well Bungie decided not to carry over progress from the Beta. A good choice for game progression but it does mean that this is the third time I’ve climbed to level 12. And I don’t care at all. I just needed to get stuck in and explore worlds, level up and find loot with my fellow guardians.

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When you start you’ll have to choose between three classes, The Titan, The Warlock and the Hunter. They all feel completely different and they all come with an alternate class to level up once you reach level 15. Your characters race is purely cosmetic and will only be seen in The Tower (Destiny’s social hub) anyway so don’t worry too much. It’s not easy to say which class is for who but Destiny doesn’t limit you. My first character is a Hunter but I like to unload all hell into something, usually with a shotgun, and then run off and get my health back. It works well, so long as you know your limits. But the great thing is I never felt even remotely limited by my class. Apart from the fact there’s another subclass I can switch to whenever I want, I didn’t feel I had to use a sniper just because I’m a Hunter. In fact I rarely did.

Once you’ve sorted your character out a good way to start is definitely with the campaign, although in truth they’re really just missions to complete that are limited by level and not order. There’s a decent sci-fi story that leaves plenty of room for expansion down the line. The few characters you meet are only met briefly but seem like they may have a bigger part to play in the future. Progression hits the sweet spot, nothing is handed to you for free but there’s always something to look forward to. Although during my campaign experience, which I mainly played alone,  there were a couple of times when I thought the action was becoming a bit formulaic. Turn up, follow a marker, kill something, follow a marker, rinse, repeat. But that’s mainly because it’s difficult to remember that Destiny is really an MMO and is definitely not targeting the single player experience. But the campaign is so close to standing up on its own without the other features that its easy to forget.

My main gripe is that without my friends online I played alone. For those who haven’t played the Alpha or the Beta when you proceed to the start of a mission you still play in the open world. Other Guardians are going about there business but they’re not directly in your fireteam. When you cross an invisible threshold respawning becomes limited and the mission begins. At this point only your fireteam are present. So three guardians all walk into a mission alone (this isn’t a bad joke), with a public fireteam setting and play three separate missions. For a game so focused on co-op and team play this is just madness. Worse still there’s no way to see where the boundaries are and once you’ve crossed it it’s too late. I’m not saying I want a big ugly menu to come up every 10 seconds but perhaps an option that allows automatically putting similar guardians that are right next to each other and clearly on the same mission into a fireteam together would be good. The amount of times I’ve crossed that threshold alone as others do the same thing is just crazy.

However, on one occasion someone actually joined me! They must have known where the super secret line was. And we proceeded with the mission efficiently communicating silently in that way only gamers can. It was actually my penultimate mission and my friend stayed with me after the mission as I continued into Destiny’s finale. I don’t know if he/she had seen it before but we explored the areas together and completed our mission. We shared a dance and parted ways. I only wish Destiny had helped make these random encounters happen more often. It makes it easy to join a friend, or even someone with a public team but the invisible threshold makes it almost impossible to set up a fireteam with random players. (Just as a note, the PS4 doesn’t recognize people in your ‘players met’ list so don’t rely on that like I did.)

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Your environment plays a big part in playing Destiny. Knowing if you can make a jump might be the difference between life or death. Escape or landing right in the middle of a horde of very angry ‘men’. If you trap yourself it’s particularly bad news and often the AI will take advantage if it can. It likes to flank. And it doesn’t always mindlessly run into fire; although it does it a lot. If there’s only one or two enemies left alive the enemy tends to hide and make you come looking. More often than not the AI comes looking for a fight but it can be clever when it needs to be.

Which leads me nicely onto the topic of bosses. Bungie weren’t afraid of making a big aggressive sponge to soak up hundreds of rounds, crates of grenades, half a dozen rockets and still come back for more. And that’s not an exaggeration. Bosses are an actual challenge. Fights often form a pattern of shooting, dodging attacks and shooting again but they’re good fun especially with friends. Everybody likes a boss they can really get stuck into and Destiny will not disappoint.

The bosses are particularly prominent In Strike missions which form Destiny’s repeatable co-op missions. Those who played the Alpha and/or Beta will understand how tough these missions can be. And when you hit level 18 there’s another set of extra difficult missions for you. That’s my weekend sorted.

Or there’s the crucible, Destiny’s PvP offering. There’s a decent selection of game modes to keep you interested and the gameplay is exciting and fun. Apart from one mode, everybody plays with the same stats and equipment. You can select your weapons but your armour will be as effective as your opponents and your auto rifle the same power as theirs. And of course if you really want to test your skill and equipment you can play with your actual character, level and all. But so will your foes. It’s nice that it’s included but I can see this very quickly becoming reserved exclusively for the elite and people with more time than you. Time will tell. But at least the options there.

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And of course everything you do will earn you something. Your character has a Vanguard level and a Crucible level. The Vanguard represents PvE and Crucible PvP. This level acts as a reputation and at higher levels will unlock exclusive gear that you will want. Completing missions in the Crucible earns you crucible reputation and completing strike missions earns you Vanguard reputation. Each one also has a currency which is earned in the same missions, with a limit of 100 a week for each. You can get a lot done with 100 Vanguard/Crucible marks and earning that many will probably take a week anyway so that shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.

But one one the best ways to earn rep is by completing bounties. Updated every day, bounties will offer you tasty rewards for completing certain tasks. You get a large chunk of XP too, in fact completing bounties is by far one of the best ways to earn levels. Bounties play a key part in earning levels and there’s usually at least a couple you can complete no matter where you are in the game.

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And once your finished with all that and you’ve reached level 20 the game really begins. Although 20 is the cap for levelling up conventionally there are ‘light levels’ to be earned after this. By equipping various rare armours and equipment you can level up past 20. Plus there’s a simple but clever system were your XP gets converted to ‘light motes’ which act as currency for some really nice items so earning XP after reaching the cap isn’t a problem. There’s loads to do after 20 and that’s after a 40 hour playthrough to get to 20 with one of the six classes available. Destiny certainly has enough content for MMO, RPG and FPS fans alike.

Presentation is truly exceptional. Destiny is a marvel to look at and the original soundtrack is somehow both reverent and triumphant. It looks beautiful all the time. Nothing feels rushed or uncared for. Seeing is believing. And if you’ve got a good headset or sound system Destiny definitely benefits from high volume. Auto rifles are tinny and sci-fi-ey and the Heavy Machine Guns (not sure why they’re not called LMG’s) are really chunky.

In short Destiny is a marvel. It does almost everything right apart from a few minor niggles. But far more importantly it’s something new that finally pushes the increasingly stale MMO genre forward. It’s great looking, great sounding, endless fun filled with both competitive or cooperative levelling and looting. There’s more content than you could ask for and I’m quite happy doing the same things over and over in Destiny, because it’s just fun. Destiny has become legend before we even got chance.

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Get ready to fight in the Asia Pacific dense urban environments with Battlefield 4 Dragon’s Teeth, the fourth extension of Battlefield 4.

Available from 15th July for members Battlefield 4 Premium, Dragon’s Teeth propels players into four new maps offering Unique gameplay environments and an overexcited, narrow alleys Market pearls floating restaurant Dragon submerged.

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Dragon’s Teeth also offers five unpublished in the Battlefield series weapons, a new gadget, the ballistic shield, and a new game mode, chain links, a revamped version of Conquest Mode where you must connect the capture points to win victory. Fans can also meet ten new missions featuring unlockable items and use RAWR, a new vehicle without remotely controlled and pilot armed to the teeth.

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Not to mention the four new maps:

• Lumphini Park: shopping channels a beautiful park aboard PWC quick to take advantage.

• Market beads: make war in the lively streets and rooftops of the market.

• Propaganda: fight among the towering monuments of despots in the gray battlefield concrete.

• Sunken Dragon: make havoc in a floating restaurant or drain the lake to open the way to a vehicle while the battle rages between skyscrapers.

Go to the Dragon’s Teeth 4 extension before the other players by joining Battlefield 4 Premium. Battlefield 4 Dragon’s Teeth will be available for all on 29th July.

If you enjoyed the first GRID it’s likely you were disappointed in some way by GRID 2. Many of GRID’s best features were unnecessarily cut. The entire game went too far down the arcade route and lost sight of why it’s predecessor was so great. Managing to remain simultaneously focused but still offering a chance to race across many disciplines with handling a nice hybrid of simulation and arcade. Well Codemasters appear to have recognised this and GRID: Autosport sees the return of many of the ideas and features that made GRID so great.

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Probably the most important change to Autosport is with the handling model. Autosport attempts to again find that sweet spot that is the balance between arcade and simulation from the first GRID. That satisfying sliding and skidding that would probably leave us critically injured in reality makes a strong return. But Autosport doesn’t let it get out of control and you don’t get those moments were you wonder whether you’ve started playing Burnout. As with the original GRID, Autosport dares to take itself seriously enough to become a racer but doesn’t require absolute perfection with every button press.

More than once I was reminded of how I felt during my time with the original. GRID is forgiving enough to encourage bravery at every turn but complicated enough that hitting an apex or being smooth with the throttle on the exit of a corner matters. It’s a fine line, and GRID 2 lost it’s way, but Autosport gets it right by looking back to the original for inspiration.

Car models help things by looking their best at all times, especially from the outside. I tend to play racers from the bumper cam anyway but the vehicles in GRID look great. And Autosport allows you to play from an interior camera too. Rejoice all those who will now briefly look at the interior of a car and then continue playing from a different view anyway! But it’s good to see Codemasters have included it anyway. The detail of the vehicle interiors isn’t quite as good as the rest of the game but I imagine statistically there’s very few gaming hours spent there and Codemasters’ attention has been correctly focused elsewhere.

During a bad collision that detail becomes obvious. The detail of the car models becomes clear as bits of car fly off, shatter and bend while the slow motion gives everything a cool weighted feel. There are some areas that don’t have quite the fidelity we might be looking for, particularly with next gen hardware around, but for a last gen title it looks very good.

One of my favourite things in GRID 2 were the tracks. There weren’t many of them and the tracks themselves weren’t always fun to race on but their detail was second to none. And the same goes for Autosport except there are loads of tracks on offer as well. There are a huge number of tracks for you to play on and each is detailed enough to stave off the boredom of hour after hour of grey tarmac rolling off the bottom of your screen.

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Autosport’s career mode yet again returns to old ideas and replaces constant, repeated, first place wins with realistic objectives. In your first season your goal isn’t to finish in first place. In fact you shouldn’t be finishing first place in your first race and Autosport encourages you to continue playing and improving as your position gets better with practice. It’s so much better not to be expected to overtake 20 or so vehicles even in your debut event. And the return of an AI partner as your teammate allows GRID to again feel like a team effort, which was one of my favourite features of the original. With the AI helping create excitement every step of the way you can be sure you’ll get to do some actual racing.

This time your career is split across multiple disciplines; Tuner, Touring, Street, Endurance and Open-Wheel. If there isn’t at least something for everyone in Autosport I’d be surprised. And each discipline feels unique and separated from the others. Touring races see you fighting wheel to wheel in huge packs. Open-Wheel races favour F1 like precision. The only disappointments for me were that the endurance races really weren’t long enough (but then I like the old Gran Turismo style that took many hours each) and the Tuner class wasn’t quite as enjoyable or exciting as the others. But some people will no doubt prefer the races I don’t like. The point is there’s a choice for you. On the whole the multiple class system works well and offers loads to keep you playing even long into your career. Just being able to change things up a bit occasionally makes a big difference.

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A lot of things were missing from GRID 2. And they’re all back in Autosport. Codemasters have really listened to what people want and actually made changes. The thrill of wheel to wheel racing the way only GRID knows how is so close to making a return. The handling model nearly finds that glorious balance between simulation and arcade. There are loads of tracks and plenty of good looking vehicle models. And then there are multiple race classes, realistic career objectives and a teammate. Although I would’ve still preferred to be able to fully manage a team, much like a more in-depth version of the first GRID. But some new features are what GRID needs now.

I wish I could have seen Autosport made for PS4 and Xbox One though as some nice next gen visuals would greatly increase the overall presentation of Autosport. It still looks good, especially for a last gen title but I’m still without a racer for my PS4 and GRID for some reason didn’t take advantage and fill that gap. Well done Codemasters for actually listening to fans but truth be told GRID Autosport is really just what GRID 2 needed to be. Still at least it’s safe to say GRID is back on track. What we need now is the next GRID to see were the franchise goes.

 

Even for the mighty UbiArt engine and Ubisoft Montpellier The Great War is a tricky topic to tackle correctly. Despite the abundance of WW2 period games out there WW1 remains relatively untouched. The sheer horror and weight of events make it difficult as a topic for any game. Valiant Hearts goes with an all out puzzler approach. There’s the occasional action filled moment but even then the puzzles are kept central to the gameplay. The point of Valiant Hearts isn’t to see how many men you can kill and how much gore there can be in a war. Thankfully.

But just because you’re not going to slaughter men on mass doesn’t mean Valiant Hearts pulls its punches. The Great War had a horrific death toll and Ubisoft aren’t afraid to make it known. Valiant Hearts doesn’t patronize and it doesn’t hold back. It covers the brutality of the first gas attack using Chlorine Gas. It covers the work of a medic performing triage after an attack. It covers a civilian population under attack from bombs, with people searching for loved ones and dealing with the destruction of their homes.

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There’s an appropriately solemn tone that never really lets up while you  play Valiant Hearts. It’s a strange experience to be entertained at the same time as watching the horrors of The Great War but I think it’s a fantastic way for us to commemorate the events that took place.

Great War aside Valiant Hearts is a great puzzler. There’s a fare share of simple tasks that don’t tax the brain too much but they are constant and keep you thinking until the next real puzzle. Which are clever. You’re canine friend has no name but he can squeeze through gaps and retrieve items, among other things, that allow the puzzles to be really creative. They kept me thinking and regularly had me stumped for a little while before I moved on.

The only problem I had was checkpoints which are few and far between. More than once when I quit the game I found myself playing the entire level again when I loaded it back up. It seems like a simple fix to me to just add more checkpoints especially considering Valiant Hearts has a slower pace that doesn’t make checkpoints difficult.

To compliment this are collectables that are carefully placed in every level. Some hidden, some require simple optional puzzles some are basically unmissable. But once you find and collect one you can press triangle and read more about the item. The nuggets of information make for interesting reading so it’s well worth stopping occasionally to take a look. Some are personal letters from soldiers on the front and some are interesting items like lighters or tools that provide some historical fact.

Valiant Hearts is a treat on the eyes and ears too, as if any of us doubted it. UbiArt has delivered again and the beautiful ‘hand drawn’ style creates the perfect atmosphere for Valiant Hearts. But musically Valiant Hearts has a simple yet powerful soundtrack that had me moved more than once. Even the piano piece on the main menu is truly beautiful.

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For me, the key concept that is a constant in Valiant Hearts is the issue of language barriers. Or more specifically the issue of nationality. Despite communication there’s no spoken language except the occasional mumble from the characters and a narrator on the loading screens. The most obvious example is your best friend in Valiant Hearts, your dog.

He starts out with his German handler, who’s a medic. But helps the French Emile when he’s in trouble early on. Emile and his dog then join with an American, Freddie and later even back with a German born French national Karl. On one occasion after Emile helps a German Soldier in need he will in return help Emile by letting him run from capture or death. Valiant Hearts does a good job of bringing to life the fact that all who fought in The Great War where ultimately still human, regardless of nationality. And your canine companion makes it all the more obvious as he doesn’t consider race or nationality when he helps people. He just helps those who need it. It’s also devastating when he gets in trouble and needs your help.

The Great War was certainly one of our darkest periods of history and it needs to be commemorated. And 100 years on it is all the more important that we make an effort to remember those who gave their lives for us. Valiant Hearts is so tastefully handled that I can think of no better way to remember those events. It’s a great puzzle game that makes you think infused with nuggets of history. More importantly Valiant Hearts packs a punch that doesn’t let us forget.

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Microsoft have released a special edition Xbox 360 Arctic Camouflage Controller, and we got a closer look at it.

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This controller has the following features:

  • Camouflage design inspired by snow-covered environments
  • Transforming D-pad that switches from plus to disc for better control
  • Special edition wireless controller with 30-foot range

Here’s a closer look at the controller:

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What do you think of the Camouflage Controller? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

And thanks to Xbox for the controller.

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I’ve recently been spending a lot of my time on the Destiny Alpha. Here’s a few videos of my adventures.

 

First mission with the Warlock class.

Co-op Strike Mission Objective 1

An encounter with ‘Devil Walker’

An encounter with ‘Sepiks Prime’. Which is immediately after Devil Walker!

Exploring the Tower

Exploring the Cosmodrome part 1

Exploring the Cosmodrome part 2

Hopefully this gives you a good idea of how Destiny plays. Also check out my first impressions here. Destiny is looking mighty impressive, and this is the Alpha with most features limited! Bring on the Beta!

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