Developer: Arcen Games
I've never played anything remotely like The Last Federation, even if it looks like any number of space 4X games from yesteryear at first glance. Eight unique races reach out to the stars from their home planets, seeking conquest and coexistence depending on their philosophies. They build fleets, research technologies, make treaties and break them with impunity; thriving and dying in a meticulously-modelled situation that's detailed down to internal politics and populations.
And we can't play as any of them... because they're all AI.
We stand alone as the Hydral, the last of an extinct race of interstellar tyrants with dreams of uniting the galaxy into one eternal federation... and crushing any species who stands in the way. We're the dark heart lurking at the centre of the universe, the multi-headed tentacular puppet master, working behind the scenes to apply pressure through political coups, financial skullduggery, science and fleet combat; subtly influencing the balance of power with both the carrot, stick, cloak, dagger and gravity lance.
It's really rather wonderful, and a revolutionary twist on the 4X legends of yore.Click here to read more...
Trials is as punishing and perfect as ever. It's a game of ludicrous excess and controlled restraint, as you scream over a ludicrous gravity-defying jump one moment and deftly feather the throttle to make it across a nasty gauntlet of overhangs the next. The interplay between speed, power, weight, balance, gravity and physics is one again spot-on, challenging us to excel through skill and perseverance, all while desperately attempting to shave miliseconds off our par time, beat our ghost and humiliate our friends.
Trials Fusion should be everything we want from a Trials sequel, then, but some new features and window dressing deserve a closer look.
We're in the future now, and Trials Fusion won't let you forget it. From the first second you boot it up, an annoyingly brain-worming theme song proudly proclaims "welcome to the future! Man! Machine! The futuuuuuuuuure!" while displaying a shiny armour-clad rider atop a slick skyscraper. It'd be a great excuse to introduce some futuristic new technology, but no, it basically boils down to a somewhat forgettable storyline involving two AIs (which features a few fun one-liners that you'll hear repeated ad nauseam each time you restart a checkpoint) and a vibrant colourful new aesthetic to punch up the tracks. We've come a long way since Trials HD's uninspiring collection of brown crates and grey pipes.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | Vita | X360 | XO | Wii U |3DS
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Yes, this is a review, not an advanced preview for a game which (with any sense) wouldn’t see a release until December when the final Hobbit movie hits cinemas. Instead, this Lego title encompasses the first two films with the third to be added as DLC later this year.
It would take the most upbeat of optimists to suggest that WB will do the right thing and release the add-on (the rest of the game) for free, but my cynical nature tells me to expect something around £15.99 –an oddly specific guess I admit. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see this game re-released complete with the remaining content in December for the same price it is today. So, I guess the only real question left, is how many Lego games do you need in your life? With Lego Marvel and the Lego Movie tie-in released just five and two months ago respectively, you have to wonder why WB didn’t wait.
But here we are, back in Middle Earth for another action-platformer collect em’ up. As with the Lego Lord of the Rings game, there are lines of dialogue and music from the movie giving the game an authentic air. In the Lego LOTR titles, I found this to be an odd match as the straight-faced dialogue was at odds with the characters messing about in the background. But The Hobbit movies have turned out to be lighter affairs and the seriousness and comedy seems to gel together better than I expected. Or maybe it’s because I loved the LOTR movies have been bitterly disappointed with the drawn-out Hobbit ones.Click here to read more...
When we look back at sequels that took a long, hard look at their predecessors and simply made everything better, that list of success might well include Warlock II: The Exiled. Ino-Co Plus have crafted a game that improves on Masters of the Arcane in almost every way possible, delivering a hex-based slice of deep, turn-based strategy that comes out firing on all cylinders.
Though the game's sandbox mode bears much resemblance to the original Warlock, and there are tweaks aplenty to the core gameplay that we'll get to in due course, the big addition to Warlock II, comes in the form of a new mode.
"The Exiled" refers to you, the player, along with a host of other mages who've all been cast out of the realm of Ardania by a super evil grand wizard calling himself The United One. Not only has The United One kicked out anyone who could pose a threat to him, but he's gone and shattered the realms surrounding Ardania, meaning that the worlds have splintered into shards, connected only by ethereal portals. As a super awesome mage yourself, it's up to you to consolidate your power, raise an army or two, navigate those pesky portals, and take back Ardania.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (reviewed, £6.99) | iPad version in development
Developer: Lightmare Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Aliens are out to steal our cows and it's up to us to defend them. With towers.
Beyond its B-Movie premise, Beware Planet Earth! initially appears to be a friendly if incredibly generic tower defence title. As adorable martians trundle along their preset paths with bovine abduction on their minds, we'll place a small selection of static turrets to halt their advance. Some deal direct damage. Others slow or debilitate the hordes. Our war economy is fuelled by currency dispensing machines that create a cog every few seconds, which we have to click to redeem -- thus adding a hectic resource collection minigame to the proceedings -- but otherwise it definitely feels like a retread of very old ground.
Stick with it, though, and Beware Planet Earth! might just surprise you.Click here to read more...
Developer: Magenta Software
When I was a lad, you'd find me dogfighting in Frontier Elite or hunting down Superfrog's trickier Easter eggs. We thrived on challenge as children and nothing has changed, because these days kids eat Ender Dragons for breakfast and noscope headshots for dessert. They certainly know that red barrels are likely to explode or that coloured tiles will unlock something when you step on them, but Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom has no respect for its young target audience. It painstakingly explains every primitive and dated mechanic, convinced that its players are brain-dead drones who mustn't be allowed to think for themselves.
Still, if you are a brain-dead drone, you might get some enjoyment out of this criminally generic and dull little platformer.
We're deep in shovelware territory here. Tasked with bringing the Invizimals franchise to the PS3, Magenta Software decided that Augmented Reality sounded like hard work, so decided to deliver a by-the-numbers platformer instead. Presumably because it was a Friday afternoon. We step into the DayGlo jacket of Hiro, a young boy exploring the digital realm of the Invizimals for the first time, whose ability to transform into sixteen of the critters has potential for interesting gameplay.Click here to read more...
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive
After not getting around to finishing the final version of the original Vita release late last year, I was delighted to see that Blackgate was making its way to the main consoles in a similar manner to Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. Keen to fill the long gap between now and Rocksteady’s next-gen Arkham adventure I dove in with both feet -but sadly without a cape.
Blackgate takes place three months after the events of Arkham Origins, making its original simultaneous release a little odd. But now we’ve had time to finish the console game, we don’t have to worry about spoilers; although I’ll not give any away today.
Batman finds himself visiting Blackgate prison after the inmates take over, with various crime lords taking a part of the facility for themselves. So yes, it’s a pretty bland mashup of the plots from the first Rocksteady games, but at least Bruce doesn’t seem to have any parent issues during the story for a change.
He does seem to have become hardcore drinking buddies with Ratchet & Clank though as he once again turns up to the rumble with fuck-all gear to navigate around the environments. Why Batman! Why do you never pack the line gun or exploding gel? You’re always going to need it, you bellend!Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Novarama Technology
Invizimals wants to be Pokemon with augmented reality, real-time battles and Brian Blessed.
High concept formulas don't get any better than that, do they? Pokemon provides the addictive core of catching, training and battling some cool critters, brought to full 3D life by the Vita's processing power. Augmented Reality uses the cameras to merge the game world with our own, letting players discover creatures in the playground or office and throw down on the bus home. And Brian Blessed is a national treasure with an amazing beard. As such Invizimals: The Alliance ought to be the best game ever made, and at the very worst it's exactly the sort of mainstream family-friendly franchise the Vita needs right now.
And yet Novarama found a way to cock it up. They've over-developed it to within an inch of its life; drowning a strong and simple idea in a hot mess of obnoxious minigames.
Then added insult to injury by forcing us to dig out AR Cards every five seconds.Click here to read more...
"There is nothing... nothing... half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Ratty had it right. As did The Lonely Island. Naval combat is awesome, so we're delighted that Battlefield 4's selection of RHIBs, jetskis and attack boats finally have their chance to shine courtesy of the latest DLC. Aptly named Naval Strike, this new map pack contains four enormous waterlogged maps balanced for ship-to-ship combat, while infantry scurry to secure their objectives and aircraft hunt down their quarry on the high seas. As the cherry on the cake, we have a new game mode in Carrier Assault, which gives Battlefield 2142's beloved Titan gametype a wet and wild makeover. Forget tanks and heavy armour, because we're all about hovercraft and hidden Megalodons now.
Available as part of the Battlefield Premium service, Naval Strike certainly seems to be a breath of sea air, which we've now tested thoroughly enough to deliver our comprehensive verdict - from the new maps to the gear and gametypes. And then we'll finish up by having another rant about Battlefield 4's crappy netcode.
Wave Breaker is by far the strongest and most interesting of the new maps. An expansive network of small islands, naval approaches and airborne opportunities are clustered around a massive underground submarine pen: a nervy combination of long sight lines, balconies, gantries and tight corridors for well-organised squads to assault. Attack boats and RHIBs can breach the perimeter unless infantry raise flood barriers, while the drydocked submarine can be collapsed with devastating results if it sustains enough damage. Given the mix of massively open boat combat, helicopter shenanigans and brutal point-blank ground pounding, it's really rather special indeed.Click here to read more...
I've never really managed to get on with the mobile versions of Football Manager. Though the UI is streamlined brilliantly for use on small screens, and the options refined to allows for a degree of pick-up-and-play action on the go, it just didn't scratch the compulsive itch I got from the full-fat version on PC. I want the bells and whistles, the ridiculously advanced stats, the analytics that allow me to comb through previous games and then devise new tactics on an individual basis, whipping up other managers and journalists into a media maelstrom with my club at the heart of it all.
Football Manager Classic 2014 doesn't quite do all of that either, taking the Classic mode from the recent instalment of the FM series rather than the absurdly intricate full simulation; but it does come closer than any other portable manager sim before it. And, as it turns out, that's both a blessing, and also a bit of a curse.
Let's start with the positives, though. Above all else, this is the Football Manager experience that we know and love. The PlayStation Vita port remains phenomenally true to the original game, and that means you're no longer bound to your desk if you want to sink hours and hours into shunting that non-league club you started with towards Champions League glory. Classic might not quite boast the same level of absurd depth as the full simulation, but it's still enormously involved -- we've described it in the past as being a little like a nostalgic jaunt back to the FM titles of several years ago.
Training, tactics, transfers, and the team -- that's what Classic is all about, eschewing some of the more seemingly mundane elements of the managerial lifestyle like attempting to balance the books. The interface is clean and virtually identical to the PC version, and when you're in-match, you're only ever a few finger swipes and pushes away from your regular swathe of options -- whether that's swapping players in and out or barking orders to those already on the pitch.Click here to read more...
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Triumph Studios
I've been searching for a new 4X addiction for some considerable time now, and Age Of Wonders III is almost certainly it. Years in the making and completed with a hefty bung from Markus "Notch" Persson, this fantastical turn-based sequel offers streamlined grand strategy, incredibly tense tactical battles and compelling RPG elements to boot. Somewhere between Civilization V, X-COM, Heroes Of Might & Magic, Warlock and Spellforce, it allows you to create your own hero from various unique classes and races, then lead their faction to victory through exploration, expansion and ruthless extermination.
But more importantly than that, Age Of Wonders III just creates a wonderful and unpredictable world to live in every time you play. This is a land where steampunk flame tanks and terrifying dragons do battle against rainbow unicorns and pixies. You'll find a "longsword of dire penguin slaying" before being assaulted by flocks of ravenous depraved aquatic birds from beyond the pale. Every hex you uncover, every cavern, temple, woodland glade and dark corner of the expansive maps holds opportunities for treasure, adventure or advancement - or new threats to desperately repel.
Wonders never cease. Which is why the review took so long.Click here to read more...
Developer: Telltale Games
The Wolf Among Us reeled us in, and Episode 1 was the hook. It caught us expertly, brutally worked us over and left us desperate for more; a triumph of storytelling, twists and characterisation that pulled no punches. Then Episode 2 took its sweet time turning up before sitting us down and asking if we'd like a cup of tea. A necessary lull, but we're good and ready for the storm now.
Episode 3: A Crooked Mile is happy to oblige.
Telltale are back on form, delivering a superbly-paced slice of stylish, gritty and often gutwrenchingly emotional procedural drama. Hot on the trail of his prime suspect, Bigby finds himself in a desperate race against time that still manages to expand on both the universe, the characters and the big bad wolf himself - while introducing a fantastic new villain.
Since I know that some of you will be reading this review to make up your mind about buying the season pass, we're going to avoid spoiling the major twists from the first two episodes. Somehow.
Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed) | PC version incoming
Developer: Born Ready Games
Strike Suit Zero should have been brilliant when it released last year. A beautiful arcade space sim starring a wonderful transforming mech fighter, designed by Appleseed's Junji Okubo and scored by Homeworld's Paul Ruskay, it literally promised "space combat reborn." And it failed.
What ought to have been a revolution ended up as a solid yet shockingly derivative space sim that stubbornly looked backwards, not forwards, launching with numerous missing features and sidelining its eponymous war machine in favour of a billion frustrating escort missions. Having backed the Kickstarter campaign at not inconsiderable expense (well spotted, I was wearing a U.N.E. T-Shirt in our Rezzed 2014 interviews), I had to shelve my excitement while picking apart its flaws in our 6/10 review.
So I'm delighted to report that Born Ready Games have fixed it!
Containing all the patches and improvements from several months of extra development, alongside fundamentally rebalanced gameplay and a visual makeover, the Director's Cut feels like a completely new game. Consoles may not be the space sim's spiritual home, but Strike Suit Zero feels more at home on PS4 and Xbox One than it ever did on PC.Click here to read more...
Format: PS4 (reviewed) | PC
Developer: Matt Thorson
Publisher: Matt Makes Games Inc.
TowerFall Ascension is all about traditional local multiplayer. So much so, there’s no point even reading the rest of this review if you’re not likely to invite friends round to your house to play with you. Still here? Did I mention it would help if your friends were regular gamers with a fondness for pixelated sprite-art games that could have run on a Sega Master System without breaking a sweat? Try not to make too much noise on your way out. Ok you two, thanks for staying.
This multiplayer-focussed game features screen-sized arenas to duke it out against each other in 2-4 player deathmatches / team deathmatches or you can play 1-2 player co-op against waves of monsters over multiple maps.
Controls are simple retro fare with three buttons handling jumps, firing arrows from your bow and a dodge move that can also be used to catch any arrows fired at you. Navigating the 2D stages with well-timed jumps is a breeze and you can make your way around with serious speed thanks to a hole at the bottom of the screen dropping you back in from the top when you dive in. Exit to the sides will see you come out the other side too. Arrows fired into any of these exits or holes will also come out the other side.Click here to read more...
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Cards on the table: I've never once wanted to own a motorbike. Sure, you can get from A to B extremely quickly in zigzag fashion, but I'd much rather tilt the seat back in my clapped-out 2002 Fiesta, crank up The News Quiz and enjoy the traffic jam. I prefer leather shammies to leather trousers, F1 to MotoGP, headrests to pillions and four wheels to two in real life, all day long.
But real life be damned, because virtual motorbikes are always a blast. From MotoGP simulations to the arcade brilliance of Motocross Madness 2 and even the Trials series, there's nothing quite like leaning into the corners and sticking countless ridiculous landings - all without sweating into a leather outfit and undergoing painful reconstructive surgery.
As such, MXGP revs my throttle. Focusing squarely on the mud-churning Motocross side of things, it's a hot mess of ramps and jumps, boasting a scalable simulation model, real riders and addictive career mode. Though decidedly lacking in flair and flash, diehard fans will find a lot to love here.Click here to read more...
Goat Simulator is one of the first games that I've ever come across that arrives with a disclaimer from the developers concerned, actively warning people off of the game:
Goat Simulator is a small, broken and stupid game. It was made in a couple of weeks so don’t expect a game in the size and scope of GTA with goats. In fact, you’re better off not expecting anything at all actually. To be completely honest, it would be best if you’d spend your $10 on a hula hoop, a pile of bricks, or maybe a real-life goat.
And it might be right, you know.
For some, the thought of prancing about a pretty tiny, yet jam-packed sandbox as a crazy, bleating billy will seem completely pointless. Goat Simulator is a bit of an aberration -- a joke perhaps taken too far -- a broken, buggy mess that makes a mockery of game development and serves only as a flash in the pan designed to exploit today's obsession with YouTube-captured mishaps.
Goat Simulator is all of those things. Whether or not it's worth your ten dollars (or six pounds) will come down to how much of that you find amusing.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (£7.99)
Developer: Magiko Gaming
Publisher: Namco Bandai
It's here! It's finally here!
Excuse my excitement, but Platformines has been on our radar for years. Halfway between Spelunky, Contra and Borderlands -- Borderconky, perhaps? -- this retro-themed platformer has been in development for an eternity, promising us seed-generated mines full of traps to overcome and enemies to blow up with enormous guns. Looting, shooting and exploration beckoned to us way down in the depths, and I've been beside myself with anticipation. We covered Platformines extensively since 2011 until it fell off the radar, only to be reborn and finally playable on Steam. I feel giddy and silly like a kid at Christmas.
Ooh, actually, Contralunkerlands might sound better.
The problem with excitement, though, is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations... and Platformines has a lot to live up to. Maybe a little too much as it turns out.Click here to read more...
That Final Fantasy X-2 ever existed is frankly fantastic. Back when it emerged on the PS2 as the first true sequel to ever bear the name Final Fantasy, it confused the hell out of people. Picking up two years after the end of its direct predecessor, X-2 can basically be summed up as "What Yuna Did Next", yet it abandoned much of what made FFX a classic and what we ended up with was a strikingly pretty, utterly revamped, female-led, undeniably Japanese, all-singing all-dancing hot mess.
And it was thoroughly entertaining.
The Vita version of Final Fantasy X-2 HD sparkles. It looks absolutely fantastic, and on occasion I had to remind myself that this was made over a decade ago. The main characters look brilliant, the character models approaching current-gen quality at times, though this is offset by NPCs that range from the passable to the downright ugly. The fact that the opening video has been redone in HD, along with all of the other cutscenes, is frankly excellent. There's nothing else to say, really -- FFX-2 HD looks better than quite a few native Vita titles. It's one of the finest HD remasters I've ever witnessed in that respect.
Just as important as the changes to the visuals, though, are the lack of changes when it comes to the soundtrack. So much of what makes X-2 such a crazy romp is it's J-Pop soundtrack, and I'm pleased to report that the only thing that seems to have changed is the sound quality. FFX's soundtrack has been noticeably tampered with, and not entirely for the better, but here it seems like guns have most certainly been stuck to, and that'll surely delight long-time fans. Let's face it -- X-2 was always something of a Marmite game, but that was down to the fact that it's one of the most identifiable Final Fantasy title out there, positively oozing with character and personality. It's nice to see that none of that has been lost in the remastering process.Click here to read more...
Developer: Polytron and BlitWorks
Despite critical acclaim two years ago when released on XBLA and PC, Fez has taken its time to come to the PlayStation Platforms. Rather than a discount for its tardiness, the asking price of £7.99 gets you a cross-buy copy of the game that you can download to your PS4, PS3 and PS Vita complete with cloud-based cross-save functionality.
For those of you new to the world of Fez, allow me to catch you up. This is a puzzle platformer that opts for an 8-bit retro style. What’s decidedly not retro though (unless you count Echochrome and Crush as retro) is the rotating mechanic adding depth to the 2D platforming. With a tap of a shoulder button, the whole game world rotates 90 degrees. This begins simply enough when you’re just navigating a singular structure, you could even be forgiven for thinking it’s just a gimmick as it’s essentially a traditional flat 2D stage that you push forward with these ‘rotations.’
But then stages start to get more elaborate with extra platforms and multiple floating islands to navigate. Upon rotation, many of these areas see additional platforms moved into position allowing you to reach higher places. Hidden doors leading to new parts of the map are featured on the sides of buildings too.Click here to read more...
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Reaper Of Souls is brilliant.
It makes Diablo III feel like a full game, complete, floating on a raft of exceptional patches. With Jay Wilson now a footnote in franchise history, Blizzard cut out the fat, replaced it with muscle and used the new expansion to genuinely expand their dungeon crawler. The new act and class are pure gold, while Adventure Mode turns the campaign into a glorious interconnected sandbox ripe for the pillage, giving the game an unpredictable personality and solid backbone. Effectively Reaper Of Souls is to Diablo III what adamantium is to Wolverine.
Unfortunately it also costs thirty British quid. Is Reaper Of Souls a rip-off or a devil's bargain?
That's a lot of money for 25% more story and a single new class, so I'm delighted to report that you're paying for quality. Act V is easily the biggest, best and most interesting segment of Diablo III hands-down, both in terms of art direction, enemy variation, storyline and some fantastic bosses. Blizzard has pushed the boat out on memorable set pieces (such as a dramatic showdown atop an active siege weapon) and thoughtful new foes who require different tactics to defeat. Plus, we get to tie up a massive loose end in the most violently cathartic way possible, while learning about exactly why The Angel Of Wisdom decided to go rogue.Click here to read more...