NBA 2K15 is an interactive sporting soap opera, and it's quite brilliant in that regard. Visual Concepts have been leading the line in terms of narrative framing for career modes for some time, but last year's next-gen version saw them really ratchet things up in terms of context and plotting for MyCareer, upping the stakes by giving you a nemesis to measure yourself against, a mute team buddy to give you inspiration and a kick up the arse when warranted, and interactions with coaches, GMs and the press.
This year, though, they've really gone the extra mile in cultivating a sporting narrative full of drama and emotion. You kick things off as an undrafted rookie with an obnoxious, Jerry Maguire-esque agent shopping you about low-to-mid-level teams for a trial. The greater the team's standing, the harder you'll have to work to impress them, and so on. Succeed, and you'll earn yourself a ten-day contract; do well in the mattering of games during that short time period, and you might win a spot on the rotation for the rest of the season. It's a true underdog setup that then spins out into regular team meetings, chats with your coach, practice sessions, contract negotiations, team-mates finding out about you entertaining the notion of signing with a another team, squabbles about playing opportunities, clashes with other rookies and players, all in the quest to become the greatest player you can be.
It's rather intoxicating stuff, aided by more fully-featured voice work from the characters you'll meet along the way. It must be said, however, that few NBA players have the acting chops of Shaq, and the monotonous drawl of the likes of Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond, not to mention the interesting timing of some lines that VC clearly didn't have the time to record twice, can make dialogue exchanges inadvertently hilarious.Click here to read more...
I'm a big fan of Corsair's mechanical keyboards. When I bought my current gaming rig last year, I slapped down some cash for the Vengeance K90 Performance MMO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, with its programmable "G" buttons (that I've still never used, mainly due to the paucity of MMOs in my gaming diet), adjustable blue backlighting, Cherry MX switches, anti-ghosting, and USB pass-through. I give my hardware a true hammering too, and the robust nature of Corsair's stuff is why I keep coming back to them.
Mechanical keyboards and backlit models are nothing new, but few have attempted to bring the very best of both worlds together. Until now (alongside Razer's Black Widow Chroma, that is). Ladies and gents, say hello to the rebranded Corsair Gaming K70 RGB Mechanical Keyboard -- a piece of kit that mixes the durability and functionality of the old K70 with a disco ball. It might just be the most snazzy piece of hardware I've ever owned.
The K70 RGB mirrors its non-RGB predecessor in many ways. Last year's K70 was an outstanding piece of kit, and at first glance, this model seems to be its equal in every way. Both models utilise the same chassis and brushed aluminium faceplate, the same keycaps and 10-key number pad, and neither offer up the option of those programmable macro keys to be found on the K90 or new K95 RGB. The multimedia buttons are still in place too, and Corsair have kept the volume roller, which is much more preferable to the usual two-button setup. Also retained from the older model are the illumination level and gaming mode buttons, with the latter locking up Windows shortcuts like Alt-Tab, should you want to game away without fear of frantic mishaps should you accidentally mash the wrong buttons.Click here to read more...
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) | Xbox 360
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
I genuinely love my Kinect sensor and the musical legends at Harmonix, but I think they might have missed the point here.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band make you feel like a rock god, whether you're shredding on a plastic guitar, smashing the drums, laying down a bass line or howling into a microphone. Rocksmith literally teaches you how to play a six-string, much like Dance Central teaches you a selection of hilarious dance moves. Child Of Eden makes you feel like a transcendent electric death machine. You're only stood in front of a telly with a plastic peripheral or Kinect sensor, but the physical movements feel empowering and rewarding in and of themselves.
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is supposed to turn you into the Sorcerer's Apprentice and grant you dominion over music itself... but playing it feels like directing traffic at a busy intersection. Or attempting to guide a light aircraft in to land in your living room. You're just waving your arms about in time to music, more like a weather reporter in front of a greenscreen than a magical orchestra conductor.
It's a shame, because Disney Fantasia is otherwise one of the most fascinating and unique projects ever developed for the Kinect sensor, letting you create crazy remixes out of classic and current music.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: 2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is ridiculously good fun. I really can't stress that enough.
This awkwardly titled segue might appear to be a lazy off-year cash grab, but it actually delivers the most fundamental mechanical update the series has ever received. Low-gravity combat. We're still shooting and looting, but now we're soaring merrily through the air (or vacuum!), using a nuanced double jump to gain extra height or boost our way around sprawling three-dimensional stages.
It's awesome, and unlocks a host of exciting new encounters as we take on airborne foes in the air, rain down firepower onto smart squads of jetpack troopers or employ an epic Butt Slam attack to smash down into enemy formations; cracking their faceplates and watching them asphyxiate to a wub wub soundtrack. On top of that, insanely powerful laser cannons and freeze-shattering Cryo weapons slot perfectly into the Borderlands experience, giving us more ways to brutalise anyone stupid enough to stand against us. Now that I'm used to The Pre-Sequel's very Australian humour and voice cast, I don't think I can go back.
It's so much fun, in fact, that while I'm playing I can ignore all of its many, many, many flaws.Click here to read more...
The big question to be posed to the latest in a line of yearly, iterative games is always "what's new?" People won't drop fifty quid for a game that makes the odd cosmetic change or just swaps old rosters for new. We like progression, we like to envisage some sort of movement forwards in the quest to create the most authentic, awesome representation of a sport or pastime, as if there's a perfect goal to be reached that yearly series creep closer to each year.
Of course, when a new batch of consoles have been released, but you're still tethered to the old bunch, I would imagine that keeping up, let alone trying to improve in meaningful fashion, can seem like a Sisyphean task. Unfortunately, in a year where games are shinier and sparkier than in previous ones, you have to make some strides in terms of gameplay.
Sadly, F1 2014 doesn't really do that. In fact, in many ways it does the exact opposite.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS3 | PS Vita (reviewed)
Publisher: NIS America | Reef Entertainment
The trailers lied. Yes, Akiba's Trip is a game in which you'll rip the clothes off sexy vampires, but that's not what it's about.
It's actually a cel shaded celebration of otaku counter-culture in all of its bizarre diversity and a love letter to Tokyo's trendy Akihabara district. It's big-hearted, anarchic, punk, devastatingly cool and fiercely unapologetic in its desire to do its own crazy thing; a blend of riotous street combat with compelling RPG components and visual novel elements. A little like Yakuza by way of Jet Set Radio, only much rougher around the edges.
All-told, Akiba's Trip is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2014, though admittedly the combat still revolves around ripping people's clothes off. We'll get to that in due time... but for now, note that I said "people," not "girls."
Revealing that you'll spend half your time disrobing hot buff dudes clearly wasn't at the top of the marketing team's priorities!Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Marvelous Games
Be advised: the Senran Kagura franchise is all about jiggling anime breasts. It's as blatant and unabashed as fanservice gets, and Tamsoft are absolutely up-front about their intentions. Here we have a series in which infeasibly well-endowed schoolgirls literally kick each other's clothes off for our amusement, because they conveniently also happen to be ninjas, while the camera pans around for what can charitably be described as cinematic close-ups.
I had my first Senran Kagura experience earlier this year with Senran Kagura Burst, and I rather liked it.
I admit to enjoying a slice of cheesecake every once in a while, but I mainly enjoyed Burst because its embarrassing and cringeworthy premise was draped over a surprisingly excellent handheld brawler with responsive mechanics, diverse characters and addictive pick-up-and-play action. Several months on and having swapped the 3DS for the vastly more powerful PlayStation Vita, Shinovi Versus fleshes out practically every aspect of the game and makes sweeping improvements across the board, though a move from 2.5D to full 3D comes with some unique drawbacks.
And Pile Bunkers. Great big pneumatic ones.Click here to read more...
Do you like tower defence games? If the answer is no, then I really don't know what the hell you're doing here. Go away. Shoo! This game is not for you.
If, however, you do like tower defence games, then you should really stick around, because Defense Grid is back, and it's probably the best tower defence game money can buy.
You will have to buy it, it's not an unbalanced free-to-play, lucky dip of a title, where you never know if everything's actually going to come together and work in a fashion that might prove fun. No, Defense Grid 2 will cost you. In fact, it'll cost you £18.49, and that's quite a lot for a tower defence game in my book.
The thing is, though, Defense Grid 2 is really rather good.
Like a good single malt, Defense Grid 2 is distilled excellence. It's not overly ambitious, it doesn't have lofty goals of flights of fancy, it simply wants to be the best tower defense game there is. And it does pretty damn well aiming for that goal.Click here to read more...
This is the best game I've played all year.
I'll admit that I had a hunch it might be. The preview events up to this point haven't been vertical slices or perfectly constructed demonstrations created solely for the events at which they've been found. They've just featured Wii U's boasting self-contained snippets of the game at various points, letting Platinum's latest tour de force speak for itself. No frills, no gimmicks, just the same grin on the faces of every rep hired for the day who've stood beside the terminal and said something along the lines of "it's pretty special isn't it?" as I've hastily picked my jaw up off of the floor after playing.
So much of that, of course, has to do with the combat. Bayonetta 2, just like its predecessor, is an absolute delight to play. You can make combos up on the fly, experimenting with various combinations of light and strong attacks, mixing in spurts of pistol fire here and there, never stuck in a canned animation, with the acrobatic evade option always readily available. There's no real difficulty curve in learning the game's systems, you just slip into the role of Bayonetta with fluid ease, chaining together balletic barrages and furious flurries of Umbran aggression. You evade enemy attacks and then hit them with your own -- working out that side of things is never a problem.
That's not to say that the game isn't challenging. Coming to terms with the freedom of combat, and the pinpoint timing required to maximise the abilities that you have at your disposal involves practice. Bosses will become sub-bosses, that then turn up in greater numbers just to make things interesting. The enemies that you'll face -- both celestial and damned -- telegraph their attacks, but will certainly gang up on you. There'll be moments of peace in which you can take a breath or launch an attack sequence, but equally there will be sequences where you simply must dash and evade and jab and counter, sending Bayonetta into a cartwheeling, breakdancing frenzy of slim attacks and self-preservation. Enemies will vary the windows of opportunity that they present, and though there will be some attacks you can predict well in advance, others will come more quickly, testing your reactions and your concentration.Click here to read more...
Imagine if Snake ate Pac-man. Or maybe Pac-man ate Snake. Or what actually happened was that Snake and Pac-man got drunk one night, fooled around a bit, and ended up having a baby. It might look like Pix the Cat.
Don't think about that too much.
What we have here is a top-down maze game from French outfit Pastagames that's winningly bonkers and cultivates just the right kind of I'll just have one more go gameplay. You play as the eponymous Pix, and your job is to collect eggs, which will then turn into ducklings, which you then have to lead to safety. There's an exit target for each duckling, and all you have to do is pass over them to drop off your water-fowl friends, but the real challenge comes from trying to pick up all of the eggs first and then deposit your feathery chums without crashing into your own trail. Do that and you'll nab yourself a perfect score, but drop a few ducklings off early and the other eggs will crack. You'll still earn points for dropping off the ducklings within those splintered shells but, let's face it, you could have done so much better. Try again. And again. And, oh God it's dark. When did you start playing this again?
The more successful you are, the more your combo multiplier will increase, and the more Pix will start speeding up. Forget about the analogue stick right now. It is not your friend, and cannot hope to gift you the split-second precision that the D-pad can in this instance. Occasionally you might take a wrong turn and crash into a wall or another non-lethal obstacle, at which point the action will slow for a second to let you choose another direction. Dally too long, however, and you'll lose your combo. Crash into yourself and you'll lose your combo. Smack into the enemies and hazardous obstacles that begin to pop up in the levels and you'll lose your combo.Click here to read more...
Developer: Brightside Games
Labour of love or dastardly cash-grab?
That's the question surrounding Team Indie, a new platformer from Brightside Games (who previously brought us the solid if underwhelming Zeit² back in the day). The enterprising studio managed to convince fellow indie developers to lend out their characters, meaning that what would have been a decidedly generic platformer now boasts one of the most incredible playable videogame casts since Super Smash Bros. CommanderVideo, Tim from Braid, Dustforce's Dustgirl, Awesomenauts' Clunk, the Super Crate Box Guy and more share the billing and bring their signature mechanics to the table.
It's a tempting prospect for indie gaming aficionados, but also sounds too good to be true, if not a barefaced attempt to separate fans from their money. So I'm delighted to report that there's a decent little puzzle-platormer in here, even if it doesn't come close to making the most of its source material.
Click here to read more...
With the Hobbit movies proving to be one of the longest train wrecks in recent memory, it’s a relief to see developers looking elsewhere for inspiration of doing Tolkien’s world justice. So, to fill the gap between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, we find ourselves deep in the heart of Mordor.
Enter Talion, a ranger working on the Black Gate who, along with his family, is killed almost immediately by invading Uruks. Luckily (sort of) for him, an Elven Wraith spirit invades his body just before death. Meaning that a short while later he is resurrected and will continue to do so each time he is killed.
Throughout the adventure we’ll learn more about life in Mordor for humans before the orcs and Uruks invaded and Sauron took over and we’ll even learn how the One Ring was forged and how Sauron betrayed the nine. The time setting and location are ripe for gaming territory and Tolkien nuts should definitely take a look.
Shadow of Mordor brandishes its base influences with little shame, but in fairness, Monolith has chose some of the best brands to initiate, namely Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady’s Batman titles. So expect an open world where you can climb any surface and find lots of side-missions and collectibles to keep you entertained between story missions. These distractions also help to fund your numerous combat upgrades, so it rarely feels like time wasting. The climbing mechanics are solid and the animations have a pleasing weight to them too.Click here to read more...
Alien: Isolation is out today and I'm scared to come out of this stupid goddamn locker.
I've been scared by games before. Silent Hill 2 is hands-down the creepiest game I've ever played. I love/hate the way that game messed with my head, the grotesque carnival of misshapen enemies, distended and crooked, that triggered genuine revulsion. They weren't just zombies, they were hideous apparitions that made me feel physically ill. Elsewhere, there were moments when games like Condemned and Dead Space and Fatal Frame and even Doom 3 made me jump and weirded me out.
But nothing has ever quite terrified me like Alien: Isolation.
In the past, Xenomorphs have been hazardous cannon fodder. In fact, up until this point, there's never been a game that really captures what it means to come face to face with that perfect organism. No game has ever succeeded in capturing the sheer terror of coming face to face with the Geigerian monstrosity. It took the team behind Total War to do that.
I've been having nightmares since I started playing this game. Before last week, I hadn't had a nightmare in about five years, and even then they didn't feature monsters. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the last nightmare I had before this involved drowning in a sea of letters from banks or HMRC or the Student Loans Company. Once, I was crashing a mate's couch and I realised that I'd forgotten my toothbrush, and I dreamed that all my teeth fell out and I could only eat plankton. You know, relatively boring stuff. Lately, however, I've been dreaming of Sevastopol Station, and the multi-mouthed monster in its bowels.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS4 | Xbox One
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
I've been waiting for this game forever. One of the most under-appreciated American rock bands of the late 70s finally has a videogame of their own, complete with legendary tunes like Mr. Roboto, Renegade and Come Sail Away. Styx are awesome and it's about time too. Here's hoping for a Foreigner tie-in next...
...oh. Turns out that Styx: Master Of Shadows is actually a dark fantasy stealth game from Cyanide Studios.
Initial disappointment aside, this is still a remarkable turn of events. See, Styx is a real stealth game. Not an action game in Solid Snake's clothing, but a proper honest-to-goodness cold-blooded sneaky stabby treacherous quickloading brutally tense little experience that understands what the genre is all about, even if it doesn't always quite hit the mark.Click here to read more...
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is another one of those games that plonks you down in the middle of a beautiful landscape and just lets you sort of get on with things. Of course, in this game those "things" involve dealing with the scribblings of an imaginative young chap -- the titular Ethan Carter -- and puzzling out a chain of murders and odd happenings that start as soon as you start wandering about the place.
I don't really want to go into any story details at all, such would be the danger to disrupting one's initial experiences of the game, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that's really all about stories. The game begins with a disclaimer warning the player that this will not be a game that holds one's hand, and it's an apt observation. At first I'd worried that framing the game so might have an adverse effect on me, but that certainly wasn't the case.
Things take a rapid turn for the dark and macabre. Although you're pretty much free to wander wherever and deal with things in any order you like, the game's opening scenes are designed to intrigue, and there's nothing quite like a pair of bloodied, severed legs on an abandoned railway to do just that.
Certain objects and scenes require further examination, occasionally missing pieces of evidence may need to be retrieved and put back in the places where they're supposed to be. You find yourself stepping into the shoes of paranormal detective Paul Prospero, whose ability to sense things that are out of place helps the scavenger hunt for the weird and creepy somewhat. Prospero's internal monologue floats up onto the screen in fits and spurts when you interact with potential clues, the shorthand of his deductive reasoning appearing in Sherlockian fashion.Click here to read more...
Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS (let's call it Smash 3DS from now on) presents a unique problem for us videogame reviewers.
No, not nostalgia. Of course I've got fond memories of happy hours throwing down on my friends in the N64 original before graduating to the twitchy brilliance of Melee. Granted, playing it reminds me of simpler times before I fully understood the horror of self-assessed tax returns and other adult annoyances, but the fact is that Smash is utterly brilliant even without the rose-tinted spectacles.
It's still a superb arena brawler that forces you to unlearn everything you know about fighting games to revel in a crazy chaotic mess of ridiculous attacks, hilarious character matchups and manic button mashing. This is more than enough silly cathartic fun for many players, but dedicated fans can then bring order to the chaos with arena control, aerial attacks, positioning and competitive depth for days. Packing outstanding handheld visuals, a superb roster, brilliant stages and masses of additional content, there's no quibbling with Smash 3DS' quality and value regardless of whether you're looking for a casual diversion or a more hardcore experience.
However, its issues -- some of which are rather sizeable -- have nothing to do with the game. Rather they stem from the platform itself. As such, the big question here isn't "is Smash 3DS any good?," rather we have to ask whether Super Smash Bros is actually worth buying on 3DS in the first place.
The short answer is "yes, probably." The long answer follows.Click here to read more...
I long one day to have a FIFA game that truly encapsulates what that title suggests, although that would probably be a House of Cards-esque, murky, political adventure title, or a bureaucratic take on Crusader Kings II -- all backstabbing, corruption, and intrigue.
The limited edition set would come with a watch that you'd have to return to the store, naturally.
Instead of that, however, here we have another buzzword-stuffed game wherein you take control of teams of players from a side-on perspective, stringing together intricate passes, laughing at the foibles of player impacts, and cursing when your player tries to volley inside of heading the pinpoint cross you just floated into the box.
This is really the first true new-gen FIFA title (we're not counting the graphical scrub up of FIFA 14), and it's clear that a number of things have changed on the pitch. Perhaps the most noticeable tweak is that pace is back in a big way. In the real game, a player with pace, someone who runs at defenders and looks to take them on, is a huge asset. FIFA has finally managed to recreate the thrill of having someone like Bale or Sterling or Di Maria really take on opponents at speed. No longer will full backs conveniently be able to catch up, it seems like teams with pace have a real edge that's finally realised thanks to expert balancing to go along with the precision control that has been standard for the last couple of years.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed) | PS3 | PS4 (cross-save)
Developer: Kadokawa Shoten
Natural Doctrine (that's enough with the capitalisation already) is my cup of tea. As a fan of niche localised JRPGs, turn-based strategy and turn-based strategy RPGs, I am this game's target audience. It's not so much "up my street" as "moved into my spare bedroom, sprawled on my sofa, eating my crisps and beckoning me to play it at all hours of the day and night."
We'd be the perfect room mates, if only it would stop punching me in the balls every few minutes.
Natural Doctrine may be a ruthless SRPG with a solid plot, decent characters and some interesting gameplay mechanics, but it sacrifices far too much in an effort to be as obnoxiously difficult as possible.
Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | PS3 (reviewed) | Xbox 360
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Cards on the table. Fair warning. Be advised. I am not a big fan of Naruto Shippuden.
I love the premise, the setting, the character designs, the amazing powersets and abilities (those wild and disturbing Kugutsu puppets are my favourite), the art style, the themes and Kakashi in all of his slightly pervy glory, but I've never been able to get into the series no matter how many times I've tried. God knows I've tried.
For me the pacing kills it, the drawn-out interminable waiting between interesting events and the hours of angsty posturing when characters should be fighting. Sometimes I wish that I could just skip between the superbly-choreographed battles, preferably with subtitles so I don't have to listen to Maile Flanagan's horrendous nails-on-a-blackboard English dub.
That's probably why I really dig on Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. Everything I like about the series is present and correct -- the diverse well-designed characters with incredible abilities and OTT climactic brawls -- except that the overarching narrative has been replaced by just enough non-canonical premise to hold it together. Unfortunately, I'm also not convinced that it's worth forty quid.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (Steam, £26.99)
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Early Access has been dragged through the mud over the last few months, but it often doesn't get enough credit. For every failure there's a developer who makes a plan and sticks to it, engages fans without losing sight of their goals, then finally delivers a worthwhile game that couldn't have been made any other way. The system works.
Endless Legend is one of those success stories: a superb, solid and delightfully innovative take on the 4X genre from Amplitude Studios, the fearsome strategy fiends behind the excellent Endless Space and upcoming Roguelike masterclass Dungeon Of The Endless. As you've probably worked out by now, all three games take place at different times in the same universe, a sensational Sci-Fi fantasy fusion that kicks out elves and dwarves in favour of aliens, constructs, mad cultists, robot ghosts and necrophagous insects. It's a beautiful thing, both in terms of the overall aesthetic and some exciting design decisions.
I'm going to assume that you have a working knowledge of 4X games, preferably hex-based specimens like Civilization, Warlock and Age Of Wonders III, because otherwise this review is going to require several hundred words to explain the basic mechanics. To briefly recap, Endless Legend subscribes to a familiar basic formula of picking a race with different stats, starting out with a settler, building a city and then cracking on with the four Xs: exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination . You'll research new technologies, move units around a hex-based world, engage in diplomacy and generally rise to dominance through fair means and foul.
Here's the instruction manual if you want to know more. Rather than dwelling on minutae, we're going to discuss how Endless Legend subverts and reinvigorates the familiar genre template with fresh new ideas.Click here to read more...