Platforms: PC (£11.99)
Developer: Neocore Games
The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing is a guilty pleasure and a great idea. It's a full-fat Action RPG delivered in three meaty parts costing £11.99 apiece, but packing the personality of a rambunctious B-Movie adventure. The floppy hatted hunter rampages through a bestiary of classic movie monsters and mad science experiments, swapping banter and gear with his sarcastic yet faithful companion Lady Katarina. It's a hoot, a real honest-to-goodness rollicking romp that doesn't take itself seriously, yet delivers solid Diablo-esque shenanigans for less than the price of Blizzard's expansion pack.
After seeing a great deal of potential in the first game, my faith was rewarded by a host of post-launch updates that added massive replayability and new features into the package, after which NeoCore set to creating a sequel with much more ambition. They succeeded. Barring a few bugs and some questionable writing, The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing 2 punches well above its weight and ends up as a markedly superior game.
Seriously, even the optional tower defence sections are good enough to be a standalone game in their own right. Let alone the 12-15 hours of slaughtering supernatural beasties wrapped around them!Click here to read more...
Developer: Telltale Games
It's difficult to write a review with clenched fists and white knuckles. I keep catching sight of my dilated pupils and sweat-drenched brow in my monitor's reflection, bashing away at the keyboard with gritted teeth.
See, The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 psyched me up for a fight using every psychological weapon in its arsenal... then completely failed to deliver one.
Of course, that's what it was always supposed to do. The penultimate episode of Telltale's excellent series is designed to set up the finale, tie up some loose ends and get us ready for the big finish, and I appreciate that. Unfortunately it does so by treading water and vaguely floating sideways when all we really want to do is push forward.
Click here to read more...
If we had a scale to measure a sort of "grin-inducement factor", Wolfenstein: The New Order would frequently be maxing it out, much of which has to do with the merry gusto with which MachineGames have gone about their business.
It's a shooter that remembers what dual-wielding automatic shotguns is actually all about: a feeling of hysterical power, frequently followed by breathless silence as you empty yourself of all ammo and take a look at the carnage you've wrought as the smoke clears. It's a game that understands the attraction of stealth even when you're bristling with guns, and the importance of making every takedown and knife throw satisfying in accomplishment, and deliciously rewarding in terms of feedback. It's a game that reimplements the FPS lean mechanism when the brightest modern staples have abandoned it.
It might be my favourite throwaway FPS campaign since Singularity.
Our bull-necked hero, William "B.J." Blazkowicz, kicks things off by smashing an Allied assault into the walls of the Nazi General Deathshead's fortress of nightmares. The year is 1946. The assault doesn't quite go to plan, and a spot of bother leads to Blazkowicz spending the next fourteen years in an asylum having been catatonic for almost a decade and a half. In that time, however, the Nazis have won the war thanks to a bunch of giant robots and laser cannons, the Allies have surrendered, and just as Blazkowicz begins to recognise the world around him once more, a bunch of Nazi troops swarm the asylum, start killing the patients and the owners, and our gravelly-voice protagonist has to blast his way out, pausing to save his nurse on the way.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita (PSN, £23.99)
Reviewing Soul Sacrifice Delta is like getting back with an ex. We were so good together during our intense love affair last year, even if things eventually fizzled after a few heady months. For the life of me I can't remember why we split up in the first place.
We've fallen straight back into our old routine: killing monsters in compact arenas with a diverse selection of spells and abilities. Soul Sacrifice condenses the monster hunting gameplay of... well, Monster Hunter... into a more straightforward and muscular format, with pick-up-and-play brawls against hordes of demonic fiends and enormous bosses; each boasting their own unique attacks, themes and tragic backstories. It's a compelling mix of twitchy hack & slash action with a focus on ranged spells and summons, constantly challenging players to make tough choices in the heat of battle as foes press the advantage.
Do you sacrifice an enemy to gain more spell power? Do you sacrifice your own skin for more damage? Will you sacrifice your friends to win a tough engagement? The core remains the same mix of punishment and progression, constantly evolving your playstyle, tweaking builds, crushing through a wealth of content and eventually becoming powerful enough to beat the final adversary, and we get along just as well as when when Brendan reviewed it last May.
Seriously, though, why did we split up? It must have been important. I'm sure it'll come to me as I lie in this filthy maggot-encrusted cage.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PC
Developer: Zombie Studios
Horror games have seen something of a resurgence in recent years on the PC platform, while the genre has slowly bled out on the consoles. But with the renewed indie focus on the PS4, perhaps the things that lie in the shadows and lurk under our beds are set to make a return.
Recent PS Plus freebie Outlast may have been a repetitive effort, but there was no denying that its first-person viewpoint, jumpy moments and sickeningly foreboding atmosphere were excellently put together. You’d certainly be forgiven for confusing it with today’s game, Daylight. Hell, until this arrived on my desk, I’d mentally absorbed it into the same game as Outlast. However, despite the hospital setting and first-person perspective, this is a very different game. And not in a good way.
You play as a woman that wakes up in an abandoned asylum with only a mobile phone and a lack of memory to go on with. The phone occasionally rattles out strange voicemails from who we presume is responsible for dumping her there. That’s about as much premise as you get.Click here to read more...
Always Sometimes Monsters is a game that's all about choice. Sometimes that means deciding whether or not to give that bag of super-potent drugs in your pocket to your rehabbing junkie best mate just so he can calm down before his own gig. Sometimes it means choosing between a job at an ad agency or a local newspaper. Sometimes it means letting someone lose their life so you can keep yours. Sometimes it means betraying a friend and cutting them out of your life so you can be with the person you desire.
Sometimes it means becoming the lesser of two evils. Sometimes it means being a monster.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a slow-paced affair. It's a Game Maker RPG without any combat systems or incessant inventory management. It's not concerned with your tactical thinking or your capacity for grinding. It just wants to know how far you'll go to get what, or rather who, you want.
Always Sometimes Monsters opens with a very brief prologue stuffed with metafictional waffle. Get past that, though, and you'll find yourself at a party, taking control of Larry, a publisher getting ready to sign you up to a lucrative book deal. By steering Larry around a soiree held at his mini mansion, you're charged with actually identifying your own character from the throng of assembled guests. Will you be male or female? White? Black? Asian? A grungy old soul or a trendy hipster? You decide by interacting with the person you'd like to form the centre of this tale, after which control passes to the person you've chosen to be your protagonist, and you move outside to identify the love of your life from an equally diverse array of characters.
I like the fact that Always Sometimes Monsters doesn't make a fuss about any of this, it doesn't ask for your personal details, it just fills in the blanks via simple gameplay.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (reviewed) | PS4
Developer: Supergiant Games
"But is it better than Bastion?" The Big Question looms large over Transistor even though it's total nonsense: the two games couldn't be more different if they tried.
That said, the superficial similarities are overwhelming. My most anticipated game of 2014 is another tightly-paced isometric action RPG that throws cyberpunk singer Red and her friend-turned-superweapon into arena battles against a menacing digital army. Supergiant once again bring Logan Cunningham's honey-voiced narration, sumptuous art direction and superb sound design to bear with ruthless efficiency, creating the achingly gorgeous yet haunting world of Cloudbank around us and spinning a fascinating yarn as it does so.
But whereas Bastion was built around reflexes and powerful emotions, Transistor is cool as a cucumber: a slick, stylish and tactical experience that rewards using your head, not your heart. Victory comes down to forward planning and perfect execution, taking full advantage of a dizzying range of versatile abilities and a game-changing combat mechanic that blends strategic turn-based action with visceral swordplay.Click here to read more...
Developer: Compile Heart
"LOVE MEEEEEEE," Mugen Souls Z seems to scream. "I'm quirky and cute and colourful and moe as hell and there are huge robots and tentacles and sometimes the girls flash their knickers. What more do you want?!!"
I could have just described any Compile Heart game, in fairness. The masters of the delightfully-bizarre-yet-never-particularly-brilliant JRPG always stuff their offerings full of cute scantily (pantily?) clad ladies, cheeky cheesecake galore, crazy gameplay systems and violently colourful art direction - and I can't help but love them for it even as I bring down the critical hammer. Irrepressible personality and gorgeous anime artwork can make a good game great and a mediocre one interesting, but it can't make a bad game worth buying.
Such as we saw with the original Mugen Souls. A vain goddess tried to win over an entire solar system by making it fall in love with her -- inanimate objects, landmasses and all -- by assuming a variety of dated female character tropes to cater to specific anime fetishes. Unfortunately the quirky veneer gradually cracked to reveal a grindy and annoyingly obtuse JRPG. As much as I love all things anime, there was no disguising the rubbish game buried beneath all the crazy.
Thankfully, Mugen Souls Z is a much better game in almost every respect!Click here to read more...
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Fluid parkour and massive robots are all well and good, but Titanfall's maps are the unsung stars of the show. Wide enough to accommodate hulking exoskeletons, tall enough to let us exploit our enhanced mobility, nuanced enough to allow for expressive gameplay in each match yet compact enough to force twelve players into flashpoints, they're an absolute masterpiece of design, form and function.
And now we have three more of them courtesy of Expedition: the first of Titanfall's lightweight season pass map packs that clocks in at an equally lightweight £7.99.
So as always we'll take each map in turn, discuss whether or not they provide reasonable value, and then have an overdue chat about Titanfall's more urgent concerns. It's very much a case of the great, the good and the ugly.
Let's start with WarGames: the first map to be announced. This virtual battlefield is set within a training simulator, right down to the custom pre-match introduction and VR enemies that dissolve into pixels when killed, offering unique visual flair thanks to its neon-edged platforms and eyecatching glitchy design. A central tower plays host to desperate close-quarters warfare, while various thematic zones and wide streets are linked together by lofty wallrun paths that itch to be explored.
It's utterly fantastic. Indeed, it might even be the finest map in the entire game.Click here to read more...
Developer: Capy Games
There's nothing more satisfying than watching a Super Time Force replay. A massive army of crazy heroes rampages across the level, annihilating legions of evil robots, dying by the dozen yet eventually destroying the boss in sixty seamless seconds of glorious pixelated ultraviolence. From futuristic cops and angelic cherubs to dinosaurs and Atlantean fishmen, nothing can stand in the way of your chronological cohort as they fill the screen with ruinous firepower.
However, only you know what really happened in that mad minute. Every one of those heroes was you; constantly dying, rewinding, multiplying, changing the future and iterating on a timeline fit to burst with paradoxes. An Army Of YOU.
Yes, Super Time Force is built around a time-shifting mechanic that makes Braid seem simple... but it plays like Metal Slug on adrenaline and looks like a violently explosive collision between a SNES and a Saturday morning cartoon.
So it's ruddy marvellous, then.Click here to read more...
Developer: Big Robot Ltd
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is as British as tea and biscuits. As old-school Amiganauts to a man, we're thrilled to see another fiercely independent game hail from our green and pleasant land, thick with unmistakeably UK-centric humour and quaint facetious charm. This hard-as-hobnails stealth experience forces us to survive minute to minute in the dank gorse, heather and dark satanic mills of the British countryside, pursued by gentlemanly tweed-clad robots who'll politely yet brutally murder us for sport before pottering back to the club for some brandy and tax evasion.
All while giving us a few empty bottles, some bandages, dead rats, Fray Bentos pies and a trombone to live on. How I wish for a spear and bow of burning gold!
It's very much a balls-to-the-wall pure stealth survival game predicated on nervy preparation and panicked improvisation, made doubly compelling by its anarchic sense of fun, but can Sir, You Are Being Hunted sustain its tension for more than a handful of hours?
Author's note: In the interests of full disclosure, be aware that I backed Big Robot's Kickstarter campaign at the $15 tier. I don't consider this to be a conflict of interest and have written this review with both eyes open... but you should be the judge of that. - JonathanClick here to read more...
Platforms: PS3 | PS4 (reviewed) | X360 | XO | PC
Developers have been left fruitlessly chasing the ghost of 2004’s excellent Spider-Man 2 tie-in, with each of the releases since fixing and breaking things in equal measure. We’ve had cool cel-shaded art makeovers, noir and future settings to change things up, but we’ve also seen devs knacker the web-swinging and flush us down more sewer pipes than we’d care to remember.
Despite the numerous letdowns, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Spidey’s next-gen debut, although this is more of a port rather than something purpose built for the new machines like Infamous: Second Son.
One parallel with the latest Infamous game and Spider-Man is the importance of that superhero feeling when moving around the city. Web-swinging through New York’s tall streets has always played such a pivotal role in any Spider-Man game. Keen to add their own stamp to swinging (stop laughing at the back), Beenox has changed things again, this time by assigning individual left and right hand swinging to the shoulder buttons. This is supposedly to give you greater control, but if I’m honest, it’s a needless addition as leaning with the left stick was always enough to turn. Beenox also made a bit of a fuss about how webs would no longer attach to the ‘sky’ meaning you’d always have to be near a building to swing. I know, they didn’t attach to the sky in 2004’s game anyway. Despite Beenox’s claims, during the closed-off outdoor base levels Spidey’s webs are clearly attaching to thin air.Click here to read more...
Publisher: Bandai Namco
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. That's fine. It's not supposed to, unless you happen to be a die-hard British fan of Hirohiko Araki's superb but cruelly under-localised manga.
Are you both sitting comfortably? Good, because this game is very much directed at you. CyberConnect2 are no stranger to decent-but-not-exactly-brilliant licensed games, and All Star Battle is one of their most ambitious yet: a playable journey through the entire canon with loads of playable characters, sweet visuals and unbridled personality.
For everyone else, All Star Battle is a slightly stiff fighting game in which you can defeat your enemy with a thousand baseballs and ride a horse around the arena. Or summon robotic bees and deadly bubbles mid-battle. Making sense is for chumps.Click here to read more...
I've decided that I like Bound By Flame. It's won me over by virtue of its clunkily-gruelling, Dark Souls-lite combat system, its rich and varied approach to crafting, its plethora of throwaway one liners and non-sequiturs, and by generally being a little bit bonkers. For every mechanical misstep, jagged pixel, or dreadfully uttered line of dialogue, there are moments when the sheer force of the game's accidental B-movie personality just sticks a smile on my face.
But that doesn't make it a good game.
You play Vulcan, the powder master for a band of badass mercenaries known as the Freeborn Blades. Pleasantly, you can opt to be either male or female, but the customisation options beyond that are hilariously limited to six heads or so apiece. To the game's credit, you can actually rename your character, but it's completely pointless as the game and all of its characters will still call you Vulcan.
A war has ravaged the land of Vertiel, with seven Ice Lords invading from the North (it's always from The North) and sweeping all before them with an army of undead warriors and monstrous generals. The Freeborn Blades have been hired by a group of magicians known as the Red Scribes who seek to tap into the source of the world's power -- the Worldheart -- and seek a way of vanquishing the Deathwalker army that has never lost a battle. Unfortunately, the Deathwalkers show up at the time of the ritual, everything goes tits up, and though the Red Scribes end up summoning something, it breaks free of their enchantment and seeks out the nearest available host... which would be you.
And so it is, half-possessed by a demon, that Vulcan sets out to "purify" the Worldheart and bring peace once more to Vertiel.Click here to read more...
Etrian Odyssey Untold is handily the best game in the series, though it probably shouldn't be.
In fact, I shouldn't be able to recommend it at all. Following a heartbreaking European delay (still, at least we got Bravely Default a few months before the US - not that we're bitter or anything), it arrives on our shores as a remake of the 2008 DS original that borrows Etrian Odyssey IV's engine, right down to plundering plenty of assets. The fantastic old-school dungeon crawling is present and correct, the brutally tough yet rewarding exploration and combat that requires us to make our own maps on the lower screen, yet years of improvements have left it behind.
Etrian Odyssey IV introduced overworld airship exploration and other new features when it released last summer, so even with the delay, Untold ought to be obsolete. Lest we forget the cheekily ambitious Demon Gaze, which beat Untold to the punch on Vita.
And yet Etrian Odyssey IV feels like a prototype, a beta test, for something truly remarkable. A game that knows how tough an on-paper sell it is, and boldly flies in the face of the established franchise formula by adding something simple yet devastatingly effective.
Character. Real, genuine, vintage character. Or should that be characters?Click here to read more...
Platform: PS4 (tested) | PS3 (tested) | PS Vita (reviewed)
Developer: Puppy Games
Publisher: Curve Studios
PlayStation might not have Titanfall, but it does have Titan Attacks. Which is no bad thing seeing as it hails from Puppy Games, who are a little like a cross between Mister Kipling and Doctor Wily. They make exceedingly good games based on nostalgic tradition, only stuffed full of awesome robots. Having released several years ago on PC, this superb shooter has been polished up almost beyond recognition and lands squarely on PSN - available as a single purchase on PS3, PS4 and PS Vita.
Where, frankly, it deserves your immediate attention if you even have the slightest interest in shoot'em ups. Especially if you also own a PS Vita.
The premise is simple. You control a tank at the bottom of the play field, all that stands between Earth and an armada of 2D aliens. The extraterrestrial attack force gradually advances down the screen with the aim of reaching the fragile planet, blasting down ruinous beams of sizzling death to dodge and weave through, while saucers loom menacingly overhead to... look, it's Space Invaders, alright? We've seen it all before, but trust me, you've never seen it quite so stylish, slick and stuffed full of meaningful upgrades.Click here to read more...
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Hometown Story ought to be a lovely little thing. The creator of Harvest Moon sets the stage for another heartwarming tale of self-discovery and graft as a young lad (or lass) returns to their childhood village to take over their late grandmother's shop. We'll stack shelves, go fishing, meet a cast of characters and generally learn the value of a hard day's work, all brought to life in appropriately colourful fashion. After all, Yasuhiro Wada usually manages to turn chores into an addictive adventure.
It certainly hits the right emotional notes right from the off. The pastel cel-shaded visuals, adorable chibi stylings and uplifting soundtrack do a great job of making us feel like we're in a home away from home, a relaxed yet playful town to live in, explore and peddle your wares to at as high a price as possible.
Shame it doesn't last.Click here to read more...
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: PS3 | PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | PC | Wii U
RPG games are usually big-budget epics with the promise (threat?) of at least forty hours running time. Ubisoft's Child of Light is here to change that assumption by providing a low-priced downloadable alternative. Others have failed quite miserably (Hello, Mars: War Logs), but ze Germans made a solid effort with the tough Rainbow Moon. But with Ubisoft providing genre classics in action, shooters and platforming (Assassin's Creed IV, Far Cry 3 and Rayman Legends if you're asking), we can't wait to see how they handle an RPG.
The first thing we all noticed about Child of Light was of course the visuals -and they don't disappoint. Using Rayman's UbiArt engine, Ubisoft have this time favoured a watercolour approach to the visuals instead of bright colours and cel-shaded lines. This has resulted in a classic fairy tale aesthetic that gives the game its own unique endearing personality throughout the ever-changing landscapes.
Less lovable though is the way the story is told in achingly forcing rhyming verse. It's downright painful at times and the only genuine sour note in the whole experience. The story itself sees a young girl awaken in the dreamy landscape of Lumeria, trying to make her way home to her sick father. To do this though she must overcome an evil queen and help out a few locals with fetch quests. Hardly breaking the mould, but in all honesty I wasn't pinning my expectations on the story for this one and am happy enough to trade it off for the sake of the purdy visuals.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Kadokawa Games | Experience Inc.
The Vita isn't short of fantastic localised JRPGs for British connoisseurs to enjoy. Here's another one, again courtesy of those fine folks at NIS Europe and Reef Entertainment.
Demon Gaze looks quirky and moe enough to whip Japanese gaming fans into a frenzy, but that isn't doing it justice. Taking aim at the hardcore 'gridder' RPG genre popularised by early MegaTen games, Ultima, Dungeon Master and Legend Of Grimrock, this superb effort throws us into tightly-designed first person dungeons with parties of our own creation, challenging us to out-think and outlevel some outrageously tough encounters to survive. Its as rewarding and difficult as you'd expect, versatile enough to provide deep and meaningful choices at every turn.
Yet while its fellows delight in making things as impenetrable as possible for new players (indeed, I died within minutes in Legends Of Grimrock because it didn't tell me how to attack), Demon Gaze does its best to open up the genre to everyone. Before punishing them.
Oh, and it's also a bizarre pan-sexual odyssey, seeing as your crazy digs make frat houses look tame. Anything goes... and don't say I didn't warn you.Click here to read more...
Publisher: Paradox Entertainment
Considering the success of War of the Roses, we weren’t too surprise when we learned Fatshark were to create another multiplayer slaughter-fest. Its large scale battles, providing up-close sword slinging alongside raining arrows and mounted cavalry, were an impressive sight, mainly thanks to its high-performance netcode and unique hit detection. It may have been chaotic, but it was the closest any of us would get to a real battle. Well, unless you like LARPing. And foam weaponry, but that takes the danger out of combat, really.
But I digress – War of the Roses was a brutal but unique multiplayer experience, and its move to Free to Play last year meant everyone could get involved before deciding if they want to spend any cash. So, a spin-off exploring a different battlefield in history was inevitable, and a setting where Vikings battle Saxons over monasteries and/or mead seemed like the perfect place to set it. With the ground work already laid with the game engine, all Fatshark needed to do was make the weapons and characters fit the period, create some new maps, and perhaps throw in a new game mode that makes sense to the conflict. Not exactly a simple undertaking, but not as huge as designing an entire game from scratch.
The problem is, even after using Early Access to help develop the game for some time now, the end result is a smaller and frankly more restrictive experience for your money.Click here to read more...