Platforms: Xbox 360 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Forza Horizon 2 is the most fun I've had on four wheels since BurnOut Paradise.
It's not really a racing game, but there's certainly no shortage of races. More than 700 events and dozens of championships are scattered over a gorgeous open swathe of idealised European countryside, a playground for two hundred cars rendered in the series' fetishistic attention to detail. You'll challenge capable Drivatar AI to ad hoc showdowns with a single button, thrash monstrous off-roaders across vineyards, chase down an aerial stunt team in a Ferrari, form online clubs and get together with your friends for virtual multi-event road trips, all while trying to make your way to the Horizon Festival's grand finale.
But at its core, Forza Horizon 2 isn't about memorising apices and placing first. It's the primal yet powerful joy that comes from simply driving beautiful machines around stunning scenery. It's the thrill of sliding a 1969 Ferrari Dino around a perilous mountain road to The Marriage Of Figaro. The heart-stopping roar of your Lamborghini Diablo perfectly setting off the William Tell Overture as you cruise over a sun-baked hill, or getting air in a VW Camper Van during a midnight thunderstorm as fireworks explode in the distance. A thousand beautiful, personal, perfect automotive moments.
Oh, and I just smashed a Bentley through a greenhouse for a laugh. The races may be intense, but Forza Horizon 2 comes alive when you're just driving for the sheer sake of it.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | PS3 | PS4 | Wii U | Xbox 360 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Avalanche Software | Ninja Theory (combat)
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Guardians Of The Galaxy deserves a good game. This isn't it.
We were initially thrilled at the news that Disney Infinity 2.0 would be doing the heavy lifting when it came to Guardians' movie tie-in. Instead of a terrible Activision-published atrocity, we were promised a lengthy piece of fanservice including high quality miniatures and production values, boasting a story from none other than Brian Michael Bendis himself, available for £15 alongside the Star-Lord and Gamora figures. What a fantastic idea.
And what horrible execution. Disney Infinty 2.0 ultimately triumphs despite its issues, but the Guardians Of The Galaxy playset is one of the worst games I've suffered through in years. Other sites seem to have included this expansion in their reviews for the base game, but I'd like to discuss what is effectively a DLC pack in detail so you can be forewarned against throwing bad money after good.
Or, in other words, buy the Rocket Raccoon figure and steer clear of this sorry shovelware.Click here to read more...
I managed to play Pro Rugby Manager 2015 for just over half a season with a Bath team that was almost hilariously under-represented in the stats department (this is the team that just crushed Leicester 45-0). Then a patch arrived and now all of the text has disappeared and the game crashes to desktop every time I try to interact with the user interface.
There's been precious little for rugby fans to get excited about in the world of video games. Rugby Challenge and its sequel had a fair bash at replicating the sport, but there was little by way on on-pitch tactical play to be had, no real way to organise a coherent backline, and the action on the pitch devolved into a mess of limbs and scrambling bodies without much organisation. Admittedly, that's fairly accurate for Gloucester matches, but any fan of the cerebral, strategic nature of the game would have found little solace in that title.
Of course, Pro Rugby Manager was supposed to fix that. But, having waited a decade for a new rugby management sim, I sort of wish Cyanide hadn't bothered.
It's not just that PRM 2015 is a buggy shambles that should never have been released in this state, it's that the game itself is a dull, soporific affair that sucks the joy out of the sport rather than celebrating the nuances that the 15-man game can provide. Oh, and almost nothing under the hood appears to have changed from 2005.
I'm going to try as best as I can to soldier on with this review and actually attempt to take a look at some of the woefully flawed and under-developed systems in the game beneath the blanket of game-breaking bugs, but you should be aware that the game is damn near unplayable. As in, I literally haven't been able to play it for the last few days; days that include several reinstallations.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | PS3 | PS4 | Wii U | Xbox 360 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Avalanche Software | Ninja Theory (combat)
Publisher: Disney Interactive
There's no such thing as a "good game for kids." There are only good games, some of which are more accessible than others. Take Minecraft, designed to encourage experimentation and creativity regardless of age. Or Mario, beloved by millions despite punishing each pitfall with instant death.
Half of Disney Infinity 2.0 gets this absolutely right. The toybox mode is utterly fantastic no matter how old you are. Create your own levels, invite some friends and then watch your favourite Disney and Marvel toys come to life. It's genuinely magical.
Sadly the other half displays the same lazy level design, shonky mechanics and lack of care that typifies so-called kids games. "Who cares? It's just for children."
Fun fact: everyone deserves quality software. So thank goodness that Disney Infinity 2.0's better half is also its biggest by far!Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (£6.99)
Developer: Terri Vellmann
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Don't let the garish screenshots fool you. Heavy Bullets is one of the most elegant games released in years.
These days, shooters are obsessed with being the biggest. They crave the most features. The most polygons. The most connected worlds, the biggest DLC libraries, the most modes, the most maps, the shiniest companion apps, the biggest franchise potential, the widest audience. And they bloat themselves into huge shambling monstrosities in the process.
In comparison, Heavy Bullets is an E-Type Jaguar parked on Southend seafront or Kate Middleton's dress at a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. A strong and simple idea, executed as stylishly and solidly as possible, designed with as few moving parts and extraneous details as possible to obtain the required result. Throughout a procedurally-generated dungeon, you'll blast a menagerie of virtual beasties while jealously hoarding your limited resources, blending the permadeath progression and exploration of of a Roguelike with the nervy twitch reflexes of an old-school shooter.
As such, Heavy Bullets is the very definition of a game that perfectly achieves what it sets out to do - no more, no less.Click here to read more...
Fantasy Life will eat your real one if you're not careful.
Imagine the job system of Dragon Quest mixed with Skyrim's 'learn by doing' skill advancement and Animal Crossing's obsession with collecting stuff. The three most addictive, if not necessarily the best, bits of each genre thrown together into a single adorable JRPG.
You'll set out into a compact fantasy world and find your place in it. Whether you want to be a greatsword-swinging mercenary, heroic paladin, bragging fisherman, skilful tailor, deft hunter, renowned blacksmith, clever alchemist... and more... and any combination of the above... there's a career for you here. You'll kill monsters one minute, then make armour out of their hides the next.
It's grind, pure and simple, but the kind of wholesome 'gamey' busywork that makes minutes turn to hours and chores feel like a job well done.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS4 (Tested) | Xbox One | PS3 | Xbox 360
This review was always going to a tough one to write. On one hand, this is my first new-gen title, and the choice to make the jump for Destiny puts a lot of expectation on it. On the other hand, the difficultly of separating naturally-grown excitement from the flow of mainstream hype has complicated matters, to the point that our Editor Matt laughed as he handed me the job. Add on top of this the fray that has been other reviews coming out within days of release (and the fact I hate review scores – there, I said it) as well as a huge focus on the budget for the new franchise, and it’s been a little daunting in all honesty. Still, a week of play in Bungie’s long-awaited new IP has allowed me to see most of what the game has to offer, so to hell with the numeric opinions of others, and to hell with the budget (I couldn’t care less if it cost $500 million or a fiver to make) – it’s time for me to help you decide if it’s worth your time and money.
Let’s go over the basics for any newcomers in our ranks. At its core, Destiny is a persistent online shooter that sees players choose between three class types and races, each with their own distinct abilities and cosmetic choices. From there, players are charged with levelling up and finding the shiniest of loot by either jumping into PvE encounters or PvP fights, with more content unlocking as the player’s level increases. It’s part MMO and part co-op encounters, all tied together with FPS combat that we know and love, but it’s also not quite like anything else that’s come before it. Despite the similar mechanics, it’s not Halo, and it’s not World of Warcraft either. The nearest thing to it (and I can’t believe I’m bringing it up again) is Defiance – the game that never realised its potential. In fact, there are a quite a few issues that Destiny shares with Trion’s online shooter, but there is one difference that separates the two – Destiny is fun to play for all the right reasons, and that in my mind overshadows the problems that are there.Click here to read more...
Nintendo are usually fairly strict when it comes to their own IPs, especially when it comes to their big hitters. But their slight history of sharing isn't without success stories... along with other, admittedly contentious, results. Take the Metroid series, for instance. Retro Studios' Prime trilogy is still a benchmark in fantastic reimaginings of a yesteryear favourite, even if Other M proved that sometimes there'll be mixed results when a Nintendo IP is loaned out into other creative hands.
Unlike those games, though, Hyrule Warriors is not representative of Nintendo giving another studio relatively free rein with one of their most beloved franchises. Here we find a very specific mashup, and one that tends more towards the latter part of its name than the former. Hyrule provides the sizzle, but Warriors the steak.
It's worth bearing in mind that I like the various Warriors series that have emerged over the years. My favourite is still probably Dynasty Warriors 4, but that has more to do with it being an incredibly cathartic game at a certain point in my life rather than anything that game does especially well over any of its fellows. You generally know what you're getting with a Warriors game: a range of playable heroes, amusingly nonsensical cutscenes, 1-vs-1000s combat stuffed with button mashing and epilepsy-inducing special attacks, taking over enemy keeps and knocking out Outpost Captains.
Hyrule Warriors does all of those things.
But it does them in better fashion than I've ever seen from a Warriors game before.
Hyrule Warriors is basically a Warriors game as modded by the world's biggest Zelda fan. It's a spectacular piece of fan service that manages to frame everything in terms of the various adventures of Link and Zelda over the years, from playable characters and weapon sets to fairly pretty maps based upon locales from a number of different Zelda titles, to an entire adventure mode that plays out on a retro map plucked from the original Legend of Zelda NES game. Rupees burst out of downed enemies, fulfilling certain requirements on the battlefield will cause chests to spawn that tinkle in familiar fashion when they appear, and deliver the same anticipatory music when you take a peek inside. Variations on Koji Kondo's musical themes weave in and out of the wildly-soloing electric guitars that accompany most Warriors titles.Click here to read more...
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: NIS America Europe | Reef Entertainment
Oh look. A quirky parody JRPG with female character designs that resemble a head-on collision between a Victoria's Secret truck and a Kill la Kill cosplay competition. This must be another Compile Heart game then!
As much as I enjoy their wares, Compile Heart infuriate me. They're clearly competent developers, having honed a truly fantastic combat model and experimented with crazy layered gameplay systems throughout the Hyperdimension Neptunia and Mugen Souls games, but they always stop short of delivering a genuinely well-rounded JRPG. In fact, they make the same killer mistakes every time: concentrating on cheeky dialogue and flagrant fanservice instead of delivering technically proficient field maps, acceptable 3D visuals to match the gorgeous 2D anime art, non-clichéd characters with more than one jump sound effect and interesting dungeons that are worth grinding through.
I'm as partial to cheesecake as anyone, but for Compile Heart it's usually the starter, main course and dessert rather than the end of a big delicious meal.
Fairy Fencer F makes me take heart, though. It's still guilty of the same issues to some degree, but at least the stockings and cleavage and comically erotic misunderstandings are backed up by a strong storyline, more diverse characters and an interesting setting. Plus a few songs from the legendary Nobuo Uematsu. Compile Heart aren't quite there yet, but they're definitely on the right track.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita
Sony has repositioned the Vita as a champion of indie titles and Murasaki Baby has been on our radar for what seems like forever. The wait is over though and we finally get our hands on one of the most visually-striking games to land on the handheld in ages.
The aim of this 2D puzzle platformer is to help this incredibly creepy, yet somehow adorable, little girl find her ‘mummy’ as we guide her through the nightmare-like environments via a multitude of touchscreen and rear touchpad controls. Early Vita adopters may hear a few distant alarm bells ringing if they remember the infuriatingly clunky launch title Escape Plan. Thankfully, the controls in Murasaki Baby are much better. Mostly.
To move the child, you use the touchscreen to hold her hand and drag it across the screen as her arm stretches out and she follows your movements. Pull too far and too fast and she’ll trip, so you must be mindful of moving at a consistent pace. Players also need care for balloon she carries. If it pops, you must restart the scene, so you’ll need to use another finger to drag it around the screen in order to move it past thorns or avoid flying safety pins, the latter of which you can also flick from the screen.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (Steam, £5.99, releases tomorrow)
Developer: Curve Studios
Oh yes. Iron Fisticle is the good stuff.
Reckless innovation isn't the only way to make a cracking boutique game. Take a classic genre from yesteryear as a foundation, then build a rock-solid experience on top of it that's mechanically refined, satisfying to play and forward-thinking without losing the nostalgia factor.
Iron Fisticle nails it: an uncomplicated and deeply wholesome fusion of Robotron and Gauntlet that absolutely delivers where it counts. Hectic action, a fantastic arsenal, deceptively deep moment-to-moment action and an addictive progression system that makes each game over a little victory of its own. It's not going to change the face of the industry, but it's bloody good fun.Click here to read more...
Developer: Digital Extremes
"Free-to-play cooperative space ninjas."
I could probably end the review right there, to be honest. Since its PC release, Warframe has boasted what's probably the most kickass high concept on the market; a F2P yet massively expanded take on Mass Effect 3's cooperative multiplayer, which casts us as ancient spacefaring ninjas free to bring death to power-armoured marines, robots and zombies with outlandish guns and Sci-Fi samurai gear. It's a game in which you can throw down on a spider tank with an electric katana, breed a mutant dog to bring into combat, enhance your equipment with collectible cards and even find yourself abducted by a cyborg Frankenwolf in the middle of a match because you insulted one of the factions.
It's also shonky, unpolished, grindy, hinges around a bizarre economy and throws in a huge number of overlapping gameplay systems without worrying about whether they all work properly. Warframe is too crazy to live. And I love it.
If you haven't jumped into Destiny yet, I'd highly recommend giving Warframe a whirl, especially now it's out on Xbox One. And free. It might just be the cure for your Science Fiction slaughterfest bug.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Vita
Futurlab may have just gone and made one of the best games of the year. And for anyone on PS+, you can download it for free now on PS4 and Vita.
The original Velocity title on the Vita was a cool retro shoot ‘em up that had you teleporting through barriers to reach other parts of a scrolling stage. We would have been happy enough with more of the same, but Futurlab really went the extra mile by adding in on-foot 2D platforming sections when you leave the ship. The game effortlessly shifts between the two modes with no loading screens to complete one of the slickest experiences we’ve seen on PS4.
But let’s go back to the flying parts of the game. Like many classic shooters, you travel up the ever scrolling screen to reach your goal at the top. Rather than fly to the top of the screen to speed up the scrolling, you hold R1 to boost, which effectively scrolls the screen a bit faster, with you needing to stick near the bottom of to have more time to avoid getting smushed.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (£6.99)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
For the last few days, I've been the only human girl in a high school for birds. I've flirted with Rock Doves, agonised between chasing a haughty Fantailed pigeon and his dreamy half-brother, entertained the notion of dating my narcoleptic button quail teacher and embarked on a quest for the One True Pudding. All between trying to ace my tests and pass the semester.
It's was weird, even for someone who reviews localised Japanese games and doujin titles on a weekly basis. Thankfully I've loved every delightfully bizarre and comfort zone-shattering minute of it.
At its core, Hatoful Boyfriend can best be described as a dating sim with birds instead of people. Like any visual novel, you'll click through reams of quirky text dialogue and narration accompanied with crude character portraits, occasionally choosing between a few different options to push the narrative in a new direction. Hanging out with and being nice to your harem of clichéd potential boyfriends (the shy bookish one, the complex Tsundere one, the hyper one, the childhood friend after something more, you know the drill) may make them fall for you, at which point you'll enjoy an intriguing ending, unlock some character artwork and then start all over again like a pigeon-fancying version of Groundhog day.
Only, again, the boys are birds. And if you don't manage to find love you'll be brutally murdered in your bed.Click here to read more...
Developer: Lets Get Kraken
At the end of the day, blasting a pixelated rat with a fireball doesn't feel hugely different from blasting a pixelated rat with a lightning bolt. Or a magic missile. Or a spiralling steam helix. No matter the devastating elemental spell at your disposal, you're still shooting rats in a box.
That's the big problem with Runers, which in fairness, brings some great ideas to the brainstorming table. As a Roguelike hybrid, it retains the procedural dungeon crawling and permadeath of its ASCII ancestor, but replaces turn-based tiles with a completely different core gameplay mechanic. In this case, top-down shooting a la Geometry Wars. However, in a neat twist, you'll choose from a selection of classes with different active spells and racial traits, then combine elemental runes to form totally new attack spells on the fly. One round you're a lizardman bard shooting out rock spikes and entropy missiles, the next you're a Dwarven Paladin wreathing the levels in flames.
It's a brilliant conceit that's fun for a while. Unfortunately, if we're honest, Runers' core SHMUP gameplay just isn't quite strong enough to prop up the rest of it.
Click here to read more...
Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
GoD Factory: Wingmen is the definition of an underdog success story. Nine Dots Studio poured their heart, soul and thousands of Pounds of their own money into creating an extraordinary multiplayer arcade space sim, which then subsequently failed on Kickstarter. However, thanks to a strong prototype, great gameplay and backing from Bandai Namco, the finished product has finally made it onto Steam.
Forget the backstory, though, because we're finally able to take GoD Factory: Wingmen out of the hangar, rev up its engines and listen to her howling roar. Two teams of four pilots leap into the cockpits of painstakingly customised fighters, screaming into what's truthfully billed as 'a mix of Ace Combat, Armored Core, Star Fox, DoTA and more.' Fast-paced, thrilling, visually lavish and pleasingly tactical, it's a very different breed of space shooter.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (£6.99, reviewed) | Also on iOS & Android
Sorry, no, this isn't the stealth sequel to Beneath A Steel Sky. Instead, the developers behind Incredipede and Pineapple Smash Crew have collaborated on one of the most bizarre and intriguing game concepts you'll see this year: an alien jellyfish procreation simulator set beneath the thick Venusian clouds, which challenges us to help an intrepid Cnidarian spread its seed and fertilise a variety of extraterrestrial flora.
Or looked at another way, it's a groovy and relaxing one-button casual game that feels partway between Worms, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings and Machiavelli's Ascent.
The brief opening cinematic sets the stage. Venus' dark side actually glows -- in real life as an unexplained scientific phenomenon -- emitting a faint auroral effect known as the 'Ashen Light.' Deep Under The Sky finally has the answers that have long eluded NASA's top boffins: beneath the crushing acidic clouds lives a thriving ecosystem of bio-luminescent creatures. Playing as one of them, a whopping wobbling jellyfish, we'll blast aerodynamic packets of seed material across 2D levels with the aim of exploding them within range of receptive plants, thus ensuring that the species will live on.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Here we go again. I reviewed Diablo III on PC... then the last-gen console version... then the Reaper Of Souls expansion pack... and finally we come to this. The Ultimate Evil Edition. The final showdown. It's time for the last dance with the devil -- that is, unless Blizzard brings out another expansion.
To be honest, I'm still in two minds about whether Diablo III really works on consoles. Despite pretending to be a glorious last stand against the forces of hell, all it really involves is holding the A button (X on PS4) until all the enemies are dead or you've passed out from boredom. The leap from mice to controllers removed an entire dimension of precision priority targeting, so instead you'll just mash that button and then mash it a few more times to pick up all the loot in the vicinity. Then roll. Then hold down A for another five minutes.
This shouldn't be fun. It should be torture. But ultimately, somehow, Diablo III's Ultimate Evil Edition ends up being enjoyable and annoyingly addictive to the point where I'd rather be playing it than leaving my den -- let alone writing this review.
Basically, Just Add Mates.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Once more with feeling: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is magnificent.
Seriously, I'll keep banging on about it until you buy it or show me a letter from your GP proving that you're allergic to visual novels. Halfway between Corpse Party, Cluedo, Battle Royale and Ace Attorney, this grim and frequently disturbing tour de force managed to be both an engrossing page-turner and a gripping videogame. Great characters, fantastic story, despair and hope in equal measure. It's still my GOTY thus far.
The reason I'm telling you this now is that you absolutely mustn't play Danganronpa 2 without fully enjoying the original. Partly because the sequel builds on the revelations of its predecessor, but also because it's worse.
Not bad, mind you. It's actually rather good. But stacked up next to Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2 lacks the subtlety, pacing and restraint to be a truly effective mystery, and often feels like a fan-service holiday special instead.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS Vita
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Handhelds and strategy RPGs were made for each other, and Disgaea continues to be one of the biggest names in the business for those in the know. Nailing that sweet spot between quirky upbeat humour, insane social life-destroying tactical depth and adorable exploding demon penguin murderers, the irreverent series always feels more at home on portable consoles than it does in the living room.
Case in point, Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited, which provides the ultimate definitive edition of arguably the strongest game in the franchise.
Sardines, dood! Yes, once again, Disgaea isn't ashamed to be deeply silly when it comes to the storyline. We find ourselves following Lord Valvatorez, a once-terrifying vampire tyrant now relegated to a lowly exploding penguin instructor in the depths of hell thanks to some hastily-made promises. His mission, not to mention his obsession with the nutrient value of sardines versus human blood, quickly derails as all manner of crazy characters show up and hilarious diversions poke fun at established conventions, but a strong central theme and great localised dialogue keeps things interesting even if you've never played a Disgaea game before.
It's a surprisingly engrossing tale, even providing alternate 'bad endings' with their own non-canonical epilogue when you fail certain battles. Just remember not to save after seeing one! More importantly, though, Valvatorez is by far the most interesting protagonist in the series. Older and more experienced (but no less bizarre) than his predecessors, he's genuinely hilarious, likeable and benefits from a believable and relateable motive. Move over Laharl.Click here to read more...