Platforms: PSN | XBLA (£6.75, reviewed)
Developer: Kung Fu Factory
Girl Fight was never going to be a good game. The clue's in the name. It's called Girl Fight.
Yes, this tragic throwback subscribes to the 'if you can't make it good, make it sexy' philosophy of game design, existing solely as an excuse for an array of scantily-clad "sexy fighters" to touch each other for our titillation like a tawdry downloadable peep show. Just pop in the £6.75, roll back the curtain and watch some "fierce femme fatales" duke it out before unlocking some mucky pictures for your trouble. The formula worked so well for BMX XXX and Dead Or Alive: Paradise, after all.
No, wait, the other thing. Most gamers are savvy enough to spot opportunistic exploitation when they see it, and Girl Fight immediately fell off the radar when it launched last month. Having been asked to critique Girl Fight by Microprose, I can report that this lack of excitement and interest is thoroughly deserved.
Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed) - Coming to PS4/Xbox One in November
Developers: Visual Concepts
Publishers: 2K Sports
You have to hand it to Visual Concepts and 2K Sports. No sports series comes close to the consistent quality of the NBA 2K franchise. Last year's effort, though it wasn't exactly a huge step up from its predecessor, led me to fall head over heels in love with a sport and embrace the irresistible personality and depth of NBA 2K with open arms. How could this year's instalment possibly top that?
Well, it starts with the control system. Once again, Visual Concepts have overhauled their input system in the pursuit of intuitive perfection. But for anyone who spent a fair amount of time in NBA 2K13, this new system will prove a source of frustration until you realise that you'd better learn it from scratch. The right stick -- the Pro Stick -- has no need of the left trigger modifier when it comes to shooting this time around. Isomotion and post move trickery-- the crossovers, Dream Shakes, hesitations, spins -- these are conducted via little taps and precise movements, with shooting a matter of pushing and holding the stick towards the direction you desire. Should habit force you to nudge the left trigger and then flick the stick, you'll now perform a range of showy passes. Or, more likely, hurl the ball into Row Z.
It takes some getting used to, but it's customisable so can just use the stick for nifty fakes and dazzling ankle-breakers if you'd prefer to use buttons for shooting and passing. There's some crossover, too, so you'll be able to switch between control inputs on the fly and pull off Steve Nash-esque no-look passes to your heart's content, whilst still having the solidity of shooting via a face button. On top of that, there's streamlining elsewhere: now you just have to nudge the left bumper to call a play, rather than abandoning control for a split-second to fiddle with the D-pad.Click here to read more...
Developer: Auroch Digital
Publisher: Auroch Digital
Space Hulk and Blood Bowl tend to trip off the tongue when you're talking about Games Workshop spin-offs. Perhaps Necromunda, Gorkamorka or even my personal favourite Inquisitor if you're showing off. However, you'll rarely find a lot of love for Chainsaw Warrior outside of a few niche circles.
That's understandable. Rather than a tabletop wargame or board game for multiple players, Chainsaw Warrior was designed for a solitary participant back in 1987, drawing cards and rolling dice to simulate a desperate assault on a demon-infested city against the clock. A little like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, except with less choosing and adventure and rather more murdering hordes of hellish undead with a massive logging tool. After a quarter of a century, Auroch Digital have brought the entire experience to PC and tablets, offering compelling solo combat and randomised playthroughs that are never the same each time. For £3.99.
Frankly, it's really rather good as far as it goes.Click here to read more...
Developer: Arcen Games
You and your mech squadron are all that stand between twelve million people and nuclear annihilation.
Bionic Dues pulls no punches in terms of its premise. After a futuristic mega-city plays host to a machine revolution, its corporate overlords opt to nuke the metropolis unless its few remaining defenders can put the rebellion to rout. As the only EXO pilot still alive, you'll lead a small force of walking tanks in tense engagements against the enemy, choosing your missions and doing your best to cripple the bionic foe's infrastructure while strengthening your own forces. Every decision has a consequence and a cost, both in terms of rewards and time. There's never enough time.
Whatever happens, you'll have fifty days to prepare before a climactic final battle against the robot hordes... the strength of which depends entirely on your choices, victories and defeats. With the fiercely innovative Arcen Games at the helm, this ambitious 'Rogue-Lite' boasts sensational hidden depths.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS3 (PSN, £15.99)
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
I'm told that there's nothing quite like the thrill hurtling towards the Earth at terminal velocity, and now we don't have to shell out for colourful adult babygrows and life insurance to experience it. Skydive: Proximity Flight brings the adrenaline rush of base jumping to the PlayStation Network, throwing you off mountains and hot air balloons with nothing save a wingsuit to slow your fall.
When played on a big television and through a decent sound system, you can practically feel the wind whistling through your teeth.
At its core, Skydive offers several expansive maps to scream through, your wingsuit providing you plenty of forward momentum as well as sickening vertical plunge. As you dodge through the gorgeously-rendered scenery by the skin of your teeth, finding new routes as you do so, you're awarded points for Proximity Flight: the nigh-suicidal art of practically touching your nose to the mountainside or treetops as you zoom over the terrain. Most of the joy of Skydive is simply gleaned from the raw joy of pushing your limits and seeing how the differing times of day and level design can affect your runs. Near the bottom, you'll also have to think about pulling your parachute too, that is if your knuckles aren't too white.Click here to read more...
Manufacturer: Mad Catz
I was really genuinely sad when I had to give the pair of Razer Blackshark headphones back to the manufacturer after spending several weeks reviewing them. They were comfortable, offered superb quality, and made me feel like I was piloting Airwolf whilst listening to 80s hair metal, thanks to their design.
To directly compare the Tritton Kunai headset I was sent by Mad Catz a month or two later to the Blackshark would be a little unfair. After all, the Kunai is designed to be a budget-friendly, entry-level headset for gamers. After being met with some success in console circles earlier this year, Mad Catz have finally brought their sub-£50 headset to PC fans.
The Kunai is a looker, that much is for certain. From the angular, squarish ear cups to the glossy red aesthetics of the band and outer shell (it also comes in black and white), the Kunai is stylish enough to wear out and about and looks far more refined and natural than some of its competitors. It looks like the more angular cousin to Dre's Beats range.Click here to read more...
Platform: PS3 (PSN, £9.99)
Developer: PlayStation CAMP
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Sony should be congratulated for bringing a diverse and experimental range of gaming experiences to the PlayStation Network, and Rain was set to be their bravest and most innovative yet. This soulful adventure stars an invisible boy alone in a storm-swept world, chasing a mysterious girl who's always just out of reach through a sort-of-stealth puzzler, trying to get back home. As fans of innovative new experiences, suffice to say that we were more than a little excited about PlayStation C.A.M.P.'s latest venture.
So it's galling that Rain falls totally flat because, when it comes right down to brass tacks, it simply isn't brave nor innovative enough. In fact, it has a dirty little secret that undermines almost everything.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, mind, so let's start by accentuating the positives: Rain is one of the most beautiful games I've played in years. The city, an impossible labyrinth of rain-drenched French architecture, is brought to life with a rich yet muted colour palette, melancholy practically dripping from every gutter and flowing down every drain. A real sense of loneliness and isolation is hammered home by a truly masterful soundtrack that applies the lightest touch: a light piano refrain here, an accordion there, and silence when necessary for maximum impact. It is truly a feast for the senses.
There are moments when you'll just stand staring at your television, gobsmacked and humbled, listening to the rain.Click here to read more...
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
If you miss the thrill of classic old-school shooters, the simple joy of blasting hordes of foes with oversized weapons and ferreting around for secrets, quicksaving and circle-strafing all the while, you should buy Shadow Warrior immediately.
Flying Wild Hog, FPS veterans who previously worked on Painkiller and Hard Reset, absolutely get what the genre is all about. Shadow Warrior has never heard of objective markers or regenerating health. It scoffs at ironsights, instead offering a totally optional zoom mode. This brazenly unapologetic experience is all about the raw visceral satisfaction of taking on entire demonic armies with an arsenal of massive guns, emerging victorious over ludicrous odds, then capping things off with a zinging one-liner. Before ripping off a demon's magic-suffused head and blasting his mates with it.
That's not to say Shadow Warrior is stuck in the past. Far from it, since new-school flourishes abound. Superb melee combat mechanics allow you to take on the demonic forces with katana in hand, lopping off limbs and ripping out hearts - a weapon in and of themselves - while numerous skills and powers come with their own upgrade systems. Some of these 21st century features don't quite work in this delightfully nostalgic romp, but a romp it is; a real, slam-bang, honest-to-goodness, three-fisted humdinger.
Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (F2P)
Developer: Piranha Games
Publisher: Infinite Game Publishing
There's nothing quite like stomping around in an enormous bipedal tank, crushing our foes under tons of steel plate while blasting out more ordnance than an entire armoured column. We used to look to BattleTech and MechWarrior for our fix, whether on a tabletop or glued to our monitors, but the troubled franchise has forced us to go elsewhere over the last few years, to the likes of Armored Core and Hawken. We've had it pretty good, but we still pine for our Mad Cats and Bushwackers. Thankfully, a new hope has finally arrived in the form of MechWarrior Online... and it's free.
MechWarrior Online has a lot in common with Wargaming's World Of Tanks, in that it's a free to play simulation-lite that hinges around constantly improving a colossal war machine and using it to destroy your foes in team-based multiplayer matches. After an extensive beta, Piranha Games' project finally hit v.1.0 last week, meaning that we're clear to strap in, power up the reactor and put it through its paces.
Before we begin, we do have to acknowledge a little unpleasantness. Infinite Game Publishing came under intense fire for disingenuous communication and community management throughout the lengthy beta process, which in turn lead to massive fan backlash over the last few months. However, this is a review, and thus will focus exclusively on the finished article and the new player experience. Know this going in.Click here to read more...
Developers: Rockstar North
Publishers: Rockstar Games
These lines, spoken in frustration by reluctant gangbanger Franklin Clinton, pretty much sum up Grand Theft Auto as a series. GTA has always been the game where you unleash the darkest fantasies of modern life, mowing down pedestrians in impatience, going on a rampage with a minigun just because you can, knowing that if you get busted or wasted you'll just emerge unscathed from the nearest relevant medical centre or police station, ready to do it all over again.
But it's also been about anarchic tourism.
Rockstar's world-building is exceptional; it always has been. But here, with Los Santos and Blaine County, they've elevated their game to another level. The enormous world that they've created in a technical masterpiece, almost impossibly detailed, with everything in its right place. The lighting was one of the first things I noticed, and at the earliest opportunity I jumped into a car after hoofing out its previous owner -- living out the name of the game -- and headed for the Vinewood sign up in the hills, just so I could watch the sun set over the city. As the lights below me twinkled, and the sun melted into indigo clouds, I whipped out my iFruit phone and took a bunch of snaps (and the obligatory selfie)... none of which saved, sadly due to the early sever issues with Rockstar's Social Club.
My favourite experiences from this series tend to come from cruising around these incredibly realised worlds with the meticulously-crafted radio playlists blaring from the speakers. So it has been with GTA V too. The highways and avenues of Los Santos bear a significant resemblance to their real-life L.A. counterparts, and the depth of research that has gone into creating this coherent city is on show for all to see. Driving around the world at your own pace, picking out highlights for your own satisfaction rather than to fulfil a mission parameter, soaking up everything that the city has to offer, and getting distracted by new icons, emergent events, and geographical landmarks -- it is here that GTA V truly excels.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC (reviewed, £14.99) | PSN & XBLA versions incoming
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
We love games that push the boundaries of this interactive art form, that challenge our preconceptions of what the medium can deliver. We gorge ourselves on experimental, radical new experiences that tug at our heartstrings, that teach us about new perspectives and even ourselves. However, every once in a while, we also love shooting aliens in the face while listening to rock music.
This simple pleasure has been all but washed away by a tide of zombies and dubstep, but here comes a new challenger. Alien Rage promised little more than an army of ravening aliens, an arsenal of massive guns and plenty of grinding metal to enjoy while combining boomstick A with enemy cloaca B. Frankly, we couldn't have been more excited about this self-styled "oldschool" proposition, even though City Interactive's past form can be charitably described as inconsistent.
Unfortunately the trailers lied and Alien Rage fails a full half of its remit right off the bat. For the vast majority of the game, you'll barely hear the plaintive cry of a guitar beneath a monotony of generic strings, synth and brass that could have been lifted from the bottom of Jason Graves' wastepaper basket. So everything rests, then, on whether it lets us shoot aliens in the face.
Well it does, and it's beautiful to boot, but the new-school music is just the first in a long list of compromises.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS3 | PS Vita (Cross-buy, £9.99)
Developer: Jasper Byrne
Publisher: Curve Studios
Survival Horror isn't dead. Though the titans of the genre may have risen and fallen (and are perhaps rising again), the indie community seized the mantle and are delivering all the scary we need. Last year, a one-man project called Lone Survivor leapt out of left field and utterly floored us, delivering an expertly-honed horror experience that was as thought-provoking as it was horribly tense. Grimy, surreal and relentlessly compelling, PC gamers found it to be one of the most impressive sleeper hits of 2012.
A year on, and Lone Survivor is now available on PS3 and Vita as a cross-buy Director's Cut version, sporting a few improvements and tweaks to suit its new platforms. Though we're spoiled for choice by the likes of Outlast and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Lone Survivor is still as sharp, harrowing and clever as it ever was, and deserves to be met with open arms by a brand new audience. You lucky, lucky people.
Players assume the role of a sole survivor in a zombie-infested apartment block, the world now gone to hell following a zombie apocalypse. His name isn't important, nor immediately forthcoming. Neither are the reasons behind the calamity. All you know is that he's stuck in a nightmare situation... and he's slowly going mad. Plagued by surreal night terrors and playable hallucinations, you'll sortie into the broken remains of the apartment complex to scavenge for food and weapons, staring deeply into mirrors to access new environments and fighting the onset of starvation and psychosis. The line between reality and insanity becomes increasingly hard to discern.Click here to read more...
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Point and click is perhaps the genre I remember most fondly growing up. Hours upon hours spent on games such as Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island as a rabid kleptomaniac trying to work out what random combination of items the developers had conjured up this time to get past my current predicament. So it was with a wry smile that I powered up Memoria, a game in the Dark Eye series from Daedalic Entertainment, and a direct sequel to The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav released in 2011. In Memoria, like its predecessor, you play as Geron, a bird catcher from Aventuria, in the kingdom of Andergast. Geron's fairy friend Nuri has been turned into a raven by a curse, and you are looking for a way to turn her back to her former self. Your search has led you into the forest to seek a mysterious mage called Fahi. Fahi offers to teach you a way to change Nuri back if you can solve the riddle he has been dreaming of. More specifically, he has been dreaming of a riddle encountered 450 years ago by a feisty princess known as Sadja. You then play out the role of Sadja and Geron, in vastly different times in Andergast, and you'll unravel more of the interlinking story, with plenty of twists and turns before it all comes together at the end.
So, a first notable difference to most point and click adventures is the notion of two protagonists. Now the first reaction - and certainly mine too when I saw a point and click game with multiple characters across differing timelines - was this would present plenty of cause and effect puzzles, similar to those found in the aforementioned Day of The Tentacle, but Memoria works slightly differently. A lot of Sadja's sections serve to flesh out a past that has already happened to her, educating both the player and Geron into this relevant past. This presents the player with plenty of diverse landscapes - and therefore puzzle opportunities - to explore, be it either in Sadja's adventurous past, or Geron's urgent and problematic present.Click here to read more...
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: NIS America Europe | Reef Entertainment
The Nineties called. They want their game back.
And they can't have it, because Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is a blast from the past that still plays brilliantly sixteen years after it first released. I'm keeping it.
This clumsily-titled JRPG launched on the Sega Saturn in 1997, exclusively in Japan, and has finally made its way onto western handhelds after the best part of two decades. As a Shin Megami Tensei title, Soul Hackers helped to pioneer the strong mature storylines and nuanced characters we've come to love from the Persona series, while delivering a hilariously kitsch take on what we honestly thought the future would be like. A networked city with computers in every house (wow!) plays host to an impossible dream, a virtual town that now looks dated compared to mid-tier MMOs, a hacker's paradise ripe for mischief.
However, playing as one of these hackers, you'll soon discover that demons have infested both the real and virtual world; sparking a chain of events that leads to a huge amount of dungeon crawling and fascinating dialogue. Though Soul Hackers shows its age from the outset, a uniquely superb battle system and surreal conversation mechanic make it feel right at home in the 21st century.
Click here to read more...
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Cyanide Studio
What's more surprising than rebooting a practically extinct tabletop wargame into a painfully average videogame? Commissioning a sequel, that's what.
Not willing to let the dormant Confrontation license go back to sleep after last year's forgettable effort, Cyanide Studios are returning to the Aarklash universe with another isometric strategy/RPG hybrid that clocks in somewhere between Icewind Dale and Dawn Of War II. Once again, you'll lead a small team of combatants through some expansive maps, battling against scores of dark fantasy enemies in real-time combat with an active pause mechanic. Having received little or no fanfare and releasing right on top of GTA V, I fully expected Aarklash: Legacy to be yet another pointless waste of time.
Cyanide saved one surprise for last, however, and it's a big one. Aarklash: Legacy is... good. Rather than rehashing Confrontation, the inconsistent French studio has fixed almost everything that didn't work last time around, and have released one of their best games to date. At a price that, this time, won't break the bank.Click here to read more...
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
Waiting is an inescapable part of the Arma 3 experience.
You'll lie motionless in tall grass for what feels like an eternity, scanning the expansive horizon for an enemy soldier to break cover before squeezing off the perfect sniper shot. You'll tread water in full SCUBA gear underneath a speedboat, waiting for a moment to sabotage its engines and disappear back into the depths. You'll scan enemy patrols through your binoculars, hoping for an opportunity to infiltrate their position or tell your team-mate to lob a mortar shell into their midst, or ferry squads of allied troopers into battle in a helicopter, waiting to see if this next trip will be cut short by bursts of AA fire. As a simulation aimed squarely at a dedicated PC audience, patience is every bit as important as a mouse or pair of beefy graphics cards.
However, we'll also have to wait several weeks - if not months and years - for Bohemia's simulation sandbox to fully realise its clear and obvious potential.
Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | OUYA version incoming
Have you ever looked up at the stars in the night sky and wished that, perhaps, you could go there one day? It's a cliché, but I certainly used to as a child, at least before the practical reality of global politics and the economy relegated that dream to the realms of science fiction. You made your own fun back then. However, a surreal and experimetal indie title has managed to capture that entire ideal in a single inexpensive package.
MirrorMoon EP is an experience built entirely around revelling in the lonely beauty of space, the thrill of seeking out new stars and making them your own. As an abstract exploration of exploration itself, it gives little away, forcing you to stumble as you come to terms with the infinite yet minimalist universe just out of your reach... before you realise that you can move the heavens themselves. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen out there in the wild black yonder, totally alone, yet connected to hundreds of other intrepid souls on a fundamental level.
And that, I'm afraid, is all I should tell you with a clear conscience.
See, MirrorMoon EP is a game predicated on discovery; not just in terms of exploration, but working out the mechanics and the underlying systems for yourself. How they work, what they mean. The more you know about it, the less effective and impactful it becomes, and thus we can't discuss how Santa Ragione's ambitious project succeeds and occasionally stumbles in any meaningful way without somehow lessening it and robbing you of that sense of achievement. As such, if you want the full experience, I urge you to not read this review beyond a quick scan down to the spoiler-free bulletpoints and very high score. Don't say I didn't warn you.PLEASE DON'T click here before reading the preceding paragraph >>
Platforms: PS3 | PS4 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Diablo III is now available on consoles, but I still can't work out exactly why.
There's no denying that it works, that it functions. Last year's dungeon-crawling experience has been faithfully recreated here in its entirety, save for the real money auction house and always-online connection requirement. The former of which we literally couldn't care less about, while the latter forced us to laugh and cry in equal measure. Blizzard should be congratulated for managing to successfully introduce a click-heavy dungeon crawler into a traditionally hostile ecosystem, but can it thrive away from its beloved mouse and keyboard?
Unless you're a Diablo fan who couldn't (or refused to) play Diablo III last year, you'll be thrown into a generic fantasy world with no attempt to explain where you are, what's going on or why you should care. Sanctuary has two games' worth of lore behind it, but the console version makes no effort to bring new players into the fold, making the setting feel flimsy and irrelevant. Still, this probably won't matter for many players, because we're here to get on the loot grinding conveyor belt as quickly as possible. For, dare I say, the hell of it.
Click here to read more...
Developers: Sony Japan Studio
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Sony Japan Studio are one of those outfits with an almost absurd excess of creativity. The ideas behind their games are frequently weird and wonderful -- just look at the likes of Tokyo Jungle and Gravity Rush -- but it's also true that quite often the execution doesn't quite match up to the inspiration behind it. So it has been that Japan Studio has created a number of games that we really, really want to love, but have perhaps been a little too fundamentally flawed to achieve those ends.
What's great, of course, is that this clearly hasn't dampened the creative spirit or sense of gumption at the studio, because here comes Puppeteer: a 2D platformer seemingly skewed towards children, but with a dark (and occasionally disturbing) story, narrated by English luvvies, and framed by a constantly shifting stage for a playable slice of marionette theatre. There's an Into The Woods joke in here. I'm not sure there's ever been a game before that's managed to slip in a half-minute musical homage to Sondheim before.
If there was ever a game that screamed *RISKY SALES PROPOSITION* at first glance, this is probably it. Thank whatever deity or secular object you pray to that there are still people who value creativity up at the higher levels of this industry.
Puppeteer tells the story of Kutaro, a young lad who has his soul stolen by the evil Moon Bear King, a figure who appears to be a gigantic bear made from the pelts of other bears and who wears a crown and lives on the Moon. Our young protagonist finds himself turned into a marionette and swiftly, sadly decapitated. Pushed onwards by the Moon Witch, Kutaro resolves to steal the Moon Bear King's magical scissors -- named Calibrus -- defeat the Bear's generals and the Bear himself, and restore the Moon to its former glory. It's a darkly, Burton-esque setup, and it sets the stage (quite literally) for an enormously imaginative, rather grim(m) fairytale to follow.Click here to read more...
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Frictional Games
The unexpected success of Amnesia: The Dark Descent was met with an equal number of screams and purchases of new pairs of underwear. It managed to take the power away from the player in a way that hadn’t been managed before, and became one of the stand-out games of 2011. So, when news that Fritional Games were teaming up with The Chinese Room, the developers behind the deeply-atmospheric Dear Esther, gamers around the world began to brace themselves for what could be lurking over the horizon. Then they informed us that the subtitle was “A Machine For Pigs”, and managed to terrify everybody in advance.
There’s no denying that there are heavy expectations for this next instalment in the Amnesia franchise, but after a year of teasing us with trailers and screenshots it’s finally time to see if the piggies are going to make us squeal.
Players assume the role of Oswald Magnus, a wealthy industrialist who, after a mysterious trip to Mexico, falls ill and wakes up several months later on New Year’s Eve 1899. With a mysterious machine from his delirious dreams now shaking the city, it is up to Magnus to piece together what has happened, discover the purpose of this machine, and face a trial of a more personal nature along the way.Click here to read more...