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...
Developer: Souvenir Circ.
Publisher/Localisation: Nyu Media
Publishers can get away with shovelling all manner of atrocious crap onto Steam these days, but Nyu Media are made of sterner stuff. The localisation maestros could have easily pushed doujin brawler Croixleur straight onto the store following a successful Greenlight campaign, but decided to port over a brand new edition stuffed with big improvements, more features and extra content instead. They even pulled an all-nighter fixing an oversight I tweeted about, because they're lovely like that.
Which is a good thing too, because the original Croixleur was a load of old cobblers. Cheap and cheerful fun for a few minutes, but quickly becoming crushingly tedious thanks to a tiny variety of enemies, it never matched up to the likes of Fairy Bloom Freesia, Alltynex, Gigantic Army and all the rest of Nyu's localised lineup.
Everything is noticeably tweaked up and polished now, and there's more of it too, from a whole new character with a unique storyline to crunchy new music, challenges and more. Unfortunately Souvenir Circ wasn't able add more enemies, the biggest flaw that dragged down the original in the first place. So the million Yen question is whether Croixleur Sigma can distract us from its half-dozen palette-swapped foes with all the new bells and whistles.
Well... yes, it can. At least for long enough to earn its £5.99 if you're a fan of hacking, slashing and Japanese indie gaming.Click here to read more...
The middle of the road has never been a good place to be -- you just end up getting run over by traffic from either side. And trust me -- as someone who once went sailing through the air and landed squarely either side of a sturdy, roadside, wooden perimeter -- there's little solace to be found in sitting on the fence. I wrote an article a little while back about identity and the importance of knowing, as a developer, what your game is, what you want to achieve, and who your target audience is. Unfortunately, The Elder Scrolls Online finds itself in a bit of a dither.
Is it just Skyrim with multiplayer? Is it a WOW-ish MMO with pretensions towards being an Elder Scrolls game? The Elder Scrolls Online demands to be judged by two completely conflicting groups of fans. On the one hand, the Elder Scrolls series has long served up several of the most expansive, enriched, singleplayer experiences to be had in this industry -- games that place you as an empowered individual, the only one who can save Tamriel from whatever mischief has befallen it this time around. On the other, you have this massive world, filled with warring factions and steeped in millennia of lore, just ripe with possibilities for a Massively Multiplayer Online experience.
So how do you consolidate the two into one game successfully? That is the question that lies at the heart of The Elder Scrolls Online.
And the answer is... you don't.
Tamriel itself is a bit of an empty husk. It's a showroom more than a showstopper, a simulacrum of the worlds we've previously explored in detail. But whereas before, we could be anyone we wanted and do anything we liked, here there are invisible forces at work compelling us to follow certain paths. There's no crime in this version of Tamriel, little opportunity for the fleet-footed and light-fingered, and NPCs are fairly few and far between. TESO is set a couple of millennia before the events of Skyrim, so having a more empty world might be just about justified, but the lack of interaction is troubling. If you saw a sword on the ground in previous games you could pick it up. Now, however, it's most likely just painted decoration.
For a series that has always been synonymous with immersion, that's not a good thing.Click here to read more...
Developer: Escape Hatch Entertainment LLC
Publisher: Escape Hatch Entertainment LLC
If you claim that your game is the "rebellious stepchild of Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace 2," and "the return of the space simulation genre," you'd better make damn sure that the finished product delivers. Especially when you ask for -- and receive -- $150,000 on Kickstarter to make it on the back of that promise.
Starlight Inception certainly talks the talk on PS Vita and PC, and it's exactly the sort of ambitious indie project that I usually evangelise from the rooftops, but I'm dismayed to report that this latter-day space sim falls drastically short of what I'd consider to be an acceptable level of quality. It's not enough to crib from legendary sims and hope for the best, indeed, the constant references to Wing Commander and other better games just reminds us how good we used to have it.
The action takes place "one hundred years from tomorrow," wherein a new war is breaking out between Earth and the non-aligned nations. As a new threat emerges, it's up to the brave fighter jockeys of the
TCS USF Midway carrier to scramble into the black, defend Earth's interests, lead strike missions and a undertake bit of mild escort duty. Though the story is told through stilted, poorly-acted, monotonous, awkwardly-animated cutscenes that do their best to make you fall out of love with the setting before each mission, who cares, because we're here to "light up the sky."
Developer: Crispy's Inc.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
This is by far the hardest and most futile review I've ever had to write.
See, I review videogames, but Short Peace is absolutely not one of those. It's a feature-length compilation of five standalone anime shorts, each hailing from a luminary in the field or left-field upstart. We have an opportunity to savour Shuhei Morita's Oscar-nominated Possessions, a fascinating and playful tale of animism that puts Pixar to shame, while Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo sallies forth with the breathtakingly lovely Combustible. Hiroaki Ando and Gundam mech designer Hajime Katoki join them, bringing unique storytelling and eyepopping visual flair to the mix.
...and then there's Goichi "Suda51" Suda, the madcap if inconsistent auteur behind Killer7 and No More Heroes, who lobs a spanner into the works. His offering, Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, absolutely is a videogame - yet the gorgeous, bonkers and fleeting experience can only be purchased alongside the rest of the compilation on a single Blu-Ray costing a whopping £40.
So over the next few hundred words, I'm going to try and make sense of the package as a whole, step out of my comfort zone to review an anime compilation, assess the game on its own merits and work out whether it can possibly be worth the premium price. Before desperately finding an appropriate number to slap on the end.
Stick around. This is going to be fun!Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed) | Xbox 360 | PC
Developer: Irrational Games
Here it is then, the final piece of Irrational and Ken Levine’s adventures with the Bioshock series. With Levine’s decision to close down the studio, the only Bioshock content we’ll be seeing in the future is if 2K decides to put a new team together and go on ahead without the game’s inspirational creative lead. Today though, we’re here to see how Irrational bow out on one of the most respected legacies in gaming.
To fully appreciate everything that Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea - Episode 2 has to offer, you really need to have completed not only Episode 1 and Infinite, but also the original two Bioshock games. Gameplay innovations are thin on the ground here, but Burial at Sea carries on where it left off by serving as a tribute to the fans and a link between the worlds of Columbia and the underwater city of Rapture.
Instead of hopping into the boots of yet another version of Booker/Comstock, you find yourself popping on the heels of Elizabeth as she tries to track down Suchong for Atlas (from Bioshock 1) who is holding Sally (the Little Sister from Episode 1) hostage. Elizabeth is travelling alone, but frequently speaks with Booker on the radio. Well, a version of Booker that lives in her head at least. It’s a touching relationship despite what we know of the events of Infinite and Episode 1 as this is a version of Booker that Elizabeth has broadly separated from the Comstock paradox. Thankfully, third time around, the mind-bending narrative is more evenly spread, easier to fathom and doesn’t clumsily hit you with an information overload in the closing scenes.Click here to read more...