With the Hobbit movies proving to be one of the longest train wrecks in recent memory, it’s a relief to see developers looking elsewhere for inspiration of doing Tolkien’s world justice. So, to fill the gap between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, we find ourselves deep in the heart of Mordor.
Enter Talion, a ranger working on the Black Gate who, along with his family, is killed almost immediately by invading Uruks. Luckily (sort of) for him, an Elven Wraith spirit invades his body just before death. Meaning that a short while later he is resurrected and will continue to do so each time he is killed.
Throughout the adventure we’ll learn more about life in Mordor for humans before the orcs and Uruks invaded and Sauron took over and we’ll even learn how the One Ring was forged and how Sauron betrayed the nine. The time setting and location are ripe for gaming territory and Tolkien nuts should definitely take a look.
Shadow of Mordor brandishes its base influences with little shame, but in fairness, Monolith has chose some of the best brands to initiate, namely Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady’s Batman titles. So expect an open world where you can climb any surface and find lots of side-missions and collectibles to keep you entertained between story missions. These distractions also help to fund your numerous combat upgrades, so it rarely feels like time wasting. The climbing mechanics are solid and the animations have a pleasing weight to them too.Click here to read more...
Alien: Isolation is out today and I'm scared to come out of this stupid goddamn locker.
I've been scared by games before. Silent Hill 2 is hands-down the creepiest game I've ever played. I love/hate the way that game messed with my head, the grotesque carnival of misshapen enemies, distended and crooked, that triggered genuine revulsion. They weren't just zombies, they were hideous apparitions that made me feel physically ill. Elsewhere, there were moments when games like Condemned and Dead Space and Fatal Frame and even Doom 3 made me jump and weirded me out.
But nothing has ever quite terrified me like Alien: Isolation.
In the past, Xenomorphs have been hazardous cannon fodder. In fact, up until this point, there's never been a game that really captures what it means to come face to face with that perfect organism. No game has ever succeeded in capturing the sheer terror of coming face to face with the Geigerian monstrosity. It took the team behind Total War to do that.
I've been having nightmares since I started playing this game. Before last week, I hadn't had a nightmare in about five years, and even then they didn't feature monsters. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the last nightmare I had before this involved drowning in a sea of letters from banks or HMRC or the Student Loans Company. Once, I was crashing a mate's couch and I realised that I'd forgotten my toothbrush, and I dreamed that all my teeth fell out and I could only eat plankton. You know, relatively boring stuff. Lately, however, I've been dreaming of Sevastopol Station, and the multi-mouthed monster in its bowels.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS4 | Xbox One
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
I've been waiting for this game forever. One of the most under-appreciated American rock bands of the late 70s finally has a videogame of their own, complete with legendary tunes like Mr. Roboto, Renegade and Come Sail Away. Styx are awesome and it's about time too. Here's hoping for a Foreigner tie-in next...
...oh. Turns out that Styx: Master Of Shadows is actually a dark fantasy stealth game from Cyanide Studios.
Initial disappointment aside, this is still a remarkable turn of events. See, Styx is a real stealth game. Not an action game in Solid Snake's clothing, but a proper honest-to-goodness cold-blooded sneaky stabby treacherous quickloading brutally tense little experience that understands what the genre is all about, even if it doesn't always quite hit the mark.Click here to read more...
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is another one of those games that plonks you down in the middle of a beautiful landscape and just lets you sort of get on with things. Of course, in this game those "things" involve dealing with the scribblings of an imaginative young chap -- the titular Ethan Carter -- and puzzling out a chain of murders and odd happenings that start as soon as you start wandering about the place.
I don't really want to go into any story details at all, such would be the danger to disrupting one's initial experiences of the game, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that's really all about stories. The game begins with a disclaimer warning the player that this will not be a game that holds one's hand, and it's an apt observation. At first I'd worried that framing the game so might have an adverse effect on me, but that certainly wasn't the case.
Things take a rapid turn for the dark and macabre. Although you're pretty much free to wander wherever and deal with things in any order you like, the game's opening scenes are designed to intrigue, and there's nothing quite like a pair of bloodied, severed legs on an abandoned railway to do just that.
Certain objects and scenes require further examination, occasionally missing pieces of evidence may need to be retrieved and put back in the places where they're supposed to be. You find yourself stepping into the shoes of paranormal detective Paul Prospero, whose ability to sense things that are out of place helps the scavenger hunt for the weird and creepy somewhat. Prospero's internal monologue floats up onto the screen in fits and spurts when you interact with potential clues, the shorthand of his deductive reasoning appearing in Sherlockian fashion.Click here to read more...
Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS (let's call it Smash 3DS from now on) presents a unique problem for us videogame reviewers.
No, not nostalgia. Of course I've got fond memories of happy hours throwing down on my friends in the N64 original before graduating to the twitchy brilliance of Melee. Granted, playing it reminds me of simpler times before I fully understood the horror of self-assessed tax returns and other adult annoyances, but the fact is that Smash is utterly brilliant even without the rose-tinted spectacles.
It's still a superb arena brawler that forces you to unlearn everything you know about fighting games to revel in a crazy chaotic mess of ridiculous attacks, hilarious character matchups and manic button mashing. This is more than enough silly cathartic fun for many players, but dedicated fans can then bring order to the chaos with arena control, aerial attacks, positioning and competitive depth for days. Packing outstanding handheld visuals, a superb roster, brilliant stages and masses of additional content, there's no quibbling with Smash 3DS' quality and value regardless of whether you're looking for a casual diversion or a more hardcore experience.
However, its issues -- some of which are rather sizeable -- have nothing to do with the game. Rather they stem from the platform itself. As such, the big question here isn't "is Smash 3DS any good?," rather we have to ask whether Super Smash Bros is actually worth buying on 3DS in the first place.
The short answer is "yes, probably." The long answer follows.Click here to read more...
I long one day to have a FIFA game that truly encapsulates what that title suggests, although that would probably be a House of Cards-esque, murky, political adventure title, or a bureaucratic take on Crusader Kings II -- all backstabbing, corruption, and intrigue.
The limited edition set would come with a watch that you'd have to return to the store, naturally.
Instead of that, however, here we have another buzzword-stuffed game wherein you take control of teams of players from a side-on perspective, stringing together intricate passes, laughing at the foibles of player impacts, and cursing when your player tries to volley inside of heading the pinpoint cross you just floated into the box.
This is really the first true new-gen FIFA title (we're not counting the graphical scrub up of FIFA 14), and it's clear that a number of things have changed on the pitch. Perhaps the most noticeable tweak is that pace is back in a big way. In the real game, a player with pace, someone who runs at defenders and looks to take them on, is a huge asset. FIFA has finally managed to recreate the thrill of having someone like Bale or Sterling or Di Maria really take on opponents at speed. No longer will full backs conveniently be able to catch up, it seems like teams with pace have a real edge that's finally realised thanks to expert balancing to go along with the precision control that has been standard for the last couple of years.Click here to read more...
Platforms: PS Vita (reviewed) | PS3 | PS4 (cross-save)
Developer: Kadokawa Shoten
Natural Doctrine (that's enough with the capitalisation already) is my cup of tea. As a fan of niche localised JRPGs, turn-based strategy and turn-based strategy RPGs, I am this game's target audience. It's not so much "up my street" as "moved into my spare bedroom, sprawled on my sofa, eating my crisps and beckoning me to play it at all hours of the day and night."
We'd be the perfect room mates, if only it would stop punching me in the balls every few minutes.
Natural Doctrine may be a ruthless SRPG with a solid plot, decent characters and some interesting gameplay mechanics, but it sacrifices far too much in an effort to be as obnoxiously difficult as possible.
Click here to read more...
Platforms: PC | PS3 (reviewed) | Xbox 360
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Cards on the table. Fair warning. Be advised. I am not a big fan of Naruto Shippuden.
I love the premise, the setting, the character designs, the amazing powersets and abilities (those wild and disturbing Kugutsu puppets are my favourite), the art style, the themes and Kakashi in all of his slightly pervy glory, but I've never been able to get into the series no matter how many times I've tried. God knows I've tried.
For me the pacing kills it, the drawn-out interminable waiting between interesting events and the hours of angsty posturing when characters should be fighting. Sometimes I wish that I could just skip between the superbly-choreographed battles, preferably with subtitles so I don't have to listen to Maile Flanagan's horrendous nails-on-a-blackboard English dub.
That's probably why I really dig on Ultimate Ninja Storm Revolution. Everything I like about the series is present and correct -- the diverse well-designed characters with incredible abilities and OTT climactic brawls -- except that the overarching narrative has been replaced by just enough non-canonical premise to hold it together. Unfortunately, I'm also not convinced that it's worth forty quid.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (Steam, £26.99)
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Early Access has been dragged through the mud over the last few months, but it often doesn't get enough credit. For every failure there's a developer who makes a plan and sticks to it, engages fans without losing sight of their goals, then finally delivers a worthwhile game that couldn't have been made any other way. The system works.
Endless Legend is one of those success stories: a superb, solid and delightfully innovative take on the 4X genre from Amplitude Studios, the fearsome strategy fiends behind the excellent Endless Space and upcoming Roguelike masterclass Dungeon Of The Endless. As you've probably worked out by now, all three games take place at different times in the same universe, a sensational Sci-Fi fantasy fusion that kicks out elves and dwarves in favour of aliens, constructs, mad cultists, robot ghosts and necrophagous insects. It's a beautiful thing, both in terms of the overall aesthetic and some exciting design decisions.
I'm going to assume that you have a working knowledge of 4X games, preferably hex-based specimens like Civilization, Warlock and Age Of Wonders III, because otherwise this review is going to require several hundred words to explain the basic mechanics. To briefly recap, Endless Legend subscribes to a familiar basic formula of picking a race with different stats, starting out with a settler, building a city and then cracking on with the four Xs: exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination . You'll research new technologies, move units around a hex-based world, engage in diplomacy and generally rise to dominance through fair means and foul.
Here's the instruction manual if you want to know more. Rather than dwelling on minutae, we're going to discuss how Endless Legend subverts and reinvigorates the familiar genre template with fresh new ideas.Click here to read more...
Do you want to be just or do you want to be kind? Are you a man who prizes the law above all else? Would you let a murderer walk free if it might serve the "greater good"? What kind of a man are you? These are the questions that are asked of the player when it comes to stepping once more into the shoes of Sherlock Holmes in Frogwares latest game in the ongoing series.
The gentleman detective may disappoint purists in this title, coming across as an amalgamation of Conan Doyle's original and the various popular incarnations seen across the screen over the last few decades. The accessories and affectations of Rathbone's Holmes are mingled with the calculating character of Moffat and Gatiss' recent reinventions, not to mention Sherlock's rather antagonistic relationship with his brother, Mycroft.
If there is less of the original Holmes' character to be seen in this game, it is because Frogwares has made the player the curator of Holmes' intellect and intuition, delivering the power of moral decision-making and deductive reasoning over into our hands. The Holmes of Crimes and Punishments is something of a blank slate in terms of judgement and ethical character, and it's up to us to fill in the gaps in a game that explores the consequences of the detective's findings and the processes of deduction in greater detail than ever before.
There are six cases that form the meat of the game in Crimes and Punishments, each of them unfolding with a series of twists and turns and opportunities for investigation depending on the player's thoroughness. Crimes and Punishments is, in many ways, an old-school point-and-click adventure game at heart. You survey crime scenes and areas of investigation, interacting with various points, persons, and objects of interest, collecting evidence, interrogating witnesses and suspects, and uncovering clues that may then be paired together to form deductions.Click here to read more...
This year's hottest ticket at EGX (formerly the Eurogamer Expo) was for the premier of From Bedrooms to Billions, a documentary on the birth of the UK gaming scene and its rise from hobbyist beginnings to world leader and to the shape of things today.
The entire film is told by industry figures giving anecdotes on their memories of how it all began. Chances are, the older a gamer you are, the more you'll be able to relate to the film. The amount of time dedicated to the Sinclair ZX80s and Commodore 64s vastly outweigh any given to later consoles. This is mainly due to the heavy focus on the British perspective of the industry, where the arrivals of the Japanese machines from Nintendo and Sega are painted in almost villainous colours.
Early on, the anecdotes feel a little dry as the talk is all about programming, entering lines of code, hobbyist meets and so on. This is a film clearly aiming for the nostalgic feelings of those involved in the scene, further carving the film into an even tighter niche and alienating everyone else.
You'll hear of the joys and bleakness of the industry, from Peter Molyneux getting an almost sexual thrill the first time he got a pixel to move across a screen. To another developer saying he got so sick and stressed of all the corporate bullshit he had a white poo.Click here to read more...
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
For many, Titanfall was the vanguard of a year of games that didn't live up to their hype. I am not one of those people.
Titanfall has kept me coming back week after week, month after month, because its gameplay is evergreen. I'm not just throwing myself through the grinder for randomised loot or arbitrary metagame levels, rather I'm playing simply because the thrill of snapping necks, dropping mechs and effortlessly traversing an entire map without touching the ground is nigh-on perfect, and worth every minute. The small yet dedicated fanbase clearly feels the same, enjoying the fact that the skill ceiling is as high as the lofty maps themselves.
So the third and final map pack is Respawn's opportunity to go gonzo; to create a crazy, visually diverse and utterly innovative last hurrah before presumably concentrating on a multi-platform sequel.
This didn't happen, sadly, but IMC Rising is still an excellent expansion that subscribes to a familiar template: two undeniably brilliant maps and a third that reveals a unique edge after a few matches.Click here to read more...
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...