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Nidhogg Review | Fun-Filled Frenzied Fencing

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Fighting Games, Indie Games, multiplayer, Nidhogg, PC games

Nidhogg Review | Fun-Filled Frenzied Fencing

Platforms: PC

Developers: Messhof

Nidhogg reminds me of a time when I used to play really basic flash games with mates at school during boring lessons ion the computer lab, stuff like Slime Soccer on sites like Miniclip. We'd huddle around a single keyboard and try not to look too amused as we whiled away a quick five minutes with the most beguilingly basic games: titles that were quick to learn in a matter of seconds, yet offered unlimited replayability in competition.

Nidhogg is exactly the same as those games in every way but one.

It costs a tenner.

Nidhogg Review | Fun-Filled Frenzied Fencing

It's enormous fun, though, especially in short bursts. You have your directional buttons, you have a button to jump and a button to thrust forth with your sword. And that's it. As multiplayer fencing titles go, Nidhogg is as simple in its controls as it is in its archaic visuals. But it isn't long before you begin to realise that the simple inputs can be combined in a number of ways to make for swashbuckling encounters that move back and forth in seconds. Hold up and press attack and you'll fling your epee at your opponent. Tap down and you can pick it up again. Tap down while you're in motion, and you can do a nifty little action roll or a handy cartwheel -- perfect for retrieving dropped weaponry when on the move, or evading a high thrust and skewering your opponent swiftly in retaliation, right through the balls.

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The Banner Saga Review | If Disney Did Game of Thrones

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Editor's Choice, Indie Games, Kickstarter, PC games, Stoic Studio, The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga Review | If Disney Did Game of Thrones

Platforms: PC

Developers: Stoic Studio

Publishers: Versus Evil

The Banner Saga is a sumptuous feast for the senses. Another magnificent score from Journey composer Austin Wintory rises and falls as gorgeous visuals inspired by Eyvind Earle's work with Disney in the 1950s tell the story of a fantastical world blighted by an ancient evil known as the Dredge. A narrative-driven, tactical RPG of sorts, The Banner Saga casts us into a world that owes much it would seem to Scandanavian myth and legend -- a world that mankind shares with a giant, horned race known as varl. The story flits between a handful of central protagonists; casting you as the leader of a caravan of survivors one chapter, and the head of a band of warriors the next.

Leadership, of course, has its burdens, and the struggle for survival is a tough one. Safety is swiftly proven to be a myth, and each new trek is even more perilous than the last. It's not easy when you have evil beasts stalking the land, brigands lurking in forests who care nothing for the oncoming threat that the Dredge present but will gladly kill you for the food and the valuables your caravan holds, a sun that never sets, and a murderous winter snow. But many of the dangers come from within: squabbling clansmen, drunks who need to have examples made of them, fighters questioning your judgement and your leadership. Desperate times yield desperate people, and unpredictability is rife.

It's clear to see that the small team at Stoic have taken inspiration from a number of sources, but Game of Thrones shines through in resolutely bleak fashion. Sometimes I hear Sean Bean utter "Winter is coming," as more reports pour in of an ancient evil returned, breaching the lands to the North. It's not just the weather, nor the relentless crushing of hope, but rather the fact the choices have real consequences in this game. As you make your way from one town to the next, you're beset upon not only by Dredge but also the troubles of your caravan. Do you accept the help that a band of warriors you've found on the road are offering? They might yield another character for your fighting roster. They might also kill half of your men and steal your precious supplies. And what about when you hear screams coming from a nearby village? Do you rush in yourself to protect those unable to help themselves, do you send others in your stead, or do you turn and run and leave the villagers to their fate? Main characters can and will die, sometimes all too suddenly, and though one or two might make it all of the way through the game with you, you'll be left ruing the fate of those you sent to their deaths with the wrong decision.

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Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood Xbox One Review | Surprisingly Sharpie

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Microsoft Studios, Platformer, Press Play, Puzzle games, XBLA, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood Xbox One Review | Surprisingly Sharpie

Platform: Xbox One (£11.99)

Developer: Press Play

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood may look like a throwaway kids' platformer at first glance, but it plays like a colourful gameplay hybrid of Trine and Limbo.

After our improbably-coiffured hero banishes his annoying brother to an evil realm with a spell he found on the internet (one weird trick to cast your sibling into another plane of existence?), Max sets forth to save Felix from the evil Mustachio and save a bizarre world in the process. A Saturday morning setup to be sure, but the puzzle gameplay is surprisingly serious business.

Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood Xbox One Review | Surprisingly Sharpie

Things start out simple, easing players into the extremely basic moveset. Max can waddle at a slow jog, jump over small obstacles and drag objects around, much like the Limbo lad, but is otherwise completely defenceless. A couple of nicely choreographed chase scenes set the tone nicely, before introducing Max to his magic marker, the only object he's thought to bring with him from the real world. As a sort-of-sequel to unappreciated WiiWare puzzler Max & The Magic Marker, Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood uses his Sharpie to twist reality in some excellent brainteasers.

Well, it is a magic marker, after all.

Max: The Curse Of Brotherhood Xbox One Review | Surprisingly Sharpie

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Risk Of Rain Review | Greed & Speed

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Hopoo Games, PC, PC games, Platformer, Risk Of Rain

Risk Of Rain Review | Greed & Speed

Platform: PC (RRP: £6.99)

Developer: Hopoo Games

Risk Of Rain is madly brilliant and brilliantly maddening.

It was always going to be. Blending the thumb-shredding twitchy action of an old-school run & gun platformers with compelling roguelike elements and MOBA-esque skills results in a seriously addictive proposition. Or in less flowery terms: it's the best of three worlds - and fit to kick your arse even as you beg for seconds.

Controlling one of a selection of Sci-Fi heroes, we'll hare around the surface of a hostile planet as foes rain down from the heavens, desperately attempting to blast our way to safety and fill out an enormous list of items and enemies. Now that the two-person student team has ironed out most of the annoying bugs that shipped at launch, it's high time we gave Risk Of Rain our full and thoroughly deserved attention.

Risk Of Rain Review | Greed & Speed

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Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Part 1 Review | Last Tango In Paris

Author:
Chris Hyde
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Adventure Games, Kickstarter, PC games, Point and Click

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Part 1 Review | Last Tango In Paris

Platforms: PC

Developer: Revolution Software

Publisher: Revolution Software

It’s very rare that my fiancée is more excited for a game than me. Normally it’s me explaining to her why you should pre-order, why a console needs to be had on launch day, and why that musical chest I got free with The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is so friggin’ awesome!

Ahem.

But for one franchise in particular she becomes just like me. The geek within rises, and she gets super excited. Step forward Broken Sword. Now luckily for me we’ve been waiting a long time since the last Broken Sword game – longer than our entire relationship in fact, so this is the first time I’ve bore witness to this excitement. I thought she got excited for Zelda, but Broken Sword is in another ballpark. Apparently this is a big deal – she funded it through kickstarter no less - so I’d better do it justice, or so help me that “big day” next year might never come.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse – Part 1 Review | Last Tango In Paris

No pressure then right? So, eyes down and concentrate.

For those not in as unique a relationship as mine, Broken Sword first hit the gaming scene way back in 1996. It focused on two individuals – local girl Nico Collard and American George Stobbart – who team up to solve a Parisian bombing, with many twists and turns along the way. The original game was your standard 2D point and click adventure, with sequels sending our heroes further afield to more varied locations, and adopting different gameplay mechanics – and even embracing 3D – with mixed success.

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Halo: Spartan Assault Xbox One Review | Twinstick Combat Evolved

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
SHMUP, Xbox 360 games, Xbox One Games

Halo: Spartan Assault Xbox One Review | Twinstick Combat Evolved

Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows 8 Devices

Developer: Vanguard Games

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

It's official: Halo works surprisingly well as a twin-stick shooter.

Perhaps it shouldn't be particularly surprising, in all fairness. Vanguard Games are dab hands at the genre, having brought us the superb Gatling Gears, and absolutely nailed the basics with Spartan Assault. Reliving a Covenant invasion via a holographic training simulation, we'll wield a selection of familiar armaments and vehicles against believably authentic enemies.

One moment we'll smash through entrenched defences in a 'Grizzly' scorpion variant, the next we'll hose down Brutes with SMG fire or engage in tense shootouts against agile Elites using scavenged improvised weapons. The way foes move and act has been perfectly observed (from teetering Grunts to the shield-toting Jackals), while the balance of brave offence, vehicular hijacks and desperately turtling behind a rock during shield recharge is unmistakably Halo. Though more Geometry Wars than Halo Wars, Spartan Assault feels like a Halo game through and through.

Halo: Spartan Assault Xbox One Review | Twinstick Combat Evolved

Unfortunately Spartan Assault also feels very much like a mobile game that's been shoved onto a home console at twice the original price. Because... it is.

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NES Remix Review | Old Dogs, New Tricks?

Author:
Chris Hyde
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Editor's Choice, Nintendo, Retro, Wii U, Wii U games

NES Remix Review | Old Dogs, New Tricks?

Platform: Wii U

Developers: Nintendo EAD

Publishers: Nintendo

On Wednesday 18th December, Nintendo gave its final Nintendo Direct of the year, and in it announced the launched of a collection of minigames based on Nintendo Entertainment System favourites. This collection – made available on Wii U straight after the Nintendo Direct itself – would boast over 200 minigames of some of the most memorable moments of key games from Nintendo’s inaugural home console. But at £8.99 for a bunch of minigames that are over 20 years old, is NES Remix really worth your time and money, or is this just a cheap, dated version of WarioWare?

The main premise of the game takes much from the aforementioned game starring Mario’s arch-nemesis. Only this time, rather than the games being split by the type of action you have to do in the game, they are split by the games themselves. At the start 6 games are unlocked for you – Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Excite Bike and Balloon Fight. The idea being that each minigame takes place in one of these games, with a set specific objective, or multiple consecutive objectives. Like Warioware the games are short, sharp bursts of fun, with you up against the clock.

NES Remix Review | Old Dogs, New Tricks?

When you complete a minigame, you are awarded a ranking out of 3 stars based on your clearance time, tapping into the Angry Birds perfectionist in all of us to pick up the maximum ranking on each minigame. More stars mean more unlocks of minigames, as well as unlocking different games to play – such as The Legend of Zelda and Ice Climbers. However perhaps what’s more rewarding, is collecting stars also adds to the special ‘NES Remix’ list of minigames.

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - PS4 Review

Author:
Brendan Griffiths
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, PS4, PS4 games, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - PS4 Review

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

If you’re a late comer to the Assassin’s Creed series, or your interest for it has waned in recent years, this is the game for you. It’s also an essential purchase for any graphics-devouring next-gen console owners out there, as it’s a visual powerhouse from start to finish.

The story sees you essentially playing a game, within a game. You’re some sort of beta tester at Abstergo Entertainment, using the DNA-memory technology seen in the series beforehand to relive the memories of a famous line of Assassin’s. Rather than trying to save the world from Templars as Desmond Miles, this time you’re running through the life events of one Caribbean-based, Welsh pirate, Edward Kenway, to create a video game. It’s very Meta and inside knowledge of past events is handy for the little snippets of information you may find, but newcomers shouldn’t feel left out. There’s always a quick glance at Wikipedia if you need to catch up on the finale of the previous game(s).

The modern day framing device isn’t very intrusive and for the most part, you’re free to enjoy the action and narrative like it was a classic tale of pirates, beards and booty. Kenway is a livelier character than Connor in almost every way, but Ubisoft have sensibly avoided making him a Jack Sparrow clone.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - PS4 Review

Kenway isn’t born into the Assassin’s Order, he just falls into it – after stabbing one of them and stealing his clothes. From there he uses his new skills and ever-growing notoriety to help his fellow pirates against the tyranny of Spain and Britain. At the end of the day though, he just wants to earn his fortune.

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Bravely Default Review | A Glittering End To The 3DS' Golden Year

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
3DS, 3DS Games, JRPG, Silicon Studio, Square Enix

Bravely Default Review | A Glittering End To The 3DS' Golden Year

Platform: 3DS

Developer: Silicon Studio

Publisher: Square Enix

Without the Final Fantasy label holding it back, Bravely Default is free to inject new life into the stagnating JRPG formula.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Final Fantasy really needs to take a break for a while, giving Square Enix room to experiment with exciting new ideas. Bravely Default is this year's case in point, a spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes Of Light that gives us the comfortable airship-sailing, crystal-locating, power-levelling experience we know and love, yet pushes the boat out on sweeping innovations to the combat, underlying RPG systems and 3DS hardware features. Legendary artist Akihiko Yoshida has run rampant, creating a breathtaking watercolour world to explore and enjoy.

Blending the old with the new was a risky business, but the result is truly superb... and yet another reason why you probably ought to own a 3DS. Seriously. I won't stop banging on about it until I Streetpass you.

Bravely Default Review | A Glittering End To The 3DS' Golden Year

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Ring Runner: Flight Of The Sages Review | The Epic Space Adventure You've Never Heard Of, But Should Be Playing

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
PC, PC games, Ring Runner: Flight Of The Sages, Triple B Titles

Ring Runner: Flight Of The Sages Review | The Epic Space Adventure You've Never Heard Of, But Should Be Playing

Platform: PC (£6.99)

Developer: Triple B Titles

Ring Runner: Flight Of The Sages is worlds away from your average space shoot 'em up. It looks like a fairly nondescript Asteroids clone on a cursory inspection, but as you can probably tell from that confusing and fussy title, there's a lot going on here.

This recklessly ambitious indie project is thirty hours of epic adventure spread throughout an enormous galaxy, buoyed up with writing of quality you never see in this genre. Its mechanics take inspiration from action RPGs, creating a versatile framework of attacks and classes supported by ship customisation comprehensive enough to make Chris Roberts blush. It's singleplayer, cooperative, competitive, procedural and beautiful. Ring Runner took more than half a decade to make, during which time three sibling developers stuffed it with everything they could possibly think of, from Steamworks support to fully-featured multiplayer that's as engaging as any MOBA out there.

Put simply, Ring Runner might be the best £6.99 you'll spend this month... even though you've probably never heard of it.

Ring Runner: Flight Of The Sages Review | The Epic Space Adventure You've Never Heard Of, But Should Be Playing

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Doki-Doki Universe Review | The Human Condition

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Cross-buy, Indie Games, PS Vita games, PS3 games, PS4 games, Sony

Doki-Doki Universe Review | The Human Condition

Platforms: PS4 | PS3 | PS Vita (Cross-Buy)

Developer: HumaNature Studios

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

QT3 has been waiting thirty-two years for the return of the human family who abandoned him, leaving the poor mechanoid stranded on a tiny asteroid with no-one but a sentient balloon for company. God only knows how long he would have stayed there had a talking alien oblong named Jeff not turned up and informed QT3 that his entire robot line is under threat of being scrapped.

This is how Doki-Doki Universe -- a new title from the creators of ToeJam and Earl -- begins: with you (as QT3) being told that unless you trot off on an intergalactic adventure and learn about what it means to be human, you and all of your robot chums will be recycled. It'd probably be fairly dark if everything wasn't so incredibly colourful, and the landscapes didn't look like they were drawn by a children's book illustrator.

Doki-Doki Universe Review | The Human Condition

Things get progressively weirder from then on.

There's not really a word to describe what sort of a genre Doki-Doki Universe inhabits. I suppose it shares a number of features with adventure games, and there are some light puzzle elements to be found here, but really as far as I can tell, it's a game about empathy and connections and relationships. Tasked with discovering what "humanity" means, you take QT3 from hand-drawn planet to hand-drawn planet, introducing yourself to the weird and wonderful array of characters to be found upon each rock. 

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review | A Tribute to the Past

Author:
Chris Hyde
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
3DS Games, Action Games, Nintendo, Zelda

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review | A Tribute to the Past

Platforms: 3DS

Developers: Nintendo

Publishers: Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my first ever Zelda game. It will always hold a special place in my heart not only for being the game that introduced me to one of the greatest franchises I ever have had the pleasure of playing, but also for being a fantastic game in its own right. So when a straight sequel was announced, I have no shame in revealing that I was very excited - kiddie at Christmas excited.

But how would I find a sequel to a game that I have placed on a pedestal for two whole decades? Would it be able to live up to the game I held so dear, and would there be enough difference in this game to make it a classic in its own right?

Like most Zelda games, we begin with Link oversleeping – Hylean heroes apparently need their ten hours of beauty sleep a night. After being woken to go and do some work, our hero gets accidentally caught up in a very familiar plot involving kidnap of Sage descendants to a mysterious parallel land. It’s up to our hero to collect some well-known jewels, and a famous sword to go off after them.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Review | A Tribute to the Past

So yes, story-wise this won’t win any awards for individuality, in fact its parallel to Link to the Past’s story is equalled in the mirroring that also occurs between Hyrule and the game’s mysterious parallel land known as Lorule. And Lorule itself is essentially the Dark World from Link to the Past, right down to its music, design and enemies.

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Darkout Review | Despairia

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Allgraf, PC, PC games, Sandbox games, Survival

Darkout Review | Despairia

Platform: PC

Developer: Allgraf

Publisher: KISS Ltd

Darkout creates atmosphere better than any crafting sandbox game I've ever played.

Though heavily influenced by Terraria and Minecraft, this new procedural indie effort swaps lurid voxels for dense backgrounds and a rich colour palette, stranding us on a twilight forest world where shadowy predators hunt us through rippling bioluminescent foliage. Our unlucky astronaut is forced to subsist from the most primitive basics, crafting primitive shelters and tools from whatever they can find before eventually bringing outrageous future technology to bear, all while desperately trying to keep the lights on. There's a sense of real purpose, of threat, despair and desperation, that you rarely get from a procedural craft'em up.

Darkout Review | Despairia

Mind you, the player character model sticks out like a sore thumb: a clunky cutesy cartoon caricature who undoes almost all of Allgraf's good work in an instant. They've promised to improve the art assets across the board, but I'm afraid that this is a symptom of Darkout's biggest flaw.

Despite not being an Early Access title, it's neither complete nor fully ready yet.

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Peggle 2 Review | The Only Prescription?

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
EA, Peggle 2, PopCap, Xbox One Games

Peggle 2 Review | The Only Prescription?

Platform: Xbox One (timed exclusive)

Developer: PopCap Games

Publisher: EA

In almost every way that counts, Peggle 2 is exactly what we need it to be. What I need it to be. Another hit, another fix, just a bit more of that sweet Pegglin' action to calm the shakes and stop my teeth itching. A prescription for the Extreme Fever we've all been suffering from these last few years.

PopCap's beloved Bagatelle-meets-Pachinko-meets-psychadelic-insanity timesink is is still as enjoyable and inexplicably addictive as ever. Flinging balls at little coloured pegs shouldn't be this much fun, yet Peggle 2 once again nails the middle ground between chance and skill. Superb ball physics allow experienced players to line up and call the perfect trick shot, while most of us enjoy the thrill of a one in a million chance coming good with random desperate punts. Whatever your style, nailing all of the orange pegs results in a crescendo of classical music, fireworks and ridiculous shenanigans that makes us feel warm and tingly all over.

What? You know it's true.

Peggle 2 Review | The Only Prescription?

As you'd expect from a next-gen debut title, Peggle 2 is also very shiny indeed. It's crisp, colourful and utterly gorgeous, oozing both class and painstaking attention to detail alongside rampant hilarity by the bucketload. The five characters look fantastic thanks to big expressive animated portraits, reacting to your shots in all manner of silly ways. Returning unicorn Bjorn prances and whinnies, farting out rainbows and magically throwing up the horns with his... horn. Jeff the troll quotes The Dude as he relaxes with a cold pint, all while his goat pals get so amped in the background that their heads explode. Zombie girl Luna's jaw drops so hard that it falls off. Each master is absolutely packed with personality, though of course, they aren't just pretty faces.

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Knack Review | Ruined Relic

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Action Games, Platformers, PS4, PS4 games, Sony

Knack Review | Ruined Relic

Platforms: PS4

Developers: Sony Japan Studio

Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment

Mark Cerny. Architect not only of beloved IPs such as Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, and Spyro the Dragon, but also of the PlayStation 4 itself. This smiling genteel man has been one of the most visible exponents of innovative design over the years, no more so than in the past twelve months as Sony had him take the stage time and time again to tell us that the PS4 was focused on one thing, and one thing only: games.

With such a litany of references and credits, and ably supported by Sony Japan Studio -- an outfit although sometimes lacking in execution and polish brought us the fantastic ideas behind games such as Gravity Rush and Tokyo Jungle -- when we learned that Cerny would be heading up a crack team of developers to produce something for the PS4, we all got rather excited.

And then Knack turned up.

Sure, Knack is pretty to look at. Constructed of chunks and shards of minerals and relics, the titular character is a wonderful sight to behold -- an impressive avatar to demonstrate the power in particle rendering and animation that the PlayStation 4 can bring to the table. He trots around brightly coloured landscapes, from ice caves to lava plateaus and gloriously realised, verdant temperate areas, with a fixed camera harking back to days gone by when we'd be controlling a sprightly marsupial on the PSOne. When you open chests stuffed with relic pieces, and Knack absorbs them into his form and swells in size, it's hard not to be a little impressed by the graphical trickery. The textures are gorgeous, the clean, Pixar-esque feel to it all is aesthetically delightful, and Knack at least looks the part.

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Contrast PS4 Review | Shadow Starlets

Author:
Brendan Griffiths
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Platform games, PS4, PS4 games

Contrast PS4 Review | Shadow Starlets

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | 360 | PC

Developer: Compulsion Games

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Contrast has been thrust into the limelight of the PS4's launch thanks to its inclusion as a free game for all PS+ subscribers. And given that said subscription is required to play the PS4 online, it may be getting a bigger audience than it expected on opening night. No pressure then.

The game's setup is an unusual one from the start as you control the odd pairing of Didi -the young girl- and Dawn, a female stage performer. More unusually, the other characters in the game don't seem to see Dawn, and they only appear as shadows. This is the norm though as we see Didi talk with her parents in their shadow form throughout.

Contrast PS4 Review | Shadow Starlets

The setting is based in the jazz age and has a distinct noir flavour thanks to the shadows and scene-setting music. The story and acting border on cliché for the movie genre, but compared to most gaming setups it’s hard not to fall in love with this classic tale of gangsters, jazz singers the circus and family all seen though the eyes of a child.

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NBA 2K14 PS4 Review | BALLIN'!

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
2K Sports, NBA 2K14, PS4, PS4 games, Sports Games, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

NBA 2K14 PS4 Review | BALLIN'!

Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One

Developers: Visual Concepts

Publishers: 2K Sports

The generation jump has, by and large, seen much of the same again in the short while since the Xbox One and PS4's releases. We've had a dearth of truly essential exclusives on both sides, coupled with generation-bridging third party extravagances that, though shinier on next-gen tech, are largely feature-complete and cheaper on old machines. What this had meant is that it feels as though we're still awaiting a number of studios to really commit to the future consoles and truly elevate their games to the next level.

Thankfully, Visual Concepts are on the ball. Sorry for the puns.

NBA 2K14 arrives on PS4 and Xbox One in markedly different form to the game that greeted PS3 and Xbox 360 owners. Instead of being a slightly tuned up version of NBA 2K13, what we have here is a title that has been resolutely overhauled both on and off of the court to striking effect. It hasn't all gone entirely swimmingly, but what we do have here is a truly next-gen title that shows great promise.

If you watched my initial impression video for NBA 2K14 on PS4, you'll no doubt have borne witness to my excited reaction to the player models and exceptionally fluid animations. Visual Concepts have always been excellent at player capture and recreating the spinning, Eurostepping balletic grace of a player such as Kobe or D-Wade. Creating a zippy point guard and giving him a devastating, Iverson-esque crossover has long been a delight. But here, on machines with more power and memory, the animations and level of physical detail on the players have been ramped up to an impressive degree. There's a solidity and physicality to proceedings that is very welcome, aided by an on-court soundscape that has been recaptured and given wider variety and impact.

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Zoo Tycoon Review | Kinect With The Animals

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Kinect games, Microsoft Studios, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Zoo Tycoon Review | Kinect With The Animals

Platform: Xbox One

Developer: Frontier Developments

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Zoo Tycoon isn't your typical console launch title.

It's an oasis of calm and entry-level accountancy in a cacophony of tyre smoke and bullets, a sim designed for all the family. And a Kinectimals sequel. Frontier Developments have created an odd little title that seems to be at odds with itself, hectic micro-management one moment and making faces at chimpanzees with Kinect the next. As such, Zoo Tycoon attempts the impossible: finding common ground between fans of simulations and casual players who just want to make a fun little zoo and play with its inhabitants.

Whether that middle ground actually exists is up for debate, but Zoo Tycoon still manages to be a charming compromise that anyone with a love of animals - or just a playful spirit- will enjoy regardless of age or ability.

Zoo Tycoon Review | Kinect With The Animals

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Need For Speed: Rivals Review | Nearly Next-Gen

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
EA, PC, PC games, PS3, PS3 games, PS4, PS4 games, Racing Games, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 games, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Need For Speed: Rivals Review | Nearly Next-Gen

Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 | PS4 | Xbox One (reviewed)

Developer: Ghost Games

Publisher: EA

Need For Speed: Rivals ought to be the best racing game on PS4 and Xbox One. On paper it already is: an enormous open world where street racers challenge each other to reckless head-to-head showdowns, all as the police strive to shut them down hard and fast with an insane range of gorgeous tricked-out supercars. It's a fun factory, a powerslide paradise, underpinned by the AllDrive system that brings players together into a single seamless session on both sides of the law. Ghost Games have the pedigree to pull it off, consisting primarily of Criterion veterans, but the reality match the mission statement?

Nearly.

Everything nearly works as intended, it's almost brilliant, but unfortunately you can feel the limitations of the PS3 and Xbox 360 holding Rivals back where it counts.

Need For Speed: Rivals Review | Nearly Next-Gen

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Forza Motorsport 5 Review | Drive Shiny

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Reviews
Tags:
Microsoft Studios, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Forza Motorsport 5 Review | Drive Shiny

Platform: Xbox One

Developer: Turn 10

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

For many Xbox One owners, Forza 5 is "next-gen," the game that definitely marks the end of one era and the start of the next.

It really is a thing of beauty; the diamond-sharp, crystal-crisp action more drool-inducingly gorgeous than the orange McLaren P1 on the screen. Sure, the off-track detail isn't quite as impressive as those early showcase builds, but we're still able to pick out individual blades of grass as we barrel past at insane speeds, and ogle the tiniest reflections in the bonnet or the inside of the windscreen. It's stunning, £429 stunning.

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Forza 5 is built on racing pedigree too. Turn 10's series is famed for its sweet spot between accessibility and ruthless simulation, offering a range of scalable assists and a rewind function to let everyone find their automotive happy place. For me, it's chucking a BMW M3 sideways through the streets of Prague with a braking-only racing line and automatic gearbox. For others, it will be cut-throat authenticity in a track special or F1 car, carefully managing tyres and collisions to stay out of the pit lane. Every vehicle is unique and treated with reverence, regardless of its age or horsepower, meaning that there's a niche for everyone.

You can find it, whatever it is... though getting there might take a little more time than you're used to.

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