Farcry 4 Review

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I can sum up this review in 7 words: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For the fourth game in the Far Cry series, Ubisoft have undoubtedly played it safe. Whilst this leads to a predictable game with similar scenarios to the last instalment, it can’t really be considered a bad thing when the experience was so great in the first place.

This time around you’re exploring Kyrat, a fictional place that’s based on the Himalayas. As you go to return your mother’s ashes to her place of birth, you find yourself swept up in a civil war, helping liberate the country from warlords and drugs barons. Taking a similar leaf out of 2 and 3, the idea of the reluctant hero, an everyday guy who gets dragged into something they weren’t expecting, is played well here, with the history and lineage of the player’s character leading to a good story that’s intrigues as it plays out.

FC4_Screen_Himalayas_Sniper_Merc_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889594The mass of quests, treasure and ‘collectomania’ factor are all still fully implemented in Far Cry 4, and it felt more than ever that there was always something constantly to do. With events always happening, I found it difficult when I first started playing to actually get anywhere with the main quests, as it always felt like someone needed rescuing, or a convoy needed attacking. Once I learned that these merely added to the flavour of the game and didn’t come with any real consequences, I was able to carry on missions, ignoring them if I needed to. This game really is a time sink on a level of Skyrim, where that ‘one last mission’ turns into a string of things that leave you bleary-eyed in the early hours of the morning.

So why am I not fully convinced? The problem with Far Cry 4 isn’t the game itself, more of a feeling that I’ve done all this before. Ubisoft really hit on something special with the third instalment, and it seems as if they’re acutely aware of this. Had this been a substantial DLC pack, I think this would have blown minds. But as a standalone product, it doesn’t really iterate from the previous game. The environment is too similar to the Rook Islands of 3, and whilst hunting Honey Badgers is insanely fun and the fortresses provide a tougher challenge, I spent a lot of my play time feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

FC4_Screen_KYRAT_Lake_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889614But if so many people loved the third game, why change it too much? The Far Cry experience itself was already fantastic. The perfect level of combat, exploration and craziness was achieved in the third game, and Ubisoft are seemingly keen to repeat the success, even if that means essentially putting out the same game with a different skin.

Far Cry 3 completely nailed the feeling of exploration in an interesting jungle setting, and 4 does the same. There are small improvements to be found throughout, with special attention given to the traversal of terrain. The new grappling hook mechanic helps with the increased verticality present, and the Microlight is a great way to travel when large distances need to be covered. These little tweaks and refinements do add up, making for a game with less frustrating moments when trying to explore every single part of the map.

FC4_Screen_ShangriLa_Hunter_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889640In the moments where the game does stray from its predecessor, the game becomes properly interesting. I have no intention of spoiling anything for you here, but it feels like these pieces are some of the breakout moments, changing the pace of the gameplay and taking you out of familiar territory. I kept playing assuming that this level of familiarity and repetition from 3 was a simple tool for setting up something major to happen, but it never arrived. I was waiting for the plot twist that was never around the corner, and so left feeling slightly cheated. The series is known for going down obscure and awesome paths (Blood Dragon, anyone?), and it would have been great to have seen it here.

FC4_Screen_KYRAT_Sniper_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889621Ultimately, I’ve never been this disappointed in a game I can’t put down. I’m absolutely loving my time in Kyrat, enjoying the varied missions and widespread activities and quests, but I’ve done it all before. The leap from 2 to 3 in the franchise was a substantial one, cementing Far Cry as a force to be reckoned with in the console world. Here it feels that they’ve taken a year off, resting on their laurels.

But for all its laziness, Far Cry 4 is still a brilliant game. One which shouldn’t be judged by those that came before it. If you’ve never played a game in the series, this is the definitive way to experience Far Cry. If you played 3 and loved it, then think of this as a refined expansion pack to quench your thirst. Although I fear there isn’t enough here to convert any non-believers to the cause, this is unquestionably good, solid fan service. Just don’t underestimate those Honey Badgers.

Score: 8/10

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has been a complete, out-of-nowhere surprise for me. For both good and bad. From playing every single game in the franchise since Modern Warfare, I thought I knew exactly how Advanced Warfare would pan out. As soon as I clicked start, all my expectations and preconceptions instantly changed.

For the first time since Call of Duty 4, it’s the campaign mode that really stands out with this game. I’d heard early reports about how good it was, so instead of my usual practice of getting stuck straight into the multiplayer, I started on single-player first. I’m glad I did.

The story is great. It doesn’t venture too far from the traditional Call of Duty set up, but not since Black Ops has the franchise been so successful in implementing the formula. It’s better than Black Ops. The wide variety of locales feels interesting, but never forced. In previous games I’ve found jumping from regions and environments to be jarring and at times laughable, but here it slotted in with the plot seamlessly. They picked some really great locations, too. I particularly enjoyed the Greek town of Santorini, the narrow and winding backstreets and claustrophobic white terraces perfectly portraying a sense of place.

7135_08_0011_s20140903-0031_1412351264It’s been a while since I’ve noticed cut-scenes, but these are easily the best I’ve ever seen. Every single animation is fluid and life-like, and as expected – Kevin Spacey completely steals the show. He’s basically his character of Frank Underwood from TV show House of Cards. Friendly yet menacing, helpful yet distrustful. Sledgehammer has used the actor perfectly here, getting them fully immersed in the project rather than a lazy afternoon voice-over session, pinned to another actor’s mo-cap work. You can see from mannerisms and expressions that you’re watching Kevin Spacey, his acting pedigree and ability pushing the series into a new era of narrative and direction.

Levels are well-paced and absolutely perfect in length. It’s been a while since I’ve had ‘just one more level’ syndrome, but I found myself rubbing my eyes in the early hours of the morning, rationalising how I could squeeze in another mission before bed time. They’ve broken it down well into chunks of fun, manageable gameplay that leaves you wanting more. For the first time in ages, I also spent time away from my console thinking about it. You know a game’s good when you’re at work, counting down the hours until you can rush back home to get back into it.

Unlike most games that either stray too far into the ridiculous or play it ridiculously safe, the equipment and weaponry in Advanced Warfare is fantastic. It all feels grounded in reality, an insight into the future of technology rather than a leap of imagination. The EXO suit skills and abilities are a bit hit and miss, but stuff like the mute charge, the stealth camo and the grenades are phenomenal. The breach moments are really well-thought out, and the progression of equipment is nice and gradual, using the full arsenal of tricks and abilities by the end without feeling like a continuous struggle uphill to master everything.

7135_08_0042_s20140903-0031_1412351267For all its vision and advancement in the campaign mode, it’s sadly let down by an all-too-familiar multiplayer. But really and crucially, it’s not the game’s fault. Call of Duty is stuck in a paradox from which escaping is very difficult. Let’s look at it two ways.

Firstly, the series is widely renowned as a massive landmark in FPS multiplayer, especially for consoles, due to its introduction of class-levelling systems and loadouts in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The collectible nature of weapon camos and customisations it introduced broke new ground when it was released 7 years ago. It quickly gained a loyal, fanatical fan base and set the tone and pace of future games to come.

But in today’s landscape, it’s the Call of Duty series itself that is the traditional, stale experience. Games have moved on, improving and updating the formula. And here I’m looking at Destiny, Bungie’s FPS MMO, in particular. I think it’s worth mentioning other games in this review as they are going to be undoubtedly compared. And rightly so. If people are going to sink a lot of time into a levelling system to improve and upgrade characters, they want to make sure they’re doing it for the best game they can.

With Destiny, players create characters and gain equipment much more in an MMO style, further expanding on the RPG elements Call of Duty first experimented with. Bungie took this idea to the next logical stage, and created a character that is uniquely yours, taking it all the way through campaign missions and into the multiplayer arena. In Destiny, I truly cared about my armour, or the weapon you had been using for countless hours. After that experience, it feels a little backwards coming back to the simple façade of character creation, new items of clothing and emblems are little more than token gestures of time spent in-game. It’s not that Call of Duty has done anything particularly wrong with its multiplayer, it’s just not kept up with the times.

And if we look at where it’s tried to innovate, it’s already been beaten to the punch. One of the key things it’s tried to change up, and indeed the first message it displays as you start multiplayer, is the verticality and EXO abilities. They promise to be ‘the biggest change to multiplayer in the game’s 10 year history’. Sadly, not only has this already been done, but it’s been done better. Titanfall, released earlier this year by Respawn (a company made up of ex-Call of Duty developers), completely nailed the scale and verticality that Call of Duty is going for here. Titanfall is bigger, better designed and pulls off the futuristic setting better in the context of multiplayer. It feels better to control, and feels closer to achieving what Advanced Warfare was going for.

Destiny and Titanfall aren’t perfect, and Advanced Warfare feels like the middle-ground between both, but not in a good way. By sticking to its standard approach and adding variety by tacking-on even more features and weapons, multiplayer feels more bloated than ever. And with its competition innovating and expanding, Call of Duty’s multiplayer is simply out-gunned, outclassed and outdone by the others.

7135_08_0048_s20140903-0031_1412351268I say all of this with a particularly heavy heart, as I’ve absolutely loved previous instalment’s multiplayer mode. I’ve prestiged in every game with the exception of Modern Warfare 3, so I’d like to think I have some weight to my opinion. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just lost its edge and innovation that once made it so addictive and compelling.

So should you go out and buy Advanced Warfare? You absolutely should. But not for the reasons I initially thought. For the first time in ages, Call of Duty’s campaign is back on top to stake its claim as the most exciting and dramatic FPS around. A stale and traditional multiplayer lets the experience down overall, but this fails to put any dampeners on what is a thrilling, must-play experience for the single-player. And we still have Zombie mode to come. Ooh-Rahh.

 

Score: 8/10

 

Sunset Overdrive Review

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For such an original-looking game, Sunset Overdrive is anything but. Tried and tested formulas, gameplay we’ve seen a thousand times before and the kind of sandbox experience we’ve come to expect over the years. So if I’ve seen all before, why can’t I put it down!?

The answer is execution. This game does everything it’s trying to achieve, and it does it almost perfectly. The game feels balanced, fun and a pleasure to navigate. With the exception of some mini-games, every part of the experience felt empowering to control.

Before I even played this game, I knew it would live or die based on the way it handled. Traversal across the landscape is the single most important thing here, and I’m pleased to say that it’s one of the game’s biggest strengths. I’d go as far to say that this game handles better than any other game of its kind. Jet Set Radio is one of my favourite games, and I’ve played nearly every Assassin’s Creed instalment, but I know that there have been plenty of times that I’ve got frustrated when characters miss ledges or rails, awkwardly stopping due to a glitch or unfair collision detection. I have yet to experience this whilst bounding through Sunset City. Generous rail clipping and features – such as the air boost, means you always feel like you can go anywhere, and do anything. It’s an empowering game, which undoubtedly makes it a better one.

1-herker-heroI initially thought that the selection of weapons was a little sparse, as I was expecting an absolute mountain of weaponry that would make Borderlands jealous. But Insomniac knows exactly what they’re doing here. Each weapon is not only different and fairly balanced, but absolutely stunning. The Roman Candle firework launcher explodes with colour and noise, whilst bowling ball launcher ‘The Dude’ whirrs and clicks, launching a colourful sphere of death right into an opponent’s face.

In Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac has mastered the art of difficulty. The game isn’t hard, at all. But this is definitely a conscious design decision, and one that works brilliantly. They want you to play the entire game, but they know that these days, everything is competing for your attention. This has led to a game with a lot of content, but all achievable and attainable. If you see a collectable or a power-up, you’re able to get it. Games like Crackdown tried to make players stay by showing them content they’d have to work ages for to reach. For the most part, Sunset Overdrive gives you everything, right from the start. This instant gratification is clever, as the features that unlock over time are welcome additions, rather than visible barriers halting your progress.

sunset-overdrive-review-las-catrinasDepending on your perspective, the game’s post-modern style could verge on the heavy-handed, whilst some might find it downright annoying. I’m a big fan of games not taking themselves too seriously, and so whilst I enjoyed it, I can see that some people may get tired of this gimmick. It’s a great way of dealing with the stumbling block of game design though. It’s often questioned by the characters where the Narrator’s voice is coming from, and why quests are often convenient in making you fetch multiple items. I really enjoyed this approach, but again it may not be for everyone.

One of the most impressive aspects of Sunset Overdrive is its scope and size, something which is clearly taking advantage of the new hardware. I love the ability for everyone to play games like Destiny and Call of Duty on any console they have, but it’s great to finally see the AAA, current-gen-only games starting to come out, without being hampered by previous limitations. Here, it really shows. The play area is HUGE, I mean genuinely massive. I initially thought the majority of it was just set dressing, or some kind of graphical trickery. I was expecting a loading screen the closer I got to the further points of the map, or the textures to ‘pop’ in as the disguise was lifted. But nothing of the sort. It plays incredibly smoothly, and it’s all there waiting for you to explore it. Similarly, the amount of enemies on-screen at once is insane. They all behave different, all are unique and it leads to some genuine ‘wow’ moments as you play.

sunset-overdrive-mugger-odOverall, Sunset Overdrive is nothing new. But the game knows this, and in fact it plays upon it. It references everything from Breaking Bad to Portal, in a style that is basically Scott Pilgrim with guns. But by doing this so blatantly, it turns a sloppy homage into a brilliant, ‘how-did-they-get-away-with-this’ piece of gaming fun. There’s that old phrase, ‘Talent borrows. Genius steals.’ And Sunset Overdrive is stealing absolutely everything. I wouldn’t quite say it’s at genius level, but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had so far with my Xbox One.

Score: 8.5/10

Assassin’s Creed: Unity Preview

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“I was wrong”. The most elusive statement on the internet. A sentence so rarely seen online that many refuse to believe it exists. Many Youtube commentators have even removed the letter keys required for this phrase from their keyboard. To mark such an occasion, I’ll say it again: I. Was. Wrong.

A while back I wrote an opinion piece on Assassin’s Creed: Unity, criticising it’s choice of the French Revolution instead of an Far East Asian theme that had been rumoured for some time. I declared the setting of Paris to be boring, and that this game would lead to further stagnation of the yearly franchise.

Well, from what I’ve seen since then, I am gloriously incorrect. Since that E3 demo, Unity has been firmly on my radar, and is now edging into ‘day-one purchase’ status. Every single update is showing that their initial, seemingly impossible promises are being delivered.

ACU_screen_73_SP_District_IleDeLaCite_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889441It’s been a long time since graphics have truly stood out to me. We’re in an age where games all look incredible, and it’s often easy to overlook just how pretty even smaller budget games look. We’ve become spoilt brats, squabbling over 900p resolutions (It honestly doesn’t matter guys) and the difference 2 frames-per-second makes. Games have become so great-looking, and the improvements have become so gradual, that we don’t often notice graphics in a game.

Unity, for me, looks like it’s about to make a giant leap forward. Watching videos of the new Anvil engine in action, It’s hard to believe the level of detail and intricacy the buildings are now showing. Rusted pipes, fully textured brickwork, Incredible torn fabrics. Assassin’s Creed looks properly next-gen. Ryse took the initial steps towards this, but it did so by placing the player in a guided corridor. With this kind of sandbox game, to achieve the level of graphical polish that we are seeing, it’s looking a new benchmark in gaming graphics is about to be set.

ACU_screen_80_COOP_Heist_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889511The narrative trailer recently released also shows us the potential strength the game’s story has. Notorious for it’s complex and often drawn-out storytelling, in the past it felt as if Ubisoft perhaps weren’t ready for the runaway success of the franchise. Trying to tell the plot over so many games took it’s toll, and made a mess of a once interesting approach. After numerous mis-steps with the sub-plots between 2 and 3, I’m interested to see if Ubisoft will pull it back.

And they have the perfect place to start. The French Revolution seems almost made for this franchise. Riots and chaos in the streets making for a perfect distraction for you to create havoc, and the themes of uprising and power shift have been told countless times throughout the franchise already. If Ubisoft can deliver a game that tells it’s story clearly and concisely, the setting and powerful drama that actually unfolded for real will take care of the rest.

ACU_screen_84_SP_District_LesInvalides_GC_140813_10amCET_1407889558If I have any reservations, one would definitely be the extent of the series mini-games. When I played AC4, it felt a bit bloated with the level of side-quests and bits and pieces I had to mess around with. I’d be on a way to a mission, when all of a sudden there’d be an island to explore, or a fortress to conquer, or a shark to hunt, or a treasure to find. The list went on. This kind of gameplay can be done well (See the Fallout series), but Black Flag felt more of a chore. Like Grand Theft Auto 4, the side missions felt like work, dragging down the thrust and adventurous aspect of the game. If Ubisoft can concentrate more on the story and game itself, rather than making it a do-everything sim game, the series will get back to it’s glory days of Assassin’s Creed 2, undoubtedly the series’ finest hour.

We wait and see if Assassin’s Creed Unity can deliver the gameplay and action to match it’s undoubtedly incredible visuals, but I’m optimistic. And if this is the kind of game I get to look forward to and gawp at until that Ninja/Samurai instalment comes along, it’s looking like it’ll at least be an enjoyable wait.

Destiny Review Part 2

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Welcome to part 2 of the Frugal Gaming Destiny review! As Destiny’s content differs the more you play, our review is in 3 parts. At this point I’ve just reached level 20, completed the story missions and have spent a good few hours with it’s competitive multiplayer modes. And the main problem I’m having? I want more.

It seems the main criticism Destiny is receiving is from a lack of content, but I disagree with this. On the surface, it might seem that 4 worlds and 20-ish missions is a little light. But as I progress, the replay factor is becoming more and more apparent. Heroic Strike missions where difficutly is ramped up. Random world encounters that band together everyone currently in that zone. Weekly and daily specialised missions to earn special loot. There’s always something to do, and as the DLC inevitably starts to roll out, Destiny will only continue to expand and grow.

No, when I say I want more, it’s because Destiny is so satisfying to play. I simply don’t want it to stop. I’ve battled every alien race now, and each one is different and challenging. You can’t get close to the Cabal. Don’t aim for the Vex’s heads. These little nuances and AI differences make for a real variety, and keep the gamer constantly on his toes. An MMO is always going to be repetitive in it’s nature, but the gameplay is so satisfying and balanced here that this isn’t an issue. Bungie have spent their years refining the FPS, and it shows all throughout Destiny.

I would have liked to have seen more variation and enemy types within each species, but then I stop and think. If there’s 4/5 enemy types for each faction, then we’re already looking at more enemy types than any of the Halo games. Once again, I want more. Not because there isn’t sufficient content there already, but because it’s so good, I don’t want it to end.

Mars_patrol_01_1410173760The story (or complete lack of it) is undoubtedly a disappointment. I can’t recall any of the characters names, or indeed anything that happened during my playthrough. I love narrative in games, so this was especially disappointing. The game does well in setting the scene and tone through the design of the levels and of the warring factions, but it still felt like a large part of the game was missing due to a lack of narrative.

Another complaint I have is the complete lack of instruction or explanation the game gives to almost all of it’s mechanics. I’ve found myself collecting Spinmetal or Spirit Bloom, with absolutely no tips on what to do with them. It’s often the case that games these days hold a player’s hand far too much, but it feels that Destiny is trying to establish it’s own game language and methods without including the player. As time has passed I’ve found out processes and techniques from perseverance and other players, but it would have been nice if the game was able to show me these things from the start.

Moon_Story_Sword-of-Crota_02_1410174326As you can see, these criticisms are all fairly minor, as the game is fantastic. It’s deceptively complex in it’s scope and ambition, something for which perhaps it’s not given the full credit it deserves. As it’s combining the best bits of already great games, it’s hard to see Destiny as a new entity, rather a collection of already-done features. But Destiny IS doing something new, as this kind of game hasn’t been seen before. World of Warcraft has this kind of scope and world environments, but lacks the engaging gameplay and graphics. Call of Duty has this kind of graphical prowess and gunplay, but it’s nowhere near as in-depth and open-ended. As I continue to gain gear and delve further into the Crucible deathmatches, I see a game that still has a lot to offer, 20 hours in. I’ll be concluding my review in part 3, after I’ve played more of the higher-level level content and advanced further.

Destiny has started something that will only get better. Along with Titanfall and Watch Dogs, the next generation of gaming is off to a slower start than we initially expected, but the potential we are seeing is truly exciting. And I can’t wait to play more.

Score: 8/10

Destiny Review-In-Progress: Part 1

FNAC_Tower_1410173204_tif_jpgcopyAs is the trend in modern, super-cool reviews, I will be reviewing Destiny in stages. As it’s essentially an MMO, it would be a bit silly to try and give an opinion on the game after playing it for only a few levels. I have a feel for the game, but I’m fully aware that the gameplay can change and expand as classes and equipment advance.

In this review I’ll be talking about the general feel of the game in terms of approach and how it plays. I’ve played up to level 5, and have also played the Beta to it’s level cap of 8, so I feel that I currently have a fairly decent understanding of the game. In subsequent reviews I’ll be tackling the variety of levels, the content available and the high-end stages of the game. Right, excuses over! Let’s get down to business!

As you’re going to be shooting people for pretty much your entire time, the gunplay is pretty important. Everything they’ve learnt from Halo has been improved upon and changed for the better. I like Halo, but unloading clip after clip into covenant warriors got pretty old pretty fast. This isn’t in that vein, and although enemies don’t go down straight away, it’s a lot easier. They focus on swarming you with a mass of enemies, rather than a couple of unfairly-shielded ones. Every gun I’ve used so far has felt effective, with the heavy weapons and their limited ammo making for a fun meta-game of conserving ammo to use at the right time. I usually hate the ‘only 2 weapons at any time’ rule, but here it makes total sense. I became really attached to each gun I’d worked hard for, and so using them with minimal distractions allowed me to master them.

Mercury_burning-shrine_control_01_1410174062This kind of game was hinted at last generation. To draw comparisons to Borderlands are wholly appropriate, as at it’s core, Destiny is taking the FPS/RPG approach and running with it. The difference here is the execution, and creating a better, more encapsulating experience. Where Borderlands felt empty due to technology constraints, Destiny feels empty through a sense of desolation and forgotten worlds. When I was exploring the temple ruins on the moon, it felt like it’d been abandoned for centuries. The whole narrative of the game is perfectly pitched to push this further, the whole watcher/humanity on the brink of destruction storyline is so well conceived that all technological limitations seem to only help the game get it’s point across better.

The only time this atmosphere is broken somewhat is in multiplayer, where a flimsy attempt to try and explain why the guardians are fighting each other is given. If humanity really is on it’s last legs, it seems a bit daft that their last hope would spend their time beating each other up for a laugh. Still, the multiplayer is more than competent. The maps are well-designed, although it’s in the multiplayer that the Halo DNA lingers most. Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s certainly something we’ve seen before. The idea of gear and equipment unique to Deathmatch or Campaigns is a really nice touch, and will push players into playing all aspects of the game, as loot and rare items are the driving force behind Destiny.

As they’re so important, it’s great to see how much work has been put into customisation and gear. The eternal struggle for better gear and cooler-looking equipment is the driving force behind most MMO’s, and here it’s no different. The levelling system is well-balanced and offers strategic benefits to players, but it’s in the gear that Bungie have pretty much nailed it. That feeling of accomplishment when a tough boss drops a rare piece of armour is alive and well here, and throughout my time in the tower I often ran into players whose equipment put mine to shame, pushing me further to improve my stuff.

Moon_Story_The-Dark-Beyond_02_1410174379For someone who likes to mainly play alone, Destiny is really great for accommodating this style of play. The drop-in/drop-out system is well-built and robust, and means that I’m never waiting around to start a strike mission, or waiting on people I don’t even know to press a button. It’s levels are cleverly designed so communication with other players is largely visual. the narrative is driven by the game, so strangers who’ve only just met on the battlefield don’t spend large portions of time wondering where to go, but instead feel like they’re part of a story, of something bigger.

My main problem with MMO’s is a lack of story, and a lack of engaging gameplay. Destiny has addressed both of these, and has gone past the realms of a simple MMO, and into something different. As technology is increasing, it’s not just graphical fidelity and the number of enemies on-screen that is improving. Games are evolving, and becoming more interesting. They’re more encapsulating in their approach to providing players with a space to explore and enjoy.

In Destiny we have a game that has the potential levels of content depth and social elements, mixed with solid FPS mechanics and an engaging story. Destiny certainly doesn’t have it all, but it’s pretty close. If the story ramps up as the levels continue, I can see this game flourishing into a truly epic tale.

Score: Incoming With Updates

Metro: Redux Review

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As your gas mask fogs up, you look down at your watch. You have 3 minutes of air left. You’re 5 minutes away from safety. You have 1 magazine of ammunition left, and your torch has just run out of batteries. You see a creature in the distance running towards you, and the light goes out. If games are about atmosphere and tension, Metro: Redux is in a league of it’s own.

Originally 2 games, Metro: Redux is a reworked collection of both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, with improved graphics and general tweaks to make the experience better. I really enjoyed the games the first time round, so it was great to get another chance to delve into the tunnels of post-apocalyptic Moscow once again.

With the upscaled graphics and improved lighting, the game feels more claustrophobic and grimmer than ever. In terms of atmosphere, Redux absolutely nails it. Every single part of the world you’ve been plunged into feels authentic, from the train-car cities, to the condensation forming on your mask. The world is unpleasant, dank and utterly gripping.

Both games in the series are intriguing because of where they’ve come from, and the different outlook an international developer brings to it’s games. Ukraine-based 4A games approach things in a different way to most teams, and it’s refreshing to see. They just feel different, like you’re playing something fresh and exciting. An American or British developer could have easily fallen into the trap of making this a Fallout-clone, or pandering to the ‘dude-bro’ Call of Duty crowd by amping everything up. 4A stays firm, and makes a game that is slightly off-the-wall in terms of narrative and approach, and completely better for it. It’s an unsettling world, and the story and design decisions make this even more apparent.

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Metro Redux is wildly ambitious, and there’s times when the game can fall a little flat. Jarring animations or scripted events sometimes get stuck or feel wooden, and there’s balance issues between the weapons. I never once used the pressure-operated Ball Bearing rifle due to it being cumbersome and fiddly. But talking about the workings of the games is missing the point. They play well enough that these are only small issues. The real point of these games is just how unique and interesting they are.

It’s the different approach in storytelling and scenario that make this game something worth playing. Especially the first game, which although isn’t as advanced or as well-polished as Last Light, it’s story makes for a completely unique and exciting adventure. The game doesn’t take the turns your expecting, and it doesn’t try and instil this into the story by predictable plot twists. From the ground up, this game is built differently. It feels familiar, yet somehow different. This unsettling nature of gameplay and narrative marries with the nature of the game so well that it’s hard to think of how this game could work if tackled by a more mainstream developer. It’d be too fake, too polished, too normal.

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The Metro series will always have a hard time in getting a reputation, as it will inevitably (and incorrectly) be compared to games so different from what it’s aiming for. If we look at the post-apocalyptic, earth-has-gone-to-shit genre, it’s positively brimming with some of the best games you can buy. Metro:Redux is always going to have Fallout and The Last of Us hot on its heels, whether it likes or not. And although it doesn’t reach the emotional impact of TLOU, or the seemingly infinite scope of Fallout, the Metro games carve out a niche all of its own. They never try to be anything other than Metro. In doing this, they earn a place at the table, more than capable of delivering a rich, deep experience, totally different in approach and tone than anything currently out there.

The Metro series deserved the remastered treatment. We’re in an age of computer games where developers and publishers play it safe. They want to hold your hand. They want you to feel empowered. They want you to win. Metro: Redux doesn’t want any of this, but it demands your attention. In a world of safe-bets and sure-things, the Metro series stands apart, giving you an experience unlike anything else. You need to venture into the unforgiving depths of the Moscow Metro. You’ll be glad you did.

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Developer: 4A Games

Publisher: Deep Silver

Preview- The Destiny Beta

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The Moon dust has settled. The Sparrows have been switched off, and all Guardians have returned to The Tower. The Destiny Beta is now over, and with it the game now retreats into its final hibernation period, until its release on the 9th of September. And after the brief glimpse we saw over the past week, September cannot come soon enough.

I’m not going to go into details and boring lists of unlockables and classes, but Destiny does feel deep. The search for better gear and items is perfectly balanced between the achievable and desirable. I can confidently say that there are few developers currently working that could stand even the remotest chance of pulling this off. Bungie are one of them, and they are doing it extremely well. I coveted items from the Factions, whilst still enjoying the new weaponry I was getting at the time. I wanted to go further and the game nurtured this, teasing you of things to come, rather than hitting you with content gulfs between levels.

mars-02-destiny_1402057687One of the criticisms I did have was how similar the classes appeared. When my Hunter, a ‘lone-wolf who lives for the perfect shot’, was able to equip a rocket launcher from pretty much the start, I questioned how fair this was on the Heavy Titan class, and how in fact the only factors separating the 3 choices is the special abilities each class uses. Hopefully the class sub-divisions and later-game content will help in diverging players, that it’s more nuanced and subtle than we can currently observe.

On the surface, you could be forgiven dismissing Destiny as something already done. A Frankenstein’s Monster of other game parts, all cobbled together to reach multiple target audiences. But when you start going down this road of questioning, it’s then you realise the potential this game has.

Moon_-_Screenshot_3_1402057688The game is like Borderlands, yet it’s much bigger in scope and online functionality. The game is like World of Warcraft, yet it’s much more reaction-based and console-focused. The game is like Call of Duty, yet it’s more engaging and has more purpose to its multiplayer. Games have been borrowing and stealing aspects off those that came before them since time began, but here it’s different. It doesn’t feel like aspects of other games, rather the start of a whole new approach. Halo’s DNA lingers within it, but this is a different animal.

The real test will be in just how much content is going to be there for people to play, and how they can make it exciting for players. Russia was great to explore, and didn’t feel too repetitive. If they can provide enough content of that quality, and supplement it fiercely with DLC, this game has a real chance of laying down the 10-years-plus legacy it’s hoping for. Bring on September.

Written by Brapscallion.

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Some other Frugal Gamers wanted to add their thoughts, here what they had to say…….

PridedLlama

The hype for Destiny had completely passed me by, everything I had seen before the beta looked bland and rather uninteresting. Having gone hands on with the beta, my interest has been piqued but I’m still not quite 100% sold. It looks, plays, and sounds fantastic, but questions remain over the amount of content on offer in the full game. With just 4 locations confirmed to be included, I’m thinking this may get old fast but I truly hope I’m wrong. The story and the rather short length of the actual story missions also sent alarm bells ringing. I think narrative always struggles in MMO’s. It must be hard to create the same sort of emotional engagement that Bungie has done so well in previous single player games in such an open and shared world. That being said, the beta has taken me from no interest whatsoever to a planned digital purchase. I’m cautiously optimistic, but like a lot of new franchises of the last generation, I don’t expect it will hit its stride until the second instalment.

UglyGeezer

I was worried for Destiny, so this ‘Beta’ was a smart move from Activision/Bungie. They’re clearly confident in their product to be rolling it out so publically. There has been evidence in the past that these sorts of demo’s can hurt sales, I’ve seen nothing but the opposite in our own community.
On the back of this demo, I pre-ordered myself. It’s the closest thing I’ve played to Phantasy Star Online since the Dreamcast days, that makes me happy.

My hope? Content and variety, lots of modes, lots of variety.
My fears? That it was all a bit straight faced and serious and lacked the laughs.

FrugalDaz

I was impressed. The game play was solid, the games looked beautiful and captured my interest at least. I hate RPG’s and that silly area with the shops and all got on my tits. If I want a gun, give me a gun… Don’t make me run around an annoying RPG village looking for a shopkeeper to buy it.

Metro: Redux Preview

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With definitive editions and re-releases, I’m often left wondering why they exist.

Do we really need another Tomb Raider, just because Lara has better hair? Are we really gaining anything if the original Fable is brought over to Xbox 360 with slightly better textures? It seems that the world of the next-gen update is littered with unnecessary efforts and brazen attempts to make more money from the same product. But there are exceptions.

Both Metro games, 2033 and Last Light, are being packaged together as Redux. Releasing on the new consoles this Summer. For a series as underrated and refreshingly original as Metro, a re-release is not only warranted, it’s needed.

The premise of the Metro games is great. Moscow has become a city of post-nuclear ruin. The few survivors left are forced to live in the underground metro system, trying to survive in dank, overcrowded stations and tunnels. Above ground is ruled by radiation, roaming monsters, and unspeakable terrors. Despite all of this people still can’t get along, still hungry for power and control. The sense of place and atmosphere is one of the best I’ve encountered in a game, as you struggle to survive in a fascinating, decaying world.

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Deep Silver have promised the first game, Metro: 2033, will receive a complete overhaul using the sequel’s engine. They’ve also announced brand new content to supplement and round out the story. The second game, Last Light, will also get some TLC, but admittedly it is the least in need of a touch-up.

They’ve also committed to fixing the minor bugs and AI problems present in some sections of the games. These extra refinements and tweaks are just what the series needs, not to dilute the experience and spirit of the games, but instead hopefully refine them. Although these improvements might be important in gaining more fans and appealing to a wider audience. The real draw for these games is how genuinely different they feel to others, and a large part of this is due to them being developed in Ukraine.

The Metro games are one of the best examples of how a game made outside of the usual USA/Japanese moulds can be a refreshing change of pace. Games design from the big studios has become more rigid than ever, robust boilerplate stereotypes that can accommodate different settings, whilst still feeling the same. Just look at Watch Dogs. Give Ezio Auditorre a mobile phone, swap his hood for a scarf, and you can see Ubisoft making the same thing, save for a few minigame changes and a skin swap. In the age of the generic Modern War FPS and themed parkour runabout, Metro games stand out, even if they’re a little rough and ready at times.

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The Metro series challenges the conventions and tropes that more mainstream titles are slipping into, providing a familiar FPS genre whilst asking different and more interesting questions of the player. With both games bundled together and the refinements promised, will it be enough to tempt players away from their comfort zone and into the subways of Moscow?

Formats: PC, PS4, XO
Out: Summer 2014
Publisher: Deep Silver

Steamworld Dig Review

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With portable gaming, context is everything. You’re often commuting, or doing something else whilst playing, maybe even both. In this environment, you need something to engage your brain, but nothing that will completely take it over. It’s why the big, epic games don’t translate well to the smaller screen. People don’t want it, and often developers don’t see that. But in the case of developer Image & Form, they know it all too well, and have created Steamworld Dig as a great slice of mobile gaming.

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The game revolves around a dwindling robot town, built above a mine your uncle left you. It’s up to you to explore the caverns below, mine the jewels found within, and discover the secrets in the shadows. Think Dig-Dug, with RPG Levelling, that looks like a cross between Abe’s Odyssey and Braid. The art style is great, and the character design is fantastic. The enemies are a bit boring, but they play a small role in the game. The robot townsfolk spring up as the game progresses, each one offbeat and funny, filled with clever design and dialogue.
Developers looking for good examples of carrot-and-stick gameplay should take notes here. The game is fantastically paced in terms of items and abilities. There’s always something to do and spend your coins on. Just when you think you’ve mastered the cave, you stumble on a whole new area, giving fresh possibilities and shortcuts to keep you playing that little bit longer. It’s nothing especially unique in the genre, but I think it’s worth noting as it’s done so well here.

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The upgrades and abilities themselves are also nicely balanced, too. Steam-powered drills and modifications require water, which can be found throughout pools and underground lakes throughout the game. Unlike other games, the water is limited. The pool will actually drain when you use it, making you dig further or make your way back to the surface. Steamworld Dig never stands still. Although empowering, the game always meets your new abilities with new challenges, preventing fatigue setting in.
When playing this game, I quickly realised that this game falls under the category of ‘inexplicable compulsion’. Games that take over you, games that swallow up hours of time, but you can’t quite explain why. I don’t know why I felt it was so important to make my Cow happy in Harvest Moon, or why I stayed up until 2am at aged 14 making sure the field of Turnips I planted on my Game Boy Colour grew perfectly. All I know is that at the time, that was all that mattered.

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Steamworld Dig has this compulsion built into it. The game looks nice, and the story is good enough, but I didn’t care about revitalising an old Robot town. I just needed to get a larger bag, a stronger pickaxe, to go deeper into that mine. At the heart of the game is this compulsion, and one which serves it well as an addictive platformer for a portable platform.
Its premise is simple. It’s gameplay has been done before, but Steamworld Dig does it all solidly and with aplomb. This is what a Vita game should be. You can pick up the game easily, but putting it down is the real challenge.

[wp-review]

Published by Image & Form