Ionball 2: Ionstorm Review

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IonBall 2: Ionstorm

Developed by: Ironsun Studios

Published by KISS Ltd

Reviewed on PC

Ionball 2 is a sequel to Ionball that was released on the Xbox 360 three years ago in 2011. Whilst the original was released only on a console, this sequel is only available on the PC platform from Steam, I have to admit now that I have not played the original title so I cannot compare the two titles and will be looking at this as a stand-alone game.

This game bears a very strong resemblance to Breakout that was released way back in 1976 in the arcades; I can remember playing one of the many ports of this for the Amiga around twenty years ago. The basic structure of Ionball has been around since the days of Pong, you have a paddle that moves along one side of the screen and you use this to keep your ball in play, in Breakout it was used to destroy a wall, in Ionball you destroy robots. Let the ball drop out of the screen, like in a game of pinball and you lose a life. As I said it is a basic structure that has been around since the dawn of games, so how have IronStorm Studios brought this into 2014?

Ionball_2_-_Ionstorm_(PC)_01Firstly the basic Breakout formula has been given a Sci-fi twist; you are playing to destroy robots that have taken over a space station. That is about as much as the story goes, but I really don’t think this game needs one, after all you are just using a paddle to bash a ball at robots. There are various differing levels, over 60, for you to play through. The levels have been given the sci-fi look with some nice looking backgrounds and Space Invaders looking robots floating around. These robots vary in each level, with different numbers and formations thrown at you, to try and make each level unique. It has to be said, after playing through a few of them they do begin to blend together, but this is to be expected for a game like this.

As I mentioned, you control a paddle at the base of the screen and use it to bounce a glowing ball towards the robots in the level, you control this by using the mouse and I have to state my first major problem with this game, there are no options to control the sensitivity of the controls. I found this quite surprising that the only motion input had no options. To start with I hated how sensitive my movements were, the only way I could change it was by going into settings on Windows and adjusting it there and then re adjusting it after I played the game. A very long winded and annoying way to change something that should have been integral to the game.

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Added to the overly sensitive controls the speed of the ball is insanely quick, most games of this type start off slow with the ball speeding up with each hit off of the paddle, not here, it started off quick and again the lack of options in gameplay was frustrating, there were no options to turn down the speed or the difficulty. I understand that this game has been designed to be difficult but it would be nice to have a learning curve, you are thrown in at the deep end and if your reflexes aren’t up to speed from the first hit of the ball then you will spend a lot of time restarting, I like difficulty in games, but I hate frustration when the difficulty is derived from the controls.

The music in the game is like the rest of the game, high speed and frantic, there are varying tracks from dance, techno and heavy rock, I found it weird and slightly distracting, and most of the songs in the background didn’t seem to fit with the sci-fi settings of the game. Visually it looks OK nothing terrible but also nothing amazing, not that you will get much chance to admire what’s on the screen, take your eyes off to admire anything and chances are the ball will go flying off the bottom, you have to concentrate if you are to master this, it is not really a game you can jump in and out of, at least not for me. As expected there are a variety of upgrades you can buy with the XP you earn by destroying robots, these are the usual widening of the paddle to make it a little easier, to purchasing weapons such as EMP’s to slow down the enemies or lasers and machines guns to destroy them.

Overall I have to say that there are some great signs of potential in this game, the difficulty level is high but if you are aware of this when you go in and are prepared to be patient and get used to the speed then you will enjoy it. With many levels and an online leader board to climb there is a fair amount to keep you busy, it’s not perfect though with a few tweaks needed to make it more accessible but it can be frantically fun to play, especially if you relish a challenge.

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Growing up with Video Games: A Personal History

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Playing video games has been one of my main pass-times for as long as I can remember and if you’re reading this it’s possibly the same for you. Everyone has their first nostalgic memories of films, music or sports events from their youth, but being such an avid gamer; I also remember the many games that I played growing up. To think of how this medium has changed from the late 1980’s to today is quite incredible unlike music and sports and to a lesser extent movies, games really don’t age well from the outside.

You would really struggle to see a game like Pac-Man, or the latest Grand Theft Auto being the same medium if put together side by side. Sure, films can look dated but even special effect heavy films stand up to movies today. Some of my favourites; Star Wars and Jurassic Park, still look great despite being decades old. Video games on the other hand look dated just a few years after coming out, unlike these old movies that still have thousands of people watching them many years later. The appeal of playing older games, unless you grew up playing them, just doesn’t seem to exist and I feel this is a waste. So I am going to go through a few of the consoles and games that I had the fortune of playing as I grew up and feel helped games to evolve in to what they are today.

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First up I have to say that the first games I played were on a ZX Spectrum, the best game I remember playing from that era were the Dizzy games. This was an 8bit home computer that even at the time looked pretty primitive. Blocky colours made up all of the games and I am pretty certain this is why Dizzy was made to be a white egg, an egg who wore boxing gloves. As with many games of this era it was a 2-D Side scroller, the best of all the Dizzy games was the third- Fantasy World Dizzy. The Dizzy games were platform games that required you to solve puzzles to progress, of course these games look terrible by today’s standards but the puzzle solving mechanics of the game is still fun to play today. The loading times of the cassette based Spectrum are not missed at all, the noise, the painfully slow build up of a title screen that could take tens of minutes and the high risk that when you got to the end of the tape it would crash and you would just start over again, thankfully this is something that is well and truly resigned to the past.

Following on from the ZX Spectrum, I was lucky enough to have a Mega Drive and of course the best games on the mega drive were the Sonic titles, with number two being my favourite of them all. Again these titles were still 2-D based thanks to the limitations of the hardware of the time. The speed with which Sonic could move through the opening levels was something I had never seen before and it really did blow my mind away, the music was also something I hadn’t heard before, in comparison to the Spectrum, which was limited to just screeches, bumps and rumbles- virtually all the games had the same sound effects throughout.

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This was also the era of video games that started to have movie tie-ins, something that has kind of disappeared lately with many movie based games being released on the mobile gaming platform. I would imagine that this is mainly due to the production time of modern games can take several years, twenty years ago a game could be created in a matter of months by just a few developers. Some of my favourite movie based games I played were Batman on the Amiga, the ability to drive the Bat mobile through the city was just incredible and no Batman game has done the Dark Knight justice until very recently with the excellent Arkham series of titles from Rocksteady. Jurassic Park on the Mega drive was also a game I spent many hours on. You could play as a Raptor, which as a young child whose mind was easily blown, watching the incredible effects that brought the dinosaurs to life was a dream come true. As I have said movie based games have really disappeared on home consoles with the last half decent title being maybe King Kong- which came out in 2005, nearly ten years ago.

The next console I owned was maybe the most influential console of my life time, the Playstation revolutionised games and brought them into the 3-D era and had full stereo CD based sound giving it a quality that surpassed anything before it. I spent far too many hours playing on this console, a console that had more memorable titles than any other console I owned whilst growing up. The first game I owned on the PS1 was Crash Bandicoot, a superb 3-D platformer that was created by Naughty Dog, a studio that has gone on to become, (in my opinion) the best in the industry. The Playstation was also responsible for two of my favourite video game series: Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid. Resident Evil was the first game I had played that genuinely terrified me, it introduced me to the genre of survival horror and I couldn’t get enough. The best of the series was Resident Evil 2, I can still remember playing this all night with some friends over a weekend and completing both scenarios. Games kept on growing in size and length on the Playstation with the higher capacity memory available on CD’s.

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The greatest game I have played of all time was also on Sony’s incredible first foray into the home console market- Metal Gear Solid was something I had never played before. It really was like playing through an action movie. It had everything from the clichéd espionage plot to a completely new way of playing an action adventure, it introduced the wider market to stealth action, so many games before had you running round with an infinite amount of ammo blowing enemies to bits, MGS on the other hand rewarded you for not indulging in mindless killing, instead you had to sneak your way into the compound and this title had some of the best Boss battles of any game. Who could ever forget the encounter with Psycho Mantis and that ending battle on the top of Metal Gear, bare knuckle fighting with Liquid, I must have completed this title more than ten times and I have yet to grow tired of it.

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Sadly whilst growing up I never owned a Nintendo console. It wasn’t my choice, as I never knew what was waiting for me under the Christmas tree and in all honesty I don’t feel as though I have missed out too much, as I now have had the chance to go back and play through games such as Mario and Donkey Kong Country. The Playstation 2 came out around the time I left school, so games from then until now hasn’t influenced me in the same way. I still spend far too long playing games, but now I have the luxury of being able to buy exactly what I want and when I want, so the experience is very different now and games have evolved. Where games used to be confined to bedrooms and regarded as something of an anti social hobby, but as gamers have grown up they are now in the living room and an integral part of many peoples down time and hobbies and with online game play and chat they help people stay together and enjoy their favourite past time.

 

I have grown up with games and the older I have gotten the more I enjoy playing them, I love going back and playing through some of the best titles of my youth, I also love buying some of the old consoles and playing through games I never had chance to when they were released, if you haven’t played many or any of these games then I highly recommend that you do, not only will you play through some hugely entertaining titles but you will also appreciate just how much games have changed and largely for the better.

MouseCraft Review

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Mousecraft

Developed by Crunching Koalas

Published by Curve Studios

Reviewed on the PS Vita, PS3 and PS4.

I can recall playing Lemmings over and over on the Amiga when I was younger and I have to say that this is the game that Mousecraft reminds me of the most. Mousecraft is a puzzle game similar in premise to the classic DMA Design games, on that note who would have thought that Lemmings would be directly related to the Grand Theft Auto series? The basic aim of Mousecraft is to guide your three mice from one side of a zone to the cheese at the other end in one piece and just like Lemmings there are falls, obstacles and a varying amount of brain power required to progress to the end.

Curve studios have been responsible for a number of games that I have really enjoyed playing, from fellow puzzle based games like Stealth Inc and Lone Survivor to more retro based shooters such as Velocity Ultra and Titan Attacks.  I went into this title with high expectations from a Studio that, from my own experience, has yet to make a dud. Like the aforementioned titles- Mousecraft is a 2D based title that looks the part, this is not a genre that is ever going to push the GPU in a brand new PS4 to the max but Curve have got the look nailed down with nice smooth colours and detailed cartoony stylised areas for you to play through.

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Mousecraft was originally released via Early Access on the PC and this month finds itself coming to the Playstation platforms: PS3/PS4 /PS Vita with the added bonus of cross-buy. I have to admit that I spent most of my time playing this on the Vita, the title uses the touch screen perfectly and made playing the game much easier, dragging and dropping items instead of pressing many buttons to do what is simple with the touch screen, it is perfectly suited to the Vita and I would recommend this platform as the primary platform to play this game on.

As I have mentioned the aim of this game is to get three mice to the cheese in an area or maze, you do not control the mice directly, but you do have some control over the environment they are in. You do this by dropping Tetris style blocks into the map to help your mice get their cheese and just like in Tetris, you can rotate the blocks round to find the best fit. Your mice can only jump up one block, but luckily they can fall further than they can jump. They are not invincible though and as you progress you will find many obstacles that are hazardous to the health of your little furry critters in the form of water, acid, exploding bricks and even evil robotic mice.

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Whilst you will primarily spend your time dropping blocks on the map to help your mice, you will also need to destroy some that are already laying in the way. To do this you will need to use bombs, don’t worry you can’t blow up the mice! You may have these at the start of a level or you may need to get your mice to collect them as they go, this adds more than just a basic A to B route. Sometimes you have to plan many stops and changes of direction, so that you can get to the end, as you can imagine the further you progress the harder and more complex the levels become.

I have left this final aspect of the game until last, as I found it the most frustrating. As you progress, you have to collect blue shards as well as get your mice to the cheese. To progress from one area of the map to the next you have to have a certain amount of blue shards and I found this incredibly annoying, on the first area I was unaware that I had to collect most of the shards. In fairness I may have not read through the on-screen instructions with my full attention, so I was very annoyed that I had to go back through already completed levels and spend more time figuring out how to get not only my mice to the end but pick up the shards. I then realised that the shards were more important than the mice, you only need one mouse to get to the cheese so my priority of saving the mice was completely wrong and even hindered my progress.

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I absolutely hate grinding through games and this is what it felt like to me, I like games to be a challenge and I know some people love to spend time collecting everything in the game to unlock trophies, but I would much rather prefer it to be optional rather than necessary, as it did put me off carrying on, as I knew I would likely have to go over certain difficult levels over and over just to pick up an extra bit of shard. This is the only downside to the gameplay in this game and if you love collecting everything then I am sure you will do in this game too.

I found Mousecraft to be an enjoyable game, shard collecting aside. With over 80 levels to play through with varying degrees of difficulty, it will challenge your problem solving skills for a good amount of time. Added to the core game is a level creator that you can use for a near infinite amount of maps to play through. Crunching Koalas have taken inspiration from two of the very best puzzle games in history in the form of Tetris and Lemmings and in doing so have released a game that is generally fun to play through and is great for fans of games that make you think.

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Out Now!

R-Type Dimensions Review

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R-Type Dimensions is a graphically updated version of the classic R-Type and R-Type II, which has just been released on the PS3. This was released a few years ago on the Xbox 360. Why it has taken so long to get to the PS3 is unclear, but one thing is clear this game is as frustratingly hard as the originals I remember. The original R-Type game was released in the arcades in 1987, the follow up- R-Type II arrived two years later in 1989. The 25 odd years since then, these games have been ported countless times and Dimensions is the latest, so what makes it different?

The main difference is the ability to change the look of the game, from the new modern looking HD visuals with the press of just one button, back to how it looked in the late 80’s. The ability to do this in game is great and certainly had me switching between the two comparing how the game looked. The modern look is smooth and beautifully realised in HD with bright colours and sharp backgrounds, what we expect now from modern games. But I have to say I preferred the ‘classic’ look of the game. It still has a slight tweak to make it look crisp and sharp on modern day TV’s. The 16 BIT era graphics looked superb back in the day and added charm that I wanted when playing what is effectively the classic game I used to love. The classic sound also seemed far more immersive for the game I was playing, but perhaps this is due to the nostalgia of playing it when it was released, if you had never played R-Type games before, maybe you would prefer the modern updated version.

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To make sure this isn’t just a visual update the menu gives you two different ways of playing the game: Classic Mode- which well, is the classic mode. Here you just have three lives to get through the game. I will be honest I found this impossible, but I always have found R-Type games impossible to complete. Even with the new slow-mo mode, when you hold down R2 it just becomes too frantic and you seem to have no chance with the vast array of enemies on screen, how games have changed. The other option is the new Infinite mode which gives you (as the title says) infinite lives to get through the game, but this effects your final score. The more lives you lose the more points gained, the object being to have as few points as possible. Playing it this way I found more enjoyable as I could actually get to the end!
Playing it this way did seem far too easy. It felt as though a third mode is needed, one in between classic and infinite, as it was impossible on classic with just three lives. It took me about thirty on the final boss alone, but took only twenty minutes on infinite and had no challenge, especially if you don’t really care what your score is. It did remind me of just how hard and frustrating games were when I was growing up, the first level took me around three minutes on infinite mode yet I just couldn’t complete it on classic, just the first level had me beaten and frustrated. How did I play these games twenty years ago!

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R-Type Dimensions is a great trip down memory lane, but it is also more than that, the updated visuals bring new life to a classic. The ability to get to the end thanks to Infinite mode is a very welcome addition but it certainly needs some middle ground in difficulty to make it more long living. If you love playing through retro games like me, then you will love this. Comparing the old with the new with just a touch of a button is great. Overall for the price of 7.99 this is good value, you are getting two classic titles with enough options to make them feel different.

Reviewed on the Playstation 3

Developed by Irem, Tozai Games

Published by Tozai Games

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Outlast: Whistleblower Review

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Outlast: Whistleblower

Reviewed on the Playstation 4

Also Available on PC

Developed and Published by: Red Barrels

Whistleblower is the first, and maybe only piece of DLC that has been released by Red Barrels for their first person horror survival game- Outlast. Outlast was originally released on the PC and released on the PS4 back in February as part of  the Playstation Plus Instant game collection. In case you haven’t played through this yet you can read my thoughts and review of it here.

This story based DLC is a prequel to Outlast. It allows you to briefly see the Asylum in its pre breakout state as you play the part of, as the title states- a whistleblower named Waylon Park. He was the anonymous worker who tipped off Miles Upshur leading him to investigate the Mount Massive Asylum and of course the shady Murkoff corporation running it. Seeing the Asylum before all hell broke loose is a nice and very interesting change of pace to the rest of the game, sadly though you don’t get too long to see it like this, before you are admitted as a patient against your will.

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First of all I have to state that Whistleblower plays exactly the same as the main game, early on you will find a camera to record what is unfolding around you and just like before it has an eerie night vision mode. The night vision ramps up the suspense as you creep around avoiding the inmates who want to make you their latest victim or work of art. Despite Waylon not being a reporter he will make notes about what he records just like Miles. It would have been nice to see a difference between how the different characters play, as in reality it could well be the same person. You quickly forget that you are supposed to be playing the part of a tech assistant who was actually working at the Asylum before the outbreak.

The asylum is once again brought to life very well, you will visit a few areas that you will be familiar with, but there are enough new areas to make the game feel fresh. I did notice that the enemies you will face are slightly different. Many more of your pursuers will be equipped with various weapons, this goes a little way to showing why you are incapable of fighting back as in the original. I found it weird that you would not even try to hit back against enemies that were no bigger than yourself. It was still strange though, running past a corpse of a guard and not being able to try their radio , pick up their gun or even just search them to see if they have anything useful as surely this would be the first thing you would do in this scenario.

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The various stages of Whistleblower do seem to have a better layout with more areas to hide away from your would-be killers and, apart from a couple of occasions, it seemed less mazy and confusing. You will still get the hugely frustrating parts where it feels like you are just playing a game of trial and error, especially towards the end of the game. It just isn’t clear what sections you can go through and also when you are well hidden or not.

If you are hoping that this trip to the asylum will be less harrowing and graphic, then you will be disappointed. This game ramps up the gore and in fact includes some of the most graphic and intense scenes I have ever seen in a video game. It can be genuinely terrifying, a fun horror game this is not. These scenes carry more weight due to how convincing the various inmates you encounter have been realised. Just like in the original title you do feel convinced that these are the sort of characters you would find in such an asylum as this, hopefully though I will never find out.

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If you enjoyed the main game and wanted to learn more about the story, then you will enjoy Whistleblower. It ties in perfectly with the original game as it is set both before and after the events of Miles. The end of Whistleblower tying perfectly into the ending of Outlast. Make no mistake though, this game has all of the flaws of the original and I did lose the fear factor towards the end of the game, as I felt I had seen all of the scares before and was growing tired of some of the unforgiving trial and error sections. Due to this I feel that Red Barrels have done enough now with this version of Outlast, it took me around 2 hours to complete any longer and it would have completely lost the suspense and terror that makes the game what it is.

A good bit of DLC that adds more to the story and also to the gore but adds absolutely nothing to the game play and I fear removes some of the terror generated first time round.

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Titan Attacks Review

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Titan Attacks

Reviewed on: PS Vita

Also on: PS3, PS4 PC.

Developed and published by PuppyGames

Space invaders was originally released in arcades in the summer of 1978 in Japan. At the time it was ground breaking and I am sure virtually everyone has heard of this classic. Released around the same time of modern classics like Star Wars, Alien and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Space Invaders really helped the Sci-Fi genre grow into what it is today and made developers Taito around $500m, a huge amount even comparable to the money made by Star Wars in its initial cinematic release. In the near forty years since 1978, there have been countless iterations of varying quality, trying to get a slice of the pie. Titan Attacks is one of the latest.

PuppyGames is a U.K. Based independent studio that specialise in Retro Chic (apparently that is a thing) games, based on many of the arcade classics. Titan Attacks was originally released on Steam in February 2012 and as such it has taken a little over two years to be released onto consoles and specifically the Playstation platform. If you purchase this game on the Playstation store you can play it on the PS3, the PS4 and my favourite for this title- the PS Vita. Whilst you can play this title on all three platforms there is no cross save feature, which is disappointing as other titles have managed to include this so that you can play it on your home console before carrying on your save game with the Vita on the go.

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Starting up the game for the first time I was greeted by some nice looking blocky pixels in bright colours, it nails the nostalgic look from the 8-Bit era but with a modern HD gloss that looks brilliant on your HD screen. If you somehow don’t know how a Space Invaders style game plays by now, get out from under that rock and know that Titan Attacks has the same premise. You are in control of a single Tank, the last hope for the protection of Earth and with that tank you must scroll from left to right shooting upwards to the Aliens coming downwards on a 2D screen.

As with the visuals the game-play is classic Space Invaders with a more modernised twist. You have your obligatory main cannon that shoots upwards towards the sky. You can rack up money in various ways, so that you can upgrade your tank, from upgrading the basic fire power and shields to enhancing your tank with extra add-on weapons and smart bombs that obliterate all enemies on the screen when deployed. Upgrading your tank is crucial if you are to progress through the levels and complete this game.

With the basic game-play being something that has been tried and tested for many years now it is amazing that this game is still capable of making it feel fresh, but it does. This is mainly due to the upgrading elements. There aren’t hundreds of options, but there are just enough to ensure that you keep going to unlock the latest boost for your tank. Managing your money between rebuilding your shield and upgrading your weapons can be a tough choice and sometimes comes down to trial and error, as you never know how tough the next wave is going to be until you are in it.

There are five different levels or, in this case planets that you have to battle through to get to the end. These levels aren’t hugely different from one another. Aesthetically the main difference is in the colour palette, this is after all a flat 2D world. The enemies do change slightly from planet to planet, with each progression resulting in harder enemies that can sustain more damage. At the end of each planet you have to face off against an alien mother-ship or, in this case I suppose they are Titans. These do bring a level of difficulty that on a couple of occasions frustrated me but, as with most bosses once you learn their patten it is relatively straight forward.

There is no difficulty setting in this game. The learning curve supposedly adjusts to how well you play in the early stages, if you are terrible it makes it easier later on but that does mean that it is harder to earn money. If you are getting through the first few stages with ease then it goes without saying that later on it will be tougher, but the extra money for upgrades compensates for that.

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As with the classic Space Invaders, the aim of this game is to rack up as many points as possible. With there being five different planets before you meet the end boss, you may think that there is a limit to how many points you can get, but in Titan Attacks there is no end. If you beat the final boss you simply start again with your upgrades and points intact, the more stages you clear without getting hit the higher your multiplier will be and as such the more points you will earn. It is a basic element adopted by so many games, but it is so addictive trying to get as many points as you can, so that you can climb the online score tables (my best was around 12th overall).

I have to admit that I am a big fan of these retro classic titles. I have played various iterations throughpot the years and I have really enjoyed playing this one. Visually it looks great, perfectly blending the classic Space invaders pixels with HD blocks and colours. It is brilliantly addictive, I am sure that if you get into it you wont be able to put it down again until you have managed to get high up the score boards. This game is proof that some of the oldest core game-play mechanics can stand the test of time.

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Microtransactions: Nothing New? Time For You To Grow Up and Get Over Them?

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I have to start this off by stating that I am of an age to have grown up with more primitive games and also grown up with the many changes that have occurred as this industry has grown. The first taste of gaming I had was on a ZX Spectrum, it had the light gun that was ground breaking when I used it on a massive (for the time) 14 inch TV. This was a period of time when gaming was only just breaking into the living room. If you were serious about getting the best graphics, the latest titles and showing off your highest scores, you had to hit the arcades and make sure you took plenty of change to pay for it.

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I have always been of the opinion that micro transactions have always been a part of video games, the difference is that now instead of physically going out to the local arcade with your mates and sinking 50p’s into the latest racer or light gun game, we are being asked to just enter our bank card details into our phones and home consoles. This for me is where the similarities end. In the past you were paying the premium to play the latest games in the arcade as they just weren’t available in your home. Just like going to the cinema today to watch the latest blockbuster, you know you won’t be able to watch it in your own living room for a few months and when you do it is unlikely to be on such a big screen. This is the premium you pay to watch it first and this was how video games worked in the past.

Arcades are pretty much long dead and wont be making a return on a large scale across the country. Where we once gladly paid a premium to play games that looked light years ahead of what we could play at home. Now we are being asked to do this in our own home and on our very own consoles, tablets and phones. From what the numbers are saying many people are, but why?

Games are now released on virtually any device with a screen, from the latest ‘AAA’ titles on our consoles or PC’s to a quick time wasting game to help our journeys go faster on our phones. The traditional home release sees a one off payment to purchase the title, this is what I am used to, I call this the traditional way to game. This generally has the highest start up cost, around £40 for a new release. The newer ‘mini’ game approach used primarily by iOS and Android capable devices sees a much smaller and sometimes free initial cost. This can then allows the player to upgrade or advance through the game through the old way of grinding, or by now buying their way through the levels or rankings, of course there are a few games that use both elements.

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I personally don’t have a huge problem with the current wave of games that use micro transactions. We have all heard the horror stories reported in the media of kids racking up huge bills on their parents iPad, after buying endless numbers of coins of power-ups- but these are by and large in the minority. The majority of these games state up front and very clearly that micro transactions can be used to help you get through the game, some people just don’t have the time to grind through levels and are quite happy to spend a bit of money to speed up the story.

I do however have a big problem with games that are released as full priced games, such as Ryse that was a release title on the Xbox One. Ryse allowed players to upgrade their online character to get ahead of the game, this in my opinion is wrong. Competitive online games should have absolutely no micro transactions that allow people to buy their way up the rankings. There is no fairness and it takes the competitiveness completely out of the game. This of course on top of the £40 you already paid to buy the title.

Imagine being in the arcade and playing Mortal Kombat against someone who put in an extra pound to get double damage? It just isn’t fair and more importantly it takes all the enjoyment out of it. This type of micro transaction does just feel cheap and as though someone, either the developer or publisher, is milking the customer for everything they can get. Worryingly many people are allowing that to happen.

I personally have never used them, but I feel that is likely because of how I have grown up with games in the home and I have always taken the learning curve as part of playing the game. Difficulty in modern games is another article for another time though. I have never fully enjoyed a game that is easy to complete, part of the fun is overcoming the challenge. The journey to the end is normally far better than the actual end. I don’t play games just to complete them I play them to experience everything that they have to offer, with this in mind, I can’t help but feel that by allowing people to buy their way through the game, they are surely missing out on the actual experience of playing it?

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I have already stated that I feel as though micro transactions have always been a part of gaming, I personally don’t understand why people are happy paying a premium for something that isn’t worth paying more for. Unlike in the past you aren’t playing a far superior version of the game you can’t get elsewhere, you are playing the same game you are just making your version more expensive than mine.

One thing is for sure though, if you don’t want them to be the future then just don’t buy them. This whole industry, like most, is driven by consumer demand. If people don’t buy early access cars in Gran Turismo for more than the cost of the actual game, instead of unlocking them the old fashioned way, then the developers won’t bother putting them in. It really is as simple as that. I don’t support them so I don’t buy them. I like to know how much my game is going to cost upfront, but maybe I am just behind the times. So what do you think, do you mind them in your games, do you play them?

 

Strike Suit Zero: Directors Cut PS4

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Strike Suit Zero: Directors cut

Developed and Published by Born Ready Games

Strike Suit Zero is a space combat game that was initially released on the PC over a year ago, since then it has continued to be worked on by Born Ready Games with extra features and missions included to mark its release as the Directors Cut on the PS4 as a digital Download. This game is fairly unique in modern terms as I can’t recall the last time I was aware of a space flight combat game being released on a console that looked as though it could be a good experience.

I used to play many of these games when I was younger and it certainly reminds me of classic Star Wars games- like the fantastic Tie Fighter and Rogue Squadron series as well as other titles including Colony Wars that was released on the PS One and even the grandfather of this genre Elite, that was released before I was even born 30 years ago for the BBC Micro. With this lack of recent titles in this genre in my mind I feel as though this game could well have a found a big gap in the market to fill, the games I have just mentioned were all hugely successful selling a lot of titles.

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When loading up the game I was greeted to an introduction that explained the back story, which basically reads like many sci-fi stories set in deep space. There are two sides involved in a war, the colonists, who want to separate from Earth’s Control, and then the United Nations of Earth (UNE). You play the part of a pilot for the UNE who is caught in the middle of this far reaching and expensive war that could well end in the destruction of our home planet if you fail.

The music in the games menu screens as you prepare for missions really fits the futuristic sci-fi style perfectly, it sounds very similar to what I heard in Biowares Mass Effect games and personally I loved the soundtrack in those games. A problem I do have in the menus is that there is a lack of customisation options for the various ships you will use. Another annoying aspect for me was that certain weapons can’t be used in certain conditions and there was a couple of times when I was unaware of this until I had started the mission, leaving me with the choice of either carrying on and playing through hampered or restarting the mission entirely with a different load-out.

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Graphically this game looked OK, it was nothing special and in some aspects I was let down, mainly the detail on the ship you are flying is just not there, the textures seemed to be missing and it was distracting whilst I was playing through the game. The lack of detail doesn’t end there, on the majority of enemy ships and installations there is a distinct lack of detail with many of them looking like grey blocks with splashes of red on them when you get up close. This was certainly not something I was expecting from a PS4 title. Whilst I understand this is an indie title with a far lower budget than many AAA titles I remember the detail and visual beauty of Resogun and again am felt as though more work should have gone into this area, after all the ships are the main aspect that you will interact with. The backgrounds do look very nice though with large planets, novas and asteroid fields brought to life convincingly. One problem runs through it all though, it looks fairly bland, the colour scale is very conservative with only blues and reds seemingly used. I would have loved to have seen a hugely colourful battle with a variety of colourful lasers, ships and stations.

Moving on from the adequate but overall slightly disappointing graphics of the game, I have to look at how this game feels, do I feel as though I am in an interstellar war for survival in an advanced Space fighter that can transform from a ship to a kind of Bipedal Mech suit and again? I have to say I was left a little disappointed. The flying mechanics do work well and you feel in good control as you avoid enemies and make runs along side a larger cruiser or Corvette ship. Sadly though there isn’t enough variety. There are just four differing classes of enemies; fighters, corvettes, frigates and Cruisers. Sure there are different types of fighters but I honestly couldn’t tell what the difference was between them in the heat of battle.

As well as these dog fighting sections there are the obligatory missions where you have to attack and destroy stationary, but well armed Space stations and weapons platforms, but these play exactly the same as the rest of the missions. This isn’t to say that it isn’t fun to play, many of the missions are hugely enjoyable. You can launch a huge missile assault on a Cruiser before speeding off to take out a bunch of Fighters before returning to another run at the larger ship and this does feel great, as though you could be in a movie. The main draw back is that once you get to the half way point you realise that all the variety in the game has been and gone. From here on in it does feel like a grind as you rinse and repeat the different aspects, just in larger and more time constricted missions to get to the end.

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Some of these problems look to have been slightly addressed in the extra missions included in the directors cut.  Firstly it introduces weak points in the larger ships making them much harder to destroy, even harder as the game doesn’t tell you where the weak points are, leaving you to a bit of trial and error before you find them and again this is something I personally, wouldn’t have expect of a refined version of a game, especially as it has been out for a year already on other platforms.

Overall I have to say that Strike Suit Zero has some good points and the basis of a very good game. It just feels as though it hasn’t been finished to me, the lack of textured detail on the ships is unforgivable for a PS4 title in my opinion. But the game at times is very fun to play through, the problem is that it needs more variety as the fun game play quickly becomes a chore as you repeat it over and over

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Playstation 4 Version Reviewed (also available on Xbox One and PC)

Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes Review

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Developer: Kojima productions

Publisher: Konami

Platform: Playstation 4

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes sees Big Boss make his first outing on the new generation of games consoles, in what is effectively a teaser for the full game arriving (hopefully) next year- in The Phantom Pain. For all intents and purposes, this is the Tanker mission for MGS2 or the virtuous mission in Snake Eater. The only difference is that Konami are charging you around £30 for this experience and releasing it a year in advance of the full game, in an attempt to showcase the new Fox engine that is running on the PS4, and in turn raise the anticipation levels for the release of the Phantom Pain in the future. So the big question is, is this game worth buying?

The first aspect of the game I noticed when I started playing it is just how stunning it is graphically, the opening cut scene (Kojima may have cut back on them but he will never stop having them) looks beautiful. It introduces you to the Ground Zeroes mission. This mission follows on from Peace Walker that was released on the PSP (then re-released on the PS3 a few years ago). This mission is set at night and in the rain, this gives the opportunity to  showcase the incredible lighting effects, whilst you hide in the shadows with searchlights scanning the ground around you. But it is during the day where you truly see a huge leap in graphics that the PS4 is able to produce, a lifelike world is created, each enemy has an individual and distinct look to them. There are no copy and paste armies chasing you, even the grass sways perfectly in the wind as clouds move slowly overhead affecting the sunlight shining down, I have not seen anything as photo realistic so far on the PS4.

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The transition from cut scene to gameplay is seamless. I couldn’t visibly discern any drop in the visuals and this is very welcome. I have often previously felt cut scenes running at higher detail draw you away from the game. Big Boss himself really does looks life like, he is not only voiced by Kiefer Sutherland but his facial animations have also been captured from the actor and this is evident as the voice perfectly matches the facial expressions. Sadly, Snake does not say too much in this game, so it is hard to judge how well the switch from David Hayter voicing snake has been handled in too much depth, but early impressions are that the voice of Kiefer does match this older Big Boss fairly well.

Metal Gear Solid games have always been about stealth and this one is no exception. Set in the mid 1970’s there is no Soliton radar to help you out. This game feels similar in style to Snake Eater, my personal favourite of the series, and whilst there is no radar you do have a pair of binoculars that you can use to tag enemies to help you keep track of them as they move around the map. These binoculars also have a directional microphone, great for listening in to conversations between the guards to give you small hints and clues.

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The game encourages you to sneak around and stay undetected, the core of the MGS series, but this is no mean feat when you find yourself on an army base full of guards. Even with the ability to keep track of enemies they have keen eyesight, especially in the daylight. They can even spot your shadow as you hide behind a wall and will come to investigate if their suspicions are aroused. Like previous games, you are armed with a silenced tranquilizer pistol. Ammo is scarce and if you do knock your enemies unconscious, you have to hide their bodies as their comrades will investigate anything out of the ordinary. Yep, it’s classic MGS.

When you do get caught, and you invariably will do, a new mechanic in the game is activated. You get a couple of seconds in what is called ‘reflex mode’ to get in a quick head shot on the enemy before he can call for reinforcements or simply find the best route for escape. This option can be turned off in the options if you want an even bigger challenge than hard mode already is. At no point in my time with this game have I felt it is unnecessarily hard or easy, the gameplay feels well balanced and this is due to the open ended nature with which you can play the game.

Ground Zeros is set in a sand box world. You can go anywhere on the map and the missions can generally be completed in any way that you wish or can think of. Sneaking is obviously favourable and feels the most satisfying but if you want to go in all guns blazing then there is nothing stopping you grabbing a rocket launcher and literally blowing your way through the front gate. It is this choice that made the game so great for me. Early on in the game you have to get through a closed gate, in the past you would have had a more specific way of achieving this task, but not now. I have got past this point using three different ways, I have snuck around and found a side entrance, I have hidden myself on the back of a truck as it goes through, and I have also planted C4 on a vehicle and blown both the vehicle and the gate up letting me walk through or even drive. All of the vehicles in the base are drivable, nothing feels off limits. You really can play this game in a way I have not experienced before.

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In the run up to the release of this game, director Hideo Kojima, announced that the campaign mission could be completed in a couple of hours, this had many people angry that such a short game could be released and charged for. I did complete the initial mission in around two hours on my first playthrough. But it doesn’t end there, this simply unlocks four other ‘side’ missions and if you collect all of the XOF patches also the Deja Vu Mission exclusive to Playstation.

I have played this game for over ten hours and still do not feel that I have completed it, there is so much more to do if you choose to and completing the missions is just the start. The open world allows and actively encourages you to try out new routes and methods. After playing this I am very excited to play the Phantom Pain- especially if it is around 200 times larger as Kojima has suggested. Essentially by making me feel this way, the game has succeeded in its aim.

If you are a fan of Metal Gear games then this is well worth the £20 it cost to purchase, if you aren’t or have never played a Metal Gear game before then I still recommend that you try it out. Few games give you the freedom that Ground Zeroes does, the missions may be on the short side but they really are incredible to experience.

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Also Available on PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Reviewer: James Holland. 

Outlast Review

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Outlast on the Playstation 4| Developed by Red Barrels | Published by Red Barrels.

Outlast was the February game given away as part of Playstation Plus on the PS4, it is described on the Playstation Store as a single player survival horror, I would say that it fully lives up to that description. Red Barrels have created a game that feels like it should be based on a horror movie from twenty years ago. This game is full of scares and they are so well implemented, that it has the brilliant knack of making you jump even when you know you the scares are coming.

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The background story to Outlast is quite simple, you play a journalist who has decided to act on an anonymous tip to investigate a psychiatric hospital called Mount Massive Asylum. This Asylum is owned by a murky and underhand corporation (aren’t they all?) called Murkoff. Upon arrival it seems something is amiss and as you enter the asylum you quickly wish that you should have ignored that tip to investigate.

The gameplay in Outlast is fairly unique in that you have no weapons and as such no means to defend yourself from the various inhabitants of the Asylum. What you do have however is a video camera, this is essential to survive due to its night vision mode that you will have to use in the many darkened areas. This is a mechanic that is used well in the game as it runs down batteries that forces you to look for more. The green hue of the night vision really does seem to draw you in as you creep around, hearing noises well before you see anything.

The tension and atmosphere this game manages to create puts you on edge, the music is perfectly timed to create the maximum amount of psychological unease and tension before the loud bang of someone appearing behind you! Or worse when you are hiding under a bed not wanting to wear the batteries down, so you peek every now and again before you see a face before you, it is terrifying in those seconds in the dark hearing your stalkers footsteps growing ever closer.

The run or hide mechanics of the game are a welcome change from many of the action oriented ‘survival horror’ games, but sadly it does mean that the gameplay can feel repetitive and this is one of the problems that this game has. It is a fairly short game, around four hours for a play through so luckily it doesn’t get too repetitive. I did not understand however why the player never once tries to defend himself, I understand that there are no weapons but surely you would try and use something to defend yourself such as throwing books, chairs or anything you could grab at your pursuers?

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One major problem that I had with the game was that some of the tasks were unimaginative and only there to extend the length of the game. Many games employ the tactic of forcing the player to find three different switches to open a door or new area and Outlast does nothing to change that. Sadly it is dull having to find several switches just to progress over and over. Some sections also feel like you have to learn the layout and, as such means you will have a few repeat deaths until you learn which way you are meant to go to get to the next section of the game. The story, whilst set in a classic clichéd location of a secluded and disconnected Asylum, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed and a bit of a let down towards the end.

Overall I really enjoyed Outlast and thought it was a welcome, if at times terrifying, change to the genre. Outlast works perfectly at making you jump and really draws you in like few horror games have been able to, play this on your own in the dark and I guarantee you will soon feeling your heart pounding as you slowly open that door in the dark not knowing what is on the other side.

I am giving this game a rating of 7/10, it delivers on the scares but I felt it was lacking in variety to give it any higher, either way it is well worth playing.

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Reviewer: James Holland