The Flock PC Review

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Two of FGUK’s Writers Take a Look at The Flock

Publisher: Vogelsap
Developer: Vogelsap
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 21/08/2015

Reviewer – Ian P.

With exception of a few, multiplayer games do suffer from a limited shelf-life. Sure, upon the release, servers are often flooded with players hoping for the next big thing, but it’s not before long that players drift away and the game is left barren and forgotten. Vogelsap have come up with an ingenious solution to this problem and have boldly stepped into the ring with ‘The Flock’.

A multiplayer only title, ‘The Flock’ hosts a maximum of 5 players all vying for control of the ‘Light Artefact’, which is essentially a torch. Control the artefact long enough and you win the game, simple. The twist comes however with the effect being torch bearer has on your abilities. Without it you are a fast and agile creature, able to cover distance and heights with speed and finesse. With it, you transform into a slow humanoid, unable to climb and limited to a ponderous walking speed. The carrier is the prey and the Flock are the hunters.

The creatures do have one vital weakness, they are extremely photosensitive, shine the light on one of these beings and they burst into flames. Their only defence from this is to stand perfectly still, for reasons I cannot explain, whilst remaining motionless their skin is covered in an impenetrable layer, keeping them safe from harm.

To keep the game from languishing into a glorified version of ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’ further abilities and restrictions have been added. As part of the Flock you are able to spawn a static replica of yourself, which can be teleported to instantly. With considered placement these can be an unnerving distraction allowing you the time to move in and strike the carrier down and steal the artefact for yourself whilst out of sight from the dangerous light. You can also scream which alerts other members of the Flock to your position allowing for a coordinated strike against the bearer of the light. As the humanoid you are encouraged the keep moving, if you stay still for too long the light form the torch will extinguish, leaving you easy prey and the most obliging of victims.

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I mentioned earlier that Vogelsap have devised a way they hope to keep player numbers high. Well they have introduced what they are calling the ‘Population’. The game will only be available for purchase for a limited time. This is controlled by the number of lives left within the game. For each death, that number is reduced by one and once it hits zero it will be gone forever. The game then moves into the yet undisclosed finale where everyone who bought a copy is welcome to join.  At the time of writing the current Population stands at 215,330,875!

This is a fascinating concept and one I believe could work very well, sadly ‘The Flock’ fails to deliver on the most important aspect of all. It is not a very good videogame. The graphics are appallingly outdated, the sound effects are dull, the map design is uninspired, and the character models are horrendous. It is a shockingly poor attempt at entertainment, it is not frightening, unnerving or even slightly exciting to play. Maybe with five friends, all on voice communication, maybe some fun could be had. But with only three maps and such dull gameplay that fun will be short-lived.

I had serious high hopes for this game, I believe their concept can work, but not on the back of such poor design and craftsmanship. If this title was in its early stages of development, a pre-alpha, I would recommend it as one to watch. But at £12.99, even with a free copy for friend included in the price, I cannot possibly recommend this. After less than hour you will have explored all this game has to offer and I seriously doubt the population level will ever hit zero. It is a real shame, I wanted to enjoy this, I really did.

 

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Reviewer – Adam Belcher

Taking stock of The Flock.

Limited timed events are not a new concept to gaming, whether it be completing a challenge to unlock legendary armour, removing Zombies off your lawn for a fancy sun-hat or lapping a track before a leader-board is wiped. A game where its entire contents have an expiration count is a new feature, and one that Dutch developer Vogelsap is hoping to add an unique twist to rival anything else on the market.

The Flock is a horror themed competitive multiplayer game where up to 5 monsters must battle it out on a choice of 3 maps to obtain and hold a light-emitting artifact, he who holds the light, holds the power, however in return you mutate into Roger from American Dad. As Roger you must hold onto this light weapon as long as possible as the 4 other beasts track you. Once they have you the light is transferred into their possession and it is your turn to become the hunter. Your gun will destroy your enemies however if they stand still they will turn to stone and not be killed, this leads to you checking all angles with extreme paranoia as you slowly move around, and just to make the challenge more precarious if you stop moving the light will dim then fail, and you become another one of the diminishing statistics. Once the population falls to zero, the game will not be purchasable, only those who already own The Flock will be able to witness what is titled a “climactic finale”, before the game disappears from the inter-web. The winner is the first to reach the required score which at the time of playing was 100 but has recently been tweaked to 120.

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That paragraph pretty much sums up the whole game, graphically I didn’t think much of what was on offer, the creatures were void of great detail and did not induce fear like I expected and the available maps were both bleak and bland, and at the point as I lept towards the carrier the screen flashes white and leads to momentary confusion whilst you try and work out if you were successful or not.

The game does have a neat re-spawn feature which was not apparent in my first few rounds in that you can instantly rejoin the pack in exchange for an amount of your hard earned points, which cost me on my first play session as I was double tapping the controller in frustration after white screen. Also the flock do have some interesting skills such as lunging at their prey, creating a decoy to confuse the Carrier and a battlecry that gives the flock an adrenaline boost.

Currently priced at £12.99 ultimately The Flock provides you it’s entire experience within a 2 hour game session max, I feel no desire to return to these strange lands and by the time the player count drops from the current count of approx 215 million it’s likely to be gathering digital dust in amongst the pile of shame.

 

Pros

  • An exciting concept

 

Cons

  • Appalling presentation
  • Dull gameplay
  • Far too expensive

Scores!

Ian- 2/10

Adam 3/10

Victor Vran Review

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Victor Vran PC Review

Publisher: EuroVideo Medien
Developer: Haemimont Games
Release date: 24/07/2015

Lee Rand Writes:

Oh the shame of mispronouncing daftly named games. I lived in Bolton once. For those not familiar with Bolton, they speak a language that is seems very loosely related to English and the women of Bolton are completely undecipherable. So imagine my horror of walking into GAME Bolton branch and asking for Shenmue and pronouncing it Shenmoo! I was laughed out of store, chased down the street by these Northern folk as they shouted the correct pronunciation and called me names.

15 years later and that wound heals.. Then along Comes Victor Vran. ‘Let’s go play Victor Vran” (I pronounced it like Van) I squeaked to Ian! “It’s V-Ram” he replied. It’s a new scar, a new wound, perhaps another 15 years of shame.

The game!?

Victor Vran plays well. It’s an action RPG in the vein of Diablo, but it has enough metal of it’s own in its arsenal to make it stand apart from the many other Diablo clones that are on the market. For myself, I found it more engaging than the Torchlight games that would be the closest comparison.

Victor Vran is completely controller enabled and is the first game of this ilk that I’ve played with a controller. Confession time, Diablo games method of ‘click-click-click mouse’ mechanics bore me if I’m honest, this is the first time I’ve really enjoyed myself completely. Myself and Ian (the reviewer of this piece I should hasten to add) played a co-op session and Twitch streamed, I kept on saying that the game felt nothing like a Diablo clone to me and I could hear the questioning surprise in his answers of ‘really?’

Playing on my own? Not so much fun if I’m honest. Victor Vran was still enjoyable, but it felt a bit dry solo. That could well be more of a me thing, some games feel completely right in a social setting and VV hit that spot for me. In saying that, the narrator does a good job of keeping you engaged and in company. There’s nothing wrong with VV, it does a good job at being what it is and has just enough personality of it’s own to make it seem different from it’s peers.

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Ian P Writes:

At first glance Victor Vran appears to be just like any other isometric, hack’n’slash adventure, the same predictable enemies, the same familiar surroundings. It’s only when you scratch under the surface a little that underneath you’ll find something a little different. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and with enough additions to the gameplay to help elevate it from the crowd.

Playing as the demon hunter himself, players take control of Victor, his quest is to slay anything which crosses his path. With his broad brimmed hat and gruff voice, you’ll be forgiven if you confuse him with fellow hunter, Van Helsing. Thankfully, the game quickly avoids any further comparison to the aforementioned titles with a less than subtle dose of humour and diverse gameplay.

Accompanying Victor throughout his travels is the narrator. A well-spoken gent who delights in taunting and ridiculing you and your adversaries. Whilst the humour doesn’t always hit the mark, it is refreshing and it goes a long way to lift the game from the grim depths that so many seem to relish in.

Adding further to the diversity is the lack of a traditional class structure. Instead the game employs a system called density cards. These can either be collected via drops or bought from vendors. Each will buff a certain characteristic allowing you to develop Victor to fit your desired playstyle. These can be easily swapped at any point allowing for much diversity through a single playthrough.

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Adding to this is the weapon system. At first, it is rather basic, each weapon has a default attack supplemented with two extra abilities, but once you gain a few levels you’re granted the use of a second weapon. A simple button press is all that is needed to switch from one to the other and the choice is yours how and when you use them. With a little practise it’s easily possible to combine the abilities of both weapons, for example, use the shotgun’s facility to stun at range and swap to the scythe, rush in and decimate a large group. It is incredibly flexible and allows for much experimentation.

Being a hunter, Victor is a rather nimble chap and unusually for this style of game he can actually jump, not just a little hurdle, positioned correctly and he can wall jump quite high and gain access hidden areas.  It also makes traversal through the various regions much less arduous and he is able to withstand quite a fall so there is no need for senseless backtracking.

Veterans to these types of games might find the game fairly easy in the early stages, but once the hexes become available the challenge and difficulty can be increased quite dramatically. There are five hexes in total, each one modifying the game. Whether you have less health, face stronger enemies or quicker foes, each one can be activated at will or turned off if things are getting too difficult. For each active hex you will earn more gold and enemies drop better weapons, if you are up to the challenge you can turn them all on at once further increasing the gold you earn and the quality of the weapons.

So, would I recommend Victor Vram? The short answer is yes. Ascetically the game brings nothing new and the humour is a little hit and miss. Longevity may also be an issue for some. But I enjoyed its light-hearted nature, the flexible combat system is incredibly satisfying and adjustable difficulty kept me on my toes. Combine these with the smooth 4 player co-op and the promise of free DLC and there is certainly enough on offer here to appeal to fans of the action RPG genre.

Score – 8/10

Pros

  • Excellent Combat
  • Wonderful Presentation
  • Superb Voice Acting

Cons

  • Not quite as good as some of its competitors
  • Humour will not be to everyone’s taste

Ark Survival Evolved PC Preview

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Ark Survival Evolved Early Access Preview

Publisher: Studio Wildcard
Developer: Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, Virtual Basement
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 02/06/2015

Roaring its way onto Steam’s Early Access is Ark Survival Evolved, yet another survival game. Another open-ended sandbox where it seems everything is out to kill you or at the very least do you harm. Hostile environments, dangerous predators and sociopathic players all threaten your existence and from your modest and humble beginnings it is clear that your life here will be arduous, at least in the beginning. So, is Ark worth the investment? Why choose this over other very popular similar titles such as Rust, Day Z or H1Z1?

Well, Dinosaurs, lots and lots of dinosaurs. The lands, seas and skies are littered with them, from the tiny Dodo to the still awe inspiring T-Rex, these extinct beasts are incredibly well represented. The shuffling horde of the undead have happily been replaced with some of the most powerful and intimidating creatures that once graced this land. The success of the Jurassic Park franchise is proof alone that we, as a species, are still infatuated with these fantastic beats and with the promise of being able to tame them, to have them as pets, willing to do my bidding, well I couldn’t resist, without hesitation I jumped straight in.

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way, being an early access title, optimisation is an issue and to have it running anywhere near acceptable levels of performance you may spend quite a bit of time within the menus tinkering with settings trying to find the right balance. That being said, I have never experienced a game that is patched as often as Ark has been, the list of fixes and improvements since launch is very impressive and performance levels are on the increase so, if you were to start playing now or in the near future, you may find things a little easier going.

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Onto the actual game itself, aside from the aforementioned dinosaurs, there really isn’t a great deal of difference between this and the other survival games which currently flood the market. Your character starts their journey with the most meagre of possessions leaving you scouring the earth or punching trees until you have enough basic materials so you can begin to construct tools, weapons, clothing etc. There is one notable difference to the crafting system however, there is fairly rudimentary experience system to Ark. The ability to create anything more meaningful than a pointy stick is limited to how much experience your character has gained. In the early stages this is quite an easy process and it won’t be long until you can start to build a fairly basic camp. However, if you dream of anything a little more grandiose you may find yourself grinding out the levels later on. I enjoy the feeling of being rewarded for my progress, but I’m not sure I like the idea of being restricted because of my experience, at least in these types of games.

Is Ark a game for you? Well only you can answer that. I adore the social aspect of the survival genre, the joy of working together with friends towards various goals, the unrelenting sense of danger, meeting new people and the unpredictability which that brings all combine for such a unique experience. Each time you play you should have a story to tell, whether it’s a tale of great success or terrible misfortune, or maybe it’s just something simple, like the friendly person who gave you berries because you were dying of hunger. It’s here that the Ark Survival Evolved excels. Despite a fairly rough start due to performance issues, its proven very popular since launch and it’s easy to see why. The core gameplay is all present and correct (even if I’m divided with regards to the XP system) the servers are full of people almost constantly; the support from the developers is outstanding. If you enjoy survival games and the thought of taming your own dinosaur army appeals then the Ark is definitely worth paying attention to.

Reviewer – Ian P.

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Have you ever dreamt of living on a dinosaur infested Island, attracting them with your faeces, battering them half to death, then breaking them in and making your steeds?

Erm…. Nah… Neither have I, but a collective of developers under publisher Studio Wildcard most certainly did, and wildcard is the correct right in describing this game. The easiest and probably laziest (but that can be easily forgiven, given the influence DayZ has had on gaming these past couple of years) is to say that Ark is DayZ with dinosaurs.

Just like DayZ, your character first spawns on the edge of a beach, bewildered and lost, with little in the way of an inventory or skills. From the very start you can start bashing away at trees with your fists; this gives you materials to craft with. Pick up a rock, use the wood you managed to get from fisting your wood and you have a better tool to bash at your wood and balls of rock.

Also in these early stages you level up quite fast by doing just the above, allowing access to an RPG style tree of unlockable perks. Your first steps of days and nights are spent in the relative safety of the beach as you gather resources and brace yourself to move inland on the island and towards open world adventure.

The island is full to the brim with dinosaurs and beasts of all shapes and sizes. With the right skills and help, you can tame the chompy little beggars and make them work for you, you can build bases, frolics and adventures will no doubt ensue. The potential for fun here really does seem boundless. On one of my forays I bumped into a player built fortress, with dinosaurs flying around, dinosaurs herding on the ground, it was an absolute spectacle.. Until it came to a stuttering halt with performance issues.

Any of you that are paying attention to my drivel may be wondering where my own adventures are? My tales of poo and taming dinosaurs are a thing of the future I’m afraid. Ark: Survival Evolved is Early Access and comes with the trappings of many Early Access games: As it stands, it’s not optimised very well and for the first couple of weeks it was unplayable for me.

To the developers credit, updates are coming in thick and fast, the game has gone from unplayable for myself –  to very much playable (albeit on lower setting than I may normally be used to).

I feel it’s also pertinent to point out that I paid for my own copy of the game. Why do I say that? Because there’s an understandable cynicism when it come to Early Access games, with a growing burial mound for unfinished games that have taken peoples hard earned cash, but never delivered on their promises. Ark will be released on consoles in the near future and I have a lot of confidence it will deliver on its promises, with VR support on the horizon as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if this became the poster-boy for VR on both PC and consoles. I’m not alone in my confidence, with over One Million sales on PC in a month, this dinosaur looks like a long way from extinction.

Reviewer – Lee Rand

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Zombies, Zombies are so 1996-2014. 2015 is the year of the dinosaur. What better way to complement the box office hit of Jurassic World than to visit an island roaming with your favourite carnivores in a land before time.

Ark has entered the sandbox survival genre in an early access form and this is very apparent from your arrival. With my mid range setup on low settings, awaking at a dazzlingly bright beach as naked as the minute you were just hideously formed, both hot and hungry and surrounded by recognisable brontosaurs and triceratops. There are currently over 50 species that roam the isle and all of the familiar Dino’s from the movies are present and accounted for, albeit looking drawn out as a school project finished with crayons.

Jerking towards these oversized pets I returned to the settings menu to find there is no lower setting than the one already afforded to me, so 17 FPS with potato detail will just have to do.

Back to the beach and it’s time I found shelter, and something to eat, hacking at the bushes seem to provide a variety of berry’s which looked deadly and delicious in equal measure, after my feast I spied a slow moving cute looking dodo, punched it to death with my bare hands and now with berry belly pressed Z to defecate on it’s still flinching corpse.

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You are not alone on this mysterious island retreat, the multiplayer aspect of this game means your threat of survival is not only at the claws of the prehistoric, but also at the over-sized fists of the equally deformed human players, although in one session in a group of 3 we were unable to meet up and the useless pirate map provided no noticeable clues to coordinate our position.

On a very positive note not a day goes by where there isn’t a patch queued for ARK, and I really feel the developers are doing all they can to get things the way they want.. If you already have a £££ setup this may be a game to keep your eye on, but without a major overhaul I’ve been unable to see this game as the developers intended.

Ark Survival Evolved has an official release date of June 2016 on Steam, PS4 and Xbox One, so with a year to go I’m hoping there is enough time to optimise the settings, add further elements to the game which hopefully the community will have some part to play in, and with the developers intentions will showcase both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus and realise some of the hardware’s potential for mainstream use in the living room.

Reviewer – Adam Belcher

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Not A Hero PC Review

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Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Roll7
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 14/05/2015

If, like me, you saw the screenshots for Not a Hero and thought, ‘yea, it’s another pixel art shooter, I’ve seen this before’, you can be easily forgiven if you wanted to give this title a miss. Pixel art is cheap and because of this the games industry is flooded with titles which use this graphical style. So what was it which caught my attention? Why choose to play this over the slew of other titles which all bare the same guise?

Well, when I see the Devolver Digital name attached to a project I immediately sit up and take notice. There is an air of quality which surrounds most of the games they choose to publish, an honest and genuine wish to entertain and I find it very difficult to resist their charms. So, with that being said, I wanted to know a little more.

The storyline is utterly ridiculous in the best possible way. Bunnylord is a time travelling rabbit type creature who has travelled from the future in a hope to prevent an apocalypse. If he is to succeed, then he must be elected Mayor and the election is only a month away. To guarantee his success he employs a gang of psychopathic misfit mercenaries and this is where we come in.

Playing as one of these anti-heroes it’s our job to clean up the city streets and by any means necessary (which will involve lots of blood, bullets and foul language). Each level consists of one main objective and a couple of bonus challenges, such as completing an objective within a certain time limit or by finding particular hidden items. Some of these can be genuinely difficult, but they are worth persevering with, each completed objective increases Bunnylord’s approval rating which unlocks new characters, there are nine in total, each with their own distinct personality and abilities.

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You start the game with Steve, a pistol touting cockney. Steve is brash and cocky, has decent aim and his gun holds reasonable amount of ammo, a decent all-rounder. It won’t be long before you will unlock Cletus, a whisky swilling Scotsman, armed with a devastating shotgun, he will need to reload often, but with considered use he can make easy work of clearing a room. Each of the nine characters are a fabulous stereotype and all ooze personality, helped in no small part by the excellent voice acting. The insults fly nearly as often as the bullets, each time bringing a smile to my face. It maybe vulgar, but it is funny.

Not a Hero starts off relatively relaxed, but the difficulty soon ramps up and our band of psychotic mercenaries are going to need more than their trusty side arm if they hope to earn a paycheque. Thankfully each level is garnished with random ammo improvements, such as exploding rounds or flammable bullets, these are finite items, only to be used sparingly, but can often make the difference between life and death. There are also various types of grenades which can collected, my favourite of which is the cat bomb. Send this ball of cuteness towards a group of enemies and they we will be transfixed, they will forget all about you, lost in the eyes of this adorable kitty as our feline friend detonates an eviscerates the lot of them.

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As it seems with most 2D pixel shooters, you are not very strong and can be easily dispatched if you are not careful. It is great fun to race about slaying everything that gets in your way, but you won’t last long if you do. Sometimes a silent approach is needed, get close enough to the enemy and his head can be removed with one simple shot, if you are spotted though it’s best to jump into cover and time your shots accordingly. Or you can run towards them, slide, knocking them off their feet and close in for a quick and bloody melee kill. On the whole this works well, but when the action gets a little too intense it can be a little awkward. The slide and cover mechanic are mapped to the same button so it is easy to get into a bit of mess. This doesn’t happen too often though and with a little practise and by learning the layout of each level, it can be avoided almost entirely.

So, would I recommend Not a Hero? Absolutely. If you can imagine the charm and look of say, Broforce mixed with the violence and insanity of Hotline Miami and throw a hide and seek cover system into the mix you are on your way to understanding what this game is like to play. Yes, the plot is ridiculous and the violence and vulgar language is a little over the top, but that’s the reason why I love it. It does get quite difficult and there is very little replay value and I don’t care, when a game is as fun as this it really doesn’t matter. If you are easily offended by stereotypes or the excessive use of profanity, then maybe Not a Hero isn’t for you, the rest of us however, vote Bunnylord.

 

Pros

  • Wonderfully ridiculous
  • Fast action
  • Gorgeous and gory
  • Fantastic soundtrack and voice acting

Cons

  • Humour may not be to everyone’s taste
  • Controls can be a little awkward

 

 

Score – 8/10

Reviewer – Ian P.

 

 

Sky Force Anniversary PC Review 

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Sky Force Anniversary PC Review

Publisher: Infinite Dreams
Developer:  Infinite Dreams
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release date: 30/04/2015

The original Sky Force was a vertical shooter which was released, yes you guessed it, 10 years ago on PocketPC and mobile phones. In 2014 Infinite Dreams produced a re-imagining of the original in the form of Sky Force 2014 which is available on iOS. Thus, the anniversary edition is a mobile port of the latter, but is it worth your time? Transitioning from mobile devices to PC is a tricky business and most are genuinely awful, so does this fare any better?

Well the first impressions are rather good, running at 1080p at 60fps gameplay is fast and smooth. Travelling over land and sea, dodging enemy fire as you zip around the screen is instinctive and just as satisfying as it should be. The obvious switch from swiping a screen to using a control pad in order to navigate the stages makes the entire experience much more fun and, for an ageing gamer like me, much more intuitive.

The levels are wonderfully presented and the attention to detail is genuinely very impressive. Sky Force 2014 was never an ugly game, far from it, but the jump to PC has made a notable difference. Backgrounds are lush and colourful and is nice to see a change from the platter of brown we have sadly been subjected to over recent years. Flying over remote islands whilst the surrounding waves crash against the rocks and the palm trees sway gently in the wind is a nice place to be, even if you are laying waste to everything set before you. Even the military bases have been handled with right amount of care, the unavoidable greyness of concrete is broken up with intelligent use of scenery, couple this with the bright neon weapon fire and your eyes will never begin to tire.

So, what about the plot, well if you come here in search of a multi layered story, full of complex dialogue and difficult decision making you’re in the wrong place, I’m sure if you shop around Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls are on sale somewhere. No here you will find some nonsensical nonsense regarding someone called General Madness, but honestly, I’ve forgotten it already, I just wanted to shoot things and thankfully that’s where Sky Force delivers.

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The opening prologue level gives you the opportunity to pilot your craft whilst at its most powerful, armed to the teeth with all manner of destructive capabilities, it won’t be long until General has gone the way of many a lofty  dictator, hiding in a bunker somewhere hoping the actor who will play him in the movie is, at least, good looking. Sadly for us and once again, reasons I forget, our well-equipped angel of destruction is stripped bare of all but one of the available weapons, a measly single shot, front mounted gun. If you are to put a stop to the Madness, then you will need all of your tools and it’s here that Sky Force proves to be quite addictive.

Kill a certain enemy and it will drop a much needed weapon upgrade, these are only temporary and will last for the entire level. However, enemies also drop stars, which act as currency with the game, collect enough of these and the end of each stage you will have the opportunity to spend in the workshop. It’s here where you can upgrade your ship, purchase new weapons or increase the damage output of the ones you already own. Now, originally being a free to play game, extra stars could be purchased if you were willing to part with your hard earned cash, thankfully this option has now been removed and the game is all the better for it. Each level can be replayed as often as you like, each time earning you more stars and coupled with the way each new level unlocks, this is where the addiction can take hold.

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In order to open up new levels a certain amount of medals needs to be achieved. These are gained by completing set challenges within each stage. They’re four in total, complete a level without being hit, save all the survivors, kill 70% and 100% of the enemy forces. As the game progresses it becomes much harder to achieve these goals and you will need a powerful ship in order to do it and that’s when the grind starts. Kill as many enemies as you can, earn stars, upgrade your ship and aim for the challenge medals. You are heavily incentivised to replay past missions over and again.

And that’s it in a nutshell, if you enjoyed games such as Super Aleste or 1942 then there is much to be admired here. With its ridiculously forgettable plot, wonderful presentation, epic boss battles and addictive, satisfying gameplay, Sky Force Anniversary has a lot to offer. And when you marry all these to local co-op, weekly challenges, and online leaderboards you will certainly get a lot of bang for your buck.

 

Pros

  • Overall very pretty
  • Can be quite addictive
  • Great for short blasts of gaming

Cons

  • Not for those who loathe the grind
  • Music can become repetitious
  • Gets very tricky in the latter stages

Score – 7/10

Reviewer – Ian P.

Phantasmal: Early Access First Impressions

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Phantasmal: Early Access Impressions

Publisher: Eyemobi Ltd.
Developer: Eyemobi Ltd.
Release date: 30/04/2015

Set in the infamous Kowloon Walled City (an overpopulated, largely ungoverned Hong Kong metropolis which was torn down in 1994), Phantasmal is a procedurally generated, rouge-like survival horror game. The developers describe it as The Biding of Isaac meets Silent Hill, lofty ambitions indeed. So, are they on the right path? Is this Lovecraft inspired journey into madness heading in the right direction or is this another misguided step to terrify us with cheap scare tactics and underwhelming gameplay?

Well, the first signs are rather promising. Waking in the bowels of an abandoned building, your only hope if you wish to survive is to carefully navigate the maze-like corridors and empty rooms set before you. With your trusty flashlight in hand you, somewhat hesitantly, take your first steps into the darkness. It is not long before you realise that you are not alone. Strange, humanoid creatures shuffle mindlessly in the shadowy hallways and once alerted to your presence will hunt you down, pushing your sanity towards breaking point, forcing you to start all over again.

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There are weapons you can use to keep these forces at bay. Wooden planks and lead pipes can be used to bludgeon these foes and there are also some basic firearms if need arises, but these should only be used as a last resort. Make too much noise and you will attract the attention of ‘The Sleeper’, a huge tentacle strewn beast that cannot be stopped and, once awoken, will stalk you relentlessly. If you are going to endure this nightmare, a stealthy approach is a must. Be aware of your surroundings, use the torchlight only when needed and when all else fails, run.

Whilst the core gameplay mechanics are in place, Phantasmal still has a way to go. The enemy A.I. is a little suspect and it’s often difficult to know if or when you will be detected. Sneaking through the buildings many rooms and passageways is genuinely tense, but it would be nice to know that you can fire your gun once in awhile without being so heavily punished. Even a minor mistake can result in your death, forcing you to start all over again.

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I died a lot during my time with Phantasmal, learning each time that I did. Each encounter was different, but with a little time and a large helping of luck I was able to find my way only to be foiled once again. The procedural nature of this game is certainly interesting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether it can produce some of genre defining set pieces to elevate itself from the crowd only time will tell, but it’s a genuine concern.

Eyemobi are hard at work and aim to complete the early access stage of development within three to six months. With a bit more graphical polish, some much needed balancing and some display and audio tweaks, Phantasmal may just be a descent into madness that some of us crave.

 

Reviewer – Ian P.

Bloodborne Review PS4 Review

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: From Software
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Release date: 27/03/2015

Your eyes slowly open, adjusting quickly to the dimly lit surroundings. A Victorian surgery greets you as you wake, a somewhat sinister wheelchair bound man dressed in tattered brown clothing has given you what appears to be some kind of blood transfusion. Rising from your slumber, you climb from your bed and begin to search for a way forward. Two great heavy doors gently resist as you force them open. Standing atop a large staircase you begin your uneasy descent, candles flicker in the distance, illuminating your destination.

Reaching the bottom, you hear noises coming from the adjoining room, with nowhere else to turn, you hesitantly proceed. Turning the corner, the sight of what welcomes you freezes steadfast. A wiry, fur-matted werewolf is hunched over an eviscerated corpse, its teeth gnaws at the flesh of this forsaken soul. Noticing your presence, this terrifying creature lifts its head and slowly turns to face you, the blood which drips from its jaws glistening in the light. Its body stoops low, its muscles tighten, it’s about to pounce. You have no weapon, no way to defend yourself, but this monstrosity blocks your only exit. It leaps towards you, flailing its limps, sharp flesh shredding claws rips through your skin. You roll away desperately searching for a way past, but it too late. This beast is far too fast, another pounce and this time you are too slow to react, its talons tear through your flesh again and your demise is swift and brutal.

Gehrman_1426607869Thankfully, death is not the end in Bloodborne and you awaken at the foot of a derelict chapel, its gardens adorned with old headstones. You have arrived in Hunters Dream, the central hub area of Yarnham. It is here that you will be presented with your first important choice, strange glyphs adorn the steps of the chapel and upon drawing closer, small creatures called Messengers crawl up waist high from we know not where. These friendly little imps are here to help and will present you with a choice, you must pick one of three available weapons, the Hunters Axe, Saw Cleaver or the Threaded Cane. Each one varies in speed and damage output, so it’s best to choose something that will fit your play style. Next you will be given a choice with regards to a pistol, the weak, but durable Hunter Blunderbuss or the Hunter Pistol, ideal weapons for disturbing the attacks of your foes allowing for deadly attacks from your melee weapon. Your final gift is a notebook, this is used to leave messages for other players to read. With these newly found tools in hand, you venture back into the centre of Yarnham, ready to face whatever horrors which lie before you.

Rising from the lantern you take your first cautious steps towards the centre of the city, winding your way through the moonlight cobbled streets you come across a band of men armed with pitch forks and other rudimentary weapons, flaming torches light the area as the smokes escapes from under the city streets. Taking your time to approach, you hesitate, their heads quickly turn, you have been spotted. Rushing towards you the air fills with sounds of fear and panic, metal swishes as it cuts through the air, striking bone and slicing through flesh. You flail wildly, trying your best to keep the mob at bay, you manage to kill one and then another, but there are too many. The crackling of the fire is the last thing you hear before you awake at the lantern, ready to try again.

Huntersdream_1426607870You quickly realise that to survive the world of Bloodborne it will take a mixture of cunning and speed. Never rush in blindly but, survey your surroundings, plan your attack and when you do, don’t hesitate, make their end swift and brutal. Your ferocity must outdo those of your adversaries, but be warned your stamina will affect how long you can sustain an attack, it’s a balancing act that, given time, you’ll master and when you consider that some of your health can be replenished by striking your enemies, being aggressive is the best form of defence, even when you face the most fearsome of foes.

As with previous From Software titles, their character design is truly exceptional. Yarnham is full of interesting beings and terrifying creatures. Rabid dogs, overgrown rats, lame man-sized crows, huge Goliath pigs, enormous spiders hiding in the rafters. But it’s not just the animals you should be scared of. There are little old ladies that will happily slice your throat wide open if you let them get too close, hulking great grave robbers with unmatched strength, the blade carrying madmen with ferocious speed, to name but a few, every enemy you encounter should be feared and respected.

Along with these sinister creatures the Gothic design found with Bloodborne is both majestic and foreboding. The Giant Cathedral penetrates the skyline as it reaches towards the heavens, narrow dimly lit streets feel claustrophobic and intimidating, venture into the nearby forest and you can easily become lost and confused, find yourself underground and the water here will eat its way to your bones. Take your time though and you soon realise how beautifully all these areas connect. Fighting your way forwards to a gate or door and you will find that, once its open, it leads to an area that’s somewhat familiar, you begin to piece it all together and the initial confusion of this labyrinth is replaced with a deeper understanding of your surroundings, a map begins to form in your mind. It is an absolute masterclass with regards to structure and design.

Lantern_1426607871The lack of direction and unforgiving difficulty will no doubt alienate some and the occasional problems that you may encounter with camera will be frustrating. You may find in particular heated exchanges the viewpoint obscured or the screen spins erratically as it tries to keep up with the action, especially during boss fights, but this does not happen often enough to break the game.

For those with the time and patience Bloodborne is highly recommended. The epic boss battles, the visceral and gratifying combat, the astounding musical score, the rich and detailed environments, the staggering character design and the harrowing sound effects all combine to produce a title that is truly outstanding. Yarnham is home to one of most horrific and rewarding gothic adventures of all time and if you’re up for the challenge, I urge you to pay it a visit.

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Pneuma: Breath of Life Xbox ONE Review

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Publisher:
Developer: Deco Digital, Bevel Studios
Platform Reviewed: Xbox ONE
Release date: 27/02/2015

At some point in our lives we may find ourselves pondering the meaning of life, the existence of the world and our place in it. Pneuma: Breath of Life is a first person puzzle game that explores these thoughts and ideas as if we were a God and how that would change our perceptions and beliefs. Playing as a character who believes himself to be a God we listen to his inner monologue as he progresses through his world, questioning his being and how that relates to the world which surrounds him.

Progression through the story is achieved by solving a series of puzzles built entirely around the principle of perception. Relying solely on the power of sight, objects can be moved or manipulated simply be looking at them. Look at a torch and it will light, look at it again the flame will extinguish. If you want the bridge to move, simply look at the correct spot and move your head, then watch as these apparently vast, immovable objects seem to bend and twist to your will. Physical interaction is kept to a minimum, there are some mechanisms which require a button push to operate, but most of the time you be relying on what you see in order to manipulate your surroundings. There are no convoluted controls to master or overly complex mechanics to learn. You are encouraged to look closely at every detail whilst searching for clues which will help you proceed.

Pneuma_01 review sizeBuilt using the Unreal Engine 4 the world looks absolutely stunning. The Romanesque architecture is both grandiose and subtle in equal measure. Beautifully carved stone structures all wonderfully illuminated by the stunning lighting effects makes exploring each location an absolute pleasure. The mesmerising soundtrack has an almost hypnotic effect and you may find yourself being thoroughly drawn into the landscape. When the dark clouds hide the warmth of the sun and the rain beats relentlessly at your window, the world of Pneuma is a delightful place to escape to.

Sadly this idyllic setting is spoiled by a few nasty blots upon the landscape.  Game length will vary, it all depends how quickly you can solve the puzzles, for me it took less than three hours to complete and I am by no means an expert when it comes to this style of game. There is no real need to play through this more than once so, value for money is a consideration.

Pneuma_05The all-important monologue is voiced by someone who sounds a little like an excited YouTube’r, something I found particularly irritating. His slightly comical attitude is a mistake, in my opinion, the person who narrated the trailer would have been perfect, his pace and tone would match the dialogue perfectly. Lastly, due to nature of interaction using a controller can be an awkward and slightly clumsy affair. The developers have stated the PC version will support the Oculus Rift and I can’t escape the feeling that this would be the ideal way to experience this game.

Be that as it may, there are very few titles, especially on a console, that offer this type of experience. If, after a long day, you feel a little tired and a little sore from the beating the world has dished out and you just want to escape to a warm and comfortable place; to slow the rush of modern life and to be left alone to ponder as you stroll along. Pneuma: Breath of Life will welcome you with open arms, but be warned, it won’t last long enough.

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Dying Light Review

volatile-background-artDying Light Xbox One Review

Publisher: Warner Bros.

Developer: Techland

Platform: Xbox One

I maybe in the minority, but I quite enjoyed Dead Island and whiled away many an hour battering the undead to a pulp, so when Techland announced they were going to release Dying Light I was very excited. Whilst not being a sequel in the true sense of the word, the cocktail of one part Mirrors Edge and one part Dead Island is a drink I would happily drown myself in. So, have they pulled it off ? Is Dying Light a glorious mix of parkour and gratuitous brain bashing or is it a flat, tasteless substance than somehow makes water seem interesting ?

Well, the story certainly isn’t the high point. Set in the fictional city of Harran, you play Kyle Crane who has been sent into the quarantine zone by the GRE (Global Relief Effort) to find Kadir Sulaiman, a rogue agent who has ownership of a file which could ruin the reputation of the agency. After parachuting into the isolated city things quickly take a turn for the worst. Beaten and bitten Kyle is thankfully saved by a group of survivors, known locally as ‘runners’. Keeping his intentions a secret, Kyle begins to help this resolute group by performing whatever tasks they require of him, hoping this will bring him closer to finding Kadir.

dl-01It’s all quite generic stuff, not improved by the wooden, stereotypical NPC’s. The characters lack any real depth and seem to spend most of the time just standing around asking you to collect items for them. Thankfully I didn’t come to Harran to be entertained with a multi-layered complex story, no, I came to eviscerate, to obliterate and destroy. I am here to lay waist to the zombie infestation with whatever comes to hand and it’s here that Dying Light delivers.

It seems that even the most rudimentary of items can be used as a weapon. Table legs, a wooden plank and, of course, metal pipes. All can be swung with enough force to slow the march of the undead, but these items won’t last long and you’ll soon find yourself outnumbered and running for your life. It’s a good thing that Kyle is as nimble as he is vicious, which allows for some very sprightly escapes. It will take a little time to become familiar with the parkour system, but with a little practice you’ll be traversing the environment with ease and if you are anything like me, you’ll want to find the quickest and smoothest route to your destination, never wanting to stop for a second (unless of course you spot a few isolated undead who are ripe for the picking). Go on, enjoy yourself, it’s why you’re here after all.

This leads nicely into the skill trees, of which there are three. Accumulate enough points and you will be able to upgrade your skills, quite why a spy is so underdeveloped is beyond me, but hey ho. The first being ‘survivor’ general points you’ll achieve by yes- surviving and helping out your comrades. Then there is ‘agility’ which increases with each feat of dexterity, from climbing, leaping and avoiding attacks. Finally there is ‘power’ which increases which each use of your offensive abilities. These are a great way of rewarding the player and as you approach the final chapters of the game you will be quite adept to face most of the challenges set before you.

dl-03Even when you have become proficient in these skills you will still need to be careful. You can be overrun quite quickly and even the most slow witted of the undead will be feasting on your flesh. Harran isn’t just home to your ‘normal’ zombie. Here you will find some of the infected have unique skills. You have the standard biter, who clumsily shuffles about the place, but make too much noise and you will find yourself being hunted by a group of Virals, who are much quicker and also possess the ability to climb. It would be wise not to take these lightly as they can be devastating in groups.  Then there are Gas Tanks zombies, they’re dressed in full hazmat suits, whilst they can’t bite you it’s the large oxygen tanks they have on their backs which can be a problem. This can explode which can be useful for clearing a cluster, but will also draw the attention of the Virals.  Whilst it is these three you will come into contact with quite often, there are others that you will be happy to know you don’t see nearly as much. There are huge hulking great monstrosities which are very powerful, others which will explode and some that will spit a toxic substance all over you. By far the most dangerous though are the Volatiles, who are a formidable foe and best left alone, if you’re spotted the only option is to run to a safe zone as fast as possible. Thankfully, these only come out at night.

It’s the day and night cycle which is the most interesting thing about Dying Light. Harran is a horrifying place to find yourself during the day, but when it becomes night-time and the darkness closes in, it becomes quite terrifying. Ability and Power points are doubled during these hours, it’s as if Techland are daring you, willing you to take on the challenge. In the early stages of the game, when Kyle is quite weak and without any decent weapons, this would be unthinkable, but as your time with the game grows so does your confidence and you have the abilities to match. It’s still not easy, but it’s achievable.

dl-04So back to my earlier question, would I drown myself in Dying Light? No, but, I would wade into it until it was around my chest. The so called plot is a disappointment, there are far too many side quests which are simply tasking you to play fetch. It also has surprising difficulty spikes which can prove quite frustrating. That being said, when you get the hang of the parkour system and you have upgraded your character with enough abilities, the game becomes much more fun. You will often find there is more than one way to complete any given task and when you get access to the more powerful weapons and upgrades this possibilities increase further. It’s a welcome change, not feeling superhuman, and when you’re scampering down a dark alleyway with a horde of screaming Volatiles bearing down on you whilst you frantically search for a path to safety, your heartbeat pulsing in your ears, your breath quickened you may find yourself saying, yes! I’ll have another, thank you.

 

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Wii U Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo Group No.2, 1-Up Studio
Platform Reviewed: Wii U
Release date: 03/01/2015

From the moment the announcement was made that we would have a game dedicated to the charismatic little fellow, I was eager to give Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker a go. For me, the Toad levels were one of the highlights of Super Mario 3D World and proved to be a welcome and satisfying change of pace. Charming and delightful perspective puzzles, where the goal was to navigate small maze-like arenas in search of an increasingly elusive star. Setting out to plunder the Mushroom Kingdom, Toad is accompanied by Toadette. The game is their relentless pursuit of treasure, but is there enough on offer to warrant a full release for the likeable duo?

The first thing to strike you is just how beautiful the world looks. Just like a Pixar movie, each character model feels solid and saturated in colour. Personality oozes from every screen with such whimsical charm. Every asset is perfectly placed and it is an absolute pleasure to explore every level, which is something you will be doing a lot of.

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As previously mentioned, the objective is to navigate the many pitfalls and traps of each level in order to reach the star, but there is more to it than that. In order to progress past certain chapters, a set amount of gems need to be found, there are a maximum of three in each stage and it can prove quite tricky to find them all, particularly later on. You will often find yourself re-visiting stages just to collect these gems. There are also challenges specific to each level, whether it is to complete a stage completely unseen or unscathed or to collect a set amount of coins, they can be quite imaginative and very tricky, especially as you progress.

Understanding the layout of each given stage is a must and either by moving the right control stick or using the gyro inside the Wii U pad the camera can be moved in almost any direction. The movements are smooth and effortless and the camera glides and swoops with relative ease. It’s not perfect however, not being able to disable the gyro can cause sudden camera movements if you move the pad abruptly. It’s a shame, but due to the fact the gyro is needed for certain levels it is somewhat understandable.

WiiU_CaptainToad_101014_SCRN01All the charm and bright colours would be a loss if the level design wasn’t up to the job and thankfully Nintendo have excelled themselves once again. Whilst most of the stages are relatively short, the attention to detail and the sheer amount of variation on offer is quite staggering. From haunted castles to infested gardens, runaway mine cars to caves flooded with lava, the Mushroom Kingdom is well represented with all its wonderful diverse landscapes.

The Wii U controller’s features have been well implemented without feeling overused. Whether you’re tapping the screen to move blocks or freeze enemies, blowing on the mic to raise platforms, or spinning around the room whilst aiming from cannons. The arrangement of the levels means it never feels like a gimmick and it is an excellent way of making each challenge feel fresh.

Some familiar power-ups also make a welcome appearance, for some unexplained reason, Toad has lost his ability to jump and our heroes will need some help if they are to pillage the land successfully. The ever present mushroom is on offer for those who have been shrunk due to taking damage, the old two hits and your dead mechanic is alive and well. There is a mighty pickaxe – for when the need to smash blocks becomes absolutely necessary. My personal favourite is the double cherry, which duplicates whoever collects it. The goal here is to navigate the maze whilst controlling multiple incarnations to reach a platform which is only activated when a set amount of characters are standing upon it.

WiiU_CaptainToad_101014_SCRN36Like the perfect guest, Toad does not outstay his welcome. With 64 levels and some bonus ones for those who may have a save file of Super Mario 3D world on their Wii U, there is just enough content on offer to hold your interest. It will take roughly six hours from start to finish, more if you collect every item and pass every challenge, and this feels long enough. The difficulty has been perfectly paced and despite a few moments of frustration, there is genuine satisfaction to be had, especially when you reach that gem that first looked impossible.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is another example of why Nintendo, when they get it right, have that certain something, an X-factor, which makes their games feel special. Creative level design, confident and bold presentation, wonderful composition and familiar much-loved characters are all handled with such care and expertise that is difficult not be charmed by them. Whilst the price point maybe a little too high and the main menu is a little drab there is still plenty of the magic here that makes Toad a welcome addition to anyone’s collection.

 

Score: 9/10

 

Reviewer: Ian