Stellaris Review

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Stellaris is a space-based strategy game with enough depth to keep you learning throughout your journey, as you expand your empire one system at a time.

The daunting nature of 4X strategy games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) is always something that has absolutely fascinated me. By their very nature these games are larger and more cumbersome than any other genre and yet it is their ability to quickly communicate core systems and an ease of use that often defines their global success. In this sense, Stellaris is an absolute success. It doesn’t just present you with a myriad of systems at the beginning of your journey but ties them to a narrative plotline that becomes the driving force for your empire’s expansion. Whether you choose to stop and read every piece of information presented to you or not, the game offers enough of a connective tissue between its systems and the universe in which these systems are based to make everything blend together almost seamlessly.

Starting out as a fledgling society taking their tentative first steps into space, you will need to first cultivate the resources from your home galaxy before developing the technology to begin going further afield. Mining resources from uninhabitable planets is as simple as building a mining platform above the planet. The resources will be gathered and returned to your store with no micromanagement required. Planetary mining and power usage become slightly more technical as you build around your population on a tile based system. Another “Pop” on a tile allows you to build tech on the site to benefit both the planet and your empire at large. While some of these technologies will harvest food to stop your people from dying of starvation you can also overload a planet with key resource mining or power farming which feeds back to your overall stockpile. Power becomes a huge resource later in game when you need to manage large fleets which have a large energy consumption requirement to maintain them. Your key resource is your base currency and used to purchase a lot of your stations, ships and upgrades.

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The influence system is a fixed point for your empire and something that rarely changes. This is the amount of influence you have over your society and ticks up at a steady monthly rate throughout the game. Although some outward factors can have an effect – such as declaring a rival empire – this low number will be the limiting factor to your empire expansion throughout your campaign. Influence is required for developing frontier outposts that you need in a system before you can begin developing on the planets in the system. You need it to command edicts to your people to keep them in line and to also hire Fleet Commanders and scientists to further your expansion. It is the most important resource and there is little you can do to affect it.

Your research tech tree will allow you to focus the development of your empire. You may choose to focus on colonization and develop tech to allow you to settle on a number of different worlds. On the other hand, you could focus on new technology for your war machine and take the universe by force. You will hire scientists that will multitask as part commander, part researcher. They will command your science vessels and survey alien galaxies while researching your tech tree.

Your fleets will be commanded by an Admiral who you will use influence to hire – these will add buffs to your fleets that can turn the tide in every battle or enable you to specialise a fleet for different situations. I had an Admiral who granted a 20% sub-light speed boost that acted as my first responders – they were mobilized at the first sign of trouble and the fleet consisted of the fastest, most agile ships. I would follow that up with a fleet of dreadnoughts – hard hitting capital ships that are slower and can stand up to all but the most lethal enemy barrages.

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The game has an inbuilt shipbuilder that you are encouraged to use at every opportunity. You will constantly be developing new technology for your fleet and will be able to save a huge amount of designs depending on what you want from the system. I always held three types of ships – scout, support and heavy that I tweaked for different situations. I could save templates in an instant and construct them in an instant. Each game I played I approached the ship builder differently and got vastly different results. My first was to iterate quickly as soon as I had a new tech and have different ships building almost every year. My second approach was to hold off until I could do a complete refresh on a line and by far I found this the most satisfying. Each fleet is given a combat rating that will give you an instant way of knowing whether you will be successful in combat or not. This gave me instant feedback as soon as my ships dropped from warp into a system whether I should flee or mount up and bring the cavalry. Usually, a combination of the both meant I was reasonably successful throughout. Hiding at the edge of a system while support warped in was always the most nerve-racking few minutes.

Everything in Stellaris happens in real time meaning those crunch times are always a stressful few mouse clicks. As your empire grows you are often faced with numerous notifications, along with a war on one front and pirates popping up back deep within your empire. The game allows for this and expects you to manage through pausing, which actually allows you to put everything into perspective, organise and mobilise before letting the action continue. This meant I could deal with a hunger crisis on Earth, pop over to my construction yard to load up a queue of dreadnoughts and then move my combat units around the enemies. Hitting the pause button would then allow you to watch as your masterful strokes are undertaken by your people.

Although you are in command of your people you are not the galactic leader – this is someone who is elected into place by the people. You can use your influence to support one of the leaders who can provide you with buffs and also influence boosts if you aid them in completing their elections promises. Sometimes these can be frustrating: A common example being tasked with building 4 research stations and they’re not in your immediate expansion area. The payoff being some extra influence points. It’s a nice risk reward system that challenges you again and again.

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Storyline options appear throughout your time in the form of missions that are entirely optional and give you little benefit unless you are keen to know more about the universe you are currently conquering. These story-beats are usually in the form of planets you send researchers to discover a piece of ancient alien tech or burial ground. They flesh out the history of the galaxy and give some light objectives, should you bore of simply conquering the universe again and again. I found these pieces fascinating and as someone who is a bit of a sci-fi nerd always prioritised these missions over others whenever they popped up.

Stellaris looks absolutely fantastic. The time taken on every single detail within the game world is obvious. Even at close inspection the ships look stunning and even show off the changes you make in the ship builder. Each galaxy looks different from the others and holds a completely new set of planets to mine or colonize. The beautiful universe constructed made the hours I sat in the dark playing the game fly by.

When I was younger my gaming choices consisted of games such as Civilization, Age of Empires and Star Trek: Armada. It’s not until Stellaris that I have found something that combined all three of these franchises in a way that I truly adored. Stellaris captures the in-depth management edge that I crave from large games. It covers my need for space exploration and seeking out strange new worlds while also giving me real time combat that I felt involved and in control. I connected with my race more than I ever had before in a game of this type. I felt involved in their political squabbles and wanted to crush those enemies that dare try and confront our youthful expansion into a wider galaxy. These were my people. Stellaris drops you into a universe full of strange and wonderful races that span across hundreds of galaxies. You are given the tools that are easy to manage and never too cumbersome, then you are on your merry way to mould this universe to your very liking.

Pros

Sprawling space adventure

Every new game is a completely different adventure

Modding will improve everything about the game over time

Cons

Can begin to feel repetitive at times

Score: 10/10

Last Days of Old Earth Preview

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Last Day’s of Old Earth puts you in command of the Skywatcher clan on a cold and desolate Earth in the distant future. You command your people to wage vast battles against other indigenous clans to make yours the most powerful.

I went into Last Day’s of Old Earth with certain expectations after scanning through the Steam page – this was going to be a Civilisation clone with a different art style and I would be bored to tears within minutes because, in all honesty, nothing compares to the Civilization series for me. Then the game shocked me and in no way attempted to simply be another clone. It drew reverence from the games I love and built solid ideas on top of them.

With a hex-based overworld, you’ll command armies across a randomly generated map to battle other players moving along the same grid. You build outposts and harvest resources which increase your supply reach. Supply is a key mechanic in the game and you’re forced to stay within your own territory at all times or be hampered with movement and combat penalties. This is made far easier than it sounds with armies and hero characters all being able to build wherever you feel is necessary so never truly felt like the hindrance I initially thought it to be.

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Then things get a little bit different. Your armies are made up of units you generate by drawing cards from a deck and then consuming resources to put them into play. You’ll draw hero characters, resource and combat buffs as well as a whole host of units to play with. This deck mechanic seemed slightly daunting at first, giving you the ability to get in and tinker with a deck building mode helped throughout my experience as I was able to tweak the deck I took into combat for my exact play style. The hero characters add bonus’ and buffs if they are in command of your army and as the only named characters in the game I found some fond attachment to some who followed me throughout my skirmishes.

Combat doesn’t take place on the main hex-grid as an automatic process. You are put into a combat scenario with your units and directly command them to victory. Dice rolls determine attack and defence and even who attacks first at the start of each turn. Combat is very dice heavy throughout the game which can seem unfair and become an incredible annoyance. I could take a far superior force into battle and be nearly wiped out because the dice hadn’t rolled the way I’d like. There is a system in place to help with this – your hero characters are given a ‘Fate bonus’ which allows you to change the dice roll, but this is limited and feels almost unnecessary because of the lack of benefit it has.

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Currently only a handful of modes exist in the build available and players will spend the majority of their time in skirmish or multiplayer. Both these modes are incredibly solid, however doesn’t offer a great deal of variety right now for people looking for something a little more fleshed out.

At its most reductive, Last Days of Old Earth brings together successful elements from other franchises and puts them into a single product – the overworld is a hex-based Civilization game, the combat feels like Heroes of Might & Magic and the deck building elements has shades of a Hearthstone clone. Each core element of the game is so solid it’s easy to look past these comparisons. The mechanics of these previous franchises are simplified and streamlined in such a way I found it much easier to pick up and play than a new player would to other games of this type. The game chooses a singular focus in its expansion through combat and espionage rather than culture and population management and this in turn streamlined the entire gameplay loop. Last Days of Old Earth feels more like a board game akin to Risk than it does a pure video game with its dice roles and differing styles amalgamated into a single product.

Although currently content is a little lacking the promises made at the start of Early Access are already coming to fruition only a few weeks in and I can see Last Days of Old Earth growing into a solid entry into the pantheon of turn-based strategy titles.

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Unravel Review

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Unravel is a beautiful game that has very little to say. Unravel feels like a cornucopia of ideas, stitched together randomly to create a collage which makes little sense, with a story slapped on top that holds little resonance or drive for the player to hold on too.

You play as Yarny, a cute little ball of yarn who has apparently become fed up with life in the knitting pile and goes out on an adventure. This little ball of yarn that can traverse over a number of different environments, these seem largely unconnected in any way and offer little in the way of depth to the adventure. In fact, they seem like a random set of scenes the developer thought would look good in screen shots and threw them in. You’ll start in a garden after leaving the house and will eventually go to a beach and even a toxic waste site. There is no cohesion in the scenes and the little droplets of story you are fed offer nothing resembling an explanation to bring things together.

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The puzzle elements of the 2D platformer arise from the amount of yarn you are covered in. As you traverse through each level you leave behind you a trail of yarn that is extremely limited. The goal is to reach the next checkpoint with some yarn intact. Luckily some helpful soul has left numerous clumps of your red yarn around to enable you to progress deeper into the game. Unfortunately, Yarny uses his wool for everything. He builds bridges and ties knots everywhere to allow objects to move through levels. He uses his yarn to swing like Tarzan and lower himself down from tall ledges. With the limited amount of yarn available to you, this means as soon as you had figured out a puzzle, you were going back over yourself and untying all of the knots previously tied to ensure you could make it to the end of the checkpoint. There is nothing more frustrating than being inches away from a new ball of yarn and having little Yarny tug helplessly on the end of the line because you messed up somewhere. This meant one thing – you were tracking back through the level to untie something or puzzle better to ensure you could make it.

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You are presented with the smallest of story beats as you progress through Unravel, although everything is left up to your own interpretation in the end. While you progress through the levels silhouetted figures appear in the background in a still frame and perhaps a little additional sound such as a child’s laughter. This occurs many times in each level and I believe this was meant to tell the story of life and death; a story of growing old and family moving on and dealing with ever more serious and adult issues – the loss of innocence.

The levels in Unravel are truly beautiful and some of the best I’ve seen in any video game. Some left me questioning whether they were designed by an artist or simply a photo used as a background. The stunning backdrops that you wander through often left me relaxed and at peace with the game. The backgrounds went a long way in helping me through the frustration I felt during the long periods of poor puzzle design and boredom as I waited for something to happen.

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Unravel is desperate to tell you a story but struggles to give you even the most basic beats to make it cohesive in any way. It’s an unfortunate case of striving to be something you can’t and in this case, misses the mark by a rather large margin. I felt no connection to Yarny like I envisioned I should. He was small and cute and yet I spent a lot of time screaming at him from my sofa because he couldn’t magic up an extra inch of yarn from his body to allow me to progress. The platforming is mediocre at best and the puzzles are arbitrarily hard in the most unfair way. More disappointing than anything is the fact that most people will not plod through the tedium to see the beautifully created locations that Yarny travels to during his adventure.

Pros

Looks stunning

Hopping over the grabby little crabs on the beach always brought a smile

Cons

Yarny has 5 actions he can perform. Repeat, endlessly.

Frustrating puzzle design

Nothing that could be called a story

Score: 4/10

Tharsis Review

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Relying on the luck of the dice roll can be an infuriating experience and Tharsis is no exception. The space-based interactive board game can be extremely rewarding but at times, sometimes you’ll wonder why you even bother playing and want to throw your PC out of the window.

Tharsis takes place on a doomed mission to Mars and picks up after the first of many disasters on board your ship. You have lost the majority of your crew and are tasked with holding things together enough to limp to your final destination. The ship is falling to pieces one module at a time and your four remaining crew members have limited time to patch up the ship.

Each turn begins with a set of problems you have to resolve. Each problem comes with an outcome and it’s your job to manage these to the best of your ability. This could be the likes of a coolant leak which will cause hull damage, or a problem in medical which will damage all of your crew. Do you contain the hull breach and keep the ship’s health up, or allow your crew to take the damage and eventually succumb to their wounds?

Managing the crew and the ship is one thing, but you also have a number of systems available on the ship that could be the key to your long-term survival, adding another level of depth to your tight resource management. Medical offers to heal a crew member if you are successful, while the hydroponics bay offers a promise of food for your crew.

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Tharsis never allows you to feel fully in control. There was never a time where I felt I was making the right decision at the right time. I spent a lot of time agonizing over a single decision only to have it backfire at the roll of a dice.

It is the single roll of a dice that decides everything. You’ll roll to decide whether you repair a ship module or generate some food. The dice roll across the screen bouncing around as you would expect from a board game and sounds rather cool. In a very D&D fashion, these dice rolls are a simple method of checking whether you’re successful at an action leaving every part of Tharsis to literal chance. You’ll send a crew member with three available dice to roll a combined nine and he will hit a five. It’s frustrating in the worst possible way.

Each crew member has an allotment of dice they can throw with each roll. Each time they take a turn this number goes down making every turn a risk. There’s no auto-replenish on the dice rolls either, as you will need to either generate food using one of your modules and sacrificing a crew member (who could be on repair duty) or cannibalise recently dead crew members to refill the amount of dice available. This sends stress levels rising amongst the crew and can make the last parts of the game even more challenging.

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Unfortunately and eventually, you stop agonizing over your decisions because it never truly matters. Whether I was going to succeed or not was down to the clatter of those tiny virtual dies. Often enough you’re left feeling like you have been absolutely screwed out of a victory because you did everything right and things are going swimmingly until your entire crew start rolling a one or a two on every single roll. They let you down. The system let you down.

The Cut-scenes between each day feel great the first time through however with the amount you replay the first parts of the game over and over they quickly become tiresome and repetitive. Although I did enjoy the motion comic feel of them, I just didn’t want to see them after three retries in a row.

Taking absolute control from the player is always a risk and Tharsis struggles to manage this in a way that makes it fun. In fact, it sometimes feels like the game is having fun at your expense a lot of the time. You are tricked into thinking your decision matters when in the grand scheme of things no expert resource management is going to win a thing if the dice doesn’t come up your way. There is enjoyment to be had in Tharsis and those times I hit a high dice roll exactly when things were at their bleakest made me feel on top of the world but those moments were few and far between.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

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I thoroughly enjoyed the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider, although the way the game leaned into grotesque murder and quick time events always left a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, Rise of The Tomb Raider shows not only a maturity in Lara’s character but also in the approach to the finished product.

Picking up some time after the reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider follows Lara on a new adventure as she searches for The Divine Source deep in the Siberian Tundra. Lara follows a set path laid down long ago by her father and deals with some demons from the past game that still haunt her. She is no longer the plucky young girl who falls foul of the situation, but a hardened adventurer at the forefront of her field.

Along with this new found experience, Lara has new techniques for traversing a much denser environment than she is used too. The use of a climbing axe allows her to scale to new heights and swing from tree branches, while climbing arrows add the possibility of climbing aloft tall trees and mountainsides.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider consists of two large hub areas where you’ll spend a lot of time hunting and gathering collectibles. There are challenges; like shooting all the bullseye’s across the hub or collecting the chickens to throw into a pen. These are a nice distraction from purely collecting resources to build ammunition. These hub areas branch off into the story missions or tombs for you to explore.

You’ll spend a lot of time levelling up numerous meters throughout Rise, via a simplistic RPG system of upgrades to improve your abilities and also a number of language levels you’ll need to work on. This allows you to discover all of the secrets the game has to offer. They are upgraded by finding ancient manuscripts or enemy communications and will eventually lead to you being able to decrypt transmissions or monoliths that will point you in the direction of collectibles or secret locations across the hub areas. The hubs are a good size with a lot of things to do and the game does a fantastic job of never making you feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of things you could do.

The Metroidvania style tease of showing you everything that is going to be possible when you unlock the right equipment or hit a certain stage in the story can often be a frustration, however Rise of the Tomb Raider does a good job of ensuring the game tells you straight away if you’re straying into an area without the correct equipment. This means I never spent time jumping at a ledge I had convinced myself was scalable only to give up and return later incredibly frustrated.

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The story takes some predictable twists and turns throughout, in true 90’s action movie logic. As in the previous game, the final third of the game starts hinting at a larger story filled with mysticism and the potential veracity of some religious texts; this isn’t overt enough to detract from a healthy paced action story. You will find a lot more depth from the collectibles throughout the game, but the main driving force of the story tells you enough that you never feel you need to see any of this to know what exactly is happening. You do a little backtracking towards the end of the game which is disappointing but otherwise each story mission looks different and offers something unique rather than a simple corridor run and gun.

One of the main things missing from the previous game was the lack of actual tombs to be raided; thankfully Rise corrects that with optional side tombs. While I think it was the safe move on the developer’s part to not put these areas as part of the main story, I was disappointed with the amount that was on offer. I enjoy the puzzle elements shown in these tombs and the rewards at the end make them unmissable if you want to truly succeed by the end of the game. The fact these tombs are off to the side probably speaks more to what the modern day audience of Tomb Raider is and not wanting to kill the story pace with a slow, methodical puzzle was probably the right call for this new audience…..

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Rise of the Tomb Raider looks absolutely beautiful. With two large and distinctive hubs to operate from and numerous different looking mission areas you’re never bored of the aesthetic on offer. The game truly shows what can be offered on a next-gen console and doesn’t compromise the quality of the game or a fantastic look.

The 2013 reboot felt like a scattershot of ideas like the developer was unsure what would stick with a modern audience, therefore, tried a little bit of everything. Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like a sharper, more refined game that is a lot more polished. The move away from quick time events and murder-porn-esque deaths shows Crystal Dynamics have listened to their audience and the addition of puzzle tombs is a welcome return to the franchise. Rise of the Tomb Raider takes a huge step from its predecessor and is a fantastic experience.

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WWE 2K16 Review

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Building on a lackluster arrival on the new generation WWE 2K16 aims to be a more concise and enjoyable game.

Showcasing the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWE 2K16 builds a far more cohesive narrative in its showcase mode. Allowing players to experience some of the most memorable moments from WWE’s more recent history through the beginning of its Attitude Era and beyond, not only acts as a reminder for old school fans but also gives some great reference points for someone not quite so versed in the deep wrestling history often alluded to on the weekly shows.

WWE 2K16 probably gets closer than any of the previous games in creating the showmanship element of professional wrestling. This isn’t a sport, this is sports entertainment. You’re not here to simply batter your opponent into submission and walk away victorious; you need to entertain the millions of fans watching around the world. Your work in the match will be judged on a five-star rating system always present in the top left of your screen during play, this will change as the match goes on and gives you bonuses for creativity, using different moves and creating tension. You’ll be rewarded for a fight that doesn’t simply go one way but has a comeback or a surprise in the mix. This will be your focal point a lot as you become more experienced in the systems available and will always strive for that perfect five-star rating.

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The Career mode has had a near-complete makeover and offers a lot more for players this year. Not only will you be fighting week after week, but you will be building relationships with other wrestlers. Eventually having a rival whose interference in your career can culminate in a huge PPV battle, or them running in on a key match and ruining your built up momentum by striking while the referee is distracted, giving the upper hand to your opponent. 2K has built on their experience gained from perfecting the career modes in their NBA franchise and brought something competent and fun to use into the WWE Universe.

Making a welcome return this year are the host of create modes that were missing from the first foray onto new generation consoles. You’ll be able to create yourself a wrestler – and import your face on to them with reasonable success and build the wrestler you want from the ground up. You’ll create their entrance and a move set in an extremely streamlined fashion making for a much more palatable experience this year.

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The biggest disappointment is the lack of work that has gone into the in-ring action. The fighting mechanics, with grapples that begin with a rock-paper-scissor style guessing game and a confusing submission mechanic, make playing the actual game more of a challenge than anything. I ran into numerous bugs during my time including power bombing an opponent through the ring that left them clipped at half height until I reset. The fight pacing is stunted by the addition of a new reversal meter which limited the amount I could reverse at one time before I waited for the meter to refill. So, if my opponent was making a comeback and my reversal meter was empty I’d just have to sit there and hope he wouldn’t go for a pin which I would struggle to break. The new additions slowed gameplay down to an absolute crawl if you wanted to be successful and held none of the power fantasy I felt from games years ago.

This becomes more frustrating when in career mode. This requires a lot of tougher goals in very specific situations and the match is going on for a while. Your wrestler will be tired and will still need to complete a number of different goals before you can complete the match. It’s frustrating and takes all of the fun out of what you are actually seeing. Final success feels more like relief than a celebration.

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WWE 2K16 does a lot of things right and the showcase mode houses some of the most memorable moments in wrestling. The gameplay lets this down and makes getting to the end a frustrating challenge but for any wrestling fan is worth seeing. Mostly, this acted as more of an advert for the WWE Network, the dedicated wrestling streaming service as I was able to go back and simply watch the matches I was struggling to complete. It’s great to see this game more of a complete package than last years and some nice touches to the creation mechanics make building some weird and wonderful creations far easier. The career mode offers light rivalries and challenges but leaves the room for you to build up the depth of the feud in your mind which I enjoyed but could be frustrating for some.

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Subnautica Preview

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I suffer from ‘bathophobia’, a fear of deep water. So of course I was the perfect person to take on and preview Subnautica! Still in early access this underwater survival sim is not only beautiful but offers a solid challenge.

Subnautica starts in an escape pod on an alien planet with a single goal…Survival. Inside your pod you have a builder that will craft the key tools and allow you to explore the deepest depths of the sea. Once you’re equipped with a handy knife and a new oxygen tank the world opens up considerably. However, the true depths of the world aren’t fully realised until you develop your first submersible. The speed at which you can traverse the underwater landscape and collect resources makes the game a lot more accessible and being able to escape gorgeous yet deadly sea monsters at a pace is most welcome!

Subnautica has recently seen a major update adding a habitat building section. This allows the production of an underwater base that works as a hub for all your activities. You build a piece at a time and tailor it to your needs, all the while managing hull integrity as you contest with pressures of the deep. You will use your habitat to store supplies and park your vehicles while restocking oxygen supplies. This update allows you to live completely free from surface life. The most wonderful sight I saw was during an expansion project at night when glowing fish swam overhead slowly, illuminating the entire landscape. Stunning.

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Subnautica is largely a survival game with the same tropes you’ve seen from all other survival games. You’re foraging for food and managing different meters all at once, which on the surface (no pun intended) can seem frustratingly arbitrary at times. The unique way in which they utilise them make it feel fresh and new. When you’re in an extremely small survival pod with no more space and you’re gathering resources to build a habitat, you can dig a cave in the sand and ensure your valuable materials are safe for the future. I effectively lived from my first cave for a long time as I scoured the shallowest of ocean beds for precious metals and other collectibles. The dynamic underwater terrain can allow you to burrow where no-one has gone before creating your own underwater cave system if you choose.

Most of the creatures you meet in the first few hours are reasonably harmless and it has to be said, rather fantastical. However, the deeper you go and the darker the caves you explore the more horrifying the creatures you’ll find lurking around the corner. Although the game doesn’t always feel the most tense that soon changes when entering a pitch black hole 200 metres below the surface.

Subnautica also does something a lot of other survival games doesn’t and offers a “Freedom” version. This version negates the need to fight for food or drink and allows you to simply swim around and see the world while focusing on the building mechanics. You can also play the creative version which also removes story elements and lets you go in and build freely with no constraints.

I’d like to see more depth to the story from Subnautica, to experience the ship going down and some communications from your home that will eventually culminate in you working out a way to get rescued and finally seeing that friendly ship descend to pick you up and take you home. This is obviously something perhaps only I’m craving and is also a rarity in the survival genre which is unfortunate. I’d like to explore your existing ship once it sinks into the depths of the sea and find all sorts of hidden treasures.

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Subanutica is a beautiful and challenging experience. I found the constant need to return to the surface frustrating at first, but once I worked out what was going on I enjoyed the challenge of scouring the ground for wreckage and alien fish for food while timing my surface return a great experience. Building a habitat and a submarine widened the experience considerably and allowed me to dive to the depths of the ocean with greater ease and bravado. Subnautica is turning into an amazing game and it’s going to be fascinating to watch as new modules get released and I really am hyped to see where the developers take this underwater adventure. The pop up that asks whether you simply want to play Subnautica or launch into Oculus mode has me the most excited. The idea of playing in this underwater paradise while wearing an Oculus Rift intrigues me as much as it terrifies me!

Cosmonautica Review

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At first it was hard to truly comprehend Cosmonautica’s depth. The charming art style is a pleasant distraction which allows the game to gently introduce the simulation mechanics without you quite realizing and does a wonderful job of being one of the most approachable management sims in a long time.

Starting out as a new Captain you’re given a small ship and enough capital to get you on your way. Although the initial brunt of responsibility seems incredibly daunting it is introduced at an almost leisurely pace and never feels overwhelming. The tutorial is full of humour that not only lightens the normal management approach but also send you on your way feeling little pressure as you hire your first employees to take on your adventure – trading, fighting and helping to turn a good, healthy profit.

While the campaign contains some story elements, most of your time will be spent completing single missions outside of the story. Planets needing resources or individuals begging for your help, all of them gathering money for you to re-invest in bigger and better ships. You’re going to need a lot of money, too. The amount of things available to purchase is staggering and will require a lot of time and effort to acquire it all. You’ll spend considerable time and money into research to develop better technologies for use in the later game and you’ll become quite acquainted with your scientist as you constantly check back in to see what you’ve unlocked. As you progress these upgrades can completely change the way the whole game feels to play.

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While money is important, it’s your crew’s happiness is perhaps the most important thing. Each group member has a unique personality driven by key stats. These are things you’ll want to become very familiar with as hiring someone who won’t fit into your current crew could have disastrous ramifications. Their happiness is the lynch pin to a successful business so making swift management decisions will decide whether you’ll be a successful Captain or not.

You will run into a lot of potential combat scenarios throughout your career and will have to make a choice on what kind of approach you will take. You could bribe opponents to simply leave you alone or attempt to turn and run from the heat of battle. Of course, once you’ve kitted out your ship, you’ll be able to hold your own and you can also chase space bounties and earn a little extra money that way giving you a break from the constant trading and moving from planet to planet.

If you don’t want to deal with a story mode Cosmonautica also offers a Sandbox for you to play around in. The random missions and scenarios means each time you start a new game you are going to find a different experience. Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of different missions and it can begin to feel stale and repetitive at times, I found myself replenishing the same planet with the same resource on a number of occasions.

Cosmonautica looks absolutely fantastic. The crisp 3D art style makes every minute you’re playing a joy and the design of the numerous alien races always makes for interesting character portraits on your long journey through the galaxy. The game feels extremely polished and has come together very well through its journey via Early Access.

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The main difference between Cosmonautica and other management simulations is the light-hearted way it approaches the genre. Rather than feeling corporate and grown-up, it feels fun and approachable. The music accompanies the game perfectly and comes packaged in if you purchase on Steam so you’ll be able to enjoy the upbeat tunes wherever you’ll go.

I couldn’t play Cosmonautica without having the aspirations of a Starfleet Captain and in a different style this could have been the perfect Star Trek game. The ability to manage an ever expanding crew on larger and larger ships is a terrific curve to play on. Although the game has a lot of extremely deep systems, it never fully shows you its cards so you don’t ever feel overwhelmed. Veterans of the genre may look at Cosmonautica with scorn because of the art style, but this is as deep and challenging as any other simulation game. Cosmonautica strikes the perfect balance between depth and ease of use to allow players of all skill levels to truly enjoy their experience.

Pros

  • Great Art Style
  • Depth of Systems within the game
  • Welcoming to both experienced and new players of the genre

Cons

  • Can become reasonably repetitive when played for long enough
  • Managing Crew Happiness can sometimes feel arbitrary and frustrating

Score: 8/10

Poly Bridge Preview

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Poly Bridge is a physics based puzzle game that tasks you with getting vehicles over an expanse. It is extremely easy to pick up and play while constantly challenging you with more advanced tricks you’ll learn as you progress. I was extremely sceptical at first, thinking a simple puzzle game couldn’t hold enough content to keep me entertained for anything more than a few minutes at a time, how wrong I was.

Poly Bridge simple tutorial is wonderfully good at helping you to understand the core mechanics of the game that make you feel that you’ll simply breeze through all the entire game. Unfortunately this wasn’t quite the case, I rushed in head first and my poor bridge design sent the first station wagon sailing into the depths of the sea.

The building mechanic is perfectly simple and easy to get a hold of. You simply select a material and draw a line where you want your joints. You’ll be able to build curves and jumps where needed and sometimes trying something completely obscure to try and complete the job. You will be building bridges of all kinds with suspension bridges and hydraulic openings for the ships which appear in the later stages.

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Each level has a spending cap attached that you’re not allowed to exceed and this is what causes the most frustration. The cash limit is the difficulty setting and you’ll often find silly spikes at random times that will stop your progress for longer than it should. You could spend an hour on a single puzzle and then two minutes on the next one. The lack of consistency lead to some frustration at odd moments, but otherwise you’ll be jumping for joy when your bridge works just as you planned it. Through the 36 levels currently available you’ll find a variety of puzzles and backgrounds available to ensure you don’t ever get bored.

Unfortunately the level design is so similar that it doesn’t breed creativity, especially when you start moving up to the more difficult levels. I had an initial bridge build I found successful that I used each time and then iterated from there to fit into what the level required. The game didn’t do enough to force me out of my comfort zone or to try different things.

Often I found it is better to simply rebuild from scratch when you fail rather than rescue my monstrosity however the game does give you the option of viewing individual stress points as a guidance measure and is key for the larger builds that become unwieldy in their design.

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Poly Bridge’s interaction with Steam workshop allows you to try out levels from other players and experience something a little different. The sandbox mode is great for just having a little fun with the creation tools.

Poly Bridge is the perfect example of a good use of Early Access. The game holds enough content to justify the £8.99 price tag while opens up the potential of a lot more in the future. The charming, 2D art style and extremely low processor usage means this is the perfect game to spend an evening doing some light gaming without it being too taxing. I’ve found it a great game to play while watching some TV or have my mind on something else. The puzzle aspect is tough enough to constantly keep you thinking, but not that bad that you simply cannot turn away from the screen. Poly Bridge is worth trying for anyone who enjoys their puzzles with a little twist and will be extremely interesting to those with a creative streak who can do weird and wonderful things inside a sandbox.

Batman : Arkham Knight Review

01_Bat-Family_Skin_Pack_final Review

Note: This Review is for the PS4 version of the game only.

It was hard to see where Rocksteady would be taking the Arkham franchise after the closing act of Arkham City which lead**SPOILER ALERT** to the death of the Joker. In a lot of ways they have managed to create an impressive narrative, driven from your actions in the previous two games while adding more bombast to the gameplay to keep things fresh and innovative. In this foray you’ll follow The Dark Knight on an adventure across three large boroughs of Gotham City to defeat the Scarecrow one final time.

The core gameplay doesn’t change too much in Arkham Knight. You’ll be swinging from bars to gargoyles and taking down your enemies silently to thin their numbers and then finally dropping down and battling droves of goons. It becomes more frustrating as the crowd gets denser and complex as the game goes on. Put simply -you’re still managing your strikes with counters and learning the way new enemies attack so you can include them into your attack plan. The traversal mechanics have been completely overhauled to allow a quick and pain-free method of getting from one end of the city to the other and effectively allowing you to glide across the entire island quickly. The addition of the much advertised Batmobile adds another dimension to travelling through the city and while I ended up enjoying the sections that are enforced throughout the game, this was only after a number of hours of frustration in the beginning. The Batmobile is unwieldy and often gets squirrely in the tighter sections that require speed and precision and as this was obviously a point of pride for the developer as you’re often faced with small sections.

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You also get the chance to fight alongside some of your favourite allies in specific sections such as Catwoman or Robin. These fights feel fantastic as you build a meter up and perform brutal looking dual takedowns with your teammate. Each character feels slightly different in the way they move and control rather than a simple new texture on Batman’s body. Although these fights often feel unfairly weighted in your favour with near constant takedowns and seamless switching of characters, I actually felt it fit pretty well into what I would presume would happen when Batman fought alongside allies – the odds would be stacked heavily against their adversaries.

The story is by far the more emotional and evocative of the series. Rocksteady go a long way to have you make a connection with Batman and while some of the scenes you face early in the game feel unnecessary and ruthlessly barbaric it goes a long way in conveying to the player exactly how Batman is feeling. Although the majority of the game is an exercise in brutality this is the first time Rocksteady has tried to convey the quieter, more human side to Batman’s universe as he deals with the consequences of living this life. The manifestation of Batman’s broken psyche in the form of the Joker is a fantastic companion throughout the game who aims only to send Batman finally spiralling into the madness he has been holding off for so long and, effectively, becomes colour commentary to Batman’s usual dull inner monologue.

The big mystery surround the Arkham Knight’s identity is the worst part of the story and is not handled well at all. As a long time reader of The Batman I had a list of who I thought would be the Arkham Knight and my first choice turned out to be right. Not surprising though, as they couldn’t have made it more obvious if they had written his secret identity on his armour. It’s a shame though, as at no point was the mystery teased or were you fed any misinformation to lead you down the wrong path.

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As expected there is a myriad of side quests to keep you busy and its obvious the amount of work that has gone into each and every little mission. Unlike other Open World games where you’re faced with a silent protagonist who moves from one map marker to the next, Arkham Knight always gives you a little backstory to keep you going. You’ll talk with Alfred or a number of your associates that will refresh your memory on where the side story has been so far and will make it feel a necessity rather than something that’s simply a throwaway mission.

Gotham City has never looked so sharp and colourful in the darkness and, more than ever, feels like it combines the world of Michael Keaton’s Batman to Christian Bale’s portrayal of The Dark Knight with perfection. The world, however, feels stunted with the lack of a civilian population, as the game quickly contrives a way of getting rid of the people at the start of the game. This takes away some of the charm of the city and simply feels less lived in. The goons patrolling the streets provide some levity with their offbeat commentary of the situation as you hijack their communications and listen in while floating above the city.

Although the PC version of Arkham Knight is taking up most of the headlines (And rightly so) the PS4 version of the game isn’t without its problems. One of the most fun and lasting features of the Arkham series has been the ability to post your challenge scores to a leaderboard to have your friends try and beat it and, as of writing this, the leaderboards worked on launch day but I’ve been unable to connect to them since. While this isn’t a major, game breaking bug, it does take away some of the competitive edge to the challenges and makes them tedious fight for the 100% completion mark.

BAK_Sshot153I was never the biggest fan of the Arkham series prior to this game, I always struggled with the third person viewing angle and the traversal systems in place.  Arkham Knight has improved things in almost seamless ways to streamline these tasks and make your life less stressful when you get caught out by an enemy or are being swamped by a whole host of goons. By far this is the most approachable game of the series and players are quickly caught up on the story from the first two games to open up to a new audience. The main story is fun to see and with the addition of the side content you’re effectively seeing what is a greatest hits collection of Batman stories rolled neatly into one package. The promise of the Arkham Knight never truly met its potential and almost rightly so as the shoe horned explanation feels more an excuse to use the character than something that has been building for three games as is implied. The sections where you finally face him are the games most tedious and often needed repeating which breaks a lot of the momentum that had began to gather towards the end of the game. Arkham Knight does a great job of making its side content worth the time you’ll need to invest to see it all and not simply something to be forgotten about and ensures every part of the game is worth seeing. Although some minor technical issues hold back the challenge levels it didn’t truly hurt my experience with the game itself.

[wp-review]

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