Her Story Review

Her-Story-Artwork reviewHer Story is unlike anything you’ve played before and the journey throughout the game is a powerful and emotional one. You will need to rely on your own ability to piece together the story and its eventual outcome as this game never really explains what’s going on. Her Story pushes the boundaries of what video game storytelling can be and fleshes out one of the most emotionally gripping stories I’ve ever experienced in a game.

Set entirely within the Portsmouth Police Database, everything you accomplish will be on this single screen. You’re given some very light direction as you begin to trawl through all the information, enter the search term ‘Murder’ and a number of video interviews pop up with that tag from an investigation which took place in the mid-90s. Due to the age of the footage and obvious transition from analogue to digital there are no other tags in place on the system, which prohibits you from cataloguing these videos further. While the overarching story looks like a murder mystery left for you to observe what it becomes is a much tighter, personal narrative as you delve into these interviews and start to piece together a timeline of events using whatever tagging system you feel is appropriate.

Her_Story_Screenshot_Black_Top_BAlthough I started with the basics drilled into me by years of procedural cops shows: Who did this, why and when? I found that later in the game I was more interested in everything that was being presented and not simply the events on a single occasion. Your subject – at first an unnamed woman, tells stories of her childhood and the challenges she faced through her life. I was hanging on her every word. The actress playing the character does a wonderful job at conveying the emotional charge of the situation and I became completely engrossed in her and I almost forgot why I was here. The choice to go full FMV and simply film her talking takes the concepts that Rockstar’s LA Noire toyed with back in the day and takes them to a whole new level.

The story takes some interesting turns and is completely open ended in nature. The game does have a finishing point where it presumes you’ve seen enough content to throw one final twist at you, however this is unnecessary as you’re immediately allowed back in to find the rest of the content.

I filled in pages of notes while watching the videos – new search terms, placing the interview snippets in what I thought was the correct order based on my assumptions and thoughts on the true nature of the case. I can’t tell you if I’m wrong or not, there are so many areas open to interpretation and the non-linear nature of the story means that even though I’ve seen every snippet of footage, there is no definitive answer.

Her_Story_Screenshot_FloralI decided to check other gamer’s opinions and theories, only a couple of minutes on the internet and I found numerous people coming to completely different conclusions. It’s the same cultural phenomenon found from movies such as Inception, where the ambiguous nature of the ending allows fans to speculate for years to come. This is refreshing for video games, all too often developers feel the need to explain everything in minute detail.

Her Story isn’t going to appeal to everyone. There are people who won’t want to take a lot of notes as they play, some want to feel that sense of accomplishment in having something come to a full and complete end.  It is worth sitting down with this game and simply looking at another way – seeing something taken completely outside the box and played around with. Her Story challenges the concepts of what we call a video game and puts a nonlinear, tight, personal narrative over gameplay concerns.

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60 Seconds! Review

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60 Seconds! is a quirky survival management sim (Wait, don’t run away just yet!) that allows you to control a family as they entrust you to help them survive a nuclear fallout in their home’s emergency shelter.

Firstly, you’ll be thrown into a 60 second window where you can run around your home and collect survival gear such as food, water and key items like a Gas Mask, Radio, weapons and entertainment – each playing a unique and random role in the second part of the game. During this 60 seconds you also have to rescue your inept family who simply go about their daily life in the face of the impending doom and need to be physically moved to safety to give you the additional body that helps in the later game  where you plot your long term subterraneal survival. Falling short in this part of the game is not an option. You need to supply your family with minimal food and water for a number of days at the very least while the initial fallout settles and it becomes safe to start venturing outside once again to scavenge for supplies.

Once you’ve reached your fallout shelter safely the game changes pace and you interact with the family diary on a daily basis – from here on in the game is extremely simple in design where you’re making and breaking a day through menu choices rather than any direct interaction – making key survival decisions and trying to get through to the point where the government is in a position to rescue you. You’ll be deciding who to feed or give water too each day while weighing up the risk of using gear to go out of your shelter to plunder the local town for supplies. You’ll need entertainment or a radio to stop members of your family going insane staring at the four silver walls of your tiny shelter.

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You, your wife, daughter and son can all go on expeditions out of the shelter with varying results. Each member of the family is given a few lines in the daily diary letting you know exactly what is going on with them – Hungry, Happy, Sad or Insane, these quick snippets will inform your decisions for the day. Perhaps they’re losing their marbles and you need to use your playing cards to keep their mental state at a manageable level or the three days you’ve kept them from water is starting to take its toll. You’ll need to learn to be brutal very quickly to ensure at least some of your family survive. Sometimes this means sacrificing members of the family knowing that fewer mouths to feed means the rations last longer. As long as the children have a single adult to make decisions the game continues but if you lose both adults the kids run wild and the game ends. Unfortunately, for little Timmy, this meant he was often the most expendable and first I used on expeditions as I could afford to lose him without fussing too much. Rationing becomes key but is extremely stressful when you’re short on water and someone is out on an expedition yet, after three days, they haven’t returned. In all likelihood this means not only are they not coming back but also their failure means your families life is coming to its inevitable end.

Events occur randomly each day and keep every single game a fresh and new experience. Although there is a finite amount of random encounters you don’t stumble upon the same ones too often although I did find myself reliably able to work the system after a few hours and seeing a lot of responses repeated. You’ll meet traders who will steal your equipment if you refuse to trade, your daughter could turn into a mutant who is excellent at traversing the radioactive wasteland and yet likes to wander for days at a time or maybe giant, mutated cockroaches could find their way into the shelter. How you deal with these situations is down to you and your diary will detail the ways in which you can handle them by giving you a number of pieces of equipment you could utilise in different situations. Sometimes you’ll decide against using the equipment while others will have both positive and negative implications. I once decided to use my rifle against giant rodents. Then the next day began and I found the rifle had exploded when used so when looters came around four days later I had nothing to defend my family with and lost most of my water and food supply.

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You can also play each of these modes – Scavenge and Survival – independent of each other. I found this good when I wanted to improve an area of my game. Although this didn’t have any direct impact on the main game I found practicing the scavenge  part of my game vastly improved my survival end game because I was reliably carrying more loot into the start of the game because of the repeatable practice.

60 Seconds! is a fantastic experience that tries to alleviate the stress of an end of world management survival with levity. Although this humour doesn’t always hit it is still fantastic to play through each time. I was always panicking while stockpiling at the start of the game and then constantly cursing my poor skills when I was punished later on. The game feels strong in both halves and constantly reminds you that, although a cartoonish shell with dark humour, you are constantly making decisions that could lead to the death of your family. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome and I found games could last anywhere between five and forty-five minutes depending how successful you are, enabling you to have a couple of runs in a short period. Unfortunately the game will live and die on whether you hit the same daily diary entries too often and while I only just started to see this happening towards the end of my time with the game it would be good to see constant additions to this system through updates to enable players who want to keep coming back the opportunity to see fresh content periodically.

Pros

Stress filled 60 second collection game at the beginning

Looks fantastic and could be one of your favourite evening cartoons

The survival management sim is solid

Cons

Not enough variety in the random events

Not enough descriptions available for all key items and what they actually do

Score: 7/10

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Review

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Wolfenstein: The Old Blood capitalizes on the winning formula of its predecessor and also tries some new things to freshen up the gameplay. Whilst these things don’t always pay off, it’s always a treat to watch things unfold as you plow your way through an alternate-history Nazi Germany.

The Old Blood is as a prequel to Wolfenstein: The New Order and follows B.J Blazkowicz as he infiltrates Castle Wolfenstein. The game is split in two very distinct parts (it was originally planned as two-part DLC) and while the first feels like more of an extension of the previous game where players have an option to approach areas slow and steady, utilize stealth and approach each level in a methodical way. Or, you could just dual wield your machine guns and mow through stacks of enemies, the choice is entirely yours. The second part, which takes place after you have escaped Castle Wolfenstein, feels like a complete departure from the first half of the game. The sudden introduction of Nazi Zombies to the mix takes away the player’s choice with how they approach each area. The game becomes a generic feeling run-and-gun experience through increasingly smaller passages as it directs you to a rather satisfying end boss experience.

The levelling system persists from The New Order and is slightly stunted to recognize the shorter length of the game. The system rewards you for playing in different ways – kills with certain types of weapons or stealth kills are the most common – and it feels like you’re earning the rewards they offer. This structure allows you to see a lot of play you may not have seen previously, challenging you to change the usual First Person shooter monotony to include something fun and memorable.

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The Old Blood looks fantastic. Castle Wolfenstein is wonderfully presented, at first, from a cable car in all its glory and then the internal locations offer up a number of different areas to see from a prison to catacombs and a library. You never bore of the same old walls and corridors because the game moves at such a pace it keeps things fresh and constantly on the move. The setting completely changes in the second half and you spend far too much time playing through the same old village scene that looks identical to the last thirty minutes you’ve just played through.

The Old Blood suffers when trying to piece together the narrative direction. Where the first game spent a lot of time with exposition and set up to truly allow you to invest in the characters you aren’t given the same opportunity here, so when one of the main characters is killed you don’t have that same feelings of guilt or remorse. The villain in the first half is an excellent uber-Nazi who terrorizes you through your time in Castle Wolfenstein, but impact is lost in the final battle with him as you are given no indication that the large armour clad enemy you are fighting is actually him. I only come to realise who I had just defeated with a single line of dialogue spoken right at the end of the fight. A little time spent on building this battle up and perhaps a small cut scene as an introduction would have gone a long way to selling this fight and what it actually meant to Blazkowicz. The Old Blood feels like it’s been built as an excuse to allow you to slaughter another army of Nazis rather than an addition to the overall narrative of the Wolfenstein story.

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Judging Wolfenstein: The Old Blood as a single product is difficult; on one hand you have a first half that plays and feels exactly like its predecessor which is fantastic and on the other you have a second half that takes some unnecessary risks with the well-worn zombie concept which removes the key open ended structure that is so enjoyable. The game suffers from being a standalone product compressed into a singular existence rather than two separate DLC packs that could be judged on their own merits. The lack of a real story may result in a loss of motivation to keep playing.

Ultimately, the game still feels fantastic to play and the change at the midpoint does freshen things up, even if I quickly tired of simply mowing down zombies. You’ll spend a good 8 hours getting through everything and is a must buy for anyone who enjoyed The New Order or for someone looking for a first person shooter that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Pro’s

  • Extremely fun to play
  • Looks fantastic and constantly changing
  • Player choice in first half challenges your play style

Cons

  • Lack of a good, solid story
  • Zombies are overused in everything and no different here
  • Second half feels a lot more of a generic shooter

Score: 8/10

 

Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones Review

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It’s hard to play Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones and not compare it to previous titles it is obviously inspired by. The home hub, the testing facility, plays like a Metroidvania game, it’s from here that you will find the Portal-esque puzzle chambers. Although stealth is a huge feature of the game it isn’t a primary mechanic for much of it. Instead you’ll be using quick reflexes, occasional brute force and brainpower to push your way through increasingly challenging puzzle levels, in a Mark of the Ninja kind of way.

Stealth Inc. 2 follows one of a number of clones through the large testing facility as you try and free your fellow duplications from the traps set by the evil humans. The story is told by a single narrator who has an omnipresence, much like Glados, that not only guides you, but provides a little levity to proceedings and still manages to avoid feeling like a carbon copy of what Portal tried to achieve. Your human creator serves as the main antagonist and the text that pops into the world enables the game to convey a succinct and structured story without ever affecting the games flow. It’s a smart mixture of a number of ideas that really works well with the game’s pacing.

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The biggest change from its predecessor is the addition of a hub world which takes the form of a facility, it’s from here that you will roam from to find further challenge levels. This central area allows the game to gently introduce new mechanics or ideas for how you approach obstacles before you’re truly challenged by the game’s spiking difficulty. You’ll collect numerous power ups and gadgets throughout the game which will make you want to backtrack and finally reach that collectable you previously struggled for 10 minutes trying to collect. These power ups make you feel useful and after struggling with new enemies give you a reason to go back and start paying real attention to your surroundings.

Sadly, the hub world feels bland and dark and while I’d expect plenty of shadows to jump to and from the abundance of pitch black screens with a single corridor running down the middle of the screen makes for a rather dull experience and does nothing to hold your attention. The lack of use of screen real estate feels like a missed opportunity and in a game which is spread out over a large hub, unnecessary.

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The most frustrating aspect of Stealth Inc 2 is when precision is a requirement; whether it’s a jump that needs precise timing or an object that needs to hit an exact trajectory. The trial and error nature of perfecting these points are not only tedious and frustrating but completely kill any momentum you gather up beforehand. It feels unnecessary to spike the difficulty in random spots and these areas come without warning which leaves you completely unprepared and as a result you’ll spend the most time in the game trying to resolve these sections.

Stealth Inc 2 feels like a step in the right direction for the series but underperforms in the key areas that it expands to. The chambers that persist from the first game are, in large part, polished and as challenging as its predecessor. Although some will enjoy the challenge, others are simply going to feel cheated by rigid timings and some questionable design. It isn’t all bad I couldn’t help but feel my time would be better spent in other, similar games that do things far better than they do here.

 

Pros

  • Challenge levels offer something for the Super Meat Boy lovers of the world
  • Same great gameplay from the original game

Cons

  • Hub World is an unnecessary addition and isn’t fully realized
  • Timing can be tough and feel like you’re being cheated

 

Score: 6/10

Dragonball Xenoverse Review

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Do you know your Kakarot from your Vegeta? Radditz from Piccolo? Well Dragonball Xenoverse wants to teach you all about the grandiose Dragonball saga, as you fight your way from the very beginning through to the end, joining Goku and friends to battle the forces of evil.

There have been a lot of Dragonball games over the years and they all cover the same material, in ever such slightly different ways, over and over again. DragonBall Xenoverse attempts to capture the same story but frame it in a completely different light and challenge you, as a created character, to ensure the correct outcome from the TV show. Creating your own character adds a lot of investment into the story. You’re deciding your race, shades of your clothes and even the glow of your energy around you – my pink haired Saiyan dominated in all competitions he faced. Trunks will be your guide through the story as you join the Time Patrol, an organization built to right the mistakes that are occurring through history and join the fight to provide an edge to defeat the evil faced through all of Dragonball Z’s history.

Battle_carrying_DragonballThe fighting is where the game excelled for me and also where I think most of its troubles lie. I’m by no means a fighting game expert, I dabble each year in some new release and get wiped the floor with until I quit. That wasn’t the case with Dragonball Xenoverse however, as the simple combos and special moves came easy to master and felt extremely powerful at my control. I was soon knocking down foes throughout the world with ease and enjoying my own performance. The combat feels a little stunted and dumbed down to appeal to a larger audience and really make the game hold relevance in the future, and while this is an excellent selling point for beginners or kids picking up their first Dragonball game. The fighting game enthusiasts aren’t going to find the depth here that keeps them hammering away to learn everything. In a single, fighter versus fighter battle the combat is empowering and easy to comprehend, but unfortunately this isn’t as common as a skirmish against multiple enemies and this is where the combat really starts to show its weakness. Too often you’re in a 2v2 (or 3v3) battle and are left fending for yourself as your ally bumps helplessly against one of the opponents. The necessary fast pace of the combat can often lead you to pulling off your best combo in mid-air and not quite being close enough to catch your opponent, or you’ll suddenly get attacked from behind because your ally has retreated to let you take on the three tough enemies.

Parallel Quests are little side quests that change things around and let you have some fun. My favourite being searching Namek for the Dragonballs, but you could also go toe to toe with Gohan and Piccolo or a whole host of different scenarios for you to enjoy. These quests are fun and offer some excellent rewards for your character while breaking up the momentum of the story nicely. Dozens of these smaller quests appear throughout the story and offer some things completely different to the story that you know and love.

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Levelling up your character adds a driving force behind everything and makes the Parallel Quests something you want to do to boost your power levels. The addition of armour and special abilities as you go make the systems extremely interesting. Although levelling does add to your base statistics it’s not as effective or as fun as messing with the different armour choices you can attach to your character to give them the edge against the Frieza’s or Cell’s of the world.

The multiplayer component to Dragonball Xenoverse can be fun to pit your character against friends but unfortunately the combat just doesn’t have the same level of efficiency as other fighters that are currently on the market. While I found this entertaining to play with friends but against strangers it just didn’t feel like it held up as well and the stress over missing combos or special moves overwhelmed any fun that could be had.

Conversation_with_TrunksOverall this is a fantastic platform for people to experience the Dragonball saga either for the first time or as an aged veteran of the series. You’re going to meet and train with your favourite characters on the hub world, while seeing all the highlights of the Dragonball series by interacting and having the ability to feel like you’re changing things. While the fighting doesn’t hold up through the length of the game, it does hold a lot of fun and makes it very easy for newcomers to pick up and play and actually feel like they’re achieving something. This was most useful for having friends around and wanting to beat them and not spending too much time teaching them the basics.

If you’re looking to experience the highs and lows of Dragonball in stunning HD then this is the product for you. I doubt it’s got the staying power or the true competitive nature of other fighters but overall this presents a great package to keep you challenged and coming back time and again to see everything they have to offer.

Evolve Review

2K_Evolve_StudioTour_TeamC_Pose ReviewEvolve capitalizes on a lot of different elements from successful franchises and combines them into a solid little game, while it struggles to really excel at any one thing, it does build an experience from the pieces and finds its own niche to survive in, as it puts players in a 4v1 battle.

Evolve pits man against monster, as players take on one of five different roles in arena battles across a number of different maps. As the hunters you’ll fit into a number of well travelled MMO-style stereotypes, The Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support classes band together to form a coherent team to hunt the monster. Each class has its strengths and a very specific role to play during the match and depending on what role you’re thrust into, dictates the pace at which your game will progress and how much that progress will become the crutch (or success) of your team.

The Assault is pure and simple Tank class. He is designed to run in, smash the monster for major damage and divert the monster’s attention away from other team mates. Often he can be used as bait if played correctly, to lure the monster into a trap and can also lay mines down to really hit the monster hard. The Medic doesn’t only heal up your team (very similar to the Medic in Team Fortress 2) but also acts as your team Sniper. The sniper creates a weak point for others to attack which provides double damage buff when hit. In later iterations the Medic can even raise fallen hunters from the dead, which becomes an invaluable skill when faced with a fully leveled up Monster. The Support class offers a Shield buff to targeted team members, they can also call in an orbital barrage against the Monster which can be an excellent tool if you manage to pin the monster into a corner and can hit them successfully. Finally the Trapper, who can cordon off the monster into a dome and can also fire harpoons into the monster to slow their attack down. The trapper acts also as a tracker and initially she comes with a pet Trapjaw that will quickly follow the monsters trail if they ever lose you.

2K_Evolve_StudioTour_TeamC_Abe_Shotgun_BurstThe Monster is much easier to get to grips with in the early game. As a solo player you’re not relying on anyone playing their class properly and can focus on your own game-plan of setting false trails, luring the hunters into a trap and waiting patiently as you level up to maximum power and make your final assault against those pesky hunters. The third person perspective used when playing the monster feels jarring and clumsy when darting through narrow corridors, or caught up amongst scenery while trying to battle four hunters.

The hunters weapons feel completely outmatched against the monster and something akin to shooting a potato gun into an oncoming freight train thinking it’ll make a difference. There’s no punch to any of the weapons, even as you climb through the skill tree to unlock new hunters that come equipped with a shotgun, it simply feels impotent against the hulking mass that approaches. Unfortunately the methodical feel to the game often negates any speed or momentum you start to gather. As your weapons all hit their cooldowns in the middle of the heated final battle and you’re stuck simply watching from afar as your teammates battle on without you, you’re left watching a timer tick down as you wait to use your class power and get back in the fight. While you’re never completely segregated from the fight, as you’ll always have a weapon you can use, it just isn’t exciting or fun when the majority of a fight is spent jamming on a button hoping for the cooldown to end.

4-hank-v-goliathEvolves’ maps are varied and offer a lot of different locations to fight in although when boiled down they’re all reasonably similar – a maze of corridors that wind around a centralized point. This central point is the focus for the monster and one of the winning conditions to destroy the power station (and the Hunters main objective is the defence of said object).

Evolve is a Multiplayer game. The meat of the game is spent in the Hunt mode which simply pits Man against Monster and, although the game has a sort-of story mode, it is simply a derivative of this mode that you’ll be playing, but with some additional dialogue thrown in for good measure. This is Evolves biggest problem, you’re relying on others coming to play and engage their class. When people do this you’re going to have a great time fighting against the monster, but when this doesn’t happen, and someone comes in to simply play around and not follow team orders, then you’re going to get wiped out incredibly quickly.

The lack of variety is a problem in Evolve, the elongated method of unlocking additional members of each class feels like an artificial way of stretching gameplay. To unlock the next member in each class (for a total of 12 hunters) you have to upgrade every weapon in the current hunters arsenal. This became increasingly frustrating as I was forced to play against the style I had naturally found and had a lot of success with. It took me over 8 hours to unlock most of the additional hunters and monsters. While the additional monsters were a lot of fun (and the Wraith, in particular, feels extremely overpowered) there still feels like a lack of them to really keep me coming back time and again. Trying something new and the lack of ability to build your own class feels like a missed opportunity.

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It’s hard to talk about Evolve without addressing the DLC controversy. And although I can see what has got everyone riled up, ultimately the DLC currently on offer is simply cosmetic in nature (outside the Season Pass) however, the argument becomes valid when paired with the simply lack of variety in the main game. It seems almost that Evolve was designed as a free to play experience that also comes with a full game price tag.

Evolve is successful in building in the tension during a match, this isn’t a run and gun shooter but something slower that burns under the surface during a match, that cultivates in a very sporadic back and forth in the last few minutes to ultimately decide the outcome of a match. The early parts of a match are where Evolve truly succeeds. When everyone is playing their class and you’re closing in on the monster to get that first hit before it tries to hide away and evolve away in peace. The chase feels fantastic and the game has developed its player base over the past week. It’s interesting to see the amount of people who keep coming back and are now settling into their roles and, as a fellow Frugal Gamer told me recently when I took up playing BF4, playing the objective and team orders.

1-lazarus-v-krakenEvolve does some things right, however this is far outweighed by the lack of variety in the games and development of the classes. I can see the game developing a very solid player base who pride themselves on being able to fulfil certain roles in a team however this, in turn, will turn away a lot of new players. The daunting tutorial takes a long time to clear and doesn’t even begin to teach you the basics and strategy involved in truly being successful in the game. The game is designed to keep you playing by locking away additional content behind a lot of awkward and annoying hoops. I could see Evolve growing into something solid with balance patches and additional content down the line, but right now feels rather bare bones and lacking in the excitement the concept had promised. I was hoping for something akin to Gears of War but instead found something lacking in the same punch and versatility.

Score: 7/10

Stranded Deep: Early Access Preview

island_foliageStranded Deep looks like a fantastic game, taking core concepts from successful survival games and developing them further, all the while sprinkling in a little island hopping and you’ve got a foundation for success. Unfortunately, in such an early state, Stranded Deep struggles to deliver more than a simple crafting system and very little to actually do once you’ve constructed the half-dozen buildings and exhausted yourself at the ocean floor while avoiding sharks.

You’ll initially be given a lightning fast tutorial on the plane that is destined to crash and deliver you to the start point of the game proper: Stranded in a life raft with your paddle in the middle of a vast ocean, with little more than a few bare essentials to see you through. You are surrounded by a number of islands that appear full of potential and all seems well, until the appearance of the first shark that circles your inflatable raft is a terrifying one as you’ll ponder the possibility that it will tip you into the water and you’ll have to survive a harrowing Jaws-like scenario as you cling to the minor possibility of survival.

Once safely land-bound you’ll find everything you need to survive in the form of logs, trees, bindings and crabs. Unfortunately with no real guide with your crafting you’ll spend a lot of time grabbing around for a lot of raw materials before you’ll finally craft an axe and a safe place to sleep at night. With no guidance the system feels daunting and broken and yet holds a lot of potential on paper. Everything is crafted in world rather than from a menu, you build a pile, equip the correct tool and build anything from parts of a shelter, to a new raft (to traverse island to island). This system is at such an early stage it becomes an annoyance to use, as you can’t bind items to keys or manage your inventory as everything is randomly assigned a slot at this stage in the build.

spearfishingStranded Deep looks absolutely beautiful. The Day & Night cycles are crisp, clean and will help truly immerse you in the world; however the islands across this tropical landscape are all too similar to really offer a true procedurally generated experience as promised. I spent a long time relying on my original supplies and struggling through because of the lack of individuality from island to island and wasn’t lucky enough to stumble across a bountiful shipwreck until much later.

If you’re lucky to spawn near a cache of special gear hidden in an underwater shipwreck, then you’re going to enjoy the first hour far more than if you’re left to do it on your own. You may also happen across the watch that gives you very basic readings of thirst and hunger, which will help guide you – though not by much considering your need for food becomes almost a singular focus as it diminishes at an almost impossible rate, while thirst will last a week without need to be managed. The mechanics became a lot more stressful once I was aware of them and an annoyance as opposed to a challenge as they should be in a game of this type.

island_foliageFor something that looks like a game based on Castaway you’re given no objective for survival or escape and after a couple of hours you’ll have probably seen a lot of what the game has to offer at this stage and even some things you weren’t supposed too – like a flying shark that randomly jumps a mile out of the ocean. I want to love this game. This is the survival game I’ve been wanting for a long time – no silly natives attacking you or zombies waiting around every corner, but simply you against nature. The lack of direction or coherent mechanics makes enjoyment tough and the lack of variety in the world stops you continuing for the immersion.

I’d love to see an end goal in place to allow me to get rescued and a much more robust tutorial that tells me exactly what I can do within the world, while adding a lot more variety and options with.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Review

1280x720_gameplay_bannerA little confession – I played approximately 4 hours of GTA 5 when it was first released in 2013. In the course of this review I picked up a second hand copy and merrily went through comparing the two copies. Any reference to previous generation titles was recent experience and not representative of playing upon first release.

When Grand Theft Auto 5 was released last year the world rejoiced; GTA5 was an excellent open world adventure that followed three characters, each of whom encompassed their own satirical caricature, on a grandiose adventure in the most vibrant and populated city ever realised in a Grand Theft Auto game.

As an avid Grand Theft Auto fan I was keen to discover what changes could have truly improved an already solid experience, and was happy to find this wasn’t a simple slap and dash effort where Rockstar are looking to capitalize upon a whole new market (Star Wars remasters – I’m looking at you)! But it is, from the ground up, a completely overhauled experience.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_011The enhanced textures coupled with a jaw dropping draw distance truly allows you to appreciate the San Andreas region, with new lighting that adds an additional level of depth to the game that runs at a solid and appreciable 1080p. The bar set for open world games almost feels like a challenge to competitors, as Rockstar creates quite simply the most beautiful open world region to date. When the rain fell in the dimming evening light I couldn’t help but stop and be astonished at the level of detail that has gone in to this edition of the game – a truly stunning and stand out performance. I noticed very few slowdowns from the 30 frames a second put out by GTA 5 and then only momentary shudders rather than complete stoppages that were a game changer.

The use of the PS4 controller is an absolute revelation; the players phone call now plays through the PS4 controller’s speaker while the controller will flash red and blue when the player is being pursued by the police. While these are minor in the grand scheme of things it’s the best implementation of the PS4 controller features I have experienced to date. They’re not so vital that they become a requirement but also add a nice bit of flair to the experience.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_004The big new gameplay feature is the addition of a first person view, which literally brings a new angle to everything you do. Rockstar makes it simple to go in and out of first person, but also allows you to set defaults for driving, flying and walking; to stop you consistently fiddling with the controls. In first person mode you’ll move around the world in an entirely different way – this isn’t something you’ll want to take for granted and discard because the dimension it adds also provides a sense of immersion. You’ll watch you character sip away at a coffee or check his phone while walking down the street. Or, of course, if you’re anything like me you’ll drive up to a street gang slam you brakes on and do a quick drive by and then pause, flip them the bird and ride off into the sunset. Although I think the first person mode is excellent, I did struggle with the lacklustre shooting (And just coming off the latest COD made that tougher) therefore played most of the on-foot game back in third person but loved being able to pop into first person for all my driving antics.

The online portion of the game is OK – and something I feel hasn’t seen much development over the past 12 months unfortunately. Although it’s fantastic to get a small crew of friends around and create havoc across the world, however  you’ll struggle to get the large scale games that promised 30 players and will spend a lot of your time stuck in lobbies while you try to find a game.

RSG_GTAV_NG_Screenshot_091There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone should experience Grand Theft Auto 5 like it is now, however the base game simply hasn’t changed, therefore a buying decision will be down to the individual on whether they’re ready to go back. The story still goes to that questionable place in the second act and the heists remain the standout portion of the game – although there is still far too few to really get in and enjoy. It’s a shame the online section hasn’t seen any vast improvements to the previous generation or that the promise of online heists hasn’t yet come to bare. All being said, Grand Theft Auto 5 is a ‘must play’ game for all gamers, and is a truly unforgettable and epic experience.

Score: 10/10

Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

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Civilization: Beyond Earth picks up from where its predecessors left off, by combining the excitement of planetary exploration from Alpha Centauri, with the solid hex-based gameplay from Civilization 5. C:BE has found a wonderful niche in the market that will feel new to experienced Civilization leaders, but also offer some streamlined mechanics for those fresh to the series.

At first glance it’s easy to think 2K Games have simply slapped a new lick of paint on their existing game, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Barbarians from Civilization 5 are now replaced by indigenous aliens and, rather than a simple early game annoyance that you have to manage for the first third of the game, the new aliens take on the role of a complete new faction and interweave with the very fabric of the core game. This isn’t a faction that you’ll engage in diplomatic relations with or trade for resources, but make up a part of the living, breathing world that you’ve landed yourself on. The sheer size of the alien forces that surround you will make you want to live in harmony with your new extra-terrestrial friends while you build up your civilization around you. But like any good science fiction story, these pesky aliens stand in the way of your progress and need to be slaughtered swiftly so you can develop ahead of the other factions that are growing around you.

CivBE_1Your faction of choice will provide bonus’ which will give you minor boosts that are most beneficial through the beginning of your leadership. However, once your civilization is up and running you’re going to be focusing on using the new affinity system – to develop the culture of your people and decide how you wish to approach new life on this fresh planet. Do you want to integrate alien life into your DNA, or perhaps preserve the way of life you enjoyed on Earth? Your three options – Supremacy, Harmony and Purity – provide completely different options as to how you will approach your playthrough and offer signature units as well as differing victory conditions. Two of these offer polar opposites to each other, while one sits firmly in the middle should you wish to test a little of everything. Purity is the idea of purging aliens from this new world, keeping your bloodlines pure, and making it on your own, while Harmony embraces alien life and allows you to use the alien forces to your advantage. Supremacy takes the least extreme route offered and presents bonuses to maintenance costs for the victor who chooses the peaceful path. The new depth offered through these options goes beyond simply wanting to play as a faction because they get something cool in the late game and actually increases the different playing options three-fold, to allow you to play multiple factions in multiple directions and have a different outcome and experience each time.

CivBE_Screenshot_Arid_EarthlingSettlerThe new tech tree offers a chance for players to plan out exactly where they want their faction to go, and rather than having a Wiki document open to ensure you’re making the right choices early on in the game, you’re presented with the entire tech tree up front to allow you full control over your destiny. This spread of each new technology you may want is a powerful weapon in controlling your development and building the civilization and type of playthrough you want.

Beyond Earth offers quests to complete throughout your playthrough, which result in you often trying something slightly different, or challenging your perception of what you are trying to do. These small side quests, while completely optional, provide bonuses that can come in handy in the late game pinch. As each faction pushes for victory and, in some cases, begins to direct you a little about what you could be doing whilst your city is amassing forces to attack your opponent, or you’re patiently waiting for that wonder to be built. In some ways the quest system feels like a powerful tool to offer buffs and advice that many will welcome during the long hours they will spend in front of the game.

CivBE_Screenshot_Harmony_MindflowerEndgameThe thematic differences that an alien culture provide in Civilization: Beyond Earth ensures this feels more than a simple re-skin of the hex-grid perfection that was Civilization 5. The tweaks to the technology systems and the new affinity system makes the game feel new while still feeling familiar and welcoming to new players. While Beyond Earth isn’t rewriting the core mechanics of the franchise, it is bringing enough to the party to justify itself as a full release and is an epic journey into the unknown that players old and new need to play.

Score: 9/10

Frugal Gaming Review: F1 2014

8You’re in second, the safety car has come in this lap and there’s nothing except you, the track and your opponent from you lifting that winner’s trophy, then spraying champagne at the end of the race. The 90 seconds of tight street circuit, the most well known and challenging race of your first season, and if you can stay out of the wall maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the chance you’ve always dreamt of.

In 2009 Codemasters took their history of creating excellent racing games and focused all that energy into what would become F1 2009: The first proper, full blooded, Formula One game that wannabe racers had seen in a long time. The driving was tight, the wheel to wheel racing frantic and the extras that supported your time in the cockpit felt like excellent flair and fleshed out around the edges – something the franchise had always struggled with before. You felt like a Formula 1 driver. You felt part of a team as you stepped into your trailer.

F1_2014-07-11_09-58-41-45_screen_15_1406716979It’s disappointing then, that a lot of this has been removed from the latest edition of the game, and you’re as far removed from the life and soul of Formula One as you could be. You begin a career and you no longer have a young driver’s test, where you’re welcomed and able to prove your ability. Rather than this, you are thrust into a single lap challenge (Basically a time trial) to show what you can do and then able to select a team to drive for, with difficulty ratings dependant on your selected team. The game has lost some of its soul in removing the fringe aesthetics of the game. Instead you’re faced with bland menus and the game has very little personality outside the cockpit.

Inside the cockpit the game is as solid as ever. You’re faced with full race weekends, where each session brings its own challenges; during practise you’ll want to achieve a research goal to aid you down the line in improving your team and qualifying. This will have you trying to get the highest position possible. During the race you’ll be fighting against the 21 other drivers, jockeying for position while, ultimately racing your own race and pleading other drivers not to plough into you on the first corner after the start.

The driving feels as tight as it ever has, you’re going to spend a lot of time hitting the hour long practise to improve your times and master that tricky third section. You have the usual handful of assists to provide you with the support you’ll need when starting out your journey, but the real challenge comes when you’re sat back, all assists off and ready to race. Of course, this will also provide you with the most frustration in the game. For example; if you’ve just raced a 50 lap race and overshoot Monaco’s Mirabeau (one of F1’s most famous corners) and have to limp back to the pits to change the front wing you left all over the track. The lack of available ERS (Energy Recovery System) on the cars feel like it takes away some of the stress from the racing but also takes away from the immersion and one of the things you have control over to aid your race winning strategy (Although Codemasters say this is now applied automatically rather than manual as it was in previous iterations).

F1_2014-07-11_10-48-34-91_screen_26_1406716980The game lets you know when you have messed up and punishes you for it, but the feedback and tight controls make things very clear – you’re the one responsible: You messed up and now you’re going to have to fight to get back in the race, just like a real racing driver.

Along with the career mode you’ve got all the usual modes, such as time trials and challenges where you’ll be the underdog in a number of scenarios. The online Multi-player is solid when you want to get together with a load of people and run a full F1 race. The additional stress of other drivers on the track other than AI, which can be adjusted to suit your skill level, adds an entire new dimension to racing.

F1 2014 feels like a holding year for the franchise. The lack of total immersion and focus on creating a simple, tight, racing game that only appears on last gen (Xbox 360, PS3 and for arguments sake, I will include PC) has me hoping this franchise is waiting for a big comeback on next-gen next year. F1 2014 comes late in the Formula One calendar so is going to suffer by not being out in conjunction with the hype of the F1 season opener, but at its core is still a solid racing experience that will appeal to core fans of the series and of Formula One. Unfortunately the sterile feel to the menus will fail to impress people new to the series. A disappointing entry to an excellent franchise, that I’m hoping will give the development team time to bounce back and excel in future iterations.

 

Score: 7/10