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

FIFA 15 Review

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As sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, September brings the latest version of Electronic Art’s mega selling football simulation game FIFA. This time it is FIFA 15, which EA have promised to be the most realistic yet, a promise made in all previous years of course. This is the second FIFA title to be released on the Playstation 4 and with a full year to get to grips with the new power afforded by the new console, I am hoping for a leap forward over last year’s edition. When you first load up FIFA 15 you are greeted with the usual EA Sports logos and the very slick menu screens which are now synonymous with the various EA sports titles.

The game engine has clearly been improved this year, graphically I was very impressed. FIFA now looks like a next gen game, last year looked good on the PS4, but it did feel like a re-skinned version of what was released on the PS3. The football pitch shows gradual wear as the game goes on, make a slide tackle in the middle of the pitch and the mark left will still be there come the end of the game, added wear and tear that you would normally see when watching a game live.

fifa15_xboxone_ps4_barclayspremierleague_astonvilla_wmThe player models have also been updated, again looking better than ever before and are increasingly getting near to photorealism. The big stars such as Messi and Ronaldo are incredible both in game and in close up replays. I do have to point out though that the arms on some players look odd, making them appear top heavy and of course players further down the football pyramid will look nothing like their real life counterparts. This year also sees a full license with the Premier League – this means that all twenty clubs have their stadiums faithfully recreated in the game. These stadiums do look brilliant and it just adds to the realism that EA are striving for, even the chants from the crowd are unique to the team they are supporting. It hopefully points to future titles having even more leagues fully licensed with stadia and fans all being unique.

A small improvement that I really like is the overhaul of the team management section of the game. Where as in the past you have been fairly limited to pre-set formations, you now have the freedom to move players all around the pitch and really tweak your tactics and pre-set moves and set-pieces. For someone like myself, who from the safety of their own sofa thinks they could teach Sir Alex Ferguson a thing or two, this is a well over due addition to the game.

fifa15_xboxone_ps4_authenticplayervisual_hazard_wmIt’s clear so far that EA have really improved the visuals and immersive nature of the game, but have they taken the game-play that step forward in the same way? Well the answer is both yes and no. Generally FIFA plays brilliantly with the game engine being noticeably different to last year; I find this game tries to encourage a more realistic approach when controlling your team especially in defence. Tactical defending is now a lot harder to master, long gone are the days of just holding down the press button until your defender just won the ball. You now have to actively time your players’ tackles, this iteration of FIFA is a lot less forgiving than last year. You have to time the tackle to perfection to nick the ball off a talented forward. This certainly means you have to be patient and not just charge in with several players, do this and a huge gap will appear that the opposition will easily exploit.

As in many of the previous versions of FIFA the main attribute that you will need is speed. I have both scored and conceded too many goals where a striker has just ran through a defence with far too much ease; this could well be down to not mastering the new style of defending or it could be down to the improvements made to the dribbling in this year’s game. It is now far easier to take on and beat a player, where as in previous games there were little ‘one to one’ moments, where a player could beat a defender or two. This time around it feels a lot easier to just give the ball to a skilful player and let him run, as I have said though this could be down to players just not mastering the new style of defending yet. With it being suicidal, mash the tackle button like in previous games as you will only succeed in clearing a path to goal.

fifa15_xboxone_ps4_dynamicmatchpresentation_manchestercity_goal_wmOn the whole the game is very smooth to play, with all of the new enhancements making for a much more enjoyable and realistic game, but there is one major problem that severely hampers the game; the artificial intelligence of the goalkeepers is terrible. So many times a close game has been completely ruined by a ‘keeper doing something so ridiculous it actually makes you laugh. One of the worst instances I have encountered is a goalkeeper actually diving into the side of the net as an opposing striker ran towards goal, they then proceeded to just walk the ball over the line. There is nothing more frustrating than a close fought game being decided by glitchy AI, causing the ‘keeper to run away from the ball, when all he had to do is pick it up. Even when the decision making isn’t awful, the shot stopping is. So many shots inside the box seem to just travel through the goalkeepers or bounce off them and go into the net. Of course this happens in real life matches, but not as many times as it happens in this game.

Whilst this is a major problem, I do fully expect it to be rectified in a patch, as these issues have been in the past. I have mainly played this game online in the season’s mode; I have had no problems with the EA servers, even on release day when it usually grinds to a halt due to overwhelming demand. One addition I would love to see is a customisable online league; you can still only do this with one other person. We at Frugal Gaming have our own online league and having it all playable through FIFA would certainly save time in updating on the forum and make it more accessible.

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FIFA 15 is a rather substantial visual improvement and certainly feels like a step up over last year’s effort on the PS4, the game play has been refined but there are problems that will need to be patched sooner rather than later, until this happens I give FIFA a 7/10.

If you are interested in joining the online Frugal Gaming league then put your name down here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EA: Sithspawn Scum or a New Hope?

 

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Fool’s Bargain?

Much like the Emperors galactic plan for domination with the New Order, Disney’s acquisition of a galaxy far far away raised more than a few eyebrows.  With LucasArts effectively dead in all but name and Disney themselves retaining the right to create mobile content, a licensing deal with EA now finds the company, which is often regarded as a wretched hive of villainy and scum, to be a new hope for the future of Star Wars games.

With the recent announcement that Amy Hennig, fresh from Naughty Dog stardom is returning to the EA fold to help head up an as yet unannounced title from Visceral Games and also the leaked footage from the cancelled Darth Maul action title, it felt like a great time to revisit past games and also to look towards the future for what is yet to come.

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Spectre of the Past.

As a lifelong Star Wars super nerd, I’ve watched, played and read just about everything in the Star Wars universe. Much like the films themselves, Star Wars games have been a mixed bag. Some worthy of the Kalidor Crescent, and also the truly awful which belong in junk yards of Ord Mantell.

Star Wars accounts for some of my earliest and fondest gaming memories.  In the mid 80’s when I used to be able to pick up the latest games from the corner shop with my pick n mix, I remember saving my pocket money to buy Star Wars for my Amstrad CPC464.  I poured hour after hour into this game.  The graphics seemed amazing, hearing the theme tune play out on the menu screen blew my tiny young mind.  Looking back at game play videos now, it clearly shows it’s age like the 30 year old game it is, but a flutter of excitement still beats in my chest when I see it.

Fast forward a few years and the Super Star Wars series was the sole reason for me badgering my parents for a SNES, even when all my friends had a Megadrive.  To this day, I struggle to think of a better movie tie-in game.  You controlled all your favourite characters, across all the locations of the movie.  The Graphics were great, the soundtrack sublime and it handled as smoothly as Chewbacca’s hair after a grooming session.

A notable chorus of Yub Nub must go to the game that really put Bioware on the map, without which I’m not sure if Mass Effect or Dragon Age would even exist.  Knights of the Old Republic had everything that fans of the original trilogy loves.  An intense twisting storyline, characters that you actually cared about, the lure of the Dark Side hanging over every decision you made. An RPG set along time ago in a Galaxy far far away was millions of geeks dreams and for once, it came true.  The follow up by Obsidian, whilst not a complete idiots array, was still a fun, engaging game.

The list of great Star Wars games is endless, from the seminal X-Wing/Tie-Fighter series, the fantastic Jedi Knight series of which Jedi Outcast really hit the highpoint, Empire at War, Episode 1 Racer, Rogue Squadron and not forgetting Battlefront.  I can’t think of a single other franchise that has hit so many different genres.

Its not all Nerf steak and Bantha Milk though.  With George Lucas’ vision of the prequels making millions of fans cry out in terror, the games unfortunately started to head in the same direction.  The tie-ins to the new films were truly terrible.  From this point on it seemed like LucasArts would push anything out of the door, regardless of quality.  Perhaps a Troydarian had taken over running the shop?

Bombad Racing. Demolition. Masters of Teras Kasi. Lightsaber Duels. Yoda Stories. Galaxies. Star Wars Kinect. Over the years, the list of truly bad games, has started to outweigh the good.

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Visions of the Future

So now EA has stepped up, they’ve taken on a multi-year, multimillion dollar licensing agreement to produce the next generation of Star Wars games.  Although EA are clearly Disney’s Chosen one, I’m hoping they won’t have to betray everyone, cut off the Bioware programmers typing hands, or take years to bring the franchise back into balance.

Only one game has so far been announced, with others confirmed to be in development. A new Battlefront title is currently in the works at DICE.  Although it’s not expected to be released until 2015 expectations are as high for this as the Boonta Eve Classic.

The folks at DICE are definitely the right people to take this on.  Battlefield 4 might well have had its problems but you can’t deny the appeal of the full scale warfare that DICE has become synonymous with.  Imagine the wail of Tie Fighters strafing your last line of defence as AT-ST walkers advance on your position.

The whole proposition of the studio taking on this IP gives me goosebumps.  It’s not being rushed either, and while the Battlefield 4 problems may have delayed development somewhat, I cant wait to see some footage of this, hopefully in the not to distant future.  64 players on land, in atmosphere and hopefully orbit, will be immense.

Little is known about the other game that is currently being worked on at Visceral, but we can have a few guesses. Hennig, who’s now on board with this project has a fantastic background with story led adventure games. Uncharted offered us the modern day Indiana Jones, likeable characters, and a rip roaring tale of danger, intrigue and action. Transposed into the Star Wars universe and the mind boggles as to where this could be heading, there are so many possibilities in such a rich and diverse universe.  The loveable rogue Nathan Drake clearly got some of his cues from both Han Solo and the aforementioned Dr Jones, so could the guy who shot first be starring in his own game?  Or are Visceral reworking the much heralded but stillborn 1313 project?  Maybe will we be finding out at this years E3.

As I mentioned earlier, Bioware might not be where it is today without Knights of the Old Republic.  With development of Dragon Age: Inquisition wrapping up and another entry in the Mass Effect series under way, (rumoured for release in spring 2015), it makes a whole lot of sense that Bioware will soon be returning to its old stomping ground.  Hopefully the internet Probe Droids have been feeding back intelligence to the studio, all we really want them to do is play the same song again and give us a new Knights of the Old Republic.

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So what else might be in development at EA?  Even without a force vision we can have a couple of guesses.   A new Command and Conquer was in development until it was cancelled towards the end of last year.  Whilst that particular studio was shuttered its not too much of a stretch of imagination to think that a Star Wars RTS is in the works. Empire at War was a fantastic game, especially the full scale battles in space.  Who doesn’t want to command a fleet of Star Destroyers?  With the Homeworld remake/reboot getting a lot of traction,  EA might well have decided it wants a slice of that Domit pie.

Few can ignore that vast sums of money that both Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous have made.  Lets face it Chris Roberts probably has enough imperial credits to build his own Death Star.  I’m really hoping that a new X-Wing game is in the works.  This genre has long been dormant in the mainstream but with games like the ones just mentioned, not forgetting Strike Suit Zero, the appetite for a space sim shooter has never been greater.  The X-wing/Tie-Fighter series of games remains my favourite of all time.  If it wasn’t such a pain in the backside to run on modern architecture I’d be playing it now instead of writing this.

 

Balance Point

The announcement of a new Battlefront was a complete no-brainer that even Jar Jar Binks could have come up with. What comes next is the interesting bit.  Impossible to see the future may well be, but I’m hoping that at this years E3 the shroud that has clouded the future of Star Wars games will be lifted.

Everything Wrong With Titanfall

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First things first- I absolutely love this game, so before you get the wrong idea and call me a fanboy you should bear that in mind.

This game is another that came with high expectations, with people blowing bubbles up its arse left, right and centre. Being dubbed “the CoD killer”, it really had to give an experience of fresh air to the FPS genre. For the most part it delivers, and what it does deliver on it does perfectly. But, to me, there are aspects of the game which feel rushed, disappointing and lacking in the variety department.

The campaign-which is just a collection of multiplayer matches with a bit of extra dialogue, feels like a last minute addition that to me felt less than a half-arsed attempt. The small dialogue sections are entirely pointless, ultimately you’re just playing a collection of Attrition and Hardpoint Domination. The teams are locked in so if your team are entirely new to the experience and absolutely useless, expect to lose every game in the entire “campaign”.

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The distinct lack of Titan variety, considering that titans are a massive part of what makes this game so fresh. They have really skimped in this department, with only three to choose from, two of which are unlocked by playing both sides of the (collection of matches) “campaign”. The only real choice is the Ogre Titan, with the highest defence. Whilst three is a good number in terms of variety, I think with this game three is just not enough. The addition of future Titans is something that has been ruled out as “too much work to undertake”. With how much this game relies on Titans to sit worlds apart from usual FPS games, I think this is a department they shouldn’t have skimped on.

The lack of variety in terms of create-a-class. Out of all of the weapons there is only one or two maybe worth using, all others are useless at range or due to the sheer speed of pilots. In fact I find each category and the choices inside are actually underwhelming. With a game so solely based on multiplayer I can’t understand why it feels so bare in this area.

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Generation challenges are a shocking idea. You reach level 50 and then if you haven’t already, you’re asked to deviate out of your comfort zone to use some of the worst weapons and more horrible equipment of the game to get a particular amount of kills. This is awful, as it means if you get to rank 50 and haven’t touched any of the equipment challenges required to access the next generation, you will left sitting at 50 until you complete the challenges. For instance get 250 kills with the EVA-8 shotgun, why would you do that?! The maps are pretty huge and a shotgun is probably the least useful weapon to use!

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All-in-all I love this game and its clearly focused on user experience and fluidity over features, which makes for an undeniably AAA feeling game.  But with a title so focused on multiplayer and with literally no single player at all, could the things mentioned really be so overlooked? I believe the game could have been something so much more, the game is wonderful as it is- but it would be so much better if it were the same game with more customizability. I expect that more weapons and maps will become available through DLC, we may even see some titan weapons. Sure thing is we won’t be seeing anymore titans.