Friday, 23 January 2015

Indianna Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb Review (Xbox)

Much like the Star Wars franchise the Indiana Jones games have a long history of being mostly awful. The Last Crusade was near unplayable, and while Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis showed itself to be a great game the franchise then fell back to its old ways with The Infernal Machine being more a case of the infernal camera and controls. So when Indianna Jones swung onto the Xbox we didn’t have the highest of hopes.

Taking you through a variety of different locations around such as Hong Kong and Istanbul, you are made to feel at home straight away. Everything is presented excellently. Between locations you get the red line moving from dot to dot on a world map just like in the films. Even the control manual is presented like Indiana’s personal journal, everything hand written and rough looking. An excellent touch and one that shows a lot of thought has gone into the game, on a superficial level at least.

Graphically the game is good for its time. Every character looks solid and moves smoothly. Each environment looks sufficiently different from the last to make you keep trekking through in search of lost treasure. Surprisingly there is a lot of variety in location, not as expected every level being set in a Tomb. You get Amazon forests, Gothic castles, Chinese fortresses, Hong Kong night clubs and of course the odd tomb. All splendidly displayed as huge interactive environments to explore.

Another great feature is the sound. Or it is when it works properly. The sound does have a tendency to become very jumpy. Also it means the Xbox goes crazy trying to sort it out leading to possible scratching on the game disk. However, when the sound decides to behave it adds so much to the game. It’s just like watching one of the films with the score in the background.

Luckily the game play lives up to the quality of the presentation. Running on the same fight engine used for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it allows Indi to attack people in all directions with a large variety of weapons and combat moves. Apart from the fighting aspect of the game there is a heavy dependence on simple lever puzzles and jumping from platform to platform. Most of this is easy to achieve as the games main focus tends to be towards fighting and action.

The biggest problem is the controls for moving Dr Jones around are not quite as successful as when fighting. It’s easy enough to swing from one place to the next with the trusty whip. But try jumping and unless you hit the next surface dead on you may find instead of grabbing the ledge you fall down, most of the time to your death. This can be very frustrating when you know what you have to do is simple but the controls won’t let you do it. However this does not occur too often and as the levels are split in to small auto-saving chunks you never have to go back too far after plummeting to an untimely death.

With enemies and death defying leaps beaten the next unpleasant thing is the ingenious traps left around. Not apparent much early on. Later on you can guarantee around almost ever corner will be a pressure pad or something waiting to fire a dart at you. All the traps are nicely incorporated into the game and are what you would expect from the Indiana Jones franchise. Unfortunately, running away from rolling boulders dose not seem to make it into The Emperors Tomb.

Most importantly in games of this genre is the camera. If it isn’t spot on it will either leave you looking at the nearest wall or end up making you feel sick. Most of the time the camera behaves itself. But on the odd occasion it does leave you feeling somewhat nauseous. It can also be frustrating to look directly below you, not a problem that arises often. But every now and then you really need to know where the small ledge you’re falling on to is.

It’s the little touches that make the game so much fun to play. For instance get knocked over in a fight a you may lose your hat. Want to see Nazi’s with accents that would make Colonel Clink jealous, they are here to. Big Crocodile? Spinning disk weapon from the Predator films? Amazon women? It’s all here, everything you could ask for from an Indiana Jones game. And its all the better for it.

Overall, Indiana Jones and the Emperors Tomb is just a really good fun game that does not take itself at all seriously. For fans of Dr Jones it’s still great. Aside from that though, it also represents a missed opportunity. With a little more care it could have been a classic and the occasional slowdown and jumping music should not really be apparent in this day an age. Great fun, but a little disappointing.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening Review (Game Boy)

Released on the Game Boy two years after the Super Nintendo masterpiece that was ‘A Link to the past’, ‘Links Awakening’ was the first time our intrepid hero had dared to cross onto the handheld games scene. With the Game Boy not being able to able to handle anything the size of ‘A Link to Past’ Nintendo set Link in a whole new world, far away from Hyrule.

The story goes that while Link is sailing back to Hyrule from a far off land his ship encounters a huge storm. During the storm Link is thrown overboard, awakening on the beach of Koholint island. He soon learns he must find the eight instruments of the ‘Sirens’ in order to wake up the legendary ‘Wind Fish’ in order to return to his homeland. Well, it was obvious wasn’t it!

Surprisingly enough these eight instruments are located around the island in eight dungeons, all of which must be searched and explored to succeed in your task. Then once the eight instruments have been collected they must be played in front of a big spotted egg on a hill where the ‘Wind Fish’ resides in order to wake it.

Graphically the game is excellent, especially considering the limitations of the Game Boy with great detail to found, such as small cracks in the floor and well-animated characters throughout. Though the game is not in colour everything is crystal clear and large on the screen meaning you never get hit by a monster you could not see, or fall down a hole you did not know was their until the last minute. Different areas of the game also succeed in looking different enough from other areas with mountains, woods, swamps and graveyards all meaning you never get bored with your surroundings

Like all Zelda games though the gameplay is where the game really shines. As always the dungeons are excellently laid out needing clever thinking and good swordsmanship to complete. Also two things have been added since ‘A Link to the Past’, the ‘Roc’s feather’ and a new way of using the shield in order to block attacks. Showing while the game cannot hope for the scale of its Super Nintendo counterpart there is some progression and development in terms of gameplay.

If there is one problem apparent it is with the difficulty of the game. While Zelda fans will no doubt not struggle very often with the enemies and puzzles they come across, any newcomer to the series may well find it well beyond their gaming skills. Some puzzles truly are bizarre and require lateral thinking to a ridiculous extreme. And while early dungeons are fairly balanced, by the time you reach the later ones even getting through the first few rooms requires heroic effort.

This however is only a minor gripe, as the game has clearly been thought about and developed by people who care about what they are doing. This coupled with the odd reference to other Nintendo games such as the Yoshi doll and the pet chomp on a chain all help to add just a little more magic each time you encounter something.

When all is said and done its clear to see ‘Links Awakening’ has quality coming out of all areas. It dose not live up to ‘A Link to the Past’ but a gold bar with a fly on it is still a gold bar at the end of the day. An excellent adventure for Link and one every Game Boy owner should be hunting around trying to find, just don’t expect it to be easy to finish.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 19 January 2015

Trine 2: The Complete Story (PS4)

Trine follows the adventures of a mage, knight and thief bound together by a magical artefact known as the Trine. A 2D puzzle platform game, Trine 2 tries to do something new with a genre more typically found back in the 16-bit era. Indeed, we found our thoughts drifting to The Lost Vikings as we began utilising the three hero’s unique abilities.

The knight is best at fighting and can use his shield to reflect light beams and deflect objects. The thief shoots arrows and can use a grappling hook and the mage can conjure and move objects. Each character can be upgraded by seeking out experience points in the form of magic bubbles. This unlocks further abilities such as exploding arrows, stealth abilities and a number of other things which help fight off the many Goblins and giant spiders you'll encounter along the way.

With the different abilities on offer and different ways to play the developers have given the players multiple options in how to solve the puzzles. Playing single player has one character on screen which can be changed at any time, while multiplayer has all characters on screen at once. This means that certain puzzles would by default need a number of different ways to get through them.

The great thing is that the Trine world and physics are very tactile and effectively sets up a big toy box for you play around with to accomplish your task. Players who prefer the mage will be able to upgrade his abilities to summon large numbers of boxes and ramps to get around. While those using a mixture of the characters will find the need to use a combination of grappling hook swings, magical platforms and brute strength. 

You could for instance spend time re-arranging pipes to get the water level right to reach a high ledge. Alternatively you could use an ice arrow to freeze the pool and then stack some mage created boxes on it, while in multiplayer there would be much more opportunity for cooperative lever pulling . The choice is yours. We found this flexible approach refreshing and it meant that progression was always steady as you weren’t left searching for the one way the developer intended you to get through an area. 

The first thing that strikes you about the game is just how jaw droopingly gorgeous the whole thing is. The backdrops and landscapes are beyond stunning. We have never seen a 2D game that looks so good. Sunbeams shine through leaves, ice glistens and everything looks as magical and enchanting as seems humanly possible. The attention to detail is staggering and this combined with the physics engine creates a solid and immersive world that you never tire looking at.

The music is also suitably epic with bold fantasy themed tunes subtly underscoring your adventure. Even better news is that Trine 2 has an excellent script and group of voice actors. As the heroes adventure their comments and conversation can’t help to raise a smile. Everything seems to have been done with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour. 

Graphics and sound are all good but don’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. For the first hour or so we were a little worried that the controls wouldn’t gel. While we had a few issues when we first started to play this on the Wii U, the PS4 version hits the ground running straight away.

The game itself is very smooth with everything acting as it should and combat working well. The only slight issues is that after years of playing games like Flashback and Prince of Persia we instinctively expect the edge of a platform to be in a certain part of the graphic. Trine 2’s is a little deeper and this left us missing jumps a number of times. Again, once you get used to it there is very little here to complain about.

This is a good thing as the game is pretty sizeable with the normal quest taking around ten hours and the add-on content pushing that up by another five to eight depending how good you are. Searching out all the hidden chests to get paintings, poems and the maps pieces needed to access the extra area will also take a fair amount of time.

Every level is strong and there was never a time when we found ourselves wanting the game to be over. It’s one of those titles that eats up your free time without you really realising it. When it ends you just wish there was more of it and we can honestly say this is the most pure fun we've had with a video game for years.

Everything about Trine 2 just makes us smile and anyone slightly put off by the fact it’s been around a while really shouldn’t worry. The amount of value and enjoyment present here is to be commended and it’s clear the developers really have gone that extra effort to make something that deserves to be held up with the very best in the genre. In fact, we are a little disappointed this hasn't been made a full retail release and the amount of content and quality on show certainly justifies it.

If you haven’t guessed by now we like this game a lot. It takes players on a magical and beautiful adventure while always remaining enjoyable and throwing in some absolutely stunning design. If you own a PS4 this game is as essential as anything else you can buy. This is definitive version of one of the best games to come out in an absolute age. There really is no excuse not to own it. 


Friday, 16 January 2015

Yager Review (Xbox)

Welcome to the world of Yager: set on earth in the distant future, the planet is no longer divided with borders denoting different countries and regions. Due to mega companies all looking after their own interests, the earth has now been ‘terraformed’, triangulated and assigned ownership. On one side of the sphere is a small province under the control of Proteus – a company based upon old-earth or western philosophies. On the other side is the OST, a militaristic organisation who tend not to get on with their Proteus brothers.

In between these factions lies an area known as the Free Trade Zone; where inhabitants are laid-back and freedom-loving Han Solo-types. The game sees you as pilot Magnus Tide, trying to rebuild your career after an unfortunate incident that left a wing commander with a broken nose. Hooking up with Proteus again, you must undergo a number of training sessions before taking on whatever mission they deem you are capable of.
At its heart, Yager is a sort of Rogue Leader-styled game set on land, with missions requiring you to fly about shooting various hostile forces, as well as doing reconnaissance work and a spot of investigating.

Here is where the game comes into its own as the world of Yager is credible, well-constructed and enticing to explore. Each character you meet seems to have an individual history all of their own, even if they only say a few words to you. This is most notable when you reach the Free Trade Zone to investigate various goings-on. Whilst airborne, numerous pilots will chat to you about various things, such as how trade is going or even inviting you down to the local bar for a drink. It all comes across so well that you become completely immersed in the interaction.

The characters are equally personable and all are complete individuals – from the slightly mad mechanic brothers to the freighter pilots and bar owners – everyone seems to have their own story to tell. Though essentially guided by story parameters, the character involvement covers this up brilliantly, with apparent random meetings with old friends keeping things fresh and interesting all the way through. This is mainly achieved due to the fact that every character you meet does not necessarily have anything to do with the plot as a whole - there are just lots of friendly, hospitable folk about, all aiming to contribute to your sense of belonging.

Graphically, the title is stunning for the Xbox. Areas sprawl off into the distance for miles around, with rolling hills and some of the most astounding water effects ever seen on the system. If there is a weakness, it’s that a lot of the landscapes tend to look the same – being a mix of grass-covered hills, roads and the odd mountain – but this doesn’t really detract from the experience as you get the impression you are working within a fairly small area where the plot is concerned.

Between levels you are treated to some lovely cut-scenes where the story evolves further, and most of the time has Magnus relaxing with a drink in the local bar. Missions are varied, with some being a simple case of shooting things down, while others have you flying underneath the radar to pinpoint locations for missile strikes. Every now and then though, something irregular will pop up – like having to test out the new gun which the bar owner has installed.

This sees you shooting a range of flying targets, pool tables, chairs, and just about anything else they can find to launch as space-aged clay pigeons. Magnus’s ship has two different control styles: it can either hover, allowing you to raise the ship up and down more easily and stay in one place, allowing movement at a fairly slow pace. The second style puts the ship into jet mode, which means you move a lot faster, and is ideally suited for combat situations as it allows for more flexible movements, vital for avoiding incoming missiles and gunfire.

Combat is easy enough to perform, with the ship being as manoeuvrable as is needed in order to take out multiple targets at once. A wide range of weaponry and tools are also available, allowing for different approaches to each situation. The only problem really is that sometimes the combat seems to lack a touch of intensity – which ideally, in the midst of a huge gun battle, should be coming from all quarters.

Overall, Yager is a brilliant attempt at creating a completely engaging and interactive ‘living’ world. It is clear that an awful lot of care and attention has gone into the details. On this count it cannot be faulted, however the lukewarm nature of its combat makes it feel that something is missing. Everyone should experience Yager as it soon becomes one of the most enthralling locations you could uncover.

Overall 8/10