Friday 28 November 2014

Space Hulk Ascension Review (PC)

Almost a year ago now we reviewed the first version of Full Control's take on the classic Space Hulk board game. It was a faithful rendition of the Space Marines versus Genestealers conflict with original maps being used and the same reliance on dice rolls. In effect it recreated the table top game very well but didn’t add much else. 

This new version of Space Hulk looks to build on the foundations of the first game and bring the digital version of the franchise close to the realms of a turn based strategy game rather than a recreation of a table top board game and as such a host of new features have been implemented.

The maps for three new campaigns have now been designed from scratch and players get the choice of leading one of three Space Marine chapters into the decaying hulks. You can pick from the Ultra Marines, Blood Angels and Space Wolves with each chapter having a few different specialisms and skills. It seems strange that the Deathwing chapter hasn’t been used here but we suspect that might be something of a rights issue as they are set to star in a Space Hulk game of their very own.

As you progress through the campaigns your marines now level up and begin to gain access to different weapons and equipment. This gives a bit more of a tie to your marines and helps to differentiate them. Starting out with a basic Storm Bolter and Power Fist Combo you’ll soon have access to a range of weaponry which makes your load outs much more flexible. The Genestealer side of things has also been worked on with numerous variants now stalking the narrow corridors of the ships.

The game certainly seems a lot less clunky as well and turns have a better fluidity to them. Though hulking marines are never going to be zipping about the place it certainly moves along at a better pace than the original game and you never quite feel safe. Of course, you shouldn’t feel safe because this is a very difficult game. Even as an experienced player of the board game we found even getting though the initial missions difficult and one of two mistakes can easily end your mission.

That wouldn’t be so bad but there are two major issues which can stop the game being as fun and tactical as it should be. One is the lack of a tactical map which is perhaps the most crucial. The layout of levels is revealed as you explore the ship which is something that probably sounded like a good idea at the time. In reality, in this type of game you need to be able to work out well in advance where you need to place you Terminators. As they have such limited movement thinking up flexible tactics on the fly really isn’t a worthwhile option and wandering into a room only to find it contains a host of entry points for the enemy just doesn’t cut it.

The other issue is the general murk of the levels. It can be very hard to pick out basic features on the ships such as doors and air vents. The amount of times a Genestealer took out one of our marines from a space we didn’t even know about was infuriating and is something that really needs to be looked at. You can change the gamma levels to brighten things up but when you are looking at a dark map from almost a bird’s eye view it’s still very difficult to pick some things out. The command wheels on your Terminators are also very small. 

Overall, the game has certainly developed from the original but it has done some very good things while also introducing some bad things. We like the skill progression, the use of different chapters and the new maps. But we really could do without the murky levels and the fog of war which stops tight tactical planning - which in a game as tough as this is really needed.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition Review (PC)

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

This must start with a huge disclaimer. Firstly, I am not a seasoned Dungeons & Dragons player. The only time in real-life that I have dipped into that realm, my behaviour was a mixture of gentle subversion and flippancy, but also tinged with the excitement of making stuff up on the spot. To summarise, I didn't care for the rules too much. Secondly, role-playing games on PC aren't my poison of choice though I got a fair few hours out of Baldur's Gate 2 and Fallout 2 especially.

So, how indeed do I expect to shed any worthwhile light on Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition, seeing as I haven't even played the unenhanced edition. Simple, I dragged my cohort Dan O'Shea, seasoned role-player in and picked his more experienced brains. We made some characters, slapped them in a party and had a jaunt around the Spine of the World.

At first glance, I was nostalgic. The sprites brought back memories of Baldur's Gate, and this led me to wonder aloud whether there had been much change visually. Dan noted that not much had. He seemed to be pleased with the ability to zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. The backgrounds are well rendered, character animations are simplistic, but functional. On further play, however, it seemed to us both that most of the enhancements had come in the form of sleekness of interface, features and interpretation of the various (so Dan noticed) D&D rule-sets.

From my perspective, without prior experience of the original, I still find the manner of this particular brand of RPG off-putting. It certainly helped seeing how Dan chose to attribute ability points in a way that made sense in terms of the mode of the game. I have always struggled with this more archaic character creation, preferring a more emergent character through play. I was surprised, however, how attached I became to my character (a gnome assassin-thief), and how much I wanted to carry on playing. The main quest is linear, but there seemed to be dotted side-quests here and there. The real nitty-gritty comes in load-outs, abilities, party balance and experience.

Little additions, such as more clear character identification rings, a very convenient mass-pick up loot bar and more elegant HUD, pleased the veteran player. I found some of the symbols familiar from Baldur's Gate, but there isn't a huge amount of help available for the novice. It is in the tradition of taking your time, immersing yourself in the world and enjoying the journey. On the way, the interface becomes second nature. What helped my understanding of the statistics was the (so Dan noted) clear, “show yer working” calculations for the characters. So I could follow why my charisma was at the rating it was at. On more aesthetic notes, I love the artwork of the cutscenes and the music is spot on. I'd recommend getting some custom avatar pictures and your own vocal sound. Well, I certainly will when I restart without a chaperone.

It is hard to predict the appeal of this. On one hand, fans of the original may get a big kick out of the extended main quest, squashing of bugs and more elegant presentation. Beamdog have done a good job of updating in lots of ways, despite Dan not immediately being blown away. It is clear to see that these classic role-playing titles can benefit from a little buff, here and there, but the guts of the engine and design still hold up well. I was pleasantly surprised with my first go, and look forward to another bash. Maybe it's time I learnt some patience.


Monday 24 November 2014

Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!! Review (PS Vita)

The Arcana Heart series has been largely ignored by western audiences over the years. Even the first version of Arcana Heart 3 did little to make an impact on the established brands of Street fighter and BlazBlue. Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!! has taken the 2011 version of the game and reworked it to try and build on a solid template and make one more attempt to hit the sweet spot for fight game fans.

The unique selling point of the series is that it contains an all-girl cast. Don’t worry though, this isn’t one of the highly questionable Japanese titles that are borderline pornographic. Characters here are for the most part treated in a much better way than female characters can sometimes be. The other key gimmick is that the base characters can be combined with a large range of magical ‘Arcana’ spirits to give staggering depth and flexibility in how you want fight.

Arcanas are basically huge magical beings that give extra powers, attack and defence options (Think of them like the summon or guardian force creatures in the final fantasy series). A defensively weak character could choose a defence orientated Arcana to boost that area of their skills for instance or emphasise one of their abilities even more. As well as boosting attack and defence they also each have unique special moves and abilities and getting the balance right is the key to success.

The biggest problems fight fans will face is that there is no introduction to the game mechanics or characters. It has become fairly standard practice now for character related trials and tutorials to be introduced in fighting games. Here there is nothing of the sort with just a standard training option to go into and play around with moves. Unless you dig through to the digital manual it is highly unlikely you’ll ever work out what half the meters and bars do in the game. This is a pretty major oversight and it’s likely to greatly impact how you get on with the game as it’s not something that is easy to just pick up and play.

This isn’t helped by the fact that hardly any of the characters are newcomer friendly either. There are no real Ryu or Ken a-likes and with so many characters to choose from it becomes a case of picking one and seeing what comes of it. For those that persevere there is a highly entertaining and complex fighting game underneath but unless you’re willing to put in the hours it’s questionable if you ever really know what you are doing. This coupled with some ridiculous pad inputs which are near impossible to pull off on a Vita (recreating a pentagram motion on the D Pad for instance), means casual fight fans are likely to want to look elsewhere.

When it’s in full flow Arcana Heart certainly looks lovely and the speed never lets up - even on the Vita. You’ll have special moves flying everywhere with the backgrounds changing from summer to winter as characters initiate time lapsing moves and Arcanas crash into the arena. It’s unlike pretty much any other fighting game and once you get to grips with it, it offers something unique in an ever growing genre.

Overall, Arcana Heart 3 Love Max!!! is certainly an improvement other the base version of the game with more polish, balance and flexibility added to the battles. That said, it is still far too impenetrable for newcomers to the series and the last boss remains a terrible encounter on a multi levelled arena that we could have really done without. Once you know how everything works it’s a real joy to play but we can’t see anyone but the hard core fight fan even getting close to that level without the addition of some kind of tutorial system.

Overall 7/10

Friday 21 November 2014

Tengami Review (Wii U)

Tengami caught our eye well over a year ago at the Eurogamer Expo back in 2013. Amidst the throng of noise and colour around the Nintendo stand was an unassuming screen displaying a delicate looking game.  A very apt first impression, this is a very calm and thoughtful game that is much more about contemplation and the journey than it is about simply getting to the end.

There is no real plot to speak of as your journey follows a lone Japanese wanderer as he seeks to return four cherry blossoms to a bare cherry tree. It’s very similar in tone to something like Journey where it is the adventure that subtly writes the story into the minds of the player rather than having it explicitly stated.

The main draw of Tengami is its art style. The world and everything in it are created to look like a paper pop-up book. The game starts by opening the book and as you progress you literally turn the pages.  The environments are absolutely gorgeous and no other game has had us continually reaching for the Wii U screen shot button.  It is also underscored with some lovely sound to fully immerse you in the oriental world it is portraying.

Aside from wandering around beautiful environments you will need to solve puzzles in order to progress.  This is done via the Wii U pad and generally involves sliding things around or making different parts of the environment pop-up. There are also musical puzzles (normally revolving around bells), and puzzle boxes that need to be unlocked by looking around the environments for symbols.

The puzzles range from being very simple to quite fiendish in design. The puzzle boxes which require looking around the environment can be very tricky – until you realise you may need to hold turning pages half open to see some of them. It certainly makes you think and there is nothing here that should stop you completely dead in your tracks for long.

Our only real gripe with the game is its length. We managed to get through it in a couple of hours and though there are Miiverse stamps to collect there isn’t really too much to come back into it for. Unlike journey where the thrill of the ride is enough to replay, here you already know the puzzles so unless you want to wander the beautiful world again there is very little to draw you back.

This certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, it moves at a fairly slow pace and there is a lot of wandering to be done between puzzles. That said, we feel that everything it sets out to do it has accomplished pretty much perfectly. 

Overall, Tengami is unashamedly the game it wants to be and there is little compromise to players that might not get it. For those looking for something different this could be the perfect game. It merges the concepts of art and video games and has created something unique. Yes it’s short, but the fact we wanted more speaks volumes of the experience we had with it. There are things here that will make you smile and show you small moments of magic and for us that’s more than enough.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Master of Darkness Review (Master System)

Through gaming history Dracula has appeared with alarming regularity to cause trouble to innocent people and attempt to cast his shadow across the world. Normally opting for the Belmont family in the Castlevania series it seems the master of darkness has finally come up with a way to stop from being defeated. All he had to do all along was appear in a game that had no Belmont’s in it! Enter comedy named DR. Ferdinand Social who with the help of his Ouija board discovered something very bad was about to happen in Victorian London. 

Making your way through five different areas, each split into smaller stages you must overcome the creatures of the night in what would appear to be a fairly standard platform adventure game that's not a million miles away from a certain other platform adventure game that concerns Dracula. However, though level design may be similar to the Castlevania games there are enough well crafted touches to make Master of Darkness carve out its own identity. 

Cosmetically, the game is way ahead of the 8-bit Castlevania games with characters being clearer and better defined. Backgrounds are detailed without being cluttered and the colours never clash with the foreground meaning enemies are always visible and do not disappear into the scenery. Flickering is remarkably low and slow down never really effects what is going on either, so right from the off this has the edge over Konami’s game. However, the Castlevania games on the NES where released between 1987 and 1989, and this title showed its head in 1992 so comparison, although inevitable, is a touch unfair. 

Gameplay wise there are a number of nice touches that raise the title above the standard platform adventure game that clogged up the shelves in the late eighties and early nineties. First of all our hero has a number of different weapons to choose. These range from daggers and swords to guns, bombs and even a boomerang, each weapon having strengths and weaknesses meaning you have to pick the one that suits your play style the best. Social is a very responsive character to control and the good doctor jumps around with ease and can even change direction quickly enough to take out incoming creatures. Level design is another notable thing with ordinary side scrolling sections put to shame by some levels containing collapsing floors and floating boats, all helping to keep the action fresh and enjoyable. 

Overall, Master of Darkness succeeds in being a good fun title that avoids the pitfalls so many other adventure games of this type fall into. Though remarkably like Castlevania, you cannot get away from the fact that this title came a few years after the NES series and thus has better graphics and game mechanics, however it does lack a bit of soul and the epic feeling created by the Belmont’s struggle is sadly lacking. But if it is a fun game you want, then this could well be it.

Overall 7/10 

Monday 17 November 2014

Binding of Isacc Rebirth review (PC)

Written by Thomas G.J Sharpe

Remake, remaster, redux... Rebirth is a fitting title for the uterine, scatological and joyfully blasphemous Binding of Isaac. At essence, as well, this is not strictly a new game. Further, I feel like it fulfils the promises made in the original. This is not to say that I disliked or felt that the original Isaac was lacking. My hours clocked on that game far exceeded the two hundred mark; that almost cringe-worthy amount of time you peek at through guilty squint. Rebirth is bigger, brasher, buffed and on the whole a better game.

Edmund McMillen, undoubtedly most loved developer in Indie Game The Movie, has said he made the original Binding of Isaac as a sort of blank canvas, vacation game to create without expectation. With the design being somewhere between the dungeons in the classic Legend of Zelda titles and a 2D bullet hell with strong rogue-like elements. All in all, I would argue that it outstrips most modern, “retro” crawlers on pretty much every front. The limitations of the original being made in flash by McMillen and Florian Himsl, was really the only concrete bugbear of mine. I even liked the flash look to it.

So, four years after Isaac wept his way onto a Humble Bundle, we are treated to a re-imagining from the ground up. The rabid fan-base, sometimes aggressively possessive of the original, watched and waited, and what emerged will be like heaven for some and not for others.

For those not familiar with the original, the Binding of Isaac is the story of a naked child fleeing from his murderous mother, instructed by god to show her faith by killing her son. A retelling of the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac escapes into the basement, where you take over collecting items, killing creatures (some identifiable, some hideous versions of Isaac himself, others grotesque mutations) using tears as your primary weapon. You progress through randomised dungeons, building a pool of items through collection and achievements, escalating difficulty and secrets abound. Add in lashings of cynical Biblical references, astrological puns, occult curious and lore from all corners of esoterica and you've got the general idea.

This game makes me laugh, first and foremost. I admit, I am one of the McMillen fan-boys. Ever since I saw Indie Game, with him sat there talking passionately about creativity, vulnerability and individuality (and in a Melvins t-shirt to boot), I became a big admirer of his games and perspective upon the industry. With Rebirth, it feels to me (from all that I've read from McMillen) that this is the ripe game, as if now we get to play something that is closer to what was in his head.

The ripening of Isaac comes in the form of a huge expansion of the item set, graphical overhaul, projectile physics, new full soundtrack, greater room variety and tonnes more that will, of course, take me another few hundred hours to discover. The effectiveness of these changes will be down to the individual. I can almost hear the gnashing of teeth over the artwork changes, for example. New players, however, are without the burden of previous endearment to Isaac, and so it is hard to offer an accurate prediction.

Simply, then, I shall end by stating that Rebirth is a worthy maturation that I personally will be investing lots of time into. It is intelligent in so many ways, from the writing to the design to the gameplay implementation, that sets it in a sparsely populated league for me, making most weaknesses mere minor quibbles. But, most importantly, it has the best animated poop I have ever seen.


Friday 14 November 2014

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis Review (PC)

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is one of the more unique point and click titles. One of its key selling points is that you can play through the game in three different ways. As well as this there are multiple endings and the game even keeps a score of how well you are doing. The only way to get the perfect score is to complete it using all the available paths.

This games also shows just how seriously companies took the point and click adventure back in its prime. The amount of money and time put into the project simply wouldn't happen in this day and age. Luckily for us this is one of the few occasions when a game with a massive license attached to it turned out to be absolutely brilliant.

The plot contains most of the standard Indiana Jones devices such as Nazi's, the feisty female side kick and the search for a mystical McGuffin. The game starts with Dr Jones trying find and artefact in the university. This acts as a kind of tutorial and gets players used to how the puzzles work and the general feel of everything. Once the object is found it is then promptly stolen by a Nazi with a dodgy accent and thus the race starts to uncover the mystery of Atlantis before they do. The recent Kingdom of the Crystal Skull contains many aspects present here only, in this case, there isn't a load of dodgy CGI and script hasn't been written by a five year old.

The script perfectly captures the feel and style of Indiana Jones and the voice actors, as per usual with Lucas Arts titles, are excellent. Special credit has to go to the voice of Dr Jones himself. Unfortunately Harrison Ford wasn't used but his replacement does an admirable impression of the great man and the timing of every line is just about perfect.

As mentioned earlier the really unique thing about the Fate of Atlantis is that you can complete the game three different ways. Two of the ways involve solving puzzles, one on your own, the other with your partner Sophia who you can ditch at a certain point should you wish. The other way is much more physical and involves fighting your way to the end. The fighting involves using the left and right mouse buttons to punch and proves very tricky as you progress. The three different ways of approaching the title also take you through different routes of certain sections of the game and even to a couple of completely different locations.

Having the overall score for your adventure on the screen is a nice touch as it saves after you finish the game. You can then go through it a different way to add to your score. This encourages you to go through the game multiple times to find all the different solutions to the puzzles and search out every point. The puzzles themselves are excellent and require players to think without being completely random or obscure. The only slight gripe is that a certain amount of travelling back and forth can be needed if you miss an object the first time around. This is also one of the few Lucas Arts games where your character can actually die so be warned.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is easily one of the greatest point and click adventure games of all time. Everything about it fits together just about perfectly to form a real adventure. The fact the game feels so at home with the Indiana Jones films is real testament to the skills of the development team and voice actors. Given the choice between playing through this and seeing Kingdom of the Crystal Skull we would go for this every time. It's unfortunate that Fate of Atlantis is so difficult to find these days in its original form as it deserves to be played by anyone who ever wished to move a cursor around a screen looking for tiny objects.

Overall 9/10

*As soon as we wrote this it was released on GOG making it much easier to find :)

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Pier Solar and the Great Architects Review (PC)

Pier Solar has certainly taken a unique road to reaching modern systems. Originally released as a home brew Mega Drive game the HD version has now made its way to PC and a number of other home formats. The story follows a boy named Hoston who, with a group of friends goes looking for a herb to help his sick father. While searching for the herb the three friends find something from an ancient world and then the real story begins.

Set in a world of magic and fantasy the game has some beautifully designed backdrops for our heroes to wander around. There’s a little bit of a strange juxtaposition between the pixel based characters and objects and the backgrounds themselves but if you set the full HD filter into action it’s certainly a lovely game to look at.  Despite reminding us of games like Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire it has a style and visual charm all of its own as well.

The game also has a subtle musical score which fits well with the different environments and plays away in the background. It’s not spectacular but considering this was designed with the Mega Drive in mind it’s quite an impressive accomplishment. 

Combat is carried out in the traditional turn based way. Random encounters are the order of the day but they are paced so that your adventuring isn’t interrupted every few seconds. Once in combat you have the standard options of attacking, defending, using items. The main gimmick of the combat system is the Gather mechanic. This allows players to power up a level per each turn they remain inactive. Not only does doing this increase the damage your character does but also allows for higher levels skills to be used. It works well and while you won’t be using it much to begin with you’ll soon be weighing up the pros and cons of charging characters up in order to succeed. 

There are also a few things hidden away to help you. A map can be displayed of your current area and radar turned on. You can also teleport to the entrance of an area. We found this completely by accident by pressing a controllers trigger button and couldn’t find any other reference to it anywhere else. Maybe it’s all part of the mystery? 

There are a fair few things that could be clearer in the game such as how you save (pressing action on a glowing gold circle). The game only tells you the basic controls and explains very little else. We worked things out fairly quickly but we can only imagine how many gamers out there must not know half the stuff you can do in the game or had to resort to a guide to work out how to save.

Once you get to grips with everything there is a fun adventure to be had with an interesting story and satisfying turn-based combat.  The writing is a little hit and miss, normally strong for the main characters but weaker for NPC’s (and downright odd in places).  But it certainly does the job of setting up the world and grandeur of the quest at hand.

Overall, Pier Solar is a charming game that doesn’t feel dated despite being designed for a 16-bit system. It’s an enjoyable world to wander around and the characters are likable and have some fun skills to play with. If you want something that merges the classic RPG style with a few modern touches to ease the pain then this is well worth a look.

Overall 7/10

Monday 10 November 2014

Shovel Knight Review (Wii U)

Shovel Knight has been looking like a good game for a very long time and we loved it when we tried the PC version out, in fact it became only the third game to receive a 10/10. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it. It’s taken a while to get here from the PC and we are delighted to say that it’s still as excellent as ever.

The game follows the tale of Shovel Knight who used to act as one of the champions of the land, defending it from evil along with his companion Shield Knight. One day the two knights fall fowl of a cursed amulet in a magic tower. Shovel Knight awakens to find Shield Knight has been sealed in the tower and the entrance is now impassable. While Shovel Knight hides away from the world the evil forces of the enchantress take hold. In doing so she unseals the magic tower and Shovel Knight sets off to rescue Shield Knight and stop the evil.

Shovel Knight is a platform game that wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve. There’s a  bit of Mega Man in there, (though you don’t take powers from fallen bosses), Some Duck Tales style bouncing, a bit of Castlevania 2 and 3 with the sub weapons and even a touch of Dark Souls. The thing that sets it all apart though is while all these elements are identifiable the game feels like something unique. It’s not just a trip down memory lane but a game that has taken key elements and forged its own identity with them.

The graphics and music are 8-bit themed and it certainly feels like the sort of thing you could be playing on a NES or Master System. Despite the potential limitations of the style each level is filled with detail and they each have their own clear identity. This is where the main Mega Man influence comes and it keeps things fresh as you never really know how an enemy boss knight’s stage is going to have to be approached until you get into it.

The adventure is set across a map screen with locks at the edge of it. Defeating the correct enemy boss knights releases the locks and allows you to move to the next section. As well as the enemy castles there are villages where you can get new gear and special levels which offer up gems or unique adventures for our hero to conquer (You can also go and speak to a big fish thing which fills up empty chalices with magic). You’ll need all the gems you can find as it acts as the in game currency and allows you to buy a whole host of secondary weapons and shovel and armour upgrades.

It should be pointed out that though the game is called Shovel Knight, this is not a title in the same vein as Steam World: Dig or Spelunky. It’s very much a platformer in the Mega Man or Castlevania style with skilful jumping and boss fights on the menu for intrepid explorers. The game is challenging but it has a very well balanced difficulty curve and we never felt completely out of our depth. Levels also have a large amount of checkpoints and there is no lives system in place so you can keep continuing. The main penalty for death is losing a chunk of your money. When this occurs it hangs around the area you died and must be reclaimed. If you die again then it’s gone, much like Dark Souls.

It’s a game that wants you to keep playing it. The constant supply of gems and available upgrades, the gradual revealing of the map, the extra levels – it all just keeps you wanting to see what else is out there and what’s going to be next and there is always something more to see. You’ll get random monsters and bosses roaming the map like in Mario 3 or pick up a new weapon and be able to complete a level you couldn’t before. You’ll just keep going and going until the end and then there’s always new game +.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a brilliant game. Everything is does it does well and everything works. It’s balanced and challenging and constantly offers up new surprises. The controls work perfectly, the levels and enemies are well designed and there’s a nice chunk of humour in there as well. This probably is it for the 8-bit retro styled platformer as to beat this would really take something. We tried and tried but it simply cannot be faulted. It’s just a magnificent game.

Overall 10/10

Friday 7 November 2014

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey Book 1 Review (PC)

It’s been a very long time coming for fans of the series that started with The Longest Journey way back in 1999. Finally, the last instalment of an adventure that started out as a classic point and click game before moving into the realms of 3D in Dreamfall is here in a new episodic format.
The story follows only two of the three characters present in the previous game. Zoe Castillio, is trapped in a coma in Stark and must struggle to reconnect with the real world.  Klan Alvane, a soldier in Arcadia, is imprisoned after turning on his former masters. There are hints at another character but at this stage it seems unlikely that April Ryan will be returning anytime soon.
The game has removed the fiddly combat and stealth sections of Dreamfall and is now a fully-fledged 3D version of a point and click adventure game. You guide you character around and when they see something of interest icons will appear to allow you to interact with it in various ways such as looking or using an item. It’s a smart approach as the previous game was only ever hindered by anything that broke the flow of the story.
In their place is a new choice system which see’s certain decisions remembered by characters in the game. Whether these choices will make any grand difference or merely provide an illusion in the vein of The Walking Dead we’ll have to wait and see. You can also check to see the choices other players have made throughout the game at each section.
The game looks beautiful and there is a clear distinction between the scientific world of Stark and the high fantasy of the world of Arcadia. The real strength of the game though is the writing and there is some of the best we’ve seen here. It can be a little uneven at times by Zoe Castillo is a beautifully realised character and her voice actor has nailed the role as well. Klan Alvane is sadly a bit lacking in comparison and this creates a slightly unbalanced game. There’s also a fair few repeated sound samples that we could really do without.
Other multiple character games have suffered with this in the past and it is clear that Dreamfall Chapters currently has one character who is much more interesting than the other. Zoe wipes the floor with Klan currently in terms of her world to explore, her character and how she is written and as a result whenever you are moved over to play Klan interest does drop. This isn’t helped by the fact that the first section featuring Klan is incredibly drab and also very fiddly to navigate.
Luckily, the first chapter seems to spend more time with Zoe and allows us to explore her world and her as a character much more fully. Hopefully Klan will develop as the story goes on as he was an interesting and conflicted character in the last game. We have a sneaking suspicion though that the most interesting part of his life may have already taken place as it will be hard to top the story arc which leads him to become a traitor to his cause.
It’s only a fairly minor issue though as the game is a lovely re-introduction to the two worlds. There is certainly a lot of promise here and Zoe especially shows signs of turning into a wonderfully realised character as she progresses. There are some performance issues and we did have to do quite a bit of fiddling to get the game to run at a half decent speed but all in all any fan of the original games should be very happy with what they have here.
Overall, this is a highly promising start of the new episodic format. It may not be one for newcomers to the series as very little of the back story is explained and at this point there’s about one hundred hours of it. For fans though it’s like meeting an old friend and their slightly less interesting cousin. Zoe is simply magnetic and once you’re drawn into her story there’s no way you’ll be leaving before you reach the end.

Overall 7/10


Wednesday 5 November 2014

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Review (NES)

Once upon a time an evil sorcerer cast a magic spell on a beautiful princess called Zelda, and thus she drifted into an endless sleep. The only way to revive her is for the hero Link to collect six shards of a magic crystal from the depths of Hyrule. When these have been gathered together they can be used to remove the magic that protects the gate of the ‘Great Palace’ where the evil sorcerer has fled. Link can then save the day and get the girl once again. 

The Adventure of Link is presented in a completely different format to the previous Link release. Instead of the top down approach taken before, this Zelda title utilised a  side on view - much in the same way as Mario or Metroid. The game is split into two different styles. On the map screen Link walks around in a vastly scaled top down view and when a monster attacks or you enter an area of interest it changes to the side on view thus marking a huge departure for the series.

A number of additional touches have also been included, as now Link gains experience and can grow stronger by levelling up in much the same way as the Final Fantasy releases. Magic is also brought into play much more. 

Graphically, the game is both good and bad, while the map screen is void of detail and incredibly small (when in the two dimensional perspective) everything is well defined and animated with a decent range of colours being used to show the land of Hyrule. Different locations are varied enough to keep you interested despite the caves being almost identical and much the same can be said about the towns. 

In terms of  how Zelda II: The Adventure of Link plays, it both impresses and disappoints with equal measure as well. It is clear that the game has developed and moved forward since the previous incumbent, with the more stat based approach and emphasis placed on a more platform arena rather than the map wandering of the prequel. However, you have to wonder why the game engine was altered. The first Zelda game was a magical affair, if a little basic at times. Moving the series into the realms of a platform game only serves to strip it of the character displayed in the original. Arguably, right from the start the magic is sadly lacking. If you want platform game then there is Mario or countless others, but the Zelda series really did not need to go down the same road. 

What we are left with is a game that looks a lot better than the original but lacks in how it plays. Having the dungeons set in a two dimension perspective means you never get a sense of where you are or what needs to be done. The puzzle potential is also greatly reduced meaning most obstacles are simply a case of finding keys and taking them to locked doors. The Adventure of Link is not a bad release nevertheless and it does possess some nice touches, but there was no need to change the style - something the developers soon realised as the perspective was set back to the traditional Zelda approach for the Super Nintendo version.

Overall 6/10 

Monday 3 November 2014

Teslagrad Review (Wii U)

Teslagrad is a game we first came across at the recent Eurogamer expo in London. We were drawn to it by its unique look and the fact it seemed to be full of clever play mechanics and traps. It’s now finally with us and we can explore the mystery of a small boy with magnetic powers escaping into a castle after being chased by some Rasputin-esque looking pursuers.

The game has a style that though familiar we haven’t really seen before. The Soviet influence reminds us of steam punk animations and fairy tales from the Eastern Bloc and it works perfectly to set up a mysterious and unique atmosphere. There is also very little text with the story and controls explained via drawings and animated theatre puppets. The silence further intensifies the mystery (even if the lack of tutorial is a little confusing).

There is gamepad support but you’ll have to set it up manually. Again, this can be a little odd at the beginning of the game as you don’t really know what half of the commands are. Once you get it sorted out though it’s a much easier way to play as you’re going to need very quick reflexes to get through.

Teslagrad is a difficult game and it requires sustained amounts of quick thinking, jumping and precision placement to get through most sections. Most of the time you are trying to avoid dropping onto spikes or electricity but there are also some shadowy beasts and mechanical enemies to avoid from time to time. You don’t really have any offense so you’ll be darting past them and running away a lot.

Our little hero is far from powerless though and you’ll soon find the equipment that gives you the use of a unique set of powers. First off you’ll get the positive and negative magnetism glove. This allows you to change the charge of magnetic services and blocks. This means you can get blocks to move or fall, or use opposite charges to propel yourself up tunnels or across chasms. The next thing you’ll find is the ability to ‘blink’ or teleport a short distance. This is vital for passing barriers or dodging enemies and moving electrical fields. Before long you’re having to bounce around and blink all at once in sequences that require constant movement. It’s tough and challenging and certain sections will be repeated over and over and over.

Dying is perhaps where the biggest weakness in the game lies. The controls can feel a little twitchy at times and I don’t think we’ve ever been so frustrated by a character auto-climbing up a ledge they’ve grabbed onto. Death can also feel unfair with the blink ability very difficult to judge while in motion. What compounds the issue is that if you miss a jump or die, there are times you’ll have to repeat quite a large section to get back to where you were. Don’t even get us started on some of the bosses that just never seem to die either.

Frustration aside this is a very clever and well crafter game. You do get used to the controls and both the level and graphical design is of a standard that makes you want to persevere and get to the next section. The constant climb up the castle and gradual revelation of the mystery within it are engaging and will likely keep you striving until you reach the end. There will be some gamers who just won’t be able to cut it though and that’s a shame as this is a beautiful fairy tale that you really should try.

Overall 8/10