Monday 30 March 2015

3D Out Run Review

For many a retro gamer mentioning Out Run conjures up memories of racing at high speed through a host of idyllic locations in a Ferrari. There have been numerous remakes over the years but only the Xbox version in 2004 really managed to capture that spirit of freedom and speed that the original had. That’s all about to change as this could well be the definitive version of Sega’s much loved classic.

For those not familiar with Out Run – the goal is to race through the stages against the clock while avoiding traffic and other obstacles. There are multiple routes that can be taken and up to five possible final roads to travel down should you reach the last stage. Hitting traffic slows you down, while hitting obstacles at speed can flip and roll the car causing the driver and his blond passenger to fall out and eat up much needed time. 

Though fairly simplistic at heart – it can also be tough to complete at times. You have a high and low gear to help control your speed but sometimes those corners come out of nowhere and you’ll be flipping into the nearest corn field. Luckily for us the controls are wonderfully responsive so anytime you do find yourself viewing the brutal crash animations you know it’s your fault. It’s about speed and control and if things get too tough (or easy), you can alter the difficulty and your time allowance in the options menu. 

This is a conversion of the arcade game so you are getting the original experience with some nice enhancements. The two most obvious of these are the framerate and new 3D effect. The framerate has been bumped up to 60FPS which makes everything zoom by at breakneck speed and certainly captures the thrill the original game had upon first release. The 3D effect is also impressive and really adds to the experience. These two additions coupled with the classic graphical style really help to elevate the game and it makes everything a whole lot of fun.

There are a few other things thrown in as well such as some new songs and the ability to track your times and scores on each course. It all shows that a fair amount of care and attention has been put into this and someone clearly cared about the franchise during the process.

Overall, 3D Out Run is both a wonderful version of a classic game and something that is still fun and relevant today. It’s a game that always brings about a smile when playing and it comes from an era when the sheer joy of the experience was heralded above all else and there is no better game to illustrate the point than this.

Overall 8/10

Saturday 28 March 2015

Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain Review (PS2)

Wrestling is a strange beast – most people simply don’t understand the appeal; for the rest of the world it provides an entertaining spectacle that simply cannot be matched by your average episode of East Enders or Coronation Street. Imagine how much more entertaining an episode of the popular cockney soap would be if in one episode Phil Mitchell and Dot Cotton started hitting each other with steel chairs before both were power-bombed through a table by an angry Alfie Moon – now that’s entertainment! 

Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain is the fifth instalment in the (at the time), generally excellent Smackdown series and was where, instead of resting on its laurels, THQ have tried to develop the franchise through a number of changes to the core gameplay. A very brave move, considering Smackdown! already contained possibly the most flexible fighting system available in a wrestling title(aside from Fire Pro and No Mercy of Course), –this, along with a few new additions, means the revision bears less resemblance to its predecessors than many were expecting.

The first thing that grabs you upon booting the game is how much the graphics have improved. Characters are far more detailed than before and feel a lot more solid when moving and fighting. This is a good thing, although we feel this may have contributed to issues regarding the roster and some of the superstars’ entrance music at the time. 

However, THQ were always onto a loser in terms of inclusions this time round, because this is where the two brands of Smackdown! and RAW  split; meaning the roster is divided straight down the middle. This leads to ‘sub-par’ superstars being involved in minor storylines and, despite a roster of over fifty-five wrestlers, there are still a number of glaring omissions for the time such as then, women’s champion Molly Holly; ex-tag champions La Resistance; and the world’s strongest man Mark Henry, to name a few.

Problems also exist with music on the superstars’ entrances with some of it being very date and particularly suffering through loss of lyrical content – leading us to believe that corners were cut during development. Perhaps it would be unfair to lay these problems squarely at THQ’s feet, because it relates moreover to limitations placed upon the ageing PS2 hardware, which it must be said, delivers to the best of its abilities – once you have explored what is actually in the game.

Spurious and cosmetic concerns aside, almost everything that matters in the game has been improved; the grapple system has been updated and though it feels strange at first, soon proves more flexible than before – allowing players to have a greater idea of what sort of move they are going to pull off in the heat of battle. A further improvement is evident in the way superstars’ attributes are applied as now there is a huge difference between a lumbering big man and a nimble small man, and if a weaker character tries to lift a heavyweight it will physically be prevented – likely injuring their backs and ending in (animated) pain. A nice touch.

Other noticeable improvements with the physics engine see players prone to taking damage upon specific areas of the body. This helps with both submission-holds and also limits the movement range of your opponent. Injure someone’s head badly enough and a well-placed blow will see the superstar bleed – not massively, but enough to inspire organic belief that realism is flowing through the title’s gaming marrow. Additionally, we are delighted with the improvements made to the submission system; instead of characters just performing a move for mere seconds, now depending on your submission-rating the move can be held for long periods of time (and by hitting any button). Likewise, your opponent can try and escape the hold by doing the same – a small touch, but one that makes a huge difference to the feel of matches. 

After listening to fans’ grievances from previous titles, a number of bona fide legends have also been included in this version of Smackdown! Admittedly, you can’t please everyone, because over the years there have been thousands of WWE superstars, but it’s fair to say that most would be pleased with the inclusions; Superfly Jimmy Snukka, The Legion of Doom and Roddy Piper (along with others) deserve their place, but we raised an eyebrow at the inclusion of Hillbilly Jim, and a couple of others. 

Speaking of irregularities – Hulk Hogan was with the WWE when the game went into development and appears in early promotional shots of the title, yet when Hogan left he was removed from the title. Honestly, Hulk Hogan is possibly the most popular wrestler of all time, surely he could have been included as an unlockable legend? 

Notwithstanding, Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain features just about everything you could want from a wrestling title (presentational issues aside). New match types such as the elimination chamber, and a revised control system, mean that unlike other WWE titles appearing on other formats, this one can stand up in its own right as an accomplished game – and one that people outside of its hardcore fanbase should have some fun with. Technological barriers prevent Smackdown! from reaching its full potential, but nonetheless this is a great release that would even appeal to those who own the last instalment in the series. It’s probably the peak of the series as the games only seemed to get worse after this.

Overall 8/10

Friday 27 March 2015


Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

With a back story featuring a futuristic past-time (1989) and straight-outta-the-hat faction names (the Neo Loran Order, anyone?), Armed Seven conceptually nods... nay, headbutts toward a certain area. It is a to-the-gunpoint side-scrolling schmup featuring mechs, lasers, bullets and guns.

Genres can rise and fall, and then re-rise, changed and mutated, such as the point-and-click adventure. Time changes tastes and this is the same with the side-scrolling shooter. Armed Seven does everything by the book, even to the point of it having a clunky inelegance. It actually plays like something from my childhood that I would curiously boot up from a demo disk or a collection of shareware, pre-internet.

In control of a floating mech, you can pitch your guns at angles, but not move them once firing, adding the only other element of tactics outside of moving. You can pick your load-out, with a primary, secondary and chargeable special weapons. These come in the expected varied formats of machine guns, lasers, missiles and so forth. Curiously, I found, when you start a level, be it a traditionally war-torn past-future landscape or space-action-battlefield, the game tells you where your weak-spot is. The player mech is surprisingly large on the screen, but the hit-box is rather small. You can drift closer than it feels reasonable to incoming fire, harmlessly passing through your metal legs. This somewhat broke the connection for me between the character and controls. Hard to judge in the midst of battle.

This hints at the larger problem at the core of this game and just about forgivable at the price (a cheerful £3.99). The vehicles are a dull mixture of planes and mechs, and that's just about it. None of the thrill of the bio-mechanical R-Type, or the bizarre otherwordliness of Tyrian, or my personal favourite, the grungy, gory and brutal Gradius: Interstellar Assault. Hell, I feel Beat Hazard has a more varied approach and that's essentially an audio-'em-up game. A story as hammy as this deserves more craziness, more badassery... just more.

The side-scroll-schmup exists in pockets, occurring occasionally melted onto other game forms, or as pure and vicious shooters with an avid fanbase. These games, to succeed in the modern game biome, need to have adapted, whilst retaining what is essentially fun about the format. Pulling in some new ideas does not jeopardise the “retro” or “old skool”, I just want a bit of creativity. A customisable load-out is simply not enough to hold my attention for sustained periods. I simply do not buy that this is any more than a solidly made throwback. Like rockabilly music adopters who, with all the swagger and grunt, rarely stray from what can be a staid musical experience. It is a shame, but Armed Seven probably won't last too long in my memory. Maybe this is the point, but I wasn't moved to much more than a passing smile of nostalgia.

Overall 5/10

Thursday 26 March 2015

Midnight Club 2 Review (PS2)

While driving one night you come across a modified sports car weaving through traffic and causing havoc on the road. Intrigued you investigate determined to find a way into the allusive Midnight Club. After bringing the mystery driver to a halt he dares you to meet him at midnight, the stage is set, pride, glory and some very expensive cars are yours for the taking, all you have to do is win….

Set across Los Angeles, Paris and Hong Kong, Midnight Club 2 sets you in a huge free roaming environment. As well as the usual arcade and two player modes you get a much more interesting story model. In the story mode you must travel around a city looking for other racers before following them to the race location. Races come in a variety of types, some are simply a case of racing from one point to another as fast a possible, while others see you needing to hit a number of checkpoints spaced out around the area meaning you have to plan the most effective rout to succeed.

What the developers have pinned their hopes on in the over crowded world of racing games is the twist of being able to go anywhere you want as long as you reach the end before the other racers. Furthermore, beat a racer and you then get to use their car meaning you have a large selection of super vehicles to choose from each with different strengths and weaknesses. The problem is that even though you have the whole city at your disposal there is really only one rout for each race as moving off in search of short cuts often leads to you ending up in completely the wrong place.

First of all lets make something very clear, Midnight Club 2 has some of the worst graphics we have seen in a PS2 racing game. When you first turn it on you may well think you have dropped Driver 2 into the machine instead. Unsurprisingly, everything looks a lot like GTA: Vice City, however it seems as though the detail has been removed leaving somewhat empty shells of vehicles and surroundings. Having said that though after a couple of plays you begin to see through the graphics and they begin to take on a certain charm. Though lacking in detail there is no noticeable pop up, blurring or dodgy draw line distance to be found, essential to a game based around speed and sharp turning- so at least it is understandable why cosmetic graphics have been reduced as it allows the real core elements of the game to function properly.

Car handling is the most important thing with racing games and in this respect Midnight is both sublime and slightly off key. In game controls are incredible responsive allowing the player to perform exactly what they want to, when they want to with such an ease that even novice players will be hand brake turning round corners on virtually their first attempt. A few nice touches have been added that help to keep the element of fun in the game as well, for instance drive behind an opponent and it fills up a slip stream metre allowing you to boost past them at an opportune moment.

Where the game fails slightly though is with the way individual cars handle. While this is a game based more in the arcade area than that of simulation you cannot help but think that the cars handle a little off. We weren’t expecting Gran Turismo levels of realism but when model handling feels more lose than in the GTA games you know something is slightly a miss. Again this is nothing that really detracts from the game and can be easily forgiven as official licenses are not used for the cars and Midnight Club 2 never claimed to be the same type of game as Gran Turismo anyway.

However, what could sour the experience for gamers is the insane difficulty level, being a cross between Burnout 2 and Stuntman in style, things move very fast and races must be negotiated to near perfection in order to succeed. The amount of obstacles in the way could prove too much for novice racing gamers and courses become as much about learning where things are going to appear as beating the other racers. Every race follows the same pattern, you move along until you hit something that has just pulled in your way, you have to restart as once you have crashed catching up is incredibly difficult. So you set off again avoiding the first obstacle, before crashing into the next one and repeat until you reach the end of the race, just like in Stuntman, all you need is the voice telling you what is coming up ahead and you could well forget what game you’re playing at times.

Overall, Midnight Club 2 is a good game, yes it has flaws, it is far too difficult and the graphics and overall feel of the game do not seem quite right. But it still delivers incredible fast and controllable action with a slight twist that no other racer can really claim to have. The problem is most PS2 race fans will own Gran Turismo 3, Burnout 2 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Each game excelling in realism, speed or pure arcade action, Midnight Club 2 tries to incorporate a bit of each into the gameplay but ends up falling a touch short in each area. A huge improvement on the original game but Midnight Club 2 still cannot quite make it into the racing elite, all the elements are there, all that is needed is a bit more polish.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Space Hulk Ascension: Salamanders DLC

Following on from the Imperial Fist DLC comes a yet larger chunk of new content. If the last twenty hour add on campaign wasn’t enough then this massive new one should keep even the most hardcore Space Hulk fans happy for months to come.

This time it is the Salamander chapter that is thrust into the lime light with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The new marines like fire and as such can take two heavy weapon marines into battle with them. They also have improved immunity against flame.

The Salamander campaign is based around using the heavy flamers to block strategic areas and cleanse the inside of the hulks. The Salamander hulk has been given a volcanic makeover as well with lots of glowing magma and embers filling the inside and it makes it look like a sort of metallic hell. The campaign is not for the faint of heart and is probably the most difficult yet.

Having two flamers in play certainly changes up your options but as they only have six shots each you find yourself trying to pull off the same defences manoeuvres with three marines that you would normally be doing with four.  This makes it incredibly strategic and any small error can spell disaster. There also seem to be many more Genestealers in play right from the off.

Indeed, the new levels are more like intricate puzzles that need to be solved. This is further emphasized with levels that become flooded with lava or contain rotating bridges and walls of flame. It's a new direction for the game and one that offers something different.

We did find this DLC really chugged away as well. No matter what we did it really slowed down quite considerably at times and there was noticeably missing frames and stuttering as the turns unfolded. This is the first time we have encountered this with the game and going back to the previous campaigns revealed none of the same problems. If this is down to the new flame and magma graphic effects is hard to tell but it needs looking at.

Assuming the stability is sorted out then this campaign is another worthy addition to Space Hulk. It certainly has a unique feel and look to it and the huge running time will certainly keep you busy. The new way of playing requires even more careful thought. If you are up for a challenge and can forgive a few technical issues then this represents another solid expansion.

Monday 23 March 2015

OlliOlli Review (3DS)

Written by Dan Gill

Falling over hurts, as anybody who's ever fallen over will tell you.  The shock of taking a misstep, the ever-approaching ground waiting to meet with your fragile body, and the final impact with the deck all make for a rather unpleasant experience.  It's for this very reason that I am not - nor will I ever be – a skateboarder.  That, and my balance is awful, but that's another story.

Thankfully, game developers have me covered.  From 720 through Skate or Die to the Tony Hawks series, my virtual meatbag has always been the one to take the risks and suffer the cuts and scrapes that I'm too soft to bear.  Yet since the decline in quality of Neversoft's aforementioned series (at least at time of writing), no new titles have provided me the opportunity to spin, kick, grind and faceplant all in the name of score chasing until OlliOlli.

For those unfamiliar with Roll7's game, it's a 2D amalgam of Tony Hawk's and Adam Saltzman's superb indie runner, Canabalt.  It's presented with minimalist visuals reminiscent of the latter's style, and adopts the sense of constant motion too (albeit with the aid of a little push-off here and there). 

As well as sharing similarities with Canabalt's appearance, OlliOlli keeps a tight control scheme, making use of the analog stick for tricks, shoulder buttons for spins, and the A button to land.  This all seems basic in theory, but in practice things become tricky as you try to string combos together.  Several times during my early playthroughs my fingers seemed to operate independently of my brain – not the game's fault of course, more the fault of my dulled twitch-gaming senses.   

Over time, my reflexes returned, and the scores began to rack up as I 360 kickflipped into a 5-0 grind, heelflipped into a nosegrind and gracefully landed a 360 hardflip.  It seems my digital boarding skills had returned and that's OlliOlli's first victory– it gives you a control system that's straightforward to learn, you just need to think about how you can get the most out of it in a continuous stream of inputs.

Your control skills will need to be honed as you attempt to take down each level's challenges.  As with the Hawk series these range from collecting markers to racking up huge combos and add to the replay value of each level, which is something you'll most probably be doing.  A lot.  OlliOlli has a nice difficulty level, keeping you coming back for more.  If you're pretty good at the game you'll be attempting to complete all the challenges or smash your last high score.  If you're not able to finish the level (when you fall off your board you have to restart), you'll return again until it's done.  The game keeps things just tricky enough to antagonise you, but always remains fair, meaning you never feel like the game's cheating you.

An added bonus of the 3DS's dual screens is that the tricks you can perform are displayed on the touch screen for reference.  Not the fanciest use of the screen perhaps, but for OlliOlli it's a practical one and anything more would have felt tacked on.

One of the game's nicest/most masochistic features is the Daily Grind mode.  Each day you have a chance to play through a level with the aim of being the highest scoring player for that day. You can practice the level as much as you like, but you only get one shot at racking up a score.  If you fall off your board, game over.  If you perform an ollie and score ten points because of a sloppy landing, that's your score and it's game over.  It adds a real tension, making for a brilliant yet infuriating challenge, but even racking up a decent score fills the player with a sense of accomplishment, mainly through the satisfaction of knowing your fingers haven't let you down at the most crucial moment.

All in all OlliOlli is a tight arcade game, definitely worth your time if you're a fan of score chasing (and let's face it, which self-respecting retro gamer isn't?), and its clean 2D graphics are stripped down yet clear to make out (your boarder is pretty expressive given their size, especially when bailing).  It's a neat little package and its appearance on Nintendo's consoles is long overdue.  Here's hoping Curve brings its recently released sequel to the big N's machines in the near future, as OlliOlli manages to remain on the board and pull off plenty of tricks with style.

Overall 9/10

Friday 20 March 2015

Everblue 2 Review (PS2)

Having never played the original game. Nor hearing much hype around the sequel I didn’t know what to expect from Everblue 2. Apart from assuming it had something to do with the sea that is. A definite break from the normal games clogging up the market Everblue comes as something of a refreshing change. On loading up the game you find yourself as a shipwrecked diver who has managed to make their way to local picturesque Valencia Island and this is where you start your journey of treasure hunting.

Everblue is split between wandering around the island and swimming through the sea each presented differently. The island section of the game is presented like a sort of point and click style adventure, though really its only function is to allow you to bye and sell different items and obtain the odd side mission such as retrieving a missing fishing real or membership card. As such the graphics are more functional than breathtaking. Backgrounds are static and the characters that inhabit the island have very few, if any animations.

This sets up a sharp contrast with the sea adventuring section of the game. On the whole everything looks lovely, the sea is alive with over seventy different types of fish and wildlife, all of which can be photographed and recorded should you so wish. The only problem with this section on the graphical front is that although the sea is blue and murky, it would be nice to be able to see more than about five feet in front of you. Suddenly coming across a completely sunken aircraft that wasn’t there one second before for example is a little disappointing. This unfortunate version of fogging coupled with the fact that an awful lot of the sea looks exactly the same can cause frustration when looking for certain areas or objects.

Sound wise the game is fairly bland, with all conversations taking place in a text only form. The only time there are any real sound effects are in the sea where you can hear the ocean moving past you or the sound of your sonar beeping, hardly inspiring stuff. Most disappointing of all is when you sea a great white shark there is only a vague ‘Jaws’ style theme to accompany it, and the sharks themselves don’t look that impressive or big.

Luckily however, the game does play extremely nicely. Though graphically dull the island section is easy to negotiate and it’s made fairly clear where you have to go or who you have to see. The diving section also plays quite well. You can move around easily in the water and there is a handy option that automatically points you towards anywhere you pick out on the world map. This helps to stop aimless wandering once you have located something of interest.

Although good, game play wise the game isn’t flawless by any means. To start with, while you can move around effortlessly, you can’t move up and down. This is very annoying and not exactly realistic, especially as all the fish around you can move up and down. Furthermore, the camera can be extremely irritating, sometimes you just cant see the big shark that’s attacking you or cant turn round to find the fish that you wanted to take a picture of as it swims over your head. This problem is again highlighted when you are inside a sunken ship as it’s very easy to forget what direction your going in. This often causes you to travel round in circles.

As a sort of diving role-play game, Everblue 2 works quite well. However, while the game certainly has the length to keep you occupied for a fair amount of time it’s debatable whether you will actually want to play the game through to the end. The problem lies in the story surrounding Everblue- It’s just not very interesting. You end up asking yourself if you really care if someone has lost a fishing reel. This coupled to the fact that the various locations in the game are so similar at times means you really aren’t pushed to see the next location just so you can retrieve a bit of treasure, it just doesn’t seem important

To sum up, Everblue 2 is by no means a bad game. Far from it, it contains a lot of charm and the diving bits are nice. The game just needs a bit more variety to keep you interested. What it does do very well is act as a sort of relaxation programme. Watching the fish float about and just wandering around the sea is much more fun than actually trying to complete the missions. Saying that, the game is a nice change to the constant fighting and blasting games around and a welcome addition to an over crowded market. It’s just disappointing, with a little more thought Everblue2 could have been amazing as it is, it’s just a nice diversion.

Overall 7/10

Thursday 19 March 2015

TxK Review (Playstation Vita)


Jeff Minter has been creating unique games for years now but his most loved creation was for the commercial failure that was the Atari Jaguar. Tempest 2000 proved so popular that even now people hunt out the Jaguar just to play it. It’s easily one of the best games ever made and Minter revisited the formula later via Space Giraffe in 2007. Now we have the third version of the game for the Playstation Vita and it’s been more than worth the wait.

The game is presented in a smooth vector style with your ship moving around the top of a shape and monsters landing and approaching from the bottom. The aim is to stop them reaching the top by blasting them away. When they reach the top of the shape they begin to move along it and try and grab you. Quick players can duck underneath the enemies as they rotate or blast them off quickly.

As the game progresses the amount of enemy types increase far more than in other Tempest games. You may start with the monsters that simply head up and roll across the top of the screen but there are soon enemies that shoot back at you or electrify parts of the vector shape. By level thirty you’ll need super reflexes and skills to survive and things get delightfully chaotic.

To help you along the way are a host of power ups which can dramatically change your style of play. Along with more powerful lasers the most useful are the jump and Ai Drone. The jump allows you to leap away from the rim of the level and over creatures moving along the top. You can shoot when you jump but anything you hit will not increase your score. This means players are faced with the risk/reward scenario of shooting things from a safe distance or upping their score. The Ai Drone acts as an assistant and will roll along the rim blasting away at enemies. It can even save you if one of the monsters reaches you and begins to drag you away.

Another twist to the normal shooter genre is the use of the smart bomb. In contrast to most shooters, using the smart bomb actually doubles the points you receive from destroyed enemies. This allows players to frantically dodge enemies until they fill the screen and then blast them for maximum points. It’s a satisfying action and watching the electro bomb work its way down the shape blasting everything is a great sight.

As well as the increased creature types the levels also do some new things. Some continually rotate around while others bend and split meaning that different routes around the shapes open or close as the level progresses. These levels take the simple Tempest formula and create something more intense. This is where the game really shines and they act to raise an already excellent game to whole new levels.

There are three different modes available in the game but they more or less boil down to the same thing. The Pure mode has you start from level one and go as far as you can before dying. The Classic mode lets you start from any level you have reached with your score and lives intact. This means if you lose two or three lives on a certain stage you can return to them and try and get through with more lives or a higher score. The final mode is Survival. This is like classic but no extra lives are given throughout the game. All the modes have online scoreboards but it can be difficult to see where you rank against your friends due to some strange decisions with how information is displayed.

TxK represents a game perfect for the Playstation Vita. All the neon and music work perfectly with the fast gameplay to create a game perfect for the Vita’s screen and perfect to be played on the go. It’s typical of Minter to take a system and perfectly craft a game around its strengths. This is a game that gets its hooks into you early and just won’t let you go. It’s a full on adrenaline ride filled with clever touches and the odd moment of quirky humour and exactly the sort of thing we want for the Vita.

Overall 9/10

Tempest 2000 Review (Jaguar)

Warp into the 21st century in this total remake of the coin-op classic’ shouts the instruction manual as you read through wondering why games these days have such things as ‘plot’. Tempest 2000 is a sort of cross between a puzzle game and an arcade blaster and manages to succeed in being a game actually worth buying a Jaguar for. For that alone it deserves our attention.

Gameplay wise, as with all the most addictive games, everything is very simple. Your screen consists of a shape of some sort, be it a triangle, square or four leaf clover, with your ship a sort of right angle shaped thing moving around the edge of said shape. Other shapes then come towards you and try to shoot you. Sounds simple and it is. What makes the game so good is how addictive it becomes.

To start off the levels are very easy, and it takes a while for the challenge to kick in but when it does you're hooked, finding yourself determined to make the next shaded blue shape that looms off into the distance. To help you out you are presented with a small amount of power ups. There is a jump which lets you jump from one bit of the shape to another, the usual power up laser and the more intriguing A.I droid that hovers behind you shooting just about everything. The emphasis is very much upon fast paced high score raising, and once you reach level ten and beyond the action becomes frantic as you desperately try to stay alive.

Complimenting the ‘buzzing’ game play is as the manual states a ‘pure CD- quality techno-rave soundtrack’, which seems to consist of one ever changing song (although the OST lists about 12). But to be fare the music does give exactly the right feel to the game and without it being there much of the draw of Tempest 2000 would diminish. Tempest 2000 will last for years and years and years, it's easily as addictive as Tetris and you will always be driven to beat your last high score or reach the next bent banana shaped monster that comes lumbering towards you, just to see what bonus points they might contain. To top it all there is a two player mode which is as inspired as the rest of the game.

This is a true gem of a game and deserves to be played by one and all. The closest to it you can get away from the Jaguar is one of the inferior ports on PC or Saturn or probably N2O on The Playstation. But even this isn't up to the genius of Tempest 2000 on the much maligned Jaguar.



Wednesday 18 March 2015

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number Review (PS4/Vita)

The first Hotline Miami was a revelation. A mix of precision, speed and ultra-violence it pumped along to an incredible soundtrack that pulsed through your very veins as your balletic murder spree spread red pixels across the walls and corridors of intricately designed levels. It’s a lot to live up to and expectation for the sequel have been high. It’s now here and it’s probably not quite what you expect.

Unlike the original, the game now follows a number of different characters and stories as they make their way through the neon tinged world. It also jumps around in time to both before and after the events of the first game. There are dream sequences, drug fuelled sequences, some of it’s a movie – basically you’ll never really be sure what’s real and what isn’t and that’s part of the fun.

Throughout the game you’ll play as a grizzled detective, a soldier (who later becomes the shop owner in the first game), and a movie star losing his mind, a writer, a group of copycat masked killers and various goons. Most of them have something which distinguishes them from the crowd – such as the writer not killing people or the different masks that the ‘fans’ wear giving them different abilities. It’s a different system to that of the first game and as a result you may feel a little more restricted in the levels.

The characters are what set each level apart here as the design is somewhat different. Each level in the original game had something that made it stand out. You had the train arriving, or the car smashing through the wall of the disco. There’s even the level where the swat team charge in half way through. Unfortunately, there is nothing like that present here and after a while the levels do begin to blur together a bit. We can see what they have tried to do by turning things on their head with the approach and variety now dictated by whom you are playing but it does lose some of the magic.

Levels are also much less tight now. Many of them have wide open spaces to traverse and your ‘look’ command will often not see to the end. This is a real pain as a number of times we were killed by enemies we couldn’t see and had no real way of knowing were there. It turns many of the levels into more of a memory test which is something we really don’t like.

The new level layouts change the flow of the game as well. You need to take a much slower and more careful approach to your slaughter as you are never really sure what is up ahead. While this does raise tension levels it often just ends up being frustrating. The fact you pretty much have to carve a set route out of the enemies also doesn’t help this as you can end up repeating the same starting actions over and over again.

The levels also go on a bit longer in the main which is difficult when you are basically being asked to perfect run a killing spree of thirty plus goons. You do get used to it but much of the time we really weren’t having fun and that never happened with the original. There are also some bugs with objects and characters getting stuck in things and the game also crashed out on us right at the end of a very long and tricky section which made us cry a little bit. Occasionally a level will start with the cursor stuck in the middle of the screen as well which makes moving around interesting to say the least.

When the game works it does do a great job of making you feel like some kind of super hero. When you’ve got the sequence of a level down and you know where the bad guys are you can cause some serious chain damage and come out feeling exhilarated. It’s moments like this that you realise how good the game can be – but there are far less of them than before.

There are also moments of crazy genius at work here. Picking the duck mask for instance gives you two on screen characters to deal with. One uses a chainsaw while the other uses a gun. It’s mad as you pile through cutting and blasting and feels wonderfully unhinged. The story arc and writing is also exceptional and once you work out what the hell is going on and how everything links up with the original you can only admire what’s been done here. The music is also exceptional and tracks set the scene perfectly for the levels they are attached to.

Overall, it is fair to say that no other game has caused us some many headaches when it has come down to working out how we feel about it. At times we loved it and at times we really despised it. It moved from a six to an eight and back even within the same level and at its core this is the issue – it’s not consistent with its quality. Sometimes it’s brilliant and sometimes it’s downright bad. Fans of the original will both love and hate it in a single play through but it does do a lot of things right. It’s a difficult one to score. It’s both a six and an eight so we’ll take the middle ground and call it a seven.

Overall 7/10

Monday 16 March 2015

Space Hulk Ascension: Imperial Fist DLC

We reviewed Space Hulk Ascension a little while ago and while it improved upon the original Space Hulk game we still found a few issues with it (most notably the fog of war). However, we were more than happy to dive back into it with the Imperial Fist DLC which adds a new chapter to play and a new campaign.

The Imperial Fists focus on defence and have bonuses which reflect this. They are markedly different from the three chapters already available in the game and are a worthy addition. They can also use the Tarantula Turret which basically allows the commander of the group to stick a huge gun somewhere to cover you. It leads to numerous situations reminiscent of the film Aliens where the ammo is counting down as you rush to get your objective completed before being overrun with Genstealers.

You can also use the new chapter across any of the campaigns already in place, though as this is such a tough game you may want to use the chapter designed for each Space Hulk. The Imperial Fist campaign has some strong level design with lots of cross sections which will see you edging along covering all corridors as you go. We found it even more intense than the original levels, though the difficulty seems a bit more balanced as well. 

It’s still too dark (though there are more gamma options), the fog of war is still annoying and we did have an odd glitch where the Flamer would only turn around on the spot. But, it’s intense, it works and it adds something to the core game worth playing.

Overall, we had a blast with the first batch of DLC. It does a lot right and coupled with the fixes which have been applied to the core game made a more enjoyable all round experience for us going back in. We’ll be looking at the Salamander DLC shortly but this is a hefty chunk of content that shouldn’t be overlooked by those looking to reap revenge on the Genestealer menace.

Friday 13 March 2015

Half Life 2: Episode 1 Review (360)

Unlike those lucky PC owners the rest of us have not yet had a chance to continue the adventures of Gordon Freeman. Now with the Orange box we have episodes one and two available to a new audience. Here we will look and see if Episode one is up to the standard of the Half-Life legacy.

Following on directly from the end of Half-life 2, Episode one revolves around Alyx and Gordon trying to escape from city 17. It is not the longest title in the world, clocking in as it does at around four hours. As you would expect it does not deviate massively form the Half-life 2 formula but it does have a couple of nice ideas that help to carry it along.

The most notable thing in Episode 1 is the pace. Half-life 2 has many sections where the player will stop and take a breath while they try to figure out a puzzle or admire the scenery. In Episode one the pace is mostly relentless. It seems you are always running from or to something. Also you have Alyx by your side for most of it.

Alyx acts as far more than some dumb NPC who must be looked after and protected. In fact for a large portion of the game the exact opposite will be happening. Until you can find a decent firearm Alyx will be looking after Gordon. Players will be very glad to have her along for the ride as many sections are cramped and filled with enemies. You do not have to worry too much about Alyx dying, as she is near indestructible. If however she does die you will have to go back to a previous save.

Despite its short length there is still a fair amount of variety and each of the five chapters introduces something a little different to keep you wanting to push on. Much like with Half-Life 2 just as a section is beginning to become tiresome you reach the end of it and have something else to engage with. The story is also excellent and once it is over you will really want to know what is going to happen next (so it is handy that Episode 2 is just the next box along).

Episode one may well be short but it still contains enough stand out moments to make it worth playing. There is not really a point where you think you are playing anything they should have put in Half-Life 2 first time round, but it is a highly enjoyable made for TV version of its big screen brother. It more than maintains the standard of the Orange box as a whole and once more we are pleased to see it here instead of arriving as twenty pounds of downloadable content.

The game may not standout as much as Portal or Team Fortress 2 but any Half-Life fan would be mad not to see the continuation of the story and the further adventures of Doctor Freeman. It seems Valve can do no wrong and long may it continue.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Street Fighter 2 Turbo Review (SNES)

Over the decades countless fighting games have been released, but only a few are actually worth remembering. If you look back through contenders and pretenders, it was not until Street Fighter II burst onto the Super Nintendo in the early nineties that things became really interesting on home consoles.

From that moment onwards the floodgates opened and the market was flooded with the good, (Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct) the average (Tuff ‘E’ Nuff) and the really bad (Kasumi Ninja). Street Fighter II Turbo was the first in a seemingly constant stream of Street Fighter updates. To entice players it offered the four boss characters from the previous release, combined with improved graphics and more frantic action.

Someone out there may be unfamiliar with the Street Fighter story, and if so, then this paragraph is just for you. The Street Fighter tournament aims to find the best fighter in the world. With such a distinctive title on offer, competitors travel long distances with the aim of beating people up for fame, fortune or for a far more worthy reason. The common theme that runs throughout the Street Fighter series focuses on Ryu; the martial arts master who fights to test himself. In the previous tournament Ryu defeated Sagat in the final, hitting him so hard with his dragon punch that it burned a scar across his chest. Now Sagat wants revenge, and gathers along with a strange mix of characters for the next tournament.

Characters and locations are now more colourful and vibrant in comparison to the first Street Fighter II, however the odd piece of detail has disappeared - for instance the two signs that could be used to throw people through are now missing from Ryu’s stage (although admittedly this is just a minor point).

Characters are large and move incredibly smoothly with no discernible delay between pressing a button and the action-taking place on screen. Graphically, the game was extremely strong on release and even now it has dated very well. Controlling each of the characters is an absolute joy each character moves and plays in a completely different way (apart from Ryu and Ken), giving players a wide choice of different styles to pick from. The boost in speed is also welcome addition, as it makes the action flow at such a high velocity - all carried out without a hint of slowdown. With such large characters this is something that really deserves recognition.

Furthermore, the game plays so brilliantly because it allows players to plan a couple of moves ahead, allowing for basic combination moves to be pulled off with relative ease. An example of this dynamic is while Ryu is connecting with a jumping kick you can input the command for a fireball or dragon punch and the character will pull off the move directly after finishing the kick without hesitating between blows. A process that would become ever more built upon as the series developed.

What is on show in terms of a control system is arguably the best example of controls for a two-dimensional fighting title that has ever been developed. Even to this day the control system here has never really been bettered and it is unlikely it ever will be.

Overall, Street Fighter II Turbo takes a classic game and improves it further. The addition of enhanced graphics, four extra playable characters, faster gameplay and an extra bonus game creates a perfect game beyond comprehension in its greatness. No other fighting game of the era can come close to comparison with its pure genius. If you own a Super Nintendo you must have this game, it's as simple as that. If you don't have a Super Nintendo go and buy one.

Overall 10/10

Monday 9 March 2015

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review (PS4/PS Vita)

It seems only yesterday we wear swearing at our Vita’s as we smashed head first into a wall in the original OlliOlli. The fast paced action mixed with simple controls led to many a frantic hour of twitch gaming. It wasn’t perfect but OlliOlli certainly scratched the score attack itch and brought out the perfectionist in us. OlliOlli 2 brings us five new settings to play around in so with thumbs at the ready we dived back in.

In truth, not that much has changed with OlliOlli 2. The progression layout and controls are the same and the look of the game hasn’t changed much either. With this in mind it is fair to say that if you didn’t get on with the first game then there is little here to change your mind. On the other hand, fans will no doubt be happy with the ‘more of the same’ approach.

The biggest change to game mechanics is the inclusion of manuals and switches. This now allows combo's to be maintained and chained throughout entire runs and opens up acess to huge combos and scores. This does add an extra layer of depth and once you've worked out how to get through the levels invites you back in to play until your fingers bleed.

Leader boards have been better integrated which certainly helps to up the high score addiction and the daily grinds section allows you a single attempt at trying to take a top score on a specific course. The spots section also makes a return for those looking for something aside from the main level progression.

Unfortunately, the main issue we had with the original is still present. That being it can still be very difficult to tell what is and isn’t a grindable surface and this is present is both the PS4 and Vita versions (though background detail is somewhat clearer now at least). The only other real issue we have is how the skater jumps from one rail up to another. Especially in the fourth world we found it very frustrating that unless a very specific jump was done we couldn’t land on the grind rail -this happening despite the skater clearly jumping high enough to get to it.

The new levels are great fun to zoom around and show a fair amount of variety and invention based around different genres of Hollywood films. There’s Wild West, Aztec and Horror themed worlds and by the end you’ll be grinding around a Sci-Fi landscape like a tiny 2D Ratchet and Clank where any mistake results in failure. 

The most important thing is that OlliOlli 2 remains as addictive and pulsating as ever. Yes, it is incredibly frustrating but you’ll always want to go back to it one more time to try and get a better score, (or just get through the level). We would say the levels are also generally a bit better and more inventive than the first game so there has been development.

Overall, OlliOlli 2 may feel more like a bit of an add-on than a brand new game but there is more than enough content here for fans to justify a purchase. The high score integration with network features is leaps ahead and it’s still as fun and frustrating as it’s always been. It’s another pocket sized chunk of high score fun that’s well worth your attention and fans will find little to complain about.

Overall 8/10

Friday 6 March 2015

Scram Kitty DX Review (PS4/PS Vita)

After wooing us with the wonderfully named Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims and The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character the mad cap humour of Dakko Dakko studios returns with the once Wii U exclusive now moving onto Playstation platforms.

The plot is mad and sends us back to the 16-bit days of lunatic ideas. Basically, your cat sends you a message from the international space station saying super intelligent mice have taken over and you need to get up there and rescue all the cats and take it back from them. What this amounts to is jumping on your spinner and blasting, leaping and spinning your way around some top down puzzle/platform levels.

The puzzle elements are based around shooting switches, finding different weapons to destroy obstacles and simply working out how to make jumps to different rails. It’s nothing massively complex but when combined with the past paced gameplay and onslaught of enemies it’s more than enough to deal with.

The game draws a lot of influence from Rotating Octopus but there are a ton of new ideas going on here. Working out the movement is key to success and your character controls in a fairly unique way. Your spinner is magnetic and attaches to any rail. You can move along the rails under your own steam but the only way you can reach another rail is to jump to it. What this means is that you need to use the rails carefully to get the right angles to jump and fire.

You will be attacked by various types of mice on your adventure and making sure you can actually hit them with your variety of weapons forms part of the crux of the game. Your character only fires directly in front of themselves so if you are on a side rail and they are coming at you from below you need to jump to a rail facing towards them in order to hit the pesky vermin. It starts out tricky but you soon get the hang of how it all works and it adds to the puzzle elements of certain levels. 

The goal of each level is to rescue four cats and reach the exit door. You can just find the exit if you want but you’ll need cats to unlock levels as you go so replaying earlier stages is vital to progression. The four cats each have their own characteristics to be found. The lazy cat just sits by the exit and the lucky cat requires all the lucky pennies to be found in a level before appearing. The black cat requires a super tough mouse to be destroyed before it will come out and finally the scaredy cat, when picked up, will run off to somewhere else on the station and requires chasing around and capturing in a strict time limit.

Scram Kitty is a tough game and you’ll need both patience and perseverance to get through. You have an energy bar but once it’s gone you’ll have to start the level again from scratch. This includes finding cats, coins and weapons again or taking down the big bad mouse commanders. The levels are fairly compact but the amount of skill required from the player means dying near the end of a stage can be exasperating. 

The main problem with Scram Kittyfrom the Wii U version has now been removed. On The Wii U proverbial Scram would appear on screen to give advice. When this happened he pretty much took up the entire screen and this led to a number of deaths and missed jumps as we simply couldn’t see what was going on. Scram no longer does this. While this means you don’t get the advice it also makes for a much smoother experience overall.

Overall, Scram Kitty is still an excellent game. There’s a lot of invention and originality on show in terms of the games mechanics and we certainly haven’t played anything like this for years and there’s nothing else like it on PSN. It’s a pretty essential purchase for anyone who wants an old school challenge mixed with some clever design. Dakko Dakko seems to go from strength to strength and they are producing games that stand out in a very crowded market. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of Night Review (PC)

There have been a lot of Games Workshop properties making their way to digital lately and Chainsaw Warrior is in fact one of the very first games that the company produced. A single player card game, it may seem like a strange choice to make a digital version out of. Then again we’ve all spent far too long playing Solitaire and this has zombies and chainsaws in it. 

Lord of Night is the second game in the series and changes the setting from a collapsing city to a forbidding jungle where darkness is about to take over the earth. You are charged with going in and destroying the evil lurking within an ancient pyramid. To do this you need to use strategy and have some luck with the dice.

You start out by rolling your character which sets up how many hit points they have and how much venom and radiation they can take. It also sets up your agility and marksmanship along with a few other things. Next, it’s time to pick from a fairly wide range of different weapons, armour and equipment before heading off into the jungle.

Your mission is set against the clock with every turn taking time off it. If it reaches zero it’s game over.  Each turn you flip over a virtual card and follow the instructions. This can involve having to roll dice to avoid traps, finding air drops of equipment or entering combat. There are also hidden temples to find and a number of other surprises. Combat takes the form of choosing weather to engage at range or in melee and then making the appropriate skill checks to take down your target. Enemies are varied and it will take some thought and experience to learn how best to tackle them.

A scout for instance, might be better to handle at close range but may also have a chance to raise the alarm in the time it takes you to engage them. Weapons also have limited ammunition and certain weapons can only be used to kill certain enemies so you have to be careful and consider if getting up close and possibly taking more damage is sometimes needed to progress in the long run.

As the cards turn you will make your way through three decks as you move from the jungle to the lost city and then into the final pyramid where the darkness resides.
There are also temples which hold special artifacts and blessings that require a tough enemy to be dispatched in order to proceed.

Graphically, the game is functional if not spectacular. The cards and environment are well illustrated but there are few animations. You’ll get bullet holes in a card or have it chainsawed in half but that’s about it. It all works well though and the slightly minimalist approach works with some strong sound effects to keep things interesting and enjoyable.

It’s a strangely compelling game that just seems to work. As there is a fairly short timer on each session it never outstays its welcome and in the games we played there was enough variety to keep things interesting. There are also multiple endings and different ways to approach your adventure. It really does draw on the strength of something like Solitaire while adding enough new mechanics to make it even more compelling.

Overall, Chainsaw Warrior: Lords of Night is a really nice surprise. It’s straightforward fun and it really works. We can’t think how it could really be improved as the game achieves everything it sets out to and is a great way to spend an hour here and there. The new equipment and different endings add a reason to come back and it’s certainly something we’ll still be playing long into the future.

Overall 8/10

Monday 2 March 2015

Yakuza Review (PS2)

Yakuza was a much anticipated and much misunderstood title since the early previews first started hitting the news. Early reports suggested the game was a spin off from the much-loved Shenmue. These reports then turned to a more watered down ‘inspired by Shenmue’ as time advanced. The truth is apart from having adventure elements and a fair few mini games the game bears little resemblance to Sega’s much missed franchise.

Instead of Shenmue light what we have here is a very violent, well-put together and highly entertaining tale of one man trying to piece together his life after ten years in jail. The man in question is Kazuma Kiryu, the once so-called ‘Dragon of the Dojima family’. Kazuma is an honour bound and stupidly tough Yakuza who as we see in the opening chapters on the game will do anything to protect those he cares for.

Once the story takes us to the emergence of Kazuma after his incarceration we find many things have changed. This is where the story really kicks in, as the player must try to piece together what has been going on in the ten years you have been away from the action. The story is well put together and apart from a few low points holds the interest of the player while painting the main characters of the piece with an unusual amount of depth, compared to what you normally find in a video game anyway.

The main section of the game comes in two parts. First off you get to wander around the town of Kamurocho looking for clues and mixing with the citizens. The second part of the game is where the main focus lays, the combat. Various gangsters and street scum will confront Kazuma as he goes about his investigations just asking to be pummelled senseless.

Combat at first seems a little limited but new moves and techniques can be gained as you level up various statistic bars as well as training with a martial arts master who you meet fairly early on. The only time things get repetitive is when random goons confront you on the street as you go from place to place. Most of the time you can run away from them but it can be a real pain when you are trying to get somewhere quickly and some street punk calls you name and tries to mug you.

The fighting system is nothing if not solid. Punches land with bone breaking thuds, faces get stamped on, guts get kicked and that’s before you bring into the equation the many weapons and the heat commands. Pretty much anything that can be picked up can be bashed over an enemy’s head, and there is an absolute plethora of knickknacks at hand. Bicycles, neon signs, golf clubs and samurai swords are only a few of things that can be used to inflict wince inducing damage upon your opponents causing them to emit delightful screams of pain.

Using the Heat commands brings a whole new world of hurt to the table. Once the heat meter is filled context sensitive action become available. For example grabbing hold of an enemy and moving him to a near by wall allows our hero to bash the unfortunate goon against it before stomping on their face when they slump to the ground. Later on the ability to use heat actions with weapons allows even more brutal actions to be administered to the low life populace.

Aside from the main quest there are multitudes of side quests that can be sought out. On first play through players may find the main narrative too much of a draw to go wandering around looking for lesser morsels of brutality. It is also very easy to overlook the amount of quests available, around a hundred in all.

Upon completion a whole range of extras are unlooked such as being able to wander around the city looking for side quests without the main quest active. If the wandering around is too much then you have the option of having the bad guys lined up before you in various themed matches such as fighting all the bosses, or lower yakuza family members.

What we have in Yakuza is a highly effective Japanese gangster story crammed into a PS2 game, and a visually impressive one at that. Taking on the groups of enemies is a joy as you very rarely tire of smashing them to bits as you really feel they are the scum of the earth and often want to keep kicking them even when they are out cold. Sega may not have brought us a new entry into the Shenmue series but what we have here is first truly effective update of titles such as Final Fight or Double Dragon. For that as well as many other reasons every PS2 owner should go out and get hold of a copy.

Overall 8/10