Monday 29 June 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (PS2)

Like it or loath it the television series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be a good source to make a decent game from, vampires, kung fu, good vs evil and half decent looking women seem like a near infallible combination from which to create an entertaining piece of software. The original Xbox title was decent enough without really being anything truly notable and if you are not a fan of the series there was little to attract you to it, so when the second installment in the all kicking slayer’s gaming adventures fell onto the desk there was a hope that it could actually be ok. Oh dear how wrong we where…

So we have a game which should at least be slightly above average, large levels full of monsters to be hacked and staked, a wide range of weapons and enemies and numerous characters to take control of. Yet despite all of this what emerges is one of the worst games to have ever been made, so let’s begin the postmortem.

First of all, if a developer is making a game closely related to a very popular television show it would seem common sense for you characters to look something like their on screen images, not here though, out of proportion bodies coupled with distorted faces means characters just do not look how they are should. Furthermore, all the voices used are not from the real actors so again instead of Michel Geller you get some strained American half sound alike girl, now this is far from satisfactory when making a title which is predominantly for fans and is lazy and inexcusable.

Let us move onto the next abomination- how the characters play. While each character has a fairly solid, if limited range of punches and kicks there are big gameplay spoiling issues all over the place. First of all every character seems to play almost exactly like every other character which just is not right considering Buffy is a massively strong slayer, Willow is a weak but magically strong witch and when Xanda punching a vampire sends them spinning around in the air it just reinforces the idea that different skins have been placed over the same combat template.

Combat itself has its own set of problems, for a start punches and kicks do not flow very well meaning you are always open to attack after landing your initial strikes and when surrounded by a large amount of opponents you can find yourself being knocked around without ever having a chance to fight back. The title also contains one of the most fascinatingly awful cameras in history. The camera is fully movable by the player but somehow always manages to be right in front of your character so you cannot see a thing and no matter what, enemies will always attack from somewhere you cannot see them, seemingly spinning out of thin air from a place you walked past two seconds before.

So that is bad controls, camera, graphics, sound and combat what’s left?  Level design. Where to start? If you’re not walking around levels that seem completely out of place with the series doing frustratingly dull things that were dull ten years ago then it’s the incredible long levels where you get attacked endlessly by vampires and demons that look exactly the same. It would not be so bad but when a level near enough takes one painful hour of your life to get through it would have been nice to be able to save your game before the end of it. There are continue points but you can only stop the pain and turn the machine off after completing one whole section of shocking boredom.

Buffy: Chaos Bleeds is a shocking game, a turgid stinking pool of primordial ooze that would take millions of years to evolve into anything remotely resembling something that is worth playing. Truly, they just do not make games this bad anymore; in fact they never made games this bad (perhaps with the exception of ET). The only good thing you can say is that it does not contain any ‘bugs’ but then again there is not exactly anything that feels finished about this title to have bugs in.

It’s hard to express how terrible this game is and it is made all the worse due to the fact that it should be near impossible to create such a shocking result from such a rich resource. Avoid it at all costs as you will have more fun sitting in a chair rocking back and forth, strangely the effect this game has had on almost all that have played it.

Overall 2/10

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review (PS Vita)

Written by Natalie Houghton

This is the latest in a barrage of Hyperdimension Neptunia games that have all been released in a flurry this year. Departing from the usual JRPG format of the previous games, this is a spin off which presents itself in the form of a Musou type action game. The general idea behind the Hyperdimenson games is quite pleasing, however the execution often lets them down. This spin off though is cut from an entirely different cloth, given that it's not developed by the usual creator of these games and is instead developed by Tamsoft who have already established themselves in this genre.

Following suit, all of the main characters who have been available in the previous games are available to play here, including the CPU's (Personified console goddesses) themselves (Neptune & Co) as well as their younger sisters; the CPU candidates (Nepgear & Co). Follow them around the parody filled world of Gamindustri as they embark on a raucous romp where they endeavour to complete all of the quests dealt to them and bash as many monsters on the head as is goddessly possible. They are joined on their adventures by two new playable characters - the journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu who will report on their every move. 

Essentially this is a 'Gotta smash 'em all' type game akin to Dynasty Warriors. To progress in the game our heroines must complete quests - which in all fairness are quite linear. The methodology is as follows: 1. Pick a quest 2. Note the requirements for completion 3. Begin thrashing around like a fish on acid 4. Kick ass! 5. Rinse and repeat. 

The repertoire of quests does not really change that much. There are a few 'special' quests that supposedly have different clear requirements but they aren't really that hard to figure out or that different from the main quests themselves. More variety in the quests would definitely not go amiss.  

Depending on your perspective you'll either love or hate the damage feature of the game which involves half the characters clothes magically flying off and becoming tattered. The result of which is that they therefore expose themselves to the world - exactly the same as in Senran Kagura games. This franchise is no stranger to having slightly ecchi (pervy), tendencies and the dialogue even pokes fun at itself and points out this fact. Love it or hate it though, this fan service is there to stay until you manage to unlock an unbreakable costume later in the game. 

There are a total of 10 characters to pick, each with their own unique weapons and fighting styles, each character has a normal attack and a strong attack which you can mix & match to create various combos with. There are also a couple of special attacks that require SP to use - these can be used to temporarily clear a large number of mobs. As you slaughter enemies, the EXE drive gauge will fill, once it is full enough, the characters have the option to transform into HDD mode which is essentially a stronger version of themselves that resembles the dragoon mode from the Legend of Dragoon (if anyone actually remembers that...). Whilst in this mode, there are a couple of special skills that can be executed which will pretty much mutilate everything in sight.

You can fight solo or play with two characters - the more two characters fight together the higher their lily rank will become, this will unlock special bonuses such as increased EXP gains and eventually a double team combo which is guaranteed to wash away anything that stands in their way - go nakama power!

The combat is fast and fluid with excellent optimisation for the PS Vita, the frame rate is top notch and the cel shaded style works really well along with all of the colours being astoundingly eye popping on the OLED screen. The characters and the art in general are incredibly well drawn and a pure pleasure to look at. The level design itself is fairly generic though, there's a forest level, an ice level and the classic lava level as well as a few levels that pay homage to older games such as Mario Bros and Tetris.

Character stat increases, new weapons and accessories are handled in a slightly different way to normal, whilst characters do level up in the usual way, acquiring upgrades is done by accessing the medal collection. Upon defeating enemies, some of them drop medals. Once a certain amount of medals have been collected you can then unlock stat increases as well as gaining new equipment. This means that you have to keep fighting in order to unlock everything. 

The plot is fairly thin and is more of a background distraction than anything else, it loosely manages to take the characters and general story forward and whilst at times, the banter between characters is interesting and slightly amusing there are other times where it totally misses the mark. The crux of this is that you don’t really care about the plot at all! Both characters Dengekiko and Famitsu are attempting to get the scoop on each of the girls' antics and in order to get these stories, quests need to be completed... and written about, THAT.IS.IT!

The English voice acting is dubious at best and half of the characters virtually sound the same, the Japanese is a notch above and comes as the recommended choice. My only real gripe is that some of the characters dialogue is overly cutesy. The general soundtrack on the other hand blew me away, I really did want to listen to it as I fought my way through endless hordes of slimes, animated flowers and cubes. Like the looks of the game itself, the wide array of tunes on display here is nothing but a joy to listen to. 

The two extra modes which are unlocked after beating Chapter 3 don't really add any further depth to the game. Both the Gamindustri Gauntlet where you can create your own 10 fighter tournaments and battle it out until the end is much more dull than it sounds and the same goes for the Neptral Tower which involves climbing a long tower filled with randomly changing enemies.

Overall, this is an attractive and amusing game that is pleasing on the eye as well as the ear that is great for a fun quick blast in the middle of the day, during your commute or simply whenever you feel like it. It would get repetitive quickly if it were on a console but it suits the nature of time-limited handheld gaming perfectly. If you are a fan of the genre and like crazy button bashing over the top combo-creating anime style games then it is definitely worth a go. It isn't the best game ever but by no means is it the worst either. 

Score: 6/10

Monday 22 June 2015

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey Book 2 Review (PC)

The first book in the returning Dreamfall series reintroduced us to dreamer Zoe Castillo and apostle Kian Alvane. Zoe certainly had the more interesting story to begin with and Kian’s sections was both a bit clunky and generally uninteresting. 

Book 2 starts with Kian in the rebel’s base. From here he must decide whether or not to join them and then proceed to carry out various missions to strengthen their resistance in the capital city on the magical side of the coin. On the futuristic side of that same coin Zoe is about to uncover something huge that will change the course of the future.

It’s almost impossible to go into much more detail without beginning to ruin the twists and turns that happen. This is one of the problems for reviewers with episodic content as the plot develops continually and in story based games giving anything away will completely ruin the experience.

What we can look at is the elements of the game. This time around the game mainly gives you fetch quests to do. Most missions boil down to ‘go to here’ or ‘speak to this person’. Luckily the characters and dialogue are strong enough to keep the story moving without turning the player off. Zoe at least gets a new gadget or two to try and hide the wandering around from point to point.

Thankfully, Kian’s side of the adventure is much stronger this time with new characters and plot twists making him seem a more interesting proposition to play. Zoe’s story stays pretty much rolling along on an average level but her world is always interesting and it certainly gives you a payoff at the end.

The choices are also back and in full effect with some that will really have players thinking and some that have a strict countdown before choices are taken away. Most importantly it still works as a story and the intensity has been nicely ramped up since the first book.

Overall, there is nothing really new here that wasn’t in the first game in terms of mechanics but the story is getting stronger and the new characters and excellent voice work continue to draw you into the world. It’s still a bit rough around the edges in terms of controls and mechanics but Dreamfall Chapters continues to work as a story telling device and an interesting one at that.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Final Fantasy VII Review (PS1)

Hype is a tricky thing. No sooner is a game announced than media outlets have mapped out every single detail before your very eyes. It's no new phenomenon either. Final Fantasy VII was no stranger to the effect, yet somehow not one person knew what to expect when it arrived on European shores. Chalk it up to inexperience. Nothing quite like it had been seen before by the masses and for many they simply could not have imagined what awaited them. It was a magical adventure – beyond anything that had preceded it. You did not play Final Fantasy VII, you lived it.

The story built around the central character Cloud Strife and revealed layers of depth defying common notions of what a videogame was. Initially appearing to be a cold hearted mercenary his visage slowly dissolves to expose that he has a far greater purpose to play. The mystery of Cloud's background and purpose becomes the key focus for the journey through this new world. We experience things as Cloud does, drawn ever further into the thickening web of intrigue- punctuated by some highly effective twists along the way.

It soon becomes clear that there is far more at stake than a small group of freedom fighters trying to cripple a domineering corporation. Each encounter drip feeds a new piece of information. Hints of what is to come fuel the fervour to press on without ever fully enlightening players as to what the hell is going on. Cleverly paced and well scripted, you remain on the edge of your seat stretching forward to see what is around the next corner. Many a time we picked up the controller with the intent of only seeing out the next encounter only to find ourselves squinting through eyes grown intolerant to strong light as the sun rose the next morning.

Combat follows the tried and tested turn based RPG format. Characters wait for their timing bar to fill to become active. At that point they can then unleash all manner of destructive forces upon your foes. The most spectacular of these are gargantuan creatures, summoned from the magical 'Materia' that forms around the land to fight by your side. While players were taken aback by the epic summoning of magical creatures, the cut scenes truly stole the show. At the time of its original release in 1997 the graphical artistry and animation blew away everything else.

Everyone who played the game knew this was more than simply something special; this was a historic moment for gaming in the West. It pushed the boundaries to such a degree that at the time it seemed impossible anything else developed for the Playstation could ever surpass it.

This being a story set against a backdrop of a fantastical cyberpunk world, both high-tech weaponry and devastating magic are freely available. Attaching 'materia' to equipment and weapons gives any character access to its magic. Materia has both good and bad effects introducing the need to strike a balance in order to stop characters from becoming weak and easily killed. As a result players form parties built how they want and are not forced to shoehorn characters into a predetermined mould.

Years have passed, and graphically the game will not carry the impressive awe for newcomers it had to those fortunate people who played it in its time. Furthermore, the pace may seem a little slow to the uninitiated. However, give it a few minutes and you find the story suffers not from the ills of aging. You're quickly engrossed and any 'faults' melt away. Its hypnotic grasp remains strong regardless the age of its appearance.

While the graphical wonder of the title may fade, the excellent musical score rings true as ever. Sweeping music completes an epic adventure and Final Fantasy VII has it in abundance. Moving scores accompany every scene perfectly heightening the mood and emotion. Indeed, while walking through the Snow Mountains you may be tempted to turn the heating up a little as the music works so well it drags you down into the icy caves with it, and it is a cold place down there.

Final Fantasy VII represents one of a select group of titles that transcends its existence as simply a 'game'. It started a shift in the gaming tastes of Europe (as it likewise did throughout the western world), it opened our eyes to what was possible with the power of a thirty-two bit console, it made us think what could be achieved in the future. Arguably, no game before it had such an emotional impact on gamers. We fought, we cried, we drove onward for revenge and we remembered every minute of it. Those who were there in that first week when it was released already know why this game is an historic title.

For newcomers the title proves as enjoyable as ever. Alas, it is doubtful the euphoric sense of elation - the almost indescribable feeling that no game had ever created before (Maybe Occarina of Time), can be similarly recaptured. Final Fantasy VII represents a moment in time. Where were you when it happened?

Overall 10/10

Monday 15 June 2015

Contra: Shattered Soldier Review (PS2)

Continuing the legacy which stretches back to the good old days of eight bit gaming comes a timely re-introduction of the contra series to an all new generation. So can old school hardcore action still cut it in the days of Max Payne and endless tomb raider sequels? Well in part at least you bet it can.

The next generation of the contra series sticks to the formulae laid down by its predecessors. What we get is a classic side scrolling shooter updated with a 3D graphics engine to make everything look ever so lovely. The screen is filled with all manner of projectiles aimed at you all at once. This coupled with some weird as hell aliens and monsters all adds up to a very satisfying and stylish look to the new incantation of the contra franchise.

Just in case the adrenaline level wasn’t quite high enough the relentless heavy metal soundtrack is cranked up to a level that threatens to blow the speakers straight out of your TV. Add to this some of the most satisfying explosions in gaming history and you find yourself in a game designed to get your heart pumping and your trigger finger itching for more and more.

Gameplay wise you would be hard pressed to find a more responsive control system. Which is lucky as you get about point five of a second to avoid incoming fire as some big creation bursts onto the scene. This coupled with some smart innovations such as being able to lock your fire in a certain position and being able to change quickly between three different styles of weaponry help give you a fighting chance. If only a little one.

The main problem with Contra is the fact that although it’s a very difficult game, it just isn’t very long. You get seven levels, each containing some over the top antics involving flying on a missile, or chasing a train on a high speed bike or even destroying a full screen size killer robot jet skier. But there just isn’t enough of it. The other problem is that while in lifespan of the PS2 Contra was a breath of fresh air, the Super Nintendo version is still better in terms of imagination.

Overall, even though it’s short we would prefer to play this again than play a twenty hour version of whatever the next generic platformer/adventure/fps is. It’s over the top, loud and violent. Basically it’s Contra running on a PS2.

Overall 7/10

Sunday 14 June 2015

Whiplash Review (PS2)

Another day, another 3d platform title hits the shelves. At least this time however, the developers have aimed to make a game that stands out from the normal hum drum trudge of 3D muck we are so often presented with. ‘Whiplash’ is the story of a Weasel and a Rabbit who break free from a scientific lab and rush for freedom. The two are Hand cuffed together and this is where the twist comes in, the weasel (Redmond) is obviously considerably larger than his rabbit counterpart, he is also completely insane- thus he uses the poor rabbit (Spank) as a kind of medieval war mace. If you have ever dreamed of bashing a scientist to death with a live rabbit this could well be the game for you.

If nothing else the concept of a mad rabbit-wielding weasel is at least an interesting one. The rest of title follows the same over-the-top mad cap style as our heroes rush around trying to free other creatures trapped in the lab (Hamster cannons anyone?). The style of the game is completely insane and there is genuine humour that comes through on numerous occasions. However, with regards to the main characters there is only so many times you can hit someone with a rabbit before it simply is not funny any more. It may be hard to believe, but it does ware thin quickly.

The graphical style fits the theme well with decently animated characters all looking slightly insane and uttering stupid things. Levels are full of destructible scenery to be smashed and there is a decent variety of enemies to fight and creatures to rescue, each more tortured and mad than the last. While the look of the game as a whole is varied from area to area individual levels do have a habit of looking familiar all too soon and follow the basic format of a central hub, with various doors leading off them.

Movement and combat is solid enough, though at times it can be a touch tricky to do exactly what you want to- this is mainly caused by the camera being at some highly irregular angle. This does not happen often and the camera can be moved using the right analogue stick should it become too much of an irritation. Combat is fun yet limited, though you theoretically have a wide range of moves to amass and use it seems highly unlikely you will deviate to far from the standard practice of hammering the X button to dispatch foes.

Our heroes have a wide range of moves with which to navigate the lab, including the standard double jump etc found in all platform titles by this time. There are also more unique moves such as the ability to scurry along wires and zip line using the handcuffs. Think Prince of Persia with a Weasel and Rabbit set in a scientific lab, without the time manipulation and you would not be to far wrong.
Indeed the comparisons do not stop there, most of the levels in Whiplash, Like Prince of Persia, need our heroes to climb to the top of something. Whatever the something may be, it is normally a round shape and involves a section of scurrying, a section of jumping and hooking onto something and a section of double jumping. 

Here lies the biggest problem with Whiplash. No matter what you are doing it all feels like exactly the same thing after a while. You walk along hit some things, jump this, hover over that, hit this, and hook onto that. The formula is repeated in every single level in an almost identical pattern. One Hub section has you doing exactly the same thing in the five corridors leading off to other rooms and it just seems pointless and dull after a while. The few decent ideas in the title have been stretched way too thinly across the somewhat huge game, leaving you with a feeling of ‘so what?’ before long.

The Ideas behind Whiplash are good and there is no denying that the title is fun in small bursts. But in the end the absolutely crushing level of repetition just turns the whole thing into a dull exercise. If levels had been more focused it would not have been such a problem, but there are simply too many unnecessary sections in there. Each section contains the same ideas, repeated over and over and over again. Whiplash is by no means a bad game but is way behind the market leaders. The title is worth playing as it represents an original idea, unfortunately though, that originality has not been converted into an overall original gaming experience.

Overall 5/10

Friday 12 June 2015

Steam Round Up - The Master Plan, Vortex Attack and Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser

 Vortex Attack

Like many shooters before it, Vortex Attack started life in the arcades. It’s a vertical shooter where the aim is to shoot enemies and then hit the crystals they leave behind. This sends them shooting into a vortex at the top of the screen. Eventually the vortex is destroyed and you move onto the next level.

It’s a nice idea but we found ourselves getting bored with the game quite quickly. The screen is stationary with enemies phasing into it and this made it begin to seem repetitive. We also didn’t get the frantic adrenaline rush found in many bullet hell style shooters.  It’s certainly worth a look for hard-core shooter fans as it does try to do something a bit different but there are many better examples of the genre out there.

Overall 5/10

Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser

From a vertical shooter to a horizontal one with the wonderfully named Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser. Taking inspiration from a host of 70’s and 80’s anime shows the game puts you in control of a huge flying robot that can link to other large robots to make even bigger flying robots.

It’s a fun and frantic game and there are lot of different weapons and combinations of things to try out. The style of the whole thing can only be described as joyful and it certainly proves a blast in small doses. The only major issue is that it can be completed in a very short amount of time and there isn’t really the depth or surprises on hand to keep you coming back for more. If you want something fun and full of pop culture references to blast away though this could well be for you.

Overall 7/10

The Masterplan

Escape and heist games seem to be the thing of the moment and The Masterplan is another to add into the mix. From a top down perspective you need to plan and execute your heist and escape leaving as little evidence as possible before the cops arrive .

You start off small by taking down bars and kiosks before moving on to many bigger and better things. There’s a lot at work under the hood here with civilians running off to call the cops and people deciding to get brave when they have a gun pointed at them among the issues to contend with. Planning is key and things can descend quickly if you rush in.

Sadly, while it’s trying to do all the right things the controls are very clunky and trying to carry out actions at speed seems counter intuitive. Issues like small icons and the fact you can only draw a ‘select all box’ by moving from top left to right and down (or else it simply won’t draw a box), really hinder the experience. Closing a door without having your character getting stuck the wrong side of it really shouldn’t be this tough either.

There’s fun to be had an it’ll no doubt become smoother with updates but it probably could have done with staying in Early Access a bit longer. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it though as the potential on show is huge

Overall 6/10

Wednesday 10 June 2015

The Escapists Review (PS4)

We first became aware of Mouldy Toof studios when we looked at Spud’s Quest a little while ago. It was a charming, Adventure's of Dizzy-like, game that showed some good potential. Now the one man studio is back with what should prove to be a break through title. There’s still an emphasis on moving items around to the correct place but The Escapists is a very different game.

The basic premise is that you are an inmate at a prison and have to find time in your daily routine to plan and execute an escape plan. There are a number of ways to do this and different prisons act as sandbox playgrounds for budding escapists to play around in. There is no one way to escape and everything from impersonating a guard to digging a good old fashioned tunnel can be attempted. You can even take over the prison if you find enough rope.

Viewed from a top down perspective you move your little dude around the prison as a clock ticks away. Different prisons have different routines but you will need to attend roll calls, meal times and things like exercise and shower sessions. You can also get work which earns you money (as well as possibly getting you closer to much needed supplies). Money can then be used to buy things from other prisoners, 

The other prisoners will also ask you to do favours for them. Completing these normally involves creating distractions, finding objects or beating someone up. Carrying out their requests will bring more money and also make them like you a bit more. Upset a prisoner and they will come looking for you and beat you up. The same can be said of the guards that patrol the place and it’s best to keep an eye on exactly who you are upsetting.

The key to the game is finding contraband items such as wood and metal and then crafting them into tools which can help you escape. Hiding these tools is one of the biggest challenges as your cells are given regular shake downs and the discovery of a banned item leads to solitary confinement and effectively a reset in your progress. This can be very frustrating when you have spent months digging a tunnel only to get found out and have to start again.

While the joy of seeing a well-executed plan come together is great the frustration of seeing a small mistake set back hours of progress will be too much for many players. It does seem a little unbalanced in this respect and we can’t work out why a discovery of tools somewhere results in every fake wall, vent or tool stash being removed around the entire prison. 

You can reload to the start of each day but even that can seem to set back progress in a game where it comes slowly and every square of dirt dug needs to be done so incredibly carefully. The PS4 version of the game does seem to be a bit more balanced than the PC version we reviewed a while ago but that complete reset can still be hard to swallow.

The game can also be a little repetitive. This is fine for your daily routine as it allows you to understand patterns and the movement of the prison. It’s not so great when you have been stuck in the place for months and the other inmates and guards don’t really offer you up much in the way of character or conversation. At times it can feel like you’re just waiting around for an inmate to have a certain type of item for sale and when this happened we really weren’t having fun.

That said, when you begin to make progress it can be a very special game world to be a part of. The problem with sandbox games by nature is that they don’t really have structure to progress and while your days inside certainly do, to finally get hold of an item after months of waiting and then have it quickly taken away with a small mistake just feels very unfair at times and we can see this putting some gamers off. If something was added to make the acquisition of items more proactive a lot of this problem would be solved very quickly.

Overall, despite its faults, The Escapists is a highly ambitious and clever title in a lot of ways and we simply have to recognise and applaud that. We found the PS4 version to be less frustration than on PC. If you like free-form puzzle solving and have a high tolerance for pain then this could be the game for you. We asked for a bit more polishing in our PC review and it seems that has happened and the game is all the better for it.

Overall 8/10

Monday 8 June 2015

Not A Hero Review (PC)

Written by Thomas GJ Sharpe

The trailer for Not A Hero set high expectations with ridiculous violence, surreal comedy and well-pitched pixel aesthetic. I can assure you that this game is 90% what it said on the tin and thank heavens for that. Hero has a solid, bold and confident voice in all of its facets.

At first it appeared to be an ultra-violent Bonanza Bros., one of my favourite games of all time. But the cut-section'd buildings and cover system are just the tip of the iceberg. Throw in the viciousness of Hotline Miami, but with a more humourous edge, and a dash of the fantastic (if buggy) Gunpoint, and you have a very potent game. What makes it spark right off the bat, and throughout the campaign, is the incredible writing and voice-acting.

The story is of a psychopathic rabbit called Bunnylord who is running in the British election. Hiring in a selection of killers, Bunnylord hopes to prove he can overcome evil by repeatedly shooting it in the face. The mission briefings are a master-class in nonsensical, hyperactive comedy that may grate on some, but had me rapt. At times, I wanted slightly less pre-mission talking, but on the whole I've watched them with glee.

In-game, you take control of an assassin of your choice, each with their own distinct character, voice and perks. This allows fantastic replay value as you try and chase the three optional goals of each mission. The quips of each murderer are some of the best I've ever heard, both writing and acting, with a distinct UK thread running throughout. My particular favourites are the shot-gunning Scot who doesn't own a kilt, screeching Swansea lass, and Mike who is definitely not drunk. You grab different and suitably silly temporary ammo upgrades and secondary weapons such as mines and Molotovs as you rip through drug-dens, warehouses and apartment blocks.

The gameplay moves at a decent speed, keeping action exciting and giving the appearance of fluid, talented execution, any slower and it could feel a bit thin on the ground. The rich, efficient animation, weapon effects, crackin' music and exemplary voice-acting, build on a very simple premise that never outstays its welcome. All you have to do, however, is consider it all for a moment when you are not playing the game and realise that there is very little there, but really, you don't care as it is an incredible laugh both in cut-scene and in-game.

The campaign is, admittedly, rather short, and even with nine varied characters and three unique goals in each mission, this is a brief game. I expect a medium to low replay value as well, sadly, as the levels are simply not varied in approach or structure enough. I would expect I'd need a bit of time between plays to watch the cut-scenes again and enjoy them, however great they are first time round. I personally don't think that a tenner is exorbitant for this game, perhaps a couple quid too much, but there is enough here to justify it. I've had many a dull experience with games that stretch the same content over a much wider space for triple the price, and this is kudos to the developers for making such a rich game.

From the hilarious graffiti, to the aggressive swearing, to the constantly thrusting killer called Jesus, Not A Hero makes more sense, and more happiness, than most others dare to.

Second Opinion
I can’t really add much to what Tom has said and I agree with pretty much everything. I too found the between level dialogue a bit of a drag and quickly skipped through them to get back to the action. This is a stupidly slick and joyous experience though and it never fails to raise a smile. I’m not sure there’s quite enough replay value to hit the heights that Tom has gone to with his score but it’s a great experience while it lasts.

Tom’s Score - 9/10
Gareth’s Score 8/10

Sunday 7 June 2015

Pro Evolution Soccer 4 Review (PS2)

Ah, there was a time when leaves falling from a near by tree, more and more rain and the temperature dropping meant the release of the latest instalment in the Pro Evolution Soccer series. Pro Evolution 4 comes with more teams and animations than before and a whole host of fully licensed leagues. So without further hesitation let us see if the follow up to the excellent Pro Evolution 3 lives up to the standards it set.

First of all this version of the series looks better than the last graphically, still not beautiful perhaps but everything does a functional job of representing a game of football. There are now Eighty European clubs in all, including the whole of the premiership (though they are unlicensed). Fully licensed leagues come in the form of Serie A, The Spanish league and the Dutch league- presumably thrown in as part a buy two get one free offer.

Most players have their real names, that is until you get to international teams. A very strange thing seems to have happened, presumably due to some licensing red tap. Players can have their real names at club level but not at International level- meaning a strange mix of real and fake names whenever you pick international teams. This also raises another slight issue as it means there are two versions of a lot of players in the game- meaning if your building your own team in the master league you can end up having a team with Nedved on both wings and two Kluivert's up front.

More leagues, more teams, more players, more licenses, it all seems like a dream come true. Indeed if they had left the engine more of less the same as in Pro Evolution 3 we could have had little complaint (aside from the tackling issue). But it seems Konami having upped the animations have changed how the game works and unfortunately this creates a few problems. First of all is the issue of throw-ins, more often than not there is simply no-one to throw to. Then we have the utterly stupid computer AI. This does not really effect the opposition much aside from them constantly kicking the ball out of play when you get within a mile of them. But it is fair to say on far too many occasions your team mates show all the intelligence of a house brick.

This lack of intelligence manifests itself in a whole host of ways. When playing a through ball players don’t run onto it, instead when they reach the ball they stop dead then start running again or walk along the side of the ball for a couple of seconds before putting their feet on it-  making fast attacks incredibly hard to initiate. Furthermore,  players will not go after the ball unless you are controlling them, all too often the ball will be right next to a player and he will simply run the other way. This would not be such an issue except the AI seems to get confused in deciding which player it would like to let you control- One second you will be running towards the ball then suddenly you will have changed to a player running off into the distance watching the player you where controlling a few seconds before standing motionless as the ball rolls past him.

And the Problems continue- Passing is far too random most of the time with the player you are controlling often passing in a completely different direction to way you want the ball to go; sometimes it is to another of your players, sometimes it is to the opposition. Defending can also be one of the most frustrating/hilarious things you will ever see as three of your players and goal keeper all wander around aimlessly vaguely looking at the ball bounce around on the ground for a good couple of seconds despite you hammering the clearance button. This normally occurs just before a single opposition player rushes in and scores.

Luckily shooting suffers far less from the problems apparent in the rest of the title. As expected there is a wealth of different shot types available, and like the previous title if you are skilful enough you can score any type of goal you want. However, this is now much harder than before due to most shots being automatically aimed at the centre of the goal. Goal keepers are also there to help or hinder your cause with some unusually inconsistent AI- Changing from super human to terrible in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately headed shots are a different matter; unless the delivery is absolutely perfect players will head the ball up instead of down. Your player could be Ronaldo standing five yards from goal completely unmarked and he would still head over.

Then we come to the issue of the 60Hz mode. All Gamestyle can say is simply do not use on the PS2. We are not sure what has happened but for some reason the mode creates terrible slow down effects whenever the ball is lofted in. Furthermore, the screen ripples as if made from water from time to time and the players cannot seem to actually run when they have the ball. These Issues are not apparent in the Xbox version but massively hinder the Sony release.

However, though the game does have a lot of frustrating issues, it does play a good game of football. The problem is that it is highly debatable if it is better than Pro Evolution 3. Yes it has better graphics and more of everything but where as last years game was a joy to play- this year’s title descends into frustration on far too many occasions. Most problems do disappear when playing against another human but trying to build up a team in the master league or win all the cups can be a completely joyless task.

Problems are not always apparent and things do improve the more effort you put in but it just seems stupid that when Konami had an almost perfect game the previous year that they would change so much. All that was needed was a small amount of tightening up with the tackling and a few other issues; instead it seems they have used a wrecking ball where a screwdriver would have done. When all is said and done Pro Evolution 4 is still a good game of football, and excellent against human opponent- but it far from being perfect and the overall score reflects a game that has taken one step forward cosmetically and two steps back in terms of play mechanics.

Overall 7/10

Friday 5 June 2015

Halo 2 Review (Xbox)

Life after Halo... is there such a thing? Days blend into months, months into years. You sit looking at your Xbox hoping one day it will all start again. The dust settles and builds as time passes and everything gradually loses its importance; after saving humanity nothing else seems to matter that much. Then it happens: after a few years of silence the threat is back. Time to suit up and save the world once more - the life of a super soldier is never an easy one.

Halo 2 launched with possibly the biggest amount of hype in gaming history. The wait was finally over: Halo 2 has arrived, the shroud of secrecy had been cast aside and the box of unknown delights unlocked for all to gouge themselves on. But was it worth the wait?

If there is one word to describe the thought process behind Halo 2 it is 'impact'. As soon as you boot up to the title screen it casts its familar spell on you. The improved sound and filtering of the orchestral scores float broodingly across the menu screen immediately drawing you into the Halo world. Even for those not grabbed the first time around it is hard to see anyone not gasping at the feeling of intensity and epic quality projected by the truly outstanding musical score.

Creating the feel of an epic is obviously something Bungie had thought a lot about. Cut scenes are now of a much higher quality - showing us far more insight into the backstage workings of the Halo world. While they can be a little over-the-top and catchphrase-heavy, they succeed in turning Halo 2 into a spectacular overall visceral experience, transforming it into much more than a first person shooter and act to push you forward through the narrative.

Many influences for the set pieces and cut scenes have clearly been taken from films. While playing through the title players will often find themselves in situations influenced by Star Wars, Black Hawk Down, Predator, Tomb Raider, Star Ship Troopers, Aliens and many others. This familiarity often adds to the overall enjoyment of being right there in the middle of the action; though it would have been nice if more of the set pieces were fresh Bungie inventions, rather than Hollywood movies re-created with a Halo twist.

Familiarity is present throughout the title; after all there is nothing new in terms of the game engine. Graphics are better, but still could be improved with problems such as textures appearing to fade in at the last second and indoor areas repeating themselves as in the first Halo (though to a much lesser extent).

New weapons have been added, however: though there a more tools for the job this time around, the similarity between many of the weapons means there is less reason to use everything at your disposal. For example, do we really need so many different variations on a rifle? While there are a few brand new weapon types, most fall into the standard sniper rifle / rocket launcher mould. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but like the set pieces a bit more originality would have been welcome.

Here lies the crux of any problem you may have with Halo 2 - we have seen it all before. Everything here is presented exceptionally and the core gameplay dynamic is tight with the dual wielding adding a new aspect of strategy. But there is nothing here that innovates or pushes boundaries beyond the lofty heights of its forerunner, leaving the feeling that the title is more 'Halo 1.5' than Halo 2... but again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, gamers had waited for 3 long years for another game to finally come close to delivering that Halo feeling again; for the sound of dropships overhead; for the frantic charge of vehicles ploughing through Covenant forces; the feel of an intelligent battlefield running its (seemingly) unscripted course.

Though there are faults, to dwell on a few seemingly minor issues is to sour the feel of an epic title. Indeed, the only problem that can really affect gameplay is the occasionally poor enemy AI - even on the Heroic and Legendary settings enemies can seemingly be completely deaf and blind to your presence. The title acts as a highly entertaining journey through the next chapter of the Halo universe and though some levels can test your patience and others turn into checkpoint dashes, when Halo 2 works (which is often the case) it truly is a thing of beauty. In effect the game's numerous highlights show us how the first Halo could have been... with everything we loved about it given more screen time. Concepts and features are fleshed out and expanded, and more tightly focused than before. Many people will have been expecting more - something as ground breaking as the original - but Halo 2 stands up as the biggest, loudest most highly polished and adrenaline-pumping shooter on a console.

It's hard to not feel a little disappointed after all this time due to the high expectations everybody had, but while it may not re-invent the wheel, it certainly refines it past a point not previously seen on a console.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Age of Wonders III and Eternal Lords Expansion Review (PC)

It’s been over a decade since the last Age of Wonders game so the franchise certainly hasn’t been milked to death. The newest version of the game is also already into its second major expansion after Golden Realms added a host of new features and the Halfling playable race. With all this in mind I don’t mind saying that it was somewhat intimidating jumping into the series as a relative newcomer.

Age of Wonders III is a big and imposing game and the sort of thing that requires several hundred hours of play to work out all the subtle nuances. I’m no stranger to the in-depth, life-consuming, strategy genre and have played far too much Civilisation, Football Manager and Sim City over the years. However, I can’t claim to have played Age of Wonders for a couple of hundred hours. I can say that what I have experienced so far may well certainly lead me to in the future.

The biggest problem new players will face is just how much of the game there is and the fact there is no tutorial or proper manual to help you out. The game is a hex based strategy title which can either be played in a traditional turn based sense or with simultaneous turns taking place. Your goal is to defeat the other leaders on the map much in the same way as games like Civilisation.

The lack of tutorial isn’t helped by the onscreen interface being incredibly awkward to navigate. Important icons and information are difficult to find (especially when you don’t know they exist), and onscreen text and descriptions are very small, despite the fact we played it on a 40 inch screen. There is also a lot of detail and terrain and the maps. This makes the world look alive but it’s not easy to find units you have set to camp and good luck if you’ve misplaced a fairy anywhere. If you’re colour blind you’ll just have to say a small prayer before going into battle.

There are other similarities to Civ as well as the basic premise. You build up cities in much the same way and add new types of buildings and units. Hexes containing resources are important to the growth and development of your cities and you can send out settlers to found new places. That said, Age of Wonders has a lot of other things going on as well.

For starters you can pick from a number of mythical races to play as such as Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and Elves. The Eternal Lords expansion also adds Frostlings and the catlike Tigran races. Each race has its own bonuses and penalties and also unique units with which to play with. Once you have picked your chosen race you then need to pick your hero which can take the form of just about any class rolling around the fantasy spectrum. Warriors, thieves and wizards are all here with their own sets of unique traits and skills to consider. The Eternal Lords expansion adds the Necromancer class which allows you to create all sorts of havoc with various undead creatures as well.

Once you have raised your armies, combat can either be very in-depth or a more simple affair. Armies can be formed by stacking a combination of six units together. There is little restriction in how you do this so you can create balanced stacks or ones consisting of just archers or cavalry if you wish. When you encounter another army combat can be handled in one of two ways. You can take the Civ approach and have the result auto-decided based on terrain, strength and modifiers or you can handle the combat manually.

If you choose the manual combat option you are moved to a contained map where the individual units from your army stack can be manoeuvred around. This gives far greater flexibility in combat as it allows for the use of tactical skills and magic and that may be enough for players to overcome larger odds. It’s a bit like having a world map from Civ where you enter a map battle from something like Disgaea of Final Fantasy Tactics and it’ll take you as much time and thought as that staggering combination suggests. The most important thing though is that either approach works.

On top of all this there are mysterious places to discover and Eternal Lords adds cosmic events which change the course of play as well. You can also find caves and tunnels and venture underground to find treasure. There’s roaming randoms to deal with like wild boars, bandits and dragon hatchlings and even the odd ruin to adventure into. There’s certainly not a lack of content and even without the expansion you’ll be busy for longer than is probably healthy.

There are three main ways to play the single player portion of the game. You can create a random map and battle against a set number of foes (the mode most closely resembling Civ), you can enter a scenario with set conditions or you can take on one of the massive campaigns. The first campaign you are given has an Elven princess betrayed and was where I was expecting the tutorial to be. It isn’t. There is also a more intermediate campaign and a downright difficult one added via the Eternal Lords expansion which unsurprisingly focuses in on the new class and races added. The fact we encountered a bug in the very first part of the Elven campaign which required a work around to finish the level didn’t help much, but by the end of it we felt we were beginning to get the hang of a few things.

Overall, Age of Wonders III provides something a bit different for strategy fans. The fantasy element sets it apart from other games like Civ and all the core mechanics work well. It’s the sort of game that once you get into it you’ll never really need much else. The biggest problem for newcomers is going to be breaking down than initial barrier so that you have enough of an idea about what is going on and what is at your disposal. It’s definitely worth digging into though and I love the variation of the different races and classes.  It’s epic, magical and ambitious with tons of content. The Eternal Lords expansion adds even more quality and if you’ve been thinking about getting into something big then you should really give this a look.

Overall 8/10

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Music 3000 Review (PS2)

Starting out life on the PSOne the music series has allowed non-PC owners the chance to create music of their choice for a few years now. While the original music releases where comprehensive in terms of samples and what you could do to your created master piece the interface and bemusing assortment of options often left people confused and not able to engage with what should be a fun and creative experience. So does the latest PS2 version offer anything new to the aspiring musician? And can it really offer anything against a few instruments and a PC?

Well yes and no really, obviously the PC is the tool of choice for anyone really serious about trying to make music, the amount of programmes and diversity present along with the fact you can record instruments from source along with numerous other things means anyone really serious about making a music demo should use what is on offer in the home computer market. However, if you have a passing interest in music and often wondered if you had it in you to create a musical master piece in your spare time this could well fit the bill.

First of all there are a lot more samples available for this version of music, whatever type of music you want to make is represented and you can take parts from various genres to create something new. Basically, this is music as you know it on PSOne just with more of everything, more sounds, more remixing tools and while good for Music veterans, is not so great in the big scheme of things. Countless games and programmes over the years have produced sequels using almost identical control systems. This is fine if the interface is perfect, however with the music series it is clear that the interface is not perfect and could really have done with being refined a touch, if anything the controls in Music 3000 are even trickier than before. So much so that half the time you really do not know what you are doing as the layout just seems to be completely illogical.

One nice inclusion is the lessons option; this takes you from the basics through to more complex operations step by step. Apart from taking you through all the functions available it really does show just how ridiculous the control system is, move this with the right analogue stick, then move that with the cursor (not the left analogues stick oh no) then press that with R3 then move that. You get the idea. Absolutely no attempt has been made to turn the control pad into part of the musical process, instead it acts as a barrier to inspiration and makes the process so lifeless and frustrating that even when you know what the programme can do it is so hard to do it you may find yourself just not bothering.

Everything you need to make the perfect tune is hidden somewhere in this programme, after the initial creation has been laid down you can remix it and do all manner of small adjustments and additions from changing the pitch and tone of an individual note to altering a beat, you name it, you can do it and with the game offering support for a microphone you can sing vocals onto it as well. All you need is patience and persistence to overcome the controls and eventually you may find there is a lot of fun to be had from the title. You can also get a USB attachment allowing more samples and tracks to be downloaded as well meaning an almost limitless amount of material will at any PS2 DJ’s disposal, so this at least makes Music 3000 close the gap on PC software, if only a little bit.

As well as the music, you can also mess around with visuals for your brand new tune, you can alter which field objects move in and pick from a large selection of images. The option is available to randomly create visuals should you be lacking in inspiration and directorial flair as well, another area which manages to raise the programme up a notch from its last incantation.

Overall, Music 3000 is both very good and shockingly bad, the controls are some of the worst we have ever come across and are so bad that they really undermine the creative process of putting together a piece of music. That said what is In the programme is excellent for the PS2 and for anyone without a PC this may well be all you need to start creating some well put together efforts. But be warned in order to find all the brilliance present you have to really be patient and you have to ask yourself simply can you be bothered to put up with the controls? If the answer is yes you will find a rewarding, if frustrating, musical experience awaits you.

Overall 6/10