Wednesday 30 September 2015

No Mercy Review (N64)

Retro wrestling games can be a strange thing to go back to. Most consist of simply picking wrestlers with identikit sets of moves and then hammering away at which ever button makes moves happen until the controller breaks or someone wins. There are of course exceptions to the rule such as Fire Pro and also some of the Playstation and N64 wrestlers such as No Mercy. As a newcomer to the game we dived in to see if it still holds up today.

The final game from Acclaim’s Nintendo series built on the excellent foundations laid down in Wrestlemania 2000 and pushed the concept just about as far it could go on the hardware at the time. There’s no button bashing in sight either as the unique grapple system is based on timing and single button presses. A simple system is in place with the A button being used for grapples and B for strikes. Holding down the buttons then allows for stronger but slower moves. Once you have grappled you can then press a direction with A or B to perform different moves.

As a system it works well with the left and right shoulder buttons being used to counter moves and block strikes respectively. Pulling off moves and taunts gradually fills your attitude meter which will eventually start to pulse. When this happens you need to perform a taunt which then turns the pulsing bar into the ‘Special’ bar for a short period of time. When ‘Special’ is flashing you then have access to your superstar’s trademark moves. This includes their finisher but also any other unique turnbuckle or grapple techniques as well.

Though each superstar can carry out a fairly wide range of moves many of them are repeated through the roster. This can make the game feel a little samey after long periods of play but certainly doesn’t derail the experience. The other issue the game has is that it moves at a much slower pace than many grapple fans will be used to. You’ll also have to get your timing right as superstars need to complete their animation cycles in order to do their next move. This means pressing grapple slightly too early will result in nothing happening. 

The biggest thing which shows up the game is when you need to take part in handicap matches. Slamming one opponent and then trying to focus on the next opponent will almost always be too slow and thus allow the remaining wrestler to grab you first. It was the only really frustrating match type we found with all the others (including Ladder Matches, Royal Rumble and Hardcore Matches) working excellently.

The main draw of the game is the excellent single player mode on offer. Each belt has its own set of storylines assigned to it for you to complete. Most belts have a set of around six to eight sections with different branches to take on depending how you get on in each match. Completing a belt storyline allows that belt to be defended in exhibition modes and can then also be defended as the champion’s storyline in the campaign. You also get to see how much of the belt’s storyline has been experienced with a single run through normally resulting in around fifteen to twenty-five percent completion.

There are also a whole host of things to unlock as you play. As well as new moves and costume parts you can also buy a few superstars in the Smackdown shop with the in game currency acquired while playing the single player mode. Most can be unlocked in the game as well and they range from Referee Earl Hebner and Jim Ross to Jerry Lawler and Legend Andre the Giant (though you’ll have to survive a very long and tough survival mode to have any chance of getting him). 

Another real strength of the game is the excellent roster of superstars available. As well as the high profile stars from the era such as The Rock, Steve Austin and HHH you also get pretty much all the rest of the roster at the time. This is important as there are storylines for the Light Heavy Weight, European and Hardcore titles so having a sizable roster of wrestlers who were active in those divisions adds an excellent level of authenticity. It also acts as a snap shot in time of the WWE as you can play as wrestlers such as Crash Holly and Essay Rios who only ever really worked on the lower card. It’s a great way of experiencing the ‘attitude’ era and matching up many peoples favourite wrestlers. The fact that a handful of the superstars have passed away (such as The Big Bossman, Crash Holly, Eddie Guerrero etc.) means this is likely the best way to remember your favourites.

Overall, No Mercy still holds up as an excellent wrestling game and we would recommend any grapple fan to seek it out. It’s a little slow and is obviously not going to look great on huge HD televisions but once you get used to it there is a fun and rewarding game here. The grapple system still works and the story mode is one of the best ever seen, it’s full of things to unlock and play with and it’ll keep you occupied for hours.

Overall 8/10

Monday 28 September 2015

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance Review (PS4)

It seems like a life time ago that Etna erupted onto the scene in the first Disgaea game. From that moment massive number crunching became a way of life for many console gamers and there have been few games since that are so humorously twisted and crazy. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the sixth console game in the series and the first for the PS4 and as you might expect it has more than enough packed into it to keep you occupied for hundreds of hours.

As usual the plot revolves around an overlord trying to take power. This time it is Seraphina who is the daughter of the king of the Gorgeous Underworld. Along with a host of other odd overlords she bands together with the mysterious Killia to try and destroy the evil demon emperor Void Dark who has decided to take over the entire universe. There are also Prinnies.

It’s another mad cap adventure with Seraphina fascinated by the fact she can’t use her magic to charm Killia and the two jet around the universe on a giant space ship which is used as your hub between levels. Instead of different regions for each episode you are now going to different realms which adds a nice epic feel to the game as you try and repel Void Dark.

We could spend pages talking about all the systems in Disgaea by now and this version adds even more into the mix. All the previous systems such as the geo-panels and skill levelling return and work much in the same way as the last version of the game. There is a new revenge mechanic which raises damage given and reduces damage taken when a bar is filled by your team being attacked. Overlords also get special attacks when in the revenge state – these are wide ranging and include skills like turning into a giant or charming the enemy.

Later in the game there is also a squad system which allows your team to be split into different groups and differing effects then being added to the leaders of the group who take the battle field. The item world is now more ridiculously packed with things than ever with copious amounts of random events and encounters that you’ll need more than one lifetime to uncover. There are also side quests to complete and extra levels that stretch way off into the distance after the main campaign has ended. This game could literally last you forever and it’s highly unlikely you are going to see all it has to offer.

Despite all the systems we found this fairly friendly for newcomers to the series. Each new element is explained well (and also quite quickly) and there is the option to skip tutorials for anyone who already knows how they work. It’ll certainly take a while to get to grips with things but there isn’t an assumption that gamers will have followed the series all the way to this point so if you’ve ever wondered about Disgaea this is as good a place as any to start.

One very good change is a slight adjustment to the geo-panels. As well as being slightly textured now they also display more information when highlighted. This information includes what colour the panel is which means colour blind gamers no longer have to see their best strategies scuppered by a light green block sitting in amongst the yellow ones.

If there is one slight criticism we have it is that the dialogue doesn’t seem as on the mark as in the best of the previous games. The exchanges between Seraphina and Killia never really reach that of Etna and Laharl or Adell and Rozaline. It’s still very solid and entertaining but just lacking a bit of magic and chaos and nothing that made as chuckle as much as Valvatorez and his continual battle cry of SARDINES!

Overall, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance keeps the series’ trademark high standard of quality going. This has to be among the deepest strategy games ever and if there’s anything with more content outside of an MMO we’ll be amazed. If you like Disgaea then this is a justification to own a PS4 and you can’t really give a game much higher praise than that. 

Overall 9/10

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Fairy Fencer F Review (PC)

The latest in a slew of JRPG’s that have been heading towards the PC recently, Fairy Fencer F serves up last year’s PS3 adventure with an extra helping of dessert although the only real change to the PC version is the inclusion of a 1080p resolution option, slightly sharper graphics and an option to play using the mouse and the keyboard, full controller support comes as standard.

This bright and happy RPG is brought to you by Compile Heart and as such it shares some similarities with the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, most notably the battle system and dungeons are very similar in style. You play as Fang, a laid back generally lazy guy who is content with simply eating and sleeping his way through life, upon hearing a rumour that if he manages to pull a certain sword out of a stone all of his life’s wishes will be granted for him, he gives it a go, succeeds... and lo and behold, he inadvertently becomes a Fencer. 

Almost straight away, a colossal quest is dumped upon him by the fairy Eryn who appears from the sword (Fury) that Fang just released from the ground – it is her duty to resurrect the goddess which can only be achieved by acquiring enough furies (weapons containing fairies who can then be fused with a human in order to create a greater warrior otherwise known as a Fencer).

Initially Fang does not take this revelation too well as all he ever really wanted to do was chow down and not do a lot until the end of his days (this becomes a bit of a running joke in the series). Eventually, he succumbs and agrees to help Eryn where on his adventures, he is quickly joined by Tiara – a stuck up girl who also has a bit of a masochistic side. He is later joined by Harley – a fairy researcher, Galdo – an energetic young man who loves eating almost as much as Fang, Ethel – a rogue fencer whose only reason for existing is killing and Pippin who can only be described as a green cat-like humanoid. There are also two optional characters that can be recruited if certain conditions are met.

All of the characters have their reasons for joining and whilst they are fairly one dimensional in their personalities, the dialogue is generally quite fun and humorous and unlike the Hyperdimension Neptunia games there isn’t really too much dialogue to flesh out their personalities further. In a game with a combat system as fast paced as this one, it works like a treat. The cut scenes in which the plot is advanced are to the point, the characters do not beat around the bush with unnecessarily drawn out dialogue and they will most likely only last a few minutes which definitely works in its favour. 

Next onto the really fun part, the combat - which is blisteringly fast and quite frankly, the most interesting part of the game! Each Fencer’s weapon never changes and so instead, you have the option to upgrade it using WP - which is a ubiquitous form of currency that can be used to pay for learning new attacks, new spells and a wide variety of skills. Over time, you’ll acquire different attacks and unleash massive combos upon enemies which are pleasant to watch. Each character also has their own special skill, for example Fang has a ‘Serious Face’ mode which is quite amusing as he does 1.5x normal damage. However, this also consumes SP at the same time. 

In order to plough through dungeons at light speed, you’ve got to utilise your furies and engage in a ton of ‘world shaping’. In order to awake either the goddess or the vile god, you’ll have to pull the swords out of their stone cold bodies – this can only be done by using a fury. Once a sword has been successfully removed from the bodies of the gods, the furies will then be imbued with their power – which effectively enables you to stab the furies into the earth and alter the properties of the dungeon based on what powers they have – you can easily gain 100% exp, increased money and item drops from this process although it can be a bit of a double edged sword as with each power up there is a power down – so choose wisely. 

The game utilises a tension system so after X amount of being battered or vice versa, battering enemies, your tension gage will fill up and you’ll be able to Fairize which is essentially where you can transform into a more powerful version of yourself by combining with your fairy. Visually this does look quite cool although on the whole the graphics are quite simple – on par with most Hyperdimension Neptunia games and looking somewhat like I’d imagine a HD version of Rogue Galaxy (Yes, it’s a PS2 game...) might look like. 

When not in battle or in a dungeon, the game plays out like a standard visual novel – the art is fine and the colours are vibrant but the characters are quite static overall. One of my gripes was that the FPS of the game would randomly drop during battles for no apparent reason – this occurred both on my laptop and my desktop which is a much more beefy machine so I can only attribute this to poor optimisation of the game. 

The game effectively consists of a dungeon – plot – dungeon – plot mechanic which is fine although approximately halfway through the game – it does a 'Bravely Default' style manoeuvre and you end up back tracking through a number of dungeons which are exactly the same as what came before. Battles are also far too easy and this takes some of the fun out of it given that it’s almost impossible to die (unless you deliberately choose to kill yourself by going mad with 'world shaping'). 

Musically the game is also swings and roundabouts, some of the songs are quite nice and the song that is heard when the game loads up is quite good although some of the other tunes aren’t really memorable and won’t stick in your head for very long, the sound effects are standard and the English voice acting got on my nerves after 10 minutes as usual. Luckily the option to switch to Japanese is included as standard.

Overall, it’s a solid JRPG with an addictive battle system which is let down by the repetitive plot, minor technical glitches and generally being way too easy.


Monday 21 September 2015

Fire Pro Wrestling Returns Review (PS2)

It’s taken a very long time for Fire Pro wrestling to make its way out of Japan. One Gameboy Advance game did get released but aside from that the series has been the realm of importers. Even when Fire Pro Returns was released outside of Japan is was so hard it find in Europe that it may as well not have been. Canny Europeans though have been able to get hold of the game by setting up American PSN accounts and downloading it from the store. It’s well worth the effort.

Fire Pro is a very different type of wrestling game than those brought up on the Smackdown franchise will be used to. To start with it has a 2D retro look and hasn’t really moved forward in this respect since the days of the SNES version of the game. What it does allow though is mass customisation in terms of creating wrestlers and programming them with logic. The best thing about this is that there are numerous edit packs online that you can download to fill up the five hundred create a wrestler slots. Unlike previous games in the series you’ll need to do this if you are a fan of the big American wrestling franchises.

Fire Pro R mainly focuses on the Japanese associations and though there are a few legends around like Andre the Giant there is far from the roster of American favourites found in other versions of the game. The process is now a little more difficult as the main fan maintained website (Fire Pro Club) is no longer in operation so you’ll have to look around for the many wrestler packs converted to both PSN and PS2 memory card format (though Fire Pro Arena still is). There are many sites out there that explain this whole process and we found it very easy to get to grips with. It basically boils down to finding a save you want to use as your base save and then loading any other saves into memory card slot 2 and using the in game importer to move over any wrestlers that you want.

In terms of how the game plays it uses a simple but effective grappling system. There is no button mashing with wrestlers locking up when they touch. From that moment whoever inputs the command the quickest wins the grapple and attempts to execute the move. You can try and use any move you like at any time with the caveat being that if your opponent is not worn down enough they will likely reverse it. There is also a wide range of turnbuckle and running moves, Ground attacks, MMA style manoeuvres on the mat and you can even dive in and out of the ring. The Japanese wrestlers in the game are wide ranging is style and it can be fun just messing around with them as they are often very different from what western grapple fans have come to expect.

As well as moves and styles there are a host of different match types you can try out. Survivor Series style eliminations matches are possible along with exploding land mine and barbed wire death matches and MMA and round based bouts in an octagon. There are also cage matches though the AI is somewhat broken and will simple run out of the cage straight away if you leave the ‘escape’ option on for a victory condition. The big thing for this version of the game is a booking simulation mode which lets you try and create events which go over well with fans. It’s interesting but we found ourselves leaving it quite quickly. The down side is that this mode has replaced any type of single player tournament mode so any matches you will be having will be set up by you. This is a real shame as the title tournaments in Fire Pro D allowed you to go through and face everyone in turn which gave you a good idea of which wrestlers would be fun to go and try out.

You can create your own title belts but the mode is somewhat bare bones as your champion won’t even take the belt into the ring with them and can only defend the title in the type of match you have the initially set the belt to be defended in. There are other issues as well with the translation of the logic settings being completed botched for the most part. A number of the skill parameters and behaviour settings don’t actually relate to anything like what they would appear to.

There are of course community guides out there but it’s difficult when you are initially trying to get to grip with everything. So Fire Pro R does require some work from the player to get the most out of it. You’ll need to find some save packs for WWF/E, WCW, TNA ect and make sure you can find them converted to the right file type. You’ll also need to do a bit of reading around if you want to create your own creations and get them to act like you want them to. But it is worth it as for a fairly short amount of time spent you can end up with five hundred odd of your favourite wrestlers to carry out matches with.

Overall, Fire Pro R may not initially be the friendliest of games for newcomers but it’s certainly one of the best wrestling games of all time once you have it set up. You’ll find yourself going back to tinker with things and setting up tournaments to watch your creations take each other on. The in ring action never seems to get old and there has never been a game with such dream match potential as this. The Smackdown franchise may have the glitz and glamour but Fire Pro R has unrivalled gameplay and we’ve lost countless hours to it.

Overall 9/10

Friday 18 September 2015

Kirby: Triple Deluxe Review (3DS)

As always with games starring the pink vacuum, Kirby Triple Deluxe arrived in Europe with little fanfare. This is a really shame as it certainly is a game worth shouting about. Comprising of a platform adventure and a handful of mini game modes this is arguably Kirby’s best ever outing. It’s also one of the most fun games in the 3DS library.

The story goes that one night a giant bean stalk starts growing in dreamland. When Kirby wakes up he finds himself in the sky land of Floralia and that King Dedede has been kidnapped by weird creature by the name of Taranza. Kirby sets out to save the day and find out exactly what all this means for Dreamland.

Recently, each Kirby game has offered up its own unique gimmick. We had the small puzzle like sections in Mouse Attack and the multiple Kirbys in Mass Attack and now there is the super ultra-vacuum ability that sends Kirby rainbow coloured and allows him to consume just about everything in his path. Huge creatures, bits of the level and even energy bars are not safe as the super hoover sucks its path of destruction. 

This is the most traditional Kirby platformer for a while and there are now around twenty abilities to copy from swallowing enemies. These include the new beetle ability that lets you slam enemies into the ground and the return of the super speedy wheel. Throughout the game there are a number of sections which make use of certain abilities and it keeps things varied and fun throughout.

Though it does take a little while to find its stride the level design is excellent. Along with making use of the different abilities there are also puzzles to solve and a fair amount of use is made of functions such as tilting the 3DS. You won’t be tapping away at the screen but what is here is implemented well and never outstays its welcome. Triple Deluxe also displays some of the best 3D effects on the system with a host of things (including Kirby), flying in, out and around the screen at every opportunity. In fact, we would recommend keeping the 3D slider up as things come at you on different layers and it can be difficult to tell what’s dangerous to you without it on.

Aside from the exceptional use of the 3D effect the graphical look of the game is of a high standard throughout. It remains in the colourful Kirby style while also showcasing a range of environments in the new Dreamstalk world. The sound is equally excellent with the music setting the scene perfectly and there’s never any doubt you are firmly in a Kirby world.

Aside from simply completing the levels there are also a host of things to find. The most crucial of these are sunstones as a certain amount are required in each world to access the boss battle at the end. Though we generally hate being forced to replay levels there was only one occasion when we reached the end of the world without enough stones to unlock the boss. The other collectables are keyrings which depict various characters from the history of the series. They don’t do anything in terms of gameplay but if you are of an obsessive nature there are more than enough to collect to keep you busy.

Kirby games have never been known for their difficulty and there is no change here. It’s certainly not pathetically easy but we didn’t die that often during our journey through the six worlds. You’ll have to be careful and some of the bosses put up a decent fight but it won’t stop a seasoned player for long. This isn’t really a major issue as the game remains fun throughout and there are enough extras to keep you busy. Completing the game unlocks a mode where you can then speed run it with King Dedede for instance and a boss gauntlet also becomes available which offers up a tougher final boss and extra cut scene as reward for completion.

Aside from the main game and unlockables there are two mini games included to make up the Triple Deluxe package. Kirby fighters is a Smash Brothers-like game where different ability Kirbys fight each other in a series of one on one matches. The second is a rhythm action game called King Dedede’s Drum Dash. Here you have to hit buttons to the beat to make Dedede jump and clap to the rhythm of various Kirby tunes as he makes his way through a level. Both games are great fun and Drum Dash is dangerously addictive.

Overall, Kirby Triple Deluxe is an imaginative and fun package comprising of an excellent main adventure and some fun and inventive mini games. It’s always throwing something new at you and there are plenty of things to unlock and find. If you’ve never really got on with Kirby games before then this could well be the one to change your mind. If you don’t find yourself having fun with the great design and smiling at all the little touches of humour then there’s really no hope for you.

Overall 8/10

Monday 14 September 2015

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Review (PC)

Shadowrun Returns was a welcome revival of the magic and technology based series and Dragonfall was a further improvement as the development team focused its level design around a pre conceived group of runners. Shadowrun: Hong Kong has arrived with a little bit less of a fanfare but we still had high hopes that the third outing into the murky world would build on the success of the first two games.

Hong Kong’s story is one of mystery and it builds an excellent tale for players to try and unravel. Out of the three games this is the one that feels most like a Noir thriller and the neon skyline associated with the city certainly gives it a bit of a Blade Runner feel. You start out with a message from your adopted father to meet him in Hong Kong as soon as possible. Upon arrival you meet your brother at the docks and then everything goes wrong very quickly.

If there is one criticism of the plot it’s that it can be a bit wordy at times. Characters will have seemed to have finished what they are talking about only to go onto something else on too many occasions and it stops you getting to the heart of action for a little too long. That said, it certainly helps to build the world and the story is strong overall. However, It would have been better to cut out some of the exposition and show more through characters action as this would give a bit more pace to things.

In terms of the general flow of the game very little has changed for the most part. You still wander around locations looking for clues by clicking the mouse and combat remains turn based. If you sneak up on enemies you can now position yourselves and fire on them first before they see you though. This adds another small layer of strategy to the game but most of the time combat is initiated as a result of conversations anyway so it isn’t used as much as it perhaps could have been.

The biggest area which has changed is when you are inside the matrix. Now instead of everything being turn based you start out by having free movement. The enemy defence programmes cycle around set patterns and if you are skilled enough you can dart around between them without initiating combat. If you do get seen then it changes back to the traditional format found in the previous two games. 

The matrix sections of all the games are the thing that really holds them back and they need a complete overhaul. Replacing combat at street level with boring combat inside computers is not great and for the series to progress something else needs to be done with it. Both the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive games treated the matrix differently from the main game and it’s something that really needs to be done with the new games as well.

Matrix grumbling aside there isn’t really much else to complain about. There’s the odd difficulty spike (mainly matrix related and especially noticeable late on), but on the whole everything is how you would want it to be. There’s a wide variety of shadowrunners to enlist and a sizable amount of side quests to get involved with. The locations fit the Hong Kong setting well and the characters are interesting and diverse. The setting is rich with atmosphere as well with a simply outstanding soundtrack accompanying the neon-lit Cantonese designs of the buildings and street layouts.

Overall, the third game in the Shadowrun series keeps up the overall quality we have now come to expect from Harebrained Schemes. The formula is still working for the most part and though the format is getting a little tired it’s hard not to get lost in such a rich world. This is also undoubtedly the best mystery of the three games and we found it very difficult to put down. Fans of the other games and the franchise as a whole will have little to complain about and for newcomers to the series there’s nothing here that will alienate you. Another job well done but those matrix sections really need to be changed now as they are stopping the series reaching true greatness.

Overall 8/10

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Populous 2: Trials of the Olympian Gods Review (PC)

The original Populous offered something a bit different in the god game genre. The basic premise was to build your population to a level where is was larger than your opponents and then gather enough magic to invoke the Armageddon event which sent the total population from both sides into conflict with each other until only one civilisation remained. However, it wasn’t until Populous 2 that the concept became fully fleshed out and gave us another classic in the God game genre.

The basic concept of Populous is still the same. You have a disembodied hand which you move around a map. The main thing you’ll be doing is raising and lowering land to flatten it out. This then allows your population to wander around and make settlements. The larger the area of flat land the bigger the settlement they make will be with the aim being to have hundreds of settlements all over the map. You’ll be left and right clicking hundreds of time per level and it becomes strangely compelling to get maps nice and level.

This isn’t a city building game and you have little to no control over where your population are wandering or the settlements that they build. Your job is to prepare their environment for them so they can develop and spread quickly. While your population are growing your opponents will be as well with the aim still being to build enough population and power to invoke and win the Armageddon event and thus win the game.

As well as playing with the levels of the land you also have a host of magic you can use and this version of the game also allows you to build up and develop a unique deity with different strengths and weaknesses with which to take on the Olympian Gods. Magic is wide ranging but normally involves causing damage to your opponent’s settlements. There are fire storms, whirlwinds, lightning and earthquakes to name a few which can be summoned to damage buildings. You can also lay down swamp to drown citizens or even holy fonts which convert them to your side. One of the most satisfying things to do is to find the enemies symbol of power (which they can use to draw citizens to power up) and then surround it with swamp and pits so their hapless citizens are drawn to their doom.

If there is a down side to the game it’s that it can become a bit repetitive after long session of play. The amount of left and right clicking required never really goes away and the skill comes in balancing your own population creation with attacking your opponents and mending any damage they are causing you. But game to game your actions don’t really change, although you now have a lot more powers to play with than in the original game. The play window is also a little small with the screen filled with icons and the large scale map as well as the zoomed in map that you carry out your direct influence on. Any negatives are minor though and it’s hypnotically compelling for the most part.

The main strength of the game is how seemingly simple it is to pick up and get into. There are hundreds of levels and you are started off slowly with how well you do adjusting which level to send you to next. Magic and types of landscape are introduced gradually and there is always something new to discover on the next level. I have to say as well that having played this on the SNES for many years that the PC version handles so much better that I’m glad it is now so easily available.

Overall, Populous 2 is bigger and better than the original in every way. It’s simple to get into but tough to master and it still holds up as a unique and excellent God game. It’s further evidence of the excellence of Bullfrog as well and shows a studio at the height if its powers. If you’re a fan of the studio or God games in general then you won’t be let down with this. A true classic and as enjoyable now as it’s ever been.

Overall 8/10

Monday 7 September 2015

Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse Review (PS4)

Ah, Paris in the fall. The memories come flooding back as we think about our first experience with the Broken Sword series. Shadow of the Templars was arguably the best ever point and click adventure game so it wasn’t a massive surprise that the games that followed it couldn’t quite live up to it. Both Broken Sword 2 and 3 were both funny and taxing as the series moved from 2D to 3D but then came Broken Sword 4.

We’ve tried to play Broken Sword 4 on three separate occasions to bring our reviews up to date but it is awkward, dull and downright broken in places. But now The Serpent’s Curse is here and the series has returned to its 2D roots and it is so much better for it.

Broken Sword 5 has an air of wiping the slate clean and starting again in terms of design. We now start our game back in Paris, this time in the spring at an art gallery where George is soon reunited with on and off girlfriend Nico. Here a murder takes place and a strange painting is stolen. With George now working as an exhibit insurer he picks up the case to find out what has happened to the painting, who the murderer was and why the gallery owner was killed.

The return to Paris has also seen the series return to the 2D style that worked so well with the first two games. It’s not such a hand drawn look but the graphics are really very nice and keep it traditional while also working exceptionally well in HD and making the game look fit for the PS4. The control system has also reverted back to the ‘dragging a cursor around’ variety and clicking on things with the PS4 controller doing an excellent job of mimicking a mouse.

The game also maintains the series excellent standard of voice acting and scripting with dialogue throughout feeling natural while also maintaining just the right amount of sarcasm and humour. The story itself is strong with a genuinely intriguing mystery to explore with the hints of magical MacGuffin we have come to expect.

One thing we could have done without returning are those tiny objects that require careful scanning of the screen to find. Right from the start there is something fairly well hidden. We weren’t entirely sure if it was colour-blindness that played a part or not but the option to highlight interactable objects would have been a useful addition. It’s a relatively minor point though and at least you know what to expect from games like this.

The actual puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag – though they are designed to stop you backtracking and wandering around multiple locations. Normally when you arrive in a location you can’t leave until the puzzle in the area has been completed. This is good in the fact that it allows you to focus on things with what you have to hand in the confidence there isn’t some tiny object somewhere else that you need. However, it did make us feel a bit penned in at times compared to some of the other games.

Though solid, there aren’t that many puzzles here that will remain memorable. There’s a nice one fairly early on in an art restorers loft but we found little that gave the same high as getting into the docks in Broken Sword 2 or getting the key to access the archaeological dig in the first game. Some of them are a little obscure as well – and not in the ‘use weird object to do thing’ way that these types of games are famous for. There’s also a slight over reliance on things like connecting wire puzzles and shape moving.

Overall, Broken Sword 5 is a solid return to form for the franchise. The mystery is genuinely compelling and the excellent art style and voice acting keep you interested throughout. It’s certainly not up there with the first game but it’s better than both the 3D games and gives Broken Sword 2 a fair run for its money as well. Above all else it’s a proper classic style point and click adventure and we’re glad to see it back.

Overall 7/10

Friday 4 September 2015

Goat Simulator Review (PS4)

Starting out life as a joke idea and then developing into a cult hit on the PC, Goat Simulator has garnered enough success to now make its way to the current generation of consoles. So will this be using the full power of new systems to present something simply impossible on older consoles? Well no, but there’s nothing else quite like it either.

It’s very difficult to know how to review Goat Simulator. There’s no story or real aim to anything with it being a physics playground to play around in - in which the player controls a slightly homicidal goat. There are a few things to collect and occasional timed races and score challenges but basically this is you, a goat and lots of things to charge into and lick.

There are two areas to pick from which take the form of an urban neighbourhood and a waterfront area. They are pretty well stocked with secret locations to discover and silly things to play around with and then it’s up to you to make your own entertainment. It has to be said that the game is funny in a jack-ass kind of way and some of the things to discover are a kind of twisted genius. Our personal favourite was when we catapulted ourselves onto a skyscraper and rammed DJ Deadmau5 off the edge during a gig. This then gave us a giant mouse head on our goat and spread the message ‘goa7 and stuff’ across the screen. 

We won’t reveal any more of the surprises but there are plenty of jokes like this hidden around the levels. You can also mutate your goat with jetpacks, spinning attacks and all manner of other things to create chaos. It’s a big crazy toy box and it’s certainly fun to muck around in for small amounts of time. Whether you are likely to be spending hours of your life ramming people into swimming pools is another thing entirely.

Your goat has a fairly wide range of moves to play around with. It can lick things to drag them along, jump and forward roll in air. It can even perform a ‘manual’ where it proceeds to skate around on its head. You can wall run and also trigger a rag doll effect with a press of a button. It’s all very silly but in a good way.

The lack of focused goals will no doubt put some off but for those wanting to mess around and have some fun this works very well. It’s not particularly polished and you aren’t going to be playing it for hours on end or returning to it in a year’s time but you can’t deny that sometimes it’s fun to run into a petrol tanker and cause an explosion that sends you up to the moon.

Overall, Goat Simulator makes us smile simply for the fact that someone not only made it but then decided to port it to console. It’s a wild and unruly sandbox that doesn’t conform to game industry norms and that can only be a good thing. Above all else anyone playing it will be having fun more times than not and isn’t that what gaming is really all about?

Overall 6/10

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey Book 3 Review (PC)

So far the story of Zoe and Kian has been an interesting one but to this point it hasn’t been a story of real highlights. The first two books of the five planned have been solid but nothing has really approached the magic of the previous two games in the Longest Journey series. Book three hopes to change all that.

We start playing as a young Saga as she is tasked with walking around her house picking up drawings. It’s a slow start and one that goes on a little too long. However, it does give a great insight into the role she will play in the story and how she relates to the other characters and events which have happened in the past. Once that is over we are back with Kian.

In the aftermath of book two’s events the rebels are looking to find more information on what the Asadi are up to with their ever expanding pipe network. This question will be answered by the end of the chapter but there are a few puzzles which require objects to be found before that happens. The first Kian section isn’t the best due to objects being hard to stumble upon in the gloom (especially as you don’t really know what you are looking for), but the Kian sections certainly pick up before the end.

Zoe is dealing with the consequences of her own actions as well. More of her past and purpose is revealed and her section is rather good with the oppressive environment she now lives in giving a thick and foreboding atmosphere for events to come. There’s some great humour in there as well and the story moves along revealing greater twists at every turn. It’s gripping.

There’s nothing new here in terms of play mechanics but the two main characters have had a slight redesign which works well. The voice acting remains at an excellent standard and as usual we preferred being in the company of Zoe than Kian. That said, the last Kian section is excellent and he is seemingly finally developing some form of personality. There are less big decisions to be made by players in this book and instead it answers a fair few questions which have been set up in the previous books. 

Things really get moving in this book as well and new (and old), characters are introduced to players. It’s hard to say much without giving it all away but Zoe especially takes massive steps here in terms of the overall plot.

Overall, Dreamfall Chapters: Book 3 is finally starting to turn the series into what we hoped it would be. There’s a lot of high impact drama here and a lot of big events for players to experience. The final two books are going to have to pack a lot in to get the game close to its two predecessors in terms of overall quality of the story but it continues to move in the right direction and improve with each new part. We can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store.

Overall 8/10